Friday, June 29, 2007

Terraforming, Arc-Style (4781)

"Terraforming, Arc-Style"
Stardate 84490.4
(Following "Strat")
 
[On the planet Tarkova]
 
    "I love this part."
    Buck Hafez stood on Tarkova's plain, dark hair whipping in the wind.  He was letting it grow, along with his beard.  Others thought he was on a rebel streak, except Hafez wasn't the rebel type.
    Unfortunately, he didn't look good with so much hair (according to some opinions – though his ancestors on the Arab plains would have accepted it without question).  It came in thick and bushy, forming a mop around his head, rather than growing long and straight, which might have at least looked better.
    Beside him, Ensign Cheney Lucros watched figures on a holoscreen.  "Uniform edge.  Nominal cross."
    Around them, a small army of Arcadia and other Starfleet officers mixed with civilian engineers amidst white domes.  The domiciles dotted the landscape at regular intervals, laid out neatly in rows, stretching almost to the horizon.  It wasn't every day Arcadia got to be part of this: bringing a colony to life.  Though commonplace – new colonies sprung up every day – it was exciting, for some people.
    Like Hafez was excited.  In the blue sky over the settlement, a faint shimmer formed, from one horizon to the other, becoming a layer of transparent plasteel.  From orbit, ships beamed in lerdex, raw material, to separate locations planet-wide.  Nanites, released by the droves, one batch on top of another, took the lerdex, using it to construct the overdome, seemingly from thin air, as they did the domiciles.
    Rashid, the Arc's Egyptian engineer, came in over complant:
    ~Lieutenant Hafez, check your lattice.~
    Hafez opted for an armpadd, using it instead of his complant to monitor the nanites' progress.  He checked the instrument on his wrist, making a few adjustments, then looked up again.  The nanobots picked up the instructions and altered their work patterns.  In all, it didn't take long.  The overdome, like the domiciles it would soon cover, would be unbreakable, completely reconfigurable for shuttle transit, and it would last a million years.  And, it was quick and easy to build, with the proper materials.  New colonies could be set up and running within a single Earth-day, if they had the colonists to go with them... barring unforeseen environmental complications.
    Captain April appeared, standing beside Hafez.  "ETC, Mr. Hafez."
    "We'll finish in the next ten ship-minutes," Hafez reported.  "Just in time for lunch."
    "Make sure everyone gets back afterwards.  We have three more planets before the month's out."
    "Understood."
    "Impressive, isn't it, Captain?" Lucros said, new to this.  The kid was green, still in Academy training.
    "A marvel of engineering," April quipped.  He had seen it a hundred times.  At Lucros' look, April said, "Sorry, Ensign.  I don't have time to be impressed."  Setting up colonies took less time and hassle than dealing with bureaucracy, and he was up to his neck in it.  He liked staying busy, but to stay busy, one had to rush to keep up – a skill at which April was a master.  Unfortunately, it didn't leave a lot of room for small talk.
    Turning to go, he noticed Hafez.  "Lieutenant... is that regulation?"
    April was eyeing him like he would a bum.  Hafez reached up to finger his dark, unruly mop.  "Uh... no, sir, probably not."
    "Get a haircut.  And think about shaving while you're at it."
    Hafez nodded.  "Yes, sir."
    "Enjoy your lunch."  April took another look at the forming dome then walked away.  Hafez sighed, made a new set of armpadd adjustments, and observed his reflection (invisible to others) in the visual field of his comtacts.  He ran his hands over his hair a few times, then bent over and shook his head.  Loose hair fell off, dissolving, the cell walls breaking down as it touched ground.  By the time he stood up, he had a regulation hair-style, and his beard was gone.  He sighed again, satisfied.  Air felt good on freshly shaved skin.
    Carmen Reyd walked by, another Ops officer, noticing.
    "Hey... Lieutenant.  Fine freak."
    "Thanks, Lieutenant."  'Fine freak' = fine frequency; a slang term.  Reyd's way of saying he looked good.  She had a sweet voice – light in pitch, a sharp contrast to a rugged beauty.  She had a hard stare, but when she smiled, she was one beautiful woman, he thought.  Being bald made her more naturally attractive.
    "Free for lunch?"
    "Am I free for lunch..."  Hafez checked his virtual planner, marking time out for lunch.  He had planned to head back to the ship.  Setting up colonies?  Heck... having lunch with Carmen Reyd didn't happen every day.  "Meet me at the pavilion."
    "My man."  She walked off.
    Lucros glanced at Hafez.  "Is she Deltan?"
    Hafez heard that a lot about Reyd.  "Does she sound Deltan?"
    Lucros shrugged.  "She has an accent."
    "British."
    Lucros looked at him.
    "Earth," Hafez added – from which Lucros wasn't.  After a few seconds he started grinning, staring at the sky.  He had to thank the captain.  "I hope she likes chicken and biscuits."
    "Chicken?"
    "Meat product."
    "I thought chicken was a bird."
    "We stopped eating birds centuries ago."
    "Biscuits?" Lucros said.
    "You need to get out more," Hafez said.
 

