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assumed 'pragma' in /home/davidh/psiphi.org/cgi/upc-db.php on line 394 Notice: Undefined index: pragma in /home/davidh/psiphi.org/cgi/upc-db.php on line 394 Psi Phi: Notice: Use of undefined constant title - assumed 'title' in /home/davidh/psiphi.org/cgi/upc-db.php on line 400 Worlds of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Volume One [Star Trek Books Database]

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Notice: Use of undefined constant title - assumed 'title' in /home/davidh/psiphi.org/cgi/upc-db.php on line 444 Worlds of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Volume One


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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Mass-Market Paperback / June, 2004
0-7434-8351-0

"The Lotus Flower" written by Una McCormack
"Paradigm" written by Heather Jarman

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Excerpt:

An excerpt from "Paradigm", the Andor story in "Worlds of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Volume One", written by Heather Jarman.

Still feeling odd in his civilian clothes, Shar crossed the rounded observation deck of the interstellar transport Viola, weaving in and out of socializing passengers who quaffed beverages and sampled cracker-and-fruit appetizers, and slowly made his way toward the viewport wall. Before he was thrown into a whirlwind of Zhavey's public relations events, he wanted a single private moment. The Viola was next in line for docking at Andor's Orbital Control station so he couldn't linger too long. Easing into the spot being vacated by a pair of Ktarians, Shar looked out on his homeworld for the first time in six years.

Through a break in the silver clouds, he saw patches of the Zhevra continental mass, dull in its variegated browns and blacks, spreading like the massive relief maps he'd crawled all over as a young chan. Squatting down over the Vezhdar plain, he'd caressed the knobs and crests of the Great Rift Range, memorizing the geological markers with his fingers, impressing each corner of his planet upon his memory by touch. This is where I live, he'd said while pointing to the terraced benches of Hill Country. This is where I belong! And the teacher had nodded approvingly, as if to say, Good chan!

Now, studying Andor from far above, he traced the smooth railing, the memory of gritty slot canyon walls filling his fingertips, the warm wind caressing his face. How much the same it seems from up here, he thought. But I'm not the same, am I? As close as home appeared, he had never felt as disconnected from this place as he did now.

He had expected this moment to feel differently. He wasn't sure exactly what he'd expected, but this wasn't it. A gush of nostalgic affection, maybe. An appropriate sense of loyalty--of duty--to the people whose plight had defined his life--such an emotion would be understandable.

Instead he felt nothing. Numbness.

Wait. His thoughts paused. "Remoteness" was a better word; he felt far away and he took this understanding as affirmation of the choice he had made to sever his personal ties to Andor. Anichent and Dizhei would be better off without him. Whatever tether had once bound him to Andor's destiny had been pulled so thin, he could scarcely sense its existence anymore. Perhaps it was not what had bound him, but who. She who had made this home to him was gone. Without her...

What is wrong with me?

The comm system clicked."Viola on approach. Stand by for docking. Passengers to Cheshras Island and the Eastern Archipelago please check with central ticketing about potential storm interference. Travelers continuing on to Vulcan should remain aboard. Thank you."

Storm? That wouldn't be good news for Phillipa. He turned back to viewport. Sure enough, vivid gray-green whorls churned sedately over the cobalt blue Khyzhon Sea, the delicate cloud cover effectively masking the violence of a spring typhoon. The population centers on Cheshras Island might already have storm shields up. Phillipa would have to reach Thelasa-vei before Deepening or face further delays. If Shar's schedule had allowed them to leave a day earlier, as Phillipa had originally planned, the commander would have arrived before the storm system. Now, she would most likely be late. Thantis would be disappointed, yet again, and of course it involved the chei of zh'Thane, who had been the source of her zhei's suffering. All knew the old aphorism, "As is the zhavey, so is the child." There would be no question in Zhadi's mind as to whose fault this was. Since Sessethantis and Charivretha had spent most of Shar and Thriss's early years circling warily around each other, Shar was certain Thantis now took perverse pleasure from Zhavey's latest career ordeal.

A slight tingle in his left antenna heralded the approach of Prynn behind him, mere seconds before she called his name from across the lounge. He turned to greet her. Her short green jacket and matching boots were easy to spot in the crowd, as were the vivid autumnal colors of Phillipa's Bajoran-style tunic and trousers. Shar himself had chosen a baggy gray shirt and black leggings, then covered them with a floor-length black cassock. He hadn't reckoned how strange it would feel to shed his uniform and travel with crewmates who had done the same.

