AOH :: TREK-040.TXT|
The Enemy of My Enemy (TNG script)
Star Trek: The Next Generation
The Enemy of My Enemy
Copywrite Jonathan Geld 1991
The interstellar shuttle ponderously approached the orbital drydock.
After two days of deep-space flight, those within the transport
vehicle were decidedly anxious to board the vessel moored in the
confines of the drydock. For the past hour, the shuttle had been
orbiting the planet Ceti Eridani Four while security codes were
verified and reverified for the ship's occupants.
``Damn the overactive imaginations of the intelligence services,''
muttered the older of the two officers seated at the controls of the
shuttle. ``We haven't been gone more than a week and yet they still
have to go through all this nonsense.''
``Calm yourself, Kafarth,'' intoned the younger but senior officer.
``The wheels of bureaucracy turn very slowly at times. You must turn
the time spent waiting into time spent being productive. When we
finally board the Falcon there will be much to do. Prepare for it,''
he said, as he settled deeply into his seat and reclosed his eyes.
``Hah! `Time spent being productive,' he says. Look at you, lying
there. How can you sleep? While we've been gone, those people who
call themselves engineers have probably brought ruin to all the hard
work that was done before I left.'' Kafarth pounded the armrest of
his seat with frustration. ``Do you know how much still needed to be
done after the last shakedown cruise? Realignment of the warp drive,
modification of the Gamma-level cloaking device, not to mention the
power imbalances we were having with the disruptors. Then we get
called away from real work so that we can please some petty
bureaucrats in the War Council.''
High Commander Kareel tr'Arwhael was well acquainted with his Chief
Engineer's intolerance of anything which drew him away from what he
considered to be an important task. The fact that they had been
called to attend a meeting of the Praetorian War Council in order to
justify the material and personnel expense which had gone into the
Falcon had not helped any. Kareel, himself, had not been pleased with
the obligation, but there had been no avoiding it. As the most
decorated senior officer of the recent Border Wars and as the trainer
of many of the Fleet's commanding officers, his word carried the
weight necessary to sway Council members' votes. He had brought his
Chief Engineer to provide the technical evidence of the Falcon's
worth. It had worked and the Council had given the go ahead for the
ship to be commissioned. They had also given the ship its first
mission, one which Kareel knew might also be its last.
He shook himself from these thoughts when permission was granted for
them to approach the drydock. ``There you go, Kafarth. Now we can
see if your engineering crew did indeed destroy our ship.''
The engineer gave his commander a withering look. ``Just wait until
the first time you call for warp speed, Commander. You might find
every food dispensary on the ship throwing out tons of mak'pargh.''
Kareel chuckled as he imagined the ship being inundated by the red
gelatin dessert. He then straightened his face and ordered, ``Take us
in Sub-Commander, let's take a look at our ship.''
Now given clearance, the shuttle matched the orbital characteristics
of the drydock and resumed its approach. As the craft entered the
opaquing field surrounding the drydock, the officers were provided
with a full view of the newest ship in the Rihannsu fleet. Half again
as long as the Nova-class battleships, the Falcon was the largest
warship the Empire had yet to create. In the spirit of its
predecessors, the bow of the ship contained the command and living
sections. In spite of the greater overall size of the ship, this
section was actually smaller than that of the Nova-class. Due to
increased power requirements demanded by having twice the firepower of
previous ships and the new cloaking technology, much of the additional
volume was occupied by an enlarged engineering section. The increase
in size of engineering gave the ship a teardrop shaped stern.
Surrounding the tail of the ship were three warp drive nacelles. Two
were mounted on wings attached to the large engineering section,
giving the ship the classic birdlike look. The third was mounted
along the base of the engineering section resembling a dorsal fin.
There would be no mistaking this vessel as anything but Rihannish,
thought Kareel. The familiar lines were all there. But woe to those
who would try to attack this ship as if it were a Nova-class warbird.
The additional disruptor emplacements not only gave the ship more
firepower, but covered the areas which were blind spots on the
previous ships. The new cloaking device solved many of the
shortcomings of the earlier device by damping much of the
gravitational distortion created by the starship's mass. At Kareel's
insistence, modified defense shields had been added to the Falcon to
protect it in those cases where the cloaking device would not be
effective. There had been too many battles lost in the Border Wars
due to the over-dependence some commanders had on the effectiveness of
their cloaking devices.
As Kafarth brought the shuttle to a docking bay, Kareel remarked,
``This ship is our finest achievement, Kafarth, we have done well.''
``Yes, Commander, perhaps too well. It is a very complex piece of
equipment, there is much that can go wrong.''
Kareel chuckled again as he and his Chief Engineer rose from their
seats and approached the shuttle's portal. ``You worry too much,
Kafarth, that is what makes you a great engineer. No matter what I do
to a ship of ours, you manage to piece it back together again.''
The engineer replied, ``That's because you were kind enough to leave
enough of the ship for me to be able to patch it up. Though in some
cases it wasn't easy.''
Kareel's smile faded as he said, ``Then leave it to me, my friend, to
see to it that there will be enough left this time for patching.''
Kafarth nodded solemnly as he turned to the opening portal. An honor
guard had arrived in the shuttle bay to greet the ship's commanding
officer. As Kareel exited the shuttle, the guards snapped to
attention and held their arms out, saluting in the traditional Romulan
fashion. The commander paused at the portal of the shuttle and
returned the salute. As he stepped down to the deck of the Falcon ,
the First Officer and the Political Officer approached along the aisle
formed by the guard.
T'fara, his First Officer the past five years and wife for the past
two, saluted him and said, ``We welcome your return, Commander. You
will find that all is in readiness for the Falcon's commissioning.''
At this announcement Kafarth snorted and muttered something under his
breath. Kareel turned to him and, knowing his friend's haste to get
to his post, said, ``Chief Engineer, why don't you go to Engineering
and verify for yourself what the First Officer has told us.''
``Yes, Commander, with pleasure,'' Kafarth said eagerly and quickly
disappeared into the turbolift.
``Does the Chief Engineer not trust in the efficiency of his own crew
and his commanding officers?'' asked Bkandar, the Falcon's political
Kareel eyed the small, ugly man with distaste. Ever since the
mutinies that had occurred on some ships during the Border Wars, the
Praetorate had insisted upon each ship carrying a Political Officer.
The official intent of the position was to keep crew morale high and
faith in the Empire paramount. Kareel knew the truth of the matter
was that they were spies sent to keep an eye on ship's officers. The
one thing the Praetorate feared the most was a renegade and popular
commander gaining power and turning the military against them. That
was how many of them had achieved their current stations.
Kareel had no use for Political Officers and always sought to make
that clear to those assigned to his ships. ``Bkandar,'' he began,
``Sub-Commander Kafarth has ensured the survival of ships under his
care by not completely trusting anybody. This ship has orders to
depart at the earliest possible time and Kafarth feels it necessary to
inspect all of Engineering before then and I concur. Do you have any
problems with that, Sub-Commander?''
Bkandar had opened his mouth to reply but Kareel had already returned
his attention to the First Officer. ``Commander, what is the status
of the crew?''
T'fara explained that acquisition of the ship's complement had been
completed during his absence and that a full list was available for
his perusal. As they walked to the turbolift, she continued her
report that the personnel were busily familiarizing themselves with
the new equipment on board the Falcon .
Kareel could not help but admire his wife. She was the best First
Officer he had ever commanded. She fulfilled her primary
responsibility of crew organization and discipline so well that those
problems seldom reached his office. She left him free to run the ship
without having to be concerned with whether someone might not be able
to fulfill their duties. As a consequence, his contact with the lower
echelons of the crew was somewhat limited; but he had always preferred
it that way.
As the turbolift moved them toward the ship's bridge, Kareel briefed
T'fara and Bkandar on their upcoming mission. ``As you are both
aware, the past three years have seen three Neutral Zone outposts and
five border starbases destroyed by an unknown force. An investigatory
mission by Commander T-Bok revealed no indications of the agency
behind this destruction. Last month, T-Bok's ship disappeared in the
Neutral Zone. It is the decision of the War Council that the Falcon's
commissioning voyage is to investigate T-Bok's disappearance and
uncover the responsible agent.''
``I would think that it is obvious who is doing this destruction,
Commander,'' responded Bkandar. ``The only other force about the
Neutral Zone is the Federation. What is the mystery?''
``The `mystery', Sub-Commander,'' retorted Kareel, ``is that there is
no proof of Federation complicity in this matter. In addition, the
Praetorate is very hesitant to enter another war so soon after the
Border Wars. Economically and socially, the Empire is not ready to
support another prolonged conflict. The orders from the War Council
are to investigate, not instigate. If we find that the Federation is
the force behind the destruction, then further decisions will have to
``However, it was also suggested that if the opportunity does arise to
engage a Federation vessel, the decision of how to proceed is under my
discretion,'' the Commander continued. ``Realize though, that it is
my decision and none other's.''
Both T'fara and Bkandar nodded their understanding as the turbolift
came to a halt at the Falcon's bridge. They both felt they knew
Kareel well enough to have a good idea what his response to a
Federation vessel in the Neutral Zone would be. After all, they were
aboard a ship which was the match of any Federation ship, including
the vaunted Galaxy class.
Kareel critically scanned the bridge officers who had come to
attention as he had entered the room. He circled the large room
saluting each officer as he came to them. At each station he queried
the officer of their readiness and what difficulties they had been
encountering. His interest in the command crew of his ships had made
him a popular and much sought after commanding officer in the fleet.
When he had agreed to head up the Falcon project, there had been no
difficulty in attracting the talent he had wanted. That was one
reason the War Council had been reproachful of the personnel drain the
project had caused upon the rest of the fleet.
The High-Commander finished his rounds and moved to sit in the command
chair near the middle of the rectangular bridge. He ordered a
communications channel be opened to the rest of the ship as he eased
himself into the chair. ``Crew of the Falcon ,'' he began. ``It is
my pleasure to inform you that this ship has been fully commissioned
by the Praetorian War Council. As you know, this implies that we have
been given our first mission. What we have to do will not be easy,
nor will it be safe. We have been ordered to investigate instances of
aggression against the Empire along the Neutral Zone. This may entail
bringing this ship into the Neutral Zone and it may mean reprisal acts
of aggression of our own. I assure you that I have full faith that
this ship and its crew are ready to do what is necessary to fulfill
our mission.'' He paused to let the announcement sink in and then
concluded, ``The Falcon will depart from drydock in thirteen hours.
He then sat back into the chair and contemplated the viewscreen which
was showing an outer view of the starship. This was no ship of peace,
he thought, it was a ship of war. Twice the firepower of the Nova
class, an advanced cloaking device and additional shielding made it a
deadly arrow aimed at only one target. It had been obvious from the
beginning that the War Council intended for the Falcon class to battle
the Federation. Technologically, this ship met or exceeded
Starfleet's Galaxy class. The new cloaking device would enable the
ship to enter the bowels of Federation space, perhaps even to the
Terran system itself. It could possibly endanger the very balance of
power which had held the Romulans back from waging an all out war
against the Federation. Kareel knew that the true purpose of
selecting the Falcon for this mission was to test just that theory.
Kareel smiled and thought, ``It's time for theory to end and for
practice to begin.''
Commander William Riker's entrance to the Vari-Gee chamber was less
than dignified. The First Officer of the Starship Enterprise lost
control as he stepped from the controlled gravity of the rest of the
ship into the null gravity of the chamber. As he flew across the
room, he regained enough presence of mind to execute a tumble in
mid-air and stop himself using his legs against the wall to absorb the
energy of his flight.
``Very good, Number One. You are getting better at this,'' said the
other occupant of the room.
Riker silently regarded his captain who was hanging from an inverted
position over the middle of the room. The First Officer had nothing
but respect for Jean-Luc Picard, but he personally thought the man was
out of his head if he truly enjoyed null gravity. All Riker ever got
out of it was a good case of nausea.
``I'm afraid I will never get to like this feeling as much as you do,
Captain,'' Riker said as grabbed a handhold and brought himself to the
same orientation as Picard.
``Nobody said that you had to like it, Will,'' Picard replied. As he
talked he pushed himself from the ceiling and executed a tight tumble
which enabled him to push off from the next wall with his feet. He
bounced from wall to wall, each time ending up perfectly oriented with
his feet in a position to push off. Finally, he wound up back in his
starting position. ``It may become a necessity to function in zero
gravity if the artificial gravity aboard the Enterprise or any other
ship you happen to be commanding suddenly went out,'' explained
Riker shook his head as his captain bounced around the room. He just
hoped that he would be in that kind of physical condition when he
entered his fifties. Meanwhile, here he was just trying to keep his
stomach in line. To take his mind off the aerial gymnastics and his
stomach, Riker decided to follow up on Picard's reasoning. ``But,
Captain, that wouldn't likely be the only problem if that happened.
Let's face it, if we lost gravity while the ship was moving there
wouldn't be enough of the crew left to worry about after we all
slammed into a wall at Warp speed!''
Picard, who wiped his face with a towel that had been floating near
him, rolled his eyes up to the floor. ``Number One, I do believe you
are being deliberately obstinate,'' he said with humor in his voice.
``You have to allow your captain his little eccentricities, it says so
right in the Starfleet guidebook.'' His tone became more somber as he
said, ``Besides, events which occurred during the Stargazer's final
mission made zero gravity training a necessity. A well placed Ferengi
shot disabled a main gravity generator and its two backup subsystems.
Rather than have a gravity imbalance tear the ship apart, I decided to
shut down all generators until engineering could repair it. For
fifteen minutes during the heat of battle, we had to remain stationary
and effect repairs while fending off a Ferengi warship. If it hadn't
been for the null gravity training of the crew, I might not be here
lecturing you today.''
Riker knew something of the Stargazer incident, when a young Jean-Luc
Picard had lost his first command and his closest friend. He was
always amazed that his captain could casually bring up a subject that
had almost cost him his career, not to mention his life. He realized,
however, that to Picard all of life was a learning experience and that
mistakes often taught more than successes. That ability was one which
Riker admired and tried hard to emulate.
Picard continued with a mischevious grin, ``Of course, the Stargazer
was dead in space at the time. I always hope that if I am on another
ship which decides to lose its gravity there will be enough time to
bring the ship to a halt. It is heartening that there have been no
reported cases of a ship losing artificial gravity except after an
attack.'' He paused as he stroked his chin. ``Although, there have
been a few unexplained losses of ship and crew!'' Picard cracked a
smile and remarked, ``Why, Commander, I do believe you are turning a
shade green. Perhaps we should get you more secure footing.
Computer, restore gravity.''
That command brought an order to Picard and Riker's one room universe.
Suddenly there was an up and a down orientation and the younger man's
stomach stopped spinning. Slowly they were deposited on the padded
floor of the room. Padding had become a necessity after the first
broken wrists and legs wound up in sick-bays from the earliest null
The Vari-Gee chambers were common items on Starfleet vessels and the
Enterprise had three. They were possible because of a feature of the
way gravity was generated in a starship. They were located at points
within the ship at which the various generated gravity fields
intersected. The combined effects of the fields were played against
one another to create the desired gravitational effect. They had
proven themselves valuable not only as null gravity training rooms,
but also as tools to climatize crew members who were preparing for
planetary excursions to worlds more massive than Earth.
Riker and Picard exited the room with the First Officer looking much
relieved. He accepted the importance of being able to handle himself
in zero gravity, and felt that he was better than most at it. But he
much preferred knowing which way was up. He said to Picard, ``I think
I'll head over to the locker room and get out of this exercise suit
and into the spa. I had a jiu-jitsu match this morning which has left
every muscle hurting. That room,'' he said pointing over his
shoulder, ``didn't help matters any. Care to join me?''
``An excellent idea, Will,'' he replied. ``It sounds like a very
relaxing way to finish the day.''
As they began to head for the exercise area, the gruff voice of
Lieutenant Worf, the Enterprise's Chief of Security, came from
Picard's chest communicator, ``Captain, we are receiving a Priority
call from Admiral Johnson at Starfleet Command.''
Picard tapped his communicator and responded, ``Thank you, Lieutenant.
I am on my way. Have the call routed to my ready room.'' He closed
the connection and the two officers reversed their course, now heading
for the turbolift at the end of the hall, ``We'll have to forego the
spa for another day, Commander, it seems we have work to do.''
Riker nodded and took on a more serious demeanor. ``Should I start
recalling the crew from their shore leave? We still have about two
hundred people on the planet's surface.''
``Yes, have Chief O'Brien begin recovery procedures. Let him know
that I want Commanders La Forge and Data back on board as soon as
possible. If the rumours I have been hearing are true, we could be in
store for a rough mission. I want the two of them to give the ship a
complete work over before we deorbit. Shield and drive diagnostics to
receive top priority.'' As they stepped into the turbolift he glanced
at Riker's damp clothes. Smiling, he said, ``You might, however, want
to stop by your quarters and clean up after you give those orders,
Number One. You're a mess! Join me in my ready room when you are
Geordi La Forge had known that coming into the casino was not a good
idea. But his android companion had wanted to try out his newly
learned poker skills. Data was doing quite well for himself, the
Enterprise's Chief Engineer had to admit. He had collected quite a
large sum of money in winnings, but had also collected an even bigger
Data was now involved in a very high stakes game. La Forge estimated
there were half a million in credits worth of chips on the table.
Only Data and one other man remained of the fivesome who had started
this hand, and the other man was beginning to sweat. Data was
impassive as always.
``I believe that I will see your bid, sir, and raise you two hundred
thousand credits,'' Data responded to his opponent's sortie.
``You're bluffing, mister. So I'll humor you,'' the big man replied.
He then pushed his entire pile to the middle of the table. ``I'll
call. You're going to have to beat two pair, kings and eights.''
La Forge let out a low whistle, there wasn't much that could beat that
combination. Then he saw something incredible, as Data lay down two
queens and three deuces. A full house and Data had won.
``A most enjoyable game, sir,'' Data said as he leaned across the
table to pull in his winnings, only to look straight into the business
end of a projectile weapon. Data stood up quickly and backed away
from the obviously irritated man. ``May I ask what your intent is?''
Data asked imperturbably.
``I don't know how you did it, but you must have cheated,'' the man
said as he shook away spectators that were trying to restrain him. He
continued as he alternated aiming his gun at both Geordi and Data.
``No one wins that many games. And no one,'' he emphasized, ``wins
that many games against me. Tell me. You're counting cards, aren't
you?'' It was more of a statement than a question.
Geordi tried to signal to his friend, but the android did not see him.
Data continued on truthfully, ``Of course, sir. I've been taught to
use my greatest abilities to win at this game. Being an android can
have its advantages.''
A hush had fallen over the crowd at Data's admission. His opponent
began to laugh. ``Well, that will teach me to play stud poker with a
walking computer.'' Others in the crowd began to relax and smile, but
the tension rose as the man became ominously serious again and said,
``But, Mr. Android, counting cards is strictly illegal on this planet
and I'm going to have to kill you.'' He raised his weapon at Data.
Geordi stepped up to the man. He wasn't worried about the gun
injuring Data, but some of the bystanders might get hit by a
ricocheting bullet and this he wanted to avoid. ``Come on, there must
be another way to resolve this. How about if Data agrees to return
the money to its original owners?''
The man appeared to consider this and then shook his head. ``No, he
must be made an example of. Then the money will be returned. If you
don't get out of the way, you'll buy it before your friend here.''
``Buy it?'' Data asked.
``I'll explain later. If there is a later,'' Geordi replied. Just
then his communicator beeped with a transporter lock. He smiled with
relief and turned to the gunman. He backed off to stand next to Data
and as he waved to the man with his right had he tapped the
confirmation signal with his left.
``Sorry, we'd love to see this resolved, but maybe next time,'' he
called as he and the Enterprise's second officer dematerialized to the
stunned look of the antagonist.
A starship with a crew of over one thousand people on an extended
mission inevitably had problems between crew members. The Enterprise
was a small insular city whose ultimate authority was the captain.
Thus, gone were the days when the captain could conduct all his
business from the bridge or from a desk in his quarters. There needed
to be a location where the administration of ship could take place, as
well as the final resolution of difficulties among the crew. The
captain's ready room off the main bridge became that place. It was
where the business of the ship was conducted, and it was the place
where all crew members could be assured of getting the captain's ear.
It was also the place where communications considered sensitive could
be received and evaluated.
Jean-Luc Picard stood staring out the viewport in the ready room
contemplating the stars. The orders which he had just finished
viewing were not only sensitive, they were profoundly disturbing. The
peace which had been the rule more than the exception over the people
who lived about those stars might be shattered by the ultimate
resolution of those orders. He turned from the viewport when the door
signal chimed, indicating Riker was ready to talk with him. He picked
up a cup of tea from his desk and sipped it, trying to calm his
turbulent feelings with mundane acts. He then signalled for the door
The First Officer walked in smiling. ``Geordi and Data have just
beamed aboard, sir. I appears that Commander La Forge was showing
Data the finer points of the human condition,'' he quipped.
``Indeed? I shall be most interested in how my Chief Engineer is
educating my Second Officer.'' He then took another sip of his tea
and indicated for Riker to pour himself some. ``Later, though.
Please sit down, Number One.''
Picard sat behind his desk and touched a few controls on the computer
console. ``I would like you to see the communique we just received
They both turned their attention to the viewscreen on the wall next to
Picard's desk. Admiral Robert Johnson's face lit up the screen.
``Hello, Jean-Luc. I trust that this finds you and your crew well
rested, and the Enterprise in good condition. I apologize for not
being able to allow you to complete your shore leave term, but
circumstances in and around the Romulan Neutral Zone have made that
``As you are aware, for the past two years attacks have been made on
our outposts along the Neutral Zone border. Your ship was sent in to
investigate early on in this matter and wound up having the first
encounter with the Romulans in over twenty years. Until two months
ago, there had been no further attacks against Federation posts.
Since that time, two more planetary outposts have been obliterated, as
well as three of the border Starbases.''
Riker looked up in surprise at Picard, he had not realized the
destruction had gotten to this scale. The captain nodded and replied,
``It gets worse. Listen.''
Johnson continued, ``After the first of the starbases was destroyed,
Starfleet sent in two ships to investigate. The Gallant and the
Endeavor arrived about three weeks ago. Last week, the most recent
attack resulted in Starbase 59's destruction. The Gallant responded
to the distress call but was too late.'' The screen switched to a
view from space of the starbase. Large pieces of the hull of the base
were scattered in the view, and an angry red glow was coming from a
large hole in the starbase's living section. Over the picture, the
admiral's voice went on, ``The Gallant reported no survivors.''
The viewscreen came back to Johnson's tense face. ``Not one hour had
passed after these pictures were sent when we lost contact with the
Gallant. There was no warning and no distress call sent. The
Endeavor was dispatched to the region and although it found the debris
from the starbase, there was no sign of the other starship. That was
three days ago. This morning, communication with the Endeavor was
lost, also without warning.
``We have now lost over ten thousand people to these attacks,
Jean-Luc. The captains and crew of the two starships were among the
best we have, they should not have been taken by surprise but that is
the only explanation we have for the lack of distress calls.'' He
paused and his mouth set grimly, ``The apparent lack of forewarning
and the location being the Neutral Zone indicates to Starfleet Command
that these attacks are most likely the work of the Romulans.
Especially in light of their heightened presence in and around the
area the past two years. It is the decision of Starfleet Command that
the Enterprise be sent to the region to investigate. We need to know
just what kind of weapons are being brought to bear against our bases
and ships, and more importantly, confirmation that it is the Romulans
who are doing this.
``We would like to send you support ships, but at the moment it is
impossible. The nearest ships are weeks away and have begun
preparations to join you, but until they arrive you are it. Not only
are you going to be responsible for unearthing the details of these
attacks, but also for protecting the remaining three starbases: 57,
63, and 64.''
At this Riker whistled and then quietly said, ``Those bases are three
days apart at warp seven. We can't protect all of them.''
Picard sipped his tea and grunted in acknowledgement of Riker's
``The Enterprise has been given extraordinary authorization to enter
the Neutral Zone if you feel it is necessary, Captain,'' the recording
continued. ``It is not the desire of Starfleet to start another war
with the Romulans, however, we must know the cause for these attacks.
If your investigation brings you in contact with the Romulans,''
Johnson paused. He then cleared his throat and looked with compassion
through the viewer, ``I don't need to tell you your business,
Jean-Luc, nor will I tie your hands. You are the best captain we
have, and the Enterprise is our best ship. Your authorization is to
do what is necessary, and that is for you to decide at the time.
