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Saturday, June 4, 2011

Star Trek: Warp Speed

I wrote the following as an entry in the now-defunct Strange New Worlds contest that Pocket Books did a few years back. All of the stories I wrote for it were rejected. Boo hoo.

WARP SPEED

Captain's Log, Stardate 5319.5
For the past 11 days the Enterprise has been in drydock at Starbase 17, getting a complete overhaul. My crew has returned from shore leave and we are currently heading for deep space at Warp 4. We've been assigned a mapping mission that won't bring us back to Federation space for several months.

Mr. Scott strolled around Engineering, keeping a watchful eye on his juniors as they went over every inch of the ship's propulsion system, assessing the work done by the overhaul crew. He handed out praise where it was warranted, reprimands when he noticed something one of his juniors had overlooked, and advice where needed.
As he was looking over the shoulder of Lieutenant Thompson, pointing out a discrepency in a readout, the intercom whistled for his attention. “Mr. Scott, I think you'd better take a look at what I've found, sir.”
Ensign Wu, checking Jeffrey's Tube 1.
“And please, sir, could you hurry?”
Scotty sighed in exasperation, gave a last bit of advice to Thompson, then acknowledged the intercom. “On my way, Mr. Wu.” He exited Engineering, turned right and climbed up a ladder to a small access corridor. Jeffrey's Tube 1 was a large, well-lit hole in the wall, slanting upward.
As Scotty approached, Ensign Wu emerged from the Tube.
“What is it, laddie?” Scotty asked.
Wu pointed into the Tube. “Sorry to insist that you hurry here, sir, but...please tell me that's not what I think it is.”
Scotty looked questioningly at Wu, then bent over and climbed up into the humid, narrow Tube. At the top, straddling the main intermix flow coupling, was a large box-shaped device. A small bubble of glass on top of the box was filled with a clear, viscous fluid he recognized immediately: gelatinite. Words were painted in red on the side of the box: WARNING—DO NOT TOUCH. “Oh boy,” Scotty breathed. In the cloying air of the Tube, sweat beaded quickly on his forehead. He wiped it away as he surveyed the jury-rigged contraption. Cables snaked away from the box; one attached directly to the flow monitor, and several others had been spliced into various ship's systems.
He wiggled backwards out of the Tube. Ensign Wu was waiting expectantly.
Scotty put his hands on his hips and took a deep breath. “We're in a heap o' trouble, laddie.”

On the bridge, Jim Kirk felt a subtle shift in the hum of the deckplates, the nearly-imperceptable vibration of his command chair. He hadn't given an order to accelerate, so he knew something was wrong.
At the same moment Kirk noticed the change, Sulu looked back at him. “Captain, we've accelerated to warp 6.” His hands flew across the console. “Helm isn't responding.”
Kirk stood and stepped forward, leaned over Sulu and looked at the readouts.
“Ve are changing course,” Chekov reported.
“Heading?” Kirk asked.
“Plotting...” Chekov tapped at his console. “New heading: Marcos 12.”
Kirk looked over at Spock. “What the hell is—”
That's when the turbolift doors swished open and Mr. Scott burst out. “Captain, we have a bomb on board,” he shouted as he rushed over to the Engineering station and sat down.
Kirk went over and leaned on the railing beneath Engineering. “A bomb, Scotty?”
“Aye sir, attached to the main intermix flow conduit.”
Kirk walked over to his chair, thumbed on the ship-wide intercom. “Red alert, all hands to emergency posts.” The alert beacon began to silently pulse. He turned to Sulu. “All stop—”
“Captain, no!” Scotty shouted.
“Belay that, Mr. Sulu!” Kirk barked, unnecessarily: at Scotty's shout, Sulu's hand had frozen halfway to the controls.
“Mr. Scott?”
“I recommend we slow her down gradually, Captain,” Scotty said. “The way the device is rigged, I have a feeling...”
Kirk looked at Sulu. “You heard him, Mr. Sulu. Nice and slow.”
Sulu nodded and turned back to the helm.
Over the next several moments Kirk concentrated on the feel of his ship as it decelerated, a sense born of long years of intimacy. Sulu counted off the precise warp changes, but for Kirk they were unnecessary.
When Sulu called off Warp 5, Scotty waved his arms. “Hold it, Sulu!”
Kirk looked over at Scotty's monitor. He was no Engineer, but he knew what the flashing telltale lights meant: cascade failure, warp core breach imminent.
“Warp 7, Sulu, quickly!” Scotty shouted.
The Enterprise accelerated. The telltales winked out.
Kirk and Spock joined Mr. Scott at Engineering.
“It's just as I suspected,” Scotty said. “If we drop below warp 5, that infernal device will trigger a warp core breach. Oh, ma poor, poor lass.”
“Who wants to destroy my ship?” Kirk rubbed thoughtfully at his lip. “And why?”
“Logic suggests that a person or persons on the Starbase 17 overhaul crew planted the device,” Spock said.
Kirk nodded. “Sulu, ETA to Marcos 12.”
“At our current speed of warp 7, 3 hours.”
“Scotty, how much can we slow down without triggering the device?” Kirk asked.
“Don't take her below warp 5.3.”
Kirk looked at Sulu; Sulu nodded. “Aye, sir.”
“New ETA?”
“5 hours, 33 minutes.”
“That gives us a little more time. Anyone believe that we'll drop to impulse outside the system and assume a standard orbit of Marcos 12?” Kirk looked around at the faces of his crew. “Neither do I. So: we're hurtling out of control through space with no brakes, on a collision course with Marcos 12, population 5 billion. What will happen if we impact at that speed, Mr. Spock?”
Spock folded his hands behind his back. “Assuming our warp field doesn't collapse upon entering the gravity well of the Marcos system, thereby causing the Enterprise to explode, we will pass clean through Marcos 12 and emerge on the other side as a scattering of particles that will continue harmlessly on through space. Our passage will, of course, cause massive seismic trauma to Marcos 12. The resulting explosion will obliterate the planet.”
Kirk clapped his hands. “Okay: Scotty. Get back down to Engineering and remove that device.”
Scotty sighed, almost protested, then shifted into his miracle-worker frame of mind. He nodded and stood. “Aye, sir.”
“Spock, call up the records of the team that did the overhaul. See if you can find a motive for this: why us, and why Marcos 12.”
Spock nodded and turned away.
“And Uhura, get Starfleet Command on the line.”
At the helm, Sulu looked at Chekov. “Once again we're being commandeered toward Marcos 12.” He pounded at the air with his fist.
Chekov nodded. “That is one wery unlucky planet.”

