Solar System, U.S.S. Prometheus (NX-74913) - one parsec from Earth

«We'll be out of warp in less than ten seconds,» reported Lieutenant Rouest, tense as a spring, from his station at the helm. The mood on the bridge had become so thick that it was almost possible to cut through the air with a knife: the fear that we might once again be faced with some further Borg threat - and the consequent anticipation of possible battle - had certainly done little to ease the mood.
The Challenger and the Leonidas had not yet reported any substantial anomalies, although they had once again begun to detect Borg and Klingon propulsion traces, but the data reported by the sensors seemed to be quite confusing, despite the fact that both vessels had been fitted with the most up-to-date equipment available to Starfleet at the time. Which, considering that they were coming out of a long period of war, implied a certain focus on strictly military technology, such as sensors with different definitions.

«Shields up and weapons hot, Captain,» Ferrari said, adding: «Lieutenant Ro reports that security teams are standing by in the event that we find ourselves facing unwanted guests on board.»
«We have emerged from warp,» Rouest announced and on the main viewer, located in front of the operations and helm consoles, the short and medium range sensors showed the area of space where the Prometheus had emerged from warp.
«I'm picking up the telemetry transmitted from the buoy left by the Leonidas,» Commander Nella Daren, the Chief Science Officer and third in command of the vessel, intervened for the first time, «Captain R'Mau is patrolling heading zero five zero point five five six, while the Challenger is on a 45-degree inclined vector heading five six two point zero three zero.»
«Yellow alert. Mr. Lavelle, inform the Leonidas and Challenger that we have arrived on site and maintain open contact with both vessels,» ordered Reynolds, before turning to the helmsman: «Mr. Rouest, set course for zero nine one point five zero five, full impulse.»
«Aye, sir,» was the prompt reply from both, as Reynolds turned his attention to the other bridge officers: «Commander Daren, Commander Ferrari, medium and long range scans for Borg marks. Engine room,» he said, tapping the intercom connected to his station, «stand by for any evasive manoeuvres and repairs.»

The amber colour of the yellow alarm intermittently illuminated the interior of the bridge, the dim lights making the environment darker than it usually was, but without reaching the levels of oppression that seemed to be reached when the red alarm was called.
With studied slowness, the Prometheus made its way into the area where the Klingon flagship had probably disappeared, apparently leaving no trace behind - so surprising that even on Qo'noS could not explain what had happened (despite some vague attempts to blame the Federation, which were immediately castigated by the prompt intervention of Ambassador Worf, who was in good faith convinced that the Federation and Starfleet had no responsibility in the matter).

«The sensors are picking up conflicting information,» Nella Daren pointed out at one point, carefully observing the flow of data on her console. From her own workstation, Ferrari was analysing the same data as it passed before her colleague's eyes, trying to find out whether or not it was a trap, only to find that Daren was right: the data was conflicting. And it didn't make sense. Ferrari echoed Daren: «I detect a spike in chronitons in dispersion.»
The Science Officer said in turn: «I confirm the detection. It may be related to the inconsistency of the Klingon ship's signal. Its track seems to appear and disappear at different coordinates without a logical path.»

Taanis, who had turned so that she could see both women's faces, ordered: «Collect and analyse as much data as possible, in half an hour I want all senior officers in the briefing room.» Not waiting to see the two officers spring into action, the Trill turned back to the bow: «Mr. Lavelle, contact the Leonidas and the Challenger: inform them that I would like Captains R'Mau and Simm to attend our briefing.»

Solar System, U.S.S. Enterprise (NCC-1701-E) - McKinley Station, Picard’s ready room

«Thank you for arriving so quickly, Jean-Luc,» the voice of Admiral Owen Paris came crisply from the terminal placed on the desk in the tactical room of Captain Jean-Luc Picard, of the starship Enterprise, seated behind his own desk, in front of the computer where the image of Paris and his office aboard McKinley Station stood out.
«Absolutely no problem, Admiral,» Picard replied, before taking a long sip from the cup of hot Earl Grey he had replicated shortly before accepting the communication. «Counselor Troi was looking forward to getting down to business. And to get back to work side by side with Counselor Tigan, who she spoke very highly of before she got here.»

«Ezri Tigan deserves all the praise given by her superiors,» Paris nodded, «she is proving to be an excellent officer, despite her apparent clumsiness and insecurity.» Picard barely smiled: «It's not always the clothes that make the monk, Admiral. Look at Lieutenant Barclay: despite all his difficulties, I consider him one of the best engineers I've ever had to deal with.»
«That is undoubtedly true,» replied the Admiral, «although Barclay is probably more problematic than Lieutenant Tigan, at least from a point of view of dependencies and insecurities. As she gained experience, she also developed greater confidence in his own abilities and skills. Lieutenant Barclay always seems more comfortable with holograms than with flesh-and-blood individuals, although he has made great strides in that respect.»
«He doesn't seem all that different from Dr. Zimmerman,» Picard pointed out. «Wasn't he the one who surrounded himself with holograms? Starting with his lab, but also including an iguana and his personal assistant?»

