“Trading Up” by Juzam Djinn
(Inspired by Murray Leinster’s classic 1945 short story “First Contact”)
The Alpha Quadrant. USS Phoenicopter, outbound from Deneb IV.
“Captain,” said the Operations Officer. “We’re ready to begin our survey of the Sigma Tituli system.”
Captain Edward Leeson, a tall man whose brown moustache clashed with his prematurely white hair, looked back over his shoulder, then back to the viewscreen, where the alien sun was shining brightly. “Proceed,” he said.
The bridge of the Intrepid
-class starship began to bustle as telemetry from sensors and probes began streaming in. “Tactical,” said the Captain. The picture of Sigma Tituli, a friendly-looking yellow dwarf, disappeared from the viewscreen: in its place, the ship’s computer drew a three-dimensional schematic of the system, showing its eleven planets in their orbits: gas giants, gas dwarfs, terrestrials—at least one potential class-M. Leeson’s World.
This is the life
, thought Captain Leeson. This is why people join Starfleet. To explore strange new worlds. To seek out new—
“Captain!” said the Tactical Officer. “Long-range scanners have detected another spaceship on the other side of the system.” A ship icon had appeared at the top of the tactical display, moving downward.
The Captain leaned forward, fingering his moustache, glancing sideways at his First Officer. “What type of spaceship?” he asked.
“It’s too far away, sir. No way to tell at this distance.”
“All right. Continue the survey. Alter course to—”
“Sir—the unidentified ship has changed heading. They are now on an intercept course. Approaching fast.” Onscreen, the unknown ship icon began to flash. Its projected course intersected with the Phoenicopter
’s own icon, at the bottom of the screen.
“Can you identify them yet?”
“No sir. Unknown ship design.”
“Unknown? Can you give me a visual?”
The viewscreen switched from tactical to visual. The unidentified ship was a sphere, with two smaller spheres attached to pylons projecting from the sides. Warp propulsion
, thought Leeson. Not completely alien.
“Are they readying weapons? Raising shields? Polarizing hull plating?”
Leeson looked to his right again. His First Officer was on the edge of her seat, leaning forward excitedly. “Can we be this lucky?” she asked. “Science—is that ship design in the Cardassian database?”
“No, ma’am. Unknown design.”
The First Officer looked over at her captain, her eyes shining with excitement. “First contact!” she said.
“Everybody keep calm,” said the Captain, tugging at his moustache. “Lieutenant, open a channel to the—”
“Sir, the alien ship is hailing us. Audio only.”
“Oh? Well.” Unconsciously, Leeson sat up straighter in his chair. “Put them on speakers.”
An alien voice filled the bridge speakers. “Greetingsss, Federation ssstarship! The Great Hive will danssse with joy at the newsss of your return!”
“Greetings,” said Captain Leeson, frowning. They know us, but we don’t know them? How is that—
“Isss that my dear friend, Captain Jamesss Tee Kirk? How are you, my friend?”
“Uh,” said the Captain. “Ahem. No. This is Captain Edward Leeson of the…uh… Federation starship Phoenicopter
. To whom do I have the honour of speaking?”
Deneb IV. Starfleet Operations Centre, Farpoint Station.
The Admiral looked up from his paperwork, thankful for the interruption. “Yes?”
“Sir, we’re receiving an urgent subspace transmission from the Phoenicopter
“Put it on screen.” Harnoncourt turned to his desk viewer. “Captain Leeson,” he said. “How goes it?”
Onscreen, the white-haired ship captain looked more than a little confused. “Very well, sir. I think.”
“We’ve just made contact with a friendly spacefaring species, in the Sigma Tituli system. They call themselves the Znon.”
“Well—that’s wonderful! Congratulations, Captain!”
“Yes sir. Thank you. There’s—uh—just one problem, sir.”
“This wasn’t first contact, sir. I mean—for them. They say they’ve already been contacted by a Federation starship.”
The Admiral frowned. “Already? How is that possible?”
“I don’t know, sir.”
“What was the name of the ship?”
? Are you sure?”
“Yes sir. USS Enterprise
, NCC-1701-A. Constitution
class. Captain James T. Kirk commanding.”
“Captain Kirk? How is that—when did these people say they were first contacted?”
“Six months ago.”
“There must be some mistake. Are you sure you understand their dating system correctly?”
“Yes sir. I spoke with the captain of a Znon starship. She claims to have spoken with Captain Kirk personally, six months ago, when first contact was made. She showed me this.”
The picture on the Admiral’s viewer changed. The face of the white-haired captain of the Phoenicopter
was replaced by the picture of an old Constitution
-class heavy cruiser, in orbit around an alien world.
