Wednesday, March 12, 2003

1,000,002 Questions -- 1,000,001 Answers (3489)

Original post

    One million and one... one million and two...
    April was counting, or trying to count, the number of things running through his head as he materialized in the hot misty jungle of Anubus.  He gave up at one-hundred and just automatically lumped on a million more when he stepped onto the transporter pad... what Neria said, what Kwyn said, the condition in his head, the seeming rift with Winter, this business of Jallez joining with a Juggernaut, Soltak fighting a deadly infection in Sickbay, Wayne and the Virginia and the Ring (and who would be his next first officer), Ordalani, Iyika, Het, Natina, Calamari, Huizenga, Menteptah, Osira, the Ferengi, the Wah-Djeti, the Anubians, Milla, and how was he going to explain this to Command, this, that, and oh yes that too...  So much his head began to hurt, and it wasn't the PCS (post-concussion syndrome).
    He saw the sight before him and stopped counting.
    The Anubians were out in the midst of the jungle before the pyramids, dismantling the white bubble-domes that had served as the Region One research camp.  Strictly, it was Federation property, even if it was on their world, and the thought occurred to him to stake a claim... but when he saw them, saw THEM, he drew up short and just stared, and stared.
    His people.  They were his people.  Menteptah's.  April felt a pull to go to them, regardless of the fact that that was why they were here.
    Their bronze skins shined with sweat, muscles flexing and rippling in the sun as they bobbed, walked, ran back and forth working, wielding tools, yelling & talking in a dull roar that carried through the trees.  Some somehow guided piles of dismantled dome materiel through the air, without antigrav sleds or hoists.  The piles simply floated, cohesive, over the ground, unbanded, apparently guided by outstretched hands.
    April swallowed, throat thick with humidity, and glanced around to be sure the team was all there – Winter to his left, to his right Jallez, Kwyn (whom April did not feel like arguing with after Neria) behind him, and to Kwyn's right Sarneth, the Vulcan from Security.  Upon materialization Sarneth removed the portable holoemitter from his sleeve and activated it; Proteus McCoy sprang to life a moment later.  The holographic investigator deftly accepted an extra phaser from Sarneth before any of the 'natives' saw and grumbled something about Vulcans – McCoy couldn't beam down with one; something to do with his holomatrix in the buffer.  Ringo, on the other hand... his presence was not an absolute necessity, and so April traded him off for Kwyn, to keep it minimal.
    Speaking over his shoulder to the Security detail, he said "Keep your weapons holstered unless I say otherwise.  Otherwise, standard measures."  Which meant, if someone suddenly attacked them, they were allowed to defend themselves, with stun settings.  But if it came to that, they'd be doing a hasty retreat, beaming out of there, and not looking back.  Shame on the Arcadia if it went down like that.
    "Let's go," he told the group, and they made their way towards the camp.  Anubians began noticing, stopping & staring, then yelling to others about the visitors.  They neither ran nor seemed afraid.  April felt a touch of pride – the Menteptah in him, he guessed.  As they walked, his mind went back to what transpired on the Arc before beaming down.
    First, leaving his quarters, Neria's words fresh in his mind, he went down to Deck Six, to hear Natina.  Upon his arrival she eyed him calmly through the forcefield and said, "I'm guessing by the look in your eyes it worked.  The Juggernaut is free?  What about Het... is he dead or does he live?"
    April's anger shot to a boil; he ordered the forcefield down, strode in and decked her.
    She looked up at him from the floor, cradling her jaw with one hand.  She was back in original form, as she had been known on the Arcadia: 'Natina', El-Aurian, former Mess Hall worker.  Natina, former agent of Section 31.  April prepared for her to change form and attack, but she simply gazed at him from the floor, unfazed, perhaps thinking she, and he, deserved that.
    "Het's dead, thanks to you.  You deceived me.  Used us."
    "It was necessary.  You might have never boarded that buried ship otherwise."
    "Do you realize what you've done?"
    "What I've done... and you, Captain.  You're just as responsible."  She was absolutely right, in more ways than one.  He was responsible... as April and as Menteptah.  In one simple button-push he had done it... awakened the Anubians, freed the Juggernaut, and forcibly unleashed the Wah-Djeti on this land, though stranding them from starflight in the immediate future in the process.  He did it.  He.  He had changed history.  But he was not alone in facing the consequences: The Anubians had to deal with the Wah-Djeti.  Natina said, "But it's not so bad.  Not all of it was a lie; I simply withheld the parts you had to learn for yourself.  Do you realize why I tricked you...?"
    "The simplest explanation?  To awaken the Sphinx.  The Juggernaut."  Natina nodded.  "That seems too obvious."
    "Naturally.  Section 31 operated through complicated means... trails of misdirection and misinformation.  The greatest sleight of hand is the answer that lies right in the open."
    "You said you turned against the Authority.  Another lie?"
