<Planet Garsol, Delta Quadrant, Approx. 13 months ago>
“How many of these damn things are there?” John Carter asked the question to no one as ANOTHER of the strange, winged Pterodian creatures that had descended onto his shuttle fell before the last volley of phaser fire.
John barely noted the smell of charred flesh that hung heavy in the shuttle's cabin, but he knew it was there. To save his weapon's charge, John had adjusted the phaser down to it's lower-powered heat setting, after it became clear that vaporizing the first two monsters was not enough to discourage others from investigating the shuttle crash. In truth, Carter had counted at least ten creatures to try and force their way into the shuttle's interior, and though the sun was getting lower in the sky, he could make out wheeling shadows overhead. He'd assumed the creatures, whatever they ACTUALLY were, could fly, and common sense told him they were meat eaters; well, that, and the razor sharp maw of glistening teeth that they each boasted. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he supposed he should be curious about all sorts of things, but just now, staying alive took precedence.
“Maybe it's a good thing there's no one else around,” he supposed. “This has got to be the worst first contact scenario ever!”
After another, and ANOTHER of the creatures was burned down by Carter's counter-attack, their advance finally seemed to cease. From outside the shuttle, there was a loud, billowing cry, and the sound of rushing air. Then, after a long moment…Nothing.
John held his breath as he counted to thirty. Still nothing. He let out a heavy sigh of relief, then straightened to his full height. Carter groaned slightly as he stood up, seeing now that the entryway was half choked off with charred corpses of…whatever they were. “Sprock.” He spit out, as he regarded the bodies.
A hundred years ago, during the heyday of Carter's mentor, the legendary James T. Kirk, Starfleet was thought by some to be a brutal, expansionist, imperialist armada. Spreading the Federation's orthodoxy in immensely powerful starships under the guise of 'Peaceful Exploration'. In fact, it was not uncommon for Academy cadets to use the phrase: “We come in peace; Shoot to kill.” in reference to Kirk and his contemporaries. Carter, of course, held a different view, having had many late night conversations with an older, more reflective, albeit holographic Kirk. Indeed, given the context of the time, when the Klingon Empire was running roughshod over huge swathes of the Alpha Quadrant actually BEING a brutal, expansionist, imperialist regime, it was hard for John to understand how anyone could see the Federation and the Klingon Empire as anything approaching similar. Now though, as he looked at the carnage that one phaser on its lowest lethal setting had caused, Carter wondered if those long-dead critics might have had a point.
The thought didn't last long as Carter looked over toward where the cabin's system status board used to be. John hadn't noticed, but during the siege, one of the creatures must have torn into it, reducing whatever valuable circuits that might have been in there to so much silicon dust, including the integrated Universal Translator. Overcome by frustration, and the collapse of the adrenaline rush that the attack had brought on, Carter slumped back down, setting himself against the flight cabin bulkhead, and tried very hard not to think how bad off he really was.
Hours had passed since Dadjinn had been roused from sleep by the booming arrival of something from the sky, and now, as she and Bah-Ki moved as swiftly as they dared; weaving in and out of sparse rocky coverage, she wondered if she had really seen what she had seen. Ever since the invasion of the fliers, the story of Zharon's Holy Visitation had been shared. Even as she thought of it, Dadjinn felt her stomach twist 'idiot' she thought to herself. 'Superstitious idiot.' And yet, there was the proof, right in front of her. Something had gouged a huge scar into the canyon floor, and something had swatted the mighty fliers out of the sky like they were insects. In fact, for the first time Dadjinn could remember, the remarkable attack on the fliers had succeeded in driving the airborne hunters off from their prey. Even on their best day, Dadjinn and her hunters could only manage to take down a lone scout, or straggler, and that only happened when one of her men would volunteer to be bait for the trap. Odds of surviving that trap were, at best, even.
As much as she didn't want to admit it, this seemed to be a day long-promised, come at last.
