Summary: In the grim darkness of the future there is only war. But what happpens to a Space Marine when he is stranded in a place where his unique set of talents are neither needed, desired, or valued by humanity? What is a weapons purpose without a war to fight in?
The Pillar had been in storage at the Vulcan Archeological Archive for as long as anyone cared to remember. It was an alien artifact of dubious providence recovered from the wreckage of the Antiean civilization near the demilitarized zone between Federation and Romulan territory.
The Antieans themselves had been a race of ill repute, gifted with a talent for destruction far outstripping their own common sense or talent or long term planning. Constant experimentation with transwarp energies and other weapons of mass destruction banned throughout the civilized parts of the galaxy had ultimately caused both the extinction of the Antiean people and the utter destruction of their holdings, many thousands of years prior to even the first manned flights beyond the atmosphere of Vulcan.
Their destruction hand not missed the watchful eyes of Vulcan astronomers. Not long after the Vulcan discovery of warp travel a mission was mounted to the ruins of Antiea and the pillar was recovered from the wreckage. They tried and failed to unravel its mysteries, but not before several researchers died from tripping its internal defenses.
Neither willing to part with such a potentially valuable source of knowledge nor bold enough to risk activating a device of unknown purpose by trying to crack it open it with anything invasive, the pod stood in the bowels of the great Vulcan library. The four meter tall monolith of jet black stone sat, covered in writings hitherto undeciphered by living beings, humming with the dull rumble of an invisible energy barrier. A rumor of the undiscovered past, more than enough of an adventure to whet the appetite of even the most stoic of Vulcan minds.
It leered at them for generations, judging them, laughing at them, taunting them with the icon of a defiantly raised onyx gauntlet in the center it's dully pulsing yellow panel. In an odd way, not understanding its purpose became part of Vulcan heritage. The pillar of Antiea was the Vulcan byword for the unknowable with such phrases as “searching for meaning in the pillar of Antiea” and “answering the pillars” working their way into Vulcan common parlance for doing the impossible.
For an archeology buff like Picard, the opportunity was simply too delicious too miss. With the Enterprise in dry dock on Vulcan for a week and a backlog of long ignored shore-leave, it was foregone conclusion that he would visit to one of the great undiscovered mysteries of the universe. With his upcoming discussion of the Tagus III ruins before the Federation council, it seemed the perfect sort out outing to whet his intellectual appetite.
So it was that the Captain of the Enterprise found himself sitting in the antechamber of the Vulcan archives, waiting for the chief archeologist tasked with examining the artifact. It would be perfect if not for the actively unpleasant librarian who oversaw the waiting area. She stared down her beak-like protuberance of a nose at Picard, seemingly daring him to disturb her neatly organized literary kingdom.
Picard felt the woman's eyes burning holes in the back of his neck as he hummed happily to himself, eagerly anticipating the treat to come in spite of her unpleasantness. It had not been easy to arrange, even for a Starfleet Captain, but his credentials and his well known love of history had endeared him to the lead archeologist, Kasha Sakran.
Picards traveling companion did not share his excitement for the subject, but then the Android compensated in endless curiosity for what he lacked in emotion, “I do not understand, Captain. We will only be allowed to enter the chamber for an hour, and not permitted to engage in use of scanning devices. What do you hope to achieve in such a narrow time frame?”
“Data, I don't expect anything. This is a rare artifact that I haven't seen in person and as a member of the Archeological community I would be remiss in not taking the opportunity to observe it,” Picard sighed. Data knew so much and understood so little, in a very real way he was like a child. A brilliant child but still a child.
The Android cocked his head to the side in imitation of pensive thought, an exaggerated gesture born of imitation rather than reflex, “But Captain, have you not observed the pillar in the holodeck?”
“Yes Data,” Jean-Luc sighed. “Of course I have. But it is in human nature to desire to experience these things in person, for ourselves. We need to touch things, to feel them, to smell them before they become real to us.”
“The Pillar is behind a forcefield that no one has been able to penetrate for millennia Captain,” Data replied confusedly, “One can neither touch nor taste the pillar. Though what you hope to achieve by tasting the artifact eludes me.”
