<U.S.S Republic, Patrolling the Neutral Zone. Stardate: Unknown>
John Carter winced as the annoying but effective buzz of his alarm filled his cabin, and reminded him that 0530 comes whether one wants it to or not.
He rolled over and slowly stretched out his arm, expecting Shannon Harris to be next to him, but she wasn't. John craned his neck and opened one eye in a vain attempt to remain both asleep and not. No luck. Shannon wasn't in bed.
“John?” Shannon's Australian accented alto called out from the refresher unit. Even over the buzz of the sonic shower, she could hear the alarm. “You can't just lounge around in bed. It's time to get up.”
“Ugh…” The noise that escaped Carter's lips wasn't exactly a word, and Shannon wasn't sure it was human, but lately, she'd come to terms with the fact that John Thelonius Carter was NOT a morning person.
Once the shower cycle concluded, Shannon stepped out from behind the privacy screen and stepped over to the replicator unit built into the wall of what passed for John's dining room. Galaxy Class starships were famously roomy, but John had always spent time on smaller ships throughout his career. As Executive Officer of Republic, Carter could have requested larger quarters. In fact, the floor plan he had now was at Kim Roth's insistence, and over his explicit objection. It was larger than he needed, but… Shannon Harris noted with no small amount of satisfaction, for two people, it was quite cozy. “Coffee, Arabica, double-double.” Shannon said. There was a soft 'swish' as the replicator complied. Soon, the fragrant aroma of virtual coffee filled the Martian XO's quarters. “John!” Shannon called back. “Get up. Coffee's on.”
For whatever reason, Carter was finding it difficult to focus. It was true, he hated mornings, but his over-developed sense of responsibility, to say nothing of the ribbing he'd get from Victor Virtus was usually enough to get him moving. Today though, something was off.
Shannon let a few long moments tick by as Carter refused to move. Forgoing her normal routine; after all getting dressed could wait for a few minutes, Republic's counselor moved over to John's work station and slipped his duty jacket off of the back of his chair. With a firm heave and just enough English to land the jacket squarely on Carter's chest, Shannon called out. “John! No more time! You've got to wake up!”
The loud shout from Harris and the unexpected assault by part of his uniform shocked John Carter to consciousness, and he sat bolt upright in bed, barely registering Harris' stark naked form in front of him. “Grozit Shannon,” he cursed. “What's your problem?”
Across the room, Shannon Harris leaned forward as she kept yelling. “John Thelonius Carter!” She called out, “If you don't wake up RIGHT NOW, you're going to DIE!”
The scene shifted in Carter's mind, and the familiar surroundings of the former USS Republic were replaced by the spiraling mix of blue sky, and alien, red earth, dotted with strange shapes as fierce, winged creatures seemed to spin, wheel and dive, in a dance at least as chaotic as Carter's rapid fall toward the ground.
<Planet Garsol, Somewhere in the Delta Quadrant; Approx. 7 months ago.>
“GAH!” Dadjinn let out a primal scream as she completed a three-hundred-sixty arc, ending in the satisfying 'sqick' of a flier's head being separated from its body. “Push!” She called out to the assembled fighters. “Push them to the rock!” She turned to square her shoulder against another scurrying opponent, desperate to take to the air.
Next to the savage sword-wielder, Bah-Ki was more terrified than exhilarated, but he knew that next to Dadjinn was probably the safest place on the planet. He hefted the long spear that was his weapon of choice, and pushed forward with the cadre to advance to the cliff face of the mesa that was the fliers primary nest.
It had taken weeks, and four more sorties by John Carter and his amazing technology which had brought the fight to Garsol's invaders, and shown the winged carnivores that the skies were no longer safe. As the animals began to realize that their prey was biting back, and that THEY themselves were now the hunted, something had changed.
Where the fliers had once been an unstoppable swarm, sweeping over territory like a grizzly fog, now there were holes. Parts of the swarm were missing, and as a result, confusion amongst the collective began to spread. Unlike ants, bees, or even the Borg, the invaders of Garsol had no single, guiding intellect. There was no leader. Instead, they behaved more like a flock of birds, or a school of fish, wherein a number of factors contribute to a majority of the mass taking the same action. The result can look like directed action when in reality, the “decision” was one of stimulus or perceived efficiency.
