Written by James E. Harris and Kerry Scott Chestnut II
Star Trek Excelsior created by James E Harris
Reprinted here courtesy The Excelsior Campaign
Original Characters created by:
James E Harris
Kerry Scott Chestnut II
Technical Consultant: Adrian Jones
Star Trek Created by Gene Roddenberry
Star Trek is a Registered Trademark of Paramount Pictures, Inc.
“Red Alert!” Kane shouted. “Shields–”
“Belay that!” Sulu cut him off. Around the bridge, heads jerked instinctively towards the Captain. Sulu lowered his voice, “They won’t fire on us on our side of the Neutral Zone.”
“Confirmed,” Kane announced, checking his tactical readout, “Romulan weapons are not powered.” A bit more softly he added, “Good call, sir.”
Sulu caught the nervous glances exchanged among the bridge crew. “It’s not exactly my first time,” he said dryly.
The young ensign at communications had not yet taken her eyes off the main viewscreen. Seemingly hypnotized by the Romulan ship, she managed to stammer, “Should I… hail them, sir…?”
“No. Let them sweat it for a moment. They’re the ones caught with their pants down.”
The turbolift doors opened, revealing the rest of the Alpha shift bridge crew. Each of them paused no more than a moment to stare at the viewscreen before moving to their stations. Sulu noticed the members of Gamma shift lingering a little longer than usual before relinquishing their posts. It was, he decided, like being asked to leave at the climax of a play.
Several agonizing seconds passed in near silence while the Romulan ship hung motionless on the screen. Finally, Jarot’s console began to beep.
“Captain, they’re hailing us!”
Sulu sat quietly, counting the seconds off in his head. He folded his hands in his lap and assumed his most nonchalant expression. “Put them on screen, Ensign.”
The image on the viewscreen dissolved, and Sulu found himself facing the Romulan Commander.
“This is Captain Hikaru Sulu of the Federation Starship Excelsior. I assume you’re going to tell me you’re lost?” Sulu tried to sound as disinterested as possible.
The Romulan appeared to consider this. “In fact, we are not.”
Sulu waited for his counterpart to elaborate, but soon realized that the other man was finished. Sulu slowly leaned forward in his chair, a dangerous edge lacing his voice. “Then please explain who you are and exactly what you are doing on our side of the Neutral Zone.”
The Romulan looked bored. “My name is Commander Tanek of the Romulan Warship K’alotar – if that is of any use to you.” Tanek snorted, “The second part of your question presumes that we require your permission to be here.”
“Last time I checked, Commander Tanek,” Sulu said coldly, “Interplanetary treaty states that you do, indeed, require Federation permission to be here. So, in the interest of Galactic peace, I will ask you again: What are you doing in Federation space?”
Tanek nodded, apparently satisfied with Sulu’s response. “In the interest of ‘Galactic peace,’ I will tell you: we are on a search and rescue mission.”
“A lot of that going around,” Sulu observed. “I would appreciate it, Commander, if you could explain why a search and rescue mission requires you to follow us around cloaked – on our side of the border.”
The Romulan stared coolly at Sulu for a time before answering. “One of our ships patrolling the Neutral Zone has gone silent. The K’alotar was ordered to investigate.” His voice filled with suspicion, “When we arrived in this sector, we found your ship already in a search pattern on just the other side of the border.”
From both sides, Sulu saw Jarot and Hamilton spin towards him. He acknowledged them with a surreptitiously raised hand, trusting them to hold their peace until he was finished. To Tanek he said, “Well, Commander, it seems we have something in common. We are also looking for a ship – a Federation starship.” Sulu allowed a hint of suspicion to creep into his own voice. “Strange, that we should both be searching for ships in the same area.
Sulu paused for effect. “Still, your presence in our space is, shall we say, unprecedented. If you wish to stay to continue your search, I’ll have to clear it with Starfleet Command. I trust I can count on you to stay uncloaked?”
Tanek smiled slightly. It was not a pleasant smile. “Of course, Captain Sulu.”
“Good.” Sulu returned Tanek’s smile. “Because any attempt to engage your cloaking device might be considered a hostile act.”
Tanek inclined his head in an almost respectful nod. “Understood.” The link abruptly closed, and the viewscreen once more displayed the Romulan ship.
Keeping his eyes forward, Sulu leaned back in his chair and raised his right hand, palm outward, in front of his chest. Hamilton and Jarot seemed ready to burst, but they managed to wait nevertheless. “OK, gentlemen, one at a time.” He pointed a finger to his right, at Hamilton. “You first.”
“Sir, what the Romulan was saying didn’t quite ring true. Those sensor anomalies – which we now know to be the K’alotar’s cloaking device – started the moment we got here. They were already on our side of the Neutral Zone.”
“I concur, sir,” Jarot offered from Sulu’s left, “When Commander Tanek told his ‘search and rescue’ story, the spectral content of his voice shifted dramatically.”
“Meaning that his vocal chords tightened slightly and his throat constricted.” Jarot suddenly became aware of all the incredulous eyes on him. “It’s a normal humanoid – or vulcanoid – stress response. Especially when lying.”
Hamilton was impressed. “You must have really good ears.”
Jarot flushed slightly green. “Well, actually, I was watching the Fourier transform of the audio on my panel at the time.”
Sulu smiled, “Your own, personal lie detector.”
Jarot shrugged. “The graphs are very soothing, actually.”
“I’m sure. Speaking of which,” Sulu turned to Kane, “Commander, I know things are just getting interesting, but you’re overdue for a few hours of sleep.”
Kane didn’t argue. “Aye, sir.”
Sulu stood and faced Rand. “I’ll be in my ready room making a call. Commander Rand, you have the bridge.” He motioned towards the screen, and his voice turned dark. “If their cloaking device so much as flickers, shoot first, call me second.”
The skies of Nimbus III were clear and cold. Kane dived behind a rock, leaving him staring up at the stars. He whipped open his communicator. “Taylor, status!” he hissed.
There was no reply.
He tried again. “Taylor! It’s a trap! Get out of there!”
There was a burst of static from the communicator, then, “…too late…”
A tiny point of light in the sky suddenly flared up – nearly as brilliant as the sun. Kane had to shield his eyes.
They were all dead. His crew was dead and he was alone.
Kane rolled over onto his knees. Nausea threatened to overwhelm him. He inhaled the cold air deeply, struggling to keep control. Shock, sadness, anger, fear – they all flashed through his mind. He felt like he was spinning. The faces and voices of his crew crowded his thoughts. For a moment, he could remember clearly every detail of the time he had spent with these people. The feeling of loss was almost tangible.
A shout nearby shattered his reverie, and his blood turned to ice water. Only one thought remained: survival. He decided to hazard a glance around the rock. The enemy was not too far away. He could barely make out their forms in the darkness.
Something didn’t look right. No armor. No blades. These weren’t Klingons. They were smaller, more angular. Something about this didn’t make sense. He raised his weapon slowly.
He tried to take aim, but the figures became nebulous when he looked directly at them. They were getting closer. He still couldn’t make out who they were, but an unusual chill was creeping up his spine.
“They’re Romulans,” a voice said, immediately behind him.
Kane felt paralyzed. The source of the voice moved into his field of vision.
Tanek smiled at him – a horrible smile.
Kane sat up in bed, breathing hard. It took him a moment to realize where he was. He checked the chronometer; he had been asleep for less than 30 minutes.
His heart still pounding, Kane forced himself to relax. Although the dream had shaken him, he knew he had to get some sleep. Exhaustion was always the most dangerous enemy, and he needed to be at his best.
He wasn’t going to let this crew down.
The panel in front of Sulu beeped. “Bridge to Captain.” It was Jarot.
“Captain, I received a reply from Admiral Wesley to your inquiry. It’s labeled ‘eyes only,’ and encrypted with command codes, sir.“
Sulu ignored the Bolian’s suspicious tone. “Just pipe it in here, Ensign.”
“Aye, sir. Jarot out.“
The terminal on Sulu’s desk displayed a Federation Logo with the words “SECURE MESSAGE WAITING.”
“Computer, recognize Sulu, Hikaru, Captain. Decrypt and play the message.”
“Voiceprint confirmed. Command Authorization Code required,” the computer replied blandly.
The computer processed this. “Secondary Authorization Code required.“
Sulu raised an eyebrow. Wesley had obviously seen fit to encrypt the message with a second, private code. That told Sulu a lot. He thought about it for a moment.
