< USS Enterprise, NX-01, Starfleet Museum Ship. In orbit around Sol III 13 months ago.>
John Carter looked over his wide-eyed audience and let out a sigh of relief as he saw the elementary school teacher in the back of the re purposed crew rec area give him the `wrap it up' sign. “So,” he set his hands on his hips, trying his best to look as though he'd step out of a recruitment poster. “Any more questions?”
To Carter's surprise, Mr. Tankersley's 3rd Grade Class from Carl Sagan Elementary in Pacifica, California was silent. `There's no WAY they're out of questions' he thought to himself. There was however a raised hand toward the back of the room. John tilted his head to see to whom the hand belonged. He couldn't help but smile when he saw Sean McTaggert's face. “Yes, you in the back,” he said as he pointed. “What's on your mind?”
McTaggert smirked. “I haven't seen a uniform like that in a long time.” He commented. “Did everyone in Starfleet used to wear red like that?”
Carter chuckled as he caught the joke. For over a hundred years, `Red Shirt' was Starfleet slang for `expendable'. Originally, it was a reference to the color worn by the Operations Branch, which included Engineering and Security Departments, and the somewhat dubious reputations for those departments to have a shockingly low life expectancy.
“As a matter of fact, they did.” Carter explained as he took a moment to look down at his ensemble. Like all the equipment he had with him, it was from a by-gone era. He was wearing a blood red tunic over a high-necked white department shirt. The jacket was contrasted with a black leather belt at his waist, black trousers and black deck boots. On the whole, it gave him a much more militaristic, and Carter had to admit, authoritative appearance. Unlike current Starfleet uniforms, the `Delta Pin' on his chest was purely ornamental, though there was a communicator strapped to his left wrist.
“The uniform I'm wearing is from the year 2285. Only a few years before the Praxis Event.” John looked again at the children seated on the floor in front of him. “But I'm afraid that's a story for another time. You'll just have to come back.” He nodded to Paul Tankersley, who stood up and straightened his shirt amid a din of “Aww's” and “C'Mon's”.
With the gentle determination of a seasoned educator (and self-professed stellar Grand-Parent), Paul began the process of herding his students back toward the converted ship's visitor's center. “What do we say to Commander Carter, class?”
There was a chorus of sincere “Thank Yous” as the room began to clear. Carter took a moment to lean against a bulkhead brace, watching the children depart as Sean McTaggert made his way to the front of the room.
“You know,” Sean said as he offered his hand, “I should have figured you'd find your way onto AN Enterprise eventually. It's good to see you, Sir.”
Carter took his friend's hand. “You too. And…it's John. Ok?”
McTaggert nodded. “I'll try.” He admitted. “All kidding aside, I'm glad you're ok. When word got out about Republic…”
Carter held up his hand to dismiss the rest of the sentence. “Right place, right time. You know how it is.”
Sean could tell that Carter wanted to change the subject, so he let it drop. “I got held up at 39 Sierra longer than I thought I would,” McTaggert explained, “Or I'd have looked you up sooner.”
Carter shook his head. “Well, it's not like anything's been going on, lately.” Carter said dryly. Her turned to face the table where a number of older pieces were on display for his presentation to the children. “You're in civies,” he commented. “Are you between assignments? Or is it more permanent than that?” As John waited for an answer, he set the museum ship's phaser II pistol back in it's travel case, then did the same with a hundred-year-old tri-corder.
“Still waiting for confirmation from PERSCOMM . I'm pretty sure I'll be ACT on the Hornet.”
John nodded. “'Bout time someone figured out what to do with you.”
“I appreciate the vote of confidence.” Sean said as he watched Carter police his gear “Wait….you were showing high-energy particle weapons to children?”
Carter rolled his eyes as he turned. “They ASKED! Besides, if you were an eight year-old boy in the middle of all this…” he held up his hands to indicate the cramped but efficient space of the NX class all around him, “Are you telling me you wouldn't ask how the `ray guns' worked?”
