Things were not going well. In fact, things could hardly have been going worse. Jean-Luc Picard, Captain of the USS Enterprise, NCC 1701D, was worried ... though it was never good form to show it. And Picard was a master of good form.
In the last two hours what had started out as a routine, if somewhat unusual, mission to the edge of the Romulan Neutral Zone had erupted into a conflagration Picard could not have foreseen. And in that same short space of time, his Enterprise and crew had been put in a position from which they rarely operated -- the defensive. But now, for a short time, anyway, they had breathing room.
“You have one hour, Picard. I believe that’s more than generous.” The face of the Romulan Senior Centurion disappeared from the main viewscreen to reveal his charge: the Warbird -class cruiser Bloodsign.
The Captain broke the silence. “Number One, a meeting of all senior officers,” he passed a calming look around the bridge, “three minutes, Main Conference Room.”
First Officer William Riker tapped his communicator. “All senior staff, three minutes, Main Conference Room. Riker out.” He turned. “Mr. Crusher, you have the conn. Inform us if anything changes. And, Wes ...”
“I mean anything.”
“Yes, Sir.” Wesley Crusher, the youngest ensign in Starfleet, turned back to his station as Commander Riker followed the captain into his private ready room just off the bridge. Picard was already at the food dispenser slot in the wall.
“Tea, Earl Grey ... hot. Number One?”
“No thank you, Sir. What I’d like would be a little stronger right now.”
“I share your sentiment, Number One.” Picard started back toward the door, teacup in hand. “Perhaps there'll be time when this is all over.” The door slid shut behind them.
The noise in the conference room diminished as Picard and Riker strode into the room. The captain took his place at the head of the long conference table and looked around at each of his senior staff before he began.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we have come a long way together,” he said. “Now we have less than one hour to solve what may be our toughest problem yet. Commander Riker ...”
Will Riker leaned forward. “Thank you, Sir. You all know the situation. Our mission was to bring seven convicted Romulan spies to the edge of the Neutral Zone near the Beta Caliguli Cluster and exchange them for Federation hostages kidnapped from Minidine IV. We made the rendezvous with the single Romulan ship as was laid out in the hostage negotiations. Everything went according to plan until the exchange. We had just completed simultaneous transport when the Romulan vessel fired a single well-placed disruptor shot, striking the Enterprise on the port side dorsal, just below separation module six.” Riker glanced at Chief Engineer Geordi LaForge who painfully nodded.
“Shields were restored immediately but the damage was done,” LaForge said. “All helm control, warp drive, communications, weapons and target control, and some life support and secondary power functions went down.”
Riker went on. “For the next two hours we withstood constant battering from the Romulans ...” he ignored a throaty growl from Worf, the ship’s Klingon Chief of Security, “... until our shields were depleted and we finally lost them, as well.” Riker nodded to the captain and sat back.
“Thank you, Number One. We have been graciously granted one hour to make up our minds whether to surrender and be towed back to the Romulan Empire or presumably fight it out with a fully armed adversary when we possess no weapons or shields. I needn’t tell you how long that would last.” He looked straight at his Chief Engineer. “Mr. LaForge, how can one shot have paralyzed us so efficiently?”
Geordi LaForge walked over to the dais displaying all the ships named Enterprise and picked up the Galaxy-Class model. “As you know, Captain, the Enterprise has several points which are more vulnerable to direct hits than others. Among those points are the eighteen separation modules located here -- “ he pointed to the underside of the saucer, “ -- at the junctures of the saucer and the star drive sections. All vital computer links from the mainframe to the Main Bridge are necessarily routed through these eighteen junctures. Only one, separation module six, would cause us to lose so much if it took a direct hit. Normally, it’s heavily protected by some of the strongest shielding we’ve got. But, as the Commander said, the shields were down when the Romulans fired--”
He was interrupted by an anguished snarl accompanied by a huge Klingon fist striking the table. “AAAAaaaarh!!! It is all my fault. I was unable to bring the shields up fast enough!” Worf groaned. “It was mistaken -- contrary to everything I hold sacred -- to trust a Romulan!”
