|"Change is the essential process of all existence."||Spock|
Friday, March 18, 2016
Slipping the Surly Bonds-Star Trek Fan Fiction: Part Two
(Author's note: Might be best if you slide over to Part One of the story and read it first.)
Her name was some combination of clicks and sighs that only a truly genius-level human linguist could even hope to pronounce correctly. That was why she told me to call her Maria, my mother's name. She learned the name after scanning both the computer systems and my brain from orbit, a feat that prompted me to remember a quote from a twentieth-century writer by the name of Arthur C. Clarke. Back before humanity had not gone into space much beyond Earth orbit he said that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic and “Maria's” ability to scan both computer hardware and the wet mushy stuff between my ears was proof that Clarke was a man way before his time.
Needless to say, one of the things she learned during that scan was how to speak English. And I thought the subcutaneous universal translator mounted close to my right ear was an amazing achievement. I couldn't pronounce the name her species called Cannaria but I could give a basic answer as to what had happened.
Ever since the NX-class Enterprise had made the first human visit to Cannaria 3 during the time of Captain Archer the planet had suffered from the worst thing that can happen to any form of real estate. The entire Epsilon Cannaria system was simply too far off the beaten path to matter. So Archer had his geology team take samples and the life sciences examine the single cell life living in the ocean. At first everyone just assumed Cannaria was just one of those unlucky planets where life never developed multicellular life. A fate that occurs to ten planets out of the every two that goes on to develop complex lifeforms.
Further checks by the USS Bismark twenty years later surprised everyone with the discovery of a huge wealth of fossils going back over a billion years. The ship was on a training mission with a crew full of life science midshipmen and they ended up staying almost a year performing digs all across the planet. The conclusion was that Cannaria had once possessed a thriving and complex biosphere until two million years ago and was then wiped out by a sudden event. It was eventually determined that a neighboring star had gone supernova with the radiation sterilizing the planet. All during that time no evidence of intelligent life was discovered so when the final report was written the crew of the Bismark packed everything up and went back to Earth. Except for maybe a few Orion pirates that occasionally used the planet to hide, Cannaria was abandoned and forgotten about.
That was until the Dominion War and then the Borg invasion reduced scores of class-m planets to ash and severely damaged others forcing large populations to seek refuge on other worlds or artificial habitats. That was when the Starfleet Corps of Engineers was tasked by the Federation Council to begin terraforming worlds that these refugees could be resettled on within a reasonable time. Yeah, in this case reasonable time could be defined as twenty to thirty years but ancient Rome was not built in a day.
As for Maria's story, all she would tell me at first was that she had left the planet I call Cannaria three-million years ago. It didn't take a xeno-psychologist or a trained Starfleet counselor to know she was suffering from shock. The type of shock that humans could only speculate about since our civilization was only a little over six-thousand years old. While Maria hadn't elaborated, I had to figure her civilization had existed for several million years before she went on her voyage.
This brought up a whole host of mindboggling questions since not only was there no trace of her civilization on Cannaria there was no evidence of it anywhere in the star system. There was absolutely no ruins of off-planet colonies, bases, monitoring stations, or even probes anywhere to be found. While there were civilizations that never took to interstellar travel like the members of the Federation, they did go through an initial phase of exploring their star system which resulting in numerous artifacts being left behind.
During the initial construction of the facilities to terraform Cannaria grass had been seeded around the fusion reactor complex to stabilize the soil. In less than a year Starfleet personnel had groomed the area to the point it almost had a park-like character. Not long after our initial meeting, Maria and I were soon sitting on the manicured grass with her gently rubbing individual blades between her fingers looking up at the stars above us. Between long periods of silence, Maria would tell me small bits of her voyage to the far corners of the universe and beyond to other realms that defied human imagination.
“We were gods,” she said to me, “while no individual born to this universe can truly achieve immortality, my species had come as close as possible to breaking that barrier. My civilization had already existed for millions of your years and during that time we had created something that was unequaled in this galaxy. Before your species walked upright we had already explored this galaxy and even touched other realities. The very essence of life was something we easily created and molded into whatever form we wanted.”
