• Blabberdock

Q's Christmas Carol or "The Visitation" (novelette)

Updated: Dec 9, 2019

By Nathan Warner

In Jean-Luc Picard’s darkest hour, a friend forces him to face visitations from his past, present, and future to come to terms with the loss he feels after Data’s death. Will he regain the convictions that his life is to “make a difference,” or will he succumb to the emptiness of his regrets?

“Jean-Luc, time to wake up!” Yvette called from the kitchen. “The goose is almost done!”
Jean-Luc stirred in bed. The mattress was so soft and warm. The smells of the roasting bird and chestnuts filled the house. He thought he could even smell the fragrant aroma of the Balsam Fir set up in the tallest parlor of the Chateau.
“Coming, mother!” he called weakly. He opened his eyes and stared in surprise. This was not his room! The light was cold and the walls were dark. Jean-Luc rose slowly in his bed and then he realized he was not a boy of sixteen at home on his parent’s vineyard in La Barre, France – he was an old man in his quarters on the Enterprise E, which was cruising past the Tellerite Star System at warp 6, en-route to a memorial service in the Chin’toka star system for the 4 year anniversary of the conclusion of the Dominion War – an event dedicated to the lives lost in that catastrophic war. Picard was scheduled to deliver the keynote speech, in leu of Captain Benjamin Sisko, unless he were to turn up, and he still had no idea what he was going to say. All the words he’d written down seemed politic and trite – empty.
Empty, Picard repeated in his thoughts.
And then, the haunting sense of loss hit him as he suddenly felt anew the emptiness of Data’s permanent absence sink back in. His death was only a few months past, but it was raw as a deep, abiding wound refusing to heal. Data had died saving Picard’s life from Shinzon’s vendetta, but it all felt like such a terrible waste – a bleak bereavement that left an almost sterile world behind.
Adding to this was the recent departure of his dear friends Will and Deanna Riker to take possession of the U.S.S. Titan. The Enterprise felt hollow, somehow, without these three – so much so that he felt small comfort in those that remained: Beverly, Geordie, and sometimes Worf, who was dividing his time between Martok’s chancellery and the Federation these days.
He and Beverly had grown distant these last years and now, after Data’s death, a gulf had seemed to emerge between them.
“Empty,” Picard muttered aloud, thinking about this ship he called home.
It feels like a house where all the children are grown up and some are gone, he mused, wondering if this was how his mother felt when he had left home for the stars. How cruel he had been to her!
“But why the…dream,” he wondered aloud, pressing his hands into his eyes, and then it dawned on him. By earth’s calendar, today was December 23 – The day before Christmas Eve on the traditional French calendar. Ah, Christmas – a holiday that had a special place in his earliest memories. The Picard household made it a huge affair with the largest tree they could drag into the house. Lights and tinsel and family heirlooms adorned its branches – and tucked beneath it, presents neatly wrapped with beautiful bows of red and green.
He tried to stop his memories before they drifted to the smells of homemade food – what torture for someone tied to a replicator for his meals! His attempt failed. He could almost taste his mother’s famous pudding.
“Oh, for pity’s sake,” he groaned, collapsing back into bed. “I’ll sleep it off,” he grumbled.
He sank into his pillow. It felt so soft – softer than he remembered. Rather than the smell of chestnuts abating, it seemed to grow stronger. Picard buried his head beneath the sheets. The light seemed to grow in the room. Suddenly, he heard his mother’s voice again.
“Jean-Luc, I mean it!” she cried from what sounded like downstairs. “It is time to wash up! Where is your brother?” Picard threw his covers off and sat up. He blinked in the bright morning light that bathed his old room at the Picard Estate.
“What is happening here,” he gasped, gazing over his toy starship models on his desk and his school fencing uniform at the foot of his bed. He stood up slowly.
“Computer, end program!” he called out. If there was a computer anywhere, it did not reply. “Picard to the bridge!” he ordered the com system. Again, nothing.
“Jean-Luc! Who are you talking to up there?” Yvette called.
“Uh, no one, mother!” he called down, subconsciously unable to resist his mother’s demands.
“Then for heaven’s sake, come down!” she replied.
“Uh, I’m not feeling the best,” he tried. “Perhaps I should stay in bed?”
