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Location: Personal flier 'Aerosprite', Galorndon Core, Reman Neutral Zone
Timeframe: Present Day, HMS Republic universe
The flight deck of the Aerosprite was cramped when the three previous Romulan officers were manning it, but ever since Theo “Doug Forrest” Carter and and Saal Yezbeck commandeered it in the USS Republic universe, the ship's compliment became less crowded and more comfortable as the original designers intended. Truth be told, the ship was custom built to be a luxury yacht/courier for a high-ranking government official, not a special-operations rendition vehicle as the former owner had configured it to become for the past few years. Under that flight mode, the life support systems were strained to their limit with the six crew plus one prisoner, not to mention less spacious and more constricting, as the rooms and passageways were not intended to be brimming and bustling with so many crew. With respect to the flight deck, the three-seat front canopy console was more expansive when manned by only one person. However, as Theo completed work on the computer's programming for their convoluted flight plan to get home, his pensive expression did not reflect the increased opulence, and as the door slid open to allow Saal to enter the cockpit, his friend took note of Theo's apprehensiveness.
“You okay?” asked Saal, as he stood in front of the operations console to Theo's right.
With a heavy sigh, the former Starfleet intelligence agent looked out the window towards the roiling gray atmosphere of Galorndon Core below. Between random streaks of lightning, his thoughts fell to the subterranean base below the shrouded surface.
“Yeah,” Theo admitted, thinking back to the time they spent at the facility. “I just got this feeling like I'm never going to see her again.”
“If we're lucky, you won't,” Saal iterated, with a reassuring pat on the shoulder. “Remember, she's not YOUR Shelby.”
Still staring out the canopy, Theo allowed his mind to wander on the subject for one last moment before nodding his head in acceptance. “You all buttoned up back there?”
“Y'lair is giving John a pre-flight medical scan in the infirmary,” the doctor acknowledged. “He'll give him a sedative just before we begin our trip backwards through time.”
“IF we get that far…” added Theo
“Will you relax?” Saal exclaimed. “If we're lucky, this will be over in less than a few hours shiptime, and we'll be back home before you know it.”
“That's the most optimistic thing I've heard you say since we got here,” grumbled Theo in return.
“Republic to Aerosprite,” the subspace radio crackled to life. “We're ready to transit to the subspace compression anomaly. ETA approximately fifty-two minutes at warp eight-point-six. Take up position one thousand meters to our stern and prepare to receive our flight computer telemetry linkup. Warp speed in two minutes.”
“I'll be in the infirmary,” Saal announced, turning to leave the cockpit. “Good luck. We're all counting on you.”
As the door slid closed, Theo “Doug Forrest” Carter grimaced.
“No pressure…” he muttered sarcastically in reply.
Location: Somewhere in the Reman Neutral Zone
Timeframe: Approximately one hour later
The subspace compression anomaly was indeed small, as Vic described it. No more than a kilometer wide, the dark, swirling green quantum anomaly that once brought them to this universe had changed color to a subdued iridescent blue at the fringes, and coalesced around a spherical center less than five-hundred meters across. As the Aerosprite flew closer to the anomaly, the pale incandescent nucleus spun around an infinite abyss as whitish strands of energy spiraled away from it at the outer boundaries.
“Get set up for your downspin approach run,” the subspace radio in the cockpit registered with Vic's voice. “Engage the computer when you're exactly two-point-seven-one kilometers from the calculated center. The flight program will take over from there.”
“I know, I read the checklist!” replied Theo grouchily as he worked the controls over the subtle shimmies invoked by their proximity to the event horizon. “Stand by!”
Once Theo maneuvered the craft to the approximate position, he activated the Aerosprite's pre-programmed flight plan and released the controls. With a confident warble, the hybrid Romulan/Federation mainframe obediently and adeptly took command of the maneuvering systems, smoothing out the turbulence much to Theo's chagrin, and executing the approach sequence with mathematical precision.
Meanwhile, several kilometers away, the battle-worn Luna-Class HMS Republic dutifully activated a tractor beam, and locked onto the Aerosprite as part of the flight plan to keep the ship from falling closer to the event horizon. As the small craft was held aloft in a calculated tug-of-war between the Republic and the subspace compression anomaly, the gravimetric forces reduced the spaces between subatomic particles within the vessel's superstructure, as well as the contents therein. Within a few minutes, the Romulan ship was reduced in size to that of a photon torpedo casing, and the personnel inside smaller and less autonomous than lab mice. Fortunately for them, they did not perceive their shrinkage, and were carefully pulled from the event horizon by the Republic at precisely the size needed to enter the Iconian gateway a few sectors away.
“Status?” Vic called to Theo over the subspace comlink.
“Stand by,” the man formerly known as Doug Forrest replied after a moment. “You three okay down there?” he called over the intercom to the Aerosprite's infirmary.
“We didn't feel a thing,” the retired surgeon replied. “We're just sitting here waiting for your signal for time warp.”
“We're all good here, Vic,” Theo returned to the subspace radio. “Confirm our physical parameters?”
“One-point-seven-five meters wide, by one-point-two-three meters long, by zero-point-four-five meters in height.”
Theo blinked in comprehension, realizing that he felt no worse for the wear at the size reduction, and that they were indeed reduced to the correct size needed for the next leg of the trip. “Congratulations,” he lauded Vic with a touch of amazement in his voice. “It worked.”
In acknowledgement, Vic simply stated the next order of operations. “Stand by for a warp jump to the Iconian system.”
Location: Coordinates 227 mark 359, near the Reman Neutral Zone
Timeframe: Approximately two hours later
Onboard the HMS Republic, the bridge previously had only about a day of repairs at Joint Base Jarok, but it was enough to bring most of the command stations back to normal operation. Leon sat in the first officer's chair next to Vic, while Lieutenant Pakita worked the engineering station at the rear of the command center. At the front of the bridge, the Bajoran junior lieutenant known as Cail Jarin worked the Ops station, while the Caitian ensign M'Roww worked the helm.
“Geosynchronous orbit established above the Iconian gateway,” purred the feline voice from the helm.
“Standing by to establish the static warp bubble,” Pakita proclaimed from her control station in the rear.
