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Day One Hundred and Eight: The Best in Space, part 3

Geordi hit the access panel with the flat of his hand. “Captain! Captain, can you hear me!” He got nothing but burst of static, followed by the mad machine’s repeated, ““Wanna go t’Earth. Wanna go t’Earth. Wanna go t’Earth.” Geordi hit the panel again. He knew it wouldn’t do any good, but the engineer he’d learned from said that “percussive maintenance” had a long tradition in engineering and should never be overlooked.

Wesley looked scared. His face was cooling down as heat left it, and the infrared pattern was being picked up by Geordi’s visor. The boy had tried to disconnect the sphere from the main computer, and had received a nasty shock for his troubles. Not enough to really hurt him, but enough to make him think twice about doing it again. The machine looked complicated and difficult enough to Geordi that he wasn’t sure if disconnecting it would even work. It was sending off electromagnetic pulses at wild frequencies, probably looking for one that would allow it to interface with the ship’s main computer. If that happened, then nothing short of physically destroying the probe would be enough to stop it.

The tool shop was beginning to feel claustrophobic. Geordi realized that Wesley probably couldn’t see a thing in there. “Wes,” he said. “We have to get out of here and see if we can find some way to untangle that thing from the computer, all right?” Wesley nodded, and Geordi keyed the door open. He stood back for a moment, expecting something terrible on the other side – fire, falling debris, arcing electricity, but there was nothing. If it hadn’t been for the thing in the tool room chanting over and over again, Geordi would have thought it was just another day.

He and Wesley returned to Main Engineering, and they went right for the main control console. Geordi started typing frantically, trying to find some way past what the “space sphere” had done to their computer. On the other side, Wesley was doing his best to figure out their situation.

“Geordi,” he said. “According to the navigation systems, we’re headed right for Earth at nearly full impulse power.”

The calculations went by Geordi’s field of vision. “That gives us about fifteen minutes,” he said. “Maybe less.” He looked down at the control panel, but he was no closer to figuring his way back in than he had been before. He slammed his hands down on the table and cursed under his breath. That made Wesley look up sharply, his eyes wide.

“What’ll we do, Geordi?” he asked. He swallowed hard. “Can we shut down the engines from here? Disable impulse power?”

Geordi shook his head. “No, we can’t do that…” He snapped his fingers. “But there is something we can do.” He turned to Wesley and grinned. “And you of all people should remember how to do it.”

“Huh?” Wesley looked utterly confused, but followed when Geordi ran to the other end of the engineering center and pulled a panel off the wall. Behind it was a rack of faintly glowing isolinear chips, each one a clear piece of translucent plastic.

Geordi crouched down in front of them and started to pull the chips out, one at a time. “Remember a few years ago, when that virus hit us and you took over the ship for a few hours.”

Wesley cleared his throat and looked away. “Not very well, no.”

“Well, while you were acting captain, you let Chief Shimoda do exactly what I’m doing now.” He was pulling the chips out and placing them carefully on the floor, making sure they were in the same order he pulled them. As he did so, the engines were beginning to power down, their ever-present hum deepening in pitch. “Now when that happened, we were in trouble because we needed to move.” He pulled a few more. “This time, we need to stop moving.” He took out the last few and laid them down. The engines’ thrumming slowly wound down and the control lights dimmed. After a moment, they were powered down completely. Geordi turned to Wesley and made a small bow. “Ta-da.”

But Wesley was already at the table, checking the ship’s progress. “Geordi,” he said. “We’re still moving.”

The readings bore him out. The ship was still heading directly towards Earth at impulse speed. There were only about ten minutes left until they arrived, in one way or another. Geordi put his head in his hands for a moment. “Stupid, stupid, stupid,” he said. He looked up. “Turning off the engines stopped us from accelerating,” he said. “But out in space, there’s nothing to slow us down. Unless we can get some kind of thrust going in the opposite direction, we’ll just keep moving forward until something stops us.”

Wesley looked up at him. “Like Earth.”

*     *     *     *     *

Data was the first to notice, of course. “Captain!” he said. “The engines are all offline. Our acceleration has stopped.” He looked up at the viewscreen, where the pale blue dot was still becoming bigger. “However, unless we can find a way to change our velocity, we will still collide with the Earth in approximately eight minutes and forty-two seconds.”

Picard stood up. “Does that machine still have control of the computers?”

“Yes, Captain, but with the engine offline it can no longer steer the ship.” He looked back over his shoulder. “On the other hand, neither can we.”

“We’ll do something about that,” Picard said. He turned to Worf. “Lieutenant,” he said. “Go to Engineering. If Geordi and Wesley haven’t been able to disconnect that thing by now, they may need some brute force assistance.”

Worf smiled, and it only served to make him look more fierce. “Aye-aye, sir,” he growled, and headed straight for the turbolift.

“Data,” Picard said. “What are our options for either stopping or steering the ship?”

The android thought for a moment. “It would be possible to adjust the ship’s course by explosively decompressing the main shuttle bay. It would add to our speed somewhat, allowing us to overshoot the Earth.” His fingers flew across the panel. “But it will only work if it is executed in the next four minutes.”

Picard stood up and tapped his communicator. “Bridge to shuttle bay.” There was no answer but static and the chanting of the space sphere. “Damn,” Picard said. “Data, Riker, get to the shuttle bay. Now. Evacuate any crew and trigger the decompression from there.” Riker and Data jumped up from their chairs and got into the turbolift. Picard sat back down in his chair and glanced over at Deanna. She was staring at the ever-growing Earth on their screens. He wanted to tell her that it would all be okay, but he’d learned that it was futile to lie to a Betazoid. He tapped a few buttons on his chair controls, bringing up a countdown on the readout. Seven and a half minutes to go. He grimaced and looked around at the places where his command crew should be.

