August 2, 2365
Ensign Daniel Tien,
Vulcan was hot. That usually goes without saying, but until you have been there you just don’t quite understand how hot it is. On Earth there is no heat comparable. It is an unrelenting hammer upon ones endurance, a test of just how much you can take.
I was covered in sweat from a one hundred meter hike that led from the landing platform to the Vulcan Institute of Defensive Arts. I expected to find a grand temple similar to other ancient Vulcan sites, but what I came across was a five meter stone obelisk that jutted out of the dry hard dirt. It was a disappointment to me as this was my first time on this planet and I had hoped to see something magnificent. The mighty stone finger was set about one hundred meters from a series of sheer cliffs that rose from the rocky basin at a near ninety degree angle. They formed a curtain that protected the tiny monument from everything. It did not, however, shield me from the midday sun. ( editor note: To enlarge the graphics click on them and click on "Back" to return to the story.)
At the base of the obelisk a young Vulcan boy met me. He spoke no words, made no sounds, but beckoned me into the alien portal. I passed through the stone entrance that seemed as if it was carved out of the structure. I wished I had brought my tricorder, because I was sure that the whole thing was a single giant stone.
The boy was what I guessed to be about ten or eleven years old. His head was shaved, and his skin was pale with a greenish blue tint. I wondered how such a pale skin tone evolved on a world such as this. The boy led me down a stone staircase for about two minutes. And then through a narrow carved hallway for another five minutes. The halls were lit with small oil lamps and it cast an eerie light that revealed strange colorful frescos painted on the passage walls. At the end of the portal was a heavy stone door. The boy paused, bowed his head for a moment, and then turned to look at me.
The great stone door opened inward and revealed an immense open cavern deep within the stone cliffs. It was lit from high above by what looked like the sun itself. Around me were at least a hundred small block like buildings and in the distance was a grand temple. It too was block like with logical lines, but edged with a powerful art that moved the inner soul. I was truly marveled by the underground city. No matter how many holodeck versions I see of this world, to me, this will always be Vulcan.
The boy grabbed my sleeve and drew me out of my bewildered state. He led me across the ancient city and to an open court. The court had a large raised dais in the center. On the platform two combatants were locked in a struggle. There were several quiet observers kneeled around the stone circle, all Vulcan. They, like all the things in here were unmoving and stone faced, yet mystical.
The two fighters wore thin scant gi’s and both were women. The first was a young human female in her late twenties. The second, an older Vulcan, in what would be the equivalent for humans her late forties. It seemed as if they had been fighting for sometime now, and as I watched neither really made much ground. Then the older female took initiative and launched forward with a series of strikes. The young woman tried to wash the attack to the side but the Vulcan laid a solid finger jab into the her shoulder. The Vulcan stood back and waited, as if she knew that there would be no retaliation. The younger leapt towards the older and then in mid stride fell to her knees. It was obvious that she was indeed in great pain.
The old woman turned and moved towards the end of the ring, and nodded for a young man to bring her some robes.
The young woman began to rise and returned to a fighting stance. She was beautiful, strong athletic frame, yet contrasted by the soft lines of her body. Her face was unadorned, but carried a strong femininity to it. Her hair, was pined up, and was the color of a sienna sunrise.
The old woman stopped and spoke in an ancient tongue. My translator barely managed to keep up.
“Human, you have overcome your pain. Such a thing, is to us impressive. Given the limitations of your human mind, most impressive." said the older woman as she donned her robes.
The young female stood up straight, and then bowed.
“You do not need to show such respects to me girl. I know your mind on such matters.”
The younger woman moved off the platform and grabbed a long robe from the ground. She then looked up to see me, and with precision moved towards my position.
“Lieutenant Kirk?” I assumed. I smiled at the rather impressive lieutenant as warmly as I could. I was willing to bet she had missed such human pleasantries after six months on Vulcan.
She approached and threw the robe over he shoulder. She stood before me, no expression readable on her face. Kirk then viewed me over and waited for me to speak.
“I have been sent by Starfleet to pick you up from your sabbatical, as per your request sir.” I stood chest out, gut in, sensing that there was more Vulcan than human beforere me.
