Endymion

ENDYMION

A Star Trek Original Series Short Story by John Burkitt chakal@catbox.com

[Captain’s Log, Star Date 5032.4.  The Enterprise is observing Gamma Lyrae, a star that is about to go nova. While we are here, Dr. Haupmann is conducting detailed sensor sweeps of Gamma Lyrae IV, a Class G planet that was once Class M. Its surface is marked with several large features which may be evidence of a lost civilization. Due to increased solar flare activity I denied her request to send down a landing party.  We will gather what data we can from orbit, then put a lot of room between us and that ticking time bomb. Frankly, the sooner the better.]

Dr. Janet Haupmann, ship’s archeologist, looked balefully at her view screen.  “Spock, there is extensive cratering on all the features.  The ruins must have been abandoned for millennia.”

Spock calmly continued his mapping, but not without the usual reality check.  “We don’t know that they are ruins.”

“There are a number of features that join into lines several kilometers long. Something that precise at that scale means intelligent life.” Janet sighed deeply.  “And it’s all going to be gone in a week.”

“Six days, fourteen hours and twenty-nine minutes.  That is adequate time to make a full catalog of scans.”

“The isn’t about data, Spock.  This world used to be full of life and now it’s dead.  Soon the planet itself will disappear. I find it very depressing.”

Her Vulcan companion continued his work without even looking up.  “Why should it be more depressing than a museum? You enjoy museums.”

“It’s not the same thing.”

“And why not?”

Haupmann was pensive for a while. She found it challenging to frame her gut feelings in a purely logical form, but did her best. “Most things in a museum have had an effect on the present. They were steps in a cosmic journey leading us from where we were to where we are. But this world died without a trace and nobody mourns its loss.”

Spock looked up this time.  His human side told him that she needed reassurance.  “It appears that you mourn its loss, Doctor. If like the Nazca Lines they were meant to be seen from heaven, your presence here gives them the meaning they once lacked…assuming they are structures.”

Janet showed the first hint of a smile she had for hours.  “For someone without emotions, you are quite a philosopher.”

“Surak was a great philosopher and he taught us to purge our emotions to save ourselves.”

“Then do you mind if I ask you a serious question?”

“It would be a nice change,” Spock said.

“Without emotions, how can you feel a drive for self preservation? Why do you care if you live or die? I don’t mean that as an insult but I wonder sometimes.”

“No insult taken, Doctor.  The irony of logic is that every logical system is based on an arbitrary assumption, that which we believe, or desire, to be true.  The Kir’Shara assumed that Vulcan lives and culture were worth saving, though it could not be proven logically. Nineteen centuries later we are no closer to proving it than Surak was.”

“So Vulcans wonder about the meaning of life?”

“We would prefer to base our logic on something less arbitrary. In that sense, yes.”

“Spock?”

“Is this another serious question?” he asked with a hint of impatience.

“I’m reading an energy spike.  There is a small energy source on the planet’s surface registering in the upper EM band. Its power signature is much like our emergency force fields.” She adjusted the vernier dial to compensate for signal drift and increased the gamma to isolate and enhance the pattern. “Take a look at this.”

Spock glanced into the eyepieces. “Yes, Doctor, I see it.” Spock looked up. “Are you sure it’s not a sensor reflection? You may be looking at a mirror image of us in the ion storm.”

“I don’t think so. It’s too small and it doesn’t parallel our trajectory.”

“Agreed. We must tell the Captain.”

***

Kirk looked grimly around the table at the faces of his senior staff.  He loved surprises, but not those that added to the length or complexity of a mission.  “Are you saying someone’s down there?”

“The force field was carefully masked,” Spock said.  “It is strong enough to screen out the solar radiation, but it will breach when the star goes nova.”

Janet nodded.  “We launched a Class 4 probe.  We learned that the field was holding back an area of atmosphere with 70 percent nitrogen, 25 percent oxygen, and 5 percent carbon dioxide at about 800 millibars.  We also detected one life sign, possibly humanoid.”

“Possibly?” Kirk asked. “So you’re not even sure?”

“It’s very faint.”

“How do you know it’s not an observer? Maybe other races want to record this explosion.”

“If it is an observer, there is no ship down there and no other vessels in this quadrant. It may have been left by the people that lived here. It may be of significant scientific value, and as Staff Archeologist I should be in the landing party.”

“My responsibility is the safety of this crew,” Kirk said.  “That includes you.”

“With all due respect sir, I came out here looking for knowledge, not safety.  I need to see what’s in that cave and I’m willing to take the risk.”

