Location: USS Republic nee Asgard, somewhere in the Delta Quadrant
Timeframe: Present Day
When the Republic's biological crew of eight emerged from their transporter loops, not only were they reunited with their ninth positronic teammate, Blimpy, but they were relieved to discover that the Borg structural integrity field generators had done their jobs well. Logs showed that the magnetic eddies they encountered while traversing the Geodesic fold would have likely ripped the ship apart without the generators. This was especially true had one of them not been configured to project the integrity field ahead of the ship's course while in the fold. As it turned out, only a few ancillary items broke loose during the transit through the intra-galactic vortex, necessitating only minor cleanup and repair after they emerged.
As for their location, Victor Virtus's coordinates were both precise and accurate. They had emerged at a class-K supergiant star just twelve light years away from the star system they were targeting, which was only a day's travel at maximum warp. However, to allow recovery time, Commander St. John ordered that they proceed at a slower speed to give a few days of rest and preparation for the next leg of their mission, as well as allow them time to acclimate to their new galactic surroundings. After all, this was a completely unexplored area of the Milky Way, seen only from distant telescopes and star surveys over the past few thousand years. Not even the famous journey of the USS Voyager came anywhere close to this region of space, with the closest surveyed world by that vessel being almost twenty thousand light years away. It was clear that the Republic nee Asgard was further from home than nearly any other Starfleet vessel had ever travelled.
Two days after the skeleton crew of nine immersed themselves in some hard-earned downtime, Saal Yezbeck summoned Theo “Doug Forrest” Carter to sickbay to review a mystery side project he had been working on back at Gamma Serpentis Base prior to their excursion through the Geodesic fold. While it would normally have been only a curious affair, the doctor wore a sober, troubled expression on his face when Theo arrived in the sickbay medical lab. He had about three dozen 96-well microtiter plates on the countertop electron micrograph carousel next to him, and was reviewing the DNA sequences of a few thousand different subjects on the wall-mounted information display.
“What's going on?” Theo asked, as he found Saal staring into space in thought when his friend arrived. The wrinkles on the doctor's forehead were a telltale sign that something about the universe was out of place in his mind.
“Take a look,” he waved to the information displayed on the monitor. After a close scrutinization of the different genetic patterns, Theo was still as clueless as he was when he walked through the door.
“What am I looking at?” he asked.
“The station's hospital had detailed genetic profiles on everyone living on the base,” the doctor explained. “They were filed under the highest security protocols I've ever seen for medical files, so naturally, I wanted to find out why.”
“Naturally,” the man formerly known as Doug Forrest iterated with a touch of sarcasm, still remembering that Victor Virtus from the HMS Republic universe had given an offhand remark about Saal's PADD containing “universe-shattering medical secrets.” Saal Yezbeck took no notice, staying on the topic at hand.
“Apparently, the medical officer on Gamma Serpentis Base instituted a program to modify the genome of the entire station's crew,” the doctor continued to explain. “From what I could initially see, the modifications had no medical use. When you run the DNA models, the modifications would have produced proteins that really didn't do anything for the body that I could detect at first. It was Commander St. John that gave me the first clue.”
“Remember when he said that his team had sabotaged the base's subspace transceiver array?” Saal questioned. “Because it had been reconfigured into a phase generator that would produce a giant synchronic distortion field and put the station out of phase with the Geodesic radiation?”
“Yes,” Theo recalled. “It was supposed to keep everyone on the base from liquifying from the radiation.”
“Right,” Saal was glad to see his Intel comrade was following along. “Knowing that, when I looked closer at these gene modifications, I realized that the proteins they created were reactive to synchronic distortion fields.”
“So?” remarked Theo. “Lots of proteins react to distortion fields.” His feigning of a strong understanding of biology was unconvincing, but Saal had more pressing concerns on his mind than to point it out at the moment.
“Yes, but other proteins normally have some sort of purpose in the human body. The proteins from these modified genes didn't seem to have a purpose until I realized what happened to them in synchronic distortion fields. I cultured a few of the DNA strands from the secured records into some research cells, and used a handheld phase generator on them. This is what I found…”
Doctor Yezbeck pressed a button on the monitor to change the image to high-resolution animal cell.
“The proteins integrated themselves into the phospholipid membranes of the cells and resonated a perfect one-hundred-and-eighty degree counter-resonance to the frequency of Geodesic radiation.”
“Saal, please,” Theo shook his head confusedly. “What's the upshot?”
“The proteins produced by these genetic modifications in concert with the synchronic distortion field are what protects against Geodesic radiation. NOT the synchronic distortion field by itself.”
