The SS Sooloo is in orbit around Kepler 186f a.k.a. "New Earth." As they achieved orbit, they were joined by the SS Endurance, thanks to Devin French calculating too many numbers into his equation. Kyle was asked to see if he could figure out what French did wrong, which did not sit well with Devin. Dave congratulated Kyle on his performance and then the two made their way to the bridge.
As they entered the command center of the ship, Aiden announced an outgoing message to the Endurance. When asked who sent it, he replied that it originated with Crewman Head. The recipient was Commander Devin French. And it appeared to be encrypted. Only Devin French would understand it without decryption.
"I want my Senior Staff in the Conference Room in ten minutes."
Jordan reminded him, "Sir, Blackwell, Kanye and Marlin are still aboard the Endurance. Jace said that they have about two hours left until the upgrades are complete."
Hanging his head, Dave muttered a bit, but then composed himself and said, "See if they can take a break and use the Endurance's Conference Room."
Ten minutes later, The Endurance Conference room was on the view screen in the Conference Room of the Sooloo. Dave started explaining why he called the meeting and then turned it over to Aiden. "Eleven minutes ago, I noticed a message being sent to Devin French on the Endurance. I was puzzled as to who would be sending a message and discovered it came from Crewman Head. The message was encrypted for Devin French."
"Did the message reach him?" Jace asked.
"I have no idea, Sir. I tried to stop it, but may not have noticed it in time."
"And it is encrypted, so you have no idea of what it said?" Brad inquired.
Aiden shook his head, "No idea, it is a level one-twenty-eight-alpha encryption. The computer said that with standard decrypting, it will take eight days, eighteen hours and thirty-six minutes."
"We may not have that kind of time. Knowing it came from Head and went to French, and how those two felt about Kyle…" Jace stopped speaking as he watched Kyle getting nervous. "I'm sorry Kyle, but I was just stating a fact. Don't worry, though. We have your back."
"I know you do. I'm not worried, just nervous."
Marlin suggested, "This may seem like a crazy idea, but can we ask French if he received it and if so, what it said?"
"Do you honestly believe that he would tell us?" Hal inquired.
Connor frowned, "Probably not, but it was just a suggestion."
"And nothing wrong with suggestions. Okay, you are all aware of the situation. Keep your eyes and ears open. Meeting is adjourned, but I would like for Jordan, Hal, Jace and myself to remain." Dave waited until everyone else was gone, then asked, "Jace, how much hacking do you still do?"
"Other than a few programs I have in order to keep my skills sharp, I don't."
"So, do you think you could decrypt this message?"
"Faster than the computer, that's for sure, but might I suggest that we have Brad and the IS department work on it separately? I will still attempt to crack it, but a) it would help build Brad up as the head of that department, and b) they may figure out a way to crack it differently than what I might, improving our chances of decrypting the message more quickly."
Jordan thought, "Aurix is more sophisticated than our system. Maybe he can decipher quicker than ours."
"Perhaps, but I have programs that our system isn't allowed to use, so…"
"I will talk to Zorn about it."
"How soon until the two of you can come back over here?"
Jace thought about it for a moment before stating, "Marlin could actually oversee the rest of the upgrades with the crew of the Endurance. Send Danny over to pick us up."
"We can send another pilot. I overheard Kyle talking to Danny about taking the twins and Shadow to the Holodeck.
Dave looked at Jordan, "Send whoever is available; I need this message cracked. And I would like for you to devise a plan for exploring as much of the planet as we can. Here is a list of the personnel from the Endurance that will be a part of the teams. Captain Garcia and I believe two teams will get more of the planet explored and we believe that the teams should be a mixture of the crews." Dave handed Jordan a memory key.
Jordan took the key, nodded and acknowledged, "Yes, Sir."
Kyle, Danny, Jason, Jonas and Shadow arrived at Holodeck 3. The twins were excited because they were going with Uncle Danny and Uncle Kyle to play. That, and they get to have Shadow with them.
Jason excitedly asked, "What we gonna play Unca Kyle?"
Kyle smiled, turned to Danny and nodded. Danny replied, "Well, we thought you munchkins might have some extra energy to spare so we programmed a big park. You and your brother can run around for a bit playing with Shadow, then maybe we'll play some hide and go seek."