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Darksight (4768)

original


"Darksight"
 
[Arcadia – 2387]
    Sunni found Libra in one of the science labs (that was nothing new), hooked on some experiment he was running; some interesting (he called it) scientific puzzle.  (That was nothing new, either.)
    For the first several minutes, she tried to get his attention.  He was deep into it.  She noticed, ever since he came back from Cardassia, he was acting different.  Preoccupied.  Distracted.  He'd stopped returning her calls.  That wasn't like him.  She thought they had a good thing together.
    She tried to be playful, beguiling him with banter.  "So what's this 'mysterious mission' I'm hearing about?"  She wagged her eyebrows, hoping for an effect.  That usually worked.  It did in the past.
    Libra went on staring at his holotricorder.  "I can't talk about it."
    "Oh.  Right.  Well that's creative."  She sighed, audibly – another attempt.  "Same thing I've been hearing from everyone else.  But, if you won't tell me..."
    She faked a second sigh.  Moments ticked by.  Libra made a face at the controls, adjusted the settings... started another scan.
    "Oh come on Lee!  What's the matter with you?"  Indignant, now.  She jostled his shoulder, trying to get a reaction.  "I'm right here.  Put that down and pay attention to me!"
    He shook her off.  "I can't.  I'm running an experiment."
    Sunni tried to play along, and peered in the tank.  "They're ants."  A glass tank, full of dirt and anthills, in the lab.  She looked at him.  "What's so important about some ants?"
    Libra paused for a second, ruminating.  He grunted.  "Exactly."  And resumed scanning.
    Sunni frowned, and tried switching the subject.  "So... when were you going to tell me you're leaving?"
    Libra exhaled; she was becoming annoying, now.  "I haven't thought about it."
    "What were you going to do?  Just leave?  Were you even going to tell me goodbye?"  She waited.  Persistent.  Sunni Moon: Accustomed to getting what she wanted.  "Where you off to?  Come on, you can give me a hint.  Some new nebula?  A black hole, in a distant galaxy?"  More waiting.  "Helloooo.  Libra."  She waved a hand in front of his face.  He swatted her away.
    She stopped, shocked, put a hand on her hip and glared.  "Well, gee, that's nice.  No hi, bye, kiss my ass... nothing?"
    "I don't have time for you anymore, Sunni."
    She stared.  He ignored her.
    "Whatever.  I'm out of here."  The door slid shut behind her.
    Libra was frustrated.
    No, he was obsessed.
    He remembered, once, being a man... a human named Maxwell Bennett.  Libra thought of himself as human for a time.  He had tried to atone for Bennett's death... carrying on with his life, as an officer in Starfleet, righting the imbalance, resetting the scales – hence the name: Libra.
    Ever since Cardassia, when Rampart told him to leave... backed up by confirmation from Starfleet... ever since... he felt different.  Something took over him, the way it took over Bennett... and it made him into something else.  Something... someone... obsessed.
    Obsessed with Shapers.
    They were out there.  His findings on Cardassia supported the theory: The Shapers, as Starfleet dubbed that mysterious force, were reaching back across time, from a distant, far-future era, and reshaping the natural universe.  Changing laws of physics.  Playing havoc with time.
    Destroying people's lives.
    It was evident at Memiklon.  Again at Cardassia.  In the Wenga system, in the Delta Quadrant.  Subspace layers, bisecting orbital planes.  Other strange, impossible effects, which should not have existed.  Isolated examples.  He had seen enough evidence to back up the theory, and it could not be ignored.  These were all manifestations of that godlike force Starfleet dubbed 'Shapers'.
    But who or what were the Shapers?  No one knew.  Rampart told him, You have to accept it.  There are some questions in this universe we'll never answer.  Every answer just brings up new questions.
    As difficult as it was to accept, they would probably never know.  Libra knew it was true.  And that knowledge itself... was too much.
    He put the tricorder down and reached into the tank... pulling his hand out, covered with the insect forms.  He turned them in the light, watching them scurry over his skin.  They were holographic ants.  Holograms.  They didn't know they were holograms.  They didn't know what they were.  They didn't know anything.
    "I'm the Shaper, and you're the ants," he said to them.
    Would it have made a difference, if they were real?  Would those ants know they were ants?  Would they know about the Federation?  The universe?  Could they possibly comprehend the gods who lived, walked, and existed, around and beyond them every day?
    Of course not.  They would never know.  They were just ants.
    Would it bother them, if someone came along and stepped on their anthill?  Then would they comprehend?  No.  Still no.  The only means by which they might arrive at awareness was to lift them up... transform them, give them intelligence, the ability to understand.
    But then they would no longer be ants.
    Abruptly, he closed his hand into a fist, crushing some of them.  The rest he flicked off, back into the tank.  With a thought to the holoemitters, his hand cleared of any debris.  Neat and tidily erased... as if they never were.
    He could barely comprehend what it was to be an ant.  To live in that simple, one-dimensional world, flat in the middle of a multi-dimensional universe.  No sense of up, or down, inside, or out... let alone morals, or values, or conscience.  Just... existing.  No sense at all.
    Humanoids rarely concerned themselves if they stepped on an ant.  They were even less concerned for ants on another planet, in some far-off distant galaxy.  There were lots of anthills out there, getting stepped on every day.  No one knew about it.  No one was bothered.
    The Shapers and the Federation shared that same relationship.  The Shapers were as far beyond the Federation as the Federation surpassed the ants.  To the Shapers, the Federation was just some remote anthill, in a distant corner of the universe... nothing to see, nothing worth caring about.
    In truth, he didn't know what he was, now.  But he was not Bennett.  Max Bennett died.  And the being that called itself Libra cared less and less for trying to live his life.
    He was an ant.
    He had one advantage: He had gotten a whiff, an inkling, of the bigger picture... limited as it was.  He knew they existed.  That was all.  They... it... whatever their mysterious force... reshaping the universe.  That was all he knew.  He couldn't figure out how they were doing it.  Couldn't figure out why.  And the lack of knowledge... He felt as if it would surely drive him mad.
    Hon Jurmol believed he knew.  But for all of his genius, he was crazy.  Picking up the crumbs they left behind, and thinking they were gold.  Libra learned to see the Klingon savant for what he really was: Nothing but a crazy old fool – too blinded by his own sense of superiority, belief in his own brilliance, to see that he knew nothing... and too proud and arrogant, like a true Klingon, to admit it.
    He was just an ant, in a world of ants.
 
