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Captain’s log, Stardate 60074.2. The Enterprise is conducting a survey of the Agni Cluster, a group of G-class stars in Federation space near Ferengi territory. The presence of a group of main sequence yellow stars suggests that there will also be Class-M planets, which may be suitable to create new colonies for some of the populations still affected by the Borg invasion of almost two years ago.
The duty is not likely to prove, shall we say, exciting, but it is a very important one nevertheless. Aside from the numbers of refugees still seeking new homes, it is important that the Federation continues to explore and expand.
Golden light from the nearest star, a hundred and twenty million kilometers to port, gave the Sovereign-class Enterprise’s sleek surface the healthy glow of an athletic creature. Even coasting through a solar system, the ship was poised, proud, with the attitude of a racing thoroughbred.
Like all such thoroughbreds, the Enterprise was driven by a large and powerful heart. The warp core pulsed at the center of her three-story main engineering chamber with a reassuring throb as it held in the energies of matter/antimatter annihilation, and only released them under tight control. The sound always brought a smile to Commander Geordi La Forge’s face when he walked in.
“You appear singularly pleased, Commander,” Lieutenant Taurik observed, as Geordi stepped beside him to cast a glance over the dilithium matrix monitor. “Has the tuning of the dilithium matrix been completed to you satisfaction?”
“The dilithium matrix is fine, Taurik,” Geordi replied. Truth to tell, he had been getting a little frustrated trying to think of the right things to say in a message he wanted to send to the U.S.S. Lexington. He had only just got used to Tamala Harstad being around when she had been transferred there, and he had spent his off-duty hours of the last couple of days trying to think of just the right way to tell her that she was out of sight but definitely not out of mind. He hoped she’d stay that way, and wouldn’t slip further away. He needed a break from thinking about the message, and, as always, being in the vicinity of the warp core put his mind at ease. “Just listen to her.”
“Her?” The Vulcan’s features assumed a slightly quizzical expression, and then cleared. “Ah, you’re referring to the Enterprise herself.”
“I guess so, though really I mean the warp core specifically. Can’t you hear that purr she makes?”
“I hear the sound, but I would not have interpreted it as a purr.”
“I’ve noticed that most humanoid species feel a sense of pleasure from being exposed to rhythmic sounds of a certain depth and low frequency.”
“Yeah, I’ve heard that too. Counselor Troi used to say it’s something about being back in the safety of the womb.”
“Logical. Fortunately I am not affected.”
Geordi had been around Vulcans long enough to know better, but settled for saying, “I guess that’s your loss, Taurik. There’s a reason they call it pleasure.”
“Tea, Earl Grey, hot.” Jean-Luc Picard gave the order by habit, and then took the cup when it materialized in the replicator’s slot on his ready room wall. He sat with it behind his desk, and returned to the reports that he was triaging. Only some of the planetary surveys would be forwarded on to Starfleet Command. Choosing which were to go and which weren’t was an important duty, but a far from interesting one.
He sipped his tea and turned his attention to the report on Indra IV, a gas giant in the region, which the Enterprise’s probes were surveying remotely. A jovian planet would never be one upon which to place a large civilian population, but there were two Mars-sized moons that looked suitable for terraforming.
Picard had just decided to attach the report on Indra IV to the possibles list that he would send on to Starfleet Command, when there was a chime over the communications system. “Captain Picard to the bridge.” Worf’s voice filled the ready room.
“On my way,” Picard responded, saving the file, and draining his tea. He stepped through and walked onto the bridge of the Enterprise. If the engineering decks and staff were the heart of the thoroughbred, then its brain was the bridge, on the top level of the saucer section. Here the decisions were made, based on the sensory input it had received.
The burly Klingon in the center seat vacated it as Picard approached, and the captain noted that the main screen displayed a normal starfield. Whatever had attracted his first officer’s attention either wasn’t visible or wasn’t in range yet. “What is it, Mister Worf?”