Picard stood up and stared directly at his security chief. “Mr. Worf, it was our job to trust them ... at least long enough to complete the exchange. There was no way you could have prevented a premeditated sneak attack such as this one. However -- and this goes for all of us -- we do not have time to indulge in self-recrimination. Channel your anger into solutions. We need answers and we need them fast.” Worf drew himself to full attention. Picard sat back down. “Now, inputs -- Anyone?” he said.
Riker turned to LaForge, “Geordi, can we control the Enterprise from the battle bridge?”
“Negative, Commander. Data and I had two hours to work on this problem while we rode out that pounding. Even though the battle bridge is as fully functional as the main bridge, the computer can’t link up with it to receive any input. The same is true with the other end. Warp drive and weapons systems are undamaged. But we can’t get at them to tell them what to do. In essence both ends are cut off from each other by the damage in the middle.”
“Reroute,” Picard said.
It was Data who answered. “We attempted that, Sir. We were able to reroute essential life-support functions away from the damaged module. But they were not as badly impaired as the warp drive and weapons systems.”
LaForge cut in. “We can reroute those systems also, no doubt about it. But it’ll take time.”
“How much time?” Riker asked.
“Conservative estimate?” LaForge continued, “Three to five standard days -- depending upon how much damage we run into in the main computer core.”
“Impossible.” Picard shook his head. “By that time we’ll have been towed halfway across--”
“Crusher to Picard,” came the call from the bridge. “Long-range sensors have picked up two more Warbir -class cruisers approaching at warp seven from the Neutral Zone.” Picard’s jaw visibly tightened.
“Thank you, Mr. Crusher,” he sighed. “How long before they get here?”
“ETA is ... forty-seven minutes, Captain.”
“Keep us informed. Picard out.” He looked at Riker and saw his First Officer’s face harden. So that was the reason behind the Romulan generosity -- the one-hour deadline. The chances of breaking away from one ship in their present condition were slim ... but from three?
Picard rose and surveyed his staff. “Let’s get to work. Data, La Forge, Worf -- find a way around that damage. We need warp drive, we need weapons and we need our shields back,” he said. “The rest of you --” Picard paused and took on a determined look. “We need a plan.”
Captain Picard stood on the bridge. It was empty, except for the young ensign who had come to the rescue of the Enterprise more than once in his short career. Wesley Crusher, the son of two of his closest friends, was indeed a remarkable young man.
Inside this normal teenager with normal teenage problems, desires and dreams lived a truly brilliant mind. A mind that could not fathom the thought of giving up. Picard watched sadly as he tried now, though time was quickly running out, to coax the warp engines magically back to life. It was useless, of course, but it would keep his mind off the inevitable. Picard crossed the bridge and put his hand on the boy’s shoulder.
“Wesley,” he said. Wes turned and looked at his captain. “It’ll be alright.”
Wes nodded, fighting to keep his eyes from betraying him with tears. He was saved as the turbolift doors at the back of the bridge opened and Riker, Worf, navigation specialist Ronna Hansen and Ship’s Counselor Deanna Troi took their places. Picard’s eyes sought Riker’s but the first officer shook his head to the unasked question.
“Still no warp drive, weapons or shields, so I guess that about blows the rest of the plan, Sir.” Riker said.
“Stay on your toes, Number One. I don’t intend to give up until we are in prison on ch’Rihan,” Picard said, glancing at Wesley. The young ensign shuddered at the mention of the Romulan homeworld.
“Captain Picard ...” Lieutenant Commander Data’s voice intoned from somewhere in the bowels of the ship.
“Go ahead, Mr. Data.” Picard answered.
“I believe Geordi and I have devised a method to deceive the warp engines into believing they are in contact with the main computer core. Providing we are successful, it may afford us a few minutes of warp before the test circuits shut down the main drive. Postulating a minimum of Warp Three for ninety seconds could conceivably put us far enough inside Federation borders to discourage Romulan pursuit. However, it will require a few more minutes of preparation and--”
LaForge’s enthusiasm cut him off. “Captain, I think it can work. But you’re gonna have to trust us to run it from down here -- you still won’t have main bridge control.”
“I don’t seem to have much choice, do I gentlemen?” Picard asked. “We'll try to buy you as much time as we can.”
“Captain,” Worf growled. “We are being hailed by the Romulans.”
©1989 Stephanie Holcombe and Steve Zachar