“Data that's not exactly what I –” Picard trailed off mid explanation as a stout man in the robes of an official of the Vulcan Archives strode purposefully in their direction. Jean-Luc stood up and raised his hand in the traditional greeting of the Vulcan people, spreading his fingers wide. “Live long and prosper, Professor SakranI presume.”
“Live long and prosper indeed Captain Picard,” The Vulcan bowed in reply. “Welcome to the Vulcan Archeological Archive. It is good to meet face to face. If you and your companion would care to follow me, we will be able to head directly to the artifact.”
“Yes,” Jean-Luc replied eagerly. “I would like that very much.” He waved for Data to follow as they walked across the room. The librarian stared daggers at the trio as they sidled over to a recessed section of the wall, a stationary teleportation platform used for rapid transit within the facility.
Oblivious to the Librarian's hateful stare, the archeologist pressed his hand to a panel, punching in a six digit code before Picard felt the rippling sensation of being instantly transmitted from one place to another. Supposedly one was teleported prior to the possibility of sensory input detecting the atomization and reconstruction of one's body, but Jean-Luc always felt a slight prickling tinge to let him know he'd been somewhere else not a second ago. Not something he enjoyed contemplating but perhaps it was a necessary reminder.
Picard's eyes adjusted to the near blinding light of the hermetically sealed teleportation room. He blinked stars from his retina as a flash of UV light flash fried any bacteria or contaminants he might have been covered in, blinding him for a second time.
Data, unburdened by the limits of flesh, wandered over to the wall and removed a personal shielding unit and strapped it to his waist in imitation of the Vulcan, passing a second one to his commanding officer. It was an excessive precaution perhaps, but the Vulcans were prone to prudence in the examination of the unknown.
“Thank you Mr. Data,” Picard said as he flipped the activator switch on the device, channeling a faint green film of protective energies around his body. He tentatively grabbed for the guard rail on the teleportation platform, reaffirming that he'd set the shield to a reactive rather than a hard-light setting so as not to prevent him from touching things around him before attaching the machine to his belt, taking care to note the shield frequency of his unit.
The Vulcan archeologist, never one to leave something to chance, explained to the rules of the facility to them as they waited for the chamber to pressurize. “The pillar is not to be photographed or scanned in any way. It is not to be sent electronic transmissions of any kind without first submitting a proposal to do so to the Vulcan Archeological Council for approval. And while touching is not prohibited, the side effects of doing so have historically been unpleasant.”
“Unpleasant how?” Queried Data interestedly.
“It is not a conventional forcefield as we use them,” The Archeologist waved his fingers along Data's arm, causing the two shields to sputter and repel each other. “We create a layer or layers of energetic distortion to cause a high rate of gravitons to be projected in a specific area. When I try to penetrate the energy screen I am repelled by the force of the barrier. The pillar operates on a different principal. It does not repel anything, just the opposite, it tears anything trying to pierce the barrier apart on a subatomic level and disperses it – ” The Vulcan's lip curled in distaste, “– organic material included.”
Picard cringed at the idea of having his fingers shredded at as subatomic level while he was conscious, “That is probably for the best.”
“Can I safely assume that tasting is not an option either?” Data queried, oblivious to the scandalized look on Sakran's face at the idea of it.
“I think I can resist the urge if you can Mr. Data.” Jean-Luc chortled good naturally as the airlock's forcefield shimmered and dissipated, allowing the trio entry into the chamber. Sakran, probably writing it off as pointless off-world humor, didn't comment on the exchange.
The room was relatively empty beyond a few tables for researchers to work on, and the artifact itself. Archeological instruments of every type Picard knew of, as well as a number he couldn't even begin to place were spread out on the tables lining the wall with the sort of meticulous precision generally reserved for surgical procedures. It was only by the care-worn hand marks on the oldest of the manual devices that one could even tell that they'd ever been used at all.
“How often are people in here to observe the pillar?” Data asked as he ran his fingers over an ancient manual measuring device, in an apparently futile attempt to divine special meaning via tactile interaction.
