<Planet Garsol, Delta Quadrant; approx. 7 months ago>
‘The sky burns!’
‘Why does the wind hurt?’
‘The air is KILLING US!’
In the sea of sights, smells, and impressions that made up the tapestry of a flier’s mind, where once there had been familiarity, now there was chaos.
So many months ago, the sky opened, and on a thin bridge of air, the swarm migrated. From their meager hunting grounds, across the strange, cold, darkness, to this hot, dry, glorious place, where the sky was clear, and the food was plentiful. Like the shadow of night crawling across the ground, they swept over the planet, eventually leaving no corner untouched.
The soft things… the tasty things would run, but it didn’t matter. The swarm was too fast. Perfectly suited to dive out of the sun and perform their function. Hunt. Catch. Eat. To be in that sea, to be a part of the wheeling, frenzied mass was glorious.
Each taught wing, each rending talon or snapping maw, every diving swoop brought what would pass for joy to the mind of the fliers, as another day’s existence was assured.
Some of the food had teeth, and bit back, but that was rare, and their numbers were few. Even on the days when they hid in their caves, or the crags of their cliffs, and they were harder to find… Eventually, one of them would run, stumble, or fall, and then the swarm would descend. To feast.
But that was before. Not now.
‘Now we burn!’
‘Now we hurt!’
‘Now we fall!’
‘Now the air is killing us!’
And in the cacophony, a small glimmer of curiosity… ‘Why?’
John Carter couldn’t help but smile as he flew. No starship, no warp field, not even an engine or wings. Nonetheless, there he was. Pitching and rolling, dashing and diving, as he flexed the muscles in his left hand as he clutched the type II-A phaser in his right as he fired another shot into the now bewildered mass of targets. At the speeds he was moving, Carter was glad he couldn’t smell anything.
In order to conserve the phaser’s charge, he kept the setting fairly low. Rather than just disintegrating fliers with a hit, the weapon was set on what was officially known as ‘Heat III’. While not specifically designated as a combat setting, the energy from the phaser was still lethal to any unshielded organic it touched, and, Carter had to assume, quite painful… at least if the sight of scorched, singed and tumbling pteredons was anything to go by. It seemed for a moment, as he clenched his fist to soar high into the bright, clear sky, that anywhere he pointed his phaser, another enemy caught fire and fell to the ground.
<Manhattan, New York, North American Conglomerate, Sol III. Present Day>
“So you’ll do it?” Malia of Delta IV asked her dinner companion.
“I don’t see as I have much choice.” Leah Warner commented. “You have me in a bit of a bind.” Warner’s face twisted into a bit of a frown as she sipped her merlot.
Across the table, Malia pouted. “Oh… I do hope you don’t see it that way, Leah.” The Press Secretary retorted. “This is an opportunity! A chance to get back in the game.”
Warner nodded. “I know, I know, and I’d be a fool not to take it, but… I do have a bit of history when it comes to Kos… when it comes to the President.”
Malia expertly dabbed her napkin at the corners of her mouth while she formulated a response and enjoyed the last of her lemon torte. “And it’s actually that history that makes you so perfect.” Malia explained. “Anyone who followed Fleet politics knows there was bad blood between the President and most of Republic’s command crew.” She said. “But that was… well, that was before everything changed, didn’t it?”
“Which is why I’m… hesitant.” Warner continued. “It’s no secret that I was involved with Republic’s Second Officer.”
“He’s the First Officer now.” Malia corrected her companion. “Which only proves my point,” She added. “If Kim Dorian and Nat Hawk are seen as heroes, and by the way, they ARE… then surely we can’t be that bad?”
Warner nodded reluctantly. “I guess I’m just used to reporting from the outside.” Leah admitted.
“And you’re good at it!” Malia smiled back. “Which is why I want you. It’s why WE want you to be the first reporter in our new imbed program.”
Warner sighed heavily. “Ok… here it is.” She said firmly. “I go where you send me. “ She confirmed. “But I write what I want. I tell the story.”
Malia nodded, and in the restaurant’s dim light, her violet eyes seemed to sparkle. “Of course.” The Deltan agreed. “Barring anything that might endanger active operations.”
Leah Warner nodded.
“Good. We want your point of view.” Malia smiled ‘Got her’ she gloated inwardly. “I DO love the way you look at things.” Malia exhaled and sat back in her chair, relaxing as she leaned to her left. “Coffee?”
<Office of the President. Geneva, Switzerland. Sol III>
Ben Maxwell grinned like a schoolboy who’d just sneaked his first cigarette. “I just… It really is all coming together, isn’t it?” He said to the room.
Assembled together were Maxwell, Oliver Rhymer, Sutek of Vulcan, Starfleet CnC Fakunake Kaito, Jack Warner, and sitting behind his polished oak desk, like the spider in an interplanetary web, was Vladimir Kristoff Kostya. “It’s real Ben.” He smiled. “We did it.”
“Not yet, we haven’t.” Rhymer cautioned. “The board’s set up, but the game’s not over.”
Kostya rolled his eyes. “Oh, relax Oliver.” He all but ordered. “Apollo’s online, Kaito has our people watching over Starfleet. Even a do-gooder like Picard is too far away to challenge what we’re doing. And even if he did, once the PEOPLE see what I’m offering, they’ll understand…”
“They’ll understand that we could wipe out any one of them with a thought.”
