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U.S.S. Enterprise, NCC-1701-E
Romulan Neutral Zone
Three weeks ago
"Transfer auxiliary power to shields. I want those sensors on-line. What's happened to main power?"
"I don't know, sir. Warp and impulse are off-line. Helm is not responding."
"Thrusters to station-keeping." Captain Jean-Luc Picard jabbed at the panel on the arm of his command chair. "Picard to Engineering. What's happening down there?"
"Comm systems are down, Captain." Lieutenant Chamberlain's voice from tactical was tense but controlled. "Aux power is not responding, sir. Life support is on battery backup and holding."
Picard spun toward the ensign at the engineering station. "Get down there, Bradley. Have Mr. Riker return with a report on all systems, and have Engineering put priority on sensors and shields."
Bounding from his chair and into the turbolift, Bradley only had time for a half-nod and a chopped, "Aye, sir."
The captain hoped he had put priority on the right systems. Eyes and claws -- it seemed logical. But without knowing the status of Engineering...He half wanted to race down there himself. "Helm?" He edged toward the conn.
Ensign Barbara Rossi shook her head. "Still negative helm control, sir, but thrusters are maintaining station-keeping." Only her second month on bridge duty, Picard thought, and she was suddenly steering an anchor, not a starship.
The captain leaned over the helm and ran his own hands over the near-dead controls. No helm, no sensors, and the last reading they did get was of a Romulan warbird decloaking between them and the Federation cargo hauler that had found itself stuck in the Neutral Zone.
It wasn't long before the starboard lift door opened, and Picard pivoted toward it as Commander William Riker shot onto the bridge.
"Status?" Picard demanded.
Riker dropped down to the lower deck. "Verified we've lost all main power. Sickbay is on internal batteries. So are the lifts. Every nonessential system is down." He lowered himself into the console seat at Picard's right. "Inertial dampers and SIF generators are using the artificial gravity power grid. La Forge did that first."
"None, yet. We don't even know why it's happened."
"Not good enough," Picard said. "We need the cause. Romulan defensive weapon? Sabotage?"
"I thought we were supposed to be allies now."
The captain grunted. "Supposed to be" was the key phrase. The Dominion War was over finally, at great cost. Now some allies, in their weakness, could turn paranoid toward their war-weary partners.
Riker shook his head, and a single strand of dark hair bounced once before becoming matted to his damp forehead. "Well, whatever it is, it's the damnedest thing I've ever seen, sir. Everything but electrical power seems dead. Even Data is having problems. He's had to switch around all his internal power settings."
Picard looked up, then rose, taking a step toward...he wasn't sure where. "Data? How bad?"
"Not sure. He said he'll 'function adequately' for now. I'm guessing that's the android equivalent of a stiff upper lip. But if whatever's keeping us from using most of our power systems is hampering him, too, that tells me it's not internal to our systems." Riker's tone was suddenly softer, more concerned. "He's working through it. He wants to deploy an optic buoy so we can see what's going on outside." He shook his head. "Blasted bay doors won't override manually. I'm not even sure they've found the old buoy. Pretty old technology."
Turning toward the blank forward viewscreen, Picard glared, wishing he could see right through the bulkhead. "Let's assume this is some dampening field the Romulans have developed as a defensive tool." That would have been a better assumption before the Dominion War. Now...would the peace fall apart so quickly? There was no way to know. A Romulan ship with a renegade commander could be mistrustful of the Enterprise appearing in the Neutral Zone. Picard might have been, if the situation were reversed, and he was no renegade. Usually.
The captain turned back to Riker. "Signal General Quarters, deck by deck. Until the internal comms are working, we fall back on relays. Then see if hand phasers are working. Priorities: arming the crew, sensors, shields, communications. Go."
"On screen." Picard usually didn't have to wait so long for such a simple order to be followed, but in the moments that dragged on into minutes, he did just that. He paced a bit, not wanting to sit down. Any moment he thought he'd hear the hum and feel the static of a Romulan transporter beam. An enemy guard could be deposited next to him, behind him...throughout his ship. He held a phaser in his hand, ready. It was useless, he'd learned just moments earlier. Fully charged phasers, not working.
The trigger was warm to the touch. Hand phasers worked on battery packs, so why didn't they work when they should have? And why did he still keep it in his hand, now that he knew it was a dunsel? What would he do? Throw it at a Romulan invader? The idea that the Romulans would offer resistance rather than help was probably wrong, in any case. There had been good relations with the Romulans since the end of the war. But he couldn't get the feeling out of the back of his mind that something was just...entirely wrong here.
Again, a bit too harshly, he ordered, "Visual tie in, Ensign Rossi."
Of course -- it wasn't his crew's fault. Optical buoys were low-tech and hard to calibrate. But they ran on battery power, and they didn't broadcast in subspace. With one deployed, Enterprise would at least have eyes outside the ship. And ears -- they might be able to set up local-space communications as well. He'd have preferred that shields and sensors came on-line first...but he'd take what he could get. "Ensign Shapiro?"
