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Thursday, June 9, 2011

Star Trek: The Haunting of Orgala 512

Here is another piece of Star Trek fan fiction I wrote. I wrote it in 1998 or 1999. 

 

Star Trek: The Haunting of Orgala 512

 

Data, dressed all in black leather, paused in the corridor outside Ten Forward. He placed his hands on either side of his head and gently twisted until the magnetic clamps disengaged. His head came free from his shoulders with a pneumatic hiss. He cradled it gently against his waist in the crook of his right arm, and stepped up to the doors. They swished open, and sounds of merriment spilled out into the corridor. He gripped his black cape in his free hand, gave it a grand flourish, and entered the lounge.
Data spared a glance for the large table next to the door, covered with Jak-o-Lanterns which had been carved by various crew members. Data himself had carved several which he’d hoped to put on display along with those of his crew mates. But when Geordi had pronounced each of Data’s attempts as too precise and perfect, lacking in imagination, Data had abandoned the project.
He turned his full attention on the party.
Ten Forward was crowded, and everyone wore a horror-themed costume. Near the door someone dressed as a Kitorian man-bat stood laughing with a gigantic Denebian slime worm and two wart-nosed, haggy witches, one with black hair, one with red. The man-bat was sucking synthahol in through its snout. When they saw Data, the four stopped talking and came over to him.
“Data!” the man-bat exclaimed, in Commander Riker’s astonished voice, staring down at the head held at Data’s waist. “Data, is that thing real, or...or is your head tucked under your shoulders?”
“My head is quite real,” Data replied. “There is no costumed deception involved, sir.”
The man-bat’s eyes widened, the only visible evidence that Riker was astonished to see Data’s detached head talking to him.
Data’s hands moved so that his head was clutched before him, in front of his stomach. His eyes looked up at the two witches. “Doctor, Counselor,” he said, “your costumes are very—”
“Appropriate,” Riker cut in, chuckling playfully.
The two women said nothing, merely stared down at Data’s disembodied talking head with open-mouthed astonishment. Finally the dark-haired witch blinked and glanced away. “I can’t look anymore,” Counselor Troi said. She turned and hurried away, quickly fading into the crowd. The red-haired witch immediately followed.
Data’s head, now balanced at chest-height on the palm of his left hand, looked after them in confusion. “Counselor, Doctor?”
The man-bat and the slime worm moved closer to Data, closing the gap left by the hastily-departed women.
“Commander, Geordi, I am confused,” Data said, his eyes moving from one to the other. “Have I offended Counselor Troi and Doctor Crusher? If so, please explain the nature of the offense.”
The man-bat grinned and laid a hand on the slime-worm’s aural structure, which coincided with Geordi’s left shoulder. “I’ll leave it to you, Geordi. I see an Orion slave girl I haven’t said hello to yet.” The man-bat smiled and nodded at Data, then pushed his way through the crowd toward the other side of the lounge, carefully holding his wings so they wouldn’t slap against anyone.
The slime worm’s forelimbs pushed at its head. The headpiece swung backward, revealing Geordi LaForge’s face.  “You didn’t offend them, Data. You just.... it’s like... Look, it’s Halloween, and people are supposed to focus on the horrible and grotesque. But it’s all make-believe. No one wants to see actual horror. People can’t actually pull off their heads and walk around with them. You’ve got the right spirit, Data, but I think maybe your Headless Horseman costume is just a tad too realistic. I think that’s what frightened the women off.” He smiled. “You’re like the guy in the stories who shows up at a Halloween party with a bloody hacked-off thumb in a display box. It’s supposed to be a fake thumb, but it turns out the guy actually dismembered himself before the party.”
“I believe I understand,” Data said. “Although the distinction between reality and fakery is somewhat--”
“So how did you do it?” Geordi interrupted. “I didn’t know your disconnected head could still maintain control over your body.”
“For the past several months I’ve been developing wireless neural receptors for both ends of my spinal connector. My choice of costume was in part to publicly demonstrate the end product of my endeavors.”
Geordi looked around. “Well, it’s one hell of a demonstration, I’ll give you that much. From the way everyone keeps glancing over here, or trying hard not to, I’d say everyone in the room has noticed.”
