Sitting in the conference room adjacent to the bridge, Captain Hikaru Sulu had gathered his senior officers for their input on what was clearly a standard mission. He listened intently as Ensign Tork, his chief science officer, briefed the group on the inhabitants. "Our unmanned sensor probes have ascertained the planet is inhabited by humanoids, rather short but with frog-like tympanic membranes instead of antennae...or ears," the Andorian amended quickly.
Ignoring Torks near-faux pas, Sulu addressed the group. "The primary mission is to gather information about these people. Well be doing a lot of these over the next few years," he said almost apologetically. "The sociologists aboard are going to be thrilled, and the rest of us are going to have to be on our toes. The Prime Directive is in full effect; were not to make first contact with any society unless they have spaceflight."
"Definitely a challenge every week or two," remarked Executive Officer Michael Floyd. "Were going to have to tread lightly."
"Captain," began Lieutenant Kenyatta Fulton tentatively, "Id like to be a part of this landing party." The helm officers face was filled with an earnest expression. "As you know, my brother disappeared in this region of space, and Id like to see if theres any sign of him below."
"At your request, Lieutenant, I have already scanned for Humans on the planet below and found none." Torks voice was gentle but firm. "He is not below."
"I agree that its unlikely, but theres a chance he was there, and Id like to take a look around," she argued.
"Excuse me, Lieutenant," Lieutenant Ryan Peterson interjected, "Im no expert on landing party assignments, but Im not sure that that qualifies you as a member of this or any other shore assignment."
Sulu smiled slightly at the chief tactical officers cautious objection. "I agree with Mister Peterson completely." The helmsman was about to raise another argument, but her captain continued. "However, Lieutenant Fulton is in the command track, and for her advancement, she needs the experience this sort of assignment offers."
Michael Floyd addressed the development of command officers for a moment, and as he spoke to the senior staff, Sulu reflected back on the first time Captain Kirk had put him in command of a landing party. They had encountered Alice in Wonderland, the March Hare, Samurai warriors, a black knight, even a Japanese Zero airplane. Well, he noted, this cant be any worse.
As Floyd concluded with his brief recitation of regulations, Sulu made his decision. "Well said, Exec. Perhaps against my better judgment, Ive decided that Lieutenant Fulton will lead the mission. However, Security Chief Janson will be in charge of mission security. If an emergency situation arises, Lieutenant Commander Janson may assume command of the mission."
Fulton beamed with a toothy smile. "Thank you, Captain."
"Assemble your landing party, Lieutenant, and have them ready to beam down within two hours."
"And Mister Fulton, please dont let me down."
"No, sir. I wont, sir."
"Then, ladies and gentlemen, dismissed."
As the rest of the command crew left for their station, Floyd remained seated. The captain turned with annoyance. "You have a concern, Mister?"
"Shes looking for her long-lost brother, and you expect her to lead this mission?"
"I seem to recall you arguing about the necessity of developing our officers."
"To be honest, I didnt think you were paying attention."
"I wasnt. Ive heard that speech before...dozens of times if not hundreds. But youre right about one thing: I need to find out if shes command candidate material or not, and this cultural survey mission seems to be the best opportunity to have that question answered." Sulu looked at his executive officer. "Besides, she cant screw up things any worse than some of recent landing parties did."
"Excuse me?" Floyds face was turning beet red. "Ive been leading those missions. What are you saying?"
"I cant fault you directly, Commander, or I would have. But you get yourself captured by a military junta on one world, allow two of your eager-beaver scientists to get captured by apparently primitive natives on another, and in your most recent mission, you fail to notice the obvious when it came to how the survivors of the Venus managed to stay alive."
Floyd raised an accusatory finger, and...lowered it. "Youre right, Captain," the executive officer answered. "My track record lately hasnt been too good."
"No, it hasnt. I suggest to you, Michael, that youve been so eager to see me lose the center seat, that youve been a little short-sighted in your own performance." Sulu looked on with sympathy. "I understand the desire for the center seat, Commander, really I do. I was supposed to get Excelsior before the Genesis Affair blew up in our faces. I was given a small scout instead, with the crew of my dreams. Later, I got Excelsior, but its crew never meshed properly, never melded into one. But I seemed unable to realize this, and my own behavior was questionable at best and ridiculous at worst. Now, after my conflagration with Fleet Captain Chekov, I understand that I am responsible for much of my own problems."
"Which is why Im here," Floyd inserted.
Sulu nodded. "Youre here to see me fail. Youve explained as much to me. But in so doing, you cant see that you yourself are failing. I chose to assign this landing party in part to Lieutenant Fulton because I want to see how she does in this situation, but also in part because youve screwed up so much lately."
The captain leaned forward on the briefing room table, almost hovering over the still-seated executive officer. "In short, Mister Floyd, Im looking to replace you as executive officer if you dont get your act together."
