Steven K. Dixon
Cardinal Joseph Cerveza savored the taste of the raisin wine. All of the good French wines were gone; the crops had been destroyed, along with most of Central and Southeast Asia, a few areas of North America and portions of Central and Western Europe, by the fallout from the use of nuclear weapons. The last stand by the Supermen against the United Nations forces had seen to it. He smiled, chastising himself for musing over such a trivial matter as wine. The smile disappeared slowly as the responsibility of the decision he had to make fell upon him. The trial had taken longer than expected. Cardinal Cerveza could no longer delay his answer. Pressure from the Vatican mounted. They wanted an answer immediately. He could feel their invisible vise tightening around him.
It was not easy being the de facto government of Central America. Much of Central America had fallen under control of the man on trial. Now that the forces of the Supermen had been vanquished from the subcontinent, he had been appointed by the U.N. Secretary General to head the make-shift government until free elections could be held in the coming weeks. He became the president, the chief justice, the legislature all rolled into one package. One very unhappy package.
The room his office occupied was small. Nothing adorned the pale, cracked walls except a crucifix above the door. Behind him was a window overlooking the ruins of Vera Cruz. He turned from the dining table before him and walked to the window to stare blankly at the destruction. Will we ever rise above this devastation? Will we even survive? He tore himself away from the window. He stood slowly and straightened his clothing. The cardinal walked to the bathroom. He looked into the small, cracked mirror which hung above the sink. He took his right hand and ran it over the top of his head, hoping that his hair--what remained of it--would fall into place. He sighed, cursing the radiation that was everywhere and wondered how much hair he would lose. He left the room, never finishing his wine.
The cardinal walked into a hallway which connected his room to the courtroom. In peaceful times, the building served as city hall for the town of Vera Cruz. It was considered a historical site. The residents believed it had been built in ancient times, serving as a monastery for Franciscan monks. He looked up and noticed the A-frame construction. The cardinal felt sure that such a support would have come well after the monks. Well, let the people have their fantasy. It's all they've got left.
At the end of the hallway, a crack above the courtyard door let in a beam of sunlight. The ray suggested a spotlight to Cerveza. But the courtroom was no stage, and this trial was no play. What he had to do was real. He walked to the end of the hall and stopped at the door to the courtroom. Cerveza bowed his head, uttered a short prayer, and stepped into the courtroom.
The noise that greeted Joseph Cerveza was deafening. He could feel the anger of the spectators that filled the courtroom. All here to see me sentence the traitor to death. If they're angry now, they'll be angrier when I deliver my decision.
The pandemonium of the crowd subsided as Cerveza took his chair at the bench. He looked around the courtroom. United Nations security guards were posted throughout the courtroom, ready to stop any kind of trouble. A small distance from the bench sat the traitor, Father Robert Welton, flanked by two security guards.
Cardinal Cerveza found himself staring at Father Welton. The priest showed no sign of the stress of his imprisonment. He sat with his back straight. His hair was jet black with no trace of silver or gray. His eyes were ice blue and vibrant, very vibrant.
"So, Father Welton, you still cling to your beliefs? After all that has happened?" Cerveza sneered with contempt.
"My belief in Liberation Theology will never waiver," Welton quietly responded.
"You still believe in a religion that puts man ahead of Christ?" the surprised cardinal inquired.
"Liberation Theology does not put man ahead of Christ. It states that man must accept some of the responsibility for his eventual salvation. Man must rid his world of the political institutions that oppress him. Only after this does man become free and seek salvation...from Christ!" exclaimed Welton.
Cerveza laughed quietly. "What do you call siding with Khan Noonian Singh, the most notorious of The Supermen? Your instrument for freedom?"
Welton buried his face in his hands. The crowd of spectators, watched carefully by the security troops, began to chant. It was low, but the word was unmistakable. "Death...Death...DEATH!"
Cerveza picked up his gavel and pounded his desk. "Silence!" he roared. "If there is one more outburst, you will all be ejected from this courtroom. Do I make myself clear?"
His warning silenced the crowd. They nodded approval. The spectators wanted to stay. They wanted to see Welton die.
The priest raised his head. He looked at Cerveza squarely in the eyes.
Cerveza understood. If this man were set free, he would do it all over again. It was hard to believe that Welton was a man of the cloth like himself. "Why?" asked Cerveza. "Why did you do it?" he demanded, and then immediately regretted it. He knew why Welton had betrayed humanity, but now he was giving the priest the opportunity to explain it again...one last time.
"Because, at the time, I needed his help," replied Welton. There was no emotion in his reply. "I needed his strength. The Liberation Theology movement was stagnant in Central America. We couldn't get the oppressive dictators out of office. And every time we did, the military put another in his place. It was then that Khan Noonian Singh approached me."
The cardinal leaned back in his chair at this revelation which had not come out during the trial itself. "Khan approached you?" He found this hard to believe.
"Yes, in Mexico City. Shortly before Khan departed for Asia, he approached me during the peace conference to end the Vera Cruz crisis. Khan's followers had invaded Mexico, and the governments of Central America wanted to sue for peace. Khan himself offered me his strength if my followers would attack those governments."
"What did you get in return?"
Welton's voice became excited. "I could spread the word throughout Central and South America and into his dominion in Asia. My movement would not only continue, but actually thrive."
"Did Khan keep his promise?" Again, Cerveza knew the answer. He wanted to hear it from Welton's lips again.
"No. Khan helped us at first. Governments fell in the face of his overwhelming power. But he must have listened to what we were preaching. Khan's oppressive style would have to be removed as well. Millions upon millions of peasants were ready to remove the puppets he'd installed into power. He couldn't take the chance that we'd succeed. So he put a stop to our proselytizing. My word could no longer be preached. He executed several of my fellow believers. Whole towns were razed to the ground as an example. I was left with no choice but to become his spokesman. It was the only way the movement could survive. And the only way lives could be saved."
The cardinal's voice was controlled. Beneath it was a hatred, a hatred of everything that Welton stood for and did. "Father Welton, you are a follower of Liberation Theology, a theology detrimental to the survival of the Holy Catholic Church and of its member states. You have admitted this. You sided with Khan Noonian Singh and accepted his help. You are a traitor to God, the Holy Catholic Church and your fellow man. Before I deliver your sentence, you are allowed a final address to this court."
Welton stood up. "I will speak." The priest gazed intently into the eyes of the cardinal, trying to find a hint as to the outcome of the trial. Welton found no clue.
Cardinal Joseph Cerveza sighed deeply. "You may begin."
"Whatever the decision of the court, I am guilty of only one thing. Liberation Theology is the hope of mankind. On this matter, I will freely admit my guilt if such is a crime. But it is not. However, in my quest to implement this belief, I did enlist the aid of Khan Noonian Singh. I am guilty of conspiracy. I accept the blame. Those that followed me only obeyed me. They had nothing to do with the decision I made."
"They followed you," said Cerveza. "It is enough to convict them as well."
Welton was infuriated by the cardinal's hardness. "Where is your compassion, brother? No matter. I shall live! The dream I want fulfilled will come to pass. You, Cardinal, and your Holy Catholic Church will never be rid of me. One day, I will have my due...even if I am martyred in this kangaroo court!"
Cerveza shook his head in disgust. Words of a desperate man. But he is right in one sense; he will live. "Be seated, Father. The sentence will be given." The cardinal struck the gavel three times against the wooden surface of the table before him.
From a door to the left of the bench, a priest walked in, making his way to Cerveza. The priest handed Cerveza an envelope as the realization struck the audience. The envelope contained Welton's verdict and sentence. After handing the envelope to Cerveza, the priest took a few steps back and stood behind Cerveza. The cardinal waited a moment, then pulled open the envelope. Cerveza knew what it said. He had drafted the decision. He gave it back to the priest without looking at it.
"Father Welton, you have been found guilty," the cardinal said without emotion.
The crowd broke into a frenzied yell, jubilant over the verdict. The cardinal called for order. United Nation security troops rushed forward, keeping the wild crowd at bay.
Once order was reestablished, Cerveza continued. "You have been found guilty of conspiracy and treason against mankind, having associated and aligned yourself with the self-proclaimed 'Supermen.' You have also been found guilty of heresy, having admitted to believing and preaching Liberation Theology. For all of these crimes, you are to be excommunicated from the Holy Catholic Church. Furthermore, you are to be put into cryogenic freeze, loaded aboard a DY-100 class vessel, and launched from Earth orbit. Your course will take you out of this solar system." He looked at now-defrocked priest with contempt. "The ends do not justify the means, Robert Welton. May God have mercy on your pitiful soul!"
United Nations security troops rushed Cerveza and Welton out of the courtroom, protecting them from the mob which had been angered by such a generous sentence. The two men found themselves alone in Cerveza's office as the security forces began removing the mob from the area.
Over the muted protestations of the mob, Welton spoke to Cerveza, his voice cold and distant. "You have made a mistake, Joseph, my old friend. Earth will suffer again."
"Robert, I don't understand," replied the cardinal. "You were a rising star in the church. How could you have done this? Was not the year we spent together at the Vatican an enlightening one? The glory of the church was revealed to me in that year."
"And to me, also, Joseph. But I saw the weakness of the church and what it stood for. It was then that I understood the true meaning of Liberation Theology. My mission started in that year, and it will continue."
This only confirmed Cerveza's belief that Welton was mad. There was a knock at the door, and a pair of security guards entered. "The area is secured, sir."
The cardinal turned to the guards. "Get this man out of here," ordered Cerveza.
The security guards quickly took the defrocked cleric away. Slowly, Cerveza sat down, exhausted over the day's events. He kicked his shoes off and wiggled his toes, enjoying the simple pleasure it gave him.
He soon stopped, aware that he had to file his report with the United Nation Secretary-General and with the Vatican. He bent over to pick up his shoes. There was no noise coming from the courtroom. He lifted his tired body from the chair and walked into the judiciary chamber. He paused before the table where Welton had sat. He stared at the empty seat and very quietly uttered, "I hope you're wrong, Robert. I hope you're wrong, old friend."
But somehow he knew that hopes weren't enough...
U.S.S. Enterprise, NCC-1701-A, Stardate 8379.3
Captain Spock switched off his computer. The modifications had taken longer than expected. He would be the first to admit that the ship was not ready for any serious mission. He had taken a few cursory scans of various systems and determined that the ship was seriously flawed. He had been aware that the ship, originally to have been commissioned as the Atlantis, had been rushed into production following the destruction of the Enterprise. It was only after the trial that the Federation Council and Starfleet had revealed the name of the vessel to be Enterprise. Captain Kirk was given command, and Spock was pleased by their logical decision.