Sean chucked. “Ok, fair point. Wow..” Sean looked at some of the other gear that was doubtless part of Carter's 'history of Starfleet exploration' lecture. “Is that a life-support belt?” Sean asked as he held up a small white utility belt with two matching rectangular components on the hips.
Also Originally issued in the 2270's, the life-support belt was an experiment in applied deflector shield technology. Essentially, the device created a small deflector bubble around the wearer, which simultaneously trapped a quantity of atmosphere and also protected the user from the cold and vacuum of space.
In the end, the device proved problematic, as the man sized deflector was rather fragile, and the belt's power supply meant an operational life far shorter than would normally be needed. As a result, the life-support belt was now relegated to a piece of emergency equipment that was little more than an interesting piece of Fleet trivia.
“Yeah,” Carter remarked. “It's kind of one of those 'they did WHAT?' moments. The kids seem to like it though.”
“Uh-huh.” Sean remarked. “And what about you? Do you like what you're doing?”
Carter stopped, looking back at his colleague for a moment. “As a matter of fact, yes.” he said. “Believe it or not, I had to pull strings to get THIS post. Either that, or fly a desk somewhere.”
“Some choice.” Sean said as he crossed his arms over his chest. “So, are you on staff here or what?”
John slung the old-fashioned away team duffel over his shoulder. “Technically, yes, but my official title is Educational Outreach Officer, so I actually travel quite a bit. As it happens, I'm giving another talk at Cochrane High School on the moon tomorrow.”
Sean felt a chill down his spine as he thought of the brutal attacks across the Sol system that were still so fresh in the consciousness of most of the Federation, and humans in particular. “Already?” Sean wondered, in reference to the immense destruction of Tycho City on Luna. Despite the intentions of The New Dawn, Cochrane High School, and the dome that contained it, had been mercifully untouched.
“Kinda surprised me too,” John offered, “but I'm glad for a little piece of normal these days.”
The two officers started walking toward the visitor's center, veering toward the embarkation area. “So,” Sean asked as they moved. “You voting tomorrow?”
“Pfft…” Carter looked down and shook his head. “Yeah,” he admitted grimly, “but I'm not holding out much hope for Dohltari.”
McTaggart shared his friend's gloomy demeanor. “You can't blame people for being scared.” He offered.
“No, of course not,” Carter admitted. “But it's no excuse for doing something MONUMENTALLY stupid, to say nothing of dangerous.”
McTaggart stopped short. “You don't think the broader process will take care of that? I mean, Kostya can't just…I don't know… ram stuff through.”
“He can, and he will.” Carter observed. “You said it yourself Sean. People are scared. All they want is to feel safe; to BE safe, and I don't care WHO you are or WHAT you propose, if you can convince people you can keep them safe, they'll say yes.”
McTaggart took a few steps, and then turned to face his former XO. “Then you have to say something.”
Carter threw up his hands. “I've tried.” He blurted. “I've tried, Dohltari and his people have tried. The problem is that people don't care about TRUTH or facts. It's all about emotion, and right now that emotion is fear.”
“Yeah,” McTaggart shrugged his shoulders. “I guess.”
“Besides,” Carter added, “I STILL can't talk about anything that happened during the trial. Not even to you, and you were there!”
Before a second went by, McTaggart responded. “You're seriously going to tell me that you…JOHN THELONIUS CARTER…are going to let a little thing like the Official Secrets Act keep you from doing what you KNOW you should?!” The weight of emotion in Sean's voice surprised even him. “That's bullshit! Sir.”
Carter's eyebrow raised, and while he was surprised at the venom Sean hurled in his direction, he couldn't help but feel a certain amount of pride in how well, and how fast, the officer had matured.
“I told you, Sean,” he answered calmly. “I tried. After The Stand, when Kostya's poll numbers shot through the roof, I talked to anyone who would listen; On and off the record. It's not like I want Vladimir Kostya to be the President of the UFP. Grozit! The man's tried to have me killed. Twice that I know of!”
“Then isn't that all the more reason to…”
“You do it.”
The words hit Sean like a slap in the face. “What?”