“Okay,” Theo concluded. “So it was the distortion field combined with the genetic modifications that would have protected the crew. So what?”
“That's what I thought, too. But look…” Doctor Yezbeck pressed another button to change the image on the screen to digital renditions of each of the three dozen 96-well microtiter plates he had been studying. Computerized images of all thirty six were aligned on the monitor, with circles around each well spot, and only a small number filled in with a bright solid dot signifying their importance to the study.
“I cultured the DNA of everyone in the secure medical file, and grew research cells from them in these well plates,” he said, pointing to the stack of rectangular plastic plates on the electron micrograph. “I activated the handheld synchronic distortion field generator before our trip through the Geodesic fold, keeping it aimed at these cultures. After we arrived here in the Delta Quadrant, I discovered that only about ten percent of the DNA cultures survived.”
“Okay… so pretty LOUSY protection for the crew…”
Saal nodded again. “Exactly what I though too, but then I looked even closer into the genetic profile. These proteins only work on one type of genome.”
“Human,” Saal concluded emphatically and soberly. “Pure one-hundred percent EARTHLING human. Not Martian, not Alpha-Centaurian. Earth human DNA. If the cells in a person's body have ANY trace of genetic material that's not purely from Earth… they die in the Geodesic radiation. Plain and simple.”
The implications astounded Theo. He folded his arms in thought, trying to figure out the endgame.
“How does that happen?” he inquired further. “How can the modified genome be so specific?”
“Genetic engineering, Dragon,” the doctor concluded. “Absolute unadulterated genetic engineering. This was the intent from the medical files in the secure directory. The genetic modification that the medical officer applied to all crew on the base would not have worked for anyone who didn't have a pure Earthling human gene line. THAT's what it was designed to do – filter out those who didn't have that gene line. NO ONE except pure Earth bred human beings would have survived the Geodesic fold.”
“Do you know what you're saying?” exclaimed Theo, his incredulity rising in his voice. “Why would the medical officer do that? What doctor in their right mind would agree to this?”
“He was ordered to.” Saal held up a PADD, and waived it in front of Theo. “The order to administer the modified genome to everyone on Gamma Serpentis Base without their consent came from the top.”
“WHO gave the order?” demanded Theo angrily as he grabbed the PADD and began reading it intently.
“The order was signed by Admiral Vladamir… Kristoff… Kostya. Stardate five-six-zero-three-seven-point-two.”
Theo and Saal stared at one another dumbfoundedly, each sharing expressions of revulsion.
“You know what this means?” Theo exclaimed.
“It means,” Saal emphatically concluded. “When we get back to the Alpha Quadrant… heads WILL roll.”
The two colleagues stared at one another in thought, reflecting upon the words of the old man several weeks ago when they first got back together on Risa. Their ex-boss promised that Kostya would be brought to justice, but didn't elaborate on how, only cryptically mentioning that “heads would roll.” They hadn't thought much about it since, but after rediscovering the derelict Gamma Serpentis base – which was the destination of the original “mission” their ex-boss assigned them – they realized that the old man must have known more about the station than either of them realized, and that he may have been hoping they would stumble upon solid evidence to use against the Federation president. Now… they had stumbled across just such evidence.
Kostya was dabbling in eugenics to purify the human race, used Gamma Serpentis as the guinea pig, and was following in the footsteps of mass murderers like John Frederick Paxton, Colonel Greene, and Adolf Hitler. Only this time, it wasn't some historical tyrant… this was the present; it was the twenty-fourth century… the here and now. The CURRENT FEDERATION PRESIDENT was practicing methods of mass murder in the name of racial purity, and HE was the elected leader of an interstellar union composed ninety-nine percent of non-human citizens. There was no mistaking it… It was IMPERATIVE that they get back to the Alpha Quadrant as soon as possible to bring this evidence to light.
Suddenly, the intercom came to life, stirring them away from their dark and troubled thoughts.
“Commander Forrest, Doctor Yezbeck,” St. John beckoned. “Report to the bridge. We're approaching the star system co-ordinates you gave us to find John Carter.”
Location: Main Bridge, deck 1, USS Republic nee Asgard, NCC-76241
As Theo and Saal arrived on the bridge, over half the members of Task Force Trident were present. Deuce was at his usual spot at the tactical arch overlooking the command pit, while Commander St. John took his roost in the captain's chair. Ensign Carson Jensen was at the Ops station, while Lieutenant Sheila Anderson was manning the helm. With the all the vital stations properly tended to, Theo “Doug Forrest” Carter took the first officer's seat to the right of St. John, while Doctor Yezbeck pulled out the below-console stool to sit at the Sciences II station at the rear of the bridge.
