1 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
’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
“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 li...