"Captain's log, stardate 44307.3. I am preparing to leave by shuttlecraft for Pentarus Five, where I have been asked to mediate a dispute among the salenite miners - a contentious group unfortunately prone to violence." Picard said.
Picard, Riker, Deanna, Dara, Worf, and Ensign Tess Allenby were at the bridge at their positions.
"At the same time, I must deal with a situation of a far more personal nature." Picard said.
Then Wesley came bursting in through the Turbolift door, out of breath and a little anxious. Everyone on the Bridge looked stern and a little disgruntled with him.
"Ensign, I summoned you almost ten minutes ago!"
"Yes, sir, I know, but I was in the middle of an experiment using some volatile compounds and I couldn't just leave them lying out —" Wesley said.
"Excuses, Mister Crusher?"
"No, sir, not at all, it was more of an explanation -"
"Because I assure you that will not go over well at Starfleet Academy."
"I know, sir, but -" he started then it sunk in and he stared at Picard. "The Academy?"
"I just got the message from Admiral Nsomeka. She expects you to report in two weeks."
There were smiles all around as Wesley, nonplussed, realized what Picard was saying.
"A position has opened up in this year's class. You'll have to work overtime to catch up, but I have assured the Commander that you will be capable of that. Please don't make a liar of me."
"Oh, yes sir! I mean - no, sir."
There was a small part of him that was upset about this. Leave the Enterprise after living here for four years?
'Do I really want to do this? These are my family and my home. Captain is like a father to me and my mentor. And I'm an ensign now, do I really have to go?' he thought.
"And as your final mission aboard the Enterprise... I'd like you to accompany me to Pentarus while I try to sort things out with the miners."
Wesley was amazed. First the Academy, and now an expedition with the Captain.
"Mister Riker tells me you've been studying the effects of outpost judiciary decisions on Federation Law. What better way to get first-hand experience?"
"Captain, I am picking up a general distress signal from Gamelan Five." Worf said.
They all turned toward the view screen.
An alien woman appeared, a gentle, sensitive creature who spoke with quiet desperation.
"Please... Does anyone read us?" the woman said.
"Open channel." Picard said to Worf. "I am Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the Federation Starship Enterprise." he said to the screen.
"Captain... I am Chairman Songi, of Gamelan Four. An unidentified spacecraft has entered orbit above our planet. Radiation levels in our atmosphere have increased by three thousand percent. We can only assume we are under attack- but the ship will not answer our hails! We are a peaceful planet... we have no ability to defend ourselves. Please, can you help us?"
"Mister Data, are we close enough for a scan?"
"No sir, we are out of range." Data said.
"Any other ships near that system?" Riker asked.
"Very well. Chairman Songi, we will proceed immediately to your planet."
"Thank you, Captain Picard..."
The screen blinked out and Picard considered logistics.
"Mister Riker, take the Enterprise and investigate the problem. Ensign Crusher and I will proceed to Pentarus Five." Picard said. "The miners have sent a shuttle. We'll depart in ten minutes." he said to Wesley.
Wesley acknowledged and headed for the Turbolift.
Geordi emerged from the miners' shuttle - a small, ragged vessel that looked like the space equivalent of "The African Queen". Its pilot, Dirgo, was a tough-looking humanoid who was weathered and worn enough to suggest middle-age. Though his appearance was feral, he will emerge as an intelligent, if inflexible, being.
Ultimately, he was self-serving; Dirgo looked out for Dirgo, because he's always had to.
"Your maneuvering thrusters are rigged in a configuration I haven't seen before." Geordi said.
Dirgo gave him a smug look.
"My own modification. It's more efficient. You can study it if you want..." he said.
At this point, Picard and Wesley entered.
"I've run operational and safety inspections, Captain. It checks out. I won't make any claims for comfort." Geordi said to Picard.
Dirgo approached Picard, sizing him up as he did.
"Captain Picard... Captain Dirgo, of the shuttlecraft "Nenebek"." he said.
