Saturday, March 26, 2016

A Heavenly Morning with the Ex-wife


(Author's Note: This is an experiment, so cut me some slack.)


Strictly speaking for myself, the most surprising thing I discovered about the Afterlife and Heaven, besides the fact that they actually existed and I ended up ascending instead of going down after I died, was that it has great cell phone service. Before I get off on the wrong track I'll just say Heaven is for the most part nothing like the old preachers and supposed holy men down on Earth ever imagined, but more about that later. But it was the pleasant chirping of my totally clear and reliable cell phone, the old flip open style, that awaken me from my blissfully restful sleep. One more little tidbit, everything in Heaven can be summed up as pleasant and blissful, naturally it should go without saying but because prevailing wisdom on Earth is so wrong about the place I just added that no one would get confused.

It was Saturday morning and the light of the sun was streaming through my apartment window providing a gentle and warm incentive to return to consciousness. Quick side note, yes Heaven for humans does look a lot like Earth with housing arrangements generally similar to what a person experienced while living, just exceedingly pleasant and cozy. I have weekends off from my job, yes you still have to work in Heaven, so I wasn't in any hurry to answer the thing. For several minutes I just stayed in my bed and stretched wishing these heavenly issued devices had a button allowing us still weary humans to turn them off.

No, the call wasn't the Chairman of the Board, one of the first things you learn on arrival is that the BIG GUY doesn't like the names mere Earthlings have given him over the centuries so he just goes by that title since it is something we can handle. But anyway, the Chairman is much too busy with his own affairs running the entire multiverse, nor was it any of his various angels, they are quite busy with their own duties.

Turns out the Chairman has discovered several of the most recent universes, those under twenty-something billion Earth years old, have an inherent design flaw requiring a huge software patch that has to work without rebooting the entire system, which would end the lives of untold trillions of intelligent lifeforms. The defect has something to do with the Higgs-Boson particle and that it decays far too soon. As for the angels, there are two groups of them, the first deals with those agents of the “Other Side” which amounts to a sort of Cold War that spans all realms of existence. A second smaller group of angels oversee how Heaven is run, which to to them is considered seriously crappy duty because they really don't like any mortal beings with humans near the top of the list. The analogy tossed around is that the angels liken it to humans having to babysit an over active slime mold.

But anyway, whomever was calling me was almost certainly human, I know only one extraterrestrial here in Heaven and while we're buddies I just don't see him calling me at home. As the chirping continued I couldn't decided if I really wanted to answer the thing, but curiosity was beginning to overwhelm me so I reluctantly rolled over and picked up the cell to read the name on the tiny screen. It was then that I uttered the closest thing to a melancholy sigh you can in Heaven, it was my ex-wife and since she didn't appear to want to give up on the call I was forced to answer the thing.

“Hello Diane,” I say trying to maintain the comfortable pleasant feeling that pervades all beings who reside in Heaven. “Just what do I owe the honor of this call my dear.” I finish hoping she didn't detect the all too mortal sarcasm trickling into my voice.

“Save the pleasantries Samuel,” she said back with her usual aplomb, “I need to met with you, it's about the kids down on Earth.”

“Damn, what's happened to the kids?” I ask suddenly worried.

“Nothing,” she said back harshly, “they're all still healthy and won't come our way for at least another fifty years.”

“Then what is the issue Diane? You know there is absolutely no way for us to influence them. Our children became adults before we died and even the grandkids are getting up there in years.”

“Never you mind,” she said, “just meet me at Le Cafe Paris.”

“The one in the French sector next the ocean?” I groan realizing my blissful morning was officially interrupted. Wanting to get this over with as soon as possible I agree to the location, ended the call, and rushed to get ready.

Another little fact about Heaven for humans is that it consists of several hundred planets, all many times larger than Jupiter, orbiting an array of stars in a complex pattern that every resident mortal, including many renown scientists, believe has some meaning. The best speculation is that the whole thing is a complex machine but neither the Chairman nor is winged minions have ever said one way or the other. Needless to say, there are other similar “machines” for all the other intelligent species, so many in fact it appears to be infinite.