“You do it.” He repeated. “Or Hawk, or Leon, or even Roth. There are over a thousand people on Republic alone who know FOR A FACT that Kostya committed crimes, probably even murder while he was in office, but isn't it funny how no one will say anything?”
McTaggart blinked, unsure of what to say.
“I'm tired, Sean.” Carter admitted out loud. “I'm tired of being the one who everyone thinks will ride to the rescue. Tired of worrying if the wrong call will get you, or Vic or…anyone else killed. I'm just… I can't put so much into anything and lose. I won't do it again.”
Sean remained silent for a few seconds, then turned, continuing along the path to the egress dock which actually connected the NX-01 to it's larger support structure. Like McKinley Station, it was a low orbital facility that was spared any damage from the fall of Spacedock, only a few months ago, thanks largely to the blessings of orbital mechanics.
There was a subtle shift as the two colleagues walked through the egress tube and into the gravity of the support platform. “Comma…John.” Sean offered, his tone dropping a bit lower. “I never got a chance to say Thank You.”
Carter shook his head. “No need, Sean.” He explained. “All I did was make a call.” John smiled half-heatedly, as if his small roll in helping Sean escape the Romulans might have been at least a small victory . While what he'd said was the truth, he also knew what McTaggart meant. “You're crew.” He went on. “We take care of our own.” Carter heard himself say the words, but they didn't help the fact that the sense of loss he was feeling had only gotten worse since the loss of Republic, regardless of how many the ship's sacrifice had saved in the long run.
“All the same,” Sean said with a nod, “I owe you my life…again. And I won't forget it.”
Again Carter shook his head. “Don't sweat it Sean,” he said with an almost honest smile. “You still might have a chance to return the favor.”
The pair took a few more steps, then came to a stop in front of a small craft that resembled an awkward doorstop than it did a Starfleet shuttle-craft. Carter turned, keying the sequence to open the door to the shuttle-craft `Archer', late of the Enterprise Class USS Lexington; at least, according to the insignia on her hull.
Sean McTaggart looked on in shock. “What in the HELL is THAT?”
Carter looked at the SW-7 class shuttle-craft, then back to his friend. “It's a shuttle.” He quipped.
“No,” Sean offered, shaking his head. “Shuttle's have nacelles and…and windows. THAT…” he held up his hands in exasperation, “has neither! It's looks like a brick!”
Carter leaned his shoulder against the hull of the Fleet grey craft. “This 'brick' is one of the most reliable, lowest maintenance pieces of equipment to come out of the Shuvinaaljis yards.”
“You're crazy!” Sean said with a chuckle. “Where's the sprocking impulse drive for God's sake?”
“Internal.” Carter said, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. “It was an experiment in gravametric vector drive.”
“It'll go like a bat out of Hell at sub-light, and handles easier than anything out there, even now. Plus, since it's an anti-grav platform, no inertial dampers.” Satisfied that he had proven the technological superiority of his vessel, Carter turned and headed up the ramp. “You coming along? Or do I have to go to the moon by myself?”
McTaggart held up his hands. “You're going to the moon in THAT thing? You're braver than I thought.” he said with a smile. “I'll call you next week, once my post on Hornet is set.” McTaggart backed away from the doors, waving.
“Suit yourself,” Carter shot back. “But you're gonna miss all the fun.” John waved again as the shuttle's ramp retracted and the pressure doors closed.
After that, Sean McTaggart looked on as the small, angular shuttle rose gracefully off the deck and glided silently through the museum's atmosphere shield.
“Good Luck, John.” McTaggart offered as he watched the shuttle pass out of sight.
16 Hours later, local control on Luna listed the shuttle-craft Archer as 'Overdue'.
8 Hours later, the craft, and Commander John Carter were listed as 'Missing'.
6 Hours later, a scan along the shuttle's official flight plan revealed no clues. No debris, no unusual radiation, no signs of trouble.
After three days the search was called off.
John Carter is presumed dead.
<Tag = Open>
CMDR John Carter
Former Executive Officer