“Captain’s log, star date 89588.34. According to the human calendar, today is Christmas Day. On Earth it’s a season that is known for its wintery times and dark days, but also for its festivities and celebrations. The crew is preparing a Christmas party for tonight, and I can’t help but feel drawn into their festive mood,” Captain Caryn Hagan said, putting her PADD down for a moment to sip from her deka tea as she contemplated her next words.
Only the gentle hum of plasma flowing through the conduits broke the silence in the captain’s room. Caryn shifted uncomfortably in her large desk chair, making the leather squeak. “Starfleet Command has tasked us with the apprehension of a fugitive criminal, a Cardassian known as Almar. Starfleet Intelligence has reason to believe that he fled to Yetzi V. We’re in orbit of the planet and are scanning for his life signs. Computer, end log.”
The U.S.S. Boson, a Quasar class science vessel, had been assigned to captain Hagan’s command two years earlier. The Betazoid woman had been a scientist working on graviton technology until the war against the Iconians forced her into a command position.
Caryn sighed and went over the intelligence files that she had on the Cardassian. He doesn’t strike me as the combative type. I hope we find this Almar soon. We’re out here to explore the unknown frontiers, not to apprehend fugitives on the run.
The captain took another sip from her tea as she continued to read. This is interesting, Almar is an expert in universal translator algorithms. I wonder how he landed into this sort of trouble.
Caryn tapped her combadge, and called her second in command. “Commander Odan, have we located Almar?”
“Not yet, Captain, but there are strong indications that he’s hiding in a colony named Tannedorf.”
“I see. Please prepare an away team and meet me in the transporter room.”
“Yes, Sir. We’ll be ready in ten minutes.”
Caryn nodded in confirmation, even though the Trill couldn’t see her. “Very well, Hagan out.”
Her second in command had already been briefed on their upcoming mission. The Trill had been her loyal friend and confident even before her promotion to captain. If it hadn’t been for the stress of the past years, they might have even gotten romantically involved. Both, however, realized that they couldn’t afford such distractions during times of war and had settled for a close friendship instead.
Captain Hagan and her team materialized on the planet ten minutes later. Snowflakes were falling from the sky, melting as they touched Caryn’s skin. The cheerful laughter of playing children on the streets was a welcome sound after battling the Iconian heralds for months. It seemed as if the heralds had left this world untouched, but Caryn knew better; even this planet had scars that served as a reminder to the terrible war.
Tannedorf reminded Caryn of a Swiss mountain village that she had visited years ago. While most colonies were constructed with prefabricated materials, this one was built with local resources. The pine trees stood like frozen statues between the log houses, emanating their lovely scent. It was noon local time and the sun was high in the air, showing itself between the clouds.
Despite being dressed for this environment, the chill of winter was already getting to Caryn. A gust of wind blew a cold breeze in Caryn’s face, making her shiver and longing for the tropical beaches of Risa.
“Set your phasers to stun and spread out,” Caryn ordered. “ Signal the others when you find Almar.”
The three crew members and Odan nodded in understanding and dispersed.
Caryn didn’t have the faintest clue where to start. If I were a refugee on the run, I would hide somewhere remote, yet close to civilization. Almar’s specialism requires computer access and a power source. Let’s scan for power sources that aren’t close to people.
She pulled out her tricorder and found three potential locations; one near the town hall, one several kilometers outside the village, and one on the edge of the village. Caryn didn’t read any life signs at the last spot, but it had the highest energy output and made the most sense.
The building seemed abandoned when Caryn arrived there, but her senses told her something else. She signaled the crew members to converge at her location and waited for them to catch up.
Caryn knocked on the door, and said, “Mister Almar, we can do this easy way or the hard way. We have the building surrounded and a starship in orbit. Please come out and surrender.”
The captain waited for a minute, but no reaction followed.
“Maybe the building is abandoned?” Odan said.
Caryn tapped her index finger against her head. “I can sense his presence with my telepathy. It’s vague, but he’s definitely hiding in there.”
Caryn knocked on the door again. “Mister Almar, this is your last warning. Your emotions betray your presence. My men are ready to drag you out if they have to.”
A rumbling sound came from inside. “P-, please, no violence. I surrender.”
A trembling Cardassian opened the door a moment later.
“See, that wasn’t so hard,” Caryn said, as her lips curled into a smirk.
That smirk left her face moments later, however. Caryn frowned and grew concerned. The temperature had significantly dropped in the last minutes. The howling wind screeched through the streets and the daylight vanished as if somebody had switched off the light. The ample light of the street lanterns barely illuminated their surroundings. Air horns, installed after the first herald attacks, blared their shrill alerts. Panicking mothers called their children inside, people everywhere fled from the streets. It seemed as if all live in the colony ceased to exist.