“What’s this?” said Admiral Harnoncourt.
Leeson’s face reappeared. “It’s the Enterprise
-A, sir. Orbiting the Znon home world.”
Earth. Starfleet Headquarters, City of San Francisco.
“I don’t understand,” said the Chief of Staff. “How did a hundred year-old Federation starship wind up in orbit around an undiscovered alien world? A hundred years ago the Alpha Quadrant was practically unexplored. We hadn’t even made contact with the Cardassians then.”
“Admiral,” said the Chief of Starfleet Intelligence. “We think we have part of the answer. According to Captain Leeson’s report, the Znon flew the Enterprise
-A back to their home world after first contact near Theta Rectricum.”
“What,” said the Chief of Staff, frowning. “Are you saying they captured it?”
“No sir. At least, that’s what the Znon claim. They say they exchanged one of their own starships for it.”
starships? What for?”
“According to the Znon, their encounter with the Enterprise
was one of their first contacts with another spacefaring species. They were concerned that the Federation might be hostile, and that the Enterprise
might be able to trace their ship back to the Znon home world. So Captain Kirk offered to trade ships. Each crew would disable their own ship’s weapons and scanners, and remove their own star charts and records, before the exchange. That way, both sides could be sure they couldn’t be harmed or followed.”
“Hmm,” said the Chief of Staff, rubbing his chin. “You know, that sounds like something Kirk would come up with.”
“Yes sir,” said the Intelligence Chief. “The Znon were quite impressed by Captain Kirk’s wisdom, and accepted his offer. The two ships parted company, and the Znon crew took the Enterprise
-A back to the Znon home world. They don’t know what happened to their own ship: they assumed that Kirk and his crew took it back to Federation space.”
“Are they telling the truth?”
“Captain Leeson of the Phoenicopter
believes them. Vice-Admiral Harnoncourt trusts his judgment. I don’t see why they would lie.”
“Well,” said the Chief of Staff, leaning back in his chair and drumming his fingers on his desktop. “That explains the ship. Now all we have to do is explain how these people were contacted by a Federation captain who’s been dead for ninety years.”
“We think we have the answer to that question as well,” said the Intelligence Chief.
“Some kind of temporal anomaly?”
“No sir. Captain Leeson asked the Znon to describe Captain Kirk. They said Kirk was short, and hairless, with dark skin, very large ears, and pointed teeth.”
The Chief of Staff stared in astonishment. “The Ferengi?
“Aye sir. The Ferengi.”
New Maryland (Beta Virginis IV). Starfleet Building, City of New Baltimore.
“So where do we fit in?”
Commander Ojukwu leaned back in his chair. A smile creased the dark brown skin of his broad, flat-nosed face. He steepled his fingers across his ample midriff and shrugged. “You’re the detectives. You tell me.”
Inspector Vrank raised a Vulcan eyebrow. “Starfleet Command wants to know how the Ferengi got their hands on a Constitution
The Commander nodded. “Yes,” he said. “But why ask us?”
Inspector Bael tapped at a padd, his antennae twitching as he followed the results on the screen. “According to Starfleet records, the Enterprise
-A was decommissioned in 2293.”
Commander Ojukwu’s smile widened. “And what happened to the Enterprise
-A after it was decommissioned, Inspector Bael?”
“It was placed in long-term storage at the Starship Graveyard—the Starship Maintenance and Regeneration Centre, in orbit around 61 Virginis V. According to Starfleet records, it should still be there.”
The Commander nodded. “So, gentlemen: one of our starships is missing.”
Bael handed the padd to his partner, leaned back against the wall, and crossed his arms. “All right. But why us, Commander? Why doesn’t Starbase 8 Security handle this? They’re in the same system as the SMRC.”
Ojukwu shrugged again. “Why do you think?”
“Starfleet Command wants this matter investigated by outsiders,” said the Vulcan. Bael and Ojukwu turned to look at him. Vrank looked up from the padd in his hands. “They are concerned that personnel from Starbase 8 may be involved. There is a maximum-security penal colony on 61 Virginis II.”
“Sundancer?” said Bael.
“Sundancer,” said Ojukwu. “The Federation built the colony on the dark side of 61 Virginis II thinking that Starbase 8 would provide additional security. Nobody thought about protecting the Starfleet personnel from the prisoners.”
“Indeed,” said Vrank. “Some of the colony’s inmates could offer an entire planet as a bribe.”
“And some of its inmates will kill for a whole lot less,” said Ojukwu, leaning forward, resting his forearms on his desk. “The penal colony’s below the surface. They were digging three new cellblocks, but work was recently suspended after two undercover officers from Starbase 8 were killed—murdered. Those officers were investigating allegations of corruption among the Engineers involved in the construction job.”