“Stay here.” She spoke quietly and with no emotive efforts. She walked off towards one of the smaller stone structures and went in.
Ten minutes later she emerged in uniform and with her equipment. She made no goodbyes, but simply left that place of grandeur as if it were another room in the house of her life. It was cooler in this underground, but not as cold as Kirk.
The Shuttle lifted off and the pilot complained the entire time. I wasn’t too impressed with him to begin with, and after another hundred meter hike across the oven I was even less tolerant. Adam Faulkner was a competent pilot, but he and I had nothing in common. He was an average human, fair skinned and fair haired, with thick eye brows and striking blue eyes. His interests were all based on sports or womanizing. Two subject of which he could literally go on for hours about. I mean that. He went on for hours.
Kirk to the opposite effect annoyed me too. She hadn’t said a single word since we left the Institute. The hike was hard on me, and I know it was tough for any human, yet she didn’t utter a single comment. She carried the same air that any Vulcan might. I wondered how such a warm world could produce such cold, cold people.
I myself was tall and dark skinned. My mother was Chinese and my father Greek. And though my heritage was ancient I was a child of the 24th century without a doubt. My field of expertise was computer operations and programming.
I had just finished my cadet service at Utopia Planetia and my first duty assignment was aboard a science vessel called the Einstein. The captain, a gentile Andorian male had ordered me to fetch Lieutenant Kirk from her sabbatical. This was my first away mission and I was eager to end it.
I listened as Faulkner continued on about how Vulcan orbital control was anything but logical. Adam tried early on to engage Kirk in conversation but she was silent as ever. To an ‘old pro’ Kirks lack of rapture with him must have come as a surprise. His only comment was, “I don’t see any pointed ears, but I'm sure she’s Vulcan.”
Kirk had gone into the back of the small craft and laid down on one of the benches. We had a ten hour flight from here to the Einstein, and I thought that rest was a good idea. I was supposed to update her on events that had transpired over the last few months and brief her on the ship that she had been assigned to. I wasn’t sure if I should do that before we went to warp or after. She had laid down to relax, and I didn’t know if she would be bothered by my intrusion.
“Ensign. Do you have my orders?” said Kirk dryly. She had unknowingly solved my debate.
“Yes sir, I have that and a briefing on the Einstein too.” I stood and moved toward the back with an army of PADD’s in hand. I sat across from Kirk and handed her each one as I narrated its contents.
“This first one is some of the updated protocols and regulations that have been enacted in the last six months. You might have notice your uniform is out of date.”
She nodded and took the PADD.
“Also there is a few general updates on some newly encountered races, take a special look at the Borg. They are very interesting, but too far away to actually study, they are in the Delta Quadrant. Here, this PADD is the schematics of the Einstein, and this one is our mission statement, and orders.”
She took each PADD as I handed it to her and scanned it briefly. She paused on the one that had the orders.
“...to study minor radio sources across a seven light year expanse, including multiple gaseous formations, stellar emissions, and general debris." said the young lieutenant, and then looked at me with inquiry.
I wasn’t sure how to react. I thought that for my first assignment it was a great posting. I wasn’t on a star base or stuck in an administrative duty. I was going to be the operations officer on a research vessel. Kirk seemed as if she had expected more. The Vulcan veneer was thinning.
“I guess for someone who was awarded the Medal of Valor the posting seems like a milk run.” Faulkner said as he turned from the cockpit. He continued to not impress me.
“A milk run?" I asked
“Yeah just like delivering milk. Real easy, no problems. Anybody could do it.”
“You got a Sunny?” I asked trying to steer away from Faulkner’s tactless maneuvers.
I knew The Medal of Valor was awarded when an officer took command in lieu of the death or incapacitation of a ships captain. It was referred to, unofficially, as a Sunny, because it depicted a Palm holding a sun.
“Yeah Tien didn’t you bother to look at the bio of our new tactical officer?” Faulkner now turned his challenge to me.
“Well, no. I was busy trying to compile all these PADD’s. I didn’t even think about it.” I said lamely.