After his second flight against the fliers, John Carter had begun to suspect the nature of the fliers' behavior, and that meant that, rather than having to fight for each square meter of the planet, a few surgical strikes should change the calculus, and simply make the planet not worth the effort for the pterosaurs to hold.
At this moment, it would appear that Carter's hypothesis was correct. Unfortunately, this day was also shaping up to be his last.
Perched high above the fray of this final push, Zharon followed John Carter's dizzying fall by looking through an exquisitely crafted spyglass that had originally been used for astronomical observation. The hand polished lenses were wrapped in the heavy leather hide of one of the many herbivores native to Garsol, who's numbers had been decimated in the fliers original assault. The case was held together with exquisite brass rivets, each hand-crafted and expertly placed.
Zharon had been careful to preserve the spyglass through the long years of the fliers occupation of his home, and once Carter had proved that the natives could go on the offensive, the older scientist had been proud to act as a forward observer and strategist. Now though, he was wishing by all the Gods that he wasn't seeing what was taking place. The planet's savior, John Carter, the “Warlord of Mars” (Though no Garsolan would call him that to his face) had made good on his word to take the fight to the enemy, burning hundreds of the flying beasts to ash, and causing scores more to plummet to the ground from less-powerful shots which tore wings, or shattered bone. And on the ground, Dadjinn and her Harrowers would wait in ambush, using speed, ferocity and cunning to strike and kill as many of the fallen beasts as they could, and then disappear back into the shifting sands.
All had gone well. This was just another day, another bold mission, until a few seconds ago; when Carter had rocketed off into a dense flight of the invaders, and met one of the more clumsy fliers nearly head-on. As Carter slipped into unconsciousness, Zharon watched in horror as the visitor's hand relaxed, causing power to stop flowing to the miraculous flying harness. “No, no, NO!” Zharon spat as he watched Carter plummet. “Not when we're so close!” He looked up to Garsol's nearest moon, where it was said that the spirit of creation resided, and let out a fervent prayer. “Please, dear Mother,” he pleaded. “Don't take him from us when our deliverance is so close at hand!”
It should never be said that the universe does not posses a sense of humor, or at least irony, for… had Zharon studied the moon he now prayed to a bit closer, he would have known that it was THAT VERY BODY which was the home to Garsol's terrible invaders. The migration from moon to planet had been made possible by a mathematically infinitesimal chance that the near moon was just close enough to be snared inside Garsol's atmosphere, and the resulting, near impossible “air bridge” had caused the fliers to sense Garsol's existence. Knowing of fresh hunting grounds, the instinct of the fliers took hold, and they took the chance to expand their territory.
Garsol's religion held that the two moons were manifestations of male and female aspects of creation. In truth, while Garsolans were sexually dimorphic, their gods were not. Instead, the alien race which did, from time to time look in on the affairs of Garsol was not only non-gendered, but also, similar to the Bajoran Prophets, existed in a non-linear, trans-dimensional state. And what no one on Garsol knew was that years ago, a pique of curiosity by one of those 'Gods' would cause the slightest change in the gravitational constant of the universe, making the shift of Garsol's moon, and the resulting devastation not only possible, but a certainty. Had Zharon known that, perhaps his prayer to his benefactors would have been very different indeed.
<Klingon Listening Post Gamma Six, in orbit around Kavok. Present day>
“The event is 6000 kelikams and closing at near light speed!” The panicked voice of Ay'Not of the house of Bruush cracked, more as a sign of his youth, than from fear. All around him, other members of the Ministry of Science, who traditionally staffed sensor posts like Gamma Six were trying to make sense of what their screens said was coming.
“LOOK AGAIN, P'TAQ!” Shift Captain K'Taag cried out. “It CAN'T be a stellar event… because the STAR IS COREWARD FROM US!”
Another barking voice, a strong soprano, rang out. “Readings are CONFIRMED, Shift Captain!” a female officer said. “Stellar ejecta. Massive radiation and plasma currents!” A few nervous beats went by. “Impact with defense screens in seven… six… five…four…three…two…”
Sensor screens went black.
As the lights came up inside the Situation Room, deep beneath the office of the President of the United Federation of planets, all of the members of Vladimir Kristoff Kostya's advisory council looked on in amazement. Finally, after a long beat, Fakunaku Kaito cleared his throat. “That was… real time.” He said to the observers. “The Klingons don't know we have it…”
“And more importantly, don't know we did it.” Said Ben Maxwell with a chuckle. His levity was short-lived, as President Kostya shot him a scolding look, like a parent would give a precocious child who'd just dared speak the truth when adults would rather he did not.
“Flaws in Klingon Intelligence not withstanding,” came the too-calm voice of Sutek of Vulcan, head of Federation Intelligence. “Forward deployment of the Iconian portal is clearly a success.” He said calmly. “The transmat relays are too small to be detected, and… as this data clearly shows, they have neither the time, nor sufficient technology to mount a credible defense once “Star Lance” is active.”
In point of fact, the testing of Kostya's Iconian weapon, at the time code-named “Apollo” had happened some months ago. However, since then, some improvements were made. The process was more autonomous, and this meeting was the reveal of the project's existence to the rest of Kostya's advisory council.
Kostya slapped his hand triumphantly on the polished black glass of the conference table. “We've done it.” He said pridefully. “We've won.”
“Peace through strength.” Maxwell added. “Just as we always wanted. About damn time.”
There were a series of approving nods from the assemblage, but the festive mood was broken by Lilian Gaynor, the senior most member of the Federation Diplomatic Service in attendance. “Of course, we all want that, Mr. President.” She smiled, but… I'm concerned about operational security WITHIN Starfleet.” She leaned back, scanning the faces of the other members around the table. “Some Captains are already balking about our home-rule policies…” she cautioned. “And if word of this weapon got out,” she turned her gaze to Kaito. “I'm worried about a full-on mutiny.”
Fakunaku bristled. “There hasn't been a recorded mutiny in Starfleet in nearly hundred years!” He shot back.
Gaynor straightened in her chair. “Excelsior, The Baku, Captain McKenzie Calhoun.” She said dryly. Need I go on, Admiral?”
“Your point Miss Gaynor?” The President finally said while Kaito was trying to think up a rejoinder.
“My point is that Starfleet is full of THOUSANDS of Federation citizens who…”
“Who know how to follow orders.” Kostya said.
“Who might not like it when they realize that we can essentially hold the galaxy at gunpoint!”
“Oh please.” Maxwell shot back. “As long as we've got the biggest gun, the Captains will fall in line. They want the same thing we do.” He explained. “Order, control. Discipline.”
“Until they don't.” Gaynor advised curtly. “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?”
<Personal residence of Malia, Press Secretary to the Federation President. Seattle, Washington. Sol III>
Malia sat up in bed, wrapping the Denobulan silk sheet around her torso to cover herself. “I know you're going because I asked you to,” Malia called out to the guest preparing to leave her foyer, “but now I don't want you to leave.”
“You know I'd stay if I could,” Malia's guest answered back. “But I've already put this off for too long. If I don't go now…”
As her guest spoke, Malia gracefully rose from her bed and smoothly moved toward the door so as to offer a proper send-off. “I know,” the violet-eyed alien said to Leah Warner. “If you don't go now, you'll never leave.” She agreed.
Leah opened the door and hefted her travel bag onto her shoulder. “You said it yourself,” she commented. “I've got work to do.” Warner leaned in, giving the tall Deltan a kiss on the cheek. “Besides… this way you can give me a proper welcome when I get back.” Then, the reporter stepped out the door.
A moment later, Malia was back in her bedroom, going over her to-do list for the day, which thankfully no longer included hand-holding Leah Warner. For months, since making her initial offer to the former ISN reporter, Malia had said all the right things, made furtive glances, and finally resorted to her species' peculiar biology to 'convince' the half-Betazed reporter that an imbedded stint on board USS Republic would be a good idea. At first, even Malia, who hated to lose almost as much as her boss, had been reluctant to push Warner so far, but Kostya had been insistent. “By any means necessary.” He'd ordered her. And so, she complied; seducing an already vulnerable empath into doing what the president wanted.
Amongst Deltans, that sort of biological manipulation was a violation of the most personal and severe kind. One of the most abhorrent crimes known to their society. However, Malia found it easy to console herself. Leah Warner was many things. She was beautiful, charismatic, useful, and… at the end of the day; Malia had to concede. She was just another alien.
