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The First Cut Is The Deepest

Chapter Text

The road to Minas Tirith was wrought with little complications, but its travelers were required in those days to maintain vigilance, for there were always those who wished more than their station.  Gondor was a state which was reminiscent of the ancient feudal states of Europe and Japan, nearly two thousand years before Adam Reid the Third was even born.  And if he had the choice, he would not ride, or walk, even, to the venerable city, when it was well within his capacity to fly.

However, Adam had the good fortune to be riding with a Captain of Gondor.  Faramir, son of the Steward of Gondor himself, and his band of Rangers who patrolled out in Ithilien, came back to the City of Guard for provisions and the hope of homely comforts before their taskmaster sent them back out for more of the same.  It was always so.

Adam, who was briefly under Faramir’s employ as ‘Anborn’ and his Easterling foundling, Gaji, earned Faramir’s trust, though Adam and he did not always agree.  They did seem to have a similar background, through Gandalf, who was rarely bereft of those who would listen.  Adam, on Earth, read all the lore on planet Arda in his schooling years, while Faramir did the same, and then some, in Minas Tirith.  As a result, Faramir knew a bit more about Earth and the United Federation of Planets than an inhabitant of his pre-warp planet perhaps should.  However, Gandalf’s methods and ways had always been…elliptical.

 

They walked briskly, towards the abandoned city of Osgiliath, still of tactical importance to Gondor because it was their last stand.  On the trail to Osgiliath, the venerable mountain, Mindolluin, rotated around, beginning to reveal the great white city.  A great square projection, apparently carved to a sharp, knife-like edge, was surrounded by seven tiers, and at the top, a white tower pointed up to the sky. 

“That’s a beautiful city,” Adam breathed.  

“White stone,” Gaji said in agreement.  “All of our stoneworks are gold and orange, due to the sandstone of the desert.”

“I’d like to visit Rhûn also,” Adam said.  “Maybe after we defeat Sauron and the chaos dies down.”

Gaji looked at him and shook his head.  “So sure are you.”

“Oh, no.  Sauron will get defeated, if not here, then on my own turf.  He won’t stay on Arda for long.”

“Maintain your focus on the here and now,” Faramir suggested.  “See there, over the next hill.”

Adam and Gaji saw a sprawling city, straddling the River, and Adam saw the delineating mark between Gondor and Mordor.  Of Good and Evil.

Dark clouds issued over the Mountains of Shadow.  They made their way, all the way, up to the riverside.

And stopped.  From Adam’s height, he could see it clearly.

“In Ithilien, the darkness seemed incidental,” Gaji said.  “Here…It all becomes all too clear.”

“Those dark clouds are not at all incidental,” Faramir said.  “They are as much a weapon of the Enemy as his orcs and his misguided allies….no offense, Gaji.”

“None taken,” Gaji said.

Adam discreetly activated his SilverHawk armor, and trained his sensors directly ahead.  “Dark matter,” He muttered.

“Dark matter?” Faramir repeated.

“It’s…a very odd type of material,” Adam tried to explain.  “In outer space, it’s something that cannot be perceived, but makes up a sizable amount of the universe.”

“This is the darkness that Sauron threatens to cover the world in?” Faramir asked.

“Yes,” Adam replied.  “It blocks starlight—or in this case, sunlight.  If he covers enough of the planet in it, then sunlight can’t get through.  plants will die, the temperature will drop to below freezing. Every living thing on this planet will be destroyed.”

“Why would he want a world with nothing to rule over?” Gaji asked.  

“Sauron is not a man of flesh,” Faramir answered.  “He has no need of our enslavement; only our destruction.”

Adam nodded.  “Sauron is far beyond one planet.  He’s Maiar—they evolved far beyond mortal bodies long, long ago.  He practiced here—first with making orcs, then manipulating Men.  He could do the same thing with the Klingons, the Romulans…He’ll start wars in the Quadrant…weaken the powers opposed to him, divide them.  Divide and conquer.”

Faramir felt sick.  “We’re only fodder.  He waited all these thousands of years, waited for Númenor to ebb and ebb until defeating us was an afterthought.  He saw Earth across the stars, saw the Men there overcome their adversities and found a more worthy adversary, and he coveted what they had.”

Before Adam could reply, his armor made a Doot, Doot noise.  Adam looked at the heads-up display through his helmet and frowned.  “That’s odd.”

“What is it?”  Faramir asked.

“I”m getting a signal from Osgiliath,” Adam said.  It’s possible I’ve activated something with my presence.”

“What does the signal mean?” Faramir asked.

“It’s just telling me to stand by,” Adam said.  “It’s not like before.”

“Before?” Faramir said.  

“When I was in the Dead Marshes,” Adam explained, “I received a signal that said, ‘Others Detected’.  I investigated and I…found…a piece that modified my armor.”

“How many times had your armor been modified?” Faramir asked.

“Twice,” Adam said.  “The dagger that Gaji holds gave me data that it had stored.  An ancient door within Moria sharpened the wings and emblazoned the standard of Númenor upon the chest.  It was a bit more streamlined and plain before I landed.”

“If your armor is receiving a signal from Osgiliath,” Faramir said, “It is logical to assume that there is more artifacts to retrieve.  If you can put it to good use…well, any advantage will be a good one.”

“It’s possible that it’s the other way around,” Adam speculated.  “My armor might activate hidden technology in the city.”

 

“Osgiliath is a city of stone,” Faramir said, shaking his head.  “I cannot understand how anything more advanced than trebuchets and ballistas could exist.”

Adam smiled at Faramir and replied, “We’ll see.”

 

 

The gates into Osgiliath was wide open.  No one made any effort to guard them.  As Faramir’s party entered the gates, Two men, clad in light armor, walked up to him and stood at attention.

“Captain Faramir!” one said.  

“Have you held the line?” Faramir asked.

“Sir!  We hold the line at the river!”

“Losses?”  

The soldier nodded.  “We have lost two score in the last fortnight.  However, we have taken out at least two divisions of orcs in the same time.”

“Very good,” Faramir said, approvingly.  He patted the man’s shoulder.  “We shall keep up that good work.”

Adam didn’t want to wander alone, but he wanted desperately to find the source of the signals his armor had picked up.  If there was a ghost of a chance that there was something of the classical architecture—the scrolled columns, the wide arches, the smooth cobblestones of the streets—that hid anything so advanced as phase disruptors or advanced shielding.  Holding the line at the Anduin—That would be a good effort for Gandalf.

He took Faramir aside.  “Can we talk?”

Faramir nodded.  “Quickly.”

“I want to walk around a bit here.  Find out what was trying to talk to my suit.  Is there anything I need to worry about?”

“We shall set back out to Minas Tirith in forty-eight hours.  I want you to seek me out every two hours, and be discreet.  These men haven’t seen your kind of armor, and only heard of it in legend.  I don’t want fear or false hopes to spread, having them think you’re the second coming of Isildur.”

“Fine.” Adam said, with an annoyed sigh, and armored back up.

He walked the streets, and imagined how it was in its prime.  So much had been broken and smashed, it already seemed like ancient ruins.  Above him, the skies were overcast and slightly greenish.  It made Adam slightly ill at ease, as if…

But he didn’t want to think about it, not just now.

Every few minutes, his armor rang out another Doot, Doot, trying to tell him where to go, but it seemed that No matter where he went, how far he infiltrated the city, there was no obvious inlet.

Damn! he cursed inwardly.  If Joshua was here—

“Stop right there!”

Adam heard a clamorous noise from the corner he’d just turned.  He retraced his steps, and found Gaji, crouched down low, exchanging swipes of his twin daggers with someone…else.

“Gaji!” He exclaimed, and hurried over to his friend.  “What is going on here?”

Gaji leaped into the air, and turned as his feet lunged toward the stranger in the blue-and-green armor.  Adam could not see his face, obscured in a rather stylized blue mask, frozen in an exaggerated grimace.

“What is going on?” He said again. 

“He was trailing you,” Gaji said, panting.  “I think he’s an orc.”

Adam patiently analyzed the stranger.  His armor told him that there was no human-looking creature inside the samurai-looking armor before him, but it certainly wasn’t an orc’s either.

“No he’s not,” Adam sighed.  “Not quite sure what he is, but he’s as red-blooded as we are.”

“Are you Adam Reid?” The stranger asked.

Adam was wary, nonetheless.  “Yes.”

“Your face is obscured.  Let me see your face,” He told Adam.

Adam jerked his head a bit, and the blue shield covering his eyes retracted, and his face quickly was revealed.

He walked up closely to Adam, looked into his eyes.  Behind his mask, Adam saw that his eyes were brown and the flesh around it was…green?  “Your eyes…” He said.  “Dark blue, like he said.”

“Like who said?” Adam asked, impatiently

“Maybe you know the guy?” He said.  “Stocky, blond, flies through the air with the greatest of ease?”

“Joshua?!” He exclaimed.  “How do you know Josh?”

“We were comrades-in-arms at Helm’s deep,” He explained.  

“Can you trust him, Adam?” Gaji asked, still wary.

“Maybe, if he can answer this next question right,” Adam said.  “Give me your name.”

“I am Leonardo, student of ninjitsu, pupil of Splinter,” Leonardo said.  He then  revealed his face, removing the mask.  Beneath, his face was a deep forest green in the nearly-flourescent light.  

“So you’re the Leonardo that Galadriel told me about,” Adam said.  “You’re the one from Earth—Not human, though.”

“Not quite, no,” Leo admitted.  “It was a bit of a hard time, trying to get these guys to believe I wasn’t an orc.  But then I talked to one of the other Captains, and he believed me.”

“I’d like to meet him,” Adam said.  “Let’s get you to Faramir, and you can bring us all up to speed.”

 

 

A makeshift table was made.  Faramir sat at it, as did another man.  His face was fair-skinned, with pale blond hair.  He almost reminded Adam of the Galadrim, if not for his more rugged physique.

“I am Imrahil of Dol Amroth,” He said to Leonardo, Gaji, and Adam.  “Leonardo has told quite a tale, but I have sufficient belief that, at least, he believes what he says.”

“And I trust Imrahil,” Faramir said.  

Adam nodded, a guarded look on his face.  “So what happened, Leonardo?”

“I met up with Joshua on the fields of Rohan,” Leo began.  “We rode with Éowyn—the King’s niece—to Helm’s Deep.  From there, we summoned about a thousand riders and troops.  Inside the Hornburg, Joshua activated the technology inside the Rock.  We called it the Sit Room.  It told us how many troops Saruman threw at us.”

“How many?” Gaji asked.

“Ten thousand troops,” Leo replied, to Gaji’s awe. “They pressed us against the mountain for quite a while, even though Josh activated some shielding and phase cannons.  But then Saruman sent out some suicide bombers to break the barrier of the Deeping wall, to get into the caves, to surround the Burg.  Not only that, but Saruman found a way to shut down the Sit Room.  Josh flew into the Caves, saving Éowyn and the civilians, killing all the orcs that had snuck in.  After he rushed away to fetch Gandalf—”

“Gandalf?” Adam stopped Leonardo.  “You mean he’s alive?”

“Yeah, he’s fine.  Better than fine, apparently.  Anyway, after Gandalf brought two thousand troops to finish the job and the Huorns, we went to Isengard, said ‘hi’ to the walking trees and saw Saruman get fired.  Then we returned to the Sit Room, Josh activated a gateway from the Icons and…can I breathe now?”

“Breathe?” Adam said, almost cheerfully  “I think this guy deserves a drink!”

“Thanks, but no,” Leonardo said.  “The stuff I got from Rohan didn’t agree.”

“Well, I can verify that he’s telling the truth,” Adam said, nodding.  “He didn’t display any signs of duplicity, and he read very clear to me.”

“Now that we have a chance to speak of it,” Faramir asked, “When you say ‘read’, as you have in the past, what do you mean?”

“My grandmother is from a planet called Betazed,” Adam explained.  They’re telepathic, able to read thoughts.  They can keep no secrets from one another.”

“So that is what you meant.  It seems we share yet another gift.”

“Númenóreans were rumored to have telepathic powers,” Adam recalled.  You must have the gene for it.”

“Aye, myself and Imrahil,” Faramir said with a nod.  

(Why did you keep this secret?) He sent to Adam.

The element of surprise, he thought back.  I also didn’t want to foster any distrust.

“I have another question for Leo,” Adam said.  “How did Josh and you discover how to activate the technology in the Hornburg?”

“There were bronze moldings inside,” Leo explained.  “Hinged, and when we opened up, there was the buttons and switches.”

Faramir’s head jerked up, suddenly remembering. “Bronze moldings on hinges?” He said.  “There were many such rooms in dusty corners of Minas Tirith, growing up.  Many hidden chambers that Boromir and I discovered in play.”

“Then that’s what we’ll look for the first thing we get back there,” Adam said.

“Guess it’s back to wearing the mask,” Leonardo grumbled.

“Only for a little while, I promise,” Faramir said to him.

 

As the group began to disperse, a frantic soldier ran inside and exclaimed.  “On the move again—a Black Rider is among them!  He flies on a fell beast, and large boulders have crushed several along the river!”

Leonardo immediately grabbed his blades, as did Gaji.  

“Time to go to work,” Leo said, cracking his six knuckles.

 

Adam began to see a rather annoying pattern.  Movement, Black Rider, battle.  The last two times, the stakes kept getting raised.  Kept adapting to attack.  Adam almost felt as if he was himself strengthening the Nazgûl by forcing them to adapt.

He made it to the riverside, and the darkness on that other shore was startling. Adam and Leonardo looked at each other.

“It’s just like crossing over into night,” Leo remarked.

From the night side of the Anduin, a large chunk of rock emerged right at them.

A piece of masonry, it hit another building with a shattering crash loud enough to rattle Adam’s molars.  It missed them by two meters.

“Ah, shit!” Adam cursed as he ducked for cover.  Once again, the Nazgûl had returned with a new mount. 

“Damn,” Leonardo said quietly as  the fell beast glided overhead, crossing the river and aiming toward the small encampment of Gondorian soldiers.  Entwined in the beasts’s tail was another boulder, ready to be used.  “What’s its damage on the ground?” he asked, quickly.  

“Not sure.  It’s almost intangible to normal weaponry, but they hate fire,” Adam said.  “Stand back.  I’m gonna open up here.”

Leo did so and watched as Adam’s wings unfurled and he rose up into the air.

Amazing, he thought as Adam climbed and went in pursuit of the Black Rider.

 

“GET BACK HERE!” Adam exclaimed, his voice amplified through the armor.  Is there nothing this suit can’t do? Adam thought, as he shored up the space between him and his nemesis.

The beast had already hurled his rock at a small platoon of soldiers on the north riverbank flank, and crushed two to death. Adam rode a thermal patch up to rise above the Nazgûl and flared his wings.

“YOU ARE ORDERED TO CEASE AND DESIST!” Adam the crowd control director commanded.  The Nazgûl saw him and an angry scream permeated the air.

Adam came down upon him, and swung out with both his feet at the beast’s belly.  Though he connected, the beast’s personal force field was in full effect.  He literally bounced off, reeling in pain from the feedback reaction.  It took him nearly half a minute to regain control and retaliate, firing high phasers.

The beast twisted out of the way, letting Adam score only a partial hit, on the leg, which only annoyed it.  The other strike hit a nearby ruin, exploding it in a rain of debris and rubble.

It gave Adam the time to reconfigure his sensors to ‘see’ the Nazgûl.  He was still as out of phase with normal reality as he was over Ithilien and Dagorlad.  Adam was positive it was the same Dark Rider.

Now for the tricky part.

The Rider charged him, the fell beast striking out with his neck like a cobra at the still-prone Adam.   Adam ducked the first time, but could not the second.  The beast could not penetrate Adam’s armor, though the force of the impact left him winded.  Gasping for air, Adam stumbled off.

The Nazgûl laughed.

“Fool of a Man of the West,” He said in a voice that would make sandpaper smooth.  “You only play at war.  But I grow tired of these games.”

Adam got his wind back, but was infuriated by his enemy’s taunt.  In blind fury, he got up and ran at the rider’s mount.  Using the armor’s superior strength and his momentum, he attempted to tackle the beast over, and succeeded, toppling the Nazgûl from his saddle. 

“If we’re only playing, You’re IT!” He cried, airborne once more.

It was a risky tactic, getting the Nazgûl to make chase.  Adam wheeled through the light side of the city, dipping and swooping through the architecture, for what seemed like forever. Finally, the winged mount rose before him. He held the bridle to the monstrous thing with both hands.  Adam saw a face with mocking disdain behind the hood of the Dark Rider.

Now to see if he’d take the bait.  Adam had the armor train its sensors entirely on the Rider for the duration of the maneuver.

He sped to the river, crossing over into the dark side of Osgiliath.  The Rider was close behind.  Good, Adam thought.  He’s going for it.

The Dark side of Osgiliath was lit with red fires and the occasional streak of lightning in the dark-matter enhanced sky.  It didn’t last long; the dark matter consumed the electrical energy almost as it occurred, creating a short flash and a clipped clap of thunder.  Adam’s armor lit its running lights; its chestplate glowed blue, but orcs weren’t his concern.

The Nazgûl stayed behind him throughout the breadth of the city, and Adam took a turn at the other gate  He dived through the main thoroughfares, switching sides and tucking in his wings for the tight space before pulling up and turning the corner so tightly that he almost blacked out.

The Nazgûl remained.  Adam checked—the exact phase variance was nearly a third captured.  He tried more advanced tactics.

He tucked and ducked amongst the various columns and arches that were partially destroyed, like a slalom race.  The Fell Beast merely flew above it, still trained on the Starfleet Officer.   The city offered no end of possibilities of chase.  Adam made sure that he was a tantalizing target.  There would be no hiding.  And he would make sure that he had the Nazgûl’s complete attention.  He landed, in an attempt to make a small stand.

He fired once at the Dark Rider, knowing that it would barely register anything but annoyance.  He saw the ghostly white figure in his visor; the phaser beam went through him without any chance at harm.  He knew that he’d have to retune the phasers on the fly to get anything other than a chase.

The phase variance continued to fluctuate in his visor.  Still another few variables to go, but he decided to attempt to retune the phasers to an approximate level.  With the phaser reset to a rounded off figure, he readied himself to fire again.

Then he was clubbed from behind.

He was more surprised than hurt.  The blow left him dazed and disoriented; he attempted to find the direction of the attack.  He turned to find an orc in armor much more sophisticated than the mail and loincloths that the Uruk-Hai wore in his brief visit in Orthanc.  Still, this was a rather unsophisticated orc, merely grist for the mill in the war machine.  He phasered him unconscious and continued.  Unfortunately, while he did so, more orcs arrived, ostensibly under order from the Rider.  The dark matter made visibilities rather unreliable, and another dozen arrived without warning.

Adam saw them circle him, muttering things only half translated into Standard.  His chestplate’s sigil of Númenor glowed violently blue, screaming their presence to him.  Adam, in a single movement, swept them all with a single stun beam.

It barely phased them.

Adam didn’t have time to see how hard he could fire, and he could see the Nazgûl on his Dark Mount looking, taunting him once more.  

Adam realized that he was, indeed, playing at war.  He didn’t have time.  He had to fire at a sure-fire setting.

One that would kill.

With a furrowed brow, he brandished his arm and shoulder phasers and shot at multiple targets at once, hitting five within ten seconds.  As the orcs kept coming, he fired, leaving nothing but a yellow outline of an orc and nothing left, not even fumes.

Within two minutes, he was alone with himself and the Nazgûl again.

“Well played,” the Nazgûl grumbled, with amusement.  “Perhaps you are more than just your flashy armor.”

Adam drew his arm cannon and fired at the Nazgûl, square in its chest.  While not fatal, the Rider brought forth a cry of pain that Adam relished.

He rose back into the air, his wings out to their fullest.   “You’re next,” Adam said, and meant it.

With nearly ninety-five percent of the Nazgûl’s variance down, Adam launched himself at his enemy.  He threw a punch.

It just about connected.

Adam felt a palpable, satisfying presence in the hit.  After nearly two weeks of being intangible to the Starfleet officer, this was a major victory.  More out of shock of being touched than actual pain, the Nazgûl went down.

Adam didn’t give himself any time to savor the moment.  He bore down on the Rider and grabbed him by its gauntlets. With the armor’s enhanced strength, he slammed the Nazgûl against the nearest wall.  He knew that it wouldn’t faze him but Adam held him tightly.  “Where’s your relentless spirit now?” Adam said.  “Because this is how we do it in Starfleet!”

“…Interesting,” The Nazgûl rumbled.  “Not too attentive or intuitive in Star Fleet.”  With that, the Nazgûl, filtered through Adam’s visor, gave a ghostly sneer.  Adam suddenly realized that something was wrong.  Alarms in his head rang out.  His heads-up display blared “ILLEGAL DOWNLOAD” and Adam realized where he made his mistake.

The Nazgûl were Númenórean as well.

With that, Adam was pressed back from the wall, and Adam noticed that the vaguely reptilian armor covering the Nazgûl’s hands began to reconfigure itself and from behind him, something…emerged.

“Oh, no,” Adam said, quietly.  “You just winged it.”

“Quite a silly phrase,” The Nazgûl replied.  “Quite a silly race you humans are.  Unbelievable that you luck into your situations and expect victory every time simply because you seemingly hold more knowledge or power than your opponent.  How arrogant.”

“Oh Jesus,” Adam breathed.  “Oh, no.”

Like his mount, The Nazgûl’s newly formed wings were bat like, pewter, and horrible.  An equally horrible arm cannon hummed to life, and it was aimed at Adam’s head.

“It would be interesting to see the inner workings of such arrogance,” The Nazgûl said with a sneer, and the hum of his cannon became a whine.  His wings were spread broadly, like a vulture ready to feed.

A orange-red beam struck the wings. causing a flash of sparks.  The Nazgûl’s attention was distracted.

Adam drew first and fired.

The Nazgûl fell back, but did not go down.  Adam kept going with a series of kicks and punches

“Adam!”  It was Leonardo’s voice.  “Catch!”  

Adam caught it.  It was a flaming torch.  Adam smiled.

“Sometimes, my friend,” Adam said, brandishing the torch, “We live up to the hype.”  With that, he threw.

The reaction was still the same.  The flames engulfed the hood, and, somehow, the Nazgûl disappeared.

Leonardo approached him with stained, glowing-blue katana blades.  “That can’t be good news,” the turtle said to him.  “Come on—We have to go.  Get to Minas Tirith.”

“Yeah,” Adam said, unease still in his voice.  “We’d better go before they start to learn anything else new.”

 

 

Faramir waited, mounted upon a steed, with others.  Adam took a horse, as did Leonardo.  Imrahil pulled his horse next to Adam and told him.  “You bought us precious time.  Thank you.”

“Don’t thank me yet,” Adam said, grabbing the reins of his horse.  “The Rider grabbed my armor…took something from it.”

“Does your armor still function as it should?” Faramir asked.  

“Yeah,” Adam replied, “But don’t be too shocked the next time you see a Nazgûl, and he doesn’t need a winged beast.”

 

Adam’s reprieve didn’t last long.  The two captains, the turtle, and Adam raced across the wide, bushy field from Osgiliath to Minas Tirith.  The white city towered before Adam.   He couldn’t even see the top of the citadel from its monstrous, rocky keel.  Adam wondered if it had been carved to such a sharp point, or if it was a fluke of nature somehow.

Then the boulder crashed before him, spooking his mount.  Adam was thrown from the horse, as was Faramir.  Leonardo was already off the horse, his swords out.  Adam stopped himself.  He was torn: did he dare armor up, right there, without knowing what else he could give the Nazgûl?  He didn’t have a contingency plan.

Damn, Adam thought.  Josh would have had a contingency plan!

Fortunately, someone else had a plan.

White light flashed from ahead, and Adam froze as he saw.

A rider in white on a white horse, wielding a white staff.  An illuminating light shone on the Nazgûl.  Adam saw it in a clear light now.  It hung suspended in air, its bat wings stock still.

It couldn’t bear that spotlight.  It screamed in fury, pointed directly at Adam, and fled.

Adam didn’t move.  Faramir was helped to his feet by Imrahil and Leonardo, and another man Adam couldn’t recognize.  

The man in white leaned over Adam and asked, “You seem to have hit your head, young man.”

“Um, yeah,” Adam stammered.  The ground felt liquid, all of a sudden.  “I think I hit my…”

Adam collapsed with a thud.

 

Leonardo rushed over to him and Gandalf.  “How fast does Shadowfax go, anyway?” he said, with a whistle.  

“Never mind that now.  We need to get back behind the gate.  We don’t have much time.”

Leonardo looked behind him.  While the Ringwraith had left, the darkness on the horizon seemed to encroach even further.

It didn’t appear to be avoidable.

Chapter Text

The hills and dales of Rohan were familiar, now, to Joshua Maurice Reid.  He flew through them with ease as he made his way to the camp of the King of Rohan.  Théoden returned to Edoras, to listen for word, for beacon, for Gondor to ask for aid.  Gamling, he knew, was on his way to Edoras, fast behind him.  

Josh didn’t know about his friend and superior officer, Adam Reid III, but for him, he stood with Rohan.  The people took to him well enough, probably because he was more than able to hold his own in the battles that he had endured.  His fair complexion and hair and blue eyes also allowed him to blend in a bit, if not his modest height and stocky frame.   And then there was his mode of transportation.

His own genetically unique body.

Because his lineage could trace their ancestry to the beginnings of the Eugenics wars of the late 1990’s, it also gifted him with the extraordinary ability to fly using a biogenic field. It had served him well.

“Come on, Harrowdale,” he muttered. He gave himself the better part of a day to depart from the Hornburg to meet up with the King’s group.  However, Edoras came up ahead.  Éowyn should have arrived there by now, he thought.  He circled the capital of Rohan once and landed, once again, before the Golden Hall of Meduseld.  A twinge of loss hit him, because for a split second, he expected the endearing, rather snaggle-toothed grin of Háma coming up upon him, greeting him.

But Háma was dead.  He was killed defending the King, leaving behind a widow, and a young son, Haleth, behind.  Haleth survived the battle at Helm’s Deep, and was still there, so far as Josh knew.

He looked around for Éowyn.  She liked to oversee the hill from the porch in front of the doors of the Hall.  Not there.  

He walked down the steep stairs down into the rather drab houses, made of a darkly varnished wood.  A few women and elderly men walked through, but Josh recognized a few of the girls from Éowyn’s personal attendants.

“Anyeta,”  he called out to one of the closer girls.  “Hey! Anyeta!”

“Oh!  Lord Joshua!” she exclaimed, with surprise. 

“Have you seen Éowyn, chere?”  He asked.

“The Lady?  Oh, I have not.  She attends to her own concerns, where I cannot relay.”

“When was the last time you saw her?  The last place?” He asked.

“Forgive me, Lord, I cannot seem to recall,” Anyeta lamely explained, and hurried away.

The next three maids-in-waiting were no better help.  They didn’t know where she was, she was somewhere else…in some cases, they outright lied to him.

So that when Gamling and his men finally appeared 

“What is goin’ on?” 

He stomped up to Gamling and frowned.  Meduseld, and Edoras in general, was still in turmoil after being evacuated to Helm’s Deep.  The siege and battle that had happened still kept people rather shaken and jumpy.  Even so, Joshua was now known.

“Lord Joshua,” one middle-aged mother said, urgently, as he walked through the narrow Edoras streets. Her daughter, Graeta, looked up at him.  “Take this amulet, please!”

He looked at the trinket, which looked handmade, but lovingly etched in brass.  Her face was streaked with tears.  “No, hon,” he said, placing it back into her hands.  “Keep this for yourself.  You don’t owe me anything.”

“These times, Lord,” She said, pressing it back to Josh, “These times are unsure.  What care I to this?  This gave my husband luck and good crops, or so he said.  Please, take it as a gift.”

Josh nodded and took it, patting her hand.  “Thank you.”  He placed it in his backpack where several similar tchotchkes, including an item from Háma’s widow, were placed.

“It is our way,” Gamling, an older Rider, explained.  “Gifts are given to those on their way to battle.  News travels fast of your merits.”

“Yeah, but no one wants to tell me where Éowyn is.  Damn it!  She might be the next person in line to the throne!  Who’s keeping an eye on her?”  Josh’s eyes glittered in anger.

“She carried a number of Items from Harrowdale that was to go back to the armory,” Gamling said.

“The armory?” Josh said quietly.  “I’m going.  Alone, Gamling.  You keep an eye on these ladies.”

 

 

 

He walked into Meduseld, past the familiar tapestries in the hall.  Down a narrow flight of steps, down another hallway, and there the heavy door to the armory lay.   Josh pushed it back, and found pretty much what he expected.  

She was partially dressed in Rohirrim armor.  A wide hauberk swung below her hips as she buckled various other pieces of standard, unmarked armor. Éowyn looked at him with almost murderous surprise, then defiance.  “I know what you would tell me, Joshua!”

Josh threw his backpack down with a loud, jangling thud.  “How in the hell can you be so selfish?”

“All those who can, must fight!” Éowyn insisted.  “I thought you understood!  Why else tell me about those women from your world that did so?  Why did you tell me about Joan of Arc?”

“They didn’t leave their people without a leader, Éowyn!” Josh countered.  “Woman or Man, how wise is it for everyone from your house to go to war?  You don’t know what your end will be there!”

“Then perhaps you can persuade my brother to stay behind,” Éowyn sneered.  Josh snorted; that wasn’t likely.  “Yes, exactly!”

“What is this about?” Josh asked.  “I don’t understand you, Éowyn, I really don’t!”

“No, you don’t!” she cried.  “You don’t understand my heart!  No…no one does.”

“It’s Aragorn, isn’t it?” Josh said, suddenly realizing.  “He went out a separate way, and he told you something.  He refuted you, didn’t he?”

“What do you know?” she snarled, continuing the strapping on of armor.  “You come in, you breeze through all your troubles here, you swoop in.  Your perfect life back in your world, where women do as men do—how cruel you are!”

“You’re bein’ irrational,” Josh said.  “You’re letting your-your personal feelings cloud your judgment.  You need to do what’s best for your people!”

“Sit here, on that throne up there, pining away for Uncle and my Brother, leaving them to the fates?” Éowyn sneered.  “And yes—Aragorn will not have me—”

Can not,” Josh corrected.

“But I know that I am more than I was meant to be,”  Éowyn stressed.  “I am steel that can withstand the battles to come—I need only be tested for the strength that I have always had.”

“You want a test?” Josh asked.  “You want tested?  Okay, lady.  I got a test for you.”

“What do you mean?”

“There’s only one way you’re getting out of here,” Josh said, folding his arms.  “And that’s through me.”

And she descended upon him with what seemed to be the fury of all the women scorned in the universe.  Sword in hand, she held it above her head, and swiped it down upon him, crying murderously.

Josh held the blade.  His hands glowing, protecting him from both the sharpness of the sword and the momentum of her throw, he deflected her attack.  The sword fell to the floor with a clear metallic clang.

“I’m sorry it has to be this way, lady—” he didn’t get to finish his regrets, as she plowed into him.  He lost his breath, unable to inhale as she tackled him into the door.  The added mass of her armor added to Josh’s pain.  He only wore a simple leather tunic, his Starfleet comm badge displayed over his heart.  He crumpled to the floor, and didn’t move.

“No,” Éowyn said softly.  She knelt down to him.  “I’m the one who is sorry.”  Josh continued to struggle with his lungs.  Éowyn placed her helm upon her head.  Its guards masked her eyes and cheeks.  Her golden hair was well hidden.  “Please, honor my victory,” she said.  “And if, by chance, we meet in the battle to come, do not be my adversary.  We fight well together.  Know me as Dernhelm,” She said, placing her sword into its sheath as she walked over him.  “Farewell, Joshua Maurice.”

 

It took several more minutes before Josh could get up.  “Agh,” He muttered.  “Never shoulda told her about rugby.”

 

When Josh finally got himself back up, he checked himself for broken ribs and sprained tendons.  He was a bit battered, but he could go on.  The Armory.  He looked through the rows of swords and armors and other treasures of war, and sighed.  Éowyn could not be denied.  Perhaps, he supposed, she could not be stopped either.

He wasn’t really looking at the swords, with their distinctive handles that blended into the blades in a chunky way.  Or the armor, which were all, from the simplest designs to the royal red leathers, horse-motif’ed.

Then he saw them.

A white vest.  A white helmet.

His SEWG vest and helmet!

He held up the helmet. looking at it in amazement and slight befuddlement.  “How…?”

“It would seem that you need it now.”

He turned around in pure surprise, his left hand blazing.  He was greeted by an Elvish face, with long, dark hair, upswept brows and delicate, pointed ears.  The youthful face indicated that it was not Elrond, but Elladan, his son.

“You,” Josh breathed.  “Elladan, my God….”

“You have had quite a run,” Elladan said, with amusement, “Going without your Star Fleet armor.  My father thought that you would have no further need to hide your true nature, now that the war for Middle-earth has begun in earnest.”

He regarded the helmet.  “I don’t plan on going into orbit any time soon, Elladan.”

Elladan’s chin rose up.  “What the glass of your helmet is made of can withstand more blows from sword and bludgeon than many steel and iron helms, Joshua Falling-star.”

“That might be true,” Josh replied.  “Transparent aluminum’s beyond you folks…for now.”

“You will take that which has been returned to you?” Elladan asked him.

Josh smiled.  Éowyn would take her own destiny into her own hands, regardless as to what seemed reasonable or logical.  Adam, wherever he was, was blazing his own trail.  God willing, so was Leo.

“On behalf of the Lord of Rivendell, who took my Helmet, and the Lady of Lórien, who took my vest…yes.  I will take them back to me now.”

He removed his leather vest but left the mail hauberk on.  He placed the vest over it, making sure that the openings at the torso, neck, and arms were snug.  He then placed the helmet in place, and it locked in.  The life support kicked in, bringing in fresh, cool air.  Inside, a light illuminated his head.

“Is Elrohir here?” He asked the elf.

Elladan nodded.  “We traveled with the Dunedain of the North.  We sensed that we needed to…bolster the Rohirrim.”

Josh wasn’t quite sure how that worked, but after everything that he’d seen in that planet, he believed the elf.  

“I need to get to Théoden.  Do you know where he’s camped at?”

“They make their way to Dunharrow,” The elf said.

“We’ll go there,” Josh said.  “Now.”

“As you wish,” Elladan replied.

“Grab on, then,” Josh said, shrugging his shoulders, making sure that his vest was secure.  “You’ll give me directions en route.”

Elladan’s Elvish veneer of calm and detachment was temporarily disrupted.  “On you?”

“I promise, I don’t buck, and I don’t spook,” Josh said, smiling as the elf continued to follow him out of the Hall.

As they reached the porch, Gamling approached them.  “Did you find her, Joshua?” He asked.

“Not quite, Gamling,” Josh replied.  “But I have to believe that she’s no safer than the rest of us.  Théoden is on his way to Dunharrow, according to my good friend Elladan, here.”

“Yes?” Gamling’s said, expectantly.

“I’m givin’ him a ride over there, to meet back up with his brother and the Dunedain.”  He added, “We’ll see you at the rendezvous point.”

Gamling nodded, and began to walk away, until Josh stopped him:

“Hey!”

He turned around and asked, “Something else?”

Josh’s smile was puckish as he asked, “Weren’t you going to say something about my new outfit?”

Gamling appraised his SEWG vest and helmet, pursed his lips, and stated, “It’s missing something.”

 

 

Buffi K’gar hauled the heavy bag to the corner of her room.  

“I don’t care if it’s a priceless artifact, Father!”

“Buffi, there has to be a perfectly rational explanation for what happened,” Hy’uffi K’gar said, trying to catch up to her pacing.  The archaeologist father of the young Cainian had rushed back to Earth shortly after his wife told him about Buffi’s strange encounter with the dark stone left on her end table.  When he found her, she was nearly frantic with worry.

“I know what I saw!” she exclaimed.  “I…saw things.  Horrible things.  Now…you’re an archaeologist.  You know that there’s been objects that can do these sort of things!  What is it, father?  What is that thing?”

“Buffi, Buffi, you must calm down,” Hy’uffi repeated, then took up the bag. “This…is called a palantír.”

“Okay,” Buffi said. “It’s Númenórean.  What does it mean?”

“These were found at many of the Númenórean outposts that we’ve dug up on the theoretical outposts of their space.  They seemed to be made of materials that, quite frankly, we’re not sure what they are.  But they were all placed on very prominent pedestals, in the most inner sanctums of the installations.”

“But…what I saw!”  Buffi cried.  “I told you what I saw!”  She turned angrily to him and demanded, “What were they used for, Dad?”

“We think they were used for communication purposes,” Hy’uffi said.  “But they also have strange temporal properties that we’ve only seen with the Guardian…”

“The Guardian of Forever?” Buffi said.  

“You said that…that he was older in your vision.  That you saw an older version of your brother in the vision.”

“But the three horrible things that I saw first…the three demons, that eye, looking right into me…!”

 

The Palantír rolled out of the bag and onto Buffi’s bed.  It was black when she stuffed it into the bag, but now showed the red, glowing veins.

“That’s what it looked like!” Buffi exclaimed.  “Right there, Dad—look into it and It’ll show you!”

Hy’uffi picked up the palantír and looked into it with awe.  “The various palantíri were able to connect to each other, and were placed on high pedestals to better see from them,” he told his daughter.   

“What if one of them fell into the wrong hands?” Buffi asked.  “What if they were abused?”

Hy’uffi considered.  “It could manipulate the truth…twist it.  Show someone an image with a bias.”

“What do you see in it, Dad?” she asked.

“I see…A group of three tall ships, painted black, headed for a harbor…in the distance is a towered city.  Now, I see a pair of old, withered, human hands, burning.”  He put the palantír down.

“What does it mean?”  She asked.

“The city in the distance looked like Minas Tirith, on planet Arda.  It’s widely believed that the Númenóreans originated on that planet and their descendants live there.  The burning hands…?” He shook his shaggy Cainian head.  “Your guess is as good as mine.”

“Arda,” Buffi said quietly.  

“Does it ring a bell?” Hy’uffi asked.

“I was summoned to Arda, like a month ago, by Gandalf of all people.  I of course refused, but…”  She placed the palantír back in the sack.  “Something is definitely happening there.”

“If Gandalf is on Arda, then maybe we can contact him via the palantíri.  He knew how to use them very well, but he always seemed reticent about it, when I showed him this stone.”

“And why would we want to contact him?” Buffi asked, suspiciously.  

“Your mother and I have tried to contact him ever since he sent that communique. Starfleet will not give us any answer.  The Starship Hanson’s been missing out there for almost three months.  His own godson is missing.  Buffi,” Hy’uffi concluded, “Something very crucial is happening out there.”

“It’s a closed world, Father,” Buffi sniffed  “What do we care what happens there?”

“With a mind as closed as that, Buffi,” Hy’uffi warned, “Why even bother going back into Starfleet?”

Buffi shrugged and replied, “I have to do something, don’t I?”

 

“I designed the King’s banner,” Gamling explained to Josh as he etched the stylized horse symbol onto his helmet.  “I was a young buck, then.”

They both held the helmet away from themselves to get a good look at his handiwork.  Josh nodded.  “Looks good.  But, come on now, Gamling!  I’m holding you back.  Elladan, are you awake?”

“Of course,” The elf replied, calmly.  

“Well, hop on, pal, because this tram’s headed for Dunharrow.  All aboard!”  He hollered.  

The elf put his arms around Josh’s waist as he put his helmet back on.  Gamling looked on as the Starfleet officer lifted off with the elf in tow, watching as the elf  stood upon Josh’s back as he leveled off, giving the appearance of a bizarre surfing enthusiast.  

Gamling watched until they disappeared from the horizon and made his way to the stables.  He got his horse, a beautiful, strong mare, and got her ready.  The saddle and bridle was of a different, more exotic type than the other Riders, or even that of the elves. The saddle had, stitched into it, a design of a desert land filled with mesas and cactus and a rider with a wide brimmed hat waving in the sun.

“Nerene,” He said to the horse, “If we get out of this alive, I just might introduce you to your namesake.”

 

 

Josh and Elladan reached Dunharrow just at dusk.  dozens and dozens of tents were set up all around the mountainside.  As he removed his helmet and placed it under his arm, Josh saw a narrow passageway between two large rock faces in the mountain and it made him shudder.  Gray and misty lay ahead and no horse would stay near it.  Elladan made his way to the tent which housed several people which Josh knew.

Elrohir was among them, as were Aragorn and King Théoden.

Elladan’s brother stood up first and addressed him.  “Joshua of New Orleans.  You have received your gifts, then.”

“You bet, sir, an’ with honor,” he replied.  

Théoden looked at his horse sigil.  “You choose to bear my banner upon your armor,” he said, quietly.  

Josh turned around and presented the helmet to the King.  “That’s right.  Right here, right now, I’m pledging my service to Rohan, and to her King.  I ride for you.”

Aragorn looked at the King, and nodded.  Théoden replied, “Then it is no labor to bestow this honor upon you.  Aragorn goes to a place that we cannot follow, for a time.  And my son is no longer here.  You came,” He told Josh with a grim look on his face, “When there was no hope for me, and brought it to my sister-son and sister-daughter.”

Éomer came into the tent, and upon sight of Josh, clasped him in a friend’s embrace.  “My King, has he been told?”

Théoden looked slightly irritated; his preamble had been interrupted, but shook his head.  “Ask him.”

“Joshua Falling-star,” Éomer asked, “Will you take my cousin’s place as Marshal of the Riddermark?”

Josh’s mouth, he knew, had dropped upon the request, and he attempted to fix it.  “Marshal—me?  What have I done—how do I deserve the right to become the King’s leader?  I’m an outsider here.”

“You are not the first outsider who has found my counsel,” Théoden reminded the Starfleet lieutenant.  “My oldest counsel is not from these lands.  My most recent counsel was not, either, but I believe my judgment is more sound.  Is it not so?”

Aragorn spoke.  “Both Gamling and Erkenbrand would be honored to have you among their ranks.”

Éomer nodded, vigorously.  “Let my approval be known here also!”

“Who am I to question the will of the King of Rohan?” Josh replied.  “I accept.”

The troops put down early, and Josh found himself in Théoden’s tent, a guest to the King’s hospitality.  The King’s mood was not exactly melancholic, but certainly very thoughtful.  He had filled Joshua in on what had happened with the palantír, Gandalf, and Pippin.

They sat on roughly hewn cushions in the tent, eating Joshua’s leftover stew.  He ate quietly, stealing glances at the King, who spoke very little himself.

“Kind of quiet,” Josh said, taking another spoonful.

“Not much to speak about,” Théoden replied.

“Okay,” Josh said.  “I wish I could contribute more myself.  Usually—that is, my routine on the Hanson—I’m usually doing like five things at once.”

“Tell me more about yourself, then,” Théoden asked.

The Starfleet officer turned his head, his cheeks burning a bit.  “Well, you know I enjoy cooking.”

“Surely that’s not all,” Théoden prodded.

“I enjoy the martial arts—the same fighting technique that Leonardo used.  I find it helps me clear my mind and gives me a…balance.  Karate, Aikido, Judo—lots of different disciplines.”

Théoden nodded.  “All that I have learned about you has told me that you value improving yourself, of learning more.  Is this true of everyone from your Earth?”

“Mostly,” Josh said.  “I must be one hell of an alien to you, aren’t I?”

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“The Rohirrim value strength, horses, and honor.  You remind me of a race of people called Klingons, in many ways.”  Josh smiled.  “Then again, there’s been many horse-loving people on earth, as well.  A horse or a mount is one of the first working relationships that we humanoids develop with nature.  We value them as commodities and treasure them as companions.  Kindred souls, if not intellects.”

“I’m sure you’re wondering why I’m asking these questions,” Théoden said, taking a spoonful of stew.  “Over this last month, having you in with our struggle, I have grown fond of you…”

Joshua’s cheeks burned brightly.  “Sir, I-I’m flattered, I really am, but I really do prefer the intimate company of women so…” He attempted to make a discreet exit.

“Intimate company…?” Théoden said, quietly, trying to understand.  He had made Josh uncomfortable, that much was certain.  Then he realized.  “Wait, no, no!”

Josh stopped in mid rise.  “No?”

“No!  Please, sit back down,” Théoden made placating motions with his hands as Joshua sat back down on his cushion.

“Firstly, men do not discuss that openly.  Secondly, My hopes are with you and my sister-daughter…”

“Éowyn?” Josh nearly yelped.  “Me and her?  I, uh, think you’ve got the wrong idea about us.”

Théoden’s glance was suspicious.  “I have failed her, you know.  Éowyn.  She looks so much like my sister, it’s almost like looking back through the years.  She and Éomund, in their mortality, placed their children in my hands.  And, in the end, Gamling and Háma proved more true fathers to them than myself.  I only have myself to blame. But maybe now I can make amends.  Joshua—”

“If you’re trying to betroth Éowyn and myself, Théoden, the answer’s gonna have to be no.  Éowyn will only follow the dictates of her own  heart.”

Théoden chuckled.  “I know that.  Hard-headed girl.  Chases after the Dunedain while the Starfleet officer is the better match.  But no matter.  I want you to promise me, Joshua, that if the worst happens—if the world is taken by the Dark Lord—If we lose—You must get Éowyn to safety.  Take her to your Earth.  And make sure she’s happy.”

“I’m sure that I can convince Captain Wilson to take on a passenger…under those circumstances.”  

Théoden smiled and stretched himself, with a straining voice.  “Now, I think it’s time for me to retire.”  a short beat of time, then he asked, “Would you care to share my tent?”

Josh looked at him with amusement and suspicion.  “Are you sure?”

“My intentions are pure, I assure you!” Théoden replied, laughing.

 

 

 

When Josh woke up and poked through Théoden’s tent, mist clouded most everything.

Everything, save for that one haunted path.

Joshua considered it, for a moment, and launched himself through the gray crevasse.  It went by quickly, with deep green grasses and lichens clinging to the vertical rocks. when he got to the end, he found Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli, getting ready to enter a foreboding cave.

“Hey!” he exclaimed, causing all three to turn around.

“Where we go, laddie, ye cannae follow,” Gimli warned.