Now it was time for the shakedown cruise to begin in earnest. The Enterprise had left the Sol star system only yesterday, and already problems were beginning to manifest themselves. There were a seemingly limitless number of problems with the ship, ranging from malfunctioning turbolift doors to misnumbered decks, from a thermostat control system which kept lowering the temperature in his quarters to a sonic shower which irritated his teeth. No matter. These problems would be repaired.
His internal clock told him that his shift on the bridge was to begin soon. He ordered the computer to dim the lights in his room. After flashing intermittently, they dimmed slowly. Spock stood and walked from his desk to the slab of Vulcan rubinite he had had placed before the flamepot. Donning his robe, he was suddenly jarred by a mental cry. Within seconds, his mind raced to contain the invasive thoughts that he sensed. Not since his attempt at Kolinahr had he felt such an intensity...but from what source?
Spock could not detect any coherent thought. Images of words appeared, but in no order that made sense. Even though he had no hard evidence on which to base his opinion, he felt confident that whatever it was that invaded his mind, it was rejoicing. It was free!
With a modicum of efforts from his mental disciplines, the thoughts left as quickly as they came. Spock tugged at his tunic to straighten it out and left for the bridge. If the thoughts returned, he would have to tell the captain.
For a thousand years, they enjoyed their freedom. They traveled unhindered; time was no barrier. The mathematical perfection of their 'bodies' was a statement for others. It reflected their true nature: pure thought. They had had bodies at one time. They evolved into something superior. It was only natural. But it was time...time to remember. Just as the sea turtles of Earth had to return to shore to lay their eggs, so, too, did the Collective need to return to the form of a body.
A cube hovered in front of a large cylinder. They called it 'The Cylinder of Life.' It focused all thoughts from the Collective into action. Its patterns of thought kept itself in contact with the life forces of the inhabitants of the universe. This almost parasitic relationship allowed them access to the rivers of time, both past and present, of every race that had or has a history. But now it grew weak. Its usual bright, red, pulsating color was now a dull gray.
Is it time? asked the cube.
It is time. We must find a host for our numbers, replied the Cylinder. All must search out. Time is of the essence.
It shall be done!
Welton had no recollection of his flight. His last memory was of being put into hibernation. Now he found himself in a chamber without any detail. As far as he could tell, the room was circular. A soft, diffused light illuminated the room. For this, he was thankful. He doubted his eyes could withstand anything brighter. He asked the obvious question. "Where am I?"
There was no immediate response. Welton was beginning to consider the possibility that he was dead. He touched his body, reassuring himself that he was indeed alive. Welton laughed at what he had just done, as if touching himself was a true test to determine life or death. It was then that they revealed themselves.
He stared in amazement. Before him materialized hundreds of geometric shapes. They came in every color of the visible spectrum. Pyramids, cubes, spheres, dodecahedrons, octahedrons, floated about him. "Can you speak?" asked Welton quietly.
He heard the reply in his mind. Yes. Are you well?
"How did you learn English?"
We analyzed your vocal query. We then located the language center in your brain. From there, we learned your language.
"Who are the 'we' to which you refer?"
We are the Collective.
"Did you build this for me?" With his hands, Welton indicated the chamber where he found himself.
Yes. We found your ship to be in a helpless condition. We determined what environment you required and revived you here.
We are in need.
Welton found it incomprehensible that these creatures needed anything. It was then that it hit him. He was communicating with another lifeform. Fear and courage overwhelmed him. He steadied himself. What could they need? "What do you need that I can give?"
There was no reply. Instead, he saw the Collective lose their color, and all the shapes became as blank as obsidian. The cube slowly maneuvered itself directly in front of Welton's face.
We know of your desire to see Liberation Theology become the religion of man. It permeates all your thoughts. We can help you achieve your goal if you will help us achieve ours.
Could this be true? Welton began to pace excitedly. To see my promise fulfilled. "What is it that I must do? I would like to know before I give you an answer."
You must help us survive.
We will reveal our plan to you later. Rest assured; we will not harm you. If all goes well, you will see your beliefs become the law, and our survival will be insured. How can you refuse? And if you do, where will you go?
"I see I have no choice. I will help," replied Welton.
Before him, the walls turned into a panoramic view screen. Slowly, the history of Earth unfolded. As he watched, a mental narration accompanied the visual. He learned he had been asleep for over two hundred years. His mind cried out in joy; the promises made to Cerveza would be kept.
So now he was dealing with this Federation of Planets. To him, it did not matter. He would help the Collective. When the Collective told him their objective, he couldn't have been happier. This planet, Tellus, was ripe, ripe for a new awakening.
The house was like any other in the town of Capua. The exterior walls were a dull gray, contrasting sharply with the mix of colors that adorned the walls of the other homes in the area. It was a box shape, the same as the others in the neighborhood. A window was set into each wall, except at the front. A white door was all that could be seen from the front.
Window gardens occupied a small area below each window. Red roses, yellow-gold daisies, and marigolds were in full bloom. Their colors were a pleasant sight against the walls of the lone, gray house. The interior was drastically different. There was only one large room. A small bathroom occupied one corner of the interior. Against the walls stood sophisticated monitoring equipment. The equipment was in operation, intercepting coded messages on all frequencies, recording radio and television broadcasts, and even eavesdropping on telephone conversations. Also in place were enough security systems to keep out even stray animals. There were deflectors and Mandelberg cloaking screens, stunner arrays and even anesthetic gas. The two Starfleet officers stationed here were specialists in monitoring alien civilizations.
Captain David Bailey of Starfleet's Planetary Relations division rubbed his tired eyes, bracing himself for another long shift. He made a few adjustments and picked up an ear receiver as his comrade stood. Bailey had been transferred from the Exploration division shortly after returning from his stint as the commander of a Federation destroyer. He had even served as ambassador pro tem during some of the initial discussions with the Alcyones, Balok's people with whom he had spent three months. It all made him a very valuable commodity, one that the Planetary Relations division relished. This assignment on Tellus was his seventeenth in the past four years. He was a seasoned veteran, due for a promotion and a transfer to a desk job at the nearest starbase any time now.
His comrade, Lieutenant Theodore "Ted" Garrovick, was the younger brother of the renowned commander of the Starfleet frigate Challenger. Garrovick had been assigned to Tellus only three weeks ago. He was relatively new to monitoring post duty, having served as a security guard aboard the Yorktown since leaving the Academy. After the near death of the crew of that vessel as a result of the Whalesong Probe's call, he reexamined his service, and requested assignment to Planetary Relations. Little did he realize how much risk was entailed in that career decision. At his last posting, the natives of Dimorus had discovered their monitoring post. His partner had been killed; he had been severely injured and had been rescued only as a result of luck: the team's replacements had arrived just in the nick of time.
As the lieutenant left his station, tired after his twelve-hour stint, he thanked Bailey for relieving him and walked to his wardrobe. He quickly put on his gym suit, and began his ritual weightlifting. Ever since his days on the Yorktown, he had to lift his weights. It was a break from the monotony. It kept his mind active.
Garrovick and Bailey were amiable toward each other. They were part of an on-going operation set up three years ago by Starfleet after the visit of the U.S.S. Enterprise. They were watching a society grow out of a twentieth century Roman Empire. Christianity had taken over. They were watching, unbeknownst to the inhabitants, to observe the direction the growth would carry itself. Garrovick and Bailey had had many a discussion on the matter, as most monitoring teams would.
Garrovick worked himself harder. A story he and Bailey were following worried him. Newscasts were claiming the Son of God was returning. Channel Two, known as the Voice of the Children of the Son, was rampant with stories of a man performing miracles and telling of the Creator's kingdom to come. Garrovick felt it could be true. Bailey did not.
"Here comes the story," said Bailey, and Garrovick dropped his weights and walked over to view the central monitor.
"This is Marcus Augustus of Channel Two, live on the scene with the Savior."
The video showed a man of medium stature. His hair was slightly matted. He was thin, but not to the point of starvation. His eyes were a fierce blue. As he walked among the crowd that had gathered around him, both of the officers noticed the fluidity of his movements. The subject of their scrutiny stopped and gazed intently at a man with no legs. Moving closer, their subject offered the crippled man a hand. The handicapped man took the hand and was immediately encompassed by a bright, yellow light.
Bailey turned his eyes away from the monitor. "What makes this guy so different from any other lifeform in the galaxy?" he asked Garrovick. "You and I have seen aliens with abilities that make this, this whatever it is, look like child's play."
"You, maybe, but me? Never. I think this may be their Savior, Dave. And may even be ours! Look!" Garrovick raved, pointing to the monitor.
The handicapped man's eyes were wild with pain. He reached for his stumps. He could feel the legs slowly growing. He cried in fear. "What is going on?" he pleaded at the man before him.
"I am your Savior."
Unable to control the pain, the man screamed. His body jerked about on the ground as if he were experiencing massive convulsions. His movements carried him twenty feet away from the Savior. The former-cripple slowly lifted his head and looked to the self-proclaimed Savior. "Who are you?"
"As I told you before, I am the Son," he replied.
Slowly, the legs began to regenerate. His sobbing stopped and a look of amazement appeared on his face. His legs were formed anew. "I lost them years ago! In an auto accident!"
"I am the Son. Follow me, and you shall have everlasting life." The Son's voice was melodic, but firm.
"I am Aurelius, and am forever in your debt. I will follow." No one could doubt his sincerity.
"Good, my son. Tomorrow, we shall go to Rhodes and spread the word even further." The Son put his hand of Aurelius' shoulder, and together they left the stunned crowd.
"Spread the word," Marcus Augustus said, holding the microphone. "And now, back to our news desk."
Garrovick switched off the monitor screen, leaving the rest of the transmission to be taped. He turned to face Bailey. "What do you think, Dave?"
Bailey hesitated. "Ted, I think we have an alien interfering in the development of this planet. I'm notifying Starfleet Command." There, he'd said it. He'd been listening to Garrovick's quasi-religious mumblings for a week now, and even though he'd accepted this young man as his friend, he could not accept his opinion. Why would Christ return here of all places? And why now?
"Well, I want to believe this is the return of Christ. We'll go to this meeting in Rhodes tomorrow. Let's see this 'Son' for ourselves. We'll have to report in either case," said the lieutenant.
"Let's just make sure what we're reporting, Mister Garrovick. I'll load the gear into the Jupiter." Bailey quickly left, heading for the storage room. He was about to open the door when Garrovick called out to him.
"Aren't you curious, Dave?"
Bailey was at a loss. "About what?"
"Why I hope it's Christ."
"Now that you mention it, why do you hope this is Christ?"