“Secondary Authorization Code… D’Artagnan.” It was an old joke between them – or, more precisely, between Rand and Wesley at Sulu’s expense. The Admiral frequently inserted the name in official communiqués just to get a rise out of Sulu.
“Authorization Code accepted.“
Wesley’s image appeared on the screen. “I knew you’d get that secondary code. ‘All for one, and one for all,’ right?“
Sulu found himself smiling at the recorded image.
“Anyhow, I apologize for the double security, but I had to make certain this recording wasn’t intercepted.” Wesley’s voice turned grave. “Breaching the hell out of a few regulations, I used a data mining program to retrieve all data on the Phoenix contained in Starfleet Intelligence systems.
“I found something pretty weird. It’s a major segment of a data file that was hastily – and incompletely – erased. From the header information, the file was apparently transferred to the Phoenix before she departed. I’ve included it in this transmission.” Wesley frowned.
“The file is in Romulan. As far as I can tell, it’s a physics paper. I’m sure you understand that sort of thing much better than I. Parts of it are missing, so naturally the computer translation is incomplete.
“I believe the paper has something to do with the Phoenix’s mission, and I’m sure neither one of us was supposed to see it. Somebody went to the trouble of hiding this – they won’t be happy it was found. Be careful out there.“
Bob Wesley’s image faded, replaced with a scientific document. There were gaps in the text, and where the computer lost context, certain Romulan symbols remained untranslated. Sulu examined some of the equations, but he hadn’t done work in physics for decades – it was all fairly meaningless to him.
He sighed and touched a control on his desk. “Sulu to Hamilton.”
“Hamilton here, Captain.“
“I need you in my ready room.”
Hamilton stared uncomfortably at the door to the ready room. He couldn’t help thinking that the Captain knew about the earlier argument in the mess hall, and had called him here for disciplinary action.
Of course, by keeping the Captain waiting, he was probably only making things worse. Reluctantly, he pushed the call button beside the door.
“Come,” he heard Sulu say.
Drawing in a deep breath, he stepped through the parting doors.
Sulu was staring intently at his screen. Without looking up, he spoke, “Mister Hamilton, I have a bit of a puzzle for you to solve.”
Hamilton blinked. “Sir?”
Sulu looked up, noticed that Hamilton was still standing, and indicated a seat. “Sit, please.”
Hamilton sat down, as instructed, still not quite certain what was going on.
Sulu spun his terminal around to face Hamilton. What was on the screen was surprising. “What do you make of this?”
Hamilton tried to make sense of the image before him. He scrolled through the pages. It seemed to be some sort of scientific paper, but parts of it were missing, and in the gaps there were symbols that appeared to be Vulcan or Romulan.
“It’s Romulan,” Sulu answered Hamilton’s unspoken question.
Sulu looked amused. “Yes, really. Can you make anything out here?”
Hamilton frowned. “These,” he ran an index finger over some equations, “look like a geometry equation for a warp field, but it’s pretty strange.”
“The gradient of this field is discontinuous.” Hamilton started to explain, “That means–“
“I understand what it means, Lieutenant. I took calculus as a child, too.”
Hamilton was mortified, “Sir, I didn’t mean–“
“It’s OK,” Sulu assured him, “But I also know that a discontinuous gradient is a physical impossibility in a real warp field. It would take an infinite amount of energy.”
Hamilton stared at the Captain in surprise. “Uh, yes, sir – most of the time.” He drifted off into the paper again as something caught his attention. “If only I knew what these symbols were.” He pointed at what appeared to be a partial word.
“Yes, well, that’s your assignment for today. Find out what all this means – and fast.”
Hamilton nodded. “Yes, sir!”
“One more thing,” Sulu said. He pulled a small box from a compartment in his desk and pushed it towards Hamilton.
Hamilton took the box and opened it carefully. Inside was the rank insignia for a Lieutenant Commander. “Oh,” Hamilton said simply.
Sulu gave him a puzzled look. “I know you were expecting it, but it took a while for your paperwork to catch up.” He cocked his head slightly. “I thought you’d be pleased.”
“Oh, I appreciate this, sir,” Hamilton said.
Sulu frowned at him. “Usually, I’d have a formal promotion ceremony with the senior officers, but with the circumstances we’re under…”
“Oh, no, sir,” Hamilton said quickly, “I much prefer it this way.”
Sulu seemed much more confused. “I’m afraid I don’t understand.”
Hamilton sighed. “Sir, with my mother being who she is…”
Sulu stopped him. “Look, the Admiral had nothing to do with this. You did this on your own – I’ve been through your service record, I’m sure of that.”
Hamilton grimaced. “I know that sir, but to most people, I’m just a really young guy with a lot of family contacts who happens to have been promoted really quickly. I just prefer not to draw attention to myself.”
Sulu nodded. “As you wish, Commander.”
Sensing that he was being dismissed, Hamilton turned to go. As the doors opened before him, he stopped and turned back towards Sulu. “Sir?”
“How do you know so much about warp field gradients?”
Sulu looked at him with just a hint of mischief. “I thought you were an expert on my service record, Mister Hamilton.”
Hamilton went suddenly cold. “How did you know I looked up…?”
Sulu looked nonchalant. “I’m the Captain. I know everything.” A small smile tugged at the corner of his lips. “I guess you didn’t research back far enough. Maybe you should go back to my firstassignment on the Enterprise.”
Hamilton was stunned. “Y-yes, sir…” He stood, unable to move, staring at the Captain.
“Now, I think you have a lot of work to do, right Mister Hamilton?”
Hamilton nodded. “Yes, Captain.” He turned and escaped through the doors, grateful to hear them close behind him.
“Aren’t you supposed to be asleep?” Ni’Var asked. He smiled as Kane hesitated in the Sickbay door. The first officer shrugged and smiled back.
“I get an hour every night, whether I need it or not.” Ni’Var listened carefully, but could find no trace of slurring in Kane’s words, and joke’s tone was not forced. Ni’Var decided that whatever sleep the first officer had managed was adequate, if not luxurious. He also recognized the odd look Kane was giving him.
Kane’s expression passed quickly from surprised to apologetic. “Oh, sorry. It’s…”
“You’ve never seen a Vulcan smile. I get that a lot.” Ni’Var held up his left hand, palm out. “It’s all right; no offense taken.”
Kane nodded once and looked around the Sickbay, obviously intending to change the subject. Ni’Var took a sip of tea from his mug as Kane focused on the far wall. “What happened to your painting?”
Ni’Var turned to regard the empty wall with another smile. “Oh, Dr. Pearson and I have come to a bit of an impasse in our ‘compromise.’”
“She keeps stealing and hiding my painting, and I keep finding and re-hanging it.”
Kane laughed. “Well, that’s at least agreeable of you two. What’s the impasse?”
“I’m getting bored. I thought she’d get more elaborate with her methods of disposal, but she hasn’t really shown the creativity I expected.” With mock disappointment, he sighed. “She’s hidden it in the ventilation ducts twice now.”
Kane nodded thoughtfully. “That’s not very sporting, is it?”
“Not at all. Frankly, I don’t think her heart is really in it.”
Kane stroked his chin. “I see, doctor, I see. Hmmm….” He continued nodding for a moment, and then turned and smiled again. “Maybe you need to up the ante.”
Ni’Var studied his mug and nodded. “Interesting, interesting. Would you care to elaborate?”
“Whenever you retrieve the painting, do you say anything to her?”
“No, no, I just hang it up again and wait for her to discover it.”
“Well, there you go.” Kane spread his arms wide. “Here she is, going to all this trouble to steal your painting, and you don’t even give her a good reaction. What thanks is that?” His grin had a mischievous angle to it that Ni’Var matched, evil gleam for evil gleam. “Building professional relations by bending regulations deserves appreciation – maybe even reciprocation.”
Ni’Var laughed out loud. “Poetically put, Commander. I’m quite impressed. Ahhh, retribution. You may be on to something there. That deserves some thought.”
They stood together in silence for several moments, contemplating the empty spot on the wall. When the Sickbay doors opened behind them, they turned in unison and watched Hamilton, lost in thought, wander in. The science officer was staring, frustrated, at the PADD he held. Unfortunately, the PADD appeared to take priority over obstacles. Kane and Ni’Var reached out together, Kane with his right and Ni’Var with his left, to stop Hamilton’s blind progression before he walked into them.
