A Game of Planets

 

A Game of Planets

  

First Officer’s Log, U.S.S Enterprise, NCC-1701

Stardate 31410.9    Year 2267

 

Commander Spock sat at the desk in his quarters studying the classified files for the third time that morning.  There wouldn’t be any new information to uncover – he had perused Starfleet’s entire chronology of the Supermen several times.  He was familiar with the history of the genetic augments, from their creation on Earth in the late 20th Century to their select appearances in the 21st Century.  It was highly illogical, Spock acknowledged, to be constantly reviewing the same files, as if trying to find a new angle  that might jump out at him.  He had gone over each case study meticulously, to the point where he knew every augment by name, and could recite each one’s unique, and often tragic, story by heart.

But he also understood that the stories were more than merely facts to recall, they were testimonies that haunted him, and captivated his human side, compelling him to revisit each one yet again.  The history behind the Genetic Supermen was fascinating – he had been forced to examine these case studies this past week – first out of duty, but now out of simple, undisciplined curiosity.

            No, Spock chastised himself, not of mere curiosity.  Of conscience.  For the first time in his life, Spock was experiencing a crisis of conscience.

Two days ago, arguably the most infamous genetic superman of all time, Khan Noonien Singh, had been banished by Captain Kirk to Ceti Alpha V, along with over seventy of his loyal followers, including an Enterprise crewperson, historian Marla McGivers.  The Enterprise had discovered Khan’s long forgotten ship, the Botany Bay, drifting in space, and freed Khan from suspended animation in order to save his life.  Fraught with the very ambition that ultimately exiled him from Earth in 1996, Khan revived his followers and enlisted McGivers’ aid to hijack the Enterprise, only to be thwarted in the end by Captain Kirk and McGivers herself.

During Khan’s tribunal on the Enterprise, Captain Kirk decided that Khan would be sent to Ceti Alpha V to enjoy the opportunity to conquer a new world, a decision Spock continued to be quite ambivalent about.  There was something unsettling about the whole decision, something that made Spock apprehensive.  He was certain Lt. McGivers made a poor decision to stay with the supermen – she would have fared far better with the Starfleet court martial given her last minute decision to betray Khan and assist the crew of the Enterprise.  But it was more than that – allowing a potential madman like Khan to build an Empire unchecked bothered Spock greatly.  What if Khan completely loses his mind on Ceti Alpha V?  Would chaos and bloodshed reign supreme on the planet?

Attempting to answer that very question, Spock reopened the file on Cordonnia IV, and accessed the star logs of Captain Jonathan Archer, to review the diabolical events that occurred on that planet, 108 years ago.

***

Captain’s Starlog, Enterprise, NX-01, May 21, 2159

“More iced tea, Admiral?”  Archer held up the pitcher to Admiral Morave, who was sitting next to him in the Captain’s private dining room.

“Thank-you, Jonathan,” Morave held up his glass while the Captain poured.  “The cranberry chicken was succulent.  I’ve heard so many great things about that chef of yours, I’d like to lure him to Starfleet Headquarters after Enterprise is decommissioned.”

“I’ll see that he receives your compliments,” Archer smiled, setting the pitcher aside.  “But with all due respect, Admiral, I have the feeling you didn’t call this impromptu meeting to recruit our chef.”

“No, of course not,” the Admiral looked down at his empty plate.  He was a thick man, slightly balding, with wispy grey hair – one who suited the shirt-and-tie professionalism of the Admiralty.  “I’ve come with specific orders for you, Jon.   Are you familiar with Cordonnia IV?”

Archer stole a glance to his first officer, who sat directly across from the Admiral.             “Cordonnia IV, a little-known class M planet, located in the Degas cluster,” T’Pol nodded.  “First Contact with the Cordonnian people was established by the Vulcans eleven years ago.  A controversial move considering Cordonnia’s pre-warp status.  I believe the people of Cordonnia are humanoid, similar in appearance to humans from Earth.”

“Remarkably similar,” Morave nodded.  “The differences, in fact, are marginal.  Cordonnians have a slightly longer face, a more rigid nose, a few minor differences in biochemistry, but for all intents and purposes they are very much like humans.  Now what I am about to tell you,” Morave leaned forward, “is highly classified information about the planet, and will shed some light on Commander T’Pol’s observation about our First Contact with the planet.   Twelve years ago, unbeknownst to Starfleet at the time, a group of genetic augments from Earth landed on Cordonnia IV and seized a parcel of land from the Cordonnian People.  These augments used the land to re-establish their religious colony, called the Gated Sphere.”

“Hold on, Admiral,” Archer held up his hand. “Genetic augments from Earth?”

“That’s right, Jon,” Morave rubbed his forehead.  “There were approximately 40 of them, led by a superman named Endion Praius, a lesser-known player in the Eugenics Wars of the late 20th Century.  He wasn’t a warlord, like a Khan Noonien Singh; rather, Praius was more of a demagogue, upholding genetic superiority but steering clear of the major international conflicts.”

