Location: Boston, the Gateway to the Galaxy
Re: Writing Challenge- The winning entries.
February/March 2013 Independence challenge -
Independence begins and ends in early 2192, for Leah Benson and her counterpart as they face challenges in both universes.
Baruch atah Adonai eloheinu melech ha’alom ha’motzi lechem min ha’aretz.
The ancient words were like a talisman, but Leah Benson had learned to never, ever say them out loud. It wasn’t that prayer was illegal – for it wasn’t. At least, it wasn’t strictly illegal – but rather it was because, to pray openly, one would make the mistake of admitting that one might not be thinking of the Empress Hoshi Sato 24/7.
Someone was always watching, and listening. As the Empress had aged, her secret network had grown, and changed. First, it was Mayweather and his cronies. But he’d gotten himself killed during a slave uprising on a rock called Lafa II. Torres would have been next up, but he had met his end there, too.
Their children had grown up – four of them. One from Mayweather, another most likely from Torres – or maybe Ramirez – a third from the disgraced Tactical Officer, MacKenzie, and one from a time traveler named Ritchie Daniels. There were two other royal children, but they and their father, Chip Masterson, were gone, and it was forbidden to ever speak of them. Leah – or anyone else – would be facing the agony booth if Takara or Takeo Masterson was ever mentioned.
But the others were adults, and were being groomed to take over. Jun, who was the son of Daniels, had learned communications. Arashi, who was either the son of Torres, or maybe of Ramirez, he ran the treasury. MacKenzie’s son, Kira, ran the science station. And Mayweather’s own, the youngest, Izo, ran the secret police.
None of them were pilots, though, and so that was one reason why Leah had a job at all. But she was also kept on because, being a lesbian, she was not in competition as the Empress, in her sixties, continued to try to make conquests of younger and younger crew members. This all happened despite the fact that there was an official royal consort, Andrew Miller, a guy who had been a guard and had then been in science, before he’d been, eventually, tapped for his current, somewhat earthier role. Leah was not in competition for Andrew or any of them.
But Leah still knew enough not to pray in public.
Baruch atah Adonai eloheinu melech ha’alom ha’motzi lechem min ha’aretz.
“And now I will recite the blessing over the bread in English,” announced the Starfleet Rabbi, Leah Benson. She stood at the front of a large room, full of dignitaries. There were two challahs in front of her. One was traditionally made. It was braided and its shiny crust meant that it had been brushed with an egg wash before baking. The other was more of a loaf and did not have a shiny crust – it was vegan. “Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.
“Thank you, Rabbi Benson,” President Jonathan Archer nodded and Leah sat down with other Earth religious representatives. “Today is an auspicious occasion, for today marks a day of complete cooperation among our species. When we created the Coalition of Planets, back in 2155, we hoped that eventually it would begin to accept new member states. And then when we signed the Federation Charter in 2161, that hope was renewed. But it wasn’t until now, on April fourth of 2192, that that hope has finally come to fruition. Distinguished guests,” he smiled at his audience, “I am pleased to announce that, by unanimous vote, we are admitting three new worlds.”
Tellarite Representative Gral caught Leah’s eye for a moment. He had an impressive beard which reminded her of ancient rabbis. Then again, his wife was also bearded.
“The three new member worlds are,” Archer continued, “the Caitian home world, Denobula, and the Xyrillian home world. Please join me in welcoming them to the United Federation of Planets!”
Ambassador Soval of Vulcan led the applause, gesturing slightly to Jonathan’s aide, a young Vulcan man.
The Andorian representative, T’therin, stood. “With nearly twice as many member worlds, the work will not be halved, I fear. But I welcome the added burdens, as they are shared. Let us break bread!”
He took a hunk of the challah from a server and ate it with gusto. The vegan version was served to the Vulcan delegation and they, too, ate as did everyone else.
Other representatives of Earth’s many religions performed blessings over other parts of the meal and the banquet, including a Wiccan blessing over the gathering itself, a Catholic prayer over the wine and a Hindu verse was recited over nuts and sweets that were also passed around.
The Starfleet Imam was sitting near Leah. “You are wearing a most agreeable outfit today.”
“Oh, this old thing?” she joked, for she was in a modest evening gown. “You look good, too, Mahmout.”
“My wife picked out the tunic.”
“My wife dressed me, too,” Leah admitted.