“Oh! Commander, Doctor, I didn’t see you two. Sorry.” Hamilton thrust the PADD at Ni’Var’s chest. “Can you read this?”
“We’re doing fine, thanks for asking. And yourself?” Kane’s pleasant tone sounded genuine. Ni’Var took another sip of his tea to hide his smile, and accepted the PADD with his left hand. He scanned the screen as Hamilton responded with a confused “Commander?” Without missing a beat, Kane spoke again, “Speaking of rank, weren’t you a Lieutenant yesterday?” Ni’Var looked up to see that Hamilton wore a Lieutenant Commander’s insignia. Hamilton’s brown complexion turned almost purple.
“Y- yes sir, it just…”
Kane waved the explanation away, and offered a handshake. “At ease, Commander.” He stressed the term. “The Captain told me. I just wanted to congratulate you.” He shook Hamilton’s hand firmly, and playfully used his free hand to box Hamilton’s shoulder.
Ni’Var passed his mug to his left hand with the PADD, and shook Hamilton’s hand as well. “You should be proud, Commander.”
Hamilton smiled, obviously embarrassed at the attention. Ni’Var watched him closely for a moment, while Kane lightly teased him about his new rank. The young science officer was more uncomfortable than modesty alone should have accounted for. Ni’Var made a mental note to look into that, and then turned his attention back to Hamilton’s PADD.
“So, are you academically interested in Romulan, or does this have some practical application?”
Kane and Hamilton both looked at Ni’Var, their conversation forgotten. Hamilton ran a hand over his short, black hair. “I’ve been working on this for the Captain. It’s a Romulan technical treatise that has something to do with our search, but there are too many data drop-outs for the translator to do a complete job. I’ve got untranslated words and fragments all through the piece.” His tone was accusatory. He’s taking this personally, thought Ni’Var, as Hamilton continued. “I’ve spent hours going through the untranslated parts, one at a time. Some of them,” he pointed at one particular set of Romulan symbols, “have dozens of potential translations, but the computer can’t make heads or tails of them without some surrounding context!” His voice was rising steadily, exasperation ringing in his tone. Ni’Var exchanged a troubled glance with Kane, who rested a hand on Hamilton’s shoulder.
“At ease. Have you been working on this all night?”
Hamilton looked at Kane with something akin to desperation. “Yes sir, but I haven’t been able to make enough headway. I think I know what this is concerning, but I need the rest of the data to be sure. I was hoping the doctor could help.” He turned to Ni’Var, “You are part Romulan, aren’t you?”
Ni’Var looked him in the eyes. “Yes, actually, I am. But,” he smiled apologetically, “I was raised on Earth. I read a little Romulan, but I’ve never had the need to become particularly fluent in it. I know what you mean about the need for context, though. Romulan isn’t the simplest language to translate.” He studied the PADD screen. Using his thumb to indicate the symbols Hamilton had pointed out earlier, he turned the screen toward Hamilton. “This can mean ‘small’ or ‘diminutive’ in one context, or it can mean ‘distinct’ or ‘individual’ in another. The next term looks like ‘air,’ but that doesn’t seem to make much sense. With this many drop-outs,” he turned the screen back to himself, “you’ve got quite a challenge ahead of yourself.”
Hamilton made a frustrated sound low in his throat. “That’s all I’ve managed to get from the computer; ‘each term can have multiple meanings.’ I don’t need a thesaurus, I need a translation!” Ni’Var furrowed his brows, and Kane frowned. Ni’Var handed the PADD back to Hamilton.
“Calm down, Lieutenant Commander. I may not be able to provide a detailed translation, but I might know a way to help you interpret what you’ve found.”
Hamilton looked up, hopeful. “How, doctor?”
Ni’Var took another sip of his tea. “I take it you’ve gone through the document in its entirety, correct?” Hamilton nodded. “And you’ve had the computer list possibilities for each untranslated term?” Hamilton nodded again, and Ni’Var leaned back against the console behind him. “Then, believe it or not, you probably have everything you need to understand the document,” he reached out with his left hand and gently tapped Hamilton on the forehead, “safely in here.”
Hamilton looked confused. “What is that supposed to mean?”
With a smile, Kane spoke. “It means that you’ve taken in all the information there is. You just need to give your subconscious some time to chew on it.”
“Very good, Commander!” Ni’Var smiled at Kane, who tipped his head in a mock bow. To Hamilton, Ni’Var said, “You’ve been focusing on this all night, and your mind is just taking you through the same paths over and over again. You’re on autopilot. Focusing on something else might let your intuition break free to find another path.”
“But, I’ve got to get this done for the Captain!”
Kane leaned forward. “Is your way working?” He waited patiently until Hamilton responded.
“Then you might want to try something different. The good doctor here knows something about the way the mind works. I’d take his advice.”
Hamilton looked back and forth between Kane and Ni’Var for several seconds. Finally, he shrugged. “All right, doctor, what do you suggest?”
Ni’Var looked over at Kane, and thoughtfully sipped his tea. Kane smiled again. Ni’Var nodded, and addressed Hamilton. “Well, actually, I have an exercise that may be just the thing for you, Lieutenant Commander. Commander Kane and I were just discussing Doctor Pearson. Suppose we wanted to play a practical joke on her. What would really get to her, do you think?”
Hamilton stared at Ni’Var, dumbfounded. He glanced at Kane, and back to Ni’Var, before speaking again. “You can’t be serious!” He began counting off points on his fingers. “We’re searching for a missing Starfleet vessel, we have a Romulan ship on our side of the Neutral Zone, I’m trying to translate a Romulan treatise that may be relevant, and you want me to help you play a practical joke? How can I…”
Ni’Var interrupted. “Think about it this way. We are in a precarious position here, and we need to understand the situation. You may be key to our gaining the understanding we need. But right now, you’re tired, you’re locked into one particular mode of thinking, and you’re not gaining any understanding at all. I know you want to keep beating your head against the same wall, but that isn’t helping. This technique works by getting around the barriers you’ve locked yourself into.” He raised his mug to his lips. “This works. Trust me.”
Hamilton frowned but did not argue. Kane put an arm around the science officer’s shoulders. “Now, back to the really important issue here.” He raised his free arm and swept it to take in the entire Sickbay. “What can we do to get under Doctor Pearson’s skin?”
Hamilton shrugged. “I suppose you could get her a fish. She hates them.”
Kane and Ni’Var exchanged glances. “Really?” Ni’Var asked. “Why?”
Hamilton shrugged again. “I don’t know. Commander Rand told me she hated them.”
Ni’Var nodded to himself. “Hmmm. That could be useful. We could get her an aquarium. I wonder if Ensign Jarot really can acquire some Bolian screamer fish. How would we present them to her?” He looked at Kane, who was standing silently, looking off into the distance. “Commander?”
Kane remained still, and spoke slowly. “We could build her an aquarium. A large one.” His lips twitched into a small smile. Ni’Var followed his gaze to the far wall, where the medical office stood -– the clear-walled medical office Doctor Pearson insisted was for her use alone. Ni’Var grinned broadly.
“We would need structural reinforcement.”
Kane nodded. “Commander Hamilton, it occurs to me that our Chief Engineer has a working knowledge of Romulan. He might be able to give you another perspective on your translating difficulties.” Hamilton nodded, and started toward the door.
“Thank you, Commander.”
“While you’re there,” Kane called, and Hamilton turned back, “ask him to send some materials to Sickbay. Let me give you some specs.”
“What can I do for you, Lieutenant Commander?”
Assaad’s greeting drew Hamilton’s attention away from the PADD he held. The Chief Engineer was standing at a console not far from the turbolift doors. Hamilton approached him and offered the PADD. “I understand you read Romulan.”
Assaad looked away from the console to the PADD. Taking it, he examined the screen. “Yes, I do. What do you have here?”
“That’s what I’m trying to figure out. These terms,” he pointed to the screen, “appear more than once throughout this document, but there’s never enough surrounding information to give the computer enough context for an accurate translation. They mean something like ‘small air’ or ‘diminutive air’ or…”
“Actually,” Assaad broke in, “I’ve seen these terms in other Romulan technical papers. ‘Quantized space’ is a better translation, although I’m not sure how that relates to these equations.” He studied the document further, and frowned. “What is this? They’ve calculated the geometry incorrectly.” He shook his head. “This doesn’t make sense.” He opened his mouth to continue speaking, but was interrupted by a beeping from the console he had been working on before. He pressed a sequence of buttons and the beeping stopped. A light on the console continued blinking, though, and Assaad looked up at Hamilton. “I must attend to this now. If you bring the document back in an hour or two, I will be happy to help you.” He offered Hamilton the PADD.
