(Author's note: After watching Star Trek numerous times where the "best and the brightest" always end up saving galactic civilization I began wondering about the vast majority of individuals who just can't quite equal the likes of Kirk and Picard. I mean Starfleet has to have at least a few poor average souls to do the less glamorous jobs while the heroes are out making the galaxy safe for democracy. This is the story of one such individual.)
As assignments go being stationed on Epsilon Cannaria 3 wasn't the worst place to find one's self. While it wasn't the same as being on a starship moving ever deeper into the unknown regions of the galaxy it was better than working as support staff on an asteroid outpost monitoring the Romulan neutral zone.
Given my lackluster academic record at Starfleet Academy, the asteroid posting was a real possibility. So I was mildly surprised to have drawn Cannaria 3 as my first assignment working with the Corps of Engineers on the planetary engineering team. The posting sounded even better when I learned the team's main outpost was on an island near the equator that was fast becoming a lush tropical jewel not unlike Jamaica was before the first humans ever discovered it.
However, I wasn't on the planet two months when I learned that despite the fact that my location would probably one day rival the tropical paradise planet of Risa, the duty on Cannaria 3 was mindbogglingly boring. Eighteen months later after doing the the same insanely simple tasks day after day I found myself actually considering the option of resigning my hard earn commission and heading back home to Earth. An outrageously foolish and drastic action, but when your team members generally consider you the group screw up, over time the option begins to have some appeal. Probably the main reason I stayed on Cannaria 3 was the fact I didn't want to return to Earth defeated and have all the people in my west Texas hometown laughing behind my back at my failure.
Even though the vast majority of people on Earth had long since become truly rational and forward looking individuals, there were still isolated communities all across the globe that wallowed in abject ignorance and suspicion of the greater, outside universe. Similar such places probably exist on Vulcan, Andor, and Tellar Prime but the regional and planetary governments do their best to keep them out of sight.
My little hometown of Holy Cross was a community that worked hard to separate themselves from the outside world believing that Earth's grossly technical civilization and involvement with other intelligent species was degrading our very humanity. Needless to say, such an introverted view of existence only promoted the same basic prejudices that humans had so readily applied to each other during the worst centuries of the nation-state era. Despite the possible embarrassment, the view of the United States and United Earth government was that as long as the people of places like Holy Cross obeyed the laws they were of course free to live any way they wished. That didn't stop various officials from time to time strongly urging them to immigrate to some colony world.
Strangely enough, the other reason I stayed on Cannaria 3 was that I felt some sort of kinship with the old and damaged world. The planet was about five-hundred million years older than Earth and once possessed a complex living biosphere like humanity's birthplace. About two-million years before though, Cannaria was blasted by radiation from a nearby supernova that except for single cell plants and animals that still thrive in the ocean, sterilized the planet.
Another aspect of Cannaria that I found awe-inspiring was the display of lights that seemed to demand my attention every morning.
My normal duties always start well before dawn but by the time the sun cleared the horizon the explosions of color spreading across the sky always pull me away. Truthfully, I fully understood the alternating pulsations of red, gold, green, and gold that detonated across the sky every morning was due to the odd mixture of gases in the upper atmosphere and the lower of Cannaria's two planetary magnetic fields interacting together.
The morning light show also made the ocean beyond the artificial lagoons, containing the terrestrial aquatic lifeforms that would one day be released into it, sparkled in a bizarre pattern that the first explorers to set foot on this planet thought might be a sign of intelligent life.
While the exact workings of the light show were still a mystery, the astrophysics types figured the planet's star, a K-class orange dwarf much like Alpha Centauri B, one of Earth's stellar next door neighbors, also contributed since its solar particle output was abnormally high. The only real difference being that Epsilon Cannaria was much older than all three stars of the Centauri system. As for the patterns in the ocean, that resulted from Cannaria's dominate native lifeform, a single cell animal whose outward structure had properties like that of quartz crystal, instinctively interacting with the morning light show.
Being a raw, inexperienced ensign none of my duties were that critical so every morning I allowed myself several minutes enjoy the sight. There was only so many things you could do standing beside a small booth that contained several video displays showing the chemical composition of the water and the health of the lifeforms in the lagoons I monitored. In fact, I became so caught up in the morning spectacle I didn't notice the person approaching me until she touched my shoulder.
“Hey Tanner,” Ensign Trinity Mariano said standing in front of me. Like all the personnel assigned to Cannaria 3, including myself, she was wearing Starfleet's hot weather uniform which consisted of a beige jumpsuit with short sleeves. No one in Starfleet could ever be called out of shape but some filled out their uniforms far more attractively than others with Trinity being a prime example.
