This is the last of my Star Trek stories, I promise. It's a story I always thought needed to be done on Star Trek: Captain Picard and crew find actual proof that God exists. I wrote this in 1997, as an entry in the Strange New Worlds contest.
Star Trek: Leap of Faith
“The Debri,” said Jean-Luc Picard, “are the ultimate skeptics.” He let his gaze wander around the briefing room table, momentarily locking eyes with each of his officers. “Throughout their recorded history they have rejected any idea or belief which has not had a basis in solid, tangible fact.”
“Indeed,” Data said, “since they are so unwilling to accept anything without a great deal of physical evidence, it took them a relatively long time to reach their present level of technology.”
Picard nodded. “The Debri's notorious skepticism smothers imagination and intuition, which are often a key ingredient for the advancement of science.”
“They used to tell a joke about them back in the Academy,” Geordi said, smiling at the memory. “About how God shows up one day on Debri, and they ask him for his credentials. They--”
The intercom interrupted Geordi. “Bridge to Captain Picard.”
“Sir, you wanted to be informed when the runabout had docked.”
“Thank you, lieutenant. Please have the passengers escorted to the briefing room.”
“They're already enroute, sir.”
“Very good. Picard out.” The Captain looked at Geordi. “You know, it's funny that you should mention God, because...” he paused to look around at the faces of his officers. “...The Debri have shrugged off their atheism and are suddenly very interested in Him.”
He paused again to let the import of that sink in. The Debri wouldn't be interested in any sort of god without good reason. They made the cold and analytical Vulcans seem like religious fanatics.
The door chime cut into the silence. “Ah, our guests,” Picard said. He rose and motioned for the others to do the same.
The doors swished open and a security guard entered the room, followed by a tall man with greying hair, dressed in a white robe with a large crucifix around his neck. Behind him came another man, shorter, wearing a gray business suit with a computer terminal wrapped around his wrist.
Picard nodded at the guard, who turned and left. Then, to his crew: “May I present His Eminence, Pope John Paul XIII. Welcome aboard, sir.” Picard stepped forward and shook the man's hand.
The Pope indicated the man behind him. “My secretary, Mr. Dengus.”
The Pope and his secretary seated themselves, introductions were made and pleasantries exchanged. Then Picard said, “As we were the nearest ship to the Bible Belt, we've been ordered to ferry His Holiness to Debri. They wish to learn all about Earth religions. Starfleet sees this as an excellent opportunity to reopen negotiations to get them into the Federation.”
“They would be a great boon to the Federation,” Worf said. “They are strategically important, and it is rumored they have technology hundreds of years ahead of ours. If they choose to join, we would have access to it.”
The Pope sighed heavily. He looked from Worf to Picard. “I hope that's not all you hope to gain from the Debri.” He leaned forward, looked intently at each officer. “Don't you see? They've found proof of the existence of God! Everything pales beside that, and nothing, nothing! else matters.”
Worf stood in the corridor outside the briefing room, watching as Picard led the Pope and his aide away to the guest quarters. “A remarkable man,” Worf said to Geordi.
Geordi grunted noncommittally. “Certainly an interesting bit of history.”
“You do not believe in the god of your people?”
Geordi shrugged. “Not many people do, Worf. There's not much need or room for God today.”
They began walking toward a nearby turbolift.
Geordi looked sidelong at Worf. “Do you believe in God, Worf?”
“My parents were very religious, and several missionaries visited when I was a child. While I do not believe in the human God, I greatly admire the strength and courage of your religious leaders. They are great warriors.”
Geordi laughed. “Warriors?!”
“Yes. Using no weapons, armed with nothing more than the strength of their beliefs, for over two thousand years they have subjugated countless billions into their religion. Very impressive.”
They arrived at the turbolift. The doors swished open and they stepped inside. “Well, their power is fading rapidly,” Geordi said. “Christianity's breathing its last breath.”
“Then the Debri find, if it proves to be legitimate, is very fortunate indeed. Deck One.”
The doors slid shut behind Captain Picard. Georges Popolos, aka Pope John Paul XIII, surveyed his quarters. Very luxurious. He went to the bathroom sink and ran his hands under the water, splashed some on his face. He hadn't had time to shave this morning, he'd been so busy preparing for this trip.
This godsend of a trip.
He went to the window and looked out at the stars. His quarters faced the rear of the ship. Receding in the distance was a small yellow star that grew smaller with each second. Somewhere at its waist, invisible from this far out, orbited three small planets. The system was known as the Bible Belt. It had been the home of Georges Popolos for the past three decades.
The last stand of Christianity. Over the centuries, believers had gravitated to this place, driven out of all the other systems by a lack of interest and, in many cases, outright ridicule. The millions of faithful followers had come to the Bible Belt to be among those who shared their beliefs. And they'd pretty much turned their backs on the rest of the Federation.
But that was about to change. At its sunset, Christianity had been granted a reprieve. A revival was coming, a revival that would sweep the known Galaxy.
He watched the star until it had grown to a point indistinguishable among the vast ocean of stars. He then turned to the communications panel.
“Computer,” he said. “Open a secured channel. Scramble the message and transmit to Listening Post 53.”
After he'd recorded the message, it went out to the Listening Post along the Neutral Zone, where it was relayed to a waiting ship.
Picard sat in his quarters, scanning the latest news on his PADD. One story in particular caught his eye:
(FPN) Although it's been five weeks, Federation Standard, since the Debri revelation of “definitive proof of the existence of a Supreme Being,” little or no solid information has been offered. The “proof” is in the form of second-hand reports of people who have actually been to Debri and examined the artifacts for themselves. These visitors have come from all across the Federation and the non-aligned worlds: Klingons, Vulcans, Ferengi, Bajorans--even a few Gorn. Since all attempts to photograph or remove the artifacts have been unsuccessful, we must rely on the word of those leaving the small moonlet where the ancient cavern was discovered. And the word is always the same, summed up here by a Vulcan: “Go and witness it for yourself. I will not describe any of it for you. Once you see, you will know why. Spread the word: God exists.” And the word is spreading, like wildfire. The obvious question is, has this reporter seen the artifacts? Can you describe them? And the answer is: I have indeed been to Debri, and the artifacts are....well, go see for yourself. The Debri are anxiously awaiting the arrival of the Pope (leader of Earth's Catholic church) whom they have invited to Debri in the hopes of gaining insight from the foremost expert on God. He has come out of his self-imposed exile and is enroute...
Picard turned off the PADD and rubbed his eyes. He went to the window and stared out at the onrushing, warp-smeared stars.
Mr. Dengus stopped outside the Pope's room. The door opened after three rings, and the Pope emerged carrying his briefcase.
“Good morning, sir,” Mr. Dengus said.
“Ah, good morning, old friend. Come to give me a proper send off, eh?”
Mr. Dengus was taken aback by the Pope's good cheer. Such a solemn day shouldn't be taken lightly. But he suspected it was just for show. He knew Georges Popolos too well. “We're almost to Debri, sir. Your runabout is waiting.”
They walked in silence to the shuttle bay. As the runabout door swung open, the Pope turned to his secretary. He reached out and placed a hand on Mr. Dengus shoulder. “Phineas, I....”
Mr. Dengus shifted uncomfortably. “Georges, there has to be another way.”
The Pope shook his head. “We've been over this, and we've been over it. This has to be done.”
Mr. Dengus sighed, then nodded.
The Pope sat down his briefcase and removed the crucifix from around his neck. He held it out to Mr. Dengus. “Thanks for everything, old friend.”
Mr. Dengus hesitated a moment, then took the crucifix, placed it around his own neck.
The Pope smiled and picked up his briefcase. “Goodbye, Phineas.” He turned and entered the runabout. “Have faith,” he called over his shoulder.
The runabout door shut with a hiss.
“Godspeed, sir,” said Mr. Dengus.
Debri swam up out of the depths of space, a bluish-white globe slightly larger than Earth. Picard watched it growing on the forward viewscreen. He noted with some chagrin the presence of three Klingon battle cruisers, two Cardassians and one Ferengi: others who were here to entice the Debri to ally themselves with their respective stellar organizations.
“Looks like we've got some competition,” said Riker.
“The Federation does have the upper hand, however,” Picard said. “The Pope was invited by the Debri. But their religious leaders,” Picard pointed at the ships on the viewscreen, “had to ask permission to come.”
“Score one for our side,” Riker looked up at Worf. “Sorry, Worf.”
“Shuttle bay to bridge. Captain, the Pope's shuttle is ready to leave for the moonlet.”
Picard motioned to Data. “Clear him for launch, commander.”
Data punched a few buttons. “Shuttle cleared, and....the shuttle is away, sir.”
Picard stood. “Well, it's time I prepared for the meeting with Prime Minister Zharak.”
Down between the barren crags of the moonlet, toward a small landing field dotted with ships. In through an airlock and down a confusing maze of tunnels.