Johnson out.'' The image of the admiral was replaced by the stars of
the Starfleet logo.
The two officers turned their chairs to face one another, a look of
resignation in both of their faces. Riker began, ``I can't help
thinking, Captain, that this isn't the Romulan's style. Historically,
they avoid provoking a battle by firing the first shot. Usually, they
will provoke it by drawing their adversary into a situation where he
has to fire first.''
``My feelings exactly, Number One. Our previous encounters with the
Romulans have all been of that genre as well. For them to all of a
sudden take the offensive like this is very much out of character,''
he replied. ``However, if they have developed a new weapon which
allows them to easily destroy a planetary outpost and starbases which
are heavily shielded, they may very well have experienced a change of
``Regardless, it is our job to discover just what is going on out
there. As soon as we have recovered our crew and Mr. La Forge is
ready, I want the Enterprise headed on a course for the location of
Starbase 59, since it was the last starbase to be attacked and the
Endeavor and Gallant disappeared there. Let's see what clues we can
unearth at the scene of the crime,'' he paused to collect his
thoughts. ``I want you to rearrange the duty schedules so that two of
either yourself, myself, or Mr. Data are on the bridge at all times
once we arrive at the Neutral Zone. The third shall be available to
respond immediately if the situation warrants it. Once we leave warp
near the zone, I want the entire crew to be under conditional alert at
Riker nodded his assent, but added, ``It will be a strain on the crew,
Captain. Heightened alert status always is.''
``I'm aware of that, Will, there is no choice. It is better for us to
be ready for any situation that arises, rather than be caught
unaware.'' Picard then stood and picked up his tea cup as he turned
once again to the viewport. ``As I see it, Number One, we are now the
only thing standing between peace and war. If it is to be war, then
ours will be the first battle.''
Picard entered the briefing room adjacent to the main bridge. As he
approached the table, the assembled officers quieted down and turned
to him expectantly. When the Enterprise had begun its journey to the
Neutral Zone two days earlier, the captain had ordered each officer to
research a different aspect of the mission. Now, each would give
their report in the presence of the others so that they could all be
better prepared to handle the job at hand.
``Well, let's get started, shall we?'' said Picard as he sat in his
chair at the head of the table. ``You've all been briefed on the
mission, but we all have gaps in our education about the Romulans.
So, Mr. Data, tell us what you've found out about the Romulan Empire
and its people.''
Data began in his normal neutral voice, ``Considering how long the
Federation and the Empire have been at conflict with one another,
Starfleet's records contain surprisingly little useful information,
``Can you elaborate on that, Data?'' prompted Riker.
``Yes, sir. One would expect that after having had contact with the
Romulans, or Rihannsu as they call themselves, for over one hundred
fifty years that the Federation would have more information than I
have been able to access. Starfleet computers have minimal cultural
and sociological information regarding the Romulan Empire. The
historical information is fairly common knowledge. The Federation and
the Romulan Empire fought against one another in an interstellar war
which spanned decades. This conflict began shortly after the first
Federation vessels attempted to make contact with the Romulan
homeworlds, and were subsequently destroyed. The treaty which ended
that period of conflict created the region of space we call the
Neutral Zone. Yet through the length of that war and even during the
treaty talks, no direct contact was ever made with a Romulan. In
fact, the treaty was negotiated completely over voice only subspace
``Approximately eighty years ago, the first Federation starship named
Enterprise made the first recorded direct contact with the Romulans.
During this engagement, which took place on the Federation side of the
Neutral Zone, discovery of the Romulan cloaking device was made. This
enhancement to the normal defense shields of Romulan warbird makes the
ship invisible to Federation scanners. However, it was also
discovered that the enormous power drain attributed to cloaking makes
it impossible to amass enough energy to fire weapons. Thus a ship
must drop its cloaking shields to launch an attack. This weakness has
since been exploited by the Federation many times.
``Shortly after the first engagement, the same ship initiated another
contact with the Romulans, this time within the Neutral Zone. This
contact resulted in the acquisition of a Romulan shield generator.
Much useful information is in the computer banks regarding the
subsequent tests of this shield generator, including confirmation of
the immense power drains that it puts on the systems of a starship.
Until this time, it was doubted that a ship could move at warp speeds
with the shield generator on. These tests proved that this was not
the case, and that a Constitution class vessel could accelerate at
almost warp two with the shielding up.''
``Why did the Federation not copy and improve the Romulan shielding
for its own vessels?'' inquired the ship's counselor, Deanna Troi.
``The records indicate that while Starfleet Command was impressed with
the data acquired in the tests, it was felt that dependance upon a
largely defensive device which was very inefficient would be very
unwise. It was decided to concentrate on improvements to the warp
drive and weaponry as offensive weapons, while increasing the
effectiveness of traditional shielding.''
Picard interrupted, ``Yes, all that you have said is well documented,
Mr. Data. But what about more recent contacts?''
``That is the oddity of this case, sir. As you are aware, until our
own first encounter with the Romulans two years ago, no authorized
incursions of the Neutral Zone had been made by a Federation vessel.
Indeed, nothing was heard from the Romulan side of the zone for 70
years. Judging from the transcripts of our communication with the
Romulan commander T-Bok, it would appear that they have been involved
in a great conflict on another border of their empire that kept them
``They have also improved their weaponry and defenses greatly,''
rumbled Worf. ``The new ship configuration that we have seen is a
great deal more advanced than the old designs they borrowed from my
``Continue, Mr. Worf,'' prompted Picard as he turned his attention to
``The ships that we have been encountering are approximately three
times the size of the Birds of Prey seen 70 years ago. Yet, life sign
readings indicate that there are no more than 200 people aboard. This
can only mean that much more room is being used for engineering and
weaponry than in our own ships. While we cannot assume that this
would indicate inferior power supplies to our own, sensor scans taken
at the time of our most recent meeting at Galorndon Core would
indicate that the total power output of their ship was just under that
of our own. This may show that they have not fully conquered the
problems involved with the costliness of their cloaking device.
``Sensor scans also showed that the Romulan ships are able to bring to
bear a greater quantity of firepower than we can. They have perhaps
half again as many energy weapons emplacements as does the Enterprise.
Our data is not as good with the projectile weapons, but the same
would seem to hold true. However, what they have in quantity may not
make up for the fact that a Romulan disruptor is not as powerful as a
Federation phaser,'' he said with pride in his voice.
``Defensively, it is more difficult to say how the new warbirds match
up to our own. We have never fired at one so we cannot judge how
their shields would stand up to phaser power. We also do not know how
defense shielding is affected by having the invisibility screen up.
``Finally, regarding the cloaking device. The information that the
Klingons have given us on their modified cloaking device indicates a
tendency to use brute force to increase the effectiveness of the
shield. By dedicating more of a ship's power to the shields, the
cloaking effect becomes all the more complete. If the Romulans have
stayed on the same development track that they were on when they had
close ties with the Klingon Empire, then we may be able to find them.
The advances we have had in sensor technology over the past fifteen
years may give us an edge. It may take some time to get the method
down, but given the opportunity, I believe I can find a way to lock on
to and destroy a cloaked ship.''
``Excellent, Mr. Worf. I hope that we can give you the opportunity to
get some practice before we find ourselves fighting for our lives. I
expect you to work with Mr. Data analysing those old test results and
the logs of our previous encounters to perfect your method before we
meet up with them again. Keep myself and Commander Riker informed of
your progress.'' said Picard, sitting back in his chair at the head
of the black walnut briefing table. Thoughtfully, he turned to
Beverly Crusher, the chief medical officer, ``Well, we've heard had
our history lesson and our strategy lesson. Dr. Crusher, why don't
you give us the physiology lesson?''
She smiled and spread her hands wide, ``Historically, the lesson is
the same as Data outlined. Starfleet records have very little
detailed information about Romulan evolution. What we do know comes
from Vulcan prehistory. It relates of a time when the Vulcans and the
Romulans were once and the same race. This was a period of what can
best be described as feudalism, where small city-states warred against
one another. There then came a period of great sociological change on
Vulcan when their great thinker Savek preached logical control of the
emotions which brought on these wars. The Romulan forebears rejected
these teachings which they regarded as soft. The two groups split,
not only philosophically, but also geographically. The Romulan
ancestors, in what is probably the greatest exodus in recorded
history, left Vulcan for a new and presumably more adventuresome life.
``As Data indicated, there have been very few opportunities to
directly examine any Romulans. Our encounters with the defecting
Admiral Jaroc and with the shipwrecked Romulan, Bochra, on Galorndon
Core were perhaps the closest any Federation medical officer has come
to living Romulans and certainly a dead one. The studies I made while
we had them here and during the autopsy of Jaroc revealed that the
Vulcan/Romulan legends are probably true. There is a striking
physiological resemblance between the Romulans and Vulcans. The
differences in internal anatomy could be attributed to the rise in
temperature which Vulcan experienced after the Romulan forbears left,
and to gravitational variations between Vulcan and the Romulan
``The mental abilities of the Vulcans is well documented. Is there
any indication that the Romulans have these psi powers?'' inquired
Counselor Troi responded, ``Doubtful. Nothing we have seen verifies
this. Apparently, the Vulcan ability for mental prowess has its
foundations in Savek's early philosophical journeys which the Romulan
predecessors forsook. However, I think that we can expect great
intelligence and persistence in them. Our greatest strength against
them may be our unpredictability, as was proven, I believe, by the
successes of some of the early encounters.''
``Agreed, Counselor. We must be prepared to use our guile to our best
advantage. From what Mr. Worf has said, we must also be prepared to
take a beating if we find ourselves in a fight.'' Picard turned and
addressed his Chief Engineer, ``Mr. La Forge, what can you tell me
about our own preparations?''
Geordi had been looking over the most recent engineering status report
when Picard had asked this. As he looked up, the light glinted off
the gray steel of his VISOR, a device which enabled him to overcome
blindness and see in a way no other human could. He pressed a button
on the table top which caused the computer to display the data on the
main viewer. As he responded, the listeners turned to the viewer and
considered the data. ``I feel the Enterprise is in the best shape
she's ever been in, Captain. I have had my staff running diagnostics
on all the systems ever since we left orbit and all that has needed
repairing has been dealt with. All systems are showing optimal. The
fine tuning of the warp drive that has been been going on for the past
few months should enable us to top warp 9.85. If the conditions are
right, perhaps 9.9.''
Riker whistled quietly. This was close to the theoretical envelope
for the Enterprise . ``How well will the ship hold together and
maneuver under that kind of speed?''
``I don't know that I'd want to go any direction but arrow straight at
that high a warp,'' Geordi replied smiling. ``But I'll stand by the
integrity of this ship and the specs that say this ship's structure
should handle warp 9.95. If only we could make a drive that could
punch us that high.''
``Well, we don't have one, although I'm sure by the time this journey
of ours is over you'll have gotten us there, Commander. In the
meantime, let's make do with what we have.'' Picard then stood ready
to dismiss the group. ``I feel that we are ready to take what steps
we need to resolve this situation.'' He then looked down at his
officers and spoke somewhat softer, ``I just want to impress upon you
how important this mission is. We are once again going up against old
adversaries whom we know at the outset are dangerous. Many people
have already died, and our job is to try to make sure that many more
don't. To accomplish this, Starfleet has determined that this ship
and her crew are potentially expendable. Our mission is not to start
a war, but if one indeed does develop, let me make it perfectly clear
that this ship will not fold in the face of the enemy. You are all
excellent officers, and I expect nothing less than excellence these
next few days.''
He looked up the table and paused looking at Beverly Crusher. He
thought of their friendship and how he was glad to have her aboard.
Her companionship meant a great deal to him, more than he cared to
admit. The thought of bringing her or any of the non-combatant
personnel on the Enterprise into this situation troubled him. But, as
a Starfleet captain he had learned to deal with troubling situations.
Picard then cleared his throat and said, ``I want you all to carry on,
and stay sharp.'' He then turned and walked out onto the bridge.
The next day, the Enterprise dropped out of the netherworld of warp
space into physical space at the location of where Starbase 59 should
have been stationed. In its place, the crew found debris covering a
volume of space that a small planet could have covered.
``Mr. Data'', called Picard as he exited the turbolift and entered the
bridge, ``what information can your scanners provide about the debris
``Wreckage, Captain,'' responded Data from the Operations console in
the front of the bridge. ``Definitely parts of the Starbase. We are
picking up all the right trace elements. Sizes of the pieces range
from millimeters to sections bigger than a shuttle. No life signs,
and no indications of life-boats.''
``No. If there had been life boats, the Endeavor would have picked
them up,'' Picard said grimly. He then turned to the helm station.
``Plot out a search pattern that will enable us to scan at least 80 of
the blast zone, Mr. Crusher. Mr. Data, I want you to select various
pieces of the debris to be beamed aboard and analyzed. Number One,
assemble a science team to study the fragments and have them prepare a
``How about Evans and Okawa? They have solid background in structural
analysis and stress testing. Okawa was also involved with the
original design team of the perimeter starbases. And perhaps a
weapons expert like Mr. Worf would be helpful.'' Riker said, nodding
his head toward the rear console.
``Evans and Okawa,'' Picard paused as he remembered their names.
``They're the ones who helped Engineering with that nacelle cracking
problem a few months ago. They do excellent work. Mr. Worf, you will
go on half shifts. Four hours here on the bridge and four hours with
the science team.''
``Sir, I can continue to do my full duty shift and follow up with the
science team in my off hours,'' Worf replied.
``Lieutenant, I have no doubts about your endurance. I want you
sharp, however, not dead tired. There will be time enough for long
bridge shifts,'' Picard ended the discussion.
``Mr. Data, let's get started. I want to be on our way to the last
reported position of the Endeavor within 2 hours.''
``Aye, sir, my calculations indicate that it will take approximately
one and three quarter hours to complete the scan.''
``Very well, let's get on with it,'' Picard ordered as he settled into
his command chair.
Doctors Miriam Evans and Yasu Okawa were intently studying the
remnants of Starbase 59 when Worf walked into their science lab on
Deck Thirteen. The first thing he noticed was that it was highly
cluttered with piles of overstrained test samples scattered about the
room. He almost chuckled when he saw that the old samples had been
simply pushed aside when the new piles from the destroyed starbase had
been brought in.
Worf cleared his throat when it became obvious that they had not
noticed his arrival. Both of the scientists turned with startled
surprise that this large man had been able to enter without their
noticing. The Klingon ignored their surprise and began, ``I see that
you are already at work here. I apologize for not arriving earlier.
My presence was required on the bridge. However, the captain was very
specific that I should report for half my shift, and here I am. Is
there any way I can be of some assistance.''
``Certainly, Lieutenant,'' said Dr. Evans in a soft contralto. She,
like many of the crew, was always a little taken aback by the sight of
the large Klingon up close. Neither of the researchers had been given
an opportunity to work with Worf, and now they weren't sure they
wanted the experience. However, she regained her professionalism and
continued, ``We've been looking at a section of what we believe was
part of the central hub of the Starbase. Take a look at these burn
marks. This is the first piece which has actually had an indication
of weapons fire. All the other sections that we have examined show
evidence of being torn apart, rather than blown apart.''
``I see,'' Worf said as he picked up a large section of the hull
debris. ``So you are saying that most of the Starbase sections show no
evidence of a direct hit.''
``Not hardly, Mr. Worf,'' spoke up Okawa. The small Oriental
scientist spoke as if he were lecturing a student, ``It is almost as
if certain sections of the Starbase were targeted and then the whole
thing structurally collapsed. It is strange, because we did not think
that a perimeter starbase with all of its shielding could be hit with
enough energy to cause this kind of damage. Especially considering
the additional structural reinforcements in these bases.''
``Ordinarily, it cannot,'' mused Worf. ``But all shields have their
weak points and a starbase's are no exception. The trick, of course,
is knowing what those weak points are. That requires knowledge of how
they were designed and implemented.''
``Very good, Mr. Worf,'' exclaimed Evans. ``That is exactly what we
were thinking. Normally when we examine debris from an attacked ship,
it holds evidence of a great deal of sustained weapons impact over
much of the hull. Not in this case, however. As I said, this was the
first piece of debris that had any indication of impingement. Granted
we've only gone through about 1/4 the collected samples. But we
should have come across other weapons' burns by now.''
``Back to why we called you down here, though,'' interrupted Okawa.
``Could you look at this piece and tell us what kind of weapon may
have caused this damage?''
``It may require some study,'' Worf said, picking up the charred piece
in his hands, ``but at first glance I would have to say a low energy
phaser caused this. Perhaps disrupter fire, but I doubt it.''
``So do I, Lieutenant,'' said Okawa, ``I also am hesitant about saying
it is phaser impact as well until I take a look at the molecular bonds
around the incision.''
Worf nodded in agreement, ``I would like to examine this piece further
with you. Shall we get to work?''
The scientists nodded eagerly and they began to attack the pieces
intently with the massive Klingon.
``We are very close to the area from which Starfleet picked up the
Endeavor's last transmission, sir,'' called Data's voice over the
intercom in Picard's ready room.
``I shall be on the bridge in a moment, Mr. Data. Thank you.''
Picard looked back up at Worf, ``So our experts are not convinced that
it is disrupter fire which caused the destruction of the Starbase?''
``No, sir, and neither am I. I have been studying the deep lattice
scans of the impact areas on the debris, and I can say that although
they don't look like phaser burns they also do not look convincingly
like disruptor fire either. The breakdown of the lattice bonds in the
metal is all wrong for either weapon, and yet has come characteristics
``Well, that's bothersome, isn't it, Number One?'' Picard said to the
other guest in the ready room. ``The last time we were here, the
Romulans were still using disruptors.''
``Aye, sir,'' Riker assented, ``and the Romulans aren't ones to hold
back a weapon like this.''
``No, they are not. So we are up against something potentially very
different from what we are equipped to handle. A new weapon in the
hands of an old and not too well known adversary,'' the captain said
as he rose and walked toward door adjoining the bridge. ``Well, let's
keep that in mind, shall we?''
As the bridge door opened, Data looked to the entrance, ``Sir, we are
approximately in the area last reported by the Endeavor .''
``Very well, scan the area for any signs of that ship,'' Picard said
as he stepped between the helm and operations consoles toward the main
viewer as if to get a better view.
The long range scanners aboard the Enterprise were as good as any in
the fleet. They could scan hundreds of parsecs in any direction in
very short order. Under the observation and control of the android
operations officer, the time to study a large volume of space became
very short indeed.
A few minutes later, Data reported, ``Sir, I believe I am picking up a
signal beacon and some indication of scattered debris in quadrant
``A signal? Lock onto it and get us over there, Mr. Crusher. Shields
up, Mr. Worf. Escalate the alert status, let's not get caught
unawares. Remember we are in the Neutral Zone, anything can happen,''
he added needlessly.
As the Enterprise neared the area, Picard could see on the main viewer
a small field of debris. Worf reported what the captain had already
surmised, ``Definitely the remains of a starship, Captain. The short
range sensors indicate some sections of the ship to be still intact.
No life forms in any of the large pieces, however.''
Unlike the long range scanners, the short range scanners were
controlled by the tactical console of the Klingon. These sensors were
also used for weapons targeting. They provided Worf a detailed
picture of what was in the immediate vicinity of the ship. They could
also give him an idea of how a ship in the region might be constructed
and how many life forms were inside it.
``Where is the signal that Data is picking up coming from?'' asked
``There is a small life boat among some of the smaller pieces of the
ship.'' Worf made some adjustments to his console. ``Yes, there is a
life reading from it, but it is very faint.''
``Lock onto that life boat with a tractor beam, Mr. Worf. Captain to
Sick Bay. Dr. Crusher, get a triage team down to the shuttle bay. I
believe we have a patient for you.''
``Acknowledged, Captain,'' came the reply from the intercom.
``Captain, I have acquired the life boat with a tractor beam and I am
now positioning it to be brought into the shuttle bay.''
``Very good, Mr. Worf, proceed.'' He turned to Riker, ``Number One,
Data, let's go down to the shuttle bay and see what we have reeled in.
Worf, get a security detail to meet us down there. You have the
A life-boat was not intended for long term journeys in space. A
practiced eye could tell that with one look. With no engines to speak
of and only rudimentary shielding, it was only intended to keep
someone alive long enough for help to arrive. Usually within a matter
of a day or so a rescue ship could be at hand. That is, within normal
Federation controlled space. That was where the Endeavor was designed
to operate. It had been called out of its sphere of operations for
the Neutral Zone emergency and had not been equipped with hostile
space rescue equipment. A ship like the Enterprise had no life boats
to speak of, but was designed so that individual sections of the ship
could function to keep the crew alive for many weeks. This, of
course, assumed that there was at least one section that had sustained
no major damage. If one didn't, then no life boat could sustain any
portion of the thousand member crew long enough for rescuers to
The Endeavor's life boat had been adrift in space for five days and
its air and food supplies had been seriously depleted. The energy
storage cells would continue powering the emergency transmitter for
years to come, but by then the occupants of the life boat would be
long dead. To add to the boat's problems, it had been exposed to some
blast radiation when the Endeavor emolated itself. This knocked out
some of the food storage systems and had destroyed the reoxygenator,
the device that recycled the ship's atmosphere and kept it breathable.
All in all, it was a wonder that this life boat had kept anyone alive,
and Riker said as much.
``The human body can take a great deal of punishment, Commander,''
said Beverly Crusher as she ran a tricorder over the officer who they
had discovered. ``But I'm afraid that this body may have received too
much abuse. I won't be able to tell until I get him up to sick bay.''
``Do what you can, Doctor. I want to be able to speak with him as
soon you can get him conscious. He should be able to tell us
something about what happened here,'' said Picard.
The doctor and her team then disappeared into the turbolift with the
``You seem rather certain about that, Captain,'' said Riker. ``Why?''
``Because I know him, or at least of him. He is Commander Redd
Tarkenton. He went through the academy a year or so after I did. His
exploits there are legend, as I understand it.''
``Yes, they are, sir,'' replied Riker. ``He was captain of the
academy spaceball team and second in his graduating class. His record
of a 3.97 grade point and 206 points in a season is still untouched.''
``Even by you, Will?'' Picard said, smiling.
Riker grimaced, ``Spaceball was never my forte, Captain. You had to
be really good at handling yourself in null gravity. I was, however,
a fairly competent assistant offensive coach.''
``Yes, well, we'll have to see about getting you ready to take over
next season's team. Anyway, Tarkenton went on to have a rather
distinguished career, but he never wanted his own ship. He preferred
the technical levels of a ship to command. He went back to the
Academy after rising to the rank of Lieutenant-Commander and got his
engineering certification. Starfleet then reassigned him to the
Inspector-General's office as an inspector of engineering for the
fleet. I met him a couple of times when he came to inspect the
Stargazer , a tougher and fairer man one could not hope to meet.''
``I understand the saying was, `When you see Redd, you'll see red',
around the engineering corps, sir,'' commented Riker.
``Yes, Will, I believe I said that on occasion, too. He continued his
career teaching at the Academy in some of the upper level Warp drive
Practical classes. I had thought he was still there, but apparently
he got himself back out in the field. I hope he can give us an
accounting of what happened out here.''
``He looks pretty tough, but it would be difficult to imagine anyone
surviving the radiation levels to which he was exposed,'' Riker said.
``That's very true, Will, that's why I want to speak with him as soon
as he comes to. Meanwhile, let's get back to the bridge and see if we
can collect some more samples for our analysis team to piece
The Enterprise had completed its survey of the wreckage of the
Endeavor and was now racing toward Starbase 57. Picard had assembled
his senior officers to another meeting in the briefing room to hear
the results of the science team's studies.
``Captain, I believe that with Lieutenant Worf's invaluable assistance
we have been able to figure out the cause of Starbase 59's demise,''
started Okawa. ``To put it simply, the starbase was destroyed by
advanced structural fatigue.''
``Structural fatigue, Dr. Okawa?'' queried Riker, raising an eyebrow.
``I would hardly call an attack by Romulan Warbirds `structural
``Commander Riker, what my colleague means is that the direct cause
for the destruction of Starbase 59 was a collapse of the major
structural members of the starbase's outer hull. This was brought
about by weak weapons fire onto key locations of the structure,''
explained Evans. ``If I may demonstrate, Captain?''
``Please do, Doctor,'' said Picard indicating that she had the floor.
