Wednesday, March 12, 2003

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

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    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.

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