“To Explore Strange New Worlds”, Chapter 6: Stitches in Time [Draft #2: May 3, 2015

•May 3, 2015 • Leave a Comment

“I would like to propose a toast.” Cox announced, serving himself a well-deserved drink at the bar in the lounge on Deck Ten. Lessia, Sarah and Jennifer, all with their own drinks in hand, looked to their Captain expectantly. “To Xavier Syrius;” Cox raised his glass; “Vindicated at last.” Everyone present nodded and raised their drinks to his.

“Wherever he might be.” Sarah added as they all took a drink and Cox remembered when her mother had mentioned that Syrius had vanished while demonstrating his theories. But even s their glasses clinked together, Sarah straightened in her chair, her head perking up. She looked across the table at Cox, who nodded to her: He had heard it too.

From behind the bar had come the unmistakable clinking of metal silverware. There was silence as they listened for more, but it was shattered as Lauri entered the lounge.

“Captain, I—” She was stopped dead in her tracks and silenced by an urgent wave of a hand from Cox.

Was there anyone else in here when we found you?’ He asked the dancer silently.

Lauri’s silence and her uncomfortable fidgeting caused both Sarah and Cox to turn to stare at her. “There was someone. One other dancer.” Lauri confirmed out loud.

“Who is it?” Lessia whispered to her, her low voice a hushed hiss. “Is there anything you can tell us about her?”

“She’s a…” Lauri answered. Her voice trailed off as she searched in vain for adjectives. “I don’t know what in the worlds she is.” She admitted finally. “To be honest;” She elaborated; “No one I’ve ever met has ever seen anything else like her anywhere.”, but moved slowly toward the stage.

Ascending the steps one at a time, such that her feet, even in her six-inch heels, made no sound on the metal grating of the steps. Reaching the stage, Lauri held up a hand: “She lives most of her time backstage. You’d better let me be the one to go in and get her to come out;” She started across the stage and was just parting the curtains when she turned; “And it would make her more comfortable if you were all sitting down when she first sees you.” Then she ducked behind the curtain and Cox gestured for them to all do as instructed and take a seat.

It was a long several minutes before she parted the curtains and emerged again. The curtains did not close behind her, and it took Cox a moment to discern a figure in the shadows behind Lauri. The woman blended into the dim haze cast by the multiple-colored overhead spotlights more so than Cox would have though should have been possible.

He wondered what she could be wearing that would camouflage her so well. He was perhaps more shocked than any of the rest, therefore, when the woman stepped forward through the curtains and into the light and he saw that she wore absolutely nothing at all.

Standing on the stage, it appeared at first glance as though the stage lights illuminated the woman’s naked skin in constantly changing patterns of color. However, as Lauri led her across the stage and down the steps, the patterns continued to change even as the overhead lights remained constant, revealing to the observers that it was not the lights that were changing color but rather the woman’s skin.

“What in the worlds…?” Jennifer breathed. Her voice trailed off as her question was answered: As the woman descended the stairs behind Lauri, it was noticeable that the move of her long bright red hair did not mirror the motion of her feet, the reason for which made itself known as she turned momentarily away from them and they saw two long tube-like appendages dangling and serpentining down her back.

“She’s a Rhylorionthian.” Lessia murmured in a hushed whisper under her breath.

Cox could only nod, fighting hard not to gape.

Though they had been one of the four founding worlds of the Federation along with Earth, Valogra and Trillaxia, even in the universe they knew natives of what 20th century astronomer had labeled “Delta Orion”, which the natives called Ryloth, were an extraordinarily rare sight. Even more rare still were the sensual females of the species, few of who ever left the homeworld. The Rhylorionthians had, however, been longtime friends and allies with Valogra Prime and so as the son and heir of the Valogran Queen, Cox had seen the males of the species who had come to Earth to meet with his mother, and had learned all about the exotic and reclusive aliens. But even he had never met or even seen one so breathtaking. It had, in that moment, been well worth the wait. Like Lauri, the Rhylorionthian woman had the lithe body of a dancer. Unlike her fellow dancer, the Rhylorionthian woman wore no clothes of any kind at all, not only since this was the manner in which females appeared when on their homeworld but because the alien’s skin was capable of producing mesmerizing and dazzling displays of brilliant colors.

Cox’s limited knowledge of Rhylorionthian physiology told him from the length and thickness of the snakelike tentacles that sprouted from her head beneath her hair that the dancer was only a little more than two hundred and fifty years old, the human equivalent of a young teenager by the standards of her species.

“Her name;” Lauri was saying; “Is Talula.” The dancer said nothing, but smiled at hearing the mention of her name. Her tentacles settled to drape over her shoulders, now only slithering from side to side over her chest and the tone of her skin color brightened from a deep forest green to a vivid almost neon blue. “She’s very pleased that you are her new bosses.” Lauri translated.

As they all stood one by one from their chairs, the naked Rhylorionthian sashayed from one to another, as though inspecting each member of Cox’s team, and greeted each of them in turn.

Standing in front of Cox and turning a shimmering turquoise color; her assessment of his bearing must have told her Cox was in charge, because she bent her knees and bowed at the waist in a facsimile of a courtly curtsy, made quixotic by the fact that she wore no clothes.

As she passed in front of Sarah, Cox saw a wave of deep ocean blue spread from her chest up to her face, in what the Captain guessed was her kind’s equivalent of a blush and she ducked her head away sheepishly, averting her eyes as though she and the blonde shared some unknown private joke between them. However, when she came to Lessia, Talula immediately stood straight, her skin flashing a bright flaming red that matched her hair. The tentacles descending from her head shot out and wrapped themselves around the back of Lessia’s head and neck, twisting and twirling through her hair, and the scientist’s gasp was cut short as Talula pulled the Trillaxian to her in order to kiss her forcefully on her open mouth.

She wrapped her arms around Lessia to kiss her long and passionately, and Talula’s tentacles slipped underneath the front of Lessia’s uniform to slither caressingly over the other woman’s chest as she pressed her nude body against her.

“I should have warned you.” Lauri said to a still-dazed Lessia after the Rhylorionthian had released her. “There apparently exists no such thing as inhibitions in her species’ culture…about anything.”

Lessia could only nod as she licked her lips, reaching up to tug the neckline of her tunic back on her shoulders, leaving the collar undone.

One look at Slaavik was all it took for Talula to turn a deep blue, her tentacles moving with her hands to cover her anatomy, before she turned and disappeared backstage again.

“You’ll have to forgive her.” Lauri explained, watching her fellow exotic dancer leave. “She’s used to performing her act in front of large crowds;” She glanced at Lessia; “Of men and women. So the concept of embarrassment is, how would you say…Alien to her.”

Lessia insisted on staying behind as Lauri followed her fellow dancer backstage and so Cox and Slaavik continued their exploration of the Endeavor.

Sarah had excused herself, saying she needed to go and speak with her mother and the two women intercepted Cox and Slaavik a while later as they stood outside the door to one ship’s innumerable science labs. “Captain!” Sarah began, even before she had fully come to a complete stop beside him, indicating to Cox that whatever she needed to tell him concerned the ship and her official duties.

Cox turned at the sound of her voice as the door in front of them refuse to open for the third time and Slaavik, with a huff, knelt to begin working on the control panel beside it. “What is it, Colonel?”

Sara glanced at her mother, who nodded to her, before continuing. “As you know;” She began; “I am quite a skilled and adept pilot.”

Cox nodded, having witnessed the blonde’s talent for flying firsthand during their dizzying trip through the slipstream.

“What you may or may not know;” Sarah shifted uncomfortably from one foot to the other; “Is that I’ve been one for much longer than you’ve been alive.”

“How long?” Slaavik asked, not looking up from her work opening up the control panel.

“Back before the founding of the Federation.”

This caught Cox’s attention. “I thought you said you were a physicist?” It was more a statement than a question, remembering what she had told him on the holodeck earlier that morning.

Sarah nodded, glancing back at her mother gain. “It’s true. I do have a Ph.D. in Theoretical Astrophysics from Trinity College at the University of Cambridge.”

Cox’s ears perked up, this being the first indication he had heard from Sarah of her ever having lived in England, their destination.

“But in the first half of the twenty-first century, served as a pilot of the space plane for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration of the United States of America.”

“You were an astronaut.” Cox summarized with a smile, referring to the name for humans engaged in space exploration of Earth solar system in the two centuries prior to First Contact.

Sarah said nothing and Cox looked at her expectantly, knowing that there was a reason she was telling them this.

However, before Sarah could continue, Slaavik grunted happily and the doors to the lab in front of them opened. All conversation ceased as they stepped inside and looked around. Before he could even think to consider it, Cox slapped his chest. “Lieutenant Hansen, this is Captain Cox;” He heard his voice piped through the hallways and corridors outside the doors; “Please report to my location immediately.”

As had become a pattern since the two had first met, Jenny impressed Cox her punctuality, walking in the now open doors of the lab only a few minutes after having been summoned.

“A fully-functional Astrometrics Lab!” Her voice was full of awe and ever eye in the room turned to her as she strode to the front of the room as though walking down the aisle of a church. “They didn’t exist before First Contact;” She explained; “But there have been prototypes on several recent Federation starships.”

“You seemed to speak with a degree of familiarity with them.” Slaavik analyzed, tilting her head to one side curiously as Hansen lowered her hands reverently onto the control panels

“I should be.” Jenny replied, turning to the others. “I designed them.”

“And what, exactly, does this… What did you call it? An Astro—what lab?”

“Astrometrics.” Hansen answered, nodding.

“What exactly does an Astrometrics Lab do?”

Hansen did not answer directly, but her fingers flew over the panel in front of her and the screen at the front of the room flickered to life, an image of a slowly rotating galaxy growing as it was magnified to fill the screen.

“It’s incredibly detailed.” Sarah remarked, studying the pinpricks that were the hundred thousand stars in the Milky Way.

“It would appear;” Slaavik assessed, nodding to the list of names scrolling down the screen beside the rotating image; “That, whatever and however numerous its failings as a civilized society may be, this Empire has managed to explore substantially more of our galaxy than the Federation.”

Cox nodded, recognizing the names of the planets in Earth’s solar system as well as those in the Delta Orion system, Valogra and Trillaxia Prime among the scrolling lists of names.

They were lost, however, among tens of thousands of other names. As they walked out of the lab, Cox turned to Sarah.

“What was it you needed to tell me?”

“During the First Cold War;” Sarah explained; “The United States and the Soviet Union filled Earth’s seas with surveillance ships and submarines, its skies with spy planes and space with surveillance satellites.”

“So?” Cox prompted, not appreciating the meaningful look that Sarah and her mother were giving him, as though that alone in and of itself explained everything that he needed to know.

Sarah sighed. “So how were you planning on getting us from the moon to downtown London?”

Cox stopped in his steps, realizing belatedly only now that with everything that had happened that day, he had never actually given that part much thought, thinking instead at least half a dozen steps ahead. He had planned for what they would do when they reached London, but had never given much consideration to how they might go about getting there. “I was hoping we could give the voyager a spin.” He said, mostly to himself, already looking forward to experiencing Commander Brooks’ pleasure yacht for himself.

“I should have qualified that.” Sarah was grinning. “Let me rephrase it: How do you think you’re going to get half a dozen people into one of the most populous cities in the developed industrialized world without being seen by anyone?”

Will knew the blonde well enough to recognize the knowing glimmer in her eyes. “I take it you have a suggestion of a way we might do that.” It was more of a statement than an inquiry, but nevertheless Sarah nodded.

“The Imperial shuttle.” She said.

Cox cocked his head to the side curiously, not having considered that option.

“The industrialized nations of the time still relied on radar and sonar detection systems from the Second World War.” Sarah explained. “The shuttle’s shape and the composition of its hull should render it all but invisible and undetectable.”

The Captain eyed her scrupulously. “And where in downtown London do you propose we land a craft that size?” He asked pointedly, deliberately mirroring her words back to her.

Sarah smiled as she exchanged a knowing look with her mother behind her.

“Oh, we know a place. Don’t worry.” Hera answered enigmatically.

Once the Endeavor was in orbit on the dark side of the moon, Cox left Slaavik in Command on the bridge and responded to Hera having summoned him to the lounge on deck ten of the forward section.

He walked in the doors to find the rest of his crew already assembled inside.

“We’ve been monitoring all Earth communications;” Sarah told them; “Looking for any references to anything occurring in London that may have led to the disruption of the timeline.”

All present nodded, recognizing this as being prudent measure to take.

“Less than an hour ago, we intercepted a television news broadcast from Britain to America that featured the image of a scientist recently employed by Military Intelligence.” She paused and looked first at Lessia then at Jennifer pointedly. “There was no mistake . The man on the television was General Syrius.”

Lessia’s eyes went wide. “Now we know where he want after he vanished.”

Sarah nodded, turning to her mother. “As you might guess, this complicates our mission significantly.”

“How so?” Jennifer asked.

“Syrius was one of the founding members of the Federation’s Star Fleet.” Hera explained. “It was, in fact, he who coined the term.” Cox cocked an eyebrow, often having wondered about its origin. “If we hope to track it down successfully without him detecting our presence, then we cannot enter this world as our present selves.”

“You mean we need cover identities.” Casey sounded excited by the prospect and her older sibling smiled.

Hera nodded. “Captain;” she addressed Cox; “You will be going in as a wealthy military industrialist corporate contractor by the name of William Harper.”

“Like Anthony Stark;” Cox said, half to himself and saw both Sarah and her mother startle with recognition that he knew the name; “A multi-billionaire genius inventor in early Twenty-First Century Los Angeles.” The Captain explained to the younger members of his crew.

“Mister Harper will be in need of a wife.” Hera said and Cox could not have missed the glow of eager anticipation that alit in her daughter’s eyes. “Lieutenant Hansen seems the obvious choice;” Hera concluded thankfully unable to see Sarah unable to hid her crestfallen expression; “As we will be in need of the services of Colonel Connor here;” She gestured to her daughter, who smiled at the reference to her earlier-revealed identity; “If we are to infiltrate Britain’s military.” She turned to the remaining crewmembers. “Wealthy men such as Mister Harper frequently employed chauffeurs, that is to say drivers, who also served as their personal bodyguards and I believe Commander Amdanros is ideally suited for this capacity.” Alexander nodded and Hera turned to Lessia. “Wealthy families such as the Harpers also employed in-house full-time maids, in charge of cleaning and household chores.”

Cox almost laughed at the shell-shocked expression on the Trillaxian’s face.

As an influential daughter of her home world’s ruling family, Odanox had more than probably never contemplated becoming anyone’s servant.

“And what about me?” Lauriaina raised her hand sheepishly.

“Yours might turn out to be the most pivotal assignment of them all.” Hera answered and turned to her daughter to explain. “The news reports we have intercepted made mention of the fact that many high-ranking officers within the military had a habit of frequenting the gentlemen’s clubs around downtown London.”

Lauri shrank back at realizing that her assignment meant a return to her old life.

“We don’t know whether this includes General Syrius or not.” Sarah continued, looking at the dancer emphatically. “But if it does, you may very well be the one of us most able to get the closest to him long before any of the rest of us can.” She smiled as Lauri straightened, recognizing the importance of her mission. “Though female psychoanalysts were unheard of at this point in time, your particular gifts will still come in quite useful if you ever encounter Syrius.” Lauri knew Sarah was referring to her telepathic ability to hear other people’s thoughts. “If you can get close to him, use your abilities to try and discern what his intentions might be and more importantly what it is that he might be planning to do that might interfere with the normal progression of history and result in the future you come from.” Lauri smiled and nodded, recognizing that her assignment meant far more than just merely being a dancer for men’s pleasure as she had been in the Empire from which they had come. “You’ll be glad to hear that the specific clubs mentioned in the broadcasts are all upper-class establishments.”

Lauri cocked her head to one side, unsure what that meant. “Places where you get to keep your clothes on;” Lessia explained; “for the most part.”

Lauri nodded.

“We will need to assume our new identities from the moment we step off the shuttle.” Hera told. “So I’ve taken the liberty of replicating you disguises in advance.”

Cox’s costume consisted of a pinstriped suit coat, whose dark blue color resembled that of his Starfleet uniform and its matching pants. He was just reentering the lounge when the curtains to backstage parted and Jenny stepped through onto the stage.

As he understood the fashion to have been in the mid-20th century, Hansen’s dress was conservative, with long sleeves and a skirt that hugged close to her legs, extending all the way down to her ankles. Even its low-scoop neckline was concealed beneath an embroidered silk mesh that covered her shoulders.

Cox noted, however, ways in which Hera had managed to make the ensemble Jennifer’s own,

The sleeves, though long, were made of embroidered mesh that hugged her arms. Indeed the entire top of the dress fit her like a snug sweater.

Cox also noted how the way that the cobalt blue of the sleeves contrasted with the silver of the rest of her dress mirrored the color pattern of her uniform suit.

The dress itself was made of a glossy metallic material and the pattern of the embroidery in the silk mesh that covered the bodice made it appear to shimmer and even glitter as she moved.

Jenny wore her hair up, swept tightly back with a headband and gathered up at the crown of her head with a clip to fan out in a wide tail that fell back down against the back of her neck.

Sarah was the next to emerge, dressed in a tailored and fitted skirt suit of deep navy blue that Cox recognized from his North American history courses as the uniform of the United States Air Force.

The double-breasted coat was adorned with medallions and the padded shoulders displayed golden chevron shapes, indicating the rank of Colonel.

“Mister Harper;” She addressed Cox; “Mrs. Harper;” She acknowledged Jenny as she descended from the stage and held out her hand. “Colonel Samantha Connor, United States Air Force.” She greeted each of them in turn as one would strangers.

“How do you know us?” Cox asked, playing along.

“Through our mutual friend.” Connor answered, nodding to the doorway behind them as it opened and they both turned simultaneously to see the colonel’s mother stride in, dressed from head to toe in a tailor-fitted pantsuit the same color gold a her hair. “I believe you already know Doctor Hera Day, Director of the National Security Department Intelligence Agency.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you again, Colonel.” Hera greeted her daughter as Connor had Cox and Jennifer, like they were strangers. “And you as well, Mister Harper.” She shook Cox’s hand. “And this must be your daughter!” She exclaimed and cox for the first time noticed the Casey had accompanied her sister from the stage.

He and Jenny smiled at one another, both knowing they were much too young to have a daughter Casey’s age.

“This is out Cassandra.” Jenny confirmed, still smiling as she laid her hands on her sister’s shoulders.