“Nonsense!” she laughed. “Do I have to come up there?”
“No!...no, I’m fine,” he replied. “I’ll be down in a minute.”
He found a mirror and looked into it. He almost felt disappointed when the same old “him” stared back at him. He glanced around at the amazing detail to his memories. Was this his Irumodic Syndrome making its ugly appearance again as it had in that alternate timeline? Picard stepped back from the mirror, subconsciously straightening his Starfleet issue pajamas. If it was the dreaded disease, he knew he’d have to play out the hallucination for Dr. Crusher’s to diagnose later.
With a sigh, he went to the door and stepped out onto the landing. The ancient oak floorboards creaked loudly, announcing his approach, and he gingerly made his way down the steps. Without realizing it, he instinctively found his way to the dining room.
There, sitting at the table was a beautiful young woman, her face framed between the steaming goose and the pudding. She smiled when he appeared.
“Hello, Jean-Luc,” she said with a gentleness that washed over him.
“Claire!” he spoke her name easily from the depths of his memory. “But…what are you doing here?” Her smile faded for a moment.
“Your mother was kind enough to invite me,” she said. “Father’s not doing well after the accident and mother is with him at the hospital.”
“I’m…sorry, Claire,” Picard sighed. He remembered now. Claire’s father Ricard had been run over by a malfunctioning autonomous watering drone while working on the family estate. His own father, Maurice, was providing for his recovery.
He suddenly felt a deep compassion for her.
“Oh, Claire, I wish I…” at that moment, laughter came bouncing down the stairs and a young blond woman skipped into the dining room and stopped short when she saw him.
“Oh, hello, Jean-Luc,” she winked. “Will you help me find my seat?” Picard pointed at her as her name rose up from his memory.
“Marie,” he almost gasped.
“It is my name,” she said playfully.
Picard took a sharp breath. He remembered now. This was the day he had been beastly to both of these girls and never seen them pleasantly again. He’d been spending more and more time studying for Starfleet’s entrance exams and his head filled with stars had begun to overflow into his heart. Space, it seemed, had made him cold.
He took a sharp, painful breath as the memory of Claire’s tears later that day, burned like drops of Nausicaan acid through his conscience. He had told her that his only true love was the cosmos and that she was a foolish, ignorant girl to be thinking of love and of family. In his most patronizing tone, he had told her that he was going to live for his dreams, even if it meant throwing off all the deadweights in his life so he could soar – cutting all the anchors tying him to everything he hated in the provincial old place. She was one of those anchors.
His words stung like knife blades. He had pushed away all these people who loved him to escape into the stars from the anger and bitterness he felt from his family’s expectations of him. At warp speed, it had been easy to keep ahead of his conscience. But as he had learned, you can’t run forever.
Why this place, of all places? He thought, fearing the future punishment his Irumodic Syndrome might inflict, if this was an early symptom! But something seemed out of place in it all – he sensed a conspiracy behind this scene being played out in front of him – of all the memories that could be visited upon him – it couldn’t be a coincidence. It was too poignant a moment in his youth – one he had always regretted and which had recently been on his mind.
Just then, the figure of a gardener walked by the low windows to the side of the dining room, belting out “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien” rather too loudly.
Picard listened to the haunting melody and the words:
“No, absolutely nothing
No, I regret nothing
Not the good things that have happened
Nor the bad, it's all the same to me
No, absolutely nothing
No, I regret nothing
It's paid, swept away, forgotten
I don't care about the past!
I set fire
To my memories
My troubles, my pleasures
I don't need them anymore
I've swept away past loves
With their trembling
Swept away forever
I'm starting over
No, absolutely nothing
No, I regret nothing
Not the good things that have happened
Nor the bad, it's all the same to me
No, absolutely nothing
No, I regret nothing
Because my life, because my joy
Today... it begins with you!
The gardener’s voice sounded oddly familiar.
“If you’ll…excuse me a moment…ah, ladies,” Picard said stepping back from the table. “I think I need a little fresh air.” He retreated quickly from the table, ignoring the giggles that followed his awkward exit. He found the front door and quietly opened it, remembering to lift the heavy, oak door so the hinges didn’t squeak – a trick he’d used countless times as a youth, sneaking in and out of the house undetected.