Dadjinn paused at the rim of the crater that marked the flared end of the strange object's crash onto Garsol. She reached out, and picked up a charred piece of wreckage, turning it over in her hand. “Hmm.” She pondered. “Metal, I think.”
A few moments later, Bah-Ki came padding up beside her. The young man looked nervously at the sky. “They should be all over us.” He remarked. “But they're not.”
Dadjinn nodded grimly. “And I'm very interested in why.” With that, she drew her curved sword from the scabbard at her hip, silently cursing as the blade made it's familiar high-pitched ring. She crouched low, and inched forward a few steps, then looked back and motioned for Bah-Ki to keep low as well. The woman moved with practiced silence up to the edge of the odd metal box, then slowly tilted her head to peer into the large opening in its side.
John Carter leaned his head back against the bulkhead with a frustrated 'thump'. “There has to be a way out of this.” He repeated. “There has to be.”
John was running down the list of priorities in his head. Step one, survival. He'd recovered some water and the reclamation kit from the flight cabin. He looked again to the pile of charred fliers piled halfway up the hatch. “Right. Food.” He admitted grimly. “Check. Next step is to get the lay of the land I guess. Make the best of it.” He was about to get up, when a flash of movement by the hatchway caught his attention. Carter drew his phaser and aimed as the face of a blue-skinned humanoid peered at him from around the corner.
“Well Sprock me.” He said, as he felt an unconscious smirk cross his face.
Dadjinn blinked at what she saw. It looked like a man, but it was ghostly pale, almost pink or red. The head wasn't quite right either, and she felt her face twist into a scowl as she noted the distinct lack of points on the creature's ears. In a swift, clean motion, she drew her sword and leveled it at the stranger. “Who are you?!” She yelled. “How have you done this?”
John couldn't help but smile as he watched the lithe creature move. Humanoid and clearly female, (as noted by her being covered around the chest and waist in what looked to Carter to be thin silk or cotton) and perhaps distantly vulcanoid, judging by the swept ear points. Not only was she beautiful, John couldn't help but notice that; but she also well-armed.
On instinct alone, John lowered his phaser, and clipped it back on his belt. Then, he help up both hands. “Easy, easy.” he cautioned, as the warrior woman yelled at him. The language didn't sound remotely familiar. John stepped back slightly to try and create space between the two of them, and hopefully appear a little less threatening.
A few moments of silence passed before Dadjinn repeated her questions.
“Sorry, lady.” Carter answered. “Can't understand a word.”
A few seconds later, Bah-Ki peered around the corner, looking into the fast-crowding shuttle. “Yelling at him won't help, Dadjinn.” He advised. “I don't think he understands you.”
The female looked back and forth between Carter, and her companion. “Is he an idiot?” She asked Bah-Ki.
“How should I know?” he shot back. “For all we know he's…a giant vegetable or something.”
Dadjinn rolled her eyes and let out an exasperated sigh. “No plant would build this metal box, or char our enemies like that.”
“Perhaps not,” Bah-Ki agreed, as he stepped inside. “But we shouldn't assume he's friendly either.”
Dadjinn nodded. “If he moves, I'll kill him.”
Bah-Ki shook his head. “Dadjinn, that won't help either.” The youth stood straight and touched his chest as he looked at the pink-skinned alien.
“BAH-KI.” He said a little too loud, and a little too slow.
Carter couldn't help but smile. “Huh.” he commented. “That's what that feels like.” The Martian officer lowered his right hand, pointing back at himself. “John.” he said. “John Carter.”
“Zhahn?” Dadjinn blurted out loud Then she looked at Bah-Ki. “Is that really what he just said?”
“Uh, apparently.” he confirmed “But I don't think it was on purpose.”
“I hope not.” Dadjinn said with a wink.
Carter tilted his head. “I'm…missing something. Aren't I?” Carter admitted.
Bah-Ki seemed undeterred as he pointed to the woman with the sword. “DADJINN.” He again said forcefully.