Minutes passed silently as the ship closed in on the star system that the HMS Republic universe Victor Virtus had first triangulated as the source of the “H-O-L-A-C-O-M-P-R-A-D-E-S” message that went out to the refugees from the USS Republic universe just a few weeks ago. As they approached what the charts said should have been a standard single main sequence star, the sensors were better able to resolve the star's spectrum due to the much closer proximity, revealing the system to actually be composed of not just a yellow Class-G main sequence star, but also a closely-orbiting and very rare blue dwarf star. Burning so hot that it's spectral range reached the Class-A range on the Hertzsprung–Russell scale, this unexpected second star was less than a quarter solar mass in size. According to the astrometrics database, it must have formed as a result of a small red dwarf running out of hydrogen fuel and not having enough mass to expand in size like a normal red dwarf, which could only have had the alternative result of increasing its radiative state by elevating it's surface temperature instead. Had the ship been fully staffed by a scientific crew, this discovery of a second dwarf star would have been a phenomenal finding, causing waves of excitement and intrigue since the existence of blue dwarfs were only hypothetical due to the galaxy's relatively young age. Sadly, no astronomers or astrophysical specialists were present, leaving the buzzing celebration of such a unique discovery to be held at a later date by future explorers, or perhaps by an astute intelligence operative at Starfleet Headquarters who would be lucky enough to review the logs of this most uncustomary trip to the Delta Quadrant.
As Republic nee Asgard smoothly flew into the inner planets of the system at a few hundredths of units below the lightspeed barrier, it took only minutes to zero in on the single barely-habitable planet in the star system. Registering as class H rather than class M, this world was firmly a desert planet due to the additional thermal energy invoked by the blue dwarf. While calculations indicated that the dwarf star would eventually burn out, allowing the planet to drop back into the M-class category someday in the far future, it's current surface temperature exceeded that of even Vulcan, suggesting that any inhabitants would have had to evolve remarkable adaptations to thrive in such an environment. For indeed, the desert world orbited close enough to the binary stars that the blue dwarf must have appeared in the sky even larger than the yellow main-sequence star it circled, acting like a fiery cobalt blowtorch as it rose each day. Only after it set would the transition to night allow the searing heat to finally radiate away back into space. During such evenings, lunar orbital calculations showed that the planet's multiple moons would shine brightly at all hours of darkness, as their highly elliptical orbits often brought them close to the planet, with one moon even kissing the upper regions of the planet's atmosphere at regular intervals. Yet despite these dynamic and turbulent orbital conditions, lifeform readings were prominent if not discrete in the austere and uninviting wilderness of the planet's rusty-colored canyon-strewn surface.
“Any response to our hails?” Blake St. John asked Deuce at the tactical station.
“Nothing,” he replied. “No handshake signal, no anything. If there's any communications system down there, they're not currently active.”
“Bio-scans?” asked St. John as the ship took up position in standard orbit. “Can you pick up any human lifesigns?”
“Indeterminate,” Saal responded from the rear sciences station. “The planet has a thin layer of ionized particles in the upper stratosphere, probably due to regular contact with one of it's moons, which is loaded with Kelbonite. The dust is interfering with the bioscanners. However… the geologic scanners are picking up sporadic readings of refined metal on the surface. If we get into a lower orbit, I might be able to localize them.”
“Understood,” the commander acknowledged. “Helm, decrease altitude to two-hundred kilometers and begin a grid pattern search of the surface. Continue hails on all Starfleet frequencies.”
“Acknowledged,” Sheila promptly replied.
“Anything?” Blake turned and asked Saal after the ship slipped into the lower orbit.
“Yes,” Saal responded excitedly as he studied the information coming in on the monitor. “The refined metal traces have isotope ratios that correspond to Starfleet hull signatures. They're coming from an area at coordinates three-five-six by one-eight-one. Northern hemisphere, just ahead of the first eastern terminator.”
“Have the bioscanners cleared any?” the commander asked.
“Some,” Saal replied, a furrow forming on his face as he adjusted the scanner with a few taps of his fingers. “There's a conglomeration of humanoids at those coordinates. I'm seeing bits and pieces of the refined metal interspersed within a population near a large canyon. The metal all adds up to roughly the mass of a small shuttlecraft. My guess is that they've already taken it apart and found other uses for the parts.”
