Star Trek: The Next Generation
The Final Reckoning Trilogy
Book One – The Ultimate Vision
("We're talking about universal, candy-coated Armageddon…")
Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy, 2285
Captain's Log: Stardate 50791.7 – The USS Enterprise is patrolling the Neutral Zone border after departure from Deep Space Nine, where, at the request of the astrometrics section, we have been running scans and tests of the Bajoran wormhole.
The sleek, dark shape of the USS Enterprise cruised along the border of the Neutral Zone, patrolling between the numerous Starbases dotted along the imaginary line, guarding against the threat of invasion heading out from Romulan space into the Federation.
The buzz of activity that filled the bridge of the Enterprise surrounded Captain Jean-Luc Picard, seated in his command chair on a slightly raised dais, beside Commander William Riker and Counsellor Deanna Troi, with the new chief of security, Lieutenant Hedly, standing behind. He revelled in the noises of his starship, knowing that this sound was the proof of his complete control over both the ship and his situation.
Suddenly a bleeping pervaded the quietly noisy atmosphere.
Lieutenant Commander Data, the pale-skinned, golden eyed android, whose console was creating the invasive bleep, turned to look at Picard. 'Captain, I'm reading a small type-one subspace anomaly in the Neutral Zone.'
Picard glanced at Riker, got up from his seat and walked over to Data's station. 'Is it dangerous?'
'It does not appear to be, Captain; certainly it poses no threat to traffic. But, it should be noted that this type of spatial anomaly has not been located or scanned in the last one hundred and five years.' His voice held a trace of scientific eagerness. Picard nodded, a slight smile on his face, and turned away.
'Lieutenant Hedly, see if you can contact the Romulans. I want to get permission before I enter the Neutral Zone. After that, contact Starfleet, tell them our situation and request permission to enter the Zone.'
'Aye, sir.' Once again, as Picard settled into his seat, he revelled in the feeling of control.
A few hours after the Enterprise had first detected the anomaly, Hedly signalled to Riker who was stood at one of the aft science stations and he stepped over to her console. 'Yes, Lieutenant?'
'We have a response from Starfleet.' Riker nodded.
Raising his head slightly, he said, 'Captain Picard to the bridge.'
The filtered voice of Picard replied to Riker's call. 'On my way.' Almost immediately, Picard emerged onto the bridge from his ready room. Riker turned to face him.
'We have a response from Starfleet, Captain. Admiral Shakoor.'
'On screen.' Picard took his seat as the viewer flashed on. A venerable man was sat looking at the bridge of the Enterprise from an office on Earth. His dark features wore a smile as the picture came on. He began without preamble.
'Captain Picard, Starfleet agrees that this anomaly you reported should be investigated. If you can get permission from the Romulans, the Federation Council also gives permission to enter the Neutral Zone.'
'Thank you very much, Admiral.' said Picard, mildly surprised. Admiral Shakoor laughed once, aware of the effect his message would have on the normally unflappable starship captain.
'Good luck, Captain. Starfleet out.' The viewer blinked off. Riker glanced at Picard, his own surprise evident.
'I didn't think they'd let us go.' Picard nodded, and turned to look at the viewscreen again.
'Now, it all depends on the Romulans.'
Hedly interrupted his train of thought almost as if on cue. 'Captain, we have a message from Romulus.' Picard glanced at Riker, who blew out his breath in surprise.
'On screen,' said the first officer.
A young Romulan face appeared. The darkly handsome young man gazed at the Enterprise bridge with arrogant poise. 'Captain Picard, this is Proconsul Naré of the Romulan Senate. We have also detected the anomaly you mention and we are sending two Warbirds to investigate. In the interests of interstellar peace and exploration, we shall give you the location of these ships so that you can track them. Neither of them will be cloaked. You may enter the Zone and investigate once they have completed preliminary scans.'
'Thank you, Proconsul Naré. We look forward to co-operating with your ships.' Naré nodded slightly and cut the channel. The viewer went blank. Picard glanced at Riker in even greater surprise.
'We are receiving the co-ordinates of the Romulan Warbirds, Captain. Neither are cloaked, as Proconsul Naré said,' reported Data. Picard stood, smiling slightly.
'Keep a close eye on them, Data. Once they reach the anomaly, warn me. I'll be in my quarters.' He left the bridge.
It was four hours before Data called Picard. 'Captain, the Warbirds have reached the anomaly. They are carrying out initial scans.'
'On my way!' Excited at the prospect of a new scientific discovery, Picard scrambled from his desk and hurried into the corridor.