Kirk looked over at McCoy.  “What’s your thought on it, Bones?”

“My medical ethics are clear, Jim.  Anyone on that planet needs to come out of there now.  If there is even the possibility of intelligent life there, our duty is clear. If you can’t beam him…her…it…out alone, let me go with you, and let’s keep it short.  The shorter the better.” He glared at Dr. Haupmann and added, “Nothing in the Hippocratic Oath says we have to waste time in that hell hole unwrapping mummies or gluing broken jars. Janet, when I say it’s time to go, I don’t mean ‘in a minute’, I mean ‘now.’ One quick solar flare and we’re cooked.”

Kirk glanced over at his chief engineer.  “Scotty, can we do this?”

“Aye, sir.  But we’d better get it done and over.  That star is getting ready to blow, and it’s starting to interfere with ship’s systems.  The ion storms are not random, and chances are you have a 4 hour window of opportunity.”

“Four minutes if I can help it,” McCoy grumbled. “Make that four seconds.”

“I’ll monitor the XM band. At the first sign of trouble I’m beaming you out without waiting for a how-de-do…Sir.”

Kirk sighed and looked up briefly at the ceiling.  “If we’re going to do this, we might as well do it right.  Spock, Haupmann, Bones, meet me in the transporter room with a security detail of two.  We can only hope this person is glad to see us.”

***

Beaming into a new environment is always apprehensive. Given the hostile conditions of the planet a few meters away, it was doubly so. The security guards checked the perimeter, the Captain checked the environment, and Doctor McCoy checked himself, reluctant enough at having his molecules sent through space at the best of times. But Janet Haupmann was immediately transfixed by the wonders she saw in the beam of her palm light. It was a natural cave, but it was anything but natural inside. A large, unadorned stone slab had been erected in the middle of the room, a smooth deep green malachite polished to a high gloss, covered with deeply incised and gilded letters that were not any script in the Federation database. The number, complexity and placement of the symbols suggested they were pictographic like Japanese rather than alphabetic. Standing next to it was a metallic stele with more writing on it, and a map matching the features that appeared on the surface of the planet, but with much richer detail and small interlacing lines that might represent roads or airways. Janet scanned the stele and identified it as the source of the force field.  Her preliminary scans revealed that, despite their tidy appearance, the objects were roughly six million years old.  Janet started to touch the stele it but felt a slight tingle in her fingertips and withdrew her hand.  “These would look great in a museum.”

“Only when we understand its energy source,” the Captain said quickly.  “It might be harmful to life, or it just might not want to be moved.”

“A wise precaution,” Spock added, sweeping the stele with his tricorder.  “I’m reading an energy surge. It appears to be scanning us.”

At that moment several recessed light sources in the cave sprang to life.  The air began to stir and had the faint fragrance of blossoms.  The security detail pulled their phasers and began to look around the room.  Spock stepped closer to the stele and held out his tricorder.  “It acknowledges our presence.  I advise that you do not threaten it.”

Kirk’s own phaser had managed to find its way into his palm, and it was with greatest reluctance that it went back to his belt.  “Acknowledges us or caught us trespassing?”

“I do not believe we are in danger, Captain.”  Spock looked around.  “The environment has been adjusted to compensate for our additional demands.  The pressure has increased to 1000 millibars.”

McCoy said, “All the more reason to finish our rescue and get out of here.  Perhaps you want to stay a while, Janet, but the Captain belongs on the bridge.  In case you’ve forgotten, that star out there is getting ready to blast this rock into space dust.”

“For once I completely agree with you, Doctor,” the Vulcan said.  “The life sign is strong now, and it is coming from further down the passage.  We should stay together until we know its intentions.”

***

There was another chamber leading off from the main area, separated by nothing more substantial than a bead curtain.  With her exuberance overcoming Starfleet protocol, Janet pushed the veil aside and stepped quickly into the room.

“Oh my God!”

Kirk came through behind her and looked upon the scene.  The walls were painted in lapis lazuli with a pattern of gold stars across the ceiling. In the center of the small room was a raised bier with a cushion of red velvet, and laying on it with hands clasped across his chest was a handsome humanoid male. He was olive skinned with black shoulder length hair, wearing a toga of purple covered with a spider web of gold threads and precious stones. A wreath of gold laurel leaves was on his brow and his toga was fastened with an enormous ruby broach. The sight was both surreal and indescribably beautiful.  Dr. McCoy had stepped in and began to scan him.  “He’s alive,” the doctor gasped. As his probe continued to scan the sleeper, McCoy said slowly, “These readings seem to indicate that he is remarkably healthy for a man his age.”