Evans pressed a few buttons on the table top, in the center of the
table a holograph of the unmistakable mushroom shaped image of a
Perimeter Starbase appeared. ``Here we have an image of a Type 3
Starbase, the design of the Neutral Zone Perimeter bases. This design
is unique due to its redundant shield generators. It has five, with
one on the northern end of the axis and one on the southern end of the
axis. It also has three shield generators placed equidistantly along
the equatorial circumference.'' Blue lights appeared in the
appropriate places on the image. ``These starbases are also equipped
with phaser defense emplacements in two rings, one on the northern
hemisphere of the starbase and one on the southern.'' Rings of red
indicated the locations of the phaser tracks on the image.
``Based upon the wreckage samples of Starbase 59 that were recovered
we have made what we believe is a fairly accurate computer simulation
of the attack that was carried out upon the base,'' continued Okawa.
``Computer, if you please, simulation Okawa Two Starbase Five Nine.''
``The heaviest hull scarring was around the polar shield generators.
This causes us to believe that the attack concentrated on these areas.
One ship would have been enough to do the damage, though two would
have made things more expedient.'' At that moment a dot appeared on
the screen below the south polar end of the Starbase, a white line was
then inscribed from the dot to the blue shield generator along the
south pole. ``With the aid of Lieutenant Worf, we determined that the
scarring around the south polar end of the starbase was not caused by
a standard Romulan weapon, at least not one we know about.''
Worf growled, ``The weapon has characteristics of a Romulan disruptor
and a Federation phaser, but is really not either. It seems to have
bored its way through the shields slowly, similar to a percussion
drill. It seems to set up frequencies of destructive interference
within the shields and then exploits the zones of lesser intensity.
Even so, by the time the energy beam gets to the hull of the starbase,
its strength would be greatly attenuated by the shield's residual
``Exactly, Lieutenant,'' continued Evans. ``Judging from the energy
which we estimate must have been used to cause the damage on the polar
areas, the power source of the weapon must be close to three times
that of a phaser on this ship.''
``Wait a minute,'' La Forge said shaking his head, ``there is no way
that a ship could sustain that kind of power for very long and keep
its own shields up protecting it from the defense phasers on the
Starbase. It would have to have the power supply of the Enterprise
dedicated to the shields and weapons, with none left for engines and
``Either that or it could be cloaked and unshootable, Geordi,''
pointed out Riker.
``Yet, we haven't seen a demonstration of the cloaking device being
maintained while power is diverted for the ship's weapons. It is
possible, however, that they could have made a breakthrough with their
cloaking device that we are not aware of. After all, the Romulans are
not in the habit of telling us about their scientific breakthroughs,''
observed Picard wryly.
``This we don't know, Captain,'' said Evans, ``it is something the
evidence cannot tell us. The evidence also does not tell us which was
destroyed first, the starbase shields or weapons. We show them
hitting the shields first, but the best way to have the time to deal
with the shield generators would be to destroy the phasers first. I
must restate that the time to get through the shields to the shield
generators would be considerable, perhaps as long as 15 minutes of
continuous firing. It depends on just how the weapon goes about
setting up those resonance patterns in the shields. The time to get
to the phasers would be less due to their distance from the shield
generators. Once the phasers were taken out, however, they could
spend as long as they liked hitting the shield generators.''
``A slow painful death for our colleagues on the Starbase,'' Picard
said solemnly. ``What about this structural collapse business?''
Okawa answered, ``The best way we can explain it is that the attacking
ship, had such low power left in reserve after removing the Starbase's
defenses that it was reduced to etching the surface of the starbase
along the major structural members of the shell. After a bit of time,
perhaps five minutes, maybe less, the Starbase literally tore itself
``Wouldn't they require an intimate knowledge of the starbase's
construction to know just where those weak points are?'' asked Riker.
``Perhaps, Commander, perhaps. These are fairly new starbases, twenty
years or so. During that time we have not seen Romulans near the
bases, aside from these attacks. Therefore, one might assume they
found the plans somehow, or they have some very good scanners that can
get through our scramblers.'' said Okawa.
``I don't think so, Doctor,'' said Picard. ``We would have known they
were scanning us a long time ago, and I have never seen a report out
of the Neutral Zone which would indicate that. Okawa, you have given
us several possible attack scenarios. What is your educated best
guess of the actual attack?''
Okawa pondered this before responding. ``They probably used two
ships, one at the north pole, the other at the south. They took out
the phaser banks simultaneously very quickly, remember they would have
had full power resources then. They probably approached the Starbase
cloaked so they could get fairly close before being detected. Once
the phasers are gone, the starbase is as good as destroyed. The polar
generators would be the next target to get the living section exposed,
then finally the equatorial emplacements. All in all it probably took
half an hour to an hour to get all the shield generators down. From
that point, it probably took another fifteen minutes to etch the hull
of the starbase and let it tear itself apart.''
``Any defense against this type of attack? Answers from anyone would
be appreciated . . .'' Picard asked.
``A starbase is big, slow and relatively unprotected, Captain,'' said
Worf. ``It cannot move out of the way. The weaponry on a starbase is
basically defensive, once that is gone, there isn't much that can be
done except die knowing you fought the enemy bravely.''
``There are always options, Mr. Worf. Dying is not the most pleasant
of them. Think on it people, that includes you, too, Doctors. Let's
see if we can come up with anything,'' Picard said, leaning back in
his chair staring at the ceiling. ``There has to be something...''
The intercom piped in the voice of Wesley Crusher from the bridge,
``Captain, we are receiving an emergency distress signal from Starbase
57,'' the young ensign reported. ``They are under attack, sir.''
``Go to Red Alert, Mr. Crusher, hold our heading to Starbase 57 and
increase speed to Warp Eight. What is our ETA at that speed?''
``Approximately forty minutes, sir.''
``Damn. Thank you, Ensign, I'm on my way.'' Picard then turned to his
assembled officers, ``Let's try to think of something quickly, folks,
if you are correct that Starbase doesn't have forty minutes.
Picard, Riker, Worf, and La Forge then scrambled to the bridge and
assumed their stations.
``Mr. Worf, please put the call from Starbase 57 on the main viewer.''
``Aye, sir. The signal is weak but stable.''
The star field on the main viewer changed to a staticy picture of a
woman's face in the Operations Room of Starbase 57. `` Enterprise ,
this is Starbase 57, we are under attack. Do you read me?''
Picard stepped toward the main viewer, ``This is Jean-Luc Picard,
Captain of the Enterprise , we are reading you. What is your
``Captain, three small ships appeared in near space to us about
fifteen minutes ago. We hailed them, but got no response. Shortly
thereafter, they began firing on our phaser emplacements. We were
able to destroy one of them before they disabled our phaser banks.
They move very quickly, Captain, and it is almost impossible to lock
onto them. They are now attacking our polar shield generators. The
shields are holding, but are beginning to weaken. We figure those
generators will hold for about half an hour.''
``Is there any way for you to increase the power going to your
shields? Can you shut down any unnecessary sections and route the
power to your shields?'' Picard queried.
``Captain, I don't think you've ever been in command of a starbase.
There are very few unnecessary sections here. However, we are in the
process of moving people to clear out several levels so that we can
shut down life support to them. Once we do that, we should be able to
increase shield power about five percent. That's about all we can do.
When can we expect your arrival, Captain?''
``Forty minutes, Commander. We can't make it any sooner. Try to hold
out that long and keep us posted. Picard out.''
``Well, Number One, I guess that modifies one of our theories. They
attack in threes, not twos. Also, no mention was made of a cloaking
device, so we have even more questions than we had before,'' he said
heading to the turbo lift. ``One thing we don't need is more
questions, we need some answers.''
``Where are you heading, sir?'' asked Riker.
``To sickbay. The Doctor may not like it, but the source to some of
our answers may be with that man in her care. I'm afraid our
situation is more pressing than medical ethics will allow. You have
the bridge, Commander. Mr. Worf, try to patch in to the starbase
sensors, I'd like to see what we're heading into. Contact me when
that is done.'' The turbo lift doors closed behind Picard, leaving
some very troubled bridge officers staring at them.
As the Enterprise raced through millions of miles of space, Picard
raced past the levels of his ship, and so too, did his mind race.
What he thought of he didn't like, the scowl on his faced giving ample
proof to that.
``It doesn't all fit quite as nicely as Okawa and Evans would like to
think. But then again, reality doesn't mirror theory as much as the
theorists would like to think,'' Picard thought silently.
``Disruptors which aren't disruptors, unknown battle tactics, no
cloaking, and no real historical background. Yes, that is the
important one. The Romulans very seldom make the first move, and this
is totally out of character for them. They would not provoke a war,
at least not this flagrantly.''
``It just doesn't add up,'' he spoke aloud.
``Unknown command sequence,'' spoke the turbolift computer.
``Damn. Now I'm talking to myself,'' muttered Picard. ``No command
Picard went back to his thinking, but through it all he felt that he
was missing something. Something he felt he should remember,
something important, but for the life of him couldn't bring to the
forefront of his mind. This made him scowl all the more. As captain,
he liked an orderly ship and he had always felt that order in the ship
began in the order of the captain's head. Right now, Jean-Luc Picard
was more confused than he had ever been.
Finally, the turbolift doors opened at the medical level. Picard
exited the turbolift and headed for the main sickbay, subconsciously
straightening his tunic for the unpleasant confrontation he knew lay
ahead with the doctor.
As the sickbay door opened he knew from one look at Beverly Crusher
that this was not going to be easy or as pleasant as his normal
discussions with her. She sat at her desk, looking up with her lips
compressed into a thin line. He knew from experience that look meant
she was going to be stubborn about the welfare of her patient.
Picard cleared his throat, and decided to approach the topic directly.
``Doctor, I need to speak with your patient in there. The safety of
this ship may depend on what information the Commander can give me.''
``Captain, that man is dying in there. There is nothing I can do
about that, but I might be able to keep him alive longer and more
comfortably if he is left to rest and recuperate somewhat from his
exposure. At least let the treatment I have given him a chance to
Picard noticed, not for the first time, how the intensity in Beverly's
eyes expressed the deep dedication of her profession to keeping living
beings living. He only could hope that she would see in his the same
desire to keep the people under his command living as well.
``Beverly, you said it yourself, Tarkenton is dying. I want to make
sure that his death is not in vain. I also believe that what he can
tell us may keep the thousand people under my command alive just a
little longer, too. Perhaps long enough to save the people on
Starbase 57. He was there on the Endeavor . He saw how they attacked
and he knows what that ship did to defend itself. Perhaps we can
avoid their mistakes and find out what force is behind all this. But
I am going to need his help and your cooperation, Doctor.''
``Jean-Luc, sometimes I wish you were not so persuasive.'' Crusher
slumped her shoulders signalling defeat. ``You know I must register
my objections in the medical log. Starfleet is going to want to know
the circumstances under which such an important officer died in my
``I understand, Doctor, I will register my reasons as well. When can
we talk with the Commander?''
Beverly bit her lower lip and called for an intern. ``Give Commander
Tarkenton 15cc's of cordrazine. We'll be there in a moment.'' She
stood up from her desk. ``I sure hope that this isn't all for
nothing, Captain. I hate to lose a man this way.''
He nodded and sympathetically said, ``I hope so, too, Doctor. But we
won't know until we do it.''
They entered the intensive care section of the sickbay and Picard saw
just how badly off Redd Tarkenton was. He lay in one of the life
support units that Picard always had felt reminded him of a coffin.
Tarkenton's face was splotchy with radiation burns around his neck and
forehead. Picard shook his head sadly. ``A tragic ending for a great
man. I know he would want to die in space, but not this way. No one
wants to die like this. When you bring him to, will there be much
pain for him?''
``Fine time to ask that, Captain,'' the doctor said wryly, ``but no,
there will be little pain. The life support unit numbs those sections
of the brain that register pain.''
``Of course, I had forgotten. Seeing him like this momentarily made
``I understand, Jean-Luc, it even happens to us doctors.'' She turned
to the intern and asked, ``Have you administered the cordrazine?''
``Yes, Doctor, but there has been little response in his vital
``All right, let's administer another 10 cc's, along with 10 cc's of
DMT. He may be too far gone for us to bring him to,'' Crusher said to
Picard as she leaned over the life support system. ``Ah, there's some
response. A little more time . . .''
Picard definitely felt out of his element. He never really had liked
the atmosphere of a sickbay or a hospital. Perhaps, he thought,
because he had spent too much time in them himself after Stargazer and
the barroom incident of his youth that had destroyed his heart.
Indeed, the Captain did not like sickbays or the scent of ill health
that seemed to permeate them. He had come too close too often to
ending his days in one.
``Jean-Luc?'' Crusher indicated that Tarkenton was coming around.
``I don't know how long I can keep him lucid. I also don't know just
how aware he will be, so ask clear questions.''
``Thank you, Doctor.'' Picard went up to the head of the patient and
leaned close to Tarkenton. ``Commander Tarkenton, can you hear me?
You are aboard the Enterprise . I am Jean-Luc Picard, the captain of
this ship. Do you understand me?''
``Picard... Enterprise ...'', the ill man whispered so quietly that
Picard had to lean even closer so he could hear him. ``What happened
to Endeavor ?''
``She was destroyed by the attack, Commander. We rescued you from an
escape capsule; too late to prevent you from suffering some exposure
injuries. You are in our sick bay, under the care of Dr. Crusher.''
``Crusher, good doctor, Academy...'', Tarkenton's eyes cleared a
little, ``Where are we?''
``We are headed for Starbase 57. It is under attack, apparently from
the same adversary that the Endeavor faced. Can you describe the
attack that you experienced?''
Tarkenton closed his eyes and shook a little. He opened them again
and there was a gleam of anger in them, ``Three ships attacked us.
Came from nowhere, very fast. They hit the phaser banks first.
Captain Yosh managed to disable one of the ships before the phasers
were completely knocked out . . .seemed to know exactly where to hit
us. Next went for the shield generators . . .Yosh tried to escape,
but we couldn't outrun them, Endeavor didn't have enough speed . .
.tore the ship apart.'' Tarkenton closed his eyes again as his voice
``Doctor, is he still conscious?'' asked Picard anxiously. ``There
are more questions that need answering.''
``Yes, he is, but his blood pressure is dangerously high, I can't give
him more cordrazine. I'll have to substitute something that may be
As the doctor did this, Tarkenton's eyes reopened and cleared again.
Picard leaned close as he said, ``Commander, the ships which attacked
you. What kind of weapons did they use?''
``The way that the energy drained from the shields, it was something
very powerful. More than the usual disrupter fire . . .even more than
a phaser. Never seen anything like it . . .like a jackhammer on the
shields. Couldn't take it and the aft shields collapsed when we ran.
Took out the engines next. Was in the outer jeffries tube trying to
re-tune the containment vessel which had been damaged. Near the aft
escape pod. Heard the alert klaxon, and made my way to the pod....I
waited as long as I could, Picard....no one came, I had to jettison.''
``No one is blaming you for jettisoning, Commander. It was the only
thing you could do.'' Picard said dryly. He noticed that Tarkenton
was quickly fading and there was one more thing he needed to know.
``Redd, this is important. From what you have experienced, can you
say whether it was a Romulan force that attacked you?''
Tarkenton's eyes opened wide at this question and it looked to Picard
that if the man could sit up in that bed he would. ``Was it
Romulan?'' he said hoarsely, ``They came from nowhere and hit with
the familiarity of an old enemy. Of course it was the Romulans, who
else could it be in the Neutral Zone?'' With that outburst, Tarkenton
collapsed and went completely comatose.
``Indeed, Commander. Who else could it be?'' Picard said
thoughtfully as he straightened up.
``He can't hear you, Captain. He's unconscious and his vital signs
are dropping to very low levels,'' Crusher said as she adjusted the
life support unit.
``Thank you, Doctor. I know how difficult it was for you to do this.
If it's any consolation, he answered many pressing questions. We have
had too many questions, and precious few answers lately.'' Picard
turned to leave and then stopped. Turning toward the doctor again, he
said, ``Beverly, keep him comfortable. He deserves as much. And
Beverly,'' he paused and touched her arm. ``Thank you.''
She looked up at that and smiled at him as she pushed her red hair
away from her eyes. ``I'll do everything I can, Jean-Luc, but I'm not
Picard nodded and headed out toward the bridge. On his way he mulled
over the information that he had just received. He now knew with
certainty that the enemy had detailed technical information on not
only Federation starbases but also starships. Only with this data
could they have hit precisely the areas on their targets that would
most readily incapacitate them. With an enemy possessing that kind of
information, Picard knew that the Enterprise was in great danger. One
thought still troubled him as the turbolift neared the bridge: Why was
he was so unwilling to believe that the Romulans were responsible for
all this? As Tarkenton had said, who else could it be?
As Picard entered the bridge, Riker beckoned him from the
communications console, ``Captain, Lieutenant Worf has managed to
establish a link to the starbase sensors.''
``There were difficulties arising from the energy rerouting they are
doing at the starbase,'' Worf explained, ``In addition, many sensors
have either been blinded or completely eradicated. I have managed to
find three which have yet to be hit and have some auxiliary power.
The station signal is weak, so I do not know how long I can maintain
``Thank you, Mister Worf, display it on the main viewer, please.
Let's see what we are up against,'' Picard said as he sat in the
command chair. The scene he saw next drew him back out of it. He saw
two rather small ships that kept darting in and away from the
starbase. The ships had a somewhat bulbous bow that seemed to house a
large sensor array. The weapons blasts were emanating from a ring
which was just aft of the array. The rear portion of the ships looked
to be mostly engine, evidenced by two warp drive nacelles that ran
two-thirds the length of the hull. The configuration of the ships,
however, was not what drew Picard's attention. It was the intensity
of the weapons' blasts. Each time one of the ships came in close to
the station, it fired its weapon. The starbase's shields were only
partially protecting the station now. As Picard watched, another
blast came from the near ship that knocked out the sensor from which
the view was coming. Worf switched to another circuit and the
spectacle continued. This sensor was located on the top of the
``mushroom'' living section of the station. From this viewpoint, the
bridge crew could see some of the extent of the damage to the station.
Huge holes had been torn in the living section, but they could also
see the shimmer of the intensified shielding around the mechanical
section of the station.
``It looks like the mechanical section is still fairly intact,'' said
``Yes, let's hope that there are still people alive in there to save
when we arrive. What is our ETA, Mr. Crusher?'' inquired Picard of
the young helmsman.
``Approximately five minutes, Captain,'' responded the young ensign.
``Very well.'' He then addressed the entire bridge crew, ``Let's
prepare ourselves for this confrontation. It appears that the enemy
has some knowledge of the construction of not only starbases but also
starships, so we'll have to be very alert. Mr. Worf, go to Red Alert.
Start energizing the photon torpedoes now. Put targeting control of
the phasers to your console, Mr. Worf.'' Picard fingered the
communicator on his chest, ``Mr. La Forge, please report to the
bridge. I want you up here for this.''
``I'm on my way, Captain,'' responded La Forge from Engineering.
``All right, people, we have a starbase to save,'' said Riker.
``Yes, and stay alive in the process,'' thought Picard.
The Enterprise dropped to sublight just at the edge of short range
sensor ability from the starbase. Using the long range sensors,
Picard and Riker could determine the ideal trajectory to follow in to
the starbase. A course that put the bulk of the starbase between them
and the attackers for maximum sensor screening was laid in at the
``Sir, sensors are picking up a sizable amount of debris along the
orbit of the starbase. Apparently the damage that it has sustained is
causing part of it to break up.'' Data indicated from his control
console at the front of bridge. ``None of it appears too large for
the shields to deflect, but it may indicate that we have arrived too
``Let's hope not, Data,'' responded Riker. ``Can you determine if the
hostile ships are still at the starbase?''
``Yes, Commander, they are. They are also still firing on the
starbase with the same frequency as before.'' He stared at his
console for a short time, ``It appears that they are concentrating
their fire on the engineering section of the starbase, and that they
are now holding a stationary position with respect to the starbase.''
``All right then,'' said Picard, standing from his chair, ``let's go
in. I believe they have shown their openly hostile intent. Mr. Worf,
select one of the attacking ships and lock on to it. When we get
within phaser range, be ready to fire upon it with full phasers, but
wait for my order. Let's try to even the odds, shall we?''
``Aye, sir. With pleasure,'' added Worf.
``There is nothing pleasurable about it, Lieutenant,'' snapped Picard.
``However, we have been left with precious few choices.''
``Aye, sir,'' said a chastened Worf. ``I have a lock on the outer
ship now. Five seconds to phaser range.''
``Hold to optimal, Mr. Worf. Steady, steady,'' Picard called, as he
approached Data's operations console. The Enterprise , he saw, was
fast approaching on a parabola that would eventually put them between
the attackers and the starbase. The starbase's engineering section
had sustained no further damage, but the ship's sensors showed the
imminent collapse of the shields protecting that section. Picard
would make certain that the attackers would be forced to deal with the
starship before they could finish off their defenseless target. He
wanted to maximize the effect of destroying the outer attacker to
confuse the remaining attacker so that the starship could get into
position, and it had to happen quickly. ``Now, Mr. Worf. Full
At that order, four powerful beams of energy leapt from the upper part
of the Enterprise's saucer section toward the out-lying attacker.
Apparently taken unaware, the attacker was caught by the full force of
the attack and the already weakened shields of the alien ship dropped.
``His shields have fallen, but his weapons are now energizing for an
attack,'' Worf urgently warned.
``Fire two photon torpedoes, now,'' ordered Picard, bracing himself
for the shock of the explosion he knew would follow. The Enterprise
was already closer than was normally considered optimal for torpedoes
and the blast would definitely light up the shields.
Two torpedoes flew from the forward tubes at the base of the hull
connector. A fraction of a second later they impacted with the
targeted ship, simultaneously destroying it in a blaze of energy equal
in intensity to the core of a sun.
``A direct hit,'' Worf announced needlessly.
``Get us between that remaining attacker and the starbase, Mr.
Crusher. Full shields, Mr. La Forge, I don't want this mission to end
here. Will, assist Wesley with the evasive maneuvering, let's try to
keep on our toes and avoid getting hit.''
``Sir, the alien ship has ceased its attack and has increased shield
strength,'' reported Data.
On the screen, the vessel's brightness increased as the shields'
energy increased. It seemed to hesitate, or at least Picard thought
it did. Then the shields dimmed and it turned tail and ran.
``Alien ship receding and heading into the Neutral Zone,'' Worf
``Mr. Worf, keep that ship on the sensors. Mr. Data, signal the
starbase that we have arrived and that we are continuing in pursuit of
the alien vessel. Mr. Crusher, plot an intercept course and lock it
in. Will, prepare the saucer section for disengagement. Let's try to
keep as many people out of the Neutral Zone as possible.''
``Captain, it will take five minutes to disengage the saucer section,
we will lose valuable time,'' Riker warned. ``Considering this is a
battle zone, is it wise to leave the saucer section here? It's
already proven to be a dangerous area.''
``Infinitely less dangerous than where we are going, Will. Besides, I
want to give the starbase as much aid as possible. With that in mind,
I'm putting Dr. Crusher and Assistant-Chief Engineer Rigeur in command
of the relief effort and the saucer section. Doctors Okawa and Evans
will be in charge of coordinating efforts to repair that starbase.
Data, Worf, Geordi, and Counselor Troi, please report to the battle
bridge immediately. Will, report there as soon as disengagement
preparations are complete. Mr. Crusher, you will remain with the
saucer section. I expect this section to remain intact under your
``Aye, sir,'' responded the young ensign, trying to hide his
disappointment, as his friends filed into the turbolift to the battle
``There is nothing glorious about battle, Ensign,'' said Riker to
Crusher as he read the boy's emotion. ``In time you will come to
realize that the most glorious achievement is the avoidance of
``Well said, Will. Remember that lesson well, Wesley, and when you
command your own starship, the Federation may well avoid another
war.'' With that, Picard disappeared into the turbolift.
When Riker arrived at the battle bridge he saw Picard looking over
Worf's shoulder at the tactical console in the back of the miniature,
functional copy of the main bridge.
``So he is heading away at warp six toward the heart of the Neutral
Zone. Strange, I would have expected him to take the shortest path
toward Romulan space,'' Picard was saying.
``It may be a trap, sir,'' Worf responded typically. ``I seem to
remember a tactic like this that the Romulans employed about 80 years
``Perhaps, Mr. Worf, but we have yet to determine whether these are
Romulans,'' replied Picard.