"Yay!" Both boys yelled as Kyle entered the program and the doors opened to a large green grassy field with trees around it. At the far side of the park, through the trees, they could see a small lake. Even before the doors had fully opened, Jonas, Jason and Shadow were running across the field, Shadow barking as he went.
Looking around for somewhere to sit and not seeing anything, Kyle said, "Computer, place a wooden bench, 2 meters long by 1 meter wide here, please." Moments later the bench appeared and Danny sat with Kyle joining him. They sat watching the twins and Shadow as they played for a time, holding hands with one another.
After about 30 minutes, the twins came over and Jonas asked, "Can we play hide'n seek now?"
Kyle thought about it and said, "Other than the trees, there's not a lot of good hiding places. Computer, please place several various sized obstacles randomly located, that can be used as hiding places." Both of the twins were elated as they watched obstacles of varied shapes and sizes appear. Once there were a sufficient number, Kyle said, "Ok, everyone hide!" He turned around and started counting to 30.
Kyle first found Jason and there was a race, which Kyle, for some reason, couldn't catch the giggling boy. When he finally caught up to him at the goal, he said, "Boy, you're really fast!"
Jason smiled up at his chosen Uncle and laughed, "You let me win."
Kyle just smiled, picked the boy up and gave him a hug, then said, "Let's find the others!"
Another half hour later, the game had ended. Kyle and Danny were in need of some rest, so the boys took Shadow for some more chase the doggy as Kyle and Danny laid under a tree to... get better acquainted with each other's oral cavities.
Approximately twenty minutes later, Danny asked Kyle, "How long do you have the Holodeck reserved for?"
"I scheduled 3 hours and we've been here just over two, we should find the boys though. I haven't heard them for a bit now."
Kyle and Danny then started searching for Jason and Jonas. After a few minutes of searching, they heard Shadow barking. Following the sound, they came across the lake. Shadow was on the shore barking at the boys who were in the water. Danny was first to notice that the boys' clothes were piled at the shoreline. Then Kyle noticed one of the boys diving and caught a glimpse of his naked posterior peeking out of the water.
When they called for the older boys to join them, Kyle and Danny smiled at each other, then quickly slipped off their uniforms and frolicked in the water with the boys. All the while Shadow stood on the shore, barking…
Soon thereafter, though, their time in the Holodeck was at an end. The four boys dressed and they, along with Shadow, headed toward the exit which had just opened. Kyle and Danny led Jason and Jonas back to Jace's quarters to put Shadow back in his crate, then took the boys to their cabin to await their 'parents.'
Jordan greeted Jace and Brad as they disembarked from the Shuttle. "Brad, this will be your show. We would like for you to pick the best members of your team, those of whom you believe can crack this encryption."
"What about Jace? He is over the IS department as well as Engineering, and he has hacked before."
"I will be working on it myself, but we think that if we have two teams working on it, we have a better chance of cracking it. I will be a team by myself, but I will be around enough that if your team has questions or suggestions, I can assist."
"Understood, Sirs." Brad then left to gather his team.
"Zorn has agreed to have Aurix look at it as well, so technically, we have three teams working on it."
Jordan headed to the Operations' Office to start planning the exploration. He started by asking the computer to give him what data they had on Kepler 186f. "Bear in mind that no one has visited Kepler 186f until now, so this is all speculation. Kepler 186f has an orbit around its red dwarf star consisting of 130 days. The gravitation of Kepler 186f is almost identical to that of earth. Its star is colder than Earth's star and the planet is on the outer edge of the habitable zone, therefore the average temperature is approximately 188K (-85.15°C or -121.27°F). The brilliance of Kepler 186 on the planet is like that of the sun on Earth an hour before sunset. The atmosphere of Kepler 186f is similar to earth, only heavier. It consists of 68.09% nitrogen, 24.95% oxygen, 5.34% carbon dioxide, 0.92% argon and 0.70% other gasses."
"Wow, over 5% more carbon dioxide than Earth; Zorn might like that, not the temperature, though."
"That is correct, Commander Rivers. To be precise, it is 5.30% more than Earth. Shall I continue with the information?" the computer chirped.
"There are three continents on Kepler 186f. Currently, the two in the Northern Hemisphere are experiencing their winter while the one in the Southern Hemisphere is enjoying the warmer temperatures of summer."
