Part of USS Pathfinder (Archive): Go Your Own Way

Go Your Own Way – 17

Drapice IV
February 2401
0 likes 546 views

‘Banaro sent you?’

Valance had been surprised that their approach to the cathedral at dusk came with the clamouring of bells and the rush of city folk in what seemed a call to worship. Beckett had pointed out that sunset was a common time of prayer for many religions, and that the Drapicians called their god the ‘Sun Lord’ made this unsurprising.

‘My confusion wasn’t theological,’ she’d replied tartly. ‘Rather that I expect the cathedral district to be full of people at a time we’re trying to sneak around.’

Gov’taj had shrugged as they made their way through the capital’s streets, gold-soaked by the last rays of a fat setting sun. ‘It may give us the cover we need. Especially if Frankle is not involved in any services and the staff are otherwise occupied.’

When they’d arrived back at the cantina, Banaro had given them precise instructions for their destination and a handwritten note. This was brandished at the guard who lounged against the door to one of the households adjacent to the cathedral. The main square before the mighty doors and kaleidoscopic stained-glass windows of the house of worship was full of supplicants, but these nearby buildings homing staff and priesthood and offices were quieter. It did indeed seem all eyes were on the heart of the faith itself.

‘He did,’ said Valance as the guard read the note. ‘We mean no trouble -’

‘It’s not for me,’ the man said gruffly as he stepped aside, ‘to question a cardinal.’

Against expectations, the house – part of a row of wattle and daub buildings stretching along a street jutting off from the cathedral square – was not particularly opulent. Beckett theorised that Riggoria, new to the city, might be entitled to quarters but, without the Pontifex’s approval secured, they would not necessarily be nice rooms. There was a musty smell to the hanging tapestries and floorboards creaked underfoot, and the door only gave them access to the ground floor, not any flats on the higher levels.

There were only three rooms. The largest was the most comfortable, but the fittings looked new in a rather desperate effort to give the chamber some prestige. Valance assumed it was Riggoria’s. The second room was empty.

‘He’s near,’ breathed Thawn with a tension to her voice, and they looked to the third door. They had to have been heard by anyone within, though the door remained shut. Without a word, Gov’taj took the lead.

This room was almost as bare as the second, but that had looked clean and tidy in disuse. With someone living here, the bareness felt almost inhuman, and Valance’s gut coiled to see the figure lying flat on the hard bed with its single sheet. Even resting, Doctor Frankle wore plain clothes and the heavy circlet, and as they walked in his cold eyes landed on them. He sat up slowly, gaze sweeping across the group to land on Beckett.

‘Lieutenant.’

Beckett gulped. ‘Hate that,’ he observed in a toneless panic, and Valance had to quietly admit she shared his discomfort at the eerie control of their target. ‘At least you remember who I am.’

Valance stepped forward, aware Gov’taj was keeping level with her. ‘I’m Captain Valance of the USS Pathfinder. And I’m here to bring back Doctor Frankle. Who am I speaking to?’

He stood up with a slow blink. ‘I am Frankle,’ the man said, both like this was plain fact and not worthy of commentary. Through the shuttered windows, in the sudden stillness, the ringing of bells and hubbub of crowds called to worship still hummed from the city.

Valance’s jaw tightened. ‘If you were Doctor Frankle, under no circumstances would you be setting yourself as a long-foretold prophet of these people’s religion.’

‘You assume,’ said Frankle in the same toneless voice, ‘that I am not.’ Through the one ray of the fat sun creeping through the shutters, motes of dust hung in the light between them like a shield. Or it reminded them they were in the dark, the rest of the world barely able to crack through.

Thawn shifted, and Valance could feel the apprehension radiating off her, more than the rest of them. ‘You’re not just Frankle,’ she said, and Valance realised she’d never fully understand what it meant to feel people in the way a Betazoid did. ‘You’re something else on top of Frankle, and far too much to just be him.’

Frankle raised a hand. ‘I am he, but more. Thousands of years of memory and thought of a whole people. Watching and waiting until the time came to harness this knowledge and turn them to our will.’

Valance took a slow, half-step forward. ‘Our?’

That made him hesitate. ‘Our.’ But it was not so much a confirmation as a desperate echo in itself, as if saying it might summon knowledge he needed but did not have.

‘There’s not a second consciousness there, Captain,’ Thawn warned. ‘Frankle’s there, just with an impossible quantity of memories – Drapician memories – and an, an impulse.

‘To do what?’ rumbled Gov’taj.

‘Control.’ Thawn shook her head. ‘But there’s nothing more specific than that.’

‘The influence of telepathic technology,’ mused Beckett with a hint of wonderment, ‘and not a telepathic mind.’

Valance gave a gentle exhale. ‘Take the circlet off, Doctor.’

Frankle at last frowned. ‘Why would I do that? It enables me to do my work.’