Outside on the stoop, he took a deep quivering breath, watching the vapor condense in the cold air. Large snowflakes gently filtered down through the gray clouds. Picard looked up at the sky.
“Q?” he called. “I know this is your doing.” Nothing happened. Picard set his jaw. “I’m not going back inside again until you show yourself!”
To his left he heard an audible sigh coming from thin air. And then, a little further away, Q’s head rose from behind the nearby garden hedge where he’d been crouching. He was wearing a ridiculous burette, clutching grass clippers with those awkward gardening gloves. He appeared to be wrestling with a weed, but then feigned to catch sight of Picard for the first time.
“Why, Jean-Luc!” he cried. “What a pleasant surprise! Fancy bumping into you in this backward parish of the universe!”
“You’re not fooling anyone, Q,” Picard growled. “We never had a gardener, and besides, even if we had, he wouldn’t have been trimming the grounds in December! Now, what is the meaning of this?” Q absently tried to shake off the weed with disgust as it clung desperately to his glove.
“I don’t know what you mean,” he said defensively. “It’s coincidence surely! I’ll have you know I regularly visit moments in your life-story – you, know, ‘to get away from it all.’ It’s all so parochial and slow here that to atone for my latest galactic indiscretions, I might spend only a few minutes and I’m back to my normal mischievous self for millennia.”
“I’m not amused, Q,” Picard said. “Take me back to the Enterprise this instant!”
“Back? But we’ve only just arrived,” Q smiled. “And it would hardly do to walk out on Christmas dinner now, especially with the lovely Claire and Marie in attendance!”
“Yes, thank you for bringing them into this,” Picard said, in his least thankful voice, and stepping into Q’s face. “What is the meaning of bringing me back to this day, this moment?”
“I don’t follow your meaning?” Q said, brushing at his gloves distractedly.
“Very well,” Picard said, finding his lowest gravel. “Then I’ll tell you why you brought me here. You brought me here to relive a decision I’ve regretted all my life, to torment me with my past indescretions, isn’t that right?” Q touched his forehead dramatically.
“What do you take me for, Jean-Luc?” he groaned. “I’m not this sadist you’ve fancifully concocted in your mind!”
“Yet, here you are!” Picard exclaimed bitterly, “The spirit that haunts my every step.”
Q failed to hide his amusement at the description and a smile crept into his face. He shrugged his shoulders.
“Guilty as charged,” he grinned playfully.
“Tell me why have you brought me here?” Picard asked angrily. Q turned suddenly serious.
“This is your life, Jean-Luc,” he said gesturing around. “I thought you’d come to terms with that?”
“I have!” Picard raised his voice, but instantly sensed it wasn’t true.
“Then why, when I offered your mind anywhere to go, this is where you brought me?” Q asked evenly. “No, Jean-Luc, as clearly as Beta Prime is a sentient being disguised as a red dwarf, there is something here and now that you know you need to face.” Picard shook off his curiosity at the obvious red herring of the red dwarf to keep Q on point.
“Oh, so you’re going to make me face my choices, is that it?” he asked dangerously. Q stood taller.
“Think of it as exploring alternative trajectories your dull, little life could have plodded,” he smiled. “We’re on assignment.”
“To what…change history?” Picard demanded.
“If only,” Q said with disappointment. “I think we’d both agree that tampering with your timeline is the only way we’d remedy your sad, little legacy and give it a much needed ‘étincelle de vie’ – a spark of life – eh, mon amie?”
Picard was too frustrated to speak. Q hung his arm over Jean-Luc’s shoulder.
“Sadly,” he sighed, “the fates do hinder me in this enterprise, so instead of rebirth or resurrection, you would do well to think of what follows as…Oh, I don’t know, remedial treatment or better yet, a therapy session.”
“Therapy?” Picard exclaimed with scorn. Q held out his arms.
“My hands are tied, Jean-Luc,” he said. “What do you want me to say?”
Picard paced away and then paced back.
“What could you, of all people, possibly know about helping anyone?” Picard asked bitterly.
“Don’t be so melodramatic, Jean-Luc!” Q exclaimed gleefully, manifesting an old-fashioned, printed schedule. “I’ve got the regiment right here. First, we’ll begin as we have with regrets, then we’ll move on to what might have been, and finally, we’ll finish off with what actually is and what will be in the future.” He tossed the paper away and peered wistfully through the front window of the house at the splendid spread on the table.