“What of the star that went supernova?” I asked since research had determined that the star that sterilized Cannaria as B-Class supergiant that at most was only ten lightyears away when it exploded. “Surely a people with you abilities would not have let such monster like that hang over them?”
Maria got so strangely quiet after that question I began to believe I might have somehow insulted her.
“The star of which you speak was our power source for a great many of our endeavors. She said in a solemn tone I couldn't figure out. “The fact that it went supernova suggests something went terribly wrong or that it was purposely detonated.”
“What would possibly cause your people to detonate a blue, supergiant star?” I ask back astonished that the concept might be feasible.
“Even with my civilization's long stability and ability to use power sparingly,” she said morosely, “there were elements of my society that ran counter to the prevailing wisdom. Such groups were promoted because in a long lived civilization intellectual decay was believed to be the first step towards extinction. In fact, my entire family belong to a faction that wanted us to become more involved in galactic affairs and restart our long abandoned exploration of the greater universe. But other groups were believed to do research into areas that were almost unethical and maybe dangerous. They specialized into probing realities that were ruled by entities that the people of your community on Earth would consider evil.”
“What about your group wanting to explore the universe, what did your society think of them?” I ask her fascinated by the idea of her people were capable of doing.
“My civilization had become so accustom to looking inward that we were considered quite insane, not much removed from those groups probing the chaotic realms. But we pressed on by pooling our resources and technical expertise to build these ships.” She said motioning to the ever present behemoth floating over our heads.
One of the things they teach at the Academy is that you should never subscribe human emotions to any alien race, even one that bares a strong resemblance to Homo sapiens. But I was suddenly overwhelmed by waves of despair coming from Maria, so much it was all I could do to keep my own composure. It was then I realized Maria possessed a form of emotional telepathy, an ability so strong that I also realized that she had come home to die. It goes without saying that dealing with this being was so far beyond my meager abilities and training that I felt ashamed. On some level I knew that the current situation was just some awful and crazy quirk of fate and that what was needed was a full team with intensive training in dealing with first contact situations. Unfortunately for Maria, not only was her people erased from history but I would be her only company as she ended not only her journey but her very existence.
“We eventually constructed six of these ships,” Maria said after getting her emotions under control. “We all left at the same time heading out in different directions with the plan being we would return home together in one-hundred thousand years with the intent of showing the rest of the population how our endeavor expanded the scope of understanding.” Maria pauses while her emotions again assault me so hard I perceive images of her trip and what went wrong.
“There was a design flaw in your ship's systems.” I blurted out without really understanding the exact problem.
“The last starship my people designed had been over two million years before our departure. As you probably know there are nuances to interstellar travel that have to be carefully calculated. My problem was made worse by the unique nature of my propulsion system, my first jump into warp threw me tens of billions of lightyears off my intended course. I found myself far beyond the observable universe with no way to backtrack my course and return home. I was utterly devastated since it was a certainty that everyone I cared about would declare me dead when I did not return home at the proper date.”
“How did you find your way back here?” I asked trying to grasp the idea that she had been flung so far away that the light from those galaxies hadn't reached our section of the universe. That meant she had traveled over 13.7 billion lightyears from the Milky Way galaxy.
“I stumbled upon a civilization older than my own that had taken up residence in the darkness between galaxies. The black hole at the center of their home galaxy regularly irradiates huge sections wiping it clean of life. They discovered this fact before it occurred and fled to that starless abyss. More advanced that my own species, they were able to narrow down the area I had to search but that still took far longer than I was supposed to be away. I had hoped to at least find that my civilization still in existence.”
I knew of nothing I could say, she was a being totally lost in time and alone. It's horribly debilitating to want to help someone so much but know they are beyond saving. With nothing really left to say, she and I stayed on the ground looking off into the distance at the ocean as the first hints of sunrise started to brighten the dark sky. The silence between Maria and myself seemed as expansive as the distance she crossed to find her way back home. But in a weird ironic paradox it was also comforting since she wanted nothing more than to stay on Cannaria and die, while I found myself envying her experiences from literally crossing the universe. It was as the sun crested over the horizon that Fate played its final card in this encounter.
