Her silver hair whipped out behind her and her neck shrank back into the coat’s warm fur lining. The ice winds had a vicious bite to them that afternoon. At the end of the path, at the gates of the Zhaman’ti College yard, she waited for him. Ahead, the Fields of Ell stretched over the horizon. Flat, cratered only occasionally by blueish patches of meltwater, the vast white plain was overwhelming to the unevolved eyes of offworlders. Even the Andorians, so used to their subterranean dwellings, could not stand the harsh glare of the Efrosian ice for long.
Her legs swung out in front of her as she balanced herself on the shoulder-high metal railing. She sighed, exhaling a puff of vapour that coiled up from her mouth. As she slumped forward, resting her chin on her hands, it was clear to any passersby that there were many, many more things she’d rather be doing. A few shuttles came and went. A tour group leader commented loudly on the yard’s ice sculptures and myer’zhan trees, their buttress roots strong enough to survive the brutal winds that howled through Ell like a stampeding pack of blizzard hounds.
From the corner of her eye he approached. Striding across the brownish trodden snow from the shuttlepad, he shielded his eyes and the large expanse of skin between them with a raised arm. Humanoid from the neck down, his face was scaled with brownish greens. It occupied a curiously shaped head, unlike any species she’d seen before. The rest of him was adorned with the uniform of a Starfleet Captain.
“Sreyler Theb,” he called out through the crisp air, “is that you?”
On the face of it, the symbol seemed like nothing more than an innocuous error message. In fact, if there were only one unresponsive computer displaying the terminal Greek letter, any Engineer might have thought nothing of it and simply tried a reboot. The problem was that nearly every single display on the USS Ahwahnee’s bridge now shone with what in some ancient Earth cultures had once represented armageddon, the end of everything; omega.
“Bridge to Captain Vordenna,” Lieutenant Commander Alex Lupulo’s rapidfire New York brogue cut through the tense murmurings of a ready room conversation that had drained all colour from the Argosian’s face.
“Ah, I’m being summoned right on time. I’ll see to its elimination, Commodore. My crew, on the other hand…” He scratched at his temple, “We’ll get it done. Vordenna out.”
“Bridge to Captain Vor-”
“Standby, Commander.” Felrak shot up from his desk and through to the bridge, “Computer, reinstate shipwide command functions, authorisation Vordenna eight-eight-eight-six green.” He continued over to the center chair, “Helm, take us into orbit of the third planet in the system.”
“Aye, sir…” Came Lieutenant Althaia Delfino’s perplexed response.
“Captain,” Tursk leaned over from the First Officer’s seat, “Our sensors are only just back online. We barely got a read on the system. Our destination is nowhere near here, sir. As your First Officer, I must say this is highly irregular.”
Felrak’s gaze was locked dead ahead as the planet grew in size on the main viewer. “All in good time, Mr. Tursk.” He clicked his green tongue against his top row of teeth and rose from his chair. He turned his back to the main viewer, surveying the bridge and the officers who naturally looked straight to him, “You will all no doubt be wondering what’s going on.” Felrak assumed, quite correctly, “All I can tell you now is that Starfleet and the Federation as we know it is in grave danger, and a protocol has been activated about which only I have been briefed.”
“What kind of danger, Captain?” Lupulo faced Felrak dead on from behind the tactical station.
“An existential threat.”
Lupulo’s eyes narrowed, “With respect, sir, a known existential threat to the Federation would surely be something also known by any Starfleet crew.”
“Not this one. Starfleet has decided that the fewer people who are aware of this, the better.” Felrak could feel his Tactical Officer merely said aloud what the rest of the bridge crew were thinking.
Commander Tursk, who had begun to glower in Lupulo’s direction, now interjected, “We’ve entered orbit of Gorman III, sir. It’s a Class M planet. Inhabited. There’s a strong ionising radiation field making detailed scans impossible. Your orders?”
“Good,” Felrak replied, “Tursk, there is a schematic program in my personal directory titled Omega-five-one-alpha. Inside you will find instructions for the construction of a device known as a “harmonic resonance chamber”. You and Commander Theb will see to it that the components are fabricated and the device is constructed in cargo bay one.”
“Aye, sir.” The Tellarite First Officer barely blinked, absorbing the Captain’s instructions.
Felrak nodded, “Now, inform the main transporter room there will be one to beam down to Gorman III. On the surface, I will mark a location by placing a transponder. This will allow you to beam the target directly into the resonance chamber.”
“SIR?!” Lupulo exploded, “Sensors are showing a pre-industrial civilisation on the surface! How can you even think about beaming down? They might be reptilian but you’re not exactly gonna blend in. You’ll scare them six ways from Sunday, and that’s if you’re lucky!”
“Commander,” Felrak knew he was asking for a leap of faith, “trust me. There’s something Starfleet needs down there. You know I’d beam it straight back up here if I could. The ionising radiation in the atmosphere won’t let us get a transporter lock.”
Raw disbelief coursed through Lupulo, who did not mince his words, “That doesn’t change anything. It’s the Prime Directive. My God – I can’t believe this is happening, on the Ahwahnee of all places. You go down there and you’ll pollute that species’ development. There’s no way of telling what’s gonna happen. It’s the Prime Directive! You can’t-”
“Prime Directive or not, you’re still an officer aboard this ship, Lup.” Tursk’s gravelly voice dropped low, signalling his low appetite for insubordinate talkback.