In Engineering, Scotty strapped on a belt bristling with tools, grabbed a tricorder, and climbed back into Jeffrey's Tube 1.
“All right, ye little beastie,” he said as he came level with the device. “You're about to learn a lesson: nobody messes with ma engines.”
He spent a long time just lying there, studying the cables connecting the device to various ship's systems. Getting a feel for precisely what he was up against. He sweated a lot; there was no air circulation in this small cranny of the ship. He took readings with the tricorder. Finally, cautiously, he gently touched the surface of the main box with the tip of his finger. An ominous hum sounded from within the box and he jerked his finger back. His suspicion was confirmed: the casing was pressure sensitive. Probably heat sensitive as well.
He breathed a sigh of relief when the humming subsided a few seconds later. It'd just been a warning.
He began hunting for a way to circumvent the casing's sensors. If he couldn't get inside to the CPU without triggering the device, the ship was in trouble. Marcos 12 was in trouble.
An hour and a half later he was no closer to a solution. A small group of his juniors had gathered at the opening to the Tube, drawn by the elaborate, caustic Scottish curses. Most of them had never heard the centuries-old curses, let alone such foul language from their chief.
Finally Scotty relaxed onto his back and sighed, wiped the profuse sweat from his forehead. “Ah, mah poor bairns,” he whispered.
A taunting voice suddenly issued from the box, harsh and grating, full of hate. “You're not giving up are you, Monty? Surely not you, the miracle worker, the legend, Starfleet's finest?”
Scotty sat up on his elbows. He knew that voice, though he hadn't heard it for nearly a year, and it had sounded a trifle more civil. “Jensen?” he said.
“You remember little old me? I'm touched. After all, I was merely one of your underlings, a noboby.”
Scotty didn't bother responding. It could only be a personality analog. The person who'd rigged such a masterpiece would want to gloat, so Scotty should have expected the analog. But there was no point in responding. At least now he knew who was behind this.
He flipped open his communicator. “Scott to Bridge.”
“Kirk here.”
“Captain, I've just learned who planted this bloody thing. They left an analog chip. It's—”
“Ensign Mark Jensen,” Kirk finished. “Spock just finished wading through the records of the overhaul team. I was about to call you. Apparently Jensen arrived on Starbase 17 shortly before us, under an assumed name and with forged ID's. So convincing they passed muster. One of the overhaul team fell conveniently ill and Jensen was the replacement.” Kirk paused momentarily, and Scotty heard Uhura say something in the background. “Scotty, I've got a call coming in from Starfleet. Any progress?”
“No progress.” Scotty felt great shame as he uttered the words.
“Keep working. Kirk out.”
Scotty turned back to the box with renewed vigor. “All right, Jensen. No upstart young Ensign can beat me.”