“So what happened to him?”  Trip Tucker asked.  He sat at the end of the table, listening as he finished his catfish stew.  “And why haven’t we heard of him before?”

“Well, details are sketchy as to the history of this individual,” Morave explained, “but like Khan, he was able to amass considerable wealth.  Shortly after the Eugenics Wars ended, Praius became frustrated by the open resentment towards genetic augments on Earth, so he placed himself and his followers under suspended animation at his private compound in northern British Columbia.  He made arrangements to be woken up every twenty years so that he could assess humankind’s technological and political status, waiting for the right time to make his move.  It is believed he chose to awaken his followers in 2148.”

Trip looked at his captain.  “Makes sense.  Humans perfected the Warp Drive by then.”

“And any notion of ‘Eugenic supermen’ had long been forgotten about.”  T’Pol added.

“That’s correct, Commander,” Morave crossed his hands.  “It is believed Praius liquidated his remaining assets on Earth and obtained a Warp 3 space vessel – where and how we have no idea.  But he used it to get to Cordonnia IV, a relatively obscure planet unnoticed by humans or Vulcans at the time, and established First Contact with the Cordonnian people, a disastrous one at that.”

Trip looked at T’Pol.  “Well, that explains your First Contact controversy.”

“Praius and his followers made no attempt to communicate with the Cordonnians, and used force to wrestle land away from them.  Since that time, Starfleet has been wrapped up in everything from First Contact with the Klingons, to the Xindi crisis, to the Romulan Wars to even worry about Endion Praius, or Cordonnia IV.”

“Until now,” T’Pol finished the Admiral’s sentence.

Morave sighed, ignoring T’Pol’s comment. “As you may know, Starfleet Command, spearheaded by the Vulcans, have been in negotiations with the Degas cluster to incorporate them into the proposed Federation.  Unfortunately, civil strife amongst the people of the Gated Sphere has delayed our timetable.  A significant rift has occurred between the augments on Cordonnia IV, one set belonging to Praius, and the other to several of his former underlings, who are now residing with the Cordonnian people.”

“Residing?” Archer asked.

Morave nodded.  “The underlings broke away from Praius, claiming his views were too extreme.  Praius was a cult-like leader, whose philosophies of genetic superiority apparently became too much for his followers to handle.  They wanted to break away peacefully, but when Praius tried to force their compliance, they fought back, choosing to ally themselves with the planet’s original inhabitants.”

“Let me guess,” Trip inquired.  “Praius ain’t so eager to let sleeping dogs lie?”

Morave sighed.  “The ex-followers of Praius were able to turn the tables on him.  With the entire civilian population on their side, this group of augments took over Praius’s compound and sought to try him for crimes of hatred.  He escaped, and is currently living in exile on the planet.  Our intelligence believe he has created a makeshift headquarters in an ancient temple, 15 miles southeast of Cordonnia City, the center of the resistance movement against him. ”

“Where I’m sure he’s living the rest of his days peacefully,” Tucker was blatant with his sarcasm.

“You and I both know, Commander, if that was the case then we wouldn’t be having this conversation right now.  In fact, Praius and his remaining followers are conducting well orchestrated, guerilla-style raids on the people of Cordonnia City.  Starfleet is currently in the region, and has tried to mediate the dispute, but have been met with open hostility from Praius’s side.  The Vulcans, meanwhile, are getting impatient, and are demanding to see a resolution immediately, given the strict timeline for the proposed Federation.  The Degas cluster would solidify an important string of planets in the proposed boundary’s top quarter, away from the hands of the Romulans.”

Archer leaned back in his chair.  “So what are our orders, Admiral?”

“Well, Jon,” Morave explained, “with your experience in dealing with the augment crisis a few years back, and your crew’s prominence as forbearers for the new Federation, we want Enterprise to go to Cordonnia IV, and open dialogue with Praius, assessing the situation and reporting back to Starfleet directly.”

“Pardon my frankness, Admiral,” Archer could sense there was more to Morave’s orders than meets the eye.  “But what exactly am I supposed to assess?”

Morave shifted in his seat.  He preferred not to have T’Pol and Trip in the room, but Archer insisted.  “We want you to assesswhether or not Endion Praius is willing to relinquish his grip on Cordonnia IV and commit to the principles of peace and cooperation as espoused in the proposed Federation Charter.  Another reason we chose you for this mission, Jon, is because your ship also has a highly-trained, mobile attack force with the finest commandos in Starfleet.  If Praius refuses to cooperate, we need to…remove him from the situation.”

Archer looked directly at the Admiral.  “Why do I have the feeling we’re being considered the last and only resort?”

Morave rubbed his temple.  “Endion Praius is opposed to Cordonnia IV joining the Federation, but not for the typical reasons we’ve encountered from other planets – reduced sovereignty, fear of Earth / Vulcan dominance and the like.  No, my friends, Endion Praius is a genetic Xenophobe.  He is opposed to all things human, all things alien.  He believes in one thing only, the superiority of the genetic augments, and the achievement of their rightful place at the top of the evolutionary ladder.”