“You know where you are needed, Joshua,” Aragorn said.

“I know,” Josh replied, nodding.  “I just wanted to see you three off.”

“You will see us in Minas Tirith,” Legolas reminded him.  “You, your kin, and Leonardo all will.”

“I’ll hold you to that,” Josh said.  With that, Aragorn and Legolas entered.

Gimli remained, and a puzzled expression plagued his face.

“This is a thing unheard of!” he exclaimed, looking at Josh with alarm.  “An elf will go underground where a Dwarf dare not!”  Josh looked on, his expression bemused, and said nothing.  Gimli realized he had an audience, and grumbled, “Oh, I’ll never hear the end of it,” and rushed in, as a wind blew out of the cave.  

 

Josh looked away as it blew, and when it subsided, he turned to rejoin the camp. As he did, something shiny attracted his attention.  He picked the object up, and studied it.  “Looks Númenórean in design,” he muttered.  “If it is, it probably holds a bigger secret.  I’ll save this for when I get to Minas Tirith.”

 

When he arrived back to camp, Théoden had already gotten his horse saddled and readied.  Josh’s horse, Fréalaf, stood next to Snowmane, the King’s steed.  

“Hey, sweetie,” he said to the mare as he attended to his horse. 

“They took the Paths of the Dead,” Théoden said behind him.  “Because they would obey the heir of Isildur.”

Josh nodded.  “Stranger things have happened.  I found something there.  Might be of use to Adam.” He chuckled and looked to the King.  “Sort of gives me an incentive to catch up with him, don’t it?”

“We still have a long way to go to get to Gondor,” Théoden reminded Josh.  “Would you ride with us?”

“I’m your marshal, sir,” Josh replied.  “Not a scout.  True, I can get to Gondor faster than any of you, but…When you ally yourself with people, you don’t abandon them to the unknown.  It’s not human, it’s not Starfleet…And it’s certainly not Reid to do so.”

Théoden clapped him on his shoulder.  “Excellent.  But I would see you fly to Gondor.

“It’s not all plainlands from here to Minas Tirith,” Théoden told Josh, as they began to saddle up.  “There’s a small, young forest, Druadan in the way and several small rivers to cross, and possibly ford.  There’s also another tribe of Wild Men to consider.”

“Like the Dunlendings?” Josh asked.

“We don’t know,” Théoden replied.  “We don’t know as much of the Woses Tribe as we do of the Dunlendings.”

“If we can attempt to forge an alliance or an agreement of nonaggression, they might help us in some fashion,” Josh suggested.

“Do you really believe that?” Elfhelm asked, skeptically.

“I’m a Starfleet officer,” Josh reminded the Marshal.  “The ability to negotiate diplomatically is part of what we do.”

“Then we’ll leave them to you,” Théoden said, with a decisive nod.

On Fréalaf, Josh looked ahead.  Minas Tirith, and a decisive battle, lay ahead.  He would have to gather facts on the go, to be the most help to Adam and Gandalf and Leonardo and thousands of Gondorians.  

To his right, a Rider, seemingly carrying a rather young Rider, wearing a face-concealing helmet, gave him a meaningful glance.  Josh, knowingly, returned it.

“Have we all, then, been summoned?” Théoden asked.

“All who can, have come to fight,” Josh replied, putting his helmet on.  “All who follow you, Théoden King, follow you now.”

“Then now, we Riders ride,” Théoden said, loudly.  “As we have for generations past.  For we are the Men of the Mark, the Heirs of Eorl, of Brego, and we now Ride!  Ride to Gondor!

And ride they did.

Joshua, for his part, lifted up above Fréalaf, far, far above the Riders.  He discerned fifty, then a hundred, then a thousand riders.  Soon, it became clear that from horizon to horizon, the Riders of Rohan were there, a presence that, regardless of the outcome, would make themselves known and heard.  Leveling off, he rode apace of the Riders and flew on, above them, watching over them all.  

He would watch over them all.

Chapter Text

Adam Reid the Third awoke on a cot, tried to get up, and groaned.  His headache was earned from landing on it.  He landed back down, his hand automatically rising to massage the ache.

“Oh!” a high-pitched voice cried out, and Adam heard scampering.  Adam attempted to get up again, and saw a chalice filled with water.  On the table was a pair of pills.  Adam recognized them.  Starfleet standard field medicine for mild trauma.

“You’d better choke those down,” a reassuringly familiar voice said.  “You suffered a rather nasty concussion.”

Adam took the pills, and swallowed the water, which was surprisingly cold.

“Mountain water,” Gandalf explained.

“Well,” Adam said.  “Where do we begin?”

“The machinery is moving faster and faster,” Gandalf said.  “The Rohirrim won against Saruman and he has been eliminated from immediate concern.  However, we discovered the Orthanc stone in Isengard, and it was used…rather rashly.”

“A palantír?” Adam said.  “Where’s Josh?”

“Still in Rohan, so far as I know.  I departed Rohan before I could give him any parting orders, so great was my need for haste.  But I suspect that he will arrive before the host of Rohan; a harbinger, if you will.”

“No, Leonardo was his harbinger,” Adam said.  “We need to talk to Denethor.”

“I’ve already spoken to him.  I don’t recommend doing so without my counsel,” Gandalf said.

“What does that mean?” Adam asked.  He stood up, the headache dissipating.  He walked over to the basin and splashed more water on his face.

“I’m not sure,” Gandalf said, his voice troubled.  “There’s something wrong…It makes me wonder…”

“Where’s Leonardo and Gaji?” Adam asked.

“They are well.  Leonardo is in the temple, meditating.”

Adam pulled on his Starfleet uniform.  “I think I know where that is.”

“I don’t suppose you’ll be wearing a Starfleet uniform in Minas Tirith,” Gandalf said, without a trace of scorn.

“No,” Adam said, and took his SilverHawk buckle, placed it upon his abdomen, and activated his armor.  “Not when this fits in better.”  Adam walked out of the small chamber, but not before turning back to his godfather and telling him, “Oh, and when all of this is over, we have to have a talk.”

 

 

 

The temple was close to where the tombs of past kings and Stewards were interred.  Catacombs were also placed within the mountain, dug quite deep into Mindolluin.  Within the temple, the marble of the building was softened with pastel blue and pink fabrics.  Many penitent worshipers sat upon mats, offering silent prayers to the Valar.

None really gave the green, carapaced creature in the blue robe any notice.  

Leonardo sat, in the lotus position, emptying his mind of thought.  He om’ed and breathed.  The temple was very calming, he noticed right away.  Something that smelled like sandalwood was burned as incense, and a touch of potpourri lingered in the back of his mind, though he tried to push those perceptions out as well.  It was harder than it had been before, harder than when he was in the Zen section of their subterranean lair, where Splinter-sama meditated and taught them to do the same.

When he was sufficiently emptied, he sent his query out into the universe:

 

Why am I here?

 

The answer came back rather quickly: Because you serve a purpose.

 

What does that mean?  He thought.

 

You serve a purpose, where you are, right now, the answer continued.  Through all of your trials on this planet, you have served a purpose, and that purpose is obvious.  Whatever Sauron is, whatever he wants, is wrong.  You know what right and wrong is, and you know that what you are doing is right.

 

But I’m all alone.  I need my brothers with me!

 

You are Leonardo.  You are not the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in its whole.  True, when the four of you are together, there’s a magic there.  But you, being Leonardo, is enough.  And, you will find, that you, Adam, Joshua, Gaji, the Beast-master, and all the others you’ve met in your travels on Arda, together, have a magic of its own, that you need not understand.  It simply is.

 

Clarity.  Then I must simply be.  And Leo realized that the questioner and the answer were both himself.

His answers were within him all along.

 

As he came out of his reverie, Leonardo noticed a suit of red and gunmetal armor coming toward him.  He smiled.  “Good to see you up and about so soon,” He said to Adam.

“Deep thoughts?” Adam asked.

“Just a little bit of mental floss,” Leo said.  “It helps me focus.”

“I know what you mean.”   Adam looked Leo in the eye.  “Let’s get up to see Faramir.”

“What about Gaji?” Leo asked.  

“It’s doubtful they’ll let an Easterling anywhere near Denethor…not alive, anyway.  I know you can defend yourself.  Let’s go!”

The grapples were quickly placed upon Adam’s armor, and with a quick jolt, they burst up, up, several tiers to the top.  It indeed felt like the bow of a great ship; surely the Númenóreans wanted a nautical feel to their premier city.  The edges of the citadel were lined with white-coated iron.  Dead ahead was the royal house.  There lay the residence of the Steward.  Cobalt blue paint and silver coating decorated the house.  To its right was the gleaming white tower of Ecthelion.  It rose up nearly five hundred feet.

“It’s a bit of a switch from Meduseld,” Leonardo remarked.  “More uptown.”

“Heh,” Adam replied.  “If you say so.”

“I’m telling you,” Leonardo maintained.  “It’s everything I’ve got within me to keep from singing the theme from ‘The Jeffersons.”

As they moved toward the house, Leonardo noticed four guards, at four-square positions, guarding what looked to be a dead, ashen tree.  Their armor was blue, more stylized than the typical armor that Leo had seen within the Gondorian ranks.  Their helmets were highly ornamental, with actual seagull feathers branching out on both sides.  

“A bit fancy for guarding a dead tree,” he remarked.

“That’s not just a tree,” Adam explained.  “That’s the tree.  The one that’s on all their symbolism and armor and all of it.”

“But this tree’s dead,” Leo maintained.  “I don’t understand.”

“We don’t have time,” Adam said.  “But I’ll just tell you that these guards will protect this tree to the last.”

They moved around the guards, trying to maintain a respectful distance, when one of the guards moved toward Adam.  silently, it took his gauntlet in hand.

Adam was confused until a message appeared within his heads-up display.  

 

AWAITING NEW PROGRAMMING.

 

“New programming?” Adam asked out loud.  He glanced at the guard, with great scrutiny.  He gently took himself out of the hands of the guard and glanced at his eyes.  His face was covered in a velvet mask, seemingly to show that he was unable to speak when on duty.  But on closer inspection, Adam noticed that the eyes of the guard were…wrong.

They were, literally, painted on.  Adam couldn’t believe what he saw.  He pulled the mask away from the guard’s mouth.

 

There was no mouth.  

There wasn’t any skin tone either. It was a smooth pewter surface.  Near the neck, he could see complicated servos and myoform extensors.  

The guard was an automaton.  A robot.

And the display continued.  AWAITING NEW PROGRAMMING.

Adam took the android’s hand again and said, “Stand by.”

 

PERMISSION TO UPGRADE? was the new message.

 

“Um, is your hardware compatible?” Adam asked.

 

CHECKING….

Leonardo walked up to Adam.  “Is he bothering you?” he asked.

“I don’t even know if it has a gender,” Adam told him, and knocked on the robot’s chest.  It resonated with a deep Pang, Pang sound.

“Wow,” Leo said.  “Now that is awesome.”

“It’s uploading an armor upgrade from me,” Adam explained.

“I thought you were kind of touchy about that sort of thing?” Leo asked, suspicious.

“Well, it asked relatively nicely,” Adam explained.  “And if one guy with wings and mounted phasers is a good thing…”

“That’s all well and good, as long as you’re able to control them.”

“Denethor will thank me later.”  Adam said.  “Just what everyone’s said, has me worried.”

“Denethor’s a hard case, is what I understand.  Hard man.”

 

UPGRADE COMPLETE.  With that. the android guard walked back into place.  The other four guards walked up to the first one and each grabbed his wrist.  As they did so, Leo and Adam watched in fascination as their armor changed before their eyes.  More streamlined, more advanced.  More like Adam’s SilverHawk armor, complete with the mountings on their shoulders where wings would certainly deploy.

Leo whistled.  “Blue angels,” he said, and Adam looked at him quizzically.  “They were a squadron of US Navy planes,” Leo explained.  “They mostly did air shows and stuff, but, yeah.  Blue Angels.”

AWAITING INSTRUCTIONS.  The four guards looked at Adam, almost expectantly, though there was no true expression in their mannequin eyes.

Adam suddenly felt a pang of responsibility.  They would follow him now, though their purpose had been to guard Gondor’s sacred tree.

“Continue guarding the White Tree,” Adam told them, and continued in his way toward Denethor.

 

White granite and marble was polished and crafted with the utmost skill within and without the King’s chambers.  The wide hall which contained the Throne was long and illuminated with royal blue banners.  Faramir and Imrahil stood before a smaller, modest chair, several level below the Throne.  The man sitting in the chair looked at him with callous interest and distrust.  Adam expected himself to be stopped by the Steward’s personal guard (Assuming they weren’t robots as well) but they seemed to take pause to his own similar armor.  He was mistaken for another Captain of Gondor.  Adam afforded a smile.  Captain Reid.  It had a nice ring to it.

 

“Who is this, who steps into my hall unbidden?” Denethor asked.  Gandalf was close by, but Adam was emboldened.

“Excuse my intrusion, sir, but it is imperative that you hear me in your counsels.  My name is Adam Thomas Reid, from Starfleet.”

Denethor looked at him with suspicion.  “So the Star Fleet arrives at my door at last.”

“I have been working with your son in Ithilien, and I was hoping to be here as he debriefed you.”  Adam sensed distrust and more than a little contempt from the Steward.  What was it with this family? he thought.  He was just rubbing them the wrong way just by being there.

Faramir looked weary, and Gandalf gave him a look of warning.

Adam disengaged his armor, revealing his black-and-cranberry Starfleet jumpsuit of a uniform.  “I am the acting first officer of the Starship Hanson.  Our vessel was neutralized several months ago.  Me and my subordinate have traveled the countryside—

“You’re wasting my time, Lieutenant Commander,” Denethor said, with a cold dismissive air.  “Your thoughts are so open, they may as well be spelled with a toddler’s blocks.”

Adam was stopped cold.  Damn! He cursed inwardly.  I never even realized the man could read my thoughts.  I left myself way open.

“That is no fault,” Gandalf said, quickly.  “Master Reid has been battling on your war front and gathering intelligence for almost two weeks.”

Adam placed his shields up, and Denethor’s frown was perversely satisfying.   He continued: “The Nine Nazgûl.  Wave upon wave of orcs.  Southrons on Mûmakil and Easterlings occupying the foothills of the Ash mountains.  They’re headed this way.  Please, Denethor, tell me you have a plan of contingency to protect your people.”

“It seems you have everything under control,” Denethor said, scathingly.  “Faramir has his forces bolstering Osgiliath while he himself arrives back with a…thing…” He looked quickly at a suddenly defensive Leonardo, “An Easterling turncoat, and you.  Another disciple of the most influential Mithrandir.  Tell me, Adam,” Denethor looked at him with a gaze that sent Adam’s flight-or-fight reflex screaming.  “How would you feel if your son took little concern for his station, instead, burying his nose in volume after volume about places like….oh, I know not…”

“Canton Ohio?” Adam replied, with more than a little cheek.  His cheeks began to become flushed.

“Yes.”

“My father never understood the fascination I had with such places as Minas Tirith, Osgiliath, Lebennin, Imladris.  However, he knew that anything that sparked my imagination and spurred me to a path of learning was a good thing.  However, we seem to be straying from the subject at hand.”

Gandalf winced.

“We will hold the line at the City,” said Denethor.  “And we will maintain that line as long as my Captains commit to the cause.”

“Shall I go then?” Faramir asked.

“Get your rest,” Denethor told him.  “And we will deal with darker matters in the morrow.”

Faramir took his leave, leaving Gandalf, Adam, Leonardo, and the hobbit Peregrin Took, who Adam realized had woke him.  Denethor remained seated, and looked directly at Adam.

“Who do you think you are?” He snarled.  No—Let me tell you who you are.  You are no officer of the Star Fleet.  The Starfleet are legion and have power untapped.  You are merely a man in the guise of a boy.  You come, as you have come before, sneaking up on the Stewards, looking to use your trace lineage to attempt to usurp what we have spent centuries building.  King of Gondor—Fah!  Gondor has no King!  Gondor needs none!  It was you, who, scores of years before, served my father Ecthelion under the name Thorongil.  Then news of your guise as the Ranger Strider, and now as young Lieutenant Commander Adam T. Reid the Third.  Very well played.  Your deception was so complete, that your thoughts barely betrayed you.  But I know better.”

Adam looked to Gandalf for guidance, but his godfather merely shook his head.  “Um, sir?” He asked.  “What in the hell are you talking about?”  He opened his mind to the Steward, walked up to him.  “You can read my thoughts.  I can sense your emotions.  There is no deception, and you know it.”

Adam felt a strange sensation, as if his own thoughts were being rifled and indexed.  A seemingly random memory, of his first holiday leave, the Thanksgiving dinner that Gandalf attended.  The last time he spent the holidays with Gramma Varria.

“No, nothing is correct here,” Denethor said, confused.  “You believe your father’s name to be Thomas, your mother, Ariana.”

“That’s because it is,” Adam said, angrily.  “You really believe me to be the Heir to the Throne, don’t you.  In fact, you desperately wish it to be so, just so you know where he is.  Because once the King of Gondor returns to Minas Tirith, you’re out of a job.”

“Adam—” Gandalf began.

“You have a sister named Joy,” Denethor muttered.  “Your dearest friend is named Joshua—Where are these places?  The great city along a mighty harbor—the bright orange bridge, the Star Fleet Academy—What is this?  Who is Anna Karapleides—”

“That’s the end of the tour,” Adam said, bringing his defenses up again.  He looked at Gandalf.  “I think I’m done here.”

Gandalf headed for the door, leaving Pippin standing there, helplessly.  

“You may not be he, Adam,” Denethor said, and Adam could palpably feel his despair.  “But you are but yet another symptom of the illness..”

Adam shook his head.  “Sometimes, sir, you simply must let the illness take its course.”

With that, the two left.

 

 

Outside, by the fountain, Leonardo shook his head.  “Man, maybe it wasn’t a good idea to drink the water here,” he said.

“The water from Mindolluin flows clear.  No, it’s another poison that troubles Denethor.  That was ill-advised,” Gandalf admonished Adam.

“I see that now,” Adam said, regretting the whole confrontation.  

“Could it be another Wormtongue?”  Leonardo asked Gandalf.

“I only wish it was,” Gandalf replied.

“Wormtongue?” Adam asked.

Leonardo clammed up.  He remembered that Wormtongue’s past was deeply entwined with Adam’s.

“That which had afflicted the King of Rohan,” Gandalf said, quickly.  “This close to Sauron, we can only expect the worst.”

“Gandalf,” Adam asked.  “Why did that other hobbit remain behind?”

“Peregrin Took has pledged his service to Denethor,” Gandalf said.  

“Oh…” Adam said, the wheels in his mind beginning to turn.  “Then we have an inside man—er, inside hobbit.”

“We’ll play that angle up,” Gandalf said, absently.  He glanced at the fountain guards, then back to Adam.  “I see the guards have met you.”

“Androids?” Adam asked Gandalf.

“Automatons. Rather limited artificial intelligence,” said Gandalf.  “Not merely the Tree and the Fountain that they guard.”

Leonardo nodded.  “I still don’t understand the meaning of the dead tree.”

“Later, later!” Gandalf insisted.  “Adam.  Only the guards can reveal the secret of the fountain.  Tell them to reveal it.”

They reached the fountain, and the first guard once more took Adam’s gauntleted hand.

AWAITING NEW INSTRUCTIONS.

“It’s…” Adam  thought for a bit.  “It’s as if they’re desperate to help.”

“They operate entirely separately from Denethor’s control.  Only those with Númenórean technology can instruct them.  Otherwise, they guard the Tree and the Fountain.  Even if Minas Tirith burned around them, they would hold.”

“What do I tell them?” Adam asked.

“Tell them to reveal the Fountain,”  Gandalf instructed.

Adam nodded.  “Reveal the Fountain,” he said to the guard.

The four guards took a bow, and began.  They placed the ends of their iron spears into oblong openings in the Fountain’s design.  They each placed it in until the guards of the spears disappeared.  With deliberate motion, the guards turned their spears in the holes.  With each turn, Adam could hear a metallic clunk noise.

“Their spears…they’re using them like keys!” Leonardo exclaimed.  Adam and Leo looked on in awe as the fountain ceased and emptied.  As it did, the bottom basin of the fountain split, revealing a deep stairwell.

“Faramir was able to learn the secrets of the Fountain in his childhood,” Gandalf explained.  He and Boromir used to play in these forgotten chambers.”

“He told me,” Adam replied, nodding.

Gandalf began to descend the stairs.  Leo followed and Adam asked, “Are we simply going to leave the fountain this way?  I don’t think we want Denethor to know what we’re doing.”

“Quite right,” Gandalf said.  “The Fountain will revert once you enter.  Hurry!”

Adam took to the stairs—gingerly, as it was still rather dark—and as he did, the fountain closed back up.  Adam could hear the rush of water back through the pipes.

The light through Gandalf’s staff illuminated the chamber.  Leonardo pointed at an outcropping in the stone.  “There.  That’s the same molding as in Helm’s Deep.  Just open it up…” And with a rusty creak, the covering opened, revealing two simple buttons.  

“Númenórean technology is rather different,” Gandalf explained.  “Since there is no evident wiring, it is difficult to locate a power source, so that even if you find evidence of advanced technology, there was no way to turn it on.”

“Josh believed it to be the veins in the rock; It worked like wiring,” Leonardo said.

“That could be used for rather intuitive, neural-net style of computing,” Adam said.  He pressed the button, and the long hallway was illuminated in pale, slightly green fluorescent lighting.

“Very, very interesting,” Gandalf said quietly.  “Tell me more, Leonardo, about the Situation Room of the Hornburg.”

“It had a sit-down console,” Leo explained, “It had lots of monitors and displays, and an intercom.  It also gave access to cannons and shields.”

“I never had a chance to inspect it,” Gandalf said.  “But Joshua was genuinely proud of his efforts.”

“The power source was tapped into the planet’s magnetic field,” Leonardo explained.

“That’s why both Helm’s Deep and Minas Tirith are both built into mountains,” Adam replied. At the end of the corridor, a door blocked them.  It was marked with several runes and tengwar characters.

“Rule the knowledge; let not the knowledge rule you,” Adam translated.  They found another clamshell and got the door opened.

The parting of the doors revealed a large, almost grand chamber, with vaulted ceilings, decorated with fan-like flourishes and a checkered marbled arches on the sides.  The tiles on the floor resembled that of the citadel’s Throne room.  The room was illuminated with torches.

“You made it,” a voice called out.  It was Faramir and Imrahil.

“Father simply dismissed this room as a grand ballroom,” Faramir explained.  “It was our secret chamber which only we cared to know about.”

“They let me in on the secret,” Imrahil added.  “I followed them one day.”

Leonardo turned on the lights.  The chamber went from dim yellow-orange to bright white in an instant.  The only shadows cast were those on the floor, from the bright illumination from above.

“That is amazing,” Imrahil breathed.

“We got lights,”  Leo said.  “Now for camera.” 

He turned on the second button, same as how Joshua did in the Hornburg.  Sections in the wall came alive with static, and then standby symbols.

Faramir read the screens.  “’Minas Anor Online’,” he said.

“And….action!” Leo finished with the final button.  Consoles were revealed through the walls, and another, large console emerged from the center of the room.  More elaborate and more detailed than the simple way station of the Sit Room.  As it did, the perimeter displays and data streams familiar to Leonardo came online.

“If Minas Anor was built as a mountain-bound ship,” Gandalf said, “This was the bridge.”

Adam walked up to the large central console and began to gingerly test the controls.  “Simple enough interface.  Let’s see what we have for defenses.”

Faramir moved over to Gandalf and told him, “He is more in his element here than he was in Ithilien.”

“Perhaps you should have him teach you how this chamber is operated, Faramir,” Gandalf suggested.  Imrahil had already walked over to Adam and nodded as the Starfleet officer explained to them how the controls worked.

“It would only be fair,” Faramir conceded.  “I had him become one of my Rangers.  I wonder how his uniform would fit me.”

Gandalf looked at him with bemusement.  “We’ll see how this end turns out before we send in your application to Starfleet Academy,” he replied.

The two captains of Gondor watched as Adam explained each section of the master console.   He fluttered his hands over the left hand side and explained, “The sensor control toggle here controls the range.  Look over on the big screen there,” Adam indicated the gigantic, wall-sized monitor at the far end of the room, “And you’ll see a simple map of the region…there’s Minas Tirith, there’s Minas Morgul, there’s Cirith Ungol…oh, no….”

“What is it?” Imrahil asked.

“If I’m reading this correctly,” Adam said, as Leonardo looked at the controls to confirm, “We’re getting a massive energy output from Minas Morgul.”

“That’s where the Nazgûl dwell,” Faramir said, and shuddered.  “I must get my rest.  Tomorrow I will return to Osgiliath.”

Adam said nothing. 

The bite marks on his tongue smarted for several hours afterward.

 

 

Adam and Leonardo spent the night in the Ballroom with Imrahil, teaching him and themselves how to read and use the ancient computer system.  What they learned was both fascinating and disheartening.

Minas Anor and Minas Tirith were, true, the same place, but had quite different configurations.  After the Tower of the Sun was renamed the Tower of Guard, Trebuchets and lookout posts were made, out of masonry and mortar, on the tops of the tier walls.  Unfortunately, somehow, the knowledge of the Númenóreans had slipped from the minds of the people of Gondor, and they unwittingly trapped the phase cannons in their embrasures, unable to be deployed.  Adam found two cannons, near the top tiers, that would deploy and fire, but, at the higher tiers, they proved hard to defend the outer walls and the great gate.  Adam also found what looked to be a torpedo launcher, but it was similarly blocked.  Adam decided that he would tour the city the next day to see if anything could be salvaged, even if a little debasement and vandalism were required.

Imrahil wandered back in, just as Adam puzzled over a new hurdle.

“Faramir has departed for Osgiliath,” He told Adam. 

“I don’t suppose his father saw him off,” Adam grumbled.

“Nay,” Imrahil said, shaking his head.  “Faramir asked his father to think better of him as he left.  His father replied, “’That depends on the manner of your return.’”

“I don’t understand,” Adam said, his cheeks flushing.  “My father and I, we share the same gifts, as Faramir and his father do.  He taught me how to use my Betazoid gifts, as his mother taught him.  It bonded us in a way that almost made my mother jealous.  Why does Denethor hate his son so?  Because he lived and Boromir died?”

“Nothing The two sons of Denethor could have done would have softened their father’s heart,” Imrahil replied.  “The Steward never recovered from the death of his wife, Finduilas—one of my kin—and has been tormented by the death of his more fawning son.”

“This is no time for family dysfunctions,” Adam said.  “Does he really think that Mordor won’t be at his doorstep eventually?  Faramir might make them take a step back, but they’ll take two more strides, and leave him broken in the process.”

“Soon,” Imrahil reminded him, “Soon I will be called upon to do the same.”

Leonardo spoke up.  “Faramir’s reached Osgiliath.”

Adam nodded.  “Then all we can do is stay here until we hear word.  I gave Gandalf my word that I’d stay here for now, to keep the Armor away from the Black Riders if possible, and I’ll keep that word.”

“If you want go to on and get some sleep, I’ll stay here,” Leo offered.

“That’ll probably be best,” Adam said with a sigh.  “Imrahil, we’ll take the passage to the stables, then go from there to wherever Gandalf stays.”

The Prince of Dol Amroth nodded.  “Come.”

 

The building was on the second tier, close to the citadel above and almost attached to the mountain itself.  The second floor’ was lit, and As Adam and Imrahil began to enter, another man left.

“Prince!” he exclaimed upon seeing Imrahil.  “Beregond, Citadel Guard—”

“It’s all right, Beregond,” Imrahil said.  “Master Reid’s here for his lodging.”

“His room is next to Gandalf and the Halfling’s,” Beregond said.  “The Easterling is already there.”

Gaji! Adam realized.  He’d almost forgotten about him.

“Thank you,” Adam said, respectfully, and left them both behind.

Up the stairs Adam went, and past Gandalf’s room.  Adam saw him on his bed, and went up to him.

“Knock, knock,” he spoke.

“Quiet,” Gandalf said, softly.  “Pippin’s had a very long day.”

“Tomorrow, I’m going to inspect those mountings and trebuchets,” Adam told Gandalf.  “Maybe one of those phaser cannons can be loosed from the masonry.”

“Be discreet,” Gandalf warned.  “Denethor would pounce upon anything that would discredit your good faith.”

Adam sat down on the bed beside his godfather and asked, “Can we talk about it?”

“I haven’t had a moment to think since…” Gandalf shook his head.

“Why didn’t you trust me?” Adam asked.

“Dear boy,” Gandalf said, clasping Adam’s shoulder, “I trust you as much as any in my counsels on this world!”

“Why did you never tell me that you were one of the Istari?” Adam asked.  “We knew you were El-Aurian, and that you were a friend of the family for ages, but we never knew that you…”

“Earth is no longer a planet to tacitly take stock in magicks and miracles,” Gandalf explained.  “I was given the gifts of the Valar, sent in their name, to battle the Enemy.  We weren’t supposed to declare our power openly, so deceit eventually came naturally, although,” He added with a chuckle, “When we five were first chosen, we used our powers…rather flamboyantly.”

“Really?” Adam said.  “Was that when you were a schoolteacher?”

“Yes, actually.  We were called the Five, and we saved the world on our time off,” He sighed.  “I should have known that Saruman’s ambition would be a problem even then.  He lacked the mercy and empathy that a leader should have had.”

“It’s just that…with all of the strange things we’ve found in the universe, the strangeness of our own realities….I thought you knew you could trust me.  You trusted my father.”

Gandalf looked at him.  “No reason I could give will satisfy you, will it?”

Adam pursed his lips.  “No, I…guess not.”

“Well, then.”  Gandalf suddenly looked as old as he actually was.  Old and tired.  “I’m sorry, Adam.  I never wanted to hurt you.”

Adam sighed and lay down on the bed.  “What a mess.  On the eve of continental war, the end of the world, and nothing really matters because it doesn’t stop until the Ring is destroyed.”  He stood back up.  “Is there any chance?”

Gandalf shook his head.  “No Ferengi would take the odds, I’m sure.  But then, that’s what I’ve always counted on.  That fool’s hope of survival.  Example.  I didn’t believe that Earth would make it out of your own second dark age of the Postwar Horrors, but…”

“We managed to luck out,” Adam finished.  “Humanoids rely more on luck than anyone ever really acknowledges, don’t we?”

“When one lives on luck, it will eventually run out, or betray you.  Chance is a fickle mistress.  That’s why Joshua Maurice depends on plans and contingencies.  He hedges the bets.  You depend on your research, and hope that all who cross you are as pure of heart as you are.”

“Past tense,” Adam promised, and got up.  “Was it wise to leave me here, and send Faramir back out to Osgiliath?  You know that I would have mopped the floor with those orcs.”

“It isn’t about displays of power anymore,” Gandalf said.  “All that happens here is merely a shadow of the true conflict.  An effect more than a cause.  If Frodo does not get that ring to that volcano…if he does not have the fortitude I vested in him to actually part with it….”

Adam looked down, then fiercely at Gandalf.  “I’d still do it.  You know I’d do it for you.”

“It is beyond you now, dear boy,” Gandalf said.  “This task was given to Frodo.  If he cannot do it, then…It is simply beyond us.  The Ring has won.”

“The Ring wins, the planet dies, and the Federation has to contend with a hostile power in its own backyard,” Adam said, finishing Gandalf’s unsaid words.

 

Adam went into his own chamber, where Gaji sat by the window.  He gave Adam a cursory glance while he got into bed.  

“Hope you didn’t feel too neglected,” Adam said.

“Oh, no, no,” Gaji replied.  “It was quite educational today.  Many myths about how the Gondor live were shattered beyond repair.”

Adam considered, and then asked, “Is that a good thing?”

“Yes.  Yes, it will be sad, though.”

“Why?” Adam asked.

Gaji pointed out the window.  “Because they are on their way.”

Adam looked out of the window facing east, and saw a pillar of greenish-white energy spike out behind the Ash Mountain range.  “That reading, then,” he muttered.  “That’s what it meant.  Come on, Gaji!”

“What?  Where are we going?”

“We have to make sure that we have at least a few cannons up and running before that gets here.”

“No!  Leonardo and myself can do so with greater stealth than you.  Rest, friend Adam.  You will need your strength for what we are up against.”

“Do you know the way?” Adam asked.

Gaji nodded.  “Do not worry.”  With that, he was gone.

 

Adam stayed by the window, staring out at the beacon.  There was deadly, ancient power there, inadvertently made beautiful, like the nuclear bombs and the photon torpedo detonations before it, it was terrible, but awesome to behold.  Adam knew the Nazgûl couldn’t care less for aesthetic beauty.  It was merely a coincidence.  Tomorrow, Leonardo and Gaji would fill him in on what they had to work with.  At worst, the armies of Gondor had to use the catapults and stone-dropping trebuchets down onto the hordes.  At worst, the Rohirrim would arrive too late, or not at all.  Joshua would be delayed in his arrival.  Worse yet, Aragorn would perish, and Minas Tirith would never, ever see its true potential, due to what Adam discovered in its design:  The would-be King of Gondor and his city held entwined destinies.  Only Aragorn could make all the switches turn on, activate all her defenses and reawaken its artificial intelligence.  Everything else that he could manipulate was strictly auxiliary power.  It would have to be enough for now.

 

 

Adam had to make it work.

Chapter Text

They all looked at the Bolian in the large chamber.  Ched felt overwhelmed; he had only known of the ThunderCats of Thundera.  A Gray Thunderan Panther with tall, tuft-tipped ears glared at him suspiciously, as Kit and a Cheetah woman sat next to him.  The Starfleet officer, Jonathan Quick continued with rapid-fire questions about Mon*Star, a creature who used to rule a mob empire in Limbo.

But he had reached the end of his knowledge.

“Mon*Star had never even let me know it was him who was handling those particular finances.  At Dolare, we deal with the transfer of funds in a double-blind manner.  They send requests for transfers, withdrawals, and deposits by remote.  If Mon*star was one of our clients, then he was only an account number to us.”

“Not terribly personal bankers, are you?” Panthro said.

“The Humans and the Federation might have worked past gaining material wealth, but there are many races in Limbo who haven't,” Ched retorted.  

“If your relationship with the Mob is that impersonal, then why are you on the run, Ched?” Quick asked.

“Because we found out who the other was.  I was contacted by one of his henchmen, a Plundaaran they call Yes-man.  He told me that Mon*Star knew who I was, and If I didn’t transfer funds to his account, then I’d…never see Bolarus IX again.”

“I don’t like it,” Panthro rumbled.  “If this Mon*Star wanted him so badly as to chase him to Third-earth, then he won’t stop at just retrieving him.  He’s come to play.”

“Unfortunately, you’re correct,” Lieutenant Quick said.  “That’s why we’re here.”

“Then you won’t stand alone,” said Lion-O, the Thunderan King, and lord of the ThunderCats.  “We will help you.”

“This is SilverHawk business,” Quick said.  “No need to involve the locals.”

“This is our home,” Lion-O retorted.  “We have the right to defend it.”

“Bluegrass to Quicksilver,” a man with a country twang said over Quick’s comm badge.  “We got us some trouble, skip.”

“It’s begun already,” Quick said with disdain.  At that moment, an alarm sounded outside the banquet room.

The ThunderCats and Quick rushed into the control center of the Cats’ Lair and hunched over a monitor.

“Three unidentified objects, coming up fast,” said Tygra.

“Getting a visual,” Panthro added, hitting buttons on his console.

On the large monitor, three longish craft cut through the sky.  Their fronts appeared to have large, sculpted, ugly teeth.

“Those are Mob ships,” Quick said.  “They finally did it, and broke out of Limbo.”

“Panthro, Tygra.  Come with me to the Feliner,” Lion-O began.

“What do you think you’re doing?” Quick asked, with more than a little annoyance.

“In case you haven’t noticed, they’re starting an attack run on the Lair,” Lion-O replied.  

Cheetara remained, as did Ched and Kitra.  From the monitor, they saw the Feliner take off from the large sculpted ‘paw’, the vehicle bay of the Lair. From the other paw, Quick’s shuttle, SprintHawk 1, also took off.  While Cheetara kept vigil, and Ched sat, contemplating his imminent fate, Kit asked a very important question:

“Where’s Kat?”

 

 

In orbit of Third-earth, Mon*Star looked at the picture on the monitor of the Cats’ Lair.

“The ThunderCats,” He said, rubbing his chin.  “They always seemed to be incidental.  Inconsequential to my uses.  But it’s unbelievable, what a second look can bring.”

“Yes, boss.  Absolutely, boss,” Yes-man said.  

Mon*Star turned his dark, distorted, furry visage at his toady, a Reptilian Plundaaran who had no legs, but instead had a serpent’s body which allowed him to slither along.  “I must be getting nostalgic, Yes-man.  You begin to remind me of one of my…former…Yes-men.”

“Reaally, boss? Ooh, Thaank you, boss.”

“He killed me, you know,” Mon*Star said, and for a moment, Yes-Man thought he saw something different about his boss.  Something old and terrible, a figure with white hair and a dark staff.  But it left quickly.

“Never, boss.  Nobody could kill you.  You’re the head man.  The top banana, yes.  You’re…you!”

“Yes, I am, aren’t I.  Who else could I be?” Mon*Star said, with a smirk.  “Bring me the Moon*Stone, Yes-Man.  We have work to do!”

 

Drûadan Forest was a young, well-spaced forest compared to the convoluted tangles of Fangorn.  Strolling among the trees, Josh somehow knew that there would be no trouble by angry Huorns reacting to axes.  Here he felt quite safe walking in the dead of night.  He didn’t see a moon.

However, there were the drums.

The Woses, a primitive tribe of people, were said to live in the forest.  Elfhelm, one of the younger Marshals, told him that they used the drums to communicate, much like the Natives on the American plain used smoke signals.  Once, in his younger days, Joshua visited a planet called Dorvan V, where many American natives decided to settle, to preserve their ancient culture.  It was there he met Kolopak, a Central American Indian who gave Josh and his father, Belmont, a tour of the museum there, and explained many Indian traditions.  While there were innumerable tribes and nations, they all seemed to have many things in common.

 

“They’re tied to the land,” he muttered before the stumbled on something.

“Watch it!” a voice wafted up from below him.  “I’m not a piece of luggage, you know.  I’m a hobbit.  A bruised hobbit now.”

“Sorry, petit,” Josh apologized.  “My head was all the way on Dorvan V.”

“Joshua Falling-star!” a voice Josh recognized as Elfhelm called ahead.  “Come quickly!  The Chief is here!”

“Well, then, that’s my cue!”  Josh said, hurrying away.  “Say ‘hi’ to Dernhelm for me!”

 

 

He entered Théoden’s tent and found a creature before him, Humanoid, but not quite looking like the others. He was pear-shaped, slightly squat with sturdy legs and strong arms.  He wore a grass skirt, almost Polynesian-style.  He was shaking his head and nodding it emphatically to questions that Théoden pressed to him.

“Ah.  Ghân-buri-Ghân, this is one of my Marshals, Joshua Falling-star—”

“But you can call me Josh,” He amended.

Ghân made a strange squelching sound, and Josh realized that he was suppressing a laugh.  “Ghân-buri-Ghân is sorry.  Josh is word in tongue; very funny.  Sorry.”

Josh wasn’t sure he cared to know what josh meant in the chief’s native language. He spoke to him directly.  “Maybe it’ll help if you speak to me in your own language, then.”

Ghân was thunderstruck.  “Nobody’s tried to speak the language of my people,” he spoke, the Translator making his speech much easier to digest.  Joshua silently blessed it.

“We’re grateful that you wish us no harm,” Josh began, “But we need some information.  “We’re going to the big city of Men, to the East.  They need our help.”

Hirgon, a Gondorian emissary, looked on.  He had joined up with the Rohirrim a day before they came across Drûadan.  He and Éomer had joined Théoden in the large tent.

“Yes. You do,” Ghân said.  “There is a shortcut, past all of the dangerous places that the gorgûn have set up, that will get you where you want to go, and out of danger.”

Josh looked at Théoden briefly, and asked, “You’ll lead us through?”

“When the stonehouse-folk were stronger, they made paths, carved through hills.”

“You mean, like a tunnel?” Josh asked.  “An underpass?”

Ghân nodded.  

Josh turned to Théoden.  “Ghân says that he knows a way to get us past the enemy garrisons.  He says that the Gondorians made tunnels and pathways, behind Rimmon, over to Dîn, and back to the end of this road.  They’ll guide us.”

Éomer looked at Théoden and Josh.  “It may give us an opportunity to cut off the orc-host.”

“Tell him that if he does this, then he will be rewarded,” Théoden said.

Ghân understood that much and shook his head.  “We are not beasts, and we do not live like you do,” Ghân said to Josh.  “If you return alive, you must swear that you will not hurt us or bother us in our forest.  We have been hunted like animals before.”

Josh turned to Théoden and translated, “In return, Ghân wants protection for his people.  He says that his people have been hunted and killed for sport.”

“Gladly!” Théoden cried.  “So be it.”

“You have strange magic,” Ghân said to Josh.  “You speak in my tongue, and then you speak to the Horse-lord.  Very strange.”

“I’m a very strange person,” Josh said.  “And you ain’t seen nothing yet.  Now, let’s all sit awhile and figure out how we’re going to get six thousand horse riders through these tunnels, and still make it to the party on time…”

 

Canton, Ohio was a rather innocuous city.  Other than housing the final resting place of former American leader William McKinley and featuring some smaller colleges and universities, it offered nothing exceptional to speak of except a homey, familial hometown for about a hundred thousand people. The smallest pearl on a string that included Akron, Cleveland, and Toronto.

Hy’uffi K’gar and his daughter, Buffi, got off the Cornerstone Tram Station, a few blocks east of the Stark County Courthouse, with its small dome guarded by trumpeting angels.  The two Cainians were quiet and rather singular in their intents.

They were in Canton for a purpose.

Hy’uffi summoned a taxi, and it took them three miles west on Tuscarawas Street.  Buffi looked around her as she saw various houses and shops and taverns, like The Boardwalk, The Irish Connection and Mallon’s.  The taxi took a left at the Canton Centre Bazaar, and drove until it hit a meandering road passing by the Timken Stem Bolt manufacturing plant until it reached a little road going up a steep hill.  Once the taxi hit the other side of the hill, brightly colored houses and huge trees enclosed Hy’uffi and his daughter.  It was still March on Earth, and the trees didn’t yet have their leaves. The grass was still pale.

At the end of the lane, the taxi took a left and parked by the second house on the right.  

Hy’uffi got out, stretching his legs.  Buffi took her identification card, identifying her as part of the Cainian Embassy, and swiped it.

[Ten credit units have been debited from your account,] The onboard computer announced.  The cab then shut and, on its own autopilot, powered away, levitating above powerful magnetic fields.

“Well, here we are.”  Hy’uffi looked up at the split-level house with a modest yard.  “Hopefully, I might be able to get word.”

Buffi rolled her eyes.

He went to the door, and a bearded man with chin-length, slightly unkempt hair, greeted him.  His eyes were dark, deep midnight blue, and they crinkled with friendliness at the edges.  “Professor K’gar.”

“Hello, again, Thomas,” Hy’uffi said, shaking Thomas’s hand.  “Thank you for receiving us under such short notice.”

“Starfleet can’t tell me anything more other than the Hanson is “missing”.  Both Belmont and I are getting really worried for them.”  They walked into the small landing and up the stairs into an ornately furnished sitting room.  

“That’s part of the reason I wanted to talk to you.  Oh, my manners.  This is my daughter, Buffi.”

“How do you do,” Buffi said, quickly shaking Thomas’s hand as well.  

“Buffi, this is Thomas Reid, one of my former students when I worked at Kent State,” Hy’uffi explained.  

“Almost thirty years ago, and your father always kept in touch.  Probably because I helped him with a lot of telepathy-related artifacts in his research.  —I assume that’s why you called me, Prof.?”

Hy’uffi produced a spherical object and placed it in the center of Tom’s coffee table.

Tom sighed.  “Arda.”

Buffi looked at him and found they shared the same expression.  “Yeah?”

“My grandfather and my son Adam loved that planet, sight unseen.  Gandalf gave him an entire library revolving around that planet.  He became one of the youngest people to be an expert on an entire planet.”

Buffi shook his head.  “Why am I not surprised?”

“Gandalf is very close to our family, Miss K’gar,” Thomas said, an offended look in his eyes.  “I’ll grant that you don’t like him, but I think you should show a bit of respect.”

Hy’uffi attempted to Ignore Buffi’s brooding and pointed at the palantír on the table.  “A few days ago, Buffi looked into this palantír.  She and I both saw things that we couldn’t properly interpret.  I hoped that you could…clarify things.”

“Palantír,” Thomas sighed, scratching the back of his head.  “It’s been a while since I looked into this thing.”  He picked it up.  “A network of these devices supposedly kept all the outposts connected, and all to their King.”

Thomas looked.

 

 

 

Aaron Strider looked back at him, declaring himself openly against the power of the Eye.

A dark fleet, headed on the river toward a dock, its black woods glowing with a strange green luminescence.

He saw a man shown things that plunged him into the depths of despair, and the dark eye that showed it to him.

 

But most importantly, Thomas Reid saw his son.

Fighting valiantly with a great suit of armor, weapons blazing, flying with wings of silver and nerves of steel, with a squadron of like-suited flyers behind him.

He saw more, farther ahead, in an uncertain future.

A dark tower set to burst with impossible energy, to cause an explosion that could cause the greatest subspace rupture the galaxy had ever known.

And Adam stood before it.

(Look away now,) a voice said—

 

He most likely didn’t know of the tears running both his cheeks, but he looked up at Buffi and Hy’uffi and attempted to articulate.  “My son is alive,” he said, sniffing.  “But not for much longer.  And if what this tells me is right,” He added, “We’ve got a big problem.”

“What have we gotten ourselves into?” Buffi muttered.

