Captain’s Log, Stardate 56738.5. Two hours have passed since the Enterprise was transported to this new reality. Unfortunately the anomaly that transported us here, and all that accompanied it, have disappeared. While Mr La Forge assesses the ship for any damage received during our transition, Commander Data and Lieutenant Shoris are working to establish where exactly we have been transported to.
“Anything Mr Data?”
The android continued working, not even glancing up as he responded. “Nothing yet Captain.”
Picard blew out a breath and resumed pacing in the small space available to him. Two strides from Data’s right shoulder, seated at the middle of the three consoles built into the starboard bulkhead of the Enterprise’s bridge, took him to Ensign Williams, trying to avoid being caught shifting nervously from one foot to the other as she stood at the tactical station. He paused. Pivoted on the heel of his right foot and the ball of his left, eyes sweeping across the too-quiet bridge. Williams straightened self-consciously beside him. Five strides to Lieutenant Shoris, still seated at the main starboard science station, fingers working the controls, body calm and still but antennae twitching erratically. Two strides back to the android’s left shoulder.
This time the android stopped and swung smoothly to face him. “Captain, my scans of the area previously occupied by the anomalies are now sixty one per cent complete. The scans conducted by the probes we deployed in our runs along our original course are forty seven percent complete. My analysis of the data we have collected is twenty five per cent complete. I estimate that it will take three hours fourteen minutes for the scans and analysis to be completed.”
Data’s voice was calm and level, no different from any other status report, but the rebuke from subordinate to superior was as unmistakeable as it was deniable. Picard squared his shoulders and drew a deep breath, trying to let the tension flow out of him. I’m snapping at them. We’ve – I’ve – been in space too long. A week out from Earth and then this happens. I should have pushed through, got clear, not hung around prodding anomalies. A short side trip to unwind and do a bit of exploring and the universe bites back at us.
He nodded, a single short jerk of the head. “Thank you Mr Data.” Not for the information but for making me look at myself. He turned to the Andorian, his voice calmer, flowing. The tightness with which he’d addressed Data was still present, but was no longer the overwhelming feature. “Mr Shoris, have you had any success in establishing our location?”
The Andorian’s antennae had stiffened on being addressed, sticking straight out from his head, then eased back into gentle curves as he recognised the more relaxed tone in his commander’s voice. His voice was cautious nonetheless, especially so given the information he had to impart. “No Captain, and based on my analysis so far I don’t think I will be able to. Astrometric projections cannot identify any of the constellations observable from our current location, nor do they match any projected constellations based on known intra- or extra-galactic bodies. As well as being shifted to an alternate reality we must have been transported at least several tens of millions of light years. My scans also indicate that we are in an unusually densely populated area of space - I believe the ‘white noise’…” he struggled to shape the unfamiliar expression “…Ensign Williams detected is due to the density of subspace signals we’re intercepting. The Universal Translator is attempting to process the languages used, but it has not yet been successful.”
Picard’s nodded slowly, brow creased in thought. We won’t get much useful out of the contents of the messages for a while. Maybe... He turned to Williams, who froze half-balanced in the process of shifting onto her right foot. “Ensign, can you analyse the density of the signals to indentify specific inhabited systems?”
Williams tried not to be obvious as she eased herself back into a proper standing position. “Difficult without knowing their protocols sir, but I can try.” She worked her controls. From near the back of the bridge Worf shifted restlessly, half moved towards the tactical station. Picard caught his eye, gave an imperceptible shake of his head. I know you could do it faster, but let her do her job. At length Williams glanced up. “Based on spikes in subspace radiation in the area sir, I’d estimate that there are over forty likely candidates for inhabited star systems within fifty light years of our current location.”
Picard raised an eyebrow at that. “Indeed. Quite a crowded neighbourhood we’ve been dropped into. How close is the nearest starship?”
“That’s the odd thing Captain – as far as I can tell there’s no interstellar travel in the area. Certainly no warp signatures within sensor range. They might be using some other form of propulsion that our sensors aren’t calibrated to detect.”