Bael nodded slowly. “Vice-Admiral Townsend doesn’t trust her own people.”
“In a word: no,” said Ojukwu.
“Logical,” said Vrank. “When do we depart?”
The Commander leaned back once more and looked from one Inspector to the other. “Are you still here?” he said.
61 Virginis V. Starfleet Starship Maintenance and Regeneration Centre, in orbit.
Commander Morikawa looked up, startled. Two male Starfleet officers were standing at his desk, looking down at him. Their shirt collars were gold, with a lieutenant’s pip. One was an unusual-looking Vulcan, with coffee-coloured skin and a shaved head. The other was Andorian, with typically blue skin and white hair, cut short. Disconcertingly, the Andorian’s antennae were pointing right at Morikawa.
The Commander turned his computer monitor away from the two strangers. “Yes?” he said.
Both men held up their credentials. “Starfleet Intelligence, Criminal Investigation Division,” said the Vulcan. “I am Investigator Vrank. This is Investigator Bael.”
“Uh—okay. What can I do for you, officers?”
The two men glanced at each other, pocketed their identification, then turned their attention back to Morikawa. The Andorian said: “We’re here to investigate a report that a starship is missing from this facility.”
“Missing?” said Morikawa. “Which one?”
The Vulcan took out a padd and pecked at it with his index finger. “USS Enterprise
, NCC 1701-A,” he said. “According to our information, this vessel was last seen orbiting an alien world in trans-Denebian space, approximately 3300 light-years from here.” He turned the padd so that Morikawa could see the screen, where the Enterprise
-A was orbiting the Znon home world.
“But… that’s not possible,” said Morikawa.
“Why not?” said Bael.
“Computer,” said Morikawa, looking toward the ceiling, “locate the Enterprise
NCC 1701-A is in long-term storage,” said the computer. “Section 2, row 9, column 11.
“There—you see?” said Morikawa. “There must be some mistake. The Enterprise
-A is in long-term storage, here, at the SMRC.”
The two Investigators glanced at each other, again. The Vulcan pocketed his padd. “Do you mind if we take one of your shuttlepods and look for ourselves?” he asked.
Morikawa hesitated, then shrugged. “Be my guest,” he said. He tapped his combadge. “Morikawa to Chief Stadler.”
“Chief, ready a shuttlepod. I have a couple of officers here who want to take a look at a ship in long-term storage. Section 2, Row 9, Column 11.”
“Section 2, Row 9, Column 11, aye sir. I’ll have Shuttlepod Three ready in five minutes.”
“Thank you, Chief. Morikawa out.” The Commander switched off his computer and stood up. “This way, gentlemen,” he said.
61 Virginis V. Starfleet Starship Maintenance and Regeneration Centre, in orbit.
Vrank and Bael watched with interest as row after silent row of empty starships drifted past the shuttlepod’s portside window. Chief Stadler, a bulky, bearded man with long hair in a ponytail, worked the shuttlepod’s controls. “Welcome to the Elephant’s Graveyard,” he said. “Long-Term Storage. You really think someone stole one of these ships?”
“Is that possible?” said the Andorian.
Stadler shrugged. “I suppose. If it was intact.”
“Was the Enterprise
-A intact?” asked the Vulcan.
“Let me check,” said Stadler. “Computer, show me the work log for USS Enterprise
, NCC 1701-A.” After a moment’s reading, he said: “Well, there’s no record of any components being removed. It’s just been sitting there for the past eighty-seven years.”
“Is that unusual?” asked Vrank.
“Not really. We have a lot of intact starships from that period. The fleet was downsizing, after peace broke out between the Klingons and the Federation. And a lot of those ships were old already—they’d been modified and upgraded several times. Plus, a whole new generation of starships was being launched in the 2290s. So the supply of old components far exceeded the demand.”
The Chief turned the shuttlepod to port, sailing it into the middle of the ghost fleet. “Now, the Enterprise
-B,” he said. “That’s a different story. During the war the Mirandas
were all recommissioned or stripped for parts. So all that’s left of the Enterprise
-B is the spaceframe—I worked on it myself. But we still have a lot of 23rd-century ships floating around out there, intact.”
“So,” said Vrank, “theoretically speaking, someone could have flown the Enterprise
away from this facility, under its own power?”
“Sure. All they’d need is some antimatter for the warp core, and some dilithium crystals. But I’m sure there’s been some mistake. Here we are—Section 2. Column 9…Row 13…12… what the hell?”
There was a noticeable gap in the ranks. “Let me guess,” said the Andorian. “It’s gone.”
“It’s supposed to be right there.” The Chief tapped his combadge. “Stadler to Morikawa. Stadler to Morikawa—come in, Morikawa. That’s odd,” he said.
“I suggest we head back to the centre,” said the Vulcan.
New Maryland (Beta Virginis IV). Starfleet Building, City of New Baltimore.
“We got lucky,” said Bael, standing in front of Commander Ojukwu’s desk once more.
“Better lucky than good,” said Commander Ojukwu. “What happened, exactly?”
“Morikawa panicked and tried to escape in a runabout,” said Vrank. “He was intercepted by Starbase 8’s patrol ships.”
“Once we got him back here and put him in the Box, he couldn’t wait to roll over on his accomplices,” said Bael, disgustedly. “How does someone that cowardly get a commission in Starfleet?”
Ojukwu shrugged. “Not everybody lives up to their youthful potential. 61 Virginis is where careers go to die. Most of the personnel are dead-enders and screw-ups. Who stole our starship?”
“As we suspected,” said Vrank, “a Ferengi prison gang has been pulling the strings. They have been operating undetected for years, stealing starship components and selling them, bribing Morikawa’s men to loot the ships, and the Commander himself to cover up their activities. It will require a detailed inventory to determine exactly how much material is missing.”
Ojukwu nodded and rocked back and forth slightly. “What about the Enterprise
-A?” he asked.
“There seem to be six intact starships missing from long-term storage: one Constitution
-class, and two Constellation
-class. The ships were stolen one at a time over the past three years.”
“What for?” said Ojukwu. “What would the Ferengi want with old Federation starships?”
Bael smiled. “To put the ‘con’ back in first contact,” he said.
Ojukwu stopped rocking his chair. “Excuse me?”
“Consider,” said Vrank. “A Ferengi crew takes a Federation starship into unexplored space. They meet an alien species, and pose as a Federation crew—but the aliens are concerned. How do they know the Federation’s intentions are friendly? To lay their fears to rest, the Ferengi captain suggests an exchange of ships.”
“Ah,” said Ojukwu.
“Ah-hah,” said Bael. “So they swap ships, and everybody goes home happy. The Ferengi get an alien starship, and possibly some highly marketable new alien technologies. The aliens get a hundred year-old piece of junk.”
The Commander smiled broadly. “Ingenious,” he said. “How many times have they pulled it off?”
“Morikawa doesn’t know,” said the Andorian. “The Ferengi have lawyered up, and they’re not talking. But the Enterprise
was not the last ship they stole. That was the USS Stargazer
, NCC-2893, Constellation
class, just a few weeks ago.”
Now the Commander was half-smiling, half-frowning. “Jean-Luc Picard
’s old ship?”
“The same,” said the Vulcan. “It was lost in 2355, after a battle with a Ferengi Marauder near Maxia Zeta. But it was recovered in 2364. Once it was repaired at Xendi Starbase 9, it was taken to the SMRC. When there was no demand for parts, it was put into long-term storage.”
“I guess the Ferengi couldn’t resist the chance to steal it back,” said Bael.
The Delta Quadrant. USS Stargazer, outbound from 61 Virginis.
“DaiMon!” cried the Tactical Officer.
DaiMon Shostak whirled in his seat and bared his teeth. “Call me Captain
, you fool!
The officer cowered. “Sorry… Captain.”
“What?” said the Captain. “What is it?”
“An unidentified starship is approaching.”
“Unidentified?” said the DaiMon, clutching the arms of his chair. “Is it in the Federation database?”
“No sir. Captain.”
“Are you sure?”
“I’m sure. It’s a species the Federation has never encountered before.”
“Are they arming weapons? Raising shields? Polarizing hull plating?”
“No, Captain,” said the Operations Officer, grinning. “They seem quite…friendly
The bridge filled with dirty Ferengi chuckles. “Quiet,” said Shostak. “Places, everyone.” The DaiMon stood, unconsciously tugging on the hem of his Starfleet uniform jacket, and stepped out in front of the viewscreen. “Open a channel,” he said. “Audio only.”
“Channel open,” said the Communications Officer. “Audio only.”
“Ahem,” said DaiMon Shostak. “Unidentified alien vessel. This is Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the Federation starship Stargazer
. We come in peace, and greet you in the name of the United Federation of Planets.”
For a moment, the channel was silent. The nervous Ferengi looked around in wild surmise. DaiMon Shostak was about to give the order for emergency warp when the channel crackled back to life. “Federation vessel,” it said. “We come in peace as well. Captain Picard, I am Captain Llanvabon. I greet you in the name of the Ovnian Interstellar Community.”
DaiMon Shostak grinned. This is the life
, he thought.