Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by Crazy Eddie, Aug 29, 2009.
I am lazy. Good thing they ^ said it for me.
Planet HB22147-C, Gaza Strip
- 1445 hours -
If the culture on this planet was as similar to Real Earth as Lieutenant Sulu thought it was, this building must have been an old mosque at one point. The signs were too badly distorted for the tricorder to translate them all, but he'd been to enough old Mosques--and asked enough questions--to recognize them as old Jihadist propaganda slogans, something to the effect of "Death to the Infidels" or "God Destroy the Zionists" and so on and so forth. Another two hundred years of cultural evolution would have sharpened that unfocussed militarism into the Al Rafah fighting style, even now the most potent incarnation of Earth martial arts; this Earth, however, had been frozen in time before social evolution could transform the political tantrum of Jihadism into the more constructive philosophies that had become so indispensable to Starfleet trainees.
In that way, Sulu realized, this entire place was like old news footage of the Bell Riots: depressing to look at, but foreshadowing of better days ahead.
"Why here?" asked Lieutenant Kruzman, looking up from his tricorder screen with a slight wince, "The place was probably stripped down by looters."
Sulu shook his head, admiring the architecture. For some reason, something about the Mosque reminded him of the bridge module of a starship. It was intentional, of course, the intent by the architects to visually convey a structure of extreme significance to anyone who saw it. "Before the Enlightenment, these Mosques used to be the center of the Muslim social life. They doubled as community centers, meeting halls, lecture halls, they hosted militants, political rallies, some were even used as bomb shelters. I'd take a guess this is probably the first place the survivors would have gone during some kind of major cataclysm."
Kruzman conceded the possibility and turned her attention back to her tricorder. "Lots of material in there, but I can't tell what. And th--" she squinted at the screen and lifted the tricorder up a little higher.
"What's wrong?" Sulu glanced back at him.
"Funny. I thought for a second there was a life form reading. It's gone now, must have been a shadow or something."
Sulu nodded and started up the low stairway to the naked main entrance to the structure. "Let's check it out."
"We have to meet up with Doctor Marcus in an hour."
"It shouldn't take long, these places aren't built with alot of nooks and crannies."
Kruzman followed, and the three security officers made pace behind him, waving their phaser rifles through the air and letting the targeting sensors see for them. The sun was already above the horizon, but this early in the morning the shadows from the ruins created dark spots in the most inconvenient places.
Sulu stepped in first and swept the place with his rifle's sensor incase something had been waiting for them. Nothing was, and now that he paid attention to his eyes instead of the targeting monocle he saw them at the same time as the slack jawed Kruzman, "My God! Do you know what these are?!"
He understood her surprise, but not the nature of the question. "They're just tents."
"They're not just tents!" Kruzman stumbled towards them with his tricorder as if the room was full of buried treasure.
"They're not?" he looked at them for a moment, sized them up for any special significance. They were all extremely makeshift tents, come to think of it, apparently built out of some kind of animal skins suspended from ropes dangling from the ceilings. Altogether they amounted to structures that would never hold up to any wind or rain by themselves, in fact they served no real purpose except to conceal their occupants and trap heat. "They look like tents." Sulu gave up.
"They're suspension tents."
"No indigenous population on Earth ever used suspension tents!"
"I can see why. They seem pretty flimsy."
Kruzman looked at him annoyed and then poured himself into detailed analysis. "Suspension tents are typically found only in post-cataclysmic societies, particularly societies where small numbers of survivors are trying to utilize existing structures. Sometimes they fall into a foraging pattern like hunter-gatherers and build semi-permanent dwellings in any structures that will support them, but nothing complicated enough that they can't leave behind or tear down in an hour."
Sulu nodded slowly, "So there were survivors here."
"There were." Kruzman smiled at the tricorder screen, "Just as I thought. They were here pretty recently."
"If the cataclysm happened two hundred years ago, then these tents could be decades old..."
"Try hours." Kruzman leaned into one of the suspension tents and pulled out a long strip of something dark and leathery, approximately shaped like a large rodent but too distorted to identify the species. "It's a rabbit."
"I'll take your word for it."
"It's been cooked." he held it up to his nose and took a small, dainty sniff. Since that didn't yield anything useful, he took a careful bite, chewed, and then nodded in appreciation, "Smoked hare. Still warm. Got an aftertaste too. Like..." he took another bite and chewed thoughtfully, "Paprika... red onions... whoever they are, they know their way around a bunny." Kruzman took another bite and chewed less thoughtfully. "You want some, Lieutenant?"
"Knock yourself out, I already had breakfast." Sulu flipped open his communicator and keyed it to Alpha Team's frequency, waited a few seconds for someone there to answer the call signal and then reported, "Charlie Team to Command."
"Mister Spock, we've got a lead on a group of sapient life forms is moving somewhere in the strip. We've found an encampment in an old Mosque that's been used pretty recently. Wherever they went, I think we just missed them."
"Acknowledged, Charlie Team. Maintain your position and complete forensic analysis of the site..." Some two kilometers away, Commander Spock was in mid stride on his way up the steps of Shuttlecraft Fifteen where Doctor Marcus was waiting for him. He was met halfway by Ensign Riley and Crewman Torens, the latter handing him a palmcomp with a set of tricorder readings and genetic sampling data. Spock regarded the computer with satisfaction, then as a slight sting collided with his nostrils he regarded Riley with extreme dissatisfaction. "Is your base camp not equipped with a shower, Ensign Riley?"
The Ensign rolled his eyes before he remembered that Commander Spock wasn't in the habit of teasing people, then snapped to attention and said "Um... er... yes it is, Sir, but I..."
"Charlie Team," Spock raised his communicator again, "Recommend you begin a search of the immediate area and report your findings. I am diverting Foxtrot, Lima and Kilo teams to your location to assist you."
"We'll meet them here and fan out in a search pattern. Something tells me our friends might be returning to this spot pretty soon."
"At your discretion, Lieutenant. Spock out." he snapped the communicator closed and then turned his attention back to Riley, noting his torn uniform pants and a fading but persistent urine stain on the visible part of his boxers. "Please explain your dishevelment, Ensign."
Torens grinned slightly, "It's not his fault, Commander. Riley here literally snagged that Reaver by the seat of his pants. The transporter hasn't sent us a replacement yet."
Spock shot the Crewman a stare so chilling that all possible humor in this situation died in his throat. "A novel use for fabric, Crewman, although I fail to understand why your field equipment was not sufficient for the task."
"It's... um... a long story."
"Then I shall expect a long report." Spock took one step to sweep past them, stopping just long enough to say, "After you have obtained a fresh uniform and a shower."
Torens and Riley both sighed and sculked off towards their waiting shuttle on the other side of the camp. "I think he hates me," Riley said, despondent.
Torens laughed and swatted him on the back, "Of course he does, Riley. Everyone hates you!"
"C'mon, champ, I'll loan you my spare until Enterprise beams down a fresh uniform for you."
At the shuttlecraft, Spock bounded up the ladder into the passenger compartment where Crewman Rand and one very frustrated Doctor Marcus were waiting for him, specimen containers piled up to the ceiling. Quantum dating was tricky business even with the best equipment, and from the look of things Doctor Marcus had nearly exhausted herself trying to get a good sample. "Doctor--"
"Don't even start. I'm sure the first sample was fine, we'll have to make due with that."
Spock raised a brow. "Explain, Doctor."
Marcus sighed, "For some reason, I can't get a good reading on subsequent samples. The first test--the one from the community center--turned back three hundred and ten years. The second test turned back three hundred and forty, so I took another one and it turned back forty five. And then things just got craz--"
"I assume you used three standard methods of analysis, Doctor. In-situ measurements, remote measurements, and lab-control sampling, in that order."
"And in those three examples, I believe your situational measurements showed a discrepancy towards extreme age where isolated materials in a laboratory setting demonstrated extreme youth."
Marcus and Rand traded glances, confirming the question.
"What does it mean?"
"I don't have time to explain how, Doctor, but I suspect this planet is in a state of chronological flux. Parts of it are aging more rapidly than others."
- 1501 hours -
Ensign Ayala kept her attention focussed on the tricorder screen and nowhere else, because if she looked up right now she wasn't really sure what direct eye contact would do to Lieutenant Onise's libido. If he was paying more attention he would have noticed that the Orion communications specialist had spent the last half a minute scanning him instead of the surrounding area and therefore had an extremely good idea of his current physiological condition. Elevated heart rate, genital blood constriction, pupil dilation and respiration rate all pointed to a pattern that Onise was concentrating very hard on something other than making the rendezvous with Charlie Team. "Another eight hundred meters west, Lieutenant," she reminded him, pretending to be unaware of the Onise's growing erection.
"Yeah..." Onise was in dreamland already. She could have announced the arrival of a Romulan warbird for all the attention he was paying. And just her luck, those two civilians from the planetology team had wandered off again to take holophotos of some landmark somewhere.
"Is there a problem, Sir?" she asked, trying her best to sound hostile.
It didn't work, but at least Onise realized she was actually talking to him. "Hm?"
"You seem preoccupied, Sir."
"Oh..." Onise smiled as if she was a green-skinned beauty queen trying to conduct a publicity interview. "I was just thinking about something Lieutenant Olson told me before we left p--"
"It's a myth, Sir."
Onise raised a brow, "What's a myth?"
Ayala rolled her eyes. Human males were so damned predictable. "That old story," she said, exasperated, "that Orion women enjoy being raped. Not only is this untrue, it is very untrue."
"Oh... um..." Onise shank a few inches into his boots. "A-Are you sure?"
"As is the myth," Ayala went on as if she hadn't heard him, "that Orion women are half-feral nymphomaniacs who generate irresistible pheromones that drive humanoid men wild with passion."
"That is a myth propagated by female con artists who use neurotoxins to burglarize male victims. Of course, they spread that myth with no regard at all for innocent women and girls who don't want to spend the rest of their pathetic existence toiling in a life of crime!"