All words left Caryn when she looked at the sun. An eclipse blocked out all the sunlight, even though no moons or planets were supposed to move between the sun and this planet in the coming weeks.
“What is that?” Odan asked, as he pointed at a big shimmering, yet dim, light in the sky.
Caryn watched with narrowed eyes, trying to make sense of it all. All she could see though, was that it was huge, and -- alive.
“Dear deities,” Caryn gasped, as she fell to her knees. Her phaser rattled over the ground as she grabbed her head and held it between her hands, trying to steady herself. “N-no, it can’t be! It-, it’s so hungry, it has an all devouring need to feed. It needs energy, it needs life. Such hunger, I have never felt anything this horrifying before.”
The captain had her eyes shut tight, trying to block out the emotions she felt coming from the object in the sky. Odan helped her back to her feet, but Caryn was too overwhelmed to stand without aid.
“It-it’s coming closer!” Almar yelled, as he pointed at the sky with a trembling finger. “It’s like a giant snowflake, but-”
Before he could finish his sentence, however, Odan tapped his combadge, and said, “Boson, six to beam up.”
However, nothing but static answered his call. “That entity must be interfering with our comm signal. Let me try another frequency.”
The trill picked the combadge of his chest and modified a few settings. When he called their ship again, the signal still wasn’t clear, but at least he could make out something. “This –KGGG– Boson, away tea–KGGGG– ear us? Please respond.”
“Boson, this is Commander Odan. Six to beam up.”
“Confirmed, –KGG–and by.”
The away team and Almar dematerialized and were beamed aboard the U.S.S. Boson moments later. Caryn felt better already. She ordered security to escort Almar to the brig and rushed to the bridge with Odan following in her wake.
As soon as she entered the bridge, she locked eyes with lieutenant commander Vasha, an Andorian and the only xenologist they had aboard. The woman had proven her worth repeatedly in the past and she was a valued member of the crew.
“Captain,” Vasha said, “the Crystalline Entity returned. I don’t know how this is possible. The U.S.S. Enterprise destroyed it in 2368, but apparently more than one exists. Worse yet, it’s threatening to devour all the colonists on the planet if we don’t do anything. I’ve modulated our shields to counteract the effects of the Entity, but it’s impossible to do the same for an entire planet.”
“That explains why I don’t have that bursting headache anymore,” Caryn mused, before returning to the matter at hand. “How the Crystalline Entity came to be is irrelevant. The only thing that matters is how we can stop it. Our ship can’t evacuate ninety thousand civilians and they don’t have the necessary ships to escape either. Is there anything we can do?”
An eerie silence descended upon the bridge. They were faced with the impossible; an entity to which the Boson compared as a fly to a whale, a capacity to save two hundred colonists at most, and far too little time to call in reinforcements. The closest ship needed at least a day to reach them, all the colonists would already be converted into energy for the Crystalline Entity by then. Meanwhile, the creature started its attack on the planet, feeding off the forests and wildlife in an uninhabited part of the world.
“I’m sorry, Captain, but we’re simply not equipped to handle this situation,” Vasha said. “The Enterprise dealt with a far smaller colony and they had better equipment at their disposal. We won’t be able to generate the required energy to destroy the Crystalline Entity. Worse yet, Lieutenant Commander Data never finished his technique to communicate with the creature. Judging how dull this Entity shimmers, I’d say that it’s also in a much bigger need of energy than the one the Enterprise encountered.”
“Ladies and gentlemen, I refuse to simply give up,” Caryn said. “We are Starfleet officers! There are ninety thousand souls down there that are looking to us for protection. We’re the only ship in range that can provide aid and I won’t stand here watching how that creature kills every last shred of life on the planet. We have been threatened by the Borg, yet we adapted, we have faced off against the Undine, yet we survived, we had the impossible thrown at us in the war against the Iconians, yet we made peace. We won’t lose to a single creature with an empty stomach. Not on my watch!”
“I agree,” Odan said, “we’ve done the impossible before. The Crystalline Entity has been destroyed in the past and it can be killed again.”
“Perhaps we’re looking at this in the wrong,” Vasha said. “Instead of trying to destroy a sentient being, maybe we can find a way to talk to it. Explain why it can’t feed on this planet.”
“What good would that do?” Odan asked. “It’d be much better if we destroy it so that it can’t harass other worlds either. Even if it leaves this planet alone, it’ll simply move elsewhere to feed. It’s our duty to protect the citizens of the Federation. Diplomacy is not always the answer, especially not with a creature that can’t be reasoned with.”
Caryn held her open palm hand up, halting the discussion. “You both have a point. Let’s first investigate how the Enterprise attempted to communicate with the Entity. Vasha, please pull up the files we have on the creature on the main viewing screen.”
“Aye, Captain,” Vasha said. “According to Data’s findings, they used ten graviton pulses per second to draw the Entity’s attention.”