“Lieutenant Choudhury has detected an object in our path.” He indicated the Indian woman at the tactical console.
“An object?” Ordinarily, Picard might have been irritated at being called to the bridge for such a vague reason, but not when it meant a respite from the survey reports. From the carefully bland expression on Worf’s face, he could tell that the Klingon officer knew that very well. “All right, what kind of object?”
“A metallic mass,” Jasminder Choudhury announced from her tactical station, “almost directly ahead. It’s approximately two hundred meters long, and masses eighty thousand tons.”
“Possibly, but . . .” She looked over the sensor readings that scrolled across her display. “The object appears to be composed of a mixture of nickel, titanium, a limited amount of duritanium . . . If it’s an asteroid it must be hollow.”
“Hollow?” Picard looked over her shoulder. “A two-hundred meter geode . . .” He smiled faintly. “That would be quite a rarity as paperweights go, wouldn’t you say, Lieutenant?”
“Definitely. An asteroid of that composition, over two hundred meters long, should have a much higher mass than eighty thousand tons.” Choudhury frowned at something in the readouts, and shook her head. “But, frankly, sir, I doubt an asteroid with that composition could even exist naturally. The alloys are artificial.”
“A vessel, then?” The smile stayed on Picard’s features, but his tone became much crisper and more alert.
“That is why I called you to the bridge, Captain,” Worf explained.
Picard thought for a moment, looking at a display of the Enterprise’s current position and heading. “You said it was ‘almost’ directly ahead . . . How almost is almost?”
Worf brought up a navigational display. “If we were to intercept, we’d have to adjust our heading to three-five-two mark four. It would take us approximately an hour out of our way.”
“Well, we’re in no particular hurry . . .” Picard turned to the helm, where a Bolian was at the controls. “Ensign Trell, adjust your heading to three-five-two mark four, and increase speed to warp factor four.” Picard sat, Worf taking his place in the seat on the captain’s right.
“I trust the reports are going well, sir,” Worf rumbled after a moment.
“No rest for the wicked.”
A few moments passed, and then Choudhury spoke up again. “I’m getting clearer sensor returns from the object, sir. Definitely a vessel, and, going by the strength of the return for duritanium, almost certainly of Federation origin.”
That surprised Picard. “Federation? Are you certain of that, Lieutenant?”
“The numbers don’t lie, sir.”
“Maintain present course and speed. I’d best finish with the survey reports before we reach your mystery object, Mister Worf.” With that, he rose and returned to his ready room.
It took Picard around half an hour to skim through the remaining survey reports, forward his recommendations to Starfleet, and return to the bridge. He noted that Worf had moved to one of the science stations against the wall of the bridge. Rather than take the center seat, Picard walked to the science station. “Something about our mystery asteroid?”
Worf nodded. “Since the idea of it being a Federation vessel has already been broached, I asked the computer to match the object’s composition with any known starship designs.”
“And found a match,” Picard surmised.
Worf grunted an affirmative. “Several Federation starship classes were constructed of those materials in the twenty-second and twenty-third centuries. The NX-class, Daedalus-class, and so on. Some Andorian ship classes also match.”
Picard nodded. “And which do we think this object is?”
“From the dimensions of the object, the most likely match is the twenty-second century Starfleet NX-class. That would have the correct composition, the same mass, and a length of two hundred twenty meters.”
“Close enough to the approximate length of the object.”
“NX-class?” Picard gazed at the main viewer, as if he could somehow focus on the ship ahead, even though it was yet to come into visual range. “With the recovery of Columbia, I thought they were all accounted for.” He paused for a moment. “There were, what? Fifteen or sixteen ships in the class, in the end?” He paused. “Computer, do any NX-class vessels remain listed as missing in Starfleet records?”
“Negative,” the voice came from the air. “No NX-class vessels are listed as missing.”