“In short,” T’Pol added, “he stands for everything the proposed Federation is not.”

“Precisely, Commander,” Morave replied, “And as far as Starfleet is concerned, the man is a political terrorist who is willing to sacrifice thousands of lives to climb that ladder.”

Trip sighed as he glanced to his captain.  “Genetic augments willing to sacrifice lives to better their place in the universe.  Sounds awfully familiar to me.”

Archer frowned, reading his best friend’s mind perfectly.   “It should be an interesting conversation.”

***

Cordonnia IV, May 23, 2159

“We gave Endion Praius our unwavering devotion for over 150 years,” Y’Tarol explain as he steered the land rover through the rough makeshift road, “that is, until we finally gave him the opportunity to rule and discovered his true agenda, and the extent he would go to realize it.”

Archer did his best to listen to the resistance leader’s story from the passenger’s seat, but found himself distracted by the man’s erratic driving.  The terrain they were riding on was hardly suitable for the speed Y’Tarol was going.

“Why are we rushing?”  Archer asked, looking around at the thick coniferous forest around them.  The road they were on looked nothing like one, and appeared to have been made overnight.

“We asked your Starfleet commanders not to provide you with an ideal rendez-vous point,” the augment replied, “we didn’t want our enemy attacking your shuttlecraft from the land.  If you flew directly over our settlement, they may have considered you a target.”             I should have beamed in, Archer thought, recognizing that in this part of the sector, transporter technology was still somewhat of a rumour.  He assumed Starfleet wanted to keep it that way.  “You still haven’t told me why we’re speeding.”

A firm hand grasped Archer’s shoulder from behind him.  A bald, scarred warrior leaned in close to the captain.  Archer noticed the huge cannon strapped to his shoulder.  “We want to make it to the settlement before nightfall,” the man’s voice was raspy, wounded.  The concern in his tone told Archer all that he needed.

Under Morave’s orders, Archer piloted his shuttlecraft alone, to a set of coordinates on the planet’s surface.  There he was to meet with two augments, who were to brief the captain on the day’s events, and escort him to the resistance center.  There, negotiations would be made for Archer to meet personally with Praius and his group, which Archer hoped to do within two days.

The men who picked him up looked nothing like the genetic augments Archer had encountered before – Malik, Persis, and their followers who hijacked a Klingon ship and threatened the Qu’Vat Colony with a deadly pathogen virus, with the intent of starting a major interplanetary war between Starfleet and the Klingons.  Whereas Malik and Persis were young, ambitious, attractive – this group looked seasoned, embattled, and ragged.  Two years of guerilla warfare can even wear down supermen, Archer supposed.

“Our former leader, Captain,” Y’Tarol spoke, as if reading Archer’s mind, “is committed to thwarting our rebellion.  And despite our recent victories, he continues to possess a wealth of resources that compel us to stay on our toes.  Endion Praius is a man who does not like to lose, and will do anything to ensure this conflict is being fought on his terms.  This makeshift path we’ve created to accommodate your arrival is one example of the lengths we have to go to.”

“You mentioned you discovered Praius does not like to lose,” Archer replied, “I was wondering if you could tell me-”

A bright, yellow flash ignited the forest to Archer’s right, cutting him off.  A spray of debris struck the right side of his face but before he could react the land rover tipped to the side and plowed into a small trench.  Archer’s seatbelt held him in place, but before he could react a wave of masked warriors emerged from the trees and surrounded the vehicle.  The balding cannon driver who sat behind Archer was thrown from the vehicle, but miraculously got up and charged the attackers.  He was shelled with phaser fire from all directions and collapsed in a smoldering heap.  Archer broke free of his seatbelt and landed on top of Y’Tarol’s body – the driver head had been crushed when the rover tipped over.  Archer squirmed from the jeep and tried making a crawling dash in to the woods, but was instantly surrounded.  In a fit of panic, he lunged for one of his attacker’s weapons but as soon as he laid hands on it, a stun bolt paralyzed his body, causing him to fall into a shroud of blackness.

***

Three hours later, Enterprise Bridge

“What do you mean you can’t find him, Admiral?”  An angry Trip stood next to T’Pol in front of the view screen.

“We found the convoy that picked your captain up approximately three miles southwest of the main resistance settlement,” Admiral Morave explained, clearly flustered.  He was dressed in full military fatigues and was speaking directly from the settlement.  His demeanour was quite unlike the calm, composed Morave that Trip and T’Pol had dinner with two days earlier.  “Both the driver and artillery man are dead.  We found no trace of Archer anywhere.  We can only assume Praius somehow intercepted our plans and is now holding Captain Archer hostage.”

“What for?”  Trip asked.  “The Captain was only sent there to negotiate.”

