With the fall of the ancient Thallonian Empire, civil war threatens the planet of Zondar. The arrival of the USS Excalibur is greeted with relief and celebration by the anxious populace, and Captain Mackenzie Calhoun, fresh from his cataclysmic escape from the Thallonian throneworld, is acclaimed as their prophesied savior. But one believer's messiah is another's blasphemer -- and a prime candidate for martyrdom.
On the planet Zondar, a civil war rages between two factions: the Unglza and the Eenza. A man named Suti comes with some acolytes to confront the prophet Ontear. Suti blames Ontear that the war rages on as both sides were engaged in peace talks until Ontear prophesized that the war would continue. The fighting then resumed again. Suti begs Ontear to go to the people and tell them that he was wrong. He refuses, claiming that he is never wrong, that is his curse.
He then goes into hysterics, predicting the appearance of a messiah who will unite the planet:
"A great bird of fire will symbolize his coming. He will have a scar, come from the air and return to the air, and he will be slain by the appointed one. His death will unite the planet. If he does not die in this appointed way, the final battle between the Unglza and Eenza will destroy all."
A storm rages in the background and a cyclone picks up Ontear and takes him away. Suti runs into a cave to seek shelter, and within he finds scrolls upon which Ontear recorded his prophecies. Suti emerges from the cave to find Ontear gone and then speaks to the acolytes. Suti claims Ontear has joined the afterlife and the power of foresight is his now. He summons the rest of the acolytes to the mountain and takes control of the religion, first by forcing them to rebuild the cave.
On Xenex, Mackenzie Calhoun has been put into a rather uncomfortable situation. A woman named Catrine has asked, as is customary under Xenexian law, for a member of the ruling class to impregnate her.
D'ndai as the tribal chief normally assumes these responsibilities, however he is currently off world and thus the duty falls to M'k'n'zy, who is still a virgin. Mackenzie reluctantly follows through with this duty, and will later learn that he is successful in producing a son.
Selar is still struggling over how to deal with her Pon farr when Dr. Maxwell calls her quarters to alert her to the fact that she has overslept. Meanwhile, Robin Lefler is trying to solve a glitch where the doors across Excalibur are opening and closing at random.
In the conference room, Calhoun and Shelby are making a report of their recent mission to Admiral Edward Jellico. Jellico is, not surprisingly, a little unwilling to believe the notion that the Great Bird of the Galaxy erupted from the planet Thallon. Calhoun reminds Jellico that many stranger things have occurred during Starfleet history, such as encountering Apollo, Jack the Ripper, and Zefram Cochrane.
Jellico still doesn't buy it, stating that even some of Kirk's more colorful exploits such as an incident with a giant killer amoeba must have been fabricated and urges both Calhoun and Shelby to give him less fanciful reports in the future. Calhoun and Shelby then begin to discuss the position of the Excalibur briefly, Calhoun noting that about 3/4 of the fleet is currently involved in a major push and he can't help but feel a little stranded.
- Calhoun's "major push" comment is likely a reference to the retaking of Deep Space 9
Shelby notes that they are exploring, which is what Starfleet is all about, though she herself feels a little out of place due to her training as a tactician, not an explorer. This conversation is interrupted by the arrival of Dr. Selar, who asks to speak to Calhoun alone. Selar than proceeds to ask Calhoun to help her conceive a child as she requires to mate to end her pon farr, stating that not only does she feel Calhoun is a qualified candidate, but also citing the Xenexian custom that a leader may be obligated to assist a woman in this manner. Calhoun says he needs time to think about it, and when Selar asks him to please keep this request private, she turns to find that the door has opened and at least half a dozen crewmen have overheard the conversation.
Meanwhile, word of the recent exploits of Excalibur is spreading throughout Sector 221-G, eventually reaching the ears of the Redeemers. Ever since their deity Xant departed the Redeemers a century ago, the Redeemers endeavored to bring about his return by living in the opposite way that his teachings dictated in order to attempt to attract him back to show them once again the true light. The Overlord decrees that the appearance of the "flaming bird" as the first signal as to Xant's return.