``Who else could they be, sir?'' asked La Forge. ``After all who
else inhabits the Neutral Zone?''
``You have to keep an open mind, Mr. La Forge. Right, Captain?''
``Exactly, Will. By your presence down here, I assume we are ready to
``Yes, sir. All preparations are complete. Dr. Crusher and
Lieutenant-Commander Rigeur are in the main bridge consulting with the
starbase crew. By the way, they send their gratitude for our saving
them from an almost certain fate.''
``All right then, begin separation of sections. Mr. Data, lay in
Ensign Crusher's intercept course. As soon as the sections are apart,
engage at maximum warp. Mr. La Forge, you promised me some record
breaking speed performances. Are you ready to `put your money where
your mouth is'?''
``I sure am, sir,'' answered Geordi, smiling. He turned to his
engineering console, monitoring the matter-antimatter mix. ``In fact,
captain, without the saucer section we may be able to do a little
better. I'll eat my VISOR if we can't get to 9.95.''
``I'll take you up on that, Commander,'' Picard responded. He then
turned to Riker, ``Will, commence disengagement of saucer section.''
``Aye, Captain. Mr. Data, engage connection seals.'' With that
command, all interconnecting routes with the large saucer section that
rode on top of the battle section became closed off by double thick
``All connections show sealed, Commander,'' reported Data.
``Release tang joints.'' Large locking rods withdrew into the battle
section, similar to dead-bolts being released from a door. After what
seemed an interminable time, a clunking sound echoed throughout the
battle section signaling the settling in of the tang joints.
``Disconnect interlock.'' This final command signalled thousands of
small rods to withdraw into both sections. This action made both
sections fully independent.
``All right, Mr. Data, take us out of here. Intercept course with
that ship. Maximum warp,'' ordered Riker.
The battle section sank below the plane of the saucer section and then
sharply banked on its intercept course.
``I believe that the alien vessel has detected us following it, sir,''
reported Worf from the tactical console. ``They must have been
expecting pursuit. They are now increasing speed to . . .warp 9.6,
9.7, leveling off at 9.8. They have matched our speed.''
``Mr. La Forge, it's now time to give me everything you have. I want
to catch him,'' said Picard from his command seat.
``I'm optimizing the energy path now, sir. Calculations show that
with some tweaking of the electromagnetic bottle, I can increase the
matter-antimatter flux through the core, and thus warp us to a higher
speed.'' Geordi adjusted the settings of several controls on his
console, ``Speed is increasing now: warp 9.85, warp 9.87, warp 9.90,
leveling off at this setting, warp 9.91. The interaction neutron flux
is beginning to increase, captain. Beginning to max out the core
``The intruder is increasing his speed, now at warp 9.91,'' called
``Incredible,'' said Picard, ``that whole ship must be engine and
weapon. However, they cannot increase speed forever. Continue to
increase warp, Mr. La Forge.''
``May I remind you, sir, that we cannot increase speed forever
either,'' said Data calmly. ``I am already finding the controls
sluggish to respond. We are clearly pushing the envelope of the
design specifications of the Enterprise , sir.''
``I am aware of that, Commander. We have no choice. Hold this ship
together long enough for us to catch him. Mr. La Forge, let's have
that power now.''
``Aye, sir, I'll give you all I can,'' La Forge replied. ``But as the
neutron flux increases, the dilithium concentrators will begin to
weaken. Inefficiencies will cause apparent power loss before long,
``Just long enough, Mr. La Forge.''
``Aye, sir,'' Geordi said grimacing as he looked at his status
readouts. ``Further optimizing the power path, as well as tuning the
engines for the new input should give us some more push. Hmmm. There
we go, warp 9.92, 9.93, 9.95. 9.95, sir, that's all I can give you.
Neutron flux is now creating negative feedback along the core.''
``You won't have to `eat your VISOR', Commander,'' commended Picard as
he shifted nervously in his seat.
The ship started making some alarming sounds as it raced toward the
unidentified vessel. ``The support structure of the hull is
undergoing some incredible strain, sir, but it will hold together as
long as we need it. We are gaining on the alien, he has not increased
his speed above warp 9.92,'' reported Data.
``Mr. Worf, lock the weapons on to the alien vessel. When you are
close enough to make certain, I want four photon torpedoes launched
with proximity detonation and maximum energy spread. Two to detonate
ahead of the vessel, and two just behind it, but none are to damage
that ship. These are warning shots, Mr. Worf, not lethal ones. I
want to let him know we have a bead on him.'' Picard looked at Riker,
who nodded his understanding.
``Do you think it will work, Captain? Romulans have never been the
most reasonable beings,'' commented Riker.
``If not, Number One, we'll have to resort to more desperate
measures,'' replied Picard, looking at the ceiling as a particularly
loud groan resounded through the ship.
``We are within firing range now, sir,'' announced Worf.
``Proceed, Mr. Worf.'' With that order, the Klingon fired the four
torpedoes in rapid succession. With classic Klingon precision the
torpedoes detonated around the alien ship.
``Very accurate, Mr. Worf. Your aim is commendable,'' said Riker.
``The alien vessel is slowing, sir,'' Data reported.
``Match his speed, Mr. Data. Let's let him know we are still here.
Mr. Worf, open hailing frequencies.''
``Aye, sir, hailing frequencies are now open.''
``Alien vessel, this is Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the Federation
Starship Enterprise . You have entered Federation space and have
attacked a Federation starbase. We demand that you heave to and
surrender your ship to boarding. If you continue to flee from us we
will be forced to fire upon your ship, and this time we will not
miss.'' Picard held up his hand indicating end of transmission.
``Repeat that on all frequencies.''
``He is going into evasive maneuvers, Captain, shall I continue to
follow?'' asked Data.
``Yes, Mr. Data, keep us within phaser range. I believe that we have
our answer, gentlemen. Mr. Worf, lock phasers onto his engines. Can
you knock out his engines without destroying the vessel?''
``I can try sir. But the speed with which he can maneuver and without
our knowing details on that ship's design, there is no telling the
result of that attack,'' replied Worf, as he concentrated on his
tactical console. ``I can get an intermittent phaser lock, sir. His
shields are very weak right now, perhaps due to the large power
expenditure in his engines. The high energy flux readings should be
sufficient to give me a lock.''
``All right, then. Mr. Worf, be gentle with him. Just knock out the
``Firing phasers, now.'' A continuous beam from the phaser banks shot
out from the Enterprise to the small vessel they had been pursuing.
As the phaser fire continued, the shields about the vessel began to
glow and then collapse. Almost immediately after that, the engines on
the alien ship lost all power.
``He is entering sub-light, Captain, he is now dead in space. Sensors
read considerable engine damage, but there is still power to the rest
of the ship.'' Data studied his console, then turned to Picard and
Riker, ``I read no life signs on the alien ship, Captain, but the hull
``Possible sensor interference? Maybe a cloaking device hiding the
occupants from our sensors?'' Riker queried.
Data adjusted his sensors before replying, ``I do not believe so, sir.
I am able to read all other activity aboard that ship perfectly. I do
not have any readings of electromagnetic fields of the magnitude that
would be required.''
``Captain, I am sensing a vague survival urge from that ship.'' The
empathic powers of Deanna Troi were well respected by Picard. If the
beings on that ship wanted to survive, Picard would give them the
opportunity to save themselves. He ordered Worf to open hailing
``Alien vessel, this is the Federation starship Enterprise . We
demand that you identify yourselves. We wish an explanation of your
behavior toward our starbase and ourselves. I repeat, this is . . .''
``Captain,'' Worf yelled urgently from the tactical console, ``A large
starship has just appeared in near space. The configuration is
unfamiliar but obviously follows a Romulan design. They have powered
up their disruptors.''
``Full shields, Mr. Worf. Evasive action immediately,'' ordered Riker
as he grasped the arms of his chair preparing for weapons impact.
The engines and gravity compensators whined as the Enterprise
accelerated into a more favorable position against the newcomer.
Gripping on to his console, Worf warned, ``The Romulan ship is firing
its forward weapons, brace yourselves for impact.''
At that moment the Romulan ship fired its disruptors and the
Enterprise rocked with an explosion.
``The Romulan ship has just destroyed the vessel which we have been
``What! Why would they do that? Why would they destroy one of their
own vessels? I don't understand,'' asked the First Officer
``Why indeed, Number One?'' Picard replied thoughtfully.
``Sir, a hail coming through from the Romulan vessel,'' Worf reported
from his position behind Picard.
``Hmm.'' Picard stood up, ``Put it on the screen, Lieutenant.''
The screen image changed from that of the strange Romulan vessel to
that of an obviously high-ranking Romulan officer on the bridge of
that same vessel. ``This is High-Commander Kareel tr'Arwhael, of the
Imperial Romulan Starcruiser Falcon addressing the Federation starship
Enterprise . You are accused of numerous crimes, not the least of
which are invasion of the Neutral Zone and consorting with a ship of a
type that is known to have participated in the destruction of four
Romulan Neutral Zone starbases. I demand your immediate surrender.
If you do not surrender, Captain, I shall be forced to destroy your
ship and crew as easily as I destroyed your companion. You have one
minute to reply.''
Picard raised an eyebrow and looked toward Riker. ``Curiouser and
curiouser, Number One.''
The two starships lay dead in space not more than five kilometers
apart, their hulls gleaming dully with the reflected light of a
million stars. A hint of a shimmer surrounded both vessels as their
deflector shields indicated their readiness to stop whatever the other
ship hurled at them.
The Falcon was almost as large as the reduced Enterprise . It was
obviously a descendant of the Romulan war birds which Picard and his
crew had been encountering in their skirmishes over the past year.
The biggest difference seemed to be a third warp nacelle along the
belly of the ship. That, and a few more disruptor emplacements along
the ``wings'' of the nacelles.
On the battle bridge of the Enterprise , Picard paced in the limited
space he had, all the while wishing he had the openness of the main
bridge on which to complete his circuit. Finally, he had pieced
together the puzzle that had been troubling him. ``I believe that is
the answer,'' he stated with a gleam in his eye.
Riker looked up from the tactical console where he stood with Worf.
``The answer to what is happening here, I hope, Captain,'' he said
worriedly. He saw on the sensors the Romulans making ready for a full
assault on the Enterprise . ``We don't have much time here.''
``Yes, Number One, the answer to a question which has been bothering
me for some time.'' Picard then turned to the ops console, ``Mr.
Data, I would like you to assemble the footage we have on the attack
of Starbase 57 as well as some scenes of the wreckage of the Endeavor
and Starbase 59. Be ready to display it on my order.''
``Aye, sir. It will take me a few minutes to collect it,'' Data
responded in his normal calm manner.
``According to Commander Kareel, we have considerably less time than
that, so I suggest that you hurry, Mr. Data.'' Picard then addressed
Worf, ``Open a channel to that ship, Lieutenant. I believe it is time
to clear a few misconceptions.''
``I have established contact with the Falcon , sir,'' Worf said a few
seconds later. The main viewer then came to life with the Vulcanish
features of the High Commander.
``I believe that your time is almost at an end, Captain Picard. I
trust that you have made the wise choice to surrender. Why needlessly
waste the lives of your crew in a hopeless battle?'' Kareel smiled
``I neither intend to do battle with your ship nor surrender to the
Romulans, Kareel. You are as much in the wrong by being in the
Neutral Zone as we are. However, we are justified under Article 7,
Subparagraph 3 of the Treaty of Argonia to pursue vessels that are
believed to have committed acts of agression against the Federation
into the Neutral Zone in order to bring the crew of said vessel back
for trial.'' Picard looked up at the Romulan visage on the viewscreen
and said intently, ``That is exactly what we were doing when you
interfered. The vessel that you destroyed was responsible for doing
severe damage to one of the Federation Starbases along the Neutral
Zone. It is our belief that your ship destroyed that one in order
that we not discover its origin. By this act you have interfered with
an investigation of the Federation, and thus under Article 42 of the
treaty, it is we who should be demanding your surrender for possible
complicity in the heinous crime which that vessel committed.''
Picard then crossed his arms, stared at the Romulan High Commander and
said very slowly, ``Therefore I must inform you that you and your crew
are under Federation arrest and you must unconditionally surrender
your vessel to our control.''
Kareel stared back at Picard from the viewscreen. Riker and Worf
looked with disbelief at the scene and what followed shocked them even
more, the Romulan laughed. Not jovial laughter, but the laughter of
one who had heard a joke and found it to be bad.
``You cannot be serious, Picard. Do you really expect me to believe
that your incursion into the Neutral Zone was not to spy and inflict
harm on the Romulan Empire? Do you really expect me to surrender my
ship to you, when the evidence of corroboration is set squarely
against you? No, Picard, that would be absurd. I once again demand
your surrender, or face the consequences and be destroyed.''
Picard moved up to Data's station and said under his breath so that
the Romulan commander could not hear him, ``Data, do you have that
Data looked up from the ops console, ``Yes, Captain, I can route it
through Lieutenant Worf's communications console when you are ready.''
``Good.'' Picard then turned to the viewscreen again, ``Commander, I
will not surrender my ship nor my crew to you. However, I am prepared
to offer proof that what I have said is true. Are you prepared to do
``As I have said, Captain, the burden of proof lies upon your
shoulders. We already have evidence of your complicity,'' Kareel
replied gratingly. ``You are running out of time, Captain.''
``Very well, I shall prove what I say. Be prepared to so the same
when we are done, or else I will be the one dictating terms.'' Picard
then turned to the tactical console, ``Mr. Worf, please transmit Mr.
Data's pictures, and display them on our main viewer.''
With that the scene on the viewscreen changed to one of the rubble of
Starbase 59 when the Enterprise had arrived. The lower corner of the
screen still showed the Romulan High Commander's face. Troi studied
this intently, trying to sense the leader's emotions as he viewed the
scenes of destruction. The view then shifted to the debris field of
the Endeavor . All the while Data was keeping up a running commentary
of what the scenes portrayed as they were broadcast.
When the scene shifted to the attack of Starbase 57, Picard sat beside
Deanna Troi and motioned to Worf to cut off the voice sensors in the
bridge. ``Counselor,'' he said quietly, ``I must know what is going
on inside his head before I make my next move. What can you tell
``He was very certain before we started showing the pictures,
Captain,'' she said while still staring at the viewer, ``but now he's
wavering. I believe he has seen similar scenes of destruction
committed against his people, and it is striking an emotional chord
within him. But, I believe you are going to have to push him just a
little harder to get him to change his mind about our purpose.''
``Thank you, Counselor. He, too, has some convincing to do. But
first let's clear our own name.'' Picard then stood up as Data's
description ended with the Romulan ship appearing and destroying the
vessel that the Enterprise had been pursuing. He motioned to Worf to
open the bridge voice channel again and to put his image on the
transmission. ``The weapons that were used against the destroyed
starbases and starships are unknown to us. However, they resemble the
effects of a Romulan disruptor enough to cause your people to be the
prime suspect. Not to mention, the fact that this is occurring along
the Neutral Zone has caused many within the Federation to point
fingers in your direction.''
``It is not my concern who the people in the Federation are pointing
their fingers at, Captain,'' Kareel replied evenly. ``It has been our
experience that the effects of the weapons used against our starbases
have resembled Federation phasers enough to cause the blame to be
placed on you. What you have shown me could have been easily created
in a computer simulation. It is not proof of what you say.''
``I have even more convincing proof, High Commander. Physical
evidence. Within the cargo holds of this ship, we have some remnants
of the destroyed starbase and starship. I will have some transported
into the near space around your vessel for you to inspect.'' Picard
then sat down, ``To do this, however, we must have some form of truce
between our vessels, since we must lower our shields to do the
transporting. Will you agree to such a truce, and will you offer a
similar kind of proof that we can inspect?''
Kareel became silent and pondered the issue. Finally he said, ``I
shall let you know.'' With that the viewscreen returned to a view of
the Romulan vessel.
``Transmission cut off, sir. With your permission, sir?'' Worf spoke
``Yes, Mr. Worf, go on.''
``Sir, it would be very unwise to lower the shields in front of a
Romulan vessel. Especially, since this one already has its weapons
fully charged. We could not detect them readying their disruptors for
attack, and we may not be able to retaliate if they activate their
cloaking device and disappear,'' Worf said adamantly.
``I tend to agree with Lieutenant Worf, sir,'' added Riker. ``The
Romulans are not exactly known for honoring their truces, especially
when a nice prize in the form of a starship is hanging right in front
of them. The prestige offered them for capturing a Federation vessel
would enable Kareel to retire for life and live like a king.''
Troi interposed, ``I disagree, Captain. This Romulan is very
different from those that we have encountered in the past. He truly
wavered when you brought up physical evidence. Also, he did not
immediately attack the Enterprise after destroying the alien ship.
This is not typical Romulan tactics as I understand them. There is
something else about him. It's difficult to explain, but I sense a
tiredness within him.''
``A tiredness?'' Picard asked, raising one of his eyebrows, ``please
``He seems almost weary of his command and the need to make the
decisions which he must. It is almost as if he were thinking, `Oh no,
not again.' I don't know if that helps.'' She then shook her head.
``It may, Counselor, it just may. Thank you for your advice, people,
but I believe that if we can get this truce going we just might be
able to find out a little more about this situation. You may be
asking what is motivating me here. When we came into the Neutral Zone
a two years ago to investigate the first destruction of an outpost and
encountered a Romulan vessel, my counterpart on the Romulan ship
mentioned that their installations along the Neutral Zone were getting
attacked by an unknown presence. At the time, we discounted it as
another Romulan tactic. Now, I'm not so sure we were correct in
making that assumption. This is the golden opportunity to try and
find out. If both sides are being attacked, then perhaps someone out
here is trying to start a war and I'd rather not give them the
satisfaction.'' Picard then set his mouth, ``Besides, if they lower
their shields, we will have the ideal opportunity for Mr. Worf to
scan their ship and give us some good information about their newest
technology, and maybe something on their new cloaking device.''
``And them our technology,'' muttered Worf under his breath.
``Yes, Mr. Worf, but remember, we only have half our ship here and
they have all of theirs,'' Picard replied.
Worf's console signalled an incoming call from the Romulan ship. He
indicated so to Picard, who then straightened his tunic and motioned
for the others to assume a duty station posture. He did not want the
Romulans thinking that they had the Enterprise crew worried and wanted
to portray a situation normal impression.
``Captain Picard, I have discussed your proposal with my subordinates
and we have agreed that your idea has some merit,'' came the reply of
the Romulan High Commander. ``We have some debris from our own most
recently destroyed starbase that we will allow you to examine.
However, the issue of whom shall lower their shields first has
``Yes, Commander, I can see how that might be an issue with your
people. I have terms under which we will lower our shields.'' Picard
then paused, standing and walking around to the tactical console where
now only Worf stood. ``We will lower our shields first if you will
discharge your disruptors. That will give my Chief of Security, here,
confidence that you will not be able to fire upon us unwarned.''
``The Klingon is wise and prudent, Captain. It is agreed. If you
lower your shields and discharge your phasers, we, too, shall lower
ours,'' replied Kareel.
``Very well, I await an indication that you have done as we request.''
Picard then looked down at the tactical sensor display, and nodded
with satisfaction as he saw the bar graph display of the Romulan
ship's weapon power reduce to zero. ``Well, Mr. Worf, do you feel
that the Romulans have shown good faith?''
``The Romulans never show `good faith', sir. However, they have
acquiesced to our terms and it would be honorable to fulfill our part
of the bargain.'' Worf reluctantly replied.
``Very well, Lieutenant, please lower our shields,'' Picard announced
so that the Romulan could hear him over the connection. He then
continued, ``But keep alert to the first sign of hostility from that
ship. Be ready to restore shields at a moment's notice.'' Picard
added in undertones that only Worf could hear.
The shimmer of the shields disappeared from the Enterprise hull. The
ship now lay virtually defenseless to a sudden attack from the Falcon
. The Romulan High Commander seeing a Federation Galaxy class vessel
this close undefended almost changed his mind about a truce, but the
words that the Klingon had uttered regarding honor in combat stilled
his first impulse. ``Very well, Captain, you have fulfilled your part
of the bargain. We shall fulfill ours.'' He motioned to his first
officer who then ordered the shields be lowered on the Romulan ship.
``Shall we begin the exchange of samples, Captain Picard?''
``That is the purpose of all this, is it not?'' Picard then addressed
Riker, ``Number One, please supervise the transport of some of the
debris from Starbase 59 and the Endeavor to the Romulan ship.''
``Aye, sir,'' Riker replied as he headed to the turbolift for the
``Commander Kareel,'' Picard called to the Romulan, ``I hope that this
little exchange of ours enters us into a new level of understanding,
which we can perhaps use to stop whatever is happening along the
``Perhaps, Captain Picard, perhaps. But we must first determine
whether you are deceiving us. I trust you are not, Captain. The
consequences would be most dire.''
``I trust that you understand the same, High Commander,'' Picard
responded as he gestured to Worf to cut the transmission. ``A most
irritating dialog, talking with a Romulan of any rank. The higher the
rank, the more pig-headed they become,'' he said as he dropped into
``No, Captain,'' responded Troi. ``I sense that he does not truly
believe what he says. That much of it is a front for his crew. He
cannot be seen as weak in front of them, and must talk this way.''
``Are you saying that he doesn't wish to fight us, Counselor?'' asked
``That is exactly what I am saying, Lieutenant. Something about that
man doesn't feel quite Romulan. We have encountered others and they
have not come across quite like this one. He has a soul, Captain.''
``We all have souls, Counselor,'' returned Picard, ``some of us just
don't listen to them often enough. Perhaps, our Commander Kareel is
unusual for a Romulan in that he does.''
Picard sat in the small ready room near the battle bridge. It was not
nearly as well appointed as the one next to the main bridge, but it
gave him the privacy he needed to gather his thoughts and prepare
himself for what lay ahead. He had not expected the Romulan commander
to agree to his terms so readily. He, too, had misgivings about
sitting ten kilometers from a known enemy with his shields down. But
he had to trust his instinct that the Romulans were not part of this.
It had taken him too long to make the connection with what was
happening now and what had transpired in their previous encounter with
the Romulans. Even when he had replayed the interaction with the
Romulan Captain, he had disregarded those lines as misdirection. He
now knew better, or at least he hoped he did.
The door chime of the ready room sounded and Picard gave his consent
for the door to open and in walked an excited Riker. ``Captain, we
have verified that the damage which created the debris from the
Romulan starbase was caused by the same weapon that destroyed the
Endeavor and Starbase 59. We have also done what we can to verify
that we have the genuine article. As near as we can tell, it is from
a Romulan starbase.''
``How have you been able to determine that, Number One? After all, we
don't exactly have good records on Romulan installations.'' Picard
``The material was analyzed for historical stress and strain
indications, the results we got agree with what the Federation has
found for long term pressure and spin duress. Furthermore, there is
crazing along the outer surface that seems to indicate particle
showers inflicted during extended exposure in spatial vacuum,'' Riker
replied, knowing that his Captain was well familiar with the standard
methods. He then added, ``we also tapped into some old records
gleaned from a captured Romulan vessel twenty years ago that have
helped us locate just where this piece came from. It was located near
the power pod of the base, it could not have been removed without
destroying the base.''
``Very good, Will,'' Picard said, adding that he was impressed with
the thoroughness of the investigation. ``Let's just hope that they
didn't destroy one of their own bases just to disillusion us.''
Picard then granted his assent for his First Officer to take the conn.
Meanwhile, he went back to studying the transcripts of their previous
encounters with the Romulans and the current one. He was certain that
the Romulans were not at the center of all this, but if that was the
case, then who the devil was?
``Captain, an incoming communication from the Romulan vessel,'' Worf's
voice pierced Picard's thoughts.
``Very well, Lieutenant, please pipe it in here.'' Picard's desktop
viewer then showed the visage of the Romulan commander. ``Commander,
have you had an opportunity to examine the samples we sent over?''
A much sobered Kareel nodded to Picard and replied, ``Yes, Captain, we
have, as I am sure have you. Your proof is very convincing,
especially added to your pictures of the act. I regret that we cannot
offer further proof of our position, other than my word that we did
not destroy our own facilities.''
``Then I must assume that you did not destroy ours, Commander Kareel.
At least for now. This, of course does leave us with a rather open
question. That is, if we aren't targeting your bases and you aren't
hitting ours, who was the agent that did?''