    "Please, Captain.  You're more imaginative... and I was loyal to Section 31.  Give me some credit.  Why would I use you and your crew to unleash one of my enemy's greatest weapons?"
    April pondered.  Hoping it would turn on the Authority as well?  No; it would have changed nothing.  The Juggernaut rebellion had failed, in the short term – as long as the Wah-Djeti remained in agreement to spearhead their invasion.  Then he saw the answer.  It was right there all along: They had foreseen the future.  How can one change the future?  By changing the past.  Him and HIS CREW... Jallez.
    "You knew he would join with the Sphinx."
    "You're from the future."
    "No.  I've seen the future.  That's why you're here.  That's why you're going to let me go."
    Natina sighed, addressing him with exceeding patience in her brown eyes, as one might look upon a child who hasn't figured out the answer to a problem.  "Why did you go to your quarters?  Not to argue with your daughter."
    April felt instinctively annoyed, that she would bring her into this, and somewhat helpless.  One more example of a potential threat, one he might have been unable to stop, if Natina had intended harm towards Neria.  He felt the item retrieved from his quarters, pressing his chest from the pocket inside his jacket.  Natina nodded, as if reading his mind like before.  "You're going to give it to me.  Why?  Because you don't want to see the future.  You're afraid you'll lose freedom of choice.  You're afraid you might be tempted to change it."
    "How do you—"
    "Put it on, Captain," she interrupted, "if you don't believe me.  If you have the courage, put it on... and you'll see why I'm telling the truth, now."
    April studied her as seconds ticked by.  Not removing his eyes from her, he reached into his jacket and slowly withdrew the object he had gone to his quarters to get.
    Coming face to face with the Anubians, it was almost like stepping into the past.  They looked much like the ancient Egyptians might have looked... except for the variegated hair, proof that they had split into different sub-racial groups.  But all of them were young, none over forty at the most, and appeared quite healthy.
    Upon closer look, they saw that the levitation was not some magical, psionic power, but rather facilitated by small palm-sized devices strapped to their hands.  Some sort of antigrav controllers, capable of lifting objects at which they were directed.  If they could move hundreds of pounds like it was nothing, they were certainly capable of doing the same to members of this Away Team.
    They also saw something else, as they came into their midst, walking past them, looking for whitehairs, the leaders.  As they progressed, they became aware that a different sort of project was underway... they were preparing for battle.  Enforcers were out, distributing more of the elaborate staffs, briefing others on their use in combat, running drills.  The dismantled domes were being converted into fortifices.  The people were slowly shifting, en masse, into defensive positions... expecting an attack.
    It didn't take a rocket scientist to guess from whom.
    "Winter," April said.  "Do your thing."
    Winter stepped before the nearest Anubian whitehairs, and spoke.
    Back in the transporter room, when Jallez called, April had been discussing the plan of 'attack' so to speak with Winter Bauval.  Diplomatically, he hoped to negotiate some sort of understanding between the Anubians and the Wah-Djeti.  And, he hoped to do it fast – in an hour, if possible.
    Each numbered in the thousands, and they would decimate each other in a great war.  Winter didn't ask how he knew this, but he could tell by the look on her face she wanted to.  She could have plucked the answer from his mind.  He felt some burgeoning hope that if she didn't, they might be able to work out their problem (if only he could understand the problem – she couldn't deny there was one).  At the same time he felt the object in his jacket, and hoped sincerely he wouldn't have to use it to convince these people that peace was their best, and only, option... other than annihilation.
    Since the crew from the Arcadia – April included – essentially awoke each side, it seemed only just to step in and preserve the balance.  April also imparted to her his own culpability in the affair.  He held nothing back from her, except for what he carried in his jacket – it was in her own best interests, her protection and her child's and the team's and maybe her fiancée's, that she not know.  Other than that, he told her everything.  As Ship's Captain, he was guilty.  As Menteptah, it was his right.  He wanted the Anubians to know... but in a peaceful way, if possible, with a constructive end.  Because, and he also told Winter this, as Menteptah, he had authorized the creation of the Wah-Djeti.  He had committed a sin for which Osira would never have forgiven him, and for which Jenna might not, once she returned and learned of it: sampling Osira's genetic structure to create a force that replaced the army lost in the war with the Anankh led by Het... a force also capable of stopping the Authority.
    Indirectly, Menteptah had brought his own civilization to ruin.
    And now, he was back... to face judgment, as April.  And he had brought the Juggernaut, in the form of Jallez, with him.
    And somewhere out there, at that moment, within an area of fifty kilometers by now... were the Wah-Djeti.  Free, free by the thousands... and they might come calling at any time.

