FIRST CONTACT: The Iron Horse
First Contact: The Iron Horse
By James Curtis Snyder
Lily Sloane gripped the aft railing and clenched her jaw tightly, refusing to vomit. She welcomed the refreshing downpour overhead but cursed the boiling Atlantic Ocean below her feet. Her fingers were of steel; her stomach of jelly as the tiny Erlkonig chopped on westward through the gray day.
"Doctor Sloane!" called a heavy Russian voice from behind. It belonged to the man-mountain Verda, her junior physicist from the two-classroom Sloane Institute of San Francisco. He’d insisted on escorting the warp physics pioneer on her perilous outing.
Their overseas rendezvous with the representatives of NASA, the Planetary Society, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, (SETI) the British National Space Center, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, and a host of others was truly exhilarating.
Lily had spearheaded the collective years ago, following the events of First Contact with Vulcan some fifteen years prior. Her friends from around the world were eager to industrialize a generation of registered starships, and improve the warp drive technology Dr. Sloane had helped to create. These would be the goals to shoot for while they taught fresh new minds at the proposed United Earth Starfleet Academy.
The twenty-four members of the new United Nations of Terra, along with the Global Transport Affiliate and the Terran Credit Monitor, had deliberated for six weeks on the proposal to fully fund the Academy. This would require substantial resources; personnel, industrial concerns and commodity lines that were already stretched thin while keeping the fledgling global democracy moving forward.
The good news came first. The citizens within the UNT offered many volunteers and ample donations for the effort, ready to relocate to San Francisco. The GTA had endorsed the Academy’s potential for deep space exploration, and pledged to relocate key persons and material for the project.
But the final decision of the Credit Monitor was not so flattering. These were still desperate times. There were many post-atomic horrors to banish from the Earth before humanity could reach for the stars on such a grand scale. No credit was available for the new blood Lily needed to build the Academy. She pondered the project would now take decades to complete and would break the backs of its founders.
Lily was grateful for the people’s support but was truly upset by the lack of funding. Her enthusiastic cadre had been quieted by the news, and they parted with solemn but friendly words as they made their separate ways home, unsure of what would come next.
Verda respectfully approached Lily and offered her a steaming two-pint steel mug with a plate lid.
"Earl Grey tea, Miss Lily. Hot." She remained frozen to the rail; he set the mug on the deck and quickly reached in his coat for a small flask. "And vodka, if you wish. I find it helps." The Erlkonig rose and fell, rose again and fell again, endlessly.
Lily nodded slightly and whispered over the ocean. "Thank you Verda. Leave me alone, now. Please." She was just fine with the storm; she didn't want tea or booze or
anything in the world but to make the churning stop. She knew she was going to puke, oh God there was no way around it....
Verda nodded his head and stepped back.
"Make it so, Doctor. There is no shame."
Lily felt like a great burden had been lifted, and for a few seconds she nearly disappeared as her torso leaned over the ocean. She coughed deeply and spat in the seawater, feeling a little better. She slumped to the deck and leaned her forehead on the rail. Seawater rushed over the deck in sheets, soaking her further.
She turned her head slightly to finally acknowledge her student.
“I’ll have that tea now, thanks.” She closed her bleary eyes and focused on breathing steadily. He held the large cup steady as she sipped.
She nodded lightly. “Help me inside, please.” Verda lifted her as he would a sleeping cat, easing her to her feet. He brought the teacup along and deftly moved her inside.
It was dark and dank below deck, but Lily’s stomach was more receptive to the atmosphere now. Verda hoisted Lily to a fireman’s carry and moved carefully through the dim light.
“Here we are,” he whispered. He unlatched the door and gently set Lily down on her own two feet. She shuffled a few steps into her tiny quarters and crashed on the lower
bunk, soaking wet and already fast asleep. Verda swept a rough but clean blanket from the top bunk and covered the exhausted scientist. He turned the lock and stepped out.
Lily was in much better shape eight days later, when the Erlkonig arrived in the colorful port city of Corpus Christi, Texas. Teeming with an international jumble of travelers, merchants, mercenaries, pirates, mutants, thieves and so many others, Corpus Christi had survived the War and returned to its roots as a renowned trading post. The afternoon sun was bright and hot after a brief rain-shower, baking the populace and steaming the roads comprised of broken asphalt, mud, and manure.
Lily and Verda left the docks and its transients behind, and moved on toward the Market along the Bayfront Science Park. Today was a Sunday, and the Shoreline Boulevard was bustling with global travelers and Texans from miles around.
The gulls and birds sang while distant church bells rang for afternoon service. Street performers lightened the air with instrumentals; balladeers told stories as spectators flipped quarter-ounce coins into upturned hats. Children darted through the muddy streets, chasing a day’s adventure. Horse-drawn carriages loaded with goods navigated carefully down the broken venues that were long bereft of traffic signs and signals.
Canvas awnings provided welcome shade, colorful banners gave a cheerful lining to the wonderful emanations of roasting meat, fresh fruit, ice, and ale, all of which were too enticing to pass up. The travelers enthusiastically agreed to upgrade their provisions.
Texas was considered to be the hub of the new American Frontier. The Fifteen Optimal States of the East and the Ten United States of the West had both claimed the Lone Star territory. However, the nuclear devastation of Dallas / Fort Worth twenty-five years earlier in 2053 had poisoned the state’s central mass and made controlling the area difficult. Texas had become the de facto Neutral Zone in the Cold War between the States.
Verda pointed to a long line near a merchant of dried meats and cheeses.
“I think I will get in line now, the merchant may close soon.”
“Good idea,” Lily replied, as she studied a fresh fruit stand across the street. The vendors were making ice; pouring water into a tub to be micro-filtered clean, misting through a solar cell freezer into a large transparent aluminum serving case, ready to be scooped and blended with bananas, citrus, cream, or syrup. Imported, expensive stuff, but honest-to-goodness iced cream was rare and made her mouth water.
“Verda, I think we deserve something good, and it’s on me. It’s a short line over there,” Lily patted his shoulder. “Wait here.” She skipped off, weaving through the crowd.
Neither Lily nor Verda noticed the sharp eyes tracking them, following and detailing their every movement from the moment they disembarked from the Erlkonig. The watcher was Gifted, born of mutation from ancestors rooted in the Wastelands.
Despite this man’s impish and pitiful appearance, his gift of observation and memory found him very lucrative employment as a spy. Over time he had mastered the art of invisibility through prose and act. He was remarkably confident among pure-strain humans, a rare trait for a mutant.
The docks were an excellent place to spot fugitives coming or going from Corpus Christi; his sharp eyes were analyzing the dozen faces walking the gangway of the Erlkonig. He crept along the dock from a safe distance, beyond the range of clear human sight, never losing her profile. He followed the lines on the woman’s face, observed her walk and her body language. Everything matched the snapshot in his perfect memory. Then, he saw her large companion address her, mouthing the name, “Doctor Sloane.”
He had the positive ID. He scampered off.
UNT Credit wasn’t good here, so Lily paid four of her twenty gold dollars for two iced drinks served in oversized grapefruit rinds, and smiled at the vendor.
The vendor didn’t return her smile; instead he was alerted, looking over her shoulder. Lily felt a shadow fall on her back; she spun around to see two very large men towering over her. They were fast and made a grab for Lily, but she was faster and ducked the two giants. She stumbled and dropped one of the drinks, and in a heartbeat of anger flung the other squarely in one of their faces. The other brute got hold of Lily’s wrist and arrested her flight.
Her captor had the grip of a steel trap, she shrieked with rage as she struggled.
“Come on then! Bring it!” Lily thrashed with all her might; connecting a solid kick to the groin, dropping him just as the fruit-covered brute secured her in a bear hug from behind.
Lily heard a great roar, then she was free; her captor now rolling in the mud with Verda, grappling and gouging. The crowd in the street had cleared a wide spot for the spectacle and began heckling and cheering the bout. Professional gamblers began to bark odds on the fight. This kind of thing happened often here, no one would interfere unless property damage resulted.
The first brute was curled up nursing his family jewels, so Lily whipped around to see if she could help Verda, who didn’t need it. He was an exceptional fighter in his day, trading blows with the man and getting in some good hooks. Lily cheered him.
“Yeah! Get’em, Verda! Kick his ass!”
Lily had just cracked a smile of victory over the unknown assailants when the world suddenly flashed white with a great shock of pain. The mud rose up to meet her face as she splashed down in a convulsion. Her mud-splattered opponent had recovered, standing over her with a buzzing shock baton in his hand and a satanic smile on his lips. The baton found Lily a second time and she screamed, splitting the air.
Verda was growing winded but had the advantage over his rival. With another great roar he head-butted the fellow on the bridge of his nose, shattering the bone. The brute howled and fell with muddy hands clapped to his face, spouting blood and tears between his knotted fingers.
Verda turned, breathing hard, to the face the man between himself and Lily. The fresher brute had recovered from Lily’s assault completely, wielding the baton lightly in one hand and began taking long swipes at Verda. Lily remained inert in the mud.
Verda ducked a hard swipe of the baton and made a grab for it. The men began to struggle over the weapon. And then, the broken-nosed brute stumbled up behind Verda and struck him in the base of the skull, hard and with great savor. Verda sprawled from his grapple and fell to the earth, gasping and seeing stars. He rolled in the mud as the baton came down thrice in a final rain of blows.
“YAHH!” The Broken Nose goal-kicked Verda in the ribs with his heavy boot and laughed, spurting fresh blood. It was over now; the crowd began to break up. The air buzzed with amusement and pity, gold coins clinked as bets were laid off.
The Baton Wielder had turned to Lily and was gathering her up.
“Whad abouth dith one?” Broken-Nose grunted, gesturing to Verda.
The other lifted Lily on his shoulder and made for their horse-drawn cart nearby.
“He’s not worth anything. Let’s go.”
A half-hour later, Verda sat alone, contemplating what to do next. He pressed handfuls of ice to his eye and held it, thinking.
“You poor man. They took your friend, I saw the whole thing.”
Verda lowered his handful of ice and looked up at the impish mutant. “Da? And what concern of yours, wretch? Leave me alone.”
“Please, sir. I only want to help you. I have information about your friend. Who the men are, and maybe where they are going. All yours for a price, stranger.”
“Piss off, creature!” He flung ice at him. The mutant only flinched.
“It’s ten gold dollars, if you have it. A good price. Want a free taste? They’ve already left town, stranger. Decide now, weary traveler...last chance...”
Verda locked eyes, judging whether to trust him. Honest or not, the mutant was confident. He reached in his coat and withdrew a fist of gold coins. He opened his palm but kept the treasure nigh.
“Ah, very good. The abductors who took the woman are bounty hunters, you see, employed by the Caretaker of Amistad City, along the Great Wall of Texas.”
“But why did they take her?”
The mutant smiled, bearing a mouthful of misshapen teeth.
“Don’t you know? She is wanted for treason! Her name and face are widely posted in the Badlands and are known to any bounty hunter that hails from the Optimal States. She was easily recognized I’m afraid.”
“Why Amistad City?”
“Amistad is an Optimal stronghold, built all around and inside the Great Wall itself, near the hydroelectric dam. The two bounty hunters are residents of the City, on their way now with your friend. They are traveling in a diesel transport and will arrive at Amistad by nightfall. The Caretaker is powerful, his words are the law. Colonel Green has given him absolute power, there is no question he will find her guilty of her crimes.”
Verda narrowed his eyes. “How do you know so much?”
“I have keen eyes and ears, friend. Information is my business.”
“Your information is false! Doctor Sloane is not a criminal!” Verda scowled in frustration and spat congealed blood to the side. “What else is there? Speak.”
The mutant turned up his palms and shrugged. “All I can say is that you’ll need help to reclaim her, you couldn’t possibly do it alone.”
Verda stood and withheld the stack of coins above the mutant’s open hand.
“What’s your name, mutant?”
“Elijah,” he humbly reported, collecting his coins and bowing his head. “My name is Elijah. Good fortune to you, friend.” He grinned and scampered into the growing afternoon shadows.
Verda watched him vanish, and realized that he was certainly right about one thing: he was going to need help.
End Of Book One
Re: FIRST CONTACT: The Iron Horse
Standing against the rush of open air, Commander Michael Kroh gripped the forward guardrail of Deck Two as the massive all-terrain wheels of the GTA Iron Horse buckled over a washout in Interstate 10. The roads were in dire condition these days; bumpy rides were the rule in most places. The Iron Horse and her crew were en route to the Southwest Regional Spaceport near the city of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico.
The Armored Personnel Carriers of the Global Transport Affiliate were considered to be the most versatile wheel-dependant transports ever built by Man. The Iron Horse APC was of the Titan class, fully complemented with Bridge, Battle Platform, Sickbay, Crew & Guest Quarters, Mess, Promenade, Garage, Cargo Bay, Refinery, Brig, and Storage. Utilizing the latest in hydrogen and solar cell technologies, she could be refueled at any water source and negotiate the Frontier almost indefinitely.
The United States in the West were slowly moving East, reclaiming her territories from the grip of Green’s Optimal government, using incentives of first aid, credit, reconstruction contracts, alternate energies, education, basic rights and peacekeepers. The GTA chewed away at the Frontier, establishing First Contact with enclosed civilizations and their strange little worlds. GTA transports also carried young Vulcan ambassadors in training, to soothe and nullify the widespread fear of extraterrestrial invasion. It was damned hard work, often dangerous, but the world was gradually coming together, bit by bit.
The radio strapped to Kroh’s belt chirped for attention. He reached under his coat and tapped the PTT that coiled to his lapel. “Kroh here, go ahead.”
“Commander,” called the young voice of Lt. Kara Rochelle at Operations, “We’re being hailed, New Mexico Outpost Four is standing by for your PIN.”
“Be right down, Lieutenant.” Kroh tapped off and stepped carefully in the open air toward the manhole in the center of the Deck. He toed the access latch and the circular cover geared open. He hooked his arm around the fixed pole-and-ladder and slid down to Deck One, his heavy boots crashing onto the grated steel floor of the Bridge.
An immense panoramic windshield cast of transparent aluminum allowed the natural afternoon sunlight to flood the Bridge, casting long shadows and keeping it warm despite the cooling system. Kroh removed his coat and hung it on the backrest of his command station. He gripped one of the many padded rails with one hand as the Horse rumbled down the ruined Interstate, as they all did when the APC was in motion. After a time one got used to moving about the superstructure in a half-walk, half climb.
Forward and to the port bulkhead, Lt. Rochelle was comfortable at her station, wearing Levi’s denim and a white cotton shirt. The nineteen year-old had jettisoned her deck shoes and was nesting cross-legged and bare-footed in the chair that was too big for her. Her long red hair cascaded over a set of headphones she cupped to one ear.
“Outpost is standing by, Commander,” Rochelle leaned forward to tap the return beacon. “PIN required, so it’s your eyes only.”
“Thank you, Miss Rochelle, I’ll take it in my Ready Room.” He glanced at the Timex on his wrist, marking the time at 18:30 hours.
She dabbed her face with a damp cloth. “Aye, sir.”
The Helmsman of the Iron Horse was harnessed to his station at the center-left of the windscreen. Brian Gaines had a very simple mind operating inside his bald head, but the sturdy fellow was an excellent driver and was quite proud of his work. He found child-like delight in piloting the APC through the post-apocalyptic landscape.
Kroh dropped a heavy hand on Gaines’ shoulder and raised his voice over the ambient hum of the electric engines.
“How does she hold, man?”
The drivers’ face broke open in a wide chuckle-headed smile. He raised his station to a full standing position so he could stretch his limbs.
“I love the Interstate, Boss! Nice ‘n flat like glass! Hell, we’re cruisin’ at a steady 100 KPH on front-wheel drive only, hardly usin’ any juice at all!” He paused to chug warm water from a plastic bottle and reported a long, satisfying belch. “She’s awesome!”
The Commander nodded in approval. “As you were, Helmsman. Steady as she goes.”
Kroh turned for his Ready Room, just behind his command station to the port side. He slid through the narrow hatch. The efficient room featured a small desk, an enclosed single bunk and a tiny privy featuring an ultrasonic mist showerhead. Padded grab rails complemented the furnishings. Sunlight slanted through a small porthole in the bulkhead.
Built into his aluminum desk were a small workstation and a keypad security lock. His battered black Stetson hat rested on the corner of his chair. Kroh punched his PIN number as he scooped up his hat and settled in. He rested his dusty boots on the tabletop, tipped his hat forward and crossed his arms, his chin low and waited for the dispatch to respond.
A minute later, the speaker crackled to life. “This is New Mexico Outpost Four calling APC one-zero-zero-seven, PIN verified. Iron Horse, copy this transmission, over.”
Kroh clicked on the return switch and leaned back again, lowering his hat. “Affirmative, Outpost. Commander Kroh here, I read you loud and clear. Over.”
“Copy, Iron Horse. Uploading now, a critical TAD has been issued at eighteen hundred hours MST, your manifest has been suspended, over.”
“Roger that, Outpost.” Kroh reserved. “What’s the story?”
“All senior staff, report to the Bridge.”
Kroh’s voice boomed throughout the mobile habitats of the Iron Horse.
“Captain Skyes, Doctor Sina, Mr. Jeffries, Mr. Steel, fall in.”
“Just one person?” Asked Kara Rochelle at her Op station, facing center. The senior officers began to arrive on the Bridge. The Horse herself was now at rest along the eastbound shoulder of Interstate 10.
All hands were seated at their workstations or standing by, facing Kroh at his central command station. He held up the decoded printout of the Temporary Additional Duty.
“Just one.” He handed the paper to the Jamaican-born warrior, Captain Marjorie Skyes as she manned her station at Tactical to the center-right of the windshield, symmetrical to the Helm. Kroh continued.
“Dr. Sloane is a scientific pioneer. She helped develop the faster-than-light propulsion technology known as warp drive, in cahoots with the infamous Doctor Zephrame Cochrane. More recently, she is the founder of the Starfleet Academy Project. Two days ago, bounty hunters abducted her in Corpus Christi and transported her to the Optimum’s Amistad Reservoir fortress along the border. The Doctors’ companion was severely beaten, but he survived and sought out his contact on the edge of the city.”
“So the GTA has chosen to intervene.” Skyes stated the bottom line.
Kroh leaned back in his chair. “And we are the emergency counsel. The Iron Horse is the only APC that can be spared for the effort. And just putting our asses on the line for this woman is a huge gamble of resources. Apparently, even the Vulcans hold the Doctor in high regard; there is a personal note from an ambassador Soval that we act quickly.”
“Indeed,” graveled the voice of Mr. Steel, the young Vulcan diplomat whom established First Contact with the variety of humans the Iron Horse encountered. Steel was twenty Standard years old; he had lived fifteen of them on Earth. His dense black hair was still very long, indicating he had not yet passed his First Rites. His dusty cowboy boots rested on a padded rail. His Levi’s jeans, flannel shirt and denim jacket were his own and blended him naturally with the crew. The points of his ears were tucked away in his hat.
“I have met Doctor Sloane, once when I was six years old. This was during the celebratory opening of the Vulcan compound in San Francisco fifteen years ago, she was an honored guest at the reception.” He removed his boots from the rail and straightened his hat. “I doubt she would recognize me today, however.”
“Good,” Kroh acknowledged. “Then you can identify her.”
He turned to his first officer. “Marjorie, Have your mercenaries pack their gear and up-armor two of the Crawlers. We’re likely to have a fight on our hands.”
“Aye, Commander.” She relished the order. “We haven’t had a good bout in a while. The CATS can be ready in one hour.”
“At your convenience, Captain. Doctor Sina?”
Kroh nodded at his chief medical officer, Ibin “Ben” Sina. “Prepare the Sickbay. Expect some casualties.”
The Doctor was of Arabic ancestry, a man of faith and a brilliant medical practitioner by any standard. He was renowned for his ability to heal; the Iron Horse was fortunate to have him aboard. He nodded solemnly at Kroh’s order, but said nothing.
The Commander turned to Operations. “Miss Rochelle, time and distance to Amistad?”
She swiveled around in her chair and activated her Westinghouse touch LCD, calling up a map of the Southwestern States. The results displayed on the 36-inch main viewer mounted above her station.
After some quick number crunching she reported, “Approximately 800 kilometers, over relatively flat terrain. Let’s see...we’ll have to pass through Las Cruses and El Paso. That’ll take some time. We’ll hold our course east on Interstate Ten for most of the journey, turning off on Highway 277 south for as long as it can carry us.”
Her fingers danced and slid on the touch screen, she continued her report as the Eagle satellite images panned and zoomed on the main viewer.
“We’ll have to move off-road on the approach, the 277 bridge over the Reservoir itself won’t accommodate the Iron Horse. This will slow our exit. But we should still make excellent time on the journey, even at night. Off-roading around ruins shouldn’t be a problem. About twenty hours travel time under ideal conditions, Commander.” She turned to the group.
“Then let’s get going. Miss Rochelle, lay in that course and send it to the Helm.”
The Chief Engineer of the Iron Horse, Cyrus Jeffries leaned against a pad rail with his massive arms folded.
“Rotate one of your technicians to relieve Mr. Gaines at twenty-two hundred hours, and drive at best possible night speed until zero-six-hundred tomorrow.”
“How are the batteries?”
“Batteries are still in the green, Commander. I don’t expect we’ll need to change water ‘till we clear away.”
“Good enough.” Kroh answered. “Everyone man your stations, time is short. Mr. Gaines, take us out.”
“On the road again, boss!” The pilot spun around at his station and activated the drive systems, bringing the Iron Horse to life. He fastened his six-point harness and smashed an old hat on his shaved head, with the word “Survivor” embroidered on the brim. The APC crawled off the shoulder, its girth taking up both eastbound lanes of Interstate Ten.
End Of Book Two
Re: FIRST CONTACT: The Iron Horse
This is a very fasinating take of the post-WWIII and pre-Starfleet era on Earth. I love the attention to detail you packed into your story, drawing up a post-apocalyptic world remiscent of something like Mad Max with a strong Trek flavor. It all feels very thought-out and creating a brand new universe is always a big challenge.
I also like the idea of the APC which seems to be a model for how starships will later operate.
I'm not usually a big fan of post-apocalyptic stories but at least here you know that things can only get better ... eventually.
Great stuff, keep it coming.
Re: FIRST CONTACT: The Iron Horse
Thanks, CeJay. And you're right, world-building is tough work. This is great fun, going nuts and having fun with Trek on Terra Firma.
Book 3 coming in a day or two...
Re: FIRST CONTACT: The Iron Horse
I am loving this setting!
Re: FIRST CONTACT: The Iron Horse
Me too! I would love to see what the Iron Horse would "really" look like...
(I do have one small, entirely trivial question though. Where does the Iron Horse's crew come from? Does the GTA draw from whatever militaries it can find? I'm guessing it's not a service unto itself, since a commander generally doesn't outrank a captain)
Re: FIRST CONTACT: The Iron Horse
Book 3 should be up Fri, or Sat at the latest.
OK, The Iron Horse was originally a SNW 10 entry, compressed into a mere 7500 words. I felt the draft suffered from too much compression, so I've taken the week to de-compress the next chapter, and do it justice.
Everyone, thanks much for reading, I'm glad you like it!
Don't forget to check out Babaganoosh's Father's Day, it's his first fanfic!
Oh, and some answers will be provided later in the story, and others will be (answered / debated / created) when the sources are posted after Book Four.
Homer sleep now...
Re: FIRST CONTACT: The Iron Horse
Amistad City, Texas
Optimal States Territory
Amistad was protected by an outer security wall, but what made the City unique was how it hugged the massive Great Border Wall. The nearby hydroelectric dam provided an endless power supply, prospering this madness. The distant but strong crash of water from the spillway was refreshing after long days of confinement.
The sunlit Courtyard reminded her of the Market she was abducted from. There was plenty of food, music, dancing, and an endless supply of booze. The crowd and festivities had been pouring in through the gates of Amistad since the day she got here. All of this attention, just for her. She wasn’t flattered.
Locked in a steel cage, Lily had been paraded about the vast Courtyard as a war trophy, carried on the shoulders of six hulking laborers. The peasantry had flocked about the cage, she had been pelted with every foul word and bit of trash imaginable.
“...The Vulcans come from HELL! Who are you to bring them here!...”
The cage lowered and Lily was yanked out, her hands bound at the wrist.
The crowd heckled and growled as four armored Optimal soldiers escorted Lily into the spacious Courtroom through tall double doors.
The high walls were draped in deep red, featuring the Optimum’s black eagle. Spotlights spilled radiant pools around the center of the Court. Rows of crude bleachers opposed the platform where Lily stood. Cool air circulated the room.
The spectators were then allowed to spill in, scrambling for the best seats. Dozens more continued to squeeze in after the stands were full.
Laughter and catcalls died down to whispers, then silence.
An ornately dressed Bailiff stepped forward, followed by the court functionary toting a bronzed gong.
The Bailiff shouted, “All will rise in the presence of the Caretaker, Judicial ruler of Amistad!”
Another tall gate opened directly opposite from the one Lily entered. From the darkness inside she heard the hissing and hum of hydraulic pumps. A throne emerged, mounted to a boom extending from the unseen, floating the occupant into and about the Court at a whim. The man was dressed in the official red and black robes of the Optimal Judiciary.
The one known as the Caretaker was elderly, perhaps as old as seventy. His eyes moved about and saw everyone, the spectators quickly lowering their heads. Only Lily would meet his gaze. The throne centered high in the air; the Caretaker looked down on her as he picked up a pad and looked over its contents. A bit of mirth smeared his lip as he spoke.
“You are Lillian Sloane, of San Francisco, California.” It wasn’t a question. His voice was remarkably strong. Lily squared her shoulders.
“Yes. I am Doctor Lily Sloane, of the City’s Warp Physics Institute.”
“Of course you are.” He motioned a gloved hand downward.
“All but the accused may sit.”
The Court was jammed with onlookers. Dozens had no choice but to stand.
The court functionary sounded the gong twice as the Bailiff stepped forward.
“The prisoner stands before this gracious court to answer for her multiple crimes
against the Optimal States of America. His high Honor, the Caretaker of Amistad, will read the list of charges.”
Lily braced herself. The Caretaker consulted his pad and spoke the charges aloud, the court functionary sounded off as they were read.
“Treasonous relations with malevolent off-worlders...”
“Aiding a known terrorist state within Optimal borders...”
“And endorsing a secessionist ruling party.”
Far in the back of the room, standing among the last arrivals to squeeze in, Kroh and Steel studied the scene in relative obscurity. With the spreading word of the trial, traffic coming in through the gates of Amistad was thick and allowed the two of them to infiltrate the fortress as spectators. Kroh leaned slightly and whispered to his diplomat.
“Are you getting this, Mr. Steel?”
The young Vulcan standing next to him patted the recorder slung at his side and nodded.
The Caretaker lowered his throne to look Lily in the eye. “How plead you, criminal?”
Lily felt the accusations to be amazingly fictional. She relaxed. “None of those charges apply to me, Your Honor. Not guilty. ”
The spectators howled in disapproval, shrieks of guilt added to the sour chorus. The gong sounded several times as the crowd settled down. The Caretaker levitated his throne and splayed his hands theatrically, addressing Lily again.
“But you are, and they do, beginning in the year two thousand sixty three!”
Lily tilted her head thoughtfully. “First Contact with Vulcan. So what?”
“You and your mentor, Zephram Cochrane, were the first recorded humans to surrender to the influence and conditions of the extraterrestrials. How do you plead?”
“What? We didn’t surrender to the Vulcans! That’s nothing but propaganda! Our First Contact was...”
“...And under their mind control, their influence, arranged the so-called United Nations of Terra. That puppet-string organization, my dear, is not recognized by this Court or its Sponsor.”
Lily snapped back. “Oh, knock it off! The Vulcans advise the UNT, they don’t control it! You might consider the truth, that they don’t want to help us much at all! Most of their help has been formulaic, mathematical! Restricted!”
“...SILENCE, CRIMINAL!!...” A soldier fired an automatic volley of rounds at the ceiling, his fistgun aimed high. “You will NOT speak over the Caretaker!”
Lily bit her tongue, seething.
The Caretaker motioned the soldier away. “The guilty party has the right to explain her crimes.” He feigned a stifled yawn. “This is a perfectly equitable Court.”
The soldier lowered his weapon and backed away. The Caretaker eased his throne down to Lily’s eye level once again. He offered a look of sincerity as he spoke.
“The Optimal citizens, their President, and Colonel Green only wish to restore America to its former glory, Doctor; protecting all of these people from this United Earth nonsense of yours. Is that so wrong? So evil?”
His throne crept slowly upward. “Your people are bringing the fight to them, Doctor. Your GTA battle fleet is pillaging the livelihoods of simple Optimal citizens, in the name of Manifest Destiny; happily expanding the UNT for your glorious alien masters.”
Lily had enough. She roared her case.
“I don’t give a damn about your cowardly accusations! You hear me? You’re putting me on trial because you and your people are afraid of the future, afraid of changes! Afraid of losing control over your precious, post-war empires!”
The crowd began to boo and hiss. Lily actually laughed in frustration.
Every citizen in the UNT has remarkable freedom! We can work, hold residence, and build Credit in any nation we choose! I promise you, Caretaker, the dictatorships will crumble in less than thirty years, and your fate is sealed if you ignore the united world reaching out to help you!”
“YOU are out of ORDER!” The Bailiff shouted.
The soldier strode up to Lily and leveled his fistgun at her temple. The crowd hushed. Lily shot the soldier a mean look.
“Dude, get that gun out of my face before I make you eat it.”
The soldier glanced at the Caretaker and inhaled a quick dose from the stimulant dispenser on his breastplate, his arm wavering.
She ignored the drugged sentry and addressed the crowd. “It breaks my heart to see you folks so willingly controlled! There’s a better world coming for your children, please don’t let them die for this regime!”
Lily sat on the pedestal to let the adrenaline dissipate. She gathered up one knee and leaned on it.
“I’ve done my job. My staff will build the Academy without me. Kill me two or three times if you want to, Your Honor, it won’t make a damn bit of difference.”
She turned her head away from the throne and brushed her knee. “That’s it.”
“Very well.” His throne rose in a high circle about the Courtroom. “The accused provided no evidence to sway the Court in the gravity of these charges.”
The Courtroom was silent. He clasped his hands together.
“On all counts, she is Guilty.”
The crowd’s reaction was immediate, the applause sounded like a rainy day in Hell. Feet thunderously stomped the bleachers, the very smell inside the room changed with the exertions of so many. The Caretaker’s voice boomed over the Courtroom.
“The day after this day, when the sun sets, all citizens are invited to gather in the Courtyard to cast their stones. She will face the ultimate penalty.”
The deafening applause continued. The Caretaker’s throne recessed slowly into the darkness.
“This Court stands adjourned.”
“It is fascinating,” remarked Mr. Steel, “how fear and ignorance can so easily transmogrify into law.”
He and Kroh were outside the Courtroom, observing the satisfied crowd spilling into the Market all around them, going about their festivities with a wholehearted zeal. Kroh nodded to a rabble of drunken peasants taking gallery shots at a Vulcan effigy.
“I apologize for them, my friend.”
“No need, Commander.” The Vulcan diplomat tipped his hat to a smiling young woman passing by, and cracked a thin smile in return. “I found it to be an excellent case study. To witness and record such behavior helps my people to better understand the sociological complexity of the Human species.”
The two watched as Dr. Sloane was escorted out in her steel cage, carried by her six hulking laborers. The crowd jeered and threw whatever was at hand. Four Optimal soldiers fired into the air, clearing the crowd back.
Kroh and Steel separated and followed the throng down the bank of an irrigation channel cut from the great Reservoir. The channel flowed under a man-made tunnel, with the exiting water flowing from the unseen far end. The cage disappeared inside.
The human and the Vulcan came together as they turned back toward the distant gates.
“It’s an open run across the Yard,” Kroh said, looking back over his shoulder. “But a long one, over 1000 meters. Mister Steel, I’ll need you with the Captain for the retrieval.”
They made their way across the vast Courtyard toward the open gates of Amistad. The crowd was faster and thinner out here.
“Steel, I can’t remember the last time you piloted a CAT.”
“Eleven months, nine days, Commander.”
Kroh and Steel boarded their Jeep. Kroh was gratified to finally sit down, he wasn’t as young as he used to be.
The Jeep quietly made its way through the tall gates of wood and steel.
A few kilometers down the road, Kroh slid his hand under his duster and tapped his PTT.
“Lone Ranger to Silver, Lone Ranger to Silver, come in.”
End of Book 3
Re: FIRST CONTACT: The Iron Horse
Great stuff right here. I love the way you incorporated the trial as we have seen Q perform it in TNG.
It is a scary vision of the future of course which I can't really imagine to ever become reality ... well I hope it won't.
Re: FIRST CONTACT: The Iron Horse
Re: FIRST CONTACT: The Iron Horse
Nine hours later...
The Amistad fortress was finally dark and closed, save for a single lit tavern in the Market. The expansive Courtyard was patrolled, but otherwise deserted. The endless crashing water from the spillway had lulled the people to sleep for the night.
Ten kilometers away, the GTA Iron Horse pounded the terra firma, closing fast.
The Bridge was awash in very dim light, as was the SOP for night cruising. The late-night detail made the assignment feel dreamy, unreal. The technical support staff of the Iron Horse worked together over busy comm lines, buzzing with work details.
“Blast shields up, M-One.” Kroh ordered.
Mercenary Frank Hedges (a.k.a. “The Hedge Trimmer”) manned the Tactical station for the Captain of the Guard, Marjorie Skyes, in her absence. He was an M1-class Mercenary, and he primarily conveyed orders to the M2’s, M3’s, and M4’s serving aboard the Iron Horse.
M-One flipped a set of switches on the console. “Shields up, Commander.”
Like giant eyelids, the blast shields locked into position, covering three-quarters of the vast transparent aluminum windscreen. All non-essential portholes along the APC winked shut with armor plate.
The Commander thumbed a comm switch, paging the Garage. “Kroh to away team. Captain Skyes, Mister Steel, prepare to deploy.”
“Ready, Commander.” Skyes answered. “The Cradle is hot.”
“Make this trip worth while, Captain. And come back in one piece.”
“Mister Steel, be careful.”
“Always, Commander. Live long and prosper.”
“Might we all, Steel.” He flipped off the switch.
“M-One, you may give the order.”
The M4’s would report to the Battle Platform. These less experienced Mercs would provide cover for the boots on the ground.
“Alpha team stand ready with hands down, prepare to move up. Omega team, prepare to deploy.”
The Omega complement of M2’s and Three’s would cover the Away team.
Kara Rochelle, dressed in black fatigues and no-nonsense ponytail, called over her shoulder. “Commander, Amistad on horizon! Five point three-zero kilometers, mark!”
The crew could clearly see The Great Border Wall on the horizon, blocking out the stars, and now the tiny points of guard towers along the outer wall of Amistad.
“Mister Gaines, keep her steady...”
Leaning back a bit, Kroh made a fist and pumped his hand open a few times. Men were about to die on his order, again. He clenched his jaw.
“Lock missiles on target.”
The Tactical station’s LCD array glowed red with potential targets. M-One tapped out the red markers overlying the gates of the City.
“Missiles locked on target, Commander.”
Kroh gripped his pad rails. “May luck favor the foolish.”
The Commander of the Iron Horse took a deep breath.
Lily, despite her best efforts to stay awake, had fallen asleep in her dungeon and was dreaming of the Academy. She dreamed she had built it with her own two hands, and it was remarkable, stunning! A beacon of hope in the sunlit Bay...
She breathed the salt air, touring the campus with Verda and ambassador Soval. And Zeph was here! Only that Zee was now a young man, startlingly handsome, with a beautiful young companion by his side...and the Borg were here...No, No, NO, the Borg are here, Zeph!...
The Borg drones crawled about the Academy like ants, the students showing no resistance to the assimilation...Jean-Luc Picard was one of them, he turned his head and spotted her with a red beam...
Chaos reigned, thick and fast. Lily was literally rocked from her bed of stone and dumped to the floor.
Her internal nightmare had been shattered by a real, external one. In her waking moments, surrounded by darkness, she thought she had dreamed the explosion...
End of Book 4
Re: FIRST CONTACT: The Iron Horse
So they go in guns blazing ... well, that should be fun.
I also only just realized who Lily Sloane is. I don't know how well known the character is but perhaps it would be worth to drop a few more hints about who she is in beginning of the story.
Some of her toughness during her trial makes a lot more sense to me now that I know who she is.
Re: FIRST CONTACT: The Iron Horse
More, more, more! Must have more!
Just fantastic stuff, MK. The exploration of a little known era in Trek history, replete with land-based ‘starships’ bringing civilization back to the badlands where anarchy and despotism reign, is a phenomenal concept.
These are the people to build the foundation that would allow the construction of Earth’s Starfleet, setting the stage for the NX-01 and all that followed her proud lineage.
The inclusion of Lily Sloane gives us an early point of reference for introducing us to the Iron Horse’s stalwart crew. I must echo CeJay’s appreciation of the ‘post-atomic horror’ court scene.
I’m eagerly awaiting the next installment.
Re: FIRST CONTACT: The Iron Horse
WOW!!! Must read Book 5!!!!
Re: FIRST CONTACT: The Iron Horse
A rapid series of explosions rocked the Amistad fortress. No one in the City knew why, what, or whom.
Moments later a second series of blasts lit up the Texas night.
“The gates!” a sentry near the outer wall sprinted across the Courtyard, yelling at the top of his lungs. “They’re going to ram the gates!”
The dimly lit Bridge of the Iron Horse shook with a numbing vigor as the APC pushed hard over the raw ground. An excited Lt. Kara Rochelle sharply reported from Operations.
“Commander, the target is not fully compromised! The gates are still up!”
Kroh gripped a pad rail, pulling himself up from his command station. He moved forward across the Bridge, grabbing the rails to stand by the Tactical array.
“M-One, bring those gates down!” Kroh growled. “Full measure! Fire when ready!”
Hedges was already working on it. “Aye sir, full measure!”
Kroh pulled his weight to the Helm. “Best possible speed, Mister Gaines! Stand on it!”
“Full ahead, boss!” The pilot shoved the accelerator down; the Iron Horse shuddered and surged with power, her engines whining.
Kroh moved to Operations, hand-over-hand against the rough ride.
“Lieutenant Rochelle! All hands down!”
Rochelle clicked on the PA. “All hands down, brace for impact! Repeat, all hands down! Impact minus twelve...minus eleven...”
The Iron Horse unleashed a third volley of rocket fire, pulverizing the gates and support frame to the outer wall. Heaps of glowing embers crashed and fell from the structure.
The massive APC approached at better than 100 KPH; her bulk slammed into the ruins, buckling hard and breaking through what was left. She pulled over hard to starboard and began her braking procedure in a long, slowing orbital pattern around the Courtyard.
Bright stadium lights lit up the Yard, exposing the area in full artificial daylight.
Closer to the Great Wall, a chaotic stew boiled in the City. Dogs barked, Optimal soldiers scrambled, townspeople shouted and scurried.
The Iron Horse swooped by the populace like a slowing passenger train. Some stopped and stared at the great machine, dumbfounded.