In order to help coordinate his activities, Calhoun has assigned Robin Lefler to serve as an assistant to Si Cwan. She is the third person to fill this position after the first two resigned this duty quite quickly. While attempting to decide which of the 29 or so planets that have petitioned for the attention of Excalibur to visit next, Si Cwan notes that the Zondarians seem to be the most enthusiastic about meeting the captain. He clarifies that the two factions on Zondar have been involved in a bloody war for over 800 years, which only ceased when the Thallonians threatened to destroy their world if the fighting didn't stop, eventually following through with this threat by bombarding one of their continents.
Without the Thallonian Empire keeping them in check, Si Cwan fears that the fighting may soon resume. Lefler notes that the Zondarians have apparently recruited volunteers to make a pilgrimage to Excalibur and may arrive at the vessel soon.
Meanwhile, Shelby approaches Selar to discuss her request of Captain Calhoun, stating that it is inappropriate for the captain of a starship to fraternize with his officers. Selar disagrees, explaining to Shelby how Xenexian custom often requires a leader to perform these same duties. Unaware of this tradition, Shelby is distraught by the fact that Xenexian leaders are often used as "breeding machines" and disgusted when Selar clarifies that sometimes they are often asked to have sex with women who have just reached the age of maturity for the purpose of a blessing. Shelby then leaves sickbay to discuss this with Calhoun.
In Engineering, Burgoyne is looking over the recent broadcast from the Hermat Language Council as they have changed some of the pronouns used to refer to Hermats. Burgoyne is then approached by Ensign Ronni Beth and the two begin gossiping to each other. Beth's relationship with Ensign Mark Christiano is discussed, along with the relationship between Burgoyne and Mark McHenry. However, when hearing a rumor about Calhoun and Selar, Burgoyne becomes visibly upset and demands that a rather confused Beth get back to work.
At Si Cwan's recommendation, Calhoun orders a course set to meet with the Zondarian envoy in an attempt to help foster peace between the two factions. Shelby then asks Calhoun to speak privately in the ready room. Shelby is upset at Calhoun due to the fact that he never made any mention of his sexual duties during the time they were involved. Calhoun clarifies that he only had to perform this duty once, with Catrine. He explains that his brother D'ndai usually carried these things out since he was the tribal leader, while Calhoun served as the Warlord. He notes he learned later that he had produced a son, but never met him as Catrine had moved to a different village by the time he returned to Xenex, assuming that she didn't want him to meet his son, Calhoun never pursued this issue. Calhoun then takes this opportunity to ask Shelby about her sex life prior to their involvement, and she tells a rather humorous story as to why she claims she had sex with one half of a man. Calhoun then tells Shelby he hasn't made a decision regarding Selar yet.
McHenry alerts Calhoun to the fact that a ship is approaching on a collision course. Si Cwan identifies the ship as Zondarian, and notes that this approach is a traditional display of dominance in their culture. After some unorthodox evasive maneuvers courtesy of McHenry, the Zondarian ship hails the Excalibur. The two commanders identify themselves as Killick of the Ungzla and Ramed of the Eenza. While Killick and Ramed argue over the decision to set a course to ram Excalibur, Calhoun invites them aboard so they can discuss matters in more detail.
In the conference room, Killick and Ramed alert a rather shocked Calhoun to the fact that he is believed to be the savior Ontear prophesized would bring their people to peace. Even Calhoun is surprised by how closely he seems to resemble their prophesized messiah. The Zondarians then return to their ship after begging Calhoun to save them from themselves. Soleta is unable to come up with an explanation for any coincidence between the prophecy and Calhoun. Shelby claims it is ridiculous for Calhoun to consider posing as the Zondarian savior since it is clearly a Prime Directive violation. Si Cwan disagrees, saying that the Zondarians have invited Calhoun's interference. Calhoun, not wanting innocents to die as they surely will if war starts again, comes to a compromise. He will aid the Zondarians in their peace talks, but neither confirm nor deny being their savior. The conference then disbands and the staff leaves save for Selar, who asks Calhoun whether or not he has come to a decision regarding her request yet. Calhoun hesitantly agrees and merely tells Selar to alert him when the time comes.