The eyebrow climbed higher, something close to shock replacing mere surprise. Warp drive was far from the only means of travelling between stars, but it was by far the most common method. For millennia the advanced races of the galaxy had kept watchful eyes on their industrial neighbours in the certain knowledge that the arrival of a new member of the interstellar club would be heralded by a flash of subspace radiation. Some species never crossed the light barrier, pushing outwards from their systems in primitive relativistic ships, while others harnessed the tachyon eddies that flowed through certain sectors of the Milky Way, but the vast majority took their first tentative flutters beyond the nests of their home systems on subspace wings. The very notion of the technology being utterly absent from such a dense cluster of technologically advanced star systems was unprecedented.
Picard turned towards the viewscreen for long seconds, staring at and through it as though he were trying to look directly upon one of the myriad worlds his ship had been deposited amongst, then glanced back at Williams.
“Ensign, can you determine which of those systems is most likely to be a seat of government in this sector? Where we might find someone with more detailed knowledge of these anomalies?”
Surprise blended with anxiety in Williams’ expression, recognising that Picard was asking her not merely to provide information, but to make an assessment that was likely to guide his next action. Swallowing slightly, she turned to her station, fingers dancing, eyes flickering rapidly in concentrated thought. She paused, tapped another sequence, then glanced up, a slight nervous tremor making her right hand continue inputting commands even after it left the board.
“Not immediately Captain. The variables are very complex – it will take about an hour to analyse the pattern of signals between the local systems.”
Picard nodded, his frustration and tension easing as a plan sketched itself across his mind. “Make it so.” He turned to Data. “All senior officers to the observation lounge at…” an imperceptible pause as he checked the chronometer on the android’s monitor “…sixteen thirty hours Commander.”
As Data acknowledge the order, Picard was already striding across the bridge towards the aft port turbolift. “You have the bridge Number One. Ambassador…” he slowed as he passed Worf, head dipping and tone shifting slightly in acknowledgement of his rank “…there is a matter I wish to discuss with you.”
Worf angled his head in acknowledgement and smoothly turned to follow in the Captain’s footsteps. The turbolift doors slid shut behind them.
“Shut up damnit!”
Major Derek Chell slapped at his insistently beeping chrono, missed, and rolled over with a groan to bring the flat of his other hand down hard across the top of the device. The beeping ceased and Chell rolled onto his back with a sigh. Staring at the ceiling of his quarters he drew a deep breath, letting the cool air sweep away the last cobwebs of drowsiness, then sat up.
Swinging himself out of his low bunk he stretched to his full height, rising up onto his toes before dropping back down onto his heels, and leaning his head from one shoulder to the other. Crossing his small room in a few long strides, he slapped open the hatch and strode into his shower cubical. Waving his hand over the activation sensor, a few brief seconds under the stinging jet were enough to bring him to full wakefulness. Washing and shaving quickly and efficiently, he stepped back into the main compartment to pull on his uniform.
As he sat on his bunk fastening a boot, Chell’s eye fell on a small black disk, swept onto the floor as he’d slapped at the chrono to silence it. Leaving the boot half-fastened, he leant forwards to retrieve it. For a moment he simply held it, his eyes staring at and through it, caught up in old thoughts. Turning the device so that its glinting black lens was uppermost, he touched one of the buttons on the upper surface.
A column of blue light swirled out of the lens, stabilising into an image the length of Chell’s forearm - a young woman, the curl of her blond hair just brushing her shoulders, the hem of her dress pooling slightly around her ankles, cradling an infant in her arms. Chell’s broad, angular features softened into a faint grin that matched the woman’s own expression, as he gazed into eyes that seemed to dance even in the hologram’s soft blue tinge. Drawing in a sharp breath to bring himself back to the present, Chell set the device gently back on the ledge beside his bunk and, after a moment’s hesitation, touched another button. The image shimmered into nothing. Bending once more to finish fastening his boot he stood, straightened his black jacket, pulled on his cap, and strode out of his quarters.
Turning out of the door, he strode down the narrow passageway leading from his quarters towards the wide curve of the starbase’s main corridor, boots clicking rhythmically on the metal floor. By the time he reached the corridor it was already moderately full, more grey-green and black uniformed figures emerging from other side passages as the main day shift began to stir. Senior enough among the inhabitants of the base to return salutes far more often than he was required to offer them, he nodded acknowledgements to the junior officers and the occasional enlisted man stiffening to attention as he passed. A quarter turn around the circular corridor, he turned through a ceiling-high archway into the officers’ mess hall. The room was half-full when he entered, marine corps uniforms like his own matching the strength of navy’s grey, and both easily outnumbering the occasional army officer, and he strode briskly towards the food dispensers.
