“I know what you’re thinking, Michael, and I don’t blame you. It looks bad, I know. I have violated orders, I have not responded to calls and even my senior officers are beginning to question my sanity. But there is a perfectly good reason for what I’ve been doing. You have no idea how relieved I was when I found out that Admiral Throl was sending you after me. If there is anyone out there who’ll understand it’s you, I’m sure of it. I will explain everything once you get here. Donners out.”
Captain Michael Owens leaned back in his chair as the face of his ebony-skinned friend and colleague disappeared from his screen. The message had not been exactly what he had expected and it raised more questions than it answered. What could have prompted Amaya Donners, the usually extremely reliable captain of the Agamemnon, to such an unusual act?
“What do you think?” he asked the only other person in his ready room, sitting in a chair at the other side of his desk.
DeMara Deen, the blonde-haired, youthful Tenarian was Eagle’s operations manager and his closest confidant. “She doesn’t look stark raving mad,” she said with a smile, referring to the colorful expression which Admiral Throl had used to describe Donners’ utterly unorthodox behavior.
“What do we know about this planet?” Owens wanted to know.
Deen glanced at a padd she held in her hand. “Preshneek II. Settled by human colonists around 2232 who were unaware of the already existing native population. The colonists and the natives eventually integrated but rejected formal ties with the Federation in order to pursue polices incompatible with Federation law. The planet experienced a period of economic and social prosperity until about fifty years ago when the government formally collapsed. From our last reports numerous factions are struggling over the little arable land that the planet has to offer,” Deen explained and then looked at the captain. “It looks to me as if Captain Donners got herself into more trouble than she can handle.”
“The question is: What will it take to get her out of it?”
“Commander Star to Captain Owens. We have entered the Preshneek system and we are receiving a new message from the USS Agamemnon.”
Deen stood. “I guess we’re about to find out.”
Amaya Donners’ message had been short and simple: Meet me on the surface.
The exact coordinates had been provided.
To their surprise, Captain Michael Owens and his security chief, the Bajoran Nora Laas, materialized in the middle of a busy settlement.
Their arrival did not seem to draw much attention by the natives who as it turned out were very similar in appearance to humans except for their skin color which possessed a distinctly olive tint. They seemed to reside in hovel like dwellings, many of which in dire condition. The climate was hot and the tundra-like landscape dry and devoid of much of anything.
Owens noticed that Nora seemed particularly interested in the inhabitant’s poor living conditions. He knew she could sympathize. Her own people had lived quite similarly when they had been refugees from their conquered home world.
But then Owens noticed something else. Heavily armed Starfleet officers were patrolling the camp. No wonder the natives had paid little attention to their arrival.
It was Amaya Donners who was calling out for him, approaching them quickly. “Thank you for coming so promptly.”
“What’s going on here, Maya?” Owens asked immediately.
“I will explain everything but first there is a man I would like you to meet,” she said and began to usher them down the unpaved street.
“These people,” Nora began as she watched a group of crying children, most likely hungry or thirsty or both. “Are they in danger?”
Donners nodded. “That’s why we’re here,” she explained. “They need our help and they need it quickly before we doom this entire world to years of war and bloodshed.”
Owens didn’t like what he was hearing. “Don’t tell me you made this a pet project of yours. Surely you realize that there are major implications of using Starfleet resources to aid with a planet’s internal–“
“I knew you were going to quote the Prime Directive on me, Michael,” she preempted. “But it hardly applies here. They asked for our help and they are offshoots of humans after all. We owe them our help.”
They reached their destination, a central, round gathering area in the middle of the village. He immediately spotted the man Donners wanted him to meet. It was difficult not to. He was taller than most of his kinsmen, endowed with a marvelous physique. He was not imposing in any manner but instead radiated confidence and charisma. He was a true leader.
“Tulur Laheen please meet Captain Michael Owens,” Donners said in way of introduction.
The man smiled at the captain and shook his hand firmly. “It is a pleasure to meet you, Captain,” he said. “Amaya has spoken very highly of you.”
“The pleasure is mine.”
“I can see in your eyes that you have the same doubts that Amaya had at first,” Tulur said, speaking in a captivating tone of voice which begged to be listened to. Owens understood how he had managed to convince Donners.
“Look around you, Captain,” he said. “We are a harmless people who ask only to be able to live in peace. We once had everything we needed and more. But greedy politicians and power hungry rulers destroyed everything. Now we all fight like animals over the little that we have left.”
“You are at war?” asked Nora.
“If you can call it that,” Tulur replied. “You see we are settlers, we believe in staying in one place and making it our home. But the Tribes think differently, they move from place to place, exploiting what they can. I know in my heart that we can all live together harmoniously but the Tribes are not interested in peace. They rather slaughter us all so that they can have the little water we have here. They have the soldiers and the weapons and they don’t hesitate to use them against our women and children to drive us away.”
“What we need, Michael,” Donners continued with equal zeal in her voice. “Is to protect the Settlers from the Tribes. Make them understand that they cannot simply take what they want. I have about seventy armed men on the surface but we need more.”
Tulur could tell that Owens was not convinced. “I know what you think, Captain. That it is not your place to help us. That the fate of one little village plays no role in global events. But trust me when I say that this entire planet is looking upon us now. What will happen here will have far reaching consequence throughout this world. We can change the course of history.”
Donners stepped up to Owens. “He’s right. Michael, we have been through the cruelties and horrors of unrestrained war. We can give these people the chance to avoid decimating each other. We can get both sides to listen to reason and–“
She didn’t get a chance to finish her sentence. A massive explosion nearby drowned out most of her words. Nora instinctually pushed Owens to the ground as dust and debris rained down onto them.
Tulur however didn’t hesitate to rush towards the scene without giving one thought to his own safety.
“What happened?” Owens asked even though his ears were still ringing.
“It’s the Tribes,” Donners explained. “They keep firing artillery charges into the village to try and force us out.”
Once Nora was satisfied that the immediate danger had passed she allowed Owens to stand again. The trio quickly followed Tulur to the origin of the explosion. A large building had been ripped to rubble. A number of Starfleet medics had already begun to treat the wounded which seemed to be everywhere.
As Owens and the others approached, Tulur was stepping out of the torn building, carrying a lifeless child in his arms. “What kind of monsters would target a school full of children?” he asked, having lost some of his earlier composure.
Donners turned to Owens who seemed speechless at the extend of the dead and injured. “And that was a small scale attack,” she said with anger. “We have to put a stop to this.”
Owens just watched as the medics and Settlers removed one dead child after the other. All around them mothers and fathers were crying and shouting, some had collapsed to the ground, unable to bear the grief. Others simply stared on at yet another disaster that had befallen them. All hope had drained out of their eyes.
Owens looked at his chief of security. She was as tough a person he had ever known but he could tell that even she had difficulties to comprehend what was happening here. But she understood better than he did. She had seen all this before.
“How many people can we get down here?” the captain asked her.
Forty-five medical technicians, nurses and doctors and twice that number of armed security personnel had been dispatched to the surface with a promise to deliver more if necessary.
Michael Owens didn’t like the idea of sending armed troops to help the Settlers but one argument had moved him more than any other. He didn’t want these people to go to war with each other. And if a few armed men could avoid that, then it was a small price to pay.
It was Donners’ next plan that worried him.
“I have agreed with Tulur that we will only provide logistics and some fire support. I told him that we are here in an advisory capacity only.”
“I don’t like this. How is attacking the Tribes encampment helping us avoid a major war?”
“The idea is to discourage them and destroy their ability to make war with the Settlers,” Donners said by communicating through Owens’ desktop computer. “We move in, take away their weapons and assault vehicles and teach them to leave the Settlers alone. They will have no choice but to open up a dialogue once they can no longer use intimidation as leverage. Trust me; we have explored all other avenues at this point. They refuse to negotiate as long as they think they can win.”
“What about the rest of the planet?” Owens wanted to know.
She shook her head. “There is no longer any government to speak of. But news of our arrival has spread fast. Settlers and Tribes all over the planet have temporarily suspended their feuds and are looking to see what happens here.”
Owens sighed and leaned back in his chair. “I'll have Nora coordinate with your security chief.”
“She can coordinate with me directly,” Donners said. “I’ll be taking part in the attack.”
“I’d rather have you back on your ship.”
She smiled sweetly at him. “I appreciate your concern, Michael, but as you have pointed out, this is my pet project and the least I can do is to be right here on the ground and make sure things go smoothly.”
He could tell she had made up her mind. “Very well, good luck then.”
“Don’t worry. It’ll be like child’s play. Donners out.”
When her image vanished from the screen Owens looked up at Deen, again sitting in his office.
“You think something will go wrong?” she asked.
He began to rub his temples and turned in his chair to look through the window and onto the sandy-brown planet below. “I think we should have never gotten involved. This will only get worse.”
He stood and approached the transparent partition to outer space.
“A bit to late for that now, isn’t it?” she said. “We’re stuck with it and all we can hope for is that we’ll end up doing more good than bad.”