[Arcadia – 2407]
    Libra had remained quiet, self-absorbed, through the Wrnlaxi briefing, as the reptoids mostly ignored the humanoids except Hendriksson, – which was fine with him.  Being there, for him, was a formality.  He had other things on his mind.  Hon Jurmol seemed to share that mood, though the Klingon was more attentive to the affair as it unfolded.
    As was Science... avidly.  She found it interesting, exciting, and would have gladly accompanied them to the holodeck.
    Then she heard what they planned.  Alarms went off in her head.  She had a mind to follow them to the holodeck, regardless.
    She was not alone.  The remaining Arcadia officers – Libra, Science, Crimson (especially Crimson)... stared in abject, total, complete, utter horror, as the Wrnlaxi delegates vanished, along with Mala Hendriksson.  It seemed the rest of them weren't invited.
    But that wasn't the reason for their reaction.  The reason was obvious... as obvious as it was baffling, that Mala Hendriksson appeared not to share it.  Wasn't she a Starfleet officer?  Was she all right with it?  She was M'D'li's onxoel ('soul-kin', like he said).  Maybe it involved a form of brainwashing, and she was under his mind-numbing influence (not unknown among certain species).  It seemed impossible to believe that a trained Starfleet officer would not object to what the Wrnlaxi planned... which violated every code of ethics upon which the Federation was built.
    Except the Wrnlaxi weren't part of the Federation.
    Alex Crimson turned towards Hon Jurmol.  So did Science and Libra.  Libra, thinking about the ants, how they would no longer be ants.  All thinking the same thing.
    Jurmol, working aboard a Federation Starfleet vessel, using Starfleet facilities, had given his holo-language to the Wrnlaxi.  He had influenced their development.  Interfered with the course of an alien, non-Federation culture.  It was a violation of the Prime Directive.  Civilians weren't exempt from upholding it – especially if they worked in Starfleet facilities.  Especially.
    And now, as a result, the Wrnlaxi planned the unthinkable.  Another unethical violation.  They planned to interfere with the natural course of another species, by mutating them.  They had no right.
    Science said to Jurmol, her voice quivering: "What have you done, Jurmol?"
    "Be calm, Siobhan," Crimson interceded, ever the diplomat.  She was looking at Jurmol.  "The Wrnlaxi, including their ancestors, are the products of another species' tampering... as I'm sure Hon Jurmol would remind us.  Correct?"
    Jurmol wasn't known for speaking at length... or speaking at all, unless necessary.  Most of his statements went over the heads of others, as it was.  He gave a single nod, regarding them with those deep, thinking eyes.  He glanced at Crimson twice... otherwise fixed on Science.
    "That doesn't make it right," Science declared.  "They can't do it.  We can't let them."
    "And how would you propose that we stop them?" Crimson asked.
    "Are you defending them?"
    "No, certainly.  But let me point out, that since they aren't members of the Federation—"
    "Don't do that, Alex," Science said.  She reached up, brushing dark hair away from both sides of her face, stringing it back over her shoulders.  She tended to do this when confrontational: She opened herself up to it, impassioned, when she felt strongly, right, and justified.  "Don't try to make this a matter of political determination."
    "It is, Siobhan."
 