Worf glowered. “I took the liberty of accessing Starfleet records on the NX-class. With the salvage of the Columbia, as you say, all the NX vessels constructed are now accounted for. All of their fates are known.”
“I see . . . Then either Starfleet’s records are in error, or . . .” Picard left the sentence hanging, open to suggestions.
“Or the vessel ahead is a duplicate or replica of some kind. Either a copy or, at best, a vessel reverse-engineered from an original.”
“And, given the era from which the class dates, the only people in a position to reverse-engineer such a vessel from one that had been salvaged would have been—”
“The Romulans,” Worf confirmed, voice dripping with venom.
“Romulans of two centuries ago,” Picard reminded him.
“The Romulans of two centuries ago were still Romulans, and they did begin a war with Earth and its allies. Captain, I find it very convenient that the vessel is set so close to our position. Convenient and suspicious. Perhaps we were meant to find it.”
“A trap, you mean? Something to draw us in . . . It wouldn’t be the first time they’ve so lured the Enterprise, would it?” Picard shook his head doubtfully. “But for what purpose?”
“I do not know, but the Romulans have shown an interest in Starfleet propulsion systems in recent months.” Worf gave that hesitant grimace that Picard was so used to. “I do not like it,” he grumbled. “The presence of such an old Starfleet vessel appearing in our path . . .”
“Such things do happen, Mister Worf.”
“Indeed, but,” the Klingon pointed out, “they tend to happen with ships whose fates were previously a mystery.”
“That much I can’t argue with, but . . .” Picard couldn’t quite put his reasoning into words, perhaps because it wasn’t really reasoning. His previous experience with the Romulans was feeding directly into his gut. “This doesn’t feel like a Romulan trap, Worf. If they were so keen to lure a Federation starship, there are many more effective methods. They could create a disaster to which we would be bound to respond, for example.”
“If not the Romulans, then perhaps some other race.”
“Even if it turns out to be a vessel constructed by others, it could simply be a race who once encountered an NX vessel and were . . . suitably impressed.” Worf merely gave Picard a skeptical look. “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Mister Worf. A very old Earth saying.”
“A phrase coined by the imitators, I presume.”
“Very likely, but that doesn’t make it any less of a truism.” Picard straightened his uniform. “Let’s be very careful, just in case.” He nodded to the young man at ops. “Scan the system thoroughly, Ensign, and take particular care to look for signs of cloaked vessels.” He turned back to Worf. “Number One, prepare for the possibility of using shuttles to set up a tachyon detection grid if we have to.”
“We’re in visual range of the object,” Choudhury announced.
“On screen.” A tiny gray bug seemed to be flying toward them, carried by the Enterprise’s own forward motion. It took only a few seconds to resolve itself into a disc-shaped forward section, with two cylindrical units trailing behind. “Well,” Picard breathed softly, allowing himself a small smile. “That’s no paperweight, Worf.”
“No, sir.” Worf sounded impressed, and Picard couldn’t blame him. Klingons revered the past at least as much as humans did, and Picard suspected that some of his own passion for archaeology might have rubbed off on Worf. The captain watched the image grow on screen, and felt doubly sure that the sensor sweeps for any sign of a trap would come up negative. It just looked too natural, hanging there in the vacuum, if a metal spaceship could in any context be considered natural.
The drifting ship was essentially a thick saucer, with a deflector array cut into the leading edge. Two humped fairings on the aft section were attached to a flattened “W” of a wing-like structure, and the warp nacelles were mounted on either side of that.
The outer hull, which in its day had shone bright with steel and silver, was now the dead gray shade of Earth’s moon. It looked as if it was made of frozen rock, the nowmatte plating pitted with micrometeoroid impacts.
“NX-class,” Picard said softly, his eyes glued to the image. “Just as you predicted. I never thought to see one of those in the wild, so to speak.”
“It looks ancient,” Worf rumbled.
“It certainly seems well-worn to say the least,” Picard agreed. “Magnify. Let’s see if we can get a view of her registry, and identify which ship she purports to be.”