"Incidentally, that myth is also propagated by slave traders, cretins and Ferengi as a convenient excuse for raping Orion women. And ever since your idiot race got involved in the galactic economy, it's been a favorite campfire story of gutter-minded freighter captains who have spent too much time being henpecked by their self-conscious unappreciated wives."
"Yeah... um..." Onise shrank even more, feeling a little like he just accidentally insulted her mother. Actually, he might as well have. "Look, I was just curious, okay? Olsen said he heard the story from an Orion merchant."
Ayala rolled her eyes. "Of course he did. No doubt a male Orion merchant trying to make a little money under the table."
"Well if it's such a false myth, why do your people still spread it around?"
"Because, Lieutenant, I come from this primordial, fatuous, dungheap of a culture dominated by a cult of patriarchal chowderheads who made their fortunes for two centuries selling their own daughters into slavery!" Ayala spat in the dust and stomped it with her boot, a cosmic spite to the entire Orion race.
"And because interstellar law being what it is, this," she pointed to the Starfleet emblem on the front of her uniform, "is the only thing that stands between me and fifty parsecs of horny capitalists who wouldn't know morality if it walked up to them and bit off their legs!"
"Huh." Onise sighed and leaned against the wall, muttering to himself, "Figures I'd get the one feminist in the entire Orion species."
Ayala suddenly pulled up the phaser rifle from the shoulder sling and pretended to look at its status indicator with alarm. Of course, she was actually aiming the rifle at him, using the targeting monocle to aim without looking. "Hm... sir, something's wrong with my phaser. I think it might discharge by itself."
"That's not fu--"
True to her warning, the phaser did discharge--though not exactly "by itself"--to a target indicated in Ayala's monocle that put that one short stunning pulse into a spot directly between Onise's hips. The Lieutenant screamed in high pitched agony then keeled over on his face and shoulders as paralysis spread out from his public area throughout the rest of his nervous system. Doctor Bates and Doctor Adel appeared a moment later, drawn by the noise, and seeing Onise crumpled up in the dust stared at the Ensign bewildered.
"Phaser malfunction," she said casually, "He's stunned. We'll have to carry him with us."
"Right, well," the two of them rolled him over on his back, Bates picked up his ankles while Adel grabbed his shoulders. It would slow them down a bit, but their main goal at this point was meet up with Sulu's team a few blocks away, so it wouldn't be too much of an obstacle in any case. "Can you carry some of this other sutff?" Adel said, using Onise to lead his partner back the way they came.
"What stuff? Did you find something?"
"Russel found it. He wanted to get the Lieutenant's opinion."
Ayala nodded and followed their lead. It wasn't far, just a few dozen meters away where the two of them had been posing for photographs for the team scrapbook. There was a storefront there with a sign over the door, what her tricorder translated as Ali Bukari - Internet Cafe. This was more puzzling than almost anything else she'd seen in this city over the last two days. "Internet Cafe... some kind of alien coffee shop?"
"'Internet' was a precursor to the Global Optical Data Network," said Ensign Russel, leaning out of the doorway, "It wasn't very fast, but I guess it was good enough for the kinds of computers they had back them. And of course, unlike Godnet, access was controlled by exorbitant fees."
This just raised even more questions. "Did they have a fabricator network or is Internet also the name of a coffee drink?"
Russel shrugged, bobbling an enormous specimen container slung on his shoulder, "Hell if I know. But I noticed they've got alot of computers in that building, and I figured if we pulled their memory banks we might get some useful data."
"Oh!" Ayala looked and saw the specimen containers were indeed packed with archaic looking electronic components. Appropriately enough, they looked like larger and less elegant versions of a Starfleet memory card, and Russel looked like he had pulled more than a dozen of them. "You know what, in that case," she snapped open her communicator and keyed it to Enterprise' frequency. "Kilo Team to Enterprise. Enterprise, how do you read?"
"This is Ensign Ayala. We've recovered some computer records from a coffee shop in town, a good amount of material to go through. I worry about carrying it to the rendezvous with Charlie Team, and Lieutenant Onise has been injured by a phaser malfunction."
"Acknowledged, Kilo Team... um... you're traveling with two civilians... have Bates accompany the Lieutenant and the equipment. We'll do a transport relay to base camp."
Ayala nodded at Bates, who was close enough to hear for himself and was already helping to set Onise down in the doorway. Russel handed over the specimen containers, and Bates sagged from the weight of it. "They're ready now. Lock onto Onise's communicator signal."
"Locked on. Standby..."
Some twenty seconds later, both Onise and Bates along with the specimen container were engulfed in a swirling funnel of sparkling lights, and then both vanished, whisked into orbit by Enterprise's transporter beam where they would be briefly re-materialized in the transporter room, checked for any ill-effects, and then beamed back to the planet close to Alpha Team's base camp.
Once transport was complete, Ayala's communicator beeped again, indicating a coded channel from Enterprise. Ayala picked up the message and casually put some distance between herself and the others as Uhura's voice hissed, "Malfunction, Ayala?"
"Phasers don't misfire."
"This one did."
"I can't believe you'd be that stupid! Your record is shaky enough as is it is with all those fights!"
"C'mon, Nyota, they can't prove it was intentional."
"You better hope not. Gaila isn't here to cover for you anymore. If you loose your commission over thi--"
"Hold it..." Ayala turned her ear to the wind, trying to recapture the sound that had caught her attention a second ago. It was familiar in a way that wasn't at all pleasant, similar but extremely different from some of the sounds her team had heard from a distance on the first day. At the moment, the sounds were anything but distant, and they were getting closer. "Uhura," she snapped open her tricorder and started to scan for cordite traces, "We're hearing small arms fire in the area. Do you have anything on sensors?"
"We're out of position now, but I'll route your channel to the nearest shuttle. And seriously, Ayala, you've got to watch that temper."
The signal crackled for a few seconds, then the call signal beeped a response. "Kilo Team to shuttlecraft."
"Fourteen here," answered the most sublimely logical voice in the universe that could only belong to Commander Spock himself.
Ayala smiled at her luck, and meanwhile zeroed in on the source of those cordite traces on the tricorder, "Commander, we're picking up small arms fire close to our position. Bearing..." the chemical signatures were too far away to localize, but she could at least get a general direction, "... zero seven three, about five hundred meters."
"I have visual, Ensign... fascinating..."
"What do you see?"
"A small group of armed humanoids being pursued by an very large group of Reavers."
"Armed humanoids?" Russel leaned out of the doorway of the internet cafe, "Carrying firearms?"
Ayala nodded. "Must be the sapients we've been looking for... how should we proceed, Commander?"
"The sapients appear to be moving in the direction of their Mosque encampment. Your team will connect with Charlie and Lima teams to provide safe haven for them at that location."
Russel asked over her shoulder, "Why not use the shuttle's phasers to cover their escape, Sir?"
"There is no guarantee the sapients will show our landing parties any less hostility than they show the Reavers. We may facilitate contact by placing ourselves personally between them and their pursuers. Hopefully, they will interpret this as a gesture of solidarity."
"Hopefully..." Ayala tuned back to Enterprise' frequency, and after a few seconds locked back into Uhura's bridge channel, "Kilo Team to Enterprise. Three to beam up."
Great segment. And Ayala does need to watch that temper. I don't care how big a horny oaf the guy was being, lack of discipline with a firearm is grounds for court-martial.
I liked the ref to the Bell Riots-nice canon weaving, there! Maybe we're finally heading for some answers? (Although I think I know what might be going on. Proto-matter ring any bells?)
Planet HB22147-C, Gaza Strip
- 1522 hours -
To Spock's lack of surprise, it was far simpler to devise a plan of action than it was to communicate that plan to the ground teams. For tactical purposes, he'd elected to coordinate from the air in the shuttlecraft, high enough and far enough that he could see the mission area without accidentally drifting into Enterprise' line of fire or spooking the sapients away from their haven.
Spock reasoned that a proper defense of the Mosque Camp would require at least twenty men with phasers in good firing positions, but he also had to figure out how to pick firing positions that would be perfectly visible to the sapients so that their actions would be obvious to even the most imbecilic observer. On some level, he felt there was something a little unsettling about using Starfleet officers and weapons in such a blatantly contrived display of solidarity, but logic allowed for little other recourse. He could not use the shuttle's phasers, since there was no guarantee the sapients would connect the shuttles with his ground teams, nor could he rely on Enterprise' phasers for the same reason. Likewise, simply beaming their query aboard the ship was problematic for a whole host of reasons, not the least of which was the basic fact--given human psychology--that the sudden abduction of their entire group into a technologically advanced setting would generate a first impression of sheer terror that would poison any future dealings with them. It had to be done this way: a gesture of friendship, of risking one's own life to save the life of a stranger. To humans there were few more powerful gestures, and with any luck these humans weren't all that different from their "Real Earth" counterparts.
Each of the seven participating teams were directed to their proper starting position, in well-concealed spots where the sapients wouldn't notice them. Once they'd passed, they were to take defensive positions near the Mosque and use phasers to keep the Reavers at bay, hopefully stunning enough of the Alphas that the rest would loose heart and look for less troublesome prey. Of course, in the event that this was some kind of feeding frenzy, Spock left open the possibility that the away teams would fall back to within the Mosque structure and leave the balance of the predators to the Enterprise' phasers; after all, there were limits to the lengths he was willing to take just to make a gesture.
"There they are!" Crewman Rand was watching on the sensor screen next to her head, high resolution and high magnification as the first of the sapients came into range. The excitement in her voice reflected the importance of this find: eight days they had been on this planet, searching for exactly this.
And then, "Oh my god!"
Spock detected a new emotion in her voice: horror. "Crewman?"
"Look at that!"