“Ah, Chell, there you are.” The voice was soft, almost casual, but its owner was anything but; half a head taller than Chell, with cool grey eyes set deep in a hatchet-sharp face, dark, almost black hair flecked through with the first touches of grey. The Major stiffened to attention and saluted his commanding officer.
“Good morning Colonel.”
Lieutenant Colonel Alon Daan returned the salute smoothly, and gestured almost imperceptibly towards the dispensers. “Lets get something to eat shall we; I need to talk to you about a couple of things
Chell frowned slightly as he followed Daan towards the humming food slots. “What’s up sir? I checked over the routine stuff before I turned in, and there didn’t seem to be anything out of the ordinary.”
Daan nodded as he removed his tray from the dispenser and turned towards the nearest empty table. “First thing is that I need to make some changes to the patrol roster. Three of Marek’s lads came down with some bug overnight – one from his first flight, two from his third. Nothing serious, but they’ll be off ops for a few days. With them under strength I don’t want them heading off into the outer system chasing comets. They’ll be too exposed if they run into anything, so I want your squadron to swap with Marek until he’s back up to strength.”
Chell nodded in acknowledgement, but a hint of puzzlement shaded his eyes. “Certainly sir, but with respect, why make the change? Nine ships are still enough to run down most smugglers or pirates, and they’ll have the Lance as backup if they hit any serious trouble.”
Daan shook his head as he pushed the tray onto a table and slid onto the bench behind it, mouth tightening slightly. “That the other problem. The Lance has been having engine trouble again. Not as serious this time, and she’ll be able to stay on-station, but her reaction time will be half normal. That’s not good enough to support an understrength squadron half full of kids.”
For an instant, Chell’s eyes fell closed, his face neutral, almost motionless, but a faint tick in his cheek betrayed the apparent peace of the expression. Daan cut off the quiet explosion he saw building.
“I know – the navy needs to get its fucking house in order.” Chell’s eyes snapped open in surprise at his superior’s sudden forcefulness. “But in the meantime I don’t intend to risk dropping a bunch of sprogs just out of the academy in at the deep end when I don’t need to.”
Chell nodded again, almost imperceptibly this time, his eyes focusing beyond Daan’s right shoulder. Major Jin Marek’s Eleven Squadron had been transferred to the Chalkon system to rebuild and retrain after a severe mauling at the hands of a pirate gang. While the quality of the academy’s training was as good as ever, it still couldn’t replicate active service, and even groups of experienced pilots required time to bond into a true squadron.
His eyes began to flicker rapidly as his mind began running over the risks and possibilities the switch offered. The station the wing was based on, Chalkon-Dorn, was on the edge of the inner system, riding its own orbit while guarding the major planets further in. While the space around it wasn’t as crowded as the orbits of those planets, most the standard fighter patrol routes nonetheless required precise, tight formations as they wove through the lanes of incoming and outbound shipping. The exception to the rule was the outer system run. Clear of the travel lanes, it gave the squadron assigned to it to the space the change its formation frequently and aggressively – an ideal opportunity to exercise the fast, fluid changes of a combat pattern.
The downside was that the outer reaches of the system were unusually sparsely populated, and a dozen fighters pushing out alone into deep interplanetary space were vulnerable to running into more trouble than they could handle – a strong pirate gang lurking in wait for a traveller off the beaten track, or getting jumped by a band of insurgents looking to pick off an isolated force. Usually the outer patrol could rely on the big guns of one of the system’s light cruisers but Chalkon’s Lance, the cruiser covering Dorn’s sector, was an old ship in desperate need of a refit – a refit that had long been put off as vessels in more prominent systems had been pushed ahead of her on the list, to the frustration and anger of the men and women of the increasingly isolated fighter wing.
The thoughts flashed through Chell’s mind in barely a second. He nodded slowly, a slow smile tugging and the corners of his mouth. “Understood Colonel. Truth be told the squadron could probably do with a long run out. We need the exercise.”
“Good.” Daan took a bite of his breakfast, swallowed, and cleared his throat. “The other issue is about the roster for the next fortnight.”