The Buddhist monk, resplendent in saffron robes, gave a thumbs up. “Both women have good taste,” interjected the Starfleet Protestant Interdenominational Chaplain.
On the ISS Defiant, there were neither coalitions nor official alliances or federations. Your allegiance could only, openly, go one way.
Leah ate her modest meal in the mess hall. At least there had been bread. For so long, there hadn’t been any. Their meals had often been little more than gruel, unless the MACOs had gone out hunting.
“How ya doin’?” asked one of the older Security guys – Josh Rosen.
“All right,” she replied quietly.
“This seat taken?” She waved at it as she ate, barely looking up. “We’re gonna go hunting again soon,” he told her. “Rumor has it; we’re taking a detour before we head into Romulan space. I hear the Empress wants us all hopped up on protein before we conquer ‘em.”
“I could get you some of whatever we bring down,” he offered.
“I got nothing to trade you for it,” Leah pointed out.
“C’mon,” he coaxed, “look, there aren’t a lotta honeys on board, yanno.”
“Yeah, I noticed.”
“So, you and me?” She was a good fifteen years older than him – already in her mid-seventies – but the Defiant had a horribly skewed gender ratio. Less than one-tenth of the crew was female. In part, that was the fault of the Y Chromosome Skew, a genetic mutation that assured that about three-quarters of all pregnancies would result in the births of sons. But the other reason was the Empress herself – she didn’t want a lot of bedroom competition. Keeping other women off meant that even very young fellows would follow her around like trained Rottweilers. “Well?” he persisted after a while. Anything seemed better than absolutely no one.
She looked up from her food. “I got nothin’ for ya.”
The light dawned. “Oh. I guess all you pilot honeys are. I remember Madden, that old night shifter, she was. And Pike, she’s still the day shifter, I think it don’t matter to her,” he opined.
Leah raised an eyebrow but kept on eating. Pike had been on her radar for a while, but that woman always seemed to be busy, or working it.
“Listen,” he said softly, “even if you can’t or won’t trade, uh, that,” he looked around furtively, “I’m sure you got other stuff.”
“You know, intel. Or maybe you could get a lead on something or other. You pilot the shuttles sometimes and do recon, right? And you were in Tactical for a while there, too. You’ve got more going on upstairs than most.” She nodded in acknowledgement and tore off a hunk of her bread and dipped it into her food. “Well,” Josh continued, “you get the lay of the land before most people, right?”
“And you know this, and you could tell me. And in trade, whenever I bring down game, I’ll make sure you get some. And you know I can help you out in case anyone gets too, er, frisky.”
“Why me?” Leah finally asked. “And don’t tell me it’s ‘cause of the lack of honeys, ‘cause there’s Porter, and there’s Socorro, too. Balcescu, even. All of ‘em are a lot younger than me. I’ll be eighty in less than half a decade, if I should live so long.”
He looked both ways before speaking. Izo Mayweather Sato, the Empress’s youngest, was a little too close for comfort. He came over. “Hey, Rosen, you’re on the next hunt, right?”
“Uh, yeah, Izo.”
“Better not screw it up.”
“Never, sir,” Josh spat out the second word. Izo and his siblings were little more than privileged brats.
“Just don’t. And Benson?”
“What?” Leah snarled. She had no love lost for the Sato clan, either.
“Come to my quarters and I’ll give you a job to do.”
Leah knew what kind of a job that would be. “I have to do checks on the shuttles,” she lied. “Rosen here is going to assist.”
“That can wait,” Izo commanded.
“Your mother,” Leah played the trump card, “insisted that we do the checks. It’s in preparation for the Romulan invasion.”
“I’ll see about that.” Izo flipped open his communicator.
“You don’t wanna do that,” Josh cautioned.
“Your mother’s off with Miller and I think Crewman Tiberius Kirk. You know what happens when she gets disturbed in the middle of those kinds of goings on.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Izo bragged, “I’m her son.”
“And you’ve got three older brothers, in case you’ve forgotten,” Leah reminded him even though, technically, he actually had four older brothers and a sister.
“So if she gets royally pissed off enough,” Josh cautioned, “She’s got three other choices for the succession.”
Leah shot him a look. Don’t lay it on too thickly, her brain screamed. Outwardly, she maintained a veneer of calm. “I gotta go do those checks. This is all fascinating, but those shuttles won’t check themselves.” She got up. “Coming?” she asked Rosen.