“It started a long time ago,” Tom said.  “Long ago in fire and malice.  But now, the first fingers of the story have started to stretch toward the Earth.  Adam and Joshua are over there, and they’ve made their stand, but…”

“We may be able to help.  I know someone who might know what you’ve seen,” Hy’uffi said.  “An old friend of the family.”

 

It took another, very tedious day for the Rohirrim to make its way through Drûadan.  Another encampment, and Josh now found himself beside a fire with Ghân and several of his most trusted warriors.  Three of them were decked out in war paint and headdress that reminded Josh of nothing he’d ever seen before, but represented a very primal aspect of Arda.  The way that they wanted to be.  Man in communion with his environment, with no conflicts, no improprieties, no problems.  Man was Man and Nature was nature and the one was okay with the other.

“A different dance for a different request,” Ghân explained.

“For rain?” Josh asked.

“Yes,” Ghân replied.

“For good hunting?”

Again, “Yes.”

“Um…Fertility…?”

“We’ve been doing that dance quite a lot,” Ghân said, shaking his head.  “Warriors struck down in their prime, making the tribe weak.  We have been hurt many times by the other Men of the World.”

Josh nodded.  “Many times, it’s been like that.  I’m sorry.”

“Me too.”

The fire went down to embers before too long, and Joshua went back to the King’s tent.  Éomer, Gamling, Erkenbrand, Elfhelm and Hirgon, and other marshals that Joshua couldn’t remember by name, sat in a small circle with the king.  

“We will be riding within the hour,” Théoden told him.  

“Going over your map,” Gamling began, indicating Josh’s padd.  “We’ll reach a series of foothills from the north of the city.  That will give us the uphill advantage.”

“Do we have any intelligence on how many we’re facing?”  Josh asked.

Gamling’s face was grim.  “Ten times greater than at Helm’s Deep,” he said.

“And we have only six thousand,” Josh sighed.  “Well, Éomer, I guess we’ll be putting your theory to the test.”

“Theory?” Éomer asked.

“That we’re worth two hundred orcs apiece,” Josh replied, reminding Éomer of their first meeting.  

Éomer was heartened and nodded.  “I did say that, didn’t I?”

“Hmm.  Say, you got pretty good with my doohickey in a hurry, Gamling,” Josh said, taking his padd back from the eldest of Théoden’s men.  “You must be a quick study.”

“Must be,” Gamling replied, a strangely knowing look in his eyes.

“Right.  Well, judging by this, our best bet is a trident attack.”  He sat into the circle and explained.  “Théoden will, no doubt, want to take the main thrust of the attack in the center…”

Théoden nodded.

“Gamling and myself can take the right, while Messrs. Gimbold and Elfhelm will take the left prong.  Once we’ve reached the Pelennor Fields, we’ll divvy up our individual units and try to get all around them, assuming that Gamling and I can get around without too much losses.”

“Do you have much confidence in this plan, Joshua?” Gamling asked.

“Well, it worked at the Battle of Charon,” Josh explained.

Gamling almost replied, but stopped.  Joshua didn’t notice.  “Our friends will be there to meet us on the fields, Gentlemen.  Aragorn and his company.  Leonardo.  The Men of Gondor.  Adam Reid the third.  Gandalf.  Just y’all keep that nugget of hope in your hearts.”

Erkenbrand looked skeptical.  “And if it is in vain?”

Josh replied, “Then there’s plan B”

“What’s plan B?”

Josh’s smile was inscrutable.  “Let’s hope we don’t find out.”

 

“Hard to believe, eh, that we’ve never heard of this old planet, eh, Windhammer?”  The creature known as Hardware said.

“The winds are free, unfettered.  I could spend weeks just flying on the jetstreams,” The master of weather, Windhammer, replied.

Once, they were known as Ruka Vinata and Kumala, but they were ensnared by Mon*Star.  

Now they belonged to him.

Their space-roadster and one more glided through the air of Third-earth.  The sphinx-like structure of the Cats’ Lair arose over the horizon.

“Looks like they have shields up, and…Heh heh…rudimentary defenses in place,” Hardware said.

“Ready to fire whenever you are,” Windhammer replied.

Then, apparently out of nowhere, a small craft grazed them.

“What was that?” Screamed Melodia on the comm.  

“Shit!” Hardware cursed.  “That was Sprinthawk-1!  The SilverHawks beat us here!”

“We have to tell Mon*Star,” Windhammer said, hitting the comm.

“Don’t bother,” Hardware sighed.  “He already knows.”

The Mob leader glided in on his modified Sky-runner past the two roadsters, to the Lair. 

“Heh-heh-heh,” He cackled.  “There’s no fortress that I can’t breach.  The ThunderCats might as well dwell in a glorified sandbox!”

 

The beam from the incoming ship stunned the sky-runner.  The vaguely cat-like ship quickly turned around, and made another run.

“Heh,” Mon*Star chuckled.  “Looks like they had their catnip.  Double back, Sky-Runner!”

 

 

In the Lair, Cheetara and Kitra looked on while Ched fretted and paced.  “Oh, this is bad.  This is really bad!”

“Sit down, Ched!” Kit admonished.  “It’s going to be all right.”  She sighed.  “At least for you.  Why did he bolt again?  Now of all the bad timing?”

“I don’t know,” Cheetara said, looking at the controls.  “I’m sure he’ll be fine.”  She changed the subject.  “Mister Ched, you said that in addition to being a banker, you’re also a talent agent.  What does that mean?”

Ched relaxed slightly and explained.  “I represent talent.  Musicians, acting troupes, artists. I also supply the fashion industry with models.  You do have the most penetrating eyes,” He said to Kit.  

“How does that work?” Cheetara asked.  “You’re cooped up in Dolare, dealing with banking transactions—and then you’re assigning your talent to different venues.  How do you balance those two careers?”

“Banking isn’t as intensive as you think.  And I try to be rather selective about my talent.”

“Oh?” Kit said, with a wry smile.  “And why’s that?”

“Well, a number of years ago, I got burned by one of my singers.  Bad.  She turned out to be some sort of psychopathic criminal type.  Her name was Melanie Van Gru.  She had the most adaptable voices around.  She could do any style, any range.  She could have been the next—ah, well, anyway—After I lost her, I tried to be less business-like about my talent reps.  I thought, maybe, If I got to know them a little better, It might not cost me as much latinum as Mel did.”

“Sounds more like a hobby to me,” Kit said.  

Ched looked at her intently.  “Stand up for me, please.”

Kit looked at Cheetara, with uncertainty.  the older ThunderCat shrugged.

“Okay,” Kit said, getting up.  “Mind telling me why?”

“Your proportions are almost perfect,” Ched sighed.  “My timing is awful.  On the midst of my being murdered, I find another talent.”

“Talent?” Cheetara said.  “She hasn’t done anything.”

“Are you kidding?  She has the perfect body for modeling!” Ched exclaimed.  “She has an exotic look to her, and she’d complement any kind of outfit.  Your daughter is beautiful!”

“I’m not her daughter,” Kit said, slightly peevishly.  She caught the slightly hurt look in Cheetara’s eyes.  “Well, not exactly.”

“Oh, well,” Ched said.  “It doesn’t matter.  There’s no guarantee I’m gonna survive this.”

 

“Ya got that right, Ched-baby.”

 

She was dressed in a little black dress, accented by hot pink boots, long pink gloves, and a large fan of light-and-dark green hair.  Her eyes were hidden by large shades, the shape of a quarter note superimposed.

 

“Mel!” Ched exclaimed.  “How…I mean, what a shock.”

 

“Is this your wayward singer, Ched?” Cheetara asked.

“Melanie!” Ched exclaimed.  “Mel, don’t do this.  This isn’t like you at all!”

“The name’s  Melodia, chum,” She said, brandishing a large weapon with a musical keyboard set on the side. “And that’s the name of that tune.”

 

“Guess again, girlfriend,” Kit replied. 

 

And there they were, at last.

Josh stood before a line one thousand horses long.

His éored, his column of horsemen, were behind him.  Gamling’s group were close by.  Josh had surveyed the field below.

Black.

The field was blackened by orcs.  

It was a group that made what he faced in Moria, what he faced in the Glittering caves, pale by comparison.  He saw the ruins of siege towers.  He saw the craters that could only have been caused by phase disruptor cannons, sure proof that Adam had made it to the city.  And the city!  White stone marred by soot and fire.  A cloud of smoke blew southward.

He broke out his binoculars and looked.  He saw that the ranks of orcs began to rearrange itself, to get archers to the back.  He knew that many horses would be felled before they could close the gap.

 

Adam, he thought.  Don’t make me a liar.

 

With that thought, he put the bugle to his lips.  He learned to play the trumpet at SAGR, and he usually got the other students (To their annoyance) with the traditional reveille.  And he began to play.

 

At the last note, a swell of horns behind him nearly toppled him over.

 

Between the last morning and this, there had been some last-minute changes of plans.  

He launched over to Théoden with Éomer.  Théoden was fully armored, and one could barely see the invigorated man inside.  Josh couldn’t see a hint of the gray statue he saw upon first seeing the King of Rohan.  Only his golden beard and his ice-blue eyes, the eyes he shared with Josh, peeked out of his helmet.

“Éomer, Joshua, take your éored down the left flank.”

“Yes sir!” Josh replied.

“Flank ready!” Éomer said.

“Gamling, follow the king’s banner down the center.”  Théoden had decided at the last that he wanted his oldest man at his side.  Joshua didn’t see a problem with that.  “Grimbold, take your company right after you pass the wall.”  There was a ring wall around the city, an outer barrier that had been breached heavily.  “Forth, and fear no darkness!”

“This is it,” Éomer said to Josh.  “Are you ready?”

“I have superpowers,” Josh replied.  “I’m always ready to save the world.”

“Arise!  Arise, Riders of Théoden!”  Théoden rallied his troops.  

 

On Joshua’s flank, he did the same.  He turned up the outer speaker of his suit, amplified it greatly.

“This is it, hommes, this is de one!  Once more unto the breach, dear friends, as the sayin’ goes.  You will fight.  Some of you will meet your end.  But it’s gonna be an end that justifies the means, because you know what the alternative is!” Josh felt a swell of  righteous rage.  He saw these men, ready to die, he saw the horde below, ready to deal death.  “The line must be drawn here!  This far, no further!  And we will make them pay for what they have done!”

A swell of cheers followed, and Josh didn’t know if he deserved it.  He was rather lousy as a speech-maker.

It was Théoden who held sway over all.

“RIDE NOW!  RIDE FOR RUIN, AND THE WORLD’S ENDING!”

“DEATH!” Went the call.

“DEATH!” came the reply, swelling from six thousand brave hearts simultaneously.

“Forth Eorlingas!”  And the horns were blown.  

And six thousand horsemen, one woman, one hobbit, and one very misplaced human went forth, in the sun, down to their destinies.

Chapter Text

Adam Reid was awakened by Pippin again; however, he stood his ground this time when the Starfleet officer was roused.

“Mister Adam, sir, Gandalf needs to see you in the Ballroom,” Pippin said to him when Adam got up and swung his legs over the bed.

“I don’t suppose it’s good news,” Adam said, groggily.  His dreams were troubled, and involved him  being unable to turn the winds of war.  Literally.

“Things have turned a bit in the night, sir, but you might want to see for yourself.  Gandalf was hard-pressed to get you down there.”

“I don’t suppose you can come with me?” Adam suggested as he placed one of his Ranger Tunics over his Starfleet undershirt.  Over that, he donned his comm badge.

“Citadel duty,” Pippin reminded him.  “More standing over Denethor, and watching him eat.  He doesn’t eat like a hobbit does.  He stuffs his face like a hobbit will, yes, but…there’s just no love or enjoyment.  It’s hard to watch.”

“Maybe if he was eating something my friend Josh made,” Adam said, lightly.  “He’s cooked for Cirdan at the Grey havens, and he cooked for Butterbur in Bree.  For all I know, he’s fed Théoden in Rohan.”

“Joshua?” Pippin asked.  “Was he the rather strange fellow with the short yellow hair, and the strange spectacles, and he could….could…” Pippin struggled, for a moment, on how to describe it, “Go off, like one of Gandalf’s fireworks?”

Adam smiled and nodded. “That’s him,”  he said.

“Gandalf’s brought together such a motley group, it seems.  With us hobbits and Gimli and Legolas and Aragorn and…Boromir…in our group,” Pippin said, more than a touch of sadness in his voice at the mention of the fallen Boromir, “And You and Misters Leonardo and Joshua and Gaji—and talk of that Southron chap on walkabout…”  Pippin looked at his hands, losing his nerve.  “Is it true, then?  Is there worlds beyond this world?  Gandalf told me that there’s ways to leave this world and to visit worlds beyond, but he always tells tales.”

Adam beckoned Pippin to sit down on the bed, and the hobbit did.  “There are worlds that will stir your senses, and challenge your intellect and turn your preconceived notions of reality upside-down out there, Pippin.  Maybe one day, you’ll get the chance to see them…or have more of us visitors meet you.”

“Oh, I don’t know.”

“Well, who knows?” Adam got up.  “Do I look all right?”

“You look right respectable,” Pippin said, with a nod.

“That’s a beautiful thing,” Adam agreed, and left his room.

 

The secret tunnel from the stables of Minas Tirith to the Ballroom were easier to traverse, mostly due to the fact that the automatic doors were, ages ago, removed or rusted away.  Adam believed them to be removed by those who needed quicker or more stealthy access to and from the Citadel.  He passed through silently, walking through the pitch-black passageway to another doorway, which was lit dimly by a red button on its side. Adam pressed it, entering into a sickly-lit corridor.  The corridor seemed to have other passageways and doors, but did not respond.  Adam believed that those doorways contained rooms that only became relevant when the entire city was properly activated. Unfortunately, that could not occur until the city’s Main situation room could receive a sample of blood, from the bloodline of the King.  While Faramir’s and Imrahil’s samples seemed, yesterday, to unlock certain defensive measures, Adam believed that the final component could activate all the cannons, all of the defenses…everything Adam needed to keep the city safe.  

He turned the corner into the Ballroom, the appellation that the Steward sons gave it in their childhood.  In reality, it was a control center, where sensor information and tactical displays could be accessed, and where defensive measures could be carried out.

Gandalf sat at the main, free-standing console in the center of the Ballroom, looking contemplative.

“Faramir was returned,” Gandalf said.  

Was returned?” Adam asked.  “Is he okay?”

“His injuries are grave.  I have nothing from my standard issue medkit that could do anything more than to ease his pain.  Only time will tell.”

“If he got here, then that means—”

Adam looked at the main viewer.  Large black blocks were advancing from Osgiliath to Minas Tirith.  He sat down beside Gandalf, not noticing anyone else in the room, and quickly looked up in horror.  “A hundred thousand, easy.”

“Hundred thousand?” Leonardo exclaimed.  “That’s ten times what we faced at Helm’s deep!”

“Not to mention fast approaching armies of Haradrim and Easterlings,” Gaji, an expatriate Easterling, added.

“Hirgon has been dispatched to Rohan, to ensure personally that Théoden is on his way,” Gandalf said.  “He is Denethor’s swiftest courier.”

“What about the beacons?” Adam asked.  Will they also see them as well?”

Gandalf nodded.  “I have seen personally to that.  Also—Leonardo, Gaji, if you will?”

The two walked up to Adam and reported.  “We were able to, in the night, free up five phase disruptor cannons from their turrets,” Leonardo said, indicating their places on a map of the city Gandalf brought up.  “However, Most of the cannons are located on the south side of the city.  The initial assault will take place from the northeast.”

“If we read these correctly,” Gaji added, indicating the Ballroom’s sensors, “It would seem that the Easterlings will not arrive at Minas Tirith any sooner than a day after the initial assault.  The brunt of that attack will be the Haradrim and the Orcs.”

“Thank god for small blessings,” Adam murmured.  “Imrahil?”

“Word was sent to Dol Amroth and other outposts for aid,” The Prince of Dol Amroth replied.  

“Do we have any defenses on the outer walls or the Ring-wall of Ramas Echor?” Adam asked.

“One cannon, south side,” Leo replied.

“Do we know the range of the cannons?”

“I’m not certain,” Gandalf said.  “However, if you’re planning on firing that cannon, you should know that it will attract more attention than it will deter.”

“We’ll see in a moment.  “They’ve breached the wall circle, but they are still making their way toward the Othram wall.  They’re going to be using siege towers and battering rams to breach that outermost wall.”

“What about gunpowder?” Leonardo asked.  “Suicide bombers were used to breach the Deeping Wall at Helm’s Deep.”

“The use of gunpowder was more Saruman’s conceit,” Gandalf explained.  “Sauron has much more advanced technology at his disposal, but he would prefer to use more primitive methods in overwhelming numbers.”

“Even if they did use gunpowder,” Adam reasoned, “It wouldn’t breach that outer wall.  It’s made out of pure volcanic rock.  No seams, no mortar.”

“Then they go around and above it,” Leonardo pointed out.  

“What steps has Denethor taken?” Adam asked.

“The main trebuchets have been manned and armed with the usual armaments—Large rocks, boulders, pikes.  Hopefully, the smithies have melted enough slag for the outer wall.”

“I don’t know,” Leonardo said.  “He doesn’t seem as if his heart is really in it.  But what can we do, really?  Imrahil’s the only Captain of Gondor here.  Adam and Gaji and myself, we don’t have any rank, we don’t pull any weight with these people.  We might have these ideas, these strategies, but how are we going to really pull this off?”

Gandalf sat a moment and pondered.  Adam looked at him expectantly.  He was thinking the same thing.

“That’s a very good question,” Gandalf said, finally.  “However, now that Faramir is down, The good Prince Imrahil is the ranking Captain of Gondor, and he will be directing the lion’s share of soldiers in the field.”

“Okay.  Then there’s us,” Adam said, indicating himself and his three comrades.

“Enough force concentrated on those gates—I don’t care what you brace it with—they’ll fall.  One of us needs to be on that front line.  I’ll do it, if nobody else will,” Leonardo said.

“Then there’s the cannons,” Adam said.  “And this room.  Unless…”

“What?” Gandalf asked.

“Well, I was tinkering with the possibility that this armor,” Adam indicated the buckle that held his SilverHawk Armor, “Could somehow be plugged into the system.  Does that make any sense?”

“Go on,” Gandalf prodded.

“We’ve already established that the armor is relatively compatible with Starfleet technology.  If we can use it as a bridge between the Númenórean technology and our Starfleet technology, then I can use this padd,” He indicated the flat device, “To control this room out in the field.”

“Well, certainly, the LCARS system would allow you to use a padd to control a starship’s systems,” Gandalf conceded, “But to use it to interface with millennia-old technology…!  It’s a bit of a stretch, my boy, wouldn’t you say?”

“I’m needed out there, Gandalf.  And I need to be here too.”

“Start your work, Commander. But quickly!  The lion is at the gate, and it will not be held at bay for anyone.”

 

 

 

Adam stood at the verge of the Citadel’s edge, his PADD in hand.  He saw it very clearly, the coming storm.  Adam saw that the streamers of dark matter-laden clouds seemed to follow the army approaching.  Flanking Adam were the Blue Angels, four ancient robot guardians of the White Tree.  Due to the unique nature of Númenórean technology, they now shared the same attributes as his own SilverHawk armor.

The closest Angel sent a message to him, via his suit: THREAT DETECTED.

Adam looked down at his PADD and brought a schematic up.  The sensor display from the city reported the direction and mass of the invaders.  He brought up the outer cannon, miles from the the orcs’ front line.

“Don’t bother.”

Denethor stood behind him, stalking along the side of the colossal geologic prow of Minas Tirith.  Adam’s head whipped around.  Denethor’s mouth was still covered in the remnants of his last meal.  His eyes were crusty, as if he had just woke…or if he had cried his eyes out.

“Why aren’t you with your son?” Adam demanded.

“I’ve no more sons,” Denethor said.  “No one will ever have a son.  It is over and done.”

“Don’t give up hope,” Adam said.  “You don’t know what your city is capable of.”

“It doesn’t matter.” Denethor looked numb, staring out into the east.  

Adam replied, testily, “Oh really?”  With that, he pressed a button on his PADD.  “Then take a look at this.”

Miles away, on a seemingly innocuous pillar, a squarish, black-and-gray device emerged.  It operated on a swivel and craned up and down as Adam managed to access its directional controls.

“What is that?” Denethor demanded as Adam smiled.

“Please be quiet, Lord Denethor, I’m targeting your enemies,” He said blithely and pressed another button.  

From the distance, Denethor saw a burst of light from the outer frontier of Minas Tirith.  They both saw the red explosions about a degree of arc to the left.  Adam frowned.  

“Damn,” he cursed.  “Only three hundred meters.  But that doesn’t make any sense!  The specs suggested they had the range of a full kilometer…”

“What was that?” Denethor cried.  “What have you done?”

“It’s called a phase disruptor cannon turret,” Adam explained, not leaving the steward any time to keep up.  “A little disappointing.”

“You caused that explosion?  How?” 

“It was there all the time, but…Not enough power.  It would seem that we’re going at half speed.  At any rate, This cannon’s not going to deter them.”

At this point, Gandalf arrived on the scene.  Denethor seemed to tense up in his presence, changing from his fascination of Adam’s covert work to dealing with the Istari.  Adam sensed right away that he believed Gandalf to be his rival.  Jealousy, and deep, dark roiling anger came off of the Steward in sheets.

But Adam felt something else as well.

Deep, deep despair.  Was it for Faramir?, he wondered.

Adam turned and reported to Gandalf.  “We don’t have full power,” He told him.  “It’s as if we’re working on some sort of auxiliary power, and I can’t get the system to amp up its yield.  I do have a theory, however.”

“I suspect I know your theory.  It requires a party that is not available right away,” Gandalf said, and was answered by Adam’s vigorous nodding.

Neither of them paid Denethor any mind and looked out at the quickly approaching horde.  Adam saw their various divisions  and squadrons and platoons.  He wondered how such bestial creatures were able to maintain such orderly positions.  

“It’s almost as if they were designed expressly for this,” Adam said, quietly.  “They fall in line and fall into position so quickly, without question, without fail.  Have you ever seen anything like it?”

Gandalf nodded.  He did.  Far, far away, ten thousand light-years away in the Gamma Quadrant, Gandalf did indeed know an analogous horror to the Orcs.  Similar in genesis and purpose and execution, the Jem’Hadar of the Dominion were very similar.  Who inspired who in the idea department, however, was lost in the mists of time.  Finally, he replied, “Pray you never encounter them.  For unlike Sauron’s orcs, they terrorize their section of the galaxy with terrible ships.”

Adam’s comm badge chirped.  “Adam, this is Leonardo,”  The Turtle’s voice rang out.  In the background there were sounds of activity.  “Please explain to me why there were orders sent down here to open the Main Gates.”

Adam’s head whipped around and locked onto Denethor.  “That’s a good question,” he said into his badge.  Starfleet training fell by the wayside as he stalked over to the Steward of Gondor, one of the most powerful men on the continent—

And grabbed him by his mail hauberk.

“What the fuck do you think you’re doing!?” He snarled.  “There are a hundred thousand enemies coming at your gates, and you invite them the fuck in?  Have you gone insane??”

Denethor’s eyes were wide, and what Adam saw in them perplexed him.  He took a step back.  

“Why do you fight the tide?” Denethor said, finally.  “Why do you fight the future?  It has been written, it has been foreseen.  The hour has been told.”

At that, an object, hurtling through the sky, landed at the foot of the Citadel.

It made a rather wet noise as it hit.

“Adam!” Leonardo’s voice came through.  “We are being taunted!  I have the gates reclosed and braced, what’s going on up there?”

Adam turned back around, and Denethor was on the floor, unconscious.  Adam looked back up to find Gandalf, frowning, and brandishing his staff.

“Now we might be able to get some work done,” the wizard grumbled.  

“That’s not going to be an issue with the soldiers, is it?”  Adam asked.  “We just kayoed the Steward of Gondor in front of his guard.”

“The guards can only follow his direct order, it’s true,” Gandalf admitted, “But they, too, have been witness to his recent, erratic behavior.  I’ll explain later.”

“Well, what about me?  These guys aren’t going to follow my order.  You, maybe, but not me.”

“That’s where you’re wrong,” Gandalf said, and pointed at him.  “Congratulations, Lieutenant Commander.  You’ve just been given a field commission to Captain.”

“What?” Adam exclaimed.  “Captain?”

“Of Gondor, Son, Captain of Gondor.  Faramir’s holding on for dear life.  He needs local medicine and it will take time to gather the correct ones.  Boromir is dead, and his heir is too young to take his place.”

“Heir?”

“His son, Goramar, is only a teenager.  That leaves Imrahil to run this tower.  He will need an able Captain.”

“Right, then,” Adam said.  “I accept.  Have the trebuchets been manned?”

Leonardo’s voice came through.  “Gaji reports that all trebuchets on the lower three levels have been manned.  We’ve got plenty of masonry to throw at them after our little…mission, last night.”

“Fire at will,” Adam said.  “Tell them to target those catapults.”

“Done and done, Kanchou,” Leonardo replied, using the Japanese word for Captain.

Adam moved to the fore of the battlement.  He directed five divisions of Men behind him, ordering them to stay in position, to cram themselves to the outer walls, to remain at their posts.  Denethor had given orders to evacuate the city, but there was no escape.  Several buildings were demolished, and the cries of women and babies were here and there.  He finally made his way back to the top of the citadel, to the far point of the prow of the great White City, between two Blue Angels.  

His chief Angel warned him:  WARNING!  HIGH-GRADE THREAT DETECTED!

A distant-sounding squealing noise came forth, high-pitched and hard on the ears.  Dark shadows moved toward the city-fortress, and Adam knew what was coming.

The Nazgûl were coming to play.

From his vantage, He saw their dark, winged mounts swipe the walls of the lower levels, grabbing hapless soldiers, and dropping them to their deaths, while scraping the turrets beyond any usefulness.  

Adam knew that it was time for him to enter the fray.

 

All soldiers!” he hollered, addressing the senior soldiers at the battlement with Gandalf and himself.  “I need you all to stand back, and give us room!”

They did, leaving himself and the four Angels to stand alone. 

“Blue Angels!” He cried.  “WING IT!”

At once, in unison, they unfurled their silver wings upon their backs.  Spread wide, and ready, all four mimicked Adam as he hopped over the guardrail, and grabbed the stonework on the outside, close to the natural rock outcropping of Minas Tirith.  

The five of them looked like techno-gargoyles, their wings at the ready, with Adam taking a close account of the mounted wraiths below.  He counted seven.  His personal nemesis, the one who stole his SilverHawk technology, was unseen.  The other, presumably their lord, the Witch-king, was out in the field.  He modulated his armor and weaponry to the frequency he’d discovered the wraiths to be on, out of phase, slightly, from normal space-time.  His Angels followed suit.

“Ready?” He asked.  Behind him, Gandalf looked on, concerned.  However, he knew that Adam had to act.

READY, the chief Angel reported.

“DIVE!” Adam exclaimed, and all five released from the rock.

Adam felt the exhilaration of flight once more, and the sensation was heightened by the fact that he had his newfound squadron of mechanical SilverHawks to back him up.

“Find a flying target and attack!” He commanded them, and he himself found his own target, just as it ripped a poor soldier from his station.

Adam dive bombed, pulling his silver wings in close behind him.  The soldier fell fast, gaining lethal amounts of momentum, due to the weight of his own armor.

However, Adam took on that momentum when he caught him and moved forward, deploying his wings in a broad, almost noble-looking spread, trying to diffuse the energy.  The soldier was put down, nearly three levels below his original station, and Adam launched once again.  

From the lower vantage, Adam saw that the Blue Angels fired at the Nazgûl gamely, but played it safe; they didn’t get in close.

It suddenly occurred to him: They were machines!  It simply didn’t compute to them to risk their own safety fighting.  He decided to change his strategy; he would use them to distract and annoy the Nazgûl, keeping them from attacking the trebuchets.  He checked those trebuchets which they had already damaged via his connection to the Ballroom.  The cannons could still not deploy.  More distressing was the fire-trench that had been dug around the city.  The orcs made their intentions clear: No one gets out alive.

The wraith whose prey he had come between was close on his own tail, screaming at him in anger.  Adam suppressed a chuckle; his reputation had preceded him.  Unlike his Angels, which seemed to settle into a pattern of evasion and striking, Adam quickly doubled back on his course, ramming himself directly into the wraith.  He struck out, feet first, at the creature, while it was still at its cruising speed.  The wraith fell over, but did not remove from the winged beast beneath it.  The beast carried its rider past Adam, and there was no time to hesitate.  He brought his arm cannon to bear, and fired.

The shots seemed to be more effective on the mount than the third confrontation with his last Nazgûl; Adam wondered if their ancient armors were able to share their technologies at the same rate of speed as the Númenóreans.  Or, perhaps, Sauron did not feel it necessary to continue to update their biogenic defenses?

 

The Angel/Demon dog fighting continued for a while longer, but Adam couldn’t protect all points at once, and the Nazgûl brought despair and sadness along with pestilence and death.  Adam realized that the wraiths didn’t need to touch the city and still cause it harm: psychic harm.  He felt it in the fear and hopeless feelings of the thousands of Gondorians within the White City.  When they passed by, when they dived for soldiers, it was all for cruel sport.  Adam himself had to fight it, due to his natural empathic ability.

Down below, he was still being studied.  The orcs hadn’t anticipated a counter to the Nazgûl, and certainly not anything resembling a man in SilverHawk armor.  He decided to give them a taste.

“Disengage,” He told the Angels.  “Begin ‘Strafing Run’.”

With that, the four Blue Angels joined him as he began to make a climb.  They flanked him, two on each side, about twenty meters apart.  Adam began the dive.  He descended upon the host at a sharp angle, his wings spread out widely, his arms stretched out.  He began upon reaching the fire wall.  His arm cannons and his shoulder-mounted phasers blazed down upon the middle of their ranks.  No quarter was given or asked for; He fired at full strength.  All those who got in the way of his attack were either blown apart or vaporized entirely.  Also in Adam’s path of destruction were several catapults, still carrying fire, and a siege tower, similar to those, even now, breaching the outer walls.  The tower exploded from the inside out, showering tattered skins, wood, and orc pieces everywhere.  The Angels did likewise, and seemingly did similar damage.  Their run was long; Adam cut through their ranks from the front lines all the way back to the other side of the fields of Pelennor.  When he reached their rear, he doubled back, and commanded his Angels to fly back to Minas Tirith—fast.

Retaliation, he realized, would be swift.  And as he and his Angels began to race back to the White City, he realized that the quickening thwip thwip noise of arrows were headed their way.

“Faster!” he cried.  “Climb!  Climb!”

Within his helmet, Adam saw a dark mass gaining on his SilverHawks.  A lethal rain of arrows chased them.  

“SCATTER!” He commanded, and his angels did, moving in all directions ,with Adam maintaining a beeline for the city.  Fires had extended to the second level, and Adam was suddenly afraid for the lives of Gaji and Leonardo.

SYSTEMS FAILURE.

Adam’s head whipped around.  One of the Blue Angels was unable to keep from evading the storm of arrows.  The arrows slowly punctured his armor, revealing servos and mechanisms.  The automaton flailed around, as if drowning, and his wings slowly became riddled with arrow-holes.  It called out, in his mechanical way, for help that Adam could not afford to give.

SYSTEMS FAILURE!  UNABLE TO MAINTAIN ALTITUDE.  UPPER LIMB SERVO FAILURE.  SYSTEMS FAILURE!  SYSTEMS FAILURE!  SYSTEMS—

And then it was gone.

Perhaps it was then, that Adam finally began to truly realize the depth of his situation.  This was not play.  This was not a simulation, an exercise, a living history lesson, a travelogue of Arda.  

This was war, and Adam was in it up to his neck.

 

 

The twilight of the battle darkened into night.  That night may or may not have been true, as streams of the dark matter oozing from Mordor lingered overhead.  The orc host, no longer settling for tossing corpses, fiery missiles came from the host before them, and the response in kind were great pieces of rock.  Adam zoomed in close with his armor and saw their aim was true.  Of course, the orc host was too closely crowded against the outer walls not to get crushed.  Adam brought up the two cannons from his armor, and brought them to bear.  Cross hairs focused on a particularly nasty-looking catapult bearing fire and putrefaction.  He made them fire.  However, only the southern sections of the Armada saw any damage due to his cannon fire.  And the brunt of attack was still from the northeast.

Could it be? he asked himself.  Did Sauron already know?

 

 

 

Leonardo had only seen this much fire once, and since in dreams.  When April O’Neill’s shop, Second Time Around, was set ablaze by the Foot.  He was only semiconscious, led to an old van, by April and Splinter-sama, but he remembered the flames all around him.

An all-consuming blaze which was started in malice, hate, and evil.  Leo had hoped that there was a secret, Númenórean hatch that would produce a hose, a fire extinguisher, anything.  But nothing was found.  The fires that came from over the walls were oil-based.  Water only spread it further.  But it didn’t stop fire brigades from splashing the blaze in vain. 

From his place on the walls of the ground level, orcs lay strewn about him, hindered and sundered by the twin Tsunami. In the first attempt of invasion, the siege towers had crushed masonry and allowed the orcs to come in.  They weren’t like the Uruk-hai, who seemed to have a rather pure method of warfare, from Leo’s way of thinking.  Everything about the Mordor orcs was foul.  Foul in armor, in fighting style, to their very aura.  Nothing was good about them.

 

Nothing.

 

 In the distance, he heard the chanting of the soldiers outside, thousands upon untold thousands chanting one single word.  The word had no meaning, but the context chilled him.

“Grond!”

“Grond!”

“GROND!”

Curiosity got the best of him, and he scaled the outer wall, carefully avoiding the flames.

At the last he found the top, and he saw it.

Grond was a monster, carried by monsters.  The mother of all battering-rams.  It was nearly a mile away, but clearly seen from Leo’s vantage.  As he stared on, four winged figures sped overhead.  Three blue, one red.

Adam! Leo realized.  He wondered if he had seen the monstrosity headed for the great gates.

 

 

Gaji stood upon a trebuchet on the fourth level, attempting to cut yet another gun turret loose from the rock and mortar that entombed it.  Frantically, he worked, but his Easterling blades had been dulled beyond all use.  Only the dagger that Adam gave him, the ancient blade supposedly owned by Earendil, kept its sharp edge.  That blade now glowed with a violent blue shimmer.  He hoped that at this point, the fires would burn no further.  Nothing kept it from spreading as high as it could.  And if the winds pick up, then the White city would burn with an amber that would rival the gold glow of Na-Rhûn.  And, Gaji suspected, Na-Rhûn would not be far behind in the burning.

 

 

Not far off, The mighty beast-tamer Zanie watched.  The tracks were true.  The Mûmakil were near, lying in wait, in reserve.  He saw the signs from above.  The silver-winged man, Adam, flew with four others.  One fell.  Mountain-trolls moved a great bludgeon, shaped like the mighty hound of the Great Enemy himself, toward the gates.  Zanie tamed a troll once.  Strange creatures they were, though difficult to tame, to train, to trust.  The pull of the Dark One was great indeed, and while one could befriend a troll, teach it to do things for Zanie, The whims of Sauron were such that he could not trust it not to kill if it ventured too far from His dark designs.

It would be a boon if the destruction of Sauron allowed him to tame a greater range of creatures.  Trolls would only be the beginning.

It was at that moment, that a moth fluttered by.  Whispers on the wind encouraged Zanie to catch the moth and place it to his ear.

“The Brown Istari sends his regards,” the voice said.  “Listen carefully, Zanie, because things are going to happen faster than anyone could expect.  The Ents have done their work.  Rescue your herd, but be mindful of the Lord of the Eagles, Gwaihir.  He will be on his way.”

The moth flew away, and Zanie’s brow furrowed.  “Lord Radagast,” he breathed.

 

Adam beat Grond to the main gates.  Up and over, he landed squarely before them.  Gandalf was already there, standing atop the white stallion, Shadowfax.  Leonardo raced there soon after, followed by Gaji.

“Did you see it?” Gaji exclaimed.  “I’ve never seen anything so horrible!”

“Some kind of psych-out,” Leonardo agreed, nodding.  “Their timing couldn’t have been worse.  I don’t think there’s any more than a hundred soldiers left on this ground level.”

“Nay,” Gandalf corrected the Turtle.  “There are more stout-hearted men of Minas Tirith and Dol Amroth than you have taken account for.”

“Stout is good,” Adam said.  “Grond seems to be completely made of metal.  Scans revealed that it’s made of an Iron/duranium/mediterranium composite.”

“Mediterranium seems to permeate most mineral deposits on the planet, son,” Gandalf said.  “No, duranium alloy will penetrate that door.”  Gandalf bowed his head.

“If I had a little more time, I could try to create some sort of structural integrity field around the gates,” Adam offered, and explained to Leo, “An SIF field allows our starships to maintain rigidity during such high-stress situations as warp flight…Man, what I wouldn’t do right now for the Hanson.”  At that moment, a mighty multitude of voices wafted from the other side of the walls.

“Grond.”

“GROND.”

“GROND!”

“It’s safe to assume that that structural doohickey isn’t gonna be forthcoming, then?” Leo asked.

“One little Oberth-class starship could end this war,” Adam muttered.  “One photon torpedo.” 

Leonardo grabbed Adam by the shoulder.  “Now’s not the time for this!” he cried.  “Now is the time for all of us to be warriors, and warriors make the best of what little they have.  You’ve got the most advanced battle armor on the planet—that’s more than the rest of these men have.”

BOOM.

They all swiveled their heads back to the Gate.  Bolstered as it was, even a gentle tap of Grond caused several beams to break away.

“Did you hear that?” Gaji asked.

“How could we not?” Leo replied.  

“No, not the ram,” the Easterling said.  “There is no fighting along the walls.  There is no bows, no blows, nothing.”

“He’s right, Adam…Adam?”

Adam’s mouth was slack.  His eyes drooped a bit, as if in a stupor.  

Gandalf, still on his steed, came behind him and grasped his shoulder, shaking roughly.  “Lieutenant Commander!”

Adam looked at Gandalf, a strange look in his eye, and told him, “He’s here.”

“Who’s here, Adam?” Gandalf asked.

“He’s been waiting to see you,” Adam replied.

Leonardo, walking up to Adam, said, “He told me that his armor had some sort of shielding against psychic attack.”  To that he touched his armor and said, clearly, “ARMOR UP.”

Adam’s helmet went over his head, stylized wings jutting from behind his cheeks.  He jerked, as if jarred awake.  “Ah!”  He cried.  “It was Him!”

“Who, Adam!”

“The witch-king!”  Adam exclaimed.

BAA-KOOM!  The gates wavered.  Men of Gondor and Dol Amroth alike stepped away, knowing they could do no more.  Then, seemingly from all around them, a terrible, half-there voice permeated the air with the horrible language of the Black Tongue.  It seemed to sap the energy of time and space around them.  Even the lights in Adam’s armor, to Leo, seemed to dim.

 

BAA-KOOM.

The gates continued to hold, but their bracings were nothing more than toothpicks about the gates of stone.

BAA-KOOM.

“You all must exit this level!” Gandalf exclaimed.  “There may still be hope in using the phase disruptor cannons if they make further way up the mountain!”

“No,” Adam replied, wearily.  “I stand with you, Gandalf.”

Leo nodded, and brandished his twin katana, both glowing the same blue as Gaji’s knife of Earendil, the same blue as Adam’s chestplate of Númenor.

“Brave souls,” Gandalf said.  “Then we exit this plane together.”

“Perhaps I’ll be reincarnated as a mammal in the next life,” Leo mused.  “This has to rate high on the karma.”

BAA-KOOM!!!

With that, the gates finally gave, shattering like glass and splinters, with a noise of a hundred thunderstorms.  Waiting were two trolls, brandishing large bludgeons.  By that time, only Adam, Leo, Gaji, and the White Wizard remained at the gates.  Adam brought both arms to bear, arm cannons blazing.  He faced down his mountain troll without hesitation.  With each hit, the silicon-based hide of the troll became more and more red hot, superheated by the disruptors.  When the steady phaser beam of Adam’s shoulder emitters let loose, at a setting that would vaporize a human, pools of molten troll spilled onto the ground.  The troll gave a horrible noise, a rabid tiger mixed with a starving crocodile.  When Adam aimed his weapons at the troll’s head, it was already driven mad with pain.  It flailed its enormous mace around, shattering bricks and wooden debris asunder.  Adam only had to stay the course and sever the head from the body, its revealed surface glassy and cauterized.  It hit the floor with a thud, and  the body fell afterward, mercury silver-black blood spilled on the ground.

Leo leaped into the air, the twin Tsunami blades flashed.  “BANZAI!” Leo screamed as he struck at the troll’s head himself.  His trust in his blades paid off with luck to spare.  The katana pierced the troll’s head deftly, with only slightly more difficulty than with the wargs of the Rohan fields.  Same sword, different Reid, Leo thought with amusement, remembering how he met Adam’s counterpart, Joshua.  We could use the falling-star right about now.

 

Waiting behind the trolls (and trying very hard to get around the now cumbersome Grond) were the ground troops.

To Gaji’s surprise, they were Easterling.

Hidden among the throngs of orcs, Adam surmised.  While Gandalf stood his ground, Adam fell back a bit.  Adam watched in amazement at Gandalf’s swordplay.  With one hand, he held a white staff, somehow replacing the comparatively drab staff he once held.  But with his other hand…

The Elvish sword, christened Glamdring, which meant “Foe Hammer” in Sindarin.  Adam had seen it before, during his infrequent visits to Canton, particularly the fateful Thanksgiving that set everything in motion.  Gandalf, at that time, told him, “This blade was not made for idle affairs.”

And with every swing, hit and feint that Glamdring was tasked upon to perform, Gandalf’s statement was proven true.

Gaji appeared to be unfettered about facing down his countrymen.  With his knife, he knew where the weaknesses were in their intricate armor.  His blade flashed with Leonardo’s as they made their way through the ranks.

“This is only a trickle,” Adam noted to Gandalf.  “As many troops as there are out there.  Either way, we can’t take on a hundred thousand in one fell swoop.  We might have superior hardware and ability, but a body 

can only take so much.”

Adam never got the chance to hear a reply.  From over the gate doors the shadow came, screeching and blowing foul winds down below them.  Adam and Leonardo looked away, cradling their faces in that awful wind, while Gandalf simply looked on at his own nemesis.

The Witch-king of Angmar.  Adam’s research bore out that the Witch-king was originally the ruler of an area known as Arnor, in northwestern Middle-earth.  He dabbled in dark arts, they say, and he was rewarded by Sauron with the first of the Nine Rings for Men.  He was the first ring-wraith, and the highest of lieutenants of Sauron’s ranks.  

Like his subjugate wraith brethren, he wore the dark shroud-like cloak and skeletal gauntlet armor, Númenórean in design, like his own armor.  The head was further crowned by a helmet-like coronet, framing a pair of pinpoint-red spots that looked like the keyholes into Hell.  

Gandalf was the galvanizing force, the voice that the other three latched onto.  “You cannot enter here!” he proclaimed.  “Go back to the abyss prepared for you! Go back! Fall into the nothingness that awaits you and your Master. Go!”

Dark laughter emanated from the stones, the rock, the sky, it resonated from Adam’s and Leonardo’s armor.  

“Old Fool,” The voice rumbled, like the thunder from a plasma storm.  “This is my hour.  Do you not know Death, when you see her?  Die, now, and curse in vain!”

The witch-king raised its pale sword.  It was ablaze with eldritch fires.  But Gandalf merely stared him down.  Adam wanted to help, but found he could not will his legs to move.

 

“Kura-kura-kuraaaa!”

 

In a moment of comical incongruity, Leonardo cocked his head and asked the witch-king, “Did that sound like a rooster to you?”  The Nazgûl glared at him momentarily, before he realized what it meant.

A shaft of sunlight penetrated the charred inner wall of the first level.  Rather faint, but compared with the dark reality and the dark times, it was exceptional.

With the undead quiet that the Nazgûl had laid upon the land, it was easy to hear a distant, but distinct sound coming from the North.  Adam and Leonardo recognized the bugle melody as “Reveille”, a wake-up call for soldiers for centuries on Earth.

Only one other person in Middle-earth could know the tune.

And, Leonardo knew, only one group of people he could be hanging with to produce the sheer volume of horns that followed.

“You’re wrong, oni,” Leo told the witch-king, invoking the ancient Japanese demons, “This is our hour.  And your fifteen minutes are about to be up.”

Chapter Text

The Utopia Planitia yards, in orbit over Mars, were an awesome sight for those who were enthusiasts of the look and aesthetic of starship design.  For it was here, hundreds of miles over the dusty surface of the Red Planet, where they were born.

The Starfleet Shuttle Terra 310 approached the yards, steering a good distance away from the individual dry-dock frames.  A quiet, proficient Starfleet ensign piloted the shuttle.

The passengers were Professor Hy’uffi K’gar, his daughter Buffi and Thomas Reid, a freelance ground-based engineer.

“You’re sure that he’ll help us?” Buffi asked her father.

“If we’re correct, he’ll have no choice,” Hy’uffi replied.

 

The shuttle landed in the yard station, a dumbbell shaped structure, centrally located in the yards.  Hy’uffi led the way.  Buffi looked around with some interest; after all, this may very well be part of her career if she were to finish her Academy studies.  Thomas, taking up the rear, looked around with enjoyment and fascination.  his work never took him to Utopia Planitia, and he’d long wanted to visit.

Hy’uffi reached a closed door, and he hit a button on a panel on the left side.

“Come!” a crisp baritone voice replied.

They entered the small office.  Behind the desk was a tall, wiry man, in his late forties, almost completely bald save for a semicircle of salt-and-pepper hair in the back.  Buffi smiled.

“Jean-Luc!” Hy’uffi exclaimed, his arms open.  “So good of you to see us.”

“Professor K’gar,” Jean-Luc Picard said, his smile softening his austere facade.  “How long has it been since we spoke?”

“Since Jack’s funeral,” Hy’uffi reminded him.  “It’s been a few years since you lost the Stargazer.  I must be lucky to catch you between ships.”

“Lucky indeed,” Picard agreed.  “I was just checking on the progress of the Galaxy-class project.”

