|Art by Al-Proto|
(Author's Note: This is my second version of this story. It's long so I have broken into two parts, the second half will be published tomorrow. Other USS Saratoga stories: Out of the Darkness, Hard Transitions Part 1, Hard Transitions Part 2. )
As Captain Connor Douglas stood next the large display window looking out at the two orbiting drydocks trailing behind the main starbase complex, he couldn't help but considering the utter indifferent nature of the universe. Adding to his unsettled mindset, the gas giant planet the drydocks, associate factories, and living facilities making up Starbase 257 orbited glowed a sinister human blood red giving the impression that occasionally the universe just might fall on the other side of indifferent and more towards the cruel.
Deep down Douglas knew that mere existence for every living being, both sentient and primitive, was the result of countless random events going back to the Big Bang itself. Had something as small as the charge of protons been just the tiniest bit different the universe would have gone a completely divergent and alien path with stars unable to form. The same went for the formation of planets and the lifeforms that evolved on them. Any number of insignificant changes in events like the collision or scattering of different dust particles early in the formation of a star system could have been magnified until entirely different worlds, and the life forms on them, could have come into being, or conversely, been wiped from existence.
Douglas understood how primitive humans desperately wanted to cling to the idea that there was some guiding supreme entity watching over its special, chosen people. Without any real technology or understanding of the environment, just living on the surface of a planet made life extremely vulnerable to the whims of daily weather, climate change, and natural disasters. Yet somehow humans, and thousands of other species across the galaxy, crawled out of that hole to eventually build civilizations that worked hard to defy the seemingly indifferent, if not cruel nature of the universe and do something more than just survive.
Deep in Douglas' head, he fought back the urge to think that maybe the universe did in fact at times want to strike back at its grown children and show them all their noble endeavors were but motes of dust it could scatter on a whim.
Almost everyone living in both the alpha and beta quadrants of known space had hoped the end of the Dominion War would have brought the beginnings of another period of peace and stability for the populations of the Federation, Klingons Empire, Cardassian Union, and all the other species weary of conflict. After the successful invasion of Cardassia Prime, the Dominion forces surrendered and retreated back through the Bajoran wormhole to the gamma quadrant while their Breen allies crossed back over into their territory more than giving every conceivable indication their militant ways were over for now.
Starfleet, never meant to primarily be a military organization, almost immediately began switching back to its true purpose, exploration and scientific inquiry. Starships not needed for peacekeeping were sent back to the core worlds for refit and then dispatched out into the unknown. That was the case for Douglas' ship, the USS Saratoga, which after the Battle of the Mandith System was sent back to massive drydock facilities in orbit around Mars for refurbishment. A year later the Saratoga and her crew warped out of Sector 001 and actually made it across the red line, the current demarcation point where Federation space ended and the vast unknown began. For two full months Douglas felt that the true purpose of his life was being met as he and his crew spent their days seeking out new worlds and new life. It all ended suddenly when Starfleet sent out the general recall to all vessels within reach of the Federation and its member worlds. The United Federation of Planets was being stalked and preyed upon by its worst enemy with the general consensus that it intended to wipe clean all intelligent life within its collective reach.
Douglas' revelry was interrupted with the chirping of his combadge that was attached to the upper left of his uniform. “Douglas here,” he said to what he assumed was the aide to the admiral in charge of Starbase 257.
“Captain Douglas, the admiral is ready to see you now,” the young lieutenant j.g. said in English but with her Betazed accent giving her words a lyrical cadence.
Douglas marched back down the corridor towards the entrance to the admiral's quarters. When he reached the door sensor it slid back the opening allowing him entrance. The Betazed aide used that same moment to exit as well, her facial expression clearly indicating she was on a mission.
“Hello Captain Douglas,” Admiral Tarn, a joyful looking Denobulan, said from behind his desk while motioning the young human to take the seat in front of it. “I surely wish our meeting could be under more happier circumstances.” he said in a tone that denoted more than a little anxiety.”