Sunday, February 23, 2003

A Tale of True History (Revised) (3348)

(*original - Feb 23, 2003)

    Listen, O Reader, as I tell you a tale... an old and valuable tale, a tale of three worlds.
    Many many suns ago, a hundred hundred suns past, and a hundred hundred more, there existed a beautiful place: a planet, home to a proud and accomplished people.  They lived in great soaring cities the size of mountains... the shape of pyramids.  As the pyramid represents stability, so too were they – grounded and wise, happy and stable.  They could have reached the stars, these people.  They had the technology.  But they did not... for they had what they needed, they were told, by way of legends, legends which warned that those who reached too high, reached for the heavens, would fall and suffer.
    They did not know at first, these people, that the legends came from that most mysterious of sources: those who ruled from the shadows... the powerful, secret Authority.
    They might have done well to listen.
    One man knew.  He discovered the truth.  His name was Menteptah.
    That man, Menteptah – Pharaoh, monarch of this proud civilization – stood on a balcony one day, overlooking the sprawling vista of his realm, brow heavy with the burden of his discovery.  He saw that his people had accomplished nothing.  Their achievements were empty.  They were puppets, and he the strings that pulled them.  His people were not free, could not be free for so long as he, and they, remained puppets of hidden masters.
    He set out to awaken his people to the truth... but he had to work carefully, quietly.  If he moved too quickly, thrust the risqué truth upon them too suddenly, they would resist – they would brand him a heretic, and he would fail.  If he alerted the Authority, he would fail.  Over the course of many years Menteptah instituted educational programs, new ways and ideas, and planted the seed, the idea, in their minds that they were meant for greater things... and that the heavens were their birthright.  They came from the stars, as all life did in the universe.  What was wrong with reaching for them?  The stars were not forbidden... they were home.
    It worked – had Menteptah known, to his everlasting regret.
    The Authority saw what he was doing and sent one of their feared assassins – the white tigroid Osira, part human and part tiger – to kill Menteptah.  Without his leadership, they believed his campaign would falter.  Amazingly, Osira could not kill the Pharaoh... for she fell in love with him, and he with her.  And so the Authority sent that dreaded, all-devouring destroyer of worlds instead, the monstrous Juggernaut, a sentient machine created for one purpose: to destroy those who defied the Authority – not just by killing one individual or a few or a group, no, but to wipe them out utterly, they and their entire civilizations.  Such was the measure of Authority resolve.  For the Authority had its own legends, you see... ancient warnings that any world which defied them, no matter how insignificant the portion of defiance, would lead to its downfall.
    On the same balcony upon which Menteptah once stood and saw the empty truth of his existence, he stood, one day, with his beloved Osira's white arms laced about him, staring out over the horizon... and saw a new truth: saw it rising on the horizon in the dark shape of the Juggernaut, about to be unleashed.  It would have meant the end of his people, their culture, their way of life.
    Menteptah relented.  In a slash of Osira's claws, he gave his life to spare his people's.  The Pharaoh and his lover-killer understood that there was no other way.  Afterwards, Osira could not go back to her own life, consumed as she was by the tragedy of lost love, and committed suicide.
    That might have been the end of it.
    Except, it wasn't.
