“Captain’s log, stardate 2261.92. Enterprise is finally on her way out past the majority of Starfleet’s subspace arrays. So far, it’s been quiet, and to be honest, after that fiasco at Khitomer, I’m one of those on the Enterprise who’s glad. We’re currently maintaining a direct course for the Kandari sector, System L-370. Commander Scott and Lieutenant Marcus have informed me that the components added to Enterprise from the wrecked Dreadnought-class prototype are operating perfectly. (Personal note on that, I owe Scotty a sandwich next time I’m in Engineering, and I owe Carol dinner sometime.) Systems aside, we’re holding steady at Warp 8.8. Guess that elective in Starship Design came in—“
“—handy. Hm, looks like I’m needed. Kirk out.” Laser-blue eyes lost their distant gleam and sharpened. The lanky slouch of Jim “I’m-too-sexy-for-this-shirt” Kirk—Starfleet’s poster boy man-child—morphed into the straight-backed, in-command posture of Captain James T. Kirk, thank you very much. “Yes, Lieutenant?”
Uhura was brief and to the point as always while she kept track of signals at the communications station. “Sir, I’m receiving a hail from Starfleet. Priority One. I’m going to have to filter out the interference.”
Jim managed to keep his frustrated groan confined to the inside of his own head. He wanted to let it out aloud, because god damn it all, he was sick and tired of the Admiralty dragging him off in seven directions at once. “Well, so much for a quiet trip out,” he muttered under his breath. He raised his voice to address the bridge. “On screen. Mr. Sulu, bring us down to Warp seven-point-five.” The droning ambient whine of the Enterprise’s engines deepened slightly as Sulu eased the Enterprise’s speed.
The bridge’s view screen flickered for a rather sluggish moment while Uhura worked to filter out subspace interference while Jim sat in his chair and sulked and did his best to look miffed. Damn. What do the old farts want with me now? he wondered grumpily. Another suicide mission like the last one? Better not be Cartwright. Spock’s raised eyebrow (which bespoke his typical level-headed Vulcan disapproval) told Jim he’d said that last bit out loud. “Captain, such blatant insubordination against Starfleet’s Admiralty is not advisable.”
Whoops. Jim aimed a wry pout at his first officer “Aw, come on Spock, Cartwright is so starched he probably drinks pulp instead of coffee!”
“An illogical assumption. Furthermore, I have observed the Admiral in the past, and have yet to see him consume such—”
The transmission clearing up broke up their short clash. “Archer to Enterprise. Come in, Enterprise.” When Jim saw the deeply lined face of Fleet Admiral Jonathan Archer onscreen, he allowed himself to relax—just a bit. Phew. At least it’s not Cartwright. Jim liked Archer well enough.
Jonathan Archer's voice had roughened with age since his days captaining the prototype NX-01 starship Enterprise. His hollow-cheeked face was now deeply lined and his hair was snow-white.
"Admiral Archer. I'm surprised," Kirk replied, adding a smile, trying to keep back his usual wiseass grin. "I thought Starfleet didn't do social calls. Is there trouble, or do you guys seriously miss us already?”
The former President rolled his eyes, but it was with an easygoing smile that he answered Kirk. “Believe me, I wish I could, Jim. If I were thirty years younger and actually retired, I'd be out there with a ship of my own. Earth is fine. Hell, I wouldn't be surprised if the Klingons try and bargain for peace with you and your crazy crew out of the picture for five years."
Jim gaped. “What, and leave us out of the fun?” He folded his arms and pretended to sulk. Sulu almost laughed. Ensign Naomi Troi, Chekov's relief at the navigational controls, smothered a giggle, and Jim smiled. His brief mock-childish pout eased the slight confusion on the bridge a little bit further, 'which is good,' Jim thought as he gathered his wits. It was very good, actually, because whatever was coming their way was probably the spacefaring version of an EF-5 tornado. Jim could see right past the old Admiral’s casual façade. The grim glint in Archer’s eyes was the one that always, always spelled the sort of trouble Enterprise had to deal with almost constantly.
Sure enough, when Archer opened his mouth the news wasn’t good. “Actually, it’s not social. I have some information for you and your crew. Approximately 36 hours ago, the USS Constellation was dispatched from Earth to investigate a fragmented distress call from an Andorian trade outpost in sector L-370." Archer's forehead furrowed in thought as he consulted something offscreen. "You're friends with the ship’s current commanding officer, Matt Decker, am I right?"