«True,» Paris admitted, «besides, Mr. Barclay has once again started going to therapy, as you well know. Unlike Dr. Zimmerman, who is far too eccentric and doesn't seem to want to accept the idea that anyone could take care of him...» Picard was simply nodding at Paris's speech, recalling some earlier reports that wanted Voyager's Emergency Medical Hologram's presence broadcast to the Alpha Quadrant for about a month, with the aim of convincing the irascible engineer to be examined one last time, in a last-ditch attempt to find a cure to what was threatening to kill him.
«I'm guessing you didn't contact me just to talk about Dr. Zimmerman's quirks, Admiral,» Picard took advantage, when the other officer stopped talking.

«Always straight to the point,» nodded the Admiral, little surprised by the perceptiveness of the officer in front of him: always dutiful to his duty, Jean-Luc Picard was not one of those people who backed down in the face of necessity, even when it was not rosy for his ship and crew, as demonstrated more than once.
«I need to send the Enterprise to Betazed, to support the rebuilding effort after the devastation perpetrated by Dominion forces during the war and occupation of the planet...»


Counselor Deanna Troi had just taken a seat at her assigned office desk aboard McKinley Station, when the bell at the entrance rang almost insistently, announcing an unexpected visitor.
With a slight smile curving her lips, she beckoned with a resounding «Come in!» to the person who had just appeared in the doorway: the sliding doors opened, revealing the young Lieutenant Ezri Tigan, Counselor of Prometheus and formerly of Deep Space 9, where the two women had met.
As the Trill stepped into the office, letting the doors close behind her, Troi stood up from behind the desk and approached her with open arms, holding her in a warm embrace, «Ezri, always a pleasure to see you again! How are you?»
«Very well, thank you,» she replied, clearly uncomfortable even for someone as lacking in empathic gifts as the half-Betazoid, the woman was a little awkward and on edge; Deanna, therefore, tried to put her at ease, inviting her to take a seat on one of the comfortable sofas that decorated the large room and offering her something to drink.

Holding the steaming mugs provided by the replicator in the office, Troi said: «I'm told you are now serving aboard the Prometheus, one of the new prototypes available to Starfleet.»
Trill smiled, her cheeks slightly flushed with embarrassment as she took a sip of the Rigelian tea Troi had offered her: «It was Colonel Kira who recommended me for the assignment a couple of years ago. I never thought she thought I was a good officer, she always seemed annoyed by my presence.»
«I had the same impression, too, of the Colonel. For the short time I was on the station he always seemed to berate everyone, and his character was never all that affable; but I've learned that's her way, and I had to tell you, I think recommending you for a more responsible assignment was her way of showing how good she thought you were at your job.»
The Lieutenant lowered her gaze slightly, taking refuge in the hot drink: dealing with Deanna Troi, as she had witnessed in those very days when they had met on Deep Space 9 several years before, was for her like feeling under scrutiny all the time. And, even though the two women shared the same profession, Tigan looked at her as a first-year Academy student looks at the dean of professors.

«So,» Deanna resumed saying, changing the subject, «what do you say we start planning meetings with the Voyager crew? It's going to be a busy few weeks and it's best to be prepared for every eventuality.»
Ezri nodded, placing the cup on the table in front of the small sofa where they were seated: «Yes, I wanted to talk to you about that very thing...»
The Trill's unease did not seem to wane, despite everything, so the other woman decided to get straight to the point, placing a hand on her arm: «We will work together, Lieutenant, there should be no qualms about addressing any possible misgivings with me.»
Ezri didn't even try to hide what she was thinking, well aware that with a psychotherapist of Deanna Troi's calibre, who, moreover, by virtue of her genetic heritage, possessed some of the empathic abilities specific to Betazoids, she wouldn't have much chance of success: «I can only learn from you, Commander. We'll work together and I really appreciate you wanting me to be on your level, but I don't think you ever will be. I mean... you’re Deanna Troi.»
The other psychologist wryly arched an eyebrow: «It's a little early to be monumenting to me, don't you think?» Mentally tallying the great, immense achievements of her colleague - and picking one out - Ezri remarked: «But you had Zefram Cochrane in analysis!»
At that point, Deanna couldn't help but snicker, under the hallucinated gaze of the young Trill at her side: «Between you and me, more than an analysis session... I'd say it was a drink at the bar. Believe me, I've had better experiences, during my years of service...»

