At forty-eight degrees centigrade, it was practically a balmy day in the Vulcan’s Forge and in fact not an unwelcome respite from four continuous days on which the thermostat had reached well past fifty-five.
Logic dictated that he found shade and rested during the hot days while only making his way through the relentless desert during the much cooler nights. And he understood that it was the most common method to endure the kahs-wan, the traditional Vulcan survival test that many Vulcan children undertook to prove their courage and resiliency before embarking on a life’s journey dedicated to pure logic and pragmatism.
But the eleven year-old Xylion still had over two hundred kilometers to cover before reaching the Plain of Blood which marked his final destination and the progress he had made over the last six days of this ten-day excursion had been unsatisfactory. The decision therefore to travel under the bright hot Vulcan suns during the day had been one born out of necessity.
Xylion had never been a strong boy. He was shorter than the average Vulcan child of his age and not as adapt at physical activities as the majority of his peers. Xylion had taken to academia much earlier than Vulcan children, preferring working out his cerebral muscles over his physical ones.
His father, realizing that the extremely demanding kahs-wan ritual was likely going to be a challenge his son would not be able to overcome, had argued against this undertaking. But both Xylion and his strong-willed mother had disagreed. Ultimately it had been Xylion’s own arguments, deeply rooted in logic of course, which had ensured that he was cleared for his desert marathon.
He had trained relentlessly for a year for this undertaking and had thought himself ready when he had been dropped off all by himself deep inside Vulcan’s most inhospitable region with not much more than the clothes on his back, some water and food rations and very basic tools with the expectation that he cover a significant distance of sandy and rocky terrain in just ten days without any assistance.
It had been after the second day that his doubts had began to manifest themselves, when he had failed for a consecutive day to reach the aim he had set himself. His own logic was beginning to work against him, trying to convince him that at his pace, it was physically impossible to reach his destination in time.
And more than that, he was becoming more and more convinced that he might not even survive the desert at all. He found it more and more difficult to find shade, water and food. At one point during his third day he had failed to heed the first signs of a sandstorm which had very nearly swept him down a dangerous looking chasm, only saved by a small rock outcropping, not much taller than himself, he had lain there for hours, holding on for dear live until the storm finally abated and he was able to find more suitable shelter.
He had expected that armed with an ironclad, logic-infused resolve, no challenge would be impossible to overcome. But no matter how much he willed it, deprived of enough food and water, little by little his body simply refused to obey his mind’s demanding commands.
His young logic, which he had believed had steered him so well over the last few years, which had given him the confidence that he would be able to survive this harsh gauntlet, that very same logic was slowly but surely leading him to an inescapable conclusion: He was going to die in the Forge.
Giving up and surrendering to his this fate however seemed to him as illogical as the chance of his eventual success. Torn between those two extremes, he had little choice but to press on.
Ultimately it wasn't the harsh conditions, the unrelenting heat, the freak sandstorms, the lack of water and sustenance or the seemingly insurmountable distance he still had to cover which would spell his doom.
Towards the end of the sixth day, exhausted and hardly able to set one more foot after the other, even the lowering temperature didn’t come as much of a relief as the Vulcan suns began to set. Xylion trotted at a snail’s pace towards what looked like a more than suitable cave for shelter and much needed rest. Maybe even to close his eyes for two or three hours before he needed to set out again if he wanted any hope of reaching the Plain of Blood in the time he had left.
Had he been less fatigued, with his mental facilities working at their usually sharp pace, he might have realized sooner that those very caves were the preferred dwellings of some of the local wildlife.
Instead Xylion wandered right into the path of a ferocious le-matya. The young Vulcan froze as he came face-to-face with the wild beast. The green and yellow apex predator had at least three hundred kilograms on the diminutive Vulcan boy and responded to the intrusion into its layer with unbridled aggression, its large