“Now remember, Maria,” Vic added soberly over his shoulder to the acting First-Lady-Of-The-Engines. “The balance of anti-chronitons to mass of the Aerosprite must be kept in a narrow range. If we impart too much to the vessel on it's trajectory back to the planet while in time warp, we could accidentally throw them back to the Stone Age. Too little, and they could just end up right back here.”
“Understood,” she replied with confidence. “Antiproton flux chillers are at maximum. I won't let them pass the red line.”
“Excellent,” the ersatz commander acknowledged in relief, turning back to face the forward screen. “Commence static warp bubble.”
Outside, the HMS Republic's warp field parameter shimmered with speckled, rotating amber light, reminiscent of a thick swarm of fireflies on a hot tropical evening. The spectacle persisted as it reached an equilibrium, and back aboard the bridge, all sensors were reading in the green.
“Anti-chroniton flux nominal,” Pakita announced. “We're ready.”
“Aerosprite…” Vic pressed the communications button on his armrest. “Engage quantum inversion flight program Virtus-One at your convenience.”
Onboard the the diminutive Romulan vessel, Theo let go a tense sigh of nervousness at Vic's signal. He knew all too well that if the calculations were even a fraction off from the planned trajectory, they wouldn't live to see another day. He maneuvered the craft with the bow pointing towards the Iconian sun before calling down to the infirmary.
“Saal,” he beckoned over the intercom. “We're ready.”
“Understood,” the doctor responded. “We're sedating John now. He'll be completely unconscious in about ten seconds.”
“Acknowledged,” Theo closed the channel before returning to the subspace radio. “Republic, this is the Aerosprite. Commencing flight program Virtus-One.”
“Good luck, gentlemen.”
As the tiny ship propelled itself towards the distant sun, the computer signaled the increasing velocity at regular intervals as the deckplates started to reverberate ever-so-slightly.
“Warp five… warp six… warp seven,” the synthetic Romulan voice called out to no one in particular.
As the sun increased in size and intensity through the canopy, the normally transparent windshield automatically activated a glare-reducing electrostatic coating that attenuated the heightened luminosity. The deckplate reverberation continued to increase in magnitude.
“Warp eight… warp eight-point-five… warp nine…”
In a sudden mechanical clank, the normally retracted heat shields slid closed in front of the forward canopy as the thermal intensity of their proximity to the sun spiked into the thousands of Kelvins. He was on instruments now, watching the ever-growing circle of the Iconian sun increase in size on the main console monitor in front of him. The ship itself began vibrating erratically and violently, jarring Theo to the left, then to the right, then left again. Quickly, he slapped closed the lap restraints on his chair to keep from being bounced out of his seat.
“Warp nine-point-two… warp nine-point-three… warp nine-point-four…”
In a multitude of cascading alarms and alert beacons, consoles throughout the flight deck flared alive with orange and red danger klaxons as Theo felt a strange sensation in his gut. It spread out from the center of his chest and moved to envelop his whole body. As he looked around, tiny pinpricks of white light formed on every surface of his skin, as well as the machinery and instrumentation around him. The electronic annunciation itself began to distort as spacetime fractured around him.
“Waaaarppp nniiiinnee-poooiintt-seeevveeen… Waaaarppp nniiiinnee-poooiintt-eeeiigghhtt… Waaaaaarppp nniiiiiinnee-pooooiiintt-nniiiiiinnee…”
Outside, the Aerosprite's hull glowed a deep crimson hue as it's pre-programmed roll maneuver slowly turned the craft's belly perpendicular to the sun's surface while slipping through the yellowish-white corona. The course took the ship on a course past occasional solar flares that erupted angrily from the roiling sea of superheated gases below, as the heat shields surged with searing, white-hot plasma. At it's closest perigee approach, the computer initiated another well-executed counter-roll program, allowing the Aerosprite to follow the curvature around the star, slinging the vessel into a breakaway trajectory back towards the planet.
The ship was moving at such tremendous speed that it took less than a minute for it to reach the planet again after whipping around the star and exiting the chromosphere. As the heat from the sun quickly radiated away, the forward canopy heat shields once again threw themselves open to the blackness of space. The Iconian homeworld was only brief speck of light in the viewport before it grew to completely fill the canopy in less than five seconds. Continents could barely be discerned as the super-accelerated, miniaturized vessel zeroed in on it's minuscule target on the ground below. It was here where computer control was absolutely essential, for there was no organic being in existence who could pilot the craft with enough reaction time and precision to ensure correct alignment with the gateway on the surface. One picosecond off, and the Aerosprite would be nothing but micro-fragments at the bottom of a smoldering crater.
On the rocky terran below, nestled in the ruins of an ancient civilization, a glowing two-meter wide circle of energy rippled into existence perpendicular to the ground. Bound only by the perimeter of the metallic-hewn alien device, the shimmering veil of otherworldly light dutifully awaited use as ordered by the remote activation of the subspace dial-up sequence invented by Victor Virtus and Y'Lair. Super-accelerated by the Iconian sun's gravity, and charged with anti-chronitons from the HMS Republic's static warp bubble, the ground shook as a brief blinding kaleidoscope of light signified the fleeting presence of the miniaturized Aerosprite flying at superluminal speeds into the Iconian gateway. Left behind in its wake was only a wispy contrail of dust and wind.
Location: Warp ten, interstitial spacetime
Timeframe: Inverted temporal corridor, stardate 61929.16 (decreasing at a rate of negative 6.36 stardate units per second)
In the belly of the Aerosprite, the ship's small infirmary was recovering from a turbulent, death-defying time warp entry sequence. Fortunately, the room was small enough to brace oneself using one of the two floor-mounted physician's chairs and the bulkhead wall. Both Y'lair and Saal Yezbeck were able to do just that, and aside from a few loose instruments that jostled about like flying projectiles, neither they nor the restrained and unconscious form of John Carter from the mirror universe sustained any serious injury.