“Oh, yeah,” Buffi spoke up.  “The U.S.S. Galaxy was commissioned last year.” 

“Is that Buffi?” Picard said, looking at her with appraisal.  “It must have been only yesterday when you were barely this high—and bothersome as hell.”  He shook his head.  “Where does the time go?”

“Jean-Luc, please,” Hy’uffi said, urgency in his voice.  “We need your confirmation on this.”

Tom came forward.  “When I was Professor K’gar’s student at Kent State, I was…for lack of a better word, his guinea pig.”

“I don’t understand,” Picard said.

“I’m half-Betazoid,” Tom explained.   “We worked together to test certain…artifacts that required a telepathic interface.”

“Do you remember my paper a number of years ago on my theory of the Númenórean system of communication?” Hy’uffi asked.

“Ah, yes, the palantíri network,” Picard said, nodding.  “If I recall correctly, that was the one that earned you your Zee Magnees grant.”

“Yes, well.  A few nights ago, this palantír activated in my daughter’s room.”  He presented Picard with the dark, spherical device.  

“What did you see?” Picard asked Buffi.

“I’d…I’d rather not say,” Buffi stammered.

“It’s what I saw that you’ll need to know,” Tom told Picard.  “It was on planet Arda.  We believe they’re developing particles of unimaginable power.”

It was enough to pique Picard’s interest.  “Professor?”

“The palantír has some temporal qualities,” Hy’uffi explained.  “But it doesn’t mean that the result isn’t set in stone.”

“Is it…?” Picard asked Hy’uffi.

“I’ve seen what he’s seen,” Hy’uffi said, nodding his head.

“Omega,” Picard breathed, then stood up, ramrod straight.  “I’ll contact Starfleet Command, to make sure they’re aware of the situation.  Until I hear from them, I need to have your solemn words that this goes no further than this office.”

The three of them nodded.

“What you’ve described to me is something so sensitive, that it’s been kept out of the layman’s knowledge,” Picard explained.  

“That works for me,” Buffi said, flippantly.  “I’m more than happy to forget everything I’ve seen. The future’s inconsiderable.  And the present’s hard enough to face.”

With that, she left the office.  There was a short, uncomfortable moment of silence before Hy’uffi cleared his throat and pointed at the door.

“We’re, um…we’re working on her.”

 

 

The door slid behind her, and Buffi slumped.  She shook her head, bringing her hand to her temple, and sighed.  “The end of the galaxy.  Three Crosses.  Gandalf.  Can’t leave things well enough alone.”  She straightened up.  “Well.  Guess there’s only one thing for it.”

She walked back down the length of the corridor, looking at the floor plating jutting from under the carpeting.  “I’ve been ignoring it long enough.  I’ll have to answer that message.

“I mean, if we’re going to be devastated by a giant subspace…thing…I may never have a chance to settle it, once and for all.

“This is it.”

 

This was it.

Two hundred thousand enemies and one long field separated two men named Reid.

Among other things.

On one end, coming down the top of a high hill, was Joshua Maurice Reid.  Wearing the helmet and vest of a Starfleet SEWG suit, and propelled on the force of his own biogenic field, he rocketed into the infestation of orcs on the Pelennor Fields

 

On the other, facing down the right hand of the Dark Lord himself, with his mentor and several new friends-in-arms, was Adam Thomas Reid III, wearing his SilverHawk Armor.  Behind the Witch-king lay the hordes of Easterlings, orcs and mountain-trolls, ready to turn the White City of Minas Tirith to so much rubble.

 

Somewhere in between, hidden in the hills, biding his time, was the Beast-master, Zanie.  Hailing from Harad, the lands from the south of Gondor. His mentor, the wizard Radagast, told him to wait for the signs to rescue his mûmakil, the giant elephants of his lands, from the enemy Haradrim.  

 

The Board was set.

Now the pieces were moving, at a pace that no one could predict.

 

Before Gaji, Adam, or Leonardo could move, the witch king lashed out at Gandalf.  His staff appeared to be wrenched from him with invisible hands, and sent back to the Nazgûl.  The winged beast that bore him leaped into the air, flapping his bat-like wings.  A horrible cry emerged from rider and mount alike, the signal for the thousands of enemies at the gate to pour in.  Adam knew that when they did, they would be out-matched.

Gandalf’s face was inscrutable as he saw his staff return to him from the hands of the Nazgûl.

In pieces.

Adam fired wildly, but by the time he had any kind of bearings, the Witch-king was gone.  He then had to bear his attention to the hordes pressing toward him.  They worked their way around the two mountain-trolls that Adam and Leo had already slain.  The Easterling, Gaji, had a small pile of former countrymen around him.  From them he took a long bronze scimitar, and whipped it around him expertly.  Leonardo was impressed.

“We can’t hold this line!” Adam exclaimed over the din.  “Gandalf!”

Gandalf snapped out of a reverie of shock, still looking at his broken staff.

Adam threw his mentor a spear.  “You can use this until you get a new staff.” 

Leonardo was urgent.  “Come on!”

Adam led a large group of soldiers through fire and rubble of the first two levels.  The gates had been burned down.  Gandalf held the rear and was the last person to enter the third gate.

“Take the civilians on up!” Adam commanded.  “Get them out of here, now!”

“Yes, captain!” the closest soldier said, nodding.

“I want equidistant groups of three soldiers along the perimeter of this level.  Continue to man those trebuchets that are still operable.  I don’t care what you use—rubble, rocks, anything.  We need to continue the counter-assault.  Even if you have to fire within the city.  Trolls are bonus.  They’re the bruisers.”

“Sir!” another soldier acknowledged.  

“Leo!” Adam called.

“Yo!”

Leo came from the barred gate.  “Yes, Kanchou?”

“I hate to do this to you, but you’re the best candidate on the ground.”

“You mean…?”

“I want you to act as a counter-insurgent force, and work your way back down to the main gates, and meet the Rohirrim out on the Fields.  Think you’re up to it?”

“It’s old hat,” Leo said.  “Let me change into something more comfortable.” 

With merely a shrug, Leo was out of his armor, wearing his typical leathers and bandanna-mask of his ninja-garb.  His blades slung in scabbards on his shell, he ran to the edge of the wall, and leaped.

And as he did, Adam wondered if he’d ever see him alive again.

“Gandalf!” 

Pippin scampered around the corner, nearly tripping over his little self as he propelled himself to the wizard.  “Gandalf!  You must come quick!  Denethor has lost his mind!  I saw!  He’s going to burn himself and Faramir alive!”

Gandalf and Adam looked at each other with a shared look of horror.  The wizard took Pippin up onto Shadowfax and cried, “Quickly!  Adam!”

“Coming too!”

There was no stopping Adam.  He turned to Gaji and told him.  “Hold the fort.  We’ll be right back, shortly.”  With that, he jumped onto the ledge of the great wall of that level, unfurled his wings, and shot off toward the citadel.

The Gondorians looked at the Easterling with curiosity and unease.  His eyes darted back and forth before, finally, he exclaimed, “You heard your Captain!  We stand our ground until they return!”

 

The rear flanks of the Orcs turned ranks relatively quickly, Joshua realized.  Spears guarded their rear, with archers aimed high.  Josh’s cruising speed appeared to be 90 kilometers per hour, a snail’s crawl, compared to how fast he wanted to go.  However, he was charged with leading his éored down into the battle, and he had pledged his service to Théoden.  Somewhere to his right, and right up front, was Théoden, and Gamling.  On the king’s other side were two other Marshals of the Mark, leading their horsemen to get to the city gates.  But with Josh was Éomer, The king’s nephew, and a hard-won friend.

He did not quite know where Éowyn was.

He knew she was there, somewhere among the riders, defying all who would ask her to remain in Edoras, but she was spurred by her own sense of honor and glory.  No one, not even Joshua, could persuade her to stay behind.

Josh saw the first volley of arrows come at his éored.  “Evasive maneuvers!” he cried, as casually as if he were on the bridge of the Hanson.  He didn’t even realize how useless the words were until they came out of his mouth.

He wasn’t on the Hanson anymore.  He hadn’t been for what seemed like a lifetime.

Behind him, he heard the distinctive thud noises of several horses that were felled by arrows.  a few smaller thuds indicated riders that were struck.  He wanted to help, but he knew he couldn’t.

In fact, he saw this coming.

The orcs only had a good shot at hitting the Riders until they closed the gap.  Then, they were road kill.

Josh decided to give them a taste of their own medicine.  lifting up, hovering in air, he gathered a beach ball-sized globe of his biogenic energy and hurled it into the blackness.  It cleared a small patch of ground all around it when it detonated.  Josh reveled in it a bit, but saw the bigger picture down below him.

 

An arrowhead of horsemen, led by Théoden, did indeed close the gap.  Josh half-expected to see some dispersal, some chaotic, fractal-looking interaction between the Rohirrim and the Orcs, but there were none.

The Riders plowed right through.

The spearmen were trampled, the spears themselves were crushed, leaving death in their wake, the Rohirrim were whipped into such a righteous warlike frenzy that numbers no longer mattered.  Éomer had said it himself; each Rider was worth two hundred orcs apiece.

They weren’t holding back.

And, Josh realized, he could hold back no longer himself.  Théoden had marveled at his flight, and told him repeatedly that he would someday see him in action.

Well, Josh thought, now’s the time.

As he angled down, accelerating at a speed that caused a small sonic boom, Josh cried, “Death!” at the orcs, and meant it.

 

When Josh impacted down straight directly into the armies of Mordor, the explosive energy he created seemed to vaporize twenty orcs and two trolls instantly.  His field was up completely, giving him almost complete immunity to the forces of motion and gravity.

Josh bounced.

In fact, he bounced twice before he settled down on the eyeline of battle again.  He poured his power on, plowing, as he did in the Glittering caves, as he did in the Deeping Coomb, through the orcs, trampling them as the horsemen did.   However, he was faster, and his swath of destruction was narrower. One could see a small trail of turf open up in his wake as he made his way toward the encircling wall around the city.  He turned around one hundred eighty degrees, moving back toward his éored.

 

 

 

In the historical sense, a ninja was an assassin, hired by the shogun, to do, in darkness, what a samurai, with his bushido code, could or would not.  The realm of the ninja was the shadows, the anonymity of their dark outfits, the remoteness from which they could rain shuriken, throwing stars, or darts at their mark.

They were silent death, and that reputation was built up in lore. Some did not think of them as living, but ghosts, vengeful wraiths, won to the side of a corrupt shogun.  

In short: Ninjas were not to be seen, but felt.

 

Leonardo made sure that scores of orcs, trolls and Easterlings felt his blade before he made his way back to the completely wrecked Great Gates.  He looked out beyond and saw the armies that he had to traverse, and he suddenly felt tired.  “What a workout,” he muttered.

But Splinter-sama had trained him against such idle fatigue.  Many days in the Massachusetts summer he spent standing in a field of grass, holding one arm up for hours, his mind focused and cleared.

He sucked it up.  He brought both blades of the Twin Tsunami to bear, and they shone so brightly, It made him appear to be a creature of blue water luminescence.  

Oni!” He cried.  Shi!

Leonardo didn’t have the powers that his comrades had.  Not quite the dexterity and sight of the Elves.  But as he zipped through the ranks like a bloody wind, he showed what he had been taught.  Splinter never expected for his sons to ride into high battle like Leonardo now did.  He merely taught them the principles of Ninjitsu to protect them from a paranoid human culture.  But in doing so, he instilled in them the warrior spirit, the sense of giri, of honor, and of seeing a task to its end.

Leo was half-way there.  He could hear the whinnies of the horses and the twangs of the orcs’ arrows as he systematically found the weakness in the orcs’ armor and slipped his katana inside.  There were times when Leonardo forgot that his gifts were not as easy as they seemed.  And there were times when he realized all too well how easy he could deal death.

So when he flew past the host of Mordor, he did so knowing that his power was to be used for good purpose.

His inner self said so.

“What do we have here?”  A voice asked.  

Leonardo whipped around, and found himself facing a pink-faced orc monstrosity with a snubbed-in snout and a misshapen eye.

Leonardo had reacted too slowly, and now, the orc’s blade crossed his two.

“Hesitated, ya did.  foolish, foolish…whatever ya are.  Gothmog’s not the prettiest, or the fastest, but he does know an opportunity when he sees one.”

Leonardo’s blades didn’t move.  Neither did he.  “You know nothing.”

“What?” Gothmog growled, dangerously.

“You know nothing of death,” Leonardo said.

“Look around!” Gothmog roared, raucously.  “We know death well.  We deal it out well enough!”

When Gothmog turned back to Leo, he was gone.  He started a bit, and started to shrug, dismissing Leo as a coward or a casualty, when he noticed a presence.

On his exposed head.

“Arrogance,” Leo’s voice called from above him.  He was balanced on one large finger, upon the top of the orc’s head.  In his other hand, the katana blade’s front edge looked right at his good eye.  “That is why you know nothing.”

The Japanese sword was the last thing Gothmog saw, as the Turtle sank his blade into Gothmog, through the eye, through the head, down the torso, effectively skewering his enemy.  When the hilt was flush with Gothmog’s skull, he pulled it out, and leaped, from head, to misshapen orckish head, faster than any of them could react to.

Then he saw the horses.

They came in his direction, oblivious to his presence.  Being a ninja had its downsides as well.  He attempted to figure out how to evade them, when an arm grabbed him, out of harm’s way.

Leo was face-to-face with a dark-skinned man with several pieces of metal pierced through his nose, chin, and ears.  He was covered in roughly-hewn animal skins, and he looked at Leonardo intently.  

“Listen to me,” He said, slightly crazed.  “You must help me save the mûmakil, and I will help you save your allies!”

 

Adam, naturally, got to the Citadel first, but not by much.  Shadowfax showed him the meaning of haste as the meara horse reached the doors about a minute before he touched down.  

Gandalf looked on as Adam tried to open the doors.  His eyes narrowed as he shouted, “Open up, or we’re coming in by force!”

No reply.  Pippin, still atop Shadowfax, looked on with fear and concern.

“Do you want to, or shall I?” Adam asked.

Gandalf nodded.  “Do it.”

Adam activated his arm cannon, the mechanisms in his arm reconfiguring to form a weapon around his forearm and hand.  He took a good many steps back, set the energy level, braced the cannon with his other arm, and fired.

The doors exploded, nearly as dramatically as the doors at the levels below.  Adam trotted through, as did Gandalf.  Pippin scampered behind them.

“Where did they go?” Adam asked the hobbit.

“Rear chamber!” Pippin squeaked.  “They’ve got a pyre and torches!  We don’t have much time!”

 They hurried through narrow corridors, toward the back of the Citadel that faced Mindolluin.  “I don’t understand,” Adam said to Gandalf.  “What’s driven Denethor mad?”

“He has been tricked into false despair,” Gandalf said.  “Sauron has told him lies, things that only Denethor would understand in his own context.  His counsel, he believes, tells him unblinking truth, but in fact, it is the Beast.”

“What does that mean?” Adam muttered.  They came to another blocked door.  Adam kicked it in.

It was a bizarre scene that greeted them.  Denethor, prowling along the pyre of sticks and kindling, as if performing some ancient, pagan ritual, muttering words that Adam could not decipher.  He sensed from the Steward a feeling of acceptance, as if he had already finished grieving.  For Faramir, who lay, bound in twine, upon the pyre.  Adam was reminded of the old bible story of Isaac, and the divine edict to sacrifice one’s own son.  But it was a test of fortitude, that story.  And what Adam saw was only selfishness .

Four Citadel guards, not androids, like the Blue Angels were, but elite soldiers, held torches, moving closer to the firewood.

“Step away from Faramir!” he commanded.

A guard replied to Adam, “His word is law.”

He was answered by a beam of golden-yellow energy that superheated the metal torch.  He cried and dropped it.  It fell, harmlessly, onto the marble floor.

“New law,” Adam sneered.  “You!”

Denethor looked fearfully at Adam as the armored Starfleet officer crossed the room, picked him up, and slammed him, hard, onto the back wall.  Again, as during the siege, when Denethor had the Gates opened to the hordes, Adam sensed very…wrong emotions from the Steward.

“You cannot do this,” Gandalf said to Denethor.

“Soon,” Denethor said, in almost a whisper.  “Soon, all shall burn.”

Adam’s voice was level.  “No.”

“The West has failed. It shall go up in a great fire, and it will all be ended.”

Adam looked at Gandalf as he held Denethor, who kept muttering, “Ash!  Ash and smoke, blown away on the wind.”  He then drifted into a stupor, and Adam dropped him.  He slid onto the floor.

Pippin and a Citadel Guard, Beregond, got onto the table that held Faramir and worked on freeing him.  Adam shook his head.  “I never thought that it would be so unusual.  Dad never warned me.”

“Eh?” Gandalf asked, absently, helping to get Faramir loose from his bonds.  His lids were half-opened, as if in a deep dreaming sleep.

“Never knew that the unbalanced mind had such…I don’t know how to explain it…such…”

“Unbalanced emotions?” Gandalf offered.  “That’s describing it modestly.”

“NO!”  Denethor cried, scrambling to his feet!  “DO NOT TAKE MY SON AWAY FROM ME!”

Adam held him firmly. while Gandalf said, with a voice as strict as it was booming, “Authority is not given to you, Steward of Gondor, to order the hour of your death.  Only the pagan kings did thus, in fits of ego and despair, leaving the world when they were afraid to face it!”

The Steward relaxed a bit, and Adam was about to offer an encouraging word, when he surged once again.

“Ego and despair!” He howled.  “Ego! And despair?!”  He broke free of Adam’s grip, his mail hauberk ripping, the chain mail clinking to the ground like rain.  He moved to the other side of the pyre, and lifted a cloth from a small table.

Gandalf and Adam looked at it.  Adam gasped, while Gandalf sighed.  Denethor cackled, sounding less and less like the proud man that he was, scarcely days ago, when Adam met him.  “Did you think the eyes of the White Tower were blind?”

“The Anor Stone?!” Adam exclaimed.  

“I have seen more than thou knowest, Grey Fool. For thy hope is but ignorance. Go then and labor in healing! Go forth and fight! Vanity. For a little space you may triumph on the field, for a day. But.. against the Dark Power that now arises there is no victory. To this dying City only the first finger of its hand has yet been stretched. All the East is moving. And even now the wind of thy hope cheats thee and wafts up Anduin a fleet with black sails. The West has failed. It is time for all to depart this life who would not be slaves!”

Adam considered the palantír.  “A dark fleet…a devil’s armada?  Gandalf, that can’t really be true, can it?”

Gandalf replied, cryptically, “It is a truth, but it is truth.”

  Denethor looked at Adam, and smiled.  “I saw your father, Adam,” he said.  “He is looking for you.  He loves you.  I only now knew the love that I stored in the depths of myself for my son, my wife’s son Faramir.  He looks so much like her.  When she left, his face, his glance, his thoughtfulness was a torment to me.  The horrors of the day, and your coming, may destroy all, but they aided me in knowing that I have been very wrong about a great many things.  Faramir and I will be together, forever, with Boromir…with Finduilas.  And…not too long after…Ceria…Goramar…”

Adam took Denethor, and told him, quietly, “Where I come from, where I grew up, we were told that when one passes this world, one sees a light, bright as the sun, but it doesn’t hurt to look at it.  And inside the light, are all of our fathers, welcoming us, helping us along to new destinies and new realities.”

Denethor, starting to sob, nodded.

“But there is still time for Faramir.  He is not ready to go into the light.  You know this to be true.  Let your fear go.”

“I am not afraid,” Denethor said.  “Very well.  But It’s too late for me.  Guards!” He cried for the Citadel guards.  “Come hither!”

He jumped upon the pyre as it became lit, holding the palantír tightly.  His clothes were soaked with lamp oil, and he ignited quickly.

Faramir’s eyes lifted slowly, looking dreamily at the vision of his father, engulfed in flames.  Denethor, burning, met the glance, and, at the last moment, his despair left him, and, desperately, he tried to put himself out, running past the guards, out of the Citadel, to the Fountain.  Surely the fountain would put him out.

The Fountain was dry.  in its place was a long stairway, down to the Ballroom.

Finally, Denethor ran, his hair on fire, whipping wildly around him.  He ran and ran and ran—

He fell.

Down the bow-like edge of the mountain, down, through the city.  He was dead before he reached the next level down.

 

He never reached the ground.

 

From the battlefield on the Pelennor fields, Josh spied a flame descend from the top of the Tower of Guard and feared the worst.  Another firebomb, like he saw at Helm’s deep. 

To his horror, he retrieved a charred humanoid body, dressed in burnt clothes, and clutching a dark stone.

“Oh Jeezus!” he cried, and carried the body back up to the citadel.  

Rising up to the level, he reached the battlement and moved toward the citadel.  

He was met by two immediately recognized people.

 

He placed Denethor’s corpse gently upon the ground, and turned to face them.

Gandalf looked at him, then down at the body.  “So ends Denethor, son of Ecthelion, and the days of Gondor, because, for good or evil, they are over forever.”

 

Josh walked to Adam.  It was an awkward moment.  Josh took off his SEWG helmet, revealing a face framed by still close-cropped hair and a divot of goatee on his chin.  Adam, on the other hand, had several days worth of beard and hair which had grown shaggy in the back, looking much like the Rangers of Ithilien.

“What took you so long?” Adam asked, his grin blazing.

“Well, I woulda come sooner, but six thousand of my friends wanted to tag along,” Josh replied, and extended his hand

Adam clasped it.  “Six thousand, eh?”

“Yeah,” Josh replied.  “Take a look.”

The two walked to the edge.  They could clearly see the force of nature that was the Rohirrim continue to plow through.

“As we speak, a column of Riders are making their way to take back the city,” Josh explained.

“Uh-oh,” Adam said.  “They might have problems.”

“What do you mean?” Josh asked.  “They’re en fuego, they’re in the zone!  What could…could…oh, Jeezus.”

 

A long line of huge beasts made their way from the south.  From Adam and Joshua’s position, they could see they were preceded by Haradrim on foot.  Both cavalry and infantry served as harbingers to the elephantine juggernauts.

 

From Leonardo’s vantage, the scale was impossible to believe.  He’d seen elephants, of course—in the zoo in Central Park, back home—but a bull African elephant only stood at about six or seven feet tall at the shoulder.

If Leo was guessing correctly, these creatures stood two stories tall at the shoulder, and were each manned by a full crew of Haradrim.

Zanie looked at them, a great indignant anger in his eyes.  “They do not belong as pawns in the wars of Men,” He told Leo.  “Their home is in the vast plains and grasslands of Harad, where there is always leaves to eat and water to drink.”

“I don’t think we can save them all,” Leonardo replied.  “They’ve got a lot of enemies, in us.”

“We try for as many as we can, but we must save the pair whose cow is carrying calves,” Zanie asserted.  “The Armored man gave his word that he would help us, and I am not without gifts.”

Before Leonardo’s eyes, Zanie appeared to…change. The dark-skinned man in animal-skin clothes vanished, and in his place, a tawny, striped big cat emerged.

Tora!”  Leo cried, the Japanese word for tiger.  

“There are those of us in this world who have been taught to take on the spirits of animals, the lion-tiger explained.  “As with Beorn in the North, so am I, a skin-changer.”    

“O-okay,” Leo said.  “But promise me something.”

“Yes?” the Zanie-cat asked.

“We cannot hurt the Riders,” Leo insisted. 

“This is a difficult task,” Zanie said.  “Many of them will die at the hands of my mûmakil if we do not hurry!”

Leo hopped onto the cat’s back and found it strong and more than able to carry him.  “Let’s go!”

 

 

At the top of Minas Tirith, Joshua began to hyperventilate.  Théoden had reformed the line to take on the Haradrim armies, but the Mûmakil were just simply beyond the pale.  From his binoculars, he could see the spiked tusks, the razorline tied to the redwood-sized legs.  Horsemen stood little chance.  With one simple swipe of a tusk, a half-dozen Riders were picked up and thrown, gored, or, worse, smashed into the ground like a swatted mosquito.

“Oh my God!” Josh wailed.  “Oh, God, Adam, what have I done?”

“Now’s not the time to…” Adam began, but Joshua grabbed his arm, a wildly desperate look in his ice-blue eyes.  

“You don’t understand.  I didn’t see this coming!  I had contingencies planned out for an orc army and possibly a Warg cavalry, but I had no idea that the Haradrim had those!  I planned wrong!  I failed!”  

Joshua began to weep.

Adam gently took the the arm that Josh used to grab his and squeezed.  “Joshua Maurice relies on plans and contingencies, while Adam the Third relies on his research…and his faith.”

Josh looked up at him, his pink cheeks stained with tears.  “What does that mean?”

“It means that I have allies that have charms to soothe the savage beast,” Adam said, a twinkle in his eye.

“Yeah?”

“Come on,” Adam said.  “Me and three of my friends will come with you down there, and you’ll see.  ANGELS!”

Behind them, Josh saw three similarly armored figures march up to Adam.  “Ready?”

READY, replied the new head Angel.

“New friends, neh?” Josh drawled.  “Hope they can keep up with me.”

 

The five of them ran down the length of the citadel and jumped off of the edge.  Unlike Denethor, of course, their fall was only temporary, as Adam and his Angels deployed their wings and soared.  Josh kicked in his metahuman power and zipped ahead.

“And Adam,” Josh said, speaking to him via the comm device in his helmet, “I believe the phrase is ‘soothe the savage breast.’”

Adam chuckled.  “Don’t want to be sexist, old friend, but I doubt there’s going to be any breasts in this battle.”

“Oh, you’d be surprised,” Josh muttered, as they sped further down the fields.

Adam gestured left and right-handed motions, and the three Angels split up.

“They’ll lay down cover fire for us so we can get over the Rohirrim and speed ahead to the Mûmak.  Oh, and look out for our friend Leonardo.  I sent him out here to meet the Riders.”

“I’ll breathe easier when Aragorn and his gang gets here,” Josh sighed.

 

The Rohirrim didn’t know what to make of the strange flock of winged men flying with Joshua Falling-star, but they did know that the bolts of power that they unleashed upon the Haradrim before them were a boon.  At the fore, Théoden looked up at Josh and the main winged-man, and realized who it was: Joshua’s kin Adam!

Elsewhere, Éowyn made the same realization.  She and Merry, running between and attacking the legs of the Mûmakil, barely got squashed marveling at the sight.  

Adam and Josh began on the first Mûmak in the line.  Adam narrowed his shoulder beams to cut the cords, which lashed the saddle/tower structure to the beast.  Joshua did his part by ramming it from one side, blowing a hole right through.  By Josh’s third pass, Adam had finished his work, and the Haradrim fell, arms and legs splaying, to the ground, where certain death awaited them.

However, the beast was not yet saved.  It was still in a frenzy, tossing its head back and forth, holding a horse corpse within its trunk, thrashing it about.

“I recognize that,” Adam said.  “That’s a defensive gesture; he’s trying to get us all away.”

“That’s Elephants on Earth,” Josh pointed out.  “He’s still going at top speed, and he’s going to do as much damage or be just as dead.”

“I’ll see what I can do about the latter,” Adam replied.  “ANGELS!”

AWAITING ORDERS, The Angels replied.

“Protect that animal from fire,” Adam commanded.

COMPLIANCE.

And with that, the three angels landed upon the spooked beast, unable to make a false move, and unfurled their wings.

“Protect its eyes,” Adam suggested, and the Angel at the head moved down the trunk, shielding its eyes. With its wings.

With that gesture, the Mûmak began to slow down, buck a little, and then stopped.

As if on cue, the Rohirrim began to raise their arrows, when they heard a loud, “STOP!”

Leonardo, astride a huge cat, rode through them, with placating, weaponless arms.  Getting to the Mûmak, the cat leaped high into the air—

But when it landed on the beast’s back, it was no longer a cat, but a Man dressed in skins.  He gently climbed toward the large, flapping ear of the beast, and whispered gently into it, stroking the side of its head as if it were an infant.

“Well, I’ll be damned,” Josh said.  “Is that your elephant wrangler?”

“That’s Zanie,” Adam confirmed.  “He’s the new Skin-changer…. interesting.”

“You’ll have to explain later,” Josh said.  “We still got a lot more work.”

Five mûmakil had been killed.  Éomer’s column had discovered that the beasts’ kill spot were their eyes, which directly pierced the brain.  In the wild, no predator could get high enough off the ground to reach their eyes, having to rely instead of pack cooperation and tenacity to break the armor-tough hide of the beast.

 

“Hey guys!” Leonardo said, using the horse-head comm badge.  “Zanie says we need to get them to the river.  If we can wash off their banners, then they won’t be a target.”

Indeed, as they spoke, Zanie took a leather bottle from his belt and poured it onto the front of its head, causing the emblem of the Red Eye to run down its trunk in large rivulets.  “There now, Ngala, that has to be better.”

By now Éomer had taken notice of their work and cried, “What are you doing?  We’re supposed to be slaying these beasts!”

Josh dropped down from the air and landed in front of him.  “Way it’s been described to me, these animals are stolen property.  We’re trying to wrangle them up.”

“They are trampling us!” Éomer protested.  “What would you have us do?”

“We’re taking out the crew on the mûmakil,” Adam replied, landing next to Josh.  “Zanie will stop them, and me and my Angels will airlift them to the river. 

“Until then, maintain your focus on the ground troops, and leave the tanks to us.  Stay out of their way.”

“For my part, I will, but I cannot speak for the other Marshals.  Work quickly!”

“Right!  ANGELS!  Lift him up at the legs, gently, in three, two…LIFT!”

As one, Adam’s Angels and he turned their jets on at maximum, slowly but surely, sending Ngala into the air.  He didn’t spook or move, because of the soothing quality of Zanie’s words.

The Rohirrim battled on, too embroiled to notice the Mûmak on the opposite side of the field, spraying itself with the rivers of the Anduin.

Similarly, Adam and his allies were similarly too occupied with the recovery of the Mûmakil to notice what was conspiring to strike.

“JOSH!” Leonardo cried, atop yet another now-sedate Mûmak.

“Make it quick,” Josh shot back, zipping ahead.

“Do they still have….Movies, I mean?” 

“Movies?  Well, yeah.  What a time to ask about movies!”

“Do you remember ‘The Empire Strikes Back’?”

“Vaguely,” Joshua replied.  

“The Imperial Walker scene!  Do you remember the Imperial Walkers?”

A light came on in Josh’s mind as he smiled broadly. “You know, I think I do!  But we’re gonna need a lot of rope!”

 

Zanie was now content.  He was now astride the precious Mûmakil cow, which carried two healthy calves.  Muvu was her name, and Ngala was her mate.  Now the Turtle, and the two flying men would work on liberating the rest, though, Zanie thought, it might take some doing.  They were not trained by him, but by other, more corrupt shaman leaders.  He may not be able to calm them as easily. From Muvu, he saw the Joshua-flier lasso a piece of rope around one monstrous leg of another lumbering beast, and begin his run around it, locking leg to leg to leg to leg.

Betwixt the rope was Leo, making sure the ropes were secure.   “All right!” He cried.  “Cut the tow line!”

Josh burnt off the length of rope, and watched as the mûmakil became entangled, and tripped, bringing down him and all of his crew.  The Haradrim slid forward of the head, and several of them flew into the air gored and killed by the creature’s massive tusks, instantly.

 

 “Just like a rodeo,” Josh drawled, zooming by.

Adam was about to reply sardonically when his angels flashed a bright, urgent signal to him.

WARNING.  HIGH-GRADE THREAT DETECTED.

Which meant only one thing.

The Nazgûl were back.

“What the hell are those things?” Josh exclaimed.  He hadn’t encountered the ring wraiths as Adam had.  

“They’re the holders of the Nine Rings,” he told Josh.  “Sauron’s top lieutenants.”

“Huh,” Josh muttered.  “Look like something from a J.K. Rowling book.”

“Disengage Mûmakil,” Adam commanded his angels.  “Focus your fire on the Nazgûl.”

COMPLIANCE.

It was then that Adam came face to faceless face with an old friend.

 

“Does it remember the gift it so graciously gave, Terran?” It asked, flapping its bat-like techno-wings a few times.  “What a wondrous gift.  What delicious knowledge.  Such things we have forgotten.  We can never thank you enough.”

“You cannot hurt me any more than I can hurt you,” Adam boasted.  With that, he pointed his arm cannon straight under his faceless hood. “Now give me some respectable room!”

Behind the Nazgul, his pewter wings were illuminated by orange.  Joshua Maurice had created a sphere of his own bio-energy, sustained between his open palms.  “You heard the man.”

The Nazgul whipped its cloak around toward Josh, who released his power into the wraith.  It seemed to strike, hard, causing the demon to reel backwards towards Adam, who struck out with his other fist.  He’d learned the phase variance of the Nazgûl days ago, and he easily connected.

The creature quickly regained its senses, and Adam hovered before him, his arms crossed.  “This battle ends today.”  Josh looked at Adam expectantly, for permission to assist.  Adam shook his head.  “This is between me and him.”

Josh nodded, and shot away.  Adam and the Nazgûl were left, aloft above the furies of the battle, alone with each other.

“This is it; you ready?”  Adam asked.

“Are you?”  The armored Nazgûl shot back.

 

 

And as the two, wearing two armors, two sides of the same technology, got ready to clash, neither of them saw the small convoy of ships landing by the riverside port, only mere miles away from Minas Tirith and downstream from the now-happily sedate mûmakil.

The ships foreseen by Denethor, glimpsed by Hy’uffi K’gar and Thomas Reid.

A Dark Fleet?

A Devil’s Armada?

 

But all Adam saw was the faceless horror that, only through the sensor display of his armor, sneered arrogantly at him.

“Let’s Go.”

Chapter Text

No one really understood why Mon*Star referred to himself as “The Planet Master”.

Everything about him was a total mystery, in fact.  According to the records at Hawk Haven, there was no record of anyone matching Mon*Star prior to twenty years prior.  His fortress at Brim*Star, an airless volcanic moon, prior to his occupation, belonged to a person named Gomphor, an El-aurian.  But somehow, Gomphor mysteriously…disappeared.  And Mon*Star took up residence soon after.  With a patient surety, he gathered around him a rather motley and varied crew of criminals that no one would have suspected to have it within him or her.  A former singer.  A brilliant weapons engineer.  The messiah of an entire world.  And a Plundaaran smuggler who was down on his luck.  They and many more became known as Mon*Star’s Mob.  When directed by they mysterious don, they struck fear into the area of space known as Limbo.  The triangle of space between Klingon territory and the Romulan Neutral Zone, the area was known for such lawless planets such as Fence and Nimbus III.

And Bed-Lama.

With the promise of the exchange of exotic technologies, they encouraged Federation trade and incursion into Limbo after the Klingon Neutral Zone was dissolved at the turn of the last century.

Unfortunately, they also inherited the rampant crime that came in after the iron fist of the Empire had been retreated.  

However, The Bed-Lamans, vaguely mollusk-like humanoids, had a secret.

Much of their technology was derived from the ancient Númenóreans, who were believed to have expanded their territory out to Limbo.  Much of their defense and weapons technology were evident in the day-to-day works of Bed-Lama and its associate institutions of Dolare and Automata, and the Artificial Sun, which provided full spectrum light to many Bed-Laman space colonies.

Vincent Stargazer was the Federation’s first offering.

A young Starfleet lieutenant, he oversaw the construction of the joint Federation/Bed-Laman station, Hawk Haven.  He had overseen much of the cleanup of the crime in Limbo, and was considered a lawman in a lawless territory.  Back home, Stargazer was compared to a latter-day Elliot Ness, with him and his partner, Condor, breaking up organized crime rings or sweeping them out altogether.

Until Mon*Star.

Mon*Star was the irresistible force, and Stargazer and Condor were far from immovable objects.  Yes, they were able to get him confined to Penal Station 10, but he would not hold.  He broke out the instant the Moon Star flared up again, empowered by its unusual energies.  Condor opted out, and Stargazer needed help.

Gandalf came to the rescue.

Before he put his affairs in order in the Federation and set out to get the Ring destroyed, he gathered a group of officers to test the newly examined and executed SilverHawk technology.  The prototype was…misplaced (at least, until it ended up in the hands of Adam Reid) but the first five armors were developed for Jonathan Quick, Will and Emily Hart, Whistler the Mime, and Roger Nelson, and as Gandalf reached the shire to send Frodo Baggins on his way, the SilverHawks made their debut in Limbo.

Mon*Star’s mob had met their match.

And that was about a year prior to now.

 

 

“You need to stop,” the Thunderan’s voice fuzzed through the SprintHawk’s comm.  “You aren’t telling me everything I need to know about this Mob.”  

Jonathan Quick’s eyes narrowed, and he replied, “All you need to know is that the SilverHawks can handle them, your Majesty.”

That didn’t satisfy Lion-O.  Not by half.  “We can argue about sovereignty and jurisdiction all we want, Lieutenant, but the fact of the matter remains is that we are all in danger.”

The SilverHawks’ ship, the Maraj, came alongside SprintHawk 1 and the Feliner.  The space roadsters loomed closer, and their weapons were hot.  

“Mandora would let us help.  I can’t believe you’d turn us down.”

With that, Jonathan sighed.  “Engage the left-hand ship.  Bluegrass, take the other two.  Mon*Star’s mine.”

 

 

 

“Guess again, girlfriend.”

 

With that, Kit rose up with a reverse flip and landed on the table before the green-haired intruder.  “You back away from the Bolian, lady.  Now!”

Melodia cackled in a high-pitched laugh that no one would believe came from an accomplished singer.  “Sorry, kitty cat,” she replied.  “No dice.  Ched owes me a duet.”

She was answered with a kick to the face.  Unshod, Kit’s feet were precise weapons.

“Perhaps your translator’s malfunctioning.”  She said, and looked at Cheetara, who stood ready, her bo-staff in both her hands.  “Back.  Off.”

Ched stood before the two in awe.  Kitra moved like Melanie sang.  It transcended his notions of elegance and beauty.  Never mind that she was attempting to beat the singer to a pulp.

“That is IT!” Melodia shrieked, wiping blood from the edge of her mouth.  “I’m gonna change your channel for good!”  With that, she plugged a wire that attached to a box on her hip into the key-tar that was slung over her shoulder.  The device didn’t look much different than any other piano-like instrument except for one thing.

The gun-like muzzle that jutted out from one end.

Cheetara’s eyebrows rose on their own as she watched with interest and mild amusement.  She was willing to indulge the two young women’s need to fight, up to a point.

With a single C chord, Melodia fired a cacophonous beam of energy at Kit that shattered the face of the glass table.  Kit covered her ears in pain; the whine of the discharge harmed her sensitive hearing.  She glared daggers at Melodia and launched herself towards her.

However, she was stopped by Cheetara’s bo-staff.  Halted, she stood by and watched as the older woman struck the instrument/weapon with the staff, breaking off the muzzle in a small spritz of sparks.  The butt end of the staff was then pointed squarely at Melodia’s throat.

“I think that’s enough of that, girls,” Cheetara said.  “I don’t think we need to ruin any more furniture today, hmm?”

“Thunderan bitch,” Melodia spat.  “This doesn’t concern you.”

“You’re in our home!” Kit exclaimed.  “You ruined our dinner table!  No…try again.”

“No more discussion.  Kit, get your rope.  We’re tying her up and putting her where she won’t damage anything else.”

“Don’t bother.”

The two looked over to Ched, who extended his hand out and pointed out at…

Melodia had disappeared.

“Matter transporter,” Cheetara sighed. 

“Can we get a lock on her?” Kit asked.

They rushed to the control room of the Lair.  Cheetara sat down, tapped at the station, and brought up menus and submenus on the computer.

“Sensors can’t get a bead on where she was beamed to,” Cheetara said.  

Ched got to the control room, panting.  “Anything?”

“This Mon*Star is very smart.  Ten times smarter than the mutants,” Cheetara muttered.  “Masked her transport from the lair just as easily as she masked her transport into the lair.  Did you notice, Kit?  No intruder alarms.”

“I don’t think I like this Melodia,” Kit growled.

“She always was a firecracker,” Ched said, looking at Kit.

Cheetara gave Kit a knowing glance, and told Ched, “We have a few firecrackers of our own.”

 

 

 

 

The attack on the Mob was predictable as ever, Quick found.  However, the ThunderCats’ Feliner was rather impressive in their handling of their particular roadster.  As if they’d been fighting the Mob themselves for years.  However, it was Mon*Star that was the one to beat.  

“You go no further, villain,” Lion-O proclaimed from the opened cockpit.  He got his first look at his new enemy.  Orange-red armor covered the being from head to toe.  Its head, or perhaps its helmet, was covered in spikes, and glowing embers came through the eyes and mouth.

“Heh-heh-heh,” Mon*Star chuckled, in a timbre that sounded uncannily familiar to the Lord of the ThunderCats.  “I go where I want…cub.”

With that, he leveled his pike-like weapon at the Feliner and fired with an angry red beam.  It struck at the hull, blowing out a piece, revealing the inner structure.

Before anyone could tell what he was doing (or stop him), Lion-O leaped from the Feliner more then ten meters over to Mon*Star’s Sky Runner, which broke past the SilverHawks’ blockade.

With his free hand, Mon*Star gripped Lion-O’s throat.  “I’ll let you in on a little secret,” He said.  “The Bolian is merely what they once called a “MacGuffin”.  A pretense, if you will.  Part of my current life as space godfather.  Do you know how it feels to wait fifty years to change a mistake in your life, and having it encroach closer and closer and closer?”

“You’re mad!” Lion-O gurgled.  

“Mad?” Mon*Star roared.  “Mad is having created ten thousand troops, sworn to do your bidding, wanting nothing but blood and destruction, torn down by only three thousand Neanderthal horsemen.  Mad is having your power denied you by a sanctimonious, arrogant, moralizing fool with no vision!  To be replaced by his disciples who not even now have an inkling of the honor that will be awarded to them!  To have been killed by a lowly Betazoid who you did more for than anyone else in his miserable life!  THAT, your lordship, is madness.”

Lion-O was ready to pass out.

“Then again, you’re a disciple of Jaga.  I don’t expect you to get the big picture.  Just another moralizer, Jaga was.  And look what it got him.”

“Jaga’s….still…around…” Lion-O growled, struggling against Mon*Star’s iron grip.  With his free hand, he extended his fingers, grasping at something that could not be ascertained at first.

Until, with a flash of light, Lion-O’s blade, the Sword of Omens landed its grip into its possessor’s hand.  

The flash distracted Mon*Star, and caused him to loosen his grip on the young king.  “And he’s given us some things to help us defend ourselves from monsters like you.”

“HO-O-O-O-O!”

The cats-head sigil in the section of the sword, between the blade and the guard, threw up a giant beacon into the air, a gigantic Thunderan cats-head symbol.

 

 

 

Inside the lair, Ched saw the two Thunderan women tense up.  He thought he saw a flash in their eyes as they looked into the screen, watching Lion-O’s struggle with Mon*Star.

“What—what does that mean?” Ched asked, perplexed.

“It means it’s time for us to go,” Cheetara said, tapping into her console.

“Transport-proofing it?” Kit asked.

“That’s right.  And we make sure he stays in this room as well.”

Kit nodded, and moved to another console.

“You’re leaving?” Ched asked, fear creeping into his voice.

“Once Lion-O summons the ThunderCats, we have to go,” Cheetara explained, tersely.  “You’ll be just fine in here—as long as you don’t touch anything but the food slot.”

“Most people like Thunderan cuisine,” Kit said with a smile, touched Ched’s cheek as she left.

Cheetara gave Ched a knowing glance as she tapped the door controls, and it shut firmly with a loud Ka-Lunk.

“I can wait for that,” he said.

 

 

 

By the time the two women got outside the Lair, Mon*Star had gone, leaving Lion-O still nursing his throat, walking back to the Lair.  Quick and two of his SilverHawks, SteelHart and SteelWill, joined them

“Don’t feel too bad,” Quick said to Lion-O.  “He’s a slippery guy.  He’s gotten away from much tougher situations.”

“He told me something…Why he’s here.”

Quick stuck a look onto him.  “What do you mean?”

“He’s not really interested in Ched.  He was only an excuse to get to Arda.”

“Arda?” SteelWill repeated, and looked at his sister.  William and Emily Hart were one of the youngest, and most brilliant engineering technicians in Starfleet. 

“It’s the next planet out in this system,” Tygra explained.  

“Arda was the historical homeworld of the Númenóreans,” Emily Hart explained to Quick.  “And you know their connection to Bed-Lama.”

Quick glanced at the Steel Twins.  “He wants to get more information about the Armors!” he exclaimed.  

“No.”

They looked at Lion-O.

“It has nothing to do with the SilverHawks,” he explained.  “He’s going to Arda to correct a mistake from his past.”

“His past?” Will exclaimed.

“We know very little about Mon*Star, other than his operations in Limbo,” Quick said.  “This might be it.  The opening we’ve been looking for.”

“We still have a problem,” Lion-O reminded them.  “He left his Mob here behind.”

 

 

Adam’s first punch was intended to send the Nazgûl into next June. 

 

 It fell a few weeks short, but he managed to send him colliding into the ring-wall.  How did it go? he thought to himself.  No quarter asked for, none given.  He rammed himself into the wrath, as if he were a linebacker or a rugby player, protected with the phase variance his armor now shared with the Nazgûl.  He knew that he had connected when he heard  the slight crunch and clank the armor created against the concrete wall.  A noise, not quite a grunt, not quite a growl, emanated from his nemesis.  It backhanded Adam with a force that not even Adam could predict, and it sent him flying twenty meters, into the blackness of orcs on the fields.  The impact took out ten orcs, crushing and crippling them.  Adam had no time to care.  He flew back up towards the Nazgûl, turning his body so he was propelled feet-first.  He struck with both feet landing square in its chest, sending it reeling back, its arms flailing about.  Adam himself literally bounced backwards, and he landed on his back.  He felt the impact throughout his body; even his teeth felt jarred.

“AH!” he cried, gasping, his back arching in pain. something dribbled out of his mouth—was it blood? was it spittle?—and he wiped it away.  He turned his body round, moved his legs and brought himself up into a crouching position, arms out, his arm cannon deployed and running hot.

“Don’t underestimate me,” he said, as the Nazgûl walked casually over to him.  “There’s only one way this will end.  One of us will fall.”

Through his visor, Adam saw the pale face of the fallen Man. saw his lips move as he replied, “So be it.”  With that, the wings of the Nazgûl’s armor deployed, not quite bat-like, as previously thought, but more similar to a pterodactyl’s, with a stretch of thin metal from a topmost spine down to the side of the torso, articulated to expand and collapse.  But in the hub of hardware there were a circular device upon each wing, similar to Adam’s, which now ignited with volcanic fire.  “Die now, and rest forever, Red Armor.”

The devices fired red lighting upon Adam, and while he dodged the brunt of the attack, it struck his left leg, turning the metal red-hot, burning him.  Before the armor could correct it, Adam howled in pain.  He worked through the pain, slowly, as the Nazgûl walked ever, ever closer, his sword out and ready.  Adam clenched his teeth, and fired his cannon at one of the wings.

It struck the wing squarely in the stretch, causing arcs of electricity to emanate around it.  A screech emanated from the Nazgûl, and Adam got to his feet.  His dark eyes smoldered behind his visor, and he barreled toward his nemesis once again.  Lacing his hands together, and relying on the enhanced strength of his armor, he batted at the Nazgûl, fueled with rage.  This time, he did send the Nazgûl straight over the wall, and he leaped after him.  He sent another blow on the other side, but the Nazgûl landed on his feet and retaliated with its own blow, sending Adam reeling.  

For what seemed like hours, the two kept striking each other into the army, taking out a dozen orcs apiece with their damage.  Adam became covered in dust and stannous blood, his armor’s gunmetal sheen dulled and tarnished.  Rage and desperation fueled him; he had no idea how damaged his enemy was, but he knew that the SilverHawk armor wasn’t meant to take much more abuse.  It warned him of microfractures in the outer shells and damage to the structural integrity field that gave his armor its added strength.

He had wondered what the limits were to his armor, and he was ready to take it to that limit.  With a cry, he walloped the Nazgûl once again, striking him where its spectral head would be, finally getting the satisfaction of pain and weakness from it. It struggled to get up, its dark cloak entangling itself on the tall grasses on the ground.  Adam, staggered, grabbed the creature by its ankle and pulled it back toward him, vengeance in his eyes.

“Now it ends,” he growled, backhanding his foe.  Not letting up, he continued to physically strike the Nazgûl, now underneath him, pummeling it with his enhanced strength and speed, striking it over and over and over—intending to do so as long as it lasted.

And it lasted longer than he expected.  With each blow he connected, he saw the chipping of the black coating of the Nazgûl armor, chinks and dents showing up.  Even its spectral form, the Dead King’s crown seemed bent.  But eventually, his fists began to slow down, the power in his armor beginning to ebb.  He knew it was time for his final blow.  He activated the Arm cannon and rammed it directly into the hood of the Ring Wraith.  He embedded the cannon up to his elbow!  Somehow, the space that the Nazgûl occupied created such a strange effect of time and space that the inside of the Nazgûl’s hood was larger than the space around it.  This Adam thought, his mind detached, as he fired shot after shot, plunging his arm further and further in, until finally, blessedly, a shot penetrated the dark cloak on the other side, briefly causing the fabric to catch fire before it was snuffed out, blown out by a suction from within the hood.  Adam quickly pulled his arm out with difficulty, as if fighting against an unknown gravity, and took several steps away as the armor seemed to…dent from within, as if it was imploding.  the wings extended, but crumpled, forced within the dark hood.  It jerked and jilted on the ground, and with Adam’s final bits of power from his armor he saw the Dead king, closing its dark eyes, growing smaller and brighter…a look of almost gratitude on its face before it disappeared with a shockwave of negative energy.

 

Adam did not notice the armor on his cannon arm crumble away, his numb arm dangling helplessly at his side.  Only one thought permeated his mind as he saw the lifeless armor of his defeated enemy.

 

“I did it.”

 

 

 

He passed out, hurt more than even he realized.  But no orc touched him.  An ephemeral, green energy surrounded him, and lifted him up above the ground.  

 

Within himself, a voice, a voice he heard, long ago, said to him:

“You’re wearing SilverHawk Armor.”

“It…” he sighed, even his subconscious exhausted.  “It was a gift.”

“The Dead do not forget,” the voice said.

In his mind’s eye, Adam saw a figure before him.  Dressed in the garb of the Guard of Gondor, a shaggy-haired man looked at him, smiling wistfully.  Strapped to his back were the hilts of two swords.  

He looked around at the carnage, and back to Adam.  “She told me that I was destined to fight against the Red Armor,” he said.  “Thank you.”

“Who…were you?” Adam asked.  “Before?”

“That doesn’t matter…Reid, descendant of Kaitlin.”

Adam turned sharply.  “When you’re out there,” The Man told him, “Be mindful…of who else might be out there.”

Adam felt the ground turn to liquid below him.  “I…”

The Man looked around him.  “Can you see it?  The valley?  The flowers?”  He turned back to Adam.  “You saved me.  Thank you again….” 

 

 

“ADAM!”  Joshua exclaimed.  He saw his friend lifted above the ground by the green force that had surged from the three black ships from the port.  He had thought that yet another army had come to task against Gondor, and he was ready to despair utterly, when he noticed that the green energy, which, strangely looked, indeed, like a raging army, was hurting the host of Mordor.  Of the twenty mûmakil that had set out upon the Rohirrim, seven had been recovered, and drank from the Anduin.  While those seven were unharmed by the Green Army, the eight remaining mûmakil were taken down, like caterpillars downed by an army of red ants.  However, when they started to move Adam up, he believed some otherworldly misunderstanding had occurred, and that they were attacking him.

“Worry not.”

Josh looked behind him, and nearly did a double-take.  “Well, kiss my ass!” he exclaimed.  “It’s about time you three got here!”

Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli came across the plain.  Legolas had made a dramatic entrance, single-handedly removing a tower/saddle from a crazed mûmakil and taking it out.

“Falling-star!” Gimli cried.  “Still in the fray, I see!”

“You know it, petit,” Josh shot back.  “Looks like your side-trip was productive.  What are these guys?”

“Dishonored men,” Aragorn explained, “Who were not allowed to find peace in the hereafter until they fulfilled their oath…to the line of Elendil.”

“What are they doing to Adam?” Josh asked.

“Adam…?” Aragorn asked.  “Is that him?”

“Only one around in SilverHawk armor,”  Josh quipped.

As if on cue, The dead lowered Adam to the ground before the four.  Further joining them was a great striped cat, bounding toward them, stopping before Legolas and snarling.

“My friend isn’t too happy with you, Legolas,” the familiar voice of Leonardo said, sternly.  He hopped off of the cat as it began to…change.

The snarling cat’s head was replaced by a stabbing, accusatory finger.  “You!” the dark-skinned man in animal skin cried.  “I thought the Timeless Ones knew better than to slay the creatures of the world with such blind vengeance!”

“This is Zanie,” Leonardo explained.  “He says he was sent here to rescue the  mûmakil from the Haradrim.”

 

It was an eerie quiet.  Shafts of late sunlight began to illuminate Minas Tirith and the Fields from behind the clouds.  And the green energies that had borne Adam before Aragorn now became Josh’s Green Army, the Army of the Dead who had ignored the call to battle so many centuries ago.

“Release us,” the chieftain demanded.

Josh looked at him with amazement and fear.  Like an incomplete hologram, He stood—his face seeming to simultaneously be that of rotting flesh and clean bone.  It waited patiently for Aragorn’s reply.

“This is really Adam’s department—He’s well versed in paranormal phenomena,” Josh muttered.

“Bad idea to release them just yet,” Gimli muttered back.  “They come in handy in a scrap.”

“You gave your word, heir of Isildur,” The chieftain reminded Aragorn, who nodded.

“I hold your oaths fulfilled,” Aragorn replied.  “Go.  Be at peace.”

 

At that moment, Adam jerked up, his eyes unfocused, feverish, as he cried, in a high-pitched dirge-like tone, “Cross over, children!  All are welcome!  All welcome!  Go into the Light.  There is peace, and serenity in the light.  Be at peace, Men, of Númenor!”  And with that final wail, he collapsed again.  As if guided by the strange words, peace and serenity did indeed pass over them, and they vanished from sight with a sigh and a gentle breeze.  

 

Aragorn knelt down to Adam’s side.  “He’s been in battle with a Nazgûl,” he said, touching Adam’s affected arm.  “His arm is cold.”

Josh waved his tricorder over Adam.  “There’s no neural energy in his arm.  Some sort of paralysis.”

“The Black Breath,” Aragorn explained.  “The Nazgûl exist on another plane of existence and to interact with them physically disrupts one’s nerves.”

“Gandalf has a medkit,” Leonardo exclaimed. “Where is he?”

A hypospray was thrown into the air.  Aragorn grabbed it.

“It’s cordrazine, am I right?” Josh asked.

“It is indeed, but do not tarry here!” Gandalf told them.  “There are many more to be tended to, including friends and friends of friends.”

Josh nodded, until he realized that Gandalf’s eyes were burning into him.  He turned to face him and realized.  “Éowyn!”

Aragorn’s head whipped around so fast, his hair tangled momentarily in his face.  “Éowyn?!”

“She wanted to ride, but Théoden forbade.  She suited up as a Rider and came anyway.  Where is she?”

“Éomer is carrying her into the city.  Gaji, no doubt, will welcome our arrival.”

Josh touched a section of Adam’s armor and commanded, “ARMOR DOWN,” and the armor retracted back within an oblate buckle-like device bearing the standard of Isildur.  Meanwhile Aragorn injected Adam’s arm with the cordrazine.  “Athelas,” he muttered.

“What’s that?” Josh asked.  They quickly walked toward Main Gates of the City, still a kilometer away.

“On this world, athelas is a plant that produces the chemicals to create this medicine,” Aragorn explained.

“Is there a plant that has inaprovaline in it?” Josh asked.  “If we can get those medicines to the wounded, our sick rate will be low.  There’s gonna be a lot of guys comin’ in with infected wounds.”

Aragorn nodded.  “What kind of healing skills do you have, Josh?”

“I’m rated as a field medic.  Emergency medicine.  I trained with Doctor Nat on the Hanson.”

Aragorn nodded.  “Then you’ll aid me when we get to Minas Tirith’s  houses of healing.”

 

Zanie continued to glare at the Elf as they followed the rest.  

“It was a crazed beast,” Legolas stated.  “It would have killed scores of men.”

I could have tamed him,” Zanie said.

“So sure are you.”

“I was trained by the Brown Wizard,” Zanie said, his chin pointing at the elf.  “I can calm any animal.”

“And you are a skin-changer,” Legolas pointed out.  “You are obviously a person of contention.  Please accept my apology.”

Zanie nodded.  “You moved well with the beast.  Perhaps you can redeem yourself by learning to ride one of them.  Ngala might bear you.”

 

 

The Houses of Healing were located on the south side of the city, two levels down from the Citadel.  Josh and Aragorn lay Adam down upon a bed, and left him for a time.  

Adam had revived; He was starting to recover feeling in his arm thanks to the cordrazine injection.  He sat up, cradling his arm and frowning.  

“You need to lay back down,” a stout nurse told him.  

“No, I need to get back to the Ballroom with Aragorn,” Adam said.  

Aragorn’s voice came from the other side of the bed.  “I’m flattered, but dancing will have to wait.”

“It’s Minas Tirith’s situation room,” Adam said.  “I’ve got it on like Josh got the Sit Room online at Helm’s Deep, but there’s a catch.”

Aragorn prepared a paste from the athelas leaves and nodded.  “I’m listening.”

“In order for full function, the computer system requires a DNA sample of someone from the line of Elendil.”

Aragorn looked at him intently.  “What does that require?”

“A drop of your blood.  Nothing more.”

Aragorn placed a bandage over the paste on his arm.  “This will act like a subcutaneous patch,” he explained.  “You should be able to stand.”

“Lord…!”  The nurse objected.

“It’s all right, Ioreth,” Aragorn reassured her.  “We’ll be going together.”

Adam got out of the bed, and noted the other three in the room with him.  “Faramir,” he said, sadness in his voice.  “We’ll take care of business, and then we can get back, soon as we can.”

“His encounter with the Nazgûl was much more dire than yours.  And Éowyn and Merry both received a double dose of the Black Breath.”  

“We can get there through the stables,” Adam directed, as they left the hospital.  “Will they be alright?”

“With time,” Aragorn replied, nodding.  “Merry might even recover within the day.  For a race so focused on leisure and comfort, they have a remarkably resilient physiology.  By the time he arrived here, Joshua’s tricorder revealed that thirty percent of the neural pathways in his arm had already recovered.”

“Let’s hear it for hobbits,” Adam remarked.  They walked through the stables, beginning to overflow with the stallions and mares of Rohan, and at the end, Shadowfax stood, unshod, unsaddled, unbridled, standing idly in his stall.

“That is one proud horse,” Adam remarked, before he walked through the dark passageway.

They reemerged into the sickly green of the corridor to the Ballroom, its doorway already opened.  Prince Imrahil already was there, along with Leonardo.  

“Man, how are you feeling?” Leo asked.  

“Like I went ten rounds with the devil,” Adam replied.  “Are you ready?”

“Step this way, Aragorn,” Leo instructed.  The main console was ready for the sample, and the main viewer read, “Sample Now.”

There was a device that pulled out, cylindrical in shape, with an ampoule within.  Aragorn placed his finger inside it, and winced slightly as it pierced the skin.  

Instantly, the screen switched to that of DNA analysis.

“It’s going to be comparing your sample to an amalgam of various samples of the family…check for familiar genetic tags,” Adam explained.

“Somehow, I expected something more rigorous,” Aragorn remarked.

“What?” asked Adam.

“The demand for proof of my bloodline,” Aragorn replied.  “To test the legitimacy of my claim to be the heir of Isildur.”

“Well,” Adam said shrugging, “If you are, then everyone will know.”

“Look,” Leo said, pointing at the screen.  “It’s tallying up the tags.”

“Now we shall find out,” Imrahil sighed.

 

The screen changed.

 

From the DNA comparison, the screen now was blue.

ANALYSIS COMPLETE, the screen said.  

SAMPLE TEST 99.25% POSITIVE.

 

“Your Majesty,” Adam addressed him.  

“Time enough for that later,” Aragorn said, dismissively.  “What is this Restoration that you’ve spoken of?”

“We think that we’ll get full access to the defenses of the city.  We might also gain access to other rooms in this enclave.  A system of turbolifts.  But the one phrase, ‘Much that had been lost, shall be regained’, is very intriguing.”

“Restoration,” Aragorn said.  “Do it.”

 

 

With the pressing of a single button, the entire city was sent into motion.  Beginning with the Ring-Wall, Gun Turrets deployed and trained upon the remaining Mordor host, still fleeing to the River.  Contemporary panels of super-hard material appeared along the outside of that guarding wall.  In the great outer wall, marred in numerous places by the sharp and harsh teeth of siege towers, cracks were filled by mortar, as rubble vanished from the ground.  And the paneling of Númenórean ablative armor covered the outer side of the walls.  Onward and upward the changes continued, with gun turrets, integral repairs, and ablative armor.  The hour waned to dusk, and great lights lit the city in a great, sweeping, spiral pattern.  By the time the Restoration had reached the fifth level, street lamps had somehow deployed from the walls, illuminating the rubble which had, in some places been dematerialized to create healing mortar.  Still, houses remained damaged, as they were not part of Minas Anor’s original design.  

Street lamps illuminated the Houses of Healing, causing Joshua to stick his head out the window and grin madly.  “Yahtzee!” He exclaimed wildly.  

Adam could not wait to see.  He rushed out of the fountain stairway and ran toward the edge.  Below he could see a cylindrical device extend and lock into position; the city’s torpedo launcher.  Below, a city lit by conventional lighting instead of lamp-oil continued its march towards them.  Finally, along the battlement of the Citadel, high-powered lamps deployed and pointed at the Tower of Ecthelion, which magically had grown a warning spire, with a flashing red glow at the tip.  Ecstatic, Adam looked back and saw, before his eyes, his Angels receiving another upgrade—and a new friend.  

“Oh!” Adam exclaimed as a new Angel was created out of thin air.  It walked toward him and touched his buckle, with an intimacy that he wasn’t entirely prepared for.  His armor deployed, damaged and incomplete, his left arm bare where the Black Breath had ate it away.   The Blue Angel took his armored arm, where a flickering visor display asked a new query:

ACCEPT NEW PROGRAMMING?

The Angel now looked more streamlined, without the adornments of the Fountain Guard but with all of the technological advancements that he had found in his journeys up to that point.

“Oh, yes,” he replied.  “Yes indeed.”

 

With a surge of information—His visor would only show Númenórean 1’s and 0’s—and power, his armor was restored to a new configuration.  This time, His chest displayed an extremely stylized Tree and stars, and a streamlined helmet.

He flexed his left hand, still rather tingly with the infusion of the diluted cordrazine paste.  With a thought, he summoned his arm cannon, and a double-barreled muzzle formed with a Chk-click; he smiled.

“Groovy.”

 

 

 

Back in the houses of Healing, Aragorn returned to tend to Faramir.  Josh administered the leftover cordrazine from Gandalf’s hypospray.  “That will restore function to his frontal cortex,” Aragorn noted, “But it might take more time for him to fight off the fever from the poisoned dart.”  

Zanie nodded.  “Such darts are used on the savanna on the hunt.  They are harvested from Death Salamanders from the southern streams.  One drop can kill ten men.”

“And yet Faramir lives,” Aragorn notes.  

“The Southron army are many things.  Competent is not one of them,” Zanie sniffed.  He turned to leave the ward.  “I go for my mûmakil,” He told them.  “Inform me of your next plans, and I will talk to the White Wizard about lending them to your aid.”  With that, he left.

“Here—what about Éowyn?” Josh asked.  Éomer kneeled before her, his face distraught.  Josh ran his tricorder along her still form.  “Her one arm is broken—and it’s already been set and put in a splint.  But the other arm’s like Adam’s.”

“And she’s already been administered with cordrazine paste in that arm, but I think that her neural damage might go deeper than that,” Aragorn said with a sigh.  “Éowyn!  She just couldn’t abide the cage.”

“Now our pal Meriadoc, here,” Joshua said, walking over to Merry’s bed, where the hobbit was intently studying a parchment. “Is responding tres bien to the treatment, and is fully awake and aware…”

“And reading,” Merry added.

“He’s gotten us some more herbal leads for the wounded,” Josh told Aragorn.  “He’s got the lore-master running all over the place.  And that’s a good thing, because more people are pouring in.”

Aragorn nodded.  “Then we’ve got a lot of work to do ere the next sunrise.  Let’s go.”

 

 

Late that night, Adam sat in the Ballroom looking over the controls and taking notes.  He was intent on being able to give Imrahil a full report on the capabilities of the city: its defenses, its weaponry, and its technology.  He had been at it for about four hours when Leonardo, Gaji, Zanie, and Imrahil came in.

“You’re working too hard, Kanchou,” Leo said.

“Yes, my friend.  We must rest.  We have a lot to talk about tomorrow—at least, you do.”

“What do you mean?” Adam asked, his voice slightly groggy.  “I still have lots to go over tomorrow, and that doesn’t include exploration of the other rooms in this corridor—

“My friend,” The Prince of Dol Amroth interrupted him.  “We need you in chambers with the other lords of battle to determine the next move.”

“Me?” Adam said, with a surprised that roused him to full wakefulness.  “But, Imrahil, you’re in charge of the City—You’re in charge of Gondor, actually—I’m one of your Captains.  Whatever Gandalf and Aragorn decide, I’m gonna be okay with.”

“As a leader in war, you were a Captain of Gondor,” Imrahil conceded, “But in the company of the White Wizard, you are of the Star Fleet, and represent their interests, and that of your Federation.  In that capacity, you must be present.”

 

Adam bowed his head in thought for a moment, and then looked up at the expectant faces of his allies.  “Don’t get a swelled head,” Leo said.  “We’re going to be there too, and so is Josh.”

Adam smiled at that, and nodded his head in agreement.  “Yeah.  ‘A seven nation army couldn’t hold me back,’ as the saying goes.  Oh, boy.  Do any of you feel it?  That feeling that the further and further we go, the closer and closer we get to…I don’t know, a point of no return.  Where once we pass that point, we can’t go back,” Adam seemed suddenly pensive and maudlin.  “We leave our old lives behind.”

Leonardo smiled widely, his large, herbivorous teeth filling his face.  “Well…yeah!”

Adam looked at him, eager to hear Leonardo’s explanation.

“You gotta understand, Adam…For me, a year ago, I was in Northampton, and before that, I was living in a city sewer.  For someone who looks like I do, to be a creature in a world of men…well, let’s just say that I handled it better than my other brothers, but realistically, the future seemed bleak at times.  Here I am now, on a world that owes me nothing, fighting to save it.  And after…?  Then I get to find my family, and see what this twenty-fourth century has to offer someone like me.”

Gaji nodded.  “If we do our part to stop Sauron,” he said, “Then the long-overdue insurrection in Na-Rhûn will remove the corrupt men who sided with him.”

“And the weak cowards that did the same in Umbarhaven,” Zanie added.

“Well, then, I definitely can’t go to bed now,” Adam said, turning back around in his seat.

“Why not?” Imrahil asked.

“I gotta prepare some sort of presentation, and get Josh in here for his tactical analysis.”

 

 

 

“The upside of working with the lore-master for ten hours,” Josh said to Adam, pouring him a cup of warm-colored liquid from a carafe, “Is that he knew which leaves made the strongest teas.”

“And which plants sweetened it best,” Adam added, taking a tentative sip.  “Whoo.  No matter, though—work before comfort.”

At that moment, Aragorn and Gandalf entered the Ballroom.  The two Starfleet officers got up, and Adam wiped his mouth of his tea.  

“Sit, you two,” Gandalf said.  “We’re still waiting for the rest.”

Aragorn sat down next to Adam.  “Your efforts made mine infinitely easier.  There is a library computer here that has knowledge of all of the old names of herbs.  Joshua and I managed to triage all of the wounded and the chemists were able to reduce the medicines into the hypospray ampoules, and as a result, there will be less infected wounds, and less amputees than there would have been.”

Éomer strode in.  Josh stood to meet him, and they clasped hands.  “I vouched for you,” Éomer said.

“Much obliged,” Josh replied.  “Wish I coulda napped before this, though.”

“We can sleep when we’re dead,” Leo quipped as he walked in with Legolas and Gimli.  

Gaji and Zanie, with Imrahil, were the last to enter.  

“Is this everyone?” Adam asked.

“All who are well enough to attend,” Gandalf replied.  “Faramir is still fighting a fierce fever.”

“Unfortunately, antibiotics are scarce in Middle-earth, so Inaprovaline had to do,” Aragorn said.  He will recover, but, ironically, penicillin would have been a quicker remedy.”

“Well, we’ll just have to leave some bread out and teach that lore-master a thing or two,” Josh said to Aragorn, smiling.

“Let’s begin.  Adam, bring up a schematic of the area for us.,” Gandalf said.

Adam complied, bringing up a map of the area.  Minas Tirith was located in the furthermost western part of the map, and the Ephel Duath stretched along the entire height of the eastern edge.

Josh began. “According to these sensors, those troops that were expected to be the second wave of attack on MT are regrouping,” he said.  “Minas Morgul is emptied, and, apparently, so is Cirith Ungol.  Platoons are scattered along the entire plain of…Goro-goroth?  Adam, am I sayin’ it right?”

“Gorgo-roth,” Adam corrected.  “Frodo’s expected plot into Mordor involved climbing the steps of Cirith Ungol, and over to this plain.”  On the big screen, a lime-green line illustrated the pathway.

Gandalf frowned and sighed.  “Frodo is beyond my sight.  The dark matter is deepening.”

Aragorn offered, “If Sauron had the Ring, we would know it.”

Adam, for the first time, ever, felt small traces of defeat from Gandalf.  “It’s only a matter of time.  He has suffered a defeat, yes…but behind the walls of Mordor our enemy is regrouping.”

Gimli sat, smoking newfound Longbottom Leaf tobacco from his pipe, snorted.  “Let him stay there.  Let him rot!  Why should we care?”

Josh got up and pointed at the screen.  “Look at the map, Gimli!  If Frodo made it to that volcanic plain, then there’s going to be no cover, no nooks, no crannies, no nothin’ for him to hide in or under.”

“Mordor is a Class-D environment on a Class-M world,” Adam chimed in.  There is no native vegetation, save for the hardiest plants, which means no trees.  No woods for him to hide in.  A flat lava flood plain for him to traverse.”

“And  ten thousand orcs now stand between Frodo and Mount Doom, on that plain.”  Gandalf bowed his head then looked at them, naked candor in his face.  “I-I’ve sent him to his death.”

Adam looked around. Josh was frowning; in the way that he did just before he maniacally threw out ideas.  Leo tapped his left fist into his right palm, itching for tactical inspiration to hit him as well.  

“No.”

Aragorn walked toward the wizard, his arms out in a placating gesture.  “There is still hope for Frodo.”

“There’s only one hope for him,” Gaji said, turning their attention to him.  Gaji had been a quiet, almost forgotten player in the events that had transpired around him, and he seemed content to follow the lead of other, seemingly wiser people.  But the Easterling spearman walked to the screen and pointed to the Vale of Gorgoroth and stated the obvious.  “These troops must be moved from his path…somehow.”

Aragorn nodded.  “He needs time and safe passage across those plains. We can give him that. “

Gimli seemed uncertain, unconvinced.  “How?”

Josh and Adam realized Aragorn’s thinking simultaneously.  “Murphy O’Meyer,” Josh exhaled.  “I’m either a genius or your telepathy’s rubbin’ off.”

Gaji, still before the screen, looked at Aragorn then at Gandalf.  “We get them to move…to the Gate.”

Aragorn went to the Reids and asked, “Can you illustrate it for me?”

Adam nodded vigorously as they continued to work.  On the screen, a steel blue arrow shot from Minas Tirith up into Ithilien.  It continued northward, along the Ephel Duath, until it hit the Morannon.  In Mordor, Black boxes moved from Gorgoroth, up past the Udûn basin to the other side of the Gate.

Gimli looked at the schematic and choked on his pipe.

Éomer shook his head.  “We cannot achieve victory through force of arms.”

 

On screen, the simulation depicted the blue mass representing the united forces encircled by the sheer numbers of Mordor’s army.  “Checkmate.” Josh said.

“Not for ourselves,” Aragorn conceded.  “But we can give Frodo his chance if we keep Sauron's Eye fixed upon us. Keep him blind to all else that moves.”

Adam took over the simulation and showed Frodo’s path reaching Mount Doom within the time it would take to reach the Morannon.  “It’s a hell of a diversion, but there’s just one thing,” Josh said.  “Optimism aside, we still don’t know what Frodo’s physical condition is.  What his provisions are…”

“Sometimes, Joshua,” Aragorn replied, “The thing that gets us through a journey, is not the provisions in our pack, but the company we keep.”

“Samwise Gamgee’s with him, true,” Adam said, “But so is two other things.  Gollum…. and the Ring itself.”

“So that’s it,” Leonardo said.  “Who’s going?”

“Aragorn’s going,” Adam said.  

Aragorn nodded.  “As I have begun, so shall I go on.”  

“When you reveal yourself to Sauron,” Josh said.  “He’ll know when you’re on your way.”

“He’s right,” Adam chimed in.  “You and you alone will have him throw everything he’s got at you.”

“Then the real question is, who’s going with Aragorn?” Leonardo said, amending himself.

Legolas smiled.  “This is no mystery.”

“I have little knowledge of these deep matters,” Éomer admitted.  “But I need it not.  This I know—and it is enough— that my friends here helped me and my people.  I will go.”

Imrahil replied next.  “The Lord Aragorn has been proven the Lord of this city, whether he claims it or not.  His wish is my command.  However, we have to think about the people we leave behind.  This is as a new city, with devices that only a select few can understand, including myself.  What defends Minas Tirith in our absence?”

Adam held up a PADD.  “I’ve done some work overnight regarding the city’s new defenses,” He reported.  “The computer system has an ‘autopilot’ function allowing us to preprogram it to respond to certain threats.  It’s already set to respond to any Orc bio-readings.  However…” Adam added with a smile, “That won’t be necessary.”

Beregond, and his son Bergil, entered the chamber, followed by the other black-and-gold clad members of the Citadel Guard, including Pippin.

“These men have been fully trained in the operation of the Ballroom,” Adam explained.  “And Beregond here has been trained in the use of this PADD, and he’ll be monitoring from there and communicating with this team—from the road.”

Bergil looked up at his father, who tousled his hair reassuringly.  

“You did this…in recovering health…overnight?” Aragorn asked, incredulous.  

Adam smiled.  “Actually, Pippin here took to it the fastest.  He’s now one of Middle-earth’s first computer experts.”

“Well, that explains everything,” Gandalf murmured.

“I…” Pippin looked unsure.  “It was very educational, and I think I found something new about myself…but I want to go.”

Adam and Josh looked at each other, and said, in unison, “I want to go.”

Leo nodded.  “Last night, Adam, you talked about reaching the point of no return.”  He walked up to Adam and Josh.  “And this is it, you guys.  His eyes met Gandalf, Aragorn, Éomer, Gaji, still by the screen, and Imrahil.  “Nobody here comes out of this unchanged.”

“I, too, shall join you,” Zanie said, still at the door.  “Perhaps the brothers would direct their vision to the River.”

Adam began to open his mouth, ready to correct Zanie, but Josh stopped him.  “Let it go, bro,” he said, and punched in the command to switch to external cameras.

The initial image was that of the three black ships by the river, but Josh panned further outward, and was greeted by something that made Éomer and Legolas grin.

Five mûmakil, resaddled in refurbished towers, no longer red but deep, royal blue, stood by the river.  Their heads were adorned with blue, with chalky White Trees and Seven Stars on their temples.

“I do believe my initial prejudices to the beasts are beginning to be reversed,” Éomer said, elated.  “I do not believe my love for my horse has dimmed, but the thought of learning to ride such a thing is enticing indeed.”

“And yet, what a sad thing it is,” Legolas said, “That warfare held me responsible for destroying such a magnificent creature.”  He looked at Zanie.  “I hold you to your word, beast-master.”

Zanie nodded.  “It shall be done, and you shall be adept in two days.”

“That’s good,” Adam noted, “Because two days is all we have to muster the troops and get going.”

“Wai-wai-wai-wait,” Josh exclaimed, waving his hands, causing all to stop.  “We didn’t hear from the lil’ guy with the beard.  Gimli, whaddaya think?”

Gimli, with deliberation, took the pipe from his mouth, and stuck out his index finger.  “Certainty of death?”  He then joined it with his thumb, forming an ‘O’: “Small chance of success?”

A small pause, and all eyes were on the Dwarf.  He shot them all one of his irrepressible, wicked grins.  “What are we waitin’ for?”

 

 

 

The next two days were one of great activity.  Soldiers prepared to ship out, and many of them left their houses with wreaths of flowers adorning their heads, as was the Gondorian custom.  The temples were stuffed with many who offered up prayers and blessings for the ones they loved, both the protectors and the protected.  Green bands appeared over many door thresholds, as a silent wish for safe return.  On one of these streets with many such banners, Adam and Gandalf walked, with only one night remaining before they were to leave.  

“Gandalf,” Adam said, with great concern in his voice, “I’ve never seen you so melancholy.  What’s wrong?”

“I am overcome with a great anxiety,” Gandalf admitted.  “The culmination of the one great mission in my life is nigh.  And Leonardo hit the nail on the head when he spoke of turning points and no return.”

Adam smiled and quoted one of his personal heroes.  “History is replete with turning points, Gandalf.  You must have faith.”

“You speak of faith because there is no pressure—for the moment.  We are standing in the eye of the storm, my boy—move an inch, and you’ll be dead.”

“There’s something you’re not telling me,” Adam said.  “What is it?”

“You said, earlier, that you did not believe that I trust you,” Gandalf said, ducking into an empty house.  “Allow me to rectify that.”

With that, he produced his PADD.  He tapped a few keys onto it, and it revealed a single, huge, Greek letter on it.

Omega.

Adam frowned, not understanding what he was being shown.  “I was given sweeping permissions,” Gandalf told him, “To let you see even this.  Only those in Starfleet with security clearance level ten know what this means.  And you.”

“Omega,” Adam said, shaking his head.  “What is Omega?”

“Omega is the most powerful substance in the Galaxy,” Gandalf stated.  “One molecule alone has as much energy as the warp core of a starship—and as destructive if it is unstable.”

“Wow,” Adam breathed.

“In the beginning of the universe,” Gandalf explained, “Omega might have existed naturally, and, in essence was the power behind the Big Bang.  However, all attempts to create the molecule have been…cataclysmic.  It may even have been the downfall of Númenor.

“In the last century, Starfleet made inroads to attempt to understand and harness Omega.  It was met by a disaster, which killed all of the scientists involved and created several subspace ruptures that made warp travel impossible in that sector.  One particle was involved, Adam!”

“If one molecule could disrupt a sector,” Adam said, catching on, “A handful of molecules could wipe out warp travel in the whole quadrant!”

“Too much rode on the instability of Omega, so Starfleet created the Omega Directive: When a Starfleet Captain encounters Omega, a specialized team would enter the region and neutralize it—at any cost.”

Hanson was the specialist team?” Adam asked.

“No.  A Captain Antilles, who awaited my word, same as the Hanson, heads the Omega Team up. But there’s no contact with Starfleet now, and I trust you.”

“I was never meant to find out about Omega, per Starfleet standing orders,” Adam said.  “However, Josh and I have been probably flouting the Prime Directive the whole time we’ve been here.”

“The Omega Directive, quite simply, trumps the Prime Directive,” Gandalf explained.  “I decided to kill two birds with one stone, so to speak, as to allow you to join the Fellowship, as planned, and have the Omega Team take care of the other concern.”

Adam’s throat became very dry.  “Then…how are we going to take care of Omega?”

“The natural resonance of Omega particles is 1.68 terahertz.  To dissolve the bonds between the atoms of a Omega molecule, you emit an inverse containment field frequency matching it.”

“Do we even know where Sauron’s Omega work is being done?” Adam asked.

“Within the Barad-dûr,” Gandalf replied.  “For all we know, he has actually created a stable Omega particle, which makes him all the more dangerous.  You will use Barad-dûr against Sauron by accessing the tower via computer.”

“How do we do that?” Adam asked.

“Use your brain, son!  Even Pippin could solve this puzzle…apparently.  We have activated the computers in Helm’s Deep and Minas Tirith.  They are now, as we speak, connected to each other.  With those two installations activated, we can do the same for Minas Morgul.”

“But Minas Morgul is claimed by the Nazgûl,” Adam reminded Gandalf.

“That is true, but it was once known as Minas Ithil, and owned by Gondor.  Built at the same time as Minas Anor, they were as twin brothers.”

“You’re thinking we could triangulate the three computers to turn on Minas Ithil-Online,” Adam said.

“Precisely, and not only that.  The Morannon itself was built by Gondor as well, but that does not relate to this dilemma.  With these three systems, with that much computing power, we can slip into the Barad-dûr, flip switches, and dissolve Omega harmlessly.”

Adam’s eyes reflected an idea.  “Beregond’s PADD,” He said.  “Taps into my armor, and I hack into Sauron’s tower.  Boy, He’ll be kicking himself for ever taking the Númenórean technology.”

“IF,” Gandalf reminded him.  “IF it works.”

“Maybe Josh is rubbing off of me as well, Gandalf,” Adam pressed, softly.  “But what do we do with this if Sauron does indeed get his hands on the Ring?”

“Then,” Gandalf said, in barely a whisper, “We use Omega to stop him in the only way left to us.”

 

  In the Houses of Healing, Josh sat by Éowyn’s bed.  Éomer told him that she had been awake earlier, and he’d hoped that he’d get a chance to talk to her while she was on the mend.

No chance for her to sucker-punch him again.

However, she seemed to be asleep, and he held her hand, singing an old song, tunelessly.

All I want is to see you smile

If it takes just a little while—

I know you don’t believe that it’s true

I never meant any harm to you…

 

He chuckled and looked off into the window, which showed soldiers flexing muscles that had been painful and wounds that had been infected only a day before.  Éowyn stirred, and Josh glanced at her for a moment, and hummed quietly.

“Don’t stop.”

Josh smiled.  “Hey, chere.”

She managed a smile.  “Don’t stop singing.”

 

He nodded, and continued to sing.

 

Don’t Stop

Thinkin’ about tomorrow

Don’t Stop

And it will soon be here

It’ll be here, bigger than before

Yesterday’s gone, yesterday’s gone

 

She was dressed in a sky blue and white gown.  She lifted her head up with the arm that wasn’t broken.  “Tell me again what happened to Joan of Arc.”

“They burned her at the stake,” Josh reminded her.  “They were afraid of her.”

“Is it so against the true nature of a woman to protect the people she loves?”  She asked Josh.  

“Men have been trying to figure out the true nature of women since the Garden of Eden,” Josh said with a chuckle.  ”Still a mystery.”

“Oh, Joshua,” Éowyn began, tearing up, “I was so terrible to you.  Can you ever forgive me?”

“I suppose,” He said, with a sonorous sigh.  “I was an only child.  Adam keeps telling me what a pain a kid sister is.  Now I guess I know.”

“Sister,” she said to herself.  “A sister I am to you?”

“You,” Josh said, “You my dear, are fickle.  And…in some respect, I hate to admit, I’m a little old-fashioned.  I believe in such things as…commitment…personal responsibility, and…sticking to the plan.”

“Your plan for me was to stay—”

“—Stay safe, Éowyn,” Josh interrupted her.  “You were given power, and you opted for glory.  You were inspired by Aragorn, but you learned the wrong lessons.”

She looked at him, tears in her eyes, with the bare emotion of a little girl, and asked, “Are you angry with me?”

“Oh, I stopped being angry with you about ten minutes after you punched me in the stomach,” Josh said, raking his hair with his hands.  “But I wanted to put my feelings to rest.  Don’t feel bad about Aragorn, though.  You’ll find the man that’s meant just for you.  Tailor made.  I guar-on-tee,” he summed up, in an exaggerated Cajun patois.  With that, he got up, and left the ward.

Outside the hospital, Leonardo waited for him.  “So you did it?” he asked.

“Yup,” Josh replied.  His lips were pursed.

“You really fell in love with her, didn’t you?” Leo said.

“Yyyyup.”

“Then why did you—”

“It’s just better this way, Leo,” Josh said.  “It was bad enough being part of some strange alien love triangle…”

“Didn’t you promise Théoden you’d get her to safety, if…?”

“Doesn’t change a damn thing,” Josh said.  

“Maybe I just don’t know enough about love,” Leo sighed with a shrug.

Josh chuckled, and replied, “No man does.”

 

Adam found himself in the Houses of Healing, not long after Joshua left.  Éowyn lay in her bed, looking up at the ceiling, saying nothing.  He only knew what Joshua obliquely said about her, and in some ways, she reminded him of Cindy Belle Bordreaux, his friend’s former fiancée.  In others, he saw his own sweetheart, Anna Karapleides, with dollops of Captain Wilson thrown in for good measure.  

“I, uh,” he began, clearing his throat.  “Josh said that he told you about Joan of Arc.”

Wordlessly, she nodded, her eyes not meeting his.

“Yeah.  I know a few strong willed women myself.  That is to say, our ancestors, Josh’s and mine.  Did he ever tell you about the first Adam Reid?”

She shook her head.  

“Well, once upon a time, he met a woman named Carol who was taken as a child by the spirit world and lived.  Josh won’t tell you about that because he’s too rational, but there’s parts of the world that even us Starfleet folks can’t explain.  Spirits.  Souls.  What happens to us when we pass away.  She was Old Adam’s first spouse, and gave him two children.  The oldest was Christian, and I’m his descendant.  The other was a girl named Lisette, and Joshua is her heir.  It turns out that Lisette was a Chosen One.”

“Chosen One?” Éowyn asked, weakly.  

“Um,” Adam said, struggling for the right words.  “She was given power by…a higher power to fight evil.  Vampires, if you believe the old folk tales.  I didn’t believe it myself until I researched into Gandalf.  He’s my godfather, you know.”

“Godfather?” Éowyn repeated.

“He came to my father and mother, and befriended them, and when I was born, they named him my godfather.  It’s like…he’s an honorary parent or guardian.”

“Oh,” she said.  “Like he is to…” She teared up and was silent.

“Right.  And I’ve rambled on too long.  I was going to tell you about the Vampire Slayers, but now I’ve got you all upset.  No matter.  Whatever list of strong women that Josh told you about, I wanted you to know about his ancestor.”  He got up to leave, when Éowyn moved her head toward him. 

“Adam?”

He turned back around and looked at her with his deep blue eyes.  “Yes?”

“Why do I not measure up to them?”  Tears were fairly streaming down her face.

“Oh,” Adam said, his face nearly crumpling from the intensity of her emotions.  “Oh, oh.  No, sweetie.  You see, you’ve lived, while they’ve fallen.   You’ve exceeded them.”

 

Six hours later, Adam sat in the Ballroom, furiously tapping at the main console.  Having confirmed the connection to the Sit room at the Hornburg, he formed up a bigger picture in Middle-earth.  Pippin sat in the room with him, with Merry strolling around, eating an apple.  

“Looks like I’m making contact with some of the other outposts in the West,” Adam murmured.  

“Eh?” Pippin responded.  

“Weathertop, for one,” Adam replied.  “Amon Hen, Amon Sul, places like that.  Just little way stations, but they get some information about the world at large.”

“Like what?” Merry asked.

“Well, the old Dale station is giving me data from Erebor and there’s some sensor information from sections of Dol Guldur in Mirkwood.  Looks like there’s regiments of Orcs on their way to Thranduil’s territory, and to the Lonely Mountain as well.  The Men have allied with the Elves there and they’re taking them on as one.”

“Oh,” Merry replied with a sigh.

“And Lórien is also under siege,” Adam noted.  “But they haven’t reached Caras Galadhon.  Not by half.”

That made the hobbits take heart.

“Now,” Adam continued, “Minas Morgul is emptied.  Not occupied by anything in particular.  That will make this easier.”

“How are you using the way stations to get into that computer?” Pippin asked.

“Extra processing power,” Adam replied.  “We’re basically going to be running it remotely, and that means lots of backups.  Ah.”

“What?” Merry asked again.

“Got an entry screen,” Adam said.  “It’s requesting a password.”

Mellon!” Merry suggested.

“The Númenóreans are most likely a little more sophisticated than that, Merry,” Adam replied.

“It could be some willy-nilly group of numbers and letters for all we know,” Pippin sighed.

“Or,” Adam said, “It could be a nucleotide pattern from Elendil family DNA.”  With that, he accessed another file, the DNA sample from Aragorn’s blood. He began entering the nucleotide patterns of the DNA tags used to confirm the Gondorian King’s identity, until, with a synthesized harp sound and a blue entry screen, he was in.

“I’m in!” Adam exclaimed

“He’s in!” Pippin shouted.

“Yahtzee!” Merry cried.

“Okay, sh-sh-sh,” Adam shushed them, forging ahead.  “I’m transmitting Aragorn’s DNA in full to it…and it’s accepted it!”

“So…what have we got?” Pippin asked.

“We’ve got a full complement of phase disruptor cannons, powerful shield generators, and a wide berth.  All the orcs in the area have been targeted by the auto system and is cutting them down.”

“What was it that created that burst of light a few days ago?” Pippin asked.  “That burst of green energies?”

“Not sure,” Adam said with a shrug.  “Might have been something related to the Nazgûl.  Who don’t live here anymore.”

“So what does it mean for us?” Merry asked.  

“It means that that entry into Mordor is now secure,” Adam explained, “And our journey to the cross-roads will be a lot more secure.”  He got up, and stretched.  “Oh-h-h-h-h,” he moaned.  “Time to go to bed for all Starfleet officers and Shire-folk.  Let’s go.  And you!  Who said you could get out of bed?”

“I’m going tomorrow!” Merry protested.  “Mister Joshua said that my arm’s as good as new.  He said I was lucky that we found those medicines; otherwise, I might have been left behind.”

“Then you should be in bed for rest anyway,” Adam admonished.  “Captain’s orders.”

As the two hobbits scurried to their own beds, Adam exited the Ballroom.  Actual humans had replaced the Blue Angels now, and they flanked him as he climbed up the stairs, and had the fountain turned back on.

The Angels were ordered to patrol the perimeter of the Minas Tirith-Osgiliath territory.  He watched out into the night sky. He smiled as he located an innocuous, but respectable yellow-white star, known in Middle-earth as Nessä.  Back home, on Earth, the star was known as the sun.

“Not much longer, Dad,” he said.  “I know you’re looking for me. I’ll be home soon.”  Not quite a prayer, more like a promise, he began his stroll toward his bed.

 

 

 

On Earth, it was a moonlit night.  On a beach near Rio De Janeiro, Buffi K’gar stood by the waters of the Atlantic.  She looked around.  In the distance, she could see the mountain that held the statue of Christ, which overlooked the city.  She told him to meet her here, far from San Francisco, far from Manhattan.  And this was it.

This was the point of no return. 

Chapter Text

As Gandalf and Aragorn stood before the pale-lit monstrosity that Minas Morgul became, Adam landed by them.  It had been about a day and a half since they led the joint forces of Rohan, Minas Tirith and Dol Amroth.  After much debate over whether to have the place destroyed (which Adam and Gandalf vehemently fought against, partly because it was believed that Frodo had taken that path into Mordor, partly for other reasons) the three took the Morgul-pass so that Adam could reconnaissance the place.

“Some sort of phosphorescent effect with the lichens on the outside,” Adam reported.  “Otherwise, the place is dark.  I activated the computer, and its defense system, but that’s all.  It’s confirming that there are no life forms inside.”

Aragorn nodded.  “It might be possible to salvage this place.  Use its technology to create a new outpost.”

“It might, but who would dwell in the former abode of the Nazgûl?” Gandalf replied.  “When its purpose is done, we should destroy it to the ground, and sow the soil with salt”

“We could salvage it for parts before we blow it up,” Adam suggested.  “Wouldn’t be too hard to set the magnetic reactor to overload the naturally-forming conduits in the rock.  It gets disrupted and the whole structure’ll implode.”

“Why not now?” Aragorn demanded.

“Because Minas Morgul has been put to task for our purposes,” Gandalf replied.  “As it stands now, Adam has erected a powerful deflector field around it.  It will never be home to the Nazgûl again.”

Adam glared at the dark city, and as he did, pinpoints of orange light, clashing with the green glow, hit the bridge connecting the city to the Morgul-path.  Mere meters before them, the bridge was destroyed with a jarring explosive noise.  Other shots hit the fields surrounding Minas Morgul, setting it ablaze with an unusual green cast.

“That’s that,” Adam said, with finality.  “The fires shouldn’t affect the city’s computer…you know, the computer core is actually deep within the mountain, like the others…if you tear it down, you could rebuild a way station or something in its place.”

“A discussion for another day,” Aragorn replied. “Fly!  Make haste to the host and tell them what has happened.”

 

Adam arrived back at camp, where the Royal tent of Rohan and Gondor had been unfurled and set up.  Josh and Merry came out of the Rohirrim tent, awaiting news.  

“Minas Morgul has been isolated from us and from Sauron’s use,” Adam told them.  We destroyed the bridge to the city and burned the fields.” He pulled out something from a pocket.  “We also found this.”

Merry and Josh looked and saw a pale leaf and a handful of crumbs.  Merry’s eyes became platters as he recognized what he saw.  “The bread!  You found his waybread!”

Josh nodded.  “Okay, so we know that he took that pass.”

“From there, he would have had to get past the outpost on the other side, at Cirith Ungol.  From my readings in the sky, that place seems to be abandoned.”

“So you do believe that he’s alive?” Merry asked, eager for good news.

“I think our hunch that he’s crossing the lava plain is sound,” Adam replied with a quick nod.

“Did you see any sign that Mordor is moving to the Gate?” Éomer, who appeared behind Josh, asked.

“Fires on the plain seem to be moving east,” Adam confirmed.  “That’s all I know.”

Adam left them to move over to Leonardo and Gaji, who took the layover time to spar.  With his bronze scimitar, Gaji was hard to defend against, even with Leonardo.  Relentlessly, he swung the sword around him, as Leo barely missed getting his ankles sliced with the blade.  With his high jumps and kicks, he also seemed to fly as Leonardo did.  Leo in his Elvish samurai armor could not achieve the high jumps and spinning roundhouse moves he could without; doubtless, he thought, he would shed them at some point, perhaps for good.  Unlike the other sorties in his mail, this time he left his mask behind.  

“Adam!” Gaji exclaimed, breaking off his attack.  “What news?”

“We’re locked down in Minas Morgul,” he said.  “As soon as they get back, we’ll be ready to move.”

Overhead, the four Blue Angels circled around the mass of almost five thousand soldiers.

“Are we still being tailed?” Adam asked.

“I don’t know,” Leo replied.  “I think they’re just trying to psych us out.”

“There are only seven Dark ones left,” Gaji said.  “Two were killed by we mortals, and one of them their leader.  Surely they are affrighted that they are not as untouchable as they thought.”

“Well, I don’t know about you,” Adam replied, “But my experience is that destroying a ring wraith is pretty hard business.”

“Let’s say they aren’t running scared,” Leo countered.  “Maybe they have an ax to grind.”

“They have no bigger an ax to grind than Sauron himself,” Adam said.  “And he’s still calling the shots.”

 

The Reids, with Éomer, Prince Imrahil, and all the other allies the Starfleet Officers had made in the course of the last few months, sat at a fire and ate Josh’s now-famous stew.  

“We’ve only been told but a mere glimpse of your homes, Joshua, Adam,” Éomer began.  “And I know that Leonardo is curious as well—please, tell us what your Earth is like.”

Gandalf looked on, not joining the group.  The elder Rider, Gamling, did likewise, crossing his arms over his chest.

Merry and Pippin, the two hobbits, listened intently as Adam began first: “Well, I’m from an area known as Ohio…It’s…heh heh…It’s known for its unpredictable weather.  In fact, there’s a saying where I’m from: ‘If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes.’”

Merry chuckled at that.  “Why’s it like that?”  He asked.

“Ohio’s located south of Lake Erie, which is one of the Great Lakes of North America,” Adam explained.  “All that water, surrounded by land, creates weather patterns that’s very complex.  Sometimes we get scattered showers that only come down upon a town or two.  Sometimes we get a thunderstorm system that’s hundreds of miles wide, so strong that the WMN has to keep track in case of tornadoes.  But Canton’s where I’m from, and it’s pretty nice.  Lots of hills and fields and a few little lakes.  Meyers Lake, Sippo Lake, Lake Cable…My folks live near Petros Lake Park, and there’s this hill that a lake’s wrapped around, lots of flowers and wild grasses and fish in the lake, and…oh.”  Adam’s eyes began to become brighter and brighter.  “I miss my Mom and Dad.”

“Your father must have used the palantír that was retrieved at the Debrune settlement,” Gandalf said.  “Professor K’gar retrieved it from his last expedition.  Between him and your father, who used to study the effects of the palantír from the safety of Earth, they might have discovered what is transpiring here.”

“Does that mean…?” Adam began to ask.

“Do not presume,” Gandalf replied.

 

“I’m from N’awlins,” Josh started.  “One of the oldest cities in North America, founded by the French, and reluctantly given to the United States by none less than Napoleon himself.  Home of Dixie Jazz, Zydeco, and Mardi Gras.”

“Who are Mardi Gras?” Pippin asked.

“It’s not a person, it’s an event,” Josh clarified.  “Means ‘Fat Tuesday’ in French, the day before Lent begins and those who’re faithful begin their forty day an’ night fast, up until Easter.  Anyway, anyway, Mardi Gras is the busiest day for us at LeBeau’s—That’s my Deddy’s restaurant—and me and-and Cindy Belle and my cousins Marie and François and Ben Sisko, some years—we go up to the balcony over the entrance and we get people to…earn their beads.”

“Beads?” Pippin asked. 

“’Tis a holiday of hedonism, then,” Éomer surmised.  

“I remember the year you earned your beads,” Adam teased.  “Okay, me and him and Cindy and Anna, we all volunteered one year to work a float for the parade…It was…it was in ‘54.  Anyway, we’re throwing beads and little menus out into the street, and this one group started chanting, “ Show us!  Show us!”  

“You’re never gonna let me forget this, are you?” Josh groaned.

“No, now let me finish!” Adam snapped.  

“So you flashed them, and they gave you beads?” Leo asked, smiling widely.  

“Well, Anna did,” Adam amended.  “Cindy went prude; she just flashed her underwear.  What was it, Josh: Was it a blue or a pink thong?”

“It was purple, asshole,” Josh swore at him.

“So the tally ended up with Cindy earning five strands of beads, Anna earning ten, and Josh…earning twenty-seven.”

Joshua’s cheeks began to glow in the firelight, and began to feel the gazes upon him to linger below his waist.  “I would like to point out that there was a convention in town that year, and there were a group of Yazbeks there…they don’t have the same…anatomy…as humans.”  He straightened up and shot back at Adam, “Tell them how many you got?”

“What?”

“How many strands of beads, Adam?” Josh demanded.

“Mumble….”

“I’m sorry, commander—sorry, Captain—didn’t hear you, just now.”

“TWO.”  Adam said, almost dangerously.  “You had Yazbeks, I had J’naii.”

Gandalf, behind Adam, began to laugh.  “You always let him get the best of you, Adam,” he chuckled.  

“My recollections of Earth was rather different,” Aragorn recalled, and Adam began to smile and relax again.  “I lived with an Amish family for several months, at Gandalf’s suggestion.”

“The Amish are a group of people that settled into North America about six hundred years ago,” Adam explained.   “Their beliefs preclude the use of anything other than what they need.  No power, no powered transportation, no farm machinery.  Just them and their farm and their land and their faith.  Of course, there are grades of how close they adhere to that credo.  Dad used to work with some Amish.”

“One of them was Micah Van Devere,” Aragorn continued.  “While I lived with them, there was a cattle auction that we participated in, and a barn-raising.  The whole community came together, and, in the course of that day, that barn was raised.  And we filled our mugs with beer that night.”

Merry had a tear in his eye.  He wiped it away absently.

“That’s when we first met,” Adam said with a smile.  “When he lived on Earth, he went by the name of ‘Aaron Strider’.  See, the Van Devere family lived down in Sugar Creek, not too far from Canton.  And he and Gandalf visited my father.  I was very young.”

There was a moment of silence, and then Gandalf spoke.  “Three and-a-half centuries ago, Leonardo dwelled on Earth.”

“In New York City,” Leo said, a wistful smile on his green face. “The City That Never Sleeps. One of the biggest cities ever.  The Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, the World Trade Center, Central Park….”

Gandalf nodded.  “All this, New York City…was.”

“Was?” Éomer asked.

“New York City was the largest city on the East Coast,” Gandalf explained.  “It was a target for many who became enemies of the United States.  It was in New York that terrorists struck in the year 2001, felling the Two Towers…”

What?!” Leo exclaimed.  

“And fifty years later, one of the first casualties of the Third World War.  Nine million souls…gone in the blink of an eye.”

Now, it was Leonardo’s turn to wipe away a tear.  “No,” he whispered.

“For it was New York that signified the public face of America,” Gandalf continued.  “And in New York’s destruction, signified the end of the United States.”

Éomer and Imrahil contemplated this silently, as did Gaji and Zanie.  “In this, your mighty war, the one that your Earth suffered millions upon millions of deaths—How did your people overcome?  How do you stand here before us?”  Gaji asked.

Adam and Josh looked at each other.  Leo, too, looked at them intently.

Adam’s throat felt suddenly very dry.  “Ten years after the war had started, Zefram Cochrane launched the Phoenix, the first space ship with faster-than-light engines.  The Vulcans took notice, and made First Contact with us.  That made us realize that we had to pull together as a people—because we were not alone in the universe.”

“It was luck,” Josh countered.  “Luck and Providence that brought us to ya.”

 

“That’s all well and good,” Éomer said, “But we have a rather good vision of where the three of you live.  Tell us about Earth!”

“Tell us about San Francisco,” Elladan asked.

“Ah, San Francisco,” Josh said, throwing his head back.  Merry and Pippin looked at him intently.  “San Francisco is the gateway to the West.  She greets you with the Golden Gate.”

“The Golden Gate Bridge, closing the mouth of the San Francisco Bay, a big, orange suspension bridge.  The Federation Council near one side, and so is the big Western Tram station.”

“Starfleet Academy on the old Presidio grounds,” Josh rhapsodized.  “Boothby’s grounds.”

“Master gardener,” Adam agreed, nodding.  “Hundred years old, and the best landscaper around.”

Merry bowed his head for a moment, and patted Pippin’s knee.  

“The Transamerica pyramid,” Josh continued.  “Haight-Ashbury, The Painted Ladies, and the old trolleys, the hills!”

“Come on, man, what about Europe?” Leonardo prodded.  “London, Paris…Rome!”

“We once went to Paris to visit the Executive Mansion,” Adam said.  “That’s where the Federation President lives.   A perfect view of the Eiffel Tower…”

“The Cafe des Artistes,” Josh continued, “And on to Sandrine’s”

“That was in Versailles,” Adam clarified.  “Lots of cheese in France.  Nothing they make is without cheese.  Africa!  Zanie, you’d be in heaven in Africa.  Home to the most exotic animals on Earth.  Lions, wildebeests, and African Elephants—”

“Oliphaunts?” Merry asked.

“Elephants,” Adam enunciated.  “Like the mûmakil, but just much, much smaller, only one pair of little tusks, and big flappy ears.  Usually named Simba at the zoo.”

Zanie smiled.  “Af-ricaa,” he tested the name.  “It is a wild name.”

“And India,” Josh continued.  “Tigers and Indian elephants and cobras, and Brahma bulls—”

“China!  Panda bears and bamboo and chrysanthemums and the Great Wall of China and the Goddess of Democracy in Beijing—” Adam exclaimed.

“Éomer, you’d like the Great Plains of North America! New Mexico, the great painted desert, saguaro cactus, buffalo!”  Josh laughed.  “Man, I don’t think I’ve been so homesick.  Talkin’ about Earth makes it sound pretty damn cool.  Don’t usually think about home from a visitor’s point of view.”  He paused for a moment and turned to Gandalf.  “Hey, can we take them on back for a visit some day?”

Gandalf stuck Josh with a look. “We shall see.”  

It wasn’t much longer before the group slowly got up from the fire to get to sleep.  Only Leonardo and Gimli remained.

“Is it even my Earth anymore?” He asked himself.  

“So don’t return,” Gimli suggested.  “Stay here.  There’s a need for someone like you.”

“D’you think so?”

“No doubt, laddie,” Gimli said, nodding.  “Think that villain in Barad-dur’s the only one in Middle-earth?  Saruman?  There’s rogue nations to the East and South, and stranger things in the southeast.  My nephew Gori traveled for his fortune there, nearly a thousand leagues, and he found strange folk there.  Like the jungle-cats they were.”

“We don’t know if we’re going to be alive next week,” Leo said.  Everything’s up in the air.  And I still have my own quest to complete.”

“To find your brothers and father,” Gimli said, remembering.  “You never told us their names.”

“My father’s name is Splinter.  He was the pet of master Hamato Yoshi.  He found us when we…mutated, and took care of us.  Me…Donnatello, Michelangelo…and Raphael.”

Raphael would approve, Buffi thought.  He tried his best to face his fears and take them on.  And he would want her to do the same.

But she was undoubtedly afraid.  She was afraid of herself and her weaknesses. Too many times she forgave Corat, excused him, made excuses for him in front of outraged relatives.  But what about the times he hit her, yelled at her, made her go further than she wanted and shamed her?  What about that?

Too much seemed to be happening around her that was out of her control.  Too much out of her hands.  Corat pulling her strings in absentia.  Her father and his palantír, which spelled out the end of life, as they knew it in the quadrant.  

Surely one could have more control over her own environment than this.

The beach had a cool breeze that scurried over the sands as she aimlessly walked along the beach.  The moon seemed lazy in the sky, as if it were a listless voyeur, wondering what she would do that night.

She chuckled at herself and at her environment.  I should have chosen a less picturesque place to do this, she thought.  What a lovely place to do something so grim.

 

“I’m here.”

 

Buffi turned around. There he was.  

Corat Damar.  

If he were human, one would notice right away his slightly turned down Roman nose and sensuous lips and intense gaze below slightly hooded brow.  However, the added Cardassian features of vertically aligned cranial ridges, mask-like projections around the brow and eye sockets and the distinctive spoon-shaped projection from the bridge of his nose to the center of his forehead, not to mention the tuberous span between his neck to his shoulder, overwhelmed all else.  Even biologically, the Cardassians embraced a sort of homogeneous communism. 

 

He was dressed in a free-flowing white linen caftan over dark trousers.  His arms were clasped behind his back, in a slightly uncomfortable stance.  Cardassians tended to wear thick, woolly outfits when they were away from their warm, semi-arid world.  Not completely warm-blooded, they needed as much warmth as they could get to keep from growing lethargic.  Even so, Corat cut a powerful figure.

 

“Buffi,” he began, bringing his arms out, extending them toward her.  “I am so grateful that you agreed to talk to me.”

Buffi nodded, slowly.  “You’re a tough man to ignore, Corat.”

He smiled, and took her hands in his.  Bringing them to his lips, he kissed her right hand.  “I have missed you so much, these last few months,” he told her.  “I was a fool to throw what we had away.”

“No argument there,” Buffi replied.  

“I never want to make that kind of mistake again, Buffi.”   He produced a velvet box from a pocket and got down on one knee, trying to keep his balance on the dry sand.  He opened the box and revealed a plain gold band.

“I want to spend my life with you,” he said, to Buffi’s shocked gaze.  “I want you for my wife.”

 

 

“Cair Andros is under attack,” Adam reported to Aragorn.  “It’s giving me figures of about ten regiments of runoff troops.“

Josh added, on Aragorn’s other side, “So soon after that little ambush yesterday?  That’s no coincidence.”

Adam nodded.  A small bandit group of orcs and Easterlings attempted to rattle the host on their way to the Morannon, but they were soon deflected.  His own Blue Angels took out many of the attackers before they could come out from their hillside hiding places, and they kept on their way, unfettered.  “Cair Andros is a satellite structure of Minas Tirith,” he explained.  “Upon its remote activation, it revealed a cache of hand weapons that might still be operational.  I don’t think I need to tell you the dangers of giving orcs access to phaser weapons.”

“Unfortunately, we’d have to backtrack significantly at this point to get to it,” Josh added.  

“We cannot turn midstream,” Aragorn replied.  “Cair Andros will have to wait.”

As the army marched forth, Adam and Josh conferred.

“We could do it ourselves,” Josh suggested.

“We could, but we won’t,” Adam countered.  “Do you really want to leave them alone?”

“If we can get a hold of those hand weapons, we could arm these guys with phasers against arrows.”

“Yeah,” Adam said, “And then what?  Give them some warp core schematics?  Don’t get too comfortable with this Omega Directive freedom here.  Once the Omega particles are destroyed, we are out of here.”

Josh glared at Adam.  “What do you mean?”

“Don’t you get it?” Adam snapped.  “Once Omega is neutralized, the Prime Directive kicks back in. We have to vacate the premises, not interfere with them any further.”

“Dat is such bullshit!” Josh exploded, his accent returning, “A total cop-out, and y’know it!  Who told you dis, Gandalf?”

“He didn’t have to; I read between the lines,” Adam replied.  

“We were never supposed to even deal with Omega, Adam!” Josh insisted.  “Something ‘bout a specialized team?  We were supposed to deal with the Ring alone.  We are doin’ dat, all the way to de end.  Or are you jes’ not willing to put it all on de line for this planet?  Your planet?”

“It’s not what I want that’s important here.  I—”

“You know what’s right, an’ what’s wrong, and you know in your heart that we have to do this.”

“It was just…the other night, you were asking about whether these people can visit earth or not.  Do you really think we can do that?”

“I think that Gandalf’s found a loophole around it.  He got Aragorn to Apple Creek, didn’t he?”

“…Yes…”

“And I overheard he and Aragorn talking about, um ‘making arrangements’ for someone to be taken to Earth after all this was done.”

“You don’t know who?” Adam asked.

“Didn’t get a good bead on that, no,” Josh replied.

“He probably meant Leonardo,” Adam said, dismissively.

“No.  He meant someone from here, going home with us,” Josh insisted.  “Maybe…Éowyn or someone.”

“We don’t know; we can agree on that,” Adam said, firmly.  “Okay.  Maybe I’m just getting too worried.”  He nodded, pursed his lips together.  “We’ll just have to trust in Gandalf to know what to do.”

 

It was at that point where Adam began to recognize the rock outcroppings where he and Gaji had their first tentative conversations, so many weeks ago.  That’s how he knew that they had reached the boundaries of Ithilien.  Beyond laid lands that weren’t unlike the Badlands of the Dakotas or Death Valley.

It was there where nearly a thousand men stopped, dead in their tracks.

Adam felt a chill up his spine from the collective fear from that thousand.  Aragorn turned his horse over to him and asked, “Did you know…?”

“I suspected something like this would happen,” Adam admitted.  “Otherwise I wouldn’t have even brought Cair Andros up.”

“For so many of these men, these young men from Rohan, these husbandmen from Lossamarch, Mordor was a nightmare place, only told to naughty children, and now the horror that they face is now too much.  You did well to remind me of Cair Andros.”

As Aragorn left to address the balked soldiers, Gandalf on Shadowfax rode up to Adam, as did josh on Fréalaf.

“Very well played,” Gandalf said to him.  “Both of you.”

“But what if they aren’t the last?” Josh asked.  “What if more start to choke?”

“Those who are brave enough to go on now, have been emboldened even further,” Gandalf said.

Josh gave Adam a meaningful glance, and Adam returned it, saying, “Yes.  I believe that’s true.  For all of us.”

 

In a nondescript desert on the planet called Third-earth, a black pyramid rose from the pale sands.  At its corners, four black obelisks accompanied the structure, which seemed to feel more evil than it looked.  Occasionally, an arc of electricity would jump from one spire to another.  

However, what was inside was much more sinister.

The central chamber was lined with rotund totems of cold-blooded gods and goddesses.  A pool of purple, bubbling liquid dominated all.

But it was the sarcophagus where the evil of the place emanated.

It was there that the figure, covered in rust-black fur stood, his hair seeming to have a Medusan life of its own as the coffin began to slowly open up.

“Once again, you summon me…Saruman of No Color,” A gravelly voice, sounding like the deep hum of a thousand locusts.  “What more could you ask of your…former…comrade in the Order?  You have been given, by me, a new body, a new identity within another of our order, and enough time to correct your mistake.”  The coffin opened further, revealing a creature wrapped in gauze and a scarlet robe.  Its eyes glowed bright, malevolent red.  “Ahh—the time…grows…near.  The moment of clarity approaches.”

He clambered out of the coffin, toward the bubbling pool.  Within the liquid was revealed a black tower with a forked spire, within which was a fiery Eye, looking throughout its land.  “Sauron searches for his Device, while it makes its way to the volcano.  The host of the West have distracted his attention and make their way toward the Black Gate.”

Saruman/Mon*Star nodded.  “It will happen within the next day. The hobbit will manage the Ring’s destruction, Sauron will be defeated, and, soon, my end will come.”  

“What do you suggest?” the creature asked.

“I was pursued by Earth forces; my enemies in Limbo,” The ousted wizard explained.  “I must get to Arda without being detected.”

“Heh-eh-eh-eh,” The dead Istari cackled.  “Leaving your…mob…vulnerable to attack by…heh-eh-eh-ehh…the…ThunderCats!”

“Does that amuse you?” Saruman asked, mildly annoyed.  “They will have served their purpose if I succeed here.  However…”

“Say no more…old friend.  I need no excuse to attack my Thunderan adversaries.”

The red-robed mummy-priest stretched out his arms widely, and spoke with improbably deep timbre.  “Ancient Spirits of Evil,” he invoked, causing the totems along the walls to react with glowing eyes.  “Send the Outcast Istari to his Destiny!”

With that, the purple liquid rose up in an undulating column.  “ENTER THE PORTAL,” A chorus of dark voices commanded.  “MORDOR LAY ON THE OTHER SIDE.”

Saruman as Mon*Star threw back his shoulders as he walked through the column.  As the last of the waters were disturbed, the pool returned to normal.

MUMM-RA,” the spirits addressed the mummy, “IF SAURON IS DESTROYED—

“I know, Spirits,” Mumm-ra interrupted, putting up his desiccated hand.  “Sauron’s power has an effect on yourselves, and, by extension, me.  If he is snuffed out, it may be a long time before we have the strength to rise again in full.  And there is no time between now and then to retrieve the Eye of Thundera.  Our fate lies in our Mon*Star’s hands.”

 

 

 

Jonathan Quick would not be denied.

The Starfleet officer had spent the last couple of years in pursuit of the one that kept getting away.  The Creature named Mon*Star.  Now he was headed for Arda, for reasons that seemed, unlike anything else the crime lord had done, to be completely personal.  

Doing something for personal reasons opened up all sorts of weaknesses in a person.

He sat in the cockpit of his SprintHawk Shuttle, another collaboration between the Federation and the Númenórean-derived technology of the Bed-Lamans.  Vaguely avian in design, it sped through the interplanetary space that lay between Third-earth and Arda.  At full impulse, he would be within the orbit of Arda in a matter of hours.

That is, If there were no obstacles.

Standing in the trajectory of the small but powerful shuttle, was a ship.

“SprintHawk 1, stand down your engines and prepare to be towed,” A voice on his comm commanded.

“Negative.  I’m in pursuit of Limbo’s Most Wanted himself, and I can’t be deterred.  He’s on that planet.”

“We repeat, stand down.  If you do not comply, your ship will be disabled, and you will face legal consequences directly from the Judge Advocate General’s office.”

Quick was about to concede defeat, when something on his screen indicated that his ship was being contacted by…Arda?  He tapped at the controls, attempted to make sense of what he was reading, the message:

ACCEPT HARDWARE UPGRADE?

He frowned; fearing that answering ‘yes’ would be akin to accepting a wooden nickel in a crucial moment.  However, he also knew that that planet ahead was where the technology that his SprintHawk was based upon was derived.  Maybe someone was giving him a lifeline?

He answered, ‘yes’.

The SprintHawk began to reconfigure itself, its nacelle wings became sharper, more aggressive-looking.  Talons formed on the undercarriage.  And, unbeknownst to Jonathan Quick, a symbol of a winged, white Tree became emblazoned upon the top of the fuselage.

“Holy Geez!” he exclaimed.  “I’m in a whole new ship!”

Which meant he might be able to get past the obstacle.

 

 

“He’s gone, sir.”

On the bridge of the Excelsior-class ship that was Quick’s obstacle, Captain Antilles frowned.  “This planet’s becoming more and more of a nuisance all the time,” he said, as he circled the bridge, virtually ignoring his three guests, who were not entirely wanted.  

Antilles was called whenever there was even a rumor of Omega activity in any nearby system.  This time he was called to Arda based on evidence from some…crystal ball that he didn’t entirely understand.  However, he knew Jean-Luc Picard from his exploits aboard the USS Stargazer, and the claims made by Professor Hy’uffi K’gar and his associate Thomas Reid seemed to corroborate with Admiral Gandalf’s initial suspicion.  He wasn’t to approach the Anor system without Gandalf’s confirmation, but it never came.  

Until now.

“No matter,” he sighed, as he sank back into the center seat.  “Omega was detected as soon as we entered the sector.  As of this date, Stardate 35359.46, I invoke the Omega Imperative.  So note in the log.”

“It’s noted, sir,” the first officer replied.

Off in the corner of the bridge, the Cainian professor and his former pupil stood, nervously.  Because K’gar had stumbled upon the Omega discovery in the system, he and Thomas were instructed to stay with the Omega team until the crisis was over.  With them was K’gar’s old friend, Jean-Luc Picard, in whom they had confided.

“I would love to know how your daughter was able to get herself out of coming with us,” Picard said to K’gar.

“Diplomatic immunity,” Hy’uffi replied.  “Sometimes, it’s good to be diablador.”

“Immunity that you share,” Picard reminded him.  “You’re here willingly, I assume.”

“Gandalf is as old a friend as you are, Jean-Luc,” K’gar said.  “And Thomas’s son is down there.”

 

 

Adam looked up at the sky.  No blue sky today.  Overcast, with several tendrils of dark-matter infused clouds casting from the other side of the Black Gate.

“And here we are, all in one place,” Josh said, standing next to him.  

Adam smiled weakly.  “A generation, lost in space.”

Leonardo turned around and continued, “With no time left to start again.”

The three began to chuckle, in spite of their situation, of being on the brink of Armageddon on an alien world, far from their homes, in front of what appeared to be the Gates of Hell.

Two towers, the Towers of the Teeth stood along each side of the gate, and dark shapes seemed to appear and disappear along the top.  The three Terrans’ smile began to fade, when someone continued the old poem:

 

So come on, Jack be nimble, Jack be quick

Jack Flash sat on a candlestick

'Cause fire is the Devil's only friend

 

Oh, and as I watched him on the stage

My hands were clenched in fists of rage

No angel born in hell

Could break that Satan's spell

And as the flames climbed high into the night

To light the sacrificial rite

I saw Satan laughing with delight 

The day the music died

 

“I always liked that one,” Aragorn said with a smile, as he got back on his horse.  

 

The War Commanders and the Reids gathered together.  Adam got the lay of the land.  Two heaps of mud, surrounded by tepid water, stood out at him.  

“You see that too, eh?” Aragorn said to him.  “We’ll split our forces around those two slag-mounds.  We are surrounded by stone, enclosed.  We need to achieve some separation between us and them.”  

“How shall we divide our men?” Éomer asked.

“I shall take the right,” Aragorn said. 

“And we for you,” Elrohir pledged, “And your Dúnedain.”

“And I,” Gandalf added.

“Then I shall take the left,” Éomer pledged.  

“And I, and the Citadel guard,” Imrahil said. 

 

Then there was Adam and Josh.  “I’ll start with the Dúnedain,” he explained, and I’ll make my way to the top of the gate.”  

“I’ll stand alongside Éomer until you get to the gate,” Josh said.

“All right, keep them distracted until I get up there.”

Leonardo nodded.  “I’ll stick with the Rohirrim, then.  With Josh out of the melee, they’ll need me in there.”

Gaji and Zanie were conspicuously absent.

“So that’s it,” Adam said.

“For now,” Gandalf replied.

 

They set to it.  The horses gathered into circular shapes into the large slag hills, their legs and flanks smudged with gray mud.  Leonardo sat atop Fréalaf, looking one of his tsunami blades.

 

The War Commanders returned together. Adam took a banner and unfurled it, as did Josh.  Adam’s was Gondor's; Joshua’s was Rohirrim.

“Let the Lord of the Black Land come forth! Justice shall be done upon him. He has wrongfully made war upon Gondor and stole its lands,” Adam proclaimed.

Joshua followed suit.  “Therefore, the King of Gondor demands that he should atone for his evils, and depart them forever. Come forth!” 

All was silent.

 

Then a door opened from the gate’s far right.  A great, dark horse, possibly from the same stables that spawned the Nazgûl’s equine mounts, came forth, flanked by two lesser horses.  The escorts held black banners with a single, red Eye; their faces were completely covered in black.  The Main rider’s helmet covered everything, even the eyes, leaving only a pale chin and dark lips and an ugly mouth.

Adam and Joshua knew him well.

“Him!” Josh cried.  “De betê from that ship…!”

“The ship that froze the Hanson in time!” Adam exclaimed.  

“Play cool,” Gandalf asserted.

 

“I am the mouth of Sauron,” the Dark Man proclaimed, and looked them over and chuckled in a way that Adam didn’t like.  His mental defenses went up immediately, and He saw that Josh’s head began to glow.

“Is there anyone here with the authority to speak with me?” He asked.  “Or indeed with the wit to understand me?  Heh, not you at least,” He said, gesturing at Aragorn.  “It needs more to make a king than an Elvish bauble, or a rabble such as this.”

Aragorn did not take his eyes off of the Mouth, nor did Adam.  

God, Adam thought, if I were only as strong a telepath as the Dúnedain—

With that, the Mouth moved back, almost a flinch and cried, “I am to be awarded the respect of an ambassador, and not to be assailed!”

“You are an Emissary! However,” Gandalf said, 'it is also the custom for ambassadors to use less insolence.  No one has threatened you. You have nothing to fear from us, at least until your errand is done. But unless your master has come to new wisdom, then with all his servants you will be in great peril.”

“Guar-an-teed,” Josh added.

“The two from Nessa who have come all this way from the stars to the mud,” The Mouth mused.  “Is it lonely on Sauron’s world, without your woman captain?”

Joshua’s eyes now fairly blazed with fury.  “No more idle chit-chat,” He growled.  “Say your piece and be done wit’ it.”

“I have things that I have been told to give to you—especially to you, in case you were foolish enough to come here.”  He gestured to his left and the escort brought forth a bundle of things

Small things.

Adam looked at it closely.  A small dagger, a gray cloak, elf-make. With a green cloisonne leaf-clasp, and a lovingly made mail-shirt, made of pure, shining duranium.

“Frodo!”  Pippin’s voice cried out with grief, and Gandalf silenced him vainly.

“Ah-heh,” the Mouth once again chuckled in the way that none could take.  “What is the Grey messenger’s fascination with these…rodents from Eriador?  I should be grateful; he has confirmed our suspicions.  There has been some sort of…coalition of the willing in concert with aggression against Sauron the Great, has there not?  And you have sent this imp into our lands as a spy.  My master does not love spies and his fate now depends on your next decision.”

 

Josh came to a realization as soon as the Mouth said the word spy.  “Great googa-mooga,” he breathed, and turned to face Adam.

Adam placed his finger to his lips.

Gandalf, atop Shadowfax said one thing plainly.  “State your terms.”

 

The Mouth raised his arms widely, and red letters shone in the air between their span.

 

“Neither Gondor nor her allies shall occupy the lands east of the Anduin; she will sign a non-aggression pact.  Lands east of the Anduin shall be claimed as tributary to Mordor and will be tithed accordingly.  As Sauron is a merciful lord,” The Mouth added with malice, “The affairs of Rohan and Gondor shall remain—mostly—autonomous.

You will restore Isengard to its original technical specifications and, while Saruman will be evicted, a more able governor shall be placed there.”

“Like you, maybe?” Josh suggested.

“Maybe,” The messenger conceded with a shrug.

 

“Interesting,” Gandalf said at last.  He regarded the mail-shirt as he spoke.  “So much to demand for the recovery of only one mere spy.”

Again, that word, spy.  It seemed as out of place as a daisy on the helmet of the Mouth of Sauron.  Josh shook his head briefly as Gandalf continued: “Perhaps his faith in his own strength has dwindled as such as to attempt to haggle for his victories?  And, assuming that we care enough for him as for his release, what hope do we have that Sauron, the Base Master of Treachery, will keep his part?  Indeed, where is this prisoner?  Bring him forth, show him to us, and then…then we will consider these demands.”

“Sauron needs not to provide proof or surety,” the Mouth sniffed.  “These are the demands; Take them or leave them!”

“I’ll take these…  Gandalf swiped the hobbit-gear from the escort.  His form fairly glowed brightly with a light that even rivaled the internal luminosity of any Elf.  The mouth and his host flinched again.  “In memory of our friend.  As for your terms?  We reject them—utterly!  Get you gone from here, for your immunity is ended and your mortality is near.  We did not come here to waste words in treating with Sauron, much less one of his fell slaves.  Be Gone!”

The darkened lips of the Mouth of Sauron now were twisted in a snarl that befit a Warg more than any humanoid, and as he turned, one beckoning voice called.

“No!”

Adam stood before the Mouth of Sauron, his armor fully deployed.  “The Men of the West have had their say; now you must listen to the demands of the United Federation of Planets!”

Gandalf said nothing in protest, in scorn.  He simply watched, as did the others.

“Lieutenant Commander Adam Thomas Reid the Third, acting first officer of the Starship USS Hanson, NCC-42216,” The Mouth recited.  “One of two survivors of a ship we…dispatched.  Please, humor me.  Name your terms.”

“Under the dictates of the Omega Directive, I must tell you to relay this message to your master:  destroy the Omega particles in Barad-dûr.”

“So.” the messenger said, his lips in an arrogant sneer.  “The Federation does have some fears.  The missing scale in its impervious armor.  Pray tell, boy,” He pressed.  “If Sauron the Great does not comply?  What then?”

Adam’s dark-eyed glare seemed to pierce the eyeless helm of the messenger.  “Bad things.”

(Do you want to truly know bad things, little boy?) A voice in his head asked as his mental defenses were pried open like a sliding glass door.

 

 

His next perception was that of a biomechanical nightmare; the H.R. Giger-esque realm of the mind of the Mouth of Sauron.  “Númenórean,” Adam muttered.

“A True Númenórean,” the Mouth responded.  “One who knew what power was and used it.”

With that, he appeared to club Adam with both armored fists.  Adam lurched back, his armor shattered at the impact point, revealing…sinew and bone?

“When I get to your heart,” the emissary said, “You will be mine, body and soul.”

“Like hell,” Adam muttered and lunged for him He grabbed his demonic enemy’s helmet and yanked it off, to reveal—

Nothing.  Only the mouth of the Mouth existed under the helmet.  The rest was grey, almost dead-looking flesh with no eyes, no nose, no ears.  A mannequin head with the mouth of the Devil.

“Do you see?” he told Adam.  “How futile it all is?  I see it all there, in your mind, in your cellular memory.  The human race favors Sauron’s methods, historically, than the way of peace.  More interesting trinkets and toys, but, still, a vicious child-race.”

“NO!” Adam cried and lunged once more, but the Black Númenórean deflected him so easily that it was almost comical.  The Mouth stood before a kneeling Adam, his astral form’s exposed sternum, his beating heart underneath.  

“Words are useless, especially sentences.” Seemingly impossibly, the standing Mouth stretched his hand out to pull back Adam’s breastbone and grab for his heart, to win his soul, but as he touched him, Adam felt a warmth within him that he had never known.  A feeling of serenity, of peace.  Was this how it was like, Adam wondered, before one is gone forever?

When Adam’s heart was finally exposed, beating, consistently, calmly, the Mouth’s lips turned up in an obscenely cheerful smile.  “Please say nothing, for it has all been said before.  What more is left to say?  Farewell.”

But as the foul hands touched Adam’s heart, the warmth within him expanded to a palpable heat, and he felt within him new strength.  Strength to match the mind of the Mouth of Sauron.

With a swift movement, he grabbed the demon’s hand and pulled it from him, seeing it writhe with pain that it had never felt before.  Shoving him away, he quickly regained his astral armor.  Another step, and he grabbed the shoulders of the Mouth, and brought him to his knees in agony.

Adam saw nothing else but the dark foe.  However, the mind’s eye of the Mouth of Sauron was filled with an all-consuming image.  

Feathers.

Thousands upon Thousands of feathers.

“Down!” Adam cried.  “Down, you creeping thing, and out of my path! Your time is at an end. You cannot betray me or slay me now!”

Through the blizzard of feathers, a shape, a wing, perceived by the Messenger.

“Begone, and trouble me no more!  If you ever touch me ever again,” Adam said, his face filled with a new aspect: One of utter authority.  “You will be cast yourself into the fires of Mount Doom.”

Feathers.

Wings.

Seraphim Wings.

 

 

 

Within the blink of an eye, Adam returned to himself, still before the Morannon, still before the mount of the Mouth of Sauron—

Where was the Mouth of Sauron?

 

“Um, he’s at your feet,” Josh said, and he realized he had asked out loud.  He looked down, and there he was, the Mouth of Sauron, in a rather undignified pose.  Adam’s armored foot was on his neck.

 The neck was crushed.

 

“And, um, frere,” Josh said. “I am ver’ afraid of you right now.”

 

“I guess that concludes negotiations,” Gimli quipped.

 

And it was at that point that the Black Gates opened.

Chapter Text

The Gate swung open upon two opposing hinges, revealing first the passage of Cirith Gorgor, then the wider Vale of Gorgoroth.

And enemies as far as the eye could see.

Past the army of about forty-five thousand, the Tower of Barad-dûr rose in the distance, the luminous, reptilian Eye of Sauron looking about, two and fro, a beam of luminescence moving across the desolate landscape beyond.

 

Josh, not even looking at the hordes rapidly surrounding them, looked at the tower and shook his head.  “I can’t believe it,” he said, incredulous.  “It’s de goddamn Lighthouse Of Evil.”

Like a foul tide, they flowed around the two slag hills Aragorn’s forces were fortified around. From the northeast, Easterlings flowed in.  From the southwest, Haradrim did the same.

Zanie and Gaji were still nowhere to be found.

Adam took note of the numbers.  Nearly seven to one they were outnumbered.

It was bad, tactically, that was for sure.  Joshua, no doubt, was groaning at the thought of it.

Things were going exactly according to plan.  

Through the visor in his armor, he proceeded to hook up with the PADD in the hands of the Citadel Guardsman, Beregond.  From there, he linked with the networked computer systems of Minas Tirith, Helm’s Deep, and the barren Minas Morgul.  Using their decryption software, He made his way into the long-dormant geo-circuitry of the Morannon, where he could still see hints of the Númenórean architecture despite the sharp and cruel spires that Sauron imposed upon the structure.

Unlike the other structures, this gate’s magnetic power source was vertically based into the Ash Mountains, he noted. It could cause him trouble.

As he continued to bring the Gates online, Aragorn looked at the frightened troops who now perhaps saw clearly their fate.  “Hold your ground!” he cried.  “Hold your ground!

“I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me!” He said to them.  “A day may come when the courage of men fails— when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship—but it is not this day.  An hour of wolves and shattered shields, when the age of Men comes crashing down—but it is not this day! This day we fight!

“By all that you hold dear, in this good earth, I bid you STAND, MEN OF THE WEST!”

With that, all swords were unsheathed, all shields were readied.  Not a look of fear was left in them.

Josh stood, wearing his battle-worn SEWG vest and helmet, the symbol of Théoden upon the right.  “Game on,” he muttered.

Next to him, Leonardo cracked his neck within his samurai armor, and his swords shone in the pale light, glowing blue.  “Game on,” he replied.  

 

Aragorn looked back at them, his sword raised.  It was as if he now knew—now realized the stake of the world.  “For Frodo.”  And he ran into the dark host.

The armies gave forth a great cry, and Leonardo could no longer tell if his voice was among them.  He held his Tsunami with both hands and hurtled toward their lines, knowing—knowing that his first three sword strokes would be kills.  Joshua did not bound into the air, but ran as well, his hands and feet glowing with his strange metahuman power.  Even Adam—with the armor with the wings that Leonardo only now realized made him look like a vengeful Angel—ran.  Merry, Pippin, Gimli, Éomer, Gamling…. And Gandalf.  All had fury in their eyes, a fire.  Leonardo leaped out of his armor, causing it to explode forth like shrapnel—a device designed for him by Adam and Josh.  He mourned the armor that had probably been one of the best kinds in the world—on any world—but he knew its limitations, and he knew that he had to be viper-strike fast, and he knew that no arrow would strike him, no sword would cleave him.   He was trained by one trained by the best Shidoshi in Japan.  

It was Leonardo’s moment of clarity that he had searched for in this strange world.  

 

Josh leaped into the orcs head first, purposely getting himself surrounded by them.  Hands glowing with strength enhancing power, he struck out, each blow with intent.  Slowly, he got himself a small island of ground on which to operate.  Within five minutes, twelve orcs lay at his feet, their necks broken with the force of his strikes.  Enraged, they pressed in, and he fought them, his swift hands and feet his only illumination.  

 

“ANGELS!” Adam cried.  “ANGELS TO ME!”  He cried as he lifted into the air.  The four Blue Fountain Guards, whom had become his own in his heart, if not really in name, flocked to him as they made their way to the threshold of the gates.  On the Mordor side, he saw several beast-of-burden mountain trolls in position, ready to close the gate at a moment’s notice.  He smiled.  He’d do that job for them.  

 

Few people noticed when formation lights began to start blinking on the outside surface of the Morannon and the Towers of the Teeth grew warning spires, with an oscillating red light.  But everyone noticed when the gates began to close by themselves.  

On the other side, the trolls were at a loss as to why or how the gates no longer needed their help, so, they simply stood where they were, ineffectually flogged by the orc overseers until they grew annoyed and flicked them away, falling to their deaths below.

Zanie would be mad if we killed them for just standing there, Adam thought.  It was bad enough that scores of trolls were armored up and armed with swords among the Mordor-host.  Zanie would understand, though, Adam believed, if the Men of the West had to defend themselves.  

The Blue Angels had secured the tops of the Towers of the Teeth and now made their way to the catwalk on top of the Gate itself.  

“What do you think you are doing?” a voice asked Adam as he surveyed the battle.  He turned, knowing what was there.  One of the seven remaining Nazgûl on his winged beast, and the other six in a—flock? —Headed straight for the melee.

But Adam wasn’t afraid anymore.

“I’m giving back to the West what was stolen by your master,” he said, and with a little gesture of his neck, one by one, seventeen phase disruptor turrets opened up and clicked into place.  They craned and moved until they all aimed at the Nazgûl.  Now GET OFF MY GATE!

Jarred by Adam’s anger and boldness, the Nazgûl, strangely, complied, rejoining the others, on their way to the battle below.  

Josh looked up at the seven winged beasts coming closer and closer to him, and prepared to create a burst of his energy to hurl at them.  Little did he realize that a little thing, a little Northern pale-eye moth flitted by him, zipping along to Gandalf, to relay the message that was encoded within him?

Gandalf would never let anyone discredit Radagast for caring more about the creatures of Arda more than the intelligent life that lived there, for, from the northwest, straight from Wilderland, nine giant Golden Misty Mountain Eagles bore down upon the Nazgûl, in their attack formation.  One with a particularly fluffed-up feathery head snatched up the beast by Joshua and engaged it in the air.  

(Hey!) A voice within Adam said, startling him.  (Tell your toy soldiers to get on our backs, where they can do the most good!)

If an eagle’s beak could smile, it would look like the look the big-feathered eagle gave him as it glided by.  

Gwaihir, Adam thought, and then cried, “Angels!  Mount the Eagles!  Attack the Nazgûl from the Eagle’s backs!”

COMPLIANCE was their electronic reply.

 

“Now,” Adam said, “Now we get to work.”

 

“I want to spend my whole life with you.  I want you for my wife.”

 

Buffi didn’t know what to say.  On Ipanema Beach in Rio de Janeiro, She stood, her hands held by whom she thought was her ex-lover, Corat Damar.

Slowly, her hand worked their way out of his.  She looked away and sighed.  

“I know I didn’t say something wrong,” Corat said.

Buffi glanced at him quickly and looked away again.  “I can’t believe you’d ask me to marry you after everything that’s happened between us.”

“I know.  But these last few months, I realized something:  I need you.  You bring something…effervescent into my life.  You say your little things and do your little things, and they just are…endearing to me.  I miss when we used to go out dancing, or, we went out to that little cafe in Bronckstown.”

“Bronxville,” Buffi corrected.

“Whatever,” Corat said, quickly.  “The point is, I want you.  In my life.  Here with me.  Always.”

Buffi looked at him, realization in her eyes.  “By the three crosses.”  

Corat went in closer to her, asked, expectantly, “Yes?”

“It’s all about you, isn’t it?”   Buffi said, not bothering to hide her disgust.  “What you want, for you, how I make you feel.”

“I’m telling you—”

“Yes, you’re telling me how much you need me, but you don’t seem to care about how much I need you.  How good you would be for me.  There’s a reason for that.  You don’t care.  It doesn’t matter to you.  All I have to do is be on your arm and shut my mouth and everything can go back to what it was?”

