Location: Docking pylon 31, Deep Space Nine, (Alpha Quadrant)
Timeframe: Stardate 58607.4 (three and a half years ago)
“Computer,” bedee beep, “where is Commander Carter of the U.S.S. Republic?”
“Commander Carter is not aboard this station.”
Victor glanced around to check for spies, hidden audio recording devices, shrouded Jem'Hadar, Founders disguised as potted plants, and cloaked birds-of-prey. Seeing none of them, Victor carefully identified himself as Agent Victor X-Ray Victor of Task Force One Special Operations and queried the database for the last known location of the Republic. Although prepared for all manner of weirdness from Captain Roth's crew, the results of his search left Victor with a renewed respect for his erstwhile brothers'-in-arm's abilities.
The Republic was in five different locations.
Starfleet sensor logs put it twelve days out from DS9 bearing one one five mark seven two, in the Corridon system. UFP Telemetry Control listed the Republic on a winding course through the Alpha Quadrant to 40 Eridani A, but Vulcan Orbital Command did not show any Galaxy-class ships in their triple-star system. The 'Fleet Quartermaster's Office had Lieutenant Merrick signing off for a resupply of non-replicatables at 39-Sierra two days ago. Stardock showed them in the queue for early maintenance and impulse engine inspection at 0900 tomorrow. Task Force One reported NCC-76241 destroyed with all hands in the Neutral Zone over a month previous, and the incident was listed as classified with an investigation of possible mutiny and a self-destruct order.
Agent VXV perused the data-feed more closely. Someone with serious clearance was altering data at an extremely high level to mask the Republic's whereabouts, and were even going so far as to change service records of the crew. John's new service pic looked nothing like him; with shorter hair, a goatee and an honest-to-goodness eyepatch. Captain Roth's former command was now an Orionian garbage scow. Leon's record had been forged to make him a Lieutenant Commander. Shannon's academy record showed two different birthdays. And in an overwhelming bit of poor taste, the hacker had pulled Hawk's death certificate and recommissioned him.
As the weary engineer covered his electronic tracks his thoughts raced. If Roth's Raiders were on the lamb it was going to be a pain in the posterior to find them. If Kostya's Kabal was trying to discredit the crew that had drummed him out of 'Fleet then things were about to get much worse much faster. And to top it all off, Forrest had told Victor this was going to happen… Two years ago.
Location: Unknown Federation Starship Bridge
Timeframe: Present Day
Darkened as it was, shadows within the circular chamber revealed themselves to be nothing more than empty flight chairs, quiescent control consoles, or unremarkable support railings. Devoid of any animated operator or organic being of any kind, there was no artificial light accentuating the dormant control center, and only a small overhead porthole allowed the tiniest fraction of illumination from a distant sun to offer any visual cues of what was within. If the small confines were not indicator enough, the rough angular forms and blank oval monitors complimenting the manual switches and electronic circuitry revealed the age of the vessel to be at least a century old, if not more.
Without pretext, the stillness of the ancient chamber was broken as a small monitor at the rear communications station came to life. Blocky amber text crawled into place as ancient transtator circuits came to life, and indiscrete words formed only fragments of computerized readback commands as the ship's latent mainframe awakened from its slumber.
“ECH OVERRIDE TRANSMISSION RECEIVED” it read, followed by “NX12-11-BETA ACTIVATION SEQUENCE ENGAGED” and “NCC-1371 FLEET COMMAND FUNCTIONS TRANSFERRED TO LTCR V X VIRTUS”.
A blinking line of code preceded what happened next: “ECH OPTICAL PROGRAM LT V KOSTYA INITIATED”.
With a wash of photons, an animated hologram faded into existence in the center of the bridge. It was a young, twenty-something human male with black hair, pale skin, and penetrating blue eyes. He wore an old-style maroon Starfleet uniform jacket with cadet departmental colors and lieutenant's rank, and bore a serious, almost deadpan scowl on his face while he scanned the stillness of the chamber. Finding no other occupants, he strode up to the engineering console and proceeded to enter a number of commands. As with the previous monitor at the communication station, another oval monitor came to life as the hologram called up command functions from the interface, as it too displayed a series of readback commands while being beckoned out of its long slumber.
“ECH MULTI-EMULATION PROGRAM ACTIVATED” the system acknowledged visually to its new holographic operator, followed by a growing list of names underneath the first line that read “CADET N SATIE - CADET B MAXWELL - CADET M JAMESON - CADET E PRESSMAN”.