“Think of the possibilities, Jean-Luc,” he smiled. “Right now, right here – your whole life lies ahead of you! You could be anything, do anything! You might paint the Rhine or teach mathematics at the University of Paris. Or better yet, how about marry the lovely Maria or graceful Claire and produce a wine to die for. After all, is there anything quite as intoxicating in life as wine and women?”
“Enough of this, Q!” Picard bellowed.
“Oh, Jean-Luc, don’t be such an infant,” Q chided. “This is all for your own good!”
“I think I’ll be the judge of that,” Picard said dangerously. “You only ever try the very boundaries of what is good, just as you try my patience!”
“C’est Moi?” Q said in mock pain, raising his hand over his chest. “You strike me to the heart, Jean-Luc!” But then he straightened and bent over Picard. “If only I could take responsibility for this, but this isn’t my idea, mon capitan. I’m sorry, Jean-Luc, but doctor’s orders are doctor’s orders!” Something about how Q stressed the last part, gave Picard pause. He leaned in towards Q.
“What doctor’s orders could you possibly be referring to?” he asked. Q looked uncomfortable, like he always did when caught out in his scheming.
“Did I say, Doctor?” he smiled, “I meant proctor – after all, life’s a test!”
“Seriously, Q!” Jean-Luc demanded.
“Oh, very well,” Q crossed his arms in defeat. “I may have heard the unspoken wish of a certain someone in your immediate acquaintance,” he said defensively, “and I may have felt like granting wishes just then, so here I am!” Picard leaned back and set his jaw.
Beverly, he thought. She was the only one he could think of who fit Q’s description. And Picard knew she had been worried about him, especially since Data’s death.
“I appreciate her concern,” Picard said indignantly, “but she doesn’t understand – she can’t understand!”
“Actually, she does understand, Jean-Luc,” Q said, suddenly very serious, bending down to Picard’s ear. “She understands you perfectly. She always has. And right now, right here, you, my dear Captain are not yourself, and I’m sorry if this isn’t pleasant and its painful and you’d rather be anywhere but here, but you are going to have to take your medicine, whether you want to or not.”
He vanished in a flash of light and Picard found himself sitting on his bed, back on the Enterprise. The gentle hum of the ship was no longer reassuring. He gazed out on the stars, warping past the windows.
“Claire and Marie,” he whispered, wistfully recalling them to mind. Why them? Picard knew in his heart it was because they were symbolic of what he was craving now – family. All the women he’d fancied since those days were career-minded, like himself then, and there was simply no opportunity for their relationships to develop naturally. Claire and Marie, on the other hand, were the type of women who desired the equally noble role of raising families.
He’d truly loved Claire, just as he’d deeply desired Marie. There was a time he fancied marrying one or the other of them. Claire was so gentle and intelligent – and Marie! – She so full of life and energy. He wondered where they were now – probably surrounded by the love and warmth and life of grandchildren in stately homes back in the old country.
“And what do I have to show for my choice?” he asked himself bitterly. “Nothing…but memories of dear friends now dead and a legacy soon to be forgotten.” Years ago, when he’d been forced into the Nexus, he thought he’d faced these demons, but it now seemed the death of his brother Robert and nephew René was only the first bitter step in coming to terms with the road he’d taken.
What was it he had told James T. Kirk about the higher calling of starship captains?
“To make a difference,” he whispered, recalling the words spoken so forcefully then. How hollow they sounded now. He’d made a difference a thousand times over and look where it had gotten him – an empty room on a starship that wasn’t even his and which would be assigned a new Captain sooner than later.
He thought about those other threads in his timeline – those other lives he might have led – the quiet life with Claire, not seeking adventure or glory, but a life surrounded by her infinite gentleness and love and family, deeper than the furthest starless scapes he’d seen in the heavens. Then there was the tireless energy that Marie would have brought him – contenting his lust for adventure with the universe of wonder in her smile.
These past possibilities were no more.
“Ashes,” he sighed and climbed into bed. The faint, reassuring throb of the warp core in the deck gently lulled his senses. He closed his eyes. Sleep had almost claimed him when he heard the sound of a bell being struck. It sifted down through his consciousness. He opened an eye and noticed an orange glow reflecting on the ceiling, flickering like the glare of a traditional wood blaze. He propped himself up slowly and shielded his eyes against the warmth of a fireplace that had magically materialized in his room.