``I don't know, Picard. The Romulan High Command was very certain
that the Federation was behind this. I no longer feel that this is
the case, and I have already communicated these beliefs to my
superiors. But without a reasonable solution to our mutual problem,
my mission is yet incomplete. I would like to discuss possible
strategies to accomplish our mutual goal, would you be agreeable?''
Picard was astounded at the offer. There had been no face to face
negotiations with Romulans since the treaty had been signed over a
hundred years ago. The opportunity to learn more about such an old
adversary would be invaluable. There was only one answer a scholar
like Picard could give. ``That would definitely be agreeable,
Commander. I would propose that we meet aboard the Enterprise . We
have accommodations that can make a meeting of this kind fairly
Kareel nodded in assent. ``Agreed then, Captain. I shall prepare my
delegation. Shall we meet in one hour?'' Kareel said.
``Very well, Kareel, one hour. Picard out.'' The viewer then
darkened. Picard looked around his ready room and started to chuckle
at the unlikelihood of all that had happened. ``What a day, what a
very remarkable day.''
He did not realize just how remarkable that day was yet to become.
Conference Room Four was not quite as well appointed as the briefing
room off the main bridge, thought Riker, but it was still an
impressive sight on a starship. The main table was made out of black
walnut, and gave the room an impressive air of formality. It was
large enough to sit twelve people and still give them room enough to
work. The chairs, also black, were standard starfleet issue. More
functional than stylish, the chairs were comfortable enough to sit in
for the hours that some negotiations could take. Unlike the briefing
room, this room did not have portals onto space. Instead, large
viewscreens covered one of the long walls so that audio-visual
presentations could be made easily. The opposing wall had
reproductions of paintings by some of the great artists of the
Federation planets. Riker had not had many opportunities to come to
this conference room, and so was amazed to see a Picasso from Earth
next to a T'kthun from the Klingon home world. Although both were
great works of art, the feeling emanating from each was greatly
discordant. A feeling magnified by the tension surrounding the
upcoming meeting to take place in this very room.
Riker was broken from his musing by the entrance of Picard with
Counselor Troi and Lieutenant Worf. ``I want to be very sure that all
possible security precautions are being taken, Mr. Worf,'' Picard was
saying to the security officer. ``Once this meeting begins, I want no
one to be able to enter or leave this room without my orders.''
``Of course, Captain. I shall guard this room personally,'' Worf
Picard then shook his head. ``No, Lieutenant. I want to have you on
the bridge. We are still deep within the Neutral Zone with an armed
Romulan battle cruiser of unknown strength in near proximity to us.
With Commander Riker and myself down here, you will be needed to keep
close watch on our companion.'' Picard then lowered and softened his
voice, ``I also want to avoid any unpleasantness that might arise from
you confronting the Romulans.''
Worf stiffened and replied with something close to a hurt look, ``I
would not allow my personal feelings to interfere with the performance
of my duty, Captain.''
``As I recall, Lieutenant, with regard to the massacre in which your
parents died you already have done just that,'' Picard reprimanded.
Riker winced at the intensity of Picard's rebuke, but knew that such
strength of admonition was the only way to talk sense into the
sometimes stubborn Klingon. The reminder of Worf's vengeful killing
of Duras who had discredited Worf and had murdered his mate K'Ehleyr,
would sting. The pain of remembrance would, however, convince Worf of
the sense of Picard's orders.
The Security Chief stood silent for a moment and then nodded his
agreement at his superior officer. ``Aye, sir, you are correct. I
shall station a pair of guards at the door to the conference room.
Another pair will be stationed at the entrance to the turbolift, while
security bulkheads will be sealed to this deck.''
The irony of Worf replacing himself with two pairs of guards and the
sealed bulkheads was not lost on Picard, but he made no comment other
than turning toward the far side of the room saying, ``Make it so.''
Worf turned to leave the room casting a soulful glare in Riker's
direction. Riker acknowledged him with a slight smile and a nod. He
then approached the table where Troi had already sat down. As he
poured himself a glass of water from the pitcher on the table, he
asked her, ``Do you think you will have any difficulty reading the
Romulan's emotions, Deanna? With their ancestral relationship to the
Vulcans, might they have the same ability to mask their feelings?''
``I don't know, Will. They certainly may have the potential to do so,
but the Vulcan ability to deny their emotions comes from centuries of
philosophic training not just from genetics. Vulcan history indicates
that the Romulan, or Rihansu as they call themselves, forbears left
just as Savek's philosophical revolution was taking place.'' She sat
back and considered what had occurred earlier in the bridge. ``Kareel
has not, up to now, made any effort to conceal his emotions either.
That was very apparent in our last conversation.''
``Do you think that he may be deceiving us? Disguising his emotions
so that he can lure us into complacency?''
Troi crossed her arms on the tabletop and replied, ``It may be
impossible to say one way or the other. Certainly not from the data
we currently have at our disposal. It would, however, be foolish not
to take precautions. Remember, he is a Romulan starship commander on
what looks to be a new vessel. He did not get where he is in their
hierarchy without some amount of ruthlessness.''
Picard had been listening to their conversation as he made a circuit
of the room. He now added, ``And that is why we are taking these
extreme security precautions. No matter how willing he may appear to
want to make a truce, one must always view the Romulans with
suspicion. They have always been rather zealous in their protection
of the Neutral Zone and it is no time to think that they have changed
their ways. Even just one of them.'' He stopped next to Riker and
set his lips grimly. ``A Federation ship named Enterprise would make
a very nice prize for a Romulan High Commander to bring back to the
Rihan system. As I understand their government, it would almost
ensure him of a seat on their Praetorian High Council for life.''
As if on cue, Data's voice came over the room's comlink, ``Captain,
the Romulan vessel has indicated their readiness to beam Commander
Kareel and two other officers to whatever coordinates we indicate.''
``Very well, Commander. Contact Lieutenant Worf and when he indicates
that the security details are in place send the coordinates to the
Falcon .'' Picard straightened his tunic and regarded the other two
officers with a slight smile, ``Well, I believe we are about to step
into uncharted territory.''
Riker grinned back and said, ``That's what we signed up for. Isn't
it, Captain?'' Well he knew that it was moments like this that his
captain enjoyed the most. The opportunity to observe Picard use his
diplomatic skills was one of the reasons Will Riker did not want his
own command just yet. There was still much to be learned from this
Picard's response was cut short by the distinctive hum of the
transporter. The three turned to regard the materializing envoy from
the Romulan vessel. It would have been immediately obvious which of
the trio was Kareel even had he not already seen him, thought Riker.
The man emanated an aura of confidence and authority which was
unmistakable. He was slightly taller than Picard, but had the
characteristic slightness of build that was a Romulan and Vulcan
trait. What made him stand out from the other two was his eyes. They
pierced out from under his slanted eyebrows taking in his surroundings
and the three Federation officers.
After a few moments during which he seemed to be sizing up the others
in the room, he took a step forward and tilted his head slightly at
the Enterprise's captain and said, ``Captain Picard, it is indeed an
honor to meet you and to have the opportunity to set foot aboard your
Picard followed suit and stepped toward the group of Romulans. ``The
honor, High Commander, is all ours. It is a rare occasion when
citizens of the Federation can meet face to face with representatives
of the Rihansu.'' Picard paused and then motioned with his hand
toward Riker and Troi. ``This is my First Officer, Commander William
Riker, and my ship's Counselor, Lieutenant-Commander Deanna Troi.
They will be participating as advisors in our discussion.''
Kareel acknowledged the two with a nod of his head and indicated his
companions by turning toward them. ``Accompanying me are my First
Officer, Commander T'Fara i-Vramnae t'Arwhael, and the Falcon's
Political Officer, Bkandar tr'Kherst. Rihansu regulations require
that two officers of command rank be present in negotiations with
alien species. Owing to the current situation, it was deemed wise to
have the Political Officer present as well.''
Riker turned his attention to the officers accompanying Kareel.
T'Fara was stunningly beautiful by human and Romulan standards. The
classic high cheekbones and slanted eyes of her people gave her an
exotic appearance which Riker found appealing. However, the look with
which she studied him indicated that this was a strong willed and
determined lady. The honorific in her name, t'Arwhael, indicated that
she was the High Commander's wife. Kareel should watch his back in
bed with that woman, otherwise she might put a knife in it, thought
Bkandar was as ugly as T'Fara was beautiful, Riker mused as he studied
the Political Officer. The rat-faced little man looked with distaste
at the Starfleet officers. He more fit the profile of the Romulans
that many citizens of the Federation had come to hate and fear.
During the whole set of introductions, he seemed to be looking for any
useful information that could be gleaned from his surroundings. Riker
was not certain, but thought he had detected a hint of distaste in
Kareel's manner toward the Political officer as he had introduced him.
Picard had continued talking while Riker was studying the Romulans.
He was addressing Bkandar, ``Your precautions are understandable.
This is a highly irregular situation and the more irregular the
situation is, the more protocol should be adhered to.''
``Captain Picard,'' sneered Bkandar in response, ``if protocol had
been adhered to we wouldn't be having this conversation. Your ship
would either be destroyed or a prisoner of the Empire. It is only
through the sufferance of the High Commander that you have been
allowed to live.''
``That is quite enough, Sub-Commander,'' interrupted Kareel sternly.
The look which he cast in Bkandar's direction left little room for
doubt about the irritation that he felt about this outburst. He then
turned to Picard and said softly, ``My apologies for my subordinate's
behavior, Captain. He is inexperienced in such matters as these. He
does not yet understand the necessity for diplomacy when negotiating.
Certainly, one does not need to state the obvious in this situation.''
``Indeed,'' Picard said softly, but with great force. ``Let me assure
you that the Enterprise would not have been taken captive, Kareel. If
our exchange of information had failed to convince you, there would
have been little choice but to fight. A battle between the Enterprise
and the Falcon would have resulted in nothing less than another
full-scale war between our people.'' Picard walked toward the head of
the conference table. ``War is only avoided when people of vision
realize that there is either no reason to fight, or greater reason not
to fight than to fight. I am willing to explain fully the reasons
which have caused the Enterprise to be in the Neutral Zone, if you are
willing to lay that same information on this table. If you have only
come over here to say idle threats and innuendo, we might as well
start charging our weapons now.''
Silence fell over the room as Picard and Kareel's eyes met. Moments
later, a smile broke out on Kareel's face. ``Well said, Captain. I
assure you that it was not my intention to threaten. I am determined
not to allow this meeting between ships to escalate into a war. It
would serve neither of our stated purposes for being here.'' He then
approached a seat next to Picard's and slowly pulled it out and sat in
it. He then placed his hands on the table's surface and said, ``Let's
see if we can determine a way to satisfy both our goals without
killing one another. At least not today.''
Picard looked down at Kareel and nodded grimly. He gestured for the
others to take their seats as he lowered himself into his chair.
``Very well, High Commander. Let us discuss it.''
Riker positioned himself to sit across from Bkandar, he wanted to be
able to keep a close eye on this man. As they began to sit down,
Bkandar remained standing until he was certain that Riker had taken
his seat. The glare which the Political Officer gave Riker was enough
to send chills down his spine. It was obvious to Riker that there was
no love lost between Bkandar and the Federation, and that he was not
interested in the peaceful solution which his superior was trying to
arrange. Indeed, the leer which he cast in Troi's direction made the
First Officer want to get up and do several non-diplomatic acts to the
Troi sensed this emotion from Riker and looked at him with alarm. He
merely smiled back at her and shook his head. This was not the time
nor the place for violence and he well knew it. He then turned back
toward the Romulan and met his eyes with a gaze that warned him that
he was being watched very closely.
It did not take a Betazoid to sense hostility and Picard was well
aware of the social dynamic taking place in the room. It was not
unexpected for there to be tension, but he was confident that his
First Officer would not to provoke anything unnecessary.
Satisfied that all had their attention on the head of the table, where
he and Kareel were seated, Picard began his presentation by tapping a
few buttons on the console in front of him. Pictures of the
destruction of several planetary outposts and starbases began
appearing on the viewscreens along the long wall. ``Three years ago,
the Federation began experiencing a series of attacks along its border
with the Neutral Zone. These attacks on our outposts were being made
on outposts which were situated along the most narrow section of the
treaty zone. It was widely assumed that this was a precursor to a
Romulan attack on Federation space. On Stardate 41956.8, Enterprise
was sent into the Neutral Zone to investigate these attacks. During
our surveillance, we encountered a Romulan Bird of Prey under the
command of T-Bok. A brief exchange of words followed, during which it
was revealed that T-Bok was investigating similar occurrences along
the Romulan side of the zone. At a briefing following the incident,
it was widely assumed that T-Bok's story was a ruse to cover the
Romulan's more sinister purpose. Especially considering the number of
incursions into Federation space the Empire has made recently.''
``We consider that our space, Picard,'' spoke Bkandar. ``The
Federation has no claim to the regions near the Treaty zone. Weak and
foolish people gave those areas away, the strong will take back what
is rightfully ours.''
``The Federation recognizes no Romulan claim to those sectors,
Bkandar,'' thrust back Riker. ``The Federation has been asked by the
populated planets in that region to protect them. That doesn't sound
like you have a rightful claim to them.''
Kareel slammed his hand onto the table, the sound getting the
attention of the two at the end of the table. ``That will be enough!
The claim of space in and around the Neutral Zone is not at issue
here. That is an old dispute, one which will not be decided here and
likely not any time in the near future.'' He then reseated himself
and addressed Picard, ``Let me assure you, Captain, that those ships
were not seeking to destroy Federation outposts. They were merely
attempting to access Federation motives around the region.''
``Intelligence gathering, you mean,'' Picard retorted.
The Romulan smiled and spread his hands, ``As you wish, Captain. But
as I stated earlier, that is of no consequence to our current
Picard considered this and nodded. ``I agree.'' He then tapped
another control and his presentation continued. ``Immediately
following our encounter with T-Bok, the attacks on our bases stopped.
For about two years there was no openly aggressive activity along the
Neutral Zone aside from the incursions we just discussed. However,
the past four months have seen a reoccurrence of the attacks. This
time with greater frequency and damage.'' The viewscreens now showed
planetary scenes of large craters and twisted buildings. ``It is
evident that the weapon used was of tremendous power,'' he added
``As you are aware, starbases and starships near the Neutral Zone have
also come under attack. However, analysis done by a team on the
Enterprise indicates that the same weapon was not used. The starbase
attack profile seems to indicate a knowledge of the defense systems
employed. Evidence indicates that the same may be true for the
starship attacks.'' Scenes of the attack on Starbase 57 were being
displayed as the captain made these statements. ``The ships involved
in this attack seem to be too small to have done the outpost damage,
which leads us to suspect that they do not tell the whole tale. The
desire to get more information about the source of the destruction
prompted me to order the Enterprise into the Neutral Zone in pursuit
of the vessel you destroyed.''
``It was a necessary tactical decision,'' responded the heretofore
silent T'Fara. ``We could not be certain that the Enterprise and that
ship weren't colleagues, so we destroyed the smaller ship. Fighting
one ship is far easier than fighting two.''
Picard acknowledged by saying, ``In your eyes, perhaps it did seem
necessary at the time. But in retrospect, it was an unfortunate
decision because it leaves us no closer to the truth. In truth, it
also casts a shadow over Romulan innocence in the matter. You could
have been trying to cover something up by destroying that vessel.''
``Yes, that could have been our purpose, but it wasn't,'' answered
Kareel. ``I believe that is my cue to offer our purposes in the
Neutral Zone.'' He leaned toward the table console in front of him,
``If I may, Captain?''
Picard nodded his assent. It had been arranged earlier to have a
communications feed from the Falcon to the conference room so that
Kareel could display the evidence he desired. He entered a key
sequence and disturbingly similar scenes of destruction appeared on
``These are scenes of outpost destruction over the past three years
along our side of the Neutral Zone. Unlike the Federation, there was
no pause in the destruction, although it has escalated in recent
months. We have had more than 100,000 men and women killed in these
attacks, Captain.'' The scenes shifted to floating space debris.
``These images are of destroyed starbases, again the damage was
complete. There have been no survivors of any of the attacks. The
Falcon's mission was precipitated by the disappearance of the very
ship you encountered two years ago. T-Bok's last report came ten days
ago in this sector. We have found no remains of his ship.''
The scenes shifted to a sequence of an attack on a Romulan starbase.
Picard knew that analysts would be studying this for months to come,
it was the first close up look at a Romulan perimeter base that the
Federation had been treated to. ``This attack was carried out by
vessels very similar to the one which you had been pursuing. In fact,
the last one had just self-destructed when our sensors indicated the
presence of your ship and its companion. Under those circumstances,
as my First Officer indicated, we had very few options open to us.''
Silence once again came over the group. Picard looked toward his
Counselor and as their eyes met she nodded slightly. Picard looked
back at the Romulan trio and said, ``I believe your story. The
similarities are quite startling, and I'm sure that detailed analysis
of each others reports from the destroyed outposts would reveal that
they are identical. It does seem that we have the basis for a
``Excellent, Captain. I, too, am satisfied with your story. It was
difficult to believe that if the Federation had a weapon which could
do the kind of damage we have been seeing, that they would not proceed
to attack the rest of the Empire.'' He then paused, his face becoming
more grim. ``Of course, we now must ask why such a thing is occurring
and what the agency's motives are.''
Troi answered, ``I believe that there can be only one answer to that.
Whoever is responsible for this wants to provoke a conflict between
the Romulans and the Federation. The most recent attack profile seems
to confirm that supposition. It can only have been designed to bring
the two flagships of either fleet into the Neutral Zone and into
proximity with one another. Why else the self-destruction of the ship
you were chasing? Why else the delay of the ship we were pursuing to
engage maximum warp?'' She paused and gestured toward Bkandar and
Riker, ``With all that circumstantial evidence, it would have been
easy for hostilities to break out.''
Bkandar's eyes narrowed at this slight, while Riker turned slightly
red, but then smiled and acknowledged her perception. ``Hostilities
which neither side wants or needs,'' finished the First Officer.
``Speak for yourself, human. My people are not afraid to fight,''
responded Bkandar. ``Dying in a war with the Federation would be
considered an honorable end to life.''
``What do you know about fighting and dying, Bkandar?'' stormed
Kareel as he rose out of his chair. ``You were not part of the Far
Wars as was I. You did not see ships destroyed and have comrades die
in your arms. An `honorable end to life'? There is no honor in
dying, only grief for the families of the dead.'' He had walked to
the middle of the table where Bkandar was seated and he now gestured
toward the Federation officers, ``People on both sides would die and
where would we be? We cannot conquer all of the Federation, and they
cannot conquer all the Empire. So where would we be? Probably with
the same borders we have now, and a lot of anger festering the wounds
between the sides. Anger prompted by the deaths of so many.''
Kareel stopped and seemed to take control of himself as he turned to
the paintings on the wall. As he looked at them his shoulders slumped
and he said cryptically, ``We may have won the Far Wars, but we lost
more than they.'' He then turned toward the Political Officer as he
touched the communicator on his wrist, `` Falcon this is Kareel. Beam
Sub-Commander Bkandar back to the ship and confine him to his
As the confirmation came over the communicator, Bkandar stood up and
stammered, ``You cannot do this. The Praetorate will hear of this.
You will lose everything.''
Kareel coolly regarded the smaller man. ``Yes, Bkandar. The
Praetorate will hear of how you singlehandedly almost brought us to
war with the Federation. How you undermined sensitive negotiations.
And how you disobeyed the orders of a superior officer.'' He lifted
his wrist and said, ``Energize.''
With that order, the man disappeared as the astonished Federation
officers looked on. The High Commander seemed to nod with
satisfaction and then turned back to the table. ``I once again must
apologize for the outburst, Captain. As you have seen, I have taken
steps to make certain it does not happen again.''
Picard knew that this would not be the end of the incident. The
Praetorian council would not take kindly to having its representative
locked up. Certainly not after having him disgraced in front of
Starfleet officers. The removal of Bkandar would make the meeting go
much more smoothly and for that, Picard was grateful.
``Very well, Kareel, what is your proposition to resolve this dilemma
we find ourselves in?'' Picard finally asked.
``I believe you see the same solution that I do, Picard,'' said the
Romulan as he returned to his seat. ``We must agree to search the
Neutral Zone together to locate this menace. Thus, we have to arrive
at some form of a truce between our two ships. However, there can be
no doubt that there will be distrust between both sides. So, I would
propose a search pattern which would not provide intelligence
information about the other side's defenses or ship movements. In
addition, it should be a pattern which covers the most territory in
the least amount of time so that we can get this over with. My
superiors would not support a prolonged Federation presence in the
``Agreed, in principle, Kareel,'' responded Picard after a few seconds
of reflection. ``I would propose that you, myself and Counselor Troi
work out the details of the truce while our first officers plot out
the tactical arrangements of the search pattern.''
After glancing toward T'Fara and Riker, and nodding at his First
Officer, Kareel turned back toward Picard saying, ``Very well,
Captain. Let us work out the details.''
The complete details of the treaty were neither simple nor quick to be
resolved. After several hours of haranguing the two senior officers
had come up with a workable truce which would allow the Falcon and the
Enterprise to coexist in the Neutral Zone and to share information
gathered by sensors and science teams. This was the first time any
joint intelligence agreement had been made by the two sides.
In the meantime, Riker and T'Fara had gravitated to the far end of the
table and had arranged a workable search pattern which would keep the
respective sides borders just out of reach of the other's long range
sensors. The trick was doing this and still being able to cover the
entire Neutral Zone quickly. As it was, they both knew that it would
take three months to adequately cover the whole of that space. They
were counting on finding some information sooner than that, however.
``Well, Captain Picard, I do believe that we have proven that we can
work together. I must return to my ship and begin to make
preparations. We shall begin our search in ten hours, correct?''
``Agreed, High Commander. I must say, that after our initial
uneasiness, this has become a most productive session.''
Kareel nodded and smiled, ``It took some getting used to, I must
admit. But the avoidance of bloodshed was paramount.'' He then
reached out his hand toward Picard. ``I believe that a handshake seals
many deals in your society, will you seal this one with me?''
The captain was astonished but readily took the Romulan's hand in his.
``I am honored, Kareel tr'Arwhael. May this be the first of many
cooperations between our people.''
Kareel nodded solemnly and retreated to stand next to T'Fara.
``Perhaps it will be, Jean-Luc Picard. Perhaps.'' He then touched
his communicator and the two Romulans transported back to their ship.
``Not quite what I expected at all, Captain,'' offered Riker as the
three Enterprise crewmembers sat back down. ``Bkandar was more like
the Romulans we have encountered before. Arrogant and ready to do
battle with us at a moment's notice. Kareel was, well, he was almost
pleasant to deal with.''
``Yet, Number One, he showed one trait that gives us insight as to how
he progressed so far in the Romulan fleet. He has a certain amount of
ruthlessness when dealing with subordinates, even important ones.''
``Captain,'' interjected Troi, ``there was something else about him
that I cannot quite fathom.'' She paused as she closed her eyes to
collect her thoughts on the emotions that had emanated from the
Romulan commander. She opened them again as she continued, ``He seems
almost afraid. Not of this situation in the Neutral Zone, I believe
he has that well under control. I think that he feels genuine fear of
us, of what we represent to him. I know that this doesn't seem to
make sense, but it is what I seem to be sensing from him. He is
however, a very controlled man,'' she added to justify the vagueness
of what she had sensed.
``Maybe it does make some sense, Counselor.'' Picard unfolded a piece
of paper and lay it on the table. ``When the good Commander shook my
hand, he palmed this into it. Unfortunately it is written in Romulan.
Computer, analyze the writing on the paper on the table and translate
the message to Federation Standard.
``Working,'' came back the pleasant, female voice of the computer.
``The text is hand-written in the High Romulan dialect and states the
following, `I, Kareel, High Commander of the Romulan Fleet and Chief
Officer of the Starship Falcon , request political asylum in the
United Federation of Planets. I would bring with me my wife, T'fara,
and my Chief Engineer Kafarth, who has served me well and knows of my
plan. With us shall come knowledge of the technology represented by
the Falcon and why it represents a great threat to the Federation. I
request that Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the Federation Starship
Enterprise , grant us the asylum and help ensure out escape. I have
tired of wars and the enmity that our people share.' End of
``Curiouser and curiouser, Captain?'' asked Riker of his astonished
``Yes, Number One, and now the situation is even more dangerous,''
Picard then sat back in his chair and allowed a long breath to whistle
out between pursed lips.