“Shall we?” Hera ushered them toward the doors with a flourish.

“Our carriage awaits.” Cox held out his elbow and Jenny smiled as she slid her arm through his.

It took Connor no time at all to adapt to the unfamiliar controls of the Imperial shuttle.

She was right, however, about the sleek black craft going undetected as it dropped from orbit toward Southern England.

Cox was seated next to Jennifer, who sat beside her sister.

However, he could not see the others seated across from him, as with the windows closed the interior of the shuttle was black.

He felt the shuttle settle onto a landing pad and stood.

Jenny had not removed her arm from his through the shuttle ride and so stood with him.

Cox heard rather than saw when the hatch of the shuttle opened as the space in the room outside was just as dark as the interior of the shuttle.

Walking blindly straight ahead, with Jenny leading Casey by the hand, the Captain heard the others exiting the shuttle single-file behind him: ‘Probably;’ He thought; ‘They were sticking as close to the shimmer of Jenny’s dress, the only thing visible in the darkness, as they could.’

The space on either side of them narrowed, which Cox interpreted as meaning that they were passing through a doorway into another room.

He sensed the railing in front of them before he bumped into it and stopped.

From the difference in the flow of air between this room and the one that they had just left, Cox sensed that this new room was a vast space.

He heard Hera’s heels descend the ramp from the shuttle and as she crossed the threshold of the doorway behind them, Cox squinted and blinked, holding up his free hand in front of his eyes as the lights in the room came on one by one.

The light fixtures directly fixtures directly over their heads flickered to life first, revealing that Cox had been right about there being a vertical drop off on the other side of the railing in front of them: He saw that they stood on an elevated metal platform that overlooked the vast space before them.

As the lights in front of them flickered on one by one, each one further out than the one before, Cox heard Jenny beside him gasp and found himself blinking again in order to refocus his eyes on what they were seeing. Spread out below them, stretching off into the shadows beyond what the light illuminated, were row after row of shelves, each one of them six to seven meters tall, stacked three to four stories tall. The room that they were standing in was the single largest enclosed space Cox had ever seen anywhere in his life, stretching more than two kilometers in front of them before fading into the shadows beyond what they could see.

“Captain Cox, Lieutenant Hansen;” Hera said, coming up to stand beside him, and gestured with a broad sweep of her arm to the room in front of them; “Welcome to the London Warehouse.”

“What is this place?” Jennifer asked, her voice a monotone murmur as she stared with eyes the size of saucers at where the space faded into the infinite distance.

“We’re standing in a museum.” Even just on the shelves directly in front of them, Cox could identify artifacts from Ancient Egypt, the Byzantine Eastern Roman Empire and Medieval France and England.

“Not exactly, but something like that;” Sarah said, coming up behind him and he finally turned around away from the sight before him; “More or less.”

“If you’ll all follow me into my office;” Hera announced, ushering them through a door to a room off of the causeway on which they now stood; “We have something we’d like to show you.”

They stepped from the metal grating of the platform onto the intricately embroidered rug of a red brick room. The centerpiece was an ornately carved wooden desk backdropped by windows that looked out on the shelves of the Warehouse below.

Hera sat behind the desk as he daughter ushered the rest of them to gather in a horizontal line between two other smaller desks piled high with towering stacks of bulging folders full of papers. Hera’s desk, Cox noticed, had instead an old-fashioned-looking computer, complete with a keyboard that looked as though it belonged to a nineteenth century manual typewriter and the bulky monitor of an old analog television.

He had to remind himself that what he was looking at was actually incredibly advanced for its time, as the computers of the mid-twentieth century were the size of office buildings and the first desktop personal computer would not be invented for nearly two and a half decades yet. His examination of the Hera’s computer was disrupted as her daughter reached out toward Hera’s desk.

A small object that resembled a handheld pet grooming razor lifted off the desk and flew into Sarah’s outstretched hand,

Cox blinked, knowing that the Valogran woman possessed such abilities but unaccustomed to seeing her being quite so open and unabashed concerning their use.

Cassandra, however, was staring wide-eyed and slack-jawed at the display of Sarah’s superhuman powers. “What is that and what does it do?”

“I call it a dermal regenerator.” Sarah said, shrugging and Hera’s smile indicated that was not its proper name. “As to what it does, like mother said;” She stepped up to Cox; “It will be simpler to show you.” She lifted the device to Cox’s face and looked him in the eye as he reflexively jerked his head back. “Try your best to hold as still as you can.” She instructed.

Cox did as instructed as Sarah ran the device back and forth across his forehead and then up and down the bridge of his nose.

“See for yourself.” She concluded with a satisfied deep breath after she finished.

Cox’s hand shot up to touch his face. He was rendered speechless as his fingers felt no trace of his Valogran brow ridges.

“What did you do to him?” Jennifer blurted out before she could stop to censor herself.

Sarah looked over at her. “Don’t panic!” She told the human firmly. “The process is reversible just as simply.”

Lessia held out her hand and Sarah handed her the device.

Doing her level best to mimic Sarah’s movements, Lessia very carefully ran the device over the Valogran wrinkles on the bridge of Lauri’s nose.

Lessia smiled bemusedly as the dancer froze rigid and stiff, squeezing her eyes closed as the unfamiliar device hovered close to her face.

She opened them again as she felt Lessia place the device in her hand, her fingers lingering a moment longer than necessary on Lauri’s as they closed around it. Lauri’s eyes went wide and she as she swallowed a lump in her throat nervously as the first thing she saw upon reopening her eyes was Lessia standing in front of her and beginning to unbutton her tunic.

No part of Lauri moved except for her eyes, not even breathing as Lessia slipped the unbuttoned tunic off, revealing the thinly spaghetti-strapped sports bra-like tank top that she wore underneath.

Lauri’s eyes widened steadily as they traced each new inch of the Trillaxian’s pattern of deep brown spots as it was revealed as Lessia removed her tunic.

Tossing her Starfleet uniform onto a nearby chair, Lessia stood still as Lauri approached her slowly, lifting the device in her hand. Beginning at Lessia hairline where her tightly swept back ponytail revealed it, Lauri moved the device with painstaking gradualness down along the row of spots, watching as each one vanished.

She reached up with her other hand to run her fingers over the Trillaxian woman’s now-spotless skin, trailing her free hand behind the one holding the device.

Lessia closed her eyes as Lauri passed the device around her temple and a pleased smile spread her lips as Lauri continued down the side of her neck from her jawline to her shoulder. Lessia reached up to the straps on her shoulders, clearly considering whether to take off her top as well.

But then Lauri shifted to her other shoulder and reversed direction, moving more efficiently as her confidence in her ability to wield the device grew. Even as she moved the device up the side of Lessia’s face, her free hand remained on the Trillaxian’s shoulder and with her eyes open now Lessia could see Lauri’s eyes dart occasionally downward into the cleavage revealed by her top.

Lauri finished with the last of Lessia ‘s spots and lowered her hand, but lingered a moment with her other hand on Lessia’s shoulder and the Trillaxian’s face mere centimeters from her own, their eyes locked with one another.

A moment that could have easily ended very differently was interrupted as the door to the office opened and a woman entered.

She stopped in her tracks as she saw the eclectic group gathered inside, but then her gaze came to rest on Hera seated behind her desk and a smile grew on her face. She walked up to Cox, evidently sensing him to be the leader of the group. “My name is Selina Deveraux;” She greeted him in an upper-class English accent; “Acting Director of Warehouse Four.”

Then she turned to Hera’s daughter standing beside him.

“Welcome home, Agent Wells.” The two women studied one another before the silence that stretched between them was broken by the newcomer reaching up to run her fingers through Sarah’s shortened blonde hair: “I think I liked you better as a brunette, Helena.” It seemed to take Sarah a moment to recover from this, before her eyes narrowed.

“You have no idea what a pleasure it is to meet you again, Sophie.” She said in a tone that implied that the answer was very little.

Deveraux seemed surprised to hear her voice. “You’ve been in America too long, Miss Wells.” She commented. “Wherever did your accent go?” Then she noticed that colors on Connor’s Air Force uniform: “And whatever are you wearing?”

Hera interrupted a tension between them that could have come to blows at any minute by clearing her throat. “Where is Doctor Watson?”

Deveraux looked as though she didn’t understand why the question had been asked. “He’s still in America with Francis.” She said slowly. “And last I heard;” She turned to her boss; “So were you.” She glanced at Cox and Jennifer a though she knew somehow that they were part of the reason for her visit. “What are you doing here?”

Sarah opened her mouth to answer, but Hera shook her head, thinking quickly: “I just felt like visiting Spencer House.”

This seemed to satisfy Selina, who nodded, her gaze not leaving Cox’s face.

Cox shifted uncomfortably as he noticed that Deveraux’s gaze was not on his eyes but on his forehead, wondering whether the human woman noticed anything off about his appearance.

The thought of his Valogran brow ridges made him glance over at Alexander, remembering that they had not gotten a chance to use the device on his fellow Valogran before Selina arrived. Thankfully, Connor had located a wide-brimmed fedora that matched the black of his three-piece suit.

Alexander, he saw, also wore a pair of oversized, almost comically large mirrored sunglasses.

The Captain heaved a sigh of relief, prompting Selina to arch an eyebrow.

Deveraux took Hera’s place behind the desk the moment that she vacated her chair.

Leaving her in the office, Hera ushered them out the door and once on the other side, gathered them in a circle in the dark room.

Cox did not even recognize the fact that the circular platform underneath their feet was rising until a set of stone doors above them began grinding apart, bathing the group in daylight.

They approached the growing crack between the stone slabs as they opened and then passed through the opening.

Cox found himself standing in an octagonal stone chapel of a larger cathedral. He racked his memory, wondering where in downtown London such a cathedral might have been located, until he glanced out one of the high windows through which the sunlight filtered.

The window overlooked the courtyard around which the cathedral was built. A single tree in the center of the courtyard dominated the view from the window. In spite of it being dead and bare in the middle of winter, Cox recognized it as an apple tree. All at once, the pieces clicked into place and Cox gasped, straightening with the realization of where they were standing. The five-hundred-year-old apple tree was famous worldwide for the pivotal role that it had played in the biographical narrative of the cathedral’s most renowned tenant. The cathedral that they were standing in, in downtown London, was known as Westminster Abbey, burial place of the founder of physics: Sir Isaac Newton.

He heard similar gasps from the others as Hera led them outside as each member of the team in turn recognized one by one where they had been. Cox, however was preoccupied with a singular thought: The vast Warehouse in which they had been standing was located directly beneath Westminster Abbey, one of the most famous buildings in all of London and this Warehouse was owned and operated by Hera Day, his own godmother. He should not have been surprised, given what he had learned, to see a black sedan waiting for them at the curb outside of Westminster, large enough to have more than enough seats to fit all of them comfortably inside.

Connor had significantly more difficulty, Cox noticed, adapting to the controls of a twentieth-century automobile than she had to those of the imperial shuttle.

However, he also noted that once they were moving down the streets of downtown London, she needed no directions from her mother to their destination.

“So where is this Spencer House?” Cox asked as he saw them leaving downtown, remembering what Hera told Selena their destination was.

“Look out your window.” Hera replied.

Cox was sitting in the middle seat and so knew right away that the direction was not meant for him, but for his wife seated beside him.

Jenny did as instructed and cox saw her jaw drop as she craned her neck upward.

The building that towered outside her window appeared to be composed entirely of gleaming white marble. The Corinthian columns of the mansion’s facade gave it the appearance of an Ancient Greek temple.

“This is yours?” Cassandra asked Hera as Connor pulled the car up to the front steps of the mansion.

“It belongs to my younger sister.” Hera smiled, clearly looking forward eagerly to reuniting with her sibling.

Cox’s ears perked up as this was the first time that Hera had made any mention to him of her having any family other than her daughter.

At the same moment that the car doors opened for Cox and his team to pile out, the towering metal doors of the mansion began to swing slowly open.

Hera led the way as they ascended the steps. Hera did an impressive job, Cox thought, maintaining her composure as they saw a figure begin to emerge from the shadows as the doors parted.

Until, that is, she reached the topmost step, at which time she hurried forward to embrace the other woman.

Cox could not help but glance between his wife and daughter, thinking of his first impressions of Jennifer and her sister as he noted a likewise contrast between the golden-blonde Hera and her maroon-haired sister.

From the expression on their hostess’s face, it was clear that the younger sister had not been anticipating such an enthusiastic greeting from her sibling.

“You’re acting as though you haven’t seen me in centuries.” The redhead exclaimed, taking her sister by the shoulders and holding Hera at arms’ length as they parted.

Hera could only nod, not trusting her voice not to bring her to tears.

The younger sister tilted her head to the side to look over Hera’s shoulder: “And you brought guests!”

Hera swallowed and took a deep breath before clearing her throat. She turned to Cox, who had crested the top step behind her. “His name is William Harper.” She smiled. “Will, I’m very pleased for you to meet my younger sister, Minerva.”

The maroon-haired younger sibling smiled as she shook Cox’s hand. “It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance.” She looked around him as his team as she spoke. “Any friend of Hera’s is more than welcome.”

Hera saw that her sister’s gaze had come to rest on the blonde at Cox’s shoulder. “She looks just like Diana, doesn’t she?” Minerva nodded slowly. “Her name is Jennifer, Will’s wife.”

Minerva’s eyes glanced back and forth between husband and wife, before darting to the raven-haired girl beside Jenny.

“Their daughter Cassandra.” Hera informed her, answering her unasked question.

Then they saw Minerva’s face light up as she saw Connor hurrying up the steps, having parked and locked the car in which they had arrived.

“Helena!” She embraced her niece. “I haven’t seen you in years!”

Cox’s eyebrows raised, the fact that Hera’s sister knew Sarah in the mid-twentieth century indicating that the blonde was far older and had been on Earth much longer than she had ever let on to him.

The rest of Cox’s team went without introductions and Hera began directing them to where they would be staying.

“You two;” She turned to Lessia and Lauri; “Your rooms are upstairs.” She gestured to the grand spiral staircase.

The Palm Room had always been Sarah’s favourite room in the House. The House itself sat in the front of its accompanying estate, at the far end of its own private gated cul-de-sac on the outside edge of a curve in the River Thames and the second-story room’s curved bay windows displayed a nearly-hundred-and-eighty-degree panorama of the most iconic landmark buildings in downtown central London. The coconut palm trees that had given the room its name were long gone, replaced by a freestanding sculpture. The work depicted a young woman balancing on the tips of the toes of one foot, her other leg arched improbably backward over her arched back, her foot resting on the bun of hair at the back of her head.

Sarah understood the positioning of the piece, as the circle formed by the woman’s leg and back perfectly framed what she recognized to be the spires of Westminster Abbey.

What she found improbable about the sculpture was that it should not be standing, as it seemed to flatly defy the laws of gravity.

Her aunt Minerva’s characteristic modesty showed in that the sculpture was not a nude, the woman depicted dressed in a lace bra and short skirt.

The sculpture was so lifelike that she wondered for a moment whether the clothes were real and not merely carved out of the same material as the figure.

She found herself reaching out to touch the shape of the woman’s nipple realistically distending the lace of the bra, but froze as still as the statue herself when she unexpectedly heard a melodious feminine voice in her mind: ‘I did not see you come in, Doctor Wells.’ Sarah twisted from side to side, scanning the room for the person who had sent the message.

Then she saw something out of the corner of her eye. Slowly, she turned back around, blinked and reopened her eyes.

Her eyes had not been playing tricks on her: The statue had moved. ‘No;’ She thought, her eyes going wide; ‘Was moving.’

The breast inches from her finger rose and fell minutely, almost imperceptibly. Slowly, she raised her eyes to study the statue’s face, for the first time noticing the unusual smoothness of the skin on the bridge of the woman’s nose.

Sarah gasped, but did her best not to jerk away as while she watched, the woman’s eyes opened. She aw those same eyes dart down to her hand, frozen in place, the fingertips centimeters from the woman’s breast. Sarah immediately lowered her hand.

At the same time, the woman’s foot appeared to detach itself from her head. As she settled from the tips of her toes to the flat of her foot, Sarah was far enough away to recognize her.

“Lauriaina.” Her voice was a murmur.

Lauri smiled at her as she slowly lowered her leg, causing Sarah to swallow hard an unbidden lump in her throat. “Good afternoon, Sarah.”

“What are you doing up here?” Sarah managed with a cough to clear her throat.

Lauri gestured to her legs, now together beneath her. “Stretching of course.” She answered, as though it should have been obvious, which it was. ‘I could ask you the same question.’ Sarah heard Lauri’s voice in her head say and she nodded.

“This room…” She trailed off, gesturing around. Her train of thought folded under the scantily clad Valogran’s penetrating gaze. “I was looking you.” She lied.

Lauri raised an eyebrow dubiously, but said nothing.

“Yeah.” Sarah continued, deciding to stick with the cover story and committing to it. “I wanted to let you know where you’ll be working.”

“Dancing at gentlemen’s clubs.” Laurie recalled.

Sarah nodded. “Two in particular.” She looked out the bay windows at downtown London. “It’s up to you to decide how to divide up your time between them.”

“And those are?” Lauri inquired. Her earnestness and scanty attire was making it difficult for Sarah to maintain a train of thought and she was forced to pull out the paper on which she had written the names and addresses of the two establishments.

“Madame Jojo’s on Brewer Street in Soho;” Lauri nodded as Sarah handed her the packet with the club’s details and information; “And the Café De Paris on Coventry Street.”

Finally, Sarah was forced to turn away from the scantily-clad dancer, stepping over to stand in the crescent formed by the curving bay windows, watching as the lights of the city came on one by one as the sun sank toward the horizon.

“When do I start?” Lauri asked.

Sarah shrugged. “You can start after the New Years holiday, if you wish.” She looked across the Thames at the strings of red and green light bulbs hanging from every streetlamp in preparation for Christmas.

“Do you know when Professor Syrius is most likely to be there?” Lauri asked and Sarah cocked her head, not having considered it from that particular perspective. “Now that you mention it ;” She began to turn around; “He is more likely to visit one of his regular clubs over the holidays—” She broke off as she saw not only that Lauri had resumed her stretching, reassuming again the pose she had been in when Sarah had first entered, but that the two of them were no longer alone in the room.

Lessia, whose room was down the hall on the same floor, stood in the doorway with the same dropped-jaw, saucer-eyed expression as Sarah had had upon seeing Lauri. Behind her stood the Captain and Jennifer Hansen, both staring as well.