Carter nodded, pointing at her. “Day-Zhinn.” He confirmed. Then he looked to the young man. “Bucky.”
The youth nodded. “Close enough, I guess.” Bah-Ki said to his companion. “What do you want to do with him?”
“Do?” She asked, hesitant to take her eyes off the stranger.
“Well we can't leave him here. The sun's going down, if we're going to move, we should do it now.”
Dadjinn's eyes narrowed. “We don't know anything about him yet. Can't take the chance.”
“Well I'm not going to let you just kill him.” Bah-Ki countered. We should take him to the caves. Maybe Zharon can…“
“Zharon can HANG for all I care!”
Bah-Ki reached out, placing his hand on Dad jinn's shoulder. “We need to tell him! Don't you understand? We're looking at another alien. That means Zharon was right; about everything.”
“Look, if you kids are going to fight,” Carter interjected, “I'll just wait here.” Out of habit, Carter dropped his hand and shifted his weight, but the movement was enough to spook the sword-wielder.
“NO!” Dadjinn yelled as she stepped forward, resting the point of her blade against Carter's shoulder.
“Woah, woah, woah…hold on!” Carter shot back.
“Dadjinn WAIT!” Bah-Ki cautioned as he moved to hold her back. He reached out, grasping at her shoulder, pulling her around to the left. The two Garsolans stared at each other for a tense moment, when there was an unholy shriek.
“DOWN!” Carter yelled. With his left hand, he snatched his phaser from his belt. His right hand snaked out to wrap around Dad jinn's waist, pulling her closer to him. John pressed the firing stud and another lance of fiery energy raced out from the weapon, striking the late-arriving pteredon who'd gone unnoticed in the conversation before.
The creature wailed as the phaser bolt hit him in the chest, and the charged energy began to vaporize his flesh. In an instant, the creature was gone.
A moment later, it was over. John raised his weapon while the two blue-skinned aliens looked on for a moment. Carter looked to his right to address Dadjinn. “You're welcome.”
Her eyes flashed as reality came back into focus and she squirmed free of Carter's grasp. “She stepped back and looked at Bah-Ki. “Help him take what he needs.” She said coldly. “But if anything happens, it's on your head.”
The walk through the canyons and rocky crags didn't take as long as John might have figured. Luckily, the pair of Garsolans had allowed Carter to take supplies with him. What little he could salvage, he managed to fit into the beat up travel case that had survived the fall to the planet, along with Carter himself. The case held seven ration packs, one spare energy pack for the type IV phaser, a personal water converter, solar charger, a standard-issue Starfleet subspace beacon, and the life-support belt which John had originally stowed there.
Despite the seriousness of the situation, Carter resisted his natural inclination to talk. Normally, he'd be spouting quips and sarcastic observations, either to gauge his adversaries temper, or find the right buttons to press, or to see what kind information they might give up without realizing it. All those situations though, depended on speaking, or at the very least understanding a common language, so John was taking this time to try something new. He shut up and listened.
Along the way, Dadjinn's combative attitude continued, while Bah-Ki was left the task of leading the way back to the network of caves and tunnels that served as the new home for the survivors of Garsol. It was clear to Carter that the sword-wielding woman didn't trust him, and along the walk, she would give him a shove to underscore who was in control. Along the way, the two traded comments, and Carter was guessing that he'd gotten the pair's names right.
With the sun now down, the cold was settling in on the desert floor, and John was grateful for the red duty tunic he was still wearing. One complaint about that style of duty uniform was that, while they certainly looked dashing and dynamic, they were uncomfortable to work in on a starship, which was the reason, John suspected, that the style didn't last too long.
Wind had begun whipping through the canyon as the trio made there way up a narrow cut in the wall. Snaking up the sides of the cliff with more than a little caution, John noticed how swiftly and surely both his companions seemed to move. 'Right. Seems they're used to this. Wonder if this is their environment of choice, or'…
Another shove to John's back brought him back to the situation at hand. He looked back with an air of frustration and anger, which quickly gave way to a pleasant “No, that's fine. You just go right ahead and shove me off the cliff.”