“And that age is?” Janet asked.

“According to his physical condition, about twenty five.  According to the rate of Carbon 14 decay in his matter…six million years.”

“Six million years??” Janet lowered her tricorder. “Six … MILLION years?”

“I know, Janet. His DNA should have degraded, he should have hair and nails like a Denebian yak, and there is no way he could have enough stored calories to live that long, and yet here he is.”

“Perhaps he’s in stasis,” Spock said. “The Slavers were known to possess such technology.”

“There is no power source in this bed. Besides that, I’m reading a heartbeat. No, there must be another explanation, but I’ll be damned if I know what it is.”

Spock added, “He appears to be a ruler. Perhaps he was responsible for some of the structures on this planet.”

“There’s one way to find out,” Janet said.  “May I have the honor?”

“Are you sure you should do that?” Kirk asked. His tone suggested an order, not a suggestion.

“We have to wake him sooner or later,” McCoy said. “When he wakes up, he should be somewhere familiar, not in Sick Bay.”

“Agreed,” said Kirk, stroking his chin. “Just be careful. I have a bad feeling about this.”

As Janet started to wake him, security had their phasers at the ready.  McCoy said, “Put those things away. He’s unarmed, and you may frighten him.”

Janet gazed into the sleeper’s face for one more moment, contemplating the gulf that divided them, then she touched his shoulder.

The man opened his eyes, looking up at Dr. Haupmann. Blinking his eyes in the bright light, he said, “Beloved, is it really you?”

“I am Janet Haupmann from the Starship Enterprise.”

He rose quickly and looked around, alarmed at her and the rest of the landing party.  “Did she bring you?”

“I brought them, yes.”

“Not you.  Her.”

Spock addressed the man directly.  “Sir, you may not be aware of this, but your planet is about to be destroyed by its sun.”

“My planet?  Which one?”

“This one.  Perhaps you call it ‘The World.'”

The stranger looked puzzled for a moment.  “The world?  It’s about to be destroyed by the sun?”  He glanced about at the faces surrounding him as if to get a hint of what had transpired.  “Have the people offended her?  Will they not atone for their sins?”

Spock patiently answered, “There are no people left.  There have been no people here for millennia.  You are the last man left.”

He looked crossly at the Vulcan.  “You toy with me, Sir.  Besides, your presence here is proof that I am not the last man in the world.”

The man got up from his bed and went to the bead curtain, breasted it quickly, then went to the mouth of the cave.  He stood there mutely for a moment as the view before him sank in.  The rocks were bare and desolate, glowing dully in the light of the dying star. “The grass,” he stammered at last.  “The trees, the clouds…the temple…where is it??  Where is everyone?? What has happened to the sun??”

Janet Haupmann rested her hand gently on his shoulder.  “Have you really been asleep that long?”

“That long?  How long?”

“Several thousand of your years at least.”

His face blanched and he looked unsteady on his feet.  “Several thousand?” He rested his hand on the wall to steady himself. “Has she abandoned us?”

“Where is who?” McCoy asked, holding a hypospray in case it was needed.

“Her.  Celeste.”

“Your wife?”

“Yes.  I am her consort.”

“Is she some kind of queen?”

The man looked at McCoy impatiently.  “Celeste! The GODDESS.”

“Oh,” the doctor said, tugging at his ear?a nervous habit.  “Forgive me. I should have known.”

“This is a bad wakening.  I must go to the temple and ask for guidance.”

The man started toward the stele as if to touch it.  Kirk quickly but gently grabbed his arm before he could make contact.  “Hold on, friend.  If you open that door, you’ll flood this whole room with radiation.  You’ll be dead before you take ten steps outside.”  The Captain patted the man on the back.  “We come here from a far off place. My name is Jim.  Who are you?”

“Aramis,” the man answered.  “I would say that I am glad to meet you, but you bring bad tidings, Jim.”

“Understood.”  Kirk opened his communicator.  “Scotty, seven to beam up.”

***

Aramis stood in front of the large window in the Observation Lounge, peering down at the sad remnants of his once proud world.  “I did not know you were gods too.”

“Not gods,” Dr. Haupmann said.

“And yet you walk among the stars like Celeste.”

“These days many people walk among the stars.  I’m just a scientist from San Francisco.”

“Is San Francisco your world, Janet?”

“Part of it.  A scientist is someone that learns things and teaches other people.”