‘Are you married?” Sarah heard the Captain’s voice in her head and opened her mouth to answer before realizing that the question had not been directed at her.

Lauri shook her head as she turned around and, without missing a beat, seamlessly transitioned from standing on the tiptoes of one foot to a perfect split flat on the floor. “Of course I’ve danced for all sorts of men;” She answered aloud, no doubt leaving those among them unable to hear the Captain’s message wondering what or who she might be replying to; “But I have to admit that I have never been all that particularly attracted to any of them.”

Lessia had corrected herself from her gaping open mouth, but now the expression that grew across the Trillaxian’s features was one that could be best described as being one of elation. Her wide eyes lit up and Sarah could tell from what she knew of Trillaxians that, had they not been concealed by the dermal regenerator, the spots along Lessia’s neck would have darkened as her eyes scanned up and down the lithe dancer’s figure.

“Is there something I can help you with, Mister Harper?” Sarah cleared her throat with a loud, polite cough, jerking Cox and Jenny’s attention away from Lauri.

“We were looking for your mother.” Jenny answered, recognizing that Will was still not collected enough to speak coherently.

Sarah let her eyes fall closed momentarily. “She’s in the mural room.” She said, starting walking toward the door almost before she had fully opened her eyes.

Cox turned away from the Palm Room visibly reluctantly as Sarah guided them back down the stairs to the first floor.

Sure enough, they found Hera standing at the windows of a large room with a fireplace and a circle of chairs around a round table.

True to its name, the walls of the room were covered from floor to ceiling in vividly lifelike paintings of events from Ancient Greek mythology. Like with the theme of the remainder of the House, many of the scenes centered on the classical Greek goddess of wisdom, Athena, but Cox noted that the scenes did not match the myths, as he was familiar with them.

There was the famous scene of the beauty contest between Athena and her sister Aphrodite that sparked the Trojan War. But in the painting, the figure of Paris, Prince of Troy, judging the contest had been replaced by one that bore a striking resemblance to the woman beside him, the one he knew as Sarah Wells. There was the famous scene of Athena transforming the high priestess of her temple into the monstrous Gorgon Medusa. But in the Athena’s place stood a figure resembling Will’s godmother Hera and in the place of the priestess stood a woman Cox recognized from the other painting as being that of Aphrodite and instead of transforming into a hideous Gorgon with poisonous snakes for hair, Aphrodite was shown turning into something that looked, from Cox’s familiarity with Earth mythology, like a vampire.

Sarah knocked on the open door, drawing her mother’s attention away from the window at which she stood and Cox’s attention away from the idiosyncratic murals.

“Mister and Misses Harper!” She greeted them boisterously. “What can I do for you?”

“We have a question about our accommodations.” Cox said.

“Are you unhappy with your rooms?” Hera’s eyes narrowed.

“The rooms are gorgeous!” Jennifer corrected hurriedly. “Our concern is with the beds.”

“Namely the fact that there just so happen to be two of them.” Cox added. “I thought we were supposed to be happily-married newlyweds.”

Sarah could not help but grin.

Their cover was merely as a husband and wife couple. The Captain had, apparently, extrapolated the rest of his sentence on his own. Even Jenny herself was studying her “husband” curiously, wondering from where he had derived the other adjectives and adverbs that he had just used to describe their relationship. Before Hera could open her mouth to answer, they were joined by another as the House’s owner roiled into the room.

“I presume you have some sort of perfectly good explanation for this, do you?” Minerva burst out at her sister without pretext, waving a notepad of paper in the air in front of her.

“What’s that?” Sarah asked her aunt.

Minerva turned on her, equally seething. “My head of the London Warehouse, Selina Deveraux just informed me that she received her daily check-in from Eureka;” As Sarah’s face drained, Minerva turned back to her sister; “From you;” She enunciated slowly; “In Nevada.” She paused and waited for a long several minutes, but Hera did not turn around, continuing to gaze stoically out the windows overlooking the estate’s courtyard. “So either that island of misfit toys you’ve accumulated at Area 51 have discovered some madcap that allows you to be in two places at the same time, or else…”

“It’s a long story.” Hera interrupted’ her. “One we’re not entirely certain that you would believe even if we were to tell you.” Her tone strongly implied such a time would never come. “As far as your bedrooms, Mister and Misses Harper;” She turned to the Captain and his Chief Engineer. “It’s customary for husbands and wives, especially newly married ones;” She grinned at Cox; “To sleep in separate beds and even in separate rooms, especially in strongly Christian countries in particular.”

“Christianity?” Cox sifted his memories for what little had been taught of the subject of First-Century Abrahamic monotheistic religious cults in the Western Earth history course he had taken at the Federation Academy.

“I don’t recall their texts saying anything about married men and women sharing a bed.” Jennifer voiced Cox’s own thought.

Hera nodded understandingly, her glance darting to her sister, who was staring back and forth between the Captain and her sister. “Strictly speaking, it didn’t.” Hera explained. “However, much of Christian tradition was made up by the leaders of Christianity throughout its history.”

“But we’re not Christians!” Cox stated emphatically. “Why should any of this apply to us?”

“England, at least at this time, still is.” Hera sighed. “For the sake of appearances, you should sleep in your assigned rooms just for the next couple of weeks.” She saw their shoulders fall. “After which you should feel free to move both of your beds into the Master Bedroom.” She gave her sister a hard glare not to object to this.

Cox threw up his hands and turned around to walk out the door, heading reticently back to his assigned room.

Jenny, however, lingered, looking back and forth between the two sisters. “I heard what you said to one another when I arrived.” She began slowly and both women turned to her. “Who was, or is, Diana and why did you say that I looked just like her?”

“Diana is our youngest sister.” Her smiled fondly and Minerva nodded.

“She always loved to dress in blue.” Minerva answered Jenny’s second question. “Especially dresses of blue silk and lace.”

Jenny nodded, her fingers plucking thoughtfully at her own blur lace dress.

Twentieth Century American Popular Culture v. Joel and Ethan Cohen

•April 16, 2015 • Leave a Comment

In his 1820 book Many Things in a Few Words: Addressed to Those Who Think, English writer Charles Colton wrote that “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”. In the age of popular culture, however, it is more often capitalistic expediency rather than flattery that drives one artist to closely mirror or attempt to replicate the work of another.

As an author myself, I can attest firsthand to the fact that it is indeed much easier to copy or even plagiarize the work of other writers whom I admire and respect than to come up with my own original concepts. This may very well, on the surface at least, appear counter-intuitive, as my respect for the writers in question should act as a deterrent that one would expect would preclude me from flagrantly plagiarizing their work. However, just such a sentiment is by no means a new one. Of all, the writer that I admire the most is playwright and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin. In the premiere episode of season four of Sorkin’s award-winning television drama The West Wing, entitled “20 Hours in America”; the character of played by actor Rob Lowe; Samuel Seabourne, the Deputy White Hose Director of Communications and speechwriter for the fictional President Josiah Bartlet, responds to another character complimenting a section of Bartlet’s speech by saying that he “stole” the words from the Tony Award winning 1960 Broadway Musical “Camelot”, based on Terrence White’s 1958 book The Once and Future King. When the other character reacts with disbelief, Seabourne explains by stating that that “Good writers borrow from other writers. Great writers steal from them outright.”

To be sure, the recognition of cultural trends has never been an entirely unimportant skill for authors seeking to publish their work, dating all the way back to the time of the 8th century BCE Ancient Greek poet Homer with his works the Iliad and the Odyssey and more recently to 16th century English playwright William Shakespeare. However, in the modern age of instantaneous worldwide communication via the internet, the acknowledgement of what such trends are has never been more important to the success of a piece of writing and, by extension, its author. Evidence of this is most evident in the relatively new art form that is film and television screenwriting.

One of the greatest cinematographic challenges that any filmmaker can attempt is the translation of a theatrical drama or musical into a motion picture. Not only are such plays very nearly always hours longer than a feature-length movie, but the stage on which a play takes place often does not translate well into the larger world of a film.

Film adaptations of the plays of late 16th century English playwright William Shakespeare date back to the early 1900’s, but in the first decade of the 21st century there has been a revival of interest by film audiences in Broadway musicals. In 2005, Columbia released a film adaptation of Jonathan Larson’s Rent, in 2012, Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg adapted their musical of Victor Hugo’s novel Les Miserables for Universal, and in 2014 Disney adapted Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods into a feature-length motion picture of the same name.

The greatest challenge in adapting a stage musical to film is the contrast between diegetic and non-diegetic music. When a musical is performed on stage, it is accompanied by an orchestra playing all of the music for the play live in the theater. However, when this is done in film, it is usually as a violation of what is referred to as the “Fourth Wall”, as in Mel Brooks’ 1974 comedy Blazing Saddles Brooks himself is no stranger to the Broadway stage, having adapted his 1968 film The Producers into a Tony-Award-winning Broadway musical in 2001.

The most seamless admixture of diegetic and non-diegetic music I have ever seen was featured in the May 22, 2002 Season three finale of Aaron Sorkin’s NBC television drama The West Wing, entitled “Posse Comitatus”. Directed and Produced by Alex Graves, the most emotionally impactful moment in the dramatic season finale is set to a 1994 rendition by Jeff Buckley of the 1984 song “Hallelujah”. The song, which was also used in a starkly similar way in the 2001 animated film Shrek, backdrops a tragic loss for Bartlet White House Press Secretary Claudia Jean “C.J.” Cregg played by actress Allison Janney. Janney’s performance in “Posse Comitatus” and in The West Wing’s third season earned Janney an Emmy Award for “Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series”, her third straight win of four in five consecutive years of being nominated. Janney was also nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress for the third of four consecutive years.

Like the Grammy Award-winning Mark Knopfler song “Brothers In Arms” in the equally emotionally moving May 16, 2001 Season two finale episode “Two Cathedrals”, Buckley’s Leonard Cohen cover in “Posse Comitatus” makes no pretense at being diegetic in the context of Janney’s scene, set and shot on location in Lower Manhattan’s Times Square in New York City.

The scene centers around the shooting of United States Secret Service agent Simon Donovan, played by Thomas Harmon, with whom Cregg had become romantically involved. The scene where Donovan is shot while buying a bouquet of roses for Cregg at a corner store is set to the Buckley lyrics “Baby, I’ve been here before. I’ve seen this room and I’ve walked this floor. You know, I used to live alone before I knew you.” As Donovan lies dying among the scattered flowers on the city sidewalk before the New York Police Department shows up to the scene, Buckley sings, “Love is not a victory march. It’s a cold and it’s a broken hallelujah.” The scene then cuts to Donovan’s fellow agents informing Cregg of his death, set to the lyrics “There was a time when you let me know what’s really going on below. But now you never show that to me, do you?” Cregg goes out walking alone down Broadway before collapsing in tears onto a park bench in Times Square, where she sobs uncontrollably to the words “All I’ve ever learned from love was how to shoot at someone who outdrew you. And it’s not a cry that you hear at night. It’s not somebody who’s seen the light. It’s a cold and it’s a broken hallelujah.” This near-picture-perfect matching of the visuals on the screen with the words of the song make the “Hallelujah” scene of “Posse Comitatus” one of the most emotionally moving and powerful of The West Wing’s seven-season-long run, and one of the most powerful scenes of any television show or series that I have ever seen in my life.

Far be it from merely adapting a Broadway musical to the screen, in “Posse Comitatus” Sorkin and Executive Producer Thomas Schlamme opted instead to write their own, calling the fictional play The War of the Roses. However, the episode, and with it the third Season of The West Wing, ends with the performers of the fictional musical performing a song from a real-life play. The song is “England Arise” from the 1980 play The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby by Stephen Oliver, based on the 1839 Charles Dickens novel.

The plot of “Posse Comitatus” centers on the decision by fictional Democratic President Josiah “Jed” Bartlet; played by Ramon Estevez [better known by his stage name “Martin Sheen”], to order the assassination of Abdul Shareef. This decision is complicated by the fact that Shareef is the Defense Minister of the fictional Middle Eastern sultanate of Qumar and the brother of the Qumari sultan. The title of the episode comes from the 1878 law prohibiting the United States federal government from using the military armed forces for the purposes of civilian law enforcement. Bartlet’s decision to have Shareef assassinated, therefore, would constitute a violation of not only the Separation of Powers, but also the five Executive Orders by four different Presidents of both political parties over the course of thirty years; including Executive Order 12333: “United States Intelligence Activities” signed by Republican 40th President Ronald Reagan on December 4, 1981 and Executive Orders 13355 and 13470: “Strengthened Management of the Intelligence Community“ signed by Republican 43rd President George Walker Bush Junior II on August 27, 2004 and July 30, 2008, as well as Executive Orders by Republican President Gerald Ford in 1976 and Democratic President James Carter in 1978; prohibiting the assassination of foreign officials and dignitaries.

This is what makes the scenes of Stephen Oliver’s song, also called “The Patriotic Song” intercut with scenes of American Navy Seals assassinating Shareef on an airstrip in the British territory of Bermuda so powerful as a conclusion to The West Wing’s third season. The chorus of the song reads: “And victorious in war shall be made glorious in peace.” These words are set against the visual of President Bartlet, having just received the news of Shareef’s death, stepping behind a curtain so that only his shadowy silhouette is backlit, at which point the episode cuts to black and the season ends.

The lyrics of the song: “See in the sky, fluttering before us, what the bright bird of peace is bringing”, sung over the image of the Special Forces gunning down Shareef and his entourage as they step from their airplane makes it obvious that the song is inherently if not patently non-diegetic. Yet just as quickly the scene shifts back to showing the performers of the fictional musical onstage singing the song’s idiosyncratic chorus, making the finale episode’s concluding music both diegetic and non-diegetic at the same time. Alex Graves does this so seamlessly that it should come as no surprise that the episode earned him a nomination for Outstanding Directing in a Drama Series, the third of four years of the show being nominated in that category. “Posse Comitatus” earned Sorkin a nomination for Outstanding Writing in a Drama Series for the third of four consecutive years. For the show’s third season, at the 2002 Emmy Awards, The West Wing won four awards, including one for Sorkin, Schlamme and Executive Producer John Wells for Outstanding Drama Series for the third of four consecutive years.

I first discovered my talent for writing when I was in the seventh grade in the fall of 2001. I had been a fan of screenwriter George Lucas’s 1977 space opera film trilogy Star Wars and screenwriter Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek from a very early age, and so the first idea that I struck upon after discovering I could write but before I learned about international copyright law was a merger of the two science fiction series’ into one. This concept persisted until as recently as the spring of 2003.

Upon entering Stevens Point Area Senior High School in the tenth grade, I was charged by my Creative Writing teacher with writing what he referred to as a “descriptive narrative”. It was at this point, at the age of fifteen, that I saw my first episode of The West Wing, the sixth episode of the first season, entitled “Mr. Willis of Ohio”. Sorkin immediately became my role model as a writer, and I made the decision to make the main character of the “descriptive narrative” story I was writing, which I entitled “The Perfect Stranger”, a fictional future President of the United States. By the time I entered the University of Wisconsin—Stevens Point in the fall of 2008, the twelve-page story that I had written for my sophomore Creative Writing class in high school about the fictional future President, whom I named Katherine Janney after one of the stars of The West Wing, actress Allison Janney, had exploded exponentially into a more than 300-page long novel which I entitled The Imperfections in the Storm.

So I myself can attest to the ease with which derivative work tends to flow, as it was not until I reentered the UWSP in 2012 at the age of 24 that I began writing my own completely and entirely original non-derivative work of science fiction, the working title of which is The Genesis Project.

In 1997, British novelist Joanne Rowling published the first in her seven-part series of fantasy novels featuring a then-eleven-year old wizard named Harry Potter. In 2001, Warner Brothers Entertainment adapted the first of Rowling’s novels, entitled Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, into a movie that they called Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, starring then-eleven-year-old English actor Daniel Radcliffe as the eponymous titular character. The same year, screenwriter and director Peter Jackson adapted the first of English writer John Tolkien’s 1954 The Lord of the Rings trilogy of fantasy novels, The Fellowship of the Ring, into a movie for New Line Film Productions. The ripple effects of both of these popular culture phenomena were felt throughout the remainder of the rest of the first decade of twenty-first century.

In 2002, inspired by Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, then-19-year-old Christopher Paolini published the first in his “Inheritance Cycle” tetralogy of fantasy novels, entitled Eragon, which was adapted into a movie of the same name by 20th Century Fox in 2006, starring English actor Edward Speelers in the eponymous character. The financial success of Jackson’s Lord of the Rings film trilogy, which concluded with The Return of the King in 2003, prompted Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures to adapt the first of Clive Lewis’ 1950 The Chronicles of Narnia series of fantasy novels, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe into a movie.

That same year, American writer Stephenie Meyer began a new trend in popular culture with the publication of her series of fantasy novels, entitled Twilight, featuring 104-year old vampire Edward Cullen. Learning from the success of Harry Potter, Temple Hill Entertainment and Summit Entertainment adapted Meyer’s Twilight into a film of the same name in 2008, starring 22-year old English actor Robert Pattinson as Edward Cullen. The same year, Home Box Office attempted to capitalize on the new vampire trend in popular culture with their television drama True Blood.

The popularity of vampires in popular culture proved itself to be a worldwide phenomenon when the British Broadcasting Corporation came out with its own television drama series, Being Human, starring 25-year old Irish Actor Aiden Turner as 117-year old Vampire John Mitchell.

The next year, CBS Television Studios and Warner Brothers Television did the same on their joint television channel, the CW, with a drama entitled The Vampire Diaries.

Rowling published the seventh and final novel in her Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in 2007. The same year, Disney-ABC Television Group made their attempt at capitalizing on the popularity of the theme of young teenage wizards with their television sitcom Wizards of Waverly Place, starring a then-thirteen-year-old Selena Gomez. Warner Brothers Television also sought to likewise capitalize on the popularity of vampires with their television drama Moonlight, starring 31-year-old Australian actor Alex O’Loughlin as 85-year-old vampire Mick St. John.

The two-part Warner Brother’s film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows finished the series in 2010 and 2011. The same year, Walt Disney Pictures again sought to capitalize on the non-waning popularity of wizards when American producer Jerome Bruckheimer adapted German writer Johann Goethe’s 1797 poem The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, as well as the1896 poem by French composer Paul Dukas and the segment in the 1940 Walt Disney animated film Fantasia and its 1999 sequel Fantasia 2000 of the same name, into a movie, starring Jay Baruchel in the eponymous titular role originated in 1940 by Walt Disney’s animated character Mickey Mouse. Home Box Office adapted American novelist George Martin’s 1996 series of fantasy novels entitled A Song of Ice and Fire, inspired by Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, into a television drama series they called Game of Thrones.