‘Your work,’ said Beckett, also stepping up now, ‘has turned into becoming the pawn of a member of the clergy who wants you to spout conservative theology so he can use you to give himself a leg up the hierarchy.’

‘I am spreading the word -’

‘You’re spreading the most superficial interpretation of scripture and calling it a revelation,’ Beckett snapped. ‘How do you think this ends here, apart from reinforcing the status quo of the church of Drapice?’

‘This is the wisdom that will bend them to my will.’

‘You’re not talking to the hearts of the people! You’re drawing on a – a sludge of the most commonly-held beliefs. It ignores the innovation, the outliers, everything that gives a culture depth and everything that gives it the capacity to change!’ Beckett shook his head. ‘The commandments of the Sun Lord, what do they mean?’

Frankle swelled at that, like drawing on the circlet’s accumulated knowledge gave him strength. ‘The commandment of acceptance reminds that the hierarchy of the world was given by the Sun Lord and all should find satisfaction in their work, however low and humble -’

Or it means that all must seek to be satisfied by the quietest moments of the world,’ Beckett countered sharply. ‘That acceptance of humility and love is the highest form of divinity, not that those to rule were put in place and you should be happy with it!’ Frankle faltered, but the young officer wasn’t done, taking a step forward. ‘But that takes complex thought, critical thinking – you wouldn’t have learnt that from minds conditioned to accept their world and society at face value!’

A quivering hand came to Frankle’s brow. ‘It is enough to – to make them listen…’

‘But not to change them,’ snapped Beckett. ‘Doctor, whatever’s pressing on your mind is magnificent knowledge but it’s not understanding of Drapician society, and it doesn’t make you a prophet, real or fake.’

‘It’s working,’ murmured Thawn to Valance. ‘Challenging Frankle makes him try to dig deeper into the stored memories, which makes the connection between the circlet and his mind weaken.’

Then Frankle straightened, and his gaze on Beckett went hard. ‘You forget, Lieutenant, I brought more than knowledge. I brought insight. You’re nothing but a child who runs and runs, because otherwise you might have to stand. And if you stand, then you might fall. Then where will you be except crawling to your father to tell him he was always right?’ Beckett flinched, startled, and Frankle took a step forward to look across the away team. ‘All of you, running from your past.’

Valance had felt she was humming with tension since entering the building, or perhaps since setting foot on Drapice IV. But now her racing thoughts, observing and assessing and planning every second she was awake, felt crowded by what she could only describe as a pressure. Her breath caught, and she took a step back.

Frankle’s sneering gaze fell on Gov’taj, though. ‘Like you,’ he spat. ‘The warrior who casts himself a thinker because then he does not have to act, and action could expose the fault lines in more than yourself but your entire people.’

The Klingon hissed. ‘That’s enough,’ he snapped, before stalking forward – only to grunt and falter, stopping short.

‘I think not,’ came Frankle’s level retort. ‘Come at me, and all you will know is your own darkness. Did they scream when you left them to die? How would you know? You weren’t there.’

Valance found herself rushing forward, but then Frankle’s eyes turned on her, and the concern for Gov’taj rushed away. It was not that her perception faded, exactly, but she could feel that pressure in her mind, and now it reached down, deeper down, into her heart to bring roiling blackness up. Grief. Loss. Fear.

Standing on the bridge of the Derby and, against all advice, taking measures to save officers that ultimately cost the lives of innocents. Watching the alert lights in the belly of Endeavour as she sealed blast doors, locking Cortez in corridors about to be flooded with plasma, condemning her to death. Fleeing the Odysseus, leaving Aquila to go down with her ship, and die.

It was enough to make her vision swim, her concentration collapse, and Frankle tutted as he shook his head. ‘You, turning your back on all you left behind and turning your heart to ice because you think that’s the same as control. How many will you condemn and tell yourself it was the rational choice? You’ll both drive yourselves to loneliness and death.’

When his eyes landed on Thawn, the young Betazoid bristled. ‘You don’t get in my head -’

‘My power is older than when your people were squatting in caves,’ Frankle spat. ‘And I hardly need to pierce deeply to understand you. A frightened child who won’t fight for herself so she’ll scratch and claw everyone else instead.’ As she fell silent, he gave a short bark of laughter – the first real sign of any emotion but intensity or wavering uncertainty. ‘You thought you would come here and challenge my knowledge of Drapician religion and I would surrender?’

Valance had to fight to draw a scraping breath, Frankle’s shifting attention giving her some modicum of control back over her thoughts, over her heart. She wavered, but then her gaze landed on Gov’taj, who had braced himself as he rallied. He gave her the faintest, near-imperceptible nod.

Frankle rounded on her, doubtless sensing her intention, so she acted. Not with motion, but words. ‘Doctor, listen to me,’ she managed at last. ‘This circlet is influencing you and you know it. It’s setting you down a path against your own principles.’ As his eyes landed on her, she steeled herself. ‘You have devoted your life to studying other cultures; why would you want to change and rule one?’