[Some weeks earlier, in one of the science labs]
    Sei'mossin's fingers adjusted diagrams on a free-floating holopadd; the other hand plucked lingua-strands from a translation matrix Hon Jurmol created, converting impulses to recalibrated data.  Words piped through the air from all directions, from different corners of the room:
    "Rationalism became the basis for Kaffink dialectic," "Lesions on the brain, disappointing as I swallow," "self-consciousness relies on resistance," "Harems to the kings, old broken road, acid birds and song," "evidence for such monstrous assertions," spoken in Jurmol's voice, overlapping in succession.
    Stephen April had entered.  The Klingon scientists accompanied the recent temporal move, even Krul, and seemed to be adjusting well (except for Krul, who never adjusted well, to anything).  He envied them.  He was still having problems with it, but his problems were of a personal nature, nothing to do with 2407, in and of itself – only the jarring effects of that move, on his life.  He stood by, watching.
    April was almost afraid to interrupt.  Jurmol looked to him first, then Sei'mossin, who didn't stop what he was doing.
    "Captain," Sei'mossin said.
    A glance told April that Jurmol must have been rubbing off on his old friend: Sei'mossin's hands continued operating independently, while the expression on his face focused, questioningly, on April.
    "What's..."  April studied the holopadd.  "...going on here?"
    "Ah," Sei'mossin sighed.  "I tire of translating this old fool.  It is time others understood him for themselves."
    "Old fool?"  April looked to his companion.  Jurmol seemed embarrassed, and looked away.  "Are we talking about the same Jurmol?"
    "Deprecate oratory," he heard in sharp pitch, over the rest.  Sei'mossin heard too, throwing a brief glare at Jurmol.
    "I thought he was a genius," April said.
    Jurmol smiled at April, then at Sei'mossin.
    "Savant," Sei'mossin corrected, quickly adding, "is the term your human academics apply to someone of his... nature.  But not I.  Not I."
    Jurmol scowled at Sei'mossin.  If April wasn't mistaken, he wanted to hit the other Klingon.  And they were pacifists.  Still, they were Klingons, biologically.
    "But he is no diseased idiot," Sei'mossin said.
    "And the Federation is not French," April tossed off.  "I remember."
    "Only the weight of a Klingon cruiser on my back."
    "How about I lighten the load.  Free for lunch?"
    Sei'mossin looked at April again.  "An invitation.  Most kind, Captain.  I accept your invitation.  In one hour?"
    April nodded.  "One hour.  Deck Seven."  He turned to go.
    "The mess is on six," Sei'mossin reminded him.
    "I'm thinking the holodeck," April said as he exited.  "I need some fresh air."
 