"I'm a Catholic, Dave. It's been the belief of my religion that Christ would one day return. We've waited a long time. Why can't it be now?" Garrovick's voice trailed off. He turned back to the monitors.
Bailey sighed, sure that he detected a sense of desperation and a little hope in Garrovick's voice. Bailey hoped that Garrovick's religious convictions wouldn't cloud his judgment...or his duty.
The sun broke the horizon over the city to slowly reveal a rich, blue, cloudless sky. A large crowd formed at the Agora, the central meeting place in the town of Rhodes. They were there to see the Son and hear his words.
Bailey and Garrovick were also there, occupying one of the balconies which overlooked the center of the rostrum. The Starfleet officers had come during the night. No one had questioned them when they arrived; their clothing was standard local garb: casual leather shoes, slacks, short-sleeved shirts. In addition, they both wore large vests with hidden pouches on the inside to carry their gear. The two officers had exchanged few words since the decision was made to go to Rhodes. Both preferred it that way. It was more...comfortable...for both.
An hour after dawn, the Son made his appearance. Behind him was Aurelius. Bailey slipped a hand into his vest and activated his tricorder. Garrovick began taking pictures with a holovid cam fashioned to resemble a hand-held movie camera common on Tellus. The camera had been purchased in a local shop, then Starfleet specialists had reworked it up to twenty-third century standards.
As the Son and Aurelius made their way toward the rostrum, the crowds retreated before them. A path formed, and soon the self-proclaimed Son positioned himself to speak.
The Son raised his hands. "Greetings, brothers! Hear me, and believe me. I am God's promise to you. Through me you shall have everlasting life. You, yourselves, have taken the first step. You have shaken the yoke of oppression off your backs. All that remains is for you to accept me. Through me, you shall be transformed."
The crowd surged forward and surrounded the dias. Aurelius became frightened, but the Son spoke. "Have no fear, Aurelius. They want me to cure their sick and crippled. They want proof. Do nothing to upset them."
"I had no intention of doing so." Aurelius glanced at the crowd. "They look menacing, though."
"Do not worry," replied the Son.
An elderly gentleman cautiously approached the Son. His cane preceded him. He swung it left to right and back again, slowly tapping the cane as he did so. Blind from birth, he had become quite adept at finding his way about town. He stopped in front of the Son. Tears flowed from his eyes.
"If you are truly the Son, you are supposed to heal the sick and crippled..."
"And?" prompted the Son.
"Bring the dead back to life," said the blind man, his voice a whisper.
The Son jumped off the stage to stand in front of the blind man. "Where is your loved one?"
The old man was surprised. "How did you know? It just happened!"
"It does not matter. Where is she?"
The blind man snapped his fingers. Two younger men, his sons, carried their dead mother to the Son. They placed her body at the feet on the Son.
"Please," begged the old man, "we were on the way to hear you when...when..." He choked. "I cannot live without her." He wiped away the tears with his dirty sleeve.
"Behold," said the Son. The voice carried itself throughout the courtyard.
The crowd became silent.
A cascade of colors flooded the Agora. A high-pitched whine filled the air. The crowd, in unison, clasped their hands to their ears. Bailey and Garrovick winced. They kept their equipment going despite the painful noise.
The colors went from red to blue to white. As they did so, the noise subsided until it completely faded beyond hearing. Hands slowly came down from the ears they covered. The crowd looked around and noticed a pale blue light surrounding the dead mother. Before their eyes, it vanished.
"Behold, my friend," said the Son.
The old man dropped to his knees. He put his hand to his wife's face. He cupped his hand over her nose, so that he could detect any air coming from her.
His wife took in a gulp of air and exhaled strongly. She opened her eyes. "Oh, Titus, I am alive." The two embraced warmly.
Sounds of joy emerged from the crowd. "Savior, Savior, SAVIOR!" they chanted.
Garrovick could not believe what he had seen. He turned slowly to Bailey. "I hope you got all that!"
"Yes, Lieutenant, all recorded. What about you?"
"Every bit, Mister Bailey. Let's get to the monitoring post. We've got to notify Starfleet Command."
"Then you think Christ has returned?"
"Hell, no!" Bailey snapped, tired of Garrovick's religious babbling. "I think we've got an alien on the loose! And it's our duty to stop him!"
U.S.S. Enterprise, NCC-1701-A, Stardate 8392.1
Doctor Leonard "Bones" McCoy was puzzled. Over the last week and a half, a number of crewmembers with higher-than-normal ESPer ratings were complaining about "voices" in their minds. And sitting before him was the third he had seen today, Crewman Dag. McCoy switched off the diagnostic panel. As with the other patients, he could not detect any abnormalities in the readings.
"Well, Commander?" asked the crewman in his monotone voice.
"You're as healthy as they come for a Zeosian. You can go now, Crewman."
"Thank you, Doctor." The crewman lifted himself off the bed, straightened his uniform and quietly left, his large, webbed feet padding softly on the deck.
McCoy walked out of the examination room and into the lab. There were two medical assistants reviewing the results of previous tests, looking for anything they might have missed in the initial exams.
"Anything turn up?" asked McCoy.
"Nothing yet, Doctor," answered Nurse Lesley Chapman. She was a transfer from the U.S.S. Werner von Braun. Her record was exemplary, and her work was top notch. She handed McCoy a microtape. "These are copies of the results as we have them so far. Maybe you can find something we have missed."
"I doubt it, but thanks anyway, Nurse. Who's next?"
"No one. Crewman Dag was the last one for today."
McCoy virtually exploded. "Blast that pointy-eared..."
Nurse Chapman quickly returned to her station. She didn't want to be around McCoy when he became upset over a certain Vulcan patient. It grated on her nerves, and she was having a hard time adjusting to the doctor's anachronistic attitudes. She shook her head and went back to work.
"...good for nothing Vulcan!" McCoy entered his office and angrily sat down. I should know by now what that Vulcan will do to avoid a visit to Sickbay.
He, of all people, should have visited Sickbay.
McCoy was well aware of Spock's ability. His heightened awareness following the V'ger incident made it a sure bet that Spock also "heard" the voices. McCoy was certain of it.
The doctor activated his deskcomm. "McCoy to Spock."
"So, how have you been, Spock? It's been a long time since I've heard from you."
"I am well," the response came, then a brief pause. "However, I detect some sarcasm in your question. Do you have a reason for this interruption in my duties?"
"Of course, I do!" McCoy snapped. "Have you heard any...'voices'?"
"Aside from those of the crew?" the Vulcan asked, seemingly innocent.
McCoy sighed deeply just to cool his irritation. "Yes, Spock. Telepathic 'voices,' like those experienced by all the others aboard with high telepathic ability."
"I have, Doctor. Is that all?"
"No, blast it! I want you in Sickbay now. I want to run a full physical on you."
Spock hesitated. "You will find nothing out of the ordinary."
"I'm the doctor, Spock. How 'bout letting me be the judge of that."
Spock knew McCoy could use his medical authority to order him to Sickbay. He decided on another approach. "I am to be relieved in ten minutes, Doctor. I will come to Sickbay when my shift is finished. Is this agreeable to you?"
"Yes, Spock, it is. And don't be late!" McCoy switched off his communicator. "I think I've been had." McCoy smiled and exited his office.
Nurse Chapman saw McCoy approaching her at the duty nurse station. "Is Captain Spock coming?"
"I doubt it. If he does, it'll be a miracle. Still, he promised he would." McCoy changed the subject. "Any progress?"
"No. Everyone we tested seems to be fine. I can't explain it."
"Well, keep at it. Spock'll be here in ten minutes. I'm going to grab a cup of coffee."
He left Sickbay and headed for the lounge. The problem before him troubled him. What could cause such symptoms and apparently leave no side effects? Something powerful enough to affect that many people. And the one patient he had yet to examine was the one most likely to provide some answers: Spock.
As McCoy entered the lounge, he told himself he would have to
go to Jim Kirk with this problem, and Jim Kirk would want answers. What the hell is
going on? And, for God's sake, why?
The Vatican, Terra
Pope Gregory the New was in bed. He had only been recently elected Pope. His mind raced with many thoughts. The one which kept repeating itself was: Why me?
Being an Andorian, he was the long shot. The electing council made their decision, and they picked him. Citing his seventy-five years of service to God, his sincerity, his kindness, his honesty, and his personal intervention that ended the holy war on Epsilon Canaris, they had chosen him. He hadn't sought the title, but he did not decline it. Pope Gregory vowed to do his best.
His picked up a book from his night table. It was a gift from his aide, Bishop Benjamin Williamson. The bishop knew of his fondness for church history, and had given the pope a copy of Gustav Metailler's The Missing One. Gregory turned to the first page.
A knock from his bedroom door broke his concentration. The Pope pulled himself out of bed. He grabbed his night robe and quickly put it on as he walked to the door. "Who is it?" he called.
"Bishop Williamson, your holiness."
The Pope opened the door. "The hour is late, Ben. This had better be good."
"It seems that Starfleet Command is in need of our help. It appears to be urgent."
The Pope eyed the bishop closely. Not only was he a good friend, but he had an uncanny ability to find out things...before they occurred. The Pope valued his aide's ability. He did not question it. "What else do you know? I certainly don't keep you here for your good looks."
They both chuckled. Bishop Benjamin Williamson considered himself good looking, but he would never admit it. His body was trim, his hair black with a hint of gray. His eyes were always alert. "There will be a shuttle arriving from the Barcelona station. It will take a representative we select to the starship Enterprise where a briefing is set to take place. The shuttle will be here in one hour. It is now 10:00 PM. The briefing is set for eight in the morning, our time."
"That's all I know. I don't even know what the meeting is about. This one is being kept a secret."
"Starfleet, summoning one of us...Who would have thought it? Well, I think you'd better start packing, Ben."
The bishop was surprised. "I'm to go?"
"Yes, you are. You know I can't stand spaceflight. Besides, if Starfleet Command is requesting our help, then it's a religious matter they're concerned with. You are more than qualified."
"Then it appears I can't change your mind." He looked at the Pontiff. "I'll go."
"Good! And Ben, thanks for the book," said the Pope. "Keep me abreast of the situation."
"You are quite welcome, sir. And I will keep you informed," replied Williamson.
The Pope nodded his head and slowly closed the door. The bishop quietly leaned up against the frame. Finally! The master returns! His promise will be fulfilled! It has begun! The bishop started down the hallway, a smile slowly forming as he walked.