Due to the compact size of the infirmary compartment, there was only one floor-mounted biobed firmly-affixed to the deck, so the crew at Joint Base Jarok had to improvise an additional stretcher in preparation for the second body of John Carter when it's transported from the USS Republic universe via the closed-circuit medical transporter. This ersatz patient bed loosened itself from it's jury-rigged cradle during the time warp maneuver, and as Y'lair worked to re-attach it, Saal nursed a small forehead laceration while activating the bridge information console.
“Dragon, are you okay?” he grunted while pressing the intercom button, using his comrade's old Intel callsign. There was no response at first. “Dragon, do you read?” he pressed it again. He was about to head back to the flight deck himself when the reply came through.
“I'm here,” Theo finally called back. It was clear he was groggy and disoriented, struggling to regain his lucidity. “The cloaking device automatically engaged when we went to warp ten” he explained. “Telemetry says we're on a parabolic course to the Delphi sector.”
“Acknowledged,” Saal responded as Y'lair noisily ratcheted the stretcher back into place. Looking over the restrained body of John in the biobed next to him, the retired surgeon reported on the disposition of everyone in the infirmary. “We're all in one piece down here. Barely.”
Glancing at the wall-mounted chronometer, he noted the digital 24-clock flickering through hours in such rapidity that he couldn't tell what time of day it was.
“We're going backwards in time really fast,” the doctor commented while checking the calendar date on the adjoining console. “Were already at stardate fifty-eight-two-six-five. We haven't got long before we have to find Republic and initiate transport.”
“We know exactly where Republic will be in your universe when our orbit reaches apogee,” Y'lair calmly reassured the doctor. “The program will automatically slow us down as we approach the ship.”
“Confirmed,” came Theo's reply over the intercom. “I'm reading a slowdown in our temporal vector now. But… Hell if I know whether we're in the right quantum reality, though.”
“We are,” Y'lair claimed firmly. “I verified my calculations with Doctor Virtus over a dozen times.”
“We'll find out soon enough,” Theo announced. “Scopes are picking up a vessel moving at warp seven on course for Lojurus, dead ahead and approaching rapidly. Estimating one minute to intercept.”
Activating the small televiewer in the sickbay, Saal and Y'lair watched as the image of the Galaxy Class USS Republic came into view. It was a strange sight, especially since the vessel was moving backwards in warp space, causing the starlines around the ship to move in reverse. As time slowed down even further, the reversed starlines slowed to a crawl before nearly stopping.
Exactly sixty seconds after his last transmission, Theo shouted over the intercom. “We're there!” Saal and Y'lair scrambled to take their positions at the announcement. “The computer says we have exactly thirty seconds to retrieve John's body! I'm feeding sensor data down to the medical transporter now!”
“He should be in surgical suite five in the main sickbay on deck twelve!” Saal exclaimed, taking control of the transporter. “Focus your scans there!”
“I'm on it!”
A few seconds passed before telemetry started filling the transporter memory buffer. Sensors detected five individuals in the surgical suite, with one of them in horizontal repose. They had found John, and judging from the increasing chrontion level, he was near the point of phasing away. Both Y'lair and Saal Yezbeck stared intently at the screen, pausing for the exact moment to transport.
“Wait until the chroniton particles begin to dissipate,” Y'lair directed over Saal's shoulder. “That should signal the start of the phase out.”
“It's hard to get a transporter lock,” exclaimed Saal as trickles of sweat rolled down his forehead. “That Y-T-T alloy coating in the walls is getting in the way.”
“Let me try,” the Vulcan intervened. Saal nodded as the two quickly changed places. The location monitor began to blink red as Y'lair feverishly worked the transporter controls. “With the cloaking device engaged, the scanner has to be re-baselined to account for yttrium in the Y-T-T alloy,” he explained. “We can get a solid lock now.”
“Standby for multidimensional transport!” shouted Yezbeck over the intercom.
Y'lair pulled on the three-dimensional actuation levers to engage the closed-circuit transporter. A high-pitched trill resonated in the room, followed by the gradual chiming of the Heisenberg compensators and re-materialization sequence. With an effervescent veil of yellow and green energy swelling then fading away, the unconscious form of a clean-shaven Starfleet commander lay on the stretcher next to his unkempt mirror universe counter-part on the biobed.
And not a moment too soon. The main televiewer began to shift, whereby the Galaxy-class USS Republic began to speed up from its nearly frozen state, this time moving forward in time rather than backwards, continuing on it's course to Lojurus in the Delphi Sector.
“Can you confirm there's no katra in it?” Saal immediately asked of the newly arrived body.
Y'lair released the transporter controls and quickly placed an outspread hand over the left side of the immobile John Carter from the USS Republic universe. Nervously, Saal watched as the Republic sped off on it's original course while the Aerosprite exited apogee and began it's turn back towards the Iconian homeworld. The wall-mounted chronometer began to slowly change course, moving forward once again. Slowly at first, then picking up speed a second later.
“No,” Y'lair confirmed to Saal's relief. “It's an empty shell. I shall now proceed to make the transfer.” While maintaining his meld with the USS Republic John Carter, Y'lair placed his other hand over the right side of the mirror universe John Carter, slipping into a focused trance to meld with the minds of both bodies.
In the meantime, Saal reported back to Theo on the flight deck.
“We have John's body!” he said over the intercom. “Y'lair is transferring the katra now.”
“Acknowledged,” Theo replied. “The time warp is still engaged. Our pre-programmed orbit is taking us back to Iconia.”
“What about the quantum shift?” Doctor Yezbeck asked. “When do we drop off the HMS Republic John Carter?”
“We have about a minute before our course takes us past a class two pulsar,” explained Theo as he read through the checklist. “According to the flight program, it will use the enhanced magnetic field of the pulsar to re-align the chroniton polarity of our time warp vortex. Since we're already in quantum flux due to the static warp bubble, the interaction of our realigned chrontions will pull us back over to the HMS Republic universe.”
“How long until we need to engage the transporter?”
“About a minute after we pass the pulsar,” he replied. “We have a five second interval between stardates fifty-seven-four-five-oh and fifty-seven-four-nine-oh to transport him back into his universe before we super-accelerate back to the Iconian Gateway. There'll be a Tellarite ore processing station within transporter range during that time window. We'll drop him off there.”
