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When Gods Smile

“It is a sign of the Great One. The one who has created us. The one who has created all the creatures under the heavens and the heavens themselves. It is His way to let us know that He watches over us and that He loves and cares for us.”

“It is so beautiful,” the little girl said. She stood on top of a rocky ridge with her neck craned upwards to watch the skies above. The star was brighter than anything she had ever seen in the night sky. It had appeared only a few days ago and yet with every passing day it became more dazzling. The entire tribe had spoken about nothing but this divine sign ever since it had appeared.

“Of course it is,” said her mother with a benevolent smile. “It is a present from the Great One. It is a present of love.”

The excited young girl looked at her mother. “What shall we do?”

“We must honor this occasion,” she said in a solemn tone. “We will unite all the tribes and we will celebrate. Those who were at war will lay down their weapons and those who were fighting will come together in peace. It is what the Great One would want.”

The girl nodded eagerly.

“Come,” the mother said. “We must make preparations.”

The girl jumped down from the raised perch to join her mother who was ready to head back into their village at the foot of the mountain. But the girl stopped as she realized that their companion was not coming along.

She looked at the woman still standing on the ridge. “Will you not join us as well?”

The woman didn’t speak, her eyes still glued at the flaring star in the sky.

The mother noticed her hesitation as well and took a step closer. “Helera, surely the stories of the Great One have reached even your faraway steppes. It would give us great joy if you would join our festivities. We’ll gladly share everything we have with you.”

The woman who had been a stranger to the mother and her child until only very recently turned to look at the both of them with a saddened expression on her face.

“Are you not joyful that our god is sending us this present?” the girl asked. “Or are you sad that you cannot be with your own tribe in the faraway steppes during such a blissful occasion?”

But Helera was not from the faraway steppes. She didn’t look it and her companions had no way of knowing, but Helera was not from their world. But what was most disturbing of all for Doctor Ashley Wenera of the starship Eagle, was that she knew for a fact that the shining star they were watching with such awe was not a gift from the gods. Or at the very least not the kind that gave cause to joyful celebrations. She knew all too well that the contrary was true.

“The main impact will occur in exactly forty-two hours, twenty-three minutes and forty-seven seconds on the northern continent. The meteor’s main body will hit the northern ocean while at least four fragments will impact on land,” explained Lieutenant Commander Xylion, the Vulcan chief science officer as he pointed to the screen behind him which ran a detailed computer simulation of the scenario he had described.

“What will be the effect on the planet’s population?” asked Nora Laas.

“My estimations predict an initial casualty level of six million within ten hours of the first impact. The total number of estimated casualties will be forty-four point four million.”

The mood in Eagle’s briefing room was appropriately downhearted. They had all known that this would happen ever since they had first come to this world three weeks ago. And yet they all found that they were utterly unprepared for this moment.

“As our initial predictions have indicated, we will be witnesses to a level two extinction event. Nothing will survive, not even bacteria,” said Xylion clinically before taking his chair again.

And then there was silence in the room.

It was Ashley Wenera who broke it. “We can stop this,” she said quietly.

All eyes turned to look at her. Their mission had been simple. Study the people of Arcticus II in the last three weeks of their existence and observe the extinction event utilizing all scientific methods at their disposal. It had sounded very straight forward until today. Nobody had dared to voice what they all knew would have to happen eventually. That they would have front row seats to a civilization’s apocalypse.

“The Prime Directive does not allow for us–“

Wenera stood up angrily, interrupting the first officer. “Damn the Prime Directive. These people down there deserve a chance to live. Everybody does. We have it in our power to give them that chance. Let’s use it before it’s too late.”

Captain Michael Owens had feared that something like that would happen. It had been a mistake to allow his chief medical officer’s request to join the planetary survey mission. Against his wishes she had befriended those she was supposed to study. She had developed a personal stake in the tragedy that was going to befall this world.

“Doctor,” he said softly, “you know as well as I do how this has to play out. We cannot get involved here.”

“We’re already involved,” she shot back. “The moment we came here we became involved. The moment we decided to put people onto the surface and study their culture we became involved. Now we’re treating them like lab animals. We selfishly study them for our own gain and then discard them like used up supplies. There is no moral high ground here. We might as well be the ones killing them. Hell, if we did, it probably be a more merciful fate,” she said but found no supporters in the room, just men and women with pained expressions on their faces, trying hard to avoid eye contact with her.

“I’m sorry, Doctor,” said Owens.

“It isn’t right,” she said quietly and took her seat again, full well knowing that she was fighting a losing battle.

“I know this is going to be difficult,” continued the captain, looking at all his officers. “I’d probably rather face the Borg in battle than having to watch what will happen here. But we’re Starfleet officers. As distasteful as this might be to us, it is part of what we do. And for good reason.”

There was neither accord nor disagreement in the room. Just silence.

“If there’s nothing else.”

Eugene Edison, the first officer cleared his throat. “I know this isn’t the best time but I wanted to remind everyone that today is Christmas Eve. We’ve put together a small celebration in the Nest tomorrow–“

“Celebration?” Wenera asked with disbelieve, painfully remembering the joy of the tribal people she had met on the planet who had decided to commemorate the day in a similar fashion.