Humans from the seventeenth century to the time I died in the early 2010's all share a single super-planet with the continents and islands divided up evenly. If that wasn't wild enough, humans run the whole thing with surly and bored angels keeping everyone above board and playing strictly by the rules. What it all amounts to is that varying sectors making up different eras, ethnic groups, religions, and nationalities living beside each other. Needless to say, it can be quite weird to live in an American sector with 1950's technology with your next door neighbor on one side being people from Ming Dynasty China and seventeenth century Persia on the other. When you think about it maybe the angels overseeing human interaction have a right to be pissed off about their assigned duties.

At least transportation across the heavenly super-planet is easy. I just used my cell phone to call for a taxi bubble, yeah it's exactly like it sounds. It's a bubble with four seats, comfortable bucket type made of rich Corinthian leather, controlled by a human driver – remember we all have jobs here.

My driver, or pilot turns out to be a guy named Blasius, an ancient Roman who fought in the second Punic War. He actually lives a couple of planets over but has been in Heaven long enough that he can transfer anywhere he wishes. That's also how I have my poker game with my extraterrestrial buddy, if you stay cool and cooperative after a couple of millennia the angels allow a being to get an unrestricted passport. My extraterrestrial buddy was originally from a planet in the Whirlpool galaxy 23 million lightyears from Earth. On his world, males are the submissive sex but can have up to fifteen wives depending on which of their planet's seven moon are full. An interesting evolutionary development complete with an overabundance of nagging females intent on literally biting his head off so it could be feed to the gestating offspring. He thinks my one ex-wife is adorable.

But anyway, just as soon as I get buckled in Blasius lifts off and we head east towards the French sector at about mach-10 where we both begin talking about our adventures while serving our respective nations. When I was alive I did four years in the active United States Army and did a tour over in Afghanistan after 9/11, a fact that Blasius finds funny as hell since he knows a guy who served there following Alexander the Great on his egotistical empire building adventure. Long story short, no matter the technological advances as far as humans are concerned somethings never change. After an all too relaxing conversation where we both bitch about idiotic junior officers and shitty food while in the field, Blasius drops me off in the French sector near the cafe where I will have breakfast with my ex-wife.

As I stroll by small shops and other cafes, I realize I should have told Diane I wasn't interested in seeing her. Upon death and arrival here after orientation most people link up with their immediate family but that wasn't the case with Diane or myself. Since neither of us were close with our respective families the bureaucrats, human type not angel, first put me on this particular super-planet and after Diane died they dropped her here as well. Not that we have similar living arrangements, since, like I mentioned earlier you generally get assigned living arrangements like you had on Earth when you died. But to some bureaucrat looking at the files of thousands of new arrivals our past relationship counted as family.

In Diane's case she got a nice McMansion in a seriously upscale neighborhood in a different sector. This is because of who she was married to on Earth at the time of her death, our former family dentist. As fate or whatever would have it while I was turning wrenches and working rotating shifts at one of the factories in our small Indiana hometown, Diane began hooking up with Dr. Stephen Dennis DDM. A fact I didn't learn about until after the bastard had cleaned my teeth several times and taken care of a couple of my cavities. You can't imagine how infuriating it is when you learn that the guy who regularly had his hands in your mouth was also boffing your wife at the local Motel Six a couple of miles down the road from his office. Top it all off, because some desk jockey in his office was never told to remove my name from the computer program that sent out reminders so for a couple of years after the divorce I got emails from his office telling me it was time for my semi-annual check up. I admit, there were dark moments when I would have killed the bastard had I chanced upon him in some dark alleyway.

On a side note, in case you're wondering it's really quite hard to end up in the “Other Place” after you die. Not only is there this forgiveness thing but the offenses that get you sent to hell are pretty extreme. You have to be on the level of a cold blooded murderer, serial killer, bloody homicidal dictator, abusing spouse or parent, or investment banker before the angels overseeing arrivals even begin to give your record a close examination. This attitude goes for religions as well, none of the senior management gives a damn about which book you follow as long as you weren't cruel to other living things and tried to make the world in which you were born a better place. As long as a person follows those two rules they are pretty much guaranteed to walk through the Pearly Gates.