U.S.S. Enterprise, NCC-1701-A, Stardate 8395.9
Captain James T. Kirk was in his cabin going over the latest intelligence reports on 892-IV. Since receiving his orders to return to Earth, he had pulled all the available information on the planet. He realized it was the first time in twelve years that he had given the planet any thought. The once disregarded names came back to him: Septimus, the leader of the Children of the Son; Merik, the misguided captain of the S.S. Beagle; and Flavius, the gladiator who died trying to rescue Spock and McCoy.
Kirk knew that a messiah had made an appearance in the distant past on 892-IV. The word had been suppressed by the Roman government on that world, but the word had begun to spread as they had made their first visit to the planet some...was it twenty?...years ago. Is 892-IV ready for the Second Coming? Are we?
But no matter how many times Kirk read the monitoring team's reports, he could not bring himself to accept the conclusion of young Garrovick's report: that Jesus Christ had returned. It was something he personally could not accept. He knew the lieutenant could not have arrived at his conclusion easily. Now, Bailey's report was more logical, even better written, and Kirk found the conclusion to his liking: an alien was interfering with the development of the civilization on 892-IV. It was his mission to find out which report was the more accurate.
Kirk finished reading the reports, and ordered the computer to prompt the next file. McCoy's file on the telepathic incidents came up. Kirk knew of McCoy's unsuccessful attempt to talk with Spock. The Vulcan had showed up in Sickbay as promised, allowed himself to be examined, but had refused to answer any questions, pleading "insufficient data" and the like. Kirk decided now was the time to talk with the Vulcan.
The bosun's whistle sounded. It got stuck, of course. It had gotten stuck each time they used it. Kirk banged the speaker grid, and it stopped.
"Kirk here," the captain responded, irritated.
"Spock here, Captain."
Speak of the devil... Kirk sighed. "Yes, Captain Spock?"
"The bishop's shuttle will arrive in one half-hour. I assume you will want to greet him when he arrives?"
"Yes, Spock. You and Doctor McCoy will also be there. Dress uniforms, please. And tell McCoy to make sure his boots shine this time. I'll see both of you at the shuttle observation room in twenty minutes." Kirk smiled as he waited for Spock's response.
"Understood, sir. Spock out." The communicator didn't go dead.
"Anything else, Spock?"
"Captain?" The Vulcan sounded puzzled. "You require something else?"
"No, Spock. The signal never cut." Kirk could envision the Vulcan mentally sighing.
"My apologies, Captain. I shall endeavor to close the signal using an alternate cir--"
"Whatever, Spock. Kirk out."
He doesn't sound any different, but why I am not convinced? Starfleet's top psychologists assure me he's ready for duty...of course, they also said that about Ron Tracy... A worried look overcame Kirk as he changed into his dress uniform. He finished quickly and exited his cabin as Maintenance Technician Joyce deVries came in with a repair kit in her hand and a discouraged look on her face.
"Sorry, Captain. We can't trace the problem; your comlink just won't disconnect," deVries explained.
Kirk shook his head. All of these bugs in the ship's systems are driving me crazy. What in hell is happening here? "Well, do your best, Crewman. If you're half as bothered as I am by all these bugs, then you're probably not sleeping well."
"Sleep? What's sleep, Captain? Besides, I'm more bothered by all this than you."
"How's that?" Kirk asked, puzzled.
"I'm the one who has to fix the bugs," she explained, taking the cover off the comlink.
"Well, good luck," the captain said as he began walking to the turbolift. You're going to need it.
Spock and McCoy were already present when Kirk made it to the hangar deck. The view from the observation room was magnificent. The doors were open, revealing the bright blue Earth. The arriving shuttle was on its final approach, with tractor beams guiding the craft. It made a perfect touchdown, and the clam-shell doors swung shut. "Now pressurizing hangar deck," announced the hangar deck officer.
Kirk looked to Spock and raised his eyebrow, emulating the Vulcan's favorite gesture.
"With the number of malfunctions, I thought it best not to rely on the atmospheric containment field," explained the Vulcan. Normally, the deck was kept pressurized, doors open or closed, as the atmospheric containment fields were more than capable of holding in the atmosphere of the shuttle bay. Spock glanced at the gages. "Pressurization complete, Captain."
"Let's get this over with." McCoy sounded upset.
Kirk glanced at McCoy. "What is it, Bones?"
"Nothing. I hate these ceremonies, especially the ones that require this damn dress uniform. Especially when I'm made to put it on to welcome some dignitary of an outdated religion." McCoy fidgeted with his dress coat and tried to stretch his collar, but it failed to make him comfortable.
Kirk looked at Spock, who remained silent. "Anything to add, Spock?"
"Doctor McCoy's assertion that Catholicism is an outdated religion is clearly debatable given the number of sentient beings in the Federation who practice the faith. According to the latest census--" The Vulcan noticed the look on Kirk's face. "No, Captain. Nothing to add."
The captain turned to the doctor. "Bones, you go ahead. Spock and I will follow in a minute."
"Now, wait--" Now it was the doctor's turn to notice the look on Kirk's face.
"That's an order, Bones."
The doctor reluctantly left.
Kirk watched him leave, then turned to Spock. "All right, Captain. Tell me about it."
The Vulcan knew his captain wanted answers to the very questions McCoy had asked only a few days ago. "We have been probed, Captain. We continue to be probed. I have sensed it since Stardate 8379."
"Probed? This is why crewmembers with high ESPer ratings have been complaining of 'voices' in their heads?"
"Most likely. I have insufficient data to give you a conclusive answer."
"Why didn't you go to McCoy, and why did you evade his questions?"
"I am able to control it. I did not feel it was necessary."
Kirk knew he wouldn't get a satisfactory answer, but he couldn't quit. If he could get any information, any clue as to what they were going to face, he had to have it. "Do you know what is probing us?"
"Insufficient data..." Spock visibly relaxed and raised an eyebrow. "It has ceased. Interesting."
Kirk's eyes narrowed. "We'll continue this conversation later. We've got a guest to meet."
The two captains entered the hangar deck. The doors to the shuttlecraft were opening as a security honor guard detachment stood at attention. Two priests disembarked, dressed in their clerical robes. They performed a few minor ceremonies, and the bishop came out of the craft. Kirk and Spock made their way toward the man. "Bishop Williamson? I'm Captain James T. Kirk, commander of the Enterprise. Allow me to present Captain Spock, my executive officer, and Commander Leonard McCoy, our chief medical officer."
Williamson nodded briefly, politely. To Kirk, he seemed anxious, almost desperate, as he spoke. "Yes, yes. Of course. Your holopics have been in the news quite a bit in the past few months."
Kirk frowned, and McCoy turned red-faced. Spock spoke. "Bishop Williamson, we have scheduled a briefing for 0930, ship's time. Will that be convenient for you?"
"That would be fine."
"Lieutenant Graves will escort you to your quarters," added Kirk.
The bishop was escorted from the hangar bay, his aides carrying the luggage. Kirk turned to Spock. "Well, that was... special."
"Let's hope his holiness finds the amenities better than those in my quarters," added McCoy.
"'His holiness' is not an accurate term for a bishop, but rather for the Pope," explained Spock. "The correct term you want--"
"--is 'drop it,' you blasted Vulcan!" snapped McCoy as he made his way from the shuttle bay.
"Really special," amended Kirk.
Captain Kirk walked on to the bridge as Lieutenant Couch called from the engineering station. "Mister Scott reports we are as ready as we can get for departure, Captain."
Uhura reported as well. "We're cleared for departure, sir. Admiral Cartwright sends his regards."
"Acknowledge the admiral's message, Uhura." The captain walked to his seat and sat down. It vibrated noisily. "As ready as we can get, Lieutenant Couch?"
The young man sheepishly grinned. "We're finding more and more problems every day, sir. Mister Scott is overseeing the repairs, but it'll take weeks to iron them all out. At least we've established that the major systems are operable."
"Operable, huh? Well, Mister Sulu, you heard the lieutenant. We're operable. Take us out of orbit. Mister Chekov, set course for 892-IV."
Chekov swung around in his chair. "Sir?"
Kirk nodded. "You heard the order, Commander. Starfleet wants us there yesterday."
"Aye, Kyptin." A few swift settings, and the course was programmed. "Course laid in, Kyptin."
"Engage warp drive at first opportunity, Sulu. Let's see what awaits us at our destination." Kirk leaned back in the chair, assured that the ship was in capable hands. Let's just hope the ship is up to the task...
The Jupiter Mark Eleven was the fastest car on the market. Bailey and Garrovick had no trouble getting away from the mass of followers at the Agora...or so they thought. It was the sixth time they had gone there to hear the Son speak. Each day brought new miracles. Each day brought larger crowds. Bailey was at the wheel, looking for their exit, when he glanced into his rear-view mirror and realized they were being followed. Garrovick was still rambling about the Second Coming.
The car trailing them was black. It was clean and had no distinguishing marks. Every other car on the Appian Expressway was brightly colored, as was the custom, which led Bailey to decide the black vehicle was an "official" car. They couldn't take any chances of being caught.
Bailey quickly increased their speed. The rapid acceleration of the Jupiter startled Garrovick, who had begun recording his personal report on what had been observed earlier in the day. "Hey, easy on the gas, Captain! I'd like to get home in one piece."
Bailey accelerated even faster. Again, he glanced in the mirror. Their pursuers were still behind them. He turned to Garrovick. "We're being followed," he announced.
"What?" answered Garrovick. He turned around to see the black car bearing down on them. Garrovick visibly tensed. "Son of a bitch. Security. We've shown up at the Agora every day, and they must have noticed."
"Probably noticed our equipment and took an interest in us. I'll try to lose them." Bailey swung the car sharply to the right, narrowly missing a truck carrying medical supplies. Other cars swerved to avoid hitting their Jupiter. Another car overcompensated and slammed into the concrete divider in the center of the eight-laned expressway. It exploded immediately, creating a huge fireball.
Bailey took the car down an exit, knowing full well that it was not their exit. He slowed the car to a stop. Both of them turned to the left and saw the black car speeding ever faster down the expressway. The smoke and fire had helped them lose their pursuers.
"Let's get to the monitoring post," prompted Garrovick as he saw the agony on Bailey's face. The cost of lives for the victims on the expressway weighed heavily on the captain's features. "We'll need to park several blocks away from it."
Bailey nodded. "We'll park at the library and walk the rest of the way in. We'll have a better chance of getting in unseen if they're busy looking for the car instead of watching the house."
Garrovick looked around the corner of the building adjacent to their monitoring post. "It's not being watched," he reported.
"As far as you can tell," countered Bailey.
They had come through a series of alternate routes, changing directions constantly. They had seen no sign of pursuit, and now their destination was before them.
"We'll use the emergency entrance," Bailey decided.
