"Captain's log, Stardate 51102.4. The Enterprise is proceeding with her second shakedown cruise after leaving Spacedock last month. So far we have had few problems, and it appears that we were successful in removing the Borg technology from the ship. Our visitor continues to offer valuable help on tweaking the tactical systems." Picard smiled at that; Worf was rarely happier than when he was practising firing weapons systems.
He tried to think of something else to add to the log. The last few weeks had exhausted just about every variant of 'all's well' in his repertoire. The six months it had taken to remove the Borg hardware from his ship had at least been challenging, difficult work. But now, cruising around the heart of the Federation, there was little to do. That the rest of Starfleet was out struggling - and loosing - against the Dominion while the most powerful ship in the fleet calibrated its sensor systems and tested its phasers on asteroids was an insult added to the injury.
The intercom sounded. "LaForge to Bridge. LaForge to Bridge. We've finished aligning the Dilithium matrix down here. Full warp power at your discretion."
"Excellent work, Mister LaForge." Picard replied. "Well ahead of schedule."
"Just call me the miracle worker." Picard heard the laughter in Geordi's voice, and smiled. The Engineer had obviously been getting mail from Captain Scott again.
Data stiffened suddenly as a beeping noise came from his console. "Short range sensors are detecting a spatial anomaly at bearing zero six one mark five, range four million kilometres," the android reported with a grin. "The energy patterns do not match up precisely to anything in the database, although they are similar to the anomaly we encountered near Archer IV eight years ago."
"That turned out to be nothing," Riker said quietly. Picard nodded, but he had already made up his mind - any kind of puzzle was better than this aimless cruising.
"Lay in a course to the anomaly and take us to it at half impulse," he ordered. Less than a minute later the anomaly was on the main viewscreen - a swirling mass of energy over two kilometres across.
"Sensor readings are indeterminate." Data announced, "we are reading no discernible event horizon, but there is evidence of a time distortion of some kind."
"Is it stable?" Picard asked.
"No sir. The anomaly's size and energy density are fluctuating. The process is somewhat chaotic, but there is a definite growth trend."
"Is it dangerous?" Riker asked.
"Certainly no immediate threat sir. At its present rate of growth the anomaly would need several decades before it was large enough to be a serious hazard to navigation."
"Let's get a closer look," Picard said. "Bring us in to within ten kilometres."
"Thrusters ahead, two hundred kph," Lieutenant Mayers reported. The anomaly grew steadily on the viewscreen.
Another alarm sounded on Data's console. His hands sped across the board. "Sir, the anomaly is fluctuating rapidly. I am reading a massive buildup in energy."
"Back us off," Picard said instantly to Mayers. "Data, is it responding to us in some way?"
"I do not think so, sir," Data replied. "There is some form of resonance effect within the-"
On the viewscreen the anomaly suddenly seemed to burst like an exploding sun, filling the bridge with a dazzling light. It lasted barely a quarter of a second before vanishing completely, leaving the screen with a perfectly normal starscape.
Not entirely normal, Picard thought to himself in confusion. Barely a light-year from Earth the constellations should be virtually identical to those Picard had grown up with. But this sky was vastly more crowded than anything he was used to.
"Data, where are we?" he asked in a whisper.
"According to the inertial navigation system we have not moved sir," Data replied instantly.
"Get a star fix to confirm that."
"Aye sir..." There was a pause. "Unable to establish a position on any known star. Checking for extra-galactic objects... no matches to known objects found."
"I see," Picard said heavily. "Meaning we are a long way from home."
"A very long way sir." Data said. "The lack of a fix on known extra-galactic objects indicates that we have travelled at least hundreds of millions of light years. Possibly a great deal more."
"Conduct an intensive sensor scan of this area. Concentrate on finding some trace of that anomaly, but I want to know everything we can find out about this region of space."
A hundred million light-years, he though to himself. At least. Merde!
"Captain's log, Stardate 51104.3. After sixteen hours since the event which catapulted us to this region, we have begun to piece together a few answers..."
Data activated the conference room viewscreen and brought up the visual records of the anomaly they had encountered.
"After detailed analysis of our sensor logs, I believe that what we encountered was a form of wormhole," he announced.
"That's not like any wormhole I've ever seen," Riker commented.
"Indeed, the anomaly does display many characteristics that are... anomalous," Data finished with an apologetic look. "Wormholes are only visible when they are approached, while this one seems to be more readily apparent. In addition, there is the temporal element. Classic wormholes are connections between one point of space and another - there has never been any record of a wormhole which allowed travel through time."