Kirk sat in his command chair, watching as the large, bulky destroyer, the MacArthur, lumbered onto the viewscreen, matching speeds with the Enterprise. It's designers hadn't given any thought to aesthetics; utility had been their concern. The destroyer bristled with weapons, and Kirk found himself looking up the figurative barrel of a bank of torpedoe tubes. Since Marcos 12 was near the Romulan Neutral Zone, the MacArthur had been quick to arrive.
The MacArthur's captain appeared on the forward viewscreen.
Kirk nodded at the image. “Donald.”
“Hello, Jim. It's good to see you again, though I wish the circumstances were different.”
“Me too. But let's dispense with the pleasantries, Donald. How long do we have before you blow us out of the sky?”
Donald Stamp rubbed his chin. “We'll wait until the last possible second, of course, Jim. But Marcos has heavy in-system traffic, and then there are the 5 billion people on Marcos 12—”
“How long?”
“Two hours. We'll do it just before you enter the solar system. I'm sorry, Jim, but—”
Kirk waved his hands. “No, no, I'm not mad at you, Donald. I understand completely. There are lives at stake here.”
Donald nodded. “Let's just hope it doesn't come to that. Has Mr. Scott made any progress?”
Kirk shook his head. “Did they find Jensen?”
Donald nodded. “They found him, all right. It took a bit of doing; his ID forgeries were flawless. I understand they're going to review the system, cover up the holes Jensen used to sneak in. He covered his trail very well, but they did find him, in a small, seedy hotel outside the capital.”
“Has he talked yet?” Kirk prompted. “Is he going to help us?”
“He's dead,” Donald said flatly. “Hanged himself right after he got off work. What's his connection to the Enterprise anyway?”
“He was assigned to Engineering a year ago, fresh from the Academy,” Kirk said. “Full of ideas, very pushy and arrogant. He thought Scotty was in his way, and was obviously very jealous of Scotty's reputation. They clashed constantly. Finally, a month after his arrival, there was...an incident...and I gave Ensign Jensen the choice between a voluntary transfer or an involuntary one. He grumbled a lot, but in the end he left voluntarily. I don't know what became of him after that.”
Donald nodded. “We looked into his record. After leaving the Enterprise he was transferred twice more. His last assignment was an administrative position on Marcos 12, from which he received a dishonorable discharge. After that he dropped out of sight.”
“Full circle, then.”
“Full circle,” Donald echoed. “Now, Jim, let's discuss evacuation. With transporters going constantly, we should be able to get most of your people to the MacArthur before we reach ground zero.”
Kirk nodded and began issuing orders to his crew.

The taunts of the personality analog were growing more difficult for Scotty to ignore. He knew the thing was just a machine and he should ignore it, that its sole purpose was to distract him, to elicit just the response it was beginning to. But the barbs were becoming too personal,and as time dragged on and every approach he tried to remove the device led to a dead end, he started cursing at the analog as if it were really Jensen. The analog was useful for one thing, however: each time it urged Scotty to accept defeat and surrender, he grew that much more determined that he would never surrender.
He was so engrossed in his battle with the device that he barely listened when Kirk's voice issued from the communicator. “Scotty, we're going to start beaming people over to the MacArthur. Any news yet?”
Scotty grunted out a reply and continued working.
A few seconds later the captain's words finally registered. “No,” he yelled.
He fumbled for the communicator. “Transporter room! Do not engage! Repeat: do not engage!”
The technician's voice came back: “I'm sorry, sir, it's too late...”
In the background, Scotty heard the familiar hum as the transporter energized.
The device next to Scotty clicked ominously, then began vibrating slightly. “Oh no,” he said.
At the same time, the transporter technician's voice came from the communicator: “Oh my god.”
Scotty reflexively closed his eyes and braced himself for an explosion that would rupture the intermix conduit and trigger a warp core explosion.
Instead, after a second, the device stopped humming. Jensen's cackling voice sounded muffled in the humid, close air of the Jeffrey's Tube. “That one was free, Monty. The next one'll be the real thing.”
“Mr. Scott,” the technician said. “I—I just beamed ten people out into space. The coordinates were for the MacArthur, but—but—” His voice began to break.
Scotty sighed. “It wasna your fault, lad.” Scotty closed the channel and contacted the bridge. His voice was sounded heavy, weary. “Captain, no one can beam off the ship. And don't try using the shuttle craft either.”
“That's not what I want to hear, Mr. Scott.”
“I'm sorry, sir.” Scotty sighed and let his head fall against the wall of the tube.
“Admit it, Monty,” the analog whispered. “I've beaten you. I'm better than you. Just admit it.”
Scotty sat up. “That'll be the day.”