“Obviously, whatever cultural contamination could have taken place already has,” Blake St. John concluded. “Can you make out any human lifesigns?”
“No,” Saal shook his head. “While primary bioscanners are clearing, the DNA scans are still being scattered, so I can't make out specific individuals or species. We're still too high. Can you get us to a few kilometers above the surface?”
“Into the atmosphere?”
“Yes. Two to three kilometers above the surface if you can.”
“Meteorological charts are clear,” shrugged Sheila Anderson at the con. “Just a little bit of wind at the higher elevations. Otherwise, it's dry as a bone down there. It shouldn't be a problem… It's just that…”
“Well, Blimpy hasn't been able to get the cloaking device online yet,” she explained. “They'll be able to see us down there. We're in a Galaxy Class Starship, and at that altitude, we'll take up almost an eighth of the sky when we come over the horizon.”
“Hmm,” St. John scratched his chin in thought. “I really don't want to spend weeks playing cat and mouse behind a duckblind with people that have already been exposed to our technology…”
“It's a tough call, Blake,” Anderson warned. “We'd be bending the Prime Directive pretty bad if we did this.”
“We're not exactly here on an official Starfleet mission,” Theo scolded from the first officer's seat next to St. John. “We're tens of thousands of light years outside of the Federation. Does General Order Number One even apply here?”
“It always applies,” St. John replied firmly. “It's just a matter of how closely we follow it.”
“If Carter's still down there,” Saal added from the science station. “Then he's been there for almost two years and isn't expecting a rescue anymore. He'll have made the best of what he has. My guess is that those people down there – whatever species they are – already know everything HE knows about Starfleet and the Federation.”
“That, or he's dead,” St. John hypothesized, not wanting to put too fine a point on it. “Which means we'll have scared the socks off a primitive native population for no good reason.”
“Let's put it another way, commander,” Theo said soberly. “If you were down there, stranded and parched on a desert planet with twin suns for the past two years, would YOU want your rescuers to pussyfoot around trying to find YOU?”
Theo “Doug Forrest” Carter and Blake St. John studied at each other in silence. From his point of view, St. John had already stuck his neck out for Forrest and Yezbeck by sacrificing his life and the lives of his team to come to the Delta Quadrant. He had kept his side of the promise, getting them to the distant world where their colleague John Carter appeared to have crash landed. Now, they were asking him to go even further by possibly violating Starfleet's most cherished directive, charging in head-on, and all but shouting “here we are!” to the natives. On the other hand, they hadn't the resources of a fully-staffed starship to perform a clandestine first contact mission, and if Yezbeck's suspicion is correct in that cultural contamination had already taken place, it would be a waste of time and resources to even try. He needed to find middle ground.
“Sheila,” he began. “It's my understanding that Starfleet regulations leave it to a commander's discretion on how to interpret the Prime Directive when a member of their crew is being held hostage and/or is threatened by a pre-warp population in non-Federation space. Am I correct?”
“Yes sir,” Sheila Anderson replied. “If there is evidence to that effect. It's allowed under General Order Thirty.”
“And disassembling of Starfleet property – as Doctor Yezbeck has already detected – could be seen as a hostile act by that population, especially if that technology could be used against us. Correct?”
“Therefore, if John Carter was a member of our crew, and his shuttlecraft is suspected to have been captured and disassembled by a hostile pre-warp civilization outside Federation borders, then General Order Number One could technically be suspended for the purposes of a rescue and recovery operation?”
“I suppose General Order Thirty could be interpreted that way,” she admitted. “It allows you to interpret the Prime Directive as necessary if it's consistent with other existing general orders.”
“Right then,” Blake nodded, slapping his hands firmly on his lap, signifying he had reached a conclusion. “As of this date and time, John Carter is considered a member of the crew of the USS Republic, NCC-76241. As acting commander of this vessel, and in line with General Order Twenty Four, I deem that John Carter's security and safety is under threat. I have therefore chosen to suspend the Prime Directive to rescue him and recover any Starfleet assets on the ground to prevent them from falling into hostile hands. I alone take full and complete responsibility for this decision after having been advised by my crew of the possible repercussions.” Turning to Deuce at the tactical arch. “Chief, please enter the order into the ship's log.”
As he did so, Commander St. John turned back around. “Does that satisfy everyone?” He scanned the collection of colleagues across the bridge for a voice of dissent. With no challenges to the order, the commander moved on to the next order of business.
“Okay, so, we have no cloaking device. Let's use that to our advantage. The only way to flush John Carter out – wherever he is – is to make our presence known. Sheila? Set course into the lower atmosphere. Put us at a hover about two kilometers above the humanoid conglomeration at Doctor Yezbeck's coordinates.”
