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All sensors were reading normal. This was the fourth check he had run during his shift, not that there was anything wrong. It was done simply to break the monotony and boredom. The daily routine had become almost intolerable in the last few months, hour upon hour of looking at sensor screens that blankly looked back. An occasional comet, supply ship, or lost privateer were the only interruptions and they were damned few. The last major diversion was a distress call from a Federation freighter. But all he could do was relay the weak signal to a nearby starship and that was over three weeks ago.
As an engineering student at the Academy, he had dreamed of an assignment like this one, on the front lines near the Romulan Neutral Zone. The current peace treaty with the Klingons meant that any action would most likely start here, near Outpost Seven. But it hadn't. For the last few years or so, the Romulans had been very quiet. Someone told him it had something to do with internal Romulan politics. In any case, what it all meant was, instead of action, he got boredom.
A staff of twenty people worked four shifts in rotation with a weekly double shift. This schedule covered days off for other personnel and more rarely, sickness. That was laughable, sick indeed. You never came in contact with anyone, so how could you get sick?
Most of the station's crew were technicians and engineers. There was only one med tech and he was even more bored than the rest of the outpost's staff. Anyway, twenty-five more minutes and his shift would end. He would be able to leave the confines of this room and choose his own activities, though there wasn't a whole lot to do.
He scanned several smaller banks of screens and checked the larger one in a regular pattern, starting at the top left and working to the right, then back and forth in a regular fashion until reaching the bottom right. With all the electronics that surrounded him, it seemed a bit silly that someone should have to check a view screen. After all, if the Romulans did decide to invade, they would probably use their cloaking devices and any visual sighting would be the wildest stroke of luck imaginable.
The vast star field before him was unchanging, as always, and he logged an 'All Normal' for the previous half hour of the duty shift. To pass the time, he had made up a game with the endless star field before him. Using his imagination, he designed his own constellations for the various star groups and clusters. He had already named sixteen of them and today, with the end of this shift, he would add another.
This one was an elephant and he named it Peter the Pachyderm. Today he would finish designing the legs, head, body, and trunk, then overlay a simple drawing of the creature. When all of his constellations were finished, he would present them, tongue-in-cheek, to the rest of the crew. Maybe it would give everyone a good laugh and help pass the time.
He punched in his personal access code on the terminal before him and began the mathematical process to plot the various star positions. This was now a fairly easy process after so much practice and usually took only a few minutes. He would use the grid work on the main viewer to help locate the stars. Then he would superimpose his own artistic creation, in this case, a silly looking elephant, over the star plot. The final steps would be adding the title and putting the entire creation on the main board to check the design for correctness. When it was all done, he would save it in a special file. He always reserved this work for the end of the shift, which helped make the last hour or so go by faster.
As he entered the last star coordinate, it occurred to him that the trunk looked a little long, but no matter. He placed the elephant outline over the plot on the small screen and was again struck by the fact that the drawing he had done yesterday did not fit. His brow became deeply furrowed as he entered the command to put the creation on the big board. There it was an extra star on the end of the trunk.
Just as a check, he pulled up the memory of yesterday's star pattern and over layed it with today's in contrasting colors. Sure enough, there was an extra star, or at least something. Maybe he had witnessed the birth of a new Romulan world. If so he would name it... what? He searched his mind then laughed out loud. It would be perfect and very appropriate as well, Peter!
This was a welcomed diversion, so he called up the memory file and began to enter the new star coordinates for a permanent record. He entered the coordinates using the data padd and punched in the command to enter, but the computer refused. He tried again but the permanent record section refused the data.
"Computer, why are you refusing my star coordinates?"
"Coordinates not of a natural object, but man-made."
His ears picked up on that one and suddenly his usually boring shift was becoming very interesting. "Computer, is the object a ship?"
"Probability ninety-five percent correct."
He became excited at the possibility of action. "Oh boy, action at last!"
"Please restate. Do you have a question?"
"No, you silly box of circuits, it's a statement." The exasperated ensign thought for a moment then formulated a plan of action. "Can the type of ship be determined?"
"Enhance view in section J-Twenty-Five to maximum."
The screen blinked, shimmered and then settled down to focus on the fascinating bright spot. It now began to show a reflective metallic surface.
His mind was now racing, trying to remain calm but barely able to contain his excitement. "Computer, sensors at maximum, centered on this object. Draw additional power and memory if necessary to achieve an accurate reading."
The familiar mechanical female voice responded, "Working. Complete information on Panel Six."
He jumped to his feet and ran the five meters to the appropriate console and studied the readouts carefully. The object was man-made, under minimum power and very small, a two person craft at maximum. No indications of a life form, not yet anyway. But maybe... "Computer, any life signs from the object?"
This time he had to wait, the computer was one of the old style Starfleet issues. No sense in jeopardizing one of the Fleet's finest just in case the Romulans over ran the station.
"Working. Intermittent readings. Will advise."
"Okay, so we wait." Again, he tried to keep things moving. While he waited, he studied the data more closely and tried to get a recognition silhouette match-up but to no avail. Then a thought struck him. "Computer, why didn't you alert me to the presence of a ship?"
"Object did not meet operational parameters of a hostile vessel. Object was not within specified distance to be considered a threat. Object was not maneuvering in a manner consistent with hostile intent. Object was not moving fast enough to warrant a warning at time of discovery. Object did not meet criteria of--"
"Enough! I get the picture." He returned to a manual search of recognition charts and continued for several minutes until the computer interrupted his work.
"Life sign determined. Do you wish specifics?"
"Do I? I mean, affirmative!"
"One life form, Terran."
Now he was beside himself, a real mystery. "Terran? Are you certain?"
"Affirmative. Life signs at minimal levels, high probability of severe injuries."
He thought for a moment then continued his questions. "Computer, can you pinpoint the exact location?"
"Working. Coordinates indicate object currently within Romulan Neutral Zone. Exact coordinates ready for display."
"Display coordinates on the main board. Normal view." For the moment he ignored his artwork and home made constellation and studied the image. Then a thought struck him. "Computer, what do you mean by 'currently?'"
"Object not stationary. Specifics will follow."
"Well it's about time you started anticipating my requests." He said flatly.
"Object course is one oh five mark nine, speed is point oh three four sub light. Object should pass close to this station in approximately four days."
He was confused. Usually a computer gave more accurate readings than this, even these old ones. "Computer, approximately?"
"Speed erratic. Point oh three four sub light is average speed. Better than fifty percent probability that on board systems will fail before reaching Federation space."
"Wonderful, first chance we get for a visit in weeks and they might not even make it." Then he brightened up a bit. "Maybe we could lock on our tractor beams. It's a great distance to be sure, but the tractor was designed for just such a purpose; to bring in objects from the neutral zone which might be of interest, maybe--"
Suddenly the main sensor array activated the alert Klaxon and the room became alive with warnings and flashing lights. "Oh, no!" He had forgotten to bypass the system when he began his investigation. It was programmed to sound an alarm if sensors showed a man-made object moving within a certain radius. Now everyone would be here before he could compile a full report.
The first through the door was 'Doc Dickerson,' the station's med-tech. His office was next door and he had the shortest distance to cover. Right on Doc's heels was Lt. Commander Harper, the station chief. He and Doc stopped just inside the doorway and stared at the main screen in a state of disbelief. Both men were pointing at the big screen, Doc blurted out, "What the hell is that?"
If the Klaxon and the other alerts hadn't been going off, a chubby pink elephant in a blue hat and yellow checkered coat might have been funny. However, the station chief was definitely not laughing, at the image or anything else!