Seemingly far too soon, I spot Diane sitting at one of the outside tables of Le Cafe Paris. For a second I consider turning around and heading back to the ocean front and having breakfast at one of the restaurants there but Diane spots me and begins jumping up and down calling my name. I admit, seeing Diane looking again like she did when she was thirty years-old brought back some urges I thought were long gone. One of the things they tell you upon arrival in Heaven is that your appearance defaults back to the time you were most healthy. For Diane it was the time right after the birth of our first child while I look like I did during my time in the army. 

“Alright Diane,” I say taking a seat at the table, “what's up with the kids, Peter hasn't bankrupted another business?” I ask thinking about our youngest son who honestly couldn't find his way out of a wet paper bag.

“No, Peter is fine and from the last report I bought, he's doing quite.” She says obviously upset while carefully picking up the fine china teacup and then taking a careful sip of the contents. Her movements are slow and I can see the hand holding the teacup shaking.

You might wonder why I have anything to do with my ex-wife considering how our marriage ended. It all boils down to her job here in Heaven that allows her to receive reports from Earth. Such information is expensive when available and contrary to what is believed by some dirt side, the departed do worry about those they left behind. Yeah, since the only reason I having anything to do with her is for news back home I'm screwing with Diane, probably not as bad as she did me while married but it's still wrong. The ends may in rare times justify the means but that doesn't make it moral.

“Then is the news about Ken or Beth or one of the grandkids? I ask not certain what the hell is up.

Diane was being infuriating and wasting my time, almost enough for me to say screw it and leave, no matter the cost. It was then that something clicked in me, a basic compassion for someone truly in pain that was so damn awkward it was painful. So, I slid my chair over and put my arm around the woman who I once thought I would live with until I died.

“Okay Diane, tell me what's going on down on Earth,” I say to her in what I hope is a soothing voice. She hesitates then leans into my hug and I find it strangely comforting, it feels like old, happier times.

“It's about Stephen,” she blurts out and begins crying.

A small amount of hate-filled joy creeps into my heart. I begin thinking Diane has discovered the bastard has cancer or was murdered, but no, it's nothing like that at all.

“I learned that Stephen is engaged to marry Carol, my best friend.” After that she breaks down into uncontrolled sobs. Carol was indeed Diane's best friend and I try to tell her that how the living carry on, that they make new lives after loved ones pass away. It was then that Diane let the other shoe drop.

“They were having an affair almost from the time he and I were married.” Diane said seemingly oblivious of the circumstances at how her own relationship began with the philandering dentist. So as I sat at a cafe table with my ex-wife it then that I wondered if it was possible to kill a person already in Heaven and what the punishment would be.

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.

"Change is the essential process of all existence." Spock

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Slipping the Surly Bonds-- Star Trek Fan Fiction


 (Author's note: After watching  Star Trek numerous times where the "best and the brightest" always end up saving galactic civilization I began wondering about the vast majority of individuals who just can't quite equal the likes of Kirk and Picard. I mean Starfleet has to have at least a few poor average souls to do the less glamorous jobs while the heroes are out making the galaxy safe for democracy. This is the story of one such individual.) 


As assignments go being stationed on Epsilon Cannaria 3 wasn't the worst place to find one's self. While it wasn't the same as being on a starship moving ever deeper into the unknown regions of the galaxy it was better than working as support staff on an asteroid outpost monitoring the Romulan neutral zone.

Given my lackluster academic record at Starfleet Academy, the asteroid posting was a real possibility. So I was mildly surprised to have drawn Cannaria 3 as my first assignment working with the Corps of Engineers on the planetary engineering team. The posting sounded even better when I learned the team's main outpost was on an island near the equator that was fast becoming a lush tropical jewel not unlike Jamaica was before the first humans ever discovered it.

