Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Verik and Verika

Arcadia’s 11th year anniversary is this Friday (11-9-2012).  Eleven years ago, this began.  While we didn’t maintain a steady consistent run these last few years, the concept hasn’t died…


They arrived at Waypoint 5, an outer-system hab.
They carried no tags.  This was unusual.
Information was god, in an era and society which lived upon it.  It was power; it was currency.  It was about knowing things; knowing everything that could be known; everything knowable.  The unknown held mysteries; threats; danger.  Centuries of space exploration, of bizarre encounters, of contact with such dangers, proved this.
Borders fluctuated, with recent breakdowns, conflicts, shifting alliances.  Illegals infiltrated daily, with an increasing number of refugees.
It brought an adamant awareness.  Security was paramount.  Information became indispensable.
Undocumented citizens could not exist.  Untagged travelers could not be.
They were humanoid, brother and sister.  Few could mistake the mutual resemblance.  Fewer still made passage into the Sol system undetected.  Sensors scanned them, gathering data in micro-beats; height, weight, age, appearance, physiology; on the genetic level, storing their codes, and neural; psychologies, traits, mannerisms, knowledge, memories, skills, experience, names and stages of development.  Sensors, the angelic elite of Information, had grown refined, far-reaching and targeted to degrees once impossible to imagine.
(Clarke’s Third Law: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.  Unstoppable Progress followed necessity and innovation, often in startling leaps.)
They stood in line, fidgeting, nervous.  Refugees crammed the wait area, shoulder to shoulder, more aliens than they knew existed.  Most they couldn’t name.  Some had pointed ears, like the twin brother and sister, but did not come from their system; of these, some sported tattooed markings on faces and shaved heads.
“Look at these people, sister,” Verik said.  He kept his focus on the uniformed induction officers, moving through the crowd, separating refugees.  “Is this the Federation we’ve heard about?”
Verika glanced around, with the same distraught expression shared by others.  “You can’t believe everything you’re told, brother.”
She was scared.  So was he.  He knew she wanted to go home.  So did he.
But they would not have a home for long, if they didn’t get help.
Crossing the Federation proved surprisingly simple.  According to the captain of the Orion ship who delivered them, this was not always the case, but times were changing, and changed more quickly than anyone had expected.  Space remained a hotbed of travel, expensive or inexpensive depending on the means, and many transited between the outer worlds of what had once been Federation territory, to what had been the core-zone of Federation territory, centered around its great, former capital, Earth.  The Federation, these days, laid in the mercurial in-between.
A man slid up to them in a floating chair, wearing an inductor’s uniform, skipping others in the line ahead.
“Travelers?” he said.  “Or refugees?”
He spoke in their language.  This would not have been unusual – they understood the Orions – but lips did not match the speech delivered by universal translators, in their previous experience.  He spoke in their tongue, exactly.
“We aren’t refugees,” Verik said.  At least not yet, he thought.
“You’re on the wrong level.”
The surroundings vanished, replaced by a public park: a startling opposite to the waiting area.  Here, was some evidence of the grandeur which drew them.  A clean, beautiful city stretched in all directions, filled with pristine buildings of stunning architectural design.  The air felt warm, fresh, fragrant.  A sun shined in the blue sky overhead – apparently fake, yet entirely realistic.  Shuttle traffic had been added for effect.
They stood near a water fountain.  Verik and Verika gasped at droplets of spray, blown by the wind into their faces.
“I’m Walden Wehrle.”  The induction officer produced pellets from a pocket; birds swept in, gathering for the treat.  “Welcome to Waypoint.  Are you visitors or residing?”  He was long, slender, elderly, with an odd-shaped head, wisps of dark gray hair and mustache.
Verik thought he should be making notes, taking their names, or… something.  But he had no stylus or entry pad.  “I…”  He glanced at Verika.  “We don’t know.  We came to save our planets.  Will you help us?”
Wehrle hesitated.  “I… don’t know how to do that.  Did you bring belongings?”
“We traded them for passage.”
“Why are you in a chair?” Verika asked.  Wehrle gave her a dull look.
“Forgive my sister,” Verik jumped in.
“It’s said that you can cure any disease.  You can bring reverse aging.  Deformities.  Even death.”
Wehrle chuckled, a gentle, quiet sound.  “You’re new.  I don’t need enhancements or body-switching or all that genetech stuff.  I’m happy as-is.”  He flicked a pellet in a trailing arc; laughed, as a bird snatched it in mid-air, over the fountain.  “Best I can suggest is pray.”