Glancing around the street, he reached down and pulled up a manhole cover. Quickly, the two Starfleet officers dropped into the sewer system. Making their way carefully in the darkness, they followed the luminescent markers the designers of the post had placed in the sewer for such an event. They made their way up the ladder into the monitoring post, and quickly assumed their stations. Garrovick turned on the transmitter gear as Bailey activated the surveillance cameras which covered all approaches to the house. It wasn't long before the Tellus state security police arrived at the property.
"Subspace relay satellite is responding. Link established. Transmission of all data has begun," intoned Garrovick.
"That's good, because they're here and they're armed," announced Bailey.
"Transmission will be complete in fifteen seconds, fourteen..." counted the young lieutenant nervously.
Bailey was calm as he watched the security police pour out of several vehicles, including a van. They were deploying, taking up positions to cover any escape routes the two could possibly take. An indicator flashed red; the state police had found the emergency entrance. He pressed a button and the sewer infrared cam displayed several forms taking positions around the exit. Checking the monitors closely, he noted the submachine guns held by the security troops were loaded and the safeties were off. Then, it dawned on Bailey. They plan to kill us. He couldn't engage the deflector system; there were too many security troops in the vicinity who would be killed by engaging the screens. The sensors were detecting helicopters above the building; using the stunners would result in even more deaths as the helicopters would crash into the surrounding houses. No, decided Bailey. I won't be party to the taking any more innocent lives. Their defensive systems were designed to stop the single intruder, not an assault of this magnitude.
"Transmission complete!" exclaimed Garrovick.
"Christ! Hit the deck!" yelled Bailey, noting the troops were aiming their weapons at the building.
Garrovick immediately complied. He and Bailey scampered across the floor, amid a hail of gunfire that hit the small house. Pieces of glass, wood and cement flew in every direction, pelting the two with nicks and cuts. Some bullets struck their equipment, starting electrical fires. Smoke billowed from the units, filling the room.
"The emergency transporter!" Bailey called over the roar of the guns. They crawled to the heavily protected storage room and sat on the unit.
"Standby for transport!" reported Garrovick as he armed the device.
"Activate the self-destruct unit," ordered Bailey grimly as the rain of bullets still sprayed the house. He heard the distinctive roar of flame throwers. "Just to be sure none of our equipment falls into their hands."
"Activated. Implosion imminent in ten seconds."
"Energize transporter!" Bailey exclaimed.
The house imploded, collapsing in the wake. The Tellus security police ceased firing. Looking at each other, they grinned at their success.
It had been a long, hard road for the Children of the Son. Septimus was justifiably proud of what he and his followers had done. From his palace window on the second floor of what used to be the Senate building, Septimus gazed into the heart of the Capitoline, the center of government for Tellus. They had joined together to overthrow the Roman Empire. Nothing could stop what had to be. Now, as he observed the demonstrations outside the palace, Septimus felt he was no longer in control.
He knew of the reports. The media was proclaiming the return of the Son. Septimus believed this to be true. But there were others who did not. There were rumors in the palace that his head of security, Gaius Jacob, did not believe that the Son had returned. Septimus would be hard pressed to convince the others if the rumors about Jacob were true.
Septimus remembered the first time he had met Jacob. It was during the overthrow. What Gaius Jacob had done, Septimus would never forget.
Septimus had his contingent of one hundred troops only a hundred meters from the Senate building. Fire from the Roman troops had his men pinned down. It was all he could do to prevent his men from charging the palace, which would have been suicide. He was about to give the order to withdraw, when he and his men heard a blood curdling scream behind them. They all turned and saw a very large, solidly-built man leading a band of five hundred freed gladiators toward the Senate building. The leader of this group waved his arms in two directions. His group split up evenly, beginning the encirclement of the building. Jacob ran and ducked behind the wall which protected Septimus' men. Jacob, on his hands and knees, crawled to Septimus. "Gaius Jacob, ready to storm the Senate building, sir!"
"I am Septimus. You may proceed when ready."
"Septimus? The leader?"
"I am the one." Septimus shrugged his old shoulders.
"I am yours to command until death for I believe as strongly as you."
Septimus was stunned. For a man to give an oath and back it up with his life to a man he did not know was virtually unheard of. Septimus found himself liking the rugged man before him. "You may attack when ready."
Jacob leaped over the wall. It was the cue everyone else followed. The Children of the Son stormed the Senate building. The Roman guards panicked and fled at the sight of the gladiators, leaving the building unguarded. It was the straw that broke the camel's back. Soon afterward, Emperor Stephanus fled the Capitoline. The Roman Empire had fallen.
Septimus sighed. He was not looking forward to the meeting about to take place. He hoped that Gaius Jacob would side with him. After all, he had sworn an oath that he would gladly give his life for Septimus.
The former senator left his office. He walked as fast as he could for his age; being over a century old certainly took its toll. But Septimus kept himself fit, even though the pressures of the office and the religious responsibilities of Pontifex Maximus were beginning to wear on him.
He reached the chambers of the Council of the Son and entered.
Those present stood and bowed slightly as he was announced, an acknowledgement of his leadership, his authority, and their love for him. When Septimus sat down, the others followed.
Jacob shifted his massive, two hundred-sixty pound frame to make himself more comfortable in his chair. His size worked to his advantage. Opponents had often thought he was slow, which led to their early demise in the arena. Jacob had always relished the look in their faces when he ran his short sword through their midsections during hand-to-hand combat. Each and every time, Jacob had chuckled as his dead enemies had fallen to the ground.
Now he stood before the Council of the Son. His voice deep and commanding, he began to speak. "Council is now in session. Blessed be the Son."
The audience repeated the phrase. "Blessed be the Son."
"For the record, all are present," Gaius Jacob continued. "The floor is yours, Pontifex."
"Thank you, Brother Jacob," answered Septimus. His voice was firm for a hundred year old man. He sat with a slight bend in his back, age and gravity taking their toll on him. "I will be brief and to the point. We have all seen the reports. It is time we make a decision. The Son of God is on his way to the Capitoline. He will be here soon. I believe he is the Son of God. What about you, my brothers?" He motioned to others with a wave of his hand.
"Septimus, the man is an imposter." It was Jacob. Septimus had his answer, and it was not to his liking.
Across the chamber, Marcellus Calthus, the councilman from the district of Corinth, noted a hint of rebellion in Jacob's voice. Inwardly, he smiled at the thought of driving a wedge between Septimus and Gaius Jacob. But he couldn't be sure. He could only wait and see.
Jacob continued, "I mean no disrespect. We have been through a lot together. I remember with pride the day we stormed the Senate building. God was on our side. But this, this imposter, I cannot accept he is the Son. I cannot side with you, Septimus. I just don't believe."
The others shifted uneasily with apprehension. Many felt the way Jacob did, many more felt as Septimus. But Marcellus Calthus was finding the proceedings more and more enjoyable. If Septimus lost the confidence of the security chief, the Pontifex would be hard pressed to get their views across, and perhaps he, Marcellus Calthus, would find it easier to get his personal agenda through the Council.
Septimus felt he was at a loss. "Do you have any evidence to back up your doubts?"
"No, Septimus. Just a hunch."
The Pontifex appealed to his security chief. "Gaius, you interpret Vox Dei differently. The Son said he would return, and he has. Do you claim the Son to be a liar?"
"No, I do not, Septimus. This imposter is a liar!" Jacob pounded his fist onto the table. The action startled everyone, and pleased Calthus even more.
Septimus looked away, feeling betrayed. "Are there any others who feel the same way as Gaius Jacob?"
Six councilmen stood. Septimus looked each of them in the eye. He would not forget them. "Be seated," commanded the former senator.
"Pontifex." Jacob hoped the switch to honorifics would intimidate Septimus. "We do not have a two-thirds majority to set policy, and you do not have a two-third majority to set policy. And there are others who believe as we do. I cannot keep track of every malcontent."
Septimus replied in a cold, angry voice. "Listen, Jacob, and listen well. If anything happens to the Son, you will be held accountable. If he should suffer, you will suffer. Do I make myself clear?"
"Perfectly," replied Jacob. The security chief pushed himself away from the table and stood. The six councilmen who agreed with him also stood. They followed Gaius Jacob out. Septimus noticed that Jacob and Calthus were in an animated conversation as they left the room.
Septimus smiled sadly. My, how mixing religion and politics can turn a friend into an enemy.The Pontifex buried his face in his hands. His mind began to race, knowing full well that he was losing his hold on power. He lifted his head up, only to meet the staring eyes of the six councilmen who stayed with him.
"Andrew!" the Pontifex called for his aide.
Andrew heard his master's summons, quickly entered the Council room, and stopped behind Septimus.
Septimus turned to face him, allowing the remaining members of the Council to speculate on the meaning of the events of this session. "What is the status of our visitors? Are they still being watched?"
"Jacob attacked their house, and it was completely destroyed. Nothing remained except the rubble of the house and their destroyed equipment. Their bodies were not found, and Jacob fears they managed to escape. If they have escaped, no one has been able to locate them."
"Thank you, Andrew. You have been most informative."
Andrew left, grateful to have been of assistance to the Pontifex.
Septimus turned to face the remaining six members of the Council. Looking at their concerned faces, he had nothing positive to say. There is still a chance, though. Gaius Jacob has failed to kill them. Word may have reached Kirk. Kirk, I haven't forgotten you. Have you heard of our predicament? Will you be able to help us? Can you?
The Pontifex stood there, helpless. He had no answers, and neither did anyone else.
U.S.S. Enterprise, NCC-1701-A, Stardate 8596.4
"Scotty, you have the conn."
With that, Kirk gave control of the ship to the chief engineer. Kirk turned his chair toward the science station. He got up from the chair, and spoke to the Vulcan. "Captain Spock, are you ready for this meeting?" For a second, Kirk thought he saw Spock frown.
"Captain, as you must be well aware, Vulcans are always ready," reminded Spock as he picked up his microfiles.
"My apologies. Let's go, Spock."
Kirk nodded to his chief engineer.
"Dinna worry, Cap'n. She'll be in good hands."
"Of that, Mister Scott, I have no doubt. Just don't let her fly to pieces on you."
A grave look flashed on Scott's face. "I canna promise thot, Cap'n." A twinkle appeared in the chief engineer's eye. "They just don't build 'em like they used to."
Kirk and Spock entered the turbolift, and the doors failed to close. "Understatement?" asked Spock.
"Fact," responded Kirk as he forced the doors to close.
They arrived at the main briefing room with little time to spare. They were the last to arrive. Doctor McCoy and Bishop Williamson were waiting for them. Yeoman Dag poured them all a glass of water. He left the pitcher on the table and excused himself.