“Maybe given the circumstances we should forgo the party, Commander,” said Owens. “Besides Starfleet isn’t particularly crazy over observing religious holidays.”

“This isn’t just a holiday,” said the youthful DeMara Deen. “Christmas is supposed to be a time to come together with those you love and care about. Certainly, it’s based on a human religious event but surely it has taken on a much broader meaning since then.”

Owens considered the Tenarian for a moment. The fact that it was one of the non-human crewmembers to come to the holiday’s defense spoke volumes. It was not enough to sway him however. He shook his head. “I just don’t think it’s appropriate. You are free to hold festivities in your private quarters but there won’t be any celebrations in the Nest or other public areas. That’s all, people.”

Owens didn’t sleep well that night.

He kept tossing and turning, his mind filled with images of a planet dying.

When he finally couldn’t take it anymore, he got out of bed and walked over to the window where he could see the approaching meteor in bright colors. It was a strangely beautiful sight considering the nearly immeasurable destruction it heralded.

He felt a chill come over him that was so unexpected he wondered if the environmental system was malfunctioning.

“My, you look like your freezing to death out there.”

Startled by the unknown female voice, Owens turned around. The woman was standing in the doorway of an old wooden house. And that was by far not the strangest thing about the situation. Michael Owens was no longer on Eagle. Instead he stood in ankle-deep snow at the outskirts of a small village somewhere that looked disturbingly similar to what Earth had once looked.

Any sign of his quarters were gone.

And he was freezing alright. Not surprising considering he was in the middle of a blizzard.

“What in the blazes are you doing out here so late?” the woman asked him. “And without even a coat. Come into the house. We have a warm fire going and some hot soup.”

“What is this place?” Owens asked, barely managing to keep his teeth from chattering.

The woman gave him a puzzled look. “You must have been in the cold for too long. Prairieville, of course. Now come in here before you freeze yourself to death.”

As irritated as he was, Owens couldn’t argue and he quickly took up her offer, slipping into the old-fashioned two-story house even as his mind still reeled, refusing to accept what was happening around him.

“Prairieville,” he said under his breath as the warmth of the promised fire began to dispel the cold.

The woman shut the door and turned to look at her guest who was rubbing his hands close to the fire. Owens hadn’t missed that she wore a simple blue dress which was impossibly out of place and time and yet fit in perfectly with these strange surroundings. “I haven’t seen you around town,” she said. “You must be new around here. Either way you are quite foolish to wander around the village in the middle of a blizzard. And on Christmas Eve no less.

Owens strode to the window which allowed him a view of the small town below. It looked familiar to him and he soon realized why. He had been born here. Except it had been called Waukesha then. What he saw now was the same town some five-hundred years before he had lived. “This is impossible,” he said and looked at the woman. “What is this? A holo-deck projection?” he asked and walked over to the fire again, trying to touch it carefully. It was as hot as the real thing and he nearly burned himself. “Computer, end program.”

“The cold must have affected you worse than I thought,” she said. “Maybe some hot soup will help.”

The starship captain watched her intently as she walked to the stove. “I know what the townspeople think of us, and of John. I don’t blame them, really. But as long as I live in this house we will show the proper hospitality to all our guests. Especially today.”

“Mary, who is down there with you?” a male voice came from upstairs.

She looked annoyed. “It’s one of the townspeople, John.”

“Goddamnit, tell‘em to go away!”

Angrily Mary dropped the large spoon she was using to prepare a bowl of soup. “It’s Christmas, John!” she shot back. “And don’t you take the Lord’s name in vain in my house.”

There was a momentary pause.

Then laughter. “It doesn’t matter anymore, Mary. Nothing matters anymore. The world is at its end. By this time tomorrow there’ll be no more house and no more Christmases.”

The woman took a deep breath and looked at her guest with a rueful expression on her face. “You must excuse my husband. I guess they’re talking about him in town already, don’t they? He’s lost his mind ever since he started staring at the skies. Talking about the end and so on and so forth.”

“The skies?” Owens asked.

She nodded. “Yes, those cursed lenses he keeps looking through. Devil’s scopes, I call’em. They’ve driven him insane, convinced him that we’ll all be squatted like insects by a big rock from the skies,” she said and sat down with the apparent frustration of a wife who had put up with such nonsense for far too long.

Owens on the other hand was intrigued. “Do you mind if I have a look?”

“Go ahead. He’s right upstairs in his study. Won’t leave the damned room for nothing. Maybe you can talk some sense into him.”

Owens nodded and headed up the stairs. He found the study in which a short, middle-aged man was sitting surrounded by drawings and books about stars and astronomy. And yet it looked more like a workshop or a poor man’s observatory with a number of improvised telescopes everywhere. The man was sitting by the largest one, pointed at the skies above through the window. He kept writing on a piece of paper while never taking his eyes from the device.

Owens was no scientist but it quickly became obvious that neither was John. Actual scientific books were far and few in-between and most drawings and writings appeared to be amateurish at best. But the overall tone of all his work was clear. The end of the world.

