The landing party rematerialises at the crash site of the Bellona. Most of the chassis has been covered by vegetation within the crater, and a there's a large rusted hole near the bridge area, but I can make out the red wings and the first three letters of the label on the front. Kirk has the security officers do a sweep of the perimeter whilst I take readings from my tricorder. I get preliminary readings-no high levels of radiation, but they go dead. "Captain, the kelbonite is very high in this area."
Kirk takes out his communicator and tries to contact Enterprise, but to no avail. "And I bet phasers don't work, either. Damn."
I look up at the sky at what looks to be a wide white bridge-like stripe across the middle of the lavender sky and three suns to the left of it. "We're directly under the rings."
Yarbrough and Owens return. The taller one with the light brown bob, Owens, tells Kirk it's all clear. I wonder if there are any ugly people on the Enterprise. Kirk gives them new direction. "Watch the entrance while we conduct a physical search of the ship, see if we can still access the computer."
I wait for them to watch the hole before asking, "Captain, what are we going to do if we encounter trouble? Our phasers don't work."
"They don't know that," he says with a small smile.
We go through the hole with Faraday lights and start looking around for access to any power for the ship's computer. As I'm standing over the helm panel, I'm thinking about her, the last time I saw her, all teeth and willowy limbs and flowing caramel brown hair as she embraced Lysander. Can't remember the colour of her eyes, but I recall her voice as she addressed me. "Little Celeste," she called me, wasn't it?
Wait, that's not right. That sounds like-
I stand up straight and turn my head to the captain's chair. "Yes, Captain?"
Kirk's staring at me intently. "I'm asking if you think we'll find the survivors?"
"There's a pretty good chance, sir. Do you know it was the Astarthanai that lobbied to carve the Face on Mars? Said it was always meant to be there. They're determined enough, and that's saying a lot for Martians."
"Did you know any of them?"
"They left so long ago—"
"That's not an answer," Kirk says. "You've been acting strange since I mentioned this mission. If there's something personal—"
Yarbrough pulls me out of the fire. "Captain, someone's approaching."
"Let me try to talk to them, buy us time."
Kirk's interrupted by a rumbling that shakes the deck beneath us, which pitches me into him. He catches me, holds me steady. I'm about to protest, but he silences me with his index finger. "That's more than someone," he says sotto voce. "How many are out there?"
Owens answers, "I can't determine, sir."
"Stay out of sight until we can come up with a plan." He looks down at me. "Are you all right, Doctor?"
"I'm fine, sir." He releases me, and I go for levity. "Here's my prediction: either this is going to be the most boring mission we'll ever undertake or we'll end up captured, one or both the security officers are going to die, you will punch and/or kiss our way out, and Spock will beam us aboard in the nick of time."
Kirk takes the bait. "You think so, Doctor?"
"I've read three years of mission logs." I look toward the entrance. "Let me take the security officers and talk to them whilst you stay hidden in the ship."
"We stay together," Kirk replies. "And we're sitting ducks here for at least the next thirteen and a half hours, so we might as well come out in peace."
I lead the party out of the ship with my hand up. We're surrounded by female humanoids in black feather-like armour with grey bird like wings. My mouth's gaped open at the sight of…angels? "W-we're looking for our friends," I say, putting my hands back over my shoulders to denote our differences. "From abroad. We could use your help."
One of the females points a glowing red staff-like weapon at Kirk. "We do not help heretics," she says with her flanged voice. "You will come with us or you will all die." As they take our useless phasers, I mutter, "I hate being right."
And the pain of having the backs of our heads butted before we pass out? Yeah, just adds to the humiliation.
I wake up alone in a completely white room. I'm disoriented; I don't know if it's the lighting that's making dimensions hard to discern. No windows, no doors. Just white. I'm almost sick to my stomach. After an indeterminate amount of time, a black hole opens, and a winged female with blue-tinted skin, all-blue eyes, emerges and the hole closes after her. "Identify yourself," she says with her flanged voice. Her teeth are an inky blue, but straight, perfect.