“Well, just so you know,” Faulkner began with a grin on his face, “You talking to Amanda T Kirk, the great grand niece of the famous James T Kirk. And the youngest person in Starfleet to be awarded the Medal of Valor and still be alive.”
I looked at Kirk, a bit awed. I knew that she had the same name as the legend, but had no clue that she and he were related. It was now my turn to stare at her and wait for a response. She replied but with no more emotion than I had expected.
“I was aboard the Tetsuo Shima, a Miranda class science vessel. We were assigned to deep Space exploration in the Beta Quadrant. We were attacked by an alien force and the entire command crew was killed. I was the ranking officer at the time so I commanded the ship back home. Our drives were damaged and it took us almost a year to come with in subspace communications range.” said the lieutenant without a single sparkle of pride.
“Don’t let her sound so humble. The aliens that attacked the Tetsuo Shima threw it nine sectors away, deep into Romulan space. She commanded them across two sectors of enemy territory, constantly evading Romulan warships and detection grids.” Faulkner looked satisfied enough for the two of them.
“So how did you get assigned to this duty? I mean shouldn’t you’ve been given something more...I don’t know...prestigious?” I asked without thinking that she had already concluded this.
“We all have our assigned duties.” she said, but the control that she had been holding on to faded slightly as there was a tint of regret, or maybe betrayal in her voice.
“Well...” I began realizing I had probably not impressed her anymore than I had been so by Faulkner, “I’ll let you read those PADD’s. I need to do a diagnostic on our field emitters.” I excused myself and returned to the cockpit where I would plant myself for the next ten hours if it was at all possible.
Five hours into the trip our type-6 shuttle suddenly fell out of warp, shields up and red lights on all the sensor systems. The cockpit transformed from the pinstripes of warp speed to a strange orange blue storm that rocked the shuttle violently. The stars were not visible and fear gripped me.
“Report.” Kirk commanded as if she hadn’t been out of the fleet for more than a few minutes.
“The shuttle’s caught in some kind of ion storm, our warp field has collapsed!” Faulkner began as he tried to gain control of the shuttle. The craft was being buffeted by chaotic waves of subspace energies.
“No, not an ion storm. Sensors show multiple subspace ruptures,” I tried to read the boards as best I could. This was my first real emergency. I was deftly afraid, and unsure that my skills were good enough to get us through this. I had done well in simulations, but there was a difference here. The difference was fear.
Kirk had stood behind me and Faulkner. She placed her hand on my shoulder as if to reassure me that it would be fine, “Mr. Tien, can you map out the ruptures?”
The shuttle rocked and Kirk held tightly to my chair.
“I think so. They’re hundreds of them, each about twenty meters across. They extend about half a light year in either direction. They seem to be forming and fading.”
What I was scanning was like nothing I had seen before. A subspace tear is a rip in the fabric of real space. That is to say that if space/time were an ocean, subspace would be what lies beneath the surface. Similar to our own world, yet very different. Like our nautical cousin we couldn’t go below that surface or we would be lost in the abyss.
Our shuttle had come right into the center of a moving wave of subspace breaches. But unlike a tear, these rifts would close almost as soon as they opened. They would burst forth fountains of subspace radiations and then fade away. In spite of its danger it was extremely beautiful.
“Sir, I have mapped out a course through the ruptures, and adjusted navigational sensors to identify them.” I said proud of my task.
“Faulkner get us out of here, at least five kilometers.”
“How about five light years.” he said as he brought up the display and maneuvered the small craft around the strange explosions.
Once we were free of immediate danger we stopped the shuttle at five kilometers turned and observed the event. My head was buried in the sensors trying to figure out exactly what it was that we were seeing, Kirk and Faulkner just stared that the strange moving fountains of light.
“Sir, there is nothing in the database like this. I think we are observing a new phenomena.” I said. I was much calmer at this range.
“Tien, raise the nearest star base and inform them of our discovery. They’ll want to send a research ship out here.” said Kirk.
“You know Amanda, your not actually in Starfleet right now. Your commission doesn’t reactivate till you get to the ship.” Faulkner smiled, “Technically speaking, I’m in command.”
“Sir, whichever one of you wants it, I have star base 173 on subspace.” I said.
Kirk didn’t give Faulkner the chance to speak. “Starbase 173 this is Lieutenant Kirk aboard the Shuttle craft...” she paused and looked toward the display.
“Palmer.” I cued with a whisper.
“Palmer,”she continued, “we have come across a subspace anomaly, were transmitting our data to you now. Our vessel is not equipped to make proper observations. We are going to continue-”
“Amanda...” Faulkner interrupted.
“Mr. Faulkner, you will refer to me...” Kirk paused at same time as I looked up to see if my sensors had the readings correct.
“Where did they go?” Kirk asked as she looked into empty black space. Only the twinkle of starts answered her.
“Shuttle Palmer, can you repeat your last message?”
“Stand by 173...” I said into the com, then I looked back at my scanners to try and figure where our ruptures had gone. They had completely ceased across their entire path. Simply disappeared as if they had never been. I scanned for several minutes then reported my lack of information to Kirk.
“173 we are returning to our course, en route to science station Alpha three one. Palmer out.” Kirk pivoted to the board and cut the transmission. She then turned her attention to Faulkner, but before she could site protocols the fountains returned and this time much closer.
“Shall I move us away?” Faulkner conceded to Kirks authority hoping to avoid the fight.
“I think they are responding to our subspace transmissions” I surmised since they disappeared as soon as we transmitted and reappeared when we stopped.
“Hold position. Mr. Tien can you scan into the fissures when they open.”
“I Think so. Let me try.” this was a challenging act. The shuttles sensors were designed for navigation not detailed analysis.
“The fountains are getting closer, two kilometers, shall I move us away?”
“Not yet. Mr. Tien?”
“I’m reading bio-electric signatures, and structured systems. I think that they’re life forms, composed of various galactic materials native to our space. They are causing the ruptures.”
“On kilometer.” Faulkner noted.
“They seem to be drawing in quantum energies, depleting local space of zero point potential. I think that they are replenishing lost quanta.” I was marveled by this life form and its odd complexity.
“Whales.” Kirk mused.
“What?” asked Faulkner.
“Whales,” Kirk repeated, “The life forms were probably some space faring species that learned to hide in subspace long ago.”
“And,” I added, “since they are native to our plane, they probably need to sustain with our energies...not those found in subspace.”
“So they surface to breath so to speak.” Faulkner finished the thought.
The trio had made a discovery of sorts, and there was a moment of brotherhood between them.
“Sir, the ruptures are now 900 meters away. Recommend that we move to a safe distance.” Faulkner cautioned.
Before Kirk could give the order the shuttle was thrown as one of the fissures opened up directly beneath us. There was a shower of sparks from the panels and thick smoke bellowed out. Kirk had fallen to the floor, but was ordering a full impulse burn without missing a beat.
“Controls not responding!” shouted the pilot as the wake of the rupture sucked us in.
“Shields holding, but not for long! We’re in the rupture by eleven hundred meters!” I cried out as the small vehicle was tossed about by the sheering force of subspace. We were in deep, and no way to get out.
“The shuttle doesn’t have enough power to pull us from subspace, most ships can’t even do that.” Faulkner added, “We need to get out of here now, or we will be dead as soon as those shields drop.”
Kirk pulled herself up between the two of us and we were awed by what we saw. The bluish red hues of subspace had parted and we could see great beasts in the waters. Giant serpentine creatures nearly a kilometer long, swimming about in the depths of the great sea.
So there we were about to die. There was no way out, no way to win. Our little craft had been drawn into subspace and would last only a few moments more. This was the end, but I was not focused on my demise. Rather I was enthralled with how my crew mates were facing their final moment.
Adam jabbed desperately at the controls defiant to his fate. He of all people knew that the shuttle could not survive, but he kept at it as if his will alone could make the difference. He faced death defiantly, just as he lived his life.
Kirk was rerouting power from the impulse engine to the shield trying to buy us time. In the face of death she was calm. She was defiant like Adam but more focused. They both believed, against logic, that they might make a difference. Her Vulcan demeanor had faded a bit, but I could see how it served her well.
In my last few moments all I could do was watch them. In face death I was an observer. I was too afraid to act and couldn’t figure out what to do even if I could. I reviewed everything hoping to find something in all the data that might save us.
“Brace for Impact!” Kirk shouted as the leviathan drew close to our shuttle. But just as it was about to slam into our hull it paused.
I was not sure why I did it. My thoughts at that moment were racing. I had hit the subspace communications array and powered it to transmission levels. It had stopped them before and I was willing to bet it would do it again.
The leviathan did stop. It rolled on its side and several others approached. The shields wouldn’t last long and the life forms would be witness to our final seconds. It moved its great head near our ship and it viewed us with an immense eye.
There was a moment of pure wonder as we looked at it, and it looked at us. Its eye, bigger than our shuttle five fold, was soft and seemed, even in its monstrous size, to be thoughtful.
The great life form shifted and nudged our shuttle. We reeled with the impact.
“Shield’s down to eleven percent”
“We’re not going to make it.”
I don’t know who said what, but then the creature lashed out again and bashed our shields down. We were all thrown to the ground.
When I looked up I could see the stars. I scrambled to my feet and helped up Kirk and Faulkner. The fountains were all gone, space was still and quiet once again.
It seemed that the life form had sensed my subspace transmission, and once it did it realized that we didn’t belong there. We were like a spider in the sink, and it, rather than crush us, helped us on our way.
We spent the next hour assessing our damage and making repairs. The primary power grid was thrashed, but we would still be able to fly to our destination. The shuttle for all stressors hadn’t really been harmed.
I wasn’t as well as the shuttle. This was the first time that I had faced death, and I was deeply distracted. Kirk noticed my troubled state.
“Are you alright Mr. Tien?”
“I’ll be fine, I...” I stumbled for something to say.
“You saved us.” she smiled. I thought that was ironic, that only after facing death did she loosen up a bit.
“I just was lucky.”
“That sometimes is a better skill than you might think.” Faulkner added with his own comfort. He had been in combat on the Cardasian boarder, this wasn’t his first dance with death. I wasn’t initially impressed with him, but now that had changed. In the crucial moments he did everything he could, and didn’t once lose his cool. I might not have anything in common with him, but I felt now that I could count on him.
“Listen Tien,” began Kirk, “You did fine. We made it. You faced a stressful situation with calm.”
“All I could do was watch, I was scared.”
“Tien how we face death is the same way we face life. When that moment comes how you choose to deal with it is the total sum of who you are. Life no matter how long, years or seconds is still worth living. You can face it on your feet in your best form, or you turn and close your eyes. I have found by facing it I have yet to be overcome by it. You didn’t turn away, you should be happy. I am.”
Kirks words were little contentment for me, but she was right. Both her and Faulkner faced the end just as they did there lives; damn the torpedo, full impulse power. I couldn’t do that. I wasn’t overcome by death, but fear.
I look at that incident, with a jaded viewpoint I suppose. On my very first mission, I discover a new life form, nearly die in a subspace fissure only to be saved when I make first contact. As away team missions go this one would be memorable.
Well I don’t know if it was the course we took or the trouble seeking curse of the Kirks that led us to our near demise, but I know this; I have my next tour of duty with the cold lieutenant Kirk and the wild Ensign Faulkner. I only can hope that not every away mission is like this. Or maybe that’s the wrong attitude. Maybe I should be like them, and hope for such wonder to overtake me. It’s a long life I have to live, and perhaps living in fear of death, is truly no life worth living. I will endeavor to rise to the challenge, and when next I look death in the face I will not be afraid, but I won’t be defiant either. I will look into the reapers face and I will smile, for I know what it is that makes life so precious, what makes the moment so treasured. It is that constant knowledge that the reaper sits just over our shoulders, and can come at any time. It is that understanding that makes each moment of life so important, and as Kirk said, whether its years or seconds it doesn’t really matter.