He looked at the monitor, and to his extreme distaste, shared that cold rush of horror. The wave of fast-moving sapients was, in fact, a running mob of rail-thin children, mostly between six and twelve years old, making a military-style retreat down a narrow roadway, firing behind them as they went. He identified their weapons as Kalashnikov-types, though a handful were armed with shotguns and a few of the older children with bolt-action weapons with which they, more than their peers, seemed especially proficient. Further down that same road, the Reavers were in a disorganized rushing pursuit that more resembled a stampede of frightened chickens than the merciless feeding frenzy it really was.
"Fascinating," Spock said.
Rand was almost ready to climb through the cockpit window. "We've got to help them, Commander!"
"We are, Crewman." Spock tapped the comm panel and put the general call to all teams, "Sapients approaching as expected, three hundred meters. All teams assume positions."
- 1522 hours -
Echo Team had found themselves a perfectly suitable spot, divided up between two rubble piles that had congealed around the rusted-out frames of old automobiles. Lima Team found an even better spot with better visibility, tucked in behind a contraption of tubes and leavers that was probably some kind of modified rocket launcher centuries ago. Bravo Team had to be directed to an overturned truck since their chosen hiding spot would be visible to the sapients after passing but before the Reavers were close enough and Spock worried about one of the children accidentally machinegunning his landing party before they realized whose side they were on. The other teams found their spots without incident, mostly in doorways and the stoops of partially collapsed buildings that were probably used by Palestinian guerillas ages ago for exactly this kind of military ambush.
At the three hundred meter warning, only Charlie team was still out of position. The reason became evident--as Spock could see from the air, and as Sulu had just found out the hard way--that the building they had taken position on top of wasn't nearly as stable as it looked, and most of the roof was about ready to cave in. A ten foot patch of it suddenly did, and Sulu suddenly found himself lying in a cloud of dust staring at a hole in a rapidly crumbling ceiling.
"The damn building's coming down!" someone shouted. It sounded like Lieutenant Kruzman, but with the adrenaline that suddenly poured into his veins it might as well have been Buddha.
Another section of the ceiling caved in a few feet away, and Crewman Buckley followed behind it. There was a sickeningly fascinating moment when Sulu watched the man apparently land on his feet, then collapse like a pillar of salt as both of his knees bent the wrong way and collapsed under his weight.
Kruzman was more fortunate, or maybe just smarter. As the rest of the ceiling crumbled, he plummeted from the roof through the same hole Sulu had fallen through and missed landing on him by handful of inches. That just left Ensign Rao, who was standing at the edge of that same hole staring down into it with a look of sheer awe plastered on his bronzed, pampered mug. "Rao, get your ass down here before you bring the roof down!" Sulu shouted to him, making it an order and not a request.
Rao did it without thinking, landing on his feet, but loosing his balance and spilling over on top of Sulu.
"Two hundred meters," Spock's voice flowed from the communicator.
Damn the luck. Fortunately, it looked like the rest of the building was stable enough even if the roof couldn't support their weight. Sulu pushed Rao and Kruzman towards a corner of the room where the ceiling was still solid--no sign of crumbling--then whipped out his communicator and keyed Enterprise' frequency, "Charlie Team to Enterprise. Crewman Buckley is having a very bad day."
"Monitor reports two broken legs and a ruptured appendix," Uhura answered from the bridge, "We're locking in his signal. Standby..."
"Spock to Charlie Team. Your present position has insufficient visibility for proper defense of the camp..."
"Yes, Sir, I can see that," Sulu answered, now that he realized the room he was in had only one door and a single row of windows that faced the Mosque and nothing else. Around this time he heard the sizzle of a transporter beam on the other side of the room and saw the glow out of the corner of his eye as the injured Buckley vanished into a matter stream, bound for the safety of Enterprise. "Any suggestions?"
"There is a store front twenty meters from you around the northeast corner of your position. It will provide concealment from the sapients, but you will have to reposition to properly cover Flank Three."
Sulu gestured for his team to move out, and almost as one, they did. Outside the door, Rao and Kruzman spotted the northeast corner of the street and ran around it, diving into the store front and crouching down where the remnants of ancient shelves and furniture would hide them from view. Before he got there himself, however, his eyes fixed on something on the side of the road, a deep depression carved in the ground that looked like a blast crater of some kind. It wasn't completely empty, there was something that looked like a dead animal of some kind lying in it, but Sulu imagined he could bear the unpleasantness just long enough to stay out of sight. He checked his bearings to make sure he knew which way to go, then dropped down into the hole and crouched down next to the carcass.
"One hundred and fifty meters. All teams standby."
Sulu checked the power setting on his phaser rifle, confirmed the "Bio-III" setting, the strongest stun setting that was consistently non-lethal, then flipped open his communicator, "Charlie Team's in position, more or less."
"I can see that, Mister Sulu. Standby."
Sulu checked his tricorder with his free hand, linking up with the sensor feed from Spock's shuttle and the aerial probes. The Reavers had closed to one hundred meters, the sapients were closer still, and from the way they were moving it looked like they had completely given up shooting at the reavers and were now simply running scared. His first thought was that this would make their job that much easier since the sapients were less likely to turn around and shoot the away teams.
His second thought immediately rendered the first irrelevant, as around this time he discovered that the thing in the crater with him wasn't actually dead.
- 1522 hours -
"They're just children." Ayala redoubled the magnification on her monocle. Not only children, but extremely young children, between toddlers and preteens. They were moving in a ragged military formation that looked more Hollywood than experience, and most were firing their weapons in that frantic, squinty-eyed-style so characteristic of conscripts tossed into the path of cannons with too little training. They obviously weren't novices, but they were hardly the battle-hardened survivors she'd expected.
And then there were the reavers, waddling through the streets after them, their enormous arms waving in the air like meaty pendulums to balance their impossible bulk. They were ridiculous looking brutes, and if they weren't so vicious Ayala might have found them comical. "Targets in sight," she whispered into her communicator from her balcony perch. Russel had helped pick this spot out, second story of a rotting apartment building next to a dangerous looking rubble pile that was just stable enough to climb down if they didn't land on it two hard. With Onise still stunned they were a man short, not that it mattered in a situation like this. "You sure you want to take them from here?" Russel asked, "We'll be in trouble if they come up after us."
"They won't. They're all instinct and emotion, not much for strategy."
"Heh." Russel checked his power levels and squatted down behind her, "Well, you're the expert."
"Shut up, Russel..." there was a crashing sound off to one side, around a corner closer to the Mosque. Ayala turned that way and saw several humanoid figures on top of a rising dust cloud... then several of those figures dropped into the midst of it and vanished. "Oh my God..." she snapped out her communicator and called "Kilo Team to Charlie Team. What just happened to you?"
Static at first, then a low pitched beep to indicate a contact code but no direct response, save that from Mister Spock on the all-team channel, "Two hundred meters."
Ayala flipped open the cover. The communicator's tiny screen showed their three positions on an overhead map of the area, and at the same time, showed one of the four fading out as a transporter beam whisked him away to orbit.
"Building must have fallen in..."
"Spock to all units. Charlie Team has repositioned near Flank Three. Kilo and Lima teams, you're to concentrate fire in your sections for three minutes, then fall back--if possible--to cover open position Flank Two."
"Kilo Team, acknowledged..." A burst of machinegun fire erupted extremely close. Ayala looked down the street and saw two teenagers standing on top of an overturned truck, one holding an ammunition belt as the other fired a .50 caliber machinegun mounted on the axle of the truck like a gun nest. They had remarkably good position there, enough angle to fire over the heads of their comrades and still keep the reavers at bay. A planned strategy, from the look of things.
Or so Ayala thought. Someone in the middle of the retreating formation began waving their arms in a frantic "stop!" motion, and then the shooting ceased. Too late, though, as the sudden clatter of sound from both sides had converted a dozen of the children from an orderly withdrawal to a state of panic, many dropping their guns and falling into a sprint in no particular direction. The Reavers tracked them as they lost cohesion, and those fallen to panic were quickly enveloped by piles of waving arms and long clawing fingers. A scream trickled out of the bedlam, followed by thick blood spray as one of the the children was torn clean in half by the predators.
Russel gagged and tried not to vomit. Ayala's finger tickled the trigger, but she forced herself not to shoot. If she opened up now, there'd be no protecting any of them.
The silver lining became that pouncing on the few stragglers had slowed the Reavers' advance. The sapients now ran like the frightened children they were, none of them even daring to look back let alone shoot at their pursuers. The reavers saw fast-moving bodies and resumed the chase; they were much faster than the children, but their prey had a head start.
"One hundred and fifty meters. All teams stand by."
"Charlie Team's in position, more or less."
"I can see that, Mister Sulu. Standby."
"Remember, short controlled bursts." Ayala squatted down lower to make sure the children couldn't see her. The machinegun opened fire again and this time kept firing. The children ran right past it, and the Reavers began to collapse in stride as projectiles the size of hypo sprays ripped into the middle of them. She noted with a sinking sensation that the machinegun nest was too far ahead for her to cover it, and hoped anxiously that the kids running that post were smart enough to run for it when their friends had passed them.
"One hundred meters," Spock said.
The last of the children passed the machinegun nest. The kid holding the ammunition belt jumped down and ran after them, but the boy behind the gun remained, firing wildly into the approaching stampede. The line of reavers converged directly on him, their snarling trippling in intensity while his comrade tried to flee.
"Fifty meters. All units, engage on my mark."
A single shot rang out from below. Then another... then a third... five shots in under ten seconds, and extremely close to them. Russel followed the sound to a robed figure crouching on the rubble pile just a few feet from them, shouldering a Soviet SKS rifle with some kind of telescope duct-taped to the back of it. He recognized it as the same figure that had waved at the machinegunners before. A girl from the look of it, much older than all the others. The kid from the gun belt kept up his pace, and every time a reaver would come close to him the girl on the rubble pile fired off a single shot, hit her target right between its beady little eyes, buying her comrade another five seconds to live.