“Actually, Commander Kane requested that you send some materials to Sickbay.” He pressed a button on the PADD still in Assaad’s grip, and the screen changed. “This is the list he gave me.”
Assaad glanced down the list. “What does he want with transparent aluminum?” Before Hamilton could answer, the beeping resumed. Assaad handed the PADD to a nearby tech. “Kelley, make sure this list is filled and sent to Sickbay.” Kelley took the PADD, reviewed the list, and began walking away. Assaad called after him,” Be sure to return the PADD to out new Lieutenant Commander Hamilton!” He gestured toward Hamilton, who meekly raised one arm in acknowledgement.
“You knew before I got here, didn’t you?” Hamilton asked Assaad quietly. Assaad nodded without taking his eyes off the beeping console.
“Commander Rand sent out a memo.” He met Hamilton’s gaze with a smile. “Congratulations, Lieutenant Commander. It is well deserved.” Embarrassed, Hamilton looked down as Assaad turned back to the console. “We will speak later?”
“Yes, Commander. Thank you.” Assaad nodded without looking up again, and Hamilton hurried to catch up to Kelley.
“Are you sure I can’t help?”
Kelley answered Hamilton from deep within the storage locker, “Thank you sir, but I can manage.” The leading edge of a two-meter-by-two-meter sheet of transparent aluminum emerged from the locker, followed by Kelley. In her right hand, she was holding a large handle attached to the center of the sheet. Her left hand held the PADD. “Once you get the hang of the anti-grav grip, it’s no trouble at all.”
Hamilton smiled “The first time I used one, I took out three overhead lights.”
Kelley smiled and placed the sheet against the wall. Pressing a large button with her thumb, she detached the grip and disappeared back into the locker. “I sent my mother’s sofa through our living room window.” She returned with another sheet. “My father began tutoring me in remedial physics that evening.” She deposited the second sheet with almost two-thirds of it overlapping the first, and entered the locker again. “My parents still bring that up, even when they’re bragging about me serving aboard Excelsior.”
Hamilton laughed, and walked past the two sheets. As he passed by, the overlapping portion appeared to get darker, fading to black as he walked. He stopped. Moving his head from side to side, he could see the overlap get darker or lighter, depending on which direction he moved. Internal reflection, he thought, and his mind drifted back to the vector diagrams he first saw in grade school. He could still see the light rays bouncing at particular angles off the boundary between the air and the transparent aluminum. Kelley was saying something else, but he wasn’t listening. He leaned closer to the transparent aluminum, turning his head until the surface went black. Total internal reflection.
“Sir?” Hamilton jumped slightly as Kelley touched his shoulder. He turned to face her. “Is everything all right?”
“Yes. I’m fine. Are you though with that PADD?”
She handed it to him. “Yes sir. I can gather the rest of the components and get them to Sickbay.”
Hamilton was already walking toward the turbolift. He threw a distracted “thank you,” over his shoulder and brought up the Romulan document. In the lift, he spoke only one word, “Bridge,” and never looked up from the screen until the doors opened again.
From her post at Ops, Rand watched Hamilton emerge from Turbolift A. He was staring at the PADD he held, not even looking up to see where he was going. As he passed his seat at the Science station, she teasingly called, “Good morning, Lieutenant!” His complete lack of reaction disappointed her. Hamilton never broke his stride as he walked directly to the Tactical station next to her. Moving around the console, he blindly handed the PADD to Ensign Phepps, the relief officer at the station. Rand could see that Phepps was staring at Hamilton’s new rank insignia, and he backed up a step at Hamilton’s “Excuse me.” She looked down as Hamilton began pressing buttons on the console. “What are you…” she started to ask, but her voice trailed off as she realized he was entering a firing pattern. When he reached for the phaser fire control panel, she leapt from her seat, trying to knock his hand away, but she was too late. Horrified, she watched the next few moments happen in slow motion. The console readout changed to indicate that the forward phasers had fired, Ensign Phepps saw the readout and dropped the PADD. With a smooth motion, he gripped the science officer in an arm bar hold, and took him facedown to the deck.
As they fell out of her way, Rand stepped over to Tactical. She heard Sulu call “What was that?” as red lights lit up across the top of the Tactical console.
“Captain!” she yelled. “We fired phasers! The Romulans are returning fire!”
“Shields! Red Alert!”
Rand hit the button just as the ship was rocked by the Romulan attack. She held on to the Tactical console, praying that she had gotten the shields up in time. Her foot brushed against Hamilton as he struggled vainly to escape Phepps’ hold. Despite the clamor around her, a small part of her brain was trying to figure out what would possess such a nice young man to do such a thing. She looked toward the viewscreen, hoping she would live long enough to ask.
The red alert klaxon blaring only added confusion to the already chaotic bridge. “Shut that noise off!” Sulu ordered.
The klaxon went silent as the ship shook from another Romulan hit. “No damage,” Rand reported, “Their disruptors are set to minimum.”
“Their way of lodging a protest,” Sulu surmised.” His chair spun around. “Mr. Hamilton, what the hell were you doing?”
Hamilton struggled to respond as Phepps kept him firmly grappled. “Sir, I didn’t fire at the Romulans – I didn’t fire at anything!”
Sulu motioned to Phepps, who slowly released Hamilton. “Explain,” Sulu demanded as another Romulan weapon hit.
“Sir, I was using the phaser beam as a scanning beacon, not as a weapon. It wasn’t even aimed near the Romulans!”
The turbolift doors opened, and Kane burst onto the bridge. “What the hell is happening?”
“No time to explain.” Sulu turned to Jarot. “Hail them!”
Tanek’s image appeared once more on the viewscreen. Before Sulu could speak, Tanek launched into a tirade.
“Captain Sulu! Why have you fired on our ship? Your hostile actions will not be tolerated! I warn you–“
“Spare me the protestations, Commander!” Sulu said loudly. Tanek stopped short, an indignant look on his face. Sulu continued, “Our weapon wasn’t even aimed at you, and the setting was hardly capable of damaging your ship.”
“There are no other ships in the area, Captain,” Tanek observed, “Am I to believe you fire random phaser blasts into space for no reason?” Before Sulu could reply, Tanek answered his own rhetorical question, “Perhaps you were merely trying to provoke us into attack – trying to find an excuse to damage and board our ship? That will do you no good, Sulu. I’ll destroy this ship before I’ll let Federation pirates board–“
Sulu touched a control on his chair, muting the Romulan. On the screen, almost comically, Tanek continued his green-faced rant in silence. When he appeared to be winding down, Sulu surreptitiously re-engaged the audio.
“—report this to the Federation Council!“
“I appreciate your concern, Commander. Rest assured, we will not be doing any phaser tests anytime soon.” Sulu turned to Kane, who had replaced Phepps at tactical, “Lower shields and power down weapons.” Turning back to the screen, he continued, “Notice we are no longer in a defensive posture. I would appreciate it if you would reciprocate.”
Tanek sneered, but motioned to someone off screen.
“They’ve lowered shields and powered down their disruptors,” Kane reported.
“Thank you, Commander,” Sulu offered. His voice hardened slightly. “Now, while you remain in Federation space, do not raise your shields or power your weapons again. Sulu out.”
Tamek’s face flushed slightly green as the viewscreen faded. Sulu turned to face his senior officers. “Briefing room. Now.” To Jarot, he added, “Get Assaad up here.”
“OK, explain.” Sulu kept his voice carefully neutral.
Hamilton looked as if he wanted to crawl under the briefing room table. All eyes were on him, most of them incredulous. “I realized what the paper was trying to say.”
“Let’s back up a little.” Sulu addressed the rest of the officers in the room. “I received a classified scientific paper – in Romulan – which I had Mr. Hamilton studying.” He nodded to Hamilton to continue.
“Right – and I was looking at some stacks of transparent aluminum in Engineering when something that Mr. Assaad told me started to make sense.”
Assaad gave the captain a look as if to say, “Don’t blame me.”
Hamilton stammered on. “I had been thinking about the Romulan cloaking device, which bends light around the ship to hide it. As a consequence, space is also bent slightly – sort of like warp drive.”
Sulu nodded impatiently. “Yes, we’re familiar with that. Please continue.”