Kirk drummed his fingers on the arm of his chair. Silence reigned on the bridge. They were playing a waiting game now, the air was thick with tension. On the forward viewscreen, the star of Marcos was still half an hour distant, but it stood out in stark, graphic relief from the surrounding stars. And it grew noticeably larger with each passing second.
“Any response from helm?” Kirk asked for perhaps the tenth time.
“No, sir,” Sulu responded.
Kirk knew it was pointless to ask; Sulu would tell him the instant anything changed. But he was hoping against hope that this was all an elaborate hoax, that they'd slow down and control of the ship would be returned just before the MacArthur fired on them.
Mr. Scott's excited voice suddenly boomed out over the intercom. “Captain! I've found something!”
Kirk sat up; all faces turned expectantly toward him and the sound of Scotty's voice. “Yes, Mr. Scott?”
“I've found a crack in this thing's armor,” Scotty said. His voice was filled with joy and pride. “It's wired into practically every vital system in the ship, but Jensen missed something. I knew he'd miss something, I knew it!”
“Get to the point, Scotty,” Kirk said in exasperation; the tension was unbearable. “Before I send Bones down there to strangle you.”
McCoy, slouching beside Spock's station, perked up.
“The emergency intermix shunt procedure,” Scotty said.
Spock nodded in sudden understanding. “Of course.”
“We go outside the ship,” Scotty continued, “and string a line between both warp nacelles, patching either end into the plasma vents, effectively bypassing the main intermix conduit.”
Kirk vaguely remembered reading about this in a technical journal.
“We can then manually reroute the intermix flow through this shunt, while at the same time keeping the flow steady through the main conduit,” Scotty finished.
“Fool the device into thinking we're still at warp, but we'll be able to slow down,” Kirk said.
“Exactly, sir.”
Mr. Spock spoke up: “I assume, Mr. Scott, that you have ascertained that the device gets its data on our speed by monitoring the rate of intermix flow through the main conduit, rather than accessing the main computer? If the latter is the case, your plan will not work.”
Scotty grumbled something about bloody Vulcans and knowing his job.
Kirk smiled. “How long will it take, Scotty?”
“Lieutenant Thompson and I can have it done in forty-five minutes.”
You've got twenty-four, Scotty. In twenty-five minutes the MacArthur's going to turn us into a cloud of debris.”
“Aye, sir. Scott out.”
Kirk turned to Uhura. “Get Captain Stamp on the line.”

Scotty quickly checked the seals on his spacesuit. Thompson did likewise, then the two of them picked up the heavy coil of hose, sharing the burden. They stepped into the airlock and cycled through to the outside of the ship, activating their mag boots when they passed beyond the internal gravity field.
They emerged at the base of the port warp nacelle. Its support pylon rose above them like an enormous metal tree.
Scotty pointed to the nacelle at the top of the pylon, several hundred feet above them. “Good luck, lad.”
Thompson nodded, firmly gripped the coil of hose, released his magboots and activated his thrusters.
Scotty watched as Thompson rose toward the nacelle and the plasma vent. Once there, and once Scotty was in position, Thompson would connect one end of the hose to the plasma vent and shoot the other end across to Scotty.
When he was satisfied that the Lieutenant was on course, Scotty released his own mag boots, oriented himself toward the starboard nacelle, and activated his thrusters. With a lurch he jetted upward and outward.
As he crossed the wide empty space between the nacelles, he concentrated on the heavy rasping sound of his air recycler, keeping his mind off the view. Spacewalks during warp were disconcerting. From inside the ship, through the refracting and computer-enhanced windows, space appeared relatively normal, a rainbow of warp-smeared stars rushing by. But out here it was different. The Enterprise was motionless inside a starless void blacker than black. To his left, in front of the ship, was a reddish sphere. Marcos 12 was in there somewhere. Aft was a large blue sphere. Directly in front of him, beyond the approaching starboard nacelle, the ponderous bulk of the MacArthur hung motionlessly.
A sudden crackle of static sounded in Scotty's ear. Then Jensen's taunting voice: “Down to your last option, huh, Monty? You'd better hope it works.”
Scotty's face went cold as the blood drained from it. It was over; the Enterprise was doomed. Jensen had been one step ahead of him the entire time.
“Scott to Enterprise,” he said. There was no response. “Scott to Kirk.” Still no response.
Scotty felt a rough jolt as the suit's thrusters changed direction. He tapped furiously at the control on his wrist, but it was no use. He swung away from the pylon and headed toward the void. But despite appearances, that void was not infinite. In a very short time he would breach the Enterprise's warp bubble and emerge into normal space at relativistic velocity. Of course, his consciousness wouldn't have time to register the transition.
Thompson's voice sounded in Scotty's ear: “Mr. Scott, I've reached the plasma vents, but....sir, the one we need, the connector's been battered shut. I don't think I can get it open.” He paused, waiting for a response. “Mr. Scott? Sir?”
Scotty craned his neck around, watched the Enterprise and the MacArthur recede behind him.
“You're a failure, Monty,” the Jensen-analog said. “The great engineer has failed. And all your shipmates, all those billions on Marcos 12, are going to die because of your failure. All because of you.”
The ever-present rasp of the air recycler cut out. The beating of Scotty's heart was overpowering in the sudden silence. Scotty sighed and looked at his wrist control. He had perhaps a minute of air left. He tried to calculate how far it was to the edge of the warp bubble: would he reach it within that minute, or would he suffocate first? Either way the result was the same.
Resigning himself to his failure and looming death, Scotty took a moment to think back over Jensen's handiwork. It was truly brilliant. Sneaking past all the security safeguards, closing off every option, orchestrating it all right under the noses of his fellows on the overhaul team...Jensen shouldn't have been able to do all that he had in the short time he'd been allotted.
“You're good, laddie,” Scotty finally had to sigh appreciatively. “Ye've beaten me, and that's no easy task.” He regretted his words almost immediately; perhaps the waning air supply was making him dizzy.
Two beats of his heart and then Jensen's voice: “You said the magic words, Monty. You'll die alone.”
The suit computer's voice cut in, “Transmitting deactivation code.”
But spots had begun dancing before Scotty's eyes. He asphyxiated without hearing the computer's final words.