“Aye aye, sir…”
And lower into the atmosphere they went.
First sunrise came quickly over the sparsely vegetated, windswept landscape of Garsol; the rays of the distant yellow sun peeking out from behind the jagged mountains off in distance, like a playful child enjoying a leisurely game of hide and seek through an irregularly-spaced picket fence. Though welcomed for the first few hours, these tawny shafts of golden light doubled as an ominous warning that the larger azure-tinged fire demon of the nearer blue star loomed right around the corner. As the sun rose higher, fierce winds whipped across the rocky magenta plains, blowing directly past a primitive settlement cut into the sanguine shadows of a craggy box canyon. Recently chiseled into the walls of this canyon were the underground dwellings of the humanoid inhabitants of this desolate world. The dwellings showed signs of recent construction by cutting into the cliff face with hand tools, sculpting out cleanly-carved square window recesses adjoined with nearby and equally rough-hewn entranceways. Each were spaced at regular intervals along the wall, and draped closed with durable fabric to keep the wind and heat at bay. Sculpted stairs interconnected the primitive domiciles. Most were short, single-level stairwells leading from one floor to another, while others stretched for several levels, linked together with alleyways and recesses that led deeper into the cliff. Only a handful of long winding stairs actually led to the surface plateau above. Beyond the top exit points of these main stairwells were numerous meandering and dusty pathways along the canyon rim, where row after row of agricultural plots had recently been cut into the chalky red soil, hosting countless sprigs of small, stubby flora of varying shapes and texture. Muted earthy tones complimented the thick waxy skins of these carefully cultivated plants, each with turgor solid enough to beat back the harshest of winds, and groomed vigor that would soon yield moist vesicles of hearty fruit to feed the growing populace.
As morning broke, the locals emerged to tend their crops, climbing the steps from their canyon abodes below, and stepping out onto the fields to begin their daily task of clearing unwanted scrub and fungi away with a select number of farm implements and digging utensils. They worked with speed and purpose, exercising their routine of nurturing their critical farmland before the scorching cerulean light of the dwarf sun parched the land once more after second sunrise. The erect bipedal workers of the soil were humanoid beings, possessing large pupil-less eyes, and boasting skin colors that spanned a wide spectrum of blue. They wore colorful, gossamer-thin silken wrappings to protect themselves from the harsh rays while the open mesh fabric allowed the ever-present wind to cool their skin. These wrappings were all worn across the lower torso serving as loin cloths, while some of the female persuasion also wore them across the chest area as well. An assortment of jewelry adorned a few of the workers, some with small pieces of metal and polished stones worn around the neck and wrists, while others worked the ceremonial accouterments into their indigo hair which tended to wear long. Most prominent among these exotic tenants of the land were the cleanly crested ears that terminated towards the apex into supple points, lending to the often cliched reality that evolution selects for such tapered acoustical lobes among most if not all desert dwellers.
One such farm worker paused his tilling of the soil, laying his long-handled rake against a nearby rock and retrieving a red clay flask with a stopper make of a soft, moss-like material. Popping it open, he took a long swig of nourishing liquid, tilting his head upward as he drank. Slowly, he lowered the flask, his eyes fixed on a point beyond the horizon, past a distant mountain range where the daytime trace of a crescent moon rose. A dark, oblong shape slowly formed behind a haze of heat mirages, growing larger and more distinct as it made its way over the mountains. As it came closer, the main metallic body was clearly lens-shaped, held aloft by a smaller oval pedestal with a forward maw that glowed with rings of blue and white. Looming even closer, the lower pedestal also held aloft a pair of rounded box-like appendages behind the lens-shaped main construct. These appendages each hosted glowing ruby-red anterior faces, giving the impression that a set of angry crimson eyes were bearing down upon the world, ready to wreak havoc from the sky. The gawking farm worker dropped his clay flask and stumbled backwards, his pupil-less eyes wide in horror. One by one, the terrorized field tenants abandoned their farming implements and scattered in a single direction through their carefully cultivated croplands, away from the oncoming craft, and towards the construction site of their newest surface structure atop the canyon wall.