The morning light show began as usual with the colors exploding across the sky. For me, the beauty was undeniable but there was an associated familiarity with the phenomenon that had lessen my initial wonder. The general idea among Starfleet planetary scientists was that it was a natural event caused by an interaction between gases in the upper atmosphere and Cannaria's second magnetic field that was much closer to the surface than the usual one which was much higher. In the overall scheme of things all the factors causing it was a strange and rare occurrence but nothing out of the ordinary in a galaxy with close to a trillion planets.
However, when I saw Maria's reaction, and felt her emotions, to the morning light show I instantly knew our assumption were wrong.
“Maria, what's going on? You look as if you have never seen the morning display of lights.” I say to her with growing concern.
“Josh Tanner, do you not feel the message the waves of light are saying?” Maria said looking at me as if I was a bacteria.
Naturally I said no, to everyone who had visited Cannaria in recent history the light show was just a natural occurrence. It was then I probably began earning my Starfleet pay, if we still used such a primitive concept, because I realized Maria's people communicated in part by broadcasting emotions and the lights in the sky must be affecting the part of her brain that received feelings from others of her kind. Since the light show was tuned just for Maria's emotional sensitive people, to any other species it was just a freak of this particular planet's nature.
“What does it say Maria?” I say growing excited.
“It is from one of the members of my exploration group.” She said as I was emotional assaulted by a wave of happiness. “It says look to the ocean, that our story is told there.”
It was then that I felt like Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking, Zefram Cocrane, and Qian Peizhi all rolled together. “Maria, have your ship analyze the planktonic lifeforms in the ocean possessing a pseudo-crystalline structure, we assumed it was a native but no one could ever figure out how it would have survived the radiation sleet from the supernova.”
Maria sprang into action causing an array of holographic symbols to appear around her. In the space of a few minutes her ship scanned the plankton and unwrapped an entire history of her people encoded into the DNA of the single-celled creatures. Not only had her civilization left a record of their existence but Maria soon discovered that her exploration group had awaken her people enough to cause them to establish a colony in another galaxy. As the holographic images swirled around her I recognized the Large Magellanic Cloud, a small satellite galaxy of the Milky Way, as the place where her people now resided.
The despair that had literally hung over and surrounded Maria was gone. She had a purpose and desire to live again and I could tell our meeting would be over very soon. That is when she made an offer I could refuse in a trillion years.
“Josh Tanner, your patience and understanding has literally saved me. If I had not met you I would have ended my life just a few minutes after setting foot on my homeworld. I know well of your desire to see the universe so would you like to accompany me on the journey to my new home? I cannot promise when you will return to your Federation but it will be far sooner that the millions of years I have been away from mine.”
The bridge of Maria's starship consisted only of two chairs with mine seemingly forming out of nothingness within seconds of her bringing me aboard. The interior looked to be a hemisphere made of a transparent substance that allowed us to look out at the stars. Although, Maria told me the appearance of the bridge was just a mental construction of a form I was comfortable with. Without any ceremony she had the ship accelerate out into space slowing only momentarily after detecting a number of Starfleet vessels heading towards Cannaria. Maria had already linked my mind into her ship allowing me to know Commander Ansari was desperately trying to contact me. It surprised me to feel relieved that someone had actually heard my distress call when Maria's ship first entered orbit of Cannaria because at that time the lack of response had greatly unsettled me.
With just a few thoughts, I opened a channel to her and mentally gave a full first contact report including a copy of the information encoded in the DNA of Cannaria's plankton. I tried to resign my Starfleet commission but she refused and had the admiral in command of the USS Allegiance, the lead ship heading towards Cannaria, promote me to lieutenant. I barely registered that information because Maria had made the jump to warp and I looked in awe was my home galaxy receded behind me.