He had done what a captain had to do – send his people to do their jobs, to save the ship. He had to send them because the captain could not do everything himself. And now he sat in the command chair, staring at the viewscreen with nothing else he could do but wait. Troi stood up and came close to him, laying a hand on his shoulder. Though she had always claimed that she could only sense emotions, not change them, Picard felt a little better.

The view of Earth was replaced by a clear view of Wesley Crusher. “Captain!” he cried. “We have communications back!” He stood aside, revealing the smoking space sphere. It had a Klingon Bat’leth jammed into it and Worf standing above it with arms crossed over his broad chest and a look a smug satisfaction on his face.

Picard smiled. “Well done, Lieutenant,” he said.

Geordi appeared on-screen. “Captain, we can regain control of the engines, but there’s no way I can replace the isolinear chips before we hit Earth.”

“Data and Riker are on that right now,” Picard said. “In fact…” He stood up and tapped his communicator badge. “Bridge to shuttle bay. How are you-”

He was cut off as the ship jumped forward and he fell back into the command chair. On the screen, Geordi and Wesley all stumbled to keep their footing, although Worf stood his ground, seemingly immovable.

“We did it, Captain!” Riker’s voice was full of pride. “Data says we ought to miss the Earth by a few hundred miles.”

“Excellent,” Picard said. He glanced down at the readout on the chair. Just about five minutes left. He looked over at Deanna, who was leaning against the railing of the bridge. “Deanna, get a message out to Earth command. Tell them we’re unable to stop and they need to get us a clear path right now.” She nodded and ran up to the tactical controls to send the message. “Geordi, make sure that thing isn’t going to trouble us anymore and get to work regaining control of the engines. Data, Riker, come back to the bridge. Mister Crusher…” He drummed his fingers. “I’ll have words with you later.” On the screen, Wesley’s face went slack, and he swallowed hard.

“Message from Starfleet, Captain,” Troi said. “They have a clear path for us past Earth. They’re going to send ships to assist us once we make it past.”

“Excellent,” Picard said. He sat back in the command chair and watched Earth grow in the screen. A few minutes later it filled the view and was then replaced by star-filled space as the Enterprise shot past it.

*     *     *     *     *

Wesley, Geordi and Riker sat in the ready room while Picard made some final additions to the official report of this incident. No one had said anything for a few long minutes during the debriefing, and the room was beginning to feel very warm. Wesley tried not to show it, but he really wanted to loosen his collar and maybe wipe his forehead. He glanced over at Geordi and Riker, who both looked perfectly relaxed. Wesley hoped he’d have that kind of composure someday – right now it was all he could do to keep from throwing up.

“Well,” Picard said, looking at the three of them. “I trust this won’t happen again?”

Riker leaned back and smiled. “I don’t know, Captain. It turned out to be quite the learning experience.” Picard didn’t change his expression at all, but somehow Riker still smiled.

Geordi spoke up quietly. “I have the remains of the space sphere,” he said. “Worf’s hit took out its main power systems, but not the computer core itself.” Everyone looked at him, disbelief in their eyes. “I have an isolated system I can hook it up to,” he said. “Absolutely no contact with the main computer.” He looked around. “What? It’s an important piece of technology. The more we know about it, the better we’ll be able to handle things like this in the future.”

“And you think something like this could happen again?” Picard asked.

Geordi shrugged. “It’s a big universe, sir,” he said. “Better safe than sorry.”

Picard nodded and turned to Wesley. “Mister Crusher,” he said, and Wesley felt that sick feeling in the pit of his stomach grow worse. “I appreciate your… enthusiasm for exploration. It is what Starfleet is built on, after all.” He tried to smile, but today it just wasn’t coming off well. He reminded Wesley of the stern, humorless Picard he’d met that first time he set foot on the bridge. “In the future, however, you must take more care, even if the others around you do not.” He looked pointedly at Riker and Geordi, who were very clearly looking elsewhere. “Failing to look before you leap is a very good way to fall to your death. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Captain.” Wesley’s voice was dry and hoarse.

“Very well.” He looked at the three of them and put the pad on his desk. “You are dismissed.”

They all stood up and filed out of the ready room. Wesley walked with Geordi onto the bridge and followed him to the turbolift.

“Aren’t you supposed to be on conn?” Geordi asked.

“Geordi,” Wesley said. “Do you really have that computer somewhere safe?”

Geordi nodded. “Don’t worry, Wes. It’ll never get control of the ship like that again.”

“Do you think…” Wesley swallowed. “Do you think I can help you work on it? Figure out what it is?”

It took a moment, but Geordi smiled and patted Wesley on the shoulder. “Sure, Wes. It was your project to begin with, after all.”

A smile broke out on Wesley’s face and the leaden feeling in his belly loosened up. He thanked Geordi and headed down the ramp to the conn station. He sat down, pulled the console to him, and looked up at the giant viewscreen, on which he could see countless stars. But he wasn’t thinking about them. He was coming up with tests, ideas, things he wanted to try with that new AI. He glanced down at his duty schedule. Four hours to go.

Just enough time to think of some really good ideas.

Aperture Science and the Space Sphere are owned by Valve Corporation.
Star Trek and all related names and ideas are owned by Paramount Pictures.

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