However, I wasn't on the planet two months when I learned that despite the fact that my location would probably one day rival the tropical paradise planet of Risa, the duty on Cannaria 3 was mindbogglingly boring. Eighteen months later after doing the the same insanely simple tasks day after day I found myself actually considering the option of resigning my hard earn commission and heading back home to Earth. An outrageously foolish and drastic action, but when your team members generally consider you the group screw up, over time the option begins to have some appeal. Probably the main reason I stayed on Cannaria 3 was the fact I didn't want to return to Earth defeated and have all the people in my west Texas hometown laughing behind my back at my failure.

Even though the vast majority of people on Earth had long since become truly rational and forward looking individuals, there were still isolated communities all across the globe that wallowed in abject ignorance and suspicion of the greater, outside universe. Similar such places probably exist on Vulcan, Andor, and Tellar Prime but the regional and planetary governments do their best to keep them out of sight.

My little hometown of Holy Cross was a community that worked hard to separate themselves from the outside world believing that Earth's grossly technical civilization and involvement with other intelligent species was degrading our very humanity. Needless to say, such an introverted view of existence only promoted the same basic prejudices that humans had so readily applied to each other during the worst centuries of the nation-state era. Despite the possible embarrassment, the view of the United States and United Earth government was that as long as the people of places like Holy Cross obeyed the laws they were of course free to live any way they wished. That didn't stop various officials from time to time strongly urging them to immigrate to some colony world.

Strangely enough, the other reason I stayed on Cannaria 3 was that I felt some sort of kinship with the old and damaged world. The planet was about five-hundred million years older than Earth and once possessed a complex living biosphere like humanity's birthplace. About two-million years before though, Cannaria was blasted by radiation from a nearby supernova that except for single cell plants and animals that still thrive in the ocean, sterilized the planet.

Another aspect of Cannaria that I found awe-inspiring was the display of lights that seemed to demand my attention every morning.

My normal duties always start well before dawn but by the time the sun cleared the horizon the explosions of color spreading across the sky always pull me away. Truthfully, I fully understood the alternating pulsations of red, gold, green, and gold that detonated across the sky every morning was due to the odd mixture of gases in the upper atmosphere and the lower of Cannaria's two planetary magnetic fields interacting together.

The morning light show also made the ocean beyond the artificial lagoons, containing the terrestrial aquatic lifeforms that would one day be released into it, sparkled in a bizarre pattern that the first explorers to set foot on this planet thought might be a sign of intelligent life.

While the exact workings of the light show were still a mystery, the astrophysics types figured the planet's star, a K-class orange dwarf much like Alpha Centauri B, one of Earth's stellar next door neighbors, also contributed since its solar particle output was abnormally high. The only real difference being that Epsilon Cannaria was much older than all three stars of the Centauri system. As for the patterns in the ocean, that resulted from Cannaria's dominate native lifeform, a single cell animal whose outward structure had properties like that of quartz crystal, instinctively interacting with the morning light show.

Being a raw, inexperienced ensign none of my duties were that critical so every morning I allowed myself several minutes enjoy the sight. There was only so many things you could do standing beside a small booth that contained several video displays showing the chemical composition of the water and the health of the lifeforms in the lagoons I monitored. In fact, I became so caught up in the morning spectacle I didn't notice the person approaching me until she touched my shoulder.

“Hey Tanner,” Ensign Trinity Mariano said standing in front of me. Like all the personnel assigned to Cannaria 3, including myself, she was wearing Starfleet's hot weather uniform which consisted of a beige jumpsuit with short sleeves. No one in Starfleet could ever be called out of shape but some filled out their uniforms far more attractively than others with Trinity being a prime example.

“Commander Ansari sent me to look for you, she's tried to reach you by communicator but couldn't get an answer.”

One of the things different about the hot weather uniform was that the communicator was not the usual combadge worn on the left side of a humanoid's chest but a thin, square device attached to the left sleeve. “Commander Ansari,” I say after touch activating mine, “this is Ensign Josh Tanner, do you read me?”

Thankfully, the often troublesome device squealed in protest instead of working properly showing Trinity I hadn't mistakenly hit the personal override resulting in it shutting down. “Well,” I say to her, “I guess we'll be wearing the combadges again until these damn things can be redesigned.” This caused Trinity to look at me with hurt feelings since it was her boyfriend, Lieutenant Savion Murrell, the team's on-site engineering member, that managed things like communications and other technical issues.