«But it was Zefram Cochrane...!» exclaimed, almost stammering, the other. «Zefram Cochrane and the day of First Contact. And he saved the history of the entire Federation, I can never be on your level!»
«Maybe you'll be even better,» Troi remarked, nonchalantly, setting her mug down on the table in turn, before getting up to walk over to the desk, where upon Trill's arrival she had left the PADD with all the information about Voyager's crew. «How many Starfleet officers have saved and will continue to save the Federation? Archer, Pike, Kirk, Garrett, Sisko, Janeway herself; and who knows how many more in the future...» she continued, returning with the PADD in her hand to the other woman and sitting back down beside her.
«Yeah, well, maybe it's still a little early for me,» Ezri muttered, still a little uneasy, before Troi asked her what she wanted to say about arranging therapy with the Intrepid-class crew.
Almost stammering, Tigan replied: «Well, these days I would need to handle some patients on the Prometheus, if that were possible... of course I would do it remotely, but... well, I would be forced to miss some shifts with the Voyager crew. I'd hate to leave them without... support. We had gotten to some good places with some of them and now they have this mission, I mean...»

Troi arched an eyebrow: «Was that what you wanted to ask me? Don't worry,» he added, reassuring her, «I too will have to arrange my schedule according to some appointments I can't cancel. That's why I wanted to organise myself with you: by working together, we'll be able to cover ourselves better and fit everything together in the best possible way.»


«Course set for Betazed, Captain,» observed the officer at the helm, Lieutenant Kell Perim, as she deftly steered the Enterprise away from the Earth's gravitational pull, which, however weak at that orbit, was still attempting to imprison the imposing Sovereign-class vessel and drag it towards the shining planet below.
«Proceed at quarter impulse, Lieutenant,» ordered Jean-Luc Picard, comfortably seated in his own chair, legs crossed over each other. «After leaving Earth orbit, go gradually to full impulse. We will enter warp once we are out of the Solar System, factor 7.»
«Yes, sir, a quarter impulse, increasing, sir,» Perim replied promptly, while from the operations station at his side, Lieutenant Commander Data, the android who also held the position of second officer, reported, «Frequencies on communications traffic have switched from Earth Orbital Control to Utopia Planitia Orbital Control.»
A few minutes later, having drifted far enough away from Earth and McKinley Station, Perim increased speed to full impulse: as long as they remained within the Solar System, as in any other planetary system, safety regulations dictated that all vessels - Starfleet and non-Starfleet - should not enter warp.

Having relayed all the necessary orders, Picard had every intention of moving to his tactical room, located alongside the bridge, to sort out some reports that required his direct review and evaluation - as in the case of the crew evaluations provided to him just that morning by his First Officer - when Lieutenant Christine Vale, from the tactical station and after silencing some alarms, announced: «Sir, the long-range sensors are picking up some anomalous readings...»
«What kind of anomalous readings, Lieutenant?» Picard asked as he began scrolling through the tactical display placed on his own chair, followed a split second later by Riker, who to his right began checking the data stream he was receiving at his terminal.
It was Commander Data who came to the rescue of his colleague, the newly appointed head of the tactical and security departments, replying: «I am picking them up as well: they appear to be space-time fluctuations, Borg in origin.»

Riker immediately looked up, concerned, as he met Picard's eyes: if there really were any remnants of the Borg Collectivity in the area, the man should have been able to hear them in his head, as he had in the past, during the mission that had seen the Enterprise go back in time to 2063, a few hours before the fateful first contact between the humans and a Vulcan reconnaissance vessel that had registered on its sensors the entry of humanity's first warp ship, the Phoenix.
Picard merely shook his head imperceptibly: from experience, he could recognise the voices of the Collectivity inside his head, and in that context, he had not heard any. Turning his attention back to his officers, Picard asked: «Yellow alert. Mr. Data, Lieutenant Vale, what more can you tell me?»
At the tactical station, placed immediately behind Picard and Riker and Councilman Troi's empty chair, Vale shook her head, exasperated by the seemingly inconsistent readings she was receiving on his terminal: «The data is unclear, sir, I can't make heads or tails of it... it keeps flashing, appearing and disappearing for no apparent reason or logic.»

She did not have time to continue her report when a massive jolt reverberated through the ship's shields, sending most of the bridge service personnel sprawling and Vale nearly crashing to her station, knocking the wind out of her for a few moments and making her see black for a few seconds.
In reaction to the powerful blow she suffered, the lights on the bridge, as on the rest of the Enterprise, dimmed and went from yellow alert to red alert automatically, while Data, one of the few who had not been thrown from his station and perhaps the only one not subject to 'human' reactions, ordered all men to their battle stations via intracom.
A few seconds later, Commander Riker's booming voice made its way through the cacophony of the bridge, ordering a report on what was happening. On the screen opposite the stations occupied by Perim and Data, a disturbing image appeared in the astonished eyes of the bridge officers. Picard was just in time to order an evasive manoeuvre by his helmsman before the attack resumed pounding the Enterprise's deflector shields.

Sol System, U.S.S. Prometheus (NX-74913) - one parsec from Earth

«We therefore have reason to believe that the Negh'Var has been hit by a massive residual chroniton front, generated by the Borg Sphere exiting the transwarp conduit,» Commander Daren was saying, standing in front of a large viewer panel, as she explained in the briefing room to the Prometheus' senior officers the data she had collected so far, adding the conclusions she had come to in discussions with her staff and Ferrari. Also virtually present at the meeting, although still aboard their vessels, were Captain R'Mau of the Leonidas and Captain Simm of the Challenger, both silent.

Chief T'Sarla, seated to the Captain's left, after inputting some data on a large red PADD, intervened: «The fact that Voyager damaged the sphere from the inside may have caused imbalances to the chronitonic containment field that the Borg use to compensate for transwarping and related time lags.»
Sam Lavelle, who rarely missed an opportunity to needle his colleague, in reaction to the severity of the Vulcan's remark, indulged in an impromptu remark, seemingly out of place, but implying a decidedly dangerous possibility, namely that the Klingon ship had been time-shifted. And having happened so close to Earth, the thought that it had been projected into the past of the Federation's central planet was, for all intents and purposes, a risk to be borne in mind: «So it would end up in Bozeman in 2063?»

The Enterprise-E's logs were now the object of study, not only for Academy trainees but also for officers aspiring to a glittering career, and Lavelle certainly didn't miss a chance to show off, despite his apparent brazenness. It was Ferrari who replied to his colleague, conspicuously waving the PADD she held in her hands: «No, in that case the Borg sphere had exploited the chronitonic field to open a time-transcurvature tunnel, and it had been a deliberate move. In this case, it can be assumed that the effect was entirely accidental.»
Taanis motioned Daren to continue: «Taking into account the non-sequential temporal markings of the quantum wake left by the Negh'Var, we believe that the Klingon ship is jumping erratically through time, within a very circumscribed time interval.»

With an exchange of complicit glances, the floor passed back to Ferrari: «From the moment of Voyager's arrival to... now. Considering the now as a moment in continuous updating.»
Taanis took the floor: «Basically we need to find a Klingon battleship that appears and disappears. Is there any way to predict where and when it will appear?»
As the Trill spoke, Daren had resumed her seat, alongside the Chief Medical Officer, a Benzite named Barak; Ferrari, who had taken a quick glance at the PADD she had brought with her, accidentally crossed the worried gaze of Commander Reynolds, who missed no opportunity to imbue the Chief of Security: «There's more, isn't there?»
«Obviously, Commander,» Ferrari replied dryly, well aware that she had to be the one to report the bad news, but no happier to do so, «and, in this case, there really is worse.»

Without getting up - in the end, there was really no need - Ferrari transmitted some data from her PADD to the main viewer, where Daren had been running the presentation until shortly before, illustrating the situation studied before the joint briefing. The Leonidas and the Challenger were also shown what had been presented in the briefing room aboard the Prometheus: a map of the surrounding space, studded with various sighting detections, each of which corresponded to a time signature and a precise subspace frequency, one of which identified one of the said detections as a vessel, clearly of Klingon origin, at a given location at a given time. To the discerning eye, it could be seen that the reference frequency was gradually shifting towards figures well known to every Starfleet officer. Ferrari typed a command on her PADD and those markings became a simpler system of identification, with the Klingon ship identified with a three-pointed logo indicating that specific point's clear affiliation with the Klingon Empire. But the more the frequency changed, the more that logo took the form of a green Borg claw.

For the first time since the beginning of that entire meeting, Captain R'Mau, of the Leonidas, broke the silence, gravely: «They have been assimilated.» A sense of chill pervaded all the officers present at that moment, at the point that even the Vulcan officer in command of the Challenger seemed to be taken aback, although he did not show it: the most powerful Klingon warship ever built had been assimilated and now seemed to leap through time and space, undisturbed, a stone's throw from planet Earth.
Disturbing the moment of tense silence that had been created was the voice of Lieutenant T'Pring, who had remained to coordinate the bridge activities during the meeting, which was purely military in nature: «Captain, we are receiving a distress call from Enterprise, they are under attack and require immediate assistance: it is the Negh'Var