Stardate 53849.2 – the Delta Quadrant
Captain Kathryn Janeway of the Starship Voyager stands up from her chair, at the ready. Moments ago, the ship had lost warp power and the crew suddenly found themselves adrift. But before the Captain could request a status, a bright prick of purple light erupted on the main monitor, fading away into the strange, iridescent anomaly everyone now sees before them. Everyone has ceased their activity to watch the swirling cloud of unidentified origin or makeup, growing ever larger on screen.
“Tuvok, report!” Janeway commands with confident urgency.
The Vulcan looks down at his console. “Captain, it appears that we have entered a temporal distortion field caused by the object ahead, and…”
A new panel slides into view on his screen. In simple, futuristic type, a message appears:
Error 606: Offline Mode
It appears that you have temporarily lost connection. You may be outside of our Preferred Starship Network Coverage Area.
We are rapidly expanding in the Alpha and Gamma Quadrants, and hope to be in the Delta Quadrant by Q4 of next year. Until then, you will have limited access to the features equipped on your starship.
Click here to learn more about the offline services available on U.S.S. Starship OS 9!
“Commander?” Janeway snaps, hands now on her hips.
Tuvok taps a small, gray button to dismiss the message. “My apologies, Captain. Voyager’s systems appear to be in… offline mode.”
“What? That can’t be right. This starship came equipped with the latest interstellar communication devices, which have served us well this far.” The Captain looks back at the enormous screen – the spiraling clouds converge to form a glowing, periwinkle vortex. “Never mind.”
“Engineering, can you restore power to the primary warp coils?”
“No, Captain – not in offline mode,” Chief Engineer B’Elanna replies hurriedly. “But we do have access to our secondary thrusters,” she adds optimistically.
Janeway pauses for a brief moment. A small, impossibly black hole is emerging from the center of the vortex like an expanding pupil. She turns to Tom.
“Lieutenant Paris, can you alter our current position, or at least put some distance between us and whatever that is?” she says, pointing.
Tom taps furiously at his screen, “On it, Captain.” Just before he initiates the final command to engage the thrusters, a video layer appears. There is a brief, but interminable moment of silence.
“I’ll have thrusters shortly. I just need 15 seconds until I can skip this ad and–”
“We don’t have 15 seconds, Tom.” she says over him. The Captain walks urgently towards the other side of the bridge and steps down onto the lower platform to take control of a vacant console. The iris is almost fully dilated, an ever-growing abyss of nothingness.
Janeway activates the communicator pinned to her chest, “Seven, what is your analysis?”
Over the intercom, Seven of Nine replies matter-of-factually, “Captain, we have lost control over our propulsion and long-range communications. All other systems are stable. I still have access to our primary–”
There is an awkward pause. There are no more spinning purple clouds on the screen, or distant stars beyond. Only blackness.
“Captain, what is your User Name and Password?”
Everyone looks at one another, and then at the Captain. Irritation flashes across her face. Janeway inhales.
“Captain Kathryn Janeway of the U.S.S. Starship Voyager, Starfleet Authoriza–“
Seven interrupts, “No, not for Starfleet. I need your log in credentials for Starship OS 9 – Voyager’s native operating system.”
Just as Janeway opens her mouth to respond, a sudden, invisible shock-wave rips through Voyager – violently shaking the starship with such force that a few crewmen are knocked unconscious. While the hull quivers and moans from the force of impact, senior officers reach for a grip or attempt to stand. Rumbling continues to deafen everyone on-board, interrupted only by the metallic shrieking of large, structural objects. A few of the petty officers assume the fetal position beneath their stations. First Officer Chakotay yells something. Tuvok somehow steadies himself, only to loose his balance again. For a few moments more, all is chaos.
And then nothing.
Everything is absolutely silent, still and serene. The main monitor is black, but presumably still active. Objects of various size and mass are haphazardly thrown about the deck, lying motionless, as though placed on purpose long ago. Captain Janeway is up on one knee.
Chakotay fixates on the main monitor. “Captain, look!”
A small pillar of tightly twirling, iridescent clouds appears in a moment on the deck directly below. Everybody recognizes the violet glow immediately. Nobody breaths. Then, just as quickly, the vaporous shapes collapse into a universally identifiable form: a human male. He is smartly dressed in a simple, charcoal suit and tie.
“Yes, even my tie is purple!” the man begins with bright smile and outstretched arms. “I hope it wasn’t overkill, Captain Janeway.”
The crewmen quickly head back to their various stations in a coordinated burst of nervous activity. The Captain looks stunned, yet she manages to stand tall, adjust her uniform, and speak.
“Explain yourself!” She nearly shouts. “Who are you, and what is the meaning of this?”
“First, let me assure all of you that no one is an any danger.” The man looks directly at Tuvok, and then Chakotay, who are training their phasers at him. “At least not insofar as it has anything to do with me,” he adds with a wink.
Janeway stands with one hand on her hip, jaw set. “Explain. Now.” She glances at her two senior officers.
Still smiling, the man continues, “Of course, Captain.”