The foundation site of the new lunar temple had been a painstaking practice in decorative brickwork, as laying each flattened square red stone in an architecturally-sound and precise manner was important to forming the impressive montage of concentric circles on the ground. While the dozen or so long cylindrical columns were still lying on their sides, presently being hand-worked by the various masonry craftsmen of the village, the auburn stone trusses of the triangular roof cap had already been completed, resting neatly on temporary platforms, and ready to raise with block and tackle pulleys once the columns were ready to go vertical. Scattered among the construction site were no more than a dozen of the blue limber aliens, most wielding stone carving implements and hunched over various pieces of stonework. Towards the center of the brick-laid foundation, two of the blue-skinned individuals stood around a raised flat stone table. One was a tall, slender woman with toned muscular features, and armed with a scimitar style weapon worn low on her hip. The other was a young male with gauze-like ceremonial robes flowing in the wind, and wearing an unusual number of ritual jewelry pieces on his body, which played host to stone and metal necklaces, arm bands, and hairpieces. They were reviewing a large brown parchment splayed out on a flat stone slab, with small rocks placed at various intervals to keep the incessant wind from catching it and blowing it away. Black lines and pictograms were sketched on it's surface, each outlined using straight and precise drawing tools to form an intricate and accurate depiction of what the final full-sized building would become when finished.
“They don't make them like they used to,” the tall, lithe warrior woman commented while studying the architectural plans.
“Nobody EVER made them like this!” her younger male companion proudly replied. “Zharon really outdid himself with these written plans! Of course, he had the Warlord's help.”
They paused their critical review of the drawings to listen closely to a distant screaming. It wasn't just one scream, but dozens of them. As the two aliens turned towards the sound, they spied several of the villagers racing towards them, as if being chased by fliers or some other blood-thirsty beast. It was a confusing sight until they realized why they were running. An enormous spoon-shaped metallic construct was plowing through the skies above them, its surface sculpted of interlaced metal plates and smooth reflective windows. Composed of oblong and oval-shaped embodiments, the lustrous monster was as big as a mountain, yet wasn't held up by flapping wings or any visible mechanism that could beat the air into submission. It simply slowed and came to a hover in the sky over them, casting a shadow upon the land and blocking out the light of the first sun.
“Stand your ground!” the warrior woman ordered to the frightened citizenry that scattered around them. “Everyone! Stand your ground! We will fear the sky no longer!” While some listened to her and stood nervously in the shadow of the strange craft in the sky, others were borderline hysterical, continuing to look for places to hide.
“Bah-Ki!” the woman turned angrily to her companion. “Do something!”
Still new to his priestly role, the young man held his hands up and let the feathery folds of his colorful robes flow in the wind.
“Listen to Dadjinn!” he shouted above the screams. “Listen to her! The fliers are gone! The sky can no longer terrorize us!” While the number of frenzied screams dropped significantly at his words, others still stood staring unnervingly at the sight above them, pointing and mewling at the strange, fantastic sight in the sky. “Do not fear this Holy Visitor! It has no wings! It cannot harm us!”
Bah-Ki wasn't truly certain of the benevolence of the metal beast above, and he knew he was taking a risk by labeling it as a “Holy Visitor”. However, he felt that stretching the truth for the sake of civil order was not a bad trade-off at this particular moment in time. As the crowd quieted down, it was more at the realization that the unnatural construct in the sky was simply hovering and doing nothing rather than due to Bah-Ki's beckoning. They looked at each other with uncertainty as to what to do next. During the pause, the warrior woman known as Dadjinn grabbed the arm of a nearby child and gave them an order.
“Find Zharon!” she shouted. “Be quick!”
As the pre-teen ran off quickly in another direction, Bah-Ki stood next to Dadjinn, pulling out a spyglass from his belt pouch. Extending the optical device, he held it to his eye for a closer look at the gigantic craft.
“It has the same markings as Carter's metallic cocoon,” Bah-Ki observed, zeroing in on the familiar shape of the Starfleet delta logo at the apex of the red streak across the lower ventral surface.
“It's the Warlord's chariot,” Dadjinn concluded crossing her arms. The expression on her face was contorted into a frown, suggesting annoyance. However, it hid the deeper feelings welling within her. “It's finally arrived.”
Moments later, a panting, out-of-breath older man came plodding up to Dadjinn and Bah-Ki, led by the child that Dadjinn sent to fetch him. The old man's grey-tinged facial hair was a stark contrast to his deep blue skin, which was wrapped less in ceremonial jewelry, and hosted more out-of-place items such as peculiar looking shoulder-slung storage pouches along with mechanical devices composed of leather and metal.
“Where's the Warlord?” Zharon asked, catching his breath.
“He went out before first sunrise,” Dadjinn replied, still watching the hovering lens-shaped craft with glowering eyes. “His heart was bleeding for the sky again.”
“The sky must have been listening,” Zharon turned to follow her gaze above.