“They didn't leave us much leeway, did they?” he commented, looking at the transfixed Y'lair, his eyes firmly shut in a Vulcan mediative state.
Precious seconds passed where Saal impatiently paced the infirmary. The wall mounted chronometer was completely useless once again, moving forward with such speed that the four-digit readout appeared to be a set of flickering number “8”s as the stardate approached 57470. Over a minute went by, causing Saal to become more and more agitated.
“Y'lair, we've got to move!” he whispered loudly as the seconds counted down, hoping he would hear him through his trance. “We can't wait much longer!”
Moments later, the Vulcan's eyes popped open as he looked towards Saal. “It's done.”
Immediately, Saal hit the intercom. “Standby for multidimensional transport!” he shouted to the flight deck.
“Understood,” Theo's voice replied. “Feeding telemetry to the transporter now. Ten seconds to transport window!”
John Carter's body from the USS Republic moaned and began to stir while the mirror universe John remained sedated.
“Five seconds!” Theo continued to annunciate.
Saal picked up the transporter lock on the nearby ore processing station as they flew past it on their parabolic course back to Iconia. The USS Republic John Carter - newly animated with the HMS John Carter katra within - opened his eyes and displayed a quizzical expression just as the transporter buffers whined and the veil of matter/energy transport beam whisked him away, leaving the stretcher he laid upon empty once again.
“Transport complete,” the retired surgeon announced in relief over the intercom.
“Fantastic!” Theo exclaimed, allowing a twinge of jubilance in his voice, pleased that they were so far successful in their quantum spacetime excursion. “Only one more transport to go, and we're free to go home!”
While they technically achieved the speed of warp ten, and theoretically existed at all points in the universe at once, the modified flight program was designed to attenuate the Romulan warp core. This slowed down quantum spacetime so as to give the crew of the Aerosprite time to engage transporter locks and perform the necessary beaming operations for completing their mission. This had the effect of an onboard time lag as they traversed across spacetime and quantum realities on their elongated oval trajectory between the Delphi sector and the Iconian star system. Regardless, the ship was still moving at speeds far greater than any Borg transwarp conduit, let alone standard warp drive. Although the onboard chronometers were still picking up time dilations from their temporal excursion, less than ten minutes had actually passed for them since they first engaged the flight program in the HMS Republic universe.
“Passing through stardate six-zero-one-eight-zero,” announced Theo “Doug Forrest” Carter from the flight deck. “Ten minutes to the Iconian Gateway. If our passengers are ready, we can beam them to the mirror universe at any time.”
Saal looked to Y'lair who nodded in agreement.
“I'm ready,” said the Vulcan while standing up to gather his belongings. Meanwhile, Saal prepped the unconscious body of the mirror-universe John Carter for transport by removing his arm and leg restraints. As he did so, a furrow developed in the doctor's forehead. He noted something out of order on John's abdomen: The front of his black leather tunic vest had been torn diagonally. As he stared, the doctor watched in awe as the incision slowly grew longer and deeper. Like an invisible knife, the clothing parted into two pieces that split along the span of his lower thorax.
“What's happening to John?” he exclaimed, catching the attention of Y'lair.
Soon, a bloody laceration formed on John's skin behind the rendered garment. Blood was seeping out in torrents, staining the biobed as the injury became more grievous, spanning over a foot long and tearing through vital organs and tissue.
“It looks like a sword wound!” Yezbeck noted with experience. “Like someone sliced him right across the chest!”
“We have to do something!” a panic-stricken Y'lair yelped anxiously. “He'll die!”
Immediately, Saal sprang into action. “Hypo!” he shouted, and Y'lair quickly handed him a medical instrument from a nearby medical tray. Normally, it would have been pre-primed with a vasio-constritor by a trained nurse, but Saal didn't stop to complain. He promptly dialed in the correct medicine with his thumb and injected it into John's neck to get the bleeding under control before setting to work on the wound itself.
The damage was bad. Regardless of how it came into existence, the wound dug deep into the abdominal cavity, affecting a number of his vital organs. Left on his own, John would have bled to death in seconds. Fortunately, Saal's adept and crimson-soaked hands were close behind the aggravated injury as it's formation slowed and stopped. Quickly resealing the cleanly-sliced tissue with a fine-tipped zero-point auto-suture, the damage to the liver, stomach, and lungs were no match for Doctor Yezbeck's highly-trained emergency medical skills.
However, it wasn't simply his skillset that was helping him along.
The rate of healing that occurred within John's body while Saal worked was abnormally fast to say the least. While the time dilation of the time warp corridor initial worked against him during the wound's initial manifestation, it now worked FOR him during it's remediation. The suture lines he had just created along different portions of internal tissue laced themselves together like a phantom sewing machine. Split pieces of flesh grew together into a seamless fabric, as if they had had months of recovery to heal instead of seconds. By the time Saal began closing the abdominal cavity, the bleeding had completely stopped, and the surgeon followed up the miraculous curative force of the time dilation with an injection of hemo-stimulant to replace the blood that was lost just moments ago. After a span of only about seven and a half minutes, John had gone from a gravely-wounded man to a fully-recovered trauma patient, all without stirring from his previously sedated state.
Eight full minutes had passed while Doctor Yezbeck rushed to save the mirror-universe John from a life-threatening injury that had no discernible cause. Wiping the blood from his hands, Saal paused in amazement at the man who lay before him. John had no more than a torn vest to signify the physical distress he had just underwent. Had it not been for the time warp corridor they were in, Saal was convinced that John would be in a life support module fighting for his life. Or worse yet, dead.
“I think he'll be okay now,” the doctor explained in bewilderment as the adrenaline wore off. “I don't understand it! What in blazes just happened?”
He turned to Y'lair to commiserate with his confusion, but met a pair of eyes that not only knew exactly what had happened, but betrayed an ulterior motive. Suddenly, Saal Yezbeck had put all the pieces together in his mind. Y'lair's response to John's injury was most un-Vulcan like… He panicked when a normal Vulcan would otherwise have responded with cold indifference… Y'lair handed him an under-prepared hypospray when a true medical professional would have handed him one with the correct medicine and dosage already dialed in. Everything he knew about this mirror universe alter-ego of a colleague that had died four years ago came to a climax: This Y'lair knew far too much about the Iconian Gateway than he should have… He arrived in the HMS Republic universe under his own volition… He had over a year to control whatever course of action he wanted to pursue with the mirror-universe John… and… He had preyed on Saal's medical instincts to heal a man that perhaps should NOT have been healed in the first place.