The smile disappeared from Chell’s face, and his eyes hardened. “The anniversary?”
Daan nodded, still eating. Chell’s lips compressed. “The bastards tried to pull a fast one on us last year, and got a beating. You think they’ll be stupid enough to try again?”
The Colonel nodded again. “They’ll have learnt their lesson this time. Intelligence suggests they’re still smarting from last year’s pasting, and want to get their own back – they might be planning to throw central command assets in this time, so we need to be even more on the ball. We’ll be reinforced from sector at least, possibly region, but I want us to be able to pull our weight in case they get pulled away.”
As Daan turned his attention back to his food, Chell ran the problem over in his head, eating slowly. Terrorist attacks on Chalkon were rare, but not unheard of, and significant anniversaries tended to raise the threat level. I guess mass murder counts as ‘significant’ enough. The possibility of central command forces being sent in to support the local thugs was a worrying development – such forces tended to be better trained, and generally more military in outlook, and could pose a genuine threat to the system’s guardians. He glanced up at Daan, just clearing his plate. “It’s a tricky one sir. If they come in with serious force I can’t see our standing forces being able to stop them.”
Daan swallowed his last bite. “Work on it – we’ve got some time to sort this out, but I want initial proposals to maximise our force effectiveness on my desk by close of play tomorrow.” He pushed the tray away from him and stood up, Chell rising with him. “I see you in thirty minutes at the flight briefing Major.” Returning Chell’s crisp salute, the Colonel pivoted on his heel and strode away.
Chell slowly lowered his hand from the salute and eased back onto the bench, keeping his eyes on Daan’s retreating back. As if I didn’t have enough to do already. He shrugged to himself. If you can’t take a joke… He turned his attention to his food. Being overworked was part of the job. Being overworked on an empty stomach was downright unprofessional.
Will Riker stood at the observation lounge window, staring out at the pinpicks of the stars. After a lifetime of service to Starfleet, Riker was used to unfamiliar constellations, and one starfield looked much like another, but the one in front of him held a sense of foreboding far beyond its simple unfamiliarity. Never before had he gazed on stars so far distant from Earth that even the location of home was a mystery. He absently reached up to brush the fourth pip on his collar, standing out brightly against the dulled three of a Commander. Fifteen years had passed since he had turned down command of the old Drake in favour of a posting to the Enterprise-D, the then-new flagship of Starfleet, twelve since he’d been offered the Melbourne in the tense early days of the first Borg invasion. Now, finally, he’d summoned the courage to take the leap, to step into the piercing light of the Captain’s chair. And to propose to Deanna. Riker sighed. If it hadn’t been for the effects of the Ba’ku planet rekindling feelings both of them had thought long since faded…
Behind him, the door hissed open. “So there you are.” Troi strolled around the edge of the conference table to stand behind his left shoulder. “Avoiding me?” she teased
With a lopsided grin Will held out an arm to wrap around his fiancée’s waist as she leaned her head on his shoulder. “Why would I ever want to do that?”
“So you could second-guess about accepting the Triton without me picking up on it?” Deanna smiled softly for a moment, then paused as a brief frown flickered across her face. She pulled back slightly to stare hard at him. “Or blame yourself for the fact that we’re here.” Sympathy flooded into her dark eyes, but her hand tightened on his upper arm. “It’s not your fault Will.”
Riker looked down at her, his expression puzzled. “I’m not blaming myself.” Am I?
Troi’s eyebrow arched sceptically. Her voice stayed soft, flowing. “Are you sure about that?”
Am I? Riker’s mind began to drift, running back over the events of the past few hours. I advised him to investigate. I am responsible. Another part of him rebelled against that. The Captain was planning to investigate the anomaly anyway – my answer wouldn’t have changed that. The first voice pressed on. He said he was surprised you said that. He said it was the Rhode Island’s job. He would have stayed away if it wasn’t for you. You’re…
Riker blinked, his train of thought broken. “I guess I was.” He focussed hard on Deanna. “You could tell that from our quarters?”
Troi raised a sceptical eyebrow. “It will take a lot more than a few decks to stop me picking up on your mood. You should know better than that by now Imzadi.”
Riker chuckled. “I should indeed.” He paused, pulling her close. “Thank you Deanna.”