The hills overlooking the fishing village made for an excellent observation post. Her landing party, consisting of the two married sociologists, Lieutenants Anthony Marcus and Annabelle Randall, Security Chief Timothy Janson, Biologist Carla Janoski and herself, had gathered a great deal of information about the Dorno.
The humanoids indeed were quite Human-looking except for a light patina of moisture that constantly covered their skin and the absence of ears and hair. The tympanic membranes on either side of their head, similar to that of Earths amphibians, apparently served as ears. They were a faintly frog-like in appearance, with slightly larger eyes, flared nostrils and thin-lipped mouths, but could easily pass for Humans.
Unfortunately, the Dorno had a feudal caste system which resulted in much of the population being enslaved to the nearby warlord. The fishing village they were currently observing was apparently a point of contention between two warlords. Already soldiers from one warlord had done battle in the streets with those from another, more distant lord.
"Sad, isnt it?" remarked Fulton to Janson. "These poor people are trapped between two devils and the deep blue sea."
Janson, a middle-aged British man, experienced in deep space travel, simply shrugged. "Ive seen worse, maam." The look on his face clearly showed he had indeed.
Lowering her ocular, Sociologist Randall leaned across the trench they were hiding in. "Youve got to understand that most wars are fought for one or more of the three Gs: Gold, God, Glory. This is true throughout most civilizations in the galaxy."
Pointing, Marcus indicating more advancing troops with firebrands in their hands. "Uh-oh, it looks as though one warlord has decided that if he cant control the village, neither of them of will."
Fires began spreading throughout the crescent-shaped village. Soon the docks were ablaze, and the fires were even engulfing the giant metal idol at the edge of the sea.
"Cant we do anything?" asked Janoski.
"Not without violating the Prime Directive," answered Fulton. "Remain calm, everyone. This is not our fight, even though the innocent seem to be the real losers here."
The ground shuddered suddenly.
"What in hell?" asked Janson, grabbing his tricorder. "Ill be damned. Look!" He pointed in the direction of the temple and the metal idol.
The bronze figure was lifting itself out of the ground, its eyes now open and glowing blue. It soon managed to free itself from the sand, and was now walking through the burning village. It would occasionally lean over and scoop up a villager or two and take them to the edge of the village by the sea where the survivors of the blaze were gathering.
The attacking army had begun a frantic retreat, but for now the giant figure was content to rescue the villagers.
Fulton pulled out her communicator. "Landing party to Excelsior. Captain, are you getting this?" Janson had his tricorder aimed at the giant which was now pursuing the retreating horde.
"We read you, Lieutenant. What is that?"
"We thought it was a statue, Captain, but obviously theres more to it than that."
"My God!" Janoskis voice was almost fearful as the giant began stamping the enemy soldiers. Soon, its feet and legs were covered with the dark red blood of the attackers.
"Unbelievable. Its a majin!" came Captain Sulus voice.
"Its an old Japanese legend. Villages often had local deities they would invoke in times of trouble. I guess the army thats in retreat woke up their local god. Be sure"
There was a burst of static. "Signals lost," Fulton said unnecessarily.
"We need to make our own hasty retreat," suggested Janson.
Fulton looked up to see that the giant idolthe majin, she corrected herselfwas no longer after the invaders. Its attention now seemed to be focused on the landing party.
"Oh, crap," Marcus cursed, grabbing up his tricorder.
"Double crap," Randall amended, scooping up hers as well.
"This way!" ordered Janson who was clearly taking command of the landing party. "Quickly!"
They scrambled over the rocks, running as quickly as they could. The ground trembled slightly as they made their way down a hill to a sandy beach. The biologist, Janoski, managed to whip up her tricorder to scan a large, deer-like animal they had startled. She turned, and gasped. "Its coming fast!"
The ground tremors were greater and more frequent. Soon they were on the beach, running as best as they could in the sand. Janson had hoped it would slow the progress of the giant, but apparently beneath the sand was a rocky foundation.
Soon the clash of the majins strides was deafening, and the landing party members stumbled and fell to the ground.
The majin leaned down, peering intently at them, and a loud voice boomed out like thunder. The universal translators kicked in. "Identify what you are."
Janson took a breath, but then nudged Fulton. The helmsman summoned her courage, and stepped forward. "Were peaceful explorers from a distant realm. We are simple observers, strangers in a strange land."
The head of the majin rolled back and forth. "Distant realm indeed. There are none like you on this world, and the spacecraft in orbit is capable of traveling great distances."
"We mean no harm to the Dorno. We only wish to learn."
If the majin was studying her, it couldnt show it. Finally, "Your metabolism shows great anxiety, but no sign of deception. It is well you have not lied to me."