"Still nothing, sir." The ops officer shook his head. He struggled with the old-fashioned, seldom-used comm protocols, not something heavily taught at the Academy. "Coming through now, Captain."
Static-scratched and jumpy, a picture formed on the main viewscreen. Space looked odd, black. A digital picture, not one created by sensors. Digital. Video. Antique.
But even with the electronic equivalent of naked eyes, a Romulan warbird's stalking presence was unmistakable in the distance.
Picard moved toward the viewer, standing between Rossi at the conn and Shapiro at ops. "Try to raise them, and the cargo ship as well."
f0 Shapiro toiled again with his mostly lifeless console. "Cargo ship doesn't respond, Captain. They may not be able to read a frequency this low. Visual data only...they appear to be drifting. No external lights or beacons."
A nod, and Picard paced a step away. He thumbed his chin thoughtfully. "And the Romulans?"
"No response yet. But they should be able to hear us if they're monitoring these bandwidths."
"If they're smart, they're monitoring all bandwidths," Picard murmured.
Suddenly, Shapiro looked up, slightly surprised. "Captain, they're returning the hail."
"Hold a moment." He turned toward the rear of the bridge and holstered his phaser. "Voices low. Let's not show all our cards. As far as this ship is concerned, we're doing as well as we can sell them." He turned back to Shapiro. "Now, patch them through."
"Patch" was right. Picard had time to pace between the helm and the command chair three times before he settled into his seat. Finally, the warbird commander appeared on the viewer.
No need for introductions. They knew who commanded the Enterprise. And Picard knew the Romulan by appearance as well.
"Commander...J'emery, is it?"
The Romulan's features were marked with distaste, dark angles cutting in on themselves. His upswept brows were creased with tension. "Testing some new weapon, Picard? I'd accuse you of treachery, but perhaps foolhardiness is the word. If treaty violations were the only matter at hand. But acts of war..."
Ofttimes Picard had found the will to play this game, but not today. Not sitting in the middle of the Neutral Zone, dead in space. It was interesting that J'emery hadn't mentioned why it had taken them a bit to hail the Romulans. Interesting indeed. Picard looked intently at J'emery, and wished he could glance around the Romulan bridge as well. "You know, Commander, I think we'll just bypass the chess match this time. You know why we're here, and you know that the treaty allows us a certain leeway for rescue missions. You're supposed to offer assistance."
Seeming to gather more of his composure, perhaps strengthened by the game Picard didn't wish to play, J'emery straightened, grew cocky. "I don't like this new treaty, Picard. I suppose you'd allow me to rescue a stray battle group that wandered off course and found itself in Earth's orbit?"
Picard pressed his lips into a thin line. "We can work with each other, or against each other, Commander. Which do you think will end this situation satisfactorily for us both?"
J'emery faltered a moment, looking at someone off-screen. "I'll -- " For a moment, the Romulan seemed to rise from his chair oddly, almost as if levitating. "We'll consider that," the Romulan said hastily, and the screen went blank.
Twisting her head toward her captain, Rossi's brows knitted in a quizzical look. "They cut the feed."
"Was he..." Picard hesitated. "Did they just lose gravity?"
"What in the Praetor's name is going on?" Commander J'emery meant to be as severe as possible, Sub-Commander Folan was sure of it. Tyranny was just a difficult personality trait to convey while floating in midair.
Folan anchored herself to her science station by curling her fingers under the lip of one scanner console. "Gravity systems have lost battery power, sir. Engineering is trying to route power from secondary batteries, but the relays are off-line."
"If this is Picard's weapon, why is he not gloating?" J'emery spat the question, rather literally, and a small bubble of saliva became a globe of liquid that floated before his nose until he angrily batted it out of his line of sight. "This is maddening!"
"Yes, sir," Folan said. "It is possible the Enterprise is going through similar malfunctions. Their communications signal was not on a subspace frequency. Perhaps because they knew our subspace communications were down, or perhaps because they've lost that capability as well." Her hair had come undone from its arrangement and was floating wildly above and in front of her. Suddenly she wished she'd chosen a shorter style last time she was cutting her hair. "I don't believe the Federation would break the peace. It is not their -- "
"Spare me your theories, Folan! If gravity control cannot be restored in a timely fashion, then issue the bridge magnetic boots. One or the other, now!"
"Yes, sir." Folan issued a command into a small communicator she wore on her uniform tunic. When she turned back, her commander had righted himself and was using his tight fists to moor himself to the command chair.
He didn't like her, and she knew it. To a degree, she even understood it. The mission on which his ship was about to embark was for her experiments and tests. She had supplanted his usual science officer, and his orders were to help her study. He would have rather been on patrol.
"How much life support have we left?" he barked.
Folan checked a flickering screen on her console. "Forty-three minutes, seventeen seconds."
His face flushed green with anger, probably at Picard, but also at Folan -- not to mention the universe at large. J'emery seemed to be keeping himself from ranting. Instead he merely growled his next order. "Get a weapon on-line. Any weapon at all."
Copyright © 2001 by Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved.