The Danube-class runabout USS Amazon was clipping along interstellar space toward the edge of the galaxy inside its subspace bubble at Warp Factor 8.
The runabout was in stealth mode, its warp signature was stifled by the very configuration of the field itself. Other camoflaging technologies were also employed, but the erasure of the foot-prints itself was of utmost importance. The runabout’s destination’s existence depended on it.
The lone inhabitant piloting the craft, Star Fleet Captain Lynden Tyler Kraus was in a semi-meditative state. Although part of his consciousness was attentive to monitoring the nav computer, most of it was contemplating the Oneness of the All, readying his body to perform at its maximum and preparing his psyche for the upcoming meeting.The prospect of the meeting in of itself wasn’t troubling to Kraus, he had several with the being over the past three-hundred years. He knew it as well as he knew himself, almost. But the favor he was going to ask of the creature was what was causing Kraus a small amount of anxiety. He simply didn’t know how it was going to react to the question. And the answer he might get.
A soft, low ‘bong-bong-bong’ of the destination alarm brought Kraus out of his meditation as the Amazon was released from its warp field. He set the runabout’s speed to 45,000 kilometers per hour and started to signal his target with a pulsed graviton beam. The target, a small, burned out husk of a white dwarf star that circled a singularity in a neatly tight, close orbit of 10 million kilometers absorbed the beam and promptly pulsed a return signal. The signal was intercepted by the runabout’s nav deflector dish, which the computer translated into a special frequency that was beamed directly into Kraus’ nano-neural net that encircled his brain. “Kipi Polis acknowledging security code sent by Federation vessel USS Amazon. Welcome Lynden, it’s been a while since you’ve last visited, how have you been?”
Lynden relaxed as the net took hold of the link and checked the integrity. No one was evesdropping. “Things could be better Thuy, that’s why I’m here. Is my grandfather available?” An image formed in Lynden’s mind, a small Asian-looking Earth woman about a meter and a half tall with flashing green eyes appeared to be tending bar in an ancient twen-cen city, Singapore or Hanoi perhaps. Despite her petite form, she was well muscled, lithe and toned. She laughed her reply at Kraus, “Are you kidding? That bum has nothing else to do other than talk to you! He hasn’t done squat since he “retired” two-hundred of your years ago! Besides chasing women, drinking beer and smoking Jamaican gungy that is!” Thuy then drew several draughts of beer for some patrons at the bar before she spoke again, chuckling softly, “If you don’t mind me asking, why are you here? Are you going to take him off our hands?”
Kraus was laughing, in spite of himself. Thuy was an engaging and bright personality, for a post-human that is. It was hard for him to think of her as an uploaded consciousness in a super-computer matrix made of pure computronium. As much as he wanted to tell her why he was here, he couldn’t tell her, “I can’t tell you why I’m here hon, but a partial answer to your other question is ‘could be’.”
Thuy looked at him with a cocked eye-brow, standing with her muscled arms akimbo behind the bar, contemplating her response. “Okay, I’ll stop being nosy then. Are you ready to send your sim down the link?” Kraus readied himself during their conversation of course, being transhuman he was capable of splitting his consciousness and attention to do several tasks at once, literally. “Go ahead Thuy, to Grandpa’s house I go!”
The effect was like being beamed, only quicker and without the sparkling. Kraus found himself standing on a sunlit beach, which could be on Earth, Risa or any other water world. “Knowing Chuck”, thought Lynden to himself, “this probably is Jamaica.” Looking around for a Sun, Kraus in fact found two, a standard G type, and a faraway K. “Shit, the old heretic does have a little imagination left!” As Kraus trudged on, he noticed he wasn’t dressed for the beach, so in an instant off went the Star Fleet uniform and a pair of jaunty yellow, long boxers with sandals took its place. Adjusting his vision to tone down the brightness of the sky somewhat, he scanned the beach hoping to get a glance of what he was looking for. The beach itself wasn’t crowded, it was a regular topless affair with kids and couples alike. Soon however, it wasn’t his transhuman vision that spotted his quarry, it was his nose. Kraus caught a wiff of a sweet, skunky odor of cannabis burning upwind. “Uh huh, I found ya!”, as Kraus followed his nose up the beach. At about a hundred meters from his entry spot, Kraus found his prey. And shook his head, laughing out loud. “I knew it goddamnit, I knew it!” He could hardly contain himself because of the vision in front of him. A long, dark looking Jamaican looking human male with dreadlocks down to his shoulders being propped up by a back-only beach chair, holding a cigar-sized ‘joint’ in his left hand, the Earth beverage ‘Corona’ in his right was busy watching a topless buxom Vulcan female performing fellatio on him.
