The Last Stand of Odell Jones
A 'Tale of the Ringbearers', by Brother Grimace
(NOTE: This fic takes place inside the 'Judith Strikes!' shared-world series.)
When the wearer of a Defender Ring dies, the Ring has several options. It may choose to seek out a being worthy to wear it, or it may simply return to it's sire – the Ringbearer who fashioned it from his or her own Ring – who will then find a worthy recipient, as he or she did before. Some Rings have suffered the cruel fate of being corrupted and twisted into Vengeance Rings; their eventual fate is to be destroyed completely, robbed of the endowments that make the Defender Rings all but eternal. (There may be hope, however, for at least one Vengeance Ring was returned to its original state, becoming a Defender Ring as its once-Ringwraith wearer became a part of the Corps of Ringbearers.)
There are, however, some Rings that have a greater destiny. In the center of the city-size Headquarters of the Ringbearers on Nova Valdris (taking up the entirety of what, on other Earths, would be Manhattan Island) is the Chapel – a memorial and final resting place for those who have served.
At the center of the Chapel is a huge, round table made from pure white marble. This is known simply as The Memorial – and the Rings of the greatest of all Ringbearers lie there, allowed to retain, for all eternity, the residual psionic resonance of their former wearers as tribute and testimony to their great acts of valor and sacrifice.
In all the time that the Corps of Ringbearers has existed, of all the untold numbers who have become Ringbearers, only sixteen have acted in a manner that merited the singular honor of their Ring resting upon The Memorial.
-from the information packet on The Chapel, given to all novice Ringbearers at the beginning of their training
"I've always known the risks that come with a Starfleet uniform. If I am to die in one, I'd like my death to count for something."
-Tasha Yar, from Star Trek: The Next Generation – 'Yesterday's Enterprise'
I will complete my mission.
The fastest vessels - and some of the most advanced, not to mention expensive – that we have in the Ringbearer fleet are the slipstream vessels.
I'm not a big tech guy – I tell folks that because I came from West Virginia, but really, because I liked music and growing things more than test tubes and computers - but I have the general idea of how they work. They generate areas of change in space-time – the fabric of the universe, some of the guys say – to either make fields that surround the ship and 'lift' it just outside of space-time into another dimension that they actually call the 'slipstream', and get from place to place in a real hurry. That's what we call a 'jump'. It's the fast way, and the way we do it when we're in a rush. Also, because we use the Rings to power the navigational helms, the vessels are unbelievably accurate in where we come out, not to mention having unusually high maneuverability – you could theoretically jump from the moon to a drive-through window of a Cluster Burger in Manhattan, go through and place your order, get your stuff, and be eating French fries before you arrive in orbit around Pandora. (Just kidding. Well, about Pandora. Everyone knows the Na'vi are forest green.)
When you want to move fast but stay in normal space, you simply generate the fields but don't open the 'door' that lifts the ship into slipstream - from what I understand, it's basically more or less what those ships in those Star Trek shows do. Moving faster-than-light in regular space, I mean. God knows that EVERYBODY'S been affected by those shows, too, because they all call it 'going into warp' or stuff like that. Me - as far as I'm concerned, I'm all about the 'point A to Point B', thank you very much. Don't really care how you do it.
The problem with that is that in order to operate the 'slipstream' dimension, you have to have organic minds flying the ship – actually flying the ship. If you don't... well, it can be bad. Also, you're limited to the universe/reality you're currently in.
The other way the slipstream engines work is to create a continuous distortion in the direction it's traveling in (they call it 'folding'), allowing it to enter any known form of hyperspatial travel – this way, a slipstream vessel can enter transwarp or quantum slipstream 'tunnels', enter hyperspace, pass through inter-dimensional voids, ascend to differing planes of reality (did you know that a couple of slipstream vessels entered the Astral Plane about two hundred years ago?) – you name it, one of these ships can possibly get there, if she has the general idea of where to go and how you usually get there.
That way takes longer, uses a hell of a lot more power, and even though you can use computers and autopilots to jump there... well, the flights are not pleasant. Better make sure the structural fields are up to spec, and have nausea meds on hand when you come out. Weird, though – for some reason, feline-like creatures aren't affected by slipstream folds.
