This is the Seventh and final part of The ’39, a story set in a certain sci-fi (prime) universe. just a few years before the events of an original series. I’m sure that you won’t have any difficult figuring out which universe. A new part to be published every week!
No copyright infringement intended. All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators or producers of any media franchise.
“Sir… we’re dead in the water,” said Jennings.
“I don’t accept that,” said Chew. “There are always options.”
“You know, saying that doesn’t make it so,” said Leonova.
“Kobayashi Maru,” said Jennings slowly.
“That simulation was designed to gauge our response to an unwinnable situation, not teach us to give up,” said Chew.
“Jennings is right,” said Leonova. “As good as Mackay is, he’s no miracle worker. Let’s just say for the sake of argument, he got the impulse engines online in the next couple of hours, what do we do when we catch up to the planet-killer? Hurl insults at it? I’m sorry, but it’s time to go home. Jennings might find this a fascinating astronomical event, but I for one don’t want to watch these people get wiped out.”
“We’re not going to.” Chew looked down as he drummed the table-top with the fingers of one hand, the eyes of his officers on him. “We can’t blow it up, and we can’t pull it… Jennings, hypothetical question.” Jennings shifted uncomfortably in her seat. “If we channeled all our remaining power into the main navigational deflector, could we push it out of the way?”
“Sir… the main deflector is designed for small particles of interstellar dust and gas, and the occasional kilo-range asteroid, not a moon.”
“I know that, but at long range and over a broad frontal area. What if we were close and we concentrated the beam?”
Jennings tapped at her pad. “Without programming simulations, it’s hard to say. I suppose it’s theoretically possible. But this is purely academic isn’t it? After all, we can’t catch it, unless…” Chews eyes remained locked on hers. “No…”
Leonova looked over at Chew, “No, what? What am I missing here?”
“If we maxed our reaction thrusters, we might be able to intercept before it hit the planet,” said Chew, voice low.
“But we’d have to accelerate to such a high relativistic velocity… the time dilation…”
Jennings looked up from her PADD. “A hundred years, or more…”
“But would we get there in time?”
Jennings let out a breath and tapped dutifully at her PADD. “If we started immediately, and I mean right now… I think we can intercept it while its still a few light minutes out.”
Chew dropped his eyes and thought for a moment before speaking. “As pointed out, even if we’re successful, we’ll be stuck in a future where everyone we know and love will be long gone. We won’t even have time to send out a subspace message before time dilation disrupts communications, so no one back home will ever know what happened to us.”
Chew looked up. “I don’t know what these people will become… a force for good, bad or otherwise. No one could. But I believe they deserve a chance. I can’t… I won’t make this an order, so I’m going to take a vote. We’re either all in or all out. I realize that it’s a big ask… the biggest… so I want you to know that I’ll respect whatever decision you make.”
Leonova was the first to answer. “Ah hell,” she said with a sigh, “I followed you into that dive bar on Epsilon Eridani. Not going to stop now.”
Carstairs nodded, face grim, as did Mackay and Omita. Jennings gave a thin smile and said, “In for a penny, in for a pound. Besides, I never put too much store in odds.” They continued around the table, with each officer nodding in turn. When it came all the way around, the captain smiled and activated the ship-wide address system. He described the plan succinctly and without embellishment. He finished by saying, “Department heads report in when you’ve taken the vote.”
There were a few questions; a few crewmen wanted to know if they could take a shuttle, and there were one or two impractical suggestions, but the tallies soon started to come in. In a few minutes, it was done. The vote was unanimous: continue with the mission.
Chew let out his breath, feeling a mixture of both sadness and pride. Turning on the ship-wide address system, he said, “Thank you all. We will commence operations immediately. Godspeed, Spirit.” Chew stood. “Let’s get to work.”
* * * * * * * * * *
“Pedal to the metal,” said Chew.
“Uh, full thrust, aye, sir,” said Call.
Compared to impulse drive, their acceleration was leisurely, but it would suffice. The planet-killer was just a speck on the view screen, and it would remain so for hours as they slowly gathered speed.
Jennings ran simulations, and initial results showed that in order to reach the rock far enough out to have any chance of success, they would have to exhaust almost all of their reaction mass getting there. On top of that, if Mackey was unable to restore impulse control, it would be days before the Bussard collectors could take in enough reaction mass for them to decelerate. They’d be trapped hundreds, or even thousands of years in the future.