“Commander Ansari sent me to look for you, she's tried to reach you by communicator but couldn't get an answer.”
One of the things different about the hot weather uniform was that the communicator was not the usual combadge worn on the left side of a humanoid's chest but a thin, square device attached to the left sleeve. “Commander Ansari,” I say after touch activating mine, “this is Ensign Josh Tanner, do you read me?”
Thankfully, the often troublesome device squealed in protest instead of working properly showing Trinity I hadn't mistakenly hit the personal override resulting in it shutting down. “Well,” I say to her, “I guess we'll be wearing the combadges again until these damn things can be redesigned.” This caused Trinity to look at me with hurt feelings since it was her boyfriend, Lieutenant Savion Murrell, the team's on-site engineering member, that managed things like communications and other technical issues.
“Don't blame Savion,” she said with just the barest hint of irritation flashing in her eyes. “You know we're the first people to field test these new communicators.”
“Whatever Trinity, just raise Commander Ansari for me so I won't end up on waste recycling detail, again.”
“I don't have to, she wants you in her office as soon as you can break away. Something's up on Danar 4 and she's been talking to the consortium running the terraforming operation there all morning. Looks like most of our team might be loading up on the runabouts and heading that way to help them.”
“No problem,” I said, “it will take me just a few more minutes to run salinity checks on the lagoon containing the small schooling bait fish and I'll head straight there.”
Trinity gave me an impersonal smile as she walked away, clearly telling me she was relieved that her role as temporary messenger was over. I on the other hand had long since finished all my checks and just told her that so I could watch her walk down the path back to the lagoons under her management.
Once Trinity was out of sight, I double timed down the path heading towards the complex of small structures making up both living quarters and support buildings for our work to establish a complex biosphere on Cannaria 3. As I ran, I noticed the ridge line above the complex where we landed the assorted air and space vehicles for our terraforming project. Sure enough, both of the runabout starships were being prepped for what looked like an immediate takeoff. What this sudden departure meant for me, I had no idea so I picked up he pace to get to Commander Ansari's office.
Luckily for me, Commander Ansari was in a good mood when I stepped through the door leading into her office. Ansari was of Arab heritage with dark, smokey eyes that cleverly hid the fact that her grandmother was Betazoid and while it was known she didn't have any telepathic nor full empathic abilities she did have a far better ability to detect bullshit than the average human.
“Hello Ensign Tanner,” she said in a friendly tone that could either mean good or bad things for me. “We received a message the Danar 4 station late last night our time that they are dealing with a mutated native virus that is playing hell with the Vulcan plant life they are trying to introduce on the surface and have asked for our help in trying to contain and then reverse the damage.”
Aye commander,” I said immediately thinking I would be on the team going with her. “Do you want me to get my gear ready for departure?”
“Ah no, Josh,” she said using my given name, never a good sign. “Since we're way ahead of schedule and our lagoons will be ready for full release in a matter of weeks I've decided you will be the one team member I leave behind.”
Either she felt or simply saw my reaction at what amounted to not being invited to the party on Danar 4 and quickly did her best to put a optimistic slant on me being marooned on a deserted planet. “Look Josh, leaving you here makes the most sense,” she said leaning on her desk. “The terrestrial lifeforms in both the lagoons and the experimental forests on the four continents are thriving due to the incredible work done by you and the other seven people on this team. But I need someone to stay behind and watch things while we help the Vulcan consortium and you are it. Just try to think of it as your first command which is what will be entered into your record when we get back.”
Of course, Commander Ansari made sense but there was still the eight-hundred megagram elephant in the room I couldn't seem to shake no matter how hard I tried. “Commander Ansari, I said ready to at least try and play the situation to my advantage. “If I do well while you guys are away, is there any chance I could get you to approve my wavier to return to Starfleet Academy for a second chance at Command School?
For any inspiring cadet enamored with the dream of commanding a starship, Starfleet Academy's Command School was the main and most attractive way of making that happen. Yes, there are alternate routes that lead to being a starship captain, but a graduate of Command School was automatically on the fast track for great things. Academy cadets with the proper grades and evaluations usually attended in their junior and senior years but for lackluster graduates like me, their commanding officer could send them back to attend if they felt they were ready.
This caused Ansari to lean back into her chair and while I didn't have any Betazed or Vulcan telepathic abilities encoded in my genome, I could tell she was trying to prepare her next words carefully. “Listen, Josh, I've reviewed your records and your grade point average at the start of your junior year was just too low to qualify for Command School. In fact, I read the counseling statement written by your adviser recommending you drop out of the officer study path and move over to enlisted. You're a great technician and are maturing into a good officer, but right now you're simply not ready for command school.”
“I understand Commander Ansari,” I said clearly disappointed. With nothings left to say Commander Ansari dismissed me and returned to preparing for their fast approaching departure.
It was early in the afternoon when the two runabouts engaged anti-gravity replusors and lifted off the landing pad to head out into space. By that time I had taken up residence in the building housing both the subspace communications array and our deep space sensor tracking system. In real time, I watched the runabouts engage impulse engines pushing them to half lightspeed until they passed into the outer reaches of the Epsilon Cannaria star system several hours later where they both then jumped to warp.
I had always been a bit of a loner but once the ships disappeared off the tracking screen I was almost overwhelmed by isolation. At least my training and sense of duty prevented me from dwelling on the feeling. Being in command of the terraforming operation meant I had to walk over to Ansari's office and do the final checks for the night on all the automated systems. Commander Ansari figured they would be on Danar 4 for about two months and I promised myself they would return with everything working just as it should.
A little over a month into my inglorious command everything was going about as good as I hoped. Just as the schedule called for I opened the lagoon holding the mature small bait fish into Cannaria's ocean and began monitoring their activity. Almost immediately they began feeding on both the native plankton analog and the terrestrial version that had long since established itself. The next step would be to open the lagoon containing the larger predator fish when they had matured enough to survive in the open ocean with the hope of establishing a self-sustaining predator-prey biosphere. The end result a couple of decades down the road would be to open the planet to colonization by the various members of the Federation.
Given my Starfleet career prospects, it would probably make sense for me to apply for a homestead since there was little chance I would ever leave Cannaria except to return home in disgrace to my superstitious community. Despite it all there was a bright side to my command consisting of me, myself, and I and it was that as long as things continued to proceed as planned I was fully capable of doing everything alone. Just as soon as that thought was born in my brain I had a bad feeling I had just jinxed myself, at least the problem that soon presented itself was nothing I could have really anticipated.
I usually spent my nights sitting on one of the hills looking out at the roaring ocean below and the majesty of the Milky Way galaxy above. It was there that I continued my idle fantasies of commanding a starship and pondered the questions inherent to all intelligent life. The most timely was what in hell happened to the Borg.
I was still at the Academy when they began their last invasion of the Alpha Quadrant. But instead of their usual pursuit of assimilating all intelligent life they attacked Federation, Klingon, Romulan, and all other inhabited worlds with the intent on sterilizing all life. The war lasted a little over a year with over thirty worlds destroyed and tens of billions killed. The fleets of the various interstellar governments fought back as best they could reducing the butcher's bill but that still resulted in over a hundred worlds suffering from that aftereffects Borg weapons fire.
It all culminated with thousands of Borg cube ships attempting final assaults on the core worlds of the Federation like Vulcan, Deneva, Andor, Tellar Prime, and even Earth. It was the efforts of the crews on the starships Enterprise, Titan, and Aventine that caused the Borg armada to stop dead in their tracks and leave Federation space for the Azure Nebula. It was there that the Borg were themselves defeated, them assimilated by a peaceful and ancient species that had somehow accidental caused them to be born in the first place over five thousand years ago.
I was feeling quite content on that hill feeling almost like I had found my place in the galaxy when my tricorder started squealing a shrill alarm that never in a million years I expected to hear. I picked up the small device and stunned to learn it was the deep space tracking sensors in orbit around Cannaria. An unknown ship had dropped out of warp and was heading straight for the Cannaria.
At first, I thought it might be one of the runabouts carrying Commander Ansari but when the automated tracking sensors tried to get a transponder signal from the craft it sent nothing back. What bothered me the most was that the incoming ship should have responded someway whether it was a Federation starship, Klingon warship, or any of near a hundred other recognized vessels. Given the regulations and customs of interstellar travel not identifying yourself upon entering a star system was an extremely dangerous practice, even in Federation space.
It took me several minutes to reach the building where the tracking system was housed and by that time the unknown vessel was just a few light-minutes away from Cannaria. While being the screw up on my team, I did know how to work the sensor network and began active scans of the approaching ship. Thankfully, it looked nothing like a Borg cube, Romulan warbird, Dominion warship, or Breen raider or any other possible hostile vessel. In fact, after having ran the shape through the Ship's Registry, it came out as a complete unknown for both current and past vessels stretching back to the twenty-second century when the Vulcans opened up their database to everyone when the United Federation of Planets was first established.
“Oh crap,” I say out loud just to hear my voice, “I'm damn near dead in the middle of Federation space and I'm about to have a first contact with an unknown species.” All Starfleet cadets get first contact training, there were just to many of us spread out on thousands of worlds not to make the education mandatory. But to be alone on a deserted planet while having a vessel almost as large as a Galaxy-class starship about to visit was way out of my league.
Falling back on my Academy training, I realized given my situation the first thing I had to do was try and open direct communication. Moving over to the communication console I attempted to establish both a digital and voice channel telling the unknown vessel it was approaching a Federation outpost. At the same time I radioed the first contact protocols on both the subspace and across a couple of hundred frequencies on the electromagnetic spectrum.
All my attempts to say hello were ignored or unheard, that usually meant something bad but sensors hadn't detected anything suggesting weapons were being charged or that the incoming ship even possessed them. Since nothing else was working, the last thing I did was try and call for help.
“This is the Federation terraforming outpost on Cannaria 3 calling any ship within range.” I said on the subspace distress channel. “An unknown vessel is approaching the planet, no hostile intent has been detected but the ship has not responded to any attempts at communication, assistance with this situation would be greatly appreciated.”
I got no immediate response but while Cannaria was deep in secured Federation space, it wasn't close to any populated or developed system. That being one of the reasons it had been left alone for so long. It didn't take long for me to realize that I would be all by myself when the unknown ship reached orbit. All I could do after that was just sit back and wait for my visitor, because to use the ancient sports analogy, the ball was now in his, her, or other's court.
The minutes ticked by with my silent visitor going into orbit around Cannaria. The sensors I had available to me were by no means the most sensitive so I couldn't tell if the ship had a crew or was just a robot vessel. But as I watched it circle the planet I couldn't help but get the impression whatever was controlling it was searching for something. Just when I thought the ship would just stay in orbit it did the unexpected and begin descending. When I calculated the course the ship was taking it ended on top of the three fusion reactors that supplied power to the base. That was my cue to haul ass to that location and see just what the hell was going to happen.
The island the terraforming base was located is about the size of Puerto Rico on Earth with the three fusion reactors built on a stable plateau almost dead center on the small landmass. It only took me a couple of minutes to reach the reactors by anti-gravity cycle, enough time to watch the ship make its final decent.
I stared in utter awe as the gigantic vessel hovered a few hundred meters above the complex. Looking through light amplified binoculars the main part of the ship looked like a silver raindrop. The fact that the surface seemed to ripple like quicksilver only added to that impression. But surrounding the ship were rigid looking segments that looked like pedals on a flower. The ship was obviously built by a civilization with technological skills greater than that of the every species in the Alpha Quadrant. As I stared up at the craft I wondered just what in the hell three standard fusion reactors meant to it whose design had really changed all that much from the late twenty-first century.
I continued to move closer to the point I was just several meters away from the helium-3 tanks that supplied fuel for the reactors when I saw movement. Before flying up from the coast I briefly considered grabbing one of the phasers from the weapons locker but thought against it. Whoever was giving me an unannounced social call would no more be scared of a single human armed with a hand phaser than I was of one of the annoying gnats that we had been forced to introduce on Cannaria as part of the terraforming project. But still, as I became surer that something was on the ground I found myself wishing I had decided differently.
I landed the cycle and proceeded to circle around the buildings in the direction of the movement. That's when I caught my first glimpse of the visitor. The being was mammalian humanoid and looked to be female but what struck the most was her resemblance to the elves from the late twenty-first century remake of the Lord of the Rings movies. She seemed almost impossibly tall and thin although I reminded myself evolution generally writes its own rules on the worlds where life appears. Even more odd to me was the look of utter sadness the elvish looking being possessed on her face.
I tried several times to announce my presence but it became clear that she was ignoring me. So I slowly walked closer to her figuring again she would have easily killed me had she been fearful of my intentions. When I was a meter away I thought to look in the direction she was staring. All I saw was the plain of the island we were on leading down to the ocean. It never occurred to me for a second that it wasn't the raw beauty she was looking at but a memory of a time long before humans were born.
“Where did it all go?” She suddenly asked me in perfect English. “Please tell me what happened to my planet?” She asked again with a raw sadness that could only come for a journey that had lasted far longer than I could hope to understand.
(Author's Note: Yes, circumstances have again forced me to stop here for the time being. My daughter has a birthday party to attend and after that I am sure my lovely spouse will have some other chore I absolutely have to accomplish or life as we know it will end disastrously. For any Trekkers who get this far the "Command School" I mentioned in this story while the concept has never been used in the series to my knowledge, it has been vaguely referenced in several novels. As for the Borg being defeated that occurred in the final book of a trilogy by David Mack entitled Star Trek: Destiny: Lost Souls. I highly recommend it, or even better buy Star Trek: Destiny: The Complete Saga. )