“I don’t care if there’s a McGuffin down there that’s gonna put Romulus back together, you’re not Gods, either of you.” he waved a hand towards the two most senior officers, “You have no right, legal or otherwise, to go down there and cause untold damage to a culture on its natural path of development.”
“You will follow your orders like the rest of us, Lup.” Tursk shot back.
“I WILL NOT.” All eyes on the bridge were fixed on Lupulo as he slammed his fist into the tactical controls, “We have an obligation, Commander. Starfleet Regulation 28; a Starfleet officer may refuse to carry out any order given that demonstrates palpable unlawfulness. It doesn’t get more illegal than this, sir! I believe we all have a responsibility here,” Lupulo look around the bridge at the other officers, “all of us have a responsibility not to let this happen.”
Vordenna’s voice ran cold, “Security team to the bridge. Mr. Lupulo will be confined to quarters until further notice.”
“You suggest mutiny.” Turks stated, flatly. The anger was gone as the tellarite detached himself emotionally from the situation, preparing for what was to come.
“Wrong. It’s the legal duty of every Starfleet officer to uphold the Prime Directive. The Captain has given us no justification, no real explanation, just a flimsy premise that Starfleet needs something on that planet. Argh!” Two gold shirted crewmen grabbed each of Lupulo’s arms. Quickly, he wrenched himself free, “Get off of me! I know the way to my damned quarters.”
At that moment, another turbolift arrived. From it stepped the diminutive form of Lieutenant Commander Sreyler Theb. Her silver hair bobbed as, head down, she made straight for the engineering terminal, “Sir, this is weird but we got shut out of computer access for a while down in engineering. I’m gonna need to run a diagnostic from the bridge-” She did a double take, looking back towards Lupulo who, flanked by the two security officers, disappeared into the turbo lift from which she had come. “Um, OK…”
Felrak picked up a PADD that had been resting on the arm of the centre chair. Tapping in an access code, he passed the device over to Tursk, “Prepare transporter room one with these coordinates in thirty minutes.” Felrak said to Tursk urgently, “I’ll have what I need ready by then.”
“Aye, sir. The ionising radiation-”
“-is going to make things difficult. I’ll have a second transponder with me that I will keep on my person at all times. You can lock onto that when the time comes to beam me out.”
“Hey, so, what’s going on?” Captain and First Officer both turned towards the Chief Engineer as she stood, arms folded and head cocked to one side, “First this weird omega stuff on the consoles, then I see Lup getting carried out of here. Now everyone’s acting all conspiratorial. What. Is. Up?”
Felrak ignored her questions completely, “You have the bridge, Commander Theb.”
Wordlessly, the two men marched up the bridge and past Sreyler, turbolift doors swooshing closed behind them. She stood gobsmacked for several seconds before refocusing on the crew that now looked to her in bafflement at what had just unfolded before their eyes. She stepped around the partitioning beam towards the centre chair, seated herself, and with a look of visible discomfort announced, “Helm, where are we?”
Felrak stepped onto the transporter pad. A khaki coloured knapsack was slung over the Argosian’s right shoulder, and he wore a rough cloth tunic of mottled green and grey. His breeches were made of what looked like corduroy, with deep pockets in the left of which he had concealed a tricorder.
“This clothing should be suitable enough.” He asserted in an attempt to convince himself.
Tursk was busy making the final preparations, “Those scans were quick and dirty. You’ll need a convincing story to explain… Well, everything.” He made a gesture towards Felrak’s decidedly un-Gormanesque features. The wide-spaced eyes, the lack of a tail, the blunt teeth, “You look vaguely reptilian I guess. More than this hairy specimen can say.”
A ghost of a smile was silhouetted across Felrak’s face, almost breaking through the frantic rush of that fearful moment, “How much longer?”
Tursk looked up from the transporter controls, “Captain, you don’t have to do this alone.”
“Yes I do, Tursk.”
The Tellarite stopped, “I know about omega.”
“I’ve been in the fleet long enough, Captain. I thought they were just rumours. Stories passed around the command staff. Now I know the molecule is real, and I know what you have to do.”
A small measure of relief ran through Felrak as his First Officer looked towards him with understanding in his eyes, “They’re appearing across the galaxy. The response teams are overwhelmed, and so this is what it’s come to. The danger is unfathomable, Tursk.”
“Let me come with you.”
“No. You saw them on the bridge. They’re confused. Disappointed. The Prime Directive… Everything they thought they stood for turned on its head. You stay here and keep them together. There’s no one else coming, do you understand?”
“Yes, sir.” The anguish was distinct in Tursk’s words.
“I will transmit a report once a day, roughly every 32 hours. If you lose contact, under no circumstances are you to follow me down to the surface. Instead, you are to contact Commodore Tharc at Starbase 86. She will brief you further.”
“Understood,” Tursk said. The transporter controls sounded an alert, “There’s a break in the radiation cover. We’ve got a lock on your target coordinates. Are you ready, sir?”
“Just one more thing.”
“Don’t let them know you know.” Felrak hoisted the knapsack over his other shoulder and double checked the tricorder as he prepared to leave his world.