The Pope trudged purposefully through the dimly lit, roughly carved tunnel. His passage stirred up dirt, adding to the fine particles already drifting in the stale air. He fought the urge to choke every time he drew breath. He might as well not have been wearing the filter. He was acutely conscious of the miles of rock hanging over his head, threatening to come crushing in on him at any moment.
The Pope did not enjoy being underground. He never had and he never would. He didn't understand how these miners could tolerate working here day after day.
He glanced at the miner walking next to him, matching his swift pace admirably. The Pope nodded and smiled to give the impression that he'd been listening to the Mine Head's words. Which of course he hadn't. Shortly after his arrival, he'd concluded that Stulk, the Mine Head, had nothing important to say.
“Here. See? Here's a fine vein of arconite.” The MH pointed at the rocky wall. A glittering white streak cut neatly through the wall, disappearing down the tunnel ahead of them. “And up there, on the ceiling. These are the two veins we were following when we found it.”
The Pope's attention turned fully upon Stulk at the mention of it. He knew which it the man meant. It was the reason the Pope had come to this remote planetoid, descended into its bowels, fighting his claustrophobia the entire way.
“We are almost there, then?” the Pope asked anxiously.
Stulk nodded, and his expression brightened. This was the first complete sentence the Pope had uttered since they'd began their descent. “Yes. Two more bends of the tunnel and we're there.”
“Very good. Is it...is it as incredible as I've heard?”
“Yes,” the MH said. “I believe it is, sir. In my opinion, once word of this discovery gets out, our world will never be the same.”
They continued on in silence, Stulk no longer babbling incessantly. The tunnel forked once, and they passed several miners going in the opposite direction. The miners nodded to Stulk, then nodded respectfully to the Pope before continuing on. Georges wondered if they knew who he was; they undoubtedly knew he was important, since he was being given a personal tour by the Mine Head, while the all other alien tourists and researchers had to fend for themselves.
The tunnel they were following turned once, twice, and then abruptly opened into an enormous cavern.
The lights strapped to their shoulders suddenly winked out. At the same time the computer the Pope wore on his wrist went dead.
The Pope was unable to prevent a momentary burst of panic. His heart throbbed wildly for several long seconds before he realized he wasn't immersed in darkness. This far down in the planetoid, in these recently excavated tunnels, lights had not yet been strung. Yet a wan yellow glow bathed the cavern and everything, everyone, in it. The Pope could not tell where the light came from; it seemed to diffuse from the very air itself.
The Pope looked about in amazement. He ignored the workers and tourists scattered around the cavern. Silence rang in his ears as he gaped in wonder at the objects he'd read about in the reports. Words didn't do them justice.
Words and patterns, strange pictures and flowing script, were scrawled all over the walls of the enormous cavern. Many of the writings were carved into the rock with phaser-fine smoothness. And strange statues were scattered all across the cavern, seemingly placed with great care on the level, polished floor. He recognized a few of the statues, a few of the symbols on the walls. They were images of events from the ancient, as well as the recent, histories of several worlds.
But the statue at the center of the cavern, dominating the room, towering over everything else.... the import of that statue, its meaning, could not be mistaken or denied.
The MH, apparently deciding the Pope had had enough time to bask in the wonder of the place, scurried to his side. “The writing on the base of that statue?” Stulk said, pointing. “Klingonese. Over there? Romulan.”
The Pope walked slowly around the cavern, followed closely by Stulk. The scientists who'd been studying the artifacts stood back respectfully, bowing at the Pope as he passed.
“Electrical fields don't function in here,” the MH continued. “That's why the lights and your computer went out when you entered.”
The Pope had read all this in the reports, but hearing it again, looking at these artifacts, he felt as if he were learning it for the first time.
“Computers, transporters, tricorders,” Stulk said, “none of it works in this cavern. They,” he indicated the scientists standing in the background, “can't use conventional means to study the things in here. They've had to use chemical and other obsolete methods to determine the age of things.”
The Pope ran his hands across the smooth white stone of one object. “And their age is?” he breathed heavily, tensely. He already knew, but....
“It's off the scale. Conservative tests say everything in here is 20 billion years old. At least. Probably, I'm told, this cavern and these objects were here when the universe came into being.”
The Pope shook his head. “That's not possible.”
“Of course it's not,” the MH laughed. He continued, “The rock immediately outside the cavern? The surrounding rock is only a few million years old, but the rock adjacent to the cavern is 20 billion. And it's the same rock!”