Time to get the ball rolling, thought Kirk. He pressed the "record" button. "Gentlemen, I presume you've all read the reports. Analysis, please."
Captain Spock spoke first, providing background information on the inhabitants. "According to the Vox Dei, the holy book of the Children of the Son, the Son of God promised he would return. However, the book does not say when or how. In the meantime, the Children suffered through two thousand years of Roman oppression. There were minor slave revolts, but the Vox Dei was suppressed. Shortly after our first visit to the planet, or perhaps because of it, the Children overthrew the government. Septimus, a former senator who had been made a slave for his beliefs, became the Pontifex Maximus, the head of the new government. Gaius Jacob, a friend of Septimus and Flavius and himself a renowned gladiator, became the chief of security."
"Excuse me, Captain Spock," the bishop politely interrupted. "How did you get this information? How could there be a planet of Romans in deep space? I'm completely at a loss."
Kirk took a deep breath. "Bishop Williamson, in the course of its deep space explorations, Starfleet has encountered a number of cultures which have been transplanted from Earth, seeded on different planets by a race known only as the Preservers. I am...not at liberty to disclose the locations and cultures which have been transplanted with the exception of the Roman civilization on the fourth planet of system 892. This civilization was apparently transplanted there some twenty-five hundred years ago. The Roman Empire flourished there on this extremely Earth-like world. And there were no Vandals, Goths, Franks or Visigoths to bring down the empire. There were Romans, and there were slaves."
Spock took up the explanation. "In time, slavery became an institution, with benefits and pensions established. There were fewer and fewer revolts. Eventually, though, the Vox Dei spread, and the Roman Empire fell, possibly as a result of influence of a renegade Federation merchant marine captain or of our attempted rescue of him and his crew. Our landing party encountered the Children of the Son and Septimus. Unbeknownst to them, Starfleet set up an observation post to monitor the development of the planet, to ensure that the damage we may have done was minimized."
"You mean you broke the Prime Directive," Williamson concluded. "Your reputation is well-deserved, Captain Kirk."
"No, it isn't, and, no, we didn't," snapped McCoy angrily. "The Prime Directive was broken by Captain Merik of the Beagle, not by us!"
"We had to keep the damage to a minimum. Merik had set himself up as a member of the Roman government. We were obligated under the Prime Directive to remove him from the planet. In so doing, we learned of his interference with the Roman government of the planet. We were eventually rescued with Merik's help. Captain Merik perished in the rescue."
"This monitoring post was established after your rescue?"
"A few weeks later. And Starfleet's Planetary Relations division was in charge of the operation. Over the years, we've been vindicated. Our interference was kept to a minimum. Only the Proconsul knew that Merik and our landing party were from another star system, and he was killed in the bloody civil war," continued Kirk, annoyed by the interruptions. Didn't he read the reports we sent him?
"The very religion of the Children of the Son precludes the existence of other planets," added Spock.
"Much like your faith did, your holiness, prior to the twentieth century or so," McCoy added sarcastically.
Williamson seemingly ignored the doctor's baiting, but Kirk didn't. "That's enough, Doctor." The captain addressed the bishop. "If I'm right, sir, we won't be put in the position of interfering with the planet's development. We'll be put in the position of restoring the planet's development--"
"But, Captain, if this is the Son of God we're talking about--" interrupted Williamson.
"With all due respect," interjected McCoy, "we could be dealin' with some two-bit alien, looking to play the part of Savior on a backwater world. And it's probably against regulations to tell you this, but it wouldn't be the first time an alien's decided to play God with a primitive society." The doctor scowled intently at Williamson. "What makes you so certain this is the Son of God?"
Bishop Williamson, sitting to McCoy's left, turned to face him. "Faith, Doctor, faith," he answered.
Neither McCoy's apparent lack of faith nor the captain's orders seemed to quell the bishop's piety. "Captain, we must beam down as soon as we make orbit and make pilgrimage to worship the--"
"You, sir, are nuts," commented McCoy, who shook his head in absolute disbelief.
"Captain, Doctor, Bishop, I believe I have a solution," announced Spock.
McCoy was shocked. "You can't be serious, Spock! You can't be advocatin' that we break the Prime Directive!" His agitation always had brought out the Southern drawl.
"No, I am not, Doctor." Spock was surprised by McCoy's illogical conclusion. "I am suggesting that if the Prime Directive has been violated, we must do something. And if this is the Son of God, we would be well advised to do nothing."
Kirk and McCoy each did a double-take. Bishop Williamson sat up; this was even better than he had hoped.
Spock continued, "I have reviewed the information downloaded from the observation team. They were often at the scenes at which miracles were performed. Judging from the information we've received, they had returned to their posts when they were attacked by security forces. We will need to ascertain whether or not the Prime Directive has been broken."
Bishop Williamson was about to speak, but Kirk cut him off. "Where is the observation team now?"
"Unknown, Captain. Communications from the monitoring team ceased during an attack on their post. We will enter orbit at Tellus at 0800 ship's time tomorrow morning. At that time, we can begin sensor sweeps. Both team members had subcutaneous transponders. Locating them should be relatively simple."
"Captain Kirk," Williamson finally managed to add, "I insist that we must investigate and determine whether or not this is the Son of God."
Kirk leaned back in his chair. His mind raced. Fellow officers were at risk; they had been attacked, possibly captured or even killed. And if damage was done, it had to be repaired. The situation was getting more complicated, especially since the bishop was opting for the "Son of God" theory, as espoused by David Garrovick's younger brother. And with all of this, the most important question was still unanswered: who or what was the Son on 892-IV?
"Bishop Williamson," the captain began, "you'll get your wish answered. We will investigate."
"Thank you, Captain," said the bishop.
Kirk nodded. "I think this briefing is over. Bishop, if you don't mind, I'd like to discuss some minor details with my officers."
"Quite all right, Captain." The bishop excused himself and left.
As soon as the doors shut, Kirk turned to McCoy. "Bones, you've got to be nicer to our guest. He's a civilian who's agreed to provide a religious insight into this mission."
"You think so?" McCoy harrumphed. "The only thing he's providing is bull--"
"Are the mental intrusions continuing, Doctor?" asked Kirk, pointedly interrupting his chief medical officer's caustic remark.
"Yes, and they're getting stronger the closer we get to Tellus...You don't think..."
Kirk was getting excited, the way he always did when he knew his hunches were right. "Speculation, Spock. Could there be a connection between the events on Tellus and the mind intrusions?"
Spock shrugged slightly. "If there is a connection, we are dealing with an extremely advanced being, capable of projecting thoughts over distances measured in lightyears."
"Well, whatever it is, it looks like we'll find it on Tellus. Let's hope we can reason with it," added McCoy worriedly.
Kirk couldn't help but notice it. I hope we can, Bones. I hope we can.
Bishop Williamson paced nervously in his cabin. He couldn't let the Enterprise crew stop his master's plans. Yet, he had to make it look like he was with them. His mind raced, thinking of a way to somehow delay the Enterprise. His mind reached out to Welton. "Father?"
There was a mental glimmer, and the bishop stopped pacing. "Father, is it you?"
Yes, my son. It is I.
"What shall I do? Is there nothing I can do to stop this ship?"
Use what is available to you. You have done well with your antagonism. It has distracted them, and your piety disconcerts them. But there are other resources available to you. After all, I did not retain you for your good looks.
"How did...never mind." Williamson shook his head. Welton was gone, but his suggestion was enough. The bishop went to the computer on his desk and called up the ship schematics. The program was designed to help visitors find their way about the ship. It highlighted areas which were off limits to non-authorized personnel. He quickly found two that interested him.
The first was a room, located on Deck Five, and was listed as "Armory." The second one was not far from it. Williamson bolted from his quarters, bumping into several startled crewmen on his way.
In Orbit Above Tellus
The Enterprise slipped into orbit around 892-IV. "Captain Spock, begin scanning, please," Kirk requested.
It was then that the ship shuddered violently. Gravity generators were late in recovering, causing many of the bridge crew to suffer from whiplash. There was a sudden loss of gravity, followed by the return of one G.
Rubbing his neck, Kirk rotated his chair toward the engineering station. "Scotty, what happened? Don't tell me it was a malfunction!" He knew that the civilization on 892-IV didn't have the capability to damage his ship. They didn't even have air travel, let alone a way to launch an attack against a spacecraft in orbit.
The chief engineer's voice indicated that he was very upset. "The mains have gone off-line. Emergency pow'r has taken over. Gravity and life support are nominal."
"How? Was it a malfunction?" Kirk repeated. If it were, then heads were going to roll at Starfleet when they got back to base.
Spock supplied the answer. "Captain, Security reports a break-in in the armory on Deck Five. They now report that someone has taken over engineering."
The chief engineer uttered a Gaelic curse, but Kirk ignored it. "Who, Spock?"
Spock continued his conversation over his personal ear receiver with the security chief.
"Who, damn it!" Kirk demanded.
"Bishop Williamson," reported the Vulcan.
Kirk's jaw tightened. "Are they sure?"
"Uhura, notify Security I'm on my way to Engineering. Spock, Scotty, let's go. Uhura, you have the conn."
The three captains entered the turbolift. The doors closed on their own accord, a little slower than usual, but they did close. "Spock," Kirk turned to his first officer, "how did the bishop enter the armory?"
"According to security, he simply walked right in. The armory's security locks were non-functional."
"Non-functional? Non-functional?" Kirk was almost as red as his jacket. "How can the locks to the armory not be functional on a starship?"
"Borgas frat. I'll personally see to it thot the bloody bastard responsible at Operations is wiping toilets on a garbage scow when we get back to base," swore Scott.
"If we get back to base," corrected Spock.
The doors on the turbolift opened crisply, and the three officers strode quickly to Engineering. "Status?" queried Kirk as he arrived.
"No change, sir."
"Mister Gabler!" Scott snapped. The assistant chief engineer came running. "Report, lad!"
"Bishop Williamson came in with a phaser in each hand and ordered the engineering staff out of the engine room. The engineers and techs did as they were told, and Williamson sealed the doors. After the staff had cleared out, he apparently fired on the intermix chamber and gravity controls, disabling the warp drive and the gravity generators. Auxiliaries kicked back in on the grav units, but I think we're screwed on the mains, sir."
Gabler turned to Captain Kirk. "Sir, he's in there with a phaser. If he should fire at the intermix chamber..."
Kirk smiled grimly. "Commander Gabler, I am well aware of what might happen. That's why I'm going in there. Spock, take a third of the security team here and try to gain access through the door to the impulse deck. Scotty, take a third and make your way in through the upper levels. Mister Gabler, you and the remaining team members will back me up here." He looked at Spock, Scott and Gabler. "Make sure their phasers on set to stun, otherwise..."