“Buffi—”

“There are things that have been done that cannot be undone and things that have been said that cannot be unsaid,” Buffi said.  “What about the times you lied to me?  When you said no one would want me after you? What about all of the problems you’ve caused with me and my family?  Can you make it better?  Huh?  Can you take back the times you struck me in the face?  The times I cried and you wouldn’t even hold me and make it better or even be sorry—When your selfishness made you keep going when I didn’t want to?”

Her face was now a mask of scorn and judgment.  “Can you take back what you let that woman do with you?  You didn’t care how I felt.  You let her keep doing it to you, with me right there.  Didn’t feel ashamed enough to stop.  So tell me, Corat Damar —what can you do to make it all better?  Huh?”

“You abandoned me,” Corat accused, “When I could have used your company.  You hurt me by your absence.  I’m giving you a chance to rectify your mistake.”

“My mistake?” Buffi said, here eyes blazing.  “My mistake began on that dance floor at that party, when I danced with you and fell in love with you!  That’s a mistake that I’ve set out to rectify!  I’ll tell you this—right here, right now— There will never be a ‘you and me’ ever again.  This is it.  This far, no further!”

“No!” Corat cried, and lunged for her, grabbed her shoulders.  Buffi didn’t even think in that moment.  Within her, something grew warmer and more evident within her, as if something was rallying for her to fight back.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw three Cardassian sharpshooters, ready to shoot if she made a false move.  Her eyes narrowed to slits.

“I get what I want,” Corat said to her.  “I’ll have what I want.  You’ll be whatever I need you to be.”

“Are you now too cowardly to even say ‘or else’?”  Buffi growled, her carnivorous canines flashing in the moonlight.  That warmth within her now enveloped her, whispering in her ear.  Whispering a word that always meant a lot to her.

 

Liberation.

 

What happened next, didn’t seem possible to anyone involved.  Buffi struck out at Damar, but her blow was strong…impossibly strong.  Damar was sent almost ten meters away, bouncing several times before landing.  

Amazingly enough, he managed not to get his neck broken, though he struggled to get back up, to see if his friends were able to stun her into submission.  He glanced, and thought he saw a figure in white, a glorious female figure with long golden hair and luminescent green eyes, look down upon him.  Though he thought he saw weapon fire aimed at her, she was unfazed.  He attempted to get up, to try to explain—

“DOWN!”  The voice commanded, and Damar, battered and bruised, could not crane his hurt neck up to look directly at her—was it Buffi?  

“Down, you creep of a thing!  You’ll never hurt me or betray me again!” the figure said to him.  “Go, and never trouble me again.  If you EVER touch me again, you will be flung into the fires of Doom.”

And with that, she was gone.  Buffi—demon—whatever it was.  Damar was alone.

“Corat!” the point shooter said, walking quietly up to the still-prone Damar attempted to get him to his feet.  “What happened?”

“I don’t know,” Corat replied.  “Gul Dukat, why didn’t you stun her?”

“I tried, my young friend,” Dukat said.  “In fact, I had my weapon at its highest setting, and nothing fazed her.  It was as if she was invulnerable.”

 

 

 

Several kilometers away, on another beach, Buffi lay in the sand, unconscious.  The shock of the strange thing that had happened to her was too much, and she had passed out.  However, she was not alone.  Perched on a large trunk of driftwood nearby, an eagle sat watching her.

Seemingly guarding her.

 

Jonathan Quick’s SprintHawk cut through Arda’s atmosphere with the slightest of ease, as if—somehow—it knew how to traverse through the barrier.  Though he had no way of knowing, his point of entry was a hundred kilometers above Umbarhaven, where, as he continued with his entry, there was a battle in the Ministry with the problem with the rogue Haradrim which had allied themselves with Sauron.  The debate over whether to ally with the creature from Mordor was such that Near Harad had seceded from Umbar, eschewing their more advanced technologies, earned with their trade relationship with Tol Eressëa across the sea.  They left the semi-arid lands with twenty of the state’s prized trained mûmakil, a gift to them from the Beast master, Zanie.  And now, it had a decision to make.  Whether to allow those expatriates to return—albeit chastised—or to ban them forever from their lush lands. As the Númenórean SprintHawk sailed past them, many who got over the initial shock realized that forces were in motion that were vastly beyond them.  

 

In Na-Rhûn, orcs were turned out of hostels, driven into the streets by the common folk, for fear and anger of their reported losses at Minas Tirith.  The Five Chairs of Rhûn were, all of them, murdered for allowing it to happen within their lifetimes.  But, with as much rebellion as the Easterling people displayed, they could not escape the simple fact that the Orcs did not want to leave Na-Rhûn.

Their insurrection would be in vain.

 

 

 

From the Morannon, Adam trained the gun turrets down to the Mordor side of the gates.  He had cut off those from the Mordor-host off from those on the other side, effectively removing three thousand from the fray.  And, when he had the cannons fired, he finished the job himself.  The ground from the cannons erupted in fire where the energy struck, obliterating the orcs and the trained, armored trolls where they stood.  

But that was merely a secondary goal.

With the Morannon in his control, he was now free to launch his own mission.  Once again, he connected with his computer bases, this time, including the circuitry of the Morannon among them.  With this much computing power, he was actually accessing natural conducting pathways hundreds of kilometers from the computer cores.  All to get access to Barad-dûr.  

And, indeed, getting access was tough.  Barad-dûr’s accessing systems seemed to be written in Númenórean computer code, but there were some differences.  Variances, nuances in the command-names; Adam had to get around them, delving into his rudimentary knowledge of Sauron’s Black Speech.  

 

With the gate secured, it was now Joshua’s time to act.  His éored, who had followed him and Éomer loyally, got into position, forming a line along the length of the Gates. He stood in front of them, watching as others got out of his way.  

“All right, boys!” he exclaimed.  “SHIELDS UP!”

With that, he launched.  

Hurtling through the line of orcs, he crossed the distance to the gate, and then bounced himself off of the gate wall, back to the éored, aiming for the strong Rohirrim shields to bounce back off of.  

Meanwhile, on the northwest side of the battle, Leonardo cut orcs down left and right.  He was mindful of the center of their forces, seeing that a rather large hollow was being formed. 

He hit his horse-head badge and called out.  “The center will hold!  I repeat, the center will hold!”

Joshua discontinued his mad-pinball strikes and slapped his own badge.  “That’s a confirm.  We are ready to commence Phase Two.”

Adam looked down at the action and nodded.  “Commencing Phase Two.  Priming remote gateway.”  Adam, in his searches of the ancient Númenórean structure of the Tower of Guard, had found its own version of the Iconian gateway system .

Within the large hollow of forces, the air began to shimmer.  Walking through an invisible gateway, five large creatures walked out, seemingly out of thin air, in a starburst pattern.

Five mûmakil, dressed in blue towers and wearing the symbols of the Tree and wings, seven stars above.  

From atop the lead mûmak, a figure, dressed in exotic animal skins, slid down the enormous trunk…and changed.  Shifting from a man to a tiger-like creature, he pounced to the ground, shifting back.  

Not far behind was the Elf, Legolas.  Within moments, he gained his footing on the ground and brandished his long knife.

“I told you Ngala would bear you well,” Zanie the Beast master said.  “And now it is time for them to pay back their slavers.”

 

On the other side, Gaji of Na-Rhûn was on the ground, brandishing his scimitar and already in the thick of battle, slashing orcs left and right.  Jumping high into the air, and striking hard with his pointed-toe boots, the orcs didn’t know what hit them.

“Now, Ngala!  Jallie!  Manju!  Inoka! Vanu!  Charge!”  Zanie cried, with a high trilling sound, and the mûmakil tromped forward, with the Gondorian and Rohirrim troops expertly moving aside.  As they did for the Haradrim, the five giant pachyderms moved with impunity, not so much walking through the orcs as they did upon them.  

“Phase two complete,” Josh reported to Adam.  “Are you ready for phase three?”

“Affirmative, Josh!” Adam cried.  He now found himself accessing the auxiliary systems of the Barad-dûr, looking desperately for the omega particles, seemingly in vain. He couldn’t find them; all he could find was seemingly useless data files on the area that didn’t tell him anything new.  He attempted to find a back door; he looked for systems that may remotely be peripherally related to the containment of the particles.

 

The mûmakil swatted the trolls aside with their trunks, but, unlike the orcs, who were seemingly intelligent enough to fear the crushing death their huge padded feet could bring, the trolls retaliated with their swords, cutting up the legs of the beasts deeply.  Manju went down, but not without taking down five hundred orcs by falling onto his side. As the trolls jumped upon him and hacked into his flesh, he continued to smack them away with his trunk, but in vain; he was killed by a lucky orc’s arrow into his eye, piercing his brain.

Adam found his back door by means of the containment field protocols that held the omega particles together.  He knew that he had to inverse the containment field, and change the containment frequency to 1.68 terahertz to match the resonance of the particles.

“C’mon, gimme a toggle, baby, gimme a toggle,” he muttered as he tried to get into something that would allow him to make changes. More Black Speech commands—something that he knew would be inevitable—seemed to be misleading.  Where he looked for a command similar to change, he found the phrase adaptation, where he looked for frequency, he found waveform.  It was frustrating and time consuming, and he had little time to lose.

 

Josh now cut loose, bouncing and dive-bombing onto the Mordor-host, until he could no longer discern ground from sky in a continuous motion of bombardment.  He had a vague perception of having barely grazed Leonardo (or was it the other way around, with those katana blades?) and Éomer (Who bounced him away with his shield) and Gandalf (who simply repelled him through utterly arcane means).  Gimli and Legolas, the Hobbits, Prince Imrahil, and, of course, Aragorn were all still in the game, though another mûmak was now down.  It was Jallie, and she had to be dragged down to the ground by hundreds of orcs, who, in turn, were gunned down by the Men of the West.  A sacrifice, to be sure, but crawling atop a fifty-meter-tall animal made one a prime target for an archer.  

 

“Gotcha!” 

Adam raised his arms in triumph as he got his access.  “I am changing the containment field frequency to 1.68 terahertz,” he reported.  Attempting to inverse the containment field.”

SYSTEM DISCONNECT.

Adam’s eyes flew wide open.  He was no longer connected!  

 

He had no way of knowing, but the rampaging force of the mûmakil Inoka had smashed the PADD that Beregond kept with him as he went down. No connection to the Númenórean structures.  No connection to Barad-dûr.  Seemingly no hope at all.

Until he saw the phaser fire of a new ship above him.  

Vaguely bird-shaped, bearing the crest of Elendil’s line, it flew above the gate, careening toward Sauron’s tower.

He received a subspace message.

“—Jonathan Quick, out of Hawk Haven in Limbo. If anyone can hear me, please respond.”

“This is Lieutenant Commander Reid of the Hanson.  Stand by.”

Josh saw Adam fly away from the gate.  He broke off his attack and shot up, flying above the gate, and saw that the ‘Evil Lighthouse” of Barad-dûr had shone away from them, instead turning, almost anxiously pulsating, toward the volcano, Mount Doom.

All around him, the winged beasts of the Nazgûl broke off their attacks from Gwaihir’s Eagles and the Blue Angels.

“Adam!”  He cried out.  “Something’s happened! The Eye’s turned to Mount Doom, and the Nazgul’s broke off their attack.  They’re makin’ a beeline for the volcano!”

“Understood,” Adam said.  He now got into contact with the Angels.  “They’re getting away!  Pursue!  Pursue!  Go! Go! Go!”

The Angels leaped off the backs of the Eagles and shot off towards the fiery mountain.

“I’m followin’ them in,” Josh said, and tailed them, gaining ground quickly.

“What’s your plan, Reid?” Quick’s voice asked.  

“Your SprintHawk is based on Númenórean technology—technology that I need,” Adam replied, reconnecting, easier that he anticipated, back to the Minas Tirith/Morgul/Helm’s Deep network.  

In the cockpit of the SprintHawk, Quick noticed his consoles being commandeered; everything except for shuttle control. From his view, he saw a figure shooting toward the dark tower ahead.  He had the sensors zoom in on the winged person, most likely Lt. Commander Reid—

He was wearing the SilverHawk armor.

“It’s true,”: Quick breathed.  “Commander Reid, what’s the plan?”

“Hold your position, lieutenant,” Adam directed.  “I’ll do the rest.”

“ARMOR UP,” Quick cried, and his own armor slid into place around his body.  More streamlined, and bereft of any signs of Númenor that Adam’s had.

Back to the back door for Adam; He had gotten himself back to the containment field, even as he himself flew above the Udûn Basin, turning slightly east toward the Tower.

“Inverting containment field…NOW!” 

The tower now began to glow around its middle.  A dim but brightening blue-green-white light that contrasted with the dull orange-red evil of the Eye.  

“Is that something we need to worry about?” Quick asked, understandably nervous.

“That just means it’s working,” Adam replied.  “Reid to all points—package has been delivered.  units are now being dispatched.”

 

Careening toward the volcano, Joshua and the Blue Angels soon caught up with the Nazgûl and, when seemingly ignored by them, engaged them in battle.  The Angels fanned wide, firing their now-enhanced arm cannons at the Nazgûl, not quite connecting, but instead halting their progress to the volcano.  Josh, knowing that he had neither the technique nor the knowledge to breach the intangibility of the wraiths, he instead opted for a similar stalling and delay strategy.

Unfortunately, by the time he had gotten it working right, he was already in the area of the volcano.

The volcano wasn’t particularly outstanding on its own, compared to such fiery cones as Kiluea, Vesuvius, or Mt. Saint Helens on Earth, the long extinct but massive Olympus Mons on Mars, the entire moon of Io, or Mount Takava on Vulcan.  But a single mountain, unconnected to the surrounding mountain ranges, alone on a volcanic plain, made for a geologic mystery.  One that Josh had no time to ponder.  

“It takes more than a little lava to stop Captain Proton.”

 

Ngala was the only Mûmakil left, and Zanie, now ferocious in his cat form, defended him fiercely.  However, the trolls were difficult to kill, and Zanie found himself ill equipped against an enemy that was immune to mere claws and fangs.  Gaji, Legolas and Leonardo, with the Host of Rohan, rallied him.

Of them all, Gandalf was the one who none could see, save for a glint, here and there, of Glamdring, his sword, in the thick of it all.  Whether he was most eager to cut the Mordor-host down, or trying to allay his anxiety of the crucial moments to come, none could say.  Aragorn, however, was grappling with an angered, armored mountain troll, who struck at him with its enormous sword.  Feinting left and right, trying to keep it from cutting down another, perhaps less talented warrior, Aragorn kept it occupied.

 

“Eighty percent of the particles have been neutralized,” Adam said, now atop the SprintHawk, looking upon the Dark Tower.  It didn’t look like it was constructed so much as it was grown, like a satanic beanstalk rising up.  The Eye of Sauron wouldn’t look at him.  It looked on to Mount Doom, searching…

Searching.

In that instant, Adam had his own moment of clarity.

The moment the Mouth of Sauron referred to Frodo as their spy, Adam and Josh knew immediately that Sauron did not have the hobbit in their possession.  If he did, he would not be considered a spy but the ‘mule’ that had brought him his much-desired Device.  Now, he looked to the volcano where the ring was created.  Desperately looking, searching.

But he hadn’t known where the Ring was, this entire time.

Until now.

Sudden, gripping horror took Adam.  “Oh, no.”

(He will be completely under the Ring’s control in less than a month at the current rate)

That nagging thought, which haunted him ever since his passing out in Henneth Annûn, came right back to him.  

He returned to the computer display.  Sauron wasn’t paying the omega particles any mind, his focus now strictly upon Frodo and his Ring.  Ninety percent of the particles had been destroyed.  Ninety-one, ninety-two….

 

At a carved gateway of glazed obsidian halfway up the volcano, the Nazgûl wheeled around.  Afraid as they were of fire, The Nazgûl could not resist the compulsion to obey the Dark Lord imposed upon them.  

However, Josh believed, they had egos that would override their fear.  And he was sure that he did not want them to enter that one final tunnel.

He charged at the Sammath Naur entry, working past them, and up the side of the cone.  They followed, through wing-injuring and flight-impeding pyroclastic clouds, until they were over the deep crater of the volcano.  There, Josh could see the magma within behind a veil of air distortion and heat, roiling and glowing.  His field was at its maximum, filtering out the heat and the odd fiery blast of lava that shot out at random.  But the air was rarefied up there, superheated as it was.  And his field made breathing precarious enough.  This would have to be a bluff.  

As that last thought occurred to him, he did not see the wing of the beast behind him, nor did he see the burst of magma come from below.  He blacked out, fell fast down into the crater of the fiery pit below.  Though his biogenic field would protect him, he would soon find that he could not breathe in magma as he fell down, down toward it…

 

Leonardo was crushed underneath a felled troll, one that Gaji had killed with one of the phasers that Josh had lent about their little group.  His leg started to tingle as he struggled from underneath it, the Easterling trying his best to lift the dead thing, but he had his own problems, as the tide of war threatened to sweep him away from his comrade-in arms.  And with Legolas struggling himself to get to Aragorn’s side, there was no one to help…

 

Ninety-six, ninety-seven percent…Adam now stood before Barad-dûr, the SprintHawk off to perhaps aid the others back at the Morannon, while maintaining the computer uplink.  

Adam was alone there, now with only time as his only enemy.  

Ninety-eight percent.

No one seemed to notice his presence there, staying no closer than half a kilometer from the tower, and it worried him.  Surely there was some guard left behind, to keep him safe, whatever it was that was left of Sauron…

Ninety-nine percent.

And that was what worried him, that, even now, on the eve of Sauron’s defeat, he still had the sense of foreboding, that nothing about dealing with the Dark Lord, in any capacity, was safe.

 

And that was when 

 

 

 

TIME

 

 

 

Just

 

 

 

STOPPED.

 

 

 

From a ship somewhere else, out of the ability of anyone to detect, Mon*Star stood before the object in stasis.

The volcanic heat done its work upon it, the gold coating of the ring had melted away, revealing a multifaceted torus of crystal.  That sheath of metal now coated the charred remains of a little hand, the only piece left of the last holder of the Ring.  

“Ah, yes, the imp called Gollum,” Mon*Star said.  Running his diagnostics upon it.   “The crystal lattice is intact,” He noted, speaking to no one.  No one, not even his loyal Yes-Man would be permitted to brook any interference now.  

“Retrieval complete, now to expunge,” the being formerly known as Saruman muttered as power started to surge through the crystal Device. At first, the reaction appeared to cause sparking, and he began to shut it down, but then he realized that the energy released was not physical, but psychic.  The two largest surges of power rolled across the laboratory, like ball lighting.  One focused around the burnt hand, the other, seemingly alive, regarded Saruman, and disappeared through the floor plates.  Before Saruman’s eyes, the energy solidified around that hand until he could see—-

A little man.

He appeared dressed, wearing fishing gear, barefoot with flat, slightly webbed feet, stringy white hair, and a heavy-lidded look.  He looked around, not quite sure whether he was real or not, looked around at the rust-red and jade-green laboratory.  

“I’m not in there anymore?” He said, almost a question, almost a statement.

“This was most unexpected,” came the reply.

“No it wasn’t,” came another, female response.  Shaped like the male Mon*Star, covered in fur, with a Gorgon-like mane and a snaggle-toothed countenance, she regarded her male counterpart and sighed.  “Late again.  I hate time travel.”

“Who are you?” the male Mon*Star asked.

“I’m you,” she replied.  “Or will be, in twelve years.  I’m from a future where the Ring came back from an alternate dimension where it was not destroyed.  The timeline was changed as a result…. But I see I’m confusing you.”

“So you’re here for this?” the male asked, suspicious, indicating the crystal Ring.

“No.  I’m here to stop myself from making a grave mistake.  But it seems I do not need to.  Behold the remains of the Ring!”

In the white-haired hobbit’s hands, the crystal ring was darkened, ruined.  Unusable.

“When you expunged the ring, you removed the very thing that gave it its power,” the Female explained.  “Without the outer gold coating with his spell upon it, there was nothing cohesive keeping it within.  It is destroyed.”

“It’s gone?” the hobbit exclaimed.  “It’s gone!  Gone, gone, gone…I’m free!”

“Sméagol,” the Female said.  “It was you that destroyed the ring, and destroyed our chances for our own freedom.”

“I don’t care.  I’m out.  Away from them.  Away from him!”

“I don’t think you should reap the rewards for your treachery, do you, my brother?” the Female asked the Male Mon*Star.

“Snatched our revenge from our grasp…no…that’s nothing I would allow.  What do you suggest, my sister?”

“Renet, the apprentice of Lord Simultaneous, once used a temporal spell to suspend creatures in time,” the Female said.  “We can do the same to him…in reverse.”

“Let’s do it, then…” Mon*Star said.  “Without this crucial victory, I must retrieve the boys and get back to Limbo…Sayyyy,” he said, half-asking.

“You don’t want to know,” the Female said, warding his question off.  “Trust me.”

 

Gone!  Gone!!!

The containment field was gone.  It had sunk in to Adam’s mind.

There was still one particle of Omega remaining.

(One molecule could disrupt a sector)

Time crawled at a snail’s pace as he saw the eruption of energy come from the Tower of Barad-dûr as the Eye, now distraught and straining, flared out every which way.  The eruption soon began to envelop the tower with a dark energy, rimmed with deep green at the ground.  It might have been the shock of the moment, it could have been a perseverance that he never knew he had within him, but he did not attempt to run from the disrupting power coming his way, kicking up a storm of dust and ionizing energies.

He raised a hand in front of him, a futile effort for the flea to stop the thunderstorm—

—It stopped.

 

From within the Volcano, a power exploded forth in a burst of fire and pyroclastic flow.  It rushed down the cone of the northwest side, rushing toward the site the Barad-dûr used to occupy.  From the dark clouds of ash, a being of fiery light burst forth. 

“Thass what you get fer touching me…” Its voice slurred, sounding fatigued.  The fires faded, revealing Joshua, his SEWG helmet blown away.  At that moment, the gasses hit him, his power kicking in, essentially pushing him northward.

 

 

Adam was holding back the devastation of the explosion of the particle, power equivalent of a warp core breach.  

It had to be a hallucination.  He was, now, in fact, dead, and this was his final conscious moments before he surrendered to eternity.  He did not stop the explosion with a single gesture of his hand; the energy did not warp around him, turning in on itself.  And the wings of his SilverHawk armor most certainly did not fall away, revealing a pair of huge, beautiful golden wings through which those energies boomaranged around.  The feathers of the wings seemed to fill his vision, leading to a whiteout where he saw nothing.

Or was it Everything?

 

 

 

 

 

'Yes,' said Frodo. 'But do you remember Gandalf's words: Even Gollum may have something yet to do? But for him, Sam, I could not have destroyed the Ring. The Quest would have been in vain, even at the bitter end. So let us forgive him! For the Quest is achieved, and now all is over. I am glad you are here with me. Here at the end of all things, Sam.'

 

Sam?

 

Where am I?

 

What has happened?

 

Who are you people?

 

Josh!

 

Adam!

 

Samwise!

 

Doctor Scott!  What the hell’s happening?!

 

They stood within a marble circle, called, ironically, the Ring of Doom.  The two Reid men, the tall Cainian woman, the spent little hobbit, and a fifth figure, standing in the background.

 

A person, male, and his consort, a female, stood before them.  He was dressed in winds and air and feathers, while she was clad in the velvety dark and the sparkle of the cosmos.

 

“I welcome you to the Halls of Mandos,” He said to them.  “You are here because a choice has been made.”

“He whom you all know felt you five should be the next five to join the Order which we have created, called the Istari,” She added.

 

“Adam; you saw a kinship in one of my eagles that one cold day on Lake Erie,” He said. “To you, I shall partner with you the spirit of my Eagles.  Soon, Gwaihir will tutor you in your Seraphim Wings.”

Before Adam, a spirited man with a wild crown of blond hair and goatee bowed to him and smiled.  

“Joshua Maurice, your fearlessness in the face of war and fire has earned your trust with the guardian spirit of Anor herself.  You will learn to know her power to control the eternal Inferno.”

A being of starfire appeared before Joshua, sinuous and fiery, and he bowed before her.

Frodo Baggins,” She began, “You who have invoked my name and saved our special place from one of our most misguided own…you have proven that your people, and you, especially, have a love of everything green, and growing and right.  Yavanna herself will show you how to properly exercise that power of Creation.”

Yavanna, a longhaired goddess who was as tall as a fir, and as magnificent, extended her arms wide.

He turned to the Cainian girl.  “And Buffi Mar’i K’gar.  Fate did not send you to our special world.  But you have within you…within your soul…the love of freedom and the hatred of villainy that our more…exuberant own shares.  Tulkas will walk with you and share your love of Liberation.”

A ruddy-faced man with a red beard and strong as ten oxen, smiled widely and rushed to her.  “Buffi-pup,” he said, where others were silent.  “We shall have such fun!”

“Your times are long off.  This was merely the crucible of our choice, to choose those in the universe to represent us and do what we can no longer do.  Work to create a better world.”  She smiled upon them all.  “Farewell.  We shall be watching…and waiting.”

 

Wait!

 

You gotta tell us!

 

What has happened!

 

What does all this mean?

 

Does this mean I wasn’t hallucinating?

 

My Lady!

 

Elbereth!

Chapter Text

“Two words for you,” Dunei K’gar said to her daughter.  “Interstellar incident!”

“It was worth it,” Buffi replied, blithely.  “I guess.”

“You really can’t remember?” Dunei asked.

“I’m telling you, Mother, one moment, Corat was grabbing me, talking all sorts of nonsense to me, the next few moments are really blurry, and the next thing I remember, I’m, like kilometers away.”  Buffi tied her bathrobe tightly around her as she came out of her bathroom, toweling off vigorously.  “And filled with sand in places I don’t even want to say.”

“Well, the Cardassian consulate’s not saying anything.  That’s because they did something very illegal by hiring those snipers.  According to the Cardassian Central Command, they didn’t sanction any contact between him and you, like they were supposed to, as you know.”

“Right…” Buffi droned on, still toweling.

“Then again, there’s their shadow government agency they call the Obsidian Order; they do things on their own that the Central Command don’t know about.  Nothing, Buffi?”

“Mom!” 

Dunei paced a bit around Buffi’s room.  “I suppose I should be grateful.  You…you don’t do anything small, do you?”

“Nope.  Drama Queen of the Universe, that’s me.”  Buffi wrapped her hair up in a towel and slumped onto her bed.  “Am I gonna have to testify again?”

“Nope.  No time for that.  You’re going to be going back to the Academy, remember?”

Buffi’s chin rose up at that.  “Yes.  Yes, I am.  Mom…I don’t know much about what happened, but I…I feel it.  I think I turned the page.”

“If you’re willing to do some fast-track study programs and take some graduate-level tests, you’ll be able to get your commission within the year,” Dunei explained.  “And it’s all based on your merits, so don’t give me that look.”

Kobayashi Maru, here I come,” Buffi said.  “Thanks, Mom.”

Dunei scooted over to Buffi and gave her a sideways hug.  “You’re welcome.  I’m glad we got a chance to get you on the right track.”  With that, she left her daughter alone in her room.

 

She lay back in her robe, stretched, and stared up at the ceiling, a little smile working its way onto her face.  She did indeed feel…different.  Feisty.  like she could take on five Nausicaans, wrestle them to the ground, and laugh about it later.  

Laughing, Buffi thought.  Hadn’t wanted to do that for awhile.

She still knew that a big part of her was missing.  As long as Raphael was gone from her life, it would always be so.  But that was another mountain to climb.  

One that she knew that she was up to climbing.

 

Feathers.

 

That was the last image in Adam’s mind before his eyes fluttered open to reveal a burlap ceiling.  

“What.  What happened.  Where am I?”

A familiar voice replied.  “You have woke up, that is what has happened.  You are in your personal tent of recovery, which lay upon the Field of Cormallen.”

“How long have I been out?” Adam T. Reid III asked.

Our final battle at the Black Gate was on March the twenty-fifth; it is now late evening on April the eighth.”

Adam got up in the bed.  “What happened?  There was one particle left—Sauron’s containment field turned off—by rights, I shouldn’t have lived!”

“No,” Gandalf agreed.  “By rights, you would not be alive.”  With that, Gandalf laughed—a deep, rolling laugh that Adam hadn’t heard from him in the longest of times.  

“We did it.”  Adam said, grinning widely.  “We—what am I saying?  We didn’t do anything.  He did it!  Is he—?”

At that moment, five people burst into the tent.  Most recognizable was Leonardo, wearing a silken robe, his exposed legs wrapped in bandages.  He opened his arms wide, and rushed Adam’s bed.  Next was Gaji, wearing a bright scarlet and navy outfit, with fresh kohl eyes and shined brass finery.  His smile dazzled as he clasped Adam’s arm opposite Leonardo.  The third was Zanie, still wearing his skins but with bright silver baubles within his piercings.  

“Ey, frere!” the fourth man exclaimed.  “Bout time you got up, sleepyhead!”

With that, he dived into the bed, causing Adam to jump up from the mattress.  “Ack!” Adam cried out, laughing and slapping Josh in the back of his head, himself giggling with glee.  “I am accosted!”

Imrahil was the fifth man, smiling at the group.  “I’ve escorted them to you.  I shall now retire.”  With that, he left the tent.

“What’s been going on?” Adam asked.  “Two weeks is a long time to be out of commission.”

“The Omega team arrived,” Gandalf said, “At the same moment that we arrived at the Morannon.  Captain Antilles sends his regards, as does Professor K’gar.”

“Okay, so where are they now?” 

“I sent them away,” Gandalf explained.  “There is still work to be done here.  We must make sure that there is no evidence of omega anywhere here.”

“What about the Hanson?” Adam asked.  “With Sauron destroyed, shouldn’t they come out of temporal freeze?”

“No,” Gandalf explained.  ‘It is not yet time for the Hanson to come out.  Subjectively, the Hanson will have taken six months to emerge, while for it, it will have occurred in no time.  We must be patient.”

“Yes.  No.  No!  I need more info!  Zanie!” Adam asked the Haradrim beast master, “How many of your mûmakil survived?”

“Only Ngala survived,” Zanie replied, sadness in his proud voice.  “But the King of Gondor has the hands of a Healer, as they say, and those hands can also heal the hurts of my thick-skinned brother.”

“Gaji!  What news from Na-Rhûn?” Adam asked.

“We told those Easterlings who survived and ran away to tell them that Sauron will not ask for tribute any longer.   We told them to turn out their vile orc guests, and gut them where they stood.  Though I suspect that the orcs will do the job themselves much more easier.”

“No orc bred from Sauron’s influence survived,” Gandalf explained.  “They would not survive without him.  The trolls, however—”

“Those trolls will make fine additions to the Menagerie in Umbarhaven,” Zanie said.  “They listen to me intently, now, and they…escort my dear, dear estranged brother back to our city, so he can surrender his renegade tribes to their ultimate justice.”

“Yeah, and, uh, we got a few more guests over in Minas Tirith that want to visit with you,” Josh added, mysteriously.

Adam didn’t quite hear him.  He saw the little person that had crept into the room behind them.

Their eyes met, and Adam wasn’t sure what he sensed from his new visitor.

“Anborn,” he said.  “You’re well.”

Gandalf noticed the new arrival and said, softly.  “Would you lads let the three of us visit for a moment?”

The four left the tent, leaving Frodo and Adam to meet once more.

“You know, my name’s not really Anborn,” Adam said.  

Frodo nodded.  “I know.”

Adam sat himself up.  “How are you?” he asked.

“I awoke this morning,” Frodo replied.  “They had a meal in our honor and sang songs in our praise.”

“No,” Adam pressed.  “How are you feeling?”

Frodo’s expression was guarded.  “I’m mending.”

“Because there was a moment—a singularity—when I realized what happened in Mount Doom.”

Frodo glanced at his bandaged hand.  “We did not think to hope—we merely hoped to stand.”

Adam’s cheeks burned.  It felt strangely uncomfortable to be in the hobbit’s presence—the person that all talk revolved around, but seen so rarely.  The only other person with such an absent presence was Sauron himself.  “I didn’t expect to ever see you after Henneth Annûn.  And I wanted so much to talk to you…so much I wanted to ask.”

“Perhaps Adam wants to ask whether or not you knew.”

Frodo turned to Gandalf, a quizzical look on his face.  “Knew?”

Gandalf held up his own Starfleet comm badge and replied, “Knew.”

“In Bag End,” Frodo began, “There is, in the library, a book titled “A Tale of Two Cities”.

“Okay,” Adam said.  

“But I only ever read it but during those six months when I was preparing to leave.  ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.’”

“It’s a far, far better thing I do today than I have ever done,” Adam quoted, “A far, far better place I go to than I have ever known.’”

“Other things Gandalf sent along, books about your Earth, about the Star Fleet, and other such things.  It all seemed so far away, like a painting painted in a dream and hanging in heaven.  He told me about you.”

Adam’s face was quizzical.  “But you’re so much older than I am…technically.  What could he have told you?”

“A fishing trip you took, as a little boy.  Sighting an…eagle…”

Both Adam’s and Frodo’s eyes unfocused, seemingly remembering a half-dream, but Gandalf kept them in focus.  “Adam, Frodo.  There are important matters to discuss.  And a proposition for you, Frodo.”

 

 

 

The trip back to Minas Tirith was cool, crisp, and swift.  The darkness that crept over the edges of the Ephel Duath were gone, revealing a cloudless blue sky that brought sunlight to its slopes for the first time in perhaps centuries.  Maybe it was the endorphins, but to Adam, everything seemed…happier.  Not merely the soldiers, but nature herself seemed sprightly and light.  Ngala, even, seemed to have a spring in his considerable step.  None of the Rohirrim wished him ill will; on the contrary, many of them gave him an affectionate pat on his front leg.  Gandalf seemed to never be without his smile.  Adam seemed to find himself with a grin, joking and verbally sparring with Josh.  He didn’t pick up his armor for the entire trip.  

Similarly, Leonardo kept his katana blades wrapped up and strapped to his horse.  For the amusement of others, he showed off, doing handstands and gymnastic tumbles, more often than not joined by Gaji, who now seemed to be considered the de facto representative of the new state of Rhûn. Zanie seemed more blasé about the concept, preferring the company of Ngala and his new pet, a Mountain Troll that followed the beastmaster around like a lost puppy, often asking in the Black Speech if he was good or not.  In the inclusive feeling of love, he, too, was accepted by the Men.

When Minas Tirith was finally seen, everyone seemed to march in double-time to get to the gates.

When Aragorn, Gandalf, and Adam, with Frodo perched in front of him, reached the gates, the Horse-head comm badge chirped.  Aragorn, who currently held the communicator, tapped it.

The voice was that of a child.  Bergil, the son of Beregond, of the Citadel Guard.  The nine-year-old had been the most proficient in learning the computer systems of the Ballroom when they had left.

“This is Minas Tirith Control.  Welcome home!”

 

When the gates were opened, only one man stood there to greet them.  The other guards genuflected to his left and right.

Nobody but they knew who he was.

“DAD!” Adam cried, jumping off his horse.  He collided into Thomas’ arms, hugging and crying.  Joshua joined him, with similar tears in his eyes.  Pere Thomas, pere Thomas,” was all he would say.

“Thomas,” Aragorn said.  

“Aaron,” Tom replied.  “They say you’re the King of Gondor.”

“Almost,” Aragorn replied.  “You should be very proud of your son.”

“I’ve never been not proud of him,” Tom answered.  “Not once.  Gandalf?” He said, looking at the family friend of the Reids, dressed in white robes. “You have some explaining to do.”

 

 

That began the month that they spent in rebuilding and restructuring Minas Tirith.  Thomas, Adam and Josh watched, passively; everyone seemed to work hard at understanding the newfound treasure that had been around them the whole time.  They took amusement as newly assigned soldiers puzzled at the new street lamps as they switched on at dusk and tried to find the reason why.  That gave Adam the most hope at the rebirth of Gondor.  That the people, who had been shoved out of complacency, would not go back to it.  With the time spent with Adam’s father, he had hardly noticed the little changes that had happened to him in the two weeks he was in a coma.  Tom put a mirror before Adam and suggested he look into his own eyes.

His eyes had changed.

No longer the deep, navy blue that he was born with, his eyes were now an icy clear blue, same as Josh.  However, his seemed more exacting, somehow.

Eagle eyes.

 

While Adam and Josh were content to sit back and allow others to work, Leonardo seemed most content in the temple and continued to meditate, to retain his clarity.  One day, the last day of March, Gandalf walked into the temple, where Leo sat upon a pink jersey mat.  He stood there, quietly, waiting for the Turtle to finish.  When Leo did, he craned his neck around, looked at the wizard, and gave him a sly, almost knowing smile.

“A good session?” Gandalf asked.

“Yes, actually,” Leonardo replied, getting out of his folded-leg position and stretching.  “It gave me some answers.  And a few new questions.”

“Such as?”

“How does a book, immensely popular by a planetary population, written by an author so universally acclaimed, get forgotten in the sands of time to such a degree that they accept that a person named Gandalf as an alien?”

Gandalf stiffened.

“And how would Adam and Josh know about Arda from you and not this book?”

Gandalf didn’t bat an eyelash. “I should have foreseen this.”

Leo continued: “I’ve kept quiet about this up until now because, at first, I wasn’t sure what to make of it.  Being stuck in the middle of some kind of ‘Dungeons & Dragons’ scenario, I wasn’t sure what was going on.  But with this whole Starfleet thing, and, I remember Mikey trying very hard to explain this to me—’Lord of the Rings’ was his whole obsession, okay—Middle-earth was supposedly some sort of prehistoric Europe that changed into the familiar continent we all knew?  Okay, that’s not the case here.  I’m in the 24th century, this is an alien planet, and Earth is still out there, apparently properly following the laws of plate tectonics.  Nothing remotely hinting at ancient Númenórean technology, and that book didn’t have me in it, for God’s sake, much less Adam and Josh.  So what’s up?”

Gandalf nodded, his smile never leaving his lips.  “Ronald was a friend,” he explained.  “All his friends called him Ronald.  And I knew that he had an extra quality.  He told me things about the places that he dreamed about.  He told me about his dreams of Númenor, and the First Age, and he wrote them down.”

“Why him?” Leo asked.  “Why Arda?”

“I could not determine it,” Gandalf admitted.  “Some things are beyond even we of the Order.  But it was so, and he slowly but surely mapped out what became this War of the Ring.  At one point, I realized what it was, and would hear no more of it.  It does not do, Leonardo, to know too much of one’s impending future, remember that.  Eventually, it became clear, through the popularity of the book, that it would serve as…how do I explain this.”

“It’s like coming across Mike Ditka’s playbook, and playing against the Bears in the Super Bowl,” Leonardo offered.

“Yes, quite,” Gandalf nodded. “Shakespeare has reached one end of the quadrant to the other, as have Dickens, Turow, King, and Tarbolde.  Tolkien would have surely made that list.  So…in the midst of Earth’s last world war, I…took advantage.”

The brow lines of Leo’s’ green forehead creased.  “That must have been pretty tough.”

Gandalf nodded.  “But I kept copies to myself, and I knew that others would eventually tell the tale.”

 “So…” Leo asked, “When are you going to read the story yourself?”

He didn’t answer right away, but when he did, his face was bright as the sun.  “As soon as the story is finished, of course!”

 

 

 

Bergil sat in the Ballroom, with his father standing over his shoulder.  Beregond was very proud of his young son for having learned the innards of the ancient computer.  However, he found it mildly disturbing that he picked it up so quickly, and at such a young age!  

That day, Bergil had learned that the sensor array was able to be projected skyward, and found something odd.  “Send for the Reids!” he told his father.

 

 

Soon, the Reids—all three of them, now— with Gandalf, and, strangely enough, Gamling — sat in the Ballroom looked at the sensor data coming in.  “It looks like an echo of an echo,” Thomas noted, and Adam agreed.  

“The sensors aren’t fully calibrated to look out into space,” he reminded them.  “But the silhouette is definitely Hanson.”

“Still out of temporal phase, but only just,” Gandalf surmised.  “It’s only a matter of time, gentlemen.”

“Minas Morgul,” Adam said.  “It might be possible to send a pulse of reverse-spin chronitons out toward the ship and bring it the rest of the way out.”

“I nearly forgot that it had not yet been fully destroyed,” Gandalf said.  “Log in.  See if it can be done.”

After a few more hours of work in the Ballroom, Adam found success.  “That’s what that green burst was,” Adam explained.  “Minas Morgul—or Minas Ithil I should say—was equipped with a massive deflector array, which could fire bursts of whatever radiation one could create through it.  The array wasn’t for the ground, I'm sure of it—It’s powerful enough to throw a deflector field around a starship-sized object up in orbit.”

“It might have been mated with a space station in synchronous orbit,” Tom suggested.

“Can you create the chroniton burst?” Josh asked.

“Yes,” Adam replied, “But I have only a small window of opportunity before the Hanson’s out of range.”

“Do so,” Gandalf told him.

Scores of kilometers away, at Minas Morgul, the sun had reached its stone walls, giving to it a sense of Númenórean Nobility that had escaped it for nearly an age. From the central spire, a cyclone-like wave of green energy erupted that spiraled straight up.

From Aragorn’s vantage as he stood out at the edge of the battlement of the Citadel, the beam issued forth from behind the Ephel Duath, with nothing but open sky to meet it.

 

A few moments passed, and the Reids awaited news of their fate. 

It was not exactly what they expected.

“All of the alarms have gone up!” Bergil exclaimed.  “I’m getting shields-up messages from all points.  What have we done?”

“It’s the Hanson!” Adam exclaimed, excitement growing in his voice.  “It was at red alert when it went under—shields and weapons were on the ready!  It’s responding in kind.  Shut it down, shut it down!”

The others scrambled to bring the city back from its own red alert, while Adam manipulated the knobs and levers to get a hail up to his ship.  

“Okay, Hailing Frequencies open,” Adam called to Gandalf.

“Do we have visual?” Gandalf asked.

The picture on the Big Screen ahead answered him.

In response to the Red Alert, several people had come into the Ballroom, including those that had recently gotten themselves out of the Houses of Healing.

“Oh!” exclaimed a female voice at the doorway.  It was Éowyn, dressed in a lovely Gondorian-style gown, reacting with shock to the sight of the woman, which greeted them on the screen.

“This is Captain Nerene Wilson, of the Federation Starship Hanson…Admiral, is that you?”

By now, Legolas, Gimli, and Pippin had streamed into the room, and Gandalf placed his comm badge upon his white finery.  “Captain Wilson.  Firstly, I would recommend you realign yourself with the nearest Federation Timebase Beacon.  You will find that it has been approximately five months in objective time.”

“That last temporal burst…” Wilson murmured.  “Very well.  It looks like I missed most of everything.  Sensors indicate a lot of difference between now and…well, then.  Does that mean that the device has been destroyed?”

“It has indeed,” Gandalf replied.  “Messrs. Reid have completed the mission admirably.”

“Well done gentlemen,” Wilson said, beaming.  “I’ll expect a full report when I beam down in twelve hours.  Transporters are temporarily down, and we want to run the sensors on you like a fine toothed comb.”

“Understood, Captain.  Gandalf out,” with that, the screen went back to default.

Éowyn walked away from Faramir and said to Joshua, “That was your captain?” 

Josh nodded.  “Just as I said, chere.”

Éomer struck Gamling with a puzzled look.  “Your horse is named Nerene, is it not?”

 

Early the next morning, the sun continued to shine as if it were making up for dismal days in the past.  The older Marshal of the Mark seemed to shadow Gandalf and the Reids as they walked from the White Tower to the White Tree.  The Blue Angels once again were refurbished by the replicating engine that was Minas Tirith, and now stood guard at the Fountain.  

Adam and Josh no longer wore their Starfleet uniforms; they were far too tattered and faded to wear with any dignity, especially to face their commanding officer.  Gandalf wore his typical white robes, and stood ramrod straight as the luminescent cloud of light and sparkling energy coalesced into Nerene Wilson, with unruly hair tied back severely and her usual mischievous smile intact.

“Gandalf.  I’m sorry things didn’t go according to plan,” she told him.  “Adam, Joshua…you look well.  A little scraggly, but all right.”  She then looked to Gamling.  “Hey, Uncle Mike.”

Adam and Josh’s eyes bugged out slightly as they watched Wilson pass them all up and engaged in a loving embrace in Gamling’s arms.  

“Uncle Mike?” Josh repeated.  “Gamling the Old, Uncle Mike?”

“Old?” Wilson asked, more than mildly amused.  “You’re only fifty-two.”

Gamling separated from Wilson, and extended his arm out to Josh.  “I guess I’d better reintroduce myself,” he said.  “Michael Gamling, nice to meet you.”

Josh took his hand.  “Much obliged.  This does explain a bit about you.  You did take to that PADD a little fast.”

 

“I’d bred horses on our ranch in Mojave,” Gamling explained to the Reids as they walked back to the Ballroom.  “But when I found out about horses that I’d sold had been taken out to some racket in Limbo, I’d just gotten…despondent.  Disenfranchised.  I decided that I wanted to…start anew.  Life off the grid.”

“Well, it didn’t get any further off the grid than Rohan,” Josh quipped.

“Nope,” Gamling replied.  “And I don’t have to tell you what it takes to win their trust.  Do well with a horse, quick with a punch or a blade, and they’ll treat you like a brother forever.”

“You must have had a rough couple of first years,” Adam said.

“I came here when I was twenty-one,” Gamling said.  “And I thought that it would be home for me forever.  But Gandalf promised to reunite me and my family, and Théoden…the last time we spoke, he encouraged me to go home.  So I can go back to the ranch in Mojave, now.  Guilt free.”

“That was the favor you owed Gandalf,” Adam said to Nerene, remembering the offhand remark Gandalf said to him, just after his commencement.

Wilson nodded.  “We missed him.”

 

 

 

Aragorn’s coronation went almost as everyone expected.  The entire population of Minas Tirith crowded atop the lawns of the Citadel, watching the delegations walk by.  Adam and Joshua wore their dress uniforms, with Joshua wearing long trousers, with his long, mustard yellow top reaching down to his calves.  Adam wore shorts under his  cranberry red top, with exposed calves and mid-length boots. Wilson also attended, standing with her uncle and Éomer.  