With each display of a new name, an additional hologram would fade into existence. Each wore the same old-style maroon uniform jacket, complete with black boots and trousers, which included a black belt with circular gold buckle made into the familiar Starfleet delta logo. All were electronic facsimiles of human beings in their late teens and early twenties. Five in all, with four male and one female, they each gave one another silent nods and took seats around the bridge as consoles powered up and overhead lights activated. The whine of machinery spinning up concurrently with the intermittent chirping of computers and sensor systems coming to life signified the vessel's transition to an operational state. As it did so, the initial hologram of Vladimir Kostya took his seat in the command chair, giving his first verbal order.
“Initiate dilithium re-crystalization procedure Teagarden Seven-One…”
Location: Observation Platform, Starfleet Museum Annex, Vulcan system, 40 Eridani A
“… the Republic was delivered here over three years ago from the main museum in the Sol system before it was decimated by the Remnant attacks. Prior to that, she had been in a parking orbit for three decades since being used as a training vessel for Starfleet cadets over a number of years earlier. As you can see, while she has the basic shape of an original Constitution-class vessel, she's actually a what's known as a 'Constitution-refit'.”
An older gentlemen in a tan cardigan spoke up from within the gaggle of civilian tourists who were following the white-suited tour guide. “When I was a child, I got to see the USS New Jersey during it's decommissioning at the old fleet museum on Mars,” he offered. “She was a Constitution-class. I'm not seeing a lot of similarity with the Republic here, in my opinion.”
The guide nodded their head in agreement. “For the most part, you are correct. Most of the original hardware from her Constitution-class days were replaced when Republic was refitted. These ships are sometimes called 'Constitution II' or 'Enterprise' class starships, the latter because the original Enterprise was the first to be retrofitted before it's destruction. However, only a few of the original Constitution-class ships were ever converted in this manner, mainly because newer vessels like the Excelsior and Soyuz classes were able to fulfill the same missions of that era. Therefore, Starfleet opted to retire the Constitution-refits fairly early in their design lifecycle due to their obsolescence.”
“What will happen when the new fleet museum opens up at Athan Prime?” a woman in the tour group inquired, who's nearby child was using the outer observation railing as a set of monkey bars while everyone ignored him. “Will Republic stay here?”
“Originally, we were intending to make Republic the centerpiece of the Khitomer-era exhibit at Athan Prime,” the tour guide explained. “However, the first Enterprise, NCC-1701-A, is slated to take that spot now, so until we can find her a new home, Republic will have to remain here.”
“Don't they have room for both?” a young pre-teen asked within the tour group.
The guide shook his head. “No, the Athan Prime museum is being constructed using pieces from the original Spacedock One recovered on Earth. While that facility was quite large in it's heyday, there will still be a limited number of display berths available. Since NCC-1701-A and the Republic here are identical, the curator opted for the Enterprise instead. Considering the historical significance of the Enterprise, I'm sure most of you can agree.”
“What will happen to Republic if you can't find a new spot somewhere else?” another tourist piped in with an additional question.
“While it's rare to find a Constitution-refit in as good condition as Republic here, her fate is still being decided by the Smithsonian board. If we can't find a place for her elsewhere, we may end up scrapping her due to the resources needed for her upkeep.”
Checking to see that there were no more questions, the tour guide changed tone and began walking further down the observation corridor while addressing the crowd. “Now, if you'll all follow me to the next overlook, we can view the pride and joy of our exhibit here. First dubbed 'The Great Experiment,' she was commissioned on stardate 8201.3 and given the hull registry of NX-2000 to honor the original fleet of NX-class starships built over 200 years ago. Later on, she was re-registered as NCC-2000 after the first transwarp experiments failed…”
Lagging behind, the child playing on the outer perimeter railing overlooking the observation platform ceased his antics and was about to join the others when something caught his eye. The nearby Constitution-refit starship that hovered about a kilometer away in the space outside the expansive viewport began to stir; first with the activation of running lights just below the bridge, then the windows and portholes flickering on one-by-one across the surface, followed by the blinking red and green navigational strobes.
“Mom…” the child called out to his parent further down the deck, not taking his eyes off the starship while a blue iridescent light swelled forth from the warp engines and navigational array. By the time several others in the tour group turned around to look at the child, he was standing dumbfounded with his mouth hanging open. Republic's RCS thrusters had activated, and was maneuvering the ship away from it's parking orbit as well as the museum complex.