“Their course of action does seem illogical,” T’Pol added.  “Holding Captain Archer prisoner will not alter Starfleet’s plans to incorporate Cordonnia IV into the Federation.”

“Your blasted well right they won’t,” Morave huffed.  “Commander T’Pol, I want you to send down Enterprise’s Commando units – all of them.  They will be part of the Starfleet strike force that I already have down here to storm Praius’s headquarters.”

T’Pol’s expression was impassive, but her tone revealed a sliver of fear.  “I would prefer, Admiral, that we refrain from any open hostilities until we’ve received word from the Gated Sphere on Captain Archer’s whereabouts.”

“Commander, I am not about to allow some arrogant test-tube experiment dictate the course of Starfleet history.  My people and your people have worked too hard for this Federation of Planets.”

T’Pol stood erect.   “And so too, Admiral, has Captain Archer.  For that reason, it would be prudent to wait and give the Gated Sphere a chance to contact us.”

Morave looked annoyed.  “I’ll give them one day, Commander, but I still want your team down here immediately.  Praius is a very dangerous individual, and he’s clearly crossed the line here.  Morave out.”

The signal ended, and Trip turned to face T’Pol, his finger wagging in the air.

“I’m going to keep scanning the area for the Captain,” Trip barked his own orders, even though he was not in charge, “the second I get a transporter lock on him, I’m beaming him out of that mess.”

T’Pol said nothing.  She understood Trip Tucker better than anyone, and his unwavering devotion to Jonathan Archer.  And like Trip, T’pol sensed that the Captain had once again become an unwitting pawn in the game of planets that Starfleet kept playing in order to secure civilizations for its proposed Federation.

 

***

 

Cordonnia IV, May 24, 2159

Archer sat on his threadbare cot with his arms on his knees when the two men entered his cell.  He had been revived late last evening, given some food and water, and was cleaned up by two polite, gentle women, who told him nothing about his whereabouts.  Fortunately, he suffered only mild scratches to his face and a few sore ribs, nothing Phlox couldn’t heal with the nectar of a beetle from some God-forsaken corner of the quadrant.  Archer’s sleep was an uneasy one – that explained his lousy mood.   Confining a Starfleet captain and explorer to a dank, windowless room for nearly 24 hours was a brilliant torture mechanism, if that was what his captors intended.

The taller of the two men walked to the center of the room, brimming with confidence.  The smaller man stood at the doorway with his arms folded.  Archer recognized them both from the dossier profiles provided by Admiral Morave.

“Captain Jonathan Archer,” the taller man smirked.  He towered over Archer.  For that reason the Captain decided to remain seated.   “Starfleet’s finest warrior.  And its greatest ambassador.  I expected your admirals to resort to you a lot sooner than they did.”

“If this is the way you welcome all of your expected guests, Praius,” Archer responded, “Ambush their transports, murder their drivers, lock them in a prison cell – then I can see why you’re having trouble keeping your people’s trust.”

The taller man’s demeanour instantly soured.  “I could kill you where you stand for that comment,”  Praius’ tone was acidic, his eyes bore into Archer as though they were laser beams, “and I could do it in three seconds,” Praius held up his left hand in a squeezing motion, “crushing your skull with one hand before you would even react.”

Archer knew not to be intimidated; he had encountered such audacious threats from Malik five years earlier.  He had learned that it was best to thwart such intimidation with veiled threats of his own.  “You could, but right now I’m all that stands in the way between you and total collapse, complete with life imprisonment.”

“Human arrogance never ceases to amaze me.”  Praius gave a cocky, guttural laugh.  “Even in the conduct of blatant religious and cultural repression, you somehow justify your actions as a noble, altruistic crusade.”  The pitch of his voice was far deeper than any Archer had heard before.  He could not deny that Endion Praius was a monstrosity of a man, with well-defined, pulsating muscles.  He was surprisingly clean and well-groomed given the guerilla warfare he had been engaged in, though Archer suspected it was part of the act to appear this way.  Praius had scruffy, shoulder-length hair, a tattered blue cloak, and a tanned, weathered face that revealed a life entrenched in combat, but his clear attempt to portray himself as someone calm, collected, and in control suggested to Archer that Praius wanted something from him.

“The proposed Federation intends to honour all religions and cultures,” Archer responded,  “and all peoples, regardless of faith or heritage.”

Praius looked as though he had been slapped in the face.  “And what about genetics, Captain?  Does this Federation have a provision for that in its constitution?”

“I can’t answer that,” Archer shook his head, though he knew the answer.  “It likely hasn’t been considered up to this poi-”

“Let me answer that for you, Captain,” Praius cut him off, “it hasn’t been considered and won’t ever be, because humans have a nefarious tendency to completely wipe out all records of their mistakes, instead of taking responsibility for them!”

“Humans created my people, Captain Archer,” Praius continued, his voice calming.  He began pacing around the room like a professor, never taking his eyes off of the Captain.   “They created us to better mankind, to conquer its perils, and overcome its obstacles.  Disease, overpopulation, pollution, famine – we were genetically engineered with the physical and mental capacities to find solutions to these problems.  And we made incredible progress…until human jealousy sought to restrain us.”