Éowyn stood next to Faramir, which distracted Joshua to no end.  Her fickle nature ringing true, it seemed that the two had connected in a way that nobody could have predicted.  Éowyn stole glances at him, from time to time, but quickly turned away.  Joshua tried not to notice.  

On Éomer’s other side was Gaji, with a contingent of fellow spearmen who came early in the morning with the news that the Orcs in Rhûn had been purged, as well as the Five Chair council.  Gaji’s own brother now was in control of Na-Rhûn, and sent Aragorn his regards.  However, Zanie stood alone.  No one could have arrived from Umbarhaven in time.

Leonardo stood with Éowyn and Faramir.  He looked at them all, for he was the one who was truly on the outside of the circle.  Even Adam and Joshua, from their distant Earth, was part of the circle.  Gamling—Michael Gamling, the Turtle corrected himself—brought them in.  Gandalf brought them in.  Faramir looking back out at them, across the sea of stars.  Then there was him.  Vaguely connected to Gandalf, who promised to help him find his family.  The same Gandalf who destroyed all evidence of a little prophetic book titled “The Lord of the Rings.”  And while Leonardo pledged his own silence in the matter until the time was right, he had a feeling that he would be reading it himself very soon.

In front of Leonardo was Gimli, who Leonardo was surprised to realize had hair!  Bright red, and balding, Leonardo had never seen the dwarf without his helm.  

“Staring at it will only make me go balder,” he gruffly said, causing Leo to start.  Then he turned his head around, looking at him with sparkling, goat-like eyes, and laughed.

At the fore, at the archway of the King’s House, Gandalf held the Crown of Elendil above Aragorn’s head.  Only—Aragorn would no longer be known by that name in any official capacity.  His reign would be known as Elessar Telcontar— Elfstone Strider.  

 

“Now come the days of the King, and may they be blessed while the thrones of the Valar endure!”  Gandalf proclaimed, setting the crown upon Aragorn’s head, and doing so, it seemed, unlocked the door to Aragorn’s truest self.  As he turned to face his people, he half-spoke, half sang, the words that was recorded of Elendil when he had arrived onto the shores of Middle-earth, whether by ship or starship:

 

Out of the Great Sea to Middle-earth I am come.  

In this place will I abide, and my heirs, unto the ending of the world!

 

Frodo, who had given the crown to Gandalf to place upon the new king’s head, stood back among his fellow hobbits, close to the Starfleet officers.  Faramir, on the other side, cried out.

“Behold the King!”

And so, the King Elessar walked down the aisle, and as he did so, All genuflected in their way.  The citizens bent low, and many delegates did the same.  Leonardo bowed low in the Japanese style, hands behind his back, while Éomer tipped his head in respect, one newly named King to another.  Wilson, Adam and Joshua saluted in the seldom-used Starfleet style, and Tom bowed his head.  

Standing before him was Legolas, who led the large contingent of Elves, come to pay their respects.  Actually, the Elves would have arrived nearly months late for the coronation, if not for the timely use of the City’s Gateway technology.  They clasped the other’s shoulder, an Elvish gesture of friendship and greeting, and Legolas had a look of jubilance in his bright blue eyes.  Adam saw Aragorn look to the standard-bearer beyond Legolas, Standing next to Elrond Halfelven himself, a look of utmost pride on his face.  The banner gave way to reveal a wondrously beautiful, raven-haired she-elf, her hair garnished with strands of silver and topped with a large white jewel.  She looked at him, expectantly, offering him her banner, which he took.  For a moment, there was a moment of unsaid speech, as Aragorn searched her face for the slight sadness that she held.  He cupped her chin in his gentle hands; not allowing her to bow her head in shame or embarrassment.  

Then he dove into her lips, engaging her in the most passionate kiss anyone that day had ever seen.  Applause erupted from all around, and he spun her around, still dizzyingly in love after over five decades of engagement.  

Of the things that had happened to Josh in those long five months, he never forgot that kiss.

 

The coronation banquet was rousing and boisterous, mostly because of the influx of Dwarves from Erebor, who themselves counted themselves victorious against the attempted rout of the host of Mordor in those lands.  Newly appointed King Thorin the Third, Stonehelm, Brand, Lord of Dale, and the venerable Thranduil, the father of Legolas, had arrived.  Also arriving was Gimli’s adolescent daughter Doeli, still thin of beard, but she wore it long, and adorned the tip with gold.  Josh sat himself amongst them, never failing to answer toast with a goblet, and indulging himself heartily.  After all, he’d prepared half of the feast himself.  In the end, it seemed fitting, fulfilling Adam’s prediction that he’d feed half of Middle-earth before their sojourn there was over.

 

Adam sat with Leo and Gaji, cutting up the broiled fowl and plucking off the fruit that they’d been garnished with, popping them into their mouths.  Adam was envious of the hobbits, who seemed to have quantum singularities in their guts, considering their ability to sink plate after plate into themselves.  By the time the second round of wine and mead had gone across the table, songs had been sung, including one by the Minstrel of Gondor, Glorel, who had a deep, wavering voice that haunted Adam when he described many tales of Frodo’s undertaking.  Another line struck him deeply: The Ring of Doom.  It caused him and Frodo both to cast glances in each other’s direction, as if remembering a half-dreamt song.

 

***

 

In the Temple of Varda, Leonardo approached Gandalf as the sun began to set behind Mindoullin.  He was unclothed and his katanas were strapped to his shell.  “I’m ready,” He said.

“I wish there was another way,” Gandalf said.  “And I wish I could afford you more time for your farewells.  It simply was not yet your time to awaken.”

“When I do wake up this time, it will be with my brothers?” Leo asked.

“Each time I have done this, I have indicated a specific location that the four of you will arrive.  The same with Splinter.”

“What about April?  And Casey?”

“April O’Neil and Casey Jones are human,” Gandalf reminded him.  “Renet’s spell was calibrated for humans.  They will awaken after the four of you do, but will not need their magick adjusted.”

Leonardo nodded.  “Thank you, Gandalf-sama,” using the Japanese honorific.  “For everything.”

“No, animal descendant of Hamato Yoshi, product of dear friend Golruffe Kakare” Gandalf said, gently.  “It is I who should thank you.  Strangers to Arda have never fought so bravely for her.”

“Will I ever see you again?”

“I may be the first thing you see with waking eyes,” Gandalf said.  “Let me begin!” With that, he spoke words that were strange to Leo’s hearing, words that were never borne of Arda, but a far-off place, now dead.   He lay upon the floor of the Temple, his arms crossed in front of him, and as he began to lose consciousness, he felt himself slip away, and the Planet Arda slowly faded from his reality.

 

Gandalf stood before the spot that Leonardo had occupied.  “Farewell,” he muttered.  “I will see you soon.”

 

 

 

 

That evening, as the events began to die down, Gandalf and Adam sat alone atop the citadel, the city lights filtering up from below.  Gandalf had produced a pipe and began to smoke from his own personal stash of Longbottom leaf, hidden (and rightfully so) from Merry and Pippin.  Adam abstained. 

“Have you given thought to my proposition?” Gandalf asked.

Adam nodded.  “Under one condition.”

Gandalf’s face slackened, then brightened again.  “I owe you much for my successes; name it.”

“That after we’re all done, and we…do what you’ve got planned…I get to go home.  Extended leave. At least six months before you call on me again.”

Gandalf nodded.  “That is more than fair.  Besides, by the time we initiate the second phase of my plan, six months may be the perfect time to come back.”

“How do you mean?”

“This world turned a page, Adam.  The Elves are going to be retreating to their own lands in Tol Eressëa, though many of them will be unpleasantly surprised that it is not the paradise that they expect it to be.  Galadriel wishes to sail; she is called by the hopes of forgiveness for a crime she can no longer properly remember.  Elrond wishes unity and progress, and they all agree; Middle-earth’s future will lie with the descendants of Númenor.  Dwarves never meddled; Hobbits even less so.  And they all have sufficient time to come together in peace.  Who knows, perhaps, in time, even Arda will find her place among the worlds of the Federation.”

“You’re forgetting a few loose threads, Gandalf,” Adam reminded his godfather.  “What about Saruman?  And what about justice for my grandmother?”  It was a dark day when Thomas and Adam learned of the treachery and villainy of Grima Suder, and of his alliance and subjugation by Saruman.   Many that Adam spoke with seemed certain that his vengeance would help none.  Faramir, Aragorn, even Leonardo recommended forgiveness.

“Saruman is a problem that takes care of itself,” Gandalf reassured him.  “He has schemed, he schemes, he will scheme, but it will come to naught.  No matter what form he appears in before you.”

“So you say,” Adam replied, still not quite convinced.  They were silent for a time, and he looked down upon the descending tiers of the city, and the dimly lit milestones in the distance.  “Do you think that he’ll go for it?”

“I have spoken to him, you have spoken to him, and even Arwen has reassured him, giving him her White Stone.  For his sake, I would hope that he could heal sufficiently from his wounds, but sometimes, an experience, a hurt, changes someone so irreparably, that he cannot go back to be what he was before.  He can only go forward.”

“Some wounds never heal?” Adam said.

Gandalf shook his head.  “Not even for me.  The death of my planet at the hands of the Borg…that is something that has stabbed me to my heart, as surely as if I were stabbed myself by the Morgul-blade.  Such things are darknesses within us that never go away.”  He looked at Adam, who seemed bereft at the dark tone their conversation took.  “But that is how it should be.  We need our pain.  It reminds us that there are things to overcome and it strengthens us in the meantime.  Is it not so with you?”

Adam wondered.  His grandmother’s murder, his experiences on Arda, made him wonder if anything he’d gone through had truly tainted him forever.  He simply replied, “I’m still young.”

“However, if Frodo does not find peace at home…well, we won’t finish our work for quite awhile.  And Nerene owes me a few more favors,” Gandalf added with a wink.

 

 

 

With Captain Wilson occupied in Minas Tirith with her uncle, the Hanson was sent (with the wayward Lt. Quick) back to Third-earth, to pick up a few loose ends.

 

With the bona fide first officer of the Hanson— Commander Mandora Juarez—reunited with her ship, she led a small away team with herself, Lt. Chekk, and Dr. Nathuntarj, the Caitian Ship’s doctor.

“Might have known you’d get involved,” Mandora admonished Lion-O as she looked at the lineup of apprehended Mobsters.  “You never could resist to play do-gooder.”

“The Code of Thundera instructs us in bringing criminals to justice,” Lion-O said, simply. “And we had to defend ourselves from their attack.”

“Typical Thunderrran attitude,” Dr. Nat sighed.  Feline himself, he ran his tricorder over their wayward youth, Katren, who lay on the ground, heavily sedated.  “Ah, just as I thought, and as I’m sure you suspected.  This young man has very low levels of Thundranium in his system.”

“When we found him in the fields,” Lt Will Hart said, “He was like a wild animal.  If it wasn’t for our Armor, Sis and I would have gone down before halftime for sure.”

“We tried our best to reason with him, but he must have been just too far gone by then,” Emily Hart added, nodding.  “Can he be cured, doctor?”

“Hypothundran Syndrome’s not entirely curable,” Nat said, shaking his head.  “He’ll have to control his Thundranium levels himself.  Inject himself with it.”

“Third-earth is no longer safe for Kat,” Tygra said.  “And he needs instruction as to take care of his health.”

“We can take him with us back to Earth,” Mandora offered.  “There’s no Thunderan Embassy there anymore, but I’m sure he’ll be in good hands.”

Kit stood by as this happened before her eyes.  She stood up, slowly, with the Bolian, Ched, behind her. 

“I’m going too,” she said.

For a moment, all four of the ThunderCats locked onto her as she said it.  Their faces were the same expression of surprise and shock and loss.  It was Lion-O who first bowed his head.

“No!” Cheetara exclaimed.  “We can’t lose the both of you!”

“Cheetara,” said Tygra, softly, moving to touch her shoulder.  “We knew we had to let them go eventually.  This is not good-bye.  Right, Kit?”

“Of course not,” Kit said, shaking her head.  “And besides, I want to know what the galaxy holds for me.  Ched wants to help me explore it.”

“I’ll make sure that she’s in good hands when we get to Earth,” Ched promised.  “I have to; I’m in your debt for saving my life.”

“Yes,” Lion-O said, contentiously.  “You are.  And we’ll know who to blame if anything bad happens to her.”

Ched said nothing, though he gulped loudly.  He turned back to the rogue’s gallery on the other side of the expanse of land outside the Cat’s Lair and gasped.  “Oh NO!”

Kit and the others rushed around, and they saw the same thing.

Nothing.

“Gone?” Mandora cried.  “Mon*Star!”

“Mon*Star,” Quick said, softly.  “Game on.”

“Looks like we go back to Limbo empty-handed, Chief,” Will said to Jonathan.

“For now.  We still have an important piece of the puzzle—Mon*Star’s connection to Arda.”

“What was going on in Arda, anyway?” Lion-O asked Quick.

“Not sure,” Quick replied.  “Seemed like I got there at the tail end of it.  Gandalf was there, and so were the two Reids I’d heard about.  In fact, it was Lt. Commander Adam Reid who was on some sort of mission there.”

“The day after you left for Arda, we got readings from the planet that we couldn’t make sense of,” Panthro recalled.  “But soon after, things changed.  We started getting clearer data…dark matter…we thought there was dark matter being emanated from the planet.  But it’s not there anymore.”

“It’s possible that the people there won their own battle against evil, much as we here are opposed against that blasted Mumm-ra,” Lion-O surmised.  

“A mystery for another day,” Mandora said with a sigh.  “Now we need to get these folks onto the ship and get back to Captain Wilson.  She’ll want to get her uncle back home pretty soon, as well as our wayward Reids.”

 

Josh was in a fresh duty uniform as he walked into the King’s house.  Newly appointed ladies-in-waiting stood there to attend to their new queen, who now sat in the Steward’s chair at the end of the hall.   

“It’s good to see you again, Lady Arwen,” Josh began, then corrected himself.  “I should say, Queen Arwen.”

“You’re wearing your native garb,” Arwen noted with curiosity.  “Does this mean you mean to depart soon?”

“Within the hour, yes,” Josh confirmed.  “I was looking for my…brother.”

“I thought you said that Adam and yourself were not truly brothers,” Arwen said, with a glint of elfin mischief.

“Your grandfather told me that not all brotherhoods are borne of blood,” Josh said, remembering Celeborn’s words.  

 

On her amused look, Josh looked around the marble finery.  He said nothing.

“May I intrude?” Arwen asked.

“Ma’am?” Josh said, mildly confused.

“Forgive me.  You were wondering if she ever loved you.”

Josh felt the burn of his cheeks return, feeling as he often felt when Adam correctly sensed his moods.  “Um.  Yes.”

“The one whom we love will wait for us, through fire, through war, through horrors untold,” Arwen told him.  “I suspect your true love waits still.”

Josh found that her words comforted him in ways that his own thoughts and rationalizations could not.  “Thank you, Lady.  Most kind.”

 

With that, Aragorn and Gandalf strode through, followed by Nerene Wilson and Adam.  Gandalf was still dressed in white, instead of the Red-and-black admiral’s uniform. 

Adam wasn’t in his uniform either.

Josh was puzzled.  “Adam?”

He looked at Josh, then at Aragorn, and his captain.  “I’m not going.”

“Not going?” Josh said.  “How can you not be going?  We’re done here, there’s no reason for us to stay!”

“There’s no reason for you to stay,” Adam agreed. “But there’s a few more reasons for me.  Gandalf and I are following up on making sure there’s no remaining trace of Omega or Sauron’s omega technology.  Also, Gandalf wants to get closure on the planet.  His time here is officially winding down.”

“But why you?” Josh said.  “Why not us?”

“Hey,” Adam said, not unkindly.  He moved over to Josh and clasped his forearm.  “It’s only going to be for, maybe, the rest of our tour.  By the time I get back to earth, you’ll already be on your own shore leave.”

“Two years?”

“And after that, I’ve finagled a whopping six months of home leave.  It all works out.”

“We made a good team,” Josh said.

“We sure did,” Adam agreed, and the two embraced.  Adam took Josh’s head with both hands and kissed his forehead, the traditional Númenórean goodbye gesture.

Michael and Thomas wandered in, smiling and talking.  The two had become good friends over the course of the last month.

“Well,” Tom said to Josh.  “I think it’s time for us to go home.”

“Home,” Mike sighed.  “Back to Mojave…perhaps by way of Canton.”

“Lots of horses there too,” Tom said.  “Adam…You sure you don’t want to go home right now?”

“I’m sure,” Adam said.  “And you know I’ll be home before you know it.  Might even bring a new friend.”

Father and son embraced, and the group got ready to beam up, when a small clatter of people stopped them.

“Joshua!” 

Éowyn picked up the hem of her gown as she hurried over to him.  “It is…traditional to farewell our riders with…mementos.”  She held out a roll of verdant green fabric.  Joshua unrolled it, revealing the mark of Théoden on a banner, embroidered in gold.  

He nodded.  “Thank you.”

“Make me a promise,” Éowyn said.

“Of course, chere,” Josh agreed.

“You must stay in touch across the sea of stars,” She said.

“I’ll try to write you,” Josh promised.

Faramir looked on with faint annoyance, but soon turned to Adam.  “Staying, Reid?” he remarked.  “Perhaps you can earn a princedom of your own realm during your sojourn.” 

“Nope,” Adam said, putting his arms behind his back.  “For what I’m here to do, I’m set to wander.”

Gimli and Legolas were next to wish Joshua farewell.  “I’d heard rumors,” Gimli said, “That two of my kin are out there…in the stars.  It was what Balin said to me last, the last time I saw him alive.  Seek them out.  Drop my name.  Fíli and Kíli are their names.”

“I will,” Josh promised.

Éomer looked at Gamling squarely.  “May your horse take you back to your home, Gam…Michael.”

“My horse,” Mike sighed.  “Nerene I bequeath to you, Éomer King.  May she serve you well.”

“She will have an honored place in my stables.”  

 

“Hanson,” Wilson said above the farewells, “Four to beam up.”

As the remaining people stood back, Nerene, Michael, Thomas, and Joshua Maurice became enveloped in sparkling blue energies and faded away.

 

Adam looked at the empty space, his lips pursed. Gandalf squeezed his shoulder and reassured him, “Very few farewells are eternal.”

 

Adam nodded, and began to set, in his mind, the work of the next two years to come.

Chapter Text

When Adam Reid the Third returned to the Grey Havens on 30 September 2360, nearly three and a half years after he fell from the sky, things seemed to have not changed a bit.
Nerene, the mare that he rode upon, seemed to be calmer than a horse usually would be upon breaching a threshold such as the gates to the Havens, but something about the place seemed to have a placating effect. Adam didn’t seem to notice it upon his first visit; he was too concerned to get to Rivendell. But now he could properly appreciate the serene architecture and the power of the bay.
Cirdan once again stood before him, his face craggy and aged even for an Elf, broke into a mirthful face upon seeing him again.
“Welcome again!” he exclaimed, his arms open.
“Well met, Cirdan,” Adam greeted the ancient shipwright. “I return to the shore, ready to take my leave.”
“Yes,” Cirdan said, “But you are not meant to sail upon my boats.”
“No,” Adam agreed. “And who would have thought that a world after Sauron would be so eventful!”
“Oh?” Cirdan replied. “Please tell me, for my sight is not what it once was, and I can no longer see beyond, say, Caras Galadhon.”
“Na-Rhûn in the East has been declared a sovereign country, free from Sauron’s influence. There were several bloody purges, when those believed to be loyal to Sauron were killed in the streets along with the Orcs. There are five new Chairmen in Na-Rhûn, and Gaji, who was once a lowly spearman, is now their leader.
“In the South, Umbar has repatriated most of those who returned in defeat, though Zanie’s brother was exiled to the far Southeast. Zanie has been offered a position in their Foreign Ministry, and he’s very close to accept.
“Leonardo the Turtle has been returned to his spell, and he will reawaken in about another year.
“And the Starship Hanson’s up there, ready to take me home.”
“Hanson to Commander Reid,” a voice from Adam’s comm badge said.
“There they are now,” Adam said. “This is Reid—one to beam up.”
Before Adam even thought, he realized that that moment would be the last that he would experience on the Planet, and he excitedly cried to Cirdan, “Goodbye! Good journey to you!”
“Farewell, Adam Reid! We shall meet again, ere the world’s end,” was the last thing he heard from Arda before he found himself upon the Hanson’s cramped transporter chamber.
He found himself piped aboard by a junior officer. “Commander. Welcome aboard sir.”
Adam suddenly felt that he had aged suddenly as he stood before the ensign. “Thank you. Tell the captain I’m en route to the bridge.”
He barely heard his faint “Aye, sir,” before he walked into the corridor and headed for the turbolift doors.
He never quite made it to the turbolift doors.
Before he knew what hit him, a brick wall collided into him and forced him onto the ground, pinning his arms and legs in a fashion that could only have been one person.
“’Ey, Frere,” Josh said, looking down upon him with the pale blue eyes they shared. “Two years, jes’ like y’said.” Adam knew that Josh was glad to see him. His accent only came out during more emotional moments.
Josh grudgingly let Adam back up and both got onto the turbolift. “Still stayed aboard, I see.”
“Yep,” Josh said. “Juarez’s a taskmistress—different one than you, that is—but I liked the work. Guess what?”
“What?” Adam asked.
“Did you know that the ThunderCats were on the next planet over?” Josh queried excitedly. “That was mega—Not aged much at all because they went into cryo-stasis for fifty years, though. We escorted two of them to Earth.”
“Oh?”
“Yeah, they were Kataen-naro’s kids—twins. The girl wanted to go and make her fortune, and her brother was too sick to stay. Thundranium imbalance.”
“Ohh,” Adam said, making a sympathetic face. “Listen, Josh—”
“And the other SilverHawks were on board a spell, just before we left. They left for Limbo soon enough, but not before I filled them in some—well, as much as I’m allowed under that,” Josh lowered his voice to a whisper, “You-know-what gag order they imposed on me, and you, too, by the way.”
“Josh, Frodo’s coming with us.”
Josh stopped talking. His arms dropped to his sides. “Frodo Baggins? The Ring-bearer? Why?”
“He’s never fully recovered from his wounds from the Nazgûl—or from the Giant Lob Spider that lives in Cirith Ungol. That plus his trauma of bearing the ring, guilt from giving in to it at the last…I think it aged him beyond his years. So two years ago, we put it to him, whether he wanted to come home with me, and live on Earth for a while.”
“Come home with you?” Josh repeated. “Adam, he’s not some stray dog you can rescue, y’know.”
“I know!” Adam said, mildly annoyed. “It wasn’t my idea. Gandalf wanted to get him help for that stab wound. It won’t fully heal if he stays here. He’s lost the very finger the Ring was on when he claimed it. This is more than your run-of-the mill post-traumatic situation here. Once a year since he came home, on the anniversary of getting stabbed, he lays in bed in a cold sweat, in a fugue state!”
“So what’s he gonna do when he gets to Earth?” Josh demanded. “Enlist?”
“We’ve made first contact with all the other continents of Arda except Middle-earth,” Adam reminded Josh. “Tol Eressëa has subspace capability, and there’s the Thünaar Village. They’re listed as neutral allies. If Frodo chose, he could enroll in the Academy. I’d sponsor him myself.”
“You’re taking this on all by yourself?” Josh said. “You’re no doctor, no psychiatrist. What are you going to do for Frodo?”
“I’m gonna be there for him!” Adam exclaimed. “Don’t you understand, Josh? We’re…kindred. We’re both Gandalf’s godchildren.”
Josh bowed his head. “You know how I feel,” he said simply.
“You’re wrong,” Adam replied. “I’m not doing this for some selfish reason. We owe Frodo so much—if it wasn’t for him, there wouldn’t even be an Arda!”
“When do we beam him up?” Josh asked.
“He set sail aboard the ship headed for Tol Eressëa yesterday,” Adam explained. “Gandalf and he will beam up in five days.”

 

In Nerene Wilson’s ready room, Adam sat at her desk, a padd between them, containing Adam’s report.
“No surprises here,” she said, looking over the data he compiled. “Gondor looks stable; no hint of any dissent toward Aragorn—”
“Elessar,” Adam corrected.
“Of course,” Nerene said, nodding slightly. “Rohan seems to be flourishing under Éomer, Na-Rhûn has stabilized, and the Southern lands seem to be peaceful.”
Adam nodded. “It’s off to a great start—for now.”
“For now?”
Adam clarified: “We’ve found evidence of even more—more concrete—Númenórean technology. Under the waves of Ulmo.”
“A submerged ship?” Wilson said, with surprise.
“Several submerged ships,” Adam said. “It was wise of us not to render a general hail when we arrived two years ago. It probably would have activated those ships then and there.”
Wilson nodded, but then stopped abruptly, as if remembering something. “Yes, but Minas Tirith hailed us when we came out of that temporal trap. That could mean—”
Adam’s brow knitted. “It…could. But nothing’s come up so far. Unless…”
“Unless it was programmed to respond at a delayed rate,” Wilson said. “It could be some sort of…safeguard that was built in by Elendil himself.”
“To preserve some semblance of their lives…Captain, don’t you think these ships are some sort of Ark?”
“If that’s true, Mister Reid, then I think it’s a safe bet that this isn’t your last time in Arda,” Wilson summed up. “Dismissed.”
Adam took his padd, got up, and moved to the door, but turned around. “Oh, Captain?”
“Yes, Commander?”
“How is your Uncle Mike doing back on Earth?” he asked.
Nerene broke into a wide smile. “He’s having a ball back on the ranch in Mojave,” she said. “He’s already riding the horses and naming all the new foals after the Marshals in Rohan.”
“Maybe when we get back to Earth, Josh and I’ll give him a visit,” Adam suggested.
“I’m sure he’d like that very much,” Wilson said. “Now, go! Get some rest. The next five days are gonna be busy for us.”

 

The next five days involved an intensive scientific survey, involving geostationary planetary probes, deep-sensor analysis, and all science laboratories working around the clock, finishing the work they had begun once the Hanson had entered orbit before. Adam took particular interest in Mordor; under the considerable influence of Sauron and his minions, the land there suffered, turning it into an inhospitable wasteland. Two years after his defeat, sunlight had once gain touched the volcanic vale of Gorgoroth, and seedlings had once again found their way into the porous lava rock, which, all things being equal, were actually quite conducive for plants. Eventually, Keiko Ishikawa, the ship’s botanist surmised, Mordor would more resemble a happy mix between tropical Hawaii and rainy Oregon, with palm bushes and fir-like trees towering along the inside of the Ephel Duath and alongside the Sea of Nurn. A natural form of terraforming, she added.

On 5 October, Wilson sat in her center seat, looking out over the limb of Arda. Josh was at Tactical, Mandora Juarez at Ops.
“Do you realize,” Wilson mused, “That we have gathered nearly a megaquad of data on this planet?”
“It’s almost like we’re taking good ol’ Arda home with us,” Josh said, darkly. “So to speak.”
Adam walked onto the bridge. “Captain, have we received the signal?” he asked.
“Negative, Commander,” Nerene replied. “However, we have tracked Gandalf’s comm signal. He’s just passed Meneltarma and the ship has slowed to twenty knots.”
“So any minute now,” Adam murmured as he moved toward the Ops console, ostensibly to take it over for Mandora.
“What are you doing, Reid?” she asked. “You’re not on duty.”
Adam turned toward Wilson. “Captain?”
“She’s right,” Wilson said. “The moment you stepped on board, your furlough began.”
“Oh. Well,” Adam said, taken aback, standing back from the console. “Guess I won’t, then.”
“Got the signal,” Mandora replied.
“However, you are the official Starfleet attaché to Gandalf and our new guest,” Wilson reminded him. “Get yourself to the transporter, mister.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Adam replied with a smile. “Get Dr. Nat ready to receive him.”

 

It was a rainy day at sea.

The beautiful Elvish ship, with white flanks and a bow sculpted in the shape of a graceful swan, tread the water, riding the rainy breeze. Not as fast as it had been out of the Gulf of Lune, Frodo noted, but still going at quite a clip.
Gandalf stood before him. He had not stopped smiling since the ship had set off. He touched his Star Fleet badge as he looked down on him. “Are you afraid?” he asked.
Frodo searched himself for the answer. Off into the unknown. He’d led the others to believe that he was on his way to the Uttermost West, and he wasn’t exactly truthful. But was he, really? No one knew where the Valar dwelled, where their realm lay. But everything that Gandalf ever said about the third world from Nessa told him that he would be met by Paradise.
“I thought I would be, when the moment occurred,” Frodo replied. “But I’m not. I feel…fine.” He smiled at Gandalf. “Should I be afraid?”
Gandalf’s face was pure reassurance. “No. You will be fine. Are you ready?”
“Now? But we haven’t reached the other shore—” Frodo began to weakly protest, when Gandalf gently placed his badge upon Frodo’s chest.

Gandalf watched as Frodo dematerialized from the sailing ship, then looked up above into the rainy clouds. “I’ll be with you soon.”
Elrond and Galadriel walked toward them, wearing warm grey cloaks under the spray of the rain. Under a large umbrella, Bilbo Baggins, one hundred thirty-one years old, he snoozed obliviously.
Gandalf procured a hypospray from his robes, and gave it to Elrond. “Administer this to him once a day, for at least two weeks,” Gandalf instructed him. “That will allow him to be fit for travel in time for us to return.”
Elrond nodded. “When do you believe you will be returning?”
Gandalf’s face was clouded. “It is…hard to say. I must explain my actions to Starfleet, and make sure that no harm comes to the careers to Adam and Josh because of them. Then there is Frodo to consider.”
Elrond nodded. “Then this is our farewell…for now.”
“We are eager to meet with you again…once we meet with old friends,” Galadriel said.
“Well, then,” Gandalf said, with a mischievous smile, then he disappeared.

 

Adam got to the transporter room where the youngster on duty turned and reported. He had a bewildered look on his face. “Something must be wrong, sir.”
“What’s the matter, ensign?” Adam asked as he looked over the console.
“We only received one transporter signal,” the ensign explained. “The passenger, not the admiral.”
“That’s odd,” Adam murmured. “Do you have Frodo’s pattern in the buffer?” he asked.
“Aye, sir.”
“Energize, Ensign,” Adam commanded. The junior officer touched a few buttons on his transporter control console, releasing the feedback loop from the pattern buffers, and began the materialization process.
“Energizing now.”
On the pad, a little figure began to appear, little by little until Frodo appeared on the pad.
“What was that?” He cried, panic creeping slowly into his voice. “My heart—what—where—?”

Frodo had never felt anything like it in his life. It was as if he was suddenly turned into a million particles of spray, then returned to normal. Only—he was elsewhere, and the transit time was instantaneous. He looked around his environment. His hands were still over his heart. He looked down, and he felt the slight warmth of the smooth milky white surface below him. Beyond, a cramped, forest green room, with a curious texture, lay around him, and two young Men stood before him, one bent over a strange, smooth module suspended above the ground with a slight metal stalk. He wore a mustard yellow-and-black suit, tight to the skin, while the man coming toward him wore red. He had seen the costume before.
“Anborn?” Frodo said, still slightly disoriented.
“Adam,” Adam corrected. “Welcome aboard.”
“I’m aboard your ship?” Frodo asked. “What’s happening, Adam, where’s Gandalf?”
“I’m right here,” the familiar voice of Gandalf came around the corner, as he arrived into the Transporter room. He no longer wore his white robes, boots and other finery as Gandalf the White. He wore a similar uniform to Adam, though with a more ornate design. His long hair was tied back in a tail behind him, and his beard appeared more manageable. “I thought you said you weren’t afraid.”
“It was temporary,” Frodo admitted, “But Adam has seemed to allay it.”
“Well, then,” Gandalf said. “You have your work, Commander.”
“Aye, sir,” Adam complied. “Frodo, won’t you follow me? I want you to talk to our doctor. Okay?”
“Err…Oh, Kay…” Frodo said, using the unfamiliar word. In a rather nervous gesture, he clasped onto Adam’s hand as he led the hobbit out into the corridor.
“I’m on a ship?” Frodo asked as they walked to the turbolift.
“That’s right. Federation Starship Hanson, a Starfleet science vessel.”
“Science vessel?” Frodo repeated.
“That’s right. Our mission is to catalog and explore local planets in the Federation that have gone under the sensors. Planets like Arda.” They entered the turbolift and Adam instructed the computer, “Sickbay.”
“Under your notice?” Frodo said. “Then how did you ever arrive here?”
“Gandalf educated me in your planet,” Adam explained. “I’m a certified expert.”
“When do we leave?” Frodo asked.
“A few more days,” Adam said. “Come on, Doctor Nat is waiting.”

 

The Caitian understandably jarred Frodo considerably with his furry, feline face and large yellow eyes. He had Frodo remove his shirt, which took some cajoling and reassurance from Adam.
“If you want, Frodo,” Adam suggested, “I’ll scratch him behind his ears for you; that always renders him safe.”
Nat stuck Adam with a peeved look, but persevered. He unfolded his medical tricorder and pulled out the medical sensor and ran it over Frodo, purring.
“Um-hmm…Mrrrr…yes…oh, my…”
Frodo cast his eyes upward. “I would never think that people would be so fascinated with hobbits as to examine them like a fine gem.”
“I treat all my patients like fine gems,” Dr. Nat protested, still continuing his exam. He went over to the large screen on the wall and plugged his tricorder in. “Forrrtunately, we have otherrr exams to comparrre to,” he said, smiling. “That way we can figurrre what’s averrage for his species.”
“How’s that?” Frodo asked.
“During Bilbo’s farewell party,” Adam explained. “We got scans from half of the Shire—”
“—Three-quarters of the Shire. We had many gate-crashers,” Frodo corrected.
“So you did. So we got scans from that, and got it into the Medical database,” Nat finished. “You’ll be able to get good carrre at any Federrration facility.”
“So, doc? What’s the diagnosis?” Adam asked.

“There seems to be a few imbalances in his brrrain chemistry,” Nat told Adam. “Serrritonin is low, endorrrphins are off, and a few toxins seem to be slow to retreat. The shoulder wound isn’t completely healing—I’ll want to do a biopsy to figurrre out why. And I also noted some otherrr low-level toxins that I’ll want to cleanse from his system. You can put your shirrrt back on,” He told Frodo.
As Frodo buttoned up his shirt, Adam asked the doctor, “What do you want to do?”
“He doesn’t need to stay in sickbay, if that’s what you’rrre asking. But I’ll be in from time to time, and we’ll be doing what I discussed beforrre we get to Earth. Starfleet Medical might want to take an interrest in Frrrodo personally.”

Adam took Frodo into another turbolift, and Frodo asked Adam, “I don’t understand all of this furor over me. What is the fascination?”
“You’re the first hobbit to leave your world,” Adam explained. “Here—take a look.”
They moved to the forward-facing portholes, and Adam stood the hobbit directly in front of them.
“Right now, we’re directly over Gondor,” Adam explained. Frodo could look down to see the planet below, and he found it slightly difficult to breathe. “See there, there’s the White Mountains, the Gap of Rohan, over there’s the Anduin…the Shire’s coming up in a few minutes…”
Below Adam, Frodo began to tremble. Adam steadied him with a hand and knelt down. “What’s wrong?”
Frodo turned around. Tears streamed down his face, which he wiped away. “I’m never going to see it again.”
“Never’s a long time,” Adam said. “Maybe when you feel you’re up to it, you’ll find your feet heading home…” Now Adam’s eyes began to well up. “Heading home all by themselves.”
“Adam?” Frodo’s voice was very small.
“That’s me, you see. I’m going home…to Earth. It’s been nearly four years since I’ve been home.”
“But…” Frodo said, a quizzical look on his face. “Aren’t you worried that home’ll be…different? Changed?”
Adam sat there, kneeling on the ground, looking out with Frodo Baggins over Arda, and wondered.
“A better question would be, ‘Aren’t I worried that I’ll be different or changed?’ Is that what you mean?”
Frodo’s gaze fixed upon him. “Do you?”
Adam stood back up. “I do worry about it. But Gandalf said that once you’re changed, you can’t go back to what you were. Maybe it won’t be so bad.”
“The past two years…” Frodo said, “I’d been chased with these nagging thoughts that haunted me. That maybe there was something out there that I needed to search for or know. Gandalf was right. The Shire just wasn’t enough. Will the Star Fleet be enough for you?”
Adam didn’t have the answers. He too was haunted by those thoughts. He didn’t even know what the questions were. “I guess we’ll both have to find out for ourselves.”
Adam decided to forego sending Frodo to his cabin, and took him directly to the bridge.
Gandalf sat beside Captain Wilson and turned around as they stepped onto the small command center. “Commander,” He said.
“You two have arrived just in time,” Wilson told them. “We’re just about to get underway.”
“I believe you know Lieutenant Joshua Reid,” Gandalf said to Frodo. Josh turned from his conn station and gave him a curt wave.
“Yes,” Frodo said. “Is this when the Warp Engines turn on?”
“Actually,” Nerene Wilson said to Frodo, “That happens when I say ‘engage’.”
“Board shows green, Captain,” Chekk reported.
“Are you ready?” Adam asked Frodo.
Nerene looked to Frodo, expectantly. “I’d be honored, Frodo, if you gave the word.”
Frodo looked up at Adam, then back to the viewer ahead. He nodded, as if answering his own questions. “Engage, Captain.”
Wilson turned to Chekk, and told him, “Make it so, mister.”
“Yes, ma’am,” the Bolian said, and entered it in.
All watched as the planet vanished from sight, and the stars began to move past them.
Then all turned to silver glass.
Adam sat on the bed, and watched Frodo sleep. Fitfully at first, he slowly relaxed and began to softly snore. Adam continued to keep from wiping away a few tears that he really couldn’t account for; perhaps his empathic powers were running under the sensor range, he thought, and was picking up some of Frodo’s stress. He got up, stretched, and left Frodo’s cabin to see if Gandalf was awake. He pressed the door chime key by the door once, then twice.
“Computer,” he said, “What is the location of Admiral Gandalf?”
[Admiral Gandalf is not onboard the Hanson,] the computer replied.
Adam frowned. “Computer, override locks on this door and allow me entry.”
[Please state your command clearance.]
“Clearance code Reid Delta-two-niner”
The doors opened.
Adam found an empty room.
Clean, reset for the next guest passenger, but with one sign that Gandalf had ever been there at all.
A letter.
He unraveled it from a vase it had been placed into and began to read:

Adam,
continue to your parents without me. tell Frodo I am sorry I could not farewell him myself. middle-earth was a mission, but not the mission. I see that now. we will have much work to do in the years to come, but for now, both of you rest. you have come to journey s End, and, as Gwaihir would say, may your eyrie take you in.
Always yours,

Gandalf
g

 

Adam put the note down and smiled. It was reassuring to know that even though Gandalf was no longer Grey, he would always be the wanderer.
The Starship Hanson returned to Port on 10 October 2360. As Frodo slung the small knapsack of belongings over his shoulder, he noticed several officers doing the same, clearing out their cabins. Before too long, he saw Adam walking toward him.
“Got your gear all packed?” he asked.
Frodo nodded. “I’m ready.”
“Now stay close with me, we’re going to be going into the crush of the crew embarking onto shore…”
“Shore?” Frodo asked.
“Well, so to speak. They’ll be walking the airlock into the space dock, and going off, going to their new assignments, taking a little shore leave…or, like me, going home.”
They disembarked with the others, but unlike most of them, Adam and Frodo walked over to one of the massive shuttle bays. There, they boarded one of the Spacedock’s own shuttles. They sat down as the shuttle pilot disengaged from the docking clamps and moved toward the outer doors.
Frodo looked upon Earth. Very much like Arda, he thought, with blue ocean and white clouds. And it was getting closer.
“You’re about to have one of your wishes come true,” Adam said. “We’re going to San Francisco first.”
“Really?” Frodo exclaimed.
“Are you sure about the trajectory, Commander?” the pilot asked. “I’ve always thought approaching from Napa Valley was much better.”
“Your orders stand, mister,” Adam said.
When the clouds broke, Frodo saw cerulean blue ocean with tiny spots of white, which Frodo soon realized were gulls. Then he saw it.
The horizon broke into tall cliffs, with structures atop them. Spanning the cliffs, the mouth of a massive bay, was a grand bridge, red-orange in color, in a design that couldn’t be more alien, compared to the Elvish and Númenórean structures he had seen in his own travels.
“Golden Gate Bridge,” The pilot announced. The ship took a sharp right, moving toward the structure on the southern side of the bridge. “Moving toward the tram station.”
“White shores, a far green countryside, with lots of vinyards under a swift sunrise,” Adam said to Frodo. “I never hated San Francisco.”
“But this is not our final destination,” Frodo said.
“Nope. Next stop — Canton!” Adam exclaimed, as the shuttle landed. The back hatch opened up, and Frodo and Adam moved from the landing pad to the long escalator down to the tram station below. Frodo glimpsed out the long embark bay, watching little sailboats make their way under the bridge for sport.
“Tram 23, destinations Saint Louis, Nashville, Millennium Gate, and Canton, due to disembark in fifteen minutes,” the announcement called out, as Frodo and Adam stepped onto a tile rendering of the Federation seal on the floor to their tram. The door angled up, and when it did, several civilians and Starfleet officers poured out. Frodo felt slightly disoriented, seeing all the different peoples of varying sizes, shapes, colors and genders all around him, like being in the middle of a kaleidoscope as it was being twirled around. But Adam kept him steadily onward to the tram, and they were in their seat well before their fifteen minutes were up.
The Tram shot out of the station, allowing the passengers a most gracious view of the City by the Bay, angling its trajectory along the cliffs of the Presidio, along to the docks of the business district, before shooting up and over the serene, yet strangely enigmatic Transamerica Pyramid before climbing in altitude and leaving San Francisco behind.
Frodo was transfixed to the window, watching first with awe as the Tram traveled through the city of Saint Louis, and through the Gateway Arch. From there, was Nashville, sedate and calm in comparison, then on through to Indiana and a mighty tower in the distance, but it soon fell by the wayside as they came through the green lands of Ohio, with farms and dairy cattle dotting the countryside. It very much reminded the hobbit of the Shire.
When the tram finally landed at its final stop, Frodo was faced with a much more modest city. Buildings that never really became too mountainous, with old touches and each one with a name. The Renkert building. The Landmark. The Bertram. And the old Stark County Courthouse, which Adam showed to him. The brass-gold angels atop the dome —each one, blowing its trumpet in all four compass positions —shining in the sun.
They crossed the street from the Cornerstone Tram Station and began to walk the city streets. “Well, there’s your two options,” Adam said. “I call us a cab and we ride to the house…. or I take us there myself.”
“Yourself?” Frodo inquired. “Do you mean—you still have it?”
“Of course!” Adam exclaimed. “I never would have gotten to Na-Rhun and Umbarhaven on the same day without it!” With that, he looked around, making sure there weren’t too many folks on the streets, and exclaimed, “ARMOR UP!” Once again, the Númenórean armor enveloped him, and its silver wings grew from his back. “Are you game?”
Frodo smiled broadly. “Let’s do it!”
Adam took Frodo into his arms and turned his jets on. “Wahhhh-Hoooooo!” He cried as he climbed above the city. “I’m HOME!”

 

A few miles away, Adam touched down, putting Frodo down upon the ground. Frodo seemed only slightly disoriented, soon getting his legs. Adam walked up the little concrete walk to the front doorway, where a round-faced teenage girl threw open the red door. “Oh my GOD!” she exclaimed. “A hobbit?!”
Frodo looked up at Adam with dubious pleasure. “News does spread fast.”
“She’s your uncle’s biggest fan,” Adam said.
“Get out!” Joy Reid, Adam’s sister and budding engineering student. “That’s what this big deal’s about? Is that not the SilverHawk prototype armor?”
“Nice to see you again, too, Stinkerbelle,” Adam said, calling up his old name for her.
As Joy knelt down to begin a rather star-struck conversation with Frodo, a swift bundle of hugs and tears enveloped Adam as his mother greeted her son home. Adam teared up once again, as he saw his father, not much changed from his visit in Minas Tirith, walk down the upper stairwell and out into the yard.
“Good to see you again, son,” he said.
“Well,” Adam replied, trying to sum up something anything, of any import to the situation. But his time in Arda taught him nothing, if not to keep things simple, and vital.
“Well, I’m Back.”
“No duh, you’re back,” Joy jeered, and everyone burst into laughter.
It wouldn’t be the last time.

Chapter Text

[Harlindon, 23 December 2360]

Goramar the younger galloped across the tidal plain on his steed, Surefoot. He was a month out of Minas Tirith, and enjoyed the cool air blowing across the harbor. The youngster was advised by his uncle Faramir to take advantage of a break from his studies in Gondor.
What a wonderful thing, the sea, he thought as he gazed out into the horizon. It is no wonder the Elves are driven to leave and cross it. He smiled. Not all the elves were driven to leave, not immediately. Perhaps he would be given the chance to purge himself of his curiosity.
Now, that was curious. Goramar hooded his eyes with his palm as he looked once again over the harbor. A ripple, an enormous, yet gentle ripple spread across the center of Harlindon Bay. The wind started to change. Surefoot took a tentative step back. A second ripple began, more sure and larger, the wave created from the first ripple crashed with white foam upon the shore, driving the surf nearly fifteen feet into the beachfront. Goramar got off his horse to calm her down, but couldn’t tear his eyes from what seemed to emerge from Harlindon.
A large massive form, pearlescent in the autumn sun, emerged from the center of the bay, shedding massive amounts of water.

“By—by all that is!” Goramar exclaimed. “What is that thing?”
Goramar was soon not alone. Eagles, eagles coming out from the Northwest—circling the monstrosity bobbing in the center of the bay, resembling an abstract bird of prey itself.
The eagles deposited a dark-skinned man upon the shore. His bushy dark hair streaked with white, he brushed it back, and cursed. “Great. Just wonderful, this is just…”
Goramar recognized the man as a Wizard. It was Radagast the Brown, and he was most unpleased. The young Gondorian however was intrigued. He was determined to discover the secrets of the new bounty of the Unified Kingdoms.
The first mystery of the Fourth age.