Jim frowned as he consulted his memory and then nodded. "Decker?” He shifted in the chair. “We were Academy classmates, although more, uh, close acquaintances than fully friends, sir."
Archer clicked his tongue. "I see. Well, Decker took the Constellation out and arrived in L-370 successfully at 0500 six days ago to render aid. He reported back some abnormal long-range scans. At 2249 hours yesterday, we lost all contact."
The bridge electrified and Jim felt a cold spot settle deep in his stomach. "The Constellation's gone missing?" Sulu exclaimed.
Archer's mouth thinned. "Yes, that’d be correct, Lieutenant Sulu. Kirk, report to your ready room. There’s something I need to discuss."
"Aye, sir. Uhura, patch him through." She nodded a reply and Archer's face dissolved in digitized static, revealing the racing tunnel of stars created by the Enterprise's warp field. "Mr. Sulu?"
"Drop us out of warp. We may need to regroup. Spock, you have the conn."
His friend nodded. "Yes, captain." Jim ignored the stars reforming and left.
Once Jim had settled in at his desk, he put Archer up on his private viewing screen. Archer’s shoulders gleamed with his Fleet Admiral’s pins. "Captain Kirk, before I say anything further I want to impress on you how serious this is. What I'm about to tell you is highly classified—” “Yes sir,” “—but frankly, you need to know."
Jim frowned. "About what, sir?"
"We've discovered something…off. The Constellation's only part of the reason why I want the Enterprise to divert." Archer pursed his lips. "Several of our deep-space probes in the Kandari region have discovered a trail of planetary systems that've been systematically wiped out. The most recent findings came from the deepest part of the Kandari Sector, and they were having trouble transmitting.”
“How come? Those things shouldn’t have much trouble transmitting, they’re equipped with subspace transmitters.”
“We believe it’s due to subspace interference from…something.” Archer's face showed every one of his advanced years as worry crossed his features.
Then Jim realized something. He sucked a breath through his teeth and hissed, "Wait a minute, L-370, that's—"
"—right in your path. I know." The old man paused. "Look, Jim, the Enterprise is the best damn ship in Starfleet right now. And no, that’s not just for your ego’s benefit, Captain,” he snapped goodnaturedly, catching wind of Jim’s ego. “She's faster than anything her size, and I’ll just bet Miss Marcus has been doing wonders for your weapons systems.”
“She has, sir. We’re all glad to have her.”
“Good to hear she’s settling in. I want you and your crew to scout the system for anything unusual. If you find any sign of survivors, commence evacuation procedures, and get the Constellation out of System L-370 as quick as you can, if you find her, understand? Get in there, find that ship, scan the region and get any survivors out ASAP. Whatever this phenomenon is, do NOT underestimate it, is that clear?"
Jim nodded. "Yes, Admiral."
Archer smiled. "Y’know…Chris would've been proud of you, Captain. You’re a fine commanding officer. I just wish I’d been yanked out of retirement sooner. I'll send you the data and let you brief your crew at your own discretion. Archer out." The screen reverted back to Starfleet’s delta arrow. Jim sat stock still for several moments before he managed to relax back into his chair. The very mention of Pike made his eyes sting and he hastily dashed the welling tears away because damn it, he was James Tiberius Kirk, not some bawling baby. But…proud? It was no small compliment coming from Jon Archer. He had history, he had guts, and he and Jim both respected each other. Jim sighed, glad for once that the old man was back at the top of Starfleet for a bit. They needed his wisdom after the San Francisco disaster.
But nevertheless, he wondered, and worried. What the hell had happened to the Constellation?
Guess there’s only one way to find out, he thought. He strode out of the ready room and headed for the bridge. When he arrived, Spock was already waiting for him at the turbolift doors with one pointed eyebrow arched in a wordless query.
“Mr. Spock!” Jim patted his first officer’s shoulder. “What’s the latest?”
“Long range scans of System L-370 have been inconclusive,” Spock replied in level tones. He led Jim to his station and accessed the logs. “I suspect the high level of subspace interference is preventing further analysis. So far, I am finding it difficult to isolate the source.”
Jim gnawed on his lower lip. “Maybe it’s just a pulsar, or residual radiation from a supernova.”
He and Spock traded a glance that immediately put the limp excuse into its grave. “Unlikely. I have not detected any trace radiation consistent with such phenomena.”