“Last week perhaps? There are a limited number of us qualified to examine it. And since we decided re-allocate resources towards trying to track the providence of recovered Bajoran artifacts from the Cardassain worlds, even fewer,” Sakran sighed. “The Federation is understandably eager to return as many of those as are possible to please the Bajorans now that they are in possession of a stable wormhole. Most of the graduate students who might have been assisting me have been borrowed by my colleagues. I expect it might be weeks or months before they come back to my research.”
“You're taking it in stride I see,” Picard remarked as he walked around the artefact, counting paces in his head. One, two, three – ten? Ten paces round. “Most researchers would be livid about that sort of setback.”
“I'm a Vulcan Captain,” Replied the archeologist as though no further explanation ought to have been required. “Man power is a finite resource and the needs of my people extend beyond my own intellectual curiosities. The pillar has been a mystery for thousands of years, a few months more is hardly worthy of note. I believe the human phrase would be 'it will still be there later.”
“Indeed Sakran,” Picard agreed, pointing to the elaborate gold etchings on the side of the pillar. An a large group of armored men stood resolute “Could enlighten me on the meaning of these images?”
“Very little I fear, beyond the obvious.” Sakran waved towards the lowest level of etchings. “We believe that these are whatever race created the pillar interacting with their god or gods, though other researchers have suggested that it might be an allegorical depiction of warfare. The images are universally bellicose, focused around these armored men as they fight various enemies.”
“The Antieans?” Data cocked his head in curiosity. “I was under the impression no existing visusal records of them remained.”
“It's one theory,” admitted the archeologist, resting his hands on his hips. “But the pillar matches none of the esthetic standards of the Antiean society or the norms of Antiean technology we've been able to recover so far.”
Jean-Luc whistled softly in amazement. There was something wonderful about an alien artifact that was, well, alien. Every year the galaxy seemed to get narrower and more explained, with mystery seeming to hide at the fringes of known space and experimental sciences. But to have a mystery, an honest to god mystery this close at hand was thrilling.
“Captain,” Data barked in a firm tone of command as he pointed to the top of the pillar. “I believe you should stop immediately.”
“Mr. Data?” Jean-Luc followed Data's line of sight to one of the ornamental skulls atop the pillar and gasped in astonishment. The ivory skull had snaked forward out of it's stone housing on a mechanical tendril, it's red glass eyes flashing with purposeful study of the trio. “Sakran... is this a regularly occurring event?”
“To my knowledge it is unprecedented.” The Vulcan slowly moved back towards the wall mounted control panel. “I would not make any sudden moves Captain. The last person to activate the pillar lost their head to the barrier.”
Picard tried to look as non-treating as possible to the the skull twisting from side to side like a cobra, hissing in a vaguely serpentine fashion as it observed him. With a howl of exaltation from the skull a wide beam of visible red light extended from the skulls eyes, scanning every inch of the Captain's body before the ornamental brain-case slammed back into it's housing with a guttural bellow of nameless language.
With a slight gasp of shock Sakran activated a shield between the pillar and the rest of the chamber as the purplish barrier of energy from the pillar itself dissipated with a hollow sucking burst of shifting air pressure. Jean-Luc's ears popped painfully as he watched history unfold before him in reverent astonishment.
The previously seamless surface of the pillar had glowing motes of energy seeping out from between them, yellowish bursts of balefire sputtering and coughing as the artifact's internal machinery grumbled with exhausted lack of maintenance. The front of the pillar wilted back like the pedals of a flowering bud, stone protrusions curving back into segmented sections.
“This – this is not a dream?” Sakran queried, apparently in genuine need of affirmation.
“No.” Jean-Luc replied. “No I believe it is not.”
“I do not dream,” Data interjected disappointedly. “Though I suppose one of you might potentially dream of me. Though my own self awareness would tend to – ”
“He was being metaphorical Mr. Data,” Picard hissed in astonishment as he got his first glimpse into the pillar. “Sakran tell me you're recording this.”
“Since we entered the room,” Sakran replied in a monotone whisper of astonishment as he too looked at the absolute last thing either of them had expected to see that day. “It's standard procedure for anyone in one of these areas. In case of the unexpected.”