“I assure you admiral, the last thing I wanted to hear from home was that the Borg were active in known space. It was bad enough when word leaked out that while part of the crew of the USS Einstein, Admiral Janeway was captured and assimilated aboard a dead and damaged Borg cube found adrift in space.” Douglas said adjusting his position trying to get comfortable in the chair obviously made for a Denobulan frame.
It was then that Douglas noticed the soft music playing in the background. Which cause Admiral Tarn to smile in a melancholy way that was strikingly human to Douglas, “Yes, captain that is the twentieth century human group known as the Beatles. I discovered their music while stationed at New Berlin on Luna early in my career, I have found that anything by Paul McCarthy and John Lennon helps me think.”
“Sir,” Douglas said, “why do I have a growing suspicion you called me here for something other than talking about the Borg?”
“My old friend and your former commanding officer, Prown Thrawn was quite right about you Connor. You are rather smart for a pink skin.” He finished laughing at the old and slightly racist term Andorians once had for those humans who originated from the northern European regions of Earth.
“It's actually about the planet you and your crew have been assigned to protect.” Tarn said in a tone that meant he was getting down to business. “The planet is called Kivant by the natives and they call themselves the kich. They've been an associate member of the Federation for decades and have applied for full status but various people in Starfleet intelligence have some questions about them.”
“Why do I now have a strong feeling I'm not going to like your request admiral?”
“Let's just hope the Borg don't show up and my request is all you have to be uncomfortable about.” Tarn finished before explaining the mystery about the kich species.
Native planetary name: Kivant
Star system designation: DDED-1445
Location: Beta Quadrant, Sector 5411
Basic information: Star system was first cataloged
by the Phoenix 8 unmanned probe on stardate
0403.2. System consists of four rocky worlds,
all class M or below and three gas giants class J or below.
Native intelligent species: one
“Kich”- mammalian humanoid
pop- 426 million
From the Encyclopedia Galactica:
Memory Alpha archives
The native intelligent species of Kivant, who call themselves the “kich”, are a mammalian humanoid race quite similar to Earth's Homo sapiens in both outward appearance and internal functions. The chief difference being an odd facial hair pattern on males and partial webbing between the fingers on females. Their evolutionary lineage in fact does go back to a hominid-like primate that inhabited the savannas of one of Kivant's continents.
The development of civilization began far earlier that what occurred on Earth or several other Federation members. In fact, the kich reached an 18th century level of Western European industrialized civilization around Earth's ninth century CE. Staying true to the theory of parallel planetary development, during the early years of Kivant's technological development it was divided up into seventy-five distinct nation-states with five major powers controlling large sections of the planet where socioeconomic maturation was not as advanced. These spheres of interest, or empires, often overlapped causing numerous wars generally fought by proxy agents made up of religious or ethnic groups under the direction by the major powers.
The turning point for kich civilization occurred around the eleventh century CE on Earth when Kivant's major powers became embroiled in a world war that ended imperial rule and created over a hundred new nations centered around two dominate nation-states. As it was on Earth after the Second World War, Kivant's two dominate powers championed conflicting social and economic systems. But the development of nuclear weapons prevented the two from engaging directly, instead a cold war ensued with the nation promoting totalitarian state control over personal lives and economic choices eventually collapsing from its inherent inefficiencies and corruption.
Further paralleling Earth's historical path, with the victory of the democratic and capitalistic system every underdeveloped nation on Kivant began rapid reforms to achieve the same economic level and lifestyle of the planet's dominate nation. Enormous industrialization projects were instituted in the developing nations which created a huge demand for resources that strained the planetary environment. This activity created vast fortunes overwhelmingly controlled by a tiny percentage who in turned used their influence to protect and continue rampant development at the expense of the majority of Kivant's inhabitants who were left to deal with the increasing pollution and encroaching environmental degradation.
The pollution and disruption of the planetary environment played havoc on the climate which caused crop failures leading to massive starvation and the resurgence of numerous diseases that were once under control. The kich population of Kivant peaked at 7.5 billion individuals around Earth's thirteenth century CE but soon began a steep decline as food and water shortages induced new wars. Combined with pandemics that were spread by waves of refugees the nations of Kivant were only barely able to stay ahead of onslaught of continuing disasters.