"Until now," LaForge added miserably.
"Indeed. Our analysis of the chronaton fields which enveloped the ship indicate that we suffered a time displacement at least equal in magnitude to our spatial displacement."
"Long ago and far away." Picard murmured. "How did this happen, exactly?"
"Our initial sensor analysis indicated that the anomaly was following a general pattern of linear growth. Subsequent events indicate that this effect is only partially linear - in fact the anomaly seems to come into resonance periodically. At this time it briefly increases in size and energy by a vast degree, before reversing the growth and collapsing back on itself."
Riker spoke up next. "I guess the question on all our minds is, will it begin to grow again? Is the cycle repetitive?"
Data nodded. "I believe so."
"And the second question is, is the anomaly symmetrical along its spacetime axis?" Geordi asked.
"That I am unsure of," Data said. "There is no way to tell."
"Can we predict the cycle?" Picard asked.
Data nodded. "If the pattern holds true, the next resonance will occur in another forty seven hours."
The intercom sounded. "Bridge to Captain Picard. Sir, we're picking up something on the sensors. A tachyon surge of some kind."
"Or perhaps sooner," Picard said quietly. "Stations, everybody."
"Tachyon surge is increasing," Mayers reported as Picard took his chair. "We have something like a wormhole forming out there, two hundred kilometres away."
"Is it the same thing as before?"
Data shook his head. "No sir. A very different phenomena. Not like anything we have seen before."
The impossibly crowded starfield appeared on the viewscreen. Something appeared in the centre of the image - a pinprick at first, it expanded impossibly fast. Suddenly there was a spacecraft hovering before them.
Picard narrowed his eyes. It went against his nature to judge by appearance, but that thing did not look pleasant. Triangular in shape, it looked big and powerful - as if the designer had wanted the shape alone to be a threat.
"We are being scanned," Data reported. "Simple electromagnetic scans, plus an active graviton beam - all very powerful sources."
"Do not return scans," Picard said instantly. He was aware of Riker's questioning look. "It is their neighbourhood, Number One. Don't want to appear too inquisitive."
"We are being hailed," Data said. "A radio transmission, language unknown. I am processing the signal through the universal translator." There was a pause, then an unfamiliar voice filled the bridge.
"Unknown vessel, this is the Imperial Star Destroyer Battlecry. You are trespassing in the Coruscant Restricted Zone, a region of space designated for use by authorised personnel only. State your identity and business here."
Picard hesitated. "Battlecry, this is the Federation Starship Enterprise. We intend no trespass on your space - our vessel is a ship of exploration." That's a half truth, he thought - the Sovereign class was officially an Enhanced Deterrence Explorer, in reality a battlecruiser. But there was no need to go into that right now. "We encountered a spatial anomaly of some kind which catapulted our ship to this region of space. We are investigating possible methods of returning home now."
The reply was almost instant. "Enterprise, you are already committing a serious violation of Imperial law just by being in your present location. Making false statements to an Imperial Navy officer will just add to those charges and make things more difficult for you."
"Battlecry, we are falsifying nothing. Our ship has been the victim of an unfortunate accident which we are trying to correct. We intend no harm-"
"Enterprise, stand by to receive a boarding party. Your senior officers will be taken into custody and your ship impounded until appropriate action can be taken. The transport is on its way now." Picard saw a smaller craft emerge from beneath the huge vessel and begin to glide slowly towards them. "Be warned, Enterprise; our turbo laser batteries are locked onto your ship and we will fire at any provocation. Battlecry out." The line went dead.
"Well, that sounded final," Riker said quietly.
"Indeed," Picard nodded, watching the transport draw closer. "This may be their territory, but I'm not about to let them board this ship. Red alert. Mister Data, scan that vessel. Let's learn what we can."
"Aye, sir. Scan initiated."
"Mister Worf," Picard said. Worf had been shooting covert looks at the tactical station for the last five minutes. "Please take the tactical station. I'm afraid you've been drafted."
"Thank you, sir," The Klingon said with obvious glee.
"Tactical analysis please."
Worf studied the console. "The vessel is armed with sixty charged particle weapons and sixty further emplacements of an unknown type. Also there are ten tractor beam emitters. A conformal shield grid of moderate capacity, and the hull is constructed of high density armour. She is powered by a large fusion plant."
"How large?" Picard asked cautiously.