Owens didn’t speak as he continued to watch the planet as if he could see right down onto the surface and the people on it. He was rapidly losing his belief that anything good could come out of their involvement. It was not up to him or Donners now. Only the inhabitants of Preshneek would be able to determine their fate.
Amaya Donners had been right. The attack was child’s play. Shuttles from both Eagle and Agamemnon quickly took care of the Tribes’ defenses and obliterated most of their heavy tanks and armored vehicles.
After that armed Starfleet security personnel were beamed into key areas of the outlying settlement to quickly neutralize the majority of the soldiers who had geared up to defend the camp from the imminent attack.
The Settlers moved in on hover trucks, large three-legged desert horses or were deployed via Starfleet shuttles near to the camp.
Donners and Nora rode with Tulur Lahbeen and some of his best fighters on a shuttle which set down near the residence of the Tribes’ leader. Their mission was simple. Take the leader temporarily prisoner and demonstrate to him what a war with the Settlers could look like if he continued to be unwilling to talk about lasting peace.
Both Starfleet officers were impressed by Tulur’s professionalism and leadership as he and his men swiftly overwhelmed the guards and stormed the complex which mostly consisted out of tents and makeshift hovels.
“The coward has fled,” one of Settlers shouted once he interpreted the screams and cries of some of the tribeswomen. “He knew we were coming and he fled.”
That was the first sign that things had not gone the way they had planned. Without the leader witnessing first-hand their demonstration of power it was going to be difficult to convince the other tribes to speak seriously about peace.
Frustrated and angry the Settlers quickly decided to punish unarmed men and women instead, beating and shooting indiscriminately at targets of opportunity.
“Tulur, get your men in line!” Donners shouted as she noticed the situation getting out of hand.
But he didn’t seem to listen to the Starfleet captain.
A woman was desperately trying to hold on to her child as some of the soldier’s were forcefully attempting to separate them. And even though the young woman–not much more than a girl really–was not armed, she was putting up an admirable fight, clawing and scratching the soldiers.
“Stop this now!” Donners yelled and raised her phaser rifle at the men who refused to stop.
Tulur Lahbeen–suddenly very annoyed with the whole situation–raised his gun and shot the woman in the head. She collapsed instantly, her crying newborn still in her hands.
The Settlers laughed.
Donners mouth hung wide open as she stared at Tulur.
“Do you think for one second that these animals would not have done the same thing to us?” he said and spat at the dead women. “Let them taste for once what it feels like to have their women and children massacred.”
The Starfleet captain raised her rifle and pointed it at the man she had so willingly bought into. She had been fooled by lies and deceit. He was no better than his enemies, no less cruel or evil. He just knew how to hide it better.
“You’re not going to shoot me,” he said. “You will help us eradicate the Tribes for once and for all. That is the only way to bring lasting peace to this world and you know it. Their blood is as much on your hands–“
Tulur slumped to the ground, albeit only stunned.
The other Settlers quickly brought up their rifles and took aim.
Nora reacted instantly, jumping at Donners and dragging her behind cover before the hail of bullets and laser fire could reach them.
Without another thought the security chief tapped her combadge. “Nora to Eagle, emergency beam out. Bring everyone back, now!”
Amaya Donners sat quietly in a chair in Owens’ ready room, watching him reading her report with a mixture of anxiety and dread.
When he finally put it down he looked straight into her eyes.
“I’m sorry,” she said when Owens refused to comment. “I’m sorry for dragging you into this.”
“You did what you thought was right,” he said calmly, interlacing his fingers on the desktop.
She stood. “I can’t believe how easily I fell for this bastard’s lies. In the end all he really wanted was revenge. And here I was trying to save his people from certain slaughter.”
“I’m beginning to think that this had little to do with you trying to save them.”
Donners frowned at him. “You doubt my intentions?”
“No,” he said shaking his head. “And I’m not blaming you for this either. After all I agreed to everything. But I think we were blinded by our own experiences. The war with the Dominion is still fresh in all our minds. We have only just gone though the awful horrors of war and we desperately wanted to spare these people from having to go through them as well.”
“We might have achieved the exact opposite. The road to hell and all that.”
“I think we have only expedited the inevitable. We thought we could give these people a quick fix for peace. But I believe now that we failed to take into account their deeply rooted cultural hatred for each other that must have existed long before the colonists came here. They’ll have their war and they will learn the hard way that violence only begets more violence. Eventually they’ll realize that they will need to work together if they want to reclaim their prosperity.”
“Or they just might wipe each other out.”
Owens nodded sadly.
Donners headed for the door but turned before exiting. “Do you think Throl will see it your way?”
“Not a chance. Command will want our heads for this.”
She gave him a weak smile. “I’ll get your back if you get mine.”