To the side of the marble mantlepiece, a large plump figure stood up from a chair by the fire, stroking its long beard dragging up from the floor. It stood tall and struck a bell again in its left hand dramatically. “Come!” the figure chortled. “And know me better man! I am the ghost of your present life, and tonight…”
“Q!” Picard bellowed. “Get out of my bedroom! This isn’t the merde Christmas Carol!” The figure pulled its fake beard down theatrically.
“I would have though you of all people, Jean-Luc, would appreciate a classical performance!” Q said. Reluctantly, he snapped his fingers and everything vanished from the room, save for the trickster himself.
Picard collapsed back into his pillow.
“And here, I thought you were going too,” he sighed.
“Sorry, to disappoint you, Jean-Luc,” Q answered with a mischievous grin. “But I’m on the clock, and so are you.” He waved his hand and vanished. The room returned to normal. Picard waited, but nothing seemed to happen.
“Maybe he finally broke himself,” he said, breaking a slight smile. He fell asleep, deep and dreamlessly.
He woke in the morning, feeling more worn out and old. It was Christmas Eve back in the Old Country, and he fought to suppress the firm hold these memories seemed to have over him. But it was some comfort that the “dreams” of the last night were rapidly fading from his mind. He dressed quickly and left his room, making his way to the Bridge in a lonely ride through the turbolift. He found his chair where he’d left it and a steaming cup of Earl Grey from Ensign Clevis.
“Thank you, Amanda,” he said, gently lifting the cup to his lips. It was refreshing, but not quite as good as his mother Yvette used to make it. The thought nagged at him, but he shook it off.
“Status?” he asked Lt. Andrew Belvers. A blond man in his mid-twenties turned from the Con. He had an assured swagger that rubbed Picard backwards – probably because it was almost exactly how he was at that age.
“Morning, Captain,” Belvers said, as if he was tolerating the old man. “We’re ahead of schedule and should be arriving at the Chin’toka system in twelve hours.” Picard wished it was sooner – he hated being alone with his thoughts right now. He needed a distraction.
“Very well,” he said. An awkward silence fell from the uneventful report. Picard was preparing to retreat to his ready-room when the Con beeped. Lt. Belvers took in the alert.
“Sir we’re detecting a graviton spike a quarter of a light year from our location,” he reported.
Suddenly, the comms lit up.
“Captain, we are receiving a distress call!” Ensign Durst announced. “It is the passenger ship But De La Vie, two days out from Deltan IV, headed for Earth.”
“Crew compliment?” he asked. Durst reviewed the ship’s call stats.
“The registry says 20 crewmembers and…1,000 passengers,” she answered.
“Open a channel,” Picard ordered, sitting up stiffly in his seat and handing his tea back to Amanda.
“This is Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the Federation starship Enterprise, can we be of assistance?” he asked. A garbled sea of static filled the Bridge. Slowly words materialized through it.
“Caught…in gravity well…losing…attitude…Please assist…” The transmission cut off. Picard stood rapidly and joined Durst at the helm.
“Can you raise them again?” he asked. Durst shook her head as she plied her fingers across her console.
“Sorry, Sir,” she said, “but they’re no longer receiving. Their signal was cut off at the source.” Picard turned to Belvers’ station, and bit off the name that was forming on his tongue. He let it echo in his mind as a sort of memorial to his friend.
In the silence, Belvers glanced up.
“Captain?” he asked. “Is everything alright?” Picard stood and straightened his jacked.
“Yes, Lieutenant,” he replied a little forcedly. “Are you able to locate the But De La Vie?”
“Yes, Sir,” Belvers reported. “It appears to be at the site of the graviton spike we detected.” Picard nodded.
“Put it on screen, maximum magnification!” he ordered.
Suddenly, on the viewer a massive spatial distortion filled the Bridge – a pitch-black, central eye, surrounded by a swirling ring of fluctuating, distorting radiation.
“A sinkhole,” Picard muttered gravely, referring to a mysterious gravitational phenomenon that sometimes randomly appeared in space, usually triggered by the passing of a starship’s warp field. They were as dangerous as class 6 singularities and had never failed to swallow every single starship that had ever encountered one. Without hesitating a moment, Picard turned on Durst.