The breaking point came as frozen tundra located in the arctic regions thawed and began releasing massive amounts of methane. These events caused Kivant's average temperatures to shoot up even further making many areas of the planet uninhabitable. In less than twenty standard years the kich population fell to less than 251 million individuals with the survivors fleeing to the polar regions where temperatures remained livable.
At this stage of Kivant's ecological holocaust the last vestiges of national, ethnic, and religious identity were burned away with the remnants of kich civilization dedicating themselves to prevent their planet from succumbing to a runaway greenhouse effect. This Dark Age lasted for six-hundred standard years and only ended when the planetary climate stabilized around Earth's nineteenth century CE.
Eventually the remnant civilization on Kivant stabilized their planetary climate enough to allow for scientific research in fields unrelated to ecological recovery. By Earth's late twenty-second century CE, the kich had advanced enough to build a subspace telescope array in orbit of their home world in an attempt to detect other intelligent life in the galaxy. This allowed them to detect the unmanned Phoenix 8 probe as it entered their system. The probe was not programmed to initiate first contact since it did not detect any evidence of warp technology. After a quick scan, the probe jumped back into warp heading towards its next programmed destination. Now knowing that they were not alone in the universe, the government of Kivant then began a crash project to develop their own warp capability. Twenty years later the Federation starship Ark Royal passed close enough to the system to be detected with the kich launching several unmanned warp probes in an attempt draw the ship's attention.
On stardate 2262.0, Captain Iyaad Sharaf initiated first contact with the government of Kivant. Within five standard years Kivant petitioned the Federation council for associate membership which was almost immediately granted. The kich have no off-planet colonies but have allowed Starfleet extensive use of their star system which included the establishment of Star Base 257 and the construction of substantial dry dock facilities in orbit around the fifth planet in their system. In return for this almost unlimited access, the kich have made extensive use of Starfleet's Corp of Engineers and its planetary restructuring technology to reclaim their damaged world.
With vast areas of Kivant now livable, the kich have allowed over five million refugees over the intervening years to settle permanently on their world. However, the polar cities the kich built during their Dark Age were declared off limits by the government to protect their native culture.
Captain's Log, USS Saratoga
Connor Douglas in command
Forty days have passed since the beginning of a new round of Borg incursions into Federation space. Given the increased activity and now attacks on settled worlds there is little doubt that they are preparing for an all-out invasion. This time though their goal is not assimilation but outright genocide. For that reason Starfleet recalled us back to Federation space.
And we are now in our sixteenth day standing guard over the kich homeworld of Kivant. For that entire time we have not detected any Borg presence within range of our sensors. Due to this emergency, Starfleet Command sends us updates twice daily on engagements, which unfortunately includes losses in both ships and personnel. Even worse is the information we are receiving about the planets the Borg have sterilized. Despite the fact that the Borg have not yet penetrated into the core of Federation space, the death toll has now topped four billion sentient beings along with an uncountable amount of other lifeforms.
Several Starfleet ships have successfully defended their assigned star systems by improvising new tactics and weapons systems. As usual with the Borg, they quickly adapt and find ways to counteract these impromptu innovations. As we wait for our possible date with destiny, every person in the engineering, security, and tactical departments on this ship are working to come up with our own counter measures.
As everyone assigned to the team to design a method to undercut and defeat a Borg cube filed into the senior conference room situated behind the bridge, it was clear that telepathic nor emphatic abilities were not needed to detect the tension in the air. News of successful Borg attacks on various worlds along with the occasional report of how a particular ship and crew were able defeat that enemy ran like wildfire to everyone aboard the Saratoga. People who joined Starfleet were not the type that easily scared nor ran away from a fight. What was creating a level of anxiety greater than the darkest days of the Dominion War was that the fleet had long since been spread dangerously thin in an attempt protect thousands of inhabited worlds. It was with this unsettling knowledge that Connor Douglas walked into the conference room to add even more tension to the situation.
“Thank you everyone, “ Connor said taking his seat at the end of the table. “I know we are pressed for time but I just received a classified communication for Starfleet Command telling me the Federation colony world of Oranto was attacked by a Borg cube twelve hours ago. After destroying the starships Wolf and Sunrise assigned to defend the planet, it then sterilized the surface killing all sixteen million residents.”
