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There was some debate in the various circles about which Starfleet ship was the oldest still in active service.
The purists claimed it was the USS IMAGO because it had not been renamed when it had gone through its major refit and upgrade. Those who were in the JUPITOR's camp claimed, and rightly so, that the plaque in the auxiliary bridge from the original commissioning hadn't been moved and showed that the superstructure of the old lady was still the same one that had left space dock almost two hundred years ago.
In the most recent listing of the senior citizens of the fleet, both were listed as number one, with a footnote explaining that since the exact in service date for the IMAGO was disputed, there was a chance that they were within weeks of being the same age, and after over a hundred and eighty years of active service, a month more or less made no difference at all. And especially to the crew on the ship some still called the "Jupiter with an 'O'".
But it was the JUPITOR which was still on an officially sanctioned mission from Star Fleet, the other ship was a traveling museum of fleet history and was only commissioned sentimentally. By contrast, the JUPITOR under command of Captain Sloan was still on its mission of investigating a string of anomalies that had been reported all over the Federation and allied powers. The mission gradually widened from sensor ghosts and odd readings to include random pieces of refuse, navigational hazards, and even investigating an rogue asteroid that turned out to have been artificially constructed that was used as a resort hotel for those who enjoyed a lot of solitude by a race in the Beta Quadrant. Once it had served its useful life, they simply abandoned it and let it drift to become the largest piece of space junk yet recorded by Starfleet.
"We have just received a priority assignment at the request of the Ferringi Trade Counsel. Something just went through their space, and they weren't able to catch it. According to their readings, it is now in Federation space, they have charged it with trespassing and are waving the treaty at Star Fleet demanding we take the vessel into custody so they can file formal charges against its captain. And we are the closest starship. The new course should be feeding to the helm now. As soon as you plot it, engage at best speed."
"You mean the Ferringi just want a big payoff from them," Commander Barron laughed as the helmsman changed the helm settings.
Captain Sloan nodded slowly, "Essentially."
"Coming to plotted course, at warp eight point five, Captain. We should be able to edge that up a bit more."
"Right now, two hours and six minutes."
"Edge it up."
In less than two hours Captain Sloan walked out of his ready room, "Status?"
"We're approaching the coordinates now. Whatever it was, isn't here."
Lieutenant Montgomery was biting her lower lip with her fangs at the sensor station, "There is a residual energy trail. But the reference is for an old style FTL drive that uses hyperspace jumps." She turned toward the Captain, "Can that be right?"
"Confirmed, sir. That's exactly what it is. And from these readings, it was a low energy short jump system."
"Can we follow it?"
"I think so."
"Send it to the helm, follow it."
"All we can do is track their trajectory until they jump, once they go FTL, if they change course we'll lose them."
Sloan nodded, "If I remember my history correctly, once you spin that thing up to jump, you don't change directions if you can help it."
"I've got it sir, speed?"
"What do you say, warp three? For how long?" Sloan asked Barron.
"That ought to do it. I'd say for no more than about twenty minutes."
"I concur," Sloan nodded toward the helm, "let's go."
"Eighteen minutes, mark, dropping to impulse."
It was a tense minute or so, then, "Commander, I've got a large object at twenty-two mark nine, it's moving."
The alien ship was a large elongated box-shaped thing with a bright circle inlaid in the stern. As they watched, the circle got brighter.
"They're spinning up, it's going to jump again, helm, set course to follow, stay within scanning range, they might get up to our warp two or so," Commander Barron ordered.
"On our way."
In subspace the other ship appeared to be a distorted dark mass to the JUPITOR's sensors as it didn't have a true warp field. But all that mattered was that they were able to track it.
"Sir, their FTL field is weakening, they'll drop into normal space shortly. We're ready and will be right behind them when they do."
"Very good. Stand by to hail them."
"No answer to hail, sir. But it is conducting an automated sensor sweep."
"Life signs are inconclusive. There's people on board, but the readings aren't reliable. Something in the hull is interfering with our scans, I can see life signs, but that's it."
"Power readings indicate they're going to jump again in about four minutes. Readings are still low in the mercury ring. They'll repeat what they just did when they go. We'll be able to stick right with them."