The challenge in knowing what the current trends in popular culture are but nevertheless writing one’s own original work anyway is that publishing work that does not fit into any existing cultural trend runs the risk of it being unpopular or even rejected outright. Even work that does match with popular trends runs the same risk. The works mentioned above, following the trends of wizards, fantasy and vampires are only the works that “made it”, as it were, in the modern popular culture. But even during the fifteen-year period covered, from 1996 when Game of Thrones was published to 2011 when Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was released, there were quite literally dozens if not hundreds of other movies and television shows that, though they adhered to the very same exact fantasy themes, failed to make any significant impact in the culture whatsoever. As might seem to follow intuitively, the risk with work that appears to ignore or disregard known existing popular trends is even higher still. The reason this presents a challenge to writers in particular is that, I can state as one of them myself, writers tend to be by their very nature habitually and even pathologically risk-averse. Granted, one cannot be a published author in any media without having had at least some amount of experience with rejection. This, however, does nothing to lessen its crushing and devastating emotional impact when it does occur; particularly when in reference to a work in which one has placed a significant amount of emotional investment.

In the modern contemporary history of the film media, perhaps no one has made more of a habit out of bucking the cultural trends of their times, or done so with greater gusto and at times even flamboyancy than Ethan and Joel Cohen. Whether it’s with the critically acclaimed graphic violence of their debut 1984 domestically-themed noir Blood Simple; with allusions to Shakespeare’s dark 1603 tragedy Othello; or it’s the darkly quotable humor of 2000’s Oh Brother Where Art Thou; a retelling of Homer’s Odyssey set in the 1930’s Great Depression South, complete with sirens and a Cyclops; or its with creating pop culture memes nearly a decade before the advent of online internet social media with the 1998 cult classic The Big Lebowski; the Cohens have displayed an almost casual disregard for what the popular trend in the culture at the time is that aspiring authors like myself can find little alternative but to admire for its courage. More so even than the content or relative quality of the films that they produce, it is their admirable originality in an age of not only pop culture trends but social media memes that makes the Cohen brothers artists in the purest conceivable sense of the word.

In May 1984, the brothers Joel and Ethan Cohen were premiering their very first feature film, the film noir Blood Simple at the Seattle International Film Festival. There they met a fellow film producer named Jeff Dowd, a former radical political activist and member of the 1970-1971 Seattle Liberation Front, or “Seattle Seven” with then-University of Washington Assistant Professor of Philosophy Michael Lerner.

Fourteen years later, when the Cohen Brothers were writing the screenplay for their next movie The Big Lebowski, they based the character of the film’s main protagonist, Jeffrey Lebowski, on Dowd. Like Dowd, Lebowski was a former member of the Seattle Seven. Like Dowd, Lebowski enjoyed vodka, coffee liqueur and cream “White Russian” cocktails. And like Dowd, his friends knew Lebowski as “The Dude”.

The Cohen Brothers cast actor Jeffrey Bridges, star of Walt Disney’s July 1982 science fiction cult classic Tron, in the role of Lebowski. Like Tron before it, The Big Lebowski rapidly gathered a popularity that elevated it to cult classic status, and Bridges has since been typecast in other films, such the BBC’s 2009 The Men Who Stare at Goats and Disney’s 2010 Tron sequel entitled Tron: Legacy, as a Dowd-like 1970’s –style hippie character. As journalist Janey Maslin of the New York Times wrote in her March 6, 1998 review of The Big Lebowski: “Mister Bridges finds a role so right for him that he seems never to have been anywhere else.” Bridges’ character in The Big Lebowski, meanwhile, has spawned everything from “Lebowski Fest” and “The Dude Abides” festivals in Louisville, Kentucky and London, respectively to a full-blown religion, called “The Church of the Latter-Day Dude” or simply “Dude-ism”.

Many people consider The Big Lebowski to be the Cohen Brothers’ seminal masterpiece and the pinnacle of their careers.

In addition to Bridge’s iconic portrayal of Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowksi, many attribute the film’s success to its sense of anachronism. Though produced in 1998 during the latter half of the Administration of Democratic President Bill Clinton, the film takes place in the Los Angeles of 1991, during the term of Republican President George Herbert Walker Bush Senior I, successor to neoconservative icon Ronald Reagan. This is made especially poignant by the fact that Bridges’ Dowd-inspired “Dude” is the very antithesis of everything that Conservatives and Republicans both then and now stand for. In this respect The Big Lebowski is unique, in that among all of the Cohen Brother’s previous works, and with the possible exception of their 2000 comedy adaptation of Homer’s The Odyssey entitled Oh Brother, Where Art Thou, Lebowski is the only Cohen Brothers film to be specifically set in a specific real-life place in America at a specific real-life time in history. Unlike other 1990’s films set in the Reagan-Bush era, however, Lebowski stands out in its utter lack of any sense of nostalgia. By placing a character inspired by a real-life member of the 1970’s anti-Vietnam-War movement in 1991, the time of the First Persian Gulf War, the Cohen Brothers use the character of “The Dude” to hold up a Clinton-era mirror to the 1980’s Cold War-era-style policies of Reagan and Bush. This is made especially poignant by the fact that many of us who were born in the 1980’s and grew up in the 1990’s under President Clinton remember quite fondly Clinton’s 90’s as a period of relative peace and prosperity, as contrasted with the half-century of war and the 1980’s series of economic recessions under President Reagan that preceded it.

That screenwriters Joel and Ethan based their December 22, 2000 adventure comedy Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? On 12th Century BCE Ancient Greek poet Homerus’s The Odyssey, with the character of Ulysses Everett McGill [played by George Clooney] playing the role of Homerus’s protagonist Odysseus [Ulysses is the Latin Roman form of Odysseus’s name], is well established. The character of Daniel Teague [played by John Goodman] is likened to Homerus’s Cyclops Polyphemus in The Odyssey.

Much has been made, though, of McGill’s use in the film of “Dapper Dan” hair gel, as it does not have any such readily apparent parallels in Homerus’s The Odyssey. However, it is likely that, as with Joel and Ethan Cohen’s March 6, 1998 comedy The Big Lebowski, there is more to Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? than meets the eye of the beholder. It is possible that, in addition to Homerus’s 2nd millennium BCE epic poem, the Cohen brother in Oh Brother were drawing on another, far younger work of fantasy fiction: The Christian Bible. In the Book of Proverbs, the character of Solomon, the mythological King of Israel, lists what Christianity refers to as “Seven Deadly Sins”: Vanity, lechery, wrath, sloth, gluttony, envy and avarice.

McGill’s use of hair gel and his constant concern about his hair in general, clearly play into the first of these: Vanity. That said, a thorough overview of the rest of Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? reveals at least one occurrence of each of the other six sins. Lechery, the second sin, is personified in the characters of the three Sirens [played by Musetta Vander, Mia Tate and Christy Taylor], a parallel to the Sirens in Homerus’s epic poem The Odyssey.

Wrath can have any number of parallels, whether it be Goodman’s Cyclops Teague knocking McGill unconscious with a tree branch and sadistically crushing the frog that it is believed the Sirens magically transformed one of his compatriots into, or whether it be the attempted burning at the stake of Tommy Johnson [played by Chris King] by the red-robed Grand Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan [Homer Stokes, played by Wayne Duvall], or whether it be the attempted hanging of McGill and his compatriots by the ruthless Sherrif Cooley [played by Daniel Von Bargen], a parallel to the Ancient Greek Sea God Poseidon in Homerus’s Odyssey.

Sloth could be exemplified by the repeated motif of Governor Menelaus O’Daniel, based on Conservative Great-Depression-era Texas Governor and Second-World-War-era United States Senator Wilbert O’Daniel seated on his front porch with his advisors, berating them as being simpletons. Gluttony is most obviously embodied in the character of actor John Goodman’s Cyclops Daniel “Big Dan” Teague, who knocks McGill and his compatriot unconscious with a tree branch in order to steal all their money. In Homerus’s epic Odyssey the Cyclops Polyphemus is the monstrous illegitimate bastard offspring of the ocean god Poseidon, who devours full-grown human men as well as numerous kinds of livestock whole, also a textbook emblem of the deadly sin of gluttony.

Envy, the sixth sin, can be exemplified by McGill returning home to find that his wife Penny [played by Holly Hunter], a parallel to the character of Odysseus’s wife Penelope in Homerus’s epic, is set to remarry Stokes Gubernatorial Campaign Manager Vernon Waldrip [played by Ray McKinnon]. Avarice, the seventh sin, of course, is the driving force behind McGill and his compatriots’ escape from prison: their ambition to make it back to McGill’s home for what McGill promises them is a “buried treasure” in time before the area is flooded by a hydroelectric dam and the “treasure” is lost forever. Like McGill, Odysseus’s ambition to return home to Ithaca before his wife Penelope is forced to remarry is also a display of avarice.

More so than perhaps any other, it is the female character that is the element in film and television most susceptible to falling victim to tropes. Of these tropes, the one that female characters most frequently fall into is that of dichotomy. In both film and television, the overwhelming majority of female characters fall into either one or the other of two opposing roles. A female character is either portrayed as a strong woman who has a leading role in the film and is the driving force behind it, or they are portrayed as weak-willed and emotional caricatures with little or no agency of their own that are merely swept along as the plot develops.

As is the case with so many others like it throughout popular culture, the Cohen brothers seem to have made it their mission to confound this trope by showing it to be the false dichotomy that it is.

Of the Cohen brothers’ first three films, by far the strongest female character is that of Verna Bernbaum, played by Marcia Harden, in their 1990 prohibition-era gangster-themed film Miller’s Crossing. However, the protagonist that the film follows throughout is not Verna, but rather a man, Tom Reagan, played by Gabriel Byrne. Verna’s is, at best, a peripheral character to the primary conflict of the story.

Long before I first saw actress Marcia Harden as Verna Bernbaum in Ethan and Joel Cohen’s 1990 gangster film noir Miller’s Crossing, I knew her Rebecca Halliday on Aaron Sorkin’s 2012 HBO television drama The Newsroom. With this background, it was and is very nearly impossible for me not to see the similarities between the two characters.

In Miller’s Crossing, Verna compliments Tom Reagan, played by Gabriel Byrne by saying: “Maybe that’s why I like you. I’ve never met anyone who made being a son of a bitch such a point of pride.” As if mirroring this statement, in season 3 episode 2 of The Newsroom, Will McAvoy, played by Jeff Daniels, tells Neil Sampat, played by Dev Patel: “If you think being an ass is going to make me less inclined to protect you, think again. I can out-ass anyone in the tri-state area.” To which Rebecca Halliday agrees: “He’s telling the truth.” This causes McAvoy to tell Rebecca that: “You know, it feels like you’re on my side, but just barely. “

At another point in Miller’s Crossing, Verna describes Leo O’Bannon, played by Albert Finney, by saying that “I like him. He’s honest and he’s got heart.” To which Tom Reagan replies: “Then it’s true what they say. Opposites attract.” Verna later describes herself and Tom Reagan by telling him “We’re a couple of heels.” In season 2 episode 8 of The Newsroom Don Keefer, played by Thomas Sadoski, tells Rebecca Halliday “You are a member of a godless, soulless race of extortionists.” To which Rebecca responds: “That’s fair.”

Paradoxically, of the Cohens’ first three films, the one to feature the female lead most prominently as the main character in the story is 1984’s Blood Simple. However, far from the commanding presence and willful independence of Harden’s Verna, the character of Abby Marty, played by Frances McDormand, is described in many reviews of the film as being weak-willed and lacking in agency.

Falling directly in between the strong but peripheral character of Harden’s Verna in Miller’s Crossing and the weak but primary character of McDormand’s Abby in Blood Simple is the character of Edwina McDonough, played by Holly Hunter, in the Cohen Brothers’ 1987 brooding dark-humor comedy of errors Raising Arizona. The voiceover narration for the film is by the character of Herbert McDonough, played by Nicholas Cage, and so Hunter’s Edwina is not the lead main character of the film in the same way that Abby is in Blood Simple. As Herbert’s wife and the impetus behind the film’s titular child kidnapping scheme, Hunter’s Edwina could hardly be considered as peripheral to the film’s central conflict as Harden’s Verna is in Miller’s Crossing.

However, her role as the impetus for the kidnapping scheme that becomes the film’s central conflict stems in no small part from her character’s emotional instability, a characteristic that is stereotypical of the weak female character trope.

What is by far Hunter’s most commanding scene in Raising Arizona comes when she pilots her husband’s pickup truck, with the titular baby in the passenger seat, on a daring and perilous off-road high-speed tear through the alleyways and backyards of a suburban community in order to rescue her husband, who is being pursued by police. From a feminist perspective, however, even this would be considered merely being an accessory aiding the action of the film’s male protagonist, the fact that the actions of Cage’s Herbert in the scene and throughout the rest of the film are something substantially less than heroic notwithstanding.

One might even say that the female character that has the most commanding presence in Raising Arizona, strikingly similar to that of Harden’s Verna in Miller’s Crossing, is McDormand’s cameo appearance as Edwina’s girlfriend Dot. McDormand’s Dot, from the moment she first appears on screen, displays the ability to command the attention of both Cage’s Herbert and Hunter’s Edwina. She also demonstrates that she has not-inconsiderable influence over her husband Glen, played by Sam McMurray.

Unlike Harden’s Verna, who maintains a cool, almost icy composure throughout Miller’s Crossing, the character of Hunter’s Edwina displays a severe emotional instability and unpredictability that serves to simultaneously to enhance her level of control over others, particularly her husband, and to critically undermine her candidacy for the role of the film’s protagonist. Particularly after the McDonough’s carry through with their kidnapping scheme, Edwina displays a personality of irrational mood swings that borders at times on the psychotic. This allows her to maintain very strict control over other characters such as Herbert in no small part because her unpredictability causes them to live in a state of near-constant fear of what she might say or do next.

This is illustrated most clearly in the scene when McDormand’s Dot and Glen visit the McDonough’s and their newly kidnapped child. Cage’s Herbert wants desperately to avoid spending time with Dot and Glen, for reasons that become apparent when Dot and Glen’s six uncontrollable children show up to wreck Herbert’s car. Herbert very politely says that he would like to leave with his friends Gale and Evelle, played by John Goodman and William Forsythe. However, all it takes is an unblinking, expressionless stare from Edwina for Herbert to second-guess his idea of leaving.

The irrationality and unpredictability of Edwina’s mood swings is illustrated again when she catches her husband holding up a gas station. Edwina’s first response is to take Herbert’s pickup truck and head home, leaving her husband stranded at the very gas station he just robbed. He rationale for doing this seems clear-cut, as she has their new child in the truck with her and does not want to be present when the police arrive at the robbed gas station lest she be taken in as an accessory to her husband’s crime. However, mere moments later, with the child still in the truck, Edwina decides for reasons that are never made entirely clear to turn the truck around and drive through a suburban neighborhood’s backyards to rescue her husband from being shot at by a pursuing police car.

One might say that the time at which Edwina displays the most agency of the entire story is at the end. The last we hear from Hunter’s character, she is telling her husband that she doesn’t want them to be together anymore. “I don’t care about us anymore.” She tells Herbert on their way to rescue their child from his prison friends. “Even if we do get him back safe, I don’t want to go on living with you.” Breaking off her relationship with Herbert may very well be the most strong-willed and independent thing that Hunter’s character does throughout the entire film.

It is interesting to contrast McDormand’s performance in Blood Simple to Hunter’s in Raising Arizona in part because the part in Blood Simple that went to McDormand was originally written by the Cohen brothers specifically for Hunter. McDormand has stated that one of the reasons why her character’s performance appears so aimless throughout the film is that Blood Simple was her first-ever acting experience, having been recommended for the part by Hunter, her roommate at the time. Seeing the moments of strength and will displayed by Hunter in Raising Arizona makes it interesting to contemplate whether the character of Abby in Blood Simple would have been quite as weak-willed as she turned out to be had the role gone to the actress for whom it was originally scripted.

Terrorism and Acts of Terrorism; War and Acts of War

•February 22, 2015 • Leave a Comment

The United States has not been at war since the Spring of 1945.
The United States has not declared war since December of 1941.
In other words, the United States has not been at war with any other nation for 70 years now, and counting.

The amount of money that it costs and the amount of time that it takes is irrelevant.
Neither of those things make something a war.
Something can cost hundreds of billions of dollars, and still not be a war.
Something can take ten thousand years, and still not be a war.
You know what it takes for something to be a war?
According to both Article I Section VIII of the Constitution of the United States of America and Article 51 of the charter of the United Nations: It requires a declaration of war.
The United States Congress has not issued a declaration of war, as they are required to do by Article One Section Eight, since December 8, 1941, against the Empire of Japan.
How much money the United States has spent on its military since then [which is exponentially more than the number “several trillion dollars” that you cited] and how many years have passed since that time [which is several times again more than the “fifteen years” number you cited] is irrelevant.
The United States of America has not been at war with another country since the Japanese issued a formal and unconditional surrender to the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in the spring of 1945.
According to international law, including the United Nations Charter, this makes all of the incidents of people being killed in other countries by the United States military armed forces [beginning with the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 that vaporized more than 200,000 innocent civilian men, women and children] certifiable as acts of international terrorism.
This is a distinction, a very important one i think. It is especially important given the fact that America’s most recent undeclared “war”, begun in September 2001, is a war against TERRORISM itself.
In other words, we are currently waging a “war” against all of the “wars” that we have waged for the past seventy years. 

International terrorism and war are not the same thing.
Bombing people, blowing things up, assassinating foreign leaders, overthrowing foreign governments, mowing down civilian populations…etc.
These are all acts of international terrorism.
Regardless of how much they cost, these are not acts of war.
An act of war, according to the UN Charter and the US Constitution, would begin with the issuing of a formal declaration of war by Congress.
Unlike the bombings, the assassinations, the mass-shootings, the blowing up of buildings, and the toppling of regimes, this is the one thing that we HAVEN’T done at any time in the past seventy years.
We’ve done all of those other things.
We did them in Korea.
We did them Vietnam.
We did them in Somalia.
We did them in Bosnia.
We did them in Kosovo.
We did them in Cuba.
We did them in Nicaragua.
We did them in Iran.
We’ve done them in Afghanistan.
We’ve done them in Iraq.
We’ve done them in Pakistan.
We’ve done them in Libya.
We’ve done them in Syria.
We’ve done them in Yemen.
But what do all these countries have in common with one another?
At no point in known recorded history has the United States of America ever been at war with any of them.

The Warehouse Chapter 1: Agency [Draft #2, January 27, 2015]

•January 27, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

-John Lennon

Hanover County, Virginia

Monday October 7, 2047

7:00 AM

The road seemed to stretch on forever. The hills up ahead rolled ceaselessly up and down like the seemingly endless waves of the ocean. The sun was just beginning to rise over the hills to the East, but had not yet risen above the tops of the rows of trees that lined either side of the road like the walls of a deep green canyon.

James Prichardson felt himself beginning to nod off for what felt like the dozenth time, and for the dozenth time had to resist the impulse to reach down and turn on the car radio, casting a glance over at the seat beside him to remind himself that he was not alone.

Candice sat slumped against the car door, her head pillowed on his jacket wedged between the headrest and the sill of the half-open window. She had fallen asleep shortly after they had passed Norfolk two hours earlier. He had thought about waking her as they had passed through the state capitol of Richmond half an hour ago, but had thought better of it, deciding instead to let his girlfriend sleep.

He couldn’t honestly say that he could blame her. Neither of them had gotten very much sleep at their seaside bed and breakfast in Rodanthe, the conclusion of a romantic two-week tour up the Eastern seaboard, beginning at the historic Fort Sumter, in commemoration of the two-year anniversary of their first official date together as a couple. As much as he already missed the Outer Banks, he himself was looking forward to returning to his one bedroom apartment in Alexandria.

Glancing up as the highway 54 overpass swept past above their heads, James thought again of how much he missed the feel, the sensation of driving a car. Having grown up in the age of the internal combustion engine, he had never quite accustomed himself to the practice of letting the newer cars drive themselves.

The new cars did have one benefit, he considered, curling his legs at the knees to his chest to prevent them from falling asleep. The car’s steering wheel, he knew, was safely tucked away inside the dashboard in front of him, existing only for deployment in emergencies when the autopilot failed.

Candice had not wanted to leave the bed and breakfast in the early hours of the morning, but James knew it was a five-hour drive from Rodanthe to Alexandria, and he had to be to work by ten.

Looking at her now, he could not help but notice how the way that the air rushing through the half-open car window played with her hair mirrored the way that the ocean breeze had done on the second-floor balcony of their hotel in Carolina beach. As he had done then, he reached out and lightly swept the unruly ebony locks behind her ear, his fingertips brushing the side of her cheek reverently.

An hour and a half later, he had no choice but to wake her as they exited onto the Washington Beltway.

“Off to save the world, Jim?” she asked somewhat groggily as the car pulled up to her place.

“Just another day at the office, Candy.” He replied with a smile, assisting her with unfastening her seatbelt.

“My secret agent man.” She smiled affectionately as she kissed him before climbing out of the car. “Will I see you tonight?” The intent look in her auburn hazel eyes told him she was not one about to be lied to.

“I’ll give you a call once I get out of Washington.” He answered her, hoping fervently with every fiber of his being that he would be able to keep that promise.

His feelings of ambivalence eased and diminished as the car continued on to James’s own apartment on King Street. He and Candice had always maintained an understanding between the two of them ever since the night when he had confessed to her that he worked for one of the clandestine agencies. As a matter f national security he could not reveal to her, or any civilian, which of the intelligence agencies, of which there were at least twelve dozen or more, he worked for without putting her life in danger. In return, she did not ask too many question: Questions she should not know the answers to.

Knowing he would be back with little time to spare, he had laid out his clothes before leaving on vacation. Emerging from a quick scalding shower in a bursting cloud of steam, he dressed. He grabbed his weapon, sticking it securely into his concealed sidearm holster in one smooth fluid motion practiced a thousand times. Pulling on his suit jacket, he attached his Agency badge to the breast pocket, into which he slipped his ID and credentials.

He was out the door and back in the car within an hour of having arrived home. As the car crossed the border from Virginia into the District of Columbia, James thought back to Candice’s pet name for him. While it was true in that he was technically employed by the Agency, his Legal Department office was a cubicle in the basement of the headquarters building up at Langley, and with his law degree from Columbia, his job was hardly one to be classified as top-secret.

Exiting off of highway 123, his car stopped in front of a brightly colored forged steel gateway. A young man dressed in a dark suit and tinted glasses approached the car, and James recognized the wire of an earpiece bud looped at the man’s temple. He presented his ID and credentials to the armed guard while beams of infrared lasers scanned the bottom of the vehicle for potential explosive devices or substances. The lights on the gateway flashed blindingly brilliant green and it swung wide. The guard waved him forward and his car descended a step ramp into the headquarters building’s bunker-like subterranean parking garage.

James got out of his car and walked over to the lift recessed in one of the concrete cement support columns. He stepped into the lift and it rose toward ground level.

George Bush Center for Intelligence

McLean, Virginia

10:00 AM

James walked up to the security turnstiles and swiped his identification card. He inserted his credentials and the light on the post’s console flashed green, the ordinarily muted light bright in the muted sunlight of the foyer. He was compelled to empty his pockets in order to pass through the metal detector, and finally entered the headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency.

He had not yet been sitting at his desk two hours when he felt a familiar pair of eyes watching his every move.

“You don’t work here anymore, Jason.” He said without looking up.

The tall muscular man with close cropped bleached blonde hair who stood leaning against the side of his cubicle looked taken aback, and held up his hands, feigning offense.

“Just shooting the scuttlebutt, Jimbo.” Jason Hunter said, earning a smile from the CIA lawyer. Hunter had been in James’s class of Agency recruit at Camp Peary, or as it was known at Langley: “The Farm”. Like Prichardson, upon completing his CIA training, Jason had opted out of becoming an agent. Unlike James, who had gone on to law school in New York, Hunter had instead joined the Marine Corps. “What kind of day has it been?” He asked, and James recognized the military shorthand for requesting a situation report.

“Thorne keeps trying to resurrect clauses of the Patriot Act.” Nathan Thorne was the Deputy Assistant Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, a thin wiry man whose deeply red-orange tanned skin clung to his matchstick frame.

“From the Bush Era?” Jason stared at him in vain for any sign of jest, finding none. “The Supreme Court struck down that whole package more than a decade ago!”

James threw up his hands. “I just report ’em. I don’t make ’em up!”

“Well;” Jason said, turning to leave; “I just stopped by to let you know: It’s in the air supply that someone is looking for you.”

“Bolten?” James asked, referring to the Director of Central Intelligence.

“No.” Jason said, patting the palm of his hand on the corner of Prichardson’s cubicle as he backed away. “It’s some tall brunette chick from an agency no one’s ever heard of.” With that, Jason was gone.

An hour later, Prichardson returned from lunch at the Headquarter commissary, but slowed as he entered the legal department’s office bullpen. Leaning back on the corner of his cubicle was tall young woman with long jet-black hair.

She looked to be in her mid-thirties, though as she scanned her eyes across the bullpen looking for him, James got a look at her face and concluded that she could easily pass for someone in their early twenties. She was dressed entirely in black, in what appeared to be a one-piece latex catsuit that clung to her figure.

When she spotted him approaching his cubicle she pushed off the wall and stood straight, her face lighting up with a warm smile. “James Prichardson?” she called. He nodded as he neared her and she extended her hand. “My name is Special Agent Walker. I’m with the National Security Department Intelligence Agency.”

This must be the woman Jason had told him about.’ James thought as he shook her hand, having never heard of the NSDIA either. “Is there’s something I can do for you, Agent Walker?” He asked, sitting back down at his desk.

“You’ve never heard of me, have you?” She asked, still smiling.

James shook his head. “Should I have?”

“Perhaps not.” Walker leaned against the wall of her cubicle casually, suddenly becoming fascinated by her own fingernails. “But I trust you know the woman I work for.” She glanced over at him, her mother-of pearl eyes flashing. “Doctor Hera Day.”

James felt himself sit straighter in his chair, doing his best to disguise it. He had indeed heard of the mysterious Doctor. Nearly everyone in the Clandestine Services had. Hera Day was a legend within the intelligence community in the truest sense of the word. No one had ever met her or even seen her face, but she nevertheless wielded influence over everyone up to and including the President himself, and had in every administration for the better part of the past half-century. The Intelligence Community was a division of the Department of National Security and Defense that in and of itself made up what was for all practical intents and purposes a separate and autonomous fourth branch of the United States federal government, but Day was the Director of an agency that operated outside of even the Intelligence Community: So secretive that only those within the Clandestine Services even knew it existed, and even fewer knew its name. That name, apparently, he now knew, was the National Security Department Intelligence Agency.

He cleared his throat uncomfortably as Walker sashayed around the back of his chair, trailing her fingers casually along the top of the headrest. “What can I help you with, Agent Walker?” He repeated his earlier question more courteously, now knowing to whom he was speaking. Director Day, he knew, had one favourite Agent in particular. No one knew her name, owing in no small part to the fact that she had so many. In France, she was known as Helena Truffaut; in England, as Helena Wells. In Southern California, she was Sarah Carter. ‘Doctor Sarah Carter.’ He recalled, resisting the urge to look again at the young woman behind him.

“I’m here to ask you a few questions.” She hopped up to seat herself on the corner of her desk, crossing her legs and letting her booted feet swing under his chair. “Do you have a few minutes to talk?”

“Wouldn’t you prefer to go somewhere more comfortable;” He finally looked up to make eye contact with her; “Like the commissary?” Her smile broadened, and he felt his face flush, immediately conscientious how much he had sounded as though he were asking her out on a date.

“Relax, Agent Prichardson.” She said, looking around the Legal Department as though wondering what he, or she for that matter, was doing down there. “It’s not like we’re going to be discussing any classified intelligence.” James was forced to smile at this, thinking that he even if she had wanted to discuss classified secrets, he didn’t know any. “Actually;” Walker said, planting her hands on his desk behind her and leaning back; “The only secrets I need from you are of a more…shall we say…personal nature.”

It was Prichardson’s turn to look around the bullpen nervously, knowing Deputy Thorne’s disapproval of personal matters in the workplace. He had heard the Deputy dressing down his colleagues and coworkers enough times for office romances and workplace fraternization…

“Will that be a problem for you, Agent Prichardson?” Walker’s voice drew him back to the now, and he looked up to see her eyes boring into him.

“I don’t see how it could be a problem for anyone.” He replied with the first thing that came to his mind before could censor himself, thinking that even if his neighbors knew all about his personal life, he knew of few if any who he thought would care or even give it a second thought. “What’s this for, might I ask?”

“You may ask, Agent Prichardson.” Walker replied with a knowing half-grin, but did not answer his question. Instead, she merely produced a pad, compelling James to wonder where on her skintight suit one might find to hide a pocket. “You grew up in Sacramento, California. Is that correct?” From the tone of her voice, he could tell she already knew the answer and that the question was a mere formality. He nodded. “And how old are you now?”

“I’m thirty-one.” He studied her, attempting in vain to ascertain what her answer to the same question might be.

“Meaning that you would have been born in 2016.” This time it was not even a question, but a statement of fact. He nodded again. “And how long have you been a practicing lawyer?”

“Three years.”

“Are you romantically involved with anyone at the moment?”
The question blindsided James out of far right field, and he struggled not to ask her to repeat it. “Yes.”

“This would be Candice Peregrym of Odessa, Texas.” Prichardson’s head jerked up to stare at her, startled that she would know that information.

“I’ll take that as a yes.” She chuckled. “And might young Miss Peregrym be employed by any intelligence or law enforcement agency?”
James shook his head. “No. She’s a civilian.” He felt the need to clear himself from his reaction before. “She’s a graduate student at GW…That’s George Washington University.”

“Doing what?” James got the distinct impression this wasn’t on the official questionnaire.

“A Masters in International Environmental Law, specializing in Russia and Eastern Europe.” He tried his best not sound as though he was boasting, but found himself smiling proudly nevertheless. “She plans to work for the United Nations after she graduates.”

Walker nodded, her expression unreadable, before continuing with the questions. “And how long have you and Miss Peregrym been romantically involved?”

“Two years last month.” James answered with a smile, wondering whether the cryptic woman knew that he had just returned from their anniversary that morning.

“Where do you live, exactly?”

“King Street, Alexandria, Virginia.”

“Near the corner of King and Washington off of the Interstate 495 Beltway.” Walker nodded, grinning smugly at his stunned expression. “One final question;” she stared hard at him until he met her eyes with his; “and I want you to think long and hard about this one. It’s very important.” James felt himself nod slowly, feeling almost lightheaded as though somehow hypnotized by the depths of her pearlescent eyes as he stared into them. “Are you, or would you be, able and willing to relocate from your current residence?”

James cocked his head to one side, never having been asked that question by anyone before. ‘Not since the Farm, at least.’ He thought.

“Candy and I aren’t getting hitched anytime in the foreseeable future.” He felt himself thinking out loud. “So it’s not like I’m tied down with a family or anything.” He straightened in his chair and did his level best to meet her eyes and return her gaze with his own with equal intensity. “I serve at the pleasure of Director Bolten, the DNI, the National Security Council and the President of the United States.” He stated coolly.

“Good.” Walker smiled as she pushed off with her hands behind her to hop down off the desk. “That’s exactly what we were hoping you would say.” Before he could ask who she meant by “We, she was already rounding the outside wall of his cubicle. She paused on her way to turn and place her arms on the top of the cubicle wall directly in front of him, resting her chin lightly on the knuckles of her her folded hands. “We’ll be in touch, James.” She said with an inviting grin spreading her lips.

He blinked in surprise at her use of his first name, but when he opened his eyes again the mysterious woman in black was gone.

No sooner had he returned to his work then he felt the pager attached to his belt at his hip vibrating against his chair. He plucked it off his belt and quickly typed in his twelve-digit alphanumeric pass code on the touch keypad. In abbreviated script, the message read:

“DNI, Echelon, ASAP.”

The letters “DNI” referred to George Kagan, the Director of National Intelligence. “Echelon”, James knew, was the codename within the intelligence services for the headquarters building of the National Security Reconnaissance Agency Office, or NSRAO, at Fort Meade in Maryland. He made a quick phone call before packing up his briefcase and exiting the building.

Half an hour later, as his car exited the Washington Beltway back on to Interstate 95 toward Baltimore, James reviewed everything that was known about the National Security Department Intelligence Agency. It didn’t take long, as there wasn’t much.

It was widely known that President Abraham Lincoln had signed a piece of legislation into law in 1865 creating the United States Secret Service. What only the clandestine community knew was that redacted footnote to that act of Congress also created another Agency: The NSDIA.

However, what Prichardson found most intriguing was that, although the secretive Agency’s history dated back nearly two hundred years, he could find no record anywhere of there ever having been a Director preceding the present one: Doctor Hera Day. He also found of interest the location listed as the headquarters of the National Security Department Intelligence Agency, as it was nowhere near the nation’s capitol. The NSDIA was officially headquartered at a little-known United States Air Force base in the Yucca Mountain salt flats: On the shores of a place “Groom Lake”.

The car exited Interstate 95 at Annapolis Junction onto Highway 32 and began heading southeast toward Fort Meade. From the top of the hill, he could see the iconic megalithic green glass cubes rising above the treetops. The NSRAO was by far the largest and most powerful of the intelligence agencies, and it headquarters dwarfed even those of the CIA at Langley. ‘Echelon’, the former home of the National Security Agency. In the context of what he had learned about Doctor Day, Walker and the NSDIA, the now-defunct Agency’s slang meaning of “No Such Agency” seemed almost comical by comparison. The United States Federal Government had denied until the Watergate investigation of the early 1970’s that the NSA even existed at all. On the other hand, James doubted very much if anyone in the wider civilian populace would ever be aware of the existence of the NSDIA. ‘Any Agency;’ He thought to himself; ‘Which could exist since the American Civil War and still remain unknown to all but an exclusive few could very well, and in all probability would, remain safely anonymous indefinitely.’

National Security Reconnaissance Agency Office

Fort Meade, Maryland

3:15 PM

Even as his car parked in front of one of the monolithic glass buildings, James could already see his Agency contact walking out from the building to meet him.

“Thanks for doing this, C.J.” He said, greeting her with a handshake that the other pulled in for a friendly hug. “It’s been too long.”

Chlaire Jameson Daniels managed the NSRAO’s electronic digital computer cryptographology department. A half dozen years older than Prichardson, she was dressed formally in a skirt suit with her shoulder-length honey blonde hair pulled tightly back and secured in a ponytail that feathered the back of her neck.

Once inside the building, C.J.’s heels clicked on the gleaming white tiles. He steady pace never wavering, Daniels held up what James had at first assumed to be a decorative bola around her neck, but was he now saw a badge on a lanyard. It took James a moment to spot the dark-suited guard standing in an alcove, as C.J stepped up to a monitor mounted on a wall next to a set of opaque doors.

She stood perfectly motionless as a beam of light shined back and forth across her eye, scanning her retina. Then she placed her hand on a pedestal that rose from the floor panel below the monitor. While the touch-sensitive surface scanned her fingerprints, a microscopic pinprick on her palm too a sample of her blood, verifying her identity.

The pedestal began to sink back down into the floor as the door pooped open with a hiss of released pressurized air: The Inside of Echelon was kept hermetically vacuum sealed in order to keep out foreign biochemical contaminants.

They stepped into a glass elevator lift, which took them to the twentieth floor of the imposing glass cube.

“The DNI is expecting you.” C.J. told him as they stepped into the office of the Director of National Intelligence. The Director stood as the glass door swished open and the duo entered.

A former Army General who had been deployed in the Pacific during the Second Cold War, George Kagan looked as though he would be much more comfortable commanding battalions of soldiers in combat than filing intelligence reports.

“Thank you, Miss Daniels.” Bolten said, nodding to the agent escorting James. “I think I can take it from here. That will be all. You are dismissed.” C.J nodded in acknowledgement, patting James on the shoulder with a look that sent the message: ‘Good luck‘ as she turned around, the door opening again with a hiss and closing behind her as she left the room.

“You must be Special Agent Prichardson.” The man across the table greeted, taking James’s hand in a vice-like grip as he shook it vigorously. “I can’t express what a pleasure it is to meet you.”

“The real pleasure will be entirely all mine, I’m certain.” James replied.

“Please, James… Is it alright if I call you by your first name?” Prichardson nodded. “Please do have a seat.” Kagan sat down at his desk, backdropped by its vertigo-inducing vista all the way to the skyline of Baltimore.