Connor took a moment to say small prayer of thanks to whatever deity might exist for remembering to check if any member of his crew was from Oranto, or had family members living there. Connor had long since talked with the two crew members on the Saratoga from Oranto and they were being helped by friends and one of the ship's assigned counselors. Still though, given the momentary look of dismay on the faces of everyone in the conference room, it was clear they had taken the loss of another world to the Borg personally.
“Given this new information,” Connor began again, “the importance of coming up with a means to defeat or blunt a Borg attack cannot be understated. Lieutenant Sovan and Axor, have you two made any headway in devising a possible defense?”
For the briefest of moments Axor hoped Sovan would take the lead in explaining their plan. Sovan was the newest member of the crew, and as most Vulcans seem to prefer in new settings, he still irritatingly liked to sit back and observe everyone's personality traits and idiosyncrasies before becoming actively involved. What made things worse was that Sovan was from a region of Vulcan that still didn't care much for humans, why this was the case Axor had no idea. Taking some comfort that Bolians were as often perplexed with Vulcan culture as their longtime human friends, Axor tried not to hold anything against Sovan. That still left the chief engineer holding the bag in presenting their one idea that in simulation destroyed an attacking Borg cube.
“Captain Douglas,” Axor began, “our respective teams have several ideas but most of them suffer from having already been tried by other ships. Needless to say, those ideas that did defeat the Borg have allowed them to adapt making them now ineffective. The idea we have come up with though does have a high probability of success although our simulation usually result in the destruction of the ship.”
Captain Douglas leaned forward and smiled in a manner that sent a small chill down Axor's blue-skinned back. “Lieutenant,” Douglas said, “believe it or not that is the best news I've had since we were recalled back to home space. Please tell me what you two have in mind.”
Taking a deep breath, Axor was almost ready to lay out his presentation when Sovan interrupted him.
“Captain Douglas,” the Vulcan said in a overly dignified manner, “are you familiar with the old human infliction called cancer?”
Alerted to approach of the visiting dignitary, Connor Douglas was standing at the entrance to his ready room when the portal door slide open. “Greetings, Primus Th'lou,” Connor said as he waved off the young ensign escorting the visitor and offered his left forearm for the kich's version of a formal greeting. “I'm sorry I couldn't meet you at the transporter room but, as you know, the situation right now demands nearly all of everyone's time.”
“I understand captain,” the middle-aged kich said as Douglas guided him towards the seat in front of his desk. “I'm just not certain as to why you have requested my presence, our agreement with Starfleet and the Federation allows them to make all decisions concerning the defense of our homeworld and star system.”
Douglas took a moment to gauge the being sitting on the other side of his desk. Th'lou looked to be average for a humanoid species, enough so that they could easily blend in with a dozen others from across the galaxy. What bothered Connor though, and Starfleet Command, was that while the actively supported Federation policy and principles, very few of the kich species every left the planet. In fact, other than small communities that were integrated with the several million refugees that were now permanently settled in the newly rehabilitated regions of Kivant, the kich kept strictly to their cities in the polar regions.
“That's exactly what I wanted to speak with you about,” Douglas said. “Given the Borg threat I wanted to strongly recommend that you begin evacuations of your polar cities. My data says they are quite densely populated which makes them prime targets if the Borg should get close enough to begin bombarding the planet.”
Being unfamiliar with kich physiology, Douglas would have sworn in court that the Primus of Kivant's face suddenly blanched as if he had just been caught in a lie. “Yes, Captain Douglas,” he said obviously trying to recover his composure, “I will take your advice into consideration but our agreements with both the Federation Council and Starfleet Command specifically states the polar cities are my species most cherished cultural possessions and that off worlders are strictly forbidden from visiting or interference in any of our affairs that take place inside those designated limits.”