On Alpha Carinae, the Redeemer high priest is concerned as the Alphans, recent converts to Xantism have been as of late speaking very highly of Calhoun and the Excalibur when their true focus should be on Xant. A group of Alphans led by Saulcrum approach the priest to inquire as to the second coming of Xant. The priest does not believe that this is their true reason for visiting him, and when Saulcrum is not more forthcoming, he breaks his arm with a staff. Saulcrum then shouts out that Excalibur is coming, chosen by the flame bird to free them, and the crowd chants "Calhoun!" until the priest retreats to his temple. He sends a transmission to Tulan IV in order to communicate with Prime One, alerting him to the situation. Prime One is concerned over the fact that these people view Calhoun as a liberator, and promises to alert the Overlord.
Burgoyne approaches Selar in the team room to demand to know why she has chosen Calhoun to assist in her pon farr over hir. Selar insists that she finds the Captain more desirable, while inside she wonders why she still has feelings for Burgoyne. Burgoyne then propositions Selar for a threesome with her and Calhoun, and when rejected goes over to speak to McHenry. S/he then takes McHenry back to hir quarters and though McHenry doesn't realize it, s/he yells out Selar's name during intercourse.
That night, Shelby visits Calhoun in his quarters in order to once again protest both his arrangement with Dr. Selar and his plan to allow himself to be seen as the Zondarian savior. Calhoun attempts to defend himself for a little while, then tells Shelby she is being unreasonable and sends her away.
On Zondar, we are introduced to Ramed's family: his wife Talila and his son Rab. Ramed has spent his life studying the teachings of both Ontear and Suti. He believes that he, as all male members of his ancestral line, are those responsible for killing the savior in the appointed way. That is, to plunge a lightweight telescoping spear into his heart. Ramed begs forgiveness for what he knows he must do.
In Engineering, Ensign Beth alerts Burgoyne to a bizarre power drain they have detected in the engines. It isn't a typical drain, more like someone is causing the power to build up higher, then sipping some off the top to prevent overflow. They also don't know what is causing this phenomenon. They suspect that perhaps some sentient being is actually living in the engines, though this would be out of the ordinary.
McHenry reports that Excalibur will reach Zondar in about three hours. Lefler then enters and she and McHenry have a rather awkward conversation about his sexual experiences with Burgoyne. When things start to get loud, Calhoun asks them to get back to work.
Burgoyne now approaches Selar in sickbay to congratulate her on her relationship with Calhoun. Burgoyne promises s/he will stay out of the way and would never do anything to harm Selar, then uses one of her claws to prick the finger of a rather surprised and irritated Selar in order to consecrate this promise.
Calhoun, Si Cwan, and Kebron beam down to Zondar in order to begin negotiations and find themselves in the middle of the welcoming ceremony for the savior. Some statues have already been erected in Calhoun's honor. Killick tells Calhoun that by materializing, he has already fulfilled the part of the prophecy where the savior will come from the air, though Calhoun denies this.
Negotiations, led by Si Cwan, are going slowly. Neither side is particularly willing to communicate with each other, still holding onto century-old feuds. They are not even able to define in detail why the Unglza and Eenza cannot live in peace, eventually explaining it is simply because each side believes themselves superior to the other. Calhoun enters the negotiations, a day earlier than expected, and expresses his disgust to the Zondarian diplomats, Quiznix of the Unglza and Tulaman of the Eenza. He tells them they are not valuing the wishes of their people highly enough, as being out on the street just now he saw how much they desired peace, but their leaders' stubbornness is denying them this. When Quiznix and Tulaman are still unresponsive to this, Calhoun first has Kebron pick up and drop the negotiation table, and then next bash the heads of Quiznix and Tulaman together. They all then agree to get to work.
Later at the official banquet, Calhoun is concerned since he feels danger is present, but can't even come close to determining the source. After a brief argument with Si Cwan as to his negotiation style, Calhoun is escorted back to his quarters on Zondar.
Later that night, Shelby finds herself worrying about Calhoun. She tries to raise him, but fails, and alerts Kebron to the situation. Kebron insisted on being placed in the same quarters as Calhoun, but instead had to settle for the neighboring room. He crashes through the wall in order to determine Calhoun's status, and is met by a group of solemn looking Zondarians, including Killick and Tulaman, who inform him that "the savior", Calhoun, is dead.
Kebron now begins his interrogation. Tulaman assures Kebron he simply came into Calhoun's room in order to ask a question about the negotiations, and found him dead. His body was then taken away. Kebron demands to see the body, and when told that isn't possible, knocks Tulaman to the floor. He continues this process until one of the guards agrees to locate the body. Shelby now beams down to aid in this process and Selar is alerted as well. The Zondarians inform the Excalibur crew that Calhoun's body is not in the appointed place, and they have no idea where to find him. Shelby informs the crew that they will operate under the assumption that Calhoun is alive and will now search for him. They do this by putting his DNA records into a tricorder and using this as a locating device. Soleta uses a similar strategy from Excalibur. Shelby takes Kebron and security officers Hecht and Scannell on this mission, leaving Soleta in command of Excalibur.
Killick then visits Ramed's family in order to attempt to determine his whereabouts, as both Ramed and Calhoun have now disappeared. Killick notes he does not like the way this is developing.
On Alpha Carinae, the people led by Saulcram approach the high priest in order to expel him from the world, as they now wish to worship Calhoun, not Xant. The high priest tells them this is unacceptable and tries to talk them out of it, but is unable to do so. They attempt to expel the high priest, killing him in the process. The Alphans are concerned, and fearfully repeat the mantra "the body of a high priest is sacrosanct". Unfortunately, this holds true, as a lethal and extremely infectious virus is spread from the high priest's dead body, killing all the Alphans on the planet within 61 hours. A Redeemer ship arrives to investigate the situation, and the Overlord orders that they track down and capture Calhoun and the Excalibur.
Soleta becomes increasingly worried as Shelby's team has not yet reported back in. Attempts to communicate with the away team are failing, and they cannot be located due to scanner interference. Soleta orders Lefler to punch through the interference whatever way she can in order to recover the away team. She succeeds, but is only able to beam up four out of the five. Transporter Chief Polly Watson then contacts the bridge to urge them to send a medical team down immediately. Shelby and Selar are both burned, lacerated, and barely conscious. Hecht is dead, and Scannel seems to have gone insane. Kebron is presumably still on the planet. Dr. Maxwell rushes the away team down to sickbay, and hears Shelby utter just one word: "Borg".
Soleta hails Killick to ask if he knows anything about the coordinates where the away team was injured, and he responds that the away team wandered into Ontear's Realm, which was consecrated after his apparent death. Killick informs the Excalibur crew that if Calhoun is in Ontear's Realm, there will be no way to rescue him. After closing the transmission, Soleta admits she doesn't know what to do.
Burgoyne, having heard of the away team's injuries from Ensign Beth, storms into sickbay to see Selar, pushing Maxwell out of the way. S/he makes some sort of psychic contact with Selar, though is only out for a second according to Maxwell. S/he then claims s/he knows everything s/he needs to and storms off to the transporter room, ordering Watson to beam hir down to the coordinates the away team was rescued from. Soleta then enters, telling Watson to delay that order. The two have a brief power struggle, as Burgoyne outranks Soleta, but Shelby left Soleta in command of the ship. In order to slow hir down, Soleta hits Burgoyne with the Vulcan nerve pinch. When s/he comes to, Soleta is able to convince hir to take a security escort with hir, but isn't exactly thrilled to learn it will be Ensign Janos, the night shift security officer. Burgoyne goes down to Janos' quarters to retrieve him. Janos is a mugato, a gorilla-like creature covered in white fur. Janos is excited to learn of his special assignment, and quickly changes into his uniform to leave with Burgoyne. Burgoyne swears revenge against Soleta.