"Protective range... mark. All sections, begin firing."
Ayala popped up and discharged her phaser rifle across the machinegunner's nose. Two Reavers passed through the stream of phase pulses on their way to tackle him, and both lost muscle control and instead plowed head first into the side of the truck. The kid behind the gun hesitated, and thanked his good fortune a moment too long; Ayala fired again, but the Reaver was already jumping, and one swing of its enormous arm swatted his head clean off his shoulders. Meanwhile, the girl on the rubble pile spun around and saw Russel and Ayala standing there, firing off their phaser rifles at the approaching stampede. She stared at then just long enough to determine that they weren't about to eat her, and since this basic fact defined them as "friend," she tossed the gun over her shoulder and took off running after her peers.
A dozen phasers opened up at once now, short bursts against carefully selected targets, through each Reaver's center of mass. The streets were ablaze with fiery blue light, and the closer they got to the Mosque, the more the children began to slow, looking back over their shoulders wondering who or what had finally come for them.
- 1523 hours -
It was trying hard to look like it was dead, but it was undeniably alive. It's eyes were closed, its mouth slightly open, breathing softly to make as little sound as possible. This gave Sulu pause, not to mention a cold sweat, and he performed his first instinct and also pretended to be dead.
"One hundred meters."
The creature blinked at the sound of the communicator. As its eyes flicked open, it caught Sulu's gaze for an instant, then seemed to realize it had been noticed and then turned both of its eyes--but not its head--and stared at him. Sulu stared back, and the two lay there, staring at each other out of the corners of their eyes, each waiting for the other to make a move. Sulu held his breath; the thing next to him did the same.
"Fifty meters. All units, engage on my mark."
The creature blinked, then made a small cooing noise that might have been an attempt to speak.
"H-Hello... I um... I didn't see you there."
It blinked again, slowly this time. Something electronic and very powerful sounding whistled under his feet, and Sulu looked down to see a row of blinking indicator lights flashing in some kind of sequence. The lights were mounted on something attached to the creature's ankle like a bracelet.
That was confusing on so many levels.
"Protective range. All sections, begin firing."
"I'm supposed to crawl out of this hole now, so don't freak out when I do..."
The creature blinked again, and this time made a low, semi-musical rumbling sound.
Overhead, the sound of a dozen phasers crackled through the air, but much closer came a voice almost directly in Sulu's ear, "Why? What's going on?" the voice came from his communicator: a generic computer-generated translation of what the databanks calculated the creature was probably saying to him.
That was confusing on even more levels. The sound of phaser fire overhead was suddenly light years away. "You have a translator?"
"Translator... yes. Do you?"
"That is interesting."
Sulu took a shot in the dark and asked, "You're from that ship that entered orbit a week ago, aren't you?"
"My ship entered orbit recently. Yes."
"Why are you here?"
Phaser sounds intensified around them, followed by the shrieks of dozens of surprised and pained Reavers as finely-tuned energy pulses scrambled their collective nervous systems. They were getting close, in fact without looking out of the hole Sulu realized his position had probably been overrun by them already. Popping up now would make no difference except to run, as fast as he could, to the safety of the mosque before the beasts could pummel him to death.
He didn't really know the protocol for first-contact scenarios, much less first contact in a foxhole in the middle of a firefight. Since this creature didn't seem like it was going to eat him, at the very least he could count on getting a few basic contact principles established. "My name is Hikaru Sulu. My species is known as Human. We come from a planet called Earth."
Sulu squinted at it, "No, not here."
"Your planet... is..."
The creature made its largest movement yet, turned to face Sulu in the crater so he could see all of it. It was obviously bipedal, wearing some kind of form-fitting uniform that showed off a compact but muscular frame perhaps five feet tall when fully erect. From what Sulu could see it had thick scaly skin and a long flexible neck that ended in a reptilian head set by a pair of powerful jaws and broad, yellow eyes. It reminded Sulu of a kind of anthropomorphic gecko; not nearly as scary as the reavers, in fact it might even make a good pet if it wasn't obviously sentient. "What planet do you call this?"
It took him a moment to realize what this thing was asking him. The implication made his hands shake. "We have no name for it yet... this planet is..." he took a breath and narrowed himself down to the most relevant thoughts he could arrange, "We came here to because this planet is completely identical to ours. Our mission is to find out who created it and why."
Sulu continued carefully, "Yes, created. This planet is a copy of our world. There are a few small differences, but it's definitely a duplicate."
"Copy. Duplicate." The creature briefly lowered its head on its long neck and then tilted it completely horizontal, probably its equivalent of a nod. Overhead, the shrieking of Reavers and the whistling crack of phaser blasts tripled in intensity before it began to rapidly fade towards silence.
"What about you?" Sulu asked, "What is your name?"
It blinked a few times, processing the question. Then it answered ponderously, "I am Fifth and Twelve cycle the Runner."
Sulu blinked slowly, "That's... um... an interesting name. What species are you?"
"To outsiders, we are called Gorn. We come here for orders."
"What are your orders?"
"I do not know. I have not ordered yet."
In any other time and place, Sulu would have interpreted that as a joke. Here in a foxhole with a sentient hyper-gecko, nothing would have surprised him. "You mean a dinner order?"
"Dinner... is... meal? Yes."
"What kind of things do you eat?"
"Tailed Water Claw, Small Water Claw, Many Leg Worm, Eight Leg Trapper, Poison Tailed Claw, Pollinating Hive Fly."
Sulu picked up on the pattern and guessed, "You're an insectivore?"
The creature made its strange shrugging motion, and this time Sulu was sure it was nodding. "Yes. We come now to investigate change."
"A change in... the planet or the animals?"
"A change in planet... a change in people. When we first came there were cities and lights. We came quietly, take our orders without being seen. On the fourth cycle after, another ship returned, and cities were ancient, the lights were gone. Many creatures gone, but many more have changed. We have come to take our last orders from this planet before it comes to ruin."
"So your ship is... what? A fishing vessel?"
The Gorn blinked, but didn't answer the question. It didn't even seem to understand it.
"My ship is called the Enterprise. It's a Federation starship, designed for deep space reconnaissance and planetary interdiction."
The Gorn responded in kind, "My ship is called Francium. It is designed for killing and recovering."
"Our meals, our criminals, our enemies. We bring these back to our harbor."
"Is Francium a... warship?"
Again, the Gorn blinked stupidly. This could be a good sign if the Gorn had no concept of war or ships dedicated to fighting them, or a bad sign if Gorn motivations were so alien that their equivalent of war was incomprehensible to even the translator's logic circuits. The latter was far more likely, considering that the Starfleet translator couldn't function unless it was sharing gigantic amounts of information with its alien counterpart. "How many years have you been coming to this planet?"
The Gorn processed the question for a moment, as did the translator. It apparently did a conversion between Terran years and Gorn "cycles" and came up with the answer, "The first ship arrived eight years ago. Fourteen months later, this planet was dead."
Wow, I wanted answers-and now I just have more questions. Amazingly clever turn of events. And I love your Gorn.
another great installment. Wonder whats going to happen next...
Spoiler: This Story
The presence of the children finally clinched it for me. The re-telling of this particular tale has been done in a bold and unexpected fashion, making this a great deal more entertaining than the original.
Very. Well. Done.
Bring on Miri!
Spoiler: This Story
Nya na na nya na...
Planet HB22147-C, Gaza Strip
- 1545 hours -
Stunned Reavers lay piled on top of each other in a massive arrangement around the Mosque. Those that hadn't been stunned by phasers were now stunned with fear and kept their distance, with most of them wandering off looking for easier prey or fleeing in fear of their lives. A handful squatted amongst their fallen comrades, apparently in mourning, until Starfleet officers stunned them as well, just in case they decided to seek revenge.
Finally, only the children remained. The medical teams beamed down behind the Mosque where they wouldn't spook anyone and setup a triage center using the children's own tents. Doctor McCoy counted twenty five altogether, out of a group that originally contained almost forty. He moved through them like a mechanic on a factory floor, mentally cataloguing injuries to send his priority list back to the ship. Once the translators zeroed in on their dialect--no easy task considering how hysterically most of them were crying--he was able to gather that this fight had been some kind of last stand, that the Reavers had been slowly boxing them in wolfpack-style for weeks, systematically separating and eliminating all the older males while disposing of the younger ones much less carefully. Apparently all of these children had once been classmates at a local elementary school, a class that once consisted of two hundred boys and girls.
Which was hardly the most confusing thing McCoy had learned today.
"Leila! Nabi!" someone a thousand feet tall and radiating enough dominant energy to power a starbase was shouting across the room from one of the suspension tents. McCoy turned his attention that way and saw one of the children--a teenaged girl, the oldest of the group by far--standing next to the tent waving two of her younger comrades over to join her. By the thick cloak she was wearing and the SKS rifle slung on her shouler he identified her as one of the sharpshooters the fire teams had noticed; the going theory right now was that she was the closest thing this group of ragtags had to a leader.
The children she'd called looked eight ten years old. They were obviously siblings, in fact they might have been twins. "You two, get together anyone who isn't injured, collect all the hardware you can in this tent."
"Weapons and ammunition...?" asked the boy.
"Leave that for later. We need the engine stuff. Petrol, batteries, alternators, that sort of thing."
"Yes Admiral!" both of the children saluted, then sped off with such speed and purpose that would have put half of Starfleet to shame.
Meanwhile, the older girl squatted back down in her tent and went back some delicate maintenance task she'd been engrossed in until now. Her fingers had an almost surgical precision; if McCoy didn't know better, he'd swear she was a trained engineer. "What are you doing?" he asked, walking towards her with all appropriate respect for what was, after all, the closest thing this planet still had to a local authority figure.
"I'm trying to fix this computer," she said, not even looking up from the jumbled assortment of electronic components at her feet. Whatever sort of "computer" it might have been, it was really little more than a stack of circuit boards held in position using strips of plywood and a cardboard box for a case.
