The Neutral Zone Incursion was an historical incident in 2266 when a Romulan bird-of-prey penetrated the Romulan Neutral Zone and destroyed a number of Earth Outpost Stations. The Romulans used the Zone as a testbed for a couple of new technologies, such as a cloaking device and a new type of energy weapon, and how these would serve them in a second Earth-Romulan War. It marked the end of a century of isolation on the part of the Romulan Star Empire. (TOS: "Balance of Terror")
On Stardate 1709, the USS Enterprise was on patrol along the Neutral Zone in Sector Z-6 when signals from Outpost 2 ceased. The starship set course for Outpost 4, the nearest of the outposts. About an hour later, signals from Outpost 3 also ceased.
When the Enterprise was a little over eight minutes away from Outpost 4 at maximum warp, the ship received word that the outpost was under attack by an unidentified space vessel; contact was subsequently lost. As the Enterprise approached the border, Lieutenant Commander Spock was able to make sensor scans of Outposts 2 and 3; he determined that both outposts had been totally pulverized, including the asteroids they were constructed upon.
Five minutes out from Outpost 4, contact between the outpost and the Enterprise was reestablished. Commander Hansen, the commanding officer of the outpost, reported that Outpost 8 had also been destroyed. Outpost 4 had been hit by an unknown plasma weapon of immense power, that blew through the deflector shield with one shot. Even though the outpost itself was a mile deep within the asteroid, and protected by cast rodinium, the opening attack had caused immense physical damage to the outpost itself. The phaser banks were destroyed and the entire weapon crew killed with just the one hit. After firing, the mysterious starship had vanished, though it remained on tracking sensors.
As Enterprise neared Outpost 4, the mysterious vessel reappeared for a moment, letting loose another plasma torpedo. Contact with the outpost was lost; Commander Spock reported it had been disintegrated. He theorized that the unknown ship was utilizing an invisibility screen to make scanning difficult, but that it had needed to become momentarily visible because of the high amount of power required to maintain invisibility precluded firing weapons.
Pursuit back to the Neutral Zone
The vessel was only visible as a blip on tracking sensors; this blip, unaware of the Enterprise because of the two-way nature of the invisibility screen, changed course to 111 mark 14, which would take it back through the Neutral Zone to Romulus. The Enterprise followed the blip on a parallel course, hoping to make the other ship (now almost positively identified as Romulan) think it was nothing more than a sensor reflection.
When the Romulan vessel transmitted a coded message to Romulus, the Enterprise was momentarily able to tap into the visuals from the ship's bridge, obtaining the first-even visual representation of a Romulan. The Romulans were apparently identical to Vulcans, which caused Enterprise navigator Stiles to view Commander Spock with some suspicion. The invisibility system momentarily faltered as the Romulan ship turned, but power was reestablished, and the ship soon returned to its original course.
As the Enterprise and the Romulan vessel neared the Neutral Zone, Enterprise captain James T. Kirk weighed his options. It was imperative that he stop the Romulan vessel from crossing back into Romulan space, for it would surely mean a second Earth-Romulan War if the Praetor felt the Star Empire had such a massive advantage.
At about twenty-one minutes from crossing into the Neutral Zone, the Romulan vessel suddenly changed course for comet Icarus 4. The plan of the Romulan commander was to obscure the Enterprise's senors in the comet's tail so he could swing back and catch the Federation starship off guard. Captain Kirk failed to anticipate this move, however, and swung around to the opposite side of the comet, planning on attacking the Romulan vessel when it became visible as it entered the tail.
After the Romulan vessel exited the tail, it realized that the Enterprise was no longer behind it; the commander ordered escape maneuver one. Losing track of the Romulan vessel, the Enterprise turned hard to starboard. Kirk realized he had underestimated the Romulan commander, and ordered a firing patten laid down at random. The Romulan vessel suffered some minor damage, but the Enterprise's phaser control circuits overloaded and burnt out.
