Planet Terra Prime
Stardate 57151.9 (September 30, 2380)
Three of the Starfleet vessels that had fled the Milky Way--the U.S.S. Orion, the U.S.S. Majestic, and the U.S.S. Constellation--had already been dismantled and used to create settlements on Terra Prime. Finally, it seemed, refugees who had not signed up to spend their life in space could disembark and get on with their lives.
Admiral Picard and his core group of advisers—whom residents of Terra Prime, in a rare instance of black humor, had dubbed ‘The Federation Council’—decided upon arriving in M-33 that ten of the twenty-seven vessels were not fit for further space travel and could successfully be converted into planetary habitats. In addition, seven ships were to be cannibalized for parts in order to refit the remaining fleet.
So when all was said and done, the Starfleet contingent in the M-33 galaxy would stand at ten ships in good condition…and one poorly defended planet.
It was not an enviable position.
The population of Terra Prime was ninety-three percent human; while a few non-humans had made the journey out to M-33, the refugees were overwhelmingly of Terran origin. It made sense. As the Dominion had conquered its way through Federation space, only a few species had been targeted for what the Dominion had referred to as ‘special treatment.’ Klingons, Vulcans, and Humans—their surrender was to be unconditional and unequivocal. Others were encouraged to seek more favorable terms from the Dominion—but not as part of the United Federation of Planets.
And at first, the Federation had stuck together. Betazed had fallen, and the union stayed strong. Rigel, Bolarus, Risa, Minos, Galor IV—all of them fell to the Jem’Hadar onslaught and the worlds of the Federation had stuck together, determined to fight to the end as one.
It was a year and a half into the war—when the Dominion wiped out Qo’noS and occupied Vulcan—that the Federation began to splinter and the resolve of its member worlds started to weaken. Planets that had not been part of the Federation for long had seceded and sued for peace. Many of those individuals whose homeworlds had left the Federation also left Starfleet. The Dominion eagerly accepted what amounted to the seceding worlds’ surrender and placed a token Jem’Hadar garrison where necessary. More force was not needed; at least, not yet. Fear had driven the secessionists into the Dominion, and fear would keep them in line until they could be properly integrated into the new order.
As the war inexorably led to a total Dominion victory, the Federation’s membership dwindled. By the time the Solar System fell, Earth and Andoria were the only founding members of the Federation still standing.
Unfortunately, that state of affairs had not lasted long.
And so it was that when the fleet that was to initiate Project Longshot had set out for M-33, most souls on board the vessels were human. Their world conquered, their dreams shattered, they embarked on this mission to another galaxy to try again—to build another Earth: Terra Prime.
The non-humans in the fleet had not objected. Perhaps one day a new version of their world would flourish in this far-away galaxy, too.
At the head of this new human endeavor was one man—Jean-Luc Picard. Born and raised on Earth, Picard’s career in Starfleet had been nothing short of legendary. After a long stint as commander of the U.S.S. Stargazer, Picard had commanded one of the most historic missions in Federation history—that of the U.S.S. Enterprise NCC 1701-D. Voyages to this very galaxy and beyond, the first official encounter with the Borg, first contact with the alien race known as Q—there was nothing that ship had not accomplished. Captain Jean-Luc Picard was the calm figure in the center seat, the man who had defused the Klingon Civil War and had saved the Federation from an attack by renegade Borg and Soong-type androids.
When the Enterprise-D had been destroyed in a battle above Veridan III, Picard received another command—the Sovereign-class U.S.S. Enterprise-E. A year after the new ship’s maiden voyage, the Borg had attacked Earth. The Enterprise-E had played a crucial role in defeating that incursion, and had also prevented the Borg from altering history during Earth’s First Contact with the Vulcans by traveling back in time with the Borg to 2063.
Within months of that triumph, the war with the Dominion had begun.
This time, the Federation’s troubles could not be solved by a single starship. The Enterprise-E was just one ship of many desperately trying to hold back the barbarians at the gate…and failing.
In the end, even the legendary vessel that bore such a storied name was presumably just another burning hulk somewhere in the Alpha Quadrant.
And while Admiral Picard had insisted on renaming his flagship the Enterprise—no A, B, C, D, E, or F—he knew this new Enterprise was something different. It was a beginning, not an end. That was why he had been chosen for Project Longshot by the surviving Starfleet brass. If anyone could make the Federation diaspora to the M-33 galaxy a success, it was Picard.
And as Jean-Luc Picard beamed down to the surface of Terra Prime to attend to an urgent matter, he keenly felt the weight of this new world on his shoulders.
He was flanked by four bodyguards, crisply dressed in what had been Starfleet regulation uniforms and carrying phaser rifles. Perhaps there was little need for such caution millions of miles away from the Dominion, but no one was completely sure what dangers lurked in this particular cosmic neighborhood.
“Admiral Picard!” The loud, braying voice of James Henderson greeted Picard as he materialized on Terra Prime. His security guards kept their weapons low, but looked on warily.
“Mr. Henderson,” Picard genially replied, albeit with a bit of effort. “It’s a pleasure to see you again.”
“Same,” Henderson replied jovially. James Henderson had been a construction engineer on Mars when the Dominion forces had broken through the inner Solar System. Fortunately for him, he found a berth on a refugee ship and had made it out to M-33. Now he was one of the main architects of the new settlements on Terra Prime and a major, completely oblivious pain for Picard.
The two men shook hands. “Been a while since you’ve been dirtside, Admiral,” Henderson said with a smile. “You must be busy up there in orbit.”
An understatement, Picard thought drily. “Yes, indeed I am, Mr. Henderson,” he replied. “So you must understand that when I get an urgent distress call from the surface that apparently only I can handle, I can only hope it was in good faith.”
Henderson laughed. “Oh, believe me, you will want to see this,” and with that Henderson headed down the hill towards a small encampment. “If you’ll follow me, Admiral.”
Picard and the four security officers followed Henderson. In the distance, Picard could see the outskirts of the town of New Paris.
“The town is thriving, Mr. Henderson,” Picard said. “It is a testament to your work that so many have chosen to call it home.”
Henderson chuckled as he neared the main tent. “I don’t know how much choice they actually have, Admiral. Human beings weren’t meant to live in space. We have to have some terra firma beneath our feet eventually, right?”
Not all of us, Picard thought. Especially right now. “Agreed. So, this urgent matter?”
Henderson held up one bony finger and disappeared in the tent for a moment. A few civilian workers milled about, gawking at Picard. The admiral’s face burned. Celebrity did not suit him.
Henderson came back out holding a large standard-issue Starfleet container. “This, Admiral, is the urgent matter. My team and I were out here, scouting out potential sites for a water-treatment plant. Very important to get that kind of thing right. Anyway, we were walking along this riverbed when we picked up something…interesting on our tricorders.”
Picard’s curiosity was piqued. “What is it, then?”
Henderson nodded and set the container down. “It was buried a few meters underground, so we were able to get at it pretty quickly.”
Picard was now very intrigued. An archeological find on what appeared to be an uninhabited world? What could it possibly be?
Before Henderson could open the container, one of the security officers blocked him and scanned it.
“I’m not reading any explosives or other dangerous objects, sir,” the bodyguard said, “But I recommend we have some Starfleet scientists look at this thing first.”
Henderson smirked. “Please. If it was dangerous, it would have affected me and my team, right?” He looked up at Picard. “Should I open it?”
“Your concerns are noted, Ensign,” Picard said to the security officer who had made the suggestion to wait. Waiting was not an option, not now. “Open it at your convenience, Mr. Henderson.”
Henderson pried open the container and reached inside. “Here it is, Admiral,” he said proudly. “One authentic Bajoran orb.”
Picard was stunned. Forgetting decorum, he kneeled on the ground to examine the object closer. The orb rested inside a decorative box, adorned with what appeared to be ancient Bajoran text; Picard was careful not to actually touch the orb. “This is impossible,” he breathed. “Is there any way we could have brought this with us somehow?”
Henderson shook his head. “No. Tricorder readings indicate this thing has been buried down here for…well, at least a millennium. Maybe more.”
Picard marveled at the hourglass-shaped orb, glistening even in the bright light of the sun. “As far as we knew, there were only nine of these,” Picard mumbled, mostly to himself. “When the war began, the eight orbs that had been taken from Bajor during the Occupation had at the very least been accounted for. The ninth had remained on Bajor, hidden during all of those years. But this…” Picard shook his head. “But this…well.”
Henderson looked thoughtful. “Does this one look familiar to you, Admiral? Is it one of the nine?”
Picard, startled, looked up at the architect. “No. It is most definitely not one of the nine orbs. If it is, in fact, an authentic artifact of the Bajoran Prophets…” he trailed off.
“Admiral?” One of the security officers gently tapped Picard on the shoulder. “Are you all right, sir?”
Picard snapped out of his reverie and stood up. “Yes, Crewman, thank you,” he said. “Mr. Henderson, this is indeed quite an invaluable find, and I am most thankful you brought this to my attention.”
Henderson stood up as well, clearly brimming with pride. “Well, don’t even worry about it, Admiral,” he said jovially. “It was my pleasure.”
Picard smiled in return, but his thoughts were elsewhere. The orb would be transported to the Enterprise, studied, and then…and then, Picard could only guess what could possibly happen next.