"Warmer temperatures? Like how much warmer?"
"The average temperature during summer is 212K (-61.15°C or -78.07°F)."
"That's still freaking cold. I better advise the Captain that if we do this, we will need Arctic gear."
Lieutenant Steve Boyer was sitting at his desk and overheard Jordan. "Would you like those to resemble the new uniforms, Sir?"
"New Uniforms? We've only been in space for about a month and we are already being issued new uniforms? And what did I tell you about calling me 'Sir' when it's just the two of us?"
"Jordan, while we may have only been in space for almost a month, Space Fleet has been using the same uniform for ten years. The new uniforms will be easier to determine which department someone is in at a glance. Let me show you what they look like." Then Steve pulled up the image. "Here are the duty uniforms."
"You can tell the departments a lot easier. Those look sharp."
"Would you like to see the new Dress Uniforms, Sir, er… I mean Jordan?"
"Please." Steve pulled them up and Jordan was in awe. "The Medical looks almost the same, but I can see a difference, and these do look sharp. Will you be making Admiral Uniforms for the twins?"
Steve smiled, "I already have them, both dress and duty for each of them." Steve pulled them out to show Jordan.
Jordan chuckled, "I should have known, but admittedly, those two will look cute in them."
"I think so, too. When we get a chance, Brad and I would love to take the twins out for a little fun. I understand that they are with Kyle and Danny now, so hopefully, you'll consider it."
"If it were just me, I would say most definitely, but I will talk to Jace. I doubt that he would object."
"Thank you. And um… there is one variance to the uniform. Captain Bowman has the option to wear a suede jacket instead of the tunic worn by everyone else." Steve pulled up that image as he spoke. "Notice, he wears a royal blue shirt under it, and the jacket has gold trim where it closes. And, it does not have the belt."
"I would almost bet Dave will opt for that. It looks comfortable and sharp. I wanna be a captain just so I can have one."
"Dave does have the ability to allow all Department Heads to have the option."
"Do they have the jackets for Admirals?"
"No, but I could probably design something, if you would like."
"Yes, please," Jordan chuckled, "I can see the twins wearing their trousers with the suede jacket." Jordan went back to his desk, "If you can, start issuing the new uniforms right away. I know the Captain will appreciate how quickly you managed to get it done. For me, I need to get back to planning this exploration and presenting it to Dave, Hal, the Captain of the Endurance and his First officer.
Jace was relieved when he returned to his quarters and found Shadow in his crate. Kyle and Danny said they'd watch the twins until they were needed on-duty. Jace had been working on the decryption of the mysterious message sent apparently by Crewman Head to the Endurance's Chief of Astrogation, Devin French.
It had been slow going, but he was making some significant progress. He knew that Brad had an entire team working on the issue so his efforts were more to keep his skills sharp. Brad and the IS department were very good at what they did; he was certain they'd solve this before he did.
After nearly an hour, Jace looked at his latest attempt to decrypt the message... what he saw shocked him. He was just about to call Brad when his comm-station beeped. Brad was calling him.
"Sir, we believe we've decrypted the message."
"Funny you should call now, I was just about to call you. Report on your findings."
"Sir, it appeared initially that it was merely an innocuous message regarding personal matters. The computer was set to send the message at a time when we were in range of direct communications between the Sooloo and the Endurance. However, we discovered a secondary channel to the message. That message read..."
Jace interrupted him by saying, "Transmit the code 'bye-bye-runt' to initiate evacuation of the atmosphere of Kyle Robinson's cabin. Ten minutes later the atmosphere will be restored. They'll find him dead in his bed with no explanation of how he could have suffocated."
"Yes, sir. That's the same thing we got. I have searched for the code in the environmental system and have blocked it," Brad reported.
"Well, what I want you to do is to unblock the code," Jace stated firmly.
"Sir?" Brad questioned.
"Yes, unblock the code, but reroute its function to something that will not cause any problems. I also want an alert if the code is submitted to our computer. As far as we know, the only person who could have received and decoded this message is Devin French, himself. If he uses the code, we've got him by the short hairs, assuming he's man enough to have any."
"Aye, Sir. Good plan if I do say so myself." Brad's smile could be heard in his voice.
"I'll report to the Captain. Blackwell out."
Jace then contacted Dave, who asked him to meet with him in his ready room.