The two men locked stares as the last vestige of Y'lair's subterfuge faded away, leaving Saal to recognize who he truly was.
“You're no family man…” he whispered, referring to the incorrect conclusions that he and Theo had made about his motivations the previous day.
Recognizing the gig was up, Y'lair was upon him in an instant. The two fought fervently and violently as the intercom crackled to life once again.
“One minute to the gateway!” called out Theo from the flight deck. “Are you going to initiate transport? What's taking so long?”
The two were engaged in mortal combat: Saal using multiple fisticuffs to subdue a viscous attacker, and Y'lair using refined block-and-strike martial arts to land multiple blows to his equally determined opponent. Green and red blood flowed down the faces of the Vulcan and the human, respectively, each bound and determined to subjugate the other within the small confines of the infirmary. More than once, they exchanged punches over the horizontal body of the mirror-universe John, who was beginning to rouse on the biobed from his medically-induced unconscious state. Unfortunately for Saal, personal combat between humans and Vulcans rarely ended in an Earthling victory.
“Saal! Y'lair!” Theo's incessant shouting over the intercom echoed. “You've got thirty seconds! Transport immediately!”
An injured and unconscious Saal Yezbeck was eventually thrown to the floor like a ragdoll as Y'lair briefly nursed a bleeding lip and slashed forehead. He assisted a not-quite-lucid John Carter with one arm, helping stand him up, while simultaneously pressing the intercom button with the other arm.
“Standby for multidimensional transport!” Y'lair announced before closing the channel and turning his attention to the transporter controls.
From the flight deck, Theo continued to shout over the intercom. “Saal! Is that you?” he waited futilely for a response. “What's going on down there?” It was clear to him that Y'lair's voice was strained with physical exertion, and since Saal had failed to respond directly, had concluded that something was horribly wrong in the medical center. However, there was no longer time enough for him to intervene. “Shadow! Can you hear me?” he pleaded once more from the cockpit, but to no avail.
As the whine of transporter energy echoed off the walls of the infirmary, the incandescent light of scattering photons flickered off of Saal's bloody and comatose face. The doctor was soon by himself, lying unconscious on the floor of the small medical compartment. Without warning, pinpoints of blinding white light exploded from his face in all directions, signifying the ship's final computer-directed contact with the Iconian Gateway.
Location: Earth, San Francisco, North America
Timeframe: Present Day, HMS Republic universe
Of the many park areas around the bay area, the grounds of Starfleet Command Headquarters were rivaled in natural beauty only by Golden Gate Park a kilometer to the south. Cultivated trees and clean gravel paths weaved themselves around pristine sterling buildings, perfectly mowed grass, and row after row of carefully cultured flower beds that boasted a rainbow of different colors and shapes. It was a brilliant, clear day with a cloudless sky as Starfleet personnel walked leisurely to and from their respective destinations.
Towards the Cultural Center, several bronze statues of various deities lined the main walkway to the all-faith worship complex, with numerous mediation huts and cylindrical basilicas spaced apart at regular intervals throughout the acreage behind the main auditorium. One such basilica hosted a stone pathway towards the cliff overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco Bay, where a small gathering area composed of flagstone and potted plants had been constructed for mediation and prayer. The metal sign on the gate read “Outdoor Chapel Number 12.”
On this day, the normally subdued planters were adorned with brilliant white flowers of all species and sizes. Irises, carnations, roses, and magnolias lined the walkway and surrounded the patio, which was occupied by nearly a hundred people. Each were seated in two separate sections, delineated by only a single empty aisle that led to an alter towards the front where three individuals stood around a podium. The individual at the podium was a Starfleet admiral with scarlett red hair tied up in a bun, while the two other individuals were turned away from the audience, facing the admiral. To the left, the bride was embellished in a white dress and veil, while to the right, the groom stood tall and proud in a black and white tuxedo accentuated by a red cumber-bun. Displayed just inside the gate was a placard that announced the festivity of the day:
12:30 hours - The wedding of Cmdr. and Mrs. Johnathan T. Carter
Officiated by Admiral Kathryn Janeway, Chief of Starfleet Operations
In the first few front rows, familiar couples sat in observance of the ceremony. Starfleet personnel wore their dress white uniforms, while civilian attendees donned formal wear. Together in the front row were Captain Theodore Stryker and his wife, Doctor Shannon Harris, along with other current and former HMS Republic crew and their partners. A close friend of Carter, Captain Myrr Tana, sat next to her husband, Doctor Leon Cromwell, both of whom sat next to Lieutenant Nathan Hawk and his spouse, Leah Warner of the Confederation News Service. In the row behind, Commander Victor Virtus was seated next to Lieutenant Casey Tanaka of the HMS Devonshire, while Vice Admiral Kate Shelby and her husband, Captain Douglas Forrest, were seated aside Doctor Saal Yezbeck and his wife Edith. The rest of the audience were a mix of humans and aliens of varying persuasion, all gathered to attend the bride and groom on their special day.
The ceremony had reached it's apex, as cultural etiquette was met, and the admiral finished her sermon after reading from a leather-bound copy of the Articles of Confederation laid open on the podium in front of her.
“…and do you, Jonathan Thelonious Carter, take this woman to be your lawfully wedded wife?” she asked formally.
“I do,” he responded firmly.
“Then by the laws invested in me by the Queen of the Royal Confederation of Planets, I now pronounce you wife and husband. You may kiss the bride.”
A proud and admiring John Carter turned to face his newly joined wife, allowing a wide and fulfilling smile of endearment to cross his face. Lovingly, he lifted the veil of his bride, and in return, the smiling and infatuated face of Chase Meridian accepted his kiss.