“A thinker. Yes, you have wise eyes.” He gently stroked her hair, a disturbingly intimate gesture but she did not seem to mind. “I was a simple herdsman before she came.  I kept my flocks in the Darva Valley, very close to the cave where you found me.  After Celeste chose me as her consort, I gave up herding.  I live…I lived…for her.”  He suddenly bowed his head and gasped, shuddering as fresh tears ran down his tan cheeks.  “I was a mortal, and I thought I would die someday and leave her alone.  How ironic that a mortal like me would outlive a goddess!”

Janet took his hand and gave it a little squeeze. “Is that why you slept?”

He nodded.  “Yes. It is…was…part of our arrangement. We were deeply in love.  I asked her to be my wife, and she revealed to me that she was the goddess Celeste, and that she could not marry me because I was mortal.  She knew that I would grow old and die while she remained young.  I could not stand her tears, so I asked her if there was anything I could do to help her.  Anything at all. She was used to being asked for favors, and to be offered one was proof that I was meant for her.  So she allowed me to enter a deep sleep while we were apart, and while asleep I would not age.  Thus I lived only for her.  Our life together was sporadic, but very…”  His eyes began to well up with tears once more.  “…very wonderful.”

Janet put her arm around his shoulder.  “I’m so sorry.  Perhaps I can help you somehow.  Come with me to the holodeck.  We will see how much of your world we can bring back.”

***

Aramis smiled for the first time since they had awakened him.  “More blue.  Like turquoise.  Yes, perfect.  And the grass was taller, thicker, and a darker green.”  He was entranced by his ability to paint a living landscape just by talking to “Mister Computer” who lived in the “arch”.  “I wish I were more of an artist or a poet so I could describe these things more fully.”

Spock said, “I may be able to help you.”  He went to Aramis, placing his fingertips along his temple, cheekbone and chin line.  “Aramis, our minds are coming closer. Our minds are merging…our minds are one.”

Aramis’ eyes widened.  For the first time he was experiencing the bulk of intergalactic civilization firsthand through the mind meld.  Spock, by contrast, seemed almost lost in a reverie.  He was living a world long dead before his ancestors settled on Vulcan.  “Fascinating,” he half-whispered.  “It is entirely possible that his race, or one close to it, gave rise to all the humanoid peoples in the alpha quadrant.”

Spock broke off contact, then went to the arch.  Skipping voice input, he began to type quickly into the alphanumeric keypad a series of approximation codes that built Aramis’ lost world by comparing objects and living things to existing samples in the ship’s database and the topographic scans of the surface.  After a few minutes of this, the Vulcan said, “Computer, run program Spock Delta Two.”

Aramis looked around in amazement.  “Oh Spock, can a mere mortal dare to create a world?”  He spotted a temple on the small hill in the distance.  “That is where I met Celeste.  I was bringing a wreath of flowers for the altar, an honor I had been elected to when I triumphed in the Amphican Games.  Usually she would not be there, but she was.  I gazed upon her beauty for the first time and thought my heart would burst.  I had no hope she would return my love. I thought if she knew my secret thoughts she would kill me.”

Janet smiled.  “She had eyes to see with, didn’t she? A goddess must be–above all things–very perceptive.”

“You are too kind, Janet.”

“And you are all too rare.  Most men in your position would have changed.  I’m sorry I never got to know your world.”

Aramis lifted his hand toward the jeweled brooch that pinned his mantle.  “I must know if she survived in some form. She is a goddess, and a goddess cannot just disappear without a trace!”  He looked at Janet with an almost childlike, pleading expression.  “Wish me luck, Janet.”

“With all my heart.”

His fingertip pressed the central jewel.  “She said this would summon her in time of greatest need.  I’ve never had to use it before.  If it’s as old as you say it is, I wonder if it still works.  Or if she is even…”

“Spock!” Dr. Haupmann cried.

The Vulcan turned to look behind him.  A whirling kaleidoscope of rainbow light approached them, then stopped about a meter away. Before Spock could engage his tricorder, the light coalesced into the form of a lovely woman draped in a sheer violet silk chiton rimmed with gold and silver leaves.  Her countenance was otherworldly, and the gaze of her crystal blue eyes seemed to look through Spock rather than at him. Even the tips of her hair seemed to stir in an unfelt breeze, as if she dwelled in a separate reality.

A Vulcan eyebrow raised.  “You must be Celeste?”

The woman did not answer him but stepped quickly around and spotted the herdsman.  “Aramis, Aramis, I have come!”

“Celeste, is that really you?”

“Yes, my love! Come!”

Tears streamed down his face.  He rushed into her arms and clung to her, not so much as a man but as a frightened child.  “It’s all gone!  The world is dead and the sun has gone mad!  I thought you were gone too! Don’t leave me, Celeste! I’m so frightened!”