They left the loud, dirty, crowded mess hall as Izo stood there, wondering what to do next and wondering if maybe his dear old mother didn’t need him so much after all.
“For our allies,” President Archer stated, “I suppose it’s a little strange to be showing you some of our many faiths. But we decided on this for a reason.”
Ambassador Soval rose. “Unlike in many other cultures, humans do not have just one belief system. Rather, there are several, some of which are represented here this evening. Wars have been fought over these religions. Yet they survive.” He sat back down.
Representative Gral got up. “These faiths – many of which are conflicting – have made peace. Let us hear from them.”
“In my faith,” stated a representative Catholic priest, “we were originally persecuted for our beliefs. When the religion was very young, it was nearly wiped out, as Christians were thrown to lions.”
The Caitian representative asked, “Lions?”
President Archer smiled a little. “They’re felines, Representative Gopalahr.” A nod to his aide and the young Vulcan man showed a PADD to Gopalahr.
“A few centuries after we were persecuted, we turned around and did it to others,” the Catholic priest confessed. “During a time period referred to as the Inquisition, heretics, both real and imagined, were often burned to death. Jews and Muslims were slaughtered for our view of piety.” He sat down.
The Imam got up and picked up the thread of the narrative. “My faith,” began Mahmout, “it was also both the persecuted and the persecutor. It depended, often, upon location and the date in history. We conquered much of a continent called Europe. In part, the Inquisition was in response to that. And there were innocents, too, who were killed during the Christian Crusades. Those were brutal times.” He sat down, shaking his head a little.
Other representatives of the Earth’s religions stood and offered what was essentially testimony of how they had treated other faiths, or they had been treated. Finally, it was Leah’s turn to speak. “The Jewish people have often been a paradox. We refer to ourselves as the Chosen People, yet that seems to have created so much resentment over the millennia that we often wonder whether this being chosen business is at all positive. And we have been conquerors, and slaveholders, and annexers of territory. We have neither a monopoly on suffering, nor on causing it. Our hands are far from clean.” She, too, sat down.
President Archer again spoke. “I know that this may seem strange, but we are showing you our many faiths, warts and all, as a way of demonstrating to you that we understand differences. And we understand ideologies and even a bit of fanaticism. As we have gone into the greater community of space, we have learned that that fanaticism, and those kinds of ideologies, and certainly there are differences, and all of these things are out here. They are all magnified when we have misunderstandings. It is painfully easy to lose our way.”
He paused and cleared his throat a bit. “But these faiths also do an enormous amount of good. They were the first of our philosophies, and often were the very beginnings of our sciences. They were our first charities, and our first governments at times. Even during the harshest of times, such as during our Third World War, they were often our only social safety net. They offer comfort to the bereaved and can provide a basic moral path for the unsure. And they have even adapted over time, and have learned to embrace not only each other, but even the skeptical agnostic and the fervently nonbelieving atheist.”
He paused again briefly. “We offer then as a snapshot of our evolution as a civilization and as a symbol of our adaptability as a people.” He looked around the room, as there were not only the member states’ representatives, but there were even people there who represented other species that had not yet joined their new alliance. “We also offer them up as a means of communicating to you that we are open to working with people at all stages of development. We want you to know that space is not a monolith. It is not all about humans, or Vulcans, or Andorians, or Tellarites. The Federation is not in the business of making the galaxy just like the Alpha Quadrant. Daranaeans aren’t going to be chastised for not being Caitians. Enolians are not going to be persecuted for failing to be Xyrillians. And the Xindi will not face destruction because they just aren’t Denobulans. We have set aside our internal differences, but we also celebrate them. We have not forgotten them. And we feel, truly, that they should be celebrated rather than swept aside.”
His eyes scanned the room, taking in a Calafan representative, a Takret, a Tandaran, a Vissian and more. “Our differences are our strengths. Together, I am certain; we will be greater than the sum of our parts. On behalf of all of us – on Earth, on Denobula, on Tellar, on the Xyrillian home world, on Vulcan, on the Caitian home world and here on Andoria, we offer a myriad of opinions and cultures. All are important, and all are to be maintained. We are strong together, as we celebrate infinite diversity in infinite combinations. And I thank you.”
The shuttle bay was quiet. The two of them worked together, with Leah on her back, working on the underside of one of the shuttles. “Hand me that spanner,” Leah commanded as Josh stood nearby and pretended to take notes on his PADD.