“What do we do now?” Bah-Ki asked Dadjinn after a moment. “You know the Warlord's mind as well as his heart. What happens next?”
“We wait,” she explained. “If his stories tell true, his companions will arrive on the heels of a flickering light… Like dust falling through a sunbeam.”
Location: Main bridge, deck 1, USS Republic nee Asgard
“Okay, we got their attention,” commented Lieutenant Sheila Anderson at the helm station. She watched the main monitor, noting the ebb and flow of the nervous-looking blue-skinned aliens on the surface below before turning her head to face the rest of the bridge. “Now what?”
“Right,” Commander St. John came to another conclusion, standing up from his command chair. “Our tactical situation has now changed,” he proclaimed. “Officially, we've learned through our rescue and recovery operation that the pre-warp civilization we suspected of disassembling John Carter's shuttlecraft may actually have non-hostile intent. By regulation…”
“Non-hostile?” blurted out Jensen, still seated at the Ops console. “Are you kidding? Look at the size of that sword carried by the tall woman!”
“I've seen bigger,” Deuce immediately made an off-hand comment at the tactical arch, crossing his arms in jealousy.
“It's clearly ceremonial,” dismissed Anderson, turning back to observe the crowd on the monitor. “She's the only one carrying a sword on her hip that I can see…”
“BY REGULATION,” St. John interjected forcefully to regain control of the snowballing conversation. “We've revealed ourselves and found that the pre-warp civilization may not be as hostile we initially perceived, and therefore, General Order Number One dictates we now proceed under diplomatic first-contact procedures. Deuce, please record that in the ship's log.”
“You were waiting for that, weren't you?” Theo concluded, realizing that St. John wasn't simply playing it “by the book” to be a prude. He was working an angle to cover their proverbial backsides. It was brilliant. Blake St. John had honed the skill of skirting regulations to a fine art. So much so that Victor Virtus himself would be impressed.
“Off the record, I was HOPING for this situation,” he admitted. “It wasn't a forgone conclusion it would go this way. You wanted a chance to charge in and find John Carter? Now you have your opening, and the Prime Directive stays intact. A bit bruised, but intact nonetheless.”
“This must be how you stayed alive in McCain's workshop of horrors for as long as you did…” Theo commented.
“Sheila,” St. John turned to his subordinates and started handing out orders. “I want you and Deuce to report to transporter room five for landing party duty. You will accompany Commander Forrest and Doctor Yezbeck to the surface. Diplomatic defense posture two. In case you've forgotten, that means hand phasers and tricorders ONLY… NO tactical gear. Understood?”
Sheila nodded her head as she pushed away the pivoted helm console and stood up.
“Can't I at least bring some stun grenades?” Deuce pleaded from the tactical arch.
“No,” ordered St. John. “No grenades. We want to set a good example and earn these peoples' trust.”
Looking around at the attire of his officers, he noted the menacing black apparel of Starfleet Intel's tactical division. Additionally, their wearing was inconsistent and haphazard, some with unbuckled SpecOps infantry harnesses, while others still donning their assault vests half-zipped or otherwise carelessly left open to make sitting down easier. None of them took on the appearance of prim and cordial space explorers ready to make first contact with a new species.
“Diplomatic posture two also means standard uniforms,” commended St. John disapprovingly while looking around the bridge with a frown. “We need to look professional.”
“Uniforms?” grumbled Doctor Yezbeck from the science station, momentarily glancing at his own loose knit shirt emblazoned with colorful tropical pictograms. “I'm supposed to be retired.”
“Consider yourself temporarily re-activated,” St. John ordered. “If we're going to do this, we're going to do it by the book. Full first contact protocols. There should be uniform patterns in the garment replicator. While it's nice down there now, we've got about four hours before that nearby blue dwarf rises, and once that happens, it's going to get really hot on the surface. I want you back aboard the ship before then. Any questions?”
As with the discussion about the Prime Directive earlier, St. John scanned the faces of his officers and found no dissenting opinion.
“Okay then,” he dismissed them. “Good luck, and I hope you find John Carter.”