Location: Timeship Enterprise, NCC-1701-J
Timeframe: “Present Day”, interstitial spacetime
The expansive gray-walled bridge of the Enterprise-J boasted dozens of three-dimensional monitoring stations placed at regular intervals throughout the chamber. Holographic cylinders produced computerized imagery of ship subsystems and sensor input in a multitude of different formats, custom-readable by whatever species happened to be operating the console. Some were human, but many were of alien origin with few resembling any known species in the twenty-fourth century. An occasional Vulcan or Breen biped could be discerned, but with the exception of the command staff, the crew were mostly unknown species with non-humanoid appendages such as tentacles or other protuberances that allowed them to interface with their technologically-exotic workstations.
As with Starfleet vessels of ages past, the center of the bridge was where the Captain and senior officers sat, five in all, with the vessel's commander, Captain Daniels, seated in the center position facing forward. All the crew wore black-ribbed uniforms with a reflective charcoal-patterned material that sparkled in the otherworldly light of the futuristic control center.
“We missed it,” the science officer announced from a station off to the command crew's four-o'clock position. “It was so small, the anomaly flew right past us. It was going warp ten.”
“Where did it re-enter the quantum domain?” a white-haired man seated next to Daniels asked. It was obvious he was the elder of the seated officers, yet still held a subordinate position to the skipper.
“I'm not sure, sir,” came the reply across the room. “Somewhere near spacetime node 0945.”
“Any inversions?” Daniels asked.
“That's a relief. Any other cascade events?”
“So far… just one,” the science officer dialed a few more sequences into his holographic console. “Quantum spacetime node 1347. It underwent a class five inversion,” the officer explained. “But…”
“But what?” the older first officer pressed. “That's a fairly significant inversion!”
“Yes, but it's back TOWARDS baseline, not away from it.”
Daniels blinked in surprise as he turned his torso to look directly at the science station.
“Are you telling me that node 1347 fixed ITSELF?”
“That's what it looks like, sir. There's no quantum variance. It appears stable.”
“Amazing,” Daniels exclaimed with astonishment.
“I've never known an inversion to fix itself,” the first officer admitted next to him.
“Neither have I,” Daniels returned. “But there's a first time for everything.”
“Sir, I'm picking up another inversion,” the science officer announced again from his monitoring station. “This time in quantum spacetime node 0001.”
“Here we go,” the first officer rolled his eyes.
“Node 0001 has quantum inversions nearly every day,” Daniels reminded him. “It couldn't be related, could it?”
“Indeterminate,” admitted the science officer. “However, this one is abnormally severe. Class seven on the Virtus scale.”
“Confirm,” Daniels ordered after he shared surprised glances from his command officers. “Did you just say a class SEVEN inversion in node 0001?”
“That's what I'm reading sir.”
“Extremely unstable,” the officer acknowledged. “All temporal algorithms register below fifty percent certainty.”
Daniels paused in thought. Node 0001 was renowned for it's instability, but inversions in that quantum reality never passed class two, and was normally tracked easily by the variance algorithms.
“Fifty percent?” the first officer remarked with disbeleif. “That's so random it's almost… chaotic!”
“Agreed,” Daniels responded. “Let's be safe. Alert status beta.”
The normally white light around the bridge changed to a focused amber as an intermittent cautionary trill sounded over the loud speakers. Moments passed in silence until a soft shutter shook the bridge. It was fleeting in nature, but left the bridge crew feeling unsettled.
“What was that? A cosmic string?” asked the first officer.
“Negative, sir! I'm picking up a Virtus wave!”
A hush fell over the bridge crew, accentuating the seriousness of the situation.
“What it's magnitude?” Daniels asked intently during the conversation lull.
“Stand by,” the technician replied as everyone on the bridge froze while looking to the captain for impending orders. As the science officer worked his controls, he was keenly aware that the entire bridge crew were sitting on edge for his next words. “The Virtus wave registers as…” the technician paused as his face contorted into anxiety and unease. He checked his instruments several times to confirm what they were telling him.
“Report!” shouted Daniels.
“In… Infinity…” he stammered. “Magnitude infinity!”
Wide eyed with horror, the captain nearly screamed his next order.
“Alert status alpha!” Daniels exclaimed, slamming shut the lap restraints on his command chair as the deckplates began to reverberate more violently. The entire command center was now bathed in a deep violet hue.
As soon as the captain's order was given, klaxons sounded throughout the ship. “Open frequencies to all assets in this time stream!” he shouted with the vibrations increasing in magnitude. “Abandon all operations! Repeat! Abandon ALL operations!”
“Retreat back to the singularity vortex!” ordered the first officer to the helm. “Time warp twelve!” As he spoke, the turbulence continued to strain the vessel, causing the bridge's superstructure to groan under the pressure.
Outside in the interstitial spacetime corridor, the luminescent white backdrop of the quantum slipstream was accentuated by tangled, azure-colored high-speed reality threads that danced around the in the turbulence like electrical sparks set loose in a monstrous hurricane. They bounced off the Enterprise's fuselage as the vessel's wide, flattened saucer section led the turn of the spindly secondary hull and engine nacelles towards the oncoming front of a massive, angry-red shock wave. In an explosion of brilliant green and yellow light, the timeship struck the wave front head-on, bursting the wall of quantum energy into a cascade of thousands of blinding orange spheres that obscured and enveloped the ship.
Back aboard the bridge, the vibrations slowly ebbed as the crew maintained their grip on their workstations, as if instinctually expecting another onslaught of turbulence. None occurred, and as the shuttering smoothed out, Captain Daniels was first to speak.
“Minimal,” came the response after a few seconds. “We crossed the singularity threshold just in time. We would've been destroyed otherwise.”
“Any other casualties?”
“Indeterminate due to interference,” the technician at the communications station explained. “But I think all field personnel managed to activate their escape transceivers. I'm not picking up any distress beacons.”
Back on the command platform, the older first officer released a held breath. “That was close,” he stated the obvious. “Should we circle back and attempt to remediate?”
“No,” Daniels said firmly. “THAT quantum reality is now compromised. There's nothing more we can do there.”
“Couldn't we pursue the variance earlier in the timeline?” he asked in return. “The singularity might still be stable enough if we hurry.”