"Ah - Captain. Good to meet you." Picard said.
""Captain?" Of a mining shuttle?" Wesley said sotto to Geordi.
But Dirgo heard him, turned instantly to him.
"Yes, Ensign - Captain. My ship isn't pretty, and she isn't big- but we've logged almost ten thousand hours together." he said.
"It seems a very - sturdy - craft." Picard said.
"We should go. Will you take Ops, Captain?" Dirgo said.
"I'll let Ensign Crusher perform that task. I need to study up on Regalian law."
Dirgo studied Wesley with obvious disdain as they entered.
Riker, Allenby, Worf, Data were at the bridge.
"Crusher to Bridge..." Wesley said on com
"Go ahead, Mister Crusher." Riker said.
"Shuttlecraft Nenebek prepared for departure."
"Acknowledged, Ensign. Begin launch sequence."
"Launch sequence confirmed..."
"Shuttlecraft has cleared the bay." Data said.
"Ensign Allenby, set a course for the Gamelan system... Warp Six." Riker said.
"Aye, Sir." Allenby said.
On the shuttle Dirgo eyed Wesley handling the Ops position with some surprise.
"You've done this before." Dirgo said.
"Yes..." Wesley said dryly.
"If your Captain isn't tougher than he looks, those miners will tear him apart." Dirgo said jerking his head toward the cabin.
"Don't worry about Captain Picard- he'll handle them." Wesley said.
Suddenly they were interrupted by a sudden muffled explosion and violent shake of the craft, which then settled into a constant vibration. Cabin lights dim; control panels flicker.
"I've lost navigation-" Wesley said.
"The port thruster quad is gone, guidance coupling is severed - I can't stabilize her!" Dirgo said
The shuttle bucked and pitched as Dirgo and Wesley struggled for control.
The shuttle was in chaos. Dirgo wrestled with the controls as the ship continued to shudder violently. Picard burst through the door of the cabin.
"The port thruster module blew..." Wesley said.
Picard instantly sat in the Ops position.
"Nenebek to Enterprise... emergency... do you read? Pentarus station... come in..." Dirgo said shaking his head. "Communication is gone-"
"Is your navigational system functioning?" Picard said.
"Negative. Switching to manual."
"Fifty million kilometers from Pentarus Five... we may have to put down somewhere else..."
"Mister Crusher, scan for a class M environment..."
"Aye, sir." Wesley said.
Then he moved to the panel. The shuttle lurched sharply, settled and lurched again.
"We'll lose the main impulse engine if I don't throttle it down." Dirgo said.
There was another sharp jolt and the ship shuddered.
"One of the moons of Pentarus Three... it's class M - barely - mean temperature fifty-five degrees Celsius..." Wesley said reading the scanners.
"Life forms indicated?" Picard said.
"Negative. But sensors are limited. There's an intense magnetic field near the surface."
"We don't have a choice." Dirgo said and made a manual course correction moving toward a red-brown moon. "Save the impulse engine for a controlled entry."
"Ensign, reconfigure the working thrusters to manual inputs." Picard said.
"I'll try, sir - but this grid looks about a hundred years old..." he said.
Dirgo glanced at Picard a little defensive.
"I don't have the Federation's resources..." Dirgo said rising to Picard. "Captain... will you take the helm?" he continued and went to Wesley, shoulders him aside; Picard took the conn. "I'm rerouting the deuterium flow -"
"We'll have to manually trip the bypass from the main engine to the thrusters..." he said.
Dirgo gave Wesley a sharp look.
"Where'd you learn that?"
The red-brown sphere began to fill the window.
"We've got power reconfigured, Captain." Wesley said.
Picard's hands were at the controls, skillfully maneuvering the craft, which continued its sporadic jolts and lurches. Dirgo moved to Ops and checked his monitors.
"Hull temperature seven hundred degrees -" Dirgo said.
"Beginning braking maneuver." Picard said.