They'd come full circle now. The MH led the Pope out of the cavern. His shoulder lights and wrist computer flickered back to life. The MH pointed out a few angular markings carved into the rock near the cavern entrance. “This writing is Klingonese. And it's written in a dialect that has only been in use for three hundred or so years. We only excavated these tunnels and this cavern last month. Until then, no one, especially Klingons, had ever dug tunnels here.” He paused momentarily, then continued. “Nothing can be removed from the cavern either. They cut one of the statues loose, to try to bring it back to Debri, or at least bring it to a spot outside the cavern where the tricorders would work. But something blocked it when they tried to take it out. It's like the artifacts hit a forcefield, only nothing is there. The artifacts simply resist being taken from the cavern.”
The Pope walked back into the cavern, feeling as though he were stumbling about in a stupor.
“The light?” Stulk continued. The Pope absently wondered if the man ever shut up. We can't determine the source of the light. It's just there, part of the air, it seems.”
The Pope walked to the center of the room, staring up at the towering central statue with his hands on his hips. One of the Debri scientists finally came over and politely but insistently sent Stulk back to his duties in the upper mines.
“Sir?” the scientist asked. “Sir, there are a few things we'd like to discuss with you.” Getting no response, he repeated, “Sir?”
But the Pope could only stare thoughtfully, wonderingly, up at the artifact. Finally he sighed, “Oh, God.....”
Several hours later, he left the cavern more certain of his path than ever. He went topside and waited in his runabout as most of the ships around him lifted off. Waited until a good number of the tourists had gotten far enough away.
Then he reached into his pocket and pulled out a small handheld device. He depressed a button. A microburst signal leapt outward.
A ship 30 light-seconds away powered up its engines.
Picard materialized on the Enterprise and left the transporter room, headed for the bridge.
The negotiations had gone well. For the last several years, the Debri had been leaning toward an alliance with the Romulans. Though they hadn't yet, Starfleet felt it was only a matter of time. But that had changed. Picard had put forth Starfleet's offer of citizenship, and the Debri had expressed interest. It would be a great advantage to have the Debri in the Federation, but previous offers had been immediately rejected. Their about-face was amazing.
The turbolift doors opened and Picard stepped onto the bridge.
“Data, take us out to the moonlet.”
Now, with the negotiations out of the way, Picard would finally get to see the artifacts that had sparked all the changes in the Debri. He was looking forward to it, not just as an armchair archeologist, but as a curious agnostic as well.
He felt the nearly-imperceptible forward push as the impulse engines flared to life.
“Captain,” Worf said suddenly. “Spatial disturbance, two hundred kilometers from the moonlet.”
Picard stood. “Onscreen, maximum magnification.”
The forward viewscreen wavered, and the far-off moonlet leapt into view. Numerous small ships orbited the cratered planetoid, like moths around a flame Nearby, the background stars shimmered as a distortion moved toward it.
“A ship about to decloak, sir,” Worf reported.
“Identity,” Picard asked.
But Worf's reply was unnecessary, for seconds later a Romulan warbird phased into view, swooping toward the planetoid.
“Data, get us out there, quickly!”
“Her disruptors are powered up, sir,” Worf barked. “Firing.”
Thick beams of light leapt toward the moonlet, followed by a volley of photon torpedoes.
“Raise shields,” Picard ordered. “Data, ETA to moonlet?”
“Five minutes, sir.”
Picard gritted his teeth, watching helplessly as the Romulan disruptors hit the moonlet, throwing up geysers of rock. Seconds later the torpedoes impacted. Great fractures spread across the surface, and then the moonlet exploded. A shower of debris hurtled outward, striking the orbiting ships. Those that survived the initial pounding were destroyed microseconds later by the shockwave which spread into space.
The warbird sped through the debris, rushing toward Debri and the Enterprise.
“Incoming signal, sir.”
Worf piped the transmission onto general audio. “The Romulan Empire formally forbids a Debri alliance with anyone other than the Empire.”
The transmission ended.
The Romulan warbird changed course to go around the Enterprise.
“Keep us between that ship and Debri, Data. Worf, lock phasers and torpedoes. Forward shields at maximum.”
Both officers moved to comply. “Hailing frequencies.”
Picard paused a moment, then: “Romulan warbird, cease your attack. Do not approach Debri.”
“They're locking onto us,” Worf reported.
“Firing on us, or further attacks on the Debri, will be considered an act of war,” Picard said. “Cease your attack!”