“No,” Daniels ordered. “There's too much damage done to the spacetime continuum already. The temporal accords are clear in this matter. A Virtus wave of this magnitude dictates an abandonment of the former timeline in spacetime node 0001. The new quantum matrix MUST become the prime reality now.”
“Seems like a pity,” the older man solemnly concluded. “Terra was making such great progress there.”
“I know, but some things were just not meant to be,” Daniels replied. “Get us a time vortex back to Quantum Prime,” he ordered the helm. “Best speed.”
Daniels shook his head, muttering to himself. “We're going to hear about THIS one back home…”
Location: ISS Enterprise, NCC-1701-E, Sol system, high orbit over Sol IV
Timeframe: Present Day, mirror universe
As the veil of transporter energy faded, John Carter found himself crumpled over, clutching his abdomen. He could recall feeling a searing pain through his gut just moments prior, but in this new instant of time, he regained his lucidity and brushed off the fading fragments of a memory telling him that he had been mortally wounded and would soon die. As the vision faded, he pried open his eyes, remembering where he was and what he was doing.
Shaking off the imagery, John passed a grimy hand across his coarse-shaven face, his brown unkept feathered hair remaining at rest along the back of his shoulders. His other hand felt along the front of his black leather vest, finding it sliced open, but no damage whatsoever to the skin beneath. His bulging muscles rippled with intensity as he reclaimed his composure by straightening his back and regaining his full height, seemingly a full foot taller than his adversary before him. The velvet black eyepatch accentuated his pirate-esque appearance, as did the multiple tattoos along each arm. He was once again ready for battle.
For his part, Captain Picard looked at him with pause and astonishment, holding aloft an ornate sword he had just moments ago sliced through John Carter's torso. Crimson red droplets of blood stained the floor between them, dribbling down the length of the blade, a stark contrast to Picard's virgin white Starfleet uniform.
“What the devil?” the captain exclaimed in disbelief, unable to to reconcile how Carter could still be standing after such a mortal blow. He was about to strike again when a furious orange bolt of energy shot out from behind Carter, landing squarely on Picard's chest. The Starfleet captain shrieked with pain as his body vaporized into a pile of ashes on the floor.
The monocular, wide-eyed Carter turned to look behind him to see an exhausted and enervated Y'lair, slumped on the floor and bleeding from lacerations on his lip and forehead. Green blood seeped down his face in multiple places, but it did not subdue the fire in his eyes as he lowered the phaser, looking to John with at first a shocked expression that eventually gave way to victory.
“I would never fail you, master!” Y'lair said worshipfully, his words filled with veneration and reverence.
Carter helped the injured Vulcan to his feet, nodding approvingly and giving him a pat on the shoulder in appreciation.
“I know you wouldn't, my friend,” he commended. “I know you wouldn't…”
Location: Mars orbit
Moments later, two sparkling and ephemeral columns of green and orange energy whisked into and out of existence, leaving behind two men; Carter and Y'lair, standing on dual pads within a small transporter alcove. Behind them was the black, star-speckled backdrop of space – it's cold and icy depths kept firmly at bay behind the invisible force of an atmospheric containment dome.
“You escaped!” Victor Virtus exclaimed with surprise and relief. “You're alive!” The goateed man of Malthusian descent stood behind the controls of the transporter, which were held aloft on a single mechanical pillar affixed to the metallic floor of the containment dome. His clothes consisted of a dark brown leather coat with a double-breasted V-neck opening, complete with a holstered utility belt and bandoleer full of phasor power cells stretched across his chest.
The floor they they stood upon was not a room per se, but more of a flat, circular platform about thirty meters in diameter. The transporter alcove shared only a small corner of the entirety of the deck, the rest consisting of various other control pillars and monitoring stations set about in a pattern reminiscent of a starship bridge. Towards the center, an elevated base formed the captain's chair, set directly behind the ops and helm stations. A holographic screen floated in front of them, produced by a floor-mounted projector, creating a standard letterbox monitor perpendicular to the platform floor. Sans any wall or ceiling to protect them from the blackness of space beyond, the lowermost edges of the platform/bridge glowed with a shimmering blue light, signifying the resonating safety of the activated life support dome.
“Picard is dead,” exclaimed John Carter matter-of-factly. “The negotiations failed, as I knew they would.” He helped Y'lair limp a few steps away from the transporter when Leon Cromwell came forward to claim his newest patient.
Like Vic, Leon too sported a goatee, though different in color, matching his blonde hair, which was composed of long tresses stretched back over his scalp, and terminating into a single braided ponytail that swung leisurely behind his back. Still wearing his trademark ivory turtleneck sweater, the doctor also boasted other accoutrements on his body, including a similar phaser holster/belt combination as Vic had. In fact, all members of this ersatz “bridge” crew were well armed, some with thigh-mounted phaser clips, while others preferred clamshell side-holster configurations under their arms. Regardless, there were no uniforms here, as everyone wore clothing that suited them, underscoring the haphazard discipline and brigand nature of this vessel's crew compliment.
As Carter marched towards the center command chair, the sound of his combat boots echoed off the energy wall around them. The expanse of outer space beyond the containment dome accentuated the openness of the platform, giving the impression that one would only need to make a short jump with their legs to fly off into space on their own. Had it not been for the looming fleet of Terran starships that loitered several kilometers away, the perception would be that they were all alone in the dark void of nothingness between the stars.
“Open a channel to the Enterprise,” ordered Carter as he took his rightful seat in the command chair.
Within moments, the clean-shaven image of an aged Starfleet commander glowered back at John. His greying black hair was in sharp contrast to his blue eyes that set ablaze with rage and insolence.
“Carter!” bellowed Will Riker. “You just signed your death warrant! I don't care HOW many of your people we have to kill, but you WON'T get out of THIS star system alive!”
“There's no reason to be angry, commander,” Carter commented arrogantly in an almost nonchalant manner. “It was YOU who came to kill ME, if you could.”
“It doesn't matter,” Riker baited him with a poisonous smile. “All you did was put ME in command now. If I were you, Carter, I'd make amends with whatever gods you believe in, because YOU are about to DIE!”