If you want to travel to another reality or through time in one of these ships - it's actually easier for someone to open up a portal with one of our Rings for the ship to go through - but keeping a portal open for something this big takes a lot of the Ring's power... better to have that ready for a fight when we get there. It takes about ten minutes to shift the technical whatevers in the engines to go from slipstream jump to fold ability - and that's if you're pushing it. Better to let the engine spin down and the things cool off for about an hour, especially if you've done a fold...
I pick up things I hear - and Melanie Sallis told me a thing or two, as well. (Melanie's one of the people that got pulled out of the D-200 Philadelphia when the Corps did that major test - using the tech The Agency gave us to pull out huge numbers of people from a reality before a world-ending disaster. They took everybody out of all of the American cities that got nuked; the Agency folks took all of the Chinese folks in the cities that got hit over there, and I understand those new guys on the block - the Foundation - they took an actual city.)
Anyhoo - Melanie's a sweet thing, even if she is all city girl and all college girl, through and through. She's an engineer, hoping to get posted to one of those Sky Vaults - and she likes to talk tech and engines after a good meal of catfish, cole slaw and hushpuppies, along with some of the best damn homemade whisky you'll find in or out of West Virginia!
A girl like that, who likes having me around... yeah, she can talk all she wants.
Oh, yeah – why are the ships so expensive? Because everything aboard that's electronic based is composed of alloys that are at least one-third Salazarium. That's a special that metal allows the alchemical nature of our Rings to operate and co-exist in unison with normal electronic technology. It's a bitch to replicate in mass quantities – even the Ringmasters have a hell of a time doing it, and they paid through the nose for the chemical formula for it from that DELPHI organization so they could do it on their own, rather than buy it from them. That's why, by necessity, they're small vessels – about the size of a Cyclone-class patrol boat (for those Navy fans out there).
So there you have it. Slipstream vessels. They can go damn near anywhere, very fast, and get you exactly where you want to be once you get there. They're used for deep patrol and recon – if you're a Pathfinder and you have a good record, you might spend some time aboard one.
So – why the boring stuff?
Well, you heard about that little bitch Judith – the evil version of Daria Morgendorffer? (I'm sure that you've heard of her.) The girl that somehow managed to get into the Ringmaster's Citadel itself and swipe something? Well, six hours ago, she used a temporal portal to send an army of self-detonating clones through the Culver Rho Fleet Yards. We lost three ships and eighteen hundred people – as a diversion for her to steal one of our slipstream vessels.
My name is Odell Jones. I'm a Warhammer – a Ringbearer, trained for military operations.
The word has come down from Command, on Nova Valdris. My team has its orders.
We're gearing up – and we're going to get that vessel back.
How did this happen?
They hit us with some energy effect – a reverse of our dampening force-pulses – it drained not only most of our ship's power, but got most of our Rings in the same way – Damnit, Williams, you should have known better!
I'm good – so are the others who were down here on the Engineering Deck – Vega thinks the heavy shielding and the emergency dampers (they run off their own energy core, separate from the main system) was what kept our Rings from being sucked dry, damped down - I don't know!
Rookie mistake, trying to use your Ring to dust those zombies and the vamps with your power that low – Damnit, you guys KNOW that you're supposed to use your TK and your affinity powers in situations like this, that's why you have them! Save your disruption power for one-on-ones and when you have to take a certain one out right away – you were trained better –
It's her. That cloak's a dead giveaway – wait a minute – Oh, hell –
Derry! Fall back to Engineering and open an emergency portal – on my authority, do a Ring-link and take everyone you can through with you – Melanie, Damnit, woman, I know you're metal-affinity, you can't help out - GO! You're not trained for this – Adams, you stay with her! She's the only engineer still alive here, they'll need her to tell them just what happened, you don't move more than a meter from her until you set foot on Nova Valdris –
Run! RUN! Oh, God, get moving – How did she get back, Archangel's report said that she was permanently displaced, that's what she needed the slipstream vessel for - Seal those bulkheads! Form a skirmishing line right here – we need to give them time to evac – Renald! Glenn! Temple! As soon as that bitch rounds the corner – go for Starbow release! If we're lucky, we can get that Judith bitch, but the one with the wings is the primary target!
