Psi Phi's Star Trek Books Database
#53: Fables of the Prime Directive
Written by Cory Rushton
Abramowitz breathed in deeply. The smell of livestock and inadequate sewage systems made for an unpleasant aroma, but experiencing it was part of her job. She took another deep breath and frowned.
"What's wrong?" wheezed Corsi, her own nose red and thoroughly protected from Baldakor's scent.
"It doesn't smell as bad as I'd expected." Abramowitz breathed in again, held it longer. "No, not as bad at all."
Corsi shook her head. "You make it sound as though that's a bad thing." Her stuffed-up nose made all her th's sound like d's.
Abramowitz tilted her head to the side thoughtfully. "It might be." She pointed her tricorder towards one of the larger buildings in the village, a three-story wooden structure decorated with weathered stone statues adorning the top floor. To her trained eye, the statues looked like grimacing lizards holding sticks and blades, protective spirits rather than honored ancestors. "That building has a more sophisticated plumbing system than I would have expected."
"All cultures develop in different areas at different rates," said Corsi. "Maybe these people value sanitation above weaponry or vehicular transport."
Abramowitz nodded her head appreciatively. "Well said, Commander, and certainly a possibility. You're full of surprises."
"And pollen." Corsi growled.
Abramowitz touched her left-hand little finger to her right shoulder as two Corotican woman passed. They returned the gesture, but frowned at Corsi, who had neglected to do so. "Commander, we need to blend in."
Corsi glowered. "Are you saying they don't have cranky, rude people on Coroticus? Why does Starfleet always assume we all need to be friendly?" She sneezed, snarling at herself immediately afterwards.
"We need to get you another hypospray. We could try another medley, maybe mix anti-sheep with anti-Omicronian orchid?"
"I'll wait for a real doctor. I'm fine."
Abramowitz refrained from pointing out that their "real doctor" was off being up for some medical prize or other and wouldn't be back until this mission was over in a week. Instead, she turned her attention back to the locals as they went about their business. "Their culture approximates that of the medieval Europe on Earth, with a strongly agricultural basis." She touched Corsi's shoulder lightly, pointing to a nearby domed building, one of the few stone structures in the village. "They even have stained glass."
Corsi narrowed her eyes thoughtfully. "Isn't that Hodge's Law of Parallel Planetary Development?"
Carol chuckled softly. "Now you're just showing off. It's actually Hodgkins's Law, which describes how separate planets develop similar or even identical cultures, like the Nova Romans. Anyways, it's no longer in favor since the Palmieri Hypothesis."
"How's that work, then?"
"Well, Professor Palmieri always felt that Hodgkins's Law was... deeply flawed... and...." Abramowitz wandered towards the domed structure as her voice trailed off.
"Oh, very nice," muttered Corsi, following the cultural specialist.
Placing her hands against the domed building's stone, dark grey and cool to the touch, Carol stood on her toes and strained to take in the glass above. The building seemed to be a religious structure, the spire above the dome straining towards the skies, home of the gods across the galaxy. "I need to get in there."
Corsi glanced over the building's front, which was dominated by two sets of massive wooden doors, one of which was carved and the other nearly plain. The wood of the second doors was yellow and smelled strongly. To Corsi's eyes, it looked as though it were unfinished. "I've been watching, and I think the unfinished doors are for women, the other doors for men."
"Sounds about right."
Inside, the building was lit by a combination of braziers lit with coal and reeds, and sunlight streaming in colored beams from the ornate glass. There were no seats and no altar. Some sweet smoke, native incense perhaps, immediately overpowered the senses. A native stood in the room's centre, muttering to himself and occasionally referring to the sheets of paper in his hand. Carol thought she heard the name Ushpallar, and the words for abandonment and sin, punishment and forgiveness. She moved closer to the small crowd of believers, hoping to hear more of the sermon.
"...for the Scriptures told us, verily, that the tuilgpa-swee would be yoked to the jimjim, and the kuilka to the gomgom."
The universal translater isn't even trying anymore, thought Carol with an amused inner sigh.
"And these things came to pass when Ushpallar, He Who Blesses and Condemns, son of Ashpa of the Sun and Vwainleila the Earth, moved among his people and dispensed gifts to those who fell upon their faces, and curses to those who stood tall against the wind like the tjib-reed."
Standard fire and brimstone, mused Carol, glancing around the domed interior. The ceiling was remarkably free of ornament where it should be brightly painted, but perhaps that had more to do with the newness of the building and not any cultural change.
"The believers cowered unto the earth when the fires came and consumed our brethren, and..."
"AH-CHOO!" Corsi waved her hands across her face, trying to dispel the smell of the incense. "It's the resin!" The man with the papers glanced up and scowled, but Abramowitz couldn't tell if it was with annoyance or concern. The gathered faithful glanced back in alarm, and many of them whispered to each other and began rushing for the doors.
"You just provided some kind of signal, Commander. The captive flock can't wait to leave." She smiled at the scowling security chief. "Maybe you should wait outside." Abramowitz held up a hand to stall Corsi's protest. "I'll be fine, and you need the fresh air." She restrained herself from physically pushing the security chief back outside, and was relieved when Corsi allowed herself the briefest of scowls before agreeing.
Carol moved towards the entrance, preparing herself for close observation, and praying the universal translator would be able to handle Corotican theology. At least Domenica didn't ask me if I was "okay" with this.
* * *
Outside, Corsi drank in the relatively harmless air with relief. She'd probably pay for gulping away at it despite the certain presence of trace elements of resin and whatever else was driving her sinuses to distraction, but for the moment it seemed to help more than harm.
The sudden ringing of bells caught Corsi's attention even through the allergic haze. There was no obvious bell-tower on the domed building Abramowitz had entered, so Corsi looked around. Most obviously, Baldakor's people were now on the move; where moments ago they were carrying on what looked like the daily business of trading and gossiping, now they were rushing for their homes, slamming doors as they hid themselves away. A few unfortunates hid in alleys between buildings, obviously caught well away from their own homes. To Corsi's eye, the sudden activity didn't look like complete panic, but rather had the air of anxious practice. Whatever the bells meant, whatever these people were hiding from, was something they'd encountered many times in the past.
At last she spotted the source of the bells. A small procession of five of Coroticans, four of whom were carrying a bier, covered with a shimmering dark-red cloth; the material was the darkest Corsi had yet seen in this culture of bright blues and vibrant greens. The man at the head of the procession was wearing robes made of a similar fabric, and it was he who was ringing the hand-held bells.
There was something on the bier, something lumpy. Corsi narrowed her eyes. She assumed the covered object was a Corotican; covering the dead was an almost universal tradition among humanoids, at least at some stage of the grieving process.
From the nearest alley, a Corotican male was openly at her. His expression was one of faint puzzlement and, perhaps, more than a touch of curiosity. The man leading the procession was slowing now, the bells ringing with less force, softly chiming to a halt as he lifted a hand. The procession stopped behind him. There was complete silence as they all stared at her.
* * *
If I wasn't so bloody slow-witted just now, she thought in annoyance, I would have spent less time observing the local behavior and more time emulating it.
Abramowitz turned her attention back to the lone Corotican in the building, who was now gazing after Corsi with mild interest. And why not? The commander chased everyone else from the room. "My sister is ill. I'm to pray for her. We apologize for the interruptions."
The Corotican, a large man who obviously had the wealth necessary to live luxuriously, held up his hands and smiled pleasantly, tucking his sermon into a flat square pouch on his belt. "Not to be troubled, daughter." He extended his arm towards a particular alcove, dominated by the glass Carol had come in to see. "Might I point to our shrine of Ushpallar? The glass is but newly installed, and the god is delighted to take offerings therein."
Carol bowed slightly, allowing her left leg to sweep forward until her foot rested on top of her right. The man smiled and bowed in return, and Carol breathed a sigh of relief that she had the gesture correct. She'd only had camera images, and a written description, to go on. "I would be pleased to pray to He Who Blesses and Condemns." She brought out a handful of coins, carefully constructed by the da Vinci's replicators based on the post's field work.
The man took them and they disappeared soundlessly into the folds of his robes. He withdrew with a bow, smiling softly. "Be never found wanting," he intoned.
"Be blessed by the clouds," she answered.
When he was gone, she turned to the shrine, stepping carefully into the alcove and letting the light wash over her for a moment. She took a stick of incense from a basket to her left, and lit it from a small candle on her right, then placed it in a wooden rack projecting from the wall beneath the glass. When she wasn't attacked from behind, she assumed her mastery of local ritual was complete, and she put her hands together and looked up at the glass.
Even half-expecting it, Carol still gasped softly. This is not good, she thought.
The glass was made of all colors, but the blue of the god's robe dominated the scene. Three Coroticans bowed before a being on a dais, his hand raised in benediction. The god, Ushpallar, has long black hair and pointed, scalloped ears which seemed to grow straight out of his chin. Behind him stood two reptilians beings carrying black sticks, cradling them strangely in their arms.
Ushpallar, He Who Blesses and Condemns, was clearly a Vorta.
Copyright © 2005 Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved.
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