“It doesn't take bravery to order all of your ships away from Sol Three to fight me, Riker,” John chided cryptically. “Just stupidity.” Turning to look at Doug Forrest at the communications console, John nodded a non-verbal affirmative order to him, signifying the start of a well-prepared battle plan.
As for Forrest, the red glow from his cyber-enhanced left eye pulsated ominously, giving his partially-robotic facial implant the appearance of a Borg drone as his mechanical right arm dialed in a set of codes to transmit over the subspace transceiver array.
Above their heads, at about the same altitude as the Terran fleet, a shimmering green field came into existence followed by the de-cloaking of a large, egg-shaped vessel a few kilometers long. It was a design unlike any other starship, as it's hull was not metal, but a substance that closely resembled a brown, rough-hewn stone. It's surface contained irregularly-shaped rings around the circumference, spaced at regular intervals, giving the impression of tree rings rather than superstructure. From underneath each irregular “ring”, a soft amber light glowed, signifying the existence of an unknown energy source just below the surface.
While alien to some, the egg-shaped ship was quite familiar to Will Riker, and as dawning recognition spread across his face, John Carter smiled with sweet vengeance.
“Noooooo!” Riker screamed indignantly over the comlink. They were his last words before he perished.
The egg-shaped vessel immediately spun on it's radial axis, creating a translucent toroidal shock wave of luminescent white that spread out in all directions. Spears of incandescent energy shot out ahead of the expanding toroid, moving along its plane, and tearing through each Terran vessel it came in contact with. One by one, the Starfleet vessels that were once in tight military formation around Carter's space platform scattered in chaotic retreat at the oncoming wave of energy. However, their attempt at escape came too late as the shockwave overcame them. By the time the egg-shaped spacecraft stopped spinning, every Terran vessel in orbit was ripped to shreds.
Carter allowed himself a moment of laughter at the unfolding carnage. He watched in glee as his enemy vanquished before his eyes, feeling the seething taste of victory swell forth from his dark and twisted soul. His victory assured, a moment of silence passed before the comm system came to life, and a boyish human face with penetrating black eyes looked back at him on the screen. He too shared Carter's expression of conquest, his red hair and bushy eyebrows accentuating the gleaming triumph in his face.
“Well done, Captain Elbrun,” Carter congratulated the man.
“The one thing I wanted to see before I died was the smug face of Billy-Boy Riker vaporized into a million pieces,” he said with a toxic smile. “You kept your side of the bargain, Carter. Gomtuu1) and I are at your disposal. What course shall we set?”
With a malevolent glint in his eye, Carter's expression hardened before replying with just one hate-filled word: “Earth…”
In a more expansive view, the platform that Carter and his crew were standing upon actually formed the apex of a giant saddle-like structure. Numerous mechanically-spun cables protruded laterally from either side of the platform, wrapping themselves across a rough brown integumental surface before arcing downward and strapping tightly around the belly of a gigantic cosmozoan lifeform.
The titanic creature resembled an enormous slug with feathered midlines, containing no appendages, yet possessing a cavernous circular mouth on it's front ventral underside. It was, in fact, a Gekli; a creature that directly absorbed subspace energy through its gastropodal maw for sustenance, and capable of traveling through the cosmos under its own power, that being biochemically-induced gravity waves. From an even wider perspective, several more domesticated Gekli could be seen taking up formation alongside John Carter's leading gargantuan steed, each hosting their own saddle-like platform and a compliment of humanoid masters at the helm.
Below them, the planet Mars rotated; it's cratered, rust-colored surface long forgotten among the tangled paths of human history. Long ago established as the prison planet for the now defunct Terran Empire, the Sol system's occupation by the recent Klingon-Cardassian Alliance only served to swell the population of forsaken Martians prisoners, earning them the nickname, the “Ghosts of Mars”. While these defrocked and disheveled convicts of every race and persuasion worked to build some semblance of a civilization below, decades of enslavement by ephemeral warring governments reduced their society to a tenuous backwater dystopia of crime, poverty, and constant upheaval.
Yet out of the crucible of this malfeasant wasteland, the renegade John Thelonious “Rex” Carter was born and bred. A once highly-decorated lieutenant of the Terran Rebellion, he now stood with his comrades, fuming with vengeance against the fleet they once served in. Known as the Hero of Cestus Three by veterans of the war with the Alliance, he and his fellow crew of “Rexers” saved a human colony near Gorn space from destruction nearly four years ago. Unfortunately, their victory was spun as a crime against humanity by the new Galactic Commonwealth after the Terran Rebellion won their freedom from the Klingon-Cardassian Alliance. Thus, as a reward for their hard-won conquest of the Gorns, Carter and the Rexers were all stripped of their rank and station, and sentenced to life imprisonment on Mars, never to be heard from again.
Or so the Terrans thought.
As time went by under the new Galactic Commonwealth government, Mars was yet again forgotten. However, John Carter never learned how to forget. Nor forgive. In the years that followed on that bleak, dust-ridden world, John Carter refused to become just another outcast Martian inmate, forced to live out the rest of his days in obscurity and purgatory. An ancient Iconian artifact found near Olympus Mons would become his salvation, providing a gateway that linked his reality with another dominated by lifeforms from fluidic space. In a span of three years, Carter managed to organize, train, and deploy an armada of Gekli and other fluidic beasts of burden, as well as attract a great number of fellow Martians who allied themselves with the Rexers in preparation for a new war against their jailers.
The Ghosts of Mars would soon rise from the grave.
When the Commonwealth discovered Carter's insurgency, they sent their best “negotiators” to quell the budding insurrection, but it was too late. While attempting to assassinate Carter, Captain Picard had instead added fuel to the fires of revolution. Now, the Martian revolt would soon swell into an all-out rebellion. In minutes, all that was left of the Terran arbitrators was pulverized flotsam composed of spaceship debris and lifeless bodies that slowly orbited the fourth planet of the Sol system. The Hero of Cestus Three pressed onward, leading Gomtuu and the rest of his fugitive fleet inwards towards the sun, destined for the shining blue speck of light in the sky. The defenseless Galactic Commonwealth would soon see its end, and the new Martian Empire would be born from it's ashes. Their leader: John Carter… Emperor of Mars.
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