Annabelle Randall stepped forward. "Can we ask What are you?"
The majin laughed. "I am their god, if you ask them. But I am no god. I am merely a protector of sorts. Hundreds of years ago, the people of this village were kind to my masters whose spacecraft had crashed in the very steppes from where you were observing them. In return for their kindness, they constructed me for the village, and placed me in readiness to help the Dorno."
"How often have you aided them?" asked Fulton.
"Six times over the eight hundred years. Usually I am regarded as a true protector of this village until one of the distant warlords comes to view me as a legend and then makes the mistake of attacking the village for which there is a terrible price to pay. Now that you know all theres to know about me, tell me about yourselves. And please spare me any evasions. Distant realms, and the like."
"We come from a cooperative of star systems nearly a thousand lightyears from here. Our mission chart says it best: were to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life, new civilizations, and to go boldly where no one from our federation has gone before. We are not here to interfere, but to learn. It was never our intention to allow ourselves to be discovered," Fulton explained.
"Very laudable. However, you must return to your ship, and I must insist you and your people not return to this world until the Dorno themselves are capable of leaving it."
"And what about you, majin? What will become of you?" asked Janson.
"Eventually, they will outgrow me. For now, I will destroy the attackers, but Im going to punish the villagers for allowing my sleep to be disturbed. Perhaps they will learn to handle their petty mortal problems themselves next time. With time, they wont need me, and I will permanently become a myth."
"And yet you allow the villagers to be enslaved by the local warlord?" Marcus was disturbed by this seeming incongruity.
The giant majin chuckled. "I have been programmed not to interfere with the natural order of things. Eventually they will grow tired of the warlord and rebel. They are far from that now, but I suspect that by allowing the warlord of Huck to invade their village, their own warlord will be quite unpopular for a time."
The majin stood up straight. "This has been quite interesting. I shall think on it for some time." He turned and began walking toward the smoldering village.
"One last question," Fulton called after the bronze giant. "Have you seen others like us?"
"None," the majin answered. "And do not return, explorers. If you do, you may find I wont be as hospitable."
Jansons communicator crackled. "to Janson. Excelsior to Fulton. Respond, please!"
"Fulton here. Beam us up, Excelsior."
Debriefing after a shore assignment was usually a boring affair, but this one was far from it. One at a time, each of the landing party related their stories to Sulu, Floyd and Peterson who sat in the conference room. Few questions were asked; the point of a debriefing was not only to gather the information from the members of the landing party, but to allow the team to collect their thoughts. Finally, the landing party was assembled before the three senior officers and the other members of the command staff where Kenyatta Fulton put forth a concise report.
"Extremely interesting report, Lieutenant. Does anyone else have anything to add?"
The married sociologists, Marcus and Randall, added a few insights into Dorno society. Biologist Janoski commented on the biological diversity of the planet. Janson commented on the tactics of both the invading army, and the capabilities of the majin itself.
Sulu asked for recommendations from Fulton.
"Quarantine this system, Captain, by request of the majin itself," she replied in answer.
"I think that goes without saying, Lieutenant." He addressed the landing party. "Ladies and gentlemen, well done, and dismissed. Except for you, Mister Janson."
Peterson and Floyd, as arranged, remained behind as well. Once the room had been vacated by the rest of the officers, Sulu turned to his security chief. "So, Mister Janson, how did she do?"
"Remarkably well, sir. I can honestly say it was a privilege to work with her and the others. Even when we were being pursued by the majin, no one panicked."
"Did she dwell on her brother?"
Janson pulled no punches. "She made an inquiry about him, sir, but he certainly was not her focus during the mission."
"Thank you, Commander. Dismissed."
"Thank you, Captain."
"If its not out of line, sir," began Peterson, "may I ask if youre perhaps considering assigning Lieutenant Fulton regularly to landing parties?"
"You have an objection, Lieutenant?" Sulus eyes narrowed. Hed never cared for the way the chief tactical officer meandered through a subject or even a question.
"None at all, sir, but Im sure you realize we need to develop the second shift and third shift helm officer in her absence."
Sulu considered the matter. "Agreed, Mister Peterson. An excellent point. Mister Floyd and I will discuss that situation immediately. For now, take the conn, please. Have isolation buoys placed in orbit above this planet and scattered throughout this systems oort cloud."
Sulu waited until the doors closed, then he turned to Floyd. "Mister Fulton appears to have comported herself admirably."
"I wouldnt dispute that, sir." Floyds chin thrust out slightly, as if he were consciously trying to suppress how defiant he truly was. "But I hope you dont deny me an opportunity to prove myself."
"Youll have your chance soon enough, Exec. Just bear in mind that youve got your own shadow now."
"Message received and understood, sir." He smiled. "Now, about the helm posting..."
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