9: Stellar Nursery
The Carter, in its search for Dr. Knox's slowboats has finished its survey of the Virtuous Sector, and the ship has started doing the long slow survey of the more widely spaced targets in and around the Burning Nebula. Star Fleet has also asked that the Carter assist the Sagan Observatory in its research. Sagan has requested that the Carter - which just finished checking a lifeless, overheated Venus-like planet - add a week or so to its route to get some readings on a stellar nursery inside the nebula. Again, there will be a Captain's Log for Asha that explains all this.
Synopsis: The Carter's investigation of a protostar cluster surrounded by an active cometary field is interrupted by the discovery of a severely damaged ship, and then several more destroyed ships. Further studies reveal that the stars in the system are a space-based energy race in the process of spawning their next generation. My hope here is to transition from the PCs fretting over a ship-destroying enemy to survival at being present in an awe inspiring event. I've done plenty with the politics and threats of space - let's go for some good old fashion awe.
The Hook comes after some time for sensor rolls, science rolls & strange readings on the stars which are connected by strands of stellar matter, and learning Sagan's star maps are off. Lt. Sigfried - NPC comm officer - distracts them fromm this line of inquiry by locating a distress signal on the cluster's periphery. Once it’s cleaned up, they find the distress signal is in heavily accented 20th century Spanish! A slowboat? There's our Plot Turn, time for a commercial.
The ship, Maria Theresa, is of an unknown, primitive warp design and was crippled by powerful plasma blasts. It is also without gravity, life support and awash with radiation (which, in the nebula, make it impossible to detect life signs) EVA-suits are required explore it, making this a nice Pinch, and they locate 2 survivors in bulky space suits. When someone reaches the computer they find record of a Klingon vessel on screen shortly before the explosion!
I expect at this point the PCs will go into full information gathering mode. Dr. Mark will be kept busy trying to save the lives of the survivors, Dr. Knox will no doubt be itching to talk to them but also staring over Lt. T'Prin's shoulder as she downloads data from the ship, Lt. Fujiita will be kept busy with Lt. Cmdr Pelski scanning the area for other Klingons while the captain and first officer try to figure out what happened. The images on Maria Theresa's screen are of a Klingon D5 on an attack pattern, diving in towards the ship from a protostar (a tactic that weakens the defender's sensors and forward shields), followed by an incredible plasma blast, then nothing. Klingons have hidden inside this nebula before, but what the hell is it armed with?
This brings us to the Midpoint: sensor sweeps located a Klingon ship moving through the area at 1/8th impulse in an unsteady fashion. The Maria Theresa design is clearly that of a medical rescue ship, and according to either the survivors or the ships log it was looking for a missing ship - the Vizcaya - when then Klingon's attacked. As the Carter approaches the D5 (or perhaps just refine their sensors) it is revealed to be a blasted, melted wreck. It drifts closer to a protostar and the Carter picks up an energy surge as the star generates a flare that essentially reaches out and swats the wreck, vaporizing it! If the Carter has drifted too close, they'll have to outrun a flare of their own, but that should but the kibosh any idea that the flares are random.
Hopefully they turn their analysis back to the stars, the science team is able to confirm that these aren't normal stars - they are massive energy beings! And those bands of stellar matter are actually the beings life essence & experiences being shared among the group. Essentially, the stars are breeding! And in Pinch 2 they are hit with a moral dilemma: there is obviously something wrong, and if no one else takes up the call, ships biologist Lt. Raven begins stressing that they get involved (while Lt. Sigfried, ships voice of prudence, take the opposite side of watching from a safe distance). Conflict in the staff meeting!
Unless the players decide to quit the scene entirely, they will locate the problem: the Vizcaya wreckage is trapped in one of the connective energy strands and something about it (dilithium in the warp core) has poisoned the connection. That's our second Plot Turn. The whole cluster is at risk if they don't break off the union, but the two sentient stars and their dozens of offspring will certainly die if they do before the blockage is cleared. The Carter has to act as a midwife to the birth of a new generation of stellar energy beings - all of which are confused, in pain and capable of obliterating the ship if they make the wrong move.
From here, again, it's entirely the PCs' show. They can try communicating with the stars, try to get close enough to tractor beam the Vizcaya out, try to 'operate' on the blockage with phasers from a distance or force the separation - killing the two sick ones to save the rest. Or they may come up with something else. I'm happy with how this worked out in my head, as a wondrous rescue mission. It ultimately feels more like a TNG episode than one from the original show, but part of that is that Krik never had such an effects budget.