As Riker’s chin drooped to rest on the crown of his fiancée’s head the door behind them hissed open. Quick, light footsteps hesitated as their owner paused in the doorway, unsure whether they were interrupting. Riker’s arm tightened briefly around Troi’s waste in a final gesture of thanks, then the first officer replaced the fiancée and he straightened, turning towards his seat towards the head of the table and glancing towards the doorway. Beverly Crusher’s eyes flicked from Troi’s to his as she stepped cautiously into the room.
Riker nodded quickly to the doctor, and she strode forwards, sliding into her own place further down the table as Troi took her seat next to her, directly across from Riker. The door hissed again, admitting Data and Shoris, their discussion cutting off as the door opened, the android moving smoothly to the place next to the first officer, the Andorian taking a seat at the far end of the table, antennae twitching and eyes glancing nervously about him at the prospect of presenting his findings to the ship’s most senior officers. The door had slid only partially shut before La Forge strode into the room to take his place alongside Data, his expression the tense concentration of a man pulled from his work. Finally, behind him, came Picard, who had waited until his senior staff were assembled before entering and made his way with a quick, measured pace towards the head of the table, instantly the centre of attention. Before he reached his seat, however, that attention was drawn to the other entrance to the conference room, as the door slid open to admit Worf.
The Klingon’s clothing had changed. Instead of the flowing robes and discrete armour of a diplomat he was now dressed in regulation Starfleet uniform, with the red shirt of the command branch and the two and a half pips of a Lieutenant Commander displayed on a long bar on his collar. The only indication of his official status was his baldric, decorated with the emblem of the House of Martok and the interwoven crests of the Klingon Empire and the Federation. Nodding briefly to the others around the table he settled himself between Crusher and Shoris.
At the head of the table, Picard leaned back in his chair, glancing round to give the others time to make themselves comfortable. “Before we begin, in the light of Commander Daniels’ recent departure I’d like to formally thank Commander Worf for agreeing to assume the duties of Chief Tactical Officer for the duration of our excursion into this new reality. I can only express my regret for only being able to offer him acting rank for his services.” Murmurings of approval ran round the table. Picard’s expression hardened. “Unfortunately, it appears that our stay will not be as brief, or as simple, as we may have hoped for. Mr Data.”
The android stood at his cue, moving to the screen at the foot of the table. “Thank you Captain. Since our arrival in this reality, I have analysed both the events that led to us being transported here, and our previous and subsequent scans of the area.” He tapped a control. The familiar blue-hued image of the anomaly appeared on the screen behind him. “This is a multispectral display of the anomaly we initially scanned, before it began its motion. The following sequence displays the activity of this anomaly, as far as we can determine, over the following period.”
The image came to life, patterns swirling across the surface. It shifted. White swirls began to whip across the surface, and blue specks flicked out away from the anomaly in ever increasing streams. They reached a peak, seemed to pause, then began to thin. For an instant the entire screen went blank, then the image returned, its colour shifted from blue to green, the streams continuing to diminish before finally coming to rest, all but its colour indistinguishable from its earlier placid state. Data turned to face the assembly.
“The colours indicate the quantum state of the matter surrounding and being ejected from the anomaly. From my analysis of the area, I believe that each anomaly likely leads to a different quantum reality. Unfortunately, this transference only occurs at a specific point in a cycle, while the anomalies are in motion, the duration of which has yet to be determined. The presence of matter from other realities in close proximity to the anomalies in both our own reality and this one does, however, indicates that the cycle is likely to be on the order of days or weeks, rather than any longer period.”
At Picard’s left, Troi glanced quickly at the Captain, then back to Data, frowning. “Then I don’t understand why there’s a problem. All we have to do is wait for the anomaly to reappear and go through it.”
Data shook his head. “Unfortunately not Counsellor. In addition to some side effects of the transference, which Commander La Forge will explain shortly, the anomaly we require is located close to the centre of the group. We would have to enter the area before the anomalies appeared, identify our target, then enter it. Since we have no evidence that the motion of the anomalies once they become passable follows any pattern, we would run the risk of being caught by the wrong anomaly, as we were when we were transported here, or even being destroyed should we attempt to pass through an anomaly before it was capable of transporting the entire ship. Far more detailed analysis of the phenomena, through multiple cycles, would be required before we could attempt a return.”