    The king and his killer who fell in love with him... the tragedy of Menteptah and Osira... became the stuff of legends.  Their bodies were preserved, as ancient ways taught, so that the ka, the immortal stuff of souls, would not be lost forever, and thus they might find each other in the afterlife.
    And what Menteptah had started could not be undone.  The fallen Pharaoh became a martyr to his cause.  The people learned the truth as he did.  Rising against the Authority, they created the Wah-Djeti, bioengineered soldiers like Osira: part human, part animal.  Quick, vicious and cunning, they were the first and last line of defense against the Authority.  Yet it wasn't enough.  The Authority learned of this and attacked.  A great war ensued.  Menteptah's world became unlivable.  Thus ended a civilization, and an age.
    However, not all perished.  In secrecy, they built a great ship composed of a black obsidian-like material which deflected sensor scans, thus hiding its existence from the Authority who would surely have destroyed it... a colony ship, large enough to carry the survivors of Menteptah's civilization to a planet known eventually as Anubus II.  There, they planned to start anew...
    ...But their defenders became their own worst nightmare.  The Wah-Djeti, faster, more cunning and vicious, and more ambitious than those who created them, seized power.  Carnivorous, violent and bloodthirsty, they imposed a harsh, cruel reign on the race of their creators who had long since died (some speculated by the creatures' own inhuman hands), enslaving them and demanding sacrifices of flesh and suffering.  It wasn't long before they began to war amongst themselves.  Some predicted that Menteptah would return and stop them.  Others opted for a more practical solution, as their new world tore itself apart trying to overthrow them.
    Some of the colonists escaped, fleeing through a rare wormhole which opened once every hundred hundred suns [10,000 years for the mathematically disinclined] to another world, sparsely populated by a primitive people similar in appearance.  They settled there, forsaking that which brought them to ruin – the technology, by returning to the simpler life they once had, and the names, by law.  Some cursed the names... Menteptah, Osira, Wah-Djeti, Anubus... claiming that to speak them invited suffering, and so they outlawed them.  The old legends proved true, after all – reaching for the stars had brought them low, and they had suffered.
    Now, try to avoid speaking a person's name sometime.  Do everything you can to avoid letting it slip out. You'll find yourself thinking about it to no end.  Small wonder, then, that a certain mystique came to be built up around the names that these people were supposed to forget.  They survived in altered form – Osiris from Osira, Anubis from Anubus, and so on.  Menteptah became the basis for Ptah, the creator in one version of the Egyptian creation myth, self-creating and self-creative, who brought order to the Primal Chaos by the sound of his voice.  Wadjet was the original name for Buto, the personification of the sun-god Ra's retributive power, regarded as defender of royal authority.  Stories and retellings made the creature-creations the basis for Egypt's ancient pantheon of animal gods.  What of the actual creatures?  Their fate was a mystery, as they had been left behind.  Only the stories remained.
    As happens with time, the laws fell by the wayside and the origins were lost, though not entirely forgotten.  Menteptah's survivors abandoned the past and resumed the simpler life they once had.  Eventually their descendants founded Egypt's First Dynasty... and the rest, as they say, is history.
    But what of Menteptah, who was prophesied to return?

    That, dear Reader, we shall focus on, in Part Two.