Kraus couldn’t handle it any longer, the sight in all of its absurdity was way too much input, even for his brain. “A-hhemmm!”, he cleared his throat, trying his best to stifle his guffaws. The reclining Jamaican looked up, realized he had an audience and recognizing the voyeur, flashed perfect white teeth in the broadest grin since the Cheshire Cat. “Whatsa matter mon, Vulcan women come in heat every seven years too ya know. How d’ya think they gets little Vulcans?!” Kraus lost it then, rolling around in the sand guffawing and coughing at the same time. “Sorry to bust in Gramps”, wiping tears from his eyes and careful not to get sand in them, “But I have something serious to talk to you about.” Kraus was now sitting on the sand across from the pair now, still wiping his eyes and blowing his nose, but rapidly getting a grip on his emotions, taking on an air of urgency.
“Okay, okay. Sorry Liss hon, we have to finish this later, head back to the bungalo and I’ll be there in a few,” the Jamaican told the beautiful Vulcan woman. Wordlessly, she grabbed a nearby towel while getting up, looking back at him longingly with brilliant green eyes, disappearing silently. With a gleam in his eye, the Jamaican who was A. Charles Bryant looked at Kraus conspiratorially, “Now that you spoiled my afternoon workout, come over give your ol’ grampa a hug and spill yer guts!” Kraus complied with the first order and in short time, started to comply with the second.
“Wup, wait a minute, missing something here”, Bryant said. Instantly, a large galvanized pail filled with ice and Coronas appeared between the two men. Grabbing two beers, Bryant popped the caps off with each thumb and handed one to Kraus. “Now we’re ready, talk.” Kraus turned to look at his grandfather’s avatar, tall, about two full meters, lean muscle covering the long frame. The dreadlocks were braids extending down below the shoulders. It was quite the opposite from what the real Chuck Bryant looked like, in both of his previous human lives. It was no wonder he chose this appearence after he retired, he wanted a total break with his past. But Lynden was a link to his past he couldn’t, or wouldn’t break. Bryant learned from the past 450 years that all else is ephemiral but family. And sometimes, that can be as well.
Kraus’ avatar resembled his real form, which was no slouch. Not quite two meters tall, he was well built with a body-builder form, only a little leaner. Tattoos covered his back and arms, ending just down below his elbows. A large tattoo covered his chest, a large bipedal tiger-form carrying a large, primitive looking laser cannon, emblazoned with reddish, orange flames with the legend “234th Fighting Hellcats.” If one looked close enough, fine, white scars criss-crossed Kraus’ body, head to toe. It was a sure sign of one thing, Kraus was an early form of Augment, a super-soldier. And Augments were designed for one thing. War.
“Chuck, Gramps, I’m in deep with something even I can’t control. I had to accept a mission that could possibly endanger all of the present societies in the galaxy, and I can’t shake this feeling of doom !
Bryant stared at his grandson, taking in all of his words and the stress behind them. “Jeezus shit, the boy is really upset about something”, wondered Bryant, “And it has to be something really big and nasty that can spook an ex-supersoldier like Lynden, even being a toned down Augment shouldn’t do this to him.”
Despite Lynden’s urgency, Bryant’s first reaction was not worry, but curiosity. This could be interesting. Not known for subtlety in any of his incarnations, Bryant simply asked, “So what did you get drafted for? What’s the big, bad thing you have to dig out? Is it for Star Fleet, Section 31 or for the Time Travel Division? What’s put the fear of God into an Augment that he has to come to his poor, old, retired posthuman grampa for a visit?” Surprised by his grandfather’s candor, and a little put off by it, Kraus rapidly regained control with measured breathing. “I was brought into the central chamber of the Federation Council two weeks ago. Only it wasn’t with the full Council, there was only nine members, mostly original races that signed the original Charter, Human, Vulcan, Tellerite, Andorian, Orion and Centaurian. They were all in Star Fleet uniforms. But there was also a Rihannsu, T’klingon and Cardasian sitting with them. It was all so weird, all of them sitting there staring at me.” Kraus’ recall was perfect, his description of the encounter even started to send chills down Bryant’s spine. “The human Admiral, Brecker was his name, was the only one to spoke to me. He goes into detail about who, and what I am. He gives me my life story, word for word. He didn’t miss a thing Chuck, not a stinking thing!” Bryant’s attention was transfixed on Kraus, totally engrossed by the tale, hardly believing what he was hearing. “Of course Star Fleet knew I had a nanobot neural net throughout my nervous system, but they thought it was of recent Nanite design, put into my body during the Dominion War after my ship, the Stellaris was destroyed. They had no idea at all that I was a 350 year old Augment. But this bastard did! Then he tells me he doesn’t like Augments, artificial lifeforms, AI computers or any kind of uplift technology at all! He said, “It’s against the will of the Starmaker and blasphemous.” It was all quite bizarre I tell you! And then he tells me, “You are ordered to Starbase 600 and report to Admiral Hailey. There you will oversee a refit of a Galaxy Class Starship and receive your final orders.” Then he dismisses me! I was a little shell-shocked from it all, but I was glad to be out of the presence of those people. It was beyond creepy, it was downright frightening Chuck, and it takes a helluvalot to scare me!” Bryant noticed Kraus was breathing heavy after the tale. Taking notice at nearly the same instant, Kraus’ breaths became more measured again.
Bryant didn’t like what he heard. If he was right, Lynden just faced an evil older than the oldest races of the galaxy. An evil that not only justified its atrocities cooly and logically, but one that was in fact the ancestors of all the humanoid beings in this galaxy. No wonder the poor guy was so shook up!
“You said there were nine of them Lynden, how were they seated and how did they “talk” with you?” Kraus thought for a second and then replied, “They were all seated on a dias overlooking the Council Chamber.” He thought some more, “Come to think of it, that Admiral didn’t move his lips at all Chuck! I don’t know how he got that past me, but he must’ve held me in a telepathic trance! That explains how he knew all about me!” But Kraus’ visage clouded over in dark thought after that statement. “How was he able to do that Gramps, wouldn’t my own transhuman abilities detect that?” Bryant looked at his grandson and shook his head, “No my boy, your abilities are no match for them. You were in the company of beings that have a billion and a half years of evolution on us. You were looking at our ancestors, the Progenitors, the vestiges of The Domain, the Jury of Nine itself!”
Kraus ruminated on those words for a second and spoke the words Bryant expected, “But they were Alpha Quadrant humanoids Chuck, how could they…”. And then Kraus answered his own question, “They’re non-corporeal beings like the Organians, aren’t they? They simply took over the bodies of these people, didn’t they?” Despite of this revelation, Kraus felt no better for the knowledge. Then something hit Kraus like a gong upside his head. Looking askance at his grandfather he asked, “How do you know about this Jury of Nine Chuck? You’ve had dealings with them before, haven’t you? What happened? You had to do a job for them too, didn’t you?”