From appearances, she and Phillipa had retrieved their travel bags and appeared ready to start on the next leg of their journey. He left his place at the railing and met them halfway.

"You heard the announcement?" Shar asked Phillipa as he took his bag from her.

"I did," Phillipa said. "I take it that there might be storm delays for me?"

Shar nodded. "I should have realized--it's typhoon season in the region you're traveling to. Ionization of the atmosphere rises dramatically, to a degree seldom seen on Class-M planets, making transport impossible. Public travel is delayed or suspended due to dangerous meteorological conditions. It's less of an issue in Zhevra continent, where the climate is usually more accommodating."

"So Phillipa is stranded in orbit?" Prynn asked. "For how long?"

"It depends on how well the climate controls can manage the more violent arms of the storm. However," Shar said, turning again to Phillipa, "Prynn and I won't transport down to Zhevra until we know that you're on your way."

They felt a slight shudder as the transport's engines powered down. A low clang sounded beneath the passengers' ambient chatter, the sound of docking clamps attaching to the ship's hull.

"Prepare to disembark."

The trio allowed themselves to be propelled along by a crowd that appeared to have origins in every corner of the Federation. For his part, Shar didn't remember Andor being such a popular tourist destination. He didn't make frequent trips offworld while growing up, but he didn't recall any return trip that had been as crowded as this one was. The three of them had squeezed into a two-person sleeper compartment with Shar, who needed less sleep than his human companions, and napped on the floor as necessary. Under those circumstances, the superior/subordinate protocol quickly gave way to all of them being on a first name basis.

They walked three abreast through the airlock and down a sloping gray corridor into the gate lounge of Orbital Control. Though he hadn't been to the station in many years, his recollections of it as a straightforward, Federation-style public facility proved to be correct: the utilitarian beige couches and chairs; high, drafty ceilings; replicator stations and information kiosks distributed evenly through the gate area. Helping Phillipa find her way around shouldn't be difficult.

"Prynn, if you'll check the departure monitors to find out which transporter station we're queued to"--Shar waited until she'd nodded in acknowledgement before shifting his attention--"I'll take Phillipa to the main desk to straighten out--what?"

Without warning, an intense, white-yellow light beamed into Shar's face and blinded him. Raising an arm to shield his eyes, he squinted past the light, but saw only dark silhouettes.

The verbal barrage began, assaulting him on all sides.

"Sat 2 newsnet, we're live from Orbital Control with Starfleet Ensign Thirishar ch'Thane. Ensign ch'Thane, how is it being home on Andor?"

"What? It's fine. But I don't--"

"What did Councillor zh'Thane have to do to get you to agree to leave Deep Space 9? Sat 6 had a report--"

"Is it true Councillor zh'Thane will be invoking the Whole Vessel law on your behalf?"

"I'm not going to discuss--"

"Have you spoken recently with your mentors at the Andorian Science Institute and if you have, do you have any comment on the rumored research underway?"

"I don't know what you're--"

"Do you have any greetings to send out to friends or family?"

The unexpected cacophony overwhelmed Shar as the reporters pressed in, the lights from their headsets hitting him from all sides. None of them gave were giving him a chance to speak.

Twisting to look behind him, Shar caught Prynn's confused expression as she fought to get through the pack of reporters. He reached out, trying not to become separated from her, but she was already too far away. As his frustration grew, so too did the instinct to lash out. His body tensed--

"That's enough!" a voice declared. A uniformed sentinel--a thaan--pushed his way through the crowd toward Shar, followed by several other security personnel who were forcing the reporters back despite their hisses of indignation. "You people should know better--this area is off limits to non-travelers. If you want to speak to Ensign ch'Thane, you'll need to make other arrangements. You have thirty seconds to comply or face charges."

Without asking for Shar's consent, the thaan grabbed him by the arm and steered him away from the crowd. Another guard had affixed himself on Shar's other side, and together the pair guided him to a different part of the facility. Confusion and frustration gave way to anger as questions raced through his mind. Foremost among them: How would a swarm of reporters have known his travel plans. Unless....

Zhavey.

* * *

Sighing with annoyance at the reporters' herd mentality, Charivretha switched off her monitor. Hand them a story gift-wrapped and they ruin it, she thought. All they had to do was wait until he'd cleared the gate area! Her intention hadn't been to have him attacked; she had hoped to show Andor a pleasant homecoming scene. Instead? Chaos. Thirishar would be justifiably furious. Charivretha touched her desk's compad, signaling her aide. "Zhende, contact Satellite Station 3. Thank them for their restraint, and let them know they can have a sit down after my press conference."

Hand to chin, she leaned back in her chair and contemplated the view over the octagonal Plaza of Freedom and its glorious fountains: Serpentine streams of water leapt over towering leaves of nearly transparent green mica, imported from the Archipelago region. In the distance, the cerulean obelisk of the Shran monument stood out against the criss-cross skyline of slanted office towers and high-rise residences that so identified the Andorian capital. Years of work had earned her this view. The thought gave her pause. Thinking of passing time as "years" instead of "cycles" testified to how far she'd come from Hill Country.

Her first visit to this office had been in her fourteenth cycle, before her Time of Knowing, when her zhavey had brought a petition to Andor's Federation representative, protesting the border conflict with Cardassia. She now sat behind Councillor th'Vrash's very desk; she remembered how the morning light gleamed on the highly polished, petrified eketha wood, the glyphs and runes of Andor's ancient iconography carved into the surface. When she'd taken up residence, she'd brought her personal belongings from her parliamentary office, assorted holos and awards, a sculpture given her by the children of Shayel Island, a room-sized rug woven by Sessethantis zh'Cheen in one of her rare, generous moods...

Thantis. Why had she even allowed the zhen's name into her thoughts? Doing so immediately assured she'd slip into a foul mood--especially since Thantis had deliberately neglected to invite her to Shathrissía's Sending. Granted, Shar had been closer to poor Thriss--fragile child that she was--but his decision to place his duty to Starfleet above his duty to his people had directly contributed to her suicide. Thantis rightly excluded him, but Vretha had done nothing to earn such a snub. Whether or not they liked each other was beside the point! Protocol demanded that all family members attend a Sending--not just those who maintained amiable relations.

A perfunctory chime, then Zhende poked his head inside the door. "A gong has sounded, Councillor. The Presider has convened a party Enclave."

Vretha's hand fell from her chin. "He promised he wouldn't!" Rising from her chair, she grabbed a crimson robe from a hook on the wall and hurriedly pulled it over her clothes. She'd been assured that she would have until Deepening to present her campaign strategy to the party leadership. Why had the Presider gone back on his word? She was still waiting to hear from Progressive activists in a number of districts--

Racing past Zhende's workstation, through her chair-lined waiting area--gratefully empty of constituents and press--she stepped out onto the open-air ramps that sloped down the sides of the Parliament Andoria building. Vretha moved quickly along the nearest route to the lower levels. As she walked, she scanned the plaza, noting a gathering crowd; she guessed someone on the opposition side of parliament had organized yet another rally. The Visionists were evidently stepping up their campaigns. Across the plaza, issuing from the other visible wings of the government complex, she spotted several officials in brightly colored enclave robes headed to the subterranean Enclave chamber.

"Charivretha."

Wincing inwardly at the familiar voice, Vretha stopped and turned, waiting patiently for Representative th'Tethis, who was robed in distinctive purple, to waddle up to her. The delay was unwelcome: Appearing before the Enclave at the last minute might send a signal of disrespect to the Presider; failing to honor the demands of an elder thaan would also be disrespectful, so she was caught between two duties. No positive outcome either way, Vretha thought. It briefly occurred that perhaps th'Tethis was slowing her down on purpose to make her look bad before their senior party officials. She'd heard rumors that he was mentoring a young shen out of Wethesa that he hoped would eventually take her seat. I'm not finished yet, Vretha thought.

Th'Tethis held out a quivering, flattened palm; Vretha touched her palm to his and bowed from her shoulders. "How can I serve you Elder Tha?"

"Keep an old thaan company, Charivretha. We will go to Enclave together."

"As you ask," Vretha said, and took his proffered arm.

Together, they followed the down ramp to the next level. She was forced to stop again when th'Tethis paused to retie his ceremonial robe. Several more levels awaited them. All around, parliamentary representatives with their aides made their way to meetings. Glancing out of the corner of her eye, she saw most of the bright colored Enclave robes had vanished, presumably to the lower levels.

The walked in silence for several minutes before th'Tethis asked, "And how fares your clan, Charivretha?"

"It endures, Elder Tha," she answered automatically. "And yours?"

"Those of us who remain endure as well," th'Tethis said with an odd expression, almost as if he'd made a joke. Before she could inquire further, he said, "I understand that your chei has come home."

Ah, so he saw the newsnet report. "He comes to help his zhavey during a troubled time."

"Indeed," said th'Tethis. "Better troubled times with family than without, wouldn't you agree?"

What is he playing at? "As you say, Elder Tha." Vretha looked ahead. The final corridor was empty. As she had feared, she and th'Tethis would be the last to arrive.

"What awaits you is not what you expect," he told her.

"Excuse me, Elder-Tha?"

"Let me speak frankly, Charivretha. Do not rush to face your fate. Soon enough it will find you."

Vretha's eyes narrowed. "May I speak frankly as well, Elder Tha?"

The thaan smiled, revealing a mouth of copper teeth. "You know I do not judge my colleagues on their adherence to dusty traditions. Otherwise, I'd join the Visionists."

"Then hear this." Vretha dropped hold on his arm and took a long step forward, placing herself squarely in his path. If he had no use for manners, she would behave accordingly. Brashly, she forced eye contact with him, violating the boundary of his inner world; his antennae tensed. "I will not be shuttled aside for some ambitious shen you are grooming to replace me."

"My protégé has years before she will be qualified to assume the Federation Council seat," th'Tethis said, the corners of his eyes crinkling kindly. "It is not I who wants you replaced."

Vretha stood stock still, stunned by the magnitude of her mistake: she had no response for th'Tethis. She had exhibited naïveté that would be expected from a first cycle provincial representative.

Sliding his arm through hers, th'Tethis whispered, "Be glad that you confronted me, Charivretha. You now know you have one less enemy within the party. But remain on your guard."

Vretha hesitated. Finally she asked, "Can I count on your support, Elder Tha?"

"You can count on no one to sacrifice their political career on your behalf, Charivretha. Remember that. You must convince your fellow Progressives that your usefulness is not at an end, and that they have more to gain than to lose by continuing to support you."

Vretha allowed a sigh to escape her nostrils. So she was in for a fight. She'd expected as much, but had not anticipated having to battle her own party. Had she gone into Enclave expecting its full support, her political end would have been swift. Th'Tethis had armed her with the knowledge she would need to have at least a chance at survival, and for that she was grateful. She told him so.

The old thaan patted her arm. "Fight well," he advised her in his soft, rasping voice, "and others will fight with you. Ah, here we are."

Entering into the Heroes Antechamber never failed to evoke awe in Vretha, no matter how many times she'd walked through this, the oldest room in the Parliament Andoria complex. She imagined the great ones who had gone before her, smoothing the flecked gray stone floor with their sandals, symbolically purifying themselves with water and oil before they undertook the sacred business of governing Andor. From four walls of the eight-sided room, the faces of the mythological Guardians studied all who approached the Grand Chamber, judging their worthiness. Before the vaulted archway that led within, Vretha and th'Tethis removed their shoes, then paused to wash their foreheads and palms in the mineral water bubbling up from the ground into the ritual basin, also carved from stone. Dabbing their fingertips in ornate vessels of sweet-scented oil, they touched their eyelids, noses, tongues, ears, and antennae, sealing the vessels of their senses from receiving or offering treachery. Pulling their hoods up from their shoulders to cover their heads, they approached the entrance.

Four chan warriors, clothed in the dark padded armor of the old Imperial Guard, stood at the archway, ceremonial blades drawn in defense of the Enclave. Vretha announced her intent to join the gathering, and the guards stepped aside, pointing the tips of their weapons to the ground. She crossed over the threshold into the Grand Chamber, hewn entirely from a dark, almost black granite; as she'd anticipated, a full Enclave had convened around the diamond shaped well in the middle of the room. Progressive leaders from Andor's sixty-four electoral provinces knelt around the lip of the depression, facing the center, and leaving open spaces among them for her and th'Tethis.

Striding toward the gathering, Vretha paused and bowed at the shoulders before the Empty Throne, situated between the archway and the Enclave. Legally, Andor was still a constitutional monarchy, despite the fact that that no single ruler had reigned over the planet in centuries. Thalisar the Last, who had first united her people centuries ago, had deliberately died childless--but not before implementing the parliamentary system that she had created to succeed her, and which had governed Andor ever since. The Empty Throne, unlike its namesake in the myths of Uzaveh, was kept to honor what Thalisar had achieved. In a single lifetime, she had utterly abolished the clan warfare that had kept Andor divided for so long. Charivretha wondered grimly if she had envisioned the altogether different struggles that had replaced the clan conflicts.

Eyes averted politely, Vretha knelt three places down from Presider ch'Shelos, while th'Tethis assumed his place on the opposite side of the well. On a signal from the Presider, those gathered around the Enclave basin moved to a sitting position, their legs dangling over the edge. Vretha glanced discreetly at the figures around the well, wondering how many friends she had left among them.

"I apologize for the suddenness of this meeting, Charivretha," ch'Shelos began, "but the party leadership felt it was critical that we have a dialogue before your press conference."

"You've called me here to ask me for my resignation," Vretha said, determined to gain the upper hand quickly and unwilling to grant ch'Shelos the privilege of trumping her. "Let me be clear, then: I won't do it. At a time when Andor needs an experienced voice in the Federation, there is no one who knows better how to address our needs than I." She would not gloat at the surprise the Presider projected.

He recovered quickly from her opening. "You've honored us with your service, Councillor, but certainly you are wise enough to see that our present circumstance requires drastic action. Our administration is under siege from our political adversaries, the Visionists. The Progressives, as a whole, are fighting to keep our agenda moving Andor into the future. In that equation, Vretha, you are a divisor, a liability, because the Visionists have managed to put your face on their attacks."

"And you propose to balance the equation by subtracting me, is that it?" Vretha asked, holding her chin high. "I'm disappointed, Presider, that my own party, which has always fought passionately for the least of causes, would capitulate so easily to Visionist pressure."

Ch'Shelos's eyes narrowed. "There is the larger vista to consider, Councillor. Even you can see that a strategic sacrifice may derail the Visionist attacks sufficiently to buy us the time we need--"

"So you wish to buy yourselves time," Vretha said. It was a risk, daring to interrupt the Presider, but she judged now was the time to take a few risks. "That seems fitting in a way. Our entire agenda has been about buying time, after all, whether it's the time to weather the political crisis of the moment, or the time to search for a genuine solution to our ongoing reproductive crisis. Buying time has become an end unto itself. What do a few small sacrifices along the way matter--careers, relationships, lives--as long as we have more time?" Where had that come from? Vretha felt her inner heat rising, images of Thriss entering her mind unbidden.

A representative in azure blue--she didn't recognize him with his hood--spoke up. "A dramatic critique, Councillor, but a hypocritical one, since you have supported the strategy you now condemn throughout your career."

"I've not merely supported it," Vretha countered forcefully, "I've helped shape it. That's my point, Cha Presider and honored colleagues. History and experience have shown us that Andor has ever been world of complexities, requiring that we be a patient people, reluctant act in haste, determined to find the best solutions to our problems, not merely the most expedient ones. Eliminating me is the expedient solution. Time can truly be bought by allowing me to continue my work on behalf of our people. I therefore ask for a chance to counter the attacks against our party."

"Against yourself, you mean," the blue-hooded one said. "You argue for your political survival, not ours, Charivretha zh'Thane. And you channel the voices of radicals such as your chei in your desperation."

A hiss escaped Vretha's teeth. Murmurs rose among the members of the Enclave as she glared at the blue-hooded representative, fighting to hold back her rage. Her anger wasn't for him alone, though. He was right about what she said--that Andorians might be sacrificing too much to buy time was Shar's old argument. How many times had he said the same things to her to justify his defiance of the Andorian way, of her? Her preoccupation with their longstanding quarrel and all that it had wrought was splitting her focus. It was a mistake that, she knew, was about to cost her.

Presider ch'Shelos suddenly held out his hand in front of him, palm down. "Enough!"

The chamber fell silent. But Charivretha's glare remained fixed.

"This discord wastes our energies," ch'Shelos said. "Councillor zh'Thane, as admirably passionate as your arguments are, they do not change the political realties we face. Your request for time is denied."

"I ask the Presider's pardon," a soft voice said, "but I wish to speak."

All eyes turned in the direction of the speaker and ch'Shelos said, "Representative th'Tethis is recognized."

The old thaan inclined his head. "You honor me, Presider. Thank you. I wish to say merely that I believe that Councillor zh'Thane has, perhaps without realizing it, raised a point in this debate that we should consider before this august body does the bidding of its enemies and removes her from her post."

Charivretha's anger gave way to surprise. The murmurs resumed among the other members of the Enclave. Despite his kindly, humble manner, th'Tethis was unmistakably on the attack. And more, he was actually taking the Enclave to task on her behalf, making himself a target for reprisal if the majority remained against her.

"I see that I have everyone's attention," th'Tethis said with amusement as the murmurs died down. "Good. Then let me speak plainly. I am old. In the view of many, I know, I have overstayed my welcome, not only in parliament, but in this life. So be it. I will make no apology for that. For I am the last of my clan, our line having dwindled as so many others have in recent centuries. I have clung to my life fiercely for one reason: to delay the day of my clan's extinction." He looked around the Enclave, allowing his gaze to fall on each face. "It is a familiar paradigm, is it not?"

No one answered. Vretha's shock was absolute. She had known that the Tethis clan was small, but she never imagined--

"I say this," th'Tethis went on, "because what Charivretha has dared to say here about our buying time is true: We are consumed by it. So much so that we don't give it much thought anymore. It comes to us naturally now, to put off inevitability. It pervades every aspect of Andorian life because, both as a species and as individuals, we see our death."

"Presider, enough of this," said the blue-hooded one. "This rhetoric is off-topic and has nothing to do with--"

"It has everything to do with why we are here," th'Tethis interrupted, his bright eyes fixed on the speaker. "And I remind you all that I have the floor."

"Continue then, Elder Tha," ch'Shelos said.

Th'Tethis reached out with a gnarled, trembling hand to the shoulder of the shen at his left and slowly rose to his feet, breaking the Enclave. It was a serious breach of protocol, but Vretha could not help but admire the old thaan's audacity. The tactic's symbolism was clear: Push me, th'Tethis was saying, and I will push back harder. Perhaps, like her, he felt that he had little left to lose at this point by offending the Enclave in order to make his point. But where she had stumbled, th'Tethis walked confidently.

"Representative th'Sivas," he resumed, addressing the blue-hooded one as he began to circle the Enclave, "you think I spout rhetoric, that what I say has no bearing on the reasons for this gathering. I tell you that Charivretha's zh'Thane political future and the plight or people are inexorably linked. But like you, I did not truly see it--not until the Councillor herself brought the two thoughts together.

"As all of you are aware, there are rumors flying about radical new research underway at the Science Institute, ostensibly to explore the possibility of reengineering our biology. Andorians would be altered at conception in such a way that the four sexes would be reduced to two, making subsequent conceptions viable among pairs instead of quads. Our reproductive crisis would be solved in one generation."

Vretha's stomach lurched. Wild conspiracy theories intruded on legitimate political discourse from time to time, but the revulsion she felt as such a monstrous idea made her wonder how anyone could give credence to it. She wasn't sure if it was sheer fascination with the thought of such radical reengineering, or horror at the notion that some Andorians were desperate enough to be willing to alter the species fundamentally in order to ensure its survival.

"This is a vicious rumor devised by extremist factions in the Visionist Party to cast aspersions on Progressive integrity," th'Sivas insisted. "We should not dignify such gossip with discussion."

"On the contrary. We need to discuss it," said th'Tethis, "because I believe you are correct, Representative th'Sivas. These rumors are, I think, part of a much broader strategy on the part of the Visionists to take control of the government by discrediting Progressive ideology. Or does anyone in this chamber truly think it is an accident that these rumors started surfacing at the precisely same time that the attacks on Councillor zh'Thane, and by extension, the Progressive Party, began?"

Whatever protocol framed the discussion collapsed as representatives heatedly debated with those nearest them the implications of th'Tethis's statements. Even ch'Shelos had become caught up in the debate with those nearest him. Vretha merely watched, trying unsuccessfully to get a read on the Enclave. Then, after several minutes, a young shen in jade robe spoke up.

"I have a question," she began. "What if these aren't merely rumors fabricated by the Visionists? What if the research is real?"

Silence fell. Into it, ch'Shelos asked, "Do have reason to believe that it is, Representative sh'Yethe?".

"I have reason to wonder if we should dismiss it out of hand, Presider," sh'Yethe said. "Especially after all that has been said so far today...I wonder if this wild rumor isn't exactly the solution we've sought for generations?"

Vretha saw th'Tethis narrow his eyes at the young shen. Not disapproving, she saw, but thoughtful.

Th'Sivas seemed incredulous. "You're talking about a crime against nature."

"Some would argue that what has happened to us is a crime against nature," sh'Yethe countered. "Or perhaps a crime of nature. We all know what's at stake here. For centuries science has sought solutions to our dilemma and failed. In our desperation, we implemented the bond-matching programs to maximize the chances for successful conceptions. To that end, we've altered our culture, our values, our ways of thinking about bonding and how we raise our young, and the best we've done is to slow the decline. But how long can we truly endure this way? The best minds among us believe that we have ten generations, perhaps fifteen, before the light that is Andor is extinguished. Am I the only one willing to consider that this may well come down to choosing to die as we are, or to live as something else?"

"This monstrous extremism," th'Sivas said. "is precisely why the Visionist attacks are succeeding. Our party is riddled with radicals who will rationalize any idea, no matter how extreme, without considering the consequences. They want immediate results but fail to recognize that some lines should not be crossed. I put it to you, Presider, that these efforts to dilute the matter at hand must not succeed. There is one real issue before this Enclave: Charivretha zh'Thane's political future."

"They are linked," th'Tethis insisted. "If we dismiss zh'Thane now, we are as guilty of seeking the same immediate results you claim are espoused by radicals."

Ch'Shelos stared into the well for a long moment before turning his gaze on her. "Is there anything you wish to add, Charivretha, before I put the matter to a vote?"

Vretha met the Presider's eyes, then she rose to her feet, facing him. "Our human associates have a myth: an intricate knot that could be unraveled only by the true ruler the world. Many tried and failed to untie the knot, until one came with a sword and cut the knot in twain.

"Andor has no analog to this tale. Seldom do we act in haste, for we believe that to do so would be to blind ourselves to the possible consequences of our actions. Yet we know inaction is equally perilous, carrying its own share of consequences. So we have always tried to find a balance." She paused to take a deep breath. "I will find the answers. Allow me to continue in my fight for my council position, and I will expose this matter of reengineering our species for the myth it is. And by so doing, I will reveal the deceits the Visionist Party has attempted to perpetuate on our people. I ask that I be allowed to act, with care and sober thought, not just on my own behalf, but for all of Andor." She glanced briefly at th'Tethis, whose eyes were again crinkling at her. Then she searched the faces of her colleagues, many of whom had sought her counsel or asked for her endorsement in their campaigns--and dared them to defy her.

A chime sounded. The Presider picked up the executive padd from its place at his side, excused himself, and read the incoming message. He studied the data for several minutes, during which Vretha could sense a change in him. His antennae had tensed, and he radiated profound concern.

The Presider tapped out an acknowledgment to the sender and then dropped the padd into an inner pocket of his robe. "As is my prerogative," he told the Enclave, "I am tabling this discussion owing to an unfolding situation. Details are still scarce, but I will share what is known.

"As some of you may have noticed on your way here, a rally was being organized in the Plaza of Freedom, presumably by our Visionist colleagues across the aisle. While we've been here, nearly sixteen thousand protesters have gathered in the plaza. They have been calling for the present administration to step down, and for new representation to be sent to the Federation Council."

Vretha braced herself. The number of protesters was distressingly higher than usual, but not dangerously so for the plaza. And the demands were much the same as in other recent rallies. There must be worse news coming...

"Similar demonstrations have been reported throughout the capital and in nearly every major population center on the planet, all taking place simultaneously. Current estimates are that as many as eight million protesters are involved. Homeworld Security is attempting to maintain order, but we are receiving reports of violence and property damage sweeping through several cities, including this one."

The Enclave sat in stunned silence, until Vretha asked, "Casualties?" The word seemed to catch in her throat.

Ch'Shelos looked directly at her. "No figures are available yet. But a number of deaths are already confirmed."

Copyright © 2004 by Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved.

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