As the Romulan ship slowly became visible once more, Captain Kirk realized the danger, and ordered the Enterprise into emergency reverse warp, but he was too late; the bird-of-prey launched a plasma torpedo after the Enterprise. Even with Enterprise's warp engines on full power, the torpedo was still capable of overtaking the starship. Fortunately, a little less than ten seconds before impact, the torpedo reached the limit of its range and dissipated, causing only minor damage to the ship.
The Romulan vessel reengaged its invisibility screen despite the problem of draining fuel reserves, and resumed its course on 111 mark 14; the Enterprise (its phasers once again operational) fell back onto its parallel course, going to maximum warp to catch up and hopefully intersect the intruder before it could cross the Neutral Zone border. With less than a minute to go, the Enterprise once again launched a number of random phaser barrages, hoping to force the bird-of-prey to decloak in order to fire.
Though the Romulan ship suffered some minor damage, its commander realized Kirk's strategy, however, and ordered all motion cut. Now no longer visible even on the Enterprise's tracking sensors, he had the ship's debris jettisoned into space, including the body of the one crewman to die thus far. The Enterprise detected the debris but realized there was not enough to account for the Romulan vessel. With nothing else to do, the Enterprise also cut all power and motion. Each ship's captain was trying to outwit the other, seeing who would "blink" first.
After almost ten hours of this waiting game, Commander Spock accidentally activated a device on his panel while making repairs to the transfer coil of the phaser banks. Detecting the momentary signal, the Romulan ship moved underneath the Enterprise to attack it, but Captain Kirk anticipated the move and put his starship into reverse, laying down another random phaser barrage.
Rapidly running out of options as his ship's limited fuel supply ran low, the Romulan commander once again ordered debris jettisoned in space, this time ordering a nuclear warhead to be added to the mix. As the Enterprise approached the debris, it noticed the warhead too late: phasers managed to detonate it a meager 100 meters from the outer hull, sending around twenty crewmembers to sickbay with radiation burns.
The Enterprise was crippled in the attack through overloads and circuit burnouts, and only the forward phaser control room was left operational, though it was manned only by Robert Tomlinson and Stiles. Engine power was eventually restored, allowing the ship to move off and make repairs. Captain Kirk declined to do so, hoping that by maintaining the appearance of a tempting target, he could induce the Romulan ship to pull back to the Federation side of the Neutral Zone to attack. The Romulan commander, however, was reluctant to press his advantage, wary of draining his fuel supply. It was his hope the Enterprise would simply move off, allowing his ship to make for home.
The Romulan commander was, however, convinced by a subordinate named Decius to attack the Enterprise. As the Romulan vessel became visible once more and headed for the Enterprise, Kirk gave the order to fire. Unfortunately, a coolant leak had developed in the phaser control room, killing Tomlinson and knocking out Stiles. Luckily, Spock was in the area and, not affected by the coolant gas as much because of his Vulcan physiology, he was able to fire the forward phasers.
The Romulan vessel was taken by surprise by the Enterprise's sudden barrage, the ship crippled beyond hope. Captain Kirk offered to take aboard the surviving crew, but rather than surrender, the Romulan commander performed his final duty and self-destructed his ship. In his last transmission, the commander told Kirk:
- "I regret that we meet in this way. You and I are of a kind. In a different reality, I could have called you friend."
With its flagship bird-of-prey an apparent failure, the Romulan Star Empire did not follow up on this incursion with a full-scale war, though they did become involved in interstellar politics once again, going so far as to briefly ally with the Klingon Empire in 2268. The Romulan use of stealth tactics against the Federation would set the stage for much of their interaction with the opposing government for the next century and beyond.
The incursion revealed two very dangerous technologies at Romulan disposal. The first was their cloaking technology, which allowed them to penetrate the Neutral Zone. The device had a weakness, in that tracking sensors could pick up the ship when in motion, but this was neutralized in later generations of the device. The second technology was the plasma energy weapon. It was capable of outrunning a Template:ShipClass starship, but its effectiveness decreased with distance.
Though Captain Kirk successfully avoided crossing into the Neutral Zone in his effort to stop the Romulan vessel, Starfleet Command's authorization to do so arrived hours after the battle had ended. Tomlinson was the only Enterprise fatality.