Calhoun wakes up, finding himself chained in a cave. He is soon greeted by the apparition of a seemingly older Zondarian, who explains to Calhoun that he has watched him be heralded as the new savior, and tells him he will be saved by neither man nor woman. Calhoun then hears footsteps approaching and tries to fake an unconscious state as not to alert his captor. This fails however as the captor, whom Calhoun identifies as Ramed, has heard Calhoun speaking to the apparition. Ramed informs Calhoun that he must kill him in order to fulfill Ontear's prophecy in the appointed way and that he will be saved by neither man nor woman. Calhoun still doesn't believe he is the prophesized savior and tells Ramed that the words could be twisted to apply to anyone, even him. Ramed claims it cannot be him, as he has no scar. Calhoun responds by lunging forward and knocking Ramed into the wall. Though he is not successful in knocking Ramed unconscious, he suffers a wound that should leave a rather impressive scar. Calhoun warns Ramed that his people will come for him while Ramed retorts that they already tried and failed, again telling Calhoun that neither man nor woman will save him. Calhoun smiles as he realizes this will be far less difficult to get around than Ramed thinks.
Burgoyne and Janos attempt to locate Calhoun but are having difficulty due to the interference. To use a more basic method of tracking, the two resolve to sniff the ground in order to track Calhoun's scent. Janos can't find any trace of Calhoun, but is able to locate the missing Zak Kebron. Burgoyne goes to check on him while Janos continues to search for the captain. Kebron is conscious but trapped. As his gravity generator has shorted out, he is not able to move in a non-Brikar gravity field. Janos tells Burgoyne he's picked up Calhoun's scent and the two tell Kebron they'll be back for him as soon as they can. As the two approach Calhoun's location, they both find themselves suffering from terrifying hallucinations. Burgoyne is back on Excalibur, in Engineering as everyone s/he has ever met yells and laughs at hir, calling hir a freak, even McHenry and Selar are admitting that they never found hir attractive. Janos thinks he's on Tyree's World, being attacked by wild Mugatos. In states of panic and rage, the two begin to fight against each other while a form of energy begins to take shape near them.
On Excalibur, Boyajian informs Soleta that a large unidentified vessel is approaching. Soleta orders Yellow Alert and calls Si Cwan to the bridge to identify the ship. Si Cwan tells Soleta that this is a Redeemer ship and to exercise caution, for if they do not accept their deity Xant, the Redeemers are likely to blow them out of space. He offers to hail the Redeemers, as the Thallonians never had any problems with them he may be able to talk them into leaving Excalibur alone. Prime One answers the hail and demands to speak to Calhoun. Soleta tells him that Calhoun is not currently available. Prime One then makes it clear he intends to destroy both Calhoun and Excalibur as Calhoun poses as the Zondarian savior, but they believe Xant to be the one and only true savior. That Calhoun did not desire to be cast in this role is irrelevant, as one planet, Alpha Carinae, already lies in ruins due to his influence. Si Cwan is aware of the viral attacks that break out after the death of a high priest and challenges Prime One, saying that Calhoun was not anywhere in the sector when the people of Oxon Three, for example, was destroyed by this virus. The Redeemers are responsible for the deaths, not Calhoun. Prime One agrees that Calhoun likely is no threat to them, but there is a chance that he is, and he is not willing to take that chance. The Redeemers then charge up their weapons. Soleta orders a Red Alert and then is relieved of command by an injured Shelby who wills herself up to the bridge.