As for the tour guide, he was the last to turn his attention away from the nearby Excelsior exhibit, his practiced speech trailing off as he watched helplessly while Republic activated it's warp engines and disappeared in a kaleidoscope of stretched warp plasma that faded away in seconds.
Location: Corridon system, Federation Space
The Corridon system – not to be confused with the Coridan system; the center of the Federation's most prodigious dilithium mines and homeworld of the Coridanite race – was a simple uninhabited star system located in the Federation frontier approximately two weeks at high warp from any known trade route or Starfleet outpost. Early cartographers declared it “an unremarkable star system composed of a class M main-sequence star of variable stellar energy output, and a source of constant high-energy flares with associated magnetic eddies making it a class three navigational hazard.” Planets – as they were – were equally unremarkable with numerous rocky bodies of class D variety and no life to speak of whatsoever, exogenic or otherwise. While charted, regular visitors were non-existent, as there was little value in the mineral wealth of the star system, strategic and scientific importance was minimal, and regular flaring of the main sequence star made colonization expensive and impractical.
Regardless, it was this one lone star system in Federation space where at least one ancient vessel made it's home by default. Originally an early twenty-fourth century deep space research vessel, the derelict Oberth-class spacecraft found it's way to Corridon after all hands were forced to abandon ship sixty-seven years ago due to sudden and inadvertent exposure to Theta radiation after becoming trapped in the atmosphere of a Demon-class gas giant. Two-thirds of the crew died, and the survivors escaped by quickly beaming to a nearby moon where a rescue ship found them three months later.
As for their ship, subsequent surveys failed to locate it, and as it happened, was expelled from the gas giant some years later due to the shockwave from colliding comet. Cast adrift into the interstellar medium, the marred and lifeless vessel transited space for decades until it entered the Oort-belt of the Corridon system, with gravimetric forces capturing it into a stable solar orbit. While Starfleet sensors had discreet and intermittent contact with it over the years, there were no organic beings left aboard to send out an emergency locator signal, nor acknowledge its lost status as the power cells went slowly into hibernation over the decades. If it weren't for the communication system being locked into receive mode, it may never have picked up the sudden arrival of an optical data stream from the Bajor system.
Like a flower blossoming in the desert after receiving a drop of water, lights along the ship's hull swelled to life with the processing and activation of the optical stream. Portholes illuminated, spotlights flickered on, and running lights began blinking as thrusters activated to maneuver the ship out of it's settled orbit and into a position that allowed it to reach escape velocity. Slowly, a blue-white illumination surged forth from it's warp nacelles, and a ruby-red glow from the anterior Bussard collectors conveyed the activation of it's faster-than-light drive. On it's hull, the microgramma extended typeface revealed it's registry code as NCC-13071, along with the vessel's name: U.S.S. Republic.
Location: “Stardock”, Customs Control Center, Vela Star System
As one of hundreds of commercial docking platforms throughout the Federation, the Starfleet customs station in the Vela Star System became colloquially known as “Stardock” over the years as a place for freighters and merchant ships to berth and find respite while undergoing customs inspection by Starfleet Merchant Marine Command. Unlike the similarly-styled K-7 station near Sherman's Planet from years ago, this platform was still operational, and served as a useful hub of commerce to and from the Federation frontier regions adjacent to the Lagana sector.
As vessels of various sizes, shapes, and species remained moored to the open-air platforms, protected from the vacuum of space by transparent force-fields extending around the assorted gangway planks and side hatches, one of the open docking cradles was in the process of being claimed by yet another unique ship of freighter-class. Composed of angular and oblong trusses with interlinked bulkheads, it was blemished with decades of wear and tear, and as it completed it's berthing operation, came to rest with an audible “thunk” within the confines of the atmosphere shield. It was, in fact, an old dilapidated Deneva Class freighter, originally of Starfleet design, but stripped of it's cargo modules nearly fifty years prior, and demilitarized for civilian use some time after that. Artistically hand-painted on the right side near the egress hatch was the current-day official name of the vessel, barely discernible against the aged bronze hull, and which had only a fleeting similarity to it's original registry when first christened at the beginning of the century: “Mel's Republic”.