The view on the screen zoomed in to the top of the saucer section, forward of the bridge. The hull plating was scored and pitted, the surface layer of the metal chipped away, but enough of the registry and name remained to be legible.
“NX-07,” Picard murmured, “Intrepid.”
“Or a copy thereof,” Worf reminded him.
“Hm.” Picard wasn’t ready to revisit on that theory. “Worf, you said that all of the NX vessels’ fates are known, and accounted for. What do the records say happened to Intrepid? If she isn’t listed as missing in Starfleet’s records, what presumed fate had been assigned to her?”
Worf glanced momentarily at a display. “She is recorded as having been destroyed by a Romulan mine—shortly after hostilities had ceased at the end of the Earth-Romulan War. Very little wreckage was ever found, and only four bodies were recovered.”
“She doesn’t look destroyed to me.” Picard stood, and stepped closer to the screen. “What made Starfleet think that a Romulan mine was responsible for the loss of Intrepid?”
Worf tapped at his display. “Captain Lambert was in the middle of a transmission to Starfleet when contact was lost. The subject of the call was to the effect that the Intrepid had observed the detonation of a Romulan mine nearby, and that he intended to investigate the extent of the field.”
Picard turned in surprise. “Wouldn’t this have constituted a violation of the ceasefire treaty?”
Worf shook his head curtly. “The field is thought to have been laid early in the war. The detonation witnessed by the Intrepid was probably one of the last mines auto-destructing as part of the treaty stipulations.”
“Then there definitely was a Romulan minefield in the Intrepid’s vicinity?”
“Yes, sir. The Vulcan ship Ni’Var, one of the vessels that searched for the Intrepid, confirmed that a minefield was in place at the edge of the system. It had already been decommissioned by the time they got there. Standard Romulan procedure would have been to decommission emplaced weapons by self-destruction,” Worf went on. “They have never enjoyed the risk of others studying their weapons technology.”
Picard nodded, and sat, never taking his eyes off the image of the Intrepid. “So it was assumed, given all the available evidence, that a mine had self-detonated right under the Intrepid, and destroyed her.”
“Yes sir. The Ni’Var is also the vessel which recovered the bodies of four of the Intrepid’s crew.”
“Only four bodies, but no real wreckage? Didn’t that strike anyone as a little bit odd?”
“It was theorized that a new model of mine was responsible, designed to leave as little trace as possible. Of course when signals were sent through diplomatic channels to try to ask the Romulans about that, there was no reply.” It was clear from Worf’s tone that he was neither surprised nor impressed by that fact.
“The ship looks ancient enough, but . . . How does it look from a tactical point of view?”
“There is no obvious sign of weapons damage,” Worf said. “No torpedo blast points, no phaser scorch marks, no carbon scoring.”
“He’s right, sir,” Choudhury agreed. “Sensors don’t read any elevated particle levels that would suggest any form of energy weapon impact.”
“But, after two hundred years, any such levels would almost certainly have returned to normal anyway.”
Choudhury frowned. “The best way to tell would be to take a boarding party across, and conduct more detailed close-up scans for any residual particle stress patterns in the structures. But . . .”
“I would caution against a boarding party, sir,” Worf interrupted. “At least until we’ve conducted more thorough scans of both the ship and the area. It could still be some kind of fake.”
“Conduct the most thorough scans possible,” Picard ordered, “both of the ship and of the surrounding area.” Picard returned his attention to the Intrepid. It was worn and gray, cold and dead, but it retained a certain beauty, as everything that survived long enough seemed to do. Perhaps it was in the nature of the universe for time to transform into art everything it touched, or perhaps it was just his own personal bias showing. Picard knew that he would be a liar if he said he didn’t feel the pull of the ship out there, or if he said he didn’t want to board her, and tread those ancient deck plates.
He smiled, and called out, “Commander La Forge, report to the bridge.”
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