"Undetermined," Worf said simply.
"Captain Picard, this is your last warning," The intercom sounded. "Drop your shields and prepare to be boarded."
"Battlecry, I say again: we were thrown to this location by a natural anomaly. Our intentions are peaceful, but we are equipped to defend ourselves and will if we must." He made a slashing motion to Worf, who cut the channel.
"The enemy vessel is using targeting scanners on us," Worf announced. As he spoke a single bolt of brilliant green flashed out from the Star Destroyer and impacted on the Enterprises shields. Picard felt the ship rock slightly.
"Hit to the forward shields," Worf announced. "They are holding. The weapon was a charged plasma bolt - it emitted a strong pulse of laser energy as it hit our shields."
"Laser?" Picard looked at the image on the screen thoughtfully.
"Yes sir. Most of the energy simply reflected off the navigational shields, but the impact of the plasma itself imparted some energy to the combat shields."
The Enterprise rocked again, this time more strongly. Picard turned to see a rain of fire pouring up from the Star Destroyer, blasting against the shields.
"We are sustaining moderate damage to the forward shields," Worf said pointedly, clearly annoyed at Picards inaction and trying to hide it. "One percent drop-off."
"Can we target their power system, disable the ship?" Picard asked.
"I do not believe that is possible," Data replied. "Fusion power plants may not be as powerful as a warp core but breaching one would cause a considerable explosion, and it is unlikely that a reactor of that size could be ejected."
"The weapons then," Picard said. "Target the weapon batteries, Mister Worf. Phasers to one quarter power, a rapid fire sequence."
Worf selected the option from the list the computer had been offering him for the last few minutes. "Ready, sir."
Captain Beltain of the Imperial Star Destroyer Battlecry was not in the best of moods. When he had come across this peculiar vessel skulking around inside a restricted zone less than a light year from Coruscant itself, his initial reaction had been pride; the ship was obviously some kind of spy vessel, perhaps a new offering from the Rebellion. A nice catch indeed to have on the record of an ambitious Imperial officer.
They had refused to co-operate, as he had known they would. Beltain had hoped to damage the ship and capture it, but his first shot at the enemy had come as something of a surprise - the turbo laser bolt had hit some kind of forcefield well before impacting on the ship itself. Worse, the sensor records he was looking at showed that most of the energy of the bolt had simply bounced off harmlessly.
Furious at this news, he had ordered a full barrage - and this Enterprise had simply sat there and taken it.
"Are we doing any damage?" he snapped at the gunnery officer. The man looked at him with trepidation.
"Uh... we seem to be causing some damage to that forcefield sir. I'm reading a drop in its energy output." The man glanced at his readout of the enemy ship's shield energy, unwilling to say more. He didn't know whether he dared believe what the sensors were telling him.
"I want an all-out bombardment," Beltain snapped, turning to look at the gleaming white ship hanging just a few kilometres away. "Fire the ion cannon-"
At that moment, a filament of brilliant orange stabbed out from the ship. The beam swept across the surface of the Star Destroyer's hull, stuttering in a pattern almost too rapid to follow. Beltain felt the huge vessel shake beneath his feet as a series of explosions appeared in rapid succession across the hull of his ship.
"Multiple shield breaches!" the tactical officer said, his voice disbelieving. "Reading damage to all hull sections."
Beltain looked back out at the enemy ship. The single beam was still stabbing its pattern of destruction over his hull. "Launch all fighters!" he yelled. "Full attack!"
At that moment the pattern of destruction stopped. Silence descended over the bridge. "Damage report." Beltain ordered, his voice shaking.
"The turbo laser batteries and ion cannon..." the tactical officer said in something approaching awe, "they're... gone. All of them."
Baltain thought it over for less than a second. The speed that beam tracked around my ship, it would hit fighters without any problem. And a weapon that could carve through a Star Destroyer's shields like that would barely notice a fighter.
"Cancel the launches," he snapped. "Jump to lightspeed, as soon as possible."
"Their weapons array has been destroyed," Worf reported.
"Hail them," Picard ordered. "Maybe now they'll see sense."
"No response," Worf replied after a few seconds.
"Reading a power buildup in the ships reactor core," Data announced.
"Is it going to breach?" Picard asked anxiously.
"Negative," Data replied. "I believe it is preparing to engage its main drive system."
The Star Destroyer confirmed the statement by suddenly rocketing forwards, flashing past the Enterprise and away. "Our sensors no longer read them," Data said.