“Right, the paper you gave me showed a curvature of space, but it was so bent, it was discontinuous. That shouldn’t be possible.”
Assaad nodded his head vigorously. “No, it isn’t. It would take an infinite amount of energy.”
“Well,” Hamilton began uncertainly, “ordinarily I would agree with you, but that whole ‘quantized space’ thing kept gnawing at me. Then, when I saw the transparent aluminum illuminated from a certain angle, I noticed it go dark – total internal reflection!” Hamilton looked around to see if everyone else got it. Clearly, no one did.
“And?” Kane asked.
“Well, when light of a particular wavelength hits a refractive object at just the right angle, it all bounces around inside. It’s a sharp cut-off.” Hamilton took a deep breath. “So, what if you started bending a small part of space – applying more and more energy at very specific frequencies?”
Kane interjected, “Spell it out for us, would you?”
“Right – at some point, since the curvature can only be applied in discreet – quantized – increments, suddenly space folds completely. A kind of warp shell – folded through a higher dimension – forms, intersecting our space at a single point.”
Assaad looked unconvinced. “I see where you’re going.”
“I’m glad someone does,” Kane murmured.
“But,” Assaad continued, “Although a starship might be capable of forming such a shell around itself, I can’t see how it could ever get itself back out. From the point of view of the ship, the bubble would appear to be the entire universe. You might change the shape of your bubble universe, if it is small enough, but you couldn’t unfold it any more than I could reach up into the fourth dimension.”
“Yeah, but a second ship in our space could pull them out.” Hamilton grinned. “I know the idea takes a bit of getting used to, but the Romulans might really have made this thing! It’s the ultimate cloak – hide inside a tiny singularity!”
Assaad let out a low whistle. “Wow. So, that’s why you fired the phasers.”
Kane rubbed his eyes wearily. “OK, can I get a translation for all the non-genius members of the meeting?”
Sulu decided to try his hand at explaining. “What he’s saying is that one ship,” He cupped his hands together, “Folds space completely around itself, forming a pocket. A second ship,” he unfolded his hands, “opens the pocket of space, releasing the first ship. While in such a bubble, a ship would be undetectable.”
“Except at the point of intersection,” Hamilton corrected. “At the point of intersection with our space, it would seem to be a microscopic singularity.”
Kane nodded his head. “So if particles – such as the rapid nadions from a phaser discharge – were to intersect the event horizon of that singularity, it would leave a visible trace. Just like gas falling into the event horizon of a black hole emits X-rays.”
Hamilton beamed. “Exactly!”
Sulu felt a piece of the puzzle falling into place – a very unpleasant piece. “Would this static warp shell last?”
Hamilton frowned. “No. If Nature abhors a vacuum, it likes elastic folds in space even less. Quantum foam fluctuations across the event horizon would tend to make the shell decay.”
Kane gave the Captain a meaningful look. “How long could a starship maintain such a shell from the inside?”
Hamilton frowned, considering it. “Based on a few numbers I’ve seen here, it would seem to take about a seven- or eight-hundred Cochrane field from the warp coils.”
Assaad chimed in, “Two or three days, tops. That’s assuming she didn’t try to maneuver at warp speed too much.”
Kane became fascinated. “Wait – you mean this thing could actually travel?”
“Of course,” Assaad replied, “Once the shell forms, the space inside it is basically intact. Changing the shape of that space could cause the shell to move rapidly in a given direction – like a bubble of carbonation moving through sparkling water.”
“But that depletes the ship’s energy reserves and strains the power systems,” Sulu pointed out.
“Sure. As does everything else the ship does.”
Kane frowned. “There’s our deadline.”
“Indeed,” Sulu agreed. To Hamilton, he said, “Could we get a message to a ship in this state?”
Hamilton nodded vigorously. “No problem. At the point of intersection, any sort of signal will be bent inward to the center of the pocket. In fact, the ship inside should be able to see everything around them – though they would probably have to do some serious sensor processing to make sense of it all.”
Sulu considered this. “We have to figure out a way to get a message to them.”
Assaad looked from Kane to Sulu. “Am I to understand you two believe that the Phoenix is, in fact, obscured by this cloaking device?”
Kane looked uncomfortably at Sulu, who nodded slightly. “Yes,” Kane replied, “If the Phoenix is still intact, she’s probably inside that shell.”
An uncomfortable hush fell across the room.
Sulu broke the silence. “There are two likely possibilities. One, the Romulan spy ship is still hidden in the shell, and the Phoenix,” he hesitated, despising the words, “has been destroyed.”
Kane shook his head. “If so, why is the K’alotar hanging around here? Surely their rendezvous point would be on the other side of the Neutral Zone. Why come here and risk raising our suspiscions?” The logic wasn’t bullet-proof, but then, there wasn’t enough information for absolute certainty.
“Then the second possibility is that the Phoenix has somehow obtained the new cloak, and is herself cloaked.” Sulu allowed the implications to sink in. “If so, the Romulans aren’t going to want us to rescue her.”
“That explains the incident a little while ago,” Kane pointed out.
Hamilton’s face twisted into an expression of disbelief. “With all due respect, sirs, why would a Federation starship hijack a piece of Romulan equipment? I can’t believe Starfleet would participate in this kind of cloak-and-dagger intrigue.”
Kane, Sulu, and Assaad exchanged bemused looks. “There are more things in heaven and earth,” Sulu noted with amusement, “Than are dreamt of in your philosophy, Mr. Hamilton.”
Hamilton frowned, clearly confused, but Sulu didn’t elaborate.
“And the Klingons?” Kane let the question hang out there.
“That is an interesting piece of the puzzle,” Sulu agreed. “I have an idea about that which you might appreciate.” Sulu smiled slyly.
“Captain on the bridge,” Rand announced as she vacated the center chair.
Sulu took his seat as the other officers moved to their positions. “Hail the K’alotar,” Sulu commanded.
A moment later Tanek’s sneering face filled the viewscreen. “What is it now, Captain?“
“Let’s deal honestly with one another, shall we?” Sulu didn’t wait for a response. “We know what you’re looking for here, and we know how to find it. Further, we are going to find it, and you’re going to stay out of our way.”
Tanek nearly smiled. “How presumptuous of you, Captain Sulu! To assume that you–“
“Stop!” Sulu commanded angrily. “Be quiet now!” He noted with satisfaction Tanek’s stunned look. “There is a very important part of this equation you do not understand. We know about the cloak, we know about the Federation starship that has it.” Tanek’s clinched jaw confirmed Sulu’s assumption, providing him a moment of elation. “More importantly, we know something very important that you don’t.”
Tanek’s voice was cold and angry. “And that would be?“
“That there’s a cloaked Klingon Bird of Prey waiting around to clean up all the evidence. And he’s probably eavesdropping on this conversation.” Sulu’s heart raced inside his chest, but he kept his face composed.
Tanek’s lips twisted into a smile. He opened his mouth to respond, but was cut short when his ship was rocked by a violent explosion.
“A Klingon Bird of Prey has decloaked and is firing on the K’alotar!” Kane announced.
All of the junior officers turned to stare at Sulu, who allowed himself the luxury of a smile. “Until now,” he explained, “I only half believed it myself.” He spun his chair around to face Kane. “Let’s go.”
Flashes of green and white slashed at the darkness between the Bird of Prey and the Romulan ship. The Excelsior turned slightly, and then dove beneath the two ships, a few shots from the Klingon ship spattering spectacularly across her shields.
Suddenly, twin beams of light erupted from the Excelsior’s phaser array, striking the Bird of Prey directly in her warp engines. A moment later, an identical event crippled the port warp nacelle of the K’alotar. The Starfleet vessel banked hard to starboard, then flipped upwards, towards the battling ships. Two photon torpedoes spewed forth from the ship’s tubes, finding their marks in the warp drives of the opposing ships. Abruptly, the Excelsior righted herself, and in a flash of blue light, she was gone.
“Let’s hope they got the message,” Kane muttered.
On the screen, stars streaked by. “Don’t worry, Commander,” Sulu replied, “If I know Chekov, he’s probably ahead of us.
From the Helm, K’lee was beaming. Somba leaned in closely. “What’s with the grin?”
K’lee’s blue antennae stretched towards Somba until they nearly touched the navigator’s forehead. “That,” she said quietly, “was the most fun I’ve had in a very long time.”
Somba laughed and shook her head. “You’re crazy!”
K’lee shrugged. “Was there ever any doubt?”