Starfleet might not exist anymore. Even the Federation might be little more than a historical footnote. But people would still be people, and the Chain of Lakes would probably still be there. Chew smiled.
Leonova looked over. “What have you got to be smiling about?”
Chew looked at her. “Just thinking about fishing.” Leonova rolled her eyes and looked away, but he could see her smile.
Time passed slowly, the crew working in silence punctuated by sporadic updates from the damage control parties. Chew watched as the numbers on the screen changed. The rock receding from them more and more slowly, until the numbers finally stabilized and then reversed as Spirit slowly reeled it in.
“Captain,” said Jennings. Chew turned. “I’ve run a number of simulations, and, well…”
“Spit it out.”
“It’s not great. I’ve narrowed it to two options. Number one is to continue to accelerate all the way and come at it from an oblique angle. The problem is that our closing speed will be so great at that point that deflector contact will be minimal. But we will also make contact with the rock much further out. Unfortunately, I project less than a 1% chance of success.”
“The second option?”
“We shape our course to come at it near a right angle, then we hit the brakes to maximize time-on-target. The problem with this approach is that in order for the plan to have any chance of success, we have to hold off on deceleration until the last possible second, even then, we’ll be intercepting much closer to the planet.”
“I don’t think you understand, sir. If we keep enough fuel back to guarantee that we can sheer away, it’ll decrease our chance of success dramatically. We need to be headed straight at it, center of mass. Our overtake speed will only be a few thousand KPS by that point, but…”
Jennings didn’t need to complete the sentence. Chew nodded. If they hit the asteroid at that speed, there’d be nothing left of Spirit larger than a basketball.
“What’s the probability of success?”
After a brief pause, Chew said, “Feed the course data to the helm.”
“Received… and plotted,” said Call, his voice shaking.
“Execute,” said Chew.
The captain leaned back in his seat and said nothing else. There was nothing more to say. A strange calm came over him as he looked over his crew, watched the numbers counting down on the screen.
Leonova leaned over and whispered, “You’re humming.”
“The song. You’re humming the song you launched the ship with.”
“Was I?” asked Chew, shrugging one shoulder. “Maybe it’s time we start writing some messages in the sand. Jennings, prepare the ship’s disaster beacon. Upload all the ship’s logs and sensor data taken since our last report to Starfleet. Number One, arrange shifts to give all crew members time to prepare messages for… for home, to be uploaded to the beacon.”
“But…” said Leonova.
“For posterity, Number One. You see? We can learn something from more ‘primitive’ societies.” Leonova nodded. “I’ll be in my ready room. Let me know when we’re ready for deceleration.”
“Aye sir,” said Leonova, taking his seat.
Chew went into his ready room, got a cup of coffee from the replicator, then sat down. He thought long and hard before recording his final log, a log he had no idea anyone would ever hear. The recording was short. He was about to record a message for his sister but paused when he remembered that she was probably already dead. He recorded it anyway. Maybe her kids or grandkids would want to hear it.
After finishing the recording, he looked out the view port at the stars and drank his coffee. He found that he didn’t have very much to think about. There were no regrets, no future plans for a cabin he would never see, no concerns for kids he would never have.
Plenty of times during the war he worried about whether or not he would survive. But that was war. In a way, all the choices were made for him; choices due to the failure of the diplomats, or the ambition of military leaders. In the end it was fight or die. Really no choice at all.
They had ‘won,’ but what had they won, really? The Romulans believed they were fulfilling some sort of cosmic manifest destiny, that their natural superiority meant that they should dominate and rule. Losing the war hadn’t disabused them of that belief. Chew suspected that one day, they would be back for another try. And if not them, maybe the Klingons, or some other race he’d never heard of. The Federation had won nothing but time.
But was what they were doing now any different?
Of course it was. There was no enemy. Sure, the rock might have a name, but there was no ill will, no divine power, no ideology, no doctrine. Just pure, dumb, astronomically bad luck… and maybe just as astronomically good luck that they happened to be in the neighborhood.
Luck and choices. Today, they chose life.
It was a good choice.
In what seemed like a mere moment later, the passage of a heartbeat, or the flutter of an eyelash, his comm panel chirped, and Leonova’s voice informed him that they were within moments of deceleration.
Chew stood and straightened his tunic. “Be right there.”
* * * * * * * * * *
Under maximum magnification, ah-Kah Noh-nen, Bringer of Darkness, filled the view screen. Faint, glowing wisps of gas streamed behind it as volatile deposits on its surface were vaporized by the sun’s radiation and whipped away by solar wind. Ga-nan was visible, just a sparkling point of blue at the asteroid’s edge.
Chew sat down. “Status report, Number One.”
“Modifications to the main deflector are complete. We’ve got partial main power and auxiliary. Both the warp drive and impulse engines are still down. Mackay’s still working on it, but I’m afraid it doesn’t look good.”
“Don’t count him out, yet, Number One,” said Chew.
“Coming up on our turnover point,” said Cangas.
“Remember, we’ll need to divert main power to the navigational deflector at a hundred thousand kilometers. We’ll only have about ten seconds on target before, well…”
“Turnover in three, two, one, now!” shouted Cangas.
“Maximum decel, now!”
The ship shuddered, and on the view screen, Chew saw long, blue tongues of flame stab out from the leading edge of the saucer section. Ga-nan was growing visibly larger, showing as a disk. The numbers spun down the distance between Spirit and ah-Kah Noh-nen decreased, and he felt a knot form in his chest. He watched as the blue flame died out and the shaking stopped just after they reached 200,000 kilometers, and still the numbers spun down.
“Launch the ship’s disaster beacon,” said Chew.
There was a beep as Perkins hit a button, and he said, “Beacon away.”
Suddenly, Call swore and punched buttons on his console. There was an orange flare and a salvo of photon torpedoes streaked away. A moment later, tiny pinpricks of light appeared on the surface of the asteroid and disappeared. Call started to sob.
“I’m sorry, sir,” said Call.
Leonova started to say something, but Chew cut her off. “It’s all right, son.” The numbers on the screen hit 100,000 and flashed. “Main power to the deflectors, now!” The deflector beam became visible on screen; a twinkling ribbon of light that connected them, temporarily, to the asteroid.
“It’s working!” Jennings cried out.
Please be enough, thought Chew.
The comms chirped, and Mackay’s voice shouted, “Impulse restored!”
Chew jumped to his feet. “Call, impulse power, now!”
The ship lurched, inertial compensators barely keeping up as the drive system engaged. Chew staggered, managing to keep to his feet by grabbing the back of Call’s chair.
When he looked up, they were so close to the asteroid that he could see the still-glowing craters their photon torpedoes had made. Their distance was in the double-digits.
“Back us off, ensign,” he said. “Take us out to a thousand k.”
“A thousand k, aye sir,” said Call.
Cangas leaned over when the captain had returned to his seat and whispered, “You feel better, now that you got a chance to shoot something?”
Call turned to her with a sheepish grin and said, “Yeah, sure.”
The deflector beam held out for another two seconds before it flickered and went dark, Warning indicators flashed. Leonova went to the engineering station and checked the board.
“That’s it. The deflector is out.”
“Jennings?” asked Chew.
Jennings looked up from her scope, her sloped shoulders speaking for her before she uttered a word. “I’m sorry, sir. It wasn’t enough.”
“Damn it,” said Chew. He hit a button on the arm of his chair, “Mackay, can we get the deflector back up?”
A moment later, his voice came back, apologetic. “I’m sorry, sir. The system is fried. It’ll take hours.”
“We’ve failed…” said Call.
“No…” said Chew, hands clenched into fists.
Leonova, came up and put a hand on his shoulder. “Stephen…”
“No!” said Chew, shaking off her hand. “We’ve come so far, sacrificed so much… tractor beam is out, the navigation deflector is out, but we have impulse power… and our shields… can we push it?”
“Sir…” said Jennings slowly, “without the maneuvering thrusters… the impulse engines don’t have the sort of fine control we need to ease into place. Chances are we’d smack into the side of that rock carrying a hell of a lot of delta v, and that would be all she wrote.”
“Call,” said Chew, standing and walking over to the young officer, “can you do it?”
“Yes, sir,” said Call, without hesitation.
“Look, son. Take a second. You don’t have anything to prove. Not to me, not to your brothers or father, no one. Can you do it. Really?”
Call took a deep breath and looked down, as much to gather his thoughts as to hide the tears gathering at the corners of his eyes. When he looked back up, his voice and gaze were steady, though a tear rolled down one cheek. “I can do it, sir,” he said, wiping away the tear. “I’m sorry.”
“Why are you sorry?”
“Never cried, sir.”
“So you listened to the rest of the song?” Call nodded. Chew patted his shoulder. “Well, it’s okay, ensign. Crying is permitted today. Take us in.”
“Aye, sir,” said Call, voice steady.
Chew returned to his seat and opened the ship-wide address system, “All hands, brace for impact.”
Call’s fingers raced over his controls and the Spirit lurched forward in a series of stops and starts. The numbers on the view screen raced downward and the surface of the asteroid came up to meet them. At the last instant, Chew yelled, “Emergency power to deflectors, now!”
The Spirit slammed into the surface of the asteroid, sparks flew and systems burned out, but the shields held. Alarm klaxons rang and emergency systems kicked in, but the crew were in motion, restoring order as quickly as they could pick themselves up.
“We still have impulse power?” said Chew?
“Yes sir,” replied Call.
“How much can we give it?” asked Chew, turning to Jennings.
“Five percent. With a safety margin of two percent.”
“Five percent impulse power, Mr. Call,” said Chew.
Immediately, the ship began to shake, and the engines moaned.
“It’s working… but, I’m sorry sir.”
“Put the planet on the view screen,” said Chew. Ga-nan was the size of his fist and getting bigger by the second. “Give it another two percent, Mr. Call.” The vibration became worse. Chew looked at Jennings, but she only shook her head. “Divert everything not going to the engines to the shields. Increase impulse power to 10 percent.” The lights dimmed and the shaking became so bad Chew had to hold on to the arms of his chair.
“That’s doing it!” cried Jennings. Chew looked over.
“Just another second…”
Chew looked at the screen just in time to see Ga-nan sweep past, and then they were hurtling into deep space. A nanosecond later, the last relays blew and the shields flickered out of existence. A millisecond after that, the Spirit slammed into the surface of ah-Kah Noh-nen. The tritanium bulkheads folded like tissue paper and the warp core breached. The explosion was visible to the naked eye from the surface of Ga-nan.
They’d watched with resignation as Bringer of Darkness approached, then with fascination as the tiny pinprick of light that was the alien spacecraft rushed to meet it.
The shadow of Bringer of Darkness fell on their world, the wind and seas were whipped up, two towers fell and there was much destruction, but the shadow passed by their world. They were saved.
They saw the twinkling that was the ship merge with Bringer of Darkness, the brilliant flash of light, and knew that it was gone.
The witnesses never knew who it was that had died saving them, or why. It became a subject of much debate. In the years that followed, a movement started to seek out the people who had sent that ship. They turned the ingenuity and resolve they’d shown in the creation of the transmission towers to spaceflight.
They hoped one day to do for others what had been done for them. It was a long road, with their fair share of dead-ends, set-backs and disasters, but since they knew it was possible, they did not give up until they had made it so.
In time, their grandchildren walked on alien shores and discovered new civilizations. One hundred and fifty years after their salvation, the people of Ga-nan caught up with the disaster beacon of the Spirit, the ship they had named To-La-hu, which meant ‘Guide Star’ but also ‘Light of Hope.’ They downloaded the data core, deciphered the language, and watched the logs.
Of primary interest was the final message of the commander of that ship. He was a strange, delicate-looking creature, but his voice was not so very different from theirs, and his words revealed a kindred spirit. Soon, every adult and child on Ga-nan knew his words by heart:
I know that I’m exceeding my orders, and perhaps my duty as a Starfleet officer. One day I may be judged for my actions… but I believe that what we are doing, though in violation of the letter of the law, is in the spirit of the law; that all beings, regardless of technological or cultural development, have the inviolable right to live free from terror, oppression and exploitation; have the right of self-determination, and to develop and grow however they will. To be.
This principle we are sworn to uphold, with our ship and our very lives if necessary. And if today we pay that price… well, there is a very old Earth saying—that a person has no greater love than to lay down their life for another. (The ship commander paused to smile at this point) I hope this is not an unrequited love. I hope we succeed. I hope… I hope they remember us.
They always did.