The craft went into a pitch up. Picard lights flicker wildly.
"We're below Mach One! Bypass to thrusters now!" Dirgo said.
Smoke began to seep into the cabin; the lights flickered and the craft bounced turbulently. Finally, there was one moment of a controlled glide... and then impact. Sparks arc through the cabin, and then there was darkness.
A few minutes later a merciless sun beat down on a sere desert of rolling sand dunes. The shuttle lied, half buried in sand, charred and broken. The hatch had ripped off and Picard emerged, blinking in the harsh light and then turning to help Wesley climb out.
Picard was already at work, assessing the situation.
"Let's salvage what we can." he said glancing upward. "The first thing we'll need is shelter from the sun. In this heat, the shuttle will act like an oven."
Dirgo emerged from the shuttle, wiping his perspiring face.
"All systems are out. Can't get a communication channel. Location transponder's gone, too." he said.
"We'll have to check the craft for something to protect our heads and eyes... and Captain, please recover your medical supplies... food and water rations..."
"The medical supplies are all right..." Dirgo said hesitant.
"But... food and water?"
A replicator... damaged beyond repair.
"Surely... you have emergency supplies."
"This isn't a starship! I have to choose what I carry!"
"Are you telling me... that we have no water?" Picard said staring at him not wanting to believe what the man was saying.
Dirgo looked away. Picard glanced up at the sun, and then out across the vast desert. Wesley watched him, definitely worried, hoping Picard could pull some miracle.
'How will we survive without water?' he wondered.
He was mostly worried about Wesley, he and Dirgo had a life while Wesley is only nineteen and has a road ahead of him. He knows the dangers of being a Starfleet member but wants to be like him and his father.
The ship maintained a distant orbit around a large blue and green planet. In much closer orbit was an enormous space ship with no markings, dark and ominous.
At the Enterprise Riker with Data, Geordi, Beverly, Worf and Allenby were at the bridge.
"Scanning. Vessel reads as an unmanned sublight freighter." Data said.
"Origin?" Riker said.
"Indeterminate. Propulsion appears to employ a gaseous-core fission reactor, but it is not functioning."
"The radiation levels coming from that ship are off the scale." Geordi said.
"Mister Data, could that be leakage from their engines?" Riker asked.
"No sir. Engine reactor elements appear to have been inactive for approximately three hundred years. The vessel is carrying various unstable waste products." Data said.
"You mean... it's a garbage scow." Geordi said.
"Mister Worf, open a hailing frequency." Riker said. "Chairman Songi, this is Commander Riker on board the Enterprise."
Songi appeared on screen.
"Yes, Commander." she said.
"It appears you've inherited someone else's problem... It's an old waste vessel... caught by your planet's gravitational pull."
"Have your people begun to suffer from radiation sickness?" Beverly asked.
"Not yet. But some areas are already detecting dangerous levels."
"We'll do our best to get it out of here as quickly as possible." Riker said.
"Thank you, Commander."
The screen was wiped.
"We're going to give that barge
a push into the Gamelan sun."
"Sir, the Meltasion Asteroid Belt lies between here and the sun." Data said.
"Then we'll have to take it ourselves and have our deflectors clear a safe path through the asteroids."
"I don't like the idea of getting close enough to that barge to tow it. The radiation levels are so high we'd be risking contamination of the entire crew." Geordi said.
"Got a better idea, Geordi?" Riker asked.
"We could send over a construction module to attach thrusters to it. Then we could direct it through the asteroid belt from a safe distance."
"Commander... a message from the mining settlement on Pentarus. The shuttle carrying Captain Picard has not yet arrived." Worf said before Riker could respond.
"They left here at oh-eight-hundred hours..." Beverly said surprised.
"They have asked if we will be starting a search."
Riker looked out at the huge waste vessel, frustrated.
"Tell them we have an emergency situation here... we'll start a search after we've dealt with it." he said.