Now! Fire! Everybody FIRE! Throw EVERYTHING! Fire!
I got the signal too, dumbass – thirty meters – Jesus, how can she move that fast – STARBOW NOW – shields and blow the hull! Burn her!
At least Melanie got off to warn them-
Manhattan Island, Nova Valdris (Location: D-247)
The Defender Ring fell to the tabletop, released from the tiny field of anti-gravity that it hovered in as the last moments of its former wearer's life played out for all to view.
"Damn," the Ringbearer known as Archangel said, his voice holding admiration. "Good ol' boy went out with style."
He looked across the table at the gathering of other Ringbearers, as well as the command personnel and 'gifted humans' in the cavernous Tactical Information Center – the stadium-sized information and operations hub of the Ringbearer headquarters building. "How many people did we lose besides Jones?"
A matronly woman wearing a white suit identical to the one he wore – in the past few years, the outfit had become the de facto uniform for all Ringbearers of Master rank or higher – spoke from the other side of the massive conference table (measuring a good fifty meters across), her French-accented voice amplified by her Ring's vibration-ability as Archangel's was, moments before. "Eleven of the Ringbearers attached to the task force were mental specialists, focused upon the psionic endowments and abilities the Ring confers. Six survived the initial contact with the forces Judith has allied herself with; between them, they managed to keep their fellows focused enough so that they were able to repel the temporal-based attackers that boarded their vessels. Holographics – outer view, please, from the Clytemnestra. "
She held her Ring-hand up, and a life-size holographic image filled the area; everyone watched as four impossibly bright beams of yellow light punched through the outer hull of one of the saucer-shaped slipstream vessels. "I always thought that was a goofy shape for a ship," Renee Andrews said to Courtney, standing just beside her; most of the male beings, human and otherwise, who found human forms attractive managed to stop undressing the two with their eyes (or whatever they used for sight) to chuckle at the comment.
The matronly French woman glared at the two for a moment, and then looked upward as everyone took her cue and did likewise. "With Captain Williams dead, Master Ringbearer Jones took command of the Carthage. He and his surviving force held their ground long enough for the remaining four Ringbearers aboard the Carthage to follow Jones' orders: to form a Ring-link and pool their power in order to generate an insta-link portal, allowing them to get the surviving civilian personnel and 'gifted humans' off the ship and transport them instantly to our location - Fleet Command Headquarters. Once Jones had confirmation they had gone through, he directed three of his troops to link with him in firing a combined solar pulse that would both destroy the vessel – keeping it out of the hands of their opposition – but also doing severe physical damage to their primary combatant."
An impossibly slender man of Asian descent, also dressed in white, spoke up. "Holographics – Section 1146. Could you zoom in, please, and clean up the image?"
A combined gasp of shock and anger rose up as the image of a woman, wearing what appeared to be a gladiatorial costume and possessing large, bat-like wings (one of which appeared to be completely sheared off, along with her left arm just below the shoulder; her left side appeared to be peppered with serious burns as her right wing flapped feebly in the vacuum of space) floated through the debris field of the ship, along with the few remains of several 'reanimates' – a couple of which actually seemed to be alive and functional... and the identifiable remains of several humans.
"Oh, Lord," Archangel said, reflexively feeling for the mini-computer – the one issued to him by The Agency in his new duty as Corps/Agency liaison – as he recognized the creature in the holographic image. "Apocalypse is back."
"Without question – and if not for Jones, we would be unaware of this returning threat," the Asian man told the assembly. "It appears that the reason that Judith needed the Alastor was to bridge dimensions in order to sweep the known necro-realities, such as D-Zero and DW-2009-A, in order to retrieve Apocalypse. Once Judith disappeared from the Alastor – and we believe she deliberately stranding Apocalypse and the reanimates she brought along to act as a further diversion against pursuit in case she was found while she was aboard – Apocalypse acted to try and kill as many as she could, so she could allow the Shelley, Schumacher and Whedon-class reanimates with her to feed."
"Pardon me – but you said 'further diversion'," an attractive young Latina spoke up. "What does that mean?"