“Helm, lay in a course, maximum warp!” he commanded, tapping his comm badge and returning to his seat.
“Dr. Crusher, please be prepared to receive casualties,” he called.
“Jean-Luc, what’s happened?” she answered worriedly from sickbay.
“It’s a gravitational anomaly, Beverly,” he said shortly. “That’s all.” He turned off his badge and felt angry at himself for his shortness with her. He hadn’t forgiven her for being the cause of his “visitation” last night, but he knew his attitude was the furthest thing from fair. He was behaving like his younger self – pushing the people he loved away to get away from his own feelings.
“For every action, there is an opposite and equal reaction,” he mused, thinking about how he’d launched himself into the cosmos by shoving off his friends and family.
As if to punctuate the sentiment, the Enterprise leapt to warp like a thoroughbred at the races, intent on eating up the horizon and claiming first place.
Picard noted, as if for the first time, that his new First Officer, Commander Martin Madden was missing from the bridge, still away at a leadership training conference. Picard sighed through his misgivings. They’d never had such things when he was coming up! If only Will was still here.
Outside, the sleek lines of the Enterprise E caught the light of passing stars, stretched thin by the powerful warp bubble of the Federation flagship – still unparalleled for power and speed. And then, as quickly as it had begun, the elegant starship dropped out of warp 1,000 kilometers from the terrifying anomaly.
The evil eye of energy foamed and frothed like an angry whirlpool sucking at the fabric of space and time. There, on the outer edge of the phenomenon, a long dark speck orbited down into the abyss, caught in the swirling vortex of gravity.
“The transport?” Picard asked.
“Aye, Sir...their shields are failing,” Belvers reported, “And their structural integrity field is down to 50%.”
“Begin beaming the survivors out,” Picard ordered. Belvers shook his head.
“Sorry, Sir,” he said, “but the gravitational distortions are making it impossible to achieve transporter locks.”
“Tractor beam? Picard asked.
“Negative, Captain, again too much interference.”
“What about an antimatter explosion, would it be enough to push the ship free?”
“It is worth a try, Sir!”
Picard turned to tactical and paused ever so slightly as Worf was not standing there. He struggled to locate the name of the substitute officer. He settled on pointing at the young man.
“Target just beyond the ship,” he ordered. “Fire a photon torpedo…now!”
A ball of intense red light shot out from the Enterprise. It passed just beneath the transport vessel and detonated between it and the anomaly. The But De La Vie rode the shock wave up a few hundred meters, but then, almost immediately, it began sinking back down, establishing an even worse decaying orbit around the phenomenon.
Picard grimaced. He realized in that moment, that he was going to lose these lives.
“Not on my watch,” he whispered. “Not if there is anything I can do!”
“Helm, bring us to 200 meters beneath the transport,” he ordered. Durst glanced up in surprise.
“I’m sorry, Sir, did you say, ‘beneath’ the But De La Vie?”
“I did indeed, Ensign!” Picard snapped. “We’re going to push it to safety like a Bolian whale bringing her calf to the water’s surface.”
“But…Sir, we’ll be pulled into the anomaly also!” Belvers cried.
“Will we?” Picard asked flippantly. “We’ll just have to see!” Belvers stood from his post.
“Sir,” he insisted hotly. “...Captain, I fail to see the point of such a suicidal stunt!" He immediately softened his tone fearing in his youthful inexperience that the legendary captain had gone senile. "That ship out there – Its gone! There is nothing we can do! Those people died the moment they were caught in that sinkhole.”
“Lt. Belvers!” Picard bellowed. “Contain your outburst! What do you take me for – a first year cadet?”
He lowered his voice and held the Lieutenant firmly in his gaze, speaking more to his younger self than the man who stood before him.
“You and I, and every Starfleet officer here, swore an oath to serve and protect the innocent – even if that service requires us to risk sacrificing our lives to try and save theirs! Do your duty to that oath and do not question me again! Return to your post.” Belvers paled in the face of his Captain’s anger.
“Aye, Sir!” he said thickly, exchanging worried glances with Ensign Durst who tepidly engaged the impulse engines.
The Enterprise slipped ahead as Durst brought them into range of the anomaly. The deck began noticeably shaking.