“I have heard quite a lot about you.” Prichardson knew that really meant the Director had perused his classified portfolio. Even so, there was earnestness in Kagan’s tone that made Prichardson actually believe that the Director meant what he said. Considering the present circumstances he decided that it would probably be a goo idea to go along with wherever the Director’s conversation was headed. He smiled in a manner he hoped was engagingly amicable and responded: “Oh? Yes? From whom?”

“A friend of ours.” Kagan answered without so much as a moment’s hesitation. It was a predictable and typically cryptic response from the lifelong spy. “Thank you for coming on such short notice.”

Prichardson opened his mouth to explain to the General that he hadn’t had much say in the decision, but instead he said: “You paged me for a meeting. I’m led to understand that the Directorate had an assignment for me.”

“A reassignment, actually.” The Director dropped a manila folder on the table, sliding it over across the smoothly polished Formica tabletop in front of him.

“So where am I being reassigned to?” James asked, knowing full well what “reassignment” meant in the context of the clandestine services.

The Director did not answer his inquiry directly. “You’ll be working for a woman whom I worked with…it must have been decades ago now…. at Cheyenne Mountain.”

Prichardson was familiar with the facility outside Colorado Springs. “She worked at NORAD?” He asked, referring to the North American Aerospace Defense Command headquartered at Peterson Air Force Base.

Kagan merely smiled. “Perhaps you might have heard of something called the Stargate Program?”

James could only nod: As a lawyer for the CIA, he was indeed well aware of the operation codenamed Project Stargate. The Program had gained notoriety during the Vietnam War as a CIA covert research project into “psy-ops”: Extra-Sensory Perception, clairvoyance and “remote viewing”. In reality, the Stargate Program was a top-secret classified joint American and Russian Air Force operation in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries based deep underneath Cheyenne Mountain. Even Central Intelligence knew little about what was dubbed “Stargate Command”, except that it existed somewhere between levels 27 and 28 of the Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station.

“She set up shop out west many years back.”

“I’m being transferred?” Prichardson resigned himself to following along. “To where?”

“The Ninety-ninth United States Air Force Base Flight Wing Test and Training Center.” James tried and utterly failed to work out in his head what the possible acronym would be. “Ninety miles southeast of downtown Las Vegas.”

“You’re sending me to Nevada?”

“We have a private Agency plane waiting for you on the Tarmac at Tipton even now as we speak.” Kagan stood from his chair to shake his hand. “You leave in an hour. It has been very nice to have met and spoken with you, Special Agent Prichardson.”

“Thank you for your time, Director Kagan.” The director sat back down, the door to the DCI’s office opened and he was ushered out. He walked out the door, which closed behind him.

C.J. was waiting by the glass elevator. She saw James’s perplexed expression and asked: “How did it go?” On the way back down to the ground level, Prichardson explained as best he could manage without revealing any of what he knew would be classified details about his reassignment to Nevada. C.J. did not respond until they had reached the doors of the glass cube. Then she said: “Candice will be so disappointed.”

Tipton Air Force Base

Fort Meade Maryland

5:30 PM

James’s car drove along a road through a forest of trees. The road emptied out onto an airfield ensconced by forests on all sides. The small parking lot just across another road was empty and his car pulled into the parking slot nearest to what appeared to be one among the only shelter structures in the field built for people.

James had barely stepped from the car onto the sidewalk when he spotted a young woman striding down the walk from the shelter building.

The figure was immediately recognizable as being that of Special Agent Walker, except with shoulder-length golden blonde hair and dressed smartly in a custom-tailored fitted navy blue military dress uniform pantsuit, the chest adorned with hanging medallions and ribbons.

She smiled as she approached, seeing him studying the shiny winged metal pin centered on her left breast. “Connor.” He read the name imprinted on the ID tag.

“Samantha Connor.” She extended to him her hand even as she reached him.

He was confused at first for a moment why she was introducing herself to him by another name. She pointed to the gold chevron shapes covering the padded shoulders of her jacket. “Colonel Samantha Connor, United States Air Force.” Even as he shook her outstretched hand, James reassessed his initial evaluation of the woman. He was amazed that anyone so young could have risen to the rank of colonel, which most officers did not achieve until at least their late forties or early fifties.

“Right this way, if you will please follow me, Agent Prichardson.” Connor said as she turned and headed across the parking lot. They climbed a hill on a patch of green grass and reaching the top of the rise, James spotted their destination: A grey enclosure set in between two artificial mounds that looked more like camouflaged bunkers than parts of an aircraft hangar.

Connor told James to take a seat in the main passenger cabin as they boarded the small private jet before disappearing into the front of the plane after seeing to it that he was comfortably seated.

James spent the majority of the three-hour flight from Maryland to Nevada perusing the accordion folder that Director Kagan had handed him at Echelon, carefully reading and rereading every page over and over again and again, attempting in vain to uncover the Directorate of National Intelligence’s reason or rationale for sending him to Nevada. James must have drifted off for a while because he awoke to find that the plane was circling over downtown Las Vegas.

Groom Lake Air Force Base, Nevada

6:15 PM

The plane touched down on the southeastern end of the long runway. Taxiing due northwest, the plane did not slow to a stop until it turned into the last slot in a long hangar at the end of the road. It was not until Connor joined him as he got up from his seat in the cabin that it occurred to James why the woman had not during the flight: He realized then that the colonel had actually been the one who had been flying the plane all the while. He stared at the young blonde with new respect as together Prichardson and Connor descended the stairs into the darkened hangar. He noted that she had transitioned from a pantsuit to the jacket’s matching knee-length skirt upon their arrival in Nevada.

They stepped out of the cool hangar into the brilliant, scalding Nevada desert sun only momentarily, as there was black sedan waiting for them just outside the hangar. They rode west over a hill, at which time their destination came into view and James could not conceal a gasp of astonishment: Built into the hillside in front of them was what was no doubt the largest warehouse he had ever seen. Even the massive concrete bases of the steel scaffolding columns that supported the overhanging eaves of the sharply slanted roof dwarfed the sedan in which they rode as they pulled up to the towering façade of the megalithic structure. Stepping from the sedan, James had to crane his neck upwards into the blindingly brilliant desert sunlight in order to just barely make out the apex of the roof towering like the mountain behind it that it appeared to mimic.

Connor stepped up to a set of solid steel double doors that, in spite of being nearly twice again her own height, were so minutely miniscule compared to the warehouse itself that they had been nearly imperceptible and had gone heretofore unnoticed by Prichardson. Reaching up to what appeared to be a brass knocker, the Colonel’s fingers flipped the cover down and stepped up to the lens, standing still as a statue, unblinking as the laser beam scanned her retina and the pad took her handprint.

James startled as a second set of metal double doors, concealed within the larger gate, popped open with a hiss.

The interior of this building was apparently climate-controlled. The contrast between the broiling Nevada desert heat and the coolly air-conditioned environment as they stepped inside forced James to take a deep breath. If that hadn’t made him gasp already, the interior of the building into which they stepped most definitely would have. They stepped from the dusty wind-blown sands of the southeastern Nevada salt flats into a foyer that looked as though it belonged more in the Louvre than a warehouse in in the desert.

Colonel Connor’s heels clicked rhythmically, echoing in the high-ceilinged hall, on the parquet marble tiles, polished to a lustrous sheen as to reflect the shadows of the glistening metallic stone-grey marble columns cast by the glass bulb crystal chandeliers dangling from the high ceiling above. On either side, ornate wooden staircases led down to lower stories below them. They were not taking the stairs, however, and Connor led him to a large freight cargo elevator lift, which started to move almost before its metal doors had finished closing completely behind his back.

James could tell that they were moving downward: plummeting might have been the word that sprung to his mind. It was no free-fall-however, as the two of them barely felt the inertia of acceleration: The law of motion of inertia seemed almost not to apply, only Connor’s blonde hair feeling the near-zero gravity weightlessness effects. The only sign that Prichardson could had to discern the rapid and accelerating rate of their descent was the outside of the shaft flying by outside the rounded barred porthole opposite him, behind the tall woman. James had long since lost count of the meters that they must had dropped by the time that the lift began to slow to a gentle, nearly imperceptible halt.

The metal doors opened onto a parquet-tiled foyer, carven wooden read and gold-carpeted steps on either side up ahead of them led up to a second story. Ascending one of the twin staircases, they entered a brilliantly lit office.

Behind the engraved wood desk sat a tall, regal-looking woman with long arms and legs and long, flowing golden hair. “Good afternoon, James.” The older woman’s English-accented voice greeted him as she rose from her chair and extended a long arm and long-fingered hand. “My name is Hera Day.” James shook her hand.

“Will there be anything more I can do for you, Ma’am?” The colonel asked from the doorway behind.

“Not for just right now.” The taller older woman answered. “Thank you, Helena. That will be all. You are dismissed. Before James could register that the woman had called his escort by the name “Helena”, Connor bowed low and deeply at the waist in a courtly curtsy. “Thank you so much mo—madam.” She corrected herself quickly at a cautionary glance from the older woman. Then she was gone before James could even turn around. Once she had disappeared, Day came around her desk to approach him.

To his surprise, as she continued directly past him to the window, Day removed her pantsuit, revealing a high-collared long-sleeved beaded sequin floor-length evening gown underneath. He followed her beckoning finger, stepping up to stand beside her as she faced the window, through which brilliant sunlight shone, filtered only by the drawn crimson satin curtains. Reaching out with her long arms, she tugged the curtains to either side, drawing open the window. As James’s vision adjusted to the brightness, nothing in the first thirty years of his life could have ever possibly prepared him for the sight that greeted his eyes.

“Special Agent Prichardson;” Hera said to him. “Welcome to Area 51.”

“To Explore Strange New Worlds”, Chapter 5: Back In Time [Draft #2: January 8, 2015]

•January 8, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Jenny had just tucked her younger sister into bed in their shared quarters when she felt the badge on her suit vibrate against her chest.

Knowing that Cassandra would want to stay awake if she thought that anything interesting or exciting might happen, the Engineer had reconfigured her communicator to a silent setting for the purposes of putting the girl to bed. As such, she made sure to walk into another room, closing the doors between them behind her before tapping the badge with her fingers to answer the call.

Lieutenant Hansen;” It was Lessia’s voice; “Please report to main Engineering as soon as possible.”

“On my way, Lieutenant.” Hansen acknowledged, smiling to herself as she gently reminded the Trillaxian that they shared the same rank, a rebuttal to the air of authority in Lessia’s order.

“What do you have for me, Lieutenant?” Hansen asked, even before the doors to the Engineering compartment had fully finished sealing themselves closed behind her. She looked around the seemingly empty and deserted chamber for the Trillaxian scientist and jumped as Lessia’s voice echoed from above her.

“Just a little something I’ve been working on since we go here.” Lessia waited as Jennifer climbed onto the lift that raised her to the Engineering section’s second level before continuing. “If you remember;” She explained; “The Emperor stated at out trial that this Terran earth Empire has existed for centuries.”

Jennifer nodded, not having as precise a recall of the man’s exact words as the Trillaxian did but remembering the general gist of their trial. “So?” The Engineer wondered where the scientist might be going with such an opening statement.

“So;” Lessia continued, her fingers tapping at the console she sat in front of; “I decided, on a… call it a hunch, to figure out in just which century, precisely, this Empire of theirs originated.”

Jennifer nodded, thinking that it seemed like a worthwhile pursuit. “And you found something?” It was more a statement than it was an inquiry.

Lessia nodded. “I never thought I would ever hear myself say these words, but the Emperor was right.” Jennifer raised an eyebrow. “The Earth Empire does indeed date back hundreds of years.”

“Just how long, exactly?” Jennifer asked, sensing the Trillaxian was being deliberately cryptic in her explanation.

“You won’t believe me.” Lessia warned, leaning back in her chair to permit the Chief Engineer to look at the screen displayed on the console in front of her. “I didn’t believe it myself.”

Hansen read the date and location displayed on the screen.

Then she read it again. There was a long moment of silence that stretched between the two women.

“Someone needs to tell the Captain.” Hansen said finally and Lessia nodded.

Cox was leaning over the balcony railing with his eyes closed, but stood straight and opened them as he heard the polite clearing of a throat from behind him. He turned around to see a girl with long ebony hair leaning her head in the doorway to the balcony.

It took him a minute to put a name to the mother-o-pearl eyes.

“Casey.” He sighed, waving her forward. “Please.”

Cassandra walked slowly forward as Cox turned back around to the railing again, “What are you doing her, Captain?” She asked, looking around.

“I just didn’t want to forget what a sunset looked like.” Cox answered, half to himself.

The balcony on which they stood faced south and Cassandra looked to her right to the West.

“It’s very beautiful.” She nodded, her eyes taking in the fiery red-orange sun touching the waters of the river. She joined him at the railing. “I don’t recognize this program.” She noticed the Captain’s eyes dart down to his elbows on the railing at the reminder that what he was leaning on was not actually marble, but a hologram.

“My grandmother grew up here.” He nodded back to the white marble mansion behind them. Then he turned to look over at her. “So did you great-grandmother.” Cassandra turned to look at him in surprise. “Did you know that?”

Cassandra shook her head.

Cox nodded.

“What is it?” Cassandra craned her head around to look up at the Corinthian marble columns around them.

“It’s called the White House.” Cassandra nodded, looking around at the glistening white marble that surrounded them. “In the late twenty-first century, it was the residence for the President of the Federation.” He smiled as he saw the girl’s eyes grow wide at the implications for what he had told her moments before. “My grandmother’s name was Alexandria.” Cox said and Cassandra sensed that again he was only partially speaking to her. “She was the daughter of Katherine Janney.”

“The Founder and First President of the Federation.” Cassandra nodded.

Cox turned to her then. “You are named after your grandmother.” He told her. “Did you know that?”

Cassandra nodded, even though she hadn’t.

Cox must have sensed the truth in her eyes, as he continued. “Her name was Cassandra Allen.” He told her. “She was the daughter of Julia Allen, who was Katherine Janney’s niece.”
Cassandra joined him on her in leaning on her elbows on the railing. “And Third President of the Federation.” She looked sidelong at him, reaching up to sweep her long black hair out of her face and behind her ear. “So your grandmother and my great grandmother were cousins, huh?”

Cox smiled as he nodded with a chuckle.

Standing beside her he had momentarily been able to forget the fact that the mind behind the pearlescent eyes was that of a twelve-year-old girl. However, he should have counted on the mind of a pre-adolescent child to reduce the intricate and complex relationships between them that he had explained to her down to their simplest quintessence.

“Where are we?” She asked.

“The city is called Washington.” Cox answered and Cassandra nodded. “The Provincial Capitol of North America?” Cox merely nodded to their left and Cassandra looked where he indicated, her eyes scaling up the columned dome rising to their East, its white marble painted a deep crimson by the setting sun.

The silence that stretched between them grew uncomfortable and Cassandra cleared her throat again.

“Jenny sent me.” She told him. “She and Lessia have discovered something they think you should see.”

Cox inhaled a deep breath, as he stood straight, letting it out with a long sigh as he turned away from the sunset.

London, England, United Kingdom of Great Britain.” Cox read the screen in front of him. He and his senior officers stood in a semicircle around Lessia’s science station on the Endeavor’s bridge. “June sixth, 1966.”

“The mid-twentieth century.” Sarah and her mother chorused in unison, looking at one another.

“This date is when our universes diverged.” Cox confirmed, more a statement than an inquiry and Lessia nodded: “And when the Empire began.” He turned around to look back at his godmother and her daughter behind him. “If I didn’t know better;” He let his words linger for a long minute; “It almost sounds as thought you know something we don’t.”

“In the latter half of the twentieth century;” Hera explained professorially; “The Earth was enveloped in a cultural and technological conflict between the Union of Soviet Socialist republics in the East and the United States of America in the West.”

“The First Cold War.” Cox nodded, remembering his history lessons.

Both Hera and her daughter smiled with pride at her godson, but Hera’s face straightened as she continued: “In our universe, the conflict ended within a couple of decades with the economic collapse of the Soviet Union.”

“But if something, or someone, somehow managed to prevent the Cold War from ending;” Sarah added; “Earth’s history could have turned out very differently from the one we know.”

“So the question;” Slaavik said slowly; “If we wish to set things right;” Everyone present nodded in agreement; “Is how do we go about figuring out just who or what, exactly, altered history in 1966?”

There was a long silence as everyone present looked down, none of them having an answer.

“There is always one way.” Lessia said at long last, hesitantly.

“And that would be?” Cox prompted.

“We could go there and see it firsthand for ourselves.”

“Forgive me.” Alexander said, holding up his hands. “But go where, exactly?”

“To 1966.” Sarah and Lessia replied in chorus.

“How?” Alexander was still mystified.

“The Equinox.” Jennifer answered, her tone indicating that she had just figured it out herself.

“The what?” Alexander looked to his Captain for information.

“The Federation Time Ship U.S.S. Equinox.” Cox responded. “A vessel equipped with a temporal quantum slipstream core.” He saw Alexander’s eyes go wide as he understood that the Federation Captain was talking in all seriousness about, of all things, a time machine. “It’s docked down in the Endeavor’s shuttle hangar.” He pointed over his shoulder with his thumb, toward the doors to the lift. Cox patted Jenny on the shoulder. “Go to the Equinox and power up the temporal core.”

“What are we going to do with the Endeavor?” Lauriaina was glaring hard at Cox. “Is it your intention, then, Captain;” She hissed between clenched teeth; “To disable its engines and weapons and set the Endeavor adrift in deep space with her crew still imprisoned in the brig?” Cox could feel the Valogran Counselor searching his mind. Her disapproval of this course of action was evident in her voice, and he silently agreed with her, since this would make Cox and his team no better than their doppelgänger counterparts.

But Cox was grinning broadly from ear to ear as he shook his head. “Not at all!” He almost laughed. Then he turned to Lessia. “I’m correct in assessing that it’s possible to extend the Equinox’s temporal field to encompass objects larger than itself?” He asked.

“Like, say for instance, a much larger vessel?” Lessia quipped rhetorically, then began to nod. “Yes, I believe it would be possible, theoretically.”

“Good!” Cox exclaimed, patting her on the shoulder, looking around the expansive bridge. “Because we’re taking it with us.”

The Trillaxian, who had stopped in the doorway, thought for a long minute before nodding slowly. “It is plausible to extend the Equinox’s quantum field around the Endeavor, if necessary.” She hedged hesitantly.

“It’s very necessary.” Cox said, before turning to wink at Lauri standing beside him with a sky half-grin spreading his lips. “Trust me.”