"It means that the little bitch went out with that sweet ride to get the big bitch with wings – and she did it for the express purpose of giving us a nice, stinging case of ongoing kamikaze butt-sex from above that'll keep us busy while she's off grabbing whatever else she needs in this whacked out scavenger hunt through Hell and our backyard that she's on," a voice directly across from the matronly woman spoke loudly. "It means that 'Big-Shells Odell' did us all a hell of a favor by chopping on that 'Ben-Hur' bitch and making sure we knew she's out there, cause sure as shit – she'd have done us a turn or two before we knew what the hell was up."
There were slight smiles on most of the faces there as the Ringbearer who only identified himself as 'Tallahassee' – and who always wore clothes and a hat that very few people in the Corps would even consider – finished his impromptu speech.
"Exactly," a female voice several feet away spoke up, and all eyes turned to see Danielle Todds. "I knew Odell Jones personally, and almost all of you are aware of his reputation – or that of all of his alternates. Rapists, killers, the worst that humanity has ever offered on every world we've found an Odell Jones – except his. He was truly one-of-a-kind – and he died with honor."
"He was too far beyond the Threshold for revival?" This question came from a human-sized penguin, his natural sounds translated by the Rings – and the master translator unit in the area – as he spoke. "Or they could not find him?"
"Evidence suggests that his shields were breached and his body was incinerated in the incident," the Asian informed the penguin. "There was nothing to revive. As for the others recovered from the remains of the Carthage, they were in fact beyond the Threshold for resurrection."
The penguin nodded grimly as he acknowledged the term used to describe the ten-minute point, beyond which neither the Ring or the Elixir of Life could bring a person back to life. "Then, he shall walk at the side of the Great 'Guin."
"Judith's plan has failed, thanks to Master Ringbearer Jones," the matronly French woman spoke up. "We are now aware of Apocalypse's re-appearance, and we are in the process of warning all of our fellows of this situation. We've also deployed the Sky Vault Saleesa to seal off the Vegan system, and the Warhammers are scanning for her and her thralls. With her isolated in one area, we can continue to act to stop Judith from completing her plans."
The Ringbearers were silent for several moments after the woman stopped talking. "There will be a memorial service tonight for our fallen brothers and sisters in the Chapel tonight at dusk," the woman said. "All are encouraged to attend."
As the dying rays of sunlight fell across the huge, non-denominational Chapel, thousands of Ringbearers of every species stood quietly and watched as a portal opened at the center of the giant hall.
One by one, five persons four women and a man, stepped through the portal.
Ringmasters, Danielle thought, as she watched the matronly French woman hand a Ring to one of the female Ringmasters, who then turned towards the massive table known as The Memorial. Good. Odell will finally get what he deserves – the respect that a good man should have, and that he never got because of what all of his counterparts were like.
The five Ringmasters stood around the table silently for several seconds; the female who held Odell's ring held her hand out, so that all could see Odell's Defender Ring as it lay upon her palm as she began to speak.
"For his resolute and unwavering service in battle; for his determination and his gallant sacrifice to ensure the safety of his fellows in the Corps of Ringbearers and all life everywhere by acting decisively to stop the threat known as Apocalypse, and in warning us of the re-emergence of her possible threat to all realities; for his singular devotion to the goals and the ideas of the Corps of Ringbearers – we bestow upon Master Ringbearer Odell Jones our highest honor."
The permanent stasis field that surrounded the Memorial opened with a roar of sound.
"Let his Ring rest for all eternity in a place of honor," the Ringmaster said, her voice carrying throughout the hall as Odell's Ring floated from her palm to the white marble surface. "Let all who come here know only the good that one man did, and hold not the evil of others against his name, or his memory, or the glory he brought upon himself - and all who wear the Ring."
As the Ringmaster fell silent, Odell's Ring settled into a perfect groove that formed on the surface of the Memorial, barely moments before it touched. As it rested, a perfect image of Odell's face was carved into the table just below his Ring.
"Let the name of Odell Jones be spoken of with only reverence," the Ringmaster concluded. "From this time forward, let the legacy of Odell Jones be remembered by the Corps of Ringbearers as one of undisputed honor."