Doctor Yasu Okawa stared morosely at the ruin of Starbase 57 through
the windows of the Enterprise's Ten-Forward lounge. He did not need
the sensor data written on the thick sheaf of output on his table to
know that the starbase was in serious condition. He could see the
large hole that had been torn in the living section of the base. That
hole covered five deck levels on the base and bit deep into the
interior of the structure. The release of atmospheric pressure to
vacuum had blown out many layers of supposedly air-tight doors and
bulkheads. This had resulted in a weakening of some of the structural
supports and the deaths of almost fifty crewmembers.
Okawa shook his head sadly as more evidence of destruction came to
view when the Enterprise saucer section continued its orbit about the
station. One of the large solar collectors along the stem of the
mushroom shaped station had been completely cut away from its home.
Visible striations wandered both up the stem toward the living section
and down it to the engineering section of the starbase. So not only
did the loss of the collector mean a reduction in base power, it also
meant that the strength of the stem was in question.
More than just in question, thought the elderly Oriental as he sipped
his saki flavored synthehol. The detailed sensor mapping that the
saucer section had completed in the past two days showed the outer
shell of the starbase was in jeopardy. The cracks in the hull were
beginning to grow and were already affecting the support beams that
ran along the interior of the shell. Unless Okawa and Evans could
soon give the engineers of the Enterprise and the station a solution
to the problem, the starbase would tear itself apart in a matter of
``May I sit with you, Yasu?'' Beverly Crusher had entered Ten-Forward
while Okawa had been in his funk and she had approached unnoticed.
``Certainly, Beverly. Certainly. Can I buy you a drink?''
She shook her head and set her glass on the table. ``Nope, I've
already got one. I see you are still at work,'' she said as she
pointed toward the stack of output. She refrained from mentioning the
oddity of computer hardcopy. Okawa was well known for some of his
idiosyncracies. He was fond of saying that he liked hardcopy because
he could write in the margins.
He glanced at the output and scowled. ``I don't know about that. I
sent Miriam to her quarters hours ago and I couldn't sleep. But I
couldn't work either. I thought that a nice round of warm saki would
relax me so that I could do one or the other, but these damn windows
keep me brooding. Do you realize that we may only have hours to come
up with some kind of solution to keep that structure from coming apart
at the seams? Even if we come up with a solution, I'm not sure that
the engineers could implement it in time.''
He then looked up at Crusher and noticed the faint circles under her
eyes and the obvious tiredness reflected in her eyes. ``But I wallow
in my own problems without asking you about yours. I can see that you
have been putting in some time in sickbay.'' It was more of a
statement than a question.
Beverly ran her hand through her hair as she answered, ``Seventy-two
hours working on people who have suffered from concussions, anoxia,
radiation exposure, burst arteries, blown eardrums, . . ., the list
goes on and on. Sometimes I can't believe what punishment the human,
and non-human for that matter, body can take and still survive.'' She
picked up her drink and took a healthy shot at it. As she put it
down, she became more somber, ``Unfortunately, there were too many
whose bodies took more than what they could to survive. My pathology
unit has been kept almost as busy I have. Starfleet demands to know
why its people die.''
She paused as she let out a heavy and tired sigh. ``At least the
transfer of the starbase personnel went smoothly. One of the nice
things about these Galaxy class ships is that they have that extra
room for carrying about dignitaries or marines or colonists. We may
not have as much space as a starbase, but everyone is comfortable.''
``You two look like death warmed over,'' Guinan said as she came to
their table. ``Plus, it looks like you'll be closing the place, all
my other customers have left.''
The two doctors looked up at the approaching Guinan. She was the
imperturbable hostess of the Ten-Forward area. No one knew what was
happening aboard the Enterprise like Guinan, and no one could make
someone feel at ease like her. She seemed to have a level of empathy
akin to the ship's counselor, Deanna Troi.
``Please have a seat, Guinan,'' motioned Okawa. ``We have just been
discussing our mutual problems. Do you have any you care to vent
``None at all, Yasu. And even if I did, what good would it do to let
them out right now? I have always felt that it is far better to deal
with problems rather than rant about them. But I could see that
neither of you were ranting over here. You care to let me in on your
Okawa spoke up, ``I think our problems stem from the fact that the
Federation feels it necessary to put these damn starbases out where
they can get attacked like this. Do you two realize that I helped to
design these things almost thirty years ago? I was much younger then,
and filled with the zeal of youth. The Federation wanted a new
starbase design that would have both the long range sensor capability
to monitor activity in the Neutral Zone as well as the defensive
capability to protect itself in the event of a Romulan attack. These
starbases were completely unlike any other, in that their purpose was
not to be a scientific outpost or an interstellar service station for
starships, but were meant purely as a first line of defense against
He stopped for a second to take another sip of his saki and did not
notice the look which passed between Guinan and Crusher. He then
continued, ``We designed those things to withstand an attack from a
Romulan strike force. Obviously we did not do a very good job,'' he
said bitterly. ``These bases have never been the subject of an attack
until now. All our careful planning seems to have been for naught.
Those little ships cut through the defense shielding and the triple
hulls of the living section like a hot knife through butter.'' He
slapped his hand on top of his stack of output. ``This data here
shows me that the job which was started thirty years ago is not really
completed. If nothing else, I hope we can learn something from this
and figure out a way to build a border starbase that won't make the
personnel in it sitting ducks during an attack.''
Beverly put her hand on top of Okawa's which still rested on the sheaf
of output. ``Yasu, you can't blame yourself for the death of those
people on the three starbases. Thirty years ago you designed a
starbase that could withstand an attack of a Romulan vessel of thirty
years ago. Times change, methods of attack change, and technology
changes. It was Starfleet that made the decision to stay with these
bases and only make minor changes to them over the years. You had
nothing to say about it.''
``Perhaps, Beverly. Perhaps you are right. I don't really blame
myself for the deaths. I blame myself for not thinking about these
bases for the past twenty years. I've buried myself in my research
and forgot the hand I played in creating these stations. I could have
continued with the project and helped in the modifications, so that
this might not have happened. I can right that wrong by figuring out
a way to save this base, and maybe a way to strengthen the remaining
bases. Let's face it, I'm the only one who can.''
Guinan rose, ``Well, neither of you can save anybody or anything
looking the way you do. Go get some sleep, there is always time for
``Yes, Guinan, that is a good idea.'' Crusher picked up the sensor
output from the table, ``Come on, Yasu, there is always tomorrow. Who
knows, maybe you'll be inspired in your sleep.''
The structural scientist nodded and rose from his seat. He cast a
final look at the battered starbase before he joined the doctor on her
way out of the lounge.
Miriam Evans was busy at her computer station when a wide-eyed Okawa
burst into the lab. He practically ran to his own terminal unit and
began to quickly call up a program. She knew better than to interrupt
her partner when he was like this. His mind went onto a single track
and any outside interference could easily cause him to lose whatever
breakthrough he was on. She could only assume that he was onto
something that could solve the problems they were having with
stabilizing the starbase. She had a few more stress analysis runs to
do, so she began them while patiently waiting for the senior scientist
to let her know what he was doing.
Five minutes later Okawa burst out laughing saying, ``I knew it. I
knew it could be done.''
Evans had never seen him quite like this. They had been together in
the lab for three years now, and he had never been this excited. She
knew he had been putting in some long hours the past few days, for
that matter so had she. She just hoped that he hadn't chosen this
time to completely break down.
``Are you all right, Yasu? You seem very agitated and you still look
Okawa realized that he must be making quite a scene. He pulled
himself together and said, ``Of course, I'm all right, Miriam. In
fact, I'm better than all right. I have figured out the solution to
reinforcing that starbase's structure while we make repairs. The
answer is so simple that I'm surprised we didn't see it before.''
He hit some keys on his computer console and a view of the shattered
starbase floated over the holoviewer. As he talked, the sections of
the base to which he was referring became highlighted in different
colors. ``What we need to do is provide some kind of an exoskeleton
to the starbase that will take the structural stresses normally
handled by the outer hulls and the support frame within the base.
We've discussed this before, but haven't figured out the answer to two
basic problems. One, we need a frame that is easily worked and can
quickly be put on, but also allows us access to the actual shell of
the starbase. This seems to indicate a high tensile strength netting,
which would then seem to indicate a material that is fairly dense.
Unfortunately, considering the surface area we would have to cover we
don't have enough free conversion mass aboard the Enterprise or the
starbase to create the required amount of netting in the mass
converters. Secondly, you need strong, stable points at which to
mount the netting. This is so the mount points can take the forces
that will be applied through the net. For the engineering section and
the stem this is not a problem. The only major damage to the base in
these areas was around the destroyed solar collector and this is only
structurally significant to the collector itself. We can mount the
net about the base of the engineering section and the base of stem,
these two areas are designed to take high stress normally.
Unfortunately, there is no location at the top of the living section
to affix the netting. Much of the living section was either destroyed
or weakened and the only section that I trust after looking at the
sensor scans is the core which runs through to the stem. That,
however, is not a large enough securing area to get the amount of
netting that we need on there.''
Miriam nodded her head and stared at the highlighted core ring at the
top of the living section. It had amazed her that the basic
structural cylinder of the base that ran from the top of the living
section down to the base of the engineering section had survived
without any significant damage. Especially after the way the solar
collector had been torn off. As Okawa had said, however, if the core
had not survived, they would not be worrying about how to save this
starbase right now. They would be collecting bodies. ``So, you've
reiterated the problems with the exoskeleton netting solution. I take
it you've solved them?'' she prompted.
``Yes, I believe I have.'' Okawa fiddled with the keypad at his
console and the matter converter in their lab hummed with activity as
a lightweight netting formed in it. He walked over and picked it up.
``This is a net made out of Null-E polyfiber. The folks at Interspace
Research have been trying to find a good use for this material for
months now. Are you familiar with it?''
Evans thought for a bit before she responded, ``A little. As I recall
it is an electron depleted carbon organic fiber. I seem to remember
hearing about some experiments dealing with the tensile strength of
the fiber raising when a current is applied to it. But I don't recall
Okawa nodded excitedly, ``The results were very encouraging. I went
to a seminar presented by the project scientists from Interspace back
at Orinawi Four. Low currents don't have much of an effect on the
strength of the fiber, but when mega-ampere currents are applied, the
fiber not only strengthens it also stiffens into whatever
configuration it happens to be. This makes it brittle, but that
should only be a problem if the fiber undergoes cross-sectional
strains. We can set up a configuration of the netting that will avoid
He walked over to Evans side and called up references on the
conference he had attended. While she was reading them, he went over
to the large hydraulic stress inducer in the lab. He began hooking up
the net to the opposing ends of the test apparatus.
Evans looked up at him, ``This fiber is incredible. Has anyone done
anything practical with it?''
Okawa shook his head, ``Not that I'm aware of. I doubt it has been
taken out of the lab. If you read on you'll see why. After a period
of time, the fiber begins to undergo stretching. It seems that the
strengthening of the molecular bonds due to the current begins to
reduce after a period of approximately thirty days, and it's not
always the same time span. If we use it, we'll have to have the
engineering crews working around the clock to get the base in shape to
hold itself together. If we fail to get it done in time, the base
will tear itself apart.''
She stared at her comrade, ``That doesn't give us much time. Thirty
days would be a bare minimum I would think. But considering our mass
problem it may be the only shot we have. What about the second
problem? Where are we going to attach the fibers at the top of the
Okawa looked up from his work at connecting the fiber to a high
current generator. He smiled a little as he said, ``I'm afraid I will
have to have a little chat with Lieutenant-Commander Rigeur about
that. I believe that the saucer section will provide an excellent
platform for connecting the netting.''
``You want to what?'' exclaimed Assistant-Chief Engineer Rigeur. It
was bad enough that Picard had left him in charge of the relief
effort, but to have to deal with these two labbies was too much.
``You want me to dock the saucer section with a starbase that is
tearing itself apart!''
Beverly Crusher had joined the group in the ready room of the bridge.
She had heard Okawa's argument for the fiber and it had seemed
reasonable, although she admitted some amount of ignorance when it
came to structural mechanics. She felt some amount of trepidation in
bringing the Enterprise's saucer section that close to the starbase,
but she also felt Okawa knew what he was talking about. Especially
about these starbases. She addressed Rigeur, ``Charles, let's hear
him out. This man designed these starbases. No one knows as much
about them as he does.''
Rigeur was taken aback at the news that Okawa had designed the border
bases. Those bases were known to be extremely durable, despite the
current situation. He knew he had to listen. ``Okay, let's hear what
you have to say.''
Okawa beamed at Beverly, ``Thank you, Commander. I think that this
may be our only solution. As I have told you, the structural
exoskeleton must have a strong anchoring point or else it will gain us
nothing as far as reinforcing the hull. The strongest point on the
living section is the docking area at the core, but that just doesn't
have enough area to secure all the netting that we will need. If we
were to use the docking port at the center of the saucer underside,
the saucer would sit like a hat atop the living section. We could
then attach the netting to the lower phaser ring struts of the saucer.
This would have the advantage of giving a convenient source of power,
we could tap the phaser generators.
``I have thoroughly analysed this, Commander. The docking coupling
has been designed to more than handle the strains it will undergo. We
can use explosive bolts on the netting supports to enable us to detach
quicker, if that would make you feel more comfortable.''
``Damn right, it would,'' grumbled Rigeur. He couldn't help but admit
that the scientist talked sense. Picard had told him that Okawa
should have carte blanche when it came to getting that starbase
repaired. He just wondered if his captain knew that might mean
getting the saucer section in just as bad shape as the starbase. He
considered the alternatives. He knew he couldn't let that starbase
tear itself to pieces, it went against his grain as an engineer. As
long as there was a chance he had to try it.
``All right,'' he agreed. He saw Okawa and Evans smile broadly, and
he continued, ``As long as we are agreed that I have the decision to
blow the exploding bolts if it looks like we are in trouble. I will
listen to your arguments, but if the decision has to be made in a
hurry then I will decide in favor of saving the saucer section. Is
Okawa responded nodding, ``Fair enough, Commander. I will have the
mass conversion units begin spooling out our netting.'' He got up and
left the room.
Evans looked after him as she stood, ``You must forgive him,
Commander. Once he gets involved in his work he becomes a very
determined man. Etiquette isn't his strong point.'' She then hurried
after her partner.
Rigeur shook his head. ``Labbies, try and figure them. Give me a
techie any day.''
Crusher smiled and said, ``Let's hope this labbie's techie background
helps save that starbase without destroying us in the process.''
``Amen to that, Doctor. Amen to that.''
``It's a trick!'' stormed the Klingon Security Chief. ``The last
Romulan defection was a plot to draw the Federation into a war. There
cannot be any doubt that this, too, is a deception. They are known
for their treachery, Captain. I say ignore the message. Their
Commander could be trying to lure us into a trap to accuse us of
taking one of their senior officers captive. That could be construed
as an act of war, as we have seen before.''
The command officers of the Enterprise were meeting in the briefing
room off the battle bridge. Picard was trying to size up the mood of
his officers; clearly Worf was not comfortable with any arrangements
dealing with the Romulans. Then again, Klingons never did like the
``Yes, Worf, it could be a trick,'' responded Counselor Troi, ``but I
believe that we need to act on this message as if it were real.
Commander Kareel's tension and fear at that meeting would go hand in
hand with the turmoil he must be feeling at the idea of defecting.''
``I don't know, Counselor,'' spoke up La Forge, ``Worf is right. They
do have a history of making truces just so they can build up a
military presence unimpeded and then they attack. Worf's homeworld is
just such an instance.'' He referred to the incident in which the
Romulans had attacked Worf's home planet and had killed his parents
when Worf was very young. He had been found by Federation relief
troops and subsequently been raised by humans. ``In addition, they
have never taken the Neutral Zone treaty seriously. They are always
making incursions into what should be a hands-off zone.''
``Yes, yes, this is all very true,'' Picard interrupted. ``The
Romulans do indeed have a history of deception when dealing with the
Federation, or anyone with whom they have a treaty or truce. But we
are not dealing with the Romulans here, we are dealing with one man.
A man who may have in his possession the secrets about Romulan
technology that could help end aggression between our people. A man
who the Counselor says is sincere in his fear. A man with whom I have
sat face to face and plotted strategy, which I might add is an event
``The Federation has had all too few opportunities to deal face to
face with Romulans. Most would sooner kill themselves than be taken
prisoner. That meeting was practically suggested by the Romulan
commander. He ordered a subordinate who was behaving in an admirably
Romulan fashion, to shut up or be thrown in the brig. These are not
`typical Romulan actions'. If we can get this man, then our
understanding of the Romulans may be drastically altered. It is worth
the risks, people, if we can stop many people from dying in a war.''
He then continued, ``I am in no hurry to die. Even more, I do not
wish for this ship to be damaged or destroyed. That's one drawback of
being Captain, you start to care for your ship and her people more
than yourself. But in this instance, I feel that the good which can
be accomplished by aiding and allying with this man is greater than
the potential danger of getting destroyed. We will continue to be
cautious. We must be. After all, we are in the Neutral Zone and that
demands readiness for any danger. We will pursue our prime mission,
to find the antagonist that is destroying our starbases and outposts.
We can do this all the better with the aid of the Romulan ship.
Finally, if there is a way, we will help the commander and his
crewmembers to defect.''
There was silence in the room as the officers digested this, and then
Riker spoke, ``Captain, I stand with you on this. But I must ask that
while we are in tandem with the Falcon we try to find out as much
about the ship that we can using active sensors. I believe we have
tapped out the information available to passives.''
Picard considered this, and nodded his assent. ``Agreed, Number One,
but try to make the active sensors work over short periods, we don't
want them too edgy.
``If that is all, people, then I suggest you all get to battle
stations. The Neutral Zone is a large area of space and it's going to
take some time to search it.'' Picard then stood and left the
briefing room, knowing that he had left some of his officers with more
questions and doubts than they had coming in. If truth be known, so
Picard went through the battle bridge to his ready room. As he sat at
his desk, he asked to have his console patched through to the Romulan
commander. While he waited for the connection to be established, he
pondered the situation he and his ship were in. Never had a Romulan
ship and a Federation ship coordinated a joint venture, certainly not
in the Neutral Zone. Neither government officially tolerated the
other's presence in the no-man's land of the Zone. Under ordinary
circumstances, he knew that the Romulan ship would have fired upon the
Enterprise as it had the vessel that they had been pursuing. That
lent some credence to Kareel's story. In fact, that was the factor
which had tipped the scales in Picard's mind. Yet that act, or lack
thereof, by the Romulan commander must be causing some serious
problems aboard his ship. He hoped Kareel appreciated just how
precarious his situation was.
Picard was interrupted from his musings by the indication that a
connection had been made with the Romulan ship. He turned the console
on his desk to face him as Kareel's face came up on his viewer.
``Commander, I am pleased to inform you that my officers and myself
have come upon a consensus opinion to join you and your vessel in a
search of the Neutral Zone for our mutual adversary.''
``Very well, Captain. It is good that I do not have to undergo such
formalities as the results might not have been so favorable. I
believe that we should begin our search as soon as possible. Do you
``Certainly, Commander. I have my crew setting up the sensor arrays
as per our plan as we speak. I have taken the liberty to do some
further calculations. If we can increase the power to our sensor
arrays by ten percent over what we discussed, we can cover the entire
Neutral Zone in about twenty days, instead of the thirty we calculated
Kareel shook his head wryly, ``I am afraid, Captain, that we cannot
comply with that suggestion, good as it may be. Our sensor arrays
will not support more load than we agreed upon earlier. That is why I
suggested those figures earlier.''
``Ah. Well then, I guess we will go with the original plan. The
results of just one ship increasing its sensor range would be more
detrimental than beneficial, due to the Kriesling effect.'' Picard
nodded as he made a mental note to indicate in his log about this
deficiency in the Romulan sensors. Kareel had already given a
valuable piece of information. ``Let us begin our first search pass
in three minutes. My conn will send you heading coordinates
``Very well, Captain, we shall await them. Is there anything else?''
Picard wished that he could let him know somehow that plans were in
the making for aiding Kareel's defection, but he could think of no
covert way of telling him at this time. ``No Commander, that is all.
May this not take too very long to find our common enemy.''
``Agreed, Captain. Perhaps we can sit down and have a drink when this
is all over?''
Picard again was surprised by this uncommon Romulan. The only way to
achieve a defection, of course, would be to have him on board the
Enterprise . ``Yes, Commander Kareel, that would be most
satisfactory. But first let's get to the bottom of this. Enterprise
Picard then ordered the helm to lay in the course for covering the
Neutral Zone. Once this was done, he went into the bridge and walked
over to Worf and Geordi who were huddled over the sensor console.
``The Romulans cannot scan as far as we can, let's keep the distance
down to our prearranged setting. And, Mr. La Forge, enter that piece
of information in our expanding notebook on Romulan technology.''
``Yes, sir, Captain, I'll be glad to,'' the chief engineer replied,
The course that the captains had agreed upon would take the two ships
on counter-rotating cylinders about the region which bordered
controlled space of the two governments. Both ships would remain in
constant contact via telemetry sharing sensor data, so that the
computers aboard each ship could analyze the data separately to
confirm or deny readings. The ships, however, would only meet twice
each revolution. Picard and Kareel had felt that this would keep the
opportunity for mishap, or misunderstanding, to a bare minimum. As
the ships would continue to spiral through the Neutral Zone for thirty
days, the chances of the old hatreds rising in the crews of the ships
would become greater and greater. Like steam in a stopped up kettle,
eventually they would explode. At least this way, the officers had
hoped, it would take longer for the crews to realize that they were
actually aiding an old enemy. Events would, however, prove them
Picard was sitting at his desk recording into his log the events of
the last 24 hours. ``...we've been in the Neutral Zone for seventeen
days scanning for what has become an elusive adversary. The time we
spend away from the Romulan ship has given Mr. La Forge opportunity to
repair several engineering subsystems that failed after the high warp
we used chasing down the vessel which had attacked Starbase 57. He
now reports to me that we can achieve that warp and perhaps even
higher with safety. My commendations to our Chief Engineer and his
entire staff. I also commend my First Officer William Riker and
Counselor Deanna Troi. Their work in keeping morale high has helped
keep the crew's minds off of the fact that we are sitting in the
middle of what has been the most dangerous area of space that any
Federation vessel has had to patrol.
``With regard to the defection of Commander Kareel from the Romulan
vessel, precious little has been decided. My officers and I have
agreed that we will most likely have to `play it by ear' and allow
Kareel to let us know how to get him free. We have not broadcast to
Starfleet this development for fear that the Romulans may have broken
our security encriptions.
``I must also add that my concerns for the rest of my ship, which is
still at Starbase 57, have been rising as we search farther and
farther afield. As per standard procedures near a potentially hostile
force, we have not been in contact with the saucer section since we
left it. Nor have they been in contact with us. I can only assume
that repairs are going well at the starbase and that the crewmembers
who remained there are still doing well.'' With that Picard halted
the recording of the log.
He stared at his console viewscreen that showed a graphic of the space
already covered by the starships. He stared, but did not see. Rather
he envisioned the faces of those crewmembers who he hoped had not met
with trouble at the starbase. He thought of his old friend and
confidant, Beverly Crusher. For many years he had known her and her
husband; he had introduced them and he had been the captain of the
ship on which her husband had met his death. He had promised to Jack
Crusher on his deathbed that he would watch over her and their son.
They had remained close friends and recently they had been getting
closer. Picard worried about getting much closer, as he was concerned
about what Beverly's son Wesley would think. More so, he was
concerned with what that do to the image of Jack Crusher in his own
mind. Was that being true to that friendship that he had shared with
Picard's thoughts were interrupted by an urgent call from the bridge,
which caused him to jump up and cross the distance to the adjoining
door in what seemed milliseconds.
Riker was calling for the image the sensors were picking up to be
placed on the main viewer. ``Captain, we have picked up on the limit
of long range sensors what appear to be two or more ships running in
tandem. Their energy signature is difficult to read, but it doesn't
look Romulan and it doesn't look like any Federation ship I have
``Have you signalled the Falcon for confirmation on this reading,
Number One?'' queried Picard.
``Yes, sir. I had Lieutenant Worf inform them just after summoning
you. We have yet to receive confirmation. It is my guess that these
ships are out of their current sensor range, if what they have told us
is true. Perhaps their interpretation of our readings will shield
some light on this.''
Worf spoke up from the communications console, ``Message coming in
from the Falcon , sir.''
``Very well, Lieutenant, on the main viewer please.''