To Cox’s surprise, when he arrived back at the doors to the holodeck, he found Sarah waiting for him with her arms crossed in front of her chest.

“Ever since we first found this thing;” She nodded her head toward the holodeck control panel; “You’ve spent every minute you’re not on the bridge inside.”

Cox sensed that her statement was more an accusation. “Are you and your mother concerned about me?” He asked pointedly, turning to start typing at the console.

“I don’t know.” Sarah admitted slowly, with a shrug of her shoulders, eyeing him intently through narrowed eyes.” Do we have a reason to be?”

“I’m fine.” Cox assured her, sensing the beginnings of an addiction intervention on his godmother’s part.

“if you say so.” Sarah shrugged again, turning toward the doors to the holodeck. “Goddesses know it would be perfectly understandable if you weren’t;” She barely turned her head as she glanced sidelong over at him out of the corner of her eye; “Considering everything you’ve been through.”

Cox’s fingers paused on the keypad and he heaved a heavy sigh. He was silent for a long time before he spoke, his eyes closed. “I’m homesick.” He admitted. “All right? There! I said it!” He huffed as his fingers returned to work.

Sarah watched him carefully, turning her head to the side. She nodded. The doors to the holodeck opened and they stepped inside. Sarah slowed as she entered, looking around. “What…?”

Cox turned around with a smile, walking backwards as he watched the blonde’s reaction to her surroundings. “London;” He said, spreading his arms wide; “Mid-1960’s.”

“Where is everyone?” Sarah looked around at the empty streets around them.

Cox shrugged: “Must be a holiday of some kind.”

Sarah stopped to look at a newspaper stand: “November 22, 1963.” She read; frowning as thought the date struck a chord in her memory.

“So what did you want to tell me?” Cox asked as they strolled leisurely along the side of Westminster Bridge.

Sarah nodded, guessing that he would know she had other motives for meeting him there. “Before President Janney, your great-grandmother, made me the first head of the Enterprise Starship Program;” She began and Cox perked up at learning for the first time that she had known the First President of the Federation;” I worked as a theoretical astrophysicist at the Griffith Park Observatory in Los Angeles.” Cox nodded, not interrupting her, wanting her to continue, as this was more than she had ever told him about herself before. “Part of the First Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union;” She continued; “Was a race between the two to be the first to land a man on the surface of the moon.” She gestured up into the night sky above them. She was silent for a moment as they both looked up at the moon and stars as they walked.

“Meaning?” Cox prompted at long last, turning to her and lowering his head to face her beside him.

“Meaning;” Sarah eyed him pointedly; “That even by this point in history, there were nations with satellites in orbit around the Earth.”

Cox thought for a moment, then nodded. “You think someone might notice if a ship the size of the Endeavor were to suddenly appear in low Earth orbit above the city of London?”

Sarah smiled at the deadpan laconic understatement. “They might.” She chuckled.

“Can I be safe in presuming you are about to propose an alternative?” Cox turned to her as they continued walking.

Sarah did not answer right away, looking up again at the nearly full moon hanging above them, a crescent of shadow creeping over one side of it. Even as late as the turn of the twenty-first century;” She said finally, her tone as distant and far away as the stars above their heads; “People still knew very little about one particular part of the moon.” She lowered her eyes to look at him meaningfully.

Again it took Cox only a moment to catch her meaning. “The dark side.” He muttered, half under his breath, and the blonde nodded.

“The Earth’s moon is tidally locked with the planet itself.” Sarah stood at the front of a small conference room off the Endeavor’s bridge. Around the table sat Cox, Slaavik, Alexander, Jennifer and Lessia; all listening intently as Sarah outlined and explained her strategy for them. “This means that the side of the moon that the people of Earth see is only the side that faces Earth, which is always the same side.”

“So you propose;” Alexander rumbled in his deep voice; “That to avoid detection by Earth’s orbiting satellites, we position this ship on the far side of the Earth’s moon?”

Sarah nodded.

“You said that this space race did result in humans going to the moon.” Slaavik said. “How will we not be visible to them?”

Hera smiled, exchanging glances with her daughter. “The Russians had launched the first-ever manmade object, a communications satellite, into orbit only eight years earlier.”

“The Americans ignited mankind’s race to the moon for another eight years;” Sarah smiled; “And they did not land the first humans to set foot on the surface of the moon until mid-July of the year 1969, more than three years after our target date.”

“Also;” Cox added; “The missions that landed on the moon in the twentieth century were not sufficiently equipped to remain there for more than a couple of days.” He looked to Jennifer, who nodded in agreement, for confirmation. “Human colonization of the Earth side of the moon did not begin until after the Federation in the mid twenty-first century.”

Sarah caught up to the Captain as the officers filed out of the conference room. “Captain!”

Cox turned around at hearing her not call him by his first name, indicating that this was an official and professional conversation as opposed to a personal one.

“I bring this up not only as a physicist but as the Endeavor’s pilot.” She began, and he nodded for her to continue. “If we are going to be taking a ship the size of the Endeavor not only backwards through time but also across light years of space; she gestured to the planet Valogra on the view screen; “The dark side of the moon, as a target…” She hesitated and Cox could sense that she was searching for a way to convey her point; “…Is comparable to shooting an arrow from horseback and splitting a bullet down the center…blindfolded.”

Cox’s eyes widened at the vividness of her metaphor. “What do you propose, Colonel?”

Sarah beamed at him recognizing her criticism of his plan. “Titan.”

“Meaning?” Cox searched his memory for all possible meanings of the term.

“One of the outer gas giant planets, Saturn for instance, would be a much easier target to achieve.”

“That way, if we happen to reemerge from slipstream inside the planet itself…” Cox nodded.

“…No harm, no foul.” Sarah confirmed.

“Very well then.” Cox continued toward the Captain’s chair, gesturing Sarah to the helm. “Set course for the rings of Saturn.”

He tapped the communications link. “Bridge to Engineering.”

Here, Captain.” Jennifer’s voice confirmed that she had arrived back at her station.

“Cox to Equinox.” He hailed the ship in the Endeavor’s hangar.

Bringing the temporal quantum core online.” Lessia confirmed.

“Confirmed.” Sarah said from the helm. “Quantum field forming on deck ten.”

“Now, Lieutenant.” Cox said to Jennifer. “Engage quantum slipstream drive.”

Acknowledged.” Jennifer answered. “Slipstream field merging with temporal field.”

On the view screen in front of them, a schematic of the Endeavor showed the ship surrounded by a red-orange circle, while a blue-green spherical bubble expanded outward from the hangar. After several long minutes that seemed to stretch on into small eternities, the two circles first touched, then became one.

Quantum slipstream field is stable.” Hansen reported from Engineering.

“To all those aboard the Starship Endeavor;” Cox’s voice boomed through the ship-wide intercom and he grinned at knowing that his voice was reaching the ship’s former crew members in their cells in the brig; “This is Captain William Cox.” He stood as he spoke, straightening his uniform. “We have extended the temporal quantum field generated by the core of the Time ship Equinox around this ship and are preparing to engage the Equinox’s temporal drive. He sighed. “Put simply;” He explained; “We are about to attempt time travel.” The words sounded strange leaving his lips. “Our target is the year 1966, the mid twentieth century.” He looked down at his helmsman, who nodded, confirming the accuracy of his explanation. “With any luck;” He smiled, thinking that their luck had been very bad as of late; “we will emerge from slipstream in orbit around the gas giant planet of Saturn, and will be making our way down to twentieth century Earth from there.” He nodded to Sarah. “All Federation officers, brace of engagement of quantum slipstream drive.”

Ready, Captain.” Hansen acknowledged.

“Engage.” Cox sat back down in his chair.

On the view screen in front of them, it appeared as though a swirling vortex opened up in the center of the planet below them. The planet, its red-orange star and the rainbow-colored nebulae of gaseous clouds in the background appeared to twist into a swirling spiral. Then it all appeared to begin to pour into the center of the planet below like water down a drain. An opening appeared in the center of the swirl and expanded outward. Then Cox gripped the armrests of the Captain’s chair with white knuckles as the Endeavor lurched forward into the widening gyre.

William Brooks sulked as he paced back and forth in his cell. He had been unable to raise the Endeavor’s computer system, which he had come to know as a feminine Artificial Intelligence calling herself “Andromeda”, after the Ethiopian princess rescued from a whale by the Medusa-slaying demigod Perseus in Ancient Greek mythology. He was able to ascertain from his limited access that he was the only one of the original crew of the Endeavor to have been granted the consideration of a sultry cell by their self-appointed jailer, the superhumanly-strong blonde Valogran woman, whom Brooks remembered had also claimed to be an astrophysicist.

Hours ago, Brooks would have and did make the mistake of derisively dismissing such a claim. But since then he had seen his ship overtaken and his crew imprisoned by a team one hundredth their number.

He had apparently also experienced the hostile but rapid overwrite of an Imperial ship’s computer by an even more advanced and more powerful Artificial Intelligence from somewhere else, the rebel’s own ship, he guessed.

This new system manifested as an androgynous voice that he had overheard the blonde Valogran conversing with by the name “Archie”. As the past hours had been packed nearly to overflowing with occurrences h never would have imagined could happen, Brooks was rapidly abandoning his presuppositions that there indeed existed any such a thing as “no such thing” within this new paradigm wherein he now found himself. Just as he was readying intellectually and emotionally for yet another attempted hacking in order to try and locate whatever might remain of Andromeda, he was thrown off of his feet by a sudden overwhelming wave of disorientation that washed over him like a shockwave.

The next couple of hours passed in a blur, with the Endeavor twisting and swerving through a serpentine maze of glowing blue and red-orange light.

Sarah hardly blinked as she deftly steered the ship through the labyrinthine web, filled with blinding flashes from bolts of electrostatic discharge.

In the Equinox’s Engineering compartment, Jennifer gripped the railing as the whole ship shook violently, staring incredulously up at Lessia. The Trillaxian Science Officer stood on the upper level of the chamber, her hands clasped behind her back, not seeming to move at all with the jostling of the ship. Beside her, Cassandra was hugging her arms tightly around one of the columns next to the slipstream core, her eyes squeezed tightly closed and her mouth open as she screamed and shrieked like child on a roller coaster ride at an amusement park.

After a time that stretched on into an eternity, Cox braced himself against being tossed forward as the Endeavor suddenly came to a stop, emerging abruptly from the slipstream.

Cox released his white-knuckled death grip on the armrests of the Captain’s chair after the twisting, turning, winding, whirling trip through the slipstream. He rose slowly from the Captain’s chair, his legs unsteady and his internal equilibrium unsettled.

On the view screen in front of him, where he expected to see the blackness of space, it was instead filled with jostling and tumbling particulates of dust.

“Is this a magnified image?” He wondered aloud.

“No, sir.” Sarah answered. Her fingers flew over the console in front of her. “It’s ice;” She remarked; “Between two and sixteen meters in diameter.”

Cox recognized the description. “The rings of Saturn.” Sarah nodded. Cox pressed the communications button. “Lessia, how close are we to our destination?”

We’re close, Captain.” Lessia answered. “The date on Earth is December nineteenth of year 1965.”

“Happy un-birthday, Will.” Hera said with a smile.

Cox nodded, knowing that he would not be born for nearly two hundred years. “Engage maneuvering impulse thrusters.” Cox ordered.

Sarah nodded. “Aye, Captain.”

Cox switched the view screen to show the view from behind the bridge and watched as the Endeavor’s nacelles rose above the plane of the rings, shedding the swirling clouds of weightless particles as the ship emerged into empty space in orbit around the yellow gas giant.

As if anticipating his next order, Sarah switched the view screen back to the front view and magnified the image.

Cox leaned forward in his chair as he saw why.

Rounding the magnified curve of the swirly yellow gas planet in front of them, hundreds of millions of kilometers away, was an intimately familiar blue-green marble. Before even consciously thinking it, Cox punched the button on the arm of the Captain’s chair, broadcasting the image the front viewer onto ever screen of every console on the ship.

“Ladies and gentlemen.” He announced as he watched the outer gaseous clouds of the giant planet fall away from the faraway world. “There she is.”

The bridge fell silent, as did, he guessed, the rest of the ship.

“That’s home.” He had the image magnified so that the blue-green planet filled the view screen in front of him.

“That is where you come from?” Alexander piped up from beside him.

Cox nodded, not taking his eyes from the screen. “That’s Earth.”

“She’s very beautiful.” Cox was not looking at him and so he could not see that the Valogran man’s eyes were no longer on the view screen, but on the Trillaxian Science Officer standing beside it.

“Yes.” Cox nodded, studying that North America looked like in the twentieth century, before the ice sheets descended. “Yes she is.”

“To Explore Strange New Worlds” Chapter 4: Prodigy Son

•November 20, 2014 • Leave a Comment

When Cox arrived on the bridge, a familiar sight greeted him on the main view screen. The planet Valogra Prime was a dark maroon-brown where there was land, a glowing red-orange where there were rivers, lakes and oceans.

“It’s a magnified image.” Lessia explained from the Science Officer station.

“How far out are we?”

“One hundred and fifty million kilometers.” Sarah reported.

“Bring us to within a hundred million kilometers;” Cox ordered; “And open a channel.”

Distance: eighty million kilometers.” Archimedes reported a moment later.

“Channel open on all frequencies.” Sara reported. “Universal translation matrix available.”

“This is Captain William Jefferson Cox of the Unified Federated Star Systems.” Cox said, hearing his own voice transmitted ship-wide as well as to the planet below them. “I am the first-born, eldest and only son of Queen Cimarra of the Valogran Hierarchy.” He paused for moment.

“Sir!” Slaavik announced. “I’m reading multiple weapons locks from orbit around the planet.”

Cox nodded. “I am speaking to you from the bridge of the Federation starship U.S.S. Endeavor, formerly the flagship of the Imperial Fleet under the command of Imperial Commander William Brooks, who is presently imprisoned in my ship’s brig.” He looked over at Hera, who stood beside her daughter. “I have the preserved body of Queen Cimarra of Valogra Prime lying in state in the cargo bay of my ship.”

“It worked, Captain.” Slaavik said with a pleased smile. “All weapons systems on the planet’s surface have ceased targeting us.”
“Move us into high orbit.” Cox sat down in the Captain’s chair.

“A large fleet of imperial warships is assembling on the far side of the planet.” Sarah reported.

Out of our weapons’ range.’ Cox thought and Sarah nodded. ‘Very clever.’

“To my fellow Valograns;” Cox announced over the intercom; “I can promise you this, on my mother’s life.” He looked over at Slaavik, locking eyes with her as he spoke. “The Federation wishes you no harm.”

Slaavik nodded.

“To the soldiers of the Empire;” His tone changed from amicable to ominous; “I leave you with a choice.” He rose from his chair to pace in front of it, his fingers steepled in front of him. “Option one;” He smiled coldly; “Is to vacate the Valogran system immediately.” He stopped pacing, facing forward and delivering his ultimatum in an emotionless tone that matched the frostiness of his eyes. “Those who do not can either join Commander Brooks in the Endeavor’s brig, or be fired upon.” He sat back down in the Captain’s chair, leaning back in it with his fingers still steepled. “The choice is yours, of course.” He stated calmly. “But as soldiers of the Empire, I can only presume that you are aware of the capabilities of this vessel.” He glanced over at Meg standing at attention beside his chair. “Capabilities that, I can assure you, are now under my complete control.” He caught Sarah’s eye. “You have three hours.” He gestured to her and Sarah severed the communications link.

“The Imperial fleet has changed course.” Slaavik reported.

“New heading?” Cox asked her.

“Out of the Valogran system.” Slaavik confirmed; sounding pleased.

“You could make a fortune as a professional gambler.” Lauri complimented from the railing behind him, having heard his whole speech.

Cox stood and turned around to look back at her. “I’m a starship Captain.” He winked at her with a half-grin. “Is there a difference?”

An hour and a half later, Cox was strolling along the beach on the holodeck, admiring the fiery sunset, when Archimedes materialized to fall into stride beside him, in the process striding as though by magic atop the water.

Incoming transmission for you.”
Imrathor, capitol city of Valogra Prime.”
“Video?” Cox turned to her with interest.

Archie shook her head. “Audio only.”
“Put it through.” Cox nodded.

This is a message for the Commander of the Starship Endeavor.” A voice said. “My name is Alexander, Magistrate and Administrator of Valogra.”
“Go ahead.”

Captain Cox.” The Magistrate sounded audibly relieved. “You’ll be pleased to hear that the last remaining Imperial troops have departed from the Capitol.”

“Pleasant news indeed, Magistrate.” Cox agreed.
We would like very much to hear more of this Federation of yours, Captain.”

“Of course.” Cox nodded, even though no one was watching. “The Valogran star system is more than welcome to join the Federation.”

We will consider your generous offer, Captain;” The Magistrate said; “On one condition.”

“You have but to name it.” Cox smiled. “If it is within my capacity to give, then you shall have it.”

In that case;” The Magistrate seemed emboldened; “We formally request that you personally deliver the body of Queen Cimarra to me at the Capitol, as immediately as is your convenience.”

“My away team and I will be landing on the surface in approximately one half hour.” Cox confirmed.

We will make ready to receive you, Captain.” The Magistrate closed the channel.

Cox slapped his badge. “Cox to Commander Kahn.”

Slaavik here.” The Valogran replied.

“Meet me in the shuttle bay.” Cox told her. “Cox to Colonel Wells.”
Go ahead, Will.” Sarah responded.

“Will you and your mother meet us in the shuttle bay, please?” Cox requested.

Anything else?” Sarah said, evidently sensed that he wasn’t yet finished.

“Bring Lauri with you.” Cox smiled. “Would you please?”

As you wish.” The smile was evident in Sarah’s voice as well.

“Cox to Lieutenant Odanox.”
Lessia here.”
“You have the bridge, Lieutenant.”

Sarah deftly piloted the Federation Presidential shuttle down onto the landing pad outside the gates of Valogra’s capitol city.

Cox stepped from the back hatch and knew immediately that he had chosen wisely in his selection of the away team as they saw a delegation of Valograns streaming out of the gates toward them.

At their head was a towering, dark-skinned man with pronounced forehead ridges that extended from his high hairline down his brow onto the bridge of his nose. From his rigid posture and bearing as well as the badge-adorned metal sash slung from his shoulder across his chest, it was evident to Cox that this must be the Magistrate he had spoken with over the communications link.