McCoy didn't know if she was serious or just playing a game. "We have our own computers on our ship."
"Yeah, but this one has files we don't want to loose."
"Pictures, video..." she thought for a long moment, a very long moment, swept up in a sudden flood of memories, "Our parents, our friends, basically a record of everything that's happened to us until now. I know, it's silly, but we felt like it was important to document everything in case we didn't survive." The two kids she'd called over earlier returned now with a half dozen others, all carrying armfuls of machine parts and bottles of petrol fuel. These they carefully deposited in the tent around her and went off through the Mosque, looking for anything else that might be salvageable. "It was tricky to keep the cell phones working," she added, "Most of the batteries are no good anymore, but some of them still work. As soon as we could charge one, we took videos of everything we could, we recorded some journals and updates and downloaded it all to this computer."
That prompted another look at this crudely-assembled device. Gathering clues from scattered and confused reports was one thing, but here was a group of people who had intentionally gathered from their own environment all the information relevant to the fate of this planet and whatever it was that caused the cataclysm here. Lieutenant York would have an orgasm when he heard about this.
Carefully, delicately, the girl peeled up a layer of electrical tape and removed a long flat rectangular component, similar enough to one of York's artifacts that McCoy immediately recognized it as a computer hard drive. "I'm sure you have machining equipment on your ship. I can finish it there, but I don't want to loose this thing."
"How do you know we came from a ship?"
"You just said so. Besides, I saw your..." she pointed at the ceiling and the sky beyond it, "helicopter... airplane... things... flying around up there. You came from an aircraft carrier or something, right?"
"Something like that," he snapped open his tricorder and started the first of a series of bioscans with the scanner probe. As much as this girl seemed to be in control of the situation, he wasn't about to let her get away without a physical.
She seemed to sense that some kind of examination was underway, though she didn't have a clue how or why. Nor did she seem to care; for her, indeed everyone here, Starfleet technology seemed equivalent to magic, but even to these children, it was undeniably technology. "Are you a doctor?" she asked, then seemed to kick herself for asking such a dumb question.
"Yes. Are you a general?"
She smiled. "No, I'm an admiral."
"You don't look old enough to be an admiral."
"I'm the oldest, and I'm the only one who knows how to run the fishing boat, so that makes me the admiral."
"You have a fishing boat? We didn't see anything on the way in."
"Ah... the monsters wrecked our boat when we put in a week ago. They've been chasing us ever since. Are you sure you didn't see us? We launch flares every time we go out... you are with the U.N. aren't you?"
"Something like that," he said again. Hopefully her curiosity would abate until someone a little more tactful arrived to explain the situation to her.
No such luck, though. "Where are you from?" She looked at his uniform and his equipment and then asked, "European? American? I don't recognize your accent but it sounds kinda British."
"Accent? Oh..." it was easy to forget that what she heard and what he heard were two completely different things. The Linguicode Translator worked in the background of every conversation, converting Arabic to English and back again, but there were always some nuances of speech and pronunciation that the mechanical device couldn't fully process. "We're from the uh... the new U.N. It's a lot bigger than the old one."
"Oh..." she glared at him now, manifesting impatience. "Are you finished yet?"
"I'm just getting started. First of all, what's your name?"
"Miriam Hallab. My friends call me Miri."
"How old are you, Miri?"
She turned and faced him finally, resigning herself to the fact that it was apparently time to give an interview with the people who had just shown up to save her. "Sixteen. I think."
"It's been a long time since I saw a calendar. What year is it?"
McCoy scratched his head. "You know something, that's a very good question. How long ago did this..." he gestures around, "all of this... when did it happen? It looks like it's been ages."
"I know, it's crazy. The grownups said it was the end of the world. When I saw your tasers I thought you were angels..." Miri looked around the square surrounding the mosque, at the crumbling ruins and the twisted bodies of unconscious Reavers. She shuddered, "I don't know why, but everything is decaying at super speed. Only a few years ago this was all new construction. And it's no coincidence, that's when everyone started to change into monsters too."
"This all started a few years ago?"
Miri nodded. Then she thought about the question and added, "Well... started, no. It's been going on for a long time. But it didn't get this bad until two about two summers ago."
"Why? What happened then?"
"Everyone started changing at once. See, the year before that, twenty or thirty people would change in a week, the gangs would take them out and shoot them before they got dangerous. Then it was thirty, then forty, then fifty... and then that summer, like a hundred people all changed at once, then everything went straight to hell. Last year, even some of the kids started to change... that had never happened before, it used to only happens to adults."
"How long have these changes been going on for?"
"I don't know. I first heard about it when I was very young. Seven, I think. I remember my mother saying it was God's punishment to the Jews. A few months later she started to change and the soldiers came and shot her."
"You were seven?"
She thought for a moment, "Maybe older. I just remember my mother changed after I turned seven. Then little by little, everyone else started changing. Some of the religious groups tried to pull things together a few years ago, but it didn't last. There were gangs, bandits, some crazy Jordanians were driving around in a tank they stole somewhere... but sooner or later, all of them changed. Us here..." she gestured around the room, "we all stuck together since we were in the same school and we figured out that only the adults go through the change. And now it seems like we're the only ones left."
McCoy patted her on the shoulder. He watched her shrinking down little by little, years of desperation and white-knuckled clinging to life pouring out of her feet. She was becoming a civilian again, making the transition from fighter to refugee that would never completely end. "You survived by yourself all this time?"
"There were some soldiers with us at some point," she looked at her feet, "Two guys from the security forces and a couple of freedom fighters. We even had some Israelis come and join us when their cities started to collapse."
"Social order broke down..."
"No, I mean literally collapsed. Every new building in Haifa just completely disintegrated. That happened here too, but most of our buildings are alot older. But the Israeli survivors, they all started to change too. They stopped talking, they stopped wearing clothes... they acted like... well, apes or something, except they got all fat and lazy and refused to do anything but growl at each other. The ones that didn't change, they got killed off by the monsters a few at a time. Those monsters rape the men they capture, that's how they breed."
McCoy shuddered. "We've noticed."
"We had this guy, Private Gideon... he taught me how to shoot, and how to hide, and how to dig trenches and make tents. And my father taught me how to use the fishing boat since the navy ships weren't blockading anymore. So when everyone else changed, Gideon and I got as many of the kids as I could and we got on those last two boats and went out looking for food and fuel. Poor Gideon... when he started to change into an ape-man he became really stupid and lazy. That's when the monsters got him."
McCoy grabbed her by the arm and lead her to a corner of the room, offered her a folding chair Doctor Ayash had set up for occasions like this. He'd warned the entire medical team, but McCoy had special interest in her most of all. If the other children really looked up to her as a leader, then she would be at the top of the triage list if they were ever going to save them.
The scanner was setup next to the chair, a smaller version of the device that had done the photosection of the reaver. In this case, Ayash programmed it to make a microcellular scan for specific markers, so as soon as Doctor McCoy turned it on the results were beamed to his tricorder in a matter of seconds. "Damn."
Miri looked at him in alarm. "Did you forget something?"
McCoy sighed. "I need to take you back to our ship. We need to treat you, and soon."
She looked him in the eye for a moment or so, then asked almost in a whisper, "Am I changing?"
"How long do I have?"
"A hundred years, if I have anything to do with it. But you need to come with me right now."
"What about the others?"
McCoy smiled, "We won't leave anyone behind. Once they're well enough, they'll come too. And by the way, you can leave your weapons behind this time, you won't be needing them after this."
"That's good to hear... hey, Doctor, you didn't tell me your name. I told you mine. That's rude, y'know."
"My name is Doctor Leonard McCoy. My friends call me Bones."
Miri grinned. "I used to have a dog named Bones."
"Arf." McCoy offered a hand, and Miri stood and followed him around behind the Mosque. Near the back entrance he passed Spock, hard at work with a tricorder and flux beam trying to make heads or tails of the erratic quantum date readings he was getting from the structure around them. "How goes it?"
Spock looked at his tricorder for a long moment, a look of consternation and angst growing on his face. Then he looked at Miri, then at McCoy, and said simply, "Do you think it would be possible to transport all of these survivors within the next five minutes?"
McCoy startled, "Five minutes? Well... sure, it's possible, but..."
"Five minutes, Doctor. Less if possible. I have reason to believe our sensor devices may be inherently disruptive to this planet's stability."
"Disruptive of... you mean the aging thing?"
He'd seen enough to get a good idea of their injuries. Most of them had bumps and bruises and contusions, the worst had broken bones or pains in strange places that left concerns about internal injuries that might be aggravated by a transporter beam. "Alright, I'll take the first five right now. Some will have to be transported in stasis fields, though."
"Very well, Doctor, just as long as they are taken off this planet as soon as possible."
"Is it that critical, Spock?"
"Probably not. But to quote an old Human proverb, 'Better safe than sorry.'"
"I guess." McCoy turned Miri back the way they came and marched back into the triage center, shouting as he went, "Listen up! I want the first five in the lowest priority ready for transport in thirty seconds! We're clearing out, right now..." he was almost knocked off his feet as Lieutenant Sulu rushed past him, sort of stumbling/shuffling towards the back entrance where Spock was still analyzing the structures and hating every minute of it. "Easy there, soldier."
"Sorry, Doctor... Mister Spock!"
Spock somehow acknowledged his presence without looking away from his screens.
"Sir," Sulu said, running up to him panting, "I have to report, Sir..."
"You were absent from the defensive action, Mister Sulu, I therefore expect your report to be either extremely interesting or insulting to my intelligence."
Sulu took a moment to translate the hidden meaning, then said, "I won't make any excuses, Sir. I got... well, distracted."
"I ran into a scout from the alien ship, Sir. We were both stuck in a bad position and couldn't get out of it."
Spock looked up at Sulu wide eyed, "You made first contact?"
A few moments passed, and when Sulu didn't continue Spock asked, "And?"
"They're called Gorn, Sir. They're reptilian, about one point two meters tall. He didn't identify his ship, but he says it's a fishing vessel or something of that nature. They're here to collect specimens for a dinner order."
Spock raised a brow.
"His exact words, Sir. It didn't make much sense to me either... um... I gather that they're insectivores... I guess they're here, sort of, foraging, or something. Either way, he gave me the impression their ship is one of the front line vessels of their fleet."
"Fascinating." Spock thought this over for a long moment, almost blissfully satisfied with the knowledge, "What do they know about this planet?"
"The translator might have malfunctioned, Sir... but according to the scout, the planet was inhabited by a thriving civilization only eight years ago. When they came back a year later, the place was in ruins."
"Then they already know what we have just discovered, Lieutenant... what else have you determined?"
Sulu shrugged, "Apart from that, nothing. He gave every indication that they're not interested in us at all. They're only here for the food, Sir, certain invertebrate species they consider to be delicacies."
Spock nodded. "I'll expect a full report when you return to the Enterprise, Lieutenant... where is this scout now?"
"He took off as soon as the coast was clear. He seemed nervous."
"Understandable, given the circumstances..." the room crackled with light, and Doctor McCoy along with a small collection of children vanished into the swirling lights of transporter beams. "Lieutenant, spread the word to all away teams to break camp and return to the ship immediately. We may be in danger if we remain any longer."
Sulu nodded and moved off to the triage center's command post to circulate the order.
Wow. This is a really interesting story and the latest developments, wow. We've just met Miri and now she's "changing". She was so cold about what happened to her mother, it's obvious she's become hardened to what has been going on. These Onlies are probably a bit tougher than the ones in TOS, I guess. Good job.
I'll second the motion, terrific work. The level of detail you've crafted here is amazing, and though we've only just met Miri and her troupe, they're already fleshed out 3-dimensional characters.
USS Enterprise (NCC-1701)
- 0820 hours -
Rand had a pretty good idea what to expect when she got the security call from sickbay. There weren't, after all, that many things that could go wrong in a sickbay that might require the presence of security officers, and most of those had to do with guests and civilians. Enterprise's only guests, as Rand confirmed on entering the room, was a gaggle of extremely anxious toddlers and pre-teens, crowded around the glass divider between the infirmary section and the surgery suite. Some were sitting in a circle muttering half-remembered prayers, three were penciling good-luck symbols on voodoo dolls, and two were actually presiding over the entire group with stern, authoritarian expressions with AKM rifles slung from their shoulders. It was probably the two armed children that prompted the call for security, not that they were making any threatening actions when Rand walked in. Maybe just the idea of a couple of twelve year olds with machineguns was enough to make the medical staff more than a little nervous; she couldn't really blame them.
Nor could she blame the children either. After all, the closest thing they had to a parent had been in surgery for the last two hours, and that would have been stressful enough even under normal circumstances.
"Miss Rand, good to see you," Doctor Ayash flagged her over as soon as she came in. The children had largely congealed around him like bees around a bowl of honey, seeking any sort of medical reassurance he could give them that their beloved Admiral would be with them again soon. "I was just explaining to our little guests here how poor Miri is going to be up and about very soon."
Rand nodded at the other two security officers, and they both took positions on opposite sides of sickbay, far enough away that they didn't seem to be a threat but close enough that a wide-field phaser stun could immobilize everyone in the room if something went wrong. Rand moved through the middle of the group and remembered that old introduction her gymnastics teacher used to use when she was little, "Good morning, friends! What seems to be the trouble?"
The two kids with the guns--a boy and a girl who looked like they might have been twins--answered dutifully, "Admiral Miri is in surgery, Ma'am," said the boy, "We're here to guard her until she's fully recovered."
Rand could relate. It hadn't been that long since she'd dropped out of high school to enlist in Starfleet; she was still young enough to remember what it was like to be a child. "You don't need to guard her from us, do you? I thought we were friends?"
The girl shook her head, "Not from you, but what if the ship gets attacked by aliens?"
Rand smiled, "As I'm sure the Admiral would tell you, since you're on our ship now, defending it is our responsibility and you are our guests. If we were on your fishing boat, you wouldn't want us walking around with our guns all the time, would you?"
"I guess so," the twins exchanged long, confirmatory glances. Then both pointed their rifles at the ceiling, detached the ammunition magazines and cleared the round from the chamber, a set of movements so precise and so well practiced that Rand realized they probably knew those weapons better than she knew her phaser.
"My name's Janice," she said, collecting their ammunition but--respectfully--not their weapons, "Can you tell me your names?"
"Leila," said the boy, pointing to his sister.
"Nabi," said the girl, pointing to her brother.
And suddenly there was a ripple of responses from all around them, voices on top of voices all saying at once:
"My name's Karr."
"No you're not! I'm Jasmine!"
"Peter the Rabbit."
"My name's Forest Gump! People call me Forest Gump!"
"Hold on, now, one at a time," Rand held up her hands, but the kids went straight from barking their names to arguing about what their names actually were. Half of them, evidently, went by pseudonyms that the other half didn't like.
Leila and Nabi silenced it all with a single loud military-style yelp, so fast and so cur that the translator didn't really pick it up. It might have been an obscenity, or maybe just a sharp phoneme the others were trained to follow; either way, the entire room became totally silent, and Leila turned their attention towards something more constructive. "Doctor Ayash says Miri has cancers."
Rand looked at Ayash. The older Doctor nodded, "Doctor McCoy is doing an operation to remove them now. He's very good, you know."
"But what if she bleeds out?" Nabi asked, "Like in TV shows, when they do a operation, sometimes the operation people die."
Ayash stepped back a few paces and pulled a medical kit off the table behind him. He carefully selected several surgical tools and a medical tricorder, and then gestured for Nabi to walk towards him. "I'll show you how easy it is, okay? All of you gather around, you'll want to see this."
The promise of a demonstration was too tempting to resist. In seconds all twenty five children had formed a tight formation around the doctor, and Nabi and Leila were standing in front of him with nervous but excited expressions. "First we use this," Ayash opened the tricorer and took out the scanning head, "It's a little gadget that can see inside you. We can use it to see what's wrong. And you, little Nabi..." Ayash ran the scanning head next to the boy's chin, "Does your tooth hurt?"
Leila answered for him, "He has a bad tooth. It's really painful. Sometimes he wakes me up at night crying like a bit fat baby, always 'aww, aww,'"
Nabi, for his part, just nodded.
"Want me to fix it?"
Nabi shook his head and clenched his jaw shut.
"It won't hurt at all. In fact, it might even tickle."
Nabi grinned, the reluctantly opened his mouth.
Ayash took another scan, then turned the tricorder around so the kids could see, "The machine tells me that Nabi's left bottom molar is dead and it's gotten a little infected. So we're going to do a little operation to fix it."
"An operation?" Nabi looked mortified.
"Yes. Right here."
"Right here. Right now." Ayash took out two surgical tools. Each of them could be mistaken for a simple fountain pen any other day, but Ayash demonstrated the first by using it against the second. "First I'm going to grab it with these forceps here, like this," he aimed the tip of one "pen" at the handle of the second and pushed a button. A faint blue beam sparkled between them, and when Ayash moved his hand, the second tool moved with it, gripped in the air by the implacable force of a short-range tractor beam. "Then I'll take this other tool," he dropped the second pen into his open hand, "And I'll make the tooth wiggly so we can just take it right out. It'll be just like when you were little and you used to get loose teeth."
That didn't seem all that scary. Nabi relaxed, though even he didn't understand how this was supposed to work.
Ayash put both tools down on the table, then before Nabi could ask the question, loaded a hypospray and shot a quick injection into his jaw. Nabi flinched, but before he could even complain Ayash put his hand on the top of the boy's head and aimed the forceps right at the side of his jaw. "Open wide, now."
Nabi opened, and looking straight into his mouth, Ayash adjusted the beam depth until the end of the tractor beam passed through the skin, held it steady until it was poised directly over the offending tooth. Then he locked the beam in place with another button and let it go; the tractor beam held in place, and the forceps hovered in the air, attached to Nabi's jaw by its invisible graviton beam.
"Whoa!" Leila's was the first reaction, followed by amazed gasps and "oohs" and "ahhs" from the kids. It had all the dynamics of a magic trick so far, except for Nabi, who could only get the sense that something really improbable had just happened to the forceps but couldn't tell what.
Ayash took the second "pen" and adjusted it the same way, first toying with the beam depth so the guide beam would pass through the side of the boy's jaw until it was at just the right spot on the offending tooth. When he pressed the second button, the beam passed harmlessly through the side of his cheek and began to slowly ablate the tissues around the tooth, literally vaporizing part of the gum and the root of the infected molar. The widest part of the beam could scoop and cauterize the entire root in a milisecond, much faster than the reaction time of his pain receptors, and once his work was done, Ramsi gently lifted the forceps, moved the now-extracted tooth out of Nabi's open mouth and held it in the air for all to see. "How was that, huh?"
"You mean you just to--" Nabi patted his jaw then suddenly smiled, "My tooth doesn't hurt anymore!"
The rest of the children were equally impressed: "That's cool!"
"I wanna be a doctor when I grow up."
"It's, like, magic!"
"One time, I went to a dentist, and he used a big metal drill with a big--"
"My tooth hurts too!"
"Can you put fangs in my mouth?"
"I want a gold tooth!"
"Excuse me, friends!" Rand shouted from the back of the rapidly-exploding formation, "We can't all get operations! Remember, Miri still has to get her tumors taken out, and that will take some time."
Leila asked, "She'll be okay, won't she?"
"Of course she will," Nabi answered, "It's just like taking out my tooth."
"Right. Now," Rand gestured for them all to stand; half of them did, the other half stood only on seeing their peers stand up. "While we're waiting, how about we head down to the cafeteria and get some ice cream? Anyone want ice cream?"
To Rand's surprise, no one showed much excitement about the idea. Which was briefly confusing, until it occurred to her that most of these kids had grown up in the decay and desperation of a dying planet, and the only ones old enough to remember the pre-calamity times were already living in a war zone; maybe a handful of them had any idea what ice cream was. "Come on, friends," Rand started for the door, "You'll really like this."
Leila and Nabi shrugged, and followed her out of sickbay. The others followed Leila and Nabi, and in about half a minute the sickbay was empty of anyone but medical staff and a handful of Starfleet patients.
Ayash breathed a sigh of relief, then tapped the intercom button for the surgical suite as he stared through the glass, "How's the patient, Leonard?"
McCoy--who was, at the moment, beaming a walnut-sized tumor out of Miri's chest with a microtransporter--said without looking up, "Separated from the planet, this all becomes ordinary cancer tissue, and alot of it's gotten into her lungs. It's gonna take more microtrans work than usual."
Ayash looked at the patient, sleeping a dreamless sleep under the gentle coaxing of neural calipers on the operating table. She would never truly know how close she came to degenerating into one of the half-mad abominations she'd been fleeing all her life; even Doctor McCoy didn't care to contemplate it. "How much time do you need?"
McCoy shrugged, "Should have it in another four hours. Why don't you have the kids come back after dinner, should be fine by then."
- 1859 hours -
Captain Kirk arrived in the conference room exactly five seconds before 1900 hours. He hadn't exactly planned it this way, he had simply underestimated the speed of the turbolift and overestimated the walking distance from the lift station to the conference room, two mistakes that cancelled out magically. Spock, of course, was able to deduce this by the Captain's body language and stride, and it mystified him to the point that he almost greeted him with hostility, "Captain. It is agreeable to see you again." And Spock inwardly wondered about human superstitions and what kind of strange mystical force compelled Kirk to always be at exactly the right place at exactly the right time.
"Yeah, I missed you too, Spock. And happy new year." He took a seat next to the computer console--Spock's reserved station--and searched the faces of the assembled staff. Doctor Marcus was opposite both of them, with the balance of the table occupied by Doctor McCoy, Lieutenant York, Lieutenant Sulu, Ensign Chekov, Lieutenant Bailey, Commander Scott and Lieutenant Uhura. "So what have you found?"
Spock summarized his results as succinctly as he could manage, the relevant information already on the conference room screen. "We have now determined the total age of the planet we have come to call Doppelgänger to be approximately sixty five Earth years. It was ravaged by a cataclysm that caused widespread mutation and political upheaval nine years ago, culminating in the events of today. Current readings indicate the planet will be uninhabitable within six months, totally inert within a year."
Kirk stared at Spock in something like awe, but more subdued than that. It was the face of a man who had just been told his car wouldn't start because of a tribil stuck in the fuel line. "What is your support for that conclusion?"
"Anomalous radiometric and quantum dating results required more detailed analysis of the age of structures and organisms. We determined that certain materials--particularly stones, metals and minerals--showed disproportionate age readings compared to others. Isolating samples from the planet's environment yields still more discrepancies, however a cross-sectional analysis between two clusters of samples, one isolated and the other not, indicates a pattern of chronological disparity. In summation, Captain, this planet is subject to extreme rapid aging."
"We saw this in the cell structure of the reavers," McCoy added, "During mitosis the cells begin to divide normally, but their DNA structures immediately become viral. They form unstable tissues that resemble cancer cells, grown too fast to sustain themselves, so they have to metastasize into surrounding tissues just to keep from disintegrating."
"Similar effects were observed by the inhabitants themselves," said Spock, gesturing to Lieutenant York's report on the monitor, "Our most useful information comes from archival information, amateur videos and news sources compiled by the group of survivors who call themselves 'the Onlies.' This, combined with peripheral information culled from our own field work, captured the rapid disintegration of modern buildings as their supporting structures began to decay at an unbelievable rate. Several independent sources recorded the collapse of the Sears Tower as its load-bearing structure literally disintegrated from rapid oxidation."
"You're saying its things that are accelerated?" Kirk said, "It's not time dilation or any similar phenomenon?"
Spock nodded, "Quantum dating and radiometric dating both depend on the regularity of certain natural processes, either quantum oscillation of g-mesons, or the decay of radioactive elements such as carbon-14. In both cases, the rates of oscillation and decay are accelerated only in surface samples. Most core samples and deep strata specimens remain unaffected."
Kirk nodded slowly, taking this in and accepting it as fact. If Spock had discovered it, no matter how strange it sounded, he knew better than to doubt him. "What could have caused that?"
"Our two competing theories, composed by Doctor Marcus and myself, are that this is a consequence of the technique used in the planet's creation. I believe that this may have been intended by the designers, and that this planet may have been designed to live a short life before destroying itself. For what purpose, I cannot say."
"And Doctor Marcus' theory?" Kirk looked at her coldly, almost as a challenge. Did she have something better than Spock, or was this just a token effort by the resident civilian?
"My theory," Marcus said, "is that these conditions may have resulted from unplanned alien influence. In particular, that Gorn ship in orbit."
"You think the Gorn are responsible for everything that's happening down there?" asked Lieutenant Bailey.
Doctor Marcus shrugged, "Not directly. But based on the information we've collected, the irregularities are most widespread on the North American west coast, close to the Gorn's present fishing grounds. They either did something to the planet that destabilized it, or their very presence is somehow disruptive."
"Doctor Marcus' theory does have merit, Captain," Spock added, "Sensor readings of the Gaza Strip area indicate severe seismic and radioactive anomalies following the departure of our shuttlecraft. The region's atomic clock may have somehow been disrupted by the subspace emissions from our impulse engines, in which case even our presence in orbit may be contributing to even greater instability."
"Yes, that's an interesting theory, but it doesn't really explain what the hell is wrong with this planet, does it?" Kirk leaned forward, "We've orbited planets before without warping their... atomic clocks, as you put it. Why would it be happening here?"
Spock frowned, "At the risk of stating the obvious, I would say it is because this planet is artificial, and may not be fully formed yet. If it was created through a quantum-matter manipulation process similar to our transporters, on a scale this large the planet itself may yet to have completely materialized even sixty years after its formation. As with, for example, concrete: it takes a certain amount of time to 'cure.'"
"And the larger the structure," Scotty said, "the longer it takes to cure."
"Precisely. Beaming people or objects, the analogous 'curing' requires only a nanosecond. A planet this size may still be in quantum flux even now."
"So, okay," Kirk rubbed his temples, "The planet is becoming unstable, parts of it are aging too quickly... this explains the mutations?"
"Parts of their cells are aging at accelerated rates, yes. The discrepancy is only a matter of milliseconds, but it is enough to cause mutations and aberrant behaviors. In other cases--those of buildings and artificial structures--the acceleration is more marked. For another example, several days ago we identified an American naval vessel--the USS John McCain--sitting abandoned in its dry dock in San Diego." Spock put an image of that vessel on the viewscreen, showing an orbital image of a rusted but otherwise intact vessel sitting half-collapsed on a giant concrete platform near the shore. "This is the same vessel an hour ago," and this time, the ship was gone; in its place was a pile of reddish soil hundreds of feet high, the results of an iron hull completely decomposed into rust, a process that should otherwise have taken hundreds of years. "Curiously, this phenomenon is not entirely consistent. The USS John C. Stennis, docked only a quarter mile away, remains in relatively good condition, despite being infested with reavers and some of their male counterparts."
"Radiometric data from the rocky mountains," Doctor Marcus added, "Shows a timeslip of almost five thousand years, while the Swiss Alps show almost no timeslip at all. And based on deep strata samples we beamed aboard, the planet's mantle is at least thirty million years older than the crust."
Kirk looked around the table, wondering if this was about to become the Spock and Carol show. "Mister Sulu."
"Your friend, the Runner. What was his take on all of this?"
"He seemed troubled by the changes the planet was going through. They're not exploring it like we are, but they're definitely puzzled."
Kirk nodded, then turned to his communications officer, "How about news sources? What did the locals know about all this?"
"The Onlies did a pretty good job of compiling the records, considering their limited resources. The first mention of the mutations seems to coincide with the arrival of the Gorn ship some time in the year 2006, first as conventional but extremely unusual cancer cases, but as these cases increased it lead to the first reports of the Reaver phenomenon in 2008. But even as early as 2003, there are some confused reports of age anomalies, structures weakening in days that are supposed to last for years, reports of airplanes fresh off the assembly line collapsing from metal fatigue..."
"The age distortion is along a pattern of geologic time," Spock added, "the more recently something formed, the less susceptible it is to age distortion. It remains a possibility that the creation of this planet sixty five years ago was of a ground-up approach, accelerated by degrees in order of which structures took the longest to form. Complex life took less time and was therefore subject to less acceleration. Humanoid life, less time still, same again for intelligence, technology, social structure..."
"But that doesn't explain the mutations," Marcus said, "If this was all according to design, something must have gone wrong."
Spock folded his arms, "This type of rapid development method does not take into account the presence of necessary developmental dead ends, processes and structures that develop slowly, but at a specific time have a very large effect on other processes. Many human characteristics, for example, develop slowly over a period of years and undergo final development abruptly at the onset of puberty. To reverse this process--with rapid development of body features followed by extremely slow maturation--evidently results in the extreme distortion of the genotype, resulting in physical deformities and behavioral abnormalities. Although," Spock lowered his head, "Logically, I must concede the fact that some triggering factor must be responsible even for this."
Kirk stiffened, "Why?"
"It seems evident that the mutagenic cataclysm occurred at a pivotal moment, possibly when the planet neared the completion of its intended form. Something interrupted that completion, and the entire planet began to mutate. The Gorn may have introduced a contaminant, or some other factor we are not aware of."