“Don't blame Savion,” she said with just the barest hint of irritation flashing in her eyes. “You know we're the first people to field test these new communicators.”

“Whatever Trinity, just raise Commander Ansari for me so I won't end up on waste recycling detail, again.”

“I don't have to, she wants you in her office as soon as you can break away. Something's up on Danar 4 and she's been talking to the consortium running the terraforming operation there all morning. Looks like most of our team might be loading up on the runabouts and heading that way to help them.”

“No problem,” I said, “it will take me just a few more minutes to run salinity checks on the lagoon containing the small schooling bait fish and I'll head straight there.”

Trinity gave me an impersonal smile as she walked away, clearly telling me she was relieved that her role as temporary messenger was over. I on the other hand had long since finished all my checks and just told her that so I could watch her walk down the path back to the lagoons under her management.

Once Trinity was out of sight, I double timed down the path heading towards the complex of small structures making up both living quarters and support buildings for our work to establish a complex biosphere on Cannaria 3. As I ran, I noticed the ridge line above the complex where we landed the assorted air and space vehicles for our terraforming project. Sure enough, both of the runabout starships were being prepped for what looked like an immediate takeoff. What this sudden departure meant for me, I had no idea so I picked up he pace to get to Commander Ansari's office.


Luckily for me, Commander Ansari was in a good mood when I stepped through the door leading into her office. Ansari was of Arab heritage with dark, smokey eyes that cleverly hid the fact that her grandmother was Betazoid and while it was known she didn't have any telepathic nor full empathic abilities she did have a far better ability to detect bullshit than the average human.

“Hello Ensign Tanner,” she said in a friendly tone that could either mean good or bad things for me. “We received a message the Danar 4 station late last night our time that they are dealing with a mutated native virus that is playing hell with the Vulcan plant life they are trying to introduce on the surface and have asked for our help in trying to contain and then reverse the damage.”

Aye commander,” I said immediately thinking I would be on the team going with her. “Do you want me to get my gear ready for departure?”

“Ah no, Josh,” she said using my given name, never a good sign. “Since we're way ahead of schedule and our lagoons will be ready for full release in a matter of weeks I've decided you will be the one team member I leave behind.”

Either she felt or simply saw my reaction at what amounted to not being invited to the party on Danar 4 and quickly did her best to put a optimistic slant on me being marooned on a deserted planet. “Look Josh, leaving you here makes the most sense,” she said leaning on her desk. “The terrestrial lifeforms in both the lagoons and the experimental forests on the four continents are thriving due to the incredible work done by you and the other seven people on this team. But I need someone to stay behind and watch things while we help the Vulcan consortium and you are it. Just try to think of it as your first command which is what will be entered into your record when we get back.”

Of course, Commander Ansari made sense but there was still the eight-hundred megagram elephant in the room I couldn't seem to shake no matter how hard I tried. “Commander Ansari, I said ready to at least try and play the situation to my advantage. “If I do well while you guys are away, is there any chance I could get you to approve my wavier to return to Starfleet Academy for a second chance at Command School?

For any inspiring cadet enamored with the dream of commanding a starship, Starfleet Academy's Command School was the main and most attractive way of making that happen. Yes, there are alternate routes that lead to being a starship captain, but a graduate of Command School was automatically on the fast track for great things. Academy cadets with the proper grades and evaluations usually attended in their junior and senior years but for lackluster graduates like me, their commanding officer could send them back to attend if they felt they were ready.

This caused Ansari to lean back into her chair and while I didn't have any Betazed or Vulcan telepathic abilities encoded in my genome, I could tell she was trying to prepare her next words carefully. “Listen, Josh, I've reviewed your records and your grade point average at the start of your junior year was just too low to qualify for Command School. In fact, I read the counseling statement written by your adviser recommending you drop out of the officer study path and move over to enlisted. You're a great technician and are maturing into a good officer, but right now you're simply not ready for command school.”