"Otherwise, if they hit the intermix chamber, kaboom," muttered McCoy who had joined them in time to hear Kirk's orders. "Jim, what are you going to do in there? Talk to him?"
"Yeah, Bones. I'm going to talk to him." Kirk strode forward. The doors slid open. "Bishop Williamson?" he called in as friendly a manner as he could. He entered the engine room, and the doors closed behind him.
"Fools rush in where angels fear to tread," muttered McCoy, who decided to stay with Gabler and his third of the team.
Kirk found himself face to face with Williamson. The phaser the bishop was pointing at Kirk was set to kill. Each time Kirk advanced a step toward the bishop, Williamson shook the weapon. "That's far enough, Captain Kirk."
This was a different Williamson than the one Kirk had met when he first came on board. The bishop in front of him was nervous. Sweat oozed from every pore. His eyes were wide, rarely blinking. It was the look of a desperate man. "Why are you doing this?" asked Kirk.
"I can't let you interfere with what is going on below. My master wants it this way," said the bishop.
"Who is your master?" Kirk tried to move closer to him.
The bishop quickly backed away, keeping his phaser pointed at Kirk. "God is my master!"
I've got to be careful. I've got to keep him distracted. When Kirk replied, it was in a soft, reassuring voice. He hoped that he could keep the bishop from realizing that the captain was slowly maneuvering him away from the intermix chamber and toward the impulse deck door where Spock and his security squad would enter. "Is your master responsible for what's happening on Tellus?"
Williamson took another step back. "Oh, yes! And it is only the beginning."
Kirk inched closer, and the bishop took another step back. "Again, I ask, who is your master?" Kirk kept his frustration under control. Any time now, Spock. Otherwise, he'll explode and take out the intermix. Just be very, very careful, Jim Kirk. "And why is he doing this?"
"Because he made a promise. And he believes he is right. And so do his followers."
There was a creaking noise as the door to the impulse deck shuddered open. The sound startled the bishop. He fired the phaser wildly, missing Kirk by inches. It hit the wall behind him, destroying another one of the engineering control consoles.
Spock's security team rushed into Engineering, as did Gabler's and Scott's from the other entrances. The bishop scrambled for cover as several security men fired. The bishop screamed, taking the phaser fire in the chest.
As the bishop was struck, Spock fell to his knees. His hands clasped his head. Voices entered his mind. Ordered thoughts, yet obsessive. He recognized Williamson's thought patterns. Someone or some thing was also present. Spock fought to control the pain. His mind raced, bringing order to the chaos. He knew what he had to do. But as he started to concentrate on his disciplines, he heard voices, familiar voices.
Kirk helped Spock to his feet as the Vulcan regained his composure. Scott made his way to the damaged stations with his engineers. The security team assisted the engineers and technicians in any way they could. Repairs were underway.
"Captain, I must meld with Williamson. He holds the answers we seek," announced Spock.
McCoy, who had made his way to the bishop, answered before Kirk could. "You can't be serious, Spock! He's dying from all those hits. If he should die while you are melded with him..."
"I am well aware of the risks, Doctor. But I felt a presence other than Williamson when he was hit. I believe it is in contact with him. I believe it to be what we are seeking."
"That's what you said about V'ger, isn't it, Spock?" McCoy goaded.
Kirk knew what he had to do. "Do it, Spock. At the first sign of trouble, I want you to pull out."
Spock positioned himself next to the limp body of the bishop. He put his left hand against the left side of Williamson's face, slowly spreading his fingers as he made contact. The science officer closed his eyes. His breathing became shallow, matching the breathing of Williamson. As the Vulcan made contact, a medical team from Sickbay arrived, and worked with McCoy to stabilize Williamson's vital signs, but it was clear that Williamson would not survive. His nervous system had suffered too much damage from the multiple stun wounds.
Spock made his way deep into Williamson's mind. Suddenly...
INTRUDER!!! shouted the Collective.
No. Friend! No harm is intended. Spock's head jerked to the right, as if someone had belted him with a right hook.
Do not give him access. He is my enemy. You will not fulfill your desires if you let him in.Welton's thoughts were frantic.
The Collective invaded Spock's mind, and the Vulcan screamed in agony. He stopped suddenly, and his breathing became more relaxed. His hand slipped off of Williamson's face.
McCoy and Kirk rushed forward and grabbed Spock, shaking the first officer violently. "Snap out of it, Spock!" shouted Kirk.
"Contact is broken. Snap out of it, Spock!"
The Vulcan slowly opened his eyes. "I am quite all right, gentlemen." The Vulcan managed to stand. "The planet Tellus is being manipulated by a Human named Robert Welton. He has enlisted the aid of a superbeing which calls itself the Collective to do his bidding. They also have an interest in the planet."
McCoy was lost. "Welton? Collective? What are you talking about?"
Kirk answered before Spock. "Welton. That name sounds familiar. I believe it had something to do with the Eugenics war. I was reading up on it after...after what happened with the Genesis project." The starship captain rushed to a computer terminal. "Computer?"
"Working," it intoned.
"Access any information on Welton, Robert, cross-referenced with the Eugenics War materials. Display on this screen."
The reply was slow in coming, and the annoying 'abort, retry or fail?' prompt kept forcing Kirk to tap the retry button as the computer had a hard time accessing the memory banks. Finally, a report on the history of Father Robert Welton appeared on the screen. It was sketchy, but then, all records from the Eugenics Wars were sketchy. Accurate information on the Liberation Theology movement was scarce, but sufficient enough to make some guesses about the man. An extract of Gustav Metailler's book, The Missing One, helped immensely. Kirk, Spock and McCoy, all three quick readers, made short work of the information.
"So, this Welton's still alive. Williamson must've been one of the followers of his Liberation Theology," concluded McCoy. "Even though it's a banned movement."
"Remarkably logical, Doctor. In addition to your suppositions, I must point out that Robert Welton is a formidable telepath. This is his method of communicating with his followers, such as Williamson, and with the Collective."
"Why Tellus? Why here?" asked Kirk. "And this Collective..."
"His return will fulfill the promise he made at his trial after the war," answered the Vulcan.
"And what a choice this planet is," added McCoy. "Christianity is the religion and government. The society is primed for the second coming."
"And from what I was able to sense, the Collective are non-corporeal beings. Pure thought, Captain. But their survival is at stake. Every one thousand years, they must experience what it is like to have a body--to feel. It renews them. Rather than overtly infesting an unsuspecting population, they create turmoil on a planet, generally through political upheaval, invade the bodies of its inhabitants for a brief instant, and then leave. The population is not harmed, and there is a beneficial side effect. A part of the knowledge that the Collective hold is imparted upon certain individuals. These individuals, they hope, will guide their peoples through the turmoil, and lead them to a more peaceful future."
"They look for powder kegs, light the fuse, then show the people there how to douse it?" asked McCoy.
"Essentially correct, Doctor," conceded Spock. "Your powers of deduction have improved considerably since bearing my katra."
"How did Welton and this Collective get together?" asked Kirk, ignoring the Vulcan's barb.
"It is necessary for an individual to instigate the turmoil. They will not do this on their own. They encountered Welton in deep space, rescued him from his ship, and are helping him fulfill his dream of imposing Liberation Theology on Humanity. Tellus, being a Preserver-seeded planet and in Federation territory, was the perfect choice. They realized his true nature, but feel he is ideal for their purposes. It is a mutually beneficial relationship. However, Welton has been difficult for them..."
"He's crazy," suggested McCoy.
"No, but quite obsessive and paranoid," countered Spock.
"Will the Collective stop?" Kirk was not hopeful.
"No, Captain. We can be assured that no harm will come to the people of Tellus from what they do. However, we must stop Welton. He has caused great damage to the culture there. The Children of the Son will be disillusioned when they find out he is, for all intent and purposes, more akin to the Anti-Christ."
"Then this Son of God on the planet is Welton?" asked McCoy.
"Incorrect, Doctor. It is an artificial construct developed by the Collective, based on the concept of Christ that Welton believed. It is programmed with the idea of Liberation Theology, a philosophy foreign to Tellus, in addition to several programs capable of--"
"Spock, just say it's got quite a bag of tricks," interrupted the doctor. "None of the miracles we've seen couldn't be accomplished through modern medical techniques. This 'construct' just uses energy fields instead of equipment. I had that figured out the first time I saw one of the monitoring team's reports."
There came a groan from Williamson, and his body heaved. McCoy looked at Lesley Chapman, and the nurse shook her head. "We did all we could, Doctor," she spoke softly. "The neural damage was too severe."
McCoy offered her a hand up from the deck where she had been sitting next to the bishop. "I know, Nurse. Get a stretcher down here, and get him to Sickbay. We'll need an autopsy for the records. Can you get Doctor Stuik to do it for me?" As an afterthought, he added, "Also, get the chaplain to Sickbay to administer to the bishop's needs."
Kirk tapped the computer console. "Captain to Bridge."
"Uhura here, Captain."
"Notify Starfleet Command that we've determined that alien involvement on Tellus is confirmed. Inform them we will attempt to rectify the situation as best as we can. Also, inform the Vatican that Bishop Williamson has been killed during his attempt to sabotage this ship and this mission. Be diplomatic about it, Uhura. There may be Hell to pay when this is all over. Kirk out." He tapped the button again, cutting the channel.
"Scotty?" Kirk called to his engineer who was in the midst of overseeing repairs of the intermix regulator console.
"Ready the transporter room. Captain Spock, Doctor McCoy and I are beaming down. We're going to see if we can repair the damage done by Welton."
The Son and Aurelius gazed into the city and spotted the arena. They were on the largest hill overlooking the Capitoline. From where they stood, every major structure in the city could be seen. The Son pointed into the center of the city. "There. Do you see it, Aurelius? Our destination and my destiny."
Aurelius shook his head. He couldn't see much but the buildings themselves. The vision of the Son was far superior to his own. But there was more to his dissatisfaction. 'My destiny'? "I don't understand."
"No need to, my friend. All will be answered soon."
They started their downhill journey into the city.
Septimus was kneeling in prayer when he heard a high-pitched whine. It was brief, but it was long enough to break his concentration. He stood up and looked behind him. He did not expect who he was seeing, but could not contain his joy. "Captain Kirk, am I glad to see you. I bid you welcome!" He hobbled forward and patted Kirk on the shoulder.
"The feeling is mutual, Septimus. You remember my friends, Spock and McCoy?"
"Yes, yes, of course. My body is failing these days, but not my mind. A pleasure to see you again." Septimus was quick to end the formalities. "Captain, I'm afraid we need your help once again."