Riker glanced at the aft turbolift as it slid open and admitted Picard to the bridge. The captain walked to his command chair and, as he sat, he said to Riker, almost conversationally, 'Report.'
Data replied, 'The Romulans have conducted several scans of a large planet that they say is the source of the rift.'
'Is that all?' asked Picard. Data nodded in confirmation. Picard turned his attention to the forward viewscreen, as if contemplating the distant planet before them and the Romulan Warbirds around it. 'I believe that means we can -'
A massive flash of white light swamped the bridge, starkly illuminating everyone with long silhouettes. Data quickly began working to analyse it, but the organic crew was paralysed by the shock. Even as the flash began to die away, Data turned to Picard, in answer to the captain's unborn question.
'Captain, that was the visual effects of a massive subspace explosion from the co-ordinates of the anomaly! A powerful subspace shockwave will impact the ship in five seconds!'
'Shields! All hands, brace for impact!' yelled Picard.
The invisible subspace shockwave struck the Enterprise with all the violence of a tsunami. The starship pitched and rolled, throwing the bridge crew from their stations. Picard fell heavily, somewhat stunned, but Riker managed to stay in his seat. 'Turn her with the wave!'
Ensign Bridges, the helm officer, crawled back to her console, and quickly hit the appropriate controls. The Enterprise turned around so that her bow was pointing away from the shock wave. 'Match the speed of the wave!' ordered Picard, clambering to his feet.
The Enterprise surged forward like a surfer on the crest of a wave, and broke free from the violent storm quickly.
'Report!' ordered Riker as the shaking stopped.
Data responded quickly. 'Minor structural damage to the saucer section.'
'We got off lightly, Number One.' Picard's voice was grim as he glared at the screen. 'We weren't anywhere near the blast.' Riker had already latched on to Picard's train of thought.
'Status of Romulan Warbirds, Mr. Data?' Riker asked. Data checked his readings quickly.
'The subspace interference is too thick, Commander. I cannot scan their last reported location.' Data's voice was heavy with foreboding.
'Ensign Bridges,' Picard ordered, 'take us into the Neutral Zone. Maximum warp.'
The Enterprise broke out of warp near a large, reddish planet, illuminated faintly by the light of a distant star. Surrounded by no satellites, the planet was totally unremarkable.
'The planet is uninhabited, Captain, but it is Class-M. I have scanned its surface, and found no evidence of a spatial anomaly.'
'What about the Warbirds?'
Data's voice reflected the tension on the bridge. 'There is no sign of either vessel, damaged or undamaged. Captain, their proximity to the detonation makes it almost certain that they were completely destroyed.'
Picard nodded, none of the tension he was feeling showing in his face. He turned to Riker. 'Number One, beam down to the surface with an away team, and make further scans. Maybe if you're closer to the spot, your tricorders can give us a better idea of what we're facing here. I want to try and find out as much information about this before the Romulan government starts laying blame around over the destruction of their two Warbirds.'
'Aye, sir,' Riker said. He rose from his seat and motioned for Hedly and Data to follow him. They left via the aft turbolift.
The transporter beams appeared on the surface of the planet, glowed brightly for a moment, and then vanished, leaving behind the figures of Riker, Hedly, Data, and a young man wearing the yellow of security. Both Hedly and the security guard had their phasers drawn quickly. Riker, standing close to Data, merely glanced at the android expectantly. Data held a tricorder forward, scanning with fascinated interest. Riker took the opportunity to study their surroundings.
'Desolate,' Hedly remarked. Riker had to agree. The planet's soil was similar in hue to that of Mars, but unlike the bustling planet that Riker knew and loved, there was no vegetation and no life; only red soil as far as the eye could see, punctuated only by the occasional hill.
Data finished his scan, and turned to face Riker. 'Commander, I have discovered that the anomaly is directly below our current position; 8.5 miles below the surface to be exact.'
'Any signs of what created it?'
'No, sir. If the tricorder readings are to be believed, it appears to be stable, and functioning as a dimensional rift.'
'A rift?' asked Riker incredulously.
'Yes, sir,' said Data, his voice taking on a scholarly tone as he holstered his tricorder. 'It is a form of bridge between alternate dimensions. A negative area, where the two universes can intersect safely.'
'You mean, like the mirror universe that DS9 reported encountering?'
'Similar, but not the same. The mirror universe –' Data was cut off when his tricorder began bleeping. He whipped it out and studied it. His jaw dropped, which Riker would have found amusing under normal circumstances. 'Oh, hell!'
'What is it?' asked Riker, scanning the horizon for possible danger.
'I'm reading a huge disturbance in the rift!' Data hit his communicator hard. 'Data to Enterprise!'
Picard's voice came back, calm and controlled as always. 'Enterprise here.'
'Captain, please have the sensors set to scan 8.5 miles below the planet's surface,' asked Data, his voice still worried.
'Understood,' replied Picard, not asking Data for a reason about his unusual request. Riker heard his captain give the relevant orders over the open comm-channel.
Riker turned to face Data, an exasperated expression on his face. 'Data, what have you found?'
'I am checking my readings first, Commander. I would prefer not to alarm you until I can be sure that what I believe I have discovered is accurate.' Riker nodded and sighed, faintly annoyed, but understanding Data's caution. He turned to Hedly.
'Is there any sign of trouble, Lieutenant?' he asked.
'None that I can see, sir,' replied the security chief, sounding worried herself. Riker turned back to Data, who was speaking to Picard. As the conversation ended, Data turned to Riker, his face changing to an expression that had never been seen before on the android's face – panic.
'Sir, we have to get off the planet now. Something is emerging from the rift and forcing its way to the surface!'
Riker stared at him in uncomprehending shock, and then hit his commbadge. 'Enterprise; four to beam up!'
The transporter once again claimed their atoms and removed them from the planet. Shortly after it did so, the ground that they had been standing on began to convulse and shake violently.
The relief ops officer stared at the readings on his console, desperately hoping that he was wrong. 'Oh, my god!' he said, shocked out of all routine.
'What is it, Ensign?' asked Picard, surprised by the young officer's breach of protocol. The young man turned to face his captain, horror etched on his face.
'There's something emerging from the surface of the planet, sir! It's huge!'
'On screen,' ordered Picard, making his voice calm.
The viewer activated, and Picard rose slowly from his seat, stunned into disbelief. At that moment, the aft turbolift opened and Hedly, Riker and Data emerged onto the bridge. They all stopped, rooted to the spot by what they saw on the screen.
Struggling to free itself from the clutches of the planet that seemed to have spawned it, a monstrous black circle was forcing its way clear of the red soil of the planet's crust.
'What the hell is that?' asked Riker, his voice awe-struck.
'Is it a ship?' asked Picard, refusing to let himself be overwhelmed simply by the sheer mass of the thing below.
'Apparently so, Captain. I am reading more than two million life-forms onboard. I am also reading massive concentrations of power in the vessel, much of which is devoted to propulsion and life-support, if the scanners are correct. There is also a massive power reserve outside of these functions that I cannot explain.'
'How big is it?' asked Hedly quietly, voicing the question that all of the bridge crew wanted answering.
'It is approximately 15 kilometres in diameter, and has a mass of almost thirty million metric tons.'
The crew could do little but stare as the dark mammoth rose from the surface of the planet below, dust falling from it's flanks and back to the planet's grasp. In its wake, the great vessel left no mark of it's passing. The surface of the planet was unblemished.
The black vessel was dimly lit by small running lights that were themselves the size of one of the Enterprise's warp nacelles. A huge circle three times the length of the Enterprise resided in the centre of the underside of the huge craft, and all around it, an embossed sunburst pattern radiated from the centre of the ship. The entire surface was covered by intricate decorations that were arranged in an order that made no sense to the crew of the Enterprise. There appeared to be no viewports or even weapons ports, but Picard had a strange sense of anxiety that persisted long after the brooding, dark and menacing shape had passed over the Enterprise, blotting out the distant sun.
Data's voice awoke the Enterprise crew from their shocked stupor. 'Captain, the ship is proceeding at full impulse power on a course of 710 mark 65. It will reach a planet listed as Korella II in two days, two hours, five minutes and three seconds. The ship appears to have several-'
A loud alarm was set off, cutting off Data, who whirled around and pressed a few buttons.
'Captain! The planet below is again experiencing severe seismic stress! I think that it may be related to the dimensional rift.' Picard nodded, but turned his attention to the retreating monster before them.
'Ensign Bridges, set course 710 mark 65. We'll get there before this ship.'
The Enterprise began to accelerate from orbit. Abruptly, as the Enterprise prepared to go to warp speed, a monstrous dark shape began to surface from the blue area covering most of the planet's surface.
Data suddenly shot bolt upright and whirled around in his seat to face Picard, alarm written over his face. 'Captain, an even larger object is emerging from the planet's largest ocean! It's even larger than the first ship!'