Kareel's now familiar face filled the viewscreen of the battle bridge,
``Captain, my congratulations on your sensor technology. I am not
sure our sensors would have deciphered that reading as vessels.
According to our analysis of your data, it appears to be three ships
traveling in tandem at warp 5. Their energy signature matches no
known ships, except those that attacked our main starbase along the
Neutral Zone. I have had my navigator plot a course which will cause
us to intercept those vessels in 1.5 of your hours.''
``You confirm our analysis, Commander. Very well, we shall plot our
own intercept course to arrive there just ahead of yourselves. Might
I suggest that you come in cloaked to add an element of surprise? If
they think that we are just one ship, it may cause them to make a
mistake.'' Picard indicated for the helmsman to begin plotting the
course. ``And, Commander,'' Picard continued, ``I would like to have
one of those ships intact. The information we could glean might lead
us to where they are based.''
``Agreed, Captain. Although taking prisoners is not the Romulan way,
we will bow to your expertise in surrendering,'' Kareel added not
without some bite. ``We will allow you to handle that end of things.
Just make sure that whatever ship you want to keep intact is out of
our way, as I intend to wipe out the others.''
Picard pressed his lips together grimly. ``Thank you, Commander. We
shall meet you in exactly, one hour twenty-six minutes. Enterprise
out.'' Picard then sat in the command chair and addressed the helm,
``Lieutenant, lay in the course to intercept those ships. I want to
be there in one hour and twenty minutes. Mr. Worf, take the ship to
condition red, I want everyone to be ready for this.'' With that the
alert klaxons sounded and Picard motioned for helm to engage the
course and vectors.
As the Enterprise neared the rendezvous point, the sensors confirmed
the Romulan assessment that there were three ships waiting. It was
also evident that the Enterprise was not going to take them by
surprise. The targeted ships had increased speed as the Enterprise
approached the two-thirds point of their approach. They had not,
however, increased their speed to what had been evidenced on the
earlier chase across the Neutral Zone. Picard had ordered the
appropriate changes in the intercept course and there would be no
delay in the meeting time.
Picard and his first officer sat discussing the tactics of the
upcoming confrontation as they approached the five minute mark of
their impending battle. ``Will, we are going to need to separate one
of those ships from the other two without causing it damage that will
destroy it. Any ideas that might help us meet this goal?''
Riker had been thinking over this issue and believed that he had a
solution, though one that would put the Enterprise itself into
jeopardy. The idea which he outlined to Picard involved bringing the
Enterprise into the middle of the alien ship's formation. They would
then attempt to force the ship of choice out of the formation by
nudging it away with the deflector shields and the tractor beam. The
problem, besides potentially having the two ships touch at warp seven,
was once the shields of the two ships interposed, energy would be
drained from the shields that were facing the final two enemy vessels.
One solution would be to have the other ships busy with fighting off
the Romulans, if the Falcon arrived in time. If it did not, then the
Enterprise would have to use the trickier recourse of fighting on both
fronts. Using the tractor beam on the vessel of choice and the
phasers on the other two. Another problem, of course, was that the
vessel of choice would not be a willing participant in this. Thus,
the Enterprise would find itself a prime stationary target to it.
Picard nodded in agreement, ``A dangerous plan, but the only viable
alternative open to us, Number One. Make it so, and, Mr. Worf,'' he
said turning to his Chief of Security, ``Don't get carried away and
shoot at all three ships unless you get an order to.''
``I, sir?'' the Klingon asked sardonically, ``I would not consider
firing without prior orders.''
``Yes, Lieutenant, I know,'' Picard replied dryly. ``Mr. Riker, take
us in there. Let's see if our little plan works.'' Picard turned
back to the main viewer as Riker stood up and walked to a position
behind Data at the ops console.
``All right, Mr. Data, shields to full intensity. Helm, transfer
control to Mr. Data's console. Data, plot and lay in a course that
will put us within that triangular formation and which will shield the
ship on the left apex from the others. I want our shields to block
him off from them.'' Riker watched as Data worked with mechanical
precision at the controls of the Federation flagship.
``I have the course plotted, sir. However, if they should change
their formation radically during our final maneuvering, we may find
ourselves in a rather vulnerable position, sir.'' Data replied.
``Understood, Mr. Data, we know the risks. Engage the course. Mr.
Worf, lock phasers on the ships at the top apex and the right apex of
the triangle. I want to keep them busy until the Romulans get here.
I also want as early a warning as possible on the arrival of our
``Aye, sir. It will give us a good opportunity to test our new
theories on the Falcon's cloaking device.''
``Very well, Lieutenant.'' Riker then leaned closer to the ops
console as the ship came within firing range of the alien ships. The
visual scanners showed the now familiar Y-configuration of the ships
and the peculiar glowing of the energy pods near their engine
housings. Worf warned of an energy buildup in the lead ship's weapons
section just before an intense energy beam lanced up to the underside
of the Enterprise .
``The shields absorbed the energy from that attack, sir. No damage
reported.'' Worf reported from his console.
``Good. Mr. Data, prepare to get us into that position. Mr. Worf,
fire at will at the ships you are locked onto.''
``Acknowledged, Commander. Firing first salvo.'' With that twin
beams of phaser fire leapt from the bow of the Enterprise toward the
forward vessel. A split second later another salvo followed aimed at
the second ship. ``Sensors report phaser deflection, sir. The three
vessels are building up energy for a combined assault.''
The bridge crew braced themselves as simultaneous weapons fire erupted
from the three ships. The deflector shields glowed violently as they
attempted to absorb the combined energy. They were only partially
successful as the attenuated beams reached the Enterprise , causing
surface damage to the outer hull.
``Mr. Worf, once we are in position, I want the tractor beam on the
third vessel,'' Picard ordered. ``We are going to need their shields
down. Have you pinpointed the shield generators yet?''
``I believe so, sir. It is difficult to make positive identification
due to the large energy signature of their engines. Those ships are
almost all power plant.''
``Understood, Lieutenant,'' replied Riker. ``On my command I want
enough phaser power applied to that ship to drop those shields.
Meanwhile, Mr. La Forge, will you make sure that our own shields will
prevent a hit like the previous one?''
Geordi's voice responded from engineering, ``Yes, Commander. Will
try. That last attack caught us a little off guard. The energy
compensators were not fully restored after the previous blast. We're
ready for them now.''
Picard spoke up, ``Mr. La Forge, I have no desire to leave pieces of
the Enterprise in the Neutral Zone. Let's keep on top of things down
``Will comply, Captain.''
Riker sat in his chair next to Picard. ``Mr. Data, on my command get
us into position as quickly as you can. Mr. Worf, let me know when
the weapons of those ships begin charging again. When I give the
order I want you to fire three photon torpedoes with a proximity
detonation and maximum dispersal at those ships.''
A few seconds passed and Worf warned of the impending attack. ``Fire
those torpedoes, Mr. Worf.'' At Riker's order, the three torpedoes
launched from the forward tubes beneath the pod where the saucer
section normally resided. When they got near the three alien ships
they detonated forming a large energy cloud that momentarily obscured
their sensor readings.
``Get us into position NOW, Data,'' Riker ordered. At his order, the
precise android maneuvered the Enterprise quicker than any human could
have. That speed combined with the sensor scrambling which the
torpedoes had provided caused only one of the ships to directly hit
the Enterprise on the response attack. The other two only managed
glancing blows. The deflectors were able to handle all the load this
time. Once the ship was in position, Worf continued with the battle
plan and fired at their target ship. In a matter of seconds the
shields on that vessel collapsed in a fiery blaze as the Enterprise's
phasers overloaded and destroyed its main shield generator.
``Lock tractor beam on target, Mr. Worf. Mr. Data, once the beam is
secure, let's start slowing him down and moving him out of position.
I want the shields facing that ship to be at full power, Mr. Worf. We
can't allow him to nail us now.'' Riker began to look satisfied that
all was beginning to go their way. He was further gratified when Worf
reported a spatial gravitational disturbance that indicated the
presence of the Romulan vessel. ``I never thought I'd say I was happy
to see a Romulan warbird,'' quipped the First Officer.
The alien ships again fired upon the Enterprise , and once again the
shields deflected all the energy from their blast away from the hull.
Immediately after the attack, the Falcon dropped its cloaking device
and began firing heavy disruptor fire on the two offending ships. The
Enterprise continued drawing their victim away from the onslaught and
began slowing them down to sublight speeds. Occasionally their prey
would fire on them, but it became obvious that the ship was spending
the majority of its energy on the engines attempting to escape from
the Enterprise . The tractor beam continued to hold fast the captive.
The Romulan ship began wearing down its adversaries with rapid fire
from their disruptors and occasional highly charged photon torpedoes.
Finally, they broke through the shielding of one of the ships. Within
seconds of this event, the Falcon fired from its secondary disruptor
array which up to that time had lain dormant. This attack proved to
be too much for the defenseless vessel which was destroyed in the
fire. The remaining ship attempted to escape, but this laid open its
shield generator to the full brunt of the Romulan attack. The
Romulans quickly broke through the shields of the fleeing ship and
then destroyed it.
Picard and his crew noted the ongoing battle with grim satisfaction,
but had to quickly return their attention to their own adversary.
Data warned from the operations console, ``There is an energy buildup
in the main core of the ship we are towing that may be indicative of
an impending explosion. They may be overtaxing their engines in their
attempt to escape, or they could be attempting to self-destruct in
order to destroy the Enterprise .
``Mr. Worf,'' Picard said turning to the tactical station, ``Can you
destroy their engine pods without wiping out the rest of that ship?''
``Perhaps, sir, but it will be a very delicate operation. Similar to
a heart transplant with a bludgeon,'' Worf replied with irony heavy in
``We don't have a great deal of choice, do we? Fire when ready, Mr.
Worf quickly made the targeting settings at his console. When he was
ready he fired four simultaneous phaser shots at the struts holding
the engine pods to the main body of the alien vessel. His intent was
to sever the connection there and get the pods free of the ship. He
could then destroy the pods with full phaser blasts. The chances of
success were small, because any miscalculation could cause the
captured ship to tear apart if the structural stresses became too
great. He was partially successful, as the left pod came free of the
main body without incident. The right pod came only partly free as
the aft strut did not give entirely. Before he could fire a second
burst to free it, the pod tore away taking a third of the hind section
of the ship with it. Worf swore and took his anger out by launching
full energy phaser blasts at the free engine pods, completely
``The danger has been averted, Captain,'' Data indicated from his
console, ``but there currently are no energy readings from the ship at
all. I might add, that there were no discernable life sign readings
aboard the ship either before or after the attack.''
``Excellent job, Mr. Worf. Number One, you are to be commended for
the way the operation was carried out.'' Picard then asked Data,
``There were no life signs aboard that ship? What about the others?
Were you able to scan them before the Romulans destroyed them?''
``Yes, sir, I was. Our sensors indicated no life sign readings on any
of the ships we just encountered. They may, as we hypothesized
earlier, be blocking our sensors from reading life signs. Or there is
another explanation. The ship could either be unmanned, or manned by
something which does not register as life on our sensors.''
``Yes, agreed.'' Picard nodded and continued, ``Data, can you give me
an estimate on how long our prisoner will last until it breaks up
``The ship is fairly stable currently, Captain. But I would say that
it is only a matter of minutes before the stresses which it underwent
as the engines were being removed will begin to tear it apart.''
``Very well. Number One, I would like you to lead an away team to the
bridge of that vessel. You will have no longer than ten minutes
aboard that ship so make them count. Find out all you can about where
it came from and who it belongs to.''
``Aye, sir. May I take Worf and Data, along with Mr. La Forge? Their
insight could prove valuable.'' Riker asked as he began heading
toward the turbo lift entrance.
``You can take Data and Geordi, but I would like Lieutenant Worf to
remain. We are still in the Neutral Zone with an armed Romulan vessel
nearby. We may need some quick hands at the weapons console.''
Picard gestured for Data to join Riker, and motioned for Worf to move
from the security console to Data's operations and control console.
``Meanwhile, I will notify the Falcon of what we are doing. Be
careful over there, Will. There's no telling what may be waiting.''
With that Riker and Data disappeared into the turbolift, leaving a
slightly puzzled Picard. Puzzled at wondering just what they were
fighting against. A new life form? Or something more mundane and
When the away team materialized on the captured vessel, Riker was glad
that they were wearing the protective life-belts that provided both a
force field about each member as well as an atmosphere to breath. It
was immediately evident that the ship had begun to tear itself apart.
Several structural supports had fallen from the ceiling in the small
bridge, making movement difficult.
Riker motioned for La Forge and Data to spread out and find what they
could. The bridge area, or at least what the sensors had told them
was most likely the bridge, was a small area with many consoles lining
the walls. There were, however, no chairs for crewmembers. In fact,
there were no crewmembers. Apparently the ship was either remotely
controlled or controlled by an internal computer. If the latter, then
this was a most impressive achievement. Ever since the M5 incident 75
years ago, the Federation had stayed clear of self-controlled
warships. In the interim, none had been seen from any other source
``Captain, it looks like this ship was completely without crew. The
bridge is not set up for any lifeform to control it. Although,
judging from the setup of equipment in here, whoever designed this
ship planned on humanoids to equip and repair it.'' Riker reported
over his communicator. ``I have Data and Geordi looking for clues as
to the origin of the ship, but I'm not altogether hopeful since there
is no power going to the consoles.''
``Find whatever you can, Number One, but do it quickly. A revised
estimate of the breakup of that ship is about five minutes.
Regardless of what happens there, I have instructed Chief O'Brien to
bring you back when that time expires or on our orders. If we see the
ship starting to go, we'll beam all of you back.''
``Acknowledged,'' responded Riker as he inspected his surroundings,
``from the looks of things, if the ship holds together five minutes,
we'll be lucky. Riker out.''
He noticed that Geordi was inspecting what looked like a display
console. Riker avoided several pieces of equipment to take a closer
``Commander, this looks like a way into whatever computer was running
this ship. If I can get some power to it, we might be able to tell
where this came from. The backup power conduits run behind the
console and they look like they are still carrying power.''
Riker had learned long ago that the VISOR that the Chief Engineer used
to replace his sight allowed him to see things that no one else could.
It made him invaluable on away teams and helped him out immensely as
chief engineer. ``Can you get it running in less than two minutes?''
``I don't know, Commander. But I'll give it my best shot.'' Geordi
began taking the front panel off the console.
Meanwhile, Data had ventured to the bow section of the bridge and was
using his tricorder to investigate a large cylinder that seemed to be
the focal point for a large number of conduits. Riker made his way to
the android only to find him shaking his head, a peculiarly human
gesture thought Riker.
``Any idea what this is, Data?''
``I believe that it is the central brain of the ship, Commander. The
other computers here handled the running of specific shipboard
systems, while this unit correlated their data and made the command
decisions. According to my tricorder, the structure of the data paths
within this unit is very similar to my own.''
``Are you saying that this is a positronic brain, Data?'' Riker asked
incredulously. ``I had thought that only your creator, Noonian Soongh,
had solved the problems encountered in making one.''
``Perhaps, Commander. I did say the structure is similar. But it is
not identical, nor is it as advanced as my own makeup.'' Coming from
anyone else this would have sounded boastful or cocky, but not from
Data who could feel no pride. ``I would estimate that this unit is
about one-third as fast as myself, and much more limited in design
function. Its whole purpose is to make the decisions in battle for
this ship. I cannot be sure that we could even get it to tell us
where its home world is, more likely it would make the decision to go
home and another computer would lay in the course and send the ship on
``Similar to the command compartmentalization on our own ship.
Enlightening, Data, but it doesn't give us anything definite as to its
``On the contrary, I believe that it may give us a clue. The
positronic brain is incredibly complex. However, there is more than
one way `to skin the cat'. I believe that is the correct idiom. This
unit is so like my own brain that the original design could only have
come from Soongh's laboratory. Therefore, whoever made this ship and
this positronic brain had to come from the Federation.''
Riker knew that Data was making sense, although he tended to go the
long way about making a point. Riker had to admit that no one knew
positronic brains as well as Data. So they had gained a precious bit
of knowledge here.
``Commander, Data, come here. I believe I have something here.''
Geordi called from the console. As Riker and Data approached, he held
up a small capsule. ``I believe that this may solve our problems. I
think that this is a recorded log from the system which this console
governed. If so, then we can read it aboard the Enterprise and
perhaps find out where the ship came from.''
``Geordi,'' Data replied, ``there are five other consoles just like
this one in this area. The log will only tell us where the ship is
from if this console was connected to the navigation computer.
Unfortunately, there is no way to tell without the power being on in
here. We will need to get the others to be sure.''
As Data said this, the whole ship rocked violently, throwing the three
officers into various pieces of wreckage. All three managed to stay
on their feet as they heard O'Brien's voice come over their
communicators that he was beaming them aboard. As the ship rocked
again and a terrible wailing sound echoed up from the bowels of the
stricken vessel, the tingling sensation of the transporter took hold
of them. Riker's last view of the ship was of a tear being made in
the wall opposite him and the stars of empty space shining through.
Captain Picard sat at the conference table massaging his temples.
What he was hearing from his officers was not making him a happy man.
The evidence that a Federation presence was somehow behind all that
was happening here in the Neutral Zone did not make sense, unless it
was an experiment that had somehow gone horribly awry. Either that or
a dark force from within the Federation that had access to some of its
closest held secrets.
``Mr. Data, in your opinion, there is no question that the design for
the positronic brain on the alien ship came from Soongh's lab?''
Picard repeated the question hoping to get a negative answer and clear
this all up as if it were a bad dream.
``No, sir. There is some room for doubt, after all there were some
subtle differences in materials and neural pathways. Still, the basic
design is very similar to that of my own brain. There are many
different ways to design a positronic brain, the chance that two
completely different groups happened upon such a similar design is
very small. Thus, even if Soongh did not build this brain himself, he
must have a hand in the design.''
``And therefore,'' continued Riker, ``one must assume that there is
some Federation influence at work here. Either that, or someone
somehow got ahold of the plans for that brain from Soongh. Perhaps by
Picard nodded grimly. He then noticed that La Forge was looking
rather uncomfortably at something on his computer console. ``Well,
Mr. La Forge,'' he asked his chief engineer, ``if you have found
something please let us all in on the secret.''
``Well, Captain, ever since I got a close look that ship I thought it
rang a bell. Something I had seen in a journal or a text back at the
academy. I have been running some queries in the technical historical
database using a loose pattern matching scheme to see what I could
come up with. The computer has just given me an answer.''
Geordi then activated the main viewer in the conference room to give
everyone a view of the computer's results. ``On the top you see an
image of the unknown ships we have encountered in the Neutral Zone.
On the lower part of the screen is what was known as Starfleet Project
Nimbus. Note the great similarities in shapes of the two vessels.
The long thin body accented by the warp pods sticking out along the
tail end. The bulbous nose on both craft house the sensor arrays, and
just behind are where the weapons emplacements are housed.''
Picard felt himself growing even less happy at this development.
``They are remarkably similar, Commander. It looks like we are
staring at some fairly damning evidence against the Federation in the
Romulan's eyes. What more can you tell us?''
Geordi scanned the readout in front of him before continuing,
``According to the records, the Nimbus project was started
approximately 30 years ago and was finally scrapped 23 years ago after
it was deemed too costly to continue.
``The mission of the project'', he read, ``was to create a series of
deep space probes that could function unmanned or manned. They were
supposed to allow quick inexpensive expeditions to uncharted space, so
that the Federation could pick and choose where they would send their
manned heavy cruisers for the more detailed and more expensive
exploratory missions. There was also a desire on the part of the
military branch to modify these ships so that they could function as
quick strike vessels with minimal loss of resources. An unmanned ship
would not be as devastating a material or personnel loss, if one
should meet a disastrous end.''
``Yes, I seem to recall something about that project,'' Picard mused.
``There was more to it than just cost overruns that led to the
cancellation of Nimbus.''
``Aye, sir,'' responded La Forge. ``The one feature about Nimbus that
made it unique, beside the unmanned capability, was that it employed a
whole new energy concentration system. They wanted to get away from
the dilithium crystal concentrators for the matter/anti-matter
reaction, and go to what was a theoretically more efficient method
using the hyperion channel. As is many times the case, however, there
is a large difference between theory and practice. The hyperion
channel proved more tricky than they had ever expected, from the looks
of these reports. After six years of trying to get it to work, they
decided to revert to the dilithium concentrators. Once they did this
the maximum speed of the Nimbus went down about thirty percent, due to
a necessarily smaller power plant. After this was taken into account,
along with a lack of success with expert systems to control the craft
in unmanned mode, the Federation council along with the support of
Starfleet, decided to scrap the project.''
``So, we may be looking at a successful military version of that
craft,'' rumbled Worf.
``More successful than you may realize, Worf,'' replied the engineer.
He then stood up and went over to the main viewer, ``I have been
analyzing the sensor data of the energy signature that these ships
emit. I just asked the computer to compare that signal with known
drive systems both practical and theoretical, and it should display
the answer in a matter of seconds.''
Picard already had a feeling what the answer would be when it flashed
on the screen. There was little doubt according to the graphic
displayed that what they were seeing was a successful application of
the hyperion channel drive. The comparison graph, he noticed, was
from actual data. ``Mr. La Forge, that graphic implies that a
successful version of the hyperion channel drive was implemented.''
``Correct, Captain. Although the Nimbus project had been killed,
Starfleet persuaded the Federation council that the hyperion channel
drive could be of great benefit. The council gave some minimal
funding and, approximately two years after the Nimbus project was
scrubbed, a successful flight test of the hyperion drive, as it had
become known, was made. Good data was acquired until mysteriously the
ship was destroyed during an acceleration test. No one was killed due
to the tests being done under remote control. It was generally
assumed that the accident occurred due to an imbalance in the hyperion
channel, although not all were convinced.
``The wrap-up on the hyperion drive experiments seems to indicate most
were convinced that, while it seemed to offer immense possibilities as
far as increased energy throughput, there were far too many
imponderables to continue with the experiment. There was a small
group which insisted that only through the use of the hyperion channel
would trans-warp ten become a reality.''
``It appears, Geordi, that they may have been correct.'' Picard was
staring at the facts as they lay before him. A thirty year old ship
design using an experimental powerplant that was abandoned twenty
years ago. The only place that these could have come from was within
the Federation. A positronic brain that could only have come from the
mind of one man . . . ``Mr. Data,'' Picard turned toward his android
third in command, ``judging from the design of the positronic brain in
the ship you just explored, and extrapolating from the design of your
brain, how many generations before your own do you suppose that brain
``It is difficult to say, sir, since I have no direct recollection of
Dr. Soongh's previous works. However, a reasonable extrapolation
would give about five generations.'' Data then guessed at Picard's
next question. ``If we assume that my creation was five years before
I was discovered, and assuming that a generation would be once every
two to three years, that would put the date range of that brain's
design at 22 to 27 years ago.''
``I believe that we are starting to see a trend here.'' Picard shook
his head sadly. Hoping to see the situation from a different angle,
he turned to his chief of security. ``Mr. Worf, have you had time to
analyze the attack strategy of our friends out there?''
Worf raised an eyebrow quizzically, ``Friends, Captain?''
``A figure of speech, Mr. Worf.''
``A peculiar human oddity calling adversaries `friends','' rumbled
Worf. ``I have had the opportunity, while the away team was
investigating the wreckage, to interpret the attacks which have been
made on us since entering the Neutral Zone.'' Worf pressed a few
buttons on the console in front of him and an exterior view of the
Enterprise appeared on the viewer, as he continued pinpoints in red
appeared on the image. ``The red pinpoints are where the attacks
seemed to be centered on the ship. There always seems to be the same
order to the attacks. The first targets are at the base of the saucer
connector, then an attack is made at the midsection of the underside
of the battle section. Finally, attacks are made at both the
matter/antimatter nacelles and the fore portion of the topside of the
Riker then spoke, ``That doesn't make sense. None of those targets,
aside from the matter/antimatter nacelles are particularly sensitive.
If the target is reached, we would only be inconvenienced, not
``No, Will, that's not it at all. Is it, Mr. Worf? You've seen what
the pattern is, haven't you?'' Picard calmly inquired.
Worf nodded crisply, ``Yes, Captain. If, instead of having the
Enterprise on the screen, we impose the image of a Ambassador class
vessel, the Galaxy class' predecessor, we get an entirely different
picture.'' As he spoke a smaller, but very similar ship took the
Enterprise's place on the viewscreen. ``Notice that now, the impact
points rest right where the shield generators are located on the
surface of the ship. The attack points are designed to penetrate the
shields and then destroy the generators so that the ship can then be
torn apart by their weapons.''