“I understand Commander Ansari,” I said clearly disappointed. With nothings left to say Commander Ansari dismissed me and returned to preparing for their fast approaching departure.

It was early in the afternoon when the two runabouts engaged anti-gravity replusors and lifted off the landing pad to head out into space. By that time I had taken up residence in the building housing both the subspace communications array and our deep space sensor tracking system. In real time, I watched the runabouts engage impulse engines pushing them to half lightspeed until they passed into the outer reaches of the Epsilon Cannaria star system several hours later where they both then jumped to warp.

I had always been a bit of a loner but once the ships disappeared off the tracking screen I was almost overwhelmed by isolation. At least my training and sense of duty prevented me from dwelling on the feeling. Being in command of the terraforming operation meant I had to walk over to Ansari's office and do the final checks for the night on all the automated systems. Commander Ansari figured they would be on Danar 4 for about two months and I promised myself they would return with everything working just as it should.

****

A little over a month into my inglorious command everything was going about as good as I hoped. Just as the schedule called for I opened the lagoon holding the mature small bait fish into Cannaria's ocean and began monitoring their activity. Almost immediately they began feeding on both the native plankton analog and the terrestrial version that had long since established itself. The next step would be to open the lagoon containing the larger predator fish when they had matured enough to survive in the open ocean with the hope of establishing a self-sustaining predator-prey biosphere. The end result a couple of decades down the road would be to open the planet to colonization by the various members of the Federation.

Given my Starfleet career prospects, it would probably make sense for me to apply for a homestead since there was little chance I would ever leave Cannaria except to return home in disgrace to my superstitious community. Despite it all there was a bright side to my command consisting of me, myself, and I and it was that as long as things continued to proceed as planned I was fully capable of doing everything alone. Just as soon as that thought was born in my brain I had a bad feeling I had just jinxed myself, at least the problem that soon presented itself was nothing I could have really anticipated.

I usually spent my nights sitting on one of the hills looking out at the roaring ocean below and the majesty of the Milky Way galaxy above. It was there that I continued my idle fantasies of commanding a starship and pondered the questions inherent to all intelligent life. The most timely was what in hell happened to the Borg.

I was still at the Academy when they began their last invasion of the Alpha Quadrant. But instead of their usual pursuit of assimilating all intelligent life they attacked Federation, Klingon, Romulan, and all other inhabited worlds with the intent on sterilizing all life. The war lasted a little over a year with over thirty worlds destroyed and tens of billions killed. The fleets of the various interstellar governments fought back as best they could reducing the butcher's bill but that still resulted in over a hundred worlds suffering from that aftereffects Borg weapons fire.

It all culminated with thousands of Borg cube ships attempting final assaults on the core worlds of the Federation like Vulcan, Deneva, Andor, Tellar Prime, and even Earth. It was the efforts of the crews on the starships Enterprise, Titan, and Aventine that caused the Borg armada to stop dead in their tracks and leave Federation space for the Azure Nebula. It was there that the Borg were themselves defeated, them assimilated by a peaceful and ancient species that had somehow accidental caused them to be born in the first place over five thousand years ago.

I was feeling quite content on that hill feeling almost like I had found my place in the galaxy when my tricorder started squealing a shrill alarm that never in a million years I expected to hear. I picked up the small device and stunned to learn it was the deep space tracking sensors in orbit around Cannaria. An unknown ship had dropped out of warp and was heading straight for the Cannaria.

At first, I thought it might be one of the runabouts carrying Commander Ansari but when the automated tracking sensors tried to get a transponder signal from the craft it sent nothing back. What bothered me the most was that the incoming ship should have responded someway whether it was a Federation starship, Klingon warship, or any of near a hundred other recognized vessels. Given the regulations and customs of interstellar travel not identifying yourself upon entering a star system was an extremely dangerous practice, even in Federation space.