“Pray?”
Wehrle tapped a silver cross pendant hanging from his neck.  “To the Lord Our God.”
“God!” Verika snapped.
For once, Verik shared her reaction.  Nothing provoked him instantly to such anger and rage, as the mention of… “God?  God is a liar.  A trickster.  Deceitful… wicked… poisonous… treacherous… worthless.  We don’t want to meet him again.”
“God isn’t… What?  You’ve met God?”
“I won’t speak of it!”
“Calm, brother.”  Verika tried to soothe him.  “Calm.”  She shot the induction officer a contemptuous look.
“I think you have the wrong idea,” Wehrle suggested.
“I think you should shut up now.”  Verika’s tone, the flash of her eyes, caught the inductor by surprise.  “If you truly pray to that… thing… you tell him, for us, if we see him again—“
“Verika.”  Her brother’s voice stopped her.  Making threats, upon arrival in a new world, could create a bad reception, hurting their cause for coming.  Hopefully Wehrle did not misunderstand or take it personally.
In this instance, Verik felt the volatility of emotions, to which ancient Vulcans could relate – and no doubt the modern.  News had reached him of the emotion-disease crippling Vulcan society.
Wehrle waved it off in the spirit of religious tolerance.  “Not my business.”
“It’s also said,” Verik added to Verika’s statement earlier, “that the Federation can move planets… transform planets… create planets.  Entire solar systems.  As well as destroy them with ease.”
Wehrle fed his birds in uncomfortable silence.  “You have to take that up with somebody else.  I’m sure you’ll find someone.  Do you have a destination in mind?”
He said it like it was too late, to Verik’s ears; as if they had already perished.  The reminder irritated him further, a reminder of his own helplessness.  “The Orion captain said the same thing.  He promised we’d find help in the Federation.  That’s why we came here.”
 “For starters, this isn’t the Federation.  This is the solar system – Earth’s solar system.  We’re independent of Federation government… more or less.”
“How do we get to Earth?”
“You can take a shuttle to Mars.  Earth, you’ll need approval, since you aren’t citizens.”
“How much does it cost?”
“The shuttle’s complementary.  If you don’t mind riding with refugees.  We get a lot.  You need to apply for an Earth pass.  That could take a bit.”
“What do we do?”
Verik heard the desperation in his sister’s voice, hoping as he did to find someone – if they only knew where to look.
“You don’t have to travel to Earth physically.”
Briefly and succinctly, Wehrle explained complants; their purpose and function, common implant devices used for communicating, gathering and sharing information, and more, and would they consent to wearing them?  They made things so much easier – such as programming their language into him, based on their own cognitive language centers; instant universal translators.  He conjured a facsimile pair, placing them in their palms, and waited as they considered.
“I think I understand this.”  Verik studied the device.  “Direct sharing of information.  These may benefit us, sister.”
“How do we know they’ll work?”
“Your racial type and biosignature is Vulcanoid,” Wehrle said.  “They work fine for Vulcans.  Shouldn’t be a problem.”
“What if they’re mind-controlling?  He looks pretty mind-controlled to me,” Verika directed at Wehrle.  The inductor ignored her off-the-cuff remark.
“I don’t think so.”  Verik applied the facsimile to his head, behind the ear as instructed.  The system heard his mental consent and activated the device; it solidified into a legitimate plant, establishing the link before he had finished speaking.  But he didn’t consent to placement within his cranium; he wasn’t ready for that yet.
“What if I don’t want it on my head?” Verika said.
“Put it in your pocket,” Wehrle said.  “Let it function by remote transmission.  But if you lose it, that can create unnecessary delays in function.  It can nanobond to your clothing, but there’s the same risk.  It’s easier to have it directly attached.”
“And more efficient,” Verik said, trying it out.
“Put it on your hand, neck, shoulder… anywhere,” Wehrle said.  “Most people just put it on their heads.  Shortest distance between two points.”
“Or in their heads,” Verik corrected, learning.
“For long-term wearers,” Wehrle said.  “Short-term… it’s fine, where you’ve got yours.  Negligible transmission degradation.”
“Shouldn’t you have to be a doctor, or licensed, to let people wear these?” Verika said.
“What makes you think I’m not?”