Troi then nodded her understanding, ``Much in the same way that they
have destroyed the Starbases along the Neutral Zone.''
``Yes, Counselor,'' Worf replied. ``Also note how this fits into the
time scale we have been considering. Twenty years ago, the Nebula
class starships were the flagships of the fleet. For those twenty
years, they reigned as the protectors of the border fringe against the
Ferengi, the Romulans, and the Klingons.''
``And during those twenty years, their weaknesses also became well
known,'' continued Riker. ``You have to admit it does all seem to
indicate that we are dealing with something that seems to have stepped
out of time.''
``Out of time and right onto our doorstep, Number One. The problem
now remains that even though we have an idea of where all this may
have come from, we still don't know who is behind all of it.''
``Sir,'' Worf looked up from his console on the conference table,
``Commander Kareel of the Falcon wishes to know our findings.''
Picard puffed out his cheeks and slowly blew out. ``Now comes the
hard part, seeing the Romulan reaction to all this Federation
technology. Well, let's not let on to more than we have to, shall we?
Mr. Worf, please put our ally on the viewscreen.'' At his command,
the viewscreen images changed yet again to the visage of Kareel.
``Commander, I understand you wish to know the findings of our away
team aboard the alien vessel.''
``That is correct, Captain. My people have been most anxious that you
might be withholding information from us. It has taken much to
dissuade these anxieties. I trust you have some news for us?''
Picard realized that Kareel was indicating that he was in trouble.
``He may be stretching his influence to the limit over there,'' Picard
thought. ``Let's hope he can hang on for a while longer.''
``Yes, Commander, I believe that we may have some revealing
information. But first, I would like to know if you have ever seen
anything like this?'' Picard held up to the viewscreen one of the
data cylinders recovered from the alien ship.
Kareel's eyes widened as he studied the image of cylinder. He asked
Picard to turn it around as he studied it, and then he raised his
eyebrow in a very Vulcan gesture. ``Yes, Captain, I believe I have.
If I am not mistaken, that is a data collection cylinder for a
navigation and tracking computer. They have not been used for years,
but in their day they were the most dense data storage we had.''
It was Picard's turn to look surprised, along with all his officers
clustered about the conference table. ``Commander, am I to understand
that this is a Romulan device?''
``Of course, Picard. That little cylinder in your hand contains
approximately 100 gigabytes of computer data. It hasn't been used for
about 15 years, since we have come up with more advanced molecular
methods for data storage. If you found that on board the enemy
vessel, then I fear that there is some Romulan influence involved. I
then find myself in a deeply embarrassing situation.''
``Commander, we shall deal with embarrassments later. There are
always enough of those to go around,'' Picard said expansively. ``Can
you read what is on this cylinder and others like it?''
``No, Captain. We don't currently have the equipment to do it.
However, my chief engineer probably can make up the specifications for
a reader. I believe your synthesization methods are more advanced
than ours. Shall I have my man send yours the plans in about an
Picard nodded, ``An hour would be just fine, commander. With luck,
the information on that cylinder will tell us exactly where we need to
go to get to the bottom of all this.''
``Yes, Captain. That would be most welcome. I shall be talking with
you later. Kareel out.'' With that the viewscreen went blank.
Riker leaned toward Picard across the corner of the table, ``More and
more questions, Captain?''
``Yes, Number One. Let us hope that all these questions lead us to
some answers soon.''
Once La Forge had a chance to talk with the Romulan chief engineer,
Kafarth, it was a relatively simple matter to modify one of the
Enterprise's data entry consoles to accept the Romulan data cylinder,
or K'un'tung as they called it.
For the most part, the data retrieved was useless. Mostly routine
internal data collection from systems monitors. Although it did give
a good idea how long the ship had been in space, the data did not
indicate of where the ship had started its journey or how often it had
After several hours of pouring over the data, Geordi was beginning to
become frustrated enough to believe that quite possibly they had not
found the correct computer aboard the alien ship to give them the
information they needed. He then came across data that seemed to come
from the navigation computer. It seemed to have data on star
locations during the vessel's journey. Geordi called Data in to
confer on the data and then they went to Picard on the bridge.
``Captain, I believe that we have found the location of the marauder's
homeworld.'' La Forge began. ``Of course, it was on the tenth level
of the cylinder I looked at, but this data seems to have been relayed
from the ship's navigation computer.''
``We have cross referenced the star referents with our star charts for
this area and have decided upon a five cubic light-year segment of
space where it must have originated,'' continued Data. ``The only
difficulty is that there are no known stars or planets in that area.
Truly that whole segment is a black box as far as the Federation and
the Romulans are concerned. Neither side has explored that region of
the Neutral Zone.''
``The Zone was created about the time the two sides were beginning to
explore that area, and neither side felt it was worth it to incite war
with the other over potentially useless space,'' finished Geordi.
``Very good, gentlemen. Very good. Mr. Data, set a course for that
`black box' as you call it. Mr. Worf, open a channel to the Romulan
``Opening a channel now, sir. Hailing the Falcon .'' Worf paused as
he looked at the sensors, ``Sir! The Falcon has just raised her
shields and is charging her forward disruptor array.''
``Shields up, Mr. Worf. Sound red alert. Everyone to battle
stations. Number One, it looks like the game is up. Mr. Worf, hail
the Falcon again and demand an explanation.''
`` Falcon responding, sir,'' Worf reported from the tactical station.
``Putting it on the screen.''
An image of the Romulan commander's wife, T'fara, appeared on the
viewscreen. As it did, she spoke, ``Federation vessel, this is the
Falcon . I wish to report to you that Commander Kareel has been
charged with duplicity and treason to the Romulan Empire. He has been
imprisoned and I am now in charge. As commanding officer of the
Romulan war-bird Falcon , I charge you Captain Picard and your ship
the Enterprise of entering the Neutral Zone with intent to destroy a
secret Romulan project. You are ordered to surrender your ship or
face certain destruction.''
``Sub-commander T'fara, your husband was guilty of no treason nor
duplicity. He gave aid in finding the solution to a mutual problem
between Romulans and the Federation. You are stretching in trying to
claim those ships to be a Romulan project, when I know for a fact that
is quite impossible. I will not surrender my ship, and I will get to
the bottom of this matter, with your help or not.''
``Then you face the consequences, Captain.'' With that T'fara's image
was replaced by the sensor view of the Falcon discharging its
disruptor arrays at the Enterprise just before it disappeared behind
its cloaking device.
Lieutenant-Commander Charles Kiley Rigeur was not a happy man. Ten
days had passed since the Enterprise saucer section had docked with
the wrecked Starbase 57 and for ten days the sounds of tortured metal
had echoed through the hull of the saucer. It was starting to get not
only on his nerves, but also beginning to reduce the crew's morale.
Now, to top it all off, the damn labbie scientist Okawa was telling
him that the saucer section's impulse power units would not be able to
provide sufficient power to the polyfiber which now covered the
starbase. ``What I wouldn't give to be facing three or four Romulan
Birds of Prey right now, instead of these incessant problems,'' he
Okawa was finishing a long diatribe about why he needed more power to
be supplied to the polyfiber exoskeleton. ``Basically, Commander, my
original calculations on how much power needs to be supplied to all
that fiber were in error. There is a non-linear resistance term in
the power equation that is insignificant as long as you are dealing
with small fiber distances. As the distance increases, however, the
non-linear term dominates the equation. As I have done more tests in
the lab, it has become evident that with all those miles of fiber out
there we will need about half again as much power for the netting to
be an effective exoskeleton.''
As if to provide a counterpoint to Okawa's argument, the hull
resounded with a howling screech as parts of the starbase shell ground
against one another in ways they were never designed to do. It caused
Rigeur to grind his teeth as shivers ran down his spine. Would this
little man never get to the point?
``All right! What would you have me do, Doctor? The impulse power
unit can supply the fiber with no more power than you originally asked
for. Basic life support functions and positioning control of both the
saucer and the starbase are taking all the rest. Where do you expect
me to find the additional power?''
Okawa patiently waited through the commander's outburst. The Oriental
knew that what he had to say next would not be taken well by the
engineer, but there was no other way to solve the problem. ``There is
one other power source we can tap, Commander. Restart the starbase's
fusion generators. They can supply a surplus of power and we won't
have to burden the impulse power unit as much. The engineering
section of the starbase was not damaged in the attack and the
generators were working until we docked.''
Rigeur was about to object when Okawa held up his hand and proceeded,
``I know your reasons for shutting down the generators. Sensor
probing did show that the stem damage from losing the solar converter
was getting worse. If the cracks continued to grow down into the
engineering section, the generators could explode and not only destroy
the starbase but also the saucer section. Now that the fiber nets are
in place, however, they will take the strain off the stem and the
cracks should cease to grow. Of course, we will need the generators
on to enable this to happen.''
The Assistant-Chief Engineer now understood that Okawa had backed him
into this position. Now that his engineers had almost completed
wrapping the starbase in the polyfiber nets, he would be open to
criticism if he did not allow them to fulfill their purpose.
Especially, without at least trying the plan to see if it worked
first. He looked at the scientist with a renewed respect as he
realized that there was definitely more to this man than a labbie who
was isolated from all practical matters. ``All right, Okawa. I will
let you have those generators. On two conditions, however.''
``Name them, Commander. You are, after all, in charge here.''
``Sometimes I wonder, Doctor,'' replied Rigeur wryly. ``My first
condition is that I inspect those generators myself for damage before
we restart them. I will take Engineer Oslo from the starbase with me
on that inspection so I can hear his advice. Secondly, I will have
quarter-hourly sensor scans done of the stem from the moment those
generators are activated. At the first sign of uncontrollable stress
fractures spreading to the engineering section I will have the
generators shut off and the saucer section detached from the starbase.
My first responsibility is still to this ship, Doctor. Is that
A somewhat subdued Okawa responded, ``Perfectly, Commander. I will
agree to your conditions. How soon can you get me those generators?''
Rigeur toggled the communications padd on the command chair and called
for Oslo to meet him at the docking port. He then turned to Okawa,
``Right now, Doctor. If the inspection goes well you can have the
generators as soon as the netting is complete.''
Okawa smiled, ``Thank you, Commander. The netting should be complete
in three hours.''
Rigeur stood and began heading for the turbolift, ``Then I should get
started, Doctor. I hope this plan of yours works. It would be a
shame for all this effort to have been wasted.''
Okawa followed him into the turbolift. ``Yes, Commander. It would be
a `shame', but the plan will not fail. I know it.''
The engineer nodded, he wished he could be so sure. He knew something
about stresses and strains and was still a little dubious about this
polyfiber being capable of taking the destructive forces off the
starbase shell. At any rate, it felt good to be doing some hands on
work instead of directing it all from the bridge. Even if it was only
for a few hours.
Beverly Crusher and her son, Wesley, were sitting in their quarters
eating dinner when the squealing stopped. It had become such a part
of every member of the ship's complement's lives that when it finally
ceased there was a noticeable lack of sound. It caused them both to
look up from the table at the walls.
``They've done it!'' Wesley said with a mouth full of mashed
potatoes. ``They've applied power to the polyfiber netting and it's
His mother looked at him and shook her head slightly, ``That's
wonderful, dear, now stop talking with your mouth full. I swear, you
know quantum mechanics inside and out, but your table manners are
atrocious.'' She loved her son, but there were times she wished that
she could understand some of the things he could. Perhaps like many
mothers before her, she understood that a particularly bright child
required somewhat specialized mothering. Wesley just happened to be
brighter than most of the above normal children aboard the Enterprise
, and secretly Beverly was very proud of that fact.
He looked at her with that look that said, `there you go treating me
like a child again', as he swallowed his food. ``Mom, now that the
netting is activated they are going to start work on the shell of the
starbase. It'll be an ideal opportunity for me to study first hand a
procedure that really has never been done on such a scale. Will you
let me go out to watch them as they do the construction?''
Beverly's eyes widened as her immediate impulse was to say absolutely
not. But when she saw her son's eyes pleading with her, she knew that
he had already won the battle. She would eventually give in as she
had done so many other times. Well, even if she couldn't win the
battle, she'd at least win a few concessions. ``Wesley, I know that
you feel you are ready to experience free fall from your rating in the
Vari-Gee chamber. How does Commander Rigeur feel about this? Have
you asked him?''
``Yes, Mom. He told me that he'd allow me to go out under his or
another senior engineer's supervision as long as you gave your
permission. He also had a few other restrictions,'' Wesley added as
he realized they could help him win his case, ``I must be tethered at
all times either to the polyfiber netting or to the supervising
engineer while I am out there. Also, I won't be allowed to do
anything more than observe the construction. As he said, `No backseat
engineering from the young ensign'.''
The doctor laughed at her son's imitation of the stern engineer.
``All right, Wesley. You've won. Try to stay out of trouble.''
``Thanks, Mom!'' Wesley got up to rush out of the room to get ready
when his mother called him back.
``First, you must finish your meal. No going out into the vacuum of
space without first filling the vacuum of your stomach.'' He looked
like he was going to argue the point when she pointed to his chair and
Miriam Evans entered the lab she shared with Okawa while he was poring
over the latest stress probe reports. He had been waiting for her to
return from her tour of the core struts of the starbase. She had been
sent to take some measurements that the Enterprise's sensors could not
accurately make. Her numbers would provide valuable data to determine
how much time they had gained by stringing the netting. Okawa
noticed, however, that she seemed rather distant.
``Miriam, glad to see you are back. How did the core look?'' he
asked as she handed him the tricorder she had been using.
``Not too bad, Yasu. I saw no evidence of buckling on any of the main
struts.'' She pointed to the tricorder, ``That will show the
conclusive results, but if the bulk stress is so small that it only
shows up there, it shouldn't be a problem for weeks. By that time we
should have the shell finished.''
He looked at her as she wandered over to her work bench. He noticed
that she seemed somewhat tired, but wasn't everybody? What concerned
him more was the error she had made. He got up from his table and
crossed to her. ``Miriam, you know as well as I, that if there is any
buckling of the core supports the whole structure will be weakened no
matter what we do to the shell. The base will only tear itself apart
once the stabilization spin is applied.
``It's not like you to make a mistake like that.'' He put his hand on
her shoulder, a gesture he had made many times when he talked
non-professionally. ``You must be tired putting in all these hours.
Why don't you go try to get some rest or go down to the exercise hall
and run a few miles? I bet you haven't done that for a while.''
She turned around and gave him a look that he had never seen from her.
One which spoke volumes of anger. ``Why don't you stay out of my
personal life, Doctor! Just because I have to work with you doesn't
mean that you have any right to dictate what I do and don't do.''
Okawa moved away from her in distress. They had always talked about
personal matters and it had never bothered either of them. He did not
know what had come over her. He tried telling himself it was the
pressure that they had been under the past two weeks, but he couldn't
quite bring himself to believe that it could cause such a radical
personality change. He could think of nothing to say to her as she
stormed out of the lab.
Depressed and confused, the elderly scientist turned to the tricorder
on his bench. Something very definitely was strange here. The
initial deep sensor scans of the stem had shown that there was some
weakening of the core support struts, but now Miriam had said there
was none apparent. Ordinarily, he would put more faith in her
judgement than the results of a sensor scan, but not now. Not with
the way she was acting. It could have affected her observation
skills, whatever was bothering her.
He sighed heavily as he sat at his workstation and began the long
process of analyzing the tricorder data.
The space working suit continued to fascinate Wesley. The many
pockets on the outer layer to hold the anti-torque tools and the
helmet with the tricorder readouts built in was a marvel of necessity
being the mother of invention. He reflected how difficult it must
have been for the old space pioneers of a century ago to move around
in their bulky suits. The thinness of these suits was made possible
by a portable force field that protected the occupant from cosmic
radiation and foreign particles. The force field also served to
protect the suit from rupture, although this was a minimal concern
with the new composite fiber structure of the suit.
This was Wesley's third trip `outside' with Rigeur, and still he could
not help but gasp at the beauty of the raw cosmos as he stepped
outside the airlock on the saucer's underside. Wesley made his living
piloting the starship through those stars and saw them through the
main viewscreen of the bridge every day. But this experience compared
to that was like comparing watching a recorded play on the vidscreen
in his room to actually living a scene in the holodeck. Until
something was felt in three dimensions it would always be perceived as
two dimensional, regardless of what one knew about it intellectually.
Rigeur brought Wesley's attention back to the matter at hand by
snapping the tether line that linked the two of them. Wesley turned
to the direction the engineer was heading. `Beneath' them stretched
the starbase covered by the translucent netting. They had exited from
an airlock that was outside the circumference of the net on the saucer
section, so they could see the lattice of the net fall away over the
bulk of the living section of the starbase.
Rigeur grabbed one of the utility vehicles which had been docked
around the airlock. As soon as Wesley took the back seat they jetted
off along the netting toward the base's stem. The young helmsman
could see work crews gathered along the shell of the living section
and glimpsed occasional sparks of phaser welding units. The past days
had seen rapid progress as the null gravity engineers had removed the
most heavily damaged sections of the living quarters and put in
reinforcing struts linked to the core of the starbase. If Doctor
Okawa was right, they had only a matter of two or three weeks to get
the starbase into such a condition that it could support itself. That
was when the polyfiber would finally become useless.
They rode in silence to the area where the solar collector that had
been torn away had once been. This was the area which caused Okawa
and Rigeur the most worry, and so far the work here had gone very
slowly. This was due to the fact that most of the damage here had not
been done by enemy weapons fire, but by the physical act of the
collector breaking away. The collectors were fastened directly to the
core by long high tensile strength beams. They were also fastened to
beams that ran along the length of the stem, and here was where the
problem lay. The attacking vessels had concentrated on breaking away
the panel by severing the core connectors and for the most part they
had succeeded. Thus, the core had sustained only minor damage. The
most damage was on the surface beams which had not been severed by
weapons fire. As the collector tore away from its core connectors due
to the centrifugal force of the starbase's rotation, it bent and broke
the surface beams. In many places, the shell of the stem was broken
and striations had been found on the beams all along their length.
What made matters worse was that new damage was being found near the
engineering section. Rigeur hoped that could be stopped before
getting so bad that he had to shut down the starbase's fusion
As Rigeur halted their vehicle, Wesley saw the senior starbase
engineer approach them. Over the past week, Oslo and Wesley had
become friendly and each had a respect of the other's knowledge and
intuition. Something which Wesley knew Rigeur did not share with him.
It sometimes took a long time for an adult to get over Wesley's age
and treat him with something approaching equality. He had gotten used
to it, sort of.
Oslo came to a stop near them. He moved by clambering like a monkey
along the polyfiber netting that covered the damaged stem. As he
spoke, his voice came through Wesley's communicator, ``Welcome
gentlemen, I hope you can give us some kind of help here. The fiber
had slowed the growth of the striations, but they have begun radiating
Rigeur grunted and said, ``Are they still propagating in the same
direction as before, or has that changed since the net has been
``Funny you should say that, sir,'' Oslo made as if to scratch his
head and looked annoyed that he couldn't due to the helmet. ``They
have changed direction somewhat and not all are growing. Some are
just remaining stable. You must have an idea, asking such a
Rigeur shook his head in negation. ``Not my idea, Oslo, the young
ensign's here,'' he pointed at Wesley and indicated for him to give
voice his idea.
Wesley blushed slightly as he spoke up, ``Well, it's more of a theory
than anything else, sir.'' He paused as he reflected that Rigeur
might have more respect for him that he had previously thought. He
got some courage from that.
He continued, ``I think that the netting in this area may be
improperly laid for the stresses which are occurring here. Professor
Okawa is right about the solid forces that normally occur in this
region, but with the one solar collector gone and the other still
attached the forces are dramatically altered. That, coupled with the
random ruin of the lateral support beams along the stem is causing
somewhat abnormal aberrations in the forces along in this region.
Okawa's force diagrams aren't showing it because the aberrations are
not affecting the net. It is handling the forces it was placed to
handle. The stem's shell, however, is shifting underneath the
exoskeleton in this area. This is due to the connection points being
at each end of the stem and none really in the middle.''
``So, the change in direction of the striations is due to the
reduction in the force that the net is handling and the subsequent
prominence of the remaining force,'' Oslo stated.
Rigeur nodded and finished, ``Exactly. At least that's the
hypothesis.'' Rigeur twisted his face in distaste at the word. It
was a labbie word, not a techie word. This was a situation, however,
that both had to work together. ``What we need to do is fasten down a
subnet in this area, have its fibers run in the new direction of the
striations and then anchor it to the current netting. This should
stabilize the region.''
``Great, let's get to work,'' Oslo moved off to assemble a team to
help with the netting.
Wesley and Rigeur moved together to the edge of the hole and the
engineer began to make tricorder readings of the forces about the
wound in the starbase. He looked up at Wesley who was watching him.
``What are you standing around for? Let's get some readings. I think
you've gold-bricked enough out here. It's time I got some useful work
out of you.''
Wesley grinned and saluted, ``Yes, sir. Be happy to, sir!'' They
both settled down to work about the hole.
Hours passed as the group of engineers worked to fasten the netting.
It was not as easy a task as it had first seemed. Attaching the thin
fibers to the shell had been difficult enough when there was a rigid
stable point to connect it to. Now they were dealing with an already
brittle area that kept breaking away as the net was welded to its
surface. Once that task had been accomplished, they started to splice
it to the outer netting. This part went even more slowly than the
previous stage in order to reduce the possibility of damage to the
load bearing outer netting.
Wesley was beginning to tire. He was not used to such an extended
period in zero gravity, but he did not want to lower himself in
Rigeur's eyes by admitting he was tired.
A Lieutenant-Commander did not make it to his position by not knowing
the limitations of his men, and he was keeping an eye out for his
charge. As he saw Wesley slow down, he ordered him to tether himself
to the netting by the utility vehicle for some rest and to take in
some fluids from the dispenser on the vehicle. Wesley gratefully
accepted the offer.
As he sat next to the transport vehicle, Wesley observed the activity
around him. The splicing of the netting, he saw, was actually almost
complete. Fifteen of the engineers had spent the past several hours
on it; hopefully, they could all get some rest and get back to
reinforcing this area more permanently.
Something drew the young ensign's attention down the hole where the
solar collector had once been. He was sure that he had seen the spark
of a welder down there. Normally, that would not have been too
unusual except that Oslo had assembled all the available workers to
help with the netting. He figured that there were some pressing
repairs down near the core that needed to be worked on so that one
welder had been spared. Curiosity overcame Crusher and he untethered
himself and dove down the hole. He should be back before his absence
was noticed, he thought.
As Wesley pulled himself along one of radial support beams toward the
center of the stem he took in the extent of the damage here. It was
strange that the radial beams had no apparent damage beyond the
breakaway point, while the cylindrical and the lateral supports had
been twisted and broken. A lot of work would have to be done here.
But he knew that the starbase was safe as long as the four core
supports remained sound. They alone were holding the starbase
together and they had shown no signs of weakness.
As Wesley approached the welder he could begin to make out what the
person was working on. Something was very wrong here. The welder was
applying his beam to one of the junctions between a load bearing
radial beam and a core support. From the location of the phaser
contact, the welder was concentrating the arc on the core support more
than the radial beam. Any amount of welding would weaken the support
and endanger the entire base and the Enterprise's saucer section.
Wesley yelled out and launched himself at the welder. Surprised, the
welder turned about just as Wesley impacted with him. The two tumbled
along the airtight tube that the core supports surrounded. The welder
was proving to be too strong for the already fatigued Wesley to
He realized that he would have to find out the welder's identity and
the only way to do that was to reach the polarizing control for the
face mask of his opponent's suit. He could already feel himself
blacking out as the worker's hands tightened about his throat. With
one final burst of strength, Wesley grabbed the polarizer control and
twisted it hard to clear the face mask.
The ensign's eyes widened in surprised recognition as he saw who the
saboteur was. It was the last thing he saw before he blacked out.
The sickbay doors opened and Beverly Crusher rushed in crying out,
``Wesley!'' as she saw her son on the diagnostic table. Her
assistant, Doctor Mbawa, looked up and restrained her from going to
``Beverly, he's all right. He's still comatose, but there is no
damage to the brain that we can detect. I believe he'll be all
right,'' Mbawa cursed his lousy bedside manner not for the first time.
``He suffered some anoxia and a blow to the head, but I believe we g
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