I refuse to give her my fear, although there is a great deal of it. I clear my throat. "My crew—"
It's strange, her voice entering my head. "I'm…." I shake my head in defiance. "I'm a woman concerned for her crew."
She raises her hand, and I can make out a red orb. I feel severe heat, as if my flesh is about to boil, and I scream out in pain. "Identify—"
"That's not necessary, Cleric," a normal human voice chimes in from a pearly-white hooded figure. She must have entered shortly after. "I know who she is." As the glowing of the red sphere dies down as well as my pain, she drops the hood. I see that caramel brown hair breaking up the white, the crow's feet and laugh lines around dead eyes—one jade green, one milky white. She adds, "Little Celeste Desmoulin. It's been a long time."
I look at my hands to make sure I'm not really burnt. "Apparently…not long enough, Romana," I say as I gain my strength. "I thought you were dead."
The female's voice reverts back to what I assume is her normal voice. "You know this heretic, Seraph?"
"This heretic is from my world."
"This one is different. This one does not respond to vocal conditioning."
"I see. Why is that, little Celeste?" She smiles, and there's her white teeth.
I don't return it. "You can stop calling me that now. 'Doctor Parker' will do nicely, thank you."
"Oh, you're a doctor now! And taken a male mate." The female registers a look of disgust as Romana continues. "Starfleet's quite a career choice for you. Which means that somewhere up there there's a starship waiting for you."
"Waiting for us," I say, heaving. "You're going to be held accountable for what you and your sisters have done to this planet."
Romana scoffs. "Give us a minute, Cleric."
The woman leaves the room, leaving me alone with the woman that left my brother years ago for this. "I know the male is the one with the highest rank, so you can stop pretending." Romana drops her smile, gives a look of concern. "How is Lysander doing?"
You can't believe she's even asking. "He's dead, Romana. Your leaving killed him, changed me."
"I am sorry to hear about that. I am."
"Go to hell," I say through gritted teeth.
"But I did what I had to do." She squats down to close the space. "We thought we were doomed. We got too close to the rings, with the kelbonite. There was a collision with one of the asteroids. Took out all but three of us when we crashed. And then we became the Blessed to the ornithopes, the angels that inhabit this planet. A trinity, like their three suns. They heard our words—"
"And started a literal war of the sexes, just like you tried on Mars." I cross my arms. "And let me guess—the superior knowledge you had gave the females the advantage."
"They already had the advantage! The females have a way of controlling people with just their voices. It was a sign from Asthartha."
If I wasn't sickened before, I am now. "How many millions died under this sign?"
"No, not millions. Billions. Leaving the best of their kind for us to rule. We changed the face of the planet."
You cover your mouth with your hand. "Oh my Gods!"
"There is only one here, and she has shown me that all we did is what we had to do." She grabs my chin. "And now so do you, Celeste. You're going to tell us everything we need to know, and you're going to get the man to get his crew down here for processing."
I pull away from her and narrow my eyes. "What do you mean by 'processing'?"
"Good question. I mean that every single male will be executed as well as any female that cannot be integrated."
I'm laughing at her and there's no mirth in it. "It is my professional opinion that you and your feathered friends are completely fucking mad."
"You think this is a game?" Romana's face tightened into a scowl. "Cleric, the screen." A black oval opens in what I'm assuming is an opposite wall. "Watch your captain die, Celeste."
The screen shows Kirk in agony as his back being struck repeatedly with what looks like red lightning from a handle, ripping cloth and flesh. You reach out to her in desperation. "All right, stop this, dammit! Romana, I'll give you what you want, just don't harm my crew anymore!"
Romana raises her hand, and the whipping stops. The screen shrinks back into white.
"Much as this bothers me greatly, I will indulge you. Have your man as well as your guards with you. It makes no difference. Your ship will bring more people down to find you—and we will destroy every last one." She raises her hand, and the black hole opens for her to walk through, leaving me deeply defeated. What have I done?