A Less Perfect Union: More than a hundred years after the Terra Prime movement achieved its dream of an isolationist Earth, humanity is once again at a fork in the river of history...and the path it follows may ultimately be determined by the voice of a single individual: the sole surviving crewmember of the first Starship Enterprise.™
Places of Exile: Midway through Voyager's journey across the galaxy, Captain Kathryn Janeway and Commander Chakotay must choose whether to brave a deadly war zone or abandon their quest for home. But an attack by Species 8472 cripples the ship, and the stranded crew must make new choices that will reshape their destinies...and that of the Delta Quadrant itself.
Seeds of Dissent: Khan victorious! Almost four centuries after conquering their world, genetically enhanced humans dominate a ruthless interstellar empire. But the warship Defiance, under its augmented commander, Princeps Julian Bashir, makes a discovery that could shake the pillars of his proud civilization: an ancient sleeper ship from Earth named the Botany Bay.
There was definitely something out there, coming their way.
Captain Christopher Pike kept his gaze fixed on the forward viewscreen as it once again rippled and distorted the star field ahead. Around him, his crew checked circuits and consulted readouts, attempting to determine what exactly was throwing the Enterprise's sensor array into such an uproar. A pair of oversized spaceborne rocks flew past them, both easily swept aside by the ship's forward deflectors. "Could be these meteorites," said Lee Kelso at his navigator's post.
"Meteoroids," the science officer corrected him in a haughty tone.
"No, it's...something else," said Number One, looking from the screen to the data readouts on the helmsman's console. "Something is still out there."
And as if to prove the first officer's claim, the Red Alert signal at the center of the forward console began to flash, and the harsh whoop of the alarm filled the bridge. The viewscreen distorted again and again, like a shallow pond being hit by a series of pebbles.
"It's coming at the speed of light," Kelso reported. "Collision course."
Number One turned to face the captain. "Evasive maneuvers, sir?"
Pike kept his eyes on the screen. "Steady as we go."
The first officer gaped slightly at that. "Captain, we have no idea what -- "
Pike looked away from the screen then, and directed the full power of his intense blue eyes toward the younger man. "Was my order unclear, Mister Kirk?"
Commander Jim Kirk hesitated a half second, then broke eye contact and turned back in his seat. "Steady as we go, sir."
Pike's glare lingered a moment longer on the back of Kirk's head. He knew he shouldn't have slapped him back quite so hard; he was taking a gamble on whatever it was coming at them, and Kirk had good reason to question the wisdom of flying at it straight on. Kirk was a good man, and the best first officer Pike had had in ten years -- and the only one in all that time with whom he'd felt comfortable using the nickname "Number One." But he was young, and more than a little cocky. And then, there was what had happened to the Galileo six months earlier...
Pike turned his attention back to the screen. It was warping wildly now, wavering almost like a flag in a stiff breeze, while the Red Alert klaxon continued its ear-piercing whoop-whoop-whoop. Still, no foreign object or vessels appeared on the distorted viewer, even as every sensor on every console indicated that they were seconds from impact.
And then, as suddenly as it had started, the alert ended, and the bridge fell silent except for the quiet chirps and bleeps of standard operation. Kirk and Kelso exchanged confused looks, while Pike waited for someone from one of the rear stations to officially confirm his suspicions.
It was, unsurprisingly, Alden at communications who figured it out first. "It's a radio wave, sir. We're passing through an old- style distress signal."
Pike nodded slightly. "They were keyed to cause interference and attract attention this way." He noticed Kirk had turned in his seat again, looking from Alden to the captain, looking properly chagrined. Looks like the old man still has a few tricks up his sleeve, eh, he thought. He wondered if the Academy even still bothered teaching cadets about subwarp emergency procedures.
"A ship in trouble, making a forced landing," Alden added, repeating the communication now coming through the miniature speaker he held to his right ear. "That's it, no other message."
From the other rear station, science officer Ann Mulhall picked up the report. "I have a fix. It originates fromÊ.Ê.Ê. inside Coalition territory."
The entire bridge crew reacted to that. Even Pike let his unflappable demeanor drop for a split second. Earth had been at odds with the Interstellar Coalition for over a hundred years, ever since the Vulcans, Andorians, Tellarites, and Denobulans decided to resume the catastrophically ended Coalition of Planets negotiations on their own, without Earth's participation. What the hell is a human vessel with an obsolete radio disruption beacon doing on their side of the border? Pike asked himself.
Mulhall continued, "Their call letters check with a survey expedition: S.S. Columbia. Reported missing twenty-nine years ago, in 2235."