The M4 mercenaries scrambled low and fast up to Deck Two, into the open air of the Battle Platform. Within seconds the armored turrets were unlocked and ready. The order was given, and the mercs opened fire, spitting lead at the stadium lights. The noise and fireworks were impressive; many of the ancient lamps exploded brilliantly. Townspeople and Optimal soldiers in the Yard scattered like mice.
The Iron Horse had slowed her circle in the Courtyard, easing to a full stop.
The M2 mercs poured out onto the Yard from several exits, staking positions by the natural cover of the APC and her giant wheels. The M3’s fell into position on the forward, aft, and flank rail platforms along the hull of the Iron Horse.
The Yard and the Market were devoid of movement. The element of suprise had given the Away team a three to five-minute window of opportunity to extract Doctor Sloane. With any luck, they would be gone before the Optimal presence fully escalated into the Courtyard.
The Optimum administration had misled their citizens and soldiers, but these were still people of America, brothers and sisters alike. They were human beings first, enemy second. Always, Kroh was adamant that the Mercenary teams apply lethal measures only when absolutely required to. They need only buy some time for the Away team.
The underbelly of the Garage hosted the CATS in their sealed Cradle. The access doors separated and geared open; the airlock hissed in contrast to the outside air. Orange caution lights rotated, warning buzzers sounded in the Cradle as the two treaded CATS deployed, piloted by Captain Marjorie Skyes and the Vulcan diplomat, Mr. Steel.
Many of the world's industrial concerns and commercial giants had collapsed after the War, but many others had survived or rebuilt out of great demand for their products. Levi-Strauss, for example, had resurrected itself in San Francisco long before the Terran Credit Monitor had been established.
Levi's started small in the mid-2060's by rallying private investments of gold coin, and negotiated contracts with dozens of domestic and foreign cotton growers. Business began to boom. The company was very generous to its investors, employees, and the community. Years later, the company transitioned the limited Gold standard for the more lucrative Credit economy of the UNT.
Denim clothing could be stitched by hand, but heavy equipment and powered tools of labor could not be. Many industrial concerns and essential commodity lines had to be Credit-infused to kick-start the Recovery.
The integrity of the Caterpillar name had been important to the Reconstruction. An entirely new generation of construction and exploration vehicles emerged from the resurrected assembly lines. The yellow and black signature colors were welcomed around the world, a sign of progress and patriotism for all the recovering nations.
The Bad Lands of the world, the areas still suffering from radioactive and biological poisons, needed special care. One of the primary duties of the Global Transport Affiliate was to carry the building blocks of recovery to these grotesque landscapes. They must navigate ruined cities, poisoned air, and harsh lands where most lifeforms would sicken or die without protection. The APC’s were secure, but the away teams would require a fitting exploration vehicle to survive such horrors.
The Caterpillar Proving Grounds of Arizona had produced an environmental mech to answer the call, officially named the CXT “TreadWalker.” The efficient mech featured four independent treads, each track affixed to a hydraulic forearm and servomotor elbow. The vehicles were also designed to walk, run and climb in a quadruped mode.
Agile and strong, these metal beasts could go just about anywhere. They were commonly called “Crawlers,” or taking a cue from their four-legged nature and their maker’s namesake, “CATS.”
The two Crawlers were fast and nimble on their treads, cutting through the night. All was still in the Courtyard as they made straight away for the man-made river and the tunnel it flowed from.
The Crawlers quietly whirred and clicked as they approached the mouth. Fast water rushed by.
Skyes’ voice crackled over the comm.
“Steel, you follow on this bank. I will traverse the far side”
Skyes moved her hands and feet into the quick-harness to release the servomotor elbow-locks. The CAT’s four treads tilted forward a few degrees, lifting off the earth. Each arm featured a three-toed manipulator at its fore, now bearing the crawlers’ weight. The cockpit remained low.
Skyes splashed forward and waded across the shallow river. Loose stones skittered as the agile machine stepped fast up the rough embankment. She gained the dry ground and set the CAT back down on its treads.
Skyes and Steel moved the Crawlers swiftly along the narrow strips of earthen riverbank between the water and the wall. Both pilots switched to night vision cameras. The treads splashed and chewed the muddy banks as they covered ground. Before long the soft earth gave way to enormous stones and large chunks of broken concrete.
Steel opened the channel. “It seems we must walk from here, Captain.”
Skyes smiled. “Ask me again about your sense of humor, Steel.”
Both CATS stood up on their feet. They gracefully gained the higher ground, and after a hundred meters or so of climbing over rocks and debris they could spot the lights of the lower dungeons further down the tunnel.
“Steel, remain here and watch our backs.”
“Aye, Captain.” Steel set his CAT down, back against the wall, resting on its treads.
Skyes moved on alone, deftly and quietly as the mech could be, closer toward the Keep.
She could see two armed sentries standing guard in front of a large wooden door. They were pacing around and shouting at each other. One wore a bloodied bandage over his nose. They seemed to be arguing about what they should do. They were not paying any attention to Skyes, as she kept the CAT nearly on its belly and took slow steps forward.
She zoomed the lens and watched for the right moment, then charged at a full out run.
The two sentries didn’t notice until they could hear it over the rushing water. And by then it was too late. In the island of light around the Keep, the CAT leaped into their midst.
It was a grand entrance; Skyes kept the nose low and growled menacingly through the PA, playing with them. Both drew and fired rounds, the slugs glanced off the reinforced plating. Skyes took another intimidating leap forward, and that was enough to send the two packing down the tunnel.
“Steel, you have company coming.”
“I see them, Captain.”
“Let them run. And give them a good scare, Steel.”
“Of course, Captain.”
Skyes turned her attention to the heavy wooden door. She sat the CAT on its haunches, lifting its forward arms high. With a quick, calculated thrust of the crawler’s forearm, the door was broken.
End of Book Five
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