Behind Somba, Hamilton appeared at Sulu’s side. “Captain,” he said softly, “there may be a problem.”
On board the Phoenix, Captain Chekov frowned at the array of flashing warning lights across the bridge. “Time to arrival?”
“Five minutes, 35 seconds,” replied the young-faced man at the Helm.
Chekov’s brow wrinkled. “Warp reactor status?”
Commander Adrian Jones, Chief Engineer replied grimly, “We’re at 108% of recommended reactor temperature – and climbing rapidly. Radiation levels in Engineering are rising at an alarming rate. The whole core could go at any time”
Another alarm sounded behind Chekov. “Great. What now?”
“Sir, there’s been a security breech in the main brig!”
“And our spy?”
The red-haired security officer looked grim. “Sir, I can’t find Mr. Flagg.”
Chekov noticed his communications officer spring into action. “Sir, Excelsior is hailing again!”
Chekov nodded. “Please be good news,” he whispered.
On the screen, Sulu’s image appeared once more. “Chekov, if you can hear me, I have some bad news.“
“Great,” Chekov said to no one in particular, “Just great.”
Chekov tried to focus on what Sulu was saying through all the distractions on the bridge.
“Pavel, my science officer believes you have precious little time before your warp shell collapses.“
“Tell me something I don’t know,” Chekov breathed.
On the screen, Sulu continued, “We have an idea. Mr. Hamilton believes the collapsing shell will be like the ergosphere of a black hole at the point of opening.“
Chekov nodded, and wanted to tell Sulu he understood. In frustration, he exclaimed, “There has to be some way to send them a message!”
“Sorry, sir,” said M’Dodana at science, “We’re sealed up tighter than a Bell jar.”
Sulu’s worried image continued, unaware of the interruption, “—evacuate your crew to the primary hull. As soon as the saucer section enters the rift, you’ll have to separate. You’ll need your inertial dampers at full strength, because you’re going to come flying out of there like a bat out of hell. I’m afraid the engineering section is going to be crushed to the size of pollen grain.“
Chekov considered this. At a naturally occurring ergosphere, it was possible for part of an object to escape, while the other part slipped beneath the event horizon. It sounded reasonable, and he knew there would be no time for his people to verify the calculations. Besides, if there was any man in the universe who’s judgment he trusted as much his own, it was Sulu.
“Good luck, my friend. Sulu out.“
Chekov noted that all eyes were on him. “You heard him, people, let’s go!”
All around him, people began moving rapidly. M’Dodana looked up sharply from his internal sensor scans. “Sir! I’m detecting an unauthorized presence in the Jeffries tubes near the impulse deck!”
Chekov nodded to his security chief, who was already on her way.
Commander Flagg let go of the ladder and dropped to the deck from the Jeffries tube. Before him, the giant impulse engines hummed. Two crewmen looked up from their stations, but Flagg had his phaser drawn already, and in an instant, both crewmen were dead.
Flagg rushed to the console, disabled the annoying phaser-fire alarm, and began tapping instructions into the computer.
The computer made an unpleasant buzzing noise, and announced, “Procedure not recommended. Reactor temperature would exceed design tolerances.“
“Computer,” Flagg replied coolly, “This is First Officer Reginald Flagg. Command override Flagg-four-zero-seven-seven-gamma-sigma.”
The computer buzzed once more. “Command authorization not accepted. Invalid command code.“
Flagg remained unruffled. He had expected as much. He began searching for the backdoor hacks he had planted in the Phoenix’s systems. Security had detected and removed some, he knew, but he hoped others remained.
“All hands, prepare for saucer-separation. Non-essential personnel evacuate the engineering section immediately. Engineering crew, prepare for saucer sep in approximately 10 minutes.“
Flagg puzzled at the announcement, wondering why Chekov would order such a thing. Before he could decide, the console went dark, and he heard the shouts of the security team outside.
He ran back to the Jeffries tubes, and climbed into the small chamber, heading towards the main tube that would lead him to the docking clamps. If Chekov wanted the ship separated, he reasoned, then his duty now was to stop it. The mission had failed, and all evidence had to be eliminated.
On the bridge of the K’alotar, Tanek glared at the status report he’d been given. “I want warp drive and weapons given top priority! Get them back on-line!,” he snapped.
Sub-Commander N’kor cleared his throat. “But sir, we’re in danger of losing life support on decks 17,18, and 19. We have casualties in the medical bay on deck 18.”
“Move them,” Tanek said dismissively.
“Sir, the Doctor says some of them are badly burned. He insists they cannot be moved!”
Tanek sneered. “Tell the good doctor that he can either move his patients, or suffocate with them when the life support goes out on those decks!”
N’kor blinked, not quite sure he’d heard his Commander correctly. “Sir?”
Tanek rose, and stood nose-to-nose with the younger man. “I want the weapons and warp drive back right away. If you can’t handle that, Sub-Commander, you will answer to the Tal Shiar!” He paused, allowing that to sink in. “And N’kor, you would find suffocating in the medical bay infinitely preferable to facing them.”
Tanek turned his back to N’kor, dismissing him. “Tactical! Do you have a fix on the target?”
A young Romulan woman answered nervously. “Sir, the Klingon has moved off to make–“
Tanek practically exploded. “I am not interested in the Klingon!”
“Commander, I have a fix on the Federation ship,” she said carefully. “It’s near the Oort cloud of a nearby star system.”
“Maintain your sensor lock,” Tamek spat. “If you lose it, your family will wish you’d never been born.” He glared at his bridge crew. “Did none of you learn the price of failure?”
Several crewmen shuddered at the memory of the K’urduz commander’s fate. He had allowed a Federation starship to steal the Tal Shiar’s newest toy, and the sound of his screaming was not easily forgotten. Tamek sat back down and stared at the viewscreen, wondering if his own fate was already sealed.
Sulu looked at the brilliant comet. The light of the system’s sun sparkled across the ice crystals, creating vivid, colorful rainbows at the misty edges of the tail. It was almost beautiful. More precisely, it was beautiful, but Sulu couldn’t find the beauty in anything at that moment.
“Mr. Hamilton, keep your sensors peeled,” He ordered.
“Aye, sir.” Hamilton couldn’t have appeared more focused on his console if his head were glued to it.
“Mr. N’Dra, you understand the drill?”
Without a hint of annoyance, she replied, “Aye, sir. Phoenix will come shooting out at an unpredictable vector. I have to keep us from colliding.”
“And you’ll have very little time to make your move. We’ll be at point-blank range.” Sulu toggled the intercom. “Engineering.”
“Is everything ready to go, Raed?”
“Aye, sir. I have fed Mr. Hamilton’s equations into the warp drive computers. We’re running some simulations now. They look good.“
“Good work. Sulu out.” He touched the intercom controls again. “Sickbay.”
“Ni’Var here, sir.“
“Where’s Pearson?” Sulu demanded.
“Getting a few hours’ much needed sleep, sir. Don’t worry. I have everything under control here – full staff. I can call Dr. Pearson in a hurry if she’s needed.“
Sulu considered this. “Very well, Doctor. We may have some casualties on the Phoenix, and there is a small possibility of collision.”
There was a pause at the other end. “Understood sir. We’ll be ready.“
“Very well. Sulu out.” He turned his chair around to face Rand and Kane. “All set here?”
Rand replied professionally, “Aye, sir. All systems green.”
Without looking up from his station, Kane announced, “Tactical systems are ready. Long-range sensors show the Hornet is still about twenty minutes away. Saratoga has increased speed, and is now about an hour away. The Albion has diverted here, but they’re nearly two hours away. That’s the good news.” He looked up. “The bad news is that I’m reading some power fluctuations from the Romulans and the Klingons. They could be restoring warp power. If they do, they could get here before anyone.”
Sulu thought about that. “That’s if they don’t decide to continue taking potshots at each other.”
“Somehow,” Kane responded, “I think both of them are more interested in us than they are in each other.” Kane’s panel started beeping urgently. He pressed a few controls and grimaced. “Sir, I’ve just lost contact with the K’alotar. They’ve cloaked!”
Sulu turned to Jarot. “Signal the Hornet! Tell Captain Stentz that anything he can do to expedite his arrival would be greatly appreciated.” He faced the screen again. “C’mon, Chekov, I need that flare!”
On the bridge of the Phoenix, Chekov was shouting over the chaos into the intercom, “We need to make that flare! Get us into the comet’s tail!”