"We're here to help, Septimus. But there is something you must know first," said Kirk.
"And what is that, my friend?"
"We are once again the cause of problems in your land. A long time ago in our distant lands, a religious teacher wanted to rid our land of the government. He made allies of some very evil men. Together, they almost succeeded in taking over. When they were eventually defeated, this religious teacher was banished from our lands, and, over the course of time, came here..." And so Kirk told a somewhat revised version of the story of Father Robert Welton, heretic and maniac.
Jacob and ten others were gathered in an abandoned building near the arena. The chief of security looked at the others carefully. "Are we all in agreement?" he asked.
The others nodded their heads. Marcellus Calthus of Corinth took a step forward. "Yes, we are."
"Good. There can be no turning back. Let us go to the arena. Today, the imposter dies!"
They left the building quietly. Each went to their designated positions. However, one person slipped away from the crowd. He walked away from the arena. No one saw him. He quickened his pace until he found what he was looking for. A public phone center. He dialed a secret toll-free number.
"Pontifex Septimus' office. How may I help you?"
"I must speak to Septimus immediately. Tell him it's Andrew."
There was a pause. "Yes, Andrew?"
"You were right. They are planning to kill the Son. They plan to do it at the arena. Gaius Jacob is supposed to fire the first shot."
"They believed you, then? Are you safe?"
"Absolutely. They are so blind in their hatred for the Son, they'll take in anyone who believes as they do. Gaius Jacob thinks that he's the only one with intelligence gatherers."
"You've done well, Andrew. Go get some rest." Septimus hung up the phone. He turned to Kirk. "We'd better hurry. They plan to kill the Son at the arena. I've got cars ready to go."
The Enterprise officers and the Pontifex Maximus rushed out of the office to the waiting vehicles.
U.S.S. Enterprise, NCC-1701-A, Stardate 8397.5
Captain Scott had returned to the bridge for a situation update from Commander Uhura, who still had the conn. He was about to leave the bridge when all Hell broke loose. Deflector screens went up, and the red alert klaxon sounded. "What is it?" asked the engineer, taking the center seat as Uhura went to communications.
"Sensor contact, extreme range, sir," reported Chekov from the science station. "Estimated time of arrival: three minutes."
"Confirmed," said Sulu from the helm station. "They're heading right for us."
"Shields to maximum. Arm the phasers, but keep yer hands off th' torpedoes, lads. They're non-functional. Uhura, get me the captain," Scott ordered quickly.
Uhura tried, but reported, "I'm getting interference on all channels. I can't raise him."
Chekov cut in. "Interference with sensor systems. I am unable to continue the search for the observation team; I am unable to maintain sensor contact with our landing party."
"Let's see what we're up against. Put it on visual." Scott sighed. Who, in their right mind, would want this job?
Thousands of geometric figures in various colors filled the mainviewer, growing larger and more numerous by the second. Scott took a quick glance around the bridge; everyone was in awe of the beauty of this phenomenon.
"Snap out of it, lads and lassies! This isn't a hike on the heather," warned the chief engineer.
Everyone heeded his warning. They snapped out of their admiration and went back to work. Scott stood up and clasped his hands behind his back. He just could not get comfortable in the center seat. "Do nothing to provoke them. Let's see what the beasties want."
The shapes were noticeably growing more and more distant from the ship. Scott was stunned. "They passed us? They're heading for the planet."
"It seems we were on an intercept course by accident," concluded Sulu.
The chief engineer turned to the communications officer. "Any word, Uhura?"
"No, sir. No change. I can't get through."
Gaius Jacob cursed himself. He had a clear line of fire at the Son from his front row seat, and yet he hesitated. It was long enough for the Son's companion to step in front of the Son and block the line of fire from his concealed pistol. He watched helplessly as the Son took the center stage, raising his hands high and accepted the loud adulation of the more than sixty thousand people in the crowd. I'll try again once he starts his little circus. The more who see him die, the more who will accept him for the imposter he is.
At the rear of the area, the Pontifex's cars pulled up to an entrance as the crowd's roars echoed throughout the area. This was the shortest distance to the center stage, used by dignitaries and speakers. Two guards were watching the entrance, and they snapped to attention when they recognized Septimus. But they didn't open the door.
"Open it! Open it at once!" the Pontifex commanded.
The higher ranking guard spoke. "I cannot. Security Chief Jacob has given us orders not to open the door to anyone."
"Does that include the Pontifex Maximus?" seethed Septimus.
The guards looked at each other. They came to a quick decision. "No, sir. It does not."
"The two of you have made a wise decision."
The guards opened the door. Kirk, Spock and McCoy wasted no time entering the arena. They were in a dead run for the center stage, the elderly Septimus keeping up as best as he could.
Gaius Jacob slowly leveled the pistol at the Son. He knew in his heart he was right. He would feel no remorse for killing this man. He pulled the trigger slowly, keeping his aim on the self-proclaimed Son. The trigger reached the point of no return, and the hammer fell.
The bullet slammed into the Son. It fell in a shower of sparks and shorted circuitry, with blue hydraulic fluid spurting everywhere. It was the last sight Gaius Jacob ever saw, for some in the crowd had seen him.
Kirk burst on to the stage, too late to do anything for the Son. It was then that Robert Welton appeared on the stage with the thousands of geometric shapes that comprised the Collective.
It was too much for the crowd to handle. Panic ensued. Their "savior" some sort of machine, now destroyed, strange shapes floating about the rostrum. They fled, running for the exits, not caring for who might be in their way. The shapes followed them, penetrating the bodies of those nearest them. Suddenly, the shapes returned to the center stage, their colors brighter than before. Their needs had been fulfilled; they would live for another thousand years.
Welton grabbed the microphone, and his voice boomed over the public address system. "Do not leave, Children of the Son! Salvation has arrived! Stop!"
The crowd paid no attention to this obvious madman. They continued their mad exodus from the arena.
With the cleric's attention on the fleeing crowds, Spock and McCoy grabbed Welton from behind. "No! You can't do this! I am their salvation!" the defrocked priest cried. He put an elbow into McCoy's stomach. The doctor doubled over, gasping for air, loosening Spock's grip in the process. It was just barely enough to allow Welton to break free.
"Get rid of them!" screamed Welton to the Collective.
Kirk pulled his phaser and turned to the priest. "Give it up, Father Welton. You've done enough damage. These people don't want your religion. Not after this terrible charade you've pulled on them." Kirk motioned toward the burnt remains of the Son.
Welton glanced at the android. Smoke wafted from the smoldering mass of wire and circuits. "I wanted to prepare them. He was perfect. The Collective fashioned him for me..."
Septimus hobbled onto the stage, clearly exhausted. He glanced around. The Son was no more; it had been as Kirk had said: the Son was a machine. He looked away at the now empty seats. He saw his old friend, Gaius Jacob, dead, either beaten to death or trampled by the crowd as they fled, he couldn't tell. And he saw the pistol nearby. He was stricken with chest pains and crumpled.
As the Pontifex fell to the floor of the stage, Welton spotted Jacob's pistol out of the corner of his eye. McCoy and Spock had gone to the aid of Septimus, and Kirk was watching them, his face filled with concern for the elder statesman. Welton made the decision to go for the pistol. He lunged for it.
The Collective took action.
U.S.S. Enterprise, NCC-1701-A, Stardate 8397.6
Kirk, Spock and McCoy found themselves on the bridge to the relieved look of Chief Engineer Scott. Welton was there as well, dumbfounded by the events. Ted Garrovick and Dave Bailey stood on the upper level of the bridge, looking more than a little confused themselves. Spock, of course, was the one who summed it all up in one word: "Fascinating."
Bailey recovered first. "Permission to come aboard, sir?"
"Granted," said Kirk, taking a look around the bridge. "Uhura, get Security up here, please." He turned to Captain Scott. "Status, Scotty?"
"Nominal, Captain, though we're a wee bit surprised to see you."
"That's one hell of an understatement, sir," added Chekov.
Two security guards entered the bridge, weapons drawn. Kirk nodded toward Welton, and the guards went to stand on either side of the cleric. Welton glanced around the bridge, and noted the appearance of the Collective on the mainviewer. He stood before it. "Why?" he demanded. "Why did you not obey me?"
There was only silence from the Collective.
"Why?!" Welton screamed. "You shall pay for this! I promise! My mission will continue! It will!" He lunged at Kirk, and the guards fired their weapons. Welton fell to the deck.
McCoy stepped to the still form. He ran his feinberger over Welton several times. "I...I don't understand this. He's dead, Jim."
The guards spoke up at once. "Sir! My phaser's set on light stun!"
"So's mine! There's no way!"
McCoy made a quick analysis. "The prolonged cryogenic suspension Welton endured weakened his nervous system. There's evidence of freeze damage in his synapses. I won't know for sure, though, until I can run a complete autopsy on him in Sickbay."
"Captain! I'm picking up audio on all frequencies. They seem to be hailing us," reported Uhura.
"Audio, Commander," said the Enterprise captain as he walked to stand before the mainviewer.
"Captain James T. Kirk, we are the Collective. We wish to apologize for the trouble we have caused. We meant for no one to die. That three have perished is...very regrettable. We abase ourselves in our sadness."
Spock joined his captain to stand before the viewscreen. The Collective continued, "In our quest for survival, we let our needs overcome our sense of what is right and wrong. When we found Welton, he was our salvation. We needed someone to help us continue our species. So we struck a bargain with him. He would be able to continue after we departed the planet. We were wrong to have acceded to such an arrangement; it is something we have never done before. Our beliefs state that interference breeds trouble, but we did not heed them. The need to procreate overwhelmed us."
McCoy came to stand by Kirk as well. "We must depart," the Collective continued. "This will be our final millennium. The taking of the three lives and the interference we have generated must be atoned. Rest assured that some good will come of these events. The Children of the Son will survive. They have had their beliefs shaken by the deception, but their beliefs will grow stronger. The governmental system of the planet has been tested, and will grow stronger from this test. Yes, Captain Kirk, their future is assured."
The Collective vanished.
Captain James T. Kirk switched off the log recorder on his center seat. Yeoman Dag offered him the observation team reports, and Kirk took them from the Zeosian. He sighed, readying himself for the debriefing. He hadn't added Ted Garrovick's resignation to the log; he was going to try to talk to the young man. Maybe he'd tell the young man a war story or two. Maybe he'd tell the one about the Vampire Cloud of Argus X. And if that didn't work, he'd tell the lieutenant the one about the Corbomite Maneuver.
And his ship, under impulse power, began its journey to Terra.
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