“I am not so much a person, as I am the representation of the Starship Interstellar Travel and Communications Network, and its intergalactic subsidiaries, in holographic form. Think of me as your visual interface between you, Starship OS 9, and the parties that offer this amazing – free – software.”
The Captain blinks. She does not look pleased.
He turns his palms toward the crew and shrugs. “But you can call me Steve, if it makes things easier.”
“And Steve, are you responsible for the loss of our warp drive capabilities?”
“Yes,” he answers calmly. “I’ve also taken control of your startship’s primary and secondary functions – for your own safety, of course. More importantly, I’m not materially real or even ‘here’ aboard this ship, so you couldn’t harm me even if you tried.”
Janeway considers the intruder’s words. “Tuvok?”
“Confirmed, Captain,” the Commander replies as he glances down at his monitor, then back at Steve.
Without breaking eye contact, the Captain raises her hand, signaling her crew to stand down. Tuvok and Chakotay exchange doubtful glances before lowering their weapons. The other officers are frozen in a state of hyper-alertness while Janeway walks deliberately over to her Captain’s Chair. Turning to face Steve, she lowers herself into the sparsely upholstered seat and crosses her legs. With hands folded, Janeway resumes.
“Well, Steve, you have our undivided attention. Let’s get on with it so we can continue our journey back to Alpha Quadrant.” She pauses for effect, and then asks harshly, “What do you want?”
“Certainly, Captain. Perhaps the grand entrance was a bit much. The marketing guys always want to deliver a compelling, memorable experience. Anyway,” he stands up a little straighter. “–this starship, its operating systems, and transmission of all subspace communications throughout the Universe, are now the sole property and responsibility of the Starship Interstellar Travel and Communications Network.”
Before Steve could continue, Chakotay interrupts. “That’s impossible! We demand to speak with Starfleet!”
Steve smiles anew. “Starfleet was consolidated, along with numerous other well established Network Providers, into a single, new entity through an intergalactic inversion with the parent company, Interstellar Systems.”
“Wait. What?” The First Officer is genuinely confused.
“They bought Starfleet, Chakotay.” The Captain is holding her head in her hand, shoulders dropping slightly.
“Fascinating,” Tuvok states.
B’Elanna interjects, “That’s right, I recently heard some rumors about a merger with all the big players–“
“Inversion…” Steve corrects.
“Indeed” Steve says with a sense of endearment a father would bestow upon his first child.
Then, sitting back in her chair, Janeway places both her hands on the armrests at her side. “I’ve heard enough. You still haven’t told us what it is you want with Voyager or its crew.”
Standing in his original position, the hologram nods in agreement. “Right.” Steve looks over to the Vulcan.
“So, you lost warp drive and access to your devices because the area you’re currently traveling in – the Delta Quadrant – is outside the coverage area for Basic Access. Due to the substantial investment required to bring Extended Access to the most remote expanses of the Universe, access will be provided only to Premium Travelers who have upgraded from U.S.S. Starship OS 9 to Starship X.”
He looks back to Captain Janeway. “Since your starship happened to be in the Delta Quadrant before this policy was enacted, we’re offering you the opportunity to upgrade to Starship OS X – for free! Only now, you’ll have a host of new features and tools to help you along your journey.”
The man’s smile softens into a disarming grin. His pleasant disposition is not enough to soften the Captain or put the crew at ease. Her eyes narrow as she leans forward, “And what do you get in exchange for our consent to this… upgrade?”
“That’s the easy part!” Steve exclaims. “The information you create, share or consume on Starship OS X will be collected by the Starship Interstellar Travel and Communications Network. This information will be shared with our partners so that we can continue to offer innovative new features that will make your voyage home a better experience!”
“In other words, you’ll know everything that we do?” Chakotay is finally catching on. “And you might share that information with your partners?”
Steve answers while adjusting his tie, “Yes. Technically.”
“…Partners which include the Klingons, Romulans and the Borg?” His voice now intensifies, “Our enemies?”
“Whoa there,” the man retorts. For the first time, the holographic image walks across the deck towards the crew. “First of all, your privacy is very important us. We would never share your personal information with anyone outside The Network; and even then,” Steve presses his hands together to gesture, “none of your sensitive information is personally identifiable. Thus, if any malicious third party somehow managed to ‘steal’ your data, it wouldn’t do them any good. Besides, we use the most sophisticated encryption available in the entire Universe.”
“I still don’t trust you!” Chakotay shoots back, pointing his finger squarely at Steve. “How can we be certain of anything you’re telling us?”
Steve shifts to one leg and folds his arms, “Commander, I think you’re missing the larger picture here.” Looking down, thoughtfully, he cocks his head to one side. “Consider the value you’re getting: In return for doing the very things you’d be doing anyway, your starship will finally be able to communicate with Earth. You’ll also be able to chart a more efficient course, navigate through uncharted territories with ease, and deploy your weapons more effectively.” Beaming, Steve adds, “Plus, you’ll have access to over 30,000 new recipes for your Replicator, from cultures all throughout the Alpha and Gamma Quadrants!”
Chakotay furrows his brow. “And you can’t get us home?”