Five minutes later, Dave, Hal and Jordan were seated in the Captain's ready room.
"So, Brad and I actually decrypted the message almost simultaneously. The benefit there was that we independently came up with the same decryption, so we're relatively certain we're 100% correct. It seems that Crewman Head reprogrammed the life support system so that if a specific code were entered, it would evacuate the oxygen in a cabin for ten minutes, allowing time for the occupant or occupants to die of suffocation. Then to resume normal airflow in the hopes it would be classified as either an accident or some unknown cause of the suffocation. I have instructed Brad to reroute the code so, if entered, we'd be notified. If Devin French does issue that code, we'll have caught him red-handed with attempted murder."
"Regardless, I want Kyle and Danny to have at least two portable oxygen tanks each in their quarters, just as a precaution," Hal stated firmly.
Jordan nodded, "Yes, Sir. I will make sure it's handled personally. The plan for the away mission is nearly complete. I know you wanted to go at 0600 tomorrow. With your permission, I am going to get those oxygen tanks and bring them to Kyle's cabin, pick up our twins and get a little rest. I understand we have a meeting with the Command Staff of both ships at 2300. That's about four hours from now, so I will be back in time for that."
Dave nodded and stated, "Permission granted. Commander Blackwell... Jace, in the meantime, I want you to go over to Endurance and personally verify the upgrades that Connor and his team have been installing. That shouldn't take you more than an hour, then you can come back and take a break with your man and your kids until the 2300 meeting."
"Thanks, Dave. I appreciate it. I'll head over to the Endurance now."
Zorn came running into Dave's Ready Room as the door opened. "Captain, you have to do something, Aurix just told me what the message said and…"
"Relax Zorn, our other teams have figured it out as well. We are taking precautions."
Zorn looked defeated, but was glad that Kyle was being protected. "Would you like for Aurix to monitor any messages to and from French and anyone on your ship? If he tries to use the code…"
"IS has it monitoring if he tries using the code, but it might be a good idea if he is monitored. Can you do it undetected?"
Zorn gave a toothy grin and nodded his head.
Upon arrival, Jace disembarked from the shuttle. He felt it odd that there were no crewmen manning the bay, but just as he was about to find a comm-station to report in, a crewman approached him. "Sorry I wasn't here when you left the shuttle," the crewman stated, a reddening of his face was seen as he continued, "I kinda had to go to the bathroom... badly."
Jace kept his expression stoic as he replied, "Hey, when you gotta go, you gotta go. But, protocol is that you don't leave the bay unattended. I'll overlook it this time, but be sure to call for a temporary replacement if you ever have the need to leave your post, especially since you knew you had an inbound shuttle."
"I will, Sir. Thank you."
"What's your name, Crewman?"
It was apparent that the crewman was worried why he was being asked to identify himself. He stood up straight and replied, "Um... Makenzie, Sir. Sebastian Makenzie."
"Well, Makenzie, Sebastian Makenzie, relax, I'm not here to bust your balls over this, could you tell me where I might find Commander Marlin?"
"I was informed that he would be waiting for you in the Engineering section." It was apparent that Sebastian was relieved that he wasn't going to get written up for his failure. "If you like, Sir, I can call for a replacement and escort you to him."
"I'm glad you phrased it that way, but I am quite familiar with the layout of Endurance. I'll be fine on my own. Carry on, crewman."
Jace left the relieved crewman and exited the bay.
After meeting up with Connor, Jace inspected each of the upgrades and modifications made based on the changes Zorn had made or facilitated aboard Sooloo. As he expected, all of the changes were made properly. He and Connor went back to the shuttle bay to return to their ship.
Once aboard and in the privacy of the shuttle, Jace informed Connor of the contents of the message. Connor was visibly angry over what was nothing short of a conspiracy, initiated by Richard Head. In the back of his mind, Connor was happy the older boy was dead. As soon as he thought it, he started feeling guilty over it. He never thought he'd wish someone be killed, but in his mind, Head was going after people Connor cared about. Not in the same way that Connor felt for Aiden, or Jace felt for Jordan, but Kyle and Danny were like brothers to him.
Jace noticed the emotions playing on Connor's face, put his arm over the younger boy's shoulder and said, "Don't worry, Connor. I know what you're thinking, or at least I can surmise. I can guarantee I've thought similar thoughts or worse. Feeling in a certain way isn't bad... acting on those feelings is where you have to draw the line."