He came to on a strange bed in a strange room. He hadn't expected to survive, so the abrupt transition from the suffocating clutches of his spacesuit to this room came as quite a shock. He sat bolt upright, disoriented.
A tall, muscular man with graying hair and a full mustache stood nearby. He stepped forward when he saw that Scotty was awake. “It's all right, Mr. Scott.”
“Where am I?” Scotty asked.
“Sickbay, on the MacArthur. I'm Captain Donald Stamp.” He extended a hand, which Scotty shook weakly. “We beamed you aboard just before you breached the combined warp bubble of our ships. Dr. Akar managed to save you.”
“But...the Enterprise.” Scotty was almost afraid to ask, dreading the answer. “Did you...?”
Stamp smiled. “The Enterprise is safe, Mr. Scott. The device shut itself down and released the controls. She's at station keeping, dead in space, waiting for your return to begin removal of the device. Most of the crew's being evacuated to the MacArthur, as a precaution.”
Scotty remembered then, his admission of defeat and praise of Jensen's skill. Apparently that's what Jensen had wanted all along, and he'd been willing to destroy an entire planet to get it. Scotty sighed.
Ten minutes later he materialized on the Enterprise. An eager young technician stood behind the console. Captain Kirk was nearby. Scotty nodded to the technician, turned toward Kirk—
—and stopped dead in his tracks.
“You're good, laddie. Ye've beaten me.” A hiss of static. “You're good, laddie, ye've beaten me.” His voice was coming from the intercom, over and over.
“What in God's name—?” He said loudly, indignantly, over the looped message.
Kirk stepped forward, fighting to keep his smile down. “Welcome back, Scotty.”
“How long has that been going on?” Scotty asked.
“For the past hour, ever since the device shut down. We can't get it to stop. I guess Jensen wanted others to share in his victory.”
“Of all the bloody rotten—”
Kirk patted Scotty's arm and turned them both toward the door. “Don't feel too bad, Scotty. Jensen's dead, after all. You're still the greatest living engineer in Starfleet.”
As the door swished open, Scotty looked sidelong at Kirk, catching the ghost of a smile. He sighed. Kirk headed up the corridor toward the bridge. Scotty stood in the corridor a moment, listening to his voice echoing, “You're good, laddie...” He wanted to clamp his hands over his ears. Finally he turned right, toward Engineering, holding his head proudly erect as he passed several crewmembers. 
As Scotty neared the turbolift, McCoy rushed up to him. “Oh, Mr. Scott! I want to talk to you a minute, about that personality analog Jensen used.” He took Scotty's arm and ushered the two of them into the turbolift. “Think you could make one of me? That I could put in Spock's quarters? That way I could torment him even when I'm not around.”
The turbolift door swished shut.

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