<Planet Garsol, Somewhere in the Delta Quadrant. 7 Months ago>
John Carter clenched his fist as hard as he could and strained to turn his body, using what little agency he could find to try and control his fall. He splayed out his limbs to create drag and stabilize his tumbling just as his make-shift flying harness once again hummed to life. For an anxious moment he hung upright in the air as the counter-grav of his harness made him weightless. He checked the charge on his phaesr, dialed the setting down to heavy stun to maximize his remaining shots, and soared again back into the sky. As he moved, a cheer went up from the advancing Garsolan forces, and the final push was on.
There is still some debate what REALLY made the fliers leave Garsol. Some say that whatever forces brought them simply called them back. Others will swear to whichever Gods might be listening that the natives had finally made the invaders suffer such terrible losses that the swarm lost cohesion, and fled for their lives to a world that was forever out of reach.
Still others will claim that such a thing never happened at all. That the story of the man who fell from the sky was just another legend. A tale of monsters and heroes, meant to teach and inspire.
However, according to those who were there, the planet Garsol was freed not by gods, or by fate, but by the strength of arms, the courage of hearts, the sharp bite of steel, and the unshakable certainty that a man can fly. And the universal truth that, when fire rains down from the heavens, it strikes where John Carter of Mars tells it to.
# # #
It had been weeks since the last flier attack, and even Dadjinn was warming to the idea that Garsol's occupation might be over. She even, reluctantly, agreed to attend the ceremony of thanks which Bah-Ki had arranged. While the other Garsolans in attendance were happy to set down their swords and spears, Dadjinn found that she missed the weight at her hip when she didn't wear her sword, and she kept her distance from the other fighters when as the ceremony was concluding.
In the silence and warm firelight, John Carter stepped closer to the woman who had once sworn to kill him, and looked on as a one-time scientist turned priest began to give his people their soul back. “Bah-Ki's in his element.” Carter offered.
“So it would seem.” Dadjinn agreed softly.
“You went out on patrol again last night.” he continued.
“Did I wake you?” the soldier asked.
Carter shook his head. “No, but… you didn't have to go alone.”
Dadjinn turned to look the pale-skinned alien in his eye. “I… think I did.” She said. “I don't think I know WHY…” Her voice became soft as the placed a hand on the Martian's shoulder. “I just feel like… I need to be out there. Watching.” She stepped closer, resting her head against Carter's cheek. “What is it you say?”
“Just in case?”
Dadjinn nodded. “Just in case.”
“Fair enough”. Carter agreed.
# # #
“Tell me why we're doing this again?” Carter asked Bah-Ki as the two friends watched their mad scientist at work. “Zharon wants to try and send another message to the Gods.” The young man said.
“Isn't that your job now?” Carter asked Bah-Ki.
Zharon grunted, calling back to the pair as his machine once again sparked to life. “After all this time, you STILL doubt that our Gods are real?” The old man chided. “They SENT YOU to us, Carter. Just as they promised.”
“Perhaps,” Bah-Ki interjected, “he would have come without your machine, Zharon. Isn't it enough that we believe?”
“Pfft!” The scientist snorted. “Fine then.” Zharon barked. “Let the heathen send the message to…” the older mad waved his arms over his head, “whatever… whoever is out there.”
Zharon continued to work for a few moments when Carter spoke up. “Deal.” he said with a smirk.
“What?” Said both Bah-Ki and Zharon in concert.
“Can you send something short? Just a few pulses… but I need them in rhythm.” Carter explained. “Long and short?”
“I can…” Zharon said with a raised brow. “But… why?”
“Call it a hunch”.
<Starfleet Communications (Monitoring of Data Secured) Sector Headquarters, Present Day>
Every Starfleet scientist (and most engineers) knew that computers were fast, simple, and tireless. Victor Xavier Virtus was two of those things, and used his extensive knowledge of… everything, to make up the difference. So, it only took a few hours for a series of innocuous pulses to cycle through the program that Republic's one-time Chief Engineer had running in the background of EVERY fleet computer network designed to detect exotic emissions that he could access. At 0330 local, that program rendered a simple message for Victor Virtus that displayed in his message cue as an extrapolation of ancient Morse code. It read simply:
CMDR. John Carter Educational Outreach Officer U.S.S. Enterprise, NX-01(M)