“Sir,” Jones answered, “We’re already at 112% of reactor max! If I push us any faster, we’ll blow up!“
“Commander,” Chekov countered, “If we don’t get into that thing soon, it won’t matter!”
Flagg reached one of the giant clamps that held the Phoenix’s two hulls together. The control lines to the clamp were buried deep in the metal. He set his phaser to its highest level and tightest beam, and took aim.
Slowly, but surely, the beam began to cut away the dense metal.
Sulu glared intently at the screen, though he knew he would not be able to see the burst of radiation. Suddenly, a thought chilled him. What if they’re already dead? Despair clutched at his chest, and he gripped the arms of his chair until his knuckles were white. Every second that passed brought him closer to believing that it was all for naught. Just when hope seemed lost, Hamilton’s console began beeping excitedly.
“Captain!” Hamilton exclaimed, “I think I’ve got them! Dead ahead, one kilometer!”
“Close to within one hundred meters,” Sulu commanded, but K’lee’s fingers were already flying over her controls.
“Engineering!” Sulu shouted into the com system, “Prepare to engage the warp engine program!”
“Aye, sir! Preparing to engage.“
“We’ve closed to one hundred meters,” K’lee announced.
Within the tail of the comet, The Excelsior’s nacelles glowed a brilliant blue. At a point a short distance away, the cometary gasses began to swirl and churn. At the center of the churn, a bizarre distortion steadily grew. Gas swirling into the distortion began to glow – first violet, cooling slowly to blue, then green as the anomaly grew.
Just outside the gaseous tail, a different sort of distortion began.
“Romulan ship decloaking to aft!” Kane shouted.
“Red alert,” Sulu bellowed. “Ready aft torpedoes! Engineering, maintain the warp field!”
“Captain, I’ve got partial sensor contact with the Phoenix!” Hamilton exclaimed.
“Romulans powering weapons,” Kane warned, “They’re firing!”
The Excelsior rocked violently. Sulu swore. “Aft torpedoes, fire!”
“Torpedoes away! Direct hit! Minor damage!” Kane frowned.
“Maintain fire,” Sulu ordered.
Hamilton turned quickly, “Sir! I’m losing sensor contact with the Phoenix! All the weapons fire is disrupting the warp field. If we don’t stop this soon, we’ll lose them!”
Sulu pounded the arm of his chair in frustration. “I haven’t come this far to lose them now.” To Jarot, he added, “Get me Tanek.”
“They’re still not responding to hails,” Jarot reported.
“Keep trying,” Sulu commanded, “Maintain fire.”
The Excelsior lurched from another impact. “The warp field is decaying rapidly,” Hamilton said glumly, “I’ve got no sensor contact with the Phoenix.”
On the screen, the anomaly began to shrink once more, glowing green, then blue. “Torpedoes away,” Kane called out, then, “Damage to their shield generators.”
Jarot straightened. “Sir! It’s the Hornet! They’re making challenge, ordering the Romulan to stand down!”
“Thank you, Zack,” Sulu breathed. Louder, he asked, “Where are they?”
Kane checked his instruments. “They’re about 250 AU’s away, moving… a lot faster than a Constitution class ship should!”
“Ensign Jarot, open a channel to the Romulan. I don’t care if they acknowledge or not.”
“Channel open, sir, no acknowledgement, but I’m sure they can hear us.”
“Commander Tanek,” Sulu began, “As you may be aware, the USS Hornet is less than 2 minutes away.” He paused to let that sink in. “Now, I don’t expect you to believe this, but–” Another impact shook the bridge.
“But,” Sulu continued calmly, “I’m not interested in your cloaking device, your ship, or you. However–” Another impact. “However, let me assure you that if I lose the Phoenix, I can guarantee you that the Hornet and the Excelsior will haul your broken ship back to Earth where it will be dissected, and your crew interrogated for years to come!”
The crew looked around, waiting for the next impact, which did not come. Sulu resumed his monologue “Now, you will shortly be outnumbered and outgunned. I suggest you leave immediately – while you still can.” He looked to Kane.
Kane shook his head. “They’re not moving off.”
Sulu softened his voice. “Commander, we already know how the device works. The secret is out. There’s nothing left to protect.” He shot Kane a glance.
Kane frowned, and shook his head again.
“Tanek, I give you my word of honor as Captain of the Excelsior, the prototype will never reach Starfleet.” A long silence filled the bridge.
“They’re moving off! Heading just out of weapons range.” Kane gave Sulu a look of amazement.
“Just far enough to make sure I keep my promise,” Sulu surmised. “Drop shields, power down weapons, and divert all available power to the warp drive.” Sulu turned back towards the viewscreen. The anomaly grew slightly, but the radiation from the dust and ice swirling inward seemed to hover around a bluish-green.
Hamilton spoke first. “Captain, the warp shell has decayed badly. We’re having trouble opening it. It’s going to take a lot more power.”
Sulu toggled the intercom control. “Sulu to Assaad.”
“We need more power,” he said simply.
“Captain, I’m not sure we have it. The power systems have taken a beating lately. We’re likely to blow some plasma conduits if we push them much harder.“
“Blow them. Do whatever it takes. Get me that power. Now.”
Through the com channel, Sulu could hear Raed sigh. “Aye, aye, Captain.” He closed the channel.
The hum of the ship changed slightly. A faint vibration increased, rising to an annoying level. On the screen, the warp shell grew, and the colors changed to green, then yellow.
“I’ve got sensor contact with the Phoenix,” Hamilton announced. “Gravametric stresses inside the shell are tremendous. She can’t take that for long! The aperture is still too small, sir, but continuing to expand.”
“Sir, plasma conduits are beginning to overload,” Rand warned.
“Captain, we’ve lost power conduits on decks 20, 24, and 25!”
“Re-route,” Chekov ordered.
“Aye, sir. Backups are holding, but weakened,” Ensign Walters replied nervously. “Hull stresses exceeding design tolerances.”
Chekov punched the arm of his chair. “Chekov to security, have you found Commander Flagg?”
Flagg wiped sweat from his brow with his uniform sleeve. The heat in the room was intense. The smell of metal vapors permeated everything. Outside, he could hear security trying to cut through his lockout.
“All hands, evacuate secondary hull. Prepare for saucer separation!“
Flagg smiled. A few more centimeters, and there would be no saucer separation – at least, not without ripping both hulls wide open. To his relief, the security team outside the room obeyed the order and abandoned their attempts to enter.
A few more centimeters, and it would all be rendered academic, anyway.
“Almost there, Captain,” Hamilton said, “A few more meters.”
Abruptly, the lights on the bridge flickered and an alarm sounded.
“Port power coupling failed!” Rand shouted.
Sulu started to say something, but Rand beat him to it. “Backup engaged,” she said, “It’s holding for now.”
Hamilton cursed as he studied his sensor readings.
Walters cursed as she studied the readout, “Backups are failing, Captain, and there’s no one down there to fix them.”
“The rift shrunk a few meters for some reason, sir,” M’Dodana reported, “Looks like Excelsior may be having some problems of her own.”
“Just what we need,” Chekov observed dryly.
“It’s opening again,” M’Dodana announced, “Ten more meters to go…eight…six…”
Hamilton read off the measurements as Sulu looked on, concerned “Four meters…three…two…”
One more centimeter, and Flagg would have the control severed. It was agonizingly slow, and the heat was intense. He coughed, trying to breathe through the acrid smoke. The coughing threw his aim off only slightly, but it was a delay he didn’t need. He held his breath, trying to avoid another mistake.
“It’s fully open, sir.” Hamilton allowed himself a glance at the screen.
“Captain, the backup power coupling is overheating,” Rand said.
“Just let it hold a few moments longer,” Sulu said to no one in particular.
On the screen, the Phoenix was barely visible through the mist and the red-orange glow.
“Come on, Pavel,” Sulu whispered, “Jettison the engineering section!”
“Release the docking clamps,” Chekov ordered.
“Aye, sir,” Walters replied, “Releasing now.” She reached out to touch the separation control.
Flagg cut through the last few millimeters, and heard a gratifying alarm. He smiled.
The alarm sounded for only a moment before he noticed that the giant clamp was moving. To his horror, he realized that air was rushing out of the room.
Abruptly, Commander Reginald Flagg, First Officer and spy, found himself floating in a vast, empty nothingness. His lungs decompressed an instant before he was ripped to shreds by the tidal forces of the collapsing warp shell.