“My intent was not to disturb my ship-mates with the realism of my costume,” Data said in a regretful tone. “Perhaps a bit of levity will alleviate their discomfort.” Data held out his head to Geordi. “Geordi, if you would please hold this.”
Geordi hesitantly took Data’s head in his hands. “I’m almost afraid to ask what you’re going to do.”
“Do not fear,” Data’s head said from between Geordi’s cupped hands. “I know what I am doing. Please, turn my head around so that I may see the room rather than your abdomen. Thank you.”
Data’s right hand grabbed hold of his left, detached it and set it on the floor. The hand began dragging itself forward with its fingers, crawling across the floor toward the food-laden bar. “Behold,” Data head said in a dramatic, tremulous voice that caught everyone’s attention; his body gestured dramatically with the remaining hand, “the autonomous crawling hand. Who knows what evil lurks in its twisted mind? Beware!”
Geordi groaned shrugged his shoulders in resignation.
The entire room fell silent, watching with mixed emotions as Data’s hand scrabbled across the floor, steering its way between the feet of the party goers. At last it reached the bar and began dragging itself upward toward the generous spread of snack foods on the bar top.
Ten minutes later Data’s hand had finished its antics among the snacks and crawled back to Data amidst a smattering of applause. Data’s body bent over, retrieved the hand and reattached it.
Geordi gratefully pushed the head back into the android’s hands. “Please, Data, put this back where it belongs, all right?”
“Very well.” There was an audible click as Data’s head settled back into place on his shoulders, after which he shook his head back and forth several times to fine-tune the alignment. As he did this someone at the far side of the lounge caught his attention. “Geordi, do you recognize that crewman standing at the far exit, intently watching us? His face does not match any of the records in my Enterprise personnel database.”
Geordi followed Data’s gaze. “Which crewman? The sorcerer or the knight?”
“Neither. I am referring to the crewman in the late 23rd century Starfleet uniform.”
Geordi shook his head, looking around carefully. “I don’t see anyone dressed in an old uniform.”
“Strange. He is no longer there. A small group walked in front of him. When they had passed, he was gone.”
“I didn’t see anyone, Data.”
“I am certain I saw someone who does not belong here.”
Geordi laughed. “It’s Halloween, Data. I see a whole room full of weird someones who don’t belong on the Enterprise.” Geordi smiled and waved to one of his junior officers nearby. “I’ll see you later, Data,” he said as he started over to his subordinate.
After Geordi had left, Data scanned the room for several long moments, hoping to catch sight of the man in the old Starfleet uniform. But the man didn’t reappear. Data, still puzzled, moved over to the forward window. He turned his back to the revelry, and looked out at the lush green planet spinning below the Enterprise. The ship was currently re-mapping Orgala 512, a star system that hadn’t been visited since an initial survey over a hundred years earlier. The planet below was the fifth planet of that system. Data’s own reflection stared back at him from the window. His black outfit and cape blended in perfectly with the blackness of space, so that it seemed his pale head, bodiless, was floating in the stars above the planet.
“Your costume is very effective,” a deep voice boomed over Data’s right shoulder. “Yours is the best portrayal of the Headless Horseman I’ve ever seen.”
Data turned to find Worf standing next to him. The Klingon wore a frilly, polka-dotted clown outfit, complete with a garishly-painted face and a bulbous red nose. He clutched a tankard of Klingon blood wine in his white-gloved right hand.
“Greetings, Worf,” Data said, looking from Worf’s oversized clown shoes to his frazzled green hair. “I find your costume very interesting as well, contrasting as it does the jovial buffoonery of the clown with your normally dour—”
“Thank you, Commander,” Worf interrupted, impatient, as usual, with Data’s verbosity. He looked down at the tankard in his hand. “If you will excuse me, Commander, I need to get a refill on my blood wine.” Without waiting for a response, he brushed past Data and headed toward the bar.
Data turned back to the window—
—and saw a reflection of the man in the old Starfleet uniform staring back at him, unblinking, over his left shoulder. A middle-aged man, with wavy blond hair and a full mustache, with a long scar over his right eye.
Data whirled around. But no one was there. Data scanned the crowd, but saw no sign of the man in the old uniform. He sought out Geordi, pulled his friend away from a group of Engineer’s mates. “Something is wrong,” Data told Geordi.  “Twice now I have seen a man in an old Starfleet uniform, and twice he has vanished.”
“Maybe there’s a glitch in your positronic net.”
“My self-diagnostic routines indicate no malfunctions.”
“Then maybe--”
A commotion across the room caught the attention of both officers. Worf was staggering around, moving with jerky, abrupt motions, as though he were being pushed. He tripped, and when he had gotten back to his feet and taken a step, he tripped again. The crewmen around him were laughing uproariously at his clownish antics, standing in a circle around him to give him room.
Geordi smiled. “Who would have thought Worf would be the life of the party?”
“But Geordi,” Data said, “he is not acting. Do you not see the two men in old Starfleet uniforms who are pushing and tripping him?”
Geordi stopped smiling and looked at Data. “No, I don’t. Data, are you saying you see two men attacking Worf?”
Data nodded. “Though ‘attacking’ is perhaps too harsh a word. I believe a more appropriate word would be ‘bullying.’ Two men, wearing Starfleet uniforms, circa late 23rd century. Neither of them is the man I saw earlier. They are translucent, and difficult to see. Perhaps if you were to look closer....” Worf suddenly stopped staggering and tripping. He regained his feet, looking around warily and growling. “They have vanished.”
“Wait a minute. Translucent? Old Starfleet uniforms. Data, it almost sounds like you’re describing ghosts.”
Data nodded. “That had not occurred to me, but they did indeed appear ghostly.”
Geordi signaled urgently to Riker, who quickly came over. “Commander, I think we may have a problem...” Geordi explained briefly, after which Data gave Riker a detailed account of what he’d seen.
“Data, this isn’t some elaborate Halloween gag you planned with Worf, is it?” Riker asked.
“No sir, it is not.”
“Then I’ll inform the Captain,” Riker said. “Did these beings you saw seem hostile in any way, Data?”
“Other than their apparent dislike of Lieutenant Worf, no. And they did not seem intent on doing him permanent physical damage. It was more in the nature of taunting and teasing.”
“Then we won’t call off the party and alarm anyone just yet. I’ll alert Security, and have Deanna ask around, find out if anyone else saw these ‘ghosts.’  Data, I’d like you to go with Geordi to Engineering and let him perform a complete diagnostic on you.”
“Yes, sir,” Data said.
Data and Geordi left Ten Forward together, while Riker turned back to the party, in search of Worf and Troi.

Twenty minutes later, after stopping at their respective quarters to change out of their costumes and into their uniforms, Data and Geordi were in Engineering. Data sat on a bench beside the main console.. One of his head plates had been raised, exposing the interfaces to his positronic net. Several cables snaked from his head and plugged into the main console. Geordi stood above him, probing at the android’s inner matrix.
Data held a PADD in his hands, and as Geordi worked, he rapidly scrolled through the complete database of every person who had served in Starfleet since its inception. Names and photographs flashed across the screen at a hundred records a second.
Fifteen minutes passed, with neither officer saying a word. Geordi was so absorbed in examining Data that he nearly dropped his probe and jumped a three feet when Data abruptly said, “Freeze! Back two records.”
Geordi took a deep breath to calm himself, then glanced down at Data’s PADD. “Find something?”
“Affirmative.” Data held the PADD up to Geordi. On the small screen was a photograph of a smiling blonde-haired man with a long scar above his right eye, wearing an old-fashioned Starfleet uniform. “This is the first man I saw in Ten Forward. I saw him twice.”
Geordi read the personnel information next to the photograph. “Captain Walter Drake, U.S.S Vagabond. Stardate 4913.5. Eighty-three years ago. You think you saw this man in Ten Forward, Data?”
Data nodded, lowering the PADD back to his eye level. “Save record and resume.” Images flashed across the screen, but only for a few seconds this time. “Freeze!” Data said again. “Display records 20,153 and 20,254.” Photographs of two men appeared on the screen, a jovial-looking man with red hair and a dour older man with black hair. “These are the two men who were harassing Lieutenant Worf. As you can see, all three men were officers on the U.S.S. Vagabond, which was destroyed eighty years ago after colliding with a quantum filament, one hundred light-years from our present location. There were no survivors, and nothing remained of the ship to salvage.”
“Then why would you be seeing them here? If these really are ghosts, I mean.”
“I do not know.”
The terminal on the main console began bleeping insistently. Geordi stepped over and examined the readout. “This is strange,” he said after a moment. “Data, have you made any adjustments to your visual processor recently?”
“I have not. Why do you ask?”
“Because your processor has recently been adjusted to detect energetic oscillations in a quaternary subspace manifold.”
“But my internal logs report no anomalies,” Data said in a puzzled tone.
“See for yourself,” Geordi said. He stepped aside as Data stood and examined the results of the Level One diagnostic.
“You are correct, Geordi. But who has tampered with my positronic net? And how was it done without my knowledge?”
“And why?” Geordi tapped at his lip thoughtfully, then stepped over to a wall console. “Data, the region of subspace your visual processor has been attuned to is pretty deep in subspace, and the ship doesn’t routinely scan for it.”
“Perhaps we should conduct a scan now,” Data suggested.
“My thoughts exactly.” Geordi started tapping commands into the wall console.

“There’s an anomalous subspace manifold stretching from one end of this star system to the other,” Geordi told the assembled officers in the Briefing Room. He was standing in front of a schematic of Orgala 512 on the wall display. The manifold, indicated by a jagged bold red line, ran across the system like a crack.  “This is a highly unusual folding of subspace at the quaternary level. It’s so rare that such a folding has only been encountered once before.”
“What’s causing it?” Captain Picard asked.
“Orgala’s fifth planet, which we’re currently orbiting, has an extremely powerful magnetic field. It’s somehow twisting this particular layer of subspace.”
“It has long been theorized,” Data interjected, “that it may be possible for an electromagnetic field to exert an influence on subspace, but such an influence has never before been encountered in nature. Nor produced in a laboratory.”
“Does this present any danger to us?” Riker asked. “Maybe we should move the Enterprise out of the system and do a long-range study.”
Geordi shook his head. “Which brings up the rest of my news. We’re in no danger, but I don’t think we can leave Orgala, Commander. Shortly after I conducted the initial scan that detected this anomaly, the manifold shifted, dragging space around the star with it and creating a closed loop, effectively cutting us off from the rest of the universe. Any direction we go, we’ll just wind up right back where we started.”
Picard looked up. “Have you confirmed this, Geordi?”
“No, but Data and I prepared a probe just before calling this meeting. We can launch it right now if you’d like, sir.”
Picard nodded. “Make it so.”
Data tapped a sequence into the recessed keyboard on the table before him. “Probe is away.”
On the display screen behind Geordi, a yellow blip appeared on the schematic of Orgala 512, and sped toward the edge of the system. When it reached the edge, a second yellow blip appeared on the screen, heading in toward the system, at the opposite edge from the first blip. After a moment, the outward bound blip disappeared. The inward-bound blip streaked toward the Enterprise.
“It is the same probe,” Data said, consulting the small readout on the table. He tapped a few keys and the blip on the screen came to a halt.
“A closed loop around the system,” Geordi said. “We’re trapped, Captain.”
“And you say this spatial loop formed after you conducted your subspace scan?”
Geordi nodded.
“That can’t be a coincidence,” Picard said..
“I don’t think it could’ve happened on its own,” Geordi said. “There’s intelligence at work here.”
“Data’s ghosts?” Riker asked.
“We think so.”
Data then summarized his discoveries in the Starfleet personnel database.
“So you think the ghosts of dead Starfleet officers, this Captain Drake and members of his crew, are here in the Orgala system?” Picard asked.
Geordi shook his head. “I wouldn’t go that far, sir. But there are highly complex, localized energetic oscillations rippling across the subspace manifold. So complex they could be some form of life. Data’s visual processor has been adjusted, possibly by these energy beings, to see the oscillations, which Data’s processor is interpreting as Starfleet officers. But whether they actually are the disembodied consciousnesses, the ghosts, of Captain Drake and his crew, we don’t know. The only thing we can be certain of is that these beings do exist, and they’ve trapped us here.”
“But why would these beings choose to masquerade as Captain Drake and his crew?” Picard asked in puzzlement. “Why that particular crew, which died eighty years ago and a hundred light-years away?”
Geordi shook his head. “Unknown.”
“You said you’re seeing them intermittently,” Riker asked Data. “Any idea why?”
“It is possible that these beings reside at a deeper level in subspace, where we are unable to detect them. To boost themselves up onto the quaternary manifold would require a great deal of energy, and thus they are only able to sustain themselves at that level for brief periods. They are also able to exert a physical influence on our space, as they have demonstrated by the modification to my neural net and their harassment of Lieutenant Worf in Ten Forward. But such physical interaction would be an even greater drain than merely existing passively in our space.”
Geordi came to stand behind Worf, laying a hand on the Klingon’s shoulder. “For some reason, these beings must be very angry at Worf. They’d have to be, for them to waste so much of their energy just to trip him up and push him around. They may have wanted to do more, but that was all they could manage.”
Worf gave a low growl at the memory.
“But why pick only on Worf? And what do they want?” Picard asked. “Why have they trapped us here?”
Data paused to stare at a point just over Picard’s shoulder. He refocused his attention on Picard. “Perhaps we can find out now. The ghost of Captain Drake, or the being masquerading as Captain Drake, has just appeared behind you, sir.”
Worf jumped from his chair and drew his phaser, peering intently at the empty space behind Picard.
A chill raced down Picard’s spine at Data’s words. But he calmly swivelled his chair and looked up and down. “I see no one. Counselor, do you sense anything?”
Troi considered for a long moment, then shook her head. “No, sir.”
“A being is there, I assure you, sir,” Data said. “It—he—is now motioning at me with his hand, and heading toward the door. I believe he wishes me to follow. And you as well, sir.”
Picard stood and motioned to the door. “Then let’s see where...he...leads us, Data.”
The door swished open. No one had been close enough to trigger its sensor. Picard and Riker exchanged uneasy glances.
They followed Data out into the corridor. As they walked along, Picard asked, “Data, are these beings capable of speech?”
Data shook his head. “It is doubtful, sir. While they are obviously able to interact with our environment, albeit weakly, producing the brute force necessary to trip Lieutenant Worf would be relatively easy. Producing something as complex as a sound vibration would be several magnitudes more difficult. Therefore it is extremely unlikely they could speak with us. “
“Is this being able to hear us?” Picard waved a hand at the corridor ahead, unsure exactly where the being was.
“Captain Drake!” Data called out. He stared at the corridor ahead for a moment, then shook his head. “He did not turn around. Apparently they cannot detect or interpret sound waves.”
“Then any meaningful communication will be difficult.”
“So it would seem, sir.”
After several long minutes of wending their way through the corridors, Data brought them to Transporter Room 3. The door swished open when the officers were still ten feet away. They followed Data into the Transporter Room. Data stepped behind the controls and peered at empty air beside the console. “Captain Drake is using his fingers to communicate a sequence of numbers,” Data told his fellow officers. “I assume it is a set of coordinates on the planet surface.” Data keyed in the coordinates and put the transporter on stand-by.
Geordi went to the secondary controls built into the wall and retrieved the coordinates from the main console, initiating a sensor sweep of the planet’s surface. He studied the readout for a moment. “This is damn peculiar,” he said.
“Mr. LaForge?” Picard asked.
Geordi turned to the others, who were watching him expectantly. “There’s a cloaking field on the planet at those coordinates. Very hard to detect; a routine sensor scan would have missed it. Visual sweep shows only a barren iceland for hundreds of miles around the given coordinates, but the part of the icecap coinciding with the cloaking field has all the characteristics of holo-matter.”
“The ice is a hologram?” Riker asked.
Geordi nodded. “A small area of it, sir. I’d say something’s hidden down there. And whoever hid it wanted to make sure it stayed hidden, from both a visual surveillance and a detailed sensor sweep.”
“Excuse me,” Data said, “but the Captain Drake being has vanished again. Just before he faded, he was motioning at the transporter platform. I believe he wants us to beam down to the surface and investigate.”
Riker looked to Picard, who nodded and said,  “Number One....be careful.”
“Aye, sir. Data, Geordi, Worf: you’re with me.”

The four officers materialized on the planet’s surface ten minutes later. They stood on a low rise overlooking a barren, frozen plain. The sun shone weakly in a cold, grey sky. A biting, cold wind swept mercilessly across the plain, and over the eons had shaped the ice flows into smooth, sinuous shapes. Long, uneven fissures broke the ice in many places, their depths cloaked in shadow.
A faint glow surrounded each of the officers: force-fields to hold in their body heat, generated by the arm bands they wore.
The shattered wreckage of a starship was scattered across the plain of ice, at the end of a miles-long black scar gouged deeply into the ice. During impact, the hull had broken into dozens of smaller pieces, which gleamed dully beneath layers of ice that had formed. The remains were barely recognizable as a Constitution Class starship.
“What the hell happened here?” Riker asked quietly, surveying the destruction.
Geordi pointed to a slender piece of machinery that stood at the bottom of the slope, covered with a light dusting of snow and ice, like a metallic finger pointing at the cold sky. “There’s the cloaking device, Commander.” Geordi and Riker walked down and examined it, while Data and Worf went to explore the wreckage.
Geordi ran his tricorder over the machine, examined it carefully with his visor. “It’s standard Klingon technology, sir. Manufactured about eighty years ago on Klath, according to the markings.” He pointed to another machine standing behind the cloaking device. “A holo-generator. Federation issue, very primitive model. I’ve seen a few in museums. Manufactured during the infancy of holo-technology. This one’s masking the wreckage. From a mile away, all this would be invisible. And someone conducting a standard survey from orbit definitely wouldn’t see it.”
“Federation and Klingon technology from that era, side by side?” Riker asked, puzzled.
Data and Worf stepped up behind them. “These are the remains of the U.S.S. Vagabond, Commander,” Data reported. “The ship of Captain Drake.”
Riker cocked his head. “But according to records the Vagabond struck a quantum filament, a hundred light years from here.”
“Apparently Starfleet records are in error, sir.”
Riker looked at the cloaking device and holo-generator, considering. “Or deliberately inaccurate,” he said.
“Many of the hull fragments are scored with disruptor burns and photon torpedo residue,” Worf said. “The ship was attacked, sir. By Klingons.”
Riker absently scratched at his beard and pointed across the plain. “That looks like the bridge module over there. Let’s go see if we can salvage the logs.”
Layers of fine ice particles crunched beneath their boots as they trudged across the ice to a portion of the ship’s hull, several hundred meters long. Its side was torn open, a gaping wound edged with buckled girders and frazzled wiring. The four officers, carefully avoiding the jagged metal edges, climbed through the opening into the darkened corridor beyond. They turned on their wrist lights.
And encountered their first body, perfectly preserved by the sub-zero cold.
The human male had been stripped and pinned to the wall by metal spikes that had been driven through his wrists and his thighs. His blood-smeared corpse had been horribly mutilated. His face, the only intact portion of his anatomy, bore a look of extreme agony, his wide eyes staring at nothing. His skin was glossy with ice, his hair and forehead dusted with frost.
Geordi and Riker turned away from the sight, fighting not to retch. Data examined the body curiously, Worf with outrage.
“Ach!” Worf growled in disgust. “This is Klingon work. An ancient ritual execution, reserved for the most vile of Klingon criminals.” He shook his head with scandaled disbelief. “Surely no Klingon would be a part of this! There is no honor in such slaughter!”
“Commander Riker,” Data said. “One of the subspace entities is watching us a short distance up the corridor. His face bears a strong resemblance to this man’s.” Data indicated the atrocity on the wall. “Though the entity’s features appear a good deal more calm.”
Riker shined his light in the direction Data indicated. Only twisted metallic debris was revealed by the stabbing beam of light. But for a moment, in the interplay between his light and the cold shadows, he almost thought he saw something moving. Something ghostly.
Riker turned slowly in the opposite direction, his uneasiness growing. “The bridge is this way. Let’s go.” He started off down the corridor, carefully avoiding looking at the corpse as he passed.
Before they reached the bridge, they found ten more corpses pinned to the walls at intervals and brutalized just like the first. Worf growled in outrage over each one, mumbling curses at the dishonorable perpetrators.
On the bridge they found another seven corpses, including that of Captain Drake, neatly dismembered and the pieces piled haphazardly in the command chair. Near each corpse they encountered, Data reported that one of the entities stood nearby, watching the officers with a brooding, dark expression.
The bridge controls had been smashed, the ship’s logs erased.
Riker looked around at the carnage and took a deep breath. “Let’s get the hell out of here,” he said finally, his voice quivering.

The Enterprise Briefing Room, thirty minutes later.
“I’ve never believed in ghosts,” Riker said, rubbing his beard, “but from the moment we entered that ship, I could swear someone was watching us.”
“Data,” Picard asked, “is it possible that....something...survived the slaughter down there?”
“I have had a subroutine analyzing that possibility, sir,” the android replied. “While there has never been any verifiable, incontestable evidence of the existence of the classical ghost, most sentient beings generate an electromagnetic field unique to each individual’s consciousness. It distinguishes each individual from all others, much like your own fingerprints. At the moment of death, it has been shown that this field surges briefly, rising in magnitude. It is possible that, at the moment of their deaths, the signatures of the Vagabond crew were imprinted on this planet’s unusual electromagnetic-subspatial complex. In effect, their consciousnesses were preserved beyond death.”
“So it is possible, then,” Picard said.
“I believe so, sir.”
“There’s still the mystery of what the Vagabond is doing down there,” Geordi said. “Official records put it light-years from here at the moment of its destruction.”
“It’s a mystery easily solved,” Picard said. “Consider the evidence. We have a Federation starship shot down on the planet below, apparently by Klingons. Her crew slaughtered, apparently by Klingons. Which would explain their dislike of you, Mr. Worf.” Picard nodded at the Klingon. “And we have evidence, in the form of the cloaking device and holo-generator, that the Klingons and the Federation, in cooperation, concealed the wreckage of the Vagabond. And altered official records to show that the Vagabond actually met her end a hundred light-years from here.”
“A cover-up,” Riker said, nodding. “Initiated by the highest levels of Starfleet Command.”
“But to what end?” Worf asked. “The Klingons responsible for this dishonor should have been held accountable.”
“There was something greater at stake,” Picard said. “Look at the time period we’re dealing with here: the beginnings of the Klingon-Federation alliance. Not more than a month earlier, James T. Kirk had uncovered a conspiracy to assassinate the Federation President and put the blame on the Klingons. A conspiracy by a faction in the Federation which would rather have gone to war than make peace. Kirk thwarted the assassination, and the discussions at Kitomer continued. But surely there must have been a similar faction among the Klingons, just as eager to sabotage the peace process and spark a war.”
“The Vagabond,” Worf said in sudden understanding. “If word of this slaughter had been made public, billions would have been crying for retribution. There would be no peace.”
Picard nodded. “The public would have been outraged, and rightly so. Which was exactly the response this mindless slaughter was intended to evoke. But Starfleet and the Empire apparently managed to hide the evidence before it became publicly known. I’m not sure whether to approve of Starfleet’s actions....or condemn them. On the one hand, I understand the justification for the cover-up. But....”
“But on the other hand,” Riker finished, “those men down there were Starfleet officers. Their families and friends deserved to know the truth about their deaths. History deserves to know. After eighty years, I think the Alliance could withstand the revelation.”
Picard nodded slowly. “I agree. Data, the next time you see—”
“Captain Drake, sir?” Data interrupted. “He appeared a few moments ago. I was about to inform you. He is standing behind you.”
“Very good. Data, if he were to speak, but without sound, would you be able to read his lips and interpret?”
Data nodded. “Yes, sir.”
Picard picked up a PADD lying on the table at his elbow. He tapped in a sentence, which was displayed on the small screen: CAPTAIN DRAKE, WHAT HAPPENED TO THE VAGABOND? Picard handed the PADD to Data. “Show this to him, Data, and indicate that you want him to respond as if he were speaking.”
Data nodded, stood and moved to stand beside Picard’s chair. As the other officers watched in silence, he held the PADD up to empty air.  He then pointed at his mouth, opening and closing it. “He understands,” Data said. Staring intently at a seemingly empty point in the air, he began interpreting. “We were ordered off our regular patrol route by Admiral Donner, and told to proceed to Orgala 512. No explanation was given; we were told orders would be forthcoming once we arrived. But we got no further orders. Four Klingon battlecruisers were waiting in ambush behind the fifth planet, and attacked us without provocation. The battle, if you could call it that, lasted less than a minute. We crashed on the planet. The Klingons followed us down and butchered the survivors. Only....we lived on. We found a....a new home. A few weeks later, another starship and a Klingon Bird-of-Prey came to the crash sight. They erased the Vagabond’s databanks, and put up devices to hide the wreckage.” Data looked away, refocusing on Picard. “Sir, Captain Drake is indicating that he is growing weaker. I believe he is about to return to deeper subspace once again.”
“Quickly then, Data: ask him why he and the others have trapped us here. What they want from us.”
Data rapidly tapped out the message on the PADD and showed it to the air. After a pause, he began interpreting again. “We mean you no harm, Captain Picard. We may be....ghosts....but we are still Starfleet officers. We are still the men we were. You are the first ship that has visited this system in eighty years. We just wanted to detain you long enough to guide you to the wreck of the Vagabond. As for what we want—we want Starfleet to uphold the first duty.”
Picard nodded, and stood. He faced the empty air, where Data was looking. “Captain Drake,” he said, enunciating clearly and speaking loudly, certain that Drake would understand even though he couldn’t hear, “I will do everything in my power to make sure the truth comes out. You have my word as a Starfleet officer.” He touched his fist to his chest. “I salute you and your crew, sir, for your service to the Federation.”
Worf stood and moved up beside Picard. He knelt down and bowed his head. “And I will make certain that the families of those Klingons who took part in the slaughter of your crew are held responsible, in accordance with Klingon law and tradition. I swear this on my honor as a warrior.”
Data’s hands moved swiftly on the PADD, typing in what both Picard and Worf had said, in case Captain Drake hadn’t understood. He showed the PADD to the air. A moment later he set it down on the table. “Captain Drake sent his thanks....and then vanished, sir.”
A voice came over the intercom. “Engineering to LaForge.”
“Laforge here,” Geordi said.
“Commander, the spatial loop is unfolding.”
“Understood. LaForge out.” He looked at Picard. “We’re free to leave, sir.”
Picard nodded. “Number One, will you get us underway? And open up a channel to Earth and transfer it to my Ready Room. I need to have a long talk with Starfleet Command.”
“Aye sir.”
The officers stood and filed out of the Briefing Room.

Captain’s Personal Log, Stardate 45612.9:
The Enterprise has left the Orgala 512 system. Data has had no further sightings of Vagabond crew members. The quaternary subspace manifold which sustained them for these eighty years has begun to dissipate. I can only hope that the crew of the Vagabond has finally found peace, wherever they may now be.
After a lengthy discussion with Starfleet Command, an official inquiry committee has been convened to look into the Vagabond matter. It seems the original cover-up was done so well that no one currently serving in Starfleet has any knowledge that there ever was a cover-up. A detailed statement to the public is expected to be made when the committee finishes its investigation.
Lieutenant Worf’s brother Kern, on the Klingon High Council, has begun his own investigation to find the names of those who took part in the slaughter of the Vagabond’s crew. He vows that no family will be spared from paying for the crimes of their forebears. As distasteful as it may be to us, I’m sure there are those in the Federation who will take comfort in this harsh Klingon justice, and it will undoubtedly help to soften the public’s response when the Vagabond’s true story is finally disclosed.
Yet one final question remains unanswered: why were the remains of the Vagabond and her crew merely concealed, rather than vaporized to prevent discovery, which would have been the safest of the two choices?  Though it is pure speculation, I believe the concealment was a compromise that the Starfleet brass of the day reached with themselves: they knew they had a duty to preserve and promote peace, yet they also had a duty to the truth. And so they concealed the wreckage to preserve the peace, hoping that the wreckage would be discovered in a time when the blossoming peace with the Klingons wasn’t so fragile, and the truth would come out.

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