Celeste looked about at the others.  “Why have you created this deception?  Why have you disturbed his sleep?  Did you not read the warning that it is death to wake him?”

Aramis quickly stepped in front of his friends. “Please, love, they mean me no harm!  They saved my life.”

“We are not of this world,” Spock said.  “It will take us more time for us to read your language.”

She scowled but managed to master her initial burst of fury.  “For someone of this world, there would have been no excuse.  You are strangers here, and I will take that under consideration.  All this is very troubling and must not rush into things. I will return when I have decided what to do.”

***

Kirk headed aft. People passed him in the hallway, and as Captain of the Enterprise he was used to people glancing at him rather than politely averting eyes. Still he could not shake the feeling that the looks he got were silent pleas for help from people who knew their life was in his hands. Finally he drew close to the holodeck. The in-use light was lit, but he did not have to ask the computer twice to open the door.

Inside he found Janet Haupmann with a sulking Aramis. Dr. Haupmnn was out of uniform in a big way, clad in a sheer white chlamys trimmed with pink, her hair swept up into a coiffure that would have no doubt pleased Julius Caesar, held in place by gold combs. She gently plucked a lyre, a habit Kirk never knew she had. “Very nice,” the Captain said, taking in the overall effect.

Aramis looked up. “Yes, it is alien music but strangely soothing.”

“The music is nice too,” he said, briefly glancing up and down at the academic with renewed appreciation. She appeared to read his thoughts and blushed a bit. “So Aramis, can you play?”

“No, Captain, but I will try to honor you with a ballad.” He glanced down self-consciously, then sang in a fair voice:

Sunset low, my heart lies far
Beyond the emerald sea
My heart lies far away
Beyond the rolling waves

Zephyr gentle as a lamb
Seek out my one true love
My heart lies far away
Beyond the rolling….

Suddenly Aramis stopped, gasped as tears flooded his eyes, and shouted, “End this lie! There is no more sea! It is gone with everything else!”

Janet quickly barked, “Computer, end program!” At once, the pastoral scene retreated leaving nothing but grid lined walls and a bank of holoemitters.

“I may as well learn to face the truth,” he said grimly, wiping his eyes. “So Captain, what shall become of me?”

Kirk put his arm around Aramis’ shoulder. “I think we need to talk about that…man to man…alone.” Janet slipped out of the door with all the dignity she could muster in her provocative attire, and when she was gone Kirk said, “Computer, two chairs.” A couple of seats appeared as he might find around the table in the ready room. “Computer, make those casual chairs, Flavian style, extra comfort cushions. Lighting 80 percent, four torchieres.” The trim plastic seats were replaced by a couple of inviting antique chairs and the light of flickering lamps gave the otherwise stark room an air of intimacy. “Please be seated.”

The young man settled into one of the chairs, looking very uncomfortable but not because of the furniture. “Are you angry with me?”

“No. I must admit that some of us have been upset with Celeste, especially Janet.”

“Janet is a nice girl, but she does not understand.”

“Help her understand. Help me, too. If Celeste is a goddess, why can’t she make you immortal so you can walk the heavens with her? Is it that she does not trust you?”

“She was once betrayed by a lover. She told me so. But she trusts me.”

“Would you dare ask her to be immortal? To be a god?”

“Dare? Or presume? Would you ask her to make you a god?”

“No, but then she would not share my bed. With you it is different. So Aramis, you say you love her and she loves you. But can true love exist in the absence of trust?”

Aramis was clearly upset by his question but he struggled for a rebuttal. “She does love me. I believe her.”

“As a captain I am like a good shepherd in charge of his own flock and duty bound to protect them from danger, just as you were duty bound to protect your own sheep. Is it impiety for me to question her judgment when she passes a law that kills an entire community for one man?”

“She passed a law to protect me. I see no crime in that.”

Kirk shifted in his chair, leaning forward. “I spent my youth on Tarsus IV. The governor of that colony came to be called ‘Kodos the Executioner’ because he killed off half the population, 4000 people, to prevent all of us from dying of starvation. He alone decided who would live and who would die. He thought the 4000 people left behind would have enough to survive until help came, but relief came sooner than expected. Everyone could have lived.”

“So it ends up he was mistaken? How tragic!”

“He was not mistaken, he was WRONG. No righteous man wants to live if the price is shedding innocent blood. Many nights, for many years, I struggled with the question…why ME? Why did I live when one other person had to die? Someone that wanted to live as badly as I did. I couldn’t imagine what it would feel like for 430 innocent people died for me. Just think about that, Aramis.” The captain rose from his chair and walked away. “Computer, show exit.”