Startled by the squeaking floor boards John jumped to his feet and faced the stranger. “Who are you?” he demanded. “My wife send you? It doesn’t matter. Nothing matters anymore. Look for yourself. We’re all doomed.” The man was hysterical but he appeared somewhat appeased when Owens decided to do as he suggested and ventured a look through his telescope.

What Owens saw was terrifyingly familiar. He had seen a very similar asteroid just moments before. But this one was a lot closer. “My god,” he said.

“Yes, yes,” said John. “Do you see? Do you see?”

Owens couldn’t take his eyes off it.

“We’re all going to die. Once that falling star hits us, we’re all going to die. But they’re not listening to me. Nobody’s listening. Not that it matters. Nothing matters anymore. There’s nothing on this Earth that could stop that thing.”

It was what Owens saw next that truly stunned him. Something had appeared close to the asteroid. It was too far away and the equipment too primitive to make it out clearly but it moved in an unnatural manner. It was quite obviously no celestial object of any kind.

And then, bright red flares. They engulfed the asteroid instantly and it began to diminish. He couldn’t know for certain what was happening but something or someone was destroying the fragment before it could hit the Earth.

Within a few seconds it was all over. The asteroid’s main body was disintegrating into smaller pieces which quickly began to drift apart. He knew right away that they were too small to pose any serious threats.

Owens gasped and stepped away. “It’s gone.”

John gave his visitor a puzzled expression but Owens had no words to offer.

The man quickly returned to his telescope and ventured another look himself. “What … what happened?” he asked with utter disbelieve. When he still didn’t get a response he turned to look at Owens. “How is that possible?”

“I … don’t know.”

John rubbed his eyes to make sure they were not playing tricks on him and then looked again. All he could find were small dots of light, too weak to appear to be any danger. “It’s a miracle,” he said and took a step backwards. “It’s a miracle!” he shouted from the top of his lungs. “A Christmas miracle!” He shot out of the study like a man reborn. “Mary, my dearest love, it’s a miracle! We are saved, woman, we are all saved! Praise God Almighty, we’re saved.”

Owens watched him run out of the room and then turned to have another look through the telescope to make certain it had really disappeared.

It had not.

He was looking at it again but not from the study of an eighteenth-century mid-Western American log house but from his quarters aboard his ship. He was once again standing in front of his window, looking upon the meteor which was to annihilate Arcticus II in less than two days.

Still dizzy from his strange trip through space and time Owens headed for his desk and the computer who was sitting on top of it. He accessed the LCARS historical database and soon enough he found exactly what he had been looking for. John and Mary Kirkegaard of Prairieville, Wisconsin. He kept looking until he found eyewitness accounts of a massive meteor shower observed by dozens of witnesses on Christmas Eve of 1846.

Captain Michael Owens found the night-shift attending his bridge.

Without much delay he headed for the tactical station which was currently manned by a junior officer who snapped to attention upon seeing the unexpected visitor.

“At ease, Ensign,” said Owens as he approached the tactical console. The ensign stepped aside to allow his captain full access.

Owens stroked the wood finish before trying the controls. He gave the puzzled ensign a small smile. “Starfleet captains are required to be fully certified in all tactical operations,” he explained. “I’m a bit rusty so I thought I'll run some practice drills.”

The young officer nodded sharply but his eyes soon grew wider when he noticed that Owens was arming the photon torpedoes and activating the live targeting system.

“Got to be careful,” Owens said. “I wouldn’t want to mistakenly open fire on something.”

The red alert klaxons came to life, drowning the bridge in strobing red lights when a single torpedo was fired unannounced.

The ensign’s mouth fell open and the rest of the bridge crew jumped wide awake, ready to face an unknown crisis.

“Oh boy,” said Owens and took a step away from the console. “It’s alright people, my mistake. I must have accidently triggered the torpedo launcher. Stand down from red alert.”

On the screen Owens and the rest of the bridge crew watched as the single torpedo shot across space and struck the meteor head on, splitting it up into small, harmless fragments.

“Now what are the odds?” said Owens as he watched the spectacle.

Not a moment later the senior officers streamed onto the bridge, awoken by the alert klaxons which had since died away. They were all just in time to see the asteroid breaking apart on the view screen.

Completely dumbfounded, Eugene Edison looked at his captain.

Owens shrugged his shoulders. “An accident,” he said.

Edison nodded slowly but with apparent skepticism.

Wenera stepped closer. “Sir, did you just–“

“It was an accident, Doctor,” he said sternly. “I want this to be perfectly clear to all of you,” he continued. “All I meant to do was to brush up on my tactical certifications. It would look like I need to catch up on my theory first.”

“Yes, it would appear that way, sir,” said Edison who was no longer able to suppress a growing grin which quickly spread to the entire senior staff. Except for Xylion of course who raised one of his eyebrows instead.

“Now Gene, let’s talk about that Christmas party. I’ve got a story to tell you all you won’t believe. It’s a true Christmas miracle.”

The mother held her young daughter close as the village around her erupted in cheers upon witnessing the most remarkable meteor shower that had ever filled their skies.

An unmistakable sign from the Great One.

It was a cause of great celebration for their entire world.

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