"So your theory," Kirk said, "is that this planet was created--somehow--sixty five years ago. That furthermore, this planet was supposed to become what it was meant to become nine years ago, but something interfered. Am I getting all that, Mister Spock?"
"In summation, Captain, yes."
Chekov added, "But isn't it possible the planet did achieve its final form? Think about this: perhaps the planet was only programmed to have a normal evolution up to a certain point, and beyond that point the program terminates and what we're seeing now is the leftovers?"
"Completed, neglected, and fallen into disrepair..." Spock nodded, "That, also, is a possibility."
Kirk said, "But it still leaves us with three basic questions: who created this planet, and why, and how."
Spock sat up a little, "We are somewhat closer to the how, Captain. Circumstantial evidence suggests massive application of some type of quantum replication technology or similar transporter device on a massive scale..."
"That's still circumstantial. I want something solid. The Federation Council wants to know why, Starfleet wants to know who, and the science ministry wants to know how..." Kirk shot a glance at Doctor Marcus, "and I suspect they already have in mind who they want to replicate the process once how becomes known."
"Or develop their own, inspired by it. And I don't mind telling you, Captain, this entire mission has been pretty damned inspiring."
Doctor McCoy said, "Jim, I've been talking with those kids we beamed up from the surface. Most of them were born after the mutations started, but the two oldest mentioned some things that made my hair stand up. They say that a few years ago there were rumors about an alien invasion in Japan..."
"Speaking of which, Doctor," Kirk asked, "How are they holding up? I'm told a few were injured on the planet."
"They all checked out. Especially Miri, the oldest. I had to remove about five kilograms of tumors, but she'll make a full recovery in a day or so," McCoy turned to Spock, "if we'd gotten to her a few hours later, she'd be eating carrion off the streets by now. Whatever's happening to these people, the effect only lasts as long as they're near the planet."
Kirk nodded. "Sorry to interrupt, go ahead."
"Well," McCoy went on, "I had Scotty and Uhura checked the media archives we pulled from Miri's hard drive. They confirm a slew of UFO sightings in the Pacific region not long before the mutation period."
"They must have spotted the Gorn," Doctor Marcus said.
"That's what I thought at first, but the most detailed reports describe, and I quote," McCoy pulled up a note file on his palmcomp and red it aloud, "'The total eclipse of the sun by an unknown object other than the moon.'"
"That's a little unsettling..."
McCoy went on, "Yeah, but then we had Uhura compare press releases between real Earth and this Earth."
Uhura picked it up from there, "They're identical until the time of that incident, and until the mutations start to manifest there are only two major discrepancies. The most obvious one is an almost global panic at a certain point when ground observers suddenly noticed the presence of the second moon."
Kirk raised a brow, "Doppelgänger has two moons..."
"Right, but remember that other report mentions the moon. Meaning that up to a certain point, the people on this world believed there was only a single moon. They didn't seem to notice the second until after that anomalous eclipse event, and after that they observed that both moons were significantly different from the one they..." Uhura hesitated on this point, "The one they landed on in the 60s."
"Did they land on the moon?" Sulu asked, "I mean, if the planet is only sixty years old, that means it was originally created in, what, 1955?"
"They seem to remember that they did, but I doubt it."
Spock added, "I suspect certain amount of development time would be required, even if this planet was created instantly in its completed form. The inhabitants were probably programmed with the memories and experiences of real humans of the early twenty first century."
"That's very unsettling," Kirk said, "Replicating a planet is one thing, but replicating six billion distinct personalities, complete with memories and backgounds..."
"Captain," Uhura interrupted, "The only other major discrepancy before the mutations comes from an activist group called the Sea Shephards Conservation Society, a group of volunteers opposed to illegal whaling in the Southern Oceans. Those reports indicated the complete disappearance of Humpback whales after that species seemed to be recovering, followed shortly by the disappearance of the entire Minke species."
"How is that significant?" Marcus asked.
"Earth records show the Humpback was hunted to extinction in the 2030s after anti-whaling laws became un-enforceable, and the Minke was never threatened with extinction in the first place. Timeslip aside, this planet is in the equivalent year of about 2016, so they shouldn't be extinct yet. But several weeks of sensor passes and oceanic probes, there's no sign of the Humpbacks or the Minkes anywhere on the planet."
Commander Scott smiled. Then he faintly laughed.
"Mister Scott?" Spock looked at him sideways.
"Our first candidate for 'why' Mister Spock," Scott said with a grin, "This planet was created because someone in this wide galaxy wanted some whales."
Marcus snorted, "With that kind of technology, they could have just replicated them."
"Maybe they did," McCoy's eyes twinkled, "Think about it, Spock. We can clone tissues in a laboratory, we can even stimulate them to grow faster, but you still have to incubate those tissues somewhere, and the best incubators always mimic that tissue's natural environment. And if you were to clone an entire species--even if you meant to transplant them elsewhere--wouldn't you want to do it on a planet that most closely resembled its native environment?"
"Especially if one intended to breed clones with natural specimens," Spock nodded, "A very distinct possibility, Doctor."
Kirk turned his chair towards Doctor Marcus, "That's a possible why. Now are we prepared to speculate as to whom?"
Lieutenant Bailey shrugged, "There are no known aquatic life forms with this kind of technology. The only ones who even come close are the Xindi Aquatics and the Tiburon Covenant and neither of them have the industrial capacity for anything this big."
Sulu asked, "Why an aquatic life form? If they're transplanting whales, they might be cultivating them for food just like the Gorn."
"For that matter," Chekov said, "Maybe the Gorn have created it?"
"We don't know enough about the Gorn, but that's unlikely given what little we know of their technology. As for sustenance... it is possible. If the sixty five year development period is analogous to germination, then the whales may have been harvested at a time when the planet had sufficiently ripened to remove them from it."
"But apart from the Minkes, they didn't take any other cetacean species," Uhura said, "I checked with the oceanic probes. As best we can tell, they're all accounted for at roughly 2008 numbers..."
Bailey leaned forward, "Captain, can I make a suggestion?"
"By all means, Mister Bailey."
"All this speculation is getting us nowhere. We need solid information from a direct source."
Kirk looked slightly annoyed. "We know that, Mister Bailey. Unfortunately, Mister Spock won't know how to travel though time for another hundred and twenty eight years, so direct observation is out of the question."
Emotional control on the brink, Spock almost rolled his eyes.
"Yes, Sir, I understand... but I think there might be a way."
Kirk tilted his head invitingly, "You have a suggestion, I'm all ears."
"Sixty five years, right Mister Spock?"
"Approximately twenty three thousand seven hundred and eighty two days, Lieutenant."
Bailey pretended to understand how or why that was relevant and went on, "From a far enough distance, we could view the creation through a telescope. Earth is too close, and our farthest telescopes are about fifty light years from this planet. But there are some other worlds in the right range, and a few even have warp capability. We could call in some diplomatic favors."
Kirk glanced towards the computer console. "Spock?"
"There are three organizations in the appropriate range: the Tandar Colonies, the Ferengi Alliance, and the Cardassian Union."
"Tandar's probably out of the question," Kirk said, "and we have no diplomatic contact with the Ferengi and I seriously doubt we ever will... what was the third one?"
"The Cardassian Union," Bailey said.
"Never heard of it."
"The starship Achilles made first contact eight years ago. We've had good initial relations despite some internal economic problems."
"What sort of problems?"
"Well, they're at a technical level equivalent to late 20th century Earth, except for having recently developed warp drive and some computer technology that's surprisingly advanced even by our standards. Their home world is resource-poor, so most of their space service is geared for energy exploration. They have a few outlying colonies and deep space telescopes, but only a handful of ships capable of high warp."
"That might be enough." Kirk drummed his fingers on the table, "Uhura, under my authority, contact the Cardassian government, explain the situation to them and offer to share any information we have in exchange for their cooperation."
Uhura squinted at him, "Are we authorized to do that, Sir? I thought this mission was classified?"
"The mission is, not the information. And if they want to send a ship to join the effort, give them my permission."
"They'll probably divert the Grazine to join us, Captain," Bailey said, "It's their most advanced starship, the only one outfitted for deep space missions. Her top speed is only about warp four, so maybe three weeks to get here if they have a good navigator."
Kirk squinted at him, "Mister Bailey, are you the local expert on Cardassians or have you simply memorized the specs of every primitive space fleet in the quadrant?"
Bailey shrugged, "I was assigned the Bajor Sector for my thesis, Captain. Cardassia is one of the planets the ancient Bajorans are believed to have colonized."
"Then you'll be our liaison officer when they arrive. Until then," and Kirk addressed it to the entire room, "Continue your analysis, make sure we cover all possible leads before we bring in our partners. Any more questions?" when no one answered after a few moments, Kirk said, "Dismissed."
Very long update this time around. Thanks to everyone for the great feedback, it's a wonderful feeling to have READERS for a change!
Kaz and Gibraltar: I'm not surprised you figured out the direction the story was going; that was the effect I was hoping for, and maybe a little anticipation to see how it would play out in the New Verse. Not that I consider myself terribly unoriginal, but I do think you will be pleasantly surprised to discover the very familiar direction where this story will take us.
Until then, stay tuned! More updates on the way!
The depth of knowledge and 'realism' you bring to the mission's scientific analysis of the planet and its population is a joy to behold. I can see these people as experienced explorers, actual scientists and researchers.
And now you're bringing the Cardassians into the equation. I'm guessing that First Contact with the Union occurred much sooner than in the original Trek universe. One wonders what the Cardassians will bring to the table... or take from it.
Looking forward to more!
So much detail and so much attention paid to the "little" things. You have another great addition to what is shaping into a grand story. I like the explanation for the planet's creation-a birthing place for whales. The reason behind it should be quite interesting.
I guess there is some kind of a threshold for the metamorphosis-a point where the cancer changes its victim over to Reaver form, eh? Great stuff here!
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