The expression on Steve’s face turns blank. “No.” He purses his lips. “Unfortunately, The Network only supplies the equipment and the system which enables communication between approved devices. What you do with them is entirely your perogative and responsibility.”
“But you can get to us!?” The former Maquis leader shouts while pounding his console with one fist.
Looking back down at the deck with his hands clasped behind his back, the hologram says, slowly, “It’s… complicated. Particularly the special effects part.” Chakotay is about to say something when Steve raises his finger, “But remember, I’m not really ‘here’. I never ‘got’ to you,” he gestures air quotes, “because my program has lied embedded within your starship’s mainframe since you installed Starship OS 9.”
“Dammit, I knew we shouldn’t have updated!” Ensign Harry Kim inadvertently exclaims.
The Captain takes two steps forward and interjects with stern clarity, “Gentlemen, this is ridiculous. Enough of the chit chat. We still have a long way to go before we reach home, and this is wasting precious little time.”
Janeway takes a moment to survey her crew, then faces the parasitic hologram. “What do you want me to do?”
Steve smirks, “I thought you’d never ask!” He reaches around his back and then walks towards the Captain with hands outstretched. He is holding a thin, glossy tablet displaying two lines of text and large, pill shaped button.
Accelerate your journey with the latest tools and features found only on Starship OS X:
Click Here to Upgrade Your Starship
“Assuming you agree to the terms and conditions, all you have to do it click this button. I will then automatically install Starship OS X.” He taps the edge of the tablet for emphasis. “Easy, right?”
Janeway steps closer to Steve, reaching for the tablet, and taps the tiny link labeled Terms & Conditions, just below the big, purple pill. A new overlay appears: a single column of inscrutable, tightly spaced lines of gray text against a solid, white background. An indicator shows ‘Page 1 of 97’. She sighs.
“Captain?” Tuvok asks.
Without looking up at the Vulcan, Janeway responds, “Yes Commander?” She begins to scroll through the pages, scanning for headlines or anything set in bold type.
“If I understand correctly, Captain: By pressing that button, you will effectively be handing over all of Voyager’s data transmissions to the Starship Interstellar Travel and Communications Network, a multigalactic corporation whose primary investors include our most ardent enemies, in exchange for a slightly better Operating System than we had before?”
Janeway closes the window and returns to the original screen. “Yes, Tuvok” she responds with utter resignation.
“And if we don’t upgrade, then we will be stranded – perhaps indefinitely – in the Delta Quadrant?” the Vulcan asks with his eyebrows pinched together.
“Ostensibly, Commander,” she states impatiently, nodding to Steve, who is watching the exchange with great amusement.
“That is illogical, Captain,” Tuvok retorts.
“Agreed.” Janeway takes a deep breath in, smooths the sides of her perfect bun, and pivots to face the well-dressed figure of diffracted light. “But we have no other choice.”
Steve extends his arms to present the brightly lit screen. “Done with the chit-chat, Captain Janeway?” he teases.
She looks squarely into his holographic eyes, unsmiling, and presses the purple button.
Promptly after tapping the screen, another shock-wave rips through Voyager, knocking the crew onto the deck of the bridge one more time. Tremors continue for a few more moments, reanimating objects that had previously fallen. On the main monitor, stars reappear as the black void collapses, pulling the spiraling fingers of luminous, purple vapors inward like an enormous drain. The aberration quickly shrinks, much faster than it had appeared, until the hole itself closes into a pinprick, culminating in a brief flash of violet light. As the crew stands to their feet and regain their composure, Steve is still standing in his original position.
With an apologetic tone, he breaks the silence, “So sorry – I’ll have to talk to the User Experience Team about that.” Then, flashing a toothy grin and raising his hand to wave, he bids farewell. “Thank you, Captain Janeway! It’s been a pleasure!” Steve’s form bursts into a spinning vaporous tower, before collapsing onto a single point of light. He is gone. Abruptly, all the displays on-board flicker, producing new, beautiful interfaces. A message appears above on the primary screen:
Welcome to Starship OS X
Nobody says a word at first. Ensign Kim raises his fist and coughs, once.
The image on screen dissolves into the familiar canvass of black, punctuated by endless stars in all directions.
Janeway stands tall before her chair, relieved and confident once again. She looks intently into the deep of space and begins to command, “Lieutenant Paris–”
“Captain?” Tuvok interrupts, again. He cannot let the conversation go.
Without blinking, Janeway answers, “Yes, Commander?”
“I still do not understand why everyone in the known Universe would allow their activity to be broadcasted to opaque, corporate entities — which will now have control over our starships and communication systems — in the name of cheap, abundant access to the latest technology.”
The Captain closes her eyes, but otherwise remains completely still. “Rational or not, it’s the reality we have apparently created.”
Tuvak raises a skeptical eyebrow. “Then it is unfortunate that we failed to consider whether this is the reality we really wanted.”
Janeway opens her eyes, looks over to her Lieutenant, and concludes the discussion.
“Tom, resume our previous course. Warp 9.”
“Aye Captain,” he responds happily.
Kathryn turns to gaze at the image of space on screen. It no longer seems so infinite.