The first thought that came to Douglas' mind after hearing Th'lou's warning was that the man was definitely hiding something. “Primus, no offense was meant and the last thing I want to do is interfere in your planet's culture. But as the person in charge of Kivant's defense in this crisis, I would not be doing my duty if I didn't mention a Borg disrupter beam has the ability to cut kilometer wide swaths through your cities down to the bedrock your structure's foundations are built upon.”
“Let us just hope the Borg do not show up or that you and your crew find a way to defeat them before one of their ships attains orbit.” Primus Th'lou said before standing up. “Captain, I really must be going...” Th'lou added making a motion towards the closed portal door.
With nothing else to say, Douglas touched his combadge,” Ensign Dilipa, please come to my ready room and escort the Primus back to the transporter for his return to the surface.”
Barely ten seconds later, the young ensign steps through the portal and immediately leaves with Primus Th'lou following. Douglas didn't start back on his work knowing his first officer and closest friend, Commander Zhao Shou would want to talk with him about the meeting.
“Well, how did it go Connor? Did you find out anything useful for Admiral Tarn?” Zhao asked after strolling into the ready room with only a perfunctory hesitation at the portal door.
“They're hiding something,” Douglas said leaning back in his chair. “What it is I have no idea, but I'd almost bet they would make a plea to the Borg for help if we tried to do anything overt like active scans or a fly over with a shuttle.”
“What are we going to do?” Zhao asks. “If the Borg get by us and fire off one ten second blast down onto their polar cities the death toll would be in the tens of millions.”
“We go ahead with our plan, Shou,” Douglas said using his friend's given name. “How is production on the mines going?”
“As long as the Borg don't show up in the next two days we'll have enough to proceed with the plan. And as for our protection measures should we have drones beam over, both Savon and Axor assure me the mixture of gases and particles we'll dump into ship's atmosphere will reduce the effectiveness of individual drone shields down to ten or fifteen percent.” Zhao said with a confidence he didn't exactly completely believe.
“Lets hope it works,” Douglas said, “because for the plan to work, we're going to have to get the Saratoga quite close to penetrate the Borg ship's subspace field to beam over the mines.”
“The nifty thing about that atmospheric mixture is that it will kill anyone within seconds should their environmental suits be compromised. At least that reduces the chances for the Borg assimilating our people.” Zhao added deadpan.
“Thank the universe, whatever gods exists, and the Great Bird of the Galaxy for such small favors.” Douglas said in return.
Captain's Log, USS Saratoga
Connor Douglas in command
After weeks of waiting long range sensors have detected a Borg cube ship on course for Kivant. I am delaying our interception until we have a better idea what the enemy ship's path through this star system's asteroid belt will be so we can better position our little surprises. Admiral Tarn has informed me that the Starship Ranger is on the way to provide reinforcement but their ETA at a minimum is twenty-eight hours. By that time we will either be victorious or dead.
“Borg vessel's course has been confirmed within a eighty-five percent certainty.” The tactical officer, Lieutenant Victoria Kinyor said from her station to the right of the captain's central command chair.
“Raise shields, prepare a full spread of quantum torpedoes, ready phasers.” Zhao said to Kinyor.
Without hesitation Douglas hit the intercom icon on the small screen mounted on the arm of his chair. “All hands this is the captain, we are at battled stations, everyone seal their environmental suits and prepare to repel boarders. The next few hours things are going to get very nasty. All section heads, damage control teams, tactical squads, and medics stay alert and be ready to move quickly.”
“Helm,” Douglas then called out to Ensign Reid, “lay in an intercept course, warp two. Engage.”
“Captain,” Commander Zhao said looking up from the screen mounted to his seat next Douglas, “Commander Axor is ready to flood all decks with the gas mixture.”
“Tell him to flood the decks, Number One,” Douglas said.
On the main viewer the star field shifted violently as the Saratoga moved towards the enemy craft. As the starship accelerated, it only took a few seconds before the massive and ugly cube ship appeared in the center. “It totally ignored Starbase 257,” Zhao said to no one in particular, “all remaining personnel still in the orbital facilities are at red alert with dependents down on the surface of one of the gas giant's larger moons.”
“Intercept in fifteen seconds,” Ensign Reid said from his station.