"Mister La Forge, prepare to launch the construction module. Let's get this over with as fast as we can."
Geordi headed for the Turbolift to obey the command.
Back at the desert the three men had salvaged what they could from the cabin of the shuttlecraft. They had fashioned wraps to cover their heads and shield their eyes, with flaps covering the backs of their necks. Wesley was repairing a damaged tricorder. Picard was laying broken strips of the metal hull on the sand.
"Mister Crusher, any luck with that tricorder?" Picard asked.
"I think so, sir. The scanning range may be limited, but it's better than nothing." he said.
"These were on board, Captain. They're working." Dirgo said and produced four phasers, similar to early Enterprise types.
Picard and Wesley each took one. Dirgo holstered the other two.
"Excellent. Now -" Picard said. "Our communicators may not be able to get a signal through this strong a magnetic field... so I've fashioned an arrow. If a search party finds the wreckage, they'll know we've headed for those mountains." he continued scanning the distance.
"Are you crazy?" Dirgo said and Picard shot him a quizzical look.
"It's too far away. We'll never make it."
"We can't survive out here in the sun." Picard said. "Where there are mountains, there is shelter."
Chastened, Dirgo snorted and bristled.
"You have no right to make the decisions! I'm Captain of this ship!"
This was too much for Wesley, who stood in front of Dirgo.
"If you want to get out of this, I suggest you listen. Captain Picard is the one who's going to keep us alive-" he said.
"Thank you, Ensign, that's enough." Picard said interrupting him.
"Captain Dirgo, you're an able pilot and I welcome your input. Do you feel there's an alternative we're overlooking?"
Dirgo hesitated, looked around, saw the vast sweep of empty desert.
"Very well. I suggest a steady pace, but not a brisk one. We need to ration our energy. Try to breathe through your nose, it will help prevent dehydration. I'll lead... Captain Dirgo, will you bring up the rear?"
And he started off, the others falling into line. Wesley scanned the desert with the tricorder as they marched. Dirgo gave himself one last look at his fallen ship. He gave it a little salute before turning to follow the others. Then they burned in the sky, turning it white with heat.
They slogged across the dunes, sweltering under the glare of the merciless sun, struggling to make progress in the deep sand. Dirgo stumbled in the shifting sands. Wesley spotted him, helped him regain his footing. Dirgo spit sand from his mouth as Wesley helped brush him off.
"And you were worried about how tough the Captain is?" Wesley asked.
He nodded ahead as Picard marched at a strong, sturdy pace. He looked like he could go on for hours.
Wesley smiled, then turned and started off again. Dirgo watched him, then surreptitiously removed a bottle from his pocket. It contained a clear liquid; he tipped the bottle and drew deeply on it. Then he covertly replaced it.
Wesley looked at the tricorder. He slowly, swung the instrument from one side to the other, frowning as he read the response and Dirgo caught up to him.
"Did you find water?" Dirgo asked.
"No... not yet..." Wesley said.
Suddenly he stopped, turned and pointed the tricorder behind them, then whipped it to the opposite side.
"What are you doing with that?" Dirgo asked.
Picard turned, hearing them.
"Mister Crusher?" he said.
"I'm not sure, sir... an energy reading."
"Energy reading? What kind?"
"Low frequency E-M. It's been getting stronger... the closer we get to those mountains."
"What are you saying? There's something over there? Waiting for us?" Dirgo asked.
"I don't know what it is. It just registers as a repeating energy pattern..." Wesley started.
"Ensign, are you suggesting this energy is not naturally occurring?" Picard asked.
"The readings could be indicating some electromagnetic property in the rocks... but I don't think so."
"A life form?"
"It's possible... the pattern's fairly organized..."
The three looked across the sands toward the mountains. Picard glanced back from where they came.
"We can't go back... and we can't stay here. We have to keep going to the mountains. No matter what's waiting there." Picard said.
He set off, resolutely. The others followed, though the mountains now loom ominously with the spectre of the unknown.