It took me several minutes to reach the building where the tracking system was housed and by that time the unknown vessel was just a few light-minutes away from Cannaria. While being the screw up on my team, I did know how to work the sensor network and began active scans of the approaching ship. Thankfully, it looked nothing like a Borg cube, Romulan warbird, Dominion warship, or Breen raider or any other possible hostile vessel. In fact, after having ran the shape through the Ship's Registry, it came out as a complete unknown for both current and past vessels stretching back to the twenty-second century when the Vulcans opened up their database to everyone when the United Federation of Planets was first established.

“Oh crap,” I say out loud just to hear my voice, “I'm damn near dead in the middle of Federation space and I'm about to have a first contact with an unknown species.” All Starfleet cadets get first contact training, there were just to many of us spread out on thousands of worlds not to make the education mandatory. But to be alone on a deserted planet while having a vessel almost as large as a Galaxy-class starship about to visit was way out of my league.

Falling back on my Academy training, I realized given my situation the first thing I had to do was try and open direct communication. Moving over to the communication console I attempted to establish both a digital and voice channel telling the unknown vessel it was approaching a Federation outpost. At the same time I radioed the first contact protocols on both the subspace and across a couple of hundred frequencies on the electromagnetic spectrum.

All my attempts to say hello were ignored or unheard, that usually meant something bad but sensors hadn't detected anything suggesting weapons were being charged or that the incoming ship even possessed them. Since nothing else was working, the last thing I did was try and call for help.

“This is the Federation terraforming outpost on Cannaria 3 calling any ship within range.” I said on the subspace distress channel. “An unknown vessel is approaching the planet, no hostile intent has been detected but the ship has not responded to any attempts at communication, assistance with this situation would be greatly appreciated.”

I got no immediate response but while Cannaria was deep in secured Federation space, it wasn't close to any populated or developed system. That being one of the reasons it had been left alone for so long. It didn't take long for me to realize that I would be all by myself when the unknown ship reached orbit. All I could do after that was just sit back and wait for my visitor, because to use the ancient sports analogy, the ball was now in his, her, or other's court.

The minutes ticked by with my silent visitor going into orbit around Cannaria. The sensors I had available to me were by no means the most sensitive so I couldn't tell if the ship had a crew or was just a robot vessel. But as I watched it circle the planet I couldn't help but get the impression whatever was controlling it was searching for something. Just when I thought the ship would just stay in orbit it did the unexpected and begin descending. When I calculated the course the ship was taking it ended on top of the three fusion reactors that supplied power to the base. That was my cue to haul ass to that location and see just what the hell was going to happen.

****

The island the terraforming base was located is about the size of Puerto Rico on Earth with the three fusion reactors built on a stable plateau almost dead center on the small landmass. It only took me a couple of minutes to reach the reactors by anti-gravity cycle, enough time to watch the ship make its final decent.

I stared in utter awe as the gigantic vessel hovered a few hundred meters above the complex. Looking through light amplified binoculars the main part of the ship looked like a silver raindrop. The fact that the surface seemed to ripple like quicksilver only added to that impression. But surrounding the ship were rigid looking segments that looked like pedals on a flower. The ship was obviously built by a civilization with technological skills greater than that of the every species in the Alpha Quadrant. As I stared up at the craft I wondered just what in the hell three standard fusion reactors meant to it whose design had really changed all that much from the late twenty-first century.

I continued to move closer to the point I was just several meters away from the helium-3 tanks that supplied fuel for the reactors when I saw movement. Before flying up from the coast I briefly considered grabbing one of the phasers from the weapons locker but thought against it. Whoever was giving me an unannounced social call would no more be scared of a single human armed with a hand phaser than I was of one of the annoying gnats that we had been forced to introduce on Cannaria as part of the terraforming project. But still, as I became surer that something was on the ground I found myself wishing I had decided differently.

I landed the cycle and proceeded to circle around the buildings in the direction of the movement. That's when I caught my first glimpse of the visitor. The being was mammalian humanoid and looked to be female but what struck the most was her resemblance to the elves from the late twenty-first century remake of the Lord of the Rings movies. She seemed almost impossibly tall and thin although I reminded myself evolution generally writes its own rules on the worlds where life appears. Even more odd to me was the look of utter sadness the elvish looking being possessed on her face.