Bryant then stood up to his full two meter height. He turned away from the wind that suddenly blew up, shielding his half-smoked joint while sparking it back to life with a classic Zippo lighter. The K-type sun had just sunk below the horizon, the G star still hovering a few degrees above the horizon gave the impression the temperature dropped a few notches. A bonfire appeared, wood stacked in a neat pile off to the side made a cozy scene. With his back still turned, Bryant took a deep drag off the joint, slowly exhaling the pungent, skunky smoke. “I was doing my second stint in the Corps, the life stint I agreed to when the “Children of Humanity” and the criminal Northern Hemisphere Union reps came to me on my death-bed at the end of my first life. If I knew then what I know now, I would’ve told them let me die.” Taking another pull on his number, Bryant goes on, “Anyway, when you were fighting Colonel Green and his Anti-Artificial Intelligence Army in Malaysia, I was a warrant officer on a mission with a Colonel and Captain investigating an object that had entered the Solar System. Nobody knew what the hell it was. It had the density of a neutron star, but it was the size of a super-Jupiter and a total black body. Nothing could come near it and only telepathic scans could detect it. It had the “Children” spooked bigtime. Come to find out it was a Jupiter Brain remnant, left over from the Great Death of a billion and a half years ago. The Children were really what was left of the Domain and responsible for the War that brought the Death on. I had discovered the code that allowed the Brain to let me in. The beings inside had a long memory and couldn’t turn down a chance to get even with the Domain. Of course the Children knew what it was from the beginning. They were hoping us poor, stupid humans would do their dirty work for them and destroy the object. Instead, I made a deal with the beings inside the Remnant and laid a trap for the Children. We fooled the Children into entering the event horizon of a black hole half a light year outside of Sol System. I went into “retirement” not long after, well, about eighty years after that, when the Federation was formed. I was sick of government crap and wanted no part of it. It was then that Nick St. John “died” and Arden Charles Bryant would live again, well, my father anyways. Enough time had passed that using his name would be no problem.” He then turned to look at Kraus, flashing the white, toothy grin in that dark face, “The rest is history as they say.” Just as quickly, the smile disappeared and a somber Bryant spoke, “I really thought that was the end of the Domain and the Jury of Nine. Obviously I was mistaken. Once again, my past catches up with me, this time involving people I love. It never fucking ends.” He then turned toward the western horizon, inhaling another hit from his joint, watching the G star settle lower.
Kraus sat stunned by the revelations. He may be a transhuman, but there were things in the Universe that were beyond his abilities and perview. And he was looking at one right now. “So what happened to that Jupiter Brain Remnant? Was it destroyed when you betrayed the Domain, or did it escape?”
Bryant turned and smiled at his grandson, spreading his arms and exhaling smoke, “You’re inside it!”, he proclaimed, “I recruited some like-minded friends of mine and we made another deal with the Kipi. If we found them another power source that could provide energy for another billion years, they would take us in and let us redo the programming in the computronium to suit our tastes. So we rigged up an outsized Tesla-Carr drive and searched for a long-lived singularity, small enough to be non-descript, but powerful enough to relight this joint, et voila, remodelled ancient white dwarf! Complete with reprogrammed computronium! You can’t get any better than that sonny!” Bryant and Kraus then broke out in simultaneous laughter, sending guffaws up and down the beach.
Personal log; Star Date 60,011.2. I have left Kipi Polis and now heading toward my appointment with Admiral Hailey at Star Base 600. Because of the distance of that sector, I must use the Trans Warp Conduit at Deep Space 15 on the other side of Qo’noS, T’klingon space. This visit I had with my grandfather was both troubling, and illuminating. My grandfather has had a long, interesting life, in spite of himself. It was good to see him again and I know I have a trusted ally with me as I go on this mission for “The Jury of Nine.” But I’m worried that I endangered Kipi Polis when Admiral Brecker “interviewed” me. The Domain’s prejudice against AIs and anything that smacks of it is telling. It could explain a great many things, like why our computers are little more than semi-intelligent zombies, despite four-hundred of building them. And it could explain why Colonel Green was so determined to destroy AI research in the mid-21st century. Did he get a little “push”? What else did the Domain influence?
Kraus turned off his recorder, wondering what else to say. He then turned to look outside the runabout’s trans-alum windows, watching the optical illusion of the stars streaking stars pass by. Fingering the diamonoid chain around his neck, he broke from his revelry long enough to decide he didn’t have anything else to say. Setting the autopilot and tucking the necklace inside his uniform tunic, he started doing the breathing exercises needed to calm his racing thoughts in order to put him in the recuperative meditative state he required. As his mind started to settle down, Kraus couldn’t stifle one last amusing thought.
How did his grandfather find a Vulcan girlfriend to upload before Cochran even met them?