"Is there life support over there?"
"Yes, sir. I can see atmosphere, temperature, even some gravity, it looks like it was made for us."
Sloan nodded at Barron, "Take an away team over there, if they spin it up we'll follow them again."
"Away team check. We're in, all secure. No sign of the crew, no, nothing. Not yet. We're proceeding forward to where the readings were concentrated." Commander Barron said to him communicator. He looked at his team, "Ready?"
"In a moment. Sir, look at this." Lieutenant Warren said indicating a panel with an angular script next to lighted indicators.
"That looks familiar."
"I'd like to get a shot of this and send it back to the ship, if it is the language I think it is, it's a major discovery sir."
"Do it, send what you can before we jump," he turned to one of the security guards, "stay with her, report in. We'll go forward." Then he saw another panel, "There's more of it over here."
Captain Sloan was looking over Lieutenant Montgomery's shoulder, "It is Cuneiform, sir. But it is going to take a while to translate."
"Work on it. Time to jump."
"They're powering up now, the ring with the liquid mercury in it is starting to pulse to spin it, thirty seconds at the most," the helm reported.
"Away team, it's jumping now. We'll stay with you. Communications during the jump might be, difficult."
"There it goes."
"And here we go."
Commander Barron stood for a moment in front of what appeared to be a hatchway to the forward part of the alien ship. "OK, how does it open?"
Ensign Hart saved the mission, "I see it, sir." He pushed in on an embedded panel and then pulled the door toward them.
"That worked. Well done."
"Thank you, sir."
They peered through the opening. "It's one big room."
"Yes, sir," Hart agreed.
"Well, we're here to investigate, let's go investigate."
They stood there and looked at each other for a moment.
"OK, I'll go first."
"I was letting you decide, sir."
"Thanks," Barron grinned.
"The field strength is dropping."
"OK, we need to figure out how to keep it from jumping again," Captain Sloan said with a nod.
"This is part of the engineering section, sir. The first panel is air control, and the other is radiation detection. When they drop out we need to have Lieutenant Warren look for the FTL control panel. It should be there somewhere."
"Excellent work, and that's your assignment."
Barron and Hart almost lost their balance as the alien ship slowed suddenly.
"I guess their inertial dampers need some work," Ensign Hart commented.
"I'll add that to the report."
"JUPITOR to away team, status check."
"It was a rough ride when we unjumped, but we're OK," they heard Warren answer.
"Ditto here. We're inside the big room, and we've found something odd," Barron started to say, then stopped dead.
The Captain was getting ready to respond when they all heard several exclamations.
"Captain Sloan, let me restate that. We've found something, and somebody, odd."
"I'm dying to hear an explanation of that statement, Commander."
"Understood, sir, you should have images coming through now."
The view screen suddenly showed an old cylindrical space capsule with a row of symbols painted on the side and several projections from various parts of it. Then they noticed two people standing next to it one of them they knew, the other was an elderly Vulcan in an ancient uniform.
"Hello, Captain Sloan. Welcome. Welcome, indeed," the Vulcan said through the universal translator.
"Sir, I'll find out who they are and get back to you on that. I'm sending the name and registry of the capsule."
"Thank you, Commander. Lieutenant?"
"Just got it. Working on it now, sir." Lieutenant Montgomery was working as furiously as the library computer itself as both tried to comply with the Captain's request. The primary difference between the woman and the machine was that the computer didn't bite its own lip with its fangs as it did so. Finally, the information appeared. "Got it, sir. Old Vulcan registry, KPM49 was sent with supplies and crew to an asteroid mining station in their outer system. It vanished about a week from its scheduled arrival at the station. There was routine contact less than an hour before all contact including automated telemetry was lost. There was never any trace of the ship found. That was a hundred and thirty five years ago by our calendar."
"Did you hear that, Commander?"
"Yes, sir. I would say we need to update that record. KPM49 is here, and five of the six are alive and well. And I've another question for Karvie."
"She's listening, Commander."
"Why are there Vulcans on a spaceship full of what Warren says is an ancient Earth language?"
Lieutenant Montgomery smiled, "I'm still working on that Commander."
"Sorry to interrupt, but the ship is getting ready to spin up for another jump," the helmsman said urgently. "It is correcting its course now, energy levels in the FTL drive beginning to increase."
"How far is it going to go this time?"
"Slightly less than the last jump. Our course is already set and programed, when they go, we'll be right behind them."
"Very good. Did you read all that away team?"
"Yes, sir, we're ready here."
On the alien ship the five Vulcans took the jump in stride.
"We attempted to keep track of each, and its duration. But then, over time, even we lost count," one of them said as the room stabilized once the ship had reached its cruising speed.
"Initially we tried to modify the communications equipment on our ship to penetrate the outer hull, but I do not believe we were successful. The equipment on our ship was well suited for our original mission, but not anything further."
"We were most fortunate that, through trial and much error, we were able to get the alien vessel's dietary system to provide sustenance for us. Although some of the offerings were unpleasant, we did survive on what was intended for the original crew. We also found their remains."
"All in all, Commander, I believe we have fared remarkably well."
"I see, and, I agree. You've done very well."
"But I am still gratified that you are here, now."
"Commander Barron, we found the FTL drive control panel," Warren said over the communicator.
"Good, we'll be right there."
"You can read the ancient lettering?" One of the Vulcans asked.
"No, but the library computer on the ship can."
"Excellent. May we observe?"
"We have several Vulcans in our crew, I'm sure they'd enjoy meeting you. Well, not enjoy it, but you know what I mean."
"Yes, I do. And we would 'enjoy' meeting them as well, but in due time."
Once again, without warning, the alien vessel suddenly dropped out of hyperspace.
But this time, they were more ready for it than they had been before and as soon as the field dissipated enough to get a signal through, the away team was sending images to the JUPITOR for translation.
"The control to disable the jump sequence is the second from the left in the third row below the nested lights with the blue center."
"Got it, what do I do with it?"
"That's what I'm not sure of," Montgomery answered. "I think, and it is only my best guess, I think you hold it in until the light changes color."
"That would be logical. During previous, jumps, those indicators were their spectrum opposites."
"Let's try it," Barron said and Warren put her hand over the control and held it there.
In a few moments the blue light became orange and the outer ring of the light array became blue.
"Now we wait and see if it spins up for the next jump," Barron said when nothing else happened.
They discussed the various panels to pass the time. And then the ship called with news.
"If it is going to go, it should be starting to spin up in about ninety seconds."
"That's it, sir," Montgomery said, "if it was going to jump, it should be powering up now. The mercury ring is unchanged. Reading minimal power to it. Routine circulation only."
"OK, now what?" Barron asked. "You going to turn them over to the Ferringi?"
Captain Sloan chuckled at the thought, then stood up straight, "Lieutenant Cooper, you have the bridge, Miss Montgomery, would you like to come with me to see our mystery ship?"
"And bring your, ahhh, ancient language translator."
"For the Cuneiform, yes, sir."
They had been on board the alien ship for about an hour when Cooper called over to them that there were readings from the FTL drive that it was starting to power up for another jump.
They walked quickly to the control panel and confirmed that the monitors had changed colors. But this time a repeat of holding the 'off' button didn't work.
Montgomery referred back and forth between the tricorder and a reader and the controls, "Sir, I think...."
"Just do whatever you need to do to keep us from jumping again."
"I think this will power down the system," she held down a row of symbols for a moment until several changed colors, "and this will turn off the automatic recall for the jump sequence."
As soon as she touched the panel a really obnoxious alarm tone began sounding and several indicators began flashing.
"That's what it is supposed to do, this should," the alarm stopped, "confirm that I wanted to do that." She touched another control and everything went back to the way it had been before.
Captain Sloan was still shaking the sound out of his ears, "next time, warn us."
The Vulcans proved excellent students of the ancient language and were soon translating the symbols into their language faster than the library computer could render it into English.
"We didn't have a translation key, and no base of reference," they said. "Now, we do."
Captain Sloan nodded and turned to Lieutenant Warren, "So, how did this language end up on this ship, and this ship in Vulcan space?"
"I'm sorry captain, that information does not appear to be on this ship."
"Have you been able to access their navigational archive?"
"To some degree, yes. There is a lot of information there. Every time the ship came out of hyperspace it took a set of sensor readings, all of that data is here."
"Good, send it to the ship."
"We never stopped. Like I said, it's a lot of information."
"Very good. Do we have any clues as to who built this thing and when?"
"Yes, and no."
"That needs more of an explanation."
"Yes, sir, if you come with me, I'll show you part of it."
They walked through the boxy vessel to its very prow.
For the next ten minutes Captain Sloan was treated to a running debate between the various parties as they discussed what Warren said looked like a dedication plaque for the ship in memory of a catastrophic event in the history of the people that built it. They finally agreed that the ship had been built before the event, then afterward, re-dedicated as a memorial to those lost by the calamity by the survivors on one of their outlying colonies. And then the debate changed as to exactly how long ago that had been.
"I've got it, sir. Sirs." Montgomery said over the communicator. "The image is a star map of the Faiscin group. It indicates their positions before the collision of the two stars in what used to be the binary Copa Niagle system. The second map is of the group once it stabilized after the nova. I've isolated the dates, and we're working to confirm that with metallurgical readings of the hull and engines."
"What's the initial dating?"
"About five thousand years ago, we'll get a more precise estimate when we confirm it."
"That's close enough for now. So how did it end up in Vulcan space?"
"We're not sure. There is an itinerary that appears to be a cargo delivery route that included Earth, and extended all the way to the Rigel system and to the home system of somebody it calls the King of the Cloud. It ran that route for over a hundred of our years completing at least sixty round trips. Then there is a break in the navigational data. We've been able to determine that the ship sustained a massive isolytic shock. When the automated system came back online the ship was a long way off course and it stayed off course because it kept repeating the same error."
"And that new course took it to Vulcan."
"No, sir. The new course took it everywhere, in elliptical orbits through most of this quarter of the galaxy. We're tracing the route backward, but we still have a long way to go to pinpoint when and where it came near Vulcan." She paused, then added what she knew he was going to say, "We'll keep at it, sir."
"Sir! We've got it!" The communicator said as Captain Sloan inspected the Vulcan's ship and living quarters for the last century.
"Yes, sir. I found a plate with the ship's owners and registry on it. I just confirmed the translation with the library computer. And we've got a good date on its launch and mission."
"Where are you?"
"In the bow sir, just over from where we were before."
"On our way."
They formed a semi-circle around the hyper-excited Lieutenant, she pointed at a couple of rows of characters and didn't say anything beyond, "it's right here."
Captain Sloan held up his hand, "Just take a breath and then tell us the who, where, when, that stuff."
"She's right Captain, I've learned enough of the language to see what she is saying. But I do not know who the 'King of the Cloud' is. Or, rather, was, given the scale of time."
"I think I can explain part of that, sir."
They nodded to her.
"The race was called the 'To', at least that is what they called themselves on here. The King of the Cloud was one of their primary trading partners. This vessel was planned for a long time before it was built, then its mission was changed to run a trade route that included, of all things, Earth, where it picked up cargo, and occasionally passengers for later delivery to points in the King's realm. It had five ports of call in a long elliptical loop, which didn't take it anywhere near Vulcan. We have pinpointed exactly where it would have landed on Earth, they called it Pad Four."
"Let me guess, Egypt. Or on a Mayan pyramid."
"No, sir. It landed in Lebanon, on what we call Baal-bek."
"If I may," the communicator spoke up, "from the early records before the isolytic hit, the ship completed over thirty trips around its route. There is a record of the jump that was interrupted by the burst. The ship's navigational program kept running, even though the FTL engine was dead for some time, possibly over a hundred years, some of the data from that time has been totally lost. When the system came back online, the ship had drifted for we can't tell how far, or how long. And ever since then, it has been off course."
"And so it ended up here."
"But why did it pick up the Vulcans?"
Montgomery answered the open question, "It's simple, sir. During its cargo route, it was supposed to pick up cargo containers that were free floating at two points along the route at jump points. Stuff left there in containers for it to be called for at another point on the route. Evidently, after the shock, it thought they were its cargo, so it scooped them up."
"Logical. If most unfortunate for us."
"That's one way of looking at it."
Back on the JUPITOR Captain Sloan and the others gathered in the briefing room to officially welcome the Vulcans back into the living galaxy.
The surviving members of the crew of the KPM49 had been greeted with honor by the Vulcans of the crew of the JUPITOR, and received similar communications from Star Fleet's Vulcan delegation and replied humbly and replied as was appropriate to their species.
And then the Captain was able to sit down with his senior staff and the Vulcans and lay out everything they knew about the ancient ship and how they all came to be around that table at one time and, hopefully, make some sense out of it.
"I did a preliminary autopsy on the remains of the crew. They were apparently passengers on the ship when it was hit by the isolytic shock. It was immediately fatal. And that was a long, long time ago."
The others around the table were silent for a moment.
"Thank you, doctor. OK, just humor me for a few minutes if you will. I'd like to hear the entire story of laid out from when that ship was launched to now in one shot," Captain Sloan paused, "anybody else game?"
"I think that would be of interest to all of us, Captain."
"So, where do we start? With the To?"
There were star charts and maps of ancient realms that covered a good bit of the galaxy, they had the ship's anthropologist give them the short version of the story of the King of the Sky, and how this all applied to the To people and their robot cargo ships.
Then they went through the evidence from the To ship about its fateful encounter with a large, powerful burst of isolytic energy. "The only thing we cannot be sure of is whether or not the burst was naturally or artificially produced."
The Vulans were Vulcans, "If a weapon intentionally targeted against the vessel, the enemy who launched the weapon would have seized vessel when it was disabled if it were not destroyed. As it was not, it would be reasonable that the unfortunate event were either unintended as perhaps collateral damage in a larger attack, or a natural event. The result is the same either way."
"Thank you, Captain."
"And I have a follow up question. If we just let the ship go, how much longer will function?"
"Its power reserve is getting pretty low, although it is self-regenerating, its ability to do so has been diminishing for some time, if our estimates are correct, the reserve will be exhausted in less than a year if it continued its route as before."
"Can we tow it back to the Starbase?"
"I believe so sir, but I have another idea."
"I believe we can reprogram it and, in perhaps three jumps, it can be at Starbase 24."
"Yes, sir. And if not, we can tow it the rest of the way."
"Tracking normally, sir. It'll be dropping out in thirty seconds."
"We're staying with them, when they slow down, we'll be right with them."
"And, there they go, field dissipating, vessel slowing."
"Away team to JUPITOR, position check."
"Right where you're supposed to be. New course, 113.7 by 83.0. Jump should be for exactly thirty-four minutes."
"Entering course now."
Captain Sloan was very proud of his crew, "How was the ride?"
"I'd say it's a lot nicer when you're in control of it and know where you're going."
"One minute to power up."
"JUPITOR standing by, you lead, we'll follow."
"Starbase 24 space control to the USS JUPITOR, and friend. We have been authorized by the Vulcan Ambassador to officially welcome and extend full honors to the crew of the KPM49, and to announce that the Vulcans High Command will handle the dispute with the Ferringi from here on. Please assume standard orbit."
For more Star Trek Fan Fiction by the Desk see:
The Station and the Patrol a novel length work
Dear Diary the Borg story
The RAVEN page. The fictional history of a ship.
Legal stuff below.
[NOTE:This Story Is FAN FICTION. This presentation carries the copyright The Media Desk, 2007. Author retains all rights, including the right of approval for publication. STAR TREK, and all images and situations affiliated with STAR TREK are originally owned and copyrighted by PARAMOUNT STUDIOS and other entities. They are used in this story without intent to harm or otherwise defame PARAMOUNT or the estate of Gene Roddenberry. If either of those parties object to it, the story will be pulled immediately. The Media Desk is not in any way affiliated with PARAMOUNT, or anybody else for that matter. For information contact Levite. Email- dr_leftover[~a t-]themediadesk[~d 0 t-]com (email scrambled to screw with spammer robots)]