    April and Sei'mossin came out of the holodeck, engrossed in conversation.
    "—must lay proof of Vulcan wastefulness," Sei'mossin argued, "then it is simple.  The concept of post-structuralist theoretical paradigms is largely the invention of Vulcan academics."  The Klingon looked to April, waiting.  "It is ill logic.  Comprehend it," he implored.
    "Post-structuralist."
    "They reject definitions of truth."
    "Vulcans, Sei?"
    "They refuse to be labeled.  Yet culture is inseparable from meaning."
    "Inseparable...!  Sei, you're speaking in absolutes.  You contradict yourself.  You're ju'Haq, and making a post-structuralist argument.  You're a post-structuralist."
    "No claim did I make to be any other thing.  But do not lock me down as an absolutist, April; I refuse."
    "Spoken like a true ju'Haq."
    Sei was about to make a counter-retort.  He got a grin on his face, starting to wag a finger, didn't, then chuckled.  "Oh... oh.  Oh.  Clever, clever, clever, clever.  You think you're going to trap me.  No you don't, April."
    April couldn't help laughing.  "Just trying to light the road to truth."  He sighed.  "You're such a rebel."
    Sei punched him in the shoulder.  "Humans should not insult their friends."  April winced slightly, then laughed some more.  Sei's punch became a squeeze, then a good-hearted back-pat.  "This is the Captain April I remember.  It is good to see you again."
    April held out his hand; Sei'mossin took it, halfway up the arm as they walked, in a firm grasp.  "I wonder if the Organians ever saw this."
    "They're light bulbs," Sei'mossin said.  "How couldn't they."
 
[Present: science lounge]
    The conversation had shifted away from Jurmol, between the two women.  Jurmol stood by silently, watching.  Behind Jurmol, Libra studied the Klingon, in turn, with a shrewd, wary expression.  He was paying attention now.
    "I feel as you do," Crimson went on, with a glance towards Jurmol, "but we must follow proper channels if we wish attention brought to the affair.  We'll bring this to the captain.  I'll notify the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Subcommittee on Scientific Ethics.  They can take it up with the Wrnlaxi ambassador.  Ultimately, however, it is not our decision."
    Science relaxed somewhat, seeming to accept that.  "As long as we do something."
    Libra stepped around Jurmol, joining the conversation, eyeing the Klingon.
    Hon Jurmol.  A hero.  A charlatan, was more like it.  Rampart had warned Libra: Jurmol was not to be entirely trusted.  There was something about him... 'Fishy', was the word Rampart used, on Cardassia.
    He didn't need to convince Libra.  The science officer had been arriving at that same conclusion.
    "Don't forget to mention the inestimable Mr. Jurmol's role in this," he added, omitting the 'Hon' honorific.
    The Klingon eyed him now, returning his expression.  Still wordless.  Libra cocked his head, expectant.  "What?  Something to say?"
    Crimson caught his tone.  "Libra—"
    "Shut up, Alex."  Libra didn't take his eyes off Jurmol.  "It's time he paid the piper.  But you can't, can you, Klingon?"
    "Libra!" Science exclaimed at his boldness.
    "He's a fake," Libra said, sent a command through his complant, and swung his arm at Jurmol.  It passed through.  "He's not even here."
    The others blinked.  "A hologram?" Science said.  Like the 'Wrnlaxi progenitor', the realness and accuracy was perfect.  It had Jurmol's distinct mannerisms; it breathed, moved, even smelled like the Klingon.  'Jurmol' snorted as if he'd had enough, turned and started towards the door.
    Libra looked over the lounge.  He silently ordered the room clear of the special furniture and accommodations; the furnishings vanished and a second later, the lounge had been reset to its previous condition.
    Jurmol vanished with the surroundings, before he could make it to the door.
    "I've noticed discrepancies," Libra said.  "Holoemitter phase output variances, on different decks.  Security ran a cross-correlation.  I wasn't sure until this moment."
    "Sure of what?" Crimson asked.
    "Hon Jurmol hasn't been on this ship since we left 2387."  Libra locked eyes with the diplomatic officer.  "He may never have been."
 
TBC