“Uh, sure. Listen,” he began, “I wanna thank you for including me. Izo is, well, let’s just say of the four of them, I put him at number three for my choices to become the next Emperor.”
“I take it Arashi is number four,” she murmured as she worked.
“You got it. I bet he’d set up listening stations and hidden cameras. About the only reason we don’t have those now is the Empress doesn’t like a record of when she makes her conquests.”
“Right. You got a preference between Kira and Jun?”
“Not particularly,” he admitted. “Kira is at least a little bit influenced by MacKenzie, but he’s a bit of a wimp. If the Empress gets her hooks into the Romulan Star Empire, I doubt he’d be able to hold it.”
“Perhaps. Hand me the magnetic wrench.”
“No, to the left. Your other left.”
“Oh, uh, yeah. As for Jun, he’s kind of a wild card. I think he’d –”
The door swished open and he immediately stopped talking.
There were two people coming in – the day shift pilot, Shelby Pike, and the Chief Engineer, Frank Ramirez. They didn’t see Josh and Leah, and looked around furtively, and then kissed.
From their hidden vantage point, Leah and Josh exchanged a look.
“I wish we could meet more openly,” Shelby breathed.
“C’mon,” Frank encouraged, “the shuttles are clear. We can do it in one of ‘em.”
“They aren’t clear,” Josh announced, showing himself and drawing his phaser.
“Oh!” Shelby exclaimed. “We didn’t know.”
Leah got up and came over. “Listen, you’re not exactly being careful about this.”
“Don’t tell her,” Frank requested. Nobody had to be told who that was.
“You owe us,” Josh declared, resheathing his phaser.
“What is it that you want?” Shelby inquired, stepping a little closer to Frank and putting a hand on his arm. Frank was taller than Josh, but Josh was armed.
Leah thought quickly. “I, I wanna get out of here. We’ll stay quiet, but I’ve gotta get off this boat. I don’t wanna be eighty and have Izo Sato leering at me. I hardly know why he’s bothering.”
“I think he’s looking for someone who’s easy. He seems to need a success,” Shelby mused. Leah shot her a look, so she added, “Hey, I’m not the one who’s really thinking this.”
“And you?” Frank asked Josh. “You looking to head out, too?”
“I dunno. But I’m not getting any younger, either. At some point, I will probably get dumped on some rock. I’d rather at least get my choice of rock. Maybe this can be a test run for that.”
Shelby and Frank moved over to the side. He quietly said to her, “This might be a way for us to figure out our own endgame. I’m not interested in dying here.”
“I feel the same,” she replied. “But I say we only do it if we can learn something, and turn it to our advantage. If we get in trouble, I’m not taking the fall for either of ‘em.”
“Agreed,” He murmured, “I’ll take a risk, sure, but I’m not sticking my neck out for them.”
“A practice run, huh? Well it might not just be a practice run for you. Huh. None of that’ll be easy,” Shelby said more loudly as she and Frank returned to where the others were. She paused for a moment, and then added, “But it’s not impossible.”
“A shuttle could, I dunno, crash. It could be cover for all sorts of things. There are all kinds of ways for things to … fail,” Frank thought out loud.
“Where are we going next?” Josh asked.
“Orders came down today,” Shelby reported, “We’re going to Andoria for a hunt before heading to the Romulan Star Empire.”
“We can work with this,” Leah decided. “Let’s get there – I’d estimate two days?”
“One and a half if we go full-tilt,” Shelby stated. “And we all know she’d rather go full-tilt.”
“Okay,” Josh said, “we got less than two days to plan this.”
“Why are you two working together, anyway?” Shelby inquired.
“We’re members of the same tribe,” explained Josh. “There aren’t a lot of us left. My, heh, my mother sent me a last message last week, before she died. She said I should look out for anybody in the tribe.”
“That explains it, then,” Leah murmured to herself. Josh had never taken an interest in her well-being before.
“The Empress’ll put it all together, you know,” Frank cautioned. “Well, don’t look at me. Even if Shelby and I stay quiet, someone else is bound to figure all that out.”
“Then we’ll have to create a diversion, or some sort of a pretext,” Leah mused.
“The hunt,” Josh decided, “that’ll be the cover. Plus it’s cold there. That’s gotta be good for something.”