On Zondar, Burgoyne and Janos continue to fight each other. Burgoyne then hears Selar's voice, an echo of their previous psychic encounter, but it is enough to force Burgoyne back into reality. Burgoyne takes great care in avoiding Janos, as one bite from his poison fangs will kill hir. Burgoyne then turns hir attention to the energy creature, realizing what it is trying to do to them. S/he yells back at it that s/he is not alone, and it has no power over hir. Burgoyne keeps focusing on Selar, the bond between them strong enough to resist the creature. Selar feels the strength of this bond back on Excalibur. S/he is able to force her way past the energy creature, and comes face to face with Ramed, who admits to having created the creature and tells Burgoyne to turn back as he cannot allow hir to interfere with the killing of the savior, telling hir that he will be saved by neither man nor woman. Burgoyne alerts Ramed to the fact that s/he is a Hermat and thus is neither man nor woman. Ramed is unimpressed, dismissing this as a simple word game. Burgoyne then tells Ramed to go ahead and kill hir, since s/he doesn't believe he is capable of doing such a thing. After some internal struggle however, Ramed resolves to plunge the spear into Burgoyne's chest.
Excalibur is vastly outgunned by the Redeemer ship. They are more maneuverable, but this doesn't provide much of an advantage. Coming up with a new plan, Shelby orders a course set for the Zondarian sun, which the crew reluctantly agrees to do as they begin to doubt Shelby's sanity. The Redeemer ship follows Excalibur. When Excalibur is eighteen seconds away from a collision, Shelby has a magnetic pulse fired into the sun, causing a solar flare to form. Excalibur is able to pull away in time, but the less maneuverable Redeemer ship is not so lucky and is torn apart and destroyed by the flare. Shelby yells in celebration, congratulating both McHenry and Engineering, then makes some comment about "the colors" and is barely caught by Si Cwan before she falls to the floor.
Burgoyne catches the spear before it plunges into hir, saying that while s/he didn't believe Ramed would try to kill hir, s/he wasn't just going to let him. Ramed and Burgoyne begin to fight for a little while. During this time, the same Zondarian apparition that spoke to Calhoun appears again. Ramed then feels the influence of the energy creature on him as they get farther back into the cave. He envisions all the Zondarians he knows accusing him of betrayal as his own family disowns him. Taking pity on Ramed, Burgoyne yells at the creature to stop and tries to force Ramed out of this illusion. Ramed then begins to stumble out of the illusion, but in doing so falls forward, impaling himself on his spear. The energy creature begins to dissipate and Burgoyne goes over to Ramed. Ramed is depressed over his failure, and with his dying breath begs Burgoyne to have the savior find some way to save Zondar. The Zondarian apparition, revealed now as Ontear, takes note of all this before dissipating again.
The peace conference has started again and as we join it, Calhoun is in the midst of explaining why he is not their savior and Ramed was. The same prophecy that they applied to Calhoun fits Ramed as well. Calhoun then tells the Unglza and Eenza to honor Ramed's sacrifice by surrendering to each other. Though there was much debate amongst the delegates, they ultimately choose to honor Ramed's sacrifice by pursuing peace.
Back on Excalibur, Si Cwan is still not sure whether the Zondarians will be able to uphold the peace when he receives a message from the Momidiums of Gamma Hydrinae, claiming they have a human prisoner they wish to give to Excalibur. When Si Cwan shows the picture to Lefler, she identifies the prisoner as her mother, and is particularly distressed over the fact that she thought she had died ten years ago.
Burgoyne then returns to hir quarters to find Selar waiting for her. Without any words being spoken, Burgoyne realizes Selar wishes hir to fulfill her pon farr urges.
Starships and vehicles
Races and cultures
States and organizations
- On Xenex, M'k'n'zy fathered a child whom he has never met
- Zak Kebron wears an artifical gravity generator on his belt to permit him to walk around in a normal environment. Though it is nearly impossible to break by physical means, if it shorts out he is rendered immobile.
- Robin Lefler's mother apparently died in a shuttle accident ten years ago.
- Seemingly, Janos is a uniquely sentient mugato. All gets explained in Stone and Anvil.
- This is the first full-length novel of the New Frontier Series.
- Martyr and Fire on High were also published in a rare hardcover omnibus titled Prometheans
|NF numbered novels||Next novel:|
Fire on High
|The above chronology placements are based on the primary placement in 2374.|
The Pocket Books Timeline places events from this story in two other timeframes:
500 Years Ago
Chapter 4, Section 2
19 Years Ago
A Lady of Xenex