As she’d hoped, he faltered – the challenge now not of the knowledge the circlet gave, but the impulse it drove in him. She felt Thawn relax next to her an iota, a reinforcement that it was working, having an impact.

‘It is necessary,’ Frankle said, but he sounded more uncertain. ‘This was planned. Prepared for over thousands of years. It will bring them into something larger.’

‘At the cost of who they are,’ Valance reminded him. ‘Doctor, you are an anthropologist, an historian. You know better than this.’ Again he wavered, and her limbs coiled. But not so she might move, not with his attention so fixed on her even as she did her best to disrupt the circlet’s hold on him. No, instead she braced as her gaze flickered away from Frankle, and to Gov’taj.

She hadn’t known what to expect. But if she couldn’t talk Frankle down, couldn’t sever the link between him and the circlet, then she could stop him from turning his circlet-given telepathic abilities on them by diverting him just for a moment. A moment in which she had to trust her Chief of Security. Her brother.

Who drew his phaser and shot Frankle.

‘Bloody hell!’ barked Beckett as the old archaeologist fell like a sack of potatoes. ‘Was that always the plan? We don’t know what might happen to him if he’s taken out wearing the circlet…’

‘Great Fire,’ breathed Thawn, cutting over him seemingly without thinking. ‘It has broken the connection. I’m not sure he’s slept since he put it on.’ At their looks, she grimaced. ‘Beckett’s not wrong, who knows what physiological effect this has had on him?’

Valance advanced on the still form of the archaeologist and pulled out her tricorder. ‘His life signs are steady. You’re right, he could do with some time in sickbay for malnourishment and exhaustion, though.’ She glanced at the circlet, barely daring to check her tricorder’s readings of that. ‘Is it safe to handle?’

Silence met her words. At length, Thawn ventured an apprehensive, ‘If you don’t put it on?’

‘So you don’t know,’ said Gov’taj, advancing. ‘Allow me to carry it, Captain. I incapacitated the doctor without us knowing we had safely disarmed the device. Let me bear its risk.’

‘Or,’ said Beckett, ‘we don’t give the physically strongest of us telepathic superpowers.’

But Valance nodded to Gov’taj, who gingerly reached down to lift the circlet from Frankle’s head. He turned it over in his hands, brow furrowing, and eventually grunted. ‘It wants me to wear it,’ he said at last.

Beckett looked stricken. ‘It’s talking to you?’

‘Nothing so simple as that.’ Gov’taj shook his head. ‘But it has nothing I want.’

Valance looked to Beckett, the researcher who would jump at devouring the knowledge of a whole civilisation’s history in a heartbeat, and Thawn, the telepath who could be tempted with the power to be safe and secure. She thought of Frankle’s words, and the temptation of being offered control such as the circlet had sought of a whole society. And she turned to Gov’taj. ‘I think it’s best in your hands, Lieutenant.’

Thawn moved to the window and peered through the gap in the shutters. ‘How do we get him out of here?’ she fretted.

‘I think,’ said Valance, ‘it is impossible for us to leave Drapice without cultural impact. No matter what, the people will be left muttering and wondering about a prophet. But we have equipped Banaro with a story he wanted to believe, and he wants Frankle’s teachings to be forgotten. I think we can stand to leave Drapice with one more mystery.’

‘Use your Waverider’s transporters to get us back to the dig-site, and just let Frankle mysteriously disappear?’ Beckett looked gloomy. ‘I would have liked to see more of the city.’

Gov’taj laughed and clapped a hand on the young officer’s shoulder. ‘And this,’ he said, ‘is why you can write many papers when this is done about all the fascinating things you learnt of Drapician society or this ancient technology that would have warped its people to the will of a long-dead civilisation.’

‘And why I don’t, I see, get to handle the evil circlet.’ Beckett winced and nodded. ‘Alright, Captain. I could do with a bath anyway.’

Valance inclined her head, gaze landing on Thawn. ‘Lieutenant?’

She turned back from the window, that haunted darkness sunk back into her eyes. On some level, Valance had hoped it would be gone now she had slipped far from Endeavour and all the ghosts lingering aboard. Frankle had reminded her – reminded them all – that they had brought plenty with them as they ran from the past.

‘I can beam us back safely, Captain,’ said Thawn quietly. ‘After all. These people deserve to be left alone.’

Comments

  • This is just...perfection. From start to finish, this story just rocks. The plot ratchets up the tenseness of the faceoff as the verbal banter tightens the scene with each line. And that moment where the phaser takes him out - it's a great moment where that tightness is suddenly released but not without consequence as they have to figure out what to do with the circlet and the world that's been affected by it. There are also some powerful emotions and memories at play from the characters here - it gives me more to enjoy and wonder about as I read along with their adventures. That last paragraph with the descriptions, the imagery, the feel, and that last line - just...damn. Engrossing as always.

    March 5, 2023