TRANSFORMATION TRANSFORMATION Doppelgänger-B Orbit USS Enterprise (NCC-1701) Stardate 2259.3.5 - 1122 hours - The turbolift opened to Deck Three at the semi-circular corridor just aft of the bridge. Captain Kirk followed the curving passageway around to the command briefing room where Doctor Marcus, Spock and McCoy were already gathered at the conference table, along with a newly-arrived pair of Cardassian officers just now entering through the opposite hatch with Lieutenant Bailey bringing up the rear. Kirk stopped and took them in for a moment, giving his newly anointed Security Chief some time to get comfortable with her sudden authority. Gradually the entire group took their seats around the long table; Spock took his customary station at the library computer terminal, and all seats around the table were arranged facing a circular bank of HUD windows, designed to display information without compromising the line of sight between any two seats. Kirk spoke first, as he knew he was expected to, "Gentlemen," he said, addressing the Cardassians first, "How was the tour?" "Enlightening, Kirk," said Gul Dalek, this time by way of a universal translator Lieutenant Uhura had programmed and clipped to his breast pocket. Now at least Kirk could hear a rendition of his voice in standard English through his own earpiece, although he still had to adjust to Dalek's lips moving totally out of synch with his words, "This ship is very impressive. We were told ahead of time that your vessels are equipped with artificial gravity devices, but to be honest I'd expected this was an exaggeration." Kirk chose his words carefully, not wanting to offend, "Actually, I was impressed with your Grazine when I first saw it. It's a surprisingly large vessel for a ship with no gravity control. I imagine it takes a bit of technical ingenuity to solve the microgravity problem, especially during combat maneuvers." Dalek suddenly seemed uncomfortable. "Well... actually, the Grazine's primary mission is exploration. We prefer to avoid combat whenever possible." He was choosing his words equally well; that sentence took almost two seconds longer to finish in Cardassian than the translation let on. "I know the feeling." Of course, he didn't mention the anomalous fact that a black-market phase cannon wasn't totally consistent with that mission, considering the number of seedy connections the Detapa government would have had to cultivate in order to purchase such a thing. Glancing around, Kirk spread the focus of his attention to the remainder of the room and began, officially, "Anyhow, Dalek, we're extremely eager to have a look at your findings. We weren't expecting your government to send a whole ship to deliver them, but the fact that you are here suggests you turned back something pretty interesting." "You could say that, Captain." Gul Dalek gestured to his science officer, who retrieved an encapsulated silver disk from his sleeve pocket and handed it over to Spock. The Cardassian government had transmitted the specs for their computer systems over subspace days earlier, and Spock and Scotty had spent the last four hours rigging a disk-drive adaptor for the Enterprise's computer and the Cardassian data disks. It was into this adaptor that the disk was fed, and Spock went to work hammering out any compatibility differences and formatting the information in time to display it on the monitors, seconds later, as a programmed presentation briefing. "Astonishing!" Gul Dalek came half out of his chair, "You were even able to preserve our system's formatting!" Spock almost smiled. "I have simply programmed equivalent formatting into this computer terminal. It is logically identical to your native configuration." Glyn Lynoi rasped, briefly in that whimsical sing-song Cardassian language before the translator kicked in, "How could you do that so quickly? It would take an entire team of programmers with access to the source code--" "Mister Spock is the foremost authority in computer science aboard the Enterprise," Kirk said with a note of pride, "and as a Vulcan, he is trained in high-level logical analysis." Gul Dalek squinted, "A Vulcan... you are not human?" "I am half human. My father was Vulcan." Gul Dalek was about to comment further when Doctor Ayash interrupted on the ship's intercom, "Security Chief, please report to sickbay. Code blue, urgent." A dark cloud suddenly flooded the room, hanging over the heads of the Starfleet officers--and Sergeant Rand in particular--knowing that "code blue" indicated that someone on the ship was either dead or dying and there was nothing anyone could do about it. Rand snapped into her communicator, "I'm on my way," and then nodded apologetically to the Captain and swept out of the room like a humanoid breeze. "If you care to continue, Dalek," Kirk said, salvaging the meeting from any further derails. "Yes, of course..." and turning to the monitors Dalek announced, "Stage one, begin playback." The image on the monitors became a split-screen, four separate frames dividing the screen, one showing a navigational plot of the Grazine's position, another showing numerical scrolls of raw un-processed sensor data, another showing a multi-colored, multi-line graph of spectral analysis, and the last showing an extreme range telescope view of the system that now contained the Enterprise, the Grazine, and the so-far unnamed Gorn trawler. "Our first reading was taken from these coordinates, a distance of sixty one light years distance. We were able to identify the planet," as he said this, the telescope image adjusted and panned, slowly and haltingly as if under manual control, until it settled finally on Doppelgänger and its two Class-D moons. "Visual observation shows an oxygen nitrogen atmosphere, equatorial diameter of approximately twelve thousand seven hundred kilometers, gravitational flux at eight point one meters per second. Average surface temperature of approximately two hundred and eighty kelvins." "Identical to the planet as it is now," Kirk said. Spock shook his head, "The gravitational attraction is almost twenty percent lower. I am not sure how to account for that discrepancy... except possibly instrument error." Dalek shook his head, "We thought so too, but we double checked using diffraction measurements of nearby stars. The gravitational flux is lower at this time, but maybe more relevantly, distant observations showed circumstantial evidence of a subspace field surrounding the planet." "Circumstantial?" Glyn Lynoi said, "We determined the planet was generating an electromagnetic field between five and eight hundred thousand gauss. With proper modulation, a field of that intensity could easily produce a subspace differential." "Thereby reducing the effective mass of the planet," Doctor Marcus said, "Lowering its gravity." Kirk asked, "Why would anyone need to lower the planet's mass? It's not as if it was being moved anywhere..." "We think it may have been accidental," Gul Dalek said, "Or, that is to say, a consequence of the planet's formation. Speaking of which," and to the computer he said, "Stage two, continue playback." The screen images all changed at once. The timestamp in the corner showed this second set of readings was taken some two days later, and again the image panned and zoomed until it finally identified Doppelgänger. Only it wasn't Doppelgänger, at least not yet. The object on screen now was a Class-E world surrounded by a thick greenish yellow cloud layer and intermittent flashes of high altitude lightning. "At a distance of sixty nine point two light years. Spectral analysis indicates an oxygen-methane atmosphere prone to spontaneous combustive episodes, and a hydrosphere containing high concentration of phosphoric acids. Visual observation gave an equatorial diameter of roughly eight thousand kilometers with a gravitational flux of twenty six point two meters per second, average surface temperature of three hundred and ninety kelvins. There's some evidence of life forms, but our sensors aren't designed to take those kinds of readings from a distance. We also identified two oddities: firstly, the the planet's orbit at this time is about twenty million kilometers closer to the star than it is today, and secondly, that at this time the planet had three moons, the outermost being highly geologically active. Obviously, the absence of the third moon presents a bit of a mystery." Lieutenant Bailey asked, "How sure are you that this is the same planet?" "We surveyed the entire system and visually confirmed all ten major planets in their proper orbits; Doppelgänger was the only anomaly. We even checked twelve nearby dwarf planets just to be certain. Of course, at that distance it's still possible we were in error." "In any case," Spock says, "this is a revealing development, since no planet similar to the one you observed currently exists in this solar system." Dalek smiled, "We haven't even gotten to the best part... Stage eight, continue playback." The image changed three times in rapid succession, each time pausing for a few seconds to show an extremely abbreviated summary of the long-range sensor findings. "We made several warp jumps at one light-year intervals," Dalek explained, "basically, observing the planet one year at a time. After one of our jumps, we lost track of the planet and picked it up again in its transformed state, almost identical to our first observation, so we backtracked by three months, then three more, then forward again by four weeks... and so on. Finally we were in the right position and our telescopes recorded this." The final stage began, with Grazine's telescopes zeroing in on the Class-E world with its bands of poisonous oceans and toxic atmosphere. But even before the telescope could zoom in, something else was already in the frame. It was moving quickly--at the scale of the image, much too quickly to be anything but a warp driven space vessel. At this distance, identification would be impossible; even at the highest resolution of Starfleet telescopes it would have appeared as little more than a fast-moving pinprick of light that was only visible because it happened to be traveling at warp speeds. But as they watched the recording, that singular point of light assumed a heading directly into the northern hemisphere of the greenish-yellow world and slammed through its thick atmosphere without even slowing down. A titanic burst of energy rippled out from the impact site, followed by an expanding madness of orange and yellow streamers as if the entire planet had been coated with thermonuclear warheads all detonating in sequence. "What am I looking at?" Kirk asked, as the glowing fiery effect slowly enveloped the entire planet. "We don't know at this point, but our sensor logs suggest it might be a t--" "Material transformation," Doctor Marcus answered breathlessly, staring at the frame that contained the raw unprocessed telemetry data, "the entire planet is being transformed at the subatomic level! I've never seen anything like it!" "What could cause that?" Kirk asked. Marcus stood up and leaned half over the table, freezing the playback and maximizing the sensor readouts on the screen, "The readings are fuzzy from this distance," she said, "But the energy signature reads like... almost like a thousand small transporter signals all overlapping." Kirk looked at the monitor himself, baffled, "Where do you see that?" "I believe Doctor Marcus is correct," Spock added, watching the presentation on his own monitor. After a moment he resumed the playback and manually highlighted the data fields relevant to both of them. They were just gibberish to everyone else in the room, but simultaneously Spock, Marcus and Glyn Lynoi all shared an expression of wonderment. "It's as if the planet is being dismantled and reconstructed by an enormous matter replicator." Doctor McCoy asked, "Now wait a minute, didn't one of you say something about how this would require some kind of giant machine? Like a planet-sized transporter?" "Evidently not," Marcus said, too lost in her amazement to care about any past theories. "Back it up a minute or so, mister Spock... look at the spectral pattern at the blast site." "When?" "At forty five through sixty... you see it?" Spock did, and then raised both eyebrows, "Fascinating. The planet's atmosphere has been converted into gaseous carbon and helium, with rapidly increasing levels of oxygen and nitrogen." "Fusion transmutation?" Lynoi said. "Energy output is too low. Possibly cold fusion or subspace-modulated transmutation..." Kirk interrupted the scientific spectacle with a terse, "We can leave the details for later. What I most need to know right now is what kind of technology could cause all that to happen. Obviously, by the time this process is complete, the planet transforms into what it is now..." "As I have surmised," Spock said, "based on the composition of the artifact at stonehenge, the most likely culprit is a type of sophisticated phased-matter process." Lynoi looked at him as he if he'd just invoked the existence of God. "I beg your pardon?" "It is a concept widely in use by our technology, sometimes called photonics or programmable energy," Spock explained, "It is known to your science in the field of quantum process physics, what your people currently regard as a fringe theory. In principle, it describes a method of imparting specific information on the force carriers of electromagnetic fields--virtual photons, in other words--in such a way that the transmitted energy may be delivered to a specific destination in a specific form and function. Our transporter beams, for example, can deconstruct an object at the subatomic level and encapsulate its constituent molecules into energized capsules, composed of electrons and virtual photons, which are themselves programmed with an assembly matrix that will allow them to re-construct the transported object in a specific location of the operator's choosing." Gul Dalek smiled, "Sounds like nanorobotics. You program millions of tiny robots to take something apart, then go somewhere and put that thing back together in a new location." "Conceptually, yes," Spock nodded, "Except the so-called 'robots' in this case are themselves created from programmed photonic energy transmitted as a phased-matter particle beam, which is under indirect control by the transporter operator. Our primary weapons and defensive shields employ a similar principle, both using phased-matter particles called nadions." Glyn Lynoi looked incredulous, "How could that possibly be true? I mean... building atoms out of light beams?" "Virtual photons and electrons," Spock corrected, "And not atoms, but a type of pseudo-material composed of non-nucleonic particles. The applications for the process are numerous, but phased matter cannot exist for more than a few seconds at a time without an external energy source." "I've never heard of anything like this before..." "The details of these processes can be made available from our library computer if you so desire." "I do desire, Mister Spock. I won't believe a word of this until I see it myself." "Theoretically, you've already seen it yourself," Doctor Marcus said with a gesture to the viewscreen, where the once-toxic Doppelgänger was already beginning to stabilize from an unnatural orange glow until something vaguely Earth-like. "Although, with a caveat, I might disagree with Mister Spock on one aspect. Gul Dalek mentioned nanorobotics... that seems more consistent with what we're seeing here." Now it was Spock's turn to look incredulous, "Doctor McCoy earlier made mention of your hypothesis to this effect. What is your basis for it, Doctor Marcus?" "Storing a completed pattern for phased-matter duplication would require both an enormous and complicated database and an inconceivable amount of power. You'd have to harness the total output of an blue giant just to support a process like this. But what we see here..." Marcus shook her head, "This is a different approach. See, if I wanted to reduce the hardware requirements, one of the ways I might do that is a kind of self-organizing data matrix, maybe some kind of fractal algorithm for data compression. Phased-matter processes don't perform well in fractals, but quantum computers do, especially in nanoscale. So the device that struck the planet... it's not a giant device to do the job, but billions of tiny devices each doing a microscopic part of the job, like bees constructing a hive. I think what we're probably seeing is the effect of a swarm of nanorobots, each equipped with a tiny phased-matter device. They're probably programmed to make use of the planet's structure for raw materials and rearrange it to a specific pattern."