“They're firing!” The disruptor blast punched across space, going wide, barely missing the Enterprise.
“Return fire, Worf.”
Worf did so. Miraculously, the first shot destroyed the warbird. The blinding flash filled the bridge for several seconds. Finally, the viewscreen showed only a dense field of stars and a drifting cloud of debris that had been the moonlet.
Picard and Riker turned to look at Worf. “That was too easy,” Riker said.
“Call Mr. Dengus to the bridge,” Picard said. “I'm afraid we have some bad news for him.” He turned back to the viewscreen. Seven hundred innocent people had just been murdered. Including the Pope.
And once again, it seemed, the universe was without proof of God's existence.
Five days later the Enterprise came out of warp at the edge of the Bible Belt.
Captain Picard sat in his Ready Room, looking through the day's reports on his terminal. The door chimed. “Come.”
The door opened and Mr. Dengus stepped into the room. He stopped in front of Picard's desk.
Picard looked up. “We'll be arriving at your planet within the hour, Mr. Dengus.”
“And Starfleet has granted your request that we take His Eminence's body back to Earth, to be buried in his home town.”
“That was his wish.”
“Also, the Romulan Empire has issued an official statement that the warbird at Debri was renegade, acting on its own.” Picard studied Mr. Dengus intently, apparently watching for a reaction.
“Of course,” Mr. Dengus said. “Standard procedure in the game of espionage, so I understand.”
Picard nodded. “We were incredibly lucky in destroying the warbird. Her shields weren't even raised. Almost a suicide attack, don't you think?”
Mr. Dengus shrugged, and nothing further was said for several long moments. Then: “Captain, thank you for
your assistance these past few weeks. Things would not have gone so swiftly without the aid of you and your ship.”
“I was just following orders.” There was a little irritation in his tone.
“Is something wrong, Captain?”
Picard turned off his terminal and leaned back in his chair. “I've been thinking over what happened at Debri.”
“I noticed in ship's records that His Eminence sent a brief, scrambled transmission to a Listening Post along the Neutral Zone, immediately after your arrival onboard.”
“That's possible. His brother captains a trading ship that runs supplies to the outposts along the border. They hadn't spoken in several months. Its a matter of record.”
“Yes. One of the outposts reports that a Romulan warbird on patrol near that Listening Post left the area, shortly after the Pope made his transmission.”
Mr. Dengus shrugged. “Coincidence.”
“Perhaps. It's also a matter of record that several persons directly under the Pope have made numerous visits to the Empire, over the past decade.”
Mr. Dengus nodded. “Yes, we've managed to convert a small number of Romulans. And others in the Empire are very interested in Catholicism, and Christianity in general. We're quite proud of that.”
They stared at one another in silence for a short time.
Then: “Do you have an accusation to make, Captain?”
“Mr. Dengus, if I had an ounce of solid evidence that you and the Pope had conspired with the Romulans, I would have thrown you in the brig as an accomplice in murder days ago....But I have nothing, other than suspicion. I can't even imagine a motive.” He sighed and stood. Went to his window and looked out at the stars, arms folded behind his back.
Mr. Dengus turned to leave. At the doorway he hesitated, then turned back to Picard. “Captain, have you ever wondered why, in all your travels, in all the explorations of the Federation, we've come across countless stories on countless worlds, of a Supreme Being, every one of whom had a corporeal Christ-figure at some time in history, but there has never been any solid proof? Nothing to say that here, definitely, is concrete proof that God exists? No fingerprints.”
Picard turned to face Mr. Dengus.
“You can trek through the stars for a million years and you'll never find such proof. And do you know why? It's because God can't be found in that way. He won't allow it.”
“What of the artifacts the Debri found?” Picard asked.
Mr. Dengus smiled. “The artifacts never mattered. In time, they may have been proven false. But now, now, when Christianity is dying, the Debri have emerged to save it. The Galaxy's legendary skeptics have been transformed, as have all the people who managed to see the things in that cavern, before its destruction. Their miraculous transformation will be a testimony to God, and word will spread. Interest in Christianity will flare like never before. And more importantly to you and Starfleet, Captain: after the attack, the Debri will be more likely to ally with the Federation rather than the Romulans. Everyone wins.”
“But the Debran artifacts might have been validated, your case strengthened–”
“But they might not have. God doesn't need proof, Captain! The leap of faith, in the absence of physical proof, is the best proof there is. That is what God left at Debri, not the artifacts.”
He turned and left. Picard faced his window and the stars once again.