"Conference," Picard ordered. The senior officers headed off the bridge.
"First things first," Picard said when they had settled. "Have we damaged our chanced of getting home. Mister Data?"
"The anomaly is still in a very low state of activity at the moment," Data reported. "I do not believe the weapon discharges have affected it."
A collective sigh went around the table.
"Good," Picard said, noting the smiles. "Now, we seem to have landed in a place that is less than welcoming to strangers. Counsellor, any insights into the people we just dealt with?"
"Not good, sir." Troi shook her head. "It's hard for me to focus on an individual mind at that distance without a visual reference to concentrate on, but I managed to get enough for an overall impression. The Captain of that ship was a very arrogant and prideful man; it never even occurred to him that we might be telling the truth about how we got here, his only interest was in capturing or destroying us."
"What about the crew in general?" Riker asked.
"Also not good." Troi frowned. "The background noise was nothing like a Federation Starship. If anything it was close to a Romulan vessel - a lot of ambition and anger held in check by fear."
"I did pick up one definite impression from their captain," Troi said. "Just as the ship was leaving he was feeling angry and frightened at what he saw as a terrible defeat for him. But mostly he had an absolute determination to repay the loss, with interest. I think he'll be back. Him or others like him."
"Of that there is little doubt," Picard said. "We've shown them that we have weapons technology a good deal beyond theirs. To the type of people we seem to be dealing with that's going to be an offer they can't refuse. Whatever forces they have in this area, we can expect them to show up here as soon as they can make it."
"Let's just hope we're in some largely forgotten backwater of this 'Empire' of theirs," LaForge said.
"Just what type of technology are we dealing with here?" Riker asked the Engineer.
"Quite a strange mix," Geordi grinned, clearly happy at having a new puzzle. "On the surface theyre almost laughable - laser based weapons, particle beams, fusion reactors; Earth moved past that sort of thing a long time ago. From their point of view these Star Destroyers are built for sheer power and strength, there's not a lot of finesse involved. But they've built the systems on an impressive scale - I'd say they've been working on this technology for a long, long time. Perhaps even millennia. Its odd that they never got as far as matter-antimatter reactors in all that time."
"That indicates some interesting things about their culture," Troi chimed in. "A very old society, not good at innovation but capable of making incremental advances in what they do have to the point where they end up making huge versions of ancient technology. That takes a pretty stable culture, which fits in with the idea of a ruling monarchy. A dictatorial monarchy would lead to a general stifling of free thought and innovation."
"If they've had thousands of years to spread themselves we could be looking at an industrial capacity of considerable proportions." Picard noted.
"Which would indicate a large fleet." Worf said. "These Star Destroyers are not a threat to us in small groups, but if hundreds attacked at once it would not make our victory easy."
"Could we outrun them?"
"Hard to tell," Geordi said. "From our scans of their engine systems I'd say we have a decided advantage at sublight. In warp... well, we can't see them while they're using this drive system of theirs. I don't know how fast or manoeuvrable they are compared to our warp drive."
"Suggestions as to our course of action?" Picard asked, looking around the table.
"Once that ship gets back to base they'll report our position - and our explanation of how we arrived here." Riker said. "We're essentially tied to this spot; that limits our options a good deal. If his superiors believe the story that Captain reports to them, they'll realise that we're stuck here - that gives them a tactical advantage."
"Assuming that they can get any forces here at all," Data added. "The round trip to the Star Destroyers nearest base may give us sufficient time to escape."
"Hope for the best," Picard said, "and assume the worst." He looked at Worf. "We work on the assumption that a large fleet of those craft will be here at any time. Worf, prepare some tactical scenarios based on that assumption. Geordi, repair the damage to the shields and run full diagnostics on all combat-related systems. Other than that, we just have to wait."
Battlecry dropped out of hyperspace so close to Coruscant that she set off a system-wide alert. Which is just as well, her Captain thought; it'll save time later.
He was through to his squadron commander in under an hour, surely a record for the bureaucracy which surrounded the Imperial Capital world. At first the man refused to believe him, but one look at the computer records speeded the process up considerably. Going from the squadron commander to the fleet commander and then the system commander took just minutes.
And shortly after that, Captain Beltain found himself facing an image he had sincerely hoped he would never be in the presence of.
"My Lord," he said nervously, bowing his head to the holographic projection.
"Repeat your report. Omit nothing," commanded Lord Vader.
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