It was apparent that Connor was mollified by Jace's words. He smiled at his superior and said, "Thanks, Jace. I just don't like that I had the feeling in the first place, but..."
"I completely understand. When we get back aboard the ship, you have until 2300 hours to rest and relax. I know that Aiden will be free for some of that time as well. Make the most of it."
The pair sat quietly for the remainder of the ten-minute flight between the ships.
Upon arrival, Jace looked in on the twins. They were both sleeping in their bed cuddled together. Kyle and Danny must have worn them out. He checked and saw that Shadow had water and food in his crate, then walked over to the bed he and his husband shared.
Jordan was in bed with the covers over him so Jace slipped out of his uniform and took his place next to Jordan. Feeling the presence of his husband, Jordan automatically cuddled up to Jace. The pair slept in much the same position that the twins were in.
When Jordan awoke, he noted the time. It was just about 2200 hours so they had an hour until the meeting. Jordan wrapped his arms around the still sleeping form sharing his bed. He brought his lips to those of his husband and kissed him until he awoke.
"Man, that's a wonderful way to wake up." Jace stretched and sat up in the bed. "Are you all ready for the 2300 meeting?"
"Yeah, I've arranged for four teams. Each will consist of a senior officer, two people from the sciences, one from each ship, and six armed-security officers, again half of them from each ship on each team. We will take two shuttles from Sooloo and two from Endurance and go to four different locations on the southern continent of 'New Earth.' Each team will begin their analysis of the conditions in the area where they land. I expect that the teams will be arriving at a time that would be equivalent to mid-morning. They will be instructed to survey the area and be finished with their initial analysis one hour before sunset. They will then re-board the shuttles and return to the Sooloo where the data will be compiled. Once the data is ready, it will be presented to the Captains and First Officers of both ships. At that time, a secondary expedition may be planned."
"Wow! I didn't expect that kind of a 'report' I was just curious if you were ready. I should never have even considered you would have done anything short of a thorough job in the planning."
Jordan smiled, kissed his husband, and said, "You know I love you, Jason Blackwell."
"I bet I love you more, Jordan Rivers."
As they kissed yet again, they were knocked back into the mattress by a double pounce from the twins, who, giggling said, "And we love you both too, Daddy and Papa."
As they were getting out of bed, the comm-station chirped. Answering it, Jordan found that it was Steve Boyer asking if it was a convenient time for him to bring over their new uniforms. After agreeing that it was a perfect time, he instructed Steve to just come in when he arrived at their quarters, advising him they were going to hop into the shower. Jordan also, after checking with Jace, asked Steve if he could watch over the twins while he and Jace went to the meeting.
The four members of the family entered the shower together. Jace washed Jason and Jordan washed Jonas before tackling the more pleasurable task of washing each other. When they were done, they dried the twins first, then, as they were starting to dry themselves, the twins ran out of the shower room and into the main part of their quarters wearing nothing but smiles.
Jordan and Jace chuckled, dried themselves, wrapped towels around their mid-sections and went in search of their boys. What they found was Steve Boyer sitting with a naked twin on each knee as he showed them their new uniforms. The boys were excited to be getting new uniforms and asked Steve to help them put them on. Jace and Jordan took their new uniforms and went behind the partition in the room to what was the equivalent to their bedroom where they could dress.
With the meeting wrapping up, Captains Garcia and Bowman complimented Jordan on an exceptional plan. They were both pleased with how well Jordan had integrated the crews for this mission. The only thing they weren't totally pleased with was that neither of the Captains would be going on the first exploration mission. Protocol dictated that until an initial survey of the planet had been completed, it was too dangerous to risk either Captain.
It was agreed that the Second and Third Officers of each ship would each lead one of the four teams for the initial exploration. They reviewed the detailed scans done of the planet and compared the results of those scans from each ship. From all indications, the planet below them was devoid of higher life. There were indications of some vegetation, and lower animal life, but nothing they would expect in a higher, sentient population.
The meeting broke up with instructions to have each team in the Sooloo shuttle bay by 0530 so they could gather whatever equipment they needed, board the shuttles and be on their way to the planet by 0600.