“Zhao, make sure engineering is ready to transport the mines into the Borg ship the second we penetrate their subspace field,” Douglas said. “Lieutenant Sovan,” Douglas began again turning his chair towards the science officer, “are you picking up anything out of the ordinary on the sensors?”
“No captain,” the Vulcan replied from his station, “standard Borg cube ship with about ten-thousand drones aboard. Given that we have not heard the usual proclamation that we will be assimilated it is safe to assume that the collective's goal is the sterilization of the surface of the planet.”
“Five seconds to intercept,” Ensign Reid nervously called out to the rest of the bridge crew.
“Tactical,” Douglas called out, “fire all weapons, reload torpedoes and go again with emphasis on possible tractor beam emitter points. We need to be able to break away as quick as possible or they will swat us like an Izarian sand wasp.”
High energy phaser fire lashed out from emitter strips on the Saratoga hitting the Borg cube. Explosions rippled across the chaotic surface of the enemy ship which were matched as quantum torpedoes impacted less than a second later. The Borg vessel, which up to that moment had decided to ignore everything else in the star system, now had to contend with the Federation ship getting in the way of its collective desire to wipe the target planet clean.
It slowed and focused its attention on the starship rushing toward it. The collective intelligence of over ten-thousand assimilated souls analyzed the incoming vessel and determined that it could not defeat them. Still, it would need to be destroyed, so the Borg ship slowed and brought its own weapons to bear on the Saratoga firing seven green glowing balls of energy towards it.
“Incoming,” Lieutenant Kinyor yelled from the tactical station, “high energy plasma charges.”
The helmsmen was able to alter course just enough to dodge the first two volleys with the Saratoga's automatic defenses firing several short phaser bursts to blow away three more, but the last two charges impacting on the primary hull, uncomfortable close to the bridge.
The result of the impacts had several bridge consoles explode sending a shower of sparks and small debris into the faces and bodies of the crew. Luckily for them, the new environmental suits were partially armored as well as equipped with personal shields that prevented any real injuries. As the crew of the Saratoga had planned, once they had gotten close enough to the Borg cube to penetrate its subspace field, preprogrammed computers jumped into action to beam over hundreds of self-replicating mines into the heart of the enemy ship. All told, the process had only taken ten seconds, but for everyone aboard the Saratoga, it seemed like a lifetime.
“Process complete, captain,” Zhao said, all mines are away.”
“Helm, get us the hell out of here, best possible speed,” Douglas said as his ship was rocked with several more impacts.
The Borg vessel, not exactly sure what the Federation starship had just attempted, was not about to just let its adversary slip away. The collective tried to catch the Saratoga in several tractor beams but each time both the alert human in charge of weapons and ship's tactical computers prevented the Borg emitters from getting focused. Phaser fire with carefully alternating frequencies destroyed each emitter and when the helmsmen jumped to warp the Borg vessel was forced to break off from its intended course to Kivant.
Inside the Borg vessel a couple of dozen of the self-replicating mines immediately detonated with the others quickly taking in the debris to make more of their kind. The rate of propagation agreed upon by both Axor and Sovan had six mines being made for every one that exploded. Borg drones died by the hundreds during each explosion as whole sections of the massive ship were rendered ineffective. Regeneration subsystems were activated, but each time newly created mines just detonated again making repairs ineffective. The collective mind of the Borg ship analyzed the situation and attempted several countermeasures but the most brilliant thing about Axor and Sovan's destructive creations was that they were just too stupid to be stopped. What began to worry the collective though was that the mines were growing at an exponential rate and in a few hours the insanely primitive weapons would destroy the ship if they were not stopped. For that reason, the collective decided they would have to assimilate the personnel on the Federation ship to discern a way shut down the mines.
“Captain Douglas,” Lieutenant Kinyor said, “ just want you to know the Borg vessel has jumped to warp and is pursuing us. I'd say they are quite upset.”
Douglas and Zhao looked at each other after hearing this news. “I guess this is where things start getting interesting.” They both said at the same time. Just a few seconds later the Borg ship began a barrage of weapons fire upon the Saratoga.
(Author's Note: The conclusion has been written and will be published this Saturday. I warned you this was a long story.)