“I was afraid of that,” Jim muttered. He strode over to the command chair and commed Engineering. “Captain Kirk to Engineering. Mr. Scott?”
“Can we boost long range sensors, try and pierce some of this subspace interference?”
Down in engineering, Scotty winced as he paced around the warp core, checking various displays and making sure the ship’s rookie engineers didn’t blow up anything important. “Ach, I dunno about that, Captain. She’s been running hot all week. Any higher power levels in those conduits is askin’ for a gourmet course of Enterprise en Flambé! We can reroute some power from the mess hall food synthesizers, but only fer—” He stopped in his tracks in frustration when he spotted Keenser seated on top of one of the plasma manifold coolant conduits—at least ten meters off the ground. “Oi!” he bellowed. “Keenser, r’ye daft?! Get doo’n!!”
Jim gave a snort at his Chief Engineer’s antics. “Well, let’s try to avoid having that, Scotty. Keep working on it. Kirk out.”
Leaving Scotty to whatever-it-was down in engineering, Jim went back over to Spock. The Vulcan was still busy over at his station. “I presume the Admiral briefed you on additional circumstances regarding the Constellation’s disappearance,” Spock remarked without turning around.
Jim pursed his lips and squinted at his first officer in fake suspicion. “Heeeyyy, for a moment I almost thought you read my mind.”
At this, Spock looked up. The barest upward quirk of his lips indicated he’d understood the humor. “Hardly, Captain. I merely utilized the factual evidence available to reach the most logical conclusion.”
Jim rolled his eyes. “You’re a real ball of fun, you know that, right?”
This time he received the Vulcan equivalent of a puzzled look. “Vulcans are not spheroid life-forms, Captain,” Spock replied. Behind them, Sulu utterly failed to stifle a snort of laughter. “It is also illogical to assume an inanimate object will consist of an emotional experience; in fact, it is physically impossible.”
“Relaaax!” Jim cajoled, aware of the bridge crew’s growing grins and fighting not to smile himself. “It’s another figure of speech.” He folded his arms. “You need a Terran phrase book for Christmas again.”
The eyebrow went up another notch. “And simply add to my growing overabundance of such literature?” was the reply.
“Hey, it pays to stay informed!” Jim patted his friend’s shoulder again. “Just keep trying to get readings. We may need to signal Starfleet Command.”
“Captain? That may not be—uhhm—p-possible.” Uhura spoke up, but she had to stifle a yawn. As Jim approached, he realized she looked tired; extremely so, if those dark circles under her eyes were any indication.
“Lieutenant,” he said, lowering his voice, “how long has it been since you’ve slept?”
Uhura blinked, and a rueful grin crossed Jim’s lips when she blushed. “About 36 hours, captain. Maybe more.”
Jim nodded. He and Uhura—hell, nearly the entire crew—had gone longer without sleep before, but Jim wasn’t going to tempt fate this time. “Okay, Fill me in. After that, turn in till tomorrow. That’s an order. It’d be a shame if you bruised that pretty face by nodding off.”
“Yes, sir.” Uhura turned back to her station, though not before shooting him a halfhearted glare. “Right now I’m barely able to filter enough of the subspace interference out to get a clear transmission through to Earth” She winced and put a hand to her earpiece—probably due to a burst of static. “Captain, if we go much closer to the area, we’ll be unable to get a signal through to Starfleet.”
“Then we’ll have to go it alone,” Jim concluded quickly, gnawing at his lip while his mind flew at Warp 9. “We have got to find that ship.” He seated himself in the captain’s chair. “Mr. Sulu, full impulse. Ms. Troi, set a course for System L-370.”
“Aye sir.” Enterprise’s bank of impulse engines flared and the great ship spun on a dime under Sulu’s experienced hands.
“Ready for warp on your command, Captain," said Sulu.
Jim nodded once. “Let's punch it.”
A thrill went down Jim’s spine as he watched the stars warp and stretch. This was one of the best parts of being captain; going off into the unknown. It was what he lived for—the adventure of discovering new things in the depths of unknown space, of seeking out new life and new civilizations. Boldly going where no one has gone before rang through the young captain’s mind as the rising howl of the warp coils began to tug at the very fabric of space-time. For one brief instant the Enterprise seemed to tense, and within the next split-second—FWAM! The Federation Starship Enterprise disappeared, leaving two faint trails of glowing plasma in its wake.