She gave in with a sigh.  “I’ll try it… but I’m keeping it right here.”  She placed it on the back of her wrist, turned it upside down, gave it a shake.  It didn’t come off.  “What if I want to remove it?”
“It responds to touch and direct command,” Verik said, cutting off Wehrle before he could answer.  “Mentally or verbally.”  For demonstration, he plucked his from the side of his head, showing her.
Your touch.  Your command,” Wehrle clarified.  “Except for certain emergencies.  It’s a really smart system.”
Verika removed hers, then replaced it.  “So what does this… Oh.”  Her eyes went wide.  “Oh.”  She started looking everywhere, turning her head this way and that.
Verik had already intuited the directional interface, giving him a 360-degree view, without bodily movement; an amazing leap over binocular vision.  He could see behind him, below him, and above.  He could extend the range, seeing around people, objects, buildings from any direction.
Then supplemental sensor capacity came into play, from a steady subspace stream, propagating through powerful relay stations and satellites.  His knees weakened; he felt momentarily dizzy, as he found himself looking upon this habitat, Waypoint 5, from space.  “Astonishing,” he whispered.  “We’ve never developed anything like this in our world.”
“I know,” Wehrle said.  “Good day, sir.  Ma’am.  Mind the laws and be safe.  I’ll be in touch when you need me.”  He nodded to both and departed.
Verik heard and saw him go, in a way impossible without complants.  His mind was still outside of the habitat.
There, he saw distant stars, planets, spatial phenomena and other objects he never knew the cosmos contained.  Habitats: Thousands and thousands of habitats, like this one and not like this one, across the galaxy… tiny (and some not so tiny), artificial islands and cities in space, in solar systems and between the stars.  Their estimated combined population outnumbered the total of planetary populations.
How did they get built?  How did so many people spread throughout the galaxy?  Given the rules of parallel development, and the time it took advanced, spacefaring civilizations to arise, and survive to that point… despite the age of the universe, an estimated 13 billion years… there was a consistent, recurrent pattern of growth across the cosmos, with most arriving at about the same point.  It explained why so many across the galaxy used warp drive: They came upon it roughly at the same time.
There were exceptions – as the human species proved – but the rule held as a measure.  Other races – Andorians, Orions, Cardassians, Tellarites… and, Verik noted, the primary Vulcans – were in space for centuries, even millennia, before Humanity, yet never progressed to the current human stage of development.  Humans exceeded them.
Verik absorbed knowledge from the ‘datagrid’, through his complant.  Available knowledge.  He also noted that, as a foreign national – not an Earth (or Federation) citizen, only a civilian – some areas to which he requested access were denied.  Possibly classified military information, government secrets… every organized body had its rules, and its secrets.
“Strange place,” Verika said.  “Nothing like our worlds.”
No, Verik thought back to her, in response.  But it’s our worlds we came to save, and so we must find those who can and are willing to help us.
“Stop doing that.  That creeps me out.  Oh – look!”
Verik thought she meant two aliens walking down the avenue nearby.  The database listed – ‘tagged’ them, as a Tholian and a Gorn: Fearsome creatures to behold.  A chill of fear ran through him.  Through filters, he saw their holographic disguises, appearing as ordinary humans.  Questions struck his scientist’s analytical mind: How did they move in this gravity?  How did the Tholian tolerate the temperature, comfortable for carbon-based humanoids, but freezing cold, to a fatal degree, for her kind?  Did their human companions use complants (he found that they did), and see through the disguises?  Why did they accept them?  Tholia and Gorn’ar were at war – did that play a role in their presence?
But he was distracted by his sister’s second exclamation: “Look!”
She was green – the same green as that of the Orions, on the ship that delivered them.  Her hair had darkened, grown long, thick, falling around her shoulders.  “How did I do that?”
Verik sighed, shaking his head.  His sister.  Though they were twins… they were not entirely alike.
“Marvelous!”  Filled with glee, Verika shifted through a dozen likenesses in under a minute, adding makeup, different clothing, hairstyles.  “Look at this one!”  She turned half-black, half-white: pure black down one side of her body, white on the other, in a straight line, head to feet… with matching hair and clothing.  “Cheronian!”
“Verika, we have work to do…”
“Oh, I know, but… okay.  I like this one.”
Verik fixed her with a hard stare.  “I don’t.”
“Tough cookies.  Let’s go.”
To his embarrassment and resentment, Verik followed.  “We don’t know where we’re going!”
I do…”


TBC

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