Archer decided to stand, to challenge Praius’s claims directly.  “You were restrained by your own ambition, long before humans fit into the equation.”  He made sure he read up on the Eugenics Wars of the 1990s before he arrived on the planet.  “Khan Noonien Singh and his rivals couldn’t agree on who was to be absolute ruler of Earth, and nearly brought the planet to nuclear holocaust before humans stepped in.”

Praius smirked as he shook his head in disgust.  “Always bringing it back to Khan.  As if Khan is supposed to represent every genetic augment ever born.  No, Captain.  Khan was a fool – a short-sighted neophyte who thought his sole purpose was to conquer.  I propose much more than that, Captain.  Are you familiar with the theology behind the Gated Sphere?”

“I know what Starfleet has collected about your group,” Archer nodded.  “It is a religious movement, founded by yourself, which seeks to exalt the status of genetically-engineered people, and offer them elevated positions in society.”

“An accurate description but, not surprisingly, limited in scope,” Praius replied with a snort.  “The past 2000 years of human history has been rift with warfare, terrorism, torture – every generation has been inundated with global conflicts – the Crusades, the 100 Years War, World Wars I, II, and III – each one labeled “the War to End All Wars,” and each one nothing more than a mere forerunner to the next.  My point being Captain – human beings cannot govern themselves.  They exist only within “a state of nature” – trying to compete with one another for power, money, and prestige.  Technology, instead of being used as a tool for progress, is instead an instrument of the manipulation, control, and bloodshed that humans inflict upon themselves.”

“What the Gated Sphere proposes, Captain,” Praius concluded, “is a higher standard of human civilization.  To create superior leadership, beyond simple human impulsions, one that establishes a clear hierarchical order and makes proper usage of humankind’s greatest accomplishment – genetically engineered symbionts.”

Archer frowned at Praius’s words. “What you want is a dictatorship, with you as the dictator.”

Praius scoffed.  “Again you generalize things, Captain.  Like dogs protecting bones, the people of Earth snarl at rational, new ideas that threaten their naive moniker that they alone speak for the human race.  Now more than ever, as human beings begin to explore new galaxies, meet new civilizations, and forge alliances, we need guided leadership, one that won’t be plagued with human compulsions. If nothing else, Captain, the Xindi attack on Earth seven years ago showcases the dangers of misguided human leadership in this new age of exploration.”

Archer refused to be drawn into the argument – the Xindi attack was the result of a complicated Xindi conspiracy that had nothing to do with misguided human leadership. Instead, Archer chose to attack Praius’s claims directly.

“If your ‘Gated Sphere’ movement is proposing such superior leadership,” Archer stated, “then why are half your people fighting against you?”

“They are no longer my people,” Praius’s expression instantly turned sour, “The majority of them fail to understand that to bring about great change, you must first show people the alternative.  What I set out to do on Cordonnia was to create a powerful society, to show humans how great they could become.”

“You advocated the segregation of augments and villagers, keeping them apart on lines of genetics.”  Archer’s voice grew more heated.  “You called for laws forbidding augments and Cordonnians from co‑habitating or marrying.  You tried to seize control of the planet of the very people who allowed you to stay in the first place!”

Praius’s eyes grew wide, intense.  “It was – is – necessary, Captain.  We can’t afford to contaminate the genetic bloodline.  Segregation is needed to establish the hierarchical structure humankind needs to establish order and advance society.  It is the first step in propelling mankind to its greatest evolution!”

“I call it the first step to genocide!”  Archer shot back.

Praius straightened himself.  He appeared wounded by Archer’s comments.  Archer braced himself for Praius to lunge at him, but it didn’t happen.  Instead, the augment drew in a heavy breath.

“I expected as much, Captain,” Praius didn’t bother hiding the disappointment in his voice.  “It is obvious that your Starfleet, together with my renegade warriors and the people of Cordonnia IV, fail to recognize the evolutionary stepping stone being offered by the Gated Sphere.  We, however, remain committed to our cause, for the good of all humanity, and we will do whatever we can to bring our principles to the fore.”

“You can’t be serious.”  Archer retaliated.  “Your compound is surrounded.  An entire regiment of Starfleet’s elite corps, not to mention your own people, are moving into place as we speak.  Starfleet has you labelled as a murderer and a terrorist.   My kidnapping has only intensified their cause.  You’re outgunned and out-manned, surely your genetically-superior intellect can figure out that the odds are against you!”

A look of disgust fell over Praius’s face.  He shook his head as he turned away from the captain.  “This is not our universe, Captain, though we were born into it.  Regardless, we are not going to sit idly by and watch humankind bungle its most propitious opportunity.”

“Are you listening to this absurdity?”  Archer challenged the guard at the door.  “Are you willing to fight to the death for this philosophy?”  The guard looked forward, ignoring Archer who was glaring in his eyes. The guard’s expression remained stone-like, ashen.  There was something about the man’s eyes that unsettled Archer.

“Croft is one of my most loyal supporters, Captain.”  Praius replied as he headed towards the doorway.  “My ‘genetically-superior’ intellect is well aware that Starfleet has tipped the scales in my opponent’s favour.  I had hoped I could make you see the voice of reason, but I cannot.  Nevertheless, I am not going to punish you for contradicting me.  My people and I are much more celestial than that, but mark my words, the Gated Sphere will live on to challenge any organization that presents an obstacle to human progress.  Your ‘Federation,’ by allying itself with peoples who wish to exploit and belittle the human race, is one such obstacle.”

Archer knew exactly who Praius was talking about, and explained that the Enterprise and its crew had spent the past nine years proving to the Vulcans that humans could hold their own in interstellar politics and exploration, but Praius appeared unimpressed.

“Your elite corps will likely be storming my facility within the next day or so,” Praius stated before he left the cell, “…and it will be a glorious finale.”

“Praius, don’t be a fool!” Archer stormed to the cell door, but Croft closed it in his face.  “You’re sending your people on a suicide mission.”  His words were cut short by the click of the door’s lock, leaving him once again in the isolation of his cell.

 

Enterprise Bridge, May 25, 2159

“We’ve received no word from the augments, Commander,” Morave informed T’Pol flatly, “we need to move against them now.  My teams are in place.”

T’Pol tried staring the commander down in the viewscreen, but to no avail.  She had exhausted every available avenue to hold off the attack, but recognized that Morave’s agenda was being dictated by powers far greater than even he cared to admit.

T’Pol glanced at an incensed Trip and knew she needed to speak before he did.  “What assurances do we have regarding the safety of Captain Archer?”

“Assuming he isn’t already dead,” Morave answered, “you have my word that we will do our best to free him unharmed.  Morave out.”

Trip stormed across the bridge to the turbolift the second the transmission cut out. “I don’t trust him.”  He tapped a comm relay just before he entered the lift.  “Tucker to Reed?  Are you in position to storm the compound?”

“Affirmative.”  Malcolm’s whisper could barely be heard over the comm line.

“The second you spot the Captain, let me know immediately.”

 

Cordonnia IV, May 25, 2159

Archer paced the floor of his cell with his hands on his head.  He was surprised the elite force hadn’t yet attacked the compound.  The Vulcans would certainly be pressuring Morave by now, claiming that to wait any longer while the enemy bolstered up his defenses would be an illogical strategy.

To Archer’s surprise, the door to his cell suddenly clicked open.  Standing in the open entranceway was Croft, his expression as unrevealing as it was one day earlier.

“You’re free to go.”  The man said.

Archer heard the man but still had to repeat the statement.  “You’re letting me go?”

“Grandmaster Praius does not hold you alone accountable for the ignorance of your populace,” Croft glared at Archer, “he is a far greater man than that.”

Archer didn’t have time to argue the point.  The man was clearly brainwashed.  Instead, Archer bolted past him and into the compound.  He realized he had no idea where he was – the layout of the headquarters appeared to be in two stories, and was enveloped in blackness, the only light coming in through slight openings in the brick walls that must be used as lookout posts.  He was indeed in the Cordonnia IV mudbrick temples, where Starfleet believed Praius’s secret hideout was.

He tried following the light.  He was hoping to encounter Praius’s people – he expected to see them at select stations throughout the building, armed and ready to fight, and was thrown off by the eerie silence.  Perhaps Praius’s plan was to have his people ambush the assault team once they stormed the compound.  Archer scanned the area around him, looking for potential hiding spots, but could see no one – it was as if the compound was completely deserted.

“Captain!”  A voice emerged from the shadows.  Archer spun around to see his security officer, Malcolm Reed, dressed in a black camouflage, commando uniform with a heavy assault rifle.  He grabbed his captain’s arm and pulled him into the darkness.

“You’re already this far into the compound?”  Archer blurted out.  “You haven’t encountered any resistance?”

“No.”  Malcolm spoke quickly, tuning his combadge.  “Reed to Tucker.  I have the Captain.  One to beam up.”

Revelations suddenly came crashing down on Archer’s mind.  If the elite corps had already stormed the compound, and encountered no resistance, then Praius must have had something else in mind….

Praius’s words flooded into his head:  We will do whatever we can to bring our principles to the fore.

“Malcolm wait-”  Archer called out before his atoms pulled themselves apart and were sent into the Enterprise transporter beam.

 

Enterprise Transporter Room, 30 seconds later

“Captain, are we glad to see you!”  A relieved Trip Tucker greeted the Captain as he re-materialized on the transporter pad.

“Trip, contact the strike team!”  Archer bounced off the pad, not even acknowledging his chief engineer’s greeting.

“I can’t, Captain,” Tucker replied, “we’re forbidden from open communications with an active strike team.  What’s going -?”