Picard had already heard much of Data’s assessment, but his lips nonetheless compressed into a tight line as he heard it repeated. He nodded thanks to Data as the android resumed his place, then glanced across to Geordi. “Mr La Forge, your report please.”
The engineer’s cybernetic eyes glittered as he shifted slightly in his chair. “There are a few burnt out circuits here and there, mainly in the shield grid, but we haven’t suffered any obvious major damage. I’ve got teams out repairing what damage we have suffered and checking elsewhere for anything the diagnostics didn’t pick up.”
His expression hardened. “We do have a serious problem though. We were expecting to refuel at Earth spacedock next week, so our reserves were already running low – antimatter down to nine per cent of capacity and deuterium to fourteen per cent.” He shook his head. “Somehow the transfer drained our fuel supply a lot further – antimatter is at a bit over four per cent and deuterium is below seven per cent of capacity. If we suffer a similar drain on the return trip we’ll lose main power and be thrown out of warp in the middle of that chaos.”
Faces around the table displayed expressions from Worf’s grimly compressed lips to Crusher’s palid shock. The results of losing warp power in such circumstances needed no explanation. Riker frowned. “Is there any way we can restore or stocks to a safe level before we try a return trip?”
La Forge shrugged. “We can extend our matter reserves fairly easily with the collectors, but antimatter will be a problem – we don’t have anything like the sort of deuterium we’d need to feed the generator, so our best course of action would be try and get some from the local civilisation.”
Picard’s frown was as deep as his first officer’s. “Very well Mr La Forge. Do we have any alternatives in the event that our hosts are unable to provide us with such a supply?”
La Forge shrugged. “We might have. I’ve had my people running simulations to see if we can use the collectors to draw material from the upper atmosphere of a gas giant. We might be able to get enough to feed the generator. They’re still in the early stages though, so I can’t promise anything yet. Either way, we’ll need to get to a star system, preferably one close by.”
Picard nodded. “Understood.” He shifted his gaze to the Andorian science officer. “Mr Shoris, I understand that you have been able to make some progress in mapping our new neighbourhood.”
Shoris stood, straightened his uniform self consciously, and moved to the display. “I have Captain.” He tapped a control, and Data’s image of the anomaly was replaced by a standard Starfleet chart, three stars highlighted. “Through a combination of signals analysis and the long range sensors, Ensign Williams and I have been able to refine her initial estimate of forty inhabited systems in the immediate vicinity down to these three. Most of those systems seem to have only a transitory presence – ships, small outposts and similar. These three, however, display signs of more permanent habitation – far more comms traffic, and fairly frequent energy surges that we believe indicate the initiation and deactivation of their main means of propulsion. There are also indications of ion drive activity.” He tapped a control, and the chart zoomed in onto one of the systems. “This is the most active of the three, and also the closest. A pretty normal inhabited system, sir. G-type star, two hot rocks inside the habitable zone, three gas giants outside it, a scattering of oversized comets, and two class M planets.”
Picard glanced across at La Forge, raising an eyebrow. The engineer’s eyes were fixed on the lines of data next to the image, components whirring imperceptibly. He nodded slowly. “Looks good from what we’ve got so far Captain. We’d need to take a closer look at those gas giants, but I think they’re definite candidates to test out for harvesting.” He glanced up at Shoris. “You said it’s the closest major system. How far?”
“Five point two light years sir.”
La Forge glanced back at Picard. “Less than a days’ travel – it will give us plenty of fuel reserve for a Plan C if this doesn’t work out Captain. I recommend we try for the system, see what we find.”
Picard glanced across at Data. “Mr Data, would we be able to gather the data you require to attempt the return journey using the probes we have deployed?”
The android didn’t need to think about his answer. “No Captain, but a series of class nine probes would be sufficient to do so. I can prepare and launch them within fifteen minutes.”
Picard nodded firmly. “Make it so Commander. Mr La Forge, continue to do what you can to reduce our fuel consumption. Number One, as soon as the additional probes are away set course for that system, warp six.”
As the meeting broke up, the officers scattering to their duties, Picard remained seated, rotating to gaze out of the viewport at the stars. Strange new worlds indeed…