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Part of USS Mount Shasta: Too Far is the Sky and Bravo Fleet: Ashes of Deneb

1.7.1 | Interlude: Covenant

Bridge, Deck Two, USS Mount Shasta
April 2401
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From lands that geese cannot attain by wing / The child of man returns, in his bosom jewels enfolding.

— Dashdorjiin Natsagdorj, “To a Distant Country for Education” (1927)

Constant movement was his advantage, and ultimately his downfall. Temujin, the fierce khan of the Mongol tribe, was at work uniting the people of the great steppe of Asia, on Earth, under his banner, and had just been routed. Jamuka, the sworn blood brother who had kept him and his mother alive after Temujin’s father had been poisoned and his family lived by hunting mice, had turned on him. It may have been jealousy, or fear. Or simply a case of two people trying to each hold the whole world in their hands at the same time. Whatever it was, it stung Temujin deep as any indignity ever did, or ever would.

The great khan, who was to be known to the galaxy in generations hence as Genghis Khan, was fleeing. Jamuka had defeated him soundly, and Temujin’s horsemen, as the steppe tribes always did, fled in every direction. Temujin was prepared to die. When he was young, death always stalked the grasslands. The empire he was to build aimed to end that threat. It did so by turning the steppe’s ghoulish fury, its swiftness, ingenuity and determination, toward the outside. And for a time, he would rule the most expansive and diverse empire that the Sol system’s little jewel planet would ever know.

But today, he was defeated. It was mid-year, and the grass was still green, silken and delicate. Though it was also remarkably strong when braided together. He trod amongst the grass, embarrassed to be on foot, like a barbarian. Temujin looked at the grass and pondered death. He pondered laying in that grass and dying, and letting his soul rise from the top of his head to the Eternal Blue Sky. Once his heart was set on dying, things became easier.

Temujin was an iconoclast to the world into which he was born. He valued skill, craft and loyalty above lineage. So, he reckoned, he must at least stay alive for any of his chosen inner circle who might yet live. He waited all night by the cold water of the river. The next day his compatriots arrived, slowly trickling in, mimicking the languid movement of the river. The water was muddy and they had no food.

And in the moment at which every one of the 19 men gathered around Temujin surrendered themselves to Death — which no Mongol willingly would — a miracle was delivered. A small, ropey wild horse crested a small ridge nearby. After realizing with astonishment that the horse was real, they quickly slew and ate it. They would not die.

After they ate, Temujin dipped a hand into the river, scooping some of the murky water, and raised the other hand in the air. He led his comrades in an oath. Those who would help achieve his great vision would share all that was won, as family. The good and the bad would be endured together.

“If I break this word then let me be like this river, drunk up by others,” he told them.

According to some accounts, every man wept. According to all accounts, every man swore the oath, which became known to history as the Baljuna Covenant.

Growing up in Mongolia, Altan Ganbold actively avoided learning about Genghis Khan. Partially it was adolescent affectation, a little social rebellion. No, Al told the world, I will instead venerate the more-forgotten — the poet of one of Mongolia’s communist eras — the more peaceful. But another sharp facet of it, glinting like an arrowhead, was a rejection of conquest, of the notion of “great men.” What did a man who pillaged half the known world have to tell us? What can a boy in 24th-century Ulaanbaatar — a city with a spaceport and a robust public transporter system — learn from a 12th-century warlord, who only knew the endless grass sea and the stench of horseflesh?

He worked a long and mostly well-regarded career in the Federation Merchant Service prior to joining Starfleet. And for most of that time, Al never talked much about his Mongolian heritage. He never insisted they call him Altan, he always suggested Al. It is often said that one out of every 200 or so full-blooded Human males carried Temujin’s Y chromosome, and this was often mentioned, probably once at every duty station or tour, by someone attempting to make a good faith connection. It irked him consistently, though he would unfailingly respond with some equally good-natured joke. He was born in 2343, the year of the water pig. He was good-natured by nature.

Things changed when his mother died. It was when he committed — years before he ever achieved it — to leaving the Merchant fleet and going to Starfleet — and it was the year he finally learned about Genghis Khan.

What he hadn’t cared to learn as a boy was that the men who took the oath with Temujin were not, strictly, Mongols. They were an assemblage of people who endeavored together not because of kinship but by choice, people who agreed with Temujin’s vision. They formed a new kind of brotherhood, based on a shared ideal. It was something akin to the more modern ideal of citizenship and civic duty. Crucially, it came by choice, not familial obligation. People were to be rewarded by talent and skill, not pedigree, religion or tribe. The men who formed the covenant with him were not all Mongols. They were Khitans, Tanguts, Keireits, Naimans and Tajiks. There were Tengrists, like Temujin, but there were also Buddhists, Christians, and Muslims. They shared an idea, and a commitment to each other.

And they conquered the world.

When he got his commission in Starfleet, he went to the Presidio in San Francisco and surreptitiously sprinkled some of his mother’s ashes on the grounds, among some tall grass. He kept another little vial of her in his quarters on the Mount Shasta. He was fairly certain that this is not a particularly Mongolian approach to human remains, but he was certain that he was not a particularly typical Mongolian. Or was he?

He had decided a few years ago, on his promotion to Commander, to let go of any concerns about authenticity. What, he thought, is more authentic than simply being who I am?

He wished he had that little bit of his mother with him as the tension began to set back in on the bridge. He knew they had to act swiftly but he didn’t know the captain well enough to know what she was going to do. Most frighteningly, he had no notion of what this Correolan ruse could hold. He remembered an old quote he’d read several times, attributed to Genghis Khan: An action committed in anger is an action doomed to failure.

He had already learned through harsh experience that it was true. He knew at least that the captain was aware of it, too. He thought about the quote again and wondered briefly if it was real, if Temujin had really said it.

Who cares, he thought. It’s true.