***

Kirk was hosting his second meeting of the senior staff that day.  The strain was clearly visible in his face.  He took in a deep breath and let it out in a long sigh, eyes closed.  “I hope you have good news for me, Mr. Scott.”

“Helm control is still locked out, sir.  I have some of the lads working on manual control.  Problem is that the reactor starts to overload whenever we try to operate the controls.  She munged it up pretty bad, though visual inspection and diagnostics say there’s nothing wrong.  If we try to leave orbit, we’ll explode.”

“Even if we eject the warp core?”

“Without warp drive we won’t clear the system in time.  Even if we were on the far side of the planet when the star explodes, the radiation would cook us, shields or no shields.  We either have to work with her or find a way to fight her.”

“Fight her?  How?”

“We have tried comparing that spike on our sensors when she appeared in the holodeck with the energy coming from the cave.  It’s all tied together somehow, and I suspect that could be her undoing. We might be able to generate an inverse wave that can neutralize her power long enough to beam her off the ship and make a run for it.  That is, if…”

“No ‘ifs’…do it.”

“Well sir, we have no guarantee that neutralizing her power will restore helm control.  It should, but I can’t promise anything.”

“Keep working on it.”  Kirk looked about.  “Science report, Spock?”

“This is not science, but I did get a chance to mind meld with Aramis.  Celeste told him that the stone slab has a hidden chamber containing a book with ancient secrets.  The slab will only open for him.”

“We could learn a lot from that book if we knew how to read their language.”

“I believe I learned enough from him to translate it.”

“Then let’s see if we can get him to help us.  He seems to trust us.”

“He also knows it is death to open the book.  This situation bares a close parallel to your legend of the Garden of Eden.  If he helps us, he must die.”

Kirk sighed.  “I knew there must be a catch.”

“Celeste’s people are the Ambrosians.  They have the ability to modify the fabric of space time by the power of their minds.  Little wonder the people of this system thought them gods.”

“We’ve encountered these self-proclaimed gods before.  As I remember, most of them had too much vanity and not enough character.”

“Her behavior with Aramis and with us indicates that she is strongly guided by principles.  If we confront her with a show of force, she may feel justified in destroying us rather than negotiating.  On the other hand, she cannot help but see we acted in good faith.”

Kirk nodded. “Good point.  Besides, it wasn’t the whole crew that broke her law.  There is no need for her to kill 429 innocent people.  As captain, I am responsible for the actions of my crew.  If someone has to die, it should be me.”

“It was my ethics that forced us in to this,” McCoy said.  “I’m bound by the Hippocratic Oath, but your loyalty is to Starfleet and this ship.  The Enterprise needs its captain.”

“It also needs its chief medical officer.  Spock is perfectly capable of assuming command if necessary.”

Janet Haupmann said, “Gentlemen, the Enterprise needs both of you more than it needs an archeologist.  We all know how obsessed I was to explore this planet.  You are only here because of me.  I have always taken responsibility for my actions, and I will do so again.”

“I’m not going to ask her to kill me,” Kirk said.  “Rest assured if we can all get out of this alive, we will.”  He closed his eyes again and sighed.  “We interfered in their culture.  We weren’t invited here.  If we had held to the Prime Directive, we would have left Aramis where he was unless he sent out a distress call.”

“He was helpless!” Janet said.

“We all know that,” Kirk said, frowning. “You knew when you got your commission that our job is not always easy…or pleasant. Sometimes it’s not fair.”

“Forgive my outburst, Captain.” She ran her fingers through her hair as if struggling for the ultimate key of logic. “However the Prime Directive does not apply. Aramis has no culture.  His culture is dead.  We cannot interfere in something that has been extinct for six million years.  He’s an Endymion.”

“Endymion?”

“It’s an ancient Earth legend about a man beloved by the moon goddess.  He was offered anything he wanted, and he chose to be put in an enchanted sleep so he would stay young for his immortal lover.”

Kirk asked, “This story of yours?did it have a happy ending?”

“It depends on which version you read.”

“I could use a happy ending right about now.  If there’s no further discussion, this meeting is dismissed.”

***

Kirk sat alone in his quarters.  Spock came in and spied him reading a well worn copy of “Jonathan Archer: Man of Destiny.”

“That manuscript is rather fragile. We have that book in the ship’s library on tape.”

“I know, but nothing beats the smell, the feel, of an old book.  My father bought this for me when I was young and it inspired some of my earliest dreams to go ‘out there’.”  He flipped to the title page where, crudely printed, was the inscription “Jimmy Kirk.”