“Don’t be melodramatic!” Kostya shot back. “It’s what they wanted.” He said firmly. “Security”.
Despite his doubts in the moment, Oliver Rhymer had to concede that the President had a point. Project: Apollo was a brilliant feat of engineering. Since expanding the Federation’s sphere of influence, which… unbeknownst to almost everyone in the galaxy, included what had once been the Iconian home world, President Kostya now controlled the Iconian Gateways; a network of dimensional portals that rendered things like distance and time almost meaningless.
Archeologists had long suspected that the gateways would allow for the nearly instantaneous transportation of theoretically unlimited material including personnel, to any other point in the gateway network. Long ago, the Iconians controlled a vast empire, but like their Roman counterparts, with interstellar roads, their empire vanished, and the Iconians faded into legend.
Vladimir Kostya’s love of dark projects had served many purposes, it gave him influence, and helped connect him to the corridors of power. Additionally, seeing just what one could do when no one was looking also made him ruthlessly ambitious. As wondrous as the Iconian gateway was, it could never be described as lethal, at least not directly. Not until now. It was deceptively simple really. Suspend one of the gateways just outside the photosphere of a particular trinary system… say Beta Reticuli, and any other end of the network became an undetectable, unstoppable solar scourge, and the man who held the keys could lay waist to any world, any thing that got in his way. The man with the keys was Vladimir Kostya, and he would use the power of the stars themselves to keep Earth safe.
Once the Alpha Quadrant was secure; after all, who would challenge the might of Earth if your planets could be turned to cinders nearly instantly, then the Federation became redundant. The need for mutual defense would no longer exist, and each world, each culture could FINALLY be left to its own devices, as Kostya was sure the maker of the universe had intended. A strong show of force would be the first step, and that’s what Kostya’s Shadow Cabinet was there to discuss.
“So…” Kostya asked the group. “Who’s first?”
<Planet Garsol, Delta Quadrant; Approx. 7 months ago>
The sun was setting. And as the shadows grew longer, and the sky began to redden, John Carter finally set back down on solid ground. He alighted on the same rocky promontory he’d launched from earlier that day, an looked back over his shoulder to reflect on what he’d just done. Carter swallowed hard, took a deep breath, and tried to relax, but his adrenaline wouldn’t allow it He unfastened the shoulder panel of his blood red jacket, revealing the white lining that matched his duty shirt and allowed himself to smile as he saw Bah-Ki and Zharon rushing to meet him.
Bah-Ki was beaming, and dutifully assisted his friend in shutting down the flying apparatus that they’d built. Zharon, meanwhile was near tears. His work had finally made a difference to his world, and what’s more, the prophecy he’d seen years ago, on the eve of the first flier’s arrival had at long last come true. He looked to the heavens and offered a prayer to the gods of Garsol, who’d finally seen fit to deliver them from their fate.
Bah-Ki lifted the heaviest part of the flying harness off of Carter’s back, careful not to damage any of the circuitry. “You’re alive, how about that?”
“Yeah.” Carter said, though there was no joy or relief in his voice.
“At a time like this, that’s all you can think to say?” The scribe asked.
Carter’s expression was tense. “It was too easy.”
“Easy?!” The shout came from Zharon who was momentarily NOT considering the profound implications of this day. “It was MAGNIFICENT!” He shouted. “You did just what you promised. “You took the fight to them.”
“Some.” Carter said. “Not all. They started falling back after about 20 minutes.” Carter bet at the waist and let out a groan as he back protested having to move again after spending so much time in what was essentially zero-gravity. ” I went after every one of them that I could see,” the Martian continued, “but I couldn’t have gotten them all.”
“None the less, Warlord,” Zharon said triumphantly, “A fine beginning. We’ll see what tomorrow brings, eh?” The older scientist clapped Carter’s shoulder, which made the former officer wince, and the trio moved into the caves that had become their home.
It was a few moments later when John was alone in his sleeping chamber. He took a moment to remove his belt and check the charge on his phaser. “Only ¼ left.” He mused. “Can’t do this too many more times.”
There was a soft scrabbling behind him, and Carter wheeled on instinct toward the noise. Dadjinn was standing in his doorway, weight shifted to her left side, her right hand resting on the pommel of the ever-present sword on her hip. “Grozit!” Carter spat out. “Don’t do that!”
“Nervous?” the lithe, blue Garsolan said as she took a few steps into the chamber.
“Edgy.” Carter admitted as he lowered his phaser and turned to place the weapon back in its case. “I’ve always been like this after a mission. Hard to… come down I guess.”
“Literally.” Dadjinn said simply.
Carter removed his jacket and then turned back to look at his visitor. “Was that a joke?” He smiled.
“It was!” The Martian moved closer. “Who knew you had a sense of humor?”
“I did.” She said softly. “Though I haven’t had call to use it in quite some time.” She paused and then tentatively reached out her hand, placing it on Carter’s shoulder. “You did it.”
“Almost.” He admitted. “Job’s not done.”
“No,” Dadjinn agreed. “But I want to thank you.”
John looked at the second most formidable woman he’d ever met and felt a small grin cross his lips. “You don’t need to do that.” He offered.
“I do.” Dadjinn offered to the contrary. “Because now… for the first time in a long while… I don’t know what happens tomorrow.”
CMDR. John Carter
Educational Outreach Officer
U.S.S. Enterprise NX-01