Everyone was excited about this first planetfall. They were instructed to get something to eat and grab some sleep. It was going to be a busy day.
All four shuttles were sitting in the shuttle bay of the Sooloo. Jordan ordered, "Unless the atmosphere interferes once we are down there, remain in constant contact with the ship, as well as the other three shuttles. We don't know what's down there." Then he went to one of the Sooloo's shuttles while Jace was with the other. Cmdr. Angelo Walker, Chief Operations Officer of the Endurance, oversaw the first group for his ship. while Cmdr. Logan Roth oversaw the second. All four men were utilizing the checklist that Steve Boyer had created for Jordan. They did notice that while the Sooloo team were all in the new uniforms, the Endurance were still clad in the old uniforms.
Ten minutes prior to their intended time of departure, the first Endurance Shuttle started to exit the bay. He waited outside the ship until all were ready to head planet-side.
Aiden informed Dave, "Sir, once the shuttles were low enough in the atmosphere, we lost contact with all four shuttles."
"Suggestions? We have no idea what to expect down there; I want to re-establish contact with our teams, ASAP!"
Brad was sitting at Jace's normal seat. He was looking at IS plans. "Sir, what if we put a relay satellite in orbit around the planet? It would need to be high enough to reach us but low enough to receive from the planet."
"That is a thought, get it started. I want other ideas in case that doesn't work."
Kyle suggested, "Danny could fly one of the maintenance shuttles in synchronous orbit high enough to remain in contact with us, then lower a relay dish attached via cable low enough to receive them"
"Let's go with the satellite first. I don't want to risk any more lives than necessary."
Kyle was relieved to hear that.
With the temperatures that the computer stated, Jordan was expecting to see lots of snow. What he saw was purple grass, colorful trees in full bloom and the red sun was burning hotter than he expected. "Computer, what is the temperature outside the shuttle?" Jordan asked, upon landing.
"The temperature is 291.48K (18.33°C or 64.994°F)."
"Alright boys, we won't need the arctic gear, after all, it's cool but still comfortable. Let's set up base here, and see what we can find."
Jordan's comm chirped, "This is Commander Walker, with the temperature as high as it is, I think my team is going to explore one of the northern continents. It may be a bit colder, but we do have the arctic gear, so…"
"Negative, Commander. I advise that we stick with the plan that the Captains approved."
"I'm sure Captain Garcia wouldn't mind, and I wasn't asking your permission, I was just informing you."
"Commander Walker, this is the Sooloo's mission, we were nice enough to allow the Endurance to join us. I am the senior officer of this mission and am ordering you to stick with the plan as set."
"I hold the same rank as you, Walker, out."
Jordan was fuming; he attempted to contact the ship but the atmosphere must have been too heavy, so he made a note to say something to Captain Garcia. Meanwhile, his team started their exploration. Jordan found seedpods for the purple grass. He wondered if they could grow it aboard ship, so he handed the seeds to one of the Sooloo's science officers.
"Don't eat anything until we know it is safe, I want samples of everything for both ships to study; that's water samples, soil samples, even the air we are breathing. If Earth is planning to colonize this planet, we need to know that it is safe."
After Jace finished instructing his team, he heard Walker and Jordan talking on the comm. He knew that Jordan would handle the situation, but he was still pissed.
As they were getting ready to leave, Jordan contacted the other teams to see if they were good. Two teams reported that they were good, but Walker's team never responded. "Damn it… Crewman Gillespie, can you pinpoint their location?"
"Aye, Sir. I can take you right to the shuttle."
Jordan advised the other two teams to head back to the ship, he was going to see why Walker's team wasn't answering.
As they approached the missing shuttle, Jordan couldn't believe the nose of the shuttle was pointed down in a crevasse. Its hatch must have been opened at the time it fell as it was detached AND even deeper in the crevasse. Scans showed no life forms anywhere close. They landed as close as they could and Jordan pulled out climbing gear. "Be careful, Sir; we haven't any idea how it got down there, or if anyone is still inside."
"I'm leaving the rope attached to the shuttle. I don't expect anything, but the first sign of trouble, let me know. Then you can take off, and I will hang onto the rope until you can land safely."
"Understood, Sir. Will you leave the other end attached to you? What if you are inside that shuttle?"
"As soon as you let me know of trouble, I will get outside before the slack is taken away. Don't worry, Jack."