“They called you Jimmy?”

“Don’t even THINK about it, Spock.”

Spock put a tape in the Captain’s data terminal and clicked it on.  After quickly passing several pictures of the cave, he stopped at one showing the inscription on the stone slab.  “Computer, magnify the central portion. Captain, this script was not in our database, but after mind melding with Aramis, I am able to make out parts of the inscription.  It starts out with a warning, but it also speaks of something called ‘The Before’, and if Aramis’ beliefs are any hint, that could well be the time before the alpha singularity.  Either Celeste, or her people’s oral traditions, date back farther than fifteen billion years.”

Kirk slowly sat the book down as the sheer enormity of that statement sank in.  “My God, Spock.  We’ve spent centuries exploring a corner of our universe, and this one miserable planet I almost passed up may be a keyhole on a whole different universe…  It could well be the greatest single discovery in the history of science.”

“This could be more than science, Jim.  It may shed light on some of the great questions of existence, breaking down the barrier between mystical and scientific truth once and for all.”

“It could bring peace to the galaxy,” Kirk mused.  “It could also destroy it.  But right now I’d be glad if it just gave us a clue how to save this ship.  Aramis himself says that his death is of little consequence if it would save 430 lives.  I believe he would get the manuscripts if there were no other way to save the Enterprise.  You do sometimes talk about the needs of the many outweighing the needs of the few…or the one.”

Spock raised an eyebrow.  “In other words, is Aramis’ death justified before attempting diplomacy, since diplomacy has less chance of success?  I doubt I would ever say any war is justified while peace was still an option.”

“Damn it, I want some clear advice, not just a restatement of the question!”  Kirk looked back as if to examine the ceiling.  “I’m sorry, Spock.  You’re right of course.  On the one hand Starfleet sets me in the position to judge life and death decisions.  I have sent men to die.  If I live, I will again.  But always to do the greater good, to save lives.  On the other hand, I woke an innocent man after millennia of sleep only to be his executioner?  The last of his kind only to die, a victim of our misplaced good intentions.”

Spock picked up the book.  “Jonathan Archer asked himself that question many times.  All I can say…or should say…is that like him you have made your share of mistakes but never in malice.  You are an honest man and you will do the honorable thing as you see fit.  Though it sounds strange coming from me, you seem to have a gift of instinct.  Go with your first instinct and never look back.”

“You’re right, Spock.  You’re absolutely right.  It does sound strange coming from you.  But thank you.”

***

Kirk stood nervously in the observation lounge, watching the barren rusty curve of the dead planet below and the silver stars receding into the distance.

Scotty came in and approached him. “I brought the device.”

“Thank you, Scotty. You’ve never let me down.”

“My, aren’t you looking fit in your best dress uniform.”

“We’re meeting a goddess–of sorts–and anyhow if I am to die, I want to die with my boots on.”

“You won’t die, Captain. You never do.”

“There’s a first time for everything.”

“And a right time, too.  Perhaps it’s the right time for this.”  Scott looked down at the device he brought in.  A small hand held device that looked like a rewired tricorder.  “It’s not like I had the manuscript to work with, but I did the best I could.”

“I did what Spock said to do. I went with my instincts. This device is our last chance, but not our first line.”

“You’ll only get one shot at this.  You’ll need to be near her when you press this button.”

“Have warp drive standing by and a course laid in.  As soon as she’s beamed back to the cave we will get out of here.”

“No real hurry,” Scott said grimly.  “She won’t survive.”

Kirk took the device, turned it about in his hand, and said quietly, “Our technology gives us almost godlike power.  But a god must be righteous and merciful.”  He handed it back.  “I have no right to judge this woman.  If she is not content with my death, kill her before she destroys the Enterprise.”

“Captain…”

“You heard me, Scotty.  I’m not going to start a war the Federation can’t win.  In the event of my death, there is a tape in my quarters under my bed.  I want it played for the senior staff.”

“I have one more tool in my bag of tricks.”  Scott took a hip flask from his pocket.  “Twenty year old Scotch.  I’ve been saving it for a special occasion.”

“No thanks.  When we get out of this, I promise we’ll toast our luck with my best Sorian brandy.”

“Aye, that we will.”  Scott unscrewed the cap.  “Well it’s my special occasion too.  Here’s mud in your eye, laddie.”  He took a draught from the bottle, nodded his head and capped it again.  “You don’t know what you’re missing.”

Spock showed up, also dressed in his finest uniform.  “Captain, this communicator is tuned to the same signal emitted by Aramis’ brooch.”

“I can always count on you, my friend.”  He glanced about.  “All of you.  There are so many important things we never get around to saying.”

“That’s because they go without saying,” Scotty intoned.

Dr. Haupmann walked in.  “I’m glad I wasn’t too late.”

Mr. Scott looked at her.  “If I had known this was a formal affair I would have brought my kilt.”

Kirk glanced at him and smiled weakly.  “Well, let’s do this thing.”

The captain opened the communicator.  “Kirk to Celeste.  Come in, Celeste.”

“Just starting the carrier signal is enough.”

“Maybe she won’t come.  Maybe she’s playing the waiting game.  For a reason, no doubt.”

“Captain, try boosting the gain control.”

Kirk twisted the knob clockwise a quarter turn.  Nothing happened.  Then he turned it again all the way to DX setting.  “What is plan C?”

“She’s a lady. Try saying please.”

Kirk scowled, but he lifted the communicator. “Great Celeste, we humbly request the honor of your presence.”

It seemed to do the trick, for a halo of color appeared.  From within the pinwheel of rainbow hues the resplendent classical beauty of Celeste materialized.

“Someone has manners. Who called me?”

Kirk said, “I am Captain James T. Kirk of the USS Enterprise.  I assume there were armies and navies where you came from, and that they had chains of command. As master of this vessel I am responsible for the actions of my crew.  I approved the rescue of Aramis, so it was my actions that have angered you, not theirs.”

“So it is your duty to accept punishment in their stead?”

“I suppose it is. I have sworn to uphold my duty, and yet there is more at stake. These people are my friends.  They have been with me through joy and sorrow and they are the closest thing to a family I have. All of them offered to die for me, and if my death gives them life, I go without regrets. We care for each other that much. We hold our lives dear, but the lives of our friends more dearly. Even a stranger’s plight dragged us into the unknown.”

“I see. Then I have decided my course of action.”  She smiled and stepped forward, touching Kirk’s hair with her hand.  “Did they really call you Jimmy?”

“How did you know that? Or should I be asking a goddess how she knows?”

“I am also a simple shepherd. I am Celeste and Aramis. During my time among you I have watched everything closely, listened to every word closely.  I was sent here by the Ambrosian Council to test you, and it will be my recommendation to grant you first contact.”

“First contact?”

“Something we cannot undertake lightly. We had to be sure you were ready for the truth.  Truth is an arrow that once flown cannot be recalled.”

Suddenly the surroundings changed.  They were in the cave once more.  “You have never left this place since you came down, and on your ship no time has passed.  Come, follow me.”  Celeste passed her hand across the face of the stele and the force field sealing the door to the outside vanished.  Only there were no choking gasses, no hellish flames or bursts of radiation.  The world Spock tried to create in the holodeck appeared in its original splendor, even more glorious and rosy.  They stepped outside and enjoyed the gentle sunshine.

“We Ambrosians were once corporeal like yourselves, eons ago during The Before.  No objects from The Before survived The During into The After, but our hopes and dreams and everything we learned lives on, for no truth or beauty ever really dies. We have followed with great interest the rise of humanoid species in The After, and we waited for the day when we could entrust them with our heritage. Our knowledge can unlock great powers, but those who receive it must have both the courage to use it and the wisdom not to use it.  You have proved your prime directive is more than pretty words, and so I will recommend that you be reclassified as level two.  You will be hearing from us, Captain Kirk.”

***

Mr. Scott increased the gain on the transporter and engaged the beam. He gave the members of the landing party a worried glance as they materialized on the pad and sighed with relief to see they were all there and standing upright. “That was quick, Captain.  Didn’t you find what you were looking for?”

“We did, Scotty. That and so much more.”

“Where’s our alien friend?”

“He needs no help from us. Now see me in my quarters for that Sorian brandy.”

“Sorian brandy?  For me?”

“Oh, I said that to the other Scot…  Never mind.”

McCoy said, “He’s on duty, so I assume it’s for medicinal purposes. And if it’s not genuine Starfleet Medical, I’ll need to run tests.”

Kirk nodded in resignation.  “Will you join us, Bones?”

“Sure.  I’ll make a house call.”

As she stepped off the transporter pad, Dr. Haupmann turned to Kirk.  “Do you think the Ambrosians will teach us the meaning of life?”

“They taught us that there is meaning to life.  All else is secondary.”

“I suppose so.  And I bet Surak would have been thrilled to hear that.”

“Not thrilled,” Spock said, “though I’m sure he would have approved.”

 

= THE END =

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