"The unexpected has definitely come to pass." Picard whistled in amazement as the wildest of his fantasies played out in real-time. He had of course heard a rumor that there was a man sleeping in the pillar, it was the sort of apocryphal legend that invariably built up around this sort of artefact. Impractical, irrational, wishful and unreasonable as the legend had been the sleeper in the pillar was real.
There was a man inside the pillar. At least it might have been a man, it was hard to tell with all that armor. Whoever it was – whatever it was, it was alive. It was alive and massive.
It was alive, massive and it was in an alarming amount of pain.
And angry, it was very angry.
The creature screamed in agony with every movement of it's body, shaking away the permafrost of long -term stasis from it's yellow armor. It grasped at its helmet drunkenly, falling down to it's knees and ripping the frosted over armor from it's head.
Jean-Luc winced at the painful squelching sound of frostbitten flesh ripping as the man cast aside his helmet, tearing the great hunks of ice from his bare flesh. Ragged bloody hunks of skin ripped away from the man's face as he pawed away the frozen matter, including a disturbingly large chunk of the man's left eyelid, as he coughed up a bellyful of disturbingly red frozen matter.
Gasping for breath the bloody-faced giant stared out of it's bleary and bleeding eyes to Picard, blood seeping from frostbitten lips as it tired to speak. A bloody mess of syllables slid out, falling flat on uncomprehending ears.
" I'm sorry, " Picard replied, holding his hands palms forward in a gesture of empathy. " I'm so sorry but I don't understand."
The man screeched again, demanding answers Jean-Luc could not give for questions he could not comprehend. The armoured man stumbled forward, shaky fingers finding the thin barrier of energy between them. He pounded his armoured gauntlet against the barrier, spitting bloody vitriol and arrogance defiance at his perceived internment.
"Captain, this man requires immediate medical attention. He is suffering from at least stage three stasis sickness and clear internal injuries," Data said, android fingers rapidly manipulating a tricorder. " The armor is making a complete scan impossible but his biology seems to be roughly humanoid. He is badly wounded.”
"First contact procedures dictate that a clearly hostile sentient cannot be allowed out of isolation and that medical services cannot be rendered without informed consent," Sakran replied dejectedly as the agonized man unsheathed a blade and struggled to hold it above his head. "Hostility has been affirmed."
"I do not intent to allow a living piece of history to die in front of me because of a misunderstanding. We can't let this man die!" Picard barked in irritation, flinching as the giant's blade collided with the barrier in a coruscating conflagration of overwhelmed shields.
The blade, powered by its own disruptive energy fields, hummed with ominous intent as it gouged a deep tear in the stone floor, tossing molten stone into the air to sizzle on Jean-Luc's shields.
He batted the molten puddles away fear they might cool enough to pass the barrier as he scuttled backwards to avoid the huge man's lashing blade. Data's mechanically enhanced superhuman reflexes sped into overdrive as he leapt forward, pushing the armored man's wrist, overbalancing him mid swing and receiving a backhand to the face that would have killed a normal man.
The armored man blinked in astonishment as Data bounced back from his collison, apparently unaffected by the fatal blow. The Vulcan archeologist was not so fortunate, with a flick of his blade the armoured giant separated the man's left arm at the wrist. Green blood spurted out across the floor, spinning the man into a dimension of hatred hitherto unimagined by Picard.
As the man lifted a massive boot to pulp the Vulcan's head Picard tapped his communicator, screaming “Picard to Engineering, three for immediate beam-up to med bay! Shield interference at standard Vulcan frequency 3. Now!"
The shifting tingle washed over him, secreting him away from the armored giant and back to the safety of his ship. The bloody and hateful gaze of the giant seared itself into his retina even as he was fretted over by medical of officers and hyposprays. Ignoring their ministrations he activated his communicator, “Picard to bridge, get me the senior staff ! Get down to Med-bay. Shore leave just ended.”
A/N : I've got about 20 chapters planned for this, probably about a chapter every month or so. This will not be a war story like TCMBB. Ultimately this is going to be a story about obsolescence and finding purpose when your world is shattered. Cell phone edited ( I'm reasonably sure none of my Picards are Pilchards any more) but I doubtlessly missed something so if you see an error please PM it to me so I can fix it.