Caryn walked to a nearby console. Her fingers flew over the LCARS interface. Graviton technology was her area of expertise, and reconfiguring the secondary deflector dish was second nature to her.
“I’ve set the deflector dish to emit ten pulses per second,” she said. “Let’s wait and see.”
“The creature is responding with its own series of pulses, but this really makes no sense,” Vasha said, her antennas twisting in frustration. “This is way out of my area of expertise, I have never dealt with an organism like this before.”
Caryn sighed. This was not the kind of answer she wanted to hear.
“Captain,” Odan said, “Perhaps our captured fugitive can be of use? His expertise revolves around universal translator algorithms, doesn’t it?”
Caryn threw her hands in the air. “Go get him, it’s the best shot we have.”
Odan left the bridge in a hurry, knowing that every second he wasted was one where the creature’s organic matter converting beam came closer to a colony.
“Vasha, get all the data ready that we have available on Data’s research. Perhaps we’ll be able to finish what he started.”
Odan returned with Almar moments later. Caryn explained the situation and seated him behind a console.
“I don’t know what you’ve done that was bad enough for the Federation to warrant your arrest, but I’ll assure you that I’ll put in a good word for you if you help us find a way to communicate with the Crystalline Entity. You have my word.” Although Almar kept a straight face, Caryn sensed a wave of relief wash over the Cardassian.
“Thank you, Captain,” Almar said. “I know that I won’t be able to redeem myself for the crimes I’ve committed, nor will I be excused for the people who’ve died at my hands during my service to the True Way, but perhaps it might alleviate some of the burden on my soul if these colonists are saved. Although I was a stranger in their midst, they have shown me nothing but kindness and I wish for no bad ill to befall upon them.”
Caryn nodded, and left the man to do his job. She knew that Odan would keep an eye on him, while she worked on her own algorithms that helped invent a gravitational pulse-based language that’d allow them to communicate with the entity. Vasha helped as well. She filtered the files from the computer and summarized the work of Doctor Kila Marr, an expert on the Crystalline Entity, who had worked with Data to find a way to communicate with the creature.
“Captain,” Odan said two hours later, interrupting Caryn’s train of thought, “I hope you find something useful soon, the Entity will hit the first colony within ten minutes. So far, we’ve been able to teleport ninety-four colonists out of harm’s way to buy you more time, but this colony is too large for such a rescue operation. All of our shuttles and transporters are hard at work to save whoever we can, but this next hit will be disastrous. We’re already pushing our systems to the limits, attempting to push them even further will fry the circuitry and disable our shields. That’d make us vulnerable ourselves.”
Caryn wiped the sweat from her brow with the back of her hand. Not even during the Iconian war had she been this focused on finding a solution. “Almar, are you ready to give it a try?”
“Yes, Captain. I believe my algorithm will work.”
“Good, because it sounds like we’ve just about run out of time. Activate the translator.”
“This is Captain Hagan of the U.S.S. Boson, please stop your assault on the planet. You’re killing innocent life forms.”
“… am … must feed … dying … energy … the young …” came the cryptic reply, filled with static bursts.
Caryn gave Almar a look of confusion. The Cardassian shrugged and pressed a couple more buttons. “Try again.”
Caryn cleared her throat, and said, “Crystalline Entity, halt your attack. You’re killing us.”
This time it was easier to understand the reply, “I am One. One must feed. One is hungry. Two is dying. One needs energy to feed Two, the young Second.”
“I’m not sure what that means, but at least we know that the translator is working,” Caryn said, to nobody in particular. “Vasha, have you found an alternative planet with non-sentient lifeforms?”
“Yes, Captain, there is a suitable planet five light years away from here. Only microorganisms live there. It should be sufficient to feed the Entity.”
“Perfect.” Caryn opened a comm channel with the entity again. “One, we understand your need for energy, but this is not the way. There is an alternative planet nearby that you can feed from without endangering intelligent lifeforms.”
“Show One,” came the simple reply. The beam of energy that had been converting organic matter into energy, ceased its attack. Two kilometers farther, and the colony would have been history.
Caryn breathed a sigh of relief. The danger had passed.
Several hours later, Caryn sat down behind her desk in the captain’s room. “Captain’s log, supplemental. While we apprehended Almar on Yetzi V, the Crystalline Entity attacked the planet. We managed to save all the colonists and guided the Entity to a more suitable planet where it could feed. Almar has been very instrumental in setting up communications with the Entity. In exchange for his help, we let him attend the Christmas party. We will drop him off at Deep Space Nine tomorrow, and then continue with our exploration mission. Before the Entity left us, it offered us a gift. We are now in the possession of a tiny fragment from the Crystalline Entity. It sparkles as a brilliant top on our Christmas tree, reminding us that showing kindness to another is the greatest gift we can give.”
© Copyright 2013 Jasper Storm