Location: Transporter Room 5, deck 14, USS Republic nee Asgard
As ordered, the four officers reported to the transporter room fully prepped for a diplomatic away mission. Like their ovalized combadges, the only Starfleet uniform patterns they could find in the ships garment replicators were the old-style spandex jumpsuits from the early 2360s. The tightly-fit collar-less one-piece suits were stylized in a two-tone hue, with a black lower torso giving way to the branch color around the mid-torso that included the sleeves and chest area, all before terminating again to black across the shoulders where only a single strand of colored piping flowed along the upper collar bone. There was no all-black pattern available in the garment replicator to denote the Intelligence branch of Starfleet, so each officer wore jumpsuits that denoted the branch colors they served in prior to joining the fleet's covert operations division. Saal, of course, wore a medical teal-blue jumpsuit, sporting the one-hollow and two-full pips of his final rank of lieutenant commander prior to retirement. Sheila Anderson and Chief Petty Officer Towe aka Deuce each wore mustard yellow, with Sheila sporting the double-pip rank of full lieutenant, while Deuce was forced to clip to his collar a single hollow-pip to denote his enlisted rank. Theo, on the other hand, had no other branch of service prior to Intelligence, and therefore, had to default to the burgundy red command branch for his jumpsuit, sporting the same three pips as Saal to denote his co-equal rank of lieutenant commander.
The old-fashioned landing party scene was almost comical as the officers filed into the room, so much so that Petty Officer Louise Clayborne, who was manning the transporter controls, couldn't help but snicker as the four passed through the door wearing the quaint yet audacious uniforms of yesteryear.
“What?” she chuckled to an annoyed Lieutenant Sheila Anderson. “No mini-skirt?”
For her part, Sheila looked as if she was going to punch Clayborne. “When this mission is over, I'm ERASING this stupid uniform pattern from the computer,” she exclaimed sourly as she marched uncomfortably up the steps onto the transporter platform. She tugged and pulled at the tight-fitting jumpsuit after locking her phaser and tricorder into their respective holsters. “I haven't looked this ridiculous since wearing a grapevine around my body for a stupid Betazed ceremony seven years ago.”
“Don't worry, Sheila,” chided Deuce as he stepped onto the transporter pad next to the lieutenant. “Louise is just upset that she's not coming with us. Besides, every time she's transporter chief at a newly-discovered primitive planet, she always gets the same urge.”
“That being?” the amused petty officer replied from the transporter console.
“To beam up a random native, shout 'boo', then quickly beam them back,” Deuce said slyly. “Admit it, Louise: You're just one day of boredom away from dressing up like these indigenous people's version of Satan and having everyone down there cowering at your feet.”
“You know me too well,” she replied back playfully while dialing in the beam-down coordinates.
“Keep a lock on us,” Theo struck a more serious tone. “We're not sure what we'll run into down there.”
“Don't worry,” Louise Clayborne acknowledged. “I've got your back in case things go south.”
As the veil of transporter energy faded, there were gasps of awe and intrigue among the gathered crowd of blue-skinned aliens. They whispered nervously among themselves as the four humanoids looked around at their new surroundings, their skin tones varying from brown to pink, and wearing uniforms of dual-tone primary colors. The newcomers took no hostile action, and only scanned the crowd with their white pupil-filled eyes. The crowd parted to make room between the strangers and the formidable, high-ranking warrior woman who was clearly their leader. She stood commandingly with her arms crossed, her sword hanging at her side, and her blue muscular legs spread in a solid combat stance. Clearly, she was waiting for the foreigners to make the first move. As if silently accepting the invitation to confer, the four uniformed individuals walked slowly up to the battle princess in a non-hostile demeanor, with the leading man in the red and black uniform raising his arm in greeting. He was about to speak when the blue alien woman chose to break the ice first.
“You are Starfleet?” she asked very clearly in Terran, though with an exotic accent bleeding through.
“Yes,” Theo “Doug Forrest” Carter replied with surprise. It was clear that the woman already knew something about them, so it made him even more hesitant to speak his next words, as he was effectively erasing the past few turbulent years of his life and pressing the reset button on his Starfleet career.
“I'm… Lieutenant Commander Doug Forrest of the Starship Republic…” he greeted her. “This is Doctor Yezbeck, Lieutenant Anderson, and Chief Towe.”
“I am Dadjinn,” she introduced herself, her Terran becoming more broken, but still understandable. “This is Zharon and Bah-Ki.”
Forrest was about to ask another question when a low, oscillating hum of miniature anti-grav plates came to his ears. At first, it was in the distance, but became louder within seconds. Soon he spotted a humanoid figure in the sky, flying towards them and making wide, corkscrew somersaults in mid-air as it came closer. The arrival of the aerobatic newcomer caused everyone's head to turn, and forced the Starfleet crew to shield their eyes to get a better look.
“Who's that?” Forrest asked with puzzlement.
“That?” the alien woman returned, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. “THAT is John Carter of Mars…”
<tag = Carter>
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