I tried several times to announce my presence but it became clear that she was ignoring me. So I slowly walked closer to her figuring again she would have easily killed me had she been fearful of my intentions. When I was a meter away I thought to look in the direction she was staring. All I saw was the plain of the island we were on leading down to the ocean. It never occurred to me for a second that it wasn't the raw beauty she was looking at but a memory of a time long before humans were born.

“Where did it all go?” She suddenly asked me in perfect English. “Please tell me what happened to my planet?” She asked again with a raw sadness that could only come for a journey that had lasted far longer than I could hope to understand.

(Author's Note: Yes, circumstances have again forced me to stop here for the time being. My daughter has a birthday party to attend and after that I am sure my lovely spouse will have some other chore I absolutely have to accomplish or life as we know it will end disastrously. For any Trekkers who get this far the "Command School" I mentioned in this story while the concept has never been used in the series to my knowledge, it has been vaguely referenced in several novels. As for the Borg being defeated that occurred in the final book of a trilogy by David Mack entitled Star Trek: Destiny: Lost Souls. I highly recommend it, or even better buy  Star Trek: Destiny: The Complete Saga. )     

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Nomad Feet- Short Weekend Trip to the Coast



My wife and I had to drive down to Edisto Island a couple of weekends ago to visit her former boss due to a family tragedy. After our visit, we drove around looking at the place with me getting out and doing an all too short of a walk on the beach. Being the off-season, the island had that quiet and secluded feel I use to get walking around Myrtle Beach during the same time of the year.  

Serious retro post office located at Adams Run. Back in the 1970's both Pawleys Island and Murrells Inlet, South Carolina had similar small mail outposts that oozed character. Then there was the massive construction in those areas during the 1980's with the federal government being forced to build a larger but tasteless glass and brick structure to handle the influx of new people. Whenever I find myself driving by that new post office I figure the first hurricane to hit that area will utterly destroy the thing. 

After leaving Edisto, we hit Charleston for a few hours and ended up having lunch at a place called Rue De Jean on John Street. For reasons I can't remember we decided to eat inside, which in hindsight I feel was a mistake. One of the things you must consider when you visit Charleston is that from late spring to the middle of fall the heat and humidity will wear the average person out. During that visit the temperature was in the 60's and the humidity was almost non-existent. It would have been a perfect time to eat outside. 

Rue De Jean had great food but the inside was a little dull and stuffy for me.

I had the shredded beef sandwich. As I mentioned, it was quite good by the service was a little slow there and I had already filled up on bread.

Saw this food truck on King Street, I seriously geeked out on the name. For those who aren't into Star Trek the name is a play on a Vulcan greeting. I felt even worse after reading the menu, they had lobster tacos!!!!!!
Without a doubt, Charleston has the best and most interesting restaurants east of New Orleans. As we walked I saw this place and instantly wished we had tried it. 

A small garden somewhere on Meeting Street. My wife has been doing a lot of walking to lose weight and our trip that weekend messed up her usual schedule so she tried to make it up there. Given her NORMAL day job, she get to leave her office and walk during breaks. I on the other hand work nights and can only really have significant walks during my weekends. This has me at a disadvantage and she about gave me a heart attack trying to keep up with her. Barely had time to take any photos. 



After each visit to Charleston I come away with the feeling that at some point I will be too old old, ugly, and uncool to be allowed inside the city limits. At one point I found myself walking behind a cluster of people who looked like models from a fashion shoot. I've got to admit, I miss the time decades ago when Charleston was a sleepy little southern town. 
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Some place back on King Street I saw this guy sitting down and playing the violin. Yeah, I rushed over and dropped a couple of bucks in his tip jar. Funny thing, as I crossed the street the guy saw me coming and got this scared look on his face almost as if he thought I was coming to mug him. Yeah, I can have that effect on some people. I'm 6'-5", with a build and look that has been compared to a disgruntled drill sergeant who was looking forward to taking out his frustrations on his trainee soldiers. I don't mind too much, because for some reason babies and dogs always think I'm cuddly and cool.