Picard looked up in shock. 'Reverse view. On main viewer.' The screen lit.
Another huge, black ship was forcing its way from underneath the surface of the planet's sea. As it emerged slowly, all that could be seen was a rounded dome, with no imperfections, no decorations, and no running lights. It freed itself from the planet's ionosphere and wallowed clear of the gravitational grip. Now, like a prehistoric monster that had built up immense speed, it changed direction to follow the smaller ship.
Picard was stunned into silence. The huge vessel was jet black, with no visible decorations unlike the smaller vessel. No running lights glowed on its ebony surface, and two huge tooth-like projections hung from the bottom of the mammoth ship. It began to angle away from the planet.
'Data, I need some information about that ship,' said Picard. 'What are we looking at here?'
'Sir, the second ship is approximately 900 kilometres long and has a mass of 400 billion metric tons. I am detecting immense power sources on her, but not concentrated in a single spot, like the first vessel,' reported Data, his voice flat with awe, the shock obviously having activated his emotion chip. 'Captain, I have reason to believe that the smaller ship is part of the larger vessel. There is a large empty ring on the underside of the large ship, which has exactly the same dimensions as the smaller ship and indications of docking projections. There seem to be several hundred other similar saucer shapes on the larger vessel. I am unsure as to their function.'
Hedly said, her thoughts turning immediately to security issues, 'Captain, the ships may pose a security threat. Should we inform Starfleet?'
Picard turned. 'You're right, Lieutenant. Send this to Starfleet Command. Two large ships detected, heading into Romulan space. Request orders.' Hedly nodded.
'Data, can these ships have something to do with the destruction of the Warbirds?' Data shrugged.
'I cannot tell, captain. I believe that the rift was subjected to a scan of too high an intensity and that the power caused it to widen. The effect could have produced a subspace shockwave and explosion similar to the one we experienced. It would have destroyed the Warbirds and the warp core breaches would have widened the rift even further.'
'I think that we've got to get to Korella II and warn them before these ships get there,' said Riker.
Picard shook his head. 'I'm waiting for a reply from Starfleet before I do anything rash. There's been no indication that these ships are hostile.' He turned to Riker. 'Number One, I'll be in my ready room. Once we get a reply, patch it through.'
'Aye, sir,' replied Riker, but Picard had already entered his ready room.
Four hours later, Picard was sat in his ready room when his viewer bleeped. He activated it, and the screen read, 'Starfleet Command to Captain Jean-Luc Picard, USS Enterprise NCC 1701-E. Command Authorisation required.'
Picard said, 'Authorisation: Picard, 4-7-alpha-tango.' Admiral Paris, the Chief of Staff, appeared on the screen.
'Jean-Luc, we have detected a distress call coming from Romulus. It is a general distress call, and I'll put it through to you now.' The Admiral disappeared, and a Starfleet chevron appeared in his place.
Then, a Romulan face appeared on the screen. 'This is the Praetor of the Romulan Star Empire. The Romulan Empire needs help desperately. Two hours ago, our sensors picked up two large vessels approaching a planet in our space at full impulse power. They match a configuration of the ships of a dangerous old power in the galaxy. If you do not help us, than everybody in the galaxy will die. The Federation, the Klingons, the Ferengi, the Cardassians, the Dominion; we will all be destroyed. We need help. The ships will arrive in two days. Please send help quickly.'
Paris' face reappeared on the screen. 'Captain, we are sending two ships, the Azetbur and the Venture, to the Neutral Zone. You're currently in the Neutral Zone. Is this connected with the dimensional rift you reported?'
Picard nodded. 'It is. The ships were buried under the surface of a planet near our position. We approached the planet after we detected that it had severe seismic stress. We arrived and the smaller ship emerged from the surface about two minutes later.
'It is fifteen kilometres long. Another ship began to emerge a few seconds later. This one is almost certainly a mother ship to the smaller ship. It is 900 kilometres long, and appears to carry a large number of the smaller ships on the underside.'
Paris' face creased in horror. 'These ships; have you got a visual record of them?'
Picard nodded and pressed a few buttons.
On Earth, in Admiral Paris' office, the Admiral watched as first the smaller saucer arose from the surface, and then as the larger ship rose from it. He flipped a switch, and the image froze. He pressed a button and a frame outline appeared and fitted over the smaller ship. The images flashed and the computer said quietly, '99% match to archive records.'
He reactivated his link to Picard. 'Jean-Luc,' he said, urgently, 'These ships must be destroyed. They have a design frighteningly similar to a design from an old record that we have in Starfleet archives. By express permission of both Romulus from their distress signal, and from myself, you may enter Romulan territory. These ships are to be destroyed at all costs.' He took a deep breath, trying to dispel his panic.
Picard nodded, clearly not understanding. 'Does this mean we are at war with them, Admiral? Don't you think this is a little hasty?'
Admiral Paris knew better than to contradict both Starfleet standard procedure and the instincts of his most valued and trusted officer. Thus, he said, 'Of course, if you can, try and establish peaceful contact, Captain, but if they fire on anyone, we are in an automatic war situation. Good luck, Captain. You'll need it.'
The viewer blacked out, and Picard sat back in his chair. After a few seconds, he got up and walked onto the bridge.
'Data, run a records check on the two ships we found here. Get any information we have that may be useful in a combat situation. Use your discretion. Ensign Bridges, set an intercept course for those two ships. Maximum warp.'
He sat in the command chair. 'Red alert. All hands to battle stations.'
The klaxon blared and the lights dimmed to signify a battle footing.
Picard glanced at Bridges, who waited, poised to carry out the order she knew was coming. 'Engage.'
The Enterprise roared into warp speed.
'I called you together to discuss the possibility of war. I have orders to establish peaceful contact with these ships, but if they do become hostile, we have orders to attack the alien vessels and institute a Code Factor One alert.' Picard looked along the table at his senior officers. Riker looked serious, but the others all appeared worried.
'Captain,' Picard looked at Hedly, 'Starfleet wanted us to destroy these ships? Isn't that against standard procedure?' Picard nodded.
'Yes. When I spoke with Admiral Paris, he seemed almost panicked. That's why I asked Data to run a records check on these ships. I want to know what could panic one of Starfleet's most experienced veterans.' At this moment, Data came through the door.
'Captain, I have completed my task.' Picard looked up at his second officer.
'What have you found?' Data was impassive. He walked over to the screen on the bulkhead.
'Even using Starfleet records from Earth, I have found very little information. However, I found an old record which is actually a short tape of old-style video film that was taken by a Romulan vessel which engaged in combat against one of the ships.' The android pressed a button on the panel beside the screen. A picture appeared. 'This is taken from a camera mounted on one of the Romulan Birds of Prey. It shows a Romulan fleet attacking one of the smaller ships.'
The picture unfroze, showing a cluster of older Romulan ships firing red blasts of energy into one of the huge ships. Although everyone in the room knew that the Birds of Prey were not nearly as powerful as the Warbirds the Romulans used now, it was still worrying to see the huge vessel shrugging off the blasts easily. The giant craft was the same design as the circular vessel headed towards the planet Korella II. The Romulan ship that the camera was mounted on zoomed closer to the huge ship. A blast of energy struck the side, blowing a hole in the large ship.
The camera suddenly pulled away, showing only empty space. Abruptly, in the darkness of space, a group of smaller ships, almost indistinguishable against the stars, zoomed into the camera's field of vision. Several beams of green energy shot straight at the camera, fired by the tiny ships. The picture shook, brightened, and vanished. Data turned the screen off.
'The film was recovered four days later by another Romulan warfleet. They found nothing else but wreckage, not only from Romulan Birds of Prey, but also unidentified metal shards from a ship much larger than any Romulan vessel, or any at the time. Additionally, an anti-matter blast had left a residue much larger than if the entire fleet had been destroyed.'
Picard frowned. 'These ships must have substantial power demands.'
'The largest ship was displaying a power curve greater than would ever be needed for normal shipboard operations, even for something of that size,' Geordi said, who had also studied the engineering records from the battle. 'I can't think of anything we currently possess that would be able to handle the amount of power that these ships have as falloff. They're not the most efficient consumers I've ever seen.'
Picard frowned for a moment and then glanced at Data again. 'What could they need that much power for?'
'I do not know, Captain.'
'A weapon,' Riker suggested. Picard smiled slightly.
'What would a weapon that large be used for, Will? It would be impractical for a space battle, if it required that much of a power drain. Not only that, but our own scans reveal no evidence of weapons emplacements anywhere on any of those ships.'
'What did Praetor Naxus call them?' asked Troi. 'An old power?' Data nodded.
'Yes, but I believe he was mistaken. The evidence proves that these ships are extra-dimensional, rather than being well-hidden for years.' The intercom beeped.
'Captain, we are approaching Korella II. The large ship is slowing down.' Picard stood.
'Drop to impulse power!' The senior officers charged onto the bridge.