“Here they come!”
K’lee wasn’t sure who had shouted it. She was too focused on the helm. In a flash, she realized where the Phoenix was headed. She heard a gasp behind her, as someone else saw it, too. Her fingers were moving before she realized she’d told them to.
Excelsior lurched forward, then nose-dived sharply. The saucer section of the Phoenix, tilted at a sharp angle, emerged from the rift, moving almost directly at the Excelsior, threatening to slice right through her like a saw blade.
Excelsior continued her cartwheel, and with only the slightest margin, the remaining hull of the USS Phoenix sailed cleanly through the upturned nacelles of her twin.
On the bridge of the Excelsior, there was a stunned silence. Kane was the first to speak. Holding his hands above his head, he shouted, “It’s up – and it’s good!” When he noticed all eyes on him, uncomprehending, he added, “It’s a football thing… old Earth…” He sighed, “Never mind.”
Rand smiled. “Boys,” she said in mock disgust.
“Lieutenant N’Dra,” Sulu began, “That…” he trailed off.
K’lee turned to face him, antennae recoiling at the expected rebuke.
“That,” he continued, after a dramatic pause, “was the most amazing bit of flying I’ve ever seen.”
K’lee’s antennae inclined towards Sulu, and she nodded slightly. “Thank you, sir.” Sulu noted the smile she shared with Somba.
“Now, bring us about. Let’s go slap a tractor beam on that flying saucer.”
K’lee nudged the controls, swinging the Excelsior around.
“The Romulans are scanning the Phoenix, Captain,” There was a hint of alarm in Kane’s voice. Everyone on the bridge seemed to be holding his or her breath. Finally, Kane broke the tension. “They’re moving off – going to warp!”
Jarot exclaimed, “The Hornet just signaled her arrival!”
“Better late, than never,” Sulu noted. “Send Captain Stentz my thanks, Ensign.”
“Mine, too,” Rand added.
“Mine, three,” said Kane
Chekov, Sulu, and Kane sat in the Ready Room, all eyes on the recorded image of Bob Wesley.
“I received your reports. I know there are a lot of unanswered questions. I wish I could fill in all of the blanks.“
“Me, too,” muttered Chekov.
“I can tell you that the Phoenix’s mission orders, as well as Commander Flagg’s service records have been expunged from Starfleet computers. There’s no trace of Flagg left. Whoever planted him there did an exceptional job of hiding the evidence.“
“Figures,” Kane said softly.
“I’ve turned over your information about the cloaking device to the real Starfleet Intelligence. Somehow, though, I doubt the Romulans will invest much more into this research. It seems far too dangerous, and too limited. Besides, our knowledge of it makes it even less attractive.
“The Albion is searching for that Klingon Bird of Prey, but if she repaired her warp engines, she could be anywhere by now. I’m not optimistic about finding her.
“Unfortunately, that leaves us with more questions than answers. There’ll be a board of inquiry, but it’s just a formality. Captain Chekov is not under investigation – the crew’s statements all corroborate Chekov’s report: that Flagg activated the cloaking device without orders, and then tried to assume command. And most of the physical evidence – not to mention the chief suspect – has been compressed into a tiny, rapidly decaying black hole.“
“May he roast in Hell,” Chekov murmured bitterly.
“Starfleet is sending a tug to take the rest of the Phoenix back to starbase. Chekov, we’ll assign you a new ship as quickly as possible. In the meantime, enjoy the time off. That about sums it up. Take care of yourselves, gentlemen, and keep your eyes open… Wesley out.“
The screen went blank, and the men sat in silence for a time.
“So, what do we do now?” Kane asked.
“We do what we would have done anyway,” Chekov replied.
“Go on with our lives and our missions,” Sulu finished. They sat in silence for a time.
“Ni’Var to Kane.”
Sulu opened the channel. “He’s in here, doctor.”
“Commander, that… experiment on which we were collaborating is about to come to fruition.“
Kane grinned broadly. “Understood, I’m on my way.” He turned to the other men with a fiendish smile. “Captains, would you both like to see something really funny?”
Sulu smiled, “Are you kidding?”
Sulu entered the sickbay beside Kane, with Chekov just behind. Kane immediately broke into hysterical laughter. It took Sulu a moment to realize what he was looking at.
“She’ll be here in a few moments,” Ni’Var cautioned them. “She’s never late for a duty shift. Act natural.”
Sulu composed himself, not wanting to spoil the joke, and noted that Chekov did the same. Exactly on time, Maggie Pearson entered the sickbay – and stopped dead in her tracks.
“What the-?” She began. She tried again. “Who-?” Her jaw clinched, and her face turned beet red. She uttered a string of ancient, colorful, profanities that would have made a Klingon blush.
The transparent walls to Dr. Pearson’s “office” continued unbroken in a closed semicircle around the wall. Inside, Sulu could see her undisturbed chair, desk, PADD, and tricorder – sealed within several hundred liters of water – along with a dozen brightly colored Bolian screamer fish.
Ni’Var approached her coolly, regarding the “aquarium” with the look of an artist critically examining a painting. “I thought you might enjoy organic art instead.”
She turned to him accusingly. “You did this,” she hissed.
Kane snickered, and she spun around to face him. “And you,” she said bitterly.
She looked sideways at Sulu, who raised his hands in a gesture of surrender. He tried his best not to smile. “Don’t look at us,” he said, indicating himself and Chekov, “We’re just innocent bystanders.”
Chekov waved at her, a weak smile on his lips, “I don’t even know these people.” Dr. Pearson seemed to accept this without comment.
After a moment, she stepped stiffly to the computer console on Ni’Var’s desk. “Computer,” she said, “append medical requisition list.”
“Ready,” replied the computer.
“Add to the list two pairs of quaint, old-fashioned, latex gloves.”
Kane looked puzzled. “Gloves?”
Maggie smiled – a withering smile. “I haven’t completed all the crew physicals. When the time comes, we’re going to do yours and Ni’Var’s-” she lifted one hand, index and middle fingers extended together, “the old-fashioned way.”
Captain’s Personal Log
After a couple of days of repair work, the Phoenix’s saucer section is sound enough to be towed back to Starbase. It’s been great having Chekov back aboard the Excelsior, but the time has come once more to part ways. As much as I look forward to continuing my mission, I cannot help but feel sorrow at saying “so long” to an old friend.
Inside the transporter room, Chekov shook Sulu’s hand firmly. “It was great to see you again, Sulu.” He grinned sheepishly. “Especially since you saved my life!”
“Next time,” Sulu replied, “it’s your turn.”
Chekov shrugged. “I’ll see what I can do.”
Sulu chuckled. “Don’t go to too much trouble.”
Chekov grinned, then became serious for a moment. “You’ve got a good ship – and a great crew.”
Sulu considered this. “You’re right – I do.”
“They’re the stuff of legends,” Chekov said earnestly. “How many people get to experience that twice in one lifetime?”
“Not many,” Sulu agreed. “What about you? What will you do now – once you’re done hitchhiking around the galaxy, that is?”
Chekov shrugged. “Back to Starfleet Command, I suppose. I have to figure out how to get those Admiral’s bars!” He laughed.
“Oh dear,” Sulu gasped, “Then you’d be my boss!”
“That’s right,” Chekov said with mock disapproval, “I’ve been meaning to speak to you about your efficiency rating…”
Sulu laughed, and clapped his friend on the shoulder. Chekov returned the gesture, and then stepped onto the transporter pad.
“So long,” he said, “and thanks for all the fish!”
“Glad to have them out of sickbay,” Sulu deadpanned. “Energize,” he said to the transporter chief.
Sulu stepped silently onto the bridge. Kane and Rand were quietly chatting at their posts. Hamilton had Assaad cornered at the engineering station, and Somba and Jarot were listening intently as N’Dra related some heroic tale from the Defiant.
Kane noticed him first. “Captain on the bridge,” he announced.
Sulu hesitated, taking in the scene as his crew quickly returned to their stations. Finally, he moved to the center chair. “Captain Chekov sends you all his regards – and his thanks,” he said simply. “He was most impressed with your performance.” He paused for a moment. “So was I. Thank you all.”
All around him, smiles were discretely exchanged.
“Mr. Somba, is our new course laid in?”
“Aye, sir. Computed and on the board,” Somba replied quickly.
“Very well. Mr. N’Dra, engage that course, Warp 6.” After a moment, he added, “We’ve got legends to create.”