“Shields and deflector to maximum!” Picard ordered. He took his seat as the hull quivered around him in the out-welling gravitational waves.
“100 km and closing!” Durst announced.
From his command console, Picard sent an alert to the forward dorsal decks, ordering them to evacuate immediately. “Déjà vu,” he muttered, recalling that he'd done the same thing only 3 months before. He hoped this wasn't going to become a tradition as he glanced ahead.
“Ensign Durst, please vacate the helm,” he said.
“Sorry, Sir…did you say…”
“Step aside!” Picard told her, rising from his seat and stumbling forward to the ship’s controls. Durst quickly rose and clutched at a bulkhead for support as Picard took her place.
“Belvers, I want you to keep a close eye on our energy reserves,” he said.
Ahead, he could see the But De La Vie, a standard Federation transport vessel, buffeting in the waves, desperately trying to keep its attitude as it continued to sink closer to the horizon. Gingerly, Picard plied the helm controls and the Sovereign class slipped down under the But De La Vie, whose engines were no match for the forces that gripped it. The Enterprise was a different story, but against the freak forces of nature, a ship was a ship and it rocked to port from a swell as the inertial dampeners struggled to keep the bridge from shaking apart. Picard paused to ensure they made the mark, before tapping alive his Communicator.
“This is the Captain speaking!” he raised his voice. “All hands, brace for impact!” He turned to Belvers. “Give me everything from the reactors – I need them tapped into the impulse engines,” he ordered. “No, belay that – give me 50% over the safeties!”
“But, Sir, they’ll burn out!” Belvers cried in alarm.
“Just do it!” Picard bellowed over the whining metal of the ship. He checked the structural integrity field. It was maxed out and still they sank.
“Full power to you, Sir!” Belvers announced.
Picard fired the impulse engines, vectoring the field’s thrust perpendicular to the gravity field. Gingerly, like stroking a Grisnak cat, he gradually adjusted their output to slow their descent. The Enterprise tilted down briefly under the new forces and then righted itself. Outside, the But De La Vie sank down atop them, nearing collision with the Enterprise every passing second. Picard hardly dared to breath. Contact with the passenger-liner was imminent. “50m…20m…10m…” he muttered, watching the distances closely. Just before impact, Picard shut off the engines, abandoning the ship to the gravity well for a few seconds. The transport and the Enterprise nearly matched speed. And then they touched. The Enterprise shuddered at from the joining.
“We have a hull breach on deck 5, section 2!” Belvers reported. “forcefields in place and holding!”
“Could have been worse,” Picard muttered.
It will get worse, he thought. Just ahead of the Bridge, the But De La Vie rested on the hull of the forward section of the ship, crossways. With no further ado, Picard throttled the impulse engines up to maximum. The Enterprise groaned in protest as it strained against the mighty gravitational pull below it and the pressing weight of the transport’s belly above.
The deck bucked.
“New hull breaches on Decks 3 and 4!” Belvers announced. “Fields in place and holding!” Picard set his jaw.
“Do me a favor, Lieutenant,” he growled, “From here on out, only announce hull breaches if the fields aren’t holding!”
“Aye…Sir,” Belvers replied diffidently.
Picard only hoped the But De La Vie was containing its own damage also. The good news was that these modern civilian transports always kept their passenger coaches on the dorsal side.
An alert on the Con caught Picard’s attention, but Belvers was on it.
“Captain, our reactors are losing structural containment!” he cried. “They’re burning out!” Picard ignored him, staring intently at their rising altitude.
“Just a few more kilometers,” he whispered, keeping the impulse throttle redlined. “Just a few more!” Suddenly, the ship rocked. Picard could feel an explosion reverberating through the hull beneath him. The ship began listing to Starboard.
“We’ve lost our starboard impulse engine!” Delvers reported. Picard adjusted the attitude controls for the remaining impulse engine.
“Almost there!” he cried, kicking in every available thruster for good measure. Suddenly, the bridge bucked as another explosion rippled through the ship.
“The port impulse engine is gone!” Delvers announced. Through gritted teeth, Picard could see their momentum would carry them free from the gravitational field, which fell away at a cubic rate. They had made it!
“Captain,” Belvers panted. “I don’t…I don’t believe it…but you did it!”
Free from the