For a moment, it looked as though Dadjinn might do just that, but instead, she waved Carter on with her sword. Ahead on the path, Bah-Ki was waiting at a well-concealed fissure that likely lead deeper into the rock face.
“You should have sent for me immediately!” Zharon bellowed as he followed Bah-Ki down the tunnel.
“There wasn't time.” the youth explained. “Besides, we didn't know what we were walking into. We still don't.”
“All the more reason you should have gotten ME instead of that blood-thirsty mad woman!” The bearded man ranted.
“That mad woman has managed to keep us alive, may the Gods bless her.” Bah-Ki shot back.
“Yes, yes, but…” Zharon stopped short. “Wait…you haven't talked about the Gods in months. What's happened?”
“I saw something that changed my mind today.”
The pair walked in silence through the tunnels until they came to the cavern where Dadjinn was keeping a weary eye on their newly found visitor. As soon as Zharon caught sight of Carter, he grinned. “Oh! By the Gods, this is WONDERFUL!” the old scientist beamed. He darted up to John and reached out a slender finger, pressing it to the human's chest.
“Hey!” Carter scowled. Then he poked the old man back.
This did nothing more than encourage Zharon.
“Ha! Highly intelligent, naturally.”
“That's debatable.” Dadjinn scoffed, taking the opportunity to sheath her sword and walk over to the cave entrance. “He hasn't done much at all. Just sat there…watching.”
“Hmm” Zharon looked John over again. “Still, he seems outwardly similar to us, which might point to some distant common ancestor. Scriptures tell us the Gods visited many worlds besides Garsol.”
“Did you mention his name?” Dadjinn asked Bah-Ki.
“He told you his NAME?!” Zharon asked.
“Not…exactly.” Bah-Ki offered reluctantly.
“What was it?” Zharon pressed. “What did he call himself?”
“Zhan”. Dadjinn offered.
“For him.” She agreed.
Undaunted, Zharon clapped his hands together. “Still. He is wondrous.” The scientist paused, then stepped around Carter to get a look at him from all sides. “And this is how you found him?”
“More or less.” Bah-Ki confirmed. “He brought some things from the cocoon he fell from the sky in, but he wont let us see them.”
“No…not yet, I should think.” Then something caught Zharon's eye. He stood still for a moment, looking at Carter's belt buckle. “Wait…WIAT!” I've see this!”
“You what?” Dadjinn asked.
The old man spun on his heels and sprung down the tunnel. “Bring him to my workshop!”
Dadjinn hurried after the old man, leaving Bah-Ki alone with Carter. John simply threw up his hands.
“Well, come on then.” The young man said, resigned to his new role of alien-watcher for the night. He gestured for Carter to follow, which John did.
After a few moments, the pair reached Zharon's 'workshop'. Bits of metal, and half-finished things, the purposes of which Dadjinn could only guess at, were strewn about the cramped space. Zharon had just pushed some components aside to reveal a large metal object when Bah-Ki and Carter entered the room.
“There! You see?” Zharon pointed to the side of the metallic cylinder. “I knew I'd seen this shape before!”
Barely through the doorway, John blinked. “Grozit! You've got to be kidding!” He cursed.
The outburst caused the three Garsolans to look back at John. “You know it?” Zharon asked.
John stepped forward and knelt beside what he knew to be a type 37 Subspace relay beacon, with it's serial number, and the all-too-familiar Starfleet delta emblazoned on the casing. Carter knelt down, pointed to his belt buckle, then pointed to the same symbol on the satellite. “Starfleet.” He said.
“What the Seven Hells is a Starfleet?”
(TO BE CONTINUED)
CMDR John Carter
Educational Outreach Officer
USS Enterprise, NX-01