In contrast to the vessel's ramshackle appearance, the two civilian occupants happily emerged and walked down the off-boarding ramp to greet the customs agent arriving from the other direction. One of them was a tall, sleek looking human with brown hair and a beige bomber jacket, and carried with him the air of the ship's captain and owner. The other was a short, squat-looking Tellarite in a dark-blue buttoned flightsuit, denoting that he was most likely the vessel's flight operator. As they crossed the gravity threshold and set foot onto the docking floor, they strode forth for another few seconds before the wrenching sound of twisted metal sounded behind them.
The two stopped dead in their tracks. The taller man looked to his companion with an air of disconcertedness.
“What was that?” he asked plainly.
As they turned further around, they found themselves gawking while their vessel slowly pulled away from the docking platform. The ramp they had just walked off was floating away into space, contorted into a jagged piece of flotsam.
“Is that the gangway ramp??” the skipper exclaimed at the departing piece of metal as the widening chasm between the docking ledge and his ship grew larger.
“Looks like it…” his Tellarite companion similarly gawked.
“Did the main gangway ramp just fall away from my ship??” the captain repeated his question in disbelief as the incredulity rose rapidly from his gut.
“The ship broke herself free from the gravitational umbilicals! She's pulling away under her own power!”
“Did you leave the autonomous guidance system on??” the captain accused his flight officer.
“No!” the short pig-like humanoid grunted. “I haven't turned that thing on in months!”
“Um…” the arriving customs official followed the men's gaze as the freighter inexplicably departed the vicinity of the docking platform. “Having trouble with your ship?”
The captain turned to the man with an expression that was a mix of both subterfuge and barely contained indignation. “Not at all. No problem here. Why?” he said with faux calmness before exploding into a diatribe of consternation. “My ship just left the docking bay BY ITSELF!” he bellowed. “Of COURSE there's a problem you IDIOT!”
For his part, the customs official retorted with his own stress-filled response. “What do you want us to do?? Call in a space-tug to get her back?”
“Might be a little late for that now,” the Tellarite warned as he spotted the familiar sign of the runaway cargo transport's warp engines activating. Without warning, the space around the ship bent into an elongated parallax before shooting away in a hasty departure at superluminal speed.
The three men simply stared at the empty space where the ancient freighter had been no less than thirty seconds earlier.
“You want to report it lost?” the customs official finally offered.
As if the official had spoken an absurdity, the freighter captain broke away from his trance of disbelief. “My ship doesn't get lost!” he exclaimed. Turning angrily back to his pilot, he continued to harangue him. “If my ship got lost, YOU lost her!!”
Location: 39-Sierra Supply Depot
The afternoon shift in the maintenance control tower was as leisurely as any other day. While there were five Starfleet ships in port for personnel rotation and resupply, none needed exterior maintenance, leaving the two maintenance operators to do nothing but run through routine checks of all their equipment for the dozenth time that day. One such check was of their maintenance drone inventory, where thirteen ancient but venerable robotic repair drones were docked in their recharging ports on an unobtrusive and remote location along the station's exterior. As the senior technician went over the list, one anomaly caught his eye: One of the drones was missing from it's docking port. Assuming that it had been called away on an unscheduled repair, he swiveled in his chair and tried to contact the drone's AI computer over the comlink.
“Space drone 4Q2, why aren't you at your post?” he transmitted sternly, ready to scold it for not reporting that it had been called away. When silence followed, he hailed once more. “4Q2, do you copy?” Still, the silence lingered.
“Take over,” he commanded his subordinate in the chair opposite from him. “We have missing drone. I'll go do a visual check with Libo.”
“Aye sir,” he replied as his supervisor got up and departed.
Minutes later, a two-seated inspection sled flew past the maintenance control tower towards the drone docking complex outside the depot.
“I'm telling you, Libo,” the tower supervisor conversed with his pilot from the back seat. “These old Starfleet repair drones are becoming more trouble than they're worth. I mean, the computers still work most of the time, and their AI's are easy to get along with, but I have to overhaul their engines almost three times a year now. I'm thinking I need to talk to the station commander and scrap these buggers altogether.”
“You're being too judgmental,” the pilot known as “Libo” exclaimed from the front seat over the whine of the engines. “These little guys have a lot of history to them.”
“A lot of good THAT does when they go off on their own without permission. Why should I keep drones around when they don't follow orders?”
“They're famous,” the pilot explained as he turned the sled portside in preparation for an inspection run. “They've been around for over a century. Everyone knows they were once repair drones for the first thirteen Constitution-class starships. Since then, they've been rebuilt, overhauled, upgraded, and refitted over a dozen times each. Then, twenty years ago, some guy had the great idea of adding shuttlecraft engines to them, making them warp-capable. The captain of every stranded starship they've serviced in this sector owes their lives to them. NONE of them will forgive you if you let them go.”
With another maneuver to flip the sled on it's back so the station was above them, the pilot flew a straight line down the docking rings, lining them up in a row. Protruding out from each were identical shuttlecraft-sized vessels composed of warp nacelles and a plethora of mechanical gadgetry that resembled a cross between a multi-armed crop harvester and a giant Swiss army knife.
“There you go. All lined up like peas in a pod,” exclaimed the pilot.
“I see them,” he responded dryly, listing off their serial numbers verbally to no one in particular. “3P9, 4Q-zero, 4Q1…”
“Right… let's use their REAL names, shall we?” the pilot complained. “There's Constitution, next to it is Enterprise, then Potemkin… ”
“Wait…” the back seat supervisor ordered with confusion in his voice. “Go back…”
This caused the pilot to stop and hover while they stared out the canopy and down an empty docking port in front of them.
Location: Ops, Space Station Deep Space Nine, Bajor Sector
The hum of activity in the operations center of Deep Space Nine was a constant pace as merchant and passenger ships alike were cleared for docking or departure, cargo manifests reviewed and approved, or guest quarters assigned and reassigned as newcomers and repeat visitors continued to make the famous space station the center of their personal and professional lives. Notably absent were Starfleet vessels of any kind, and with the exception of the permanently-assigned uniformed personnel, no other Starfleet presence could be discerned aboard the station. Ever since the USS Honshu and USS Longstreet abandoned their Bajoran patrol routes, leaving the system without so much as a “goodbye”, Deep Space Nine was left to fend for itself with regard to defense and the rule of Federation law.
As for Captain Kira, she remained undeterred. Although she had merchant ships requesting Starfleet back-up through contested territory, the Defiant was still under her command, albeit it's demand for escort duty was stretched way too thin in these dire times. Starfleet was at war once again, and it was Doctor Bashir who related their current predicament to the Roman Province of Britannia on fifth-century Earth, where Emperor Honorius told civilians to “look to their own defence” as the distant capital city of Rome fell before Gaul and the Visigoths. Kira's message to Proconsul Neral of the Romulan Empire had yet to receive a reply, so it was of great interest that the station received word of incoming fleet traffic, mysterious as it was.
“What have you got for me?” Kira asked as she emerged from her office on the second level platform.
On the floor below, a young balding Bajoran ensign in an operations gold Starfleet uniform stood at the main telemtry console and ran through his report.
“Starfleet Merchant Marine Command has issued us a general alert,” he explained. “Several vessels have been detected within Federation borders entering warp at high speed, heading in our direction. They all seem to be converging on our location.”
“So?” she beckoned with an annoyed tone while walking down the stairs to the first level. “What's so special about that? We've got traffic coming in from all over the Alpha Quadrant.”
“These ships are not reported to have crew aboard. They abruptly departed their origins without any personnel, and the onboard computers mysteriously set course for Deep Space Nine under their own volition. None of them have filed a flight plan, and their crews are scrambling to try and get their ships back. Starfleet can't help right now; they haven't the assets to pursue.”
“Of COURSE they don't,” she responded harshly. “They're too busy fighting a damned war that the president started. What's their ETA?”
“According to subspace navigational buoys, the first one is due to arrive in less than two days.”
“Can you identify them?”
“Aye, sir. The closest one is the USS Republic.”
“The Republic?” she exclaimed with confusion. “I thought she was at the Gorn battlefront!”
“It's not the Luna Class Republic,” the young man explained.
“What other 'Republic' could it be?? The Galaxy Class Republic?” came the sarcastic reply.
“Negative sir, it's…” His face contorted into a confused frown as he watched several additional navigational signatures wink into existence on his screen one-by-one, their courses putting Deep Space Nine at the termination side of their destination. Following came their computer-rendered transponder signals; some of them very old Starfleet, while others were civilian-based identifiers or autonomous drone ships.
“…Well?” an impatient Captain Kira beckoned. “WHICH Republic??”
The young man stared at his screen in momentary disbelief as he read each vessel's transponder signature. Blinking a few times to clear his thought processes, he finally acknowledged her with an unassured statement suggesting he was extrapolating the best he could for his commander.
“All of them…?”
<tag = Virtus (or anyone else)>
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