Twenty-nine years ago -- meaning the radio wave had traveled twenty-nine light-years. "That's pretty deep into Coalition territory," Pike said.
The science officer nodded as she continued to scan her library file. "The ship was registered to the American Continent Institute. The expedition's mission..." She turned away from her monitor to face the rest of the bridge and offered them a wry expression. "...'to explore strange new worlds.' "
Inwardly, Pike sighed. He could picture them now: a menagerie of scruffy, gray-haired professors, clinging onto an outdated, romanticized notion of space exploration that had gone out of style with the Xindi attack. They'd no doubt ignored every warning once they left Earth, refusing to keep to the regularly traveled trade routes, wandering aimlessly through regions where no man had gone before -- or worse, where men had gone before, and had been warned not to go again, at least not without a fully charged phaser bank.
"Sir," Number One interrupted, "our charts show the signal originating near Talos, a star system with eleven planets. Long- range studies indicate the fourth planet could be Earth-type."
Pike hesitated. If the Columbia crew had managed to land on a habitable world, it was possible that, even three decades later, there could be survivors. The chances were achingly slim, though, and rescuing them would mean traveling through hostile territory.
The captain turned to meet the younger man's gaze. After their exchange earlier, his first officer hesitated to speak up and suggest the course of action he was contemplating. But even if Jim Kirk were a complete stranger to him, Pike could clearly read the thoughts in his eyes. They said that, if there was the slightest hope those humans were still alive, they couldn't just leave them.
Pike sighed. "Any indication of Coalition patrol ships in the area near Talos?"
Both Kirk and Kelso checked their boards. "Negative, sir," the navigator answered. "The system is well off their normal patrol and trade routes."
Pike set his jaw, then moved back to the center chair. "Address intercraft."
Kelso flipped a toggle switch on his console. "System open."
In his mind, Pike saw the entire crew on every deck pausing as the address system came to life. He lifted his head to address them all: "This is the captain. Our destination is the Interstellar Coalition. Our warp factor, five."
All decks reported back ready, and on his order to engage, they started for enemy territory.
There are, of course, no border lines in space. Nor are there any true natural landmarks, along the lines of rivers and mountain ranges, which can be reliably used to demarcate one region of space from another. The Vega Colony was indisputably one of United Earth's commonwealth worlds. Regulus, some nine light-years distant, was a long-time Vulcan base, and thus recognized as part of the Interstellar Coalition. Everything in between was more or less open to interpretation.
Jim Kirk interpreted the Enterprise's long-range sensor reading and astronavigational data, and tweaked the warp propulsion field's output just so, putting the ship on a course that he determined was as close as they could get to Coalition space without risking an interstellar incident.
Not that he would have been averse to trading a couple shots with the bastards, if it came to that. The Enterprise was one of Starfleet's top-of-the-line starships, Constitution class, named for the legendary American frigate. He had no doubt it would make small work of any Coalition ship that dared to challenge them.
"Coming up on the Robinson Nebula," Kelso reported.
"On-screen," Pike ordered. For a moment, Kirk wondered if the viewer was malfunctioning again, as the only change, so far as he could tell, was that the image of the starscape ahead of them dimmed, with a small area devoid of stars at the center. But then, the captain said, "Enhance image," and striations of color brought the dark matter mass into relief, highlighting its characteristic radiation patterns and gravitational energies.
"My god, will you look at that?" Ann Mulhall spoke in an awed whisper, looking from the main viewing screen to the image inside her station's hooded display, and then back again. "Captain...is there any way we could redirect one high-res sensor cluster -- "
"All available sensors are directed toward the Columbia coordinates,"
Pike said before she'd even finished asking the question. "That's the only reason we're here." The captain's expression softened just a fraction then. "Sorry, Lieutenant."
Mulhall nodded, accepting the captain's decision, but she was still disappointed. "Jonathan Archer discovered this nebula on his Enterprise, back in 2153," she informed the rest of the bridge. "We may be the first Earth ship to visit it since."
"So?" Lee Kelso asked. "It's just another cloud of dust and hydrogen."
"No, it's not," Mulhall said, with more than a hint of exasperation in her tone. "It's a dark matter nebula."
"And, dark matter was still only theoretical up until Archer's time. We still know almost nothing about its nature, how it's formed, anything."
"Which brings us back to my original question: So?"
"That's enough," Kirk warned the two before the captain had to speak up himself. He understood that Lee's comments were intended as nothing more than good-natured ribbing, of the kind he and Ann often enjoyed engaging in. But he also understood how Mulhall felt as a career scientist who wasn't always content to simply recite the readouts from her station's displays. The term "science officer" ...