Cox had assumed, however, that the gravelly low tone of the Magistrate’s voice had been merely a byproduct of a bad communication channel; an illusion that evaporated when the large dark man spoke.

“Captain Cox, I presume.” The Magistrate was making no effort to hide his eyes evidently sizing up the starship Captain before him. His eyes seemed to particularly fixate on Cox’s forehead, as if judging the ridges he saw there for their authenticity.

“Magistrate Alexander.” Cox nodded in return. “This is the late Queen’s Chief Advisor, and the Endeavor’s Second in Command, Commander Slaavik Khan.” He gestured Slaavik forward to greet the Magistrate. “This is my godmother, a close friend of the late Queen, Doctor Hera Day;” Hera came up to stand beside her godson; “And her daughter, the Endeavor’s pilot and helmsman, Colonel Sarah Wells.” Sarah greeted the Magistrate enthusiastically from Cox’s other shoulder. “And last but certainly not least, we have the Endeavor Crew Moral Officer and Ship’s Counselor, Lieutenant Lauriaina.” Lauri greeted the towering Magistrate timidly. “As requested;” He nodded to Sarah, who returned to the shuttle’s hatch; “The sarcophagus of Queen Cimarra of Valogra Prime;” Sarah returned carrying the crystalline sarcophagus aloft in her arms as thought it were a five-pound bag; “My mother.” Cox added, holding out the palm of his hand to one of the Magistrate’s aides, who pricked his skin with a device.

The aide examined the display on the device, and then murmured in the Magistrate’s ear.

“I apologize for doubting the veracity of your claims, Captain.” The Magistrate bowed low. “Or I should call you;” Cox startled as the towering Magistrate unexpectedly dropped to one knee and bowed his head, gesturing for the rest of his entourage to follow suit, which they did; “You Majesty.”

Cox was visibly uncomfortable at having so many people bowing down to him. He waved stiffly, glancing back at Sarah on one side and Lauri on his other. “Rise, Magistrate.”

The towering dark man stood slowly and the rest of his delegation did likewise.

“Your name isn’t actually Alexander, is it?” Cox queried with a grin.

The magistrate shook his head. “Amdanros of Imrathor, at your service, your Majesty.” He bowed at the waist. Then he shifted uncomfortably from one foot to the other.

“Is there anything that I can do for you?” Cox prompted, seeing his hesitancy.

“If it is not too much to ask of you, your Majesty;” Amdanros hedged; “I’ve never been on board an Imperial starship before.”

Cox smiled at Slaavik. “I’m certain that we’d be more than happy to conduct you on a tour of the Endeavor.”

Slaavik nodded in agreement and gestured for the Magistrate to board the shuttle, which he did accompanied by the aide with the DNA scanning device whom, Cox noted, kept a watchful eye on both Hera and Sarah.

Amdanros and his aide appeared as startled as Cox had been, if not more so, to see Meg waiting to greet them when the shuttle’s hatch opened.

“Magistrate Amdanros of Valogra Prime;” Cox made the requisite introductions; “This is Meagierthiea, android avatar of the Federation flagship Endeavor.”

It is my pleasure, Magistrate, to welcome you on board.” Meg greeted him.

“Captain on the bridge!” Lessia announced as they stepped off the lift.

Both Amdanros and his aide slowed visibly as they stepped onto the bridge, looking around them with gaping mouths and wide eyes like country farmers seeing the downtown of a major urban metropolis for the very first time.

The Magistrate, however, soon brought his gaze to bear on Lessia herself.

He approached her slowly, step by step as though at any moment she might blow away on a sudden breeze. “You’re a Trillaxian, aren’t you?” He said, his eyes tracing the pattern of spots that ran down the sides of her neck. He reached a finger out and looked about to touch them as though to reassure himself that she was not merely a mirage, but stopped himself as Lessia nodded, her gaze meeting his expressionlessly. Amdanros turned to Cox. “A pet of yours, Captain?”

Cox hurried forward to join them as he saw Lessia’s jaw clench and her hands at her sides ball into tight fists, her eyes narrowing sharply. “No!” He said, a bit too loudly, wanting to stop the Trillaxian woman from breaking the Valogran Magistrate’s nose. “Not at all!” He placed a hand on both of their shoulders, ready to hold them apart by force. “This is the Endeavor’s Science Officer, Lieutenant Lessia Odanox.”

To both of their surprise, the Magistrate responded by first smiling broadly, then breaking out with a laugh.

“Well now!” He exclaimed, chuckling. “This is a day to remember, isn’t it?” He turned to Cox. “First, a previously unknown child of Queen Cimarra materializes from out of nowhere and drives the Empire from our planet without firing a shot!” He slapped the Captain on the shoulder in his excitement, his hand landing like a sledgehammer blow, which he seemed to immediately regret. “Then, we find a surviving member of the Ruling Family of Trillaxia alive and well!” His eyes scanned over Lessia’s supple figure in her tailor-fitted uniform tunic appraisingly. Amdanros left Lessia to wander the bridge, Cox following closely behind. “What in the worlds powers all of this?” He turned to the ship’s Captain.

Cox grinned. “I’ll show you.”

Amdanros requested that Lessia accompany them down to Engineering, seeming infatuated with the Trillaxian.

The doors opened and Amdanros’s dark-skinned face was bathed in the blue light from the slipstream core. The towering Valogran Magistrate took a single stride inside the Engineering compartment before he stopped dead in his tracks as a teenage girl darted across the chamber only feet in front of him, The girl skidded to a halt in front of the man, craning her neck up to look at his forehead ridges.

“What’s your name?” She asked.

Amdanros had turned to Cox. “You allow children to roam your ship’s most sensitive areas unattended?” It was more an accusation than it was a question, but one for which the Captain was prepared.

“Not at all, Magistrate.” He said, stepping up beside him. “This is Cassandra Harper;” His eyes searched the chamber before spotting the uniformed figure hurrying down from the upper level toward them; “And that;” He pointed in her direction; “Is her older sister, Lieutenant Jennifer Hansen, the Endeavor’s Chief Engineer.”

Amdanros’s eyes widened visibly as Jennifer approached closer, the strobing flashes of blinding neon light from the sparks inside the core dancing in glittering patters of bright blue across the sequins of her figure-hugging suit.

As Jennifer came up to them and corralled her younger sister with restraining hands on Cassandra’s shoulders, Cox made the requisite introductions. “Jenny, this is Magistrate Amdanros of Valogra Prime.”
“I apologize for Casey.” Jenny said as she shook the man’s hand.

Amdanros turned to Cox. “Is this a ship of the Valkyries, Captain?” He asked and it took a beat for Cox to catch his meaning. “Where are all of your men?”

Lessia and Jenny appeared ready to launch into an account of their journey from the parallel universe, but Cox shook his head subtlely at the,

“All in good time, Magistrate.” He assured his guest. “It’s a long story.”

“Does this mean you plan on staying and ruling those you have liberated, your Majesty?” Amdanros asked and cox saw both Jenny and her sister look to Cox with raised eyebrows, neither one of them ever having thought of their Captain as royalty.

Cox shrugged in response. “There is another option.” He said noncommittally.

“And that?” Amdanros looked to his aide, who shrugged.

“You could come with us instead.” Cox said.

Amdanros’s eyebrow lifted, obviously never having considered that a possibility before.

Cox saw his eyes go to the slipstream core towering above them. “You told me you had never served on a starship before.” Cox waved, indicating not only the Engineering section around them but also the ship beyond. “Now would be your chance.”

“If you’re concerned about the Captain being outnumbered on this ship;” Casey added with a sly smile and Cox was glad to see that the girl could find the humor in what could have just as easily been construed as a sexist comment from the Valogran man; “Your staying aboard with him would help to even out the odds a bit.”

“Unfortunately;” Cox continued; “We don’t have the resources to support your entire delegation.” He nodded to Amdanros’s aide and the Magistrate nodded, understanding that the Captain’s invitation had been extended only to him and to him alone.

“What would I be doing?” Amdanros asked, then amended: “What could you need me to do?”

Cox thought for a long minute before answering. “I’ve made Commander Slaavik my First Officer, so I’m sure she might welcome your help as Chief of Security.”

If I may, Captain?” All of them startled to varying degrees at not having seen or heard Meg come in behind them.

“Go ahead, Meg.” Cox was the first to recover his composure.

I was going to mention, Captain;” Meg nodded gratefully; “That we still don’t entirely know precisely what in the wide worlds most of this equipment is for.” She gestured around Engineering and Jennifer nodded. “One capacity in which the Magistrate may very well be of use to us;” She appraised Amdanros’s imposingly muscle-bound physique admiringly; “Is with the interrogation of the Endeavor’s former Imperial crew.”

Cox nodded. “If you are going to stay;” He said, seeing Amdanros leaning favorably toward agreeing; “There is one further condition I would request.”

The Magistrate turned to him.

“You are no longer to refer to me as “Your Majesty”.” Cox told him. “I’m not a dictator on this ship, and I am most definitely not a king.”

Amdanros opened his mouth to object; perhaps that Cox was denying who he really was by eschewing the throne of Valogra, his birthright; but nodded instead. “Very well, Captain.” He said. “Consider me a loyal member of your crew.”

“And what of Imrathor?” His aide asked. “What of your mother’s throne?”

Cox heaved a deep breath, which blew out in a long sigh. “You are to return to the planet’s surface.” He told the aide. “And when you do, you may tell the people of Valogra that I do hope to someday return in more peaceful… quieter times and reclaim my rightful place as their leader.” He looked at Cassandra and her sister, then back at Lessia before continuing. “But for the time being, I feel I am needed elsewhere more than I am here.”

“Who will lead us in the interim?” The aide asked.

“I wouldn’t be much of a liberator if I merely drove out you former overlords in order to set myself up in their place.” Cox chuckled. “Until such time as I may return, therefore;” He continued, looking from Amdanros to his aide; “I leave the governance of the Valogran system to the people of Valogra Prime to decide.”

The aide nodded and, with a bow to the Magistrate, left the Engineering section. As they were walking back toward the lift to the bridge, Amdanros turned to Cox.

“Your Valogran friend Sarah;” He said and Cox turned to look at him, knowing he was referring to Sarah Wells; “She’s very beautiful, even for one of our kind.”

Cox stopped himself from nodding in agreement, saying nothing.

“She cares about you very much.”

Cox nodded slowly, looking at Amdanros expectantly, waiting for him to get to his point.

“Sarah Wells is not a Valogran name.” Amdanros paused in his stride. “Therefore I would like you to call me by my human-given name.”

“You want to be Alexander?” Cox was surprised that the Magistrate would choose the name given to him by Valogra’s Imperial conquerors.

The Valogran nodded. “And I would like to be assigned a rank aboard your ship.”
Cox nodded.
As they stepped onto the bridge, the Captain cleared his throat.

“Attention, everyone.” He announced and everyone present stood and turned. “I am hereby promoting Slaavik;” The Valogran woman stood at attention; “From Chief of Security to Tactical Officer for the Federation starship Endeavor.”

Slaavik looked surprised at the announcement, but nodded. “Thank you, Captain.”

“I would also;” Cox continued; “Like to introduce you all to the newest member of our crew, and my new Chief of Security;” He turned to the man standing beside him. “Lieutenant Commander Alexander Amdanros.”

Alexander was surprised that Cox used both of his names but then nodded understandingly with a shrug, knowing that like every other officer on board he too would need a last name as well. He noticed too that Lessia Odanox, the Trillaxian Science Officer, looked as surprised as he was that this newcomer outranked her.

Captain Cox, however, was smiling broadly as he extended his hand. “Congratulations, Commander.”

It too the disoriented Alexander a long minute before he located his voice to speak.

“Thank you, Captain.” He said, shaking Cox’s hand with one hand while saluting his new Commanding Officer with the other. “You won’t regret this.”

“Archie.” He commanded.

What can I do for you, Captain?” The hologram materialized beside him.

“Please conduct a scan of the body measurements for Alexander Amdanros.”

The hologram nodded. “Please try to stand as still as possible.” She told Alexander and a moment later, an oscillating grid of blinding green light began working its way up his body. “Measurements complete, Captain.” Archie announced an instant after the beam of light had faded.

“Access the database records for the Unified Federated Star Systems Star Fleet.” Cox ordered.

Records available.” The hologram beside him confirmed.

“Please replicate a Federation Star Fleet Security Officer’s uniform with the measurements you just took and the rank of Lieutenant Commander.”

There was a long pause.

Uniform available in nearest replicator, Captain.” Archie’s hologram announced finally.

“You may change in my ready room, Commander.” Cox waved Alexander to the doors leading off the bridge to their right. “Meg will show you to your new quarters.” Cox waved the android forward.

Let’s get you washed up first, Commander.” Meg amended, leading Alexander to the Captain’s ready room.

Cox watched them go until the doors to his ready room closed behind them, his expression unreadable and his faraway distant gaze los deep in contemplation. “If anyone needs me for anything;” He announced with a deep breath and a resigned sigh; “I will be in the holodeck.” He turned to his recently promoted Tactical Officer. “Commander;” Slaavik saluted; “You have the bridge.”

Sarah and Jennifer looked at one another with shared expressions of mutual concern as the Captain disappeared from the bridge, the lift doors sliding closed resoundingly behind him.

Machiavellian Machinations

•November 18, 2014 • Leave a Comment

In Section 1 Chapter 3, of his 1513 political treatise “The Prince”, entitled: “On Mixed Principalities”, Italian Florentine political philosopher, diplomat, historian, politician, humanist, and political theorist Niccolo Di Bernardo Dei Machiavelli adds to his overarching theme that a skillful prince must seize upon opportunities when they present themselves to say that one should have regard not only for present problem but also for future ones. Preparing for trouble that might come in the future is the easiest way to deal with problems: “It is necessary not only to pay attention to immediate crises, but to foresee those that will come, and to make every effort to prevent them. For if you see them coming well in advance, then you can easily take the appropriate action to remedy them, but if you wait until they are right on top of you, then the prescription will take longer to take effect, because the disease is too far advanced.” In comparing political disorders to a sickness he uses medicine to symbolize a prince’s preparedness for unforeseen troubles, as he should sense problems before they become too large and become impossible to deal with, and should always act to solve problems before problems fully manifest themselves. He explains that if the prince identifies them and takes the medicine early, he will be able to defeat the disease when it comes: “In the beginning of the malady it is easy to cure, but difficult to diagnose; but in the course of time, if it has not been either diagnosed or treated in the beginning, it becomes easy to diagnose but difficult to cure.” If he waits until they are allowed to develop fully, once the sickness shows itself, it will be too late to do anything about them, as he will not have enough time to be cured: “If you foresee problems while they are far off which only a prudent man is able to do they can easily be dealt with; but when, because you have failed to see them coming, you allow them to grow to the point that anyone can recognize them, then it is too late to do anything.”

In Section 2 Chapter 7, “Concerning New Principalities That Are Acquired With Conquest By Fortune, Meaning By Someone Else’s Virtue, And With Other People’s Armed Forces”, Machiavelli explains that though states won either by lucky circumstances or outside assistance are easy to conquer and a prince who reaches their position due to the sway of fortune or the goodwill of others has an easier time becoming lord of his subjects, his power cannot last long. Fortune is ultimately a capricious and unstable thing and fortunate princes who rely upon fortune completely are not guaranteed to have the talent necessary to know how to deal with problems and maintain their position in the face of opposition and will lose their power when fortune changes: “Governments that spring up overnight, like everything in nature whose growth is forced, cannot have their roots deep in the soil. So they shrivel up in the first drought, blow over in the first storm.”

Machiavelli likens the Roman Empire’s strategy of appeasing the majority of natives, indulging the less powerful, and breaking the more powerful, keeping down any potential challengers and not allowing any foreigners to gain a stronghold to the medicine to prevent the sickness of rebellion. “The Romans always looked ahead and, foreseeing troubles, took action to remedy problems at once before they developed. They never postponed action, even to avoid a war, and would not let them come to a head, for they understood that you cannot escape wars, and when you put them off only your opponents benefit.” People will willingly trade one recently arrived ruler for another, and the expectation that a new ruler will be better than the present one will induce people to take up arms against any relatively unestablished prince because he cannot fulfill all of their hopes that their situation will improve. When the people realize that their revolt is ineffective, a prince can more harshly punish the rebels and decimate his opposition than he would be able to normally. A prince should injure people only if he knows there is no threat of revenge: “Never do any enemy a small injury for they are like a snake which is half beaten and it will strike back the first chance it gets…Men ought either to be well treated or crushed, because they can avenge themselves of lighter injuries, of more serious ones they cannot; therefore if an injury has to be done to a man it ought to be so severe that one does not stand in fear his vengeance.” Machiavelli argues war can be avoided by suppressing disorder. However, war is never entirely avoidable: One can never escape war. War can only be postponed to the enemy’s advantage. The longer one waits the worse the war will be because the opposition only grows stronger with time: “One should never allow a problem to develop out of hand in order to avoid a war. For you end up not avoiding such a war, but deferring it to a time that is less favorable, to your own disadvantage.” One should therefore fight it sooner rather than later.

Machiavelli writes that eliminating rival leaders and winning the favor of their followers lays a strong foundation for future rule, saying of Italian nobleman, politician and cardinal Cesar Borgia, King Louis XII’s Duke of the Principality of Monaco and son of Pope Alexander VII Roderic Llancoi I De Borja: “If you are a prince who deems it necessary that the policy to follow when in possession of a newly acquired state is to secure yourself in your new principality, to guard against your enemies, to secure some allies, to overcome wars whether by force or by fraud, to make oneself both beloved and feared by your subjects, to be revered and obeyed by your soldiers, to annihilate those who have power or reason to attack you, to innovate, reforming and modernizing old institutions with new practices, to be both severe yet gracious, magnanimous and open-handed, to disband a disloyal soldiery and to create new armies, to maintain the alliances with other powers in such a way that kings and princes must either win your favor graciously with zeal or think twice before opposing you cautiously—then for such purposes anyone who thinks in these terms cannot hope to find, in the recent past, more lively examples to imitate than the actions of this man.”

Machiavelli likens this process to that of an architect, in that a private citizen who receives the blessings of powerful figures within the regime does not command the loyalty of the armies and officials that maintain his authority and will have difficulty building a foundation quickly enough to prevent power from slipping out of their hands, writing: “For as I said above, he who does not prepare the foundations first can in principle, if he is immensely skillful, make up for it later, although the architect will find catching up a painful process, and there is a real danger the building will collapse.”


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 473 other followers

%d bloggers like this: