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Wasteland

Posted on Jan 07, 2018 @ 5:50am by Captain Michael Turlogh Kane

Mission: Bramatine: Truth, Justice and the Federation Way

"WASTELAND"

(Continued from "Conscience of Ignorance")

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Captain's log, supplemental - Lieutenant Vukovic and I have made contact with a local official in a village at the edge of the seismic event that destroyed the Hungry Pits mine. Worse still, I have been personally contacted by Hussein Karimi, the Federation Council member for Earth, who has reminded me of a Starfleet officer's obligation to respect the laws of planets we visit...

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Location: Acamar III, village of Deathfall
Stardate: [2.17]0106.2050
Scene: Outside the municipal building, village square


Michael Turlogh Kane blinked in the daylight of the afternoon sun, and he took a moment to shield his eyes from the glare that reflected it off the copper-wrought roofs of the nearby buildings. Clouds, light and wispy as cotton candy, drifted across the sky, and the sun was warm on his face. Nearby in the public square, some Acamarian children were playing a game with sticks and a ball, watched over by their parents sitting nearby outside a cafe.

Behind him, Tomas' Vukovic and Pali Shepherd emerged from the building. Shepherd, the Acamarian with a Human name, was nattering politely to Tomas' about how much he hoped that their visit had been a constructive one. Kane turned around as they approached, still thinking about Hussein Karimi's call.

"Well, I expect you'll be wanting to return to your starship," smiled Shepherd. Little beads of sweat were running from his hair down his forehead ridges, and he reached up to wipe them away. "Nothing for you here, after all."

"Know Hussein Karimi personally, do you?" said Kane.

Shepherd managed an awkward smile. "Captain Kane, I am but one link in a very long chain. You understand."

"I'm getting there," grated Kane. He put his hands on his belt, making sure his phaser and tricorder were securely attached. "Tell me something. This village must have felt the earthquake that destroyed the Hungry Pits. I daresay that many of your citizens have gone to the lip of the crater to see the wasteland beyond, right?"

Shepherd shrugged. "I suppose so, yes."

Kane turned to look at the nearby children playing stickball. "Do you know how many child labourers died in that mine, Shepherd? And do you think the mine operators will come looking for replacements?"

The Acamarian's eyes dropped to the ground. "You should go," he said quietly. "Please."

Kane motioned Tomas' forward. Together, the two Starfleet officers moved off out of the village, moving towards the hills where the shuttle had landed.

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Scene: Acamar III, from space


The third planet in the Acamar system was comparable with Terran norms in all the important ways. Gravity was only slightly heavier, atmosphere was almost the same, and planetary land-water ratio was similar enough for the same kinds of terrain to be on both worlds. Acamar III had high mountains, rolling hills, continental river valleys, seas, and broad, white-foamed oceans. With no moons, the tides were gentler, and the softer gravitational pull meant generally pleasant weather planet-wide.

Theta Eridani A and B, the system's primary, was a pair of moderately-hot (astronomically-speaking) white dwarf suns that orbited each other in a celestial dance that had been going on for over three billion years. Their combined light could be seen from the night skies of Earth - the ancient Terran astronomer and geographer Ptolemy, who lived over two thousand years ago, made a note of their existence in his star charts, although he did not know that he was looking at a binary pair - and social evolution between the two planets had followed along broadly similar lines. Feuding tribes and warring clans on Acamar formed combative nation-states that progressed through history, but full planetary unification still had not been achieved when the Acamarians first developed warp drive in 2221, just over two centuries ago.

It took first contact with the Orion Syndicate - in those days the criminal enterprise, not the modern government entity - to accelerate planetary unification. The Orions began strip-mining Acamar III, and it took the threat of war with a united people to eject the Syndicate and unify the majority of the clans and states into one over-arching planetary government. Contact with the Federation occurred shortly afterward.

The skies of Acamar III were moderately busy, but there were two starships in orbit to bear witness to the next stage of its history - one a silvery-hulled light transport ship, and the other a menacing, gunmetal-grey dreadnought, the larger overshadowing the other.

The planet rolled onward through the vast emptiness of space, locked in orbit around its two parents, tumbling over and over in an endless Newtonian spiral.

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Location: Acamar III, surface
Scene: Hills near Deathfall


Kane and Tomas' had almost returned to their shuttle. The walk through the Acamarian uplands had proven pleasant enough - the outskirts of the village were well landscaped, and once off the road, which led off in the direction of the Hungry Pits mine, there were scattered clumps of trees to break up the bushes and grass. Occasionally, Acamarian birds took to the wing in dark, razor-sharp shapes, fluttering into the sky with raucous caws.

Kane was leading the way, with Tomas' at his shoulder. The Borg was like a machine - he was easily keeping pace with Kane, not breathing heavily or even the slightest bit discomfited. Kane glanced at him. "My compliments on your ability to fly a shuttle like that, Mister Vukovic," he said. "I've heard about the Borg ability to directly interface their minds with computer systems. I wonder what kind of a world you see?"

Tomas' shrugged. "It's more feeling than seeing. It sounds strange to say, but part of me becomes the shuttle. I can feel the shuttle's tritanium skin like it was my own. I manipulate the control systems like you flex a muscle. The software that does that is in me, not the shuttle's computer. It's like I can impose my will on the machine, and the machine obeys."

Kane trudged on, the heart making the skin on his forehead prickle. "The Borg affinity for bionics is amazing. Your people have come a long way in the past century."

A half-smile played on Tomas' lips. "I don't think I'm a Borg - not in my head, at least. Occasionally I think of myself as a half-breed more than anything. I chose to become a Borg because of an illness, but the Borg no longer forcibly assimilate people anyway. I remember the early part of my life up until university on Luna, but sometimes it seems like a closed chapter, or the story of another man, you know?"

Kane thought back to his own time at the Academy, when a different face looked at him in the mirror every morning. That, too, was another life. "I think I do."

"Captain," asked Tomas' suddenly, "why would the Federation Council member for Earth make contact with you all the way out here on Acamar? Does he really consider himself your superior? That seems in error."

Kane didn't answer at first, just kept trudging on. It had been a bizarre experience, with no easy explanation, but the more he thought about it, the more it was obvious that Karimi was somehow linked to all this - or, at least, was friends with someone who was. Karimi seemed to be the kind of man who would smile at you while he was cutting your throat. Whatever was going on, it looked like the Phoenix had stumbled into another goddam political conspiracy.

"Mister Karimi knows well that he can't give us any direct orders," he said eventually. "Those can only come from Starfleet. But what Karimi can do is use his position to influence Starfleet to give us an order to his advantage. That's what he means. That's what he was trying to remind us of." He chuckled, and looked sidelong at Tomas'. "But you're correct, Mister Vukovic. Karimi has made an error. He's positively linked himself to any attempt to cover up whatever's happening in this system."

"What can we do about it?"

Kane shook his head. "Nothing. But we have a contact on the Council who's going to be very interested in hearing about it."

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Scene: The hills


The two human forms continued on their hike, the sun shining down on them. The landscape around them was like something out of a Mediterranean holiday brochure, without the sea. It was only broken in the distance by the edge of the enormous crater that had sundered the Hungry Pits mine.

The land inside the crater had been torn to shreds. Trees had been uprooted, great cracks had appeared in the earth, and permanent changes to the topography of the region had been made by the fury of the seismic event. The Hungry Pits mine must have been like an invisible tumour on this whole land, its tunnels and passages following the seams of bramatine under the hills like so many veins and arteries.

The damage to the land was one thing, but in the confusion surrounding the earthquake and the deaths of so many child labourers, help had not managed to reach everywhere inside the crater.

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Scene: Kane and Tomas, as before


At the very edge of the crater, Kane stopped and took out his tricorder. He squatted down on his haunches and opened the device, scanning the soil as Tomas' looked out at the wasteland. There was an eerie silence on the air from this point onward - no animal or bird calls, no sounds of voices, just the sighing of the wind, heavy with the weight of so many childrens' souls.

There had been an explosion in Tunguska back in the early twentieth century. It had happened way out on the taiga, far from the lights of civilisation, and had obliterated everything within a two thousand square kilometre range. Nobody knew quite how it had happened - theories range from an asteroid impact to the release and explosion of natural gas from under the Earth's crust - and Kane had seen old black-and-white pictures of the explosion several years ago. The Acamarian landscape now reminded him of that - trees all shattered and bent into twisted shapes, clumps and heaps of rock and soil scattered around, and a terrible, pervasive silence. Nature had been dealt a hard blow in these hills, and that even before beginning to count the cost in sentient life.

"I wonder how Commander Crichton and Doctor Foster are doing at the mine," remarked Tomas'. He was looking into the distance, shielding his eyes from the sun with one hand, like he was expecting to see someone on the horizon. But there were only ghosts here.

Kane took a small vial made of clear polymer from his belt and uncapped it. Scooping up some of the soil in his palm, he tipped the dirt into the vial. It flowed in a stream like heavy powder.

"A sample?" asked Tomas', watching him.

Kane nodded and handed the tricorder to Tomas'. "The bramatine has become part of the local pedosphere. It's present in the soil as dust particles."

"You touched it," said Tomas'.

"We've both been exposed to it. So has everyone in Deathfall village." Kane chuckled fatalistically. "Are you feeling lucky, Mister Vukovic?"

"Tricorder indicates bramatine is an inorganic heavy metal sulfide ore." Tomas' closed the device. "Do you think that's how the seismic event occurred? An underground water table mixing with the sulfide?"

Kane nodded again. "The entire local environment would have acidified exponentially. There would have been no way to stop it." He got to his feet. "But that is something that Doctor Crow can confirm or deny. Let's get back to the Phoenix - I'm sure she'll want to see this as soon as possible."

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Scene: The hills


The shuttle got airborne from the edge of the wasteland, began to climb up and away from the devastation. As it gathered speed, streaking into the atmosphere, the blue sky gave way to star-speckled midnight, and the shuttle's menacing mothership, waiting for her in the long night.

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Location: USS Phoenix, orbiting Acamar III
Scene: Main bridge - deck 1, saucer section


Kane returned the bridge of the Phoenix. It felt good to be back. Malin-Argo vacated the centre seat, and Karringon Crow and Byte were waiting for him.

"Status?" Kane asked Malin-Argo.

"Awaiting reports from Commander Crichton and Lieutenant Yu," answered the Grazerite. "Lieutenants Von and Dalziel beamed to the surface earlier to meet with one Evangeline Montoya, a Pangeos Pathways pilot."

"Montoya?" Kane raised an eyebrow. "The one who tried to help Embry take over the Phoenix when we were passing through the Hyperion Expanse?"

{{The same, Captain,}} responded Byte. {{She is listed as an employee of that company, but her actual duties are not. However, it seems she is employed in the transport of bramatine ore off-world.}}

"I see." Kane held up the vial of the soil. "For your immediate analysis, Doctor Crow. Everything you can learn about this substance, as quickly as possible."

"Yes, sir." Crow took the vial and made for the turbolift.

"Do you require anything further of me, Captain?" asked Malin-Argo.

"No, Commander," said Kane. "I have the conn. Return to Engineering."

"Sir." Malin-Argo lumbered away as Kane sat down.

{{Was your trip to the surface eventful, Captain?}} asked Byte politely.

Kane opened the control pad on his chair's right arm and began looking up the frequency for Xana Bonviva's office on Vulcan. "I heard from an enemy I didn't expect to make, and now I have to make contact with an ally I don't want to have. So yes, I think it's been eventful."

Byte cocked its head like a bird, but said nothing. Seeing that Kane was busy, the android turned and sat down at Ops.

Outside, the stars continued to turn.

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NRPG: Bramatine (in soil form) is on the ship. Science is analysing and will soon be able to pinpoint its properties and what it might be used for.

The Tunguska Event was a real thing. It happened in 1908 in Russia. You can wikipedia it - it is classified as an impact event although there was no crater, just 2,000 square kilometres of wilderness devastation.

The details about Theta Eridani are based in scientific fact - the ancient geographer Ptolemy observed the constellation of Eridanus (along with 48 other constellations) from a rooftop in Alexandria with his naked eyes sometime in the early second century CE.


Jerome McKee
the Soul of Captain Michael Turlogh Kane
Commanding Officer
USS PHOENIX


"He speaks an infinite deal of nothing!"
- Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice", Act 1, Scene 1.117

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