“Get me a phaser, quickly,” Archer ordered, “I’m going back down there.”

 

 

Cordonnia IV, Gated Sphere Compound, one minute later

 

“Captain!”  Malcolm called out as Archer materialized in the middle of the strike team formation.  “What in the blazes are you doing?”

“No time to explain.”  Archer assumed control.  “Have you encountered any of the augments, yet?”

“No, but we believe they’re in the central abbey beyond those doors.”  Reed pointed to a stone archway sealed off by two makeshift wooden doors that appeared to have been fortified with wood braces and rope.

“We’ve tried communicating with them, Captain,” an assault team member said, “but no response.  We tried scanning for their biosigns, but no luck there either.  They must be blocking our sensors somehow.  I believe they are waiting for us to charge in.”

A sickening feeling crept into Archer’s stomach.  “Do it,” he replied coldly.

The detonation was quick and clean.  The archway blew open in seconds, and the strike team charged in waves with blast shields, tear gas canisters and assault rifles at the ready.  As Archer feared, the commandoes froze in their tracks once their minds registered what they saw.

“What the hell?”  Reed muttered.

“We’re too late,” Archer replied, looking at the devastation around him.  The sickening feeling was now a lead weight in his stomach.

Bodies.

Dozens of men, women, and even children, lying side by side, in a ritualistic pattern throughout the abbey floor.  Their superhuman physiques prevented the usual pale discoloration and rigor mortis that set in most corpses, but there was no mistaking the fact that these people were dead.

“I’m not detecting any movement, Captain,” one of the commando unit leaders reported.  He had ordered his men to survey all of the bodies, to check for any signs of life.  “This appears to be some sort of mass suicide.”

“They’ve been dead for hours.”  Archer voice dropped, realizing far too late that Praius’s “glorious last stand” would involve not fighting and dying as martyrs, but a defiant act of protest, a vicious slash in the face of the humans, Vulcans, and everyone involved in the proposed Federation.  With Starfleet armed and ready to arrest him, Praius, rather than face the humiliation of being incarcerated and having his church broken up, ordered his followers to commit suicide, no doubt espousing the twisted, cult-like theology that clearly won over individuals like Croft.

“They appear to have ingested some sort of poison,” a medic reported to Archer, holding up a simple, plastic cup.  “It appears to have been fast acting.  They diluted it in a tea-like drink.”

“Send it up to Enterprise along with one of the bodies,” Archer grimaced, “Have Phlox determine the exact cause of death.”

Archer glanced around the room at the carnage.  He watched the heart-wrenching reactions of the four genetic augments who comprised a contingent in the Starfleet strike team, sifting through the bodies of their former friends and colleagues.  Two wailed openly, an unusual action for augments, but certainly appropriate.  Several of the children appeared to have been forced to ingest the poison.

“Archer, what the hell is going on!?”  Admiral Morave stormed into the abbey.  Like the commandoes, he too stopped dead in his tracks at the sight of the carnage.  “What the-?  Have you found Praius?”

“I believe so, sir,” One of the commandoes reported as he walked down from a crude stone staircase towards the front of the room.  “We found his corpse at the top of the temple, or what was left of it.   He appears to have…burned himself alive.”

“Bloody lunatic,” Morave muttered.  He looked around at the bodies, trying to make sense of what he was seeing.  “These are supposed to be supermen?  How could they have been so easily swayed?   What do you make of all this, Captain?”

“I remember an old adage from my experience at Cold Station 12,” Archer frowned, “It was a phrase coined by one of the scientists of the Chrysalis Project of the late 20th Century, the project that bred the supermen:  ‘Superior ability creates superior ambition’.”

“I think we can add a new line,” Archer concluded, “Superior ambition breeds supreme insanity.”

“My God.”  Morave shook his head.  “What do we do about this mess?”

No one attempted to answer the question, as a somber pall blanketed the room.  Archer himself stood quietly, amidst the bodies, the death and the barbarity.   T’Pol often quipped that he was merely a pawn in Starfleet Command’s “game of planets” to convince various populations that the proposed Federation was a good idea.  More than ever, her analogy hit home.  Archer would need to spend the next few days coming to terms with this senseless slaughter.  Regardless of whether Starfleet decided to cover up the affair or not, the incident of the Gated Sphere would be a blight on the founding of the Federation.   But it must also, Archer realized, serve as a necessary reminder of the importance of unifying intergalactic peoples, to prevent madmen like Adolf Hitler, Philip Green, and Endion Praius from gaining political sway ever again.  For that reason, he decided that he would continue to play this “game” until Starfleet’s “United Federation of Planets” comes into fruition…

 

Personal Log, First Officer Spock, U.S.S Enterprise, NCC-1701-A

Stardate 8413.8    Year 2287

 

Spock sat cross-legged on the floor in his black robes.  The atmosphere in his quarters were perfect for meditation – it was quiet, candle-lit, with a faint scent of incense lingering in the air – yet he could not maintain his concentration.

He stood up and returned to the files that he had pulled up on his computer a few minutes earlier.  For the past month since his return from Vulcan, and his detour to 1980s San Francisco, Spock held a particular fascination with the events that led up to his death, and his miraculous rebirth.  He recognized that to repeatedly review such events was not logical, but his human side remained compelled by the chronology of circumstances that, when added up, compiled a most engrossing historical study.  The fact that he and his crewmates played such a pivotal role in these events added to the intrigue.

It was the decisions made by he and his crewmates during those events that he continued to ponder, particularly the decision to allow Khan to inhabit Ceti Alpha V and build an Empire   He remembered, some 19 years earlier, analyzing Captain Kirk’s decision for weeks afterward, reviewing the history of Project Chrysalis, the Eugenics Wars, and the Star Logs of the original Enterprise NX-01, especially the crew’s interactions with Dr. Arik Soong, the brilliant criminal scientist who stole 19 genetically enhanced embryos from Starfleet’s Cold Station 12 and raise them as his own “children,” only to lose control of them 20 years later.

But above all else, it was the story of cult-leader and genetic augment Endion Praius that continued to haunt Spock.  The name Praius had become synonymous with the most notorious cult-leaders of the past three centuries – Jimmy Jones, David Koresh, Philip Green, and Kodos the Executioner to name a few.  But the Praius affair also served as an important case study of the potential effects of allowing a genetically-enhanced being to set up an operation, unchecked, on another planet.  Granted, the conditions on Cordonnia IV were altogether different from Ceti-Alpha V – Cordonnia IV was already inhabited with a well-established population, whereas Ceti-Alpha V was a rugged, uninhabited land that Khan and his followers could rule and destroy to their own peril.  For that reason, Spock supported Captain Kirk’s decision 19 years ago, and continued to defend it today.

The soft chime of the doorway interrupted Spock’s reading.  He was expecting his guest – indeed, he was looking forward to this particular visit.

Captain James T. Kirk entered his friend’s quarters, dressed in an off duty smock and blue jeans.  He glanced at Spock’s monitor and took a seat across the table.

“Some light evening reading, I see,” Kirk smirked.  “The Cordonnia IV massacre is always an uplifting tale.”   Kirk’s sarcasm was unmistakable, even for Spock, who was having to retrain himself in human witticisms.

“You are familiar with the tragedy then, Captain?”

“Superior ambition breeds supreme insanity,” Kirk replied.  “Those were Jonathan Archer’s words – it’s a famous quote that should be mentioned in that star log you’re currently reading.”

“That’s correct.”  Spock replied.  That quote in particular struck Spock as one that was as applicable to Khan Noonien Singh as it was to Endion Praius.

“Like you, Mr. Spock, I was forced to wrestle with my conscience over the decision to exile Khan to the Ceti Alpha system.” Kirk said.  “Khan’s fate on that planet, and the fate of his people, including Marla McGivers, will haunt me for the rest of my life.”

“Curious, Captain,” Spock asked, “had Ceti Alpha VI not exploded, and disrupted the orbit of Ceti Alpha V, what type of rule would you have foreseen Khan amassing on the planet?”

“You want me to speculate, Mr. Spock?”  Kirk looked surprised.

“A hypothetical question if you will,” Spock raised an eyebrow in return, “to, as you say, ‘humor’ me.”

“Khan’s track record of absolutism certainly suggests to me that he would have established himself as a tyrant,” Kirk replied, “but as was the case with Praius, I believe a significant segment of his followers would have come to see the light.  And like Praius, Khan would have been willing to sacrifice his own life to make one last, defiant assertion of his superiority.”

Kirk suddenly went quiet after stating those words, which obviously forced him to look back on the events of the past year – events that no doubt continued to weigh on him.

“Jim?”  Spock inquired. “Are you all right?”

“I’m fine, Spock,” Kirk answered, seeming to snap out of the trance he had fallen into.  “This discussion has brought forth some interesting observations for me.”

“My handling of the Khan affair came with a great cost to me personally,” Kirk continued, “It cost me my friend…my son…and my soul, but at least I can take solace in one important factor.”

“And what is that, Captain?”

Kirk stood and placed his hand softly on Spock’s shoulder.  “At least I got one of them back.”  He smiled at his friend, then turned and walked out of the room, his steps a little heavier than when he first arrived.

Spock sat quietly at his terminal for a few moments, contemplating his friend’s words.  He glanced at the monitor and saw Jonathan Archer’s star log detailing the events of Cordonnia IV, complete with select photographs of the carnage, and a portrait photo of Endion Praius, which seemed to glare at him.  Contrary to Praius’s wishes, the Federation would indeed assimilate Cordonnia IV, and the planet had enjoyed a quiet and peaceful existence since then.

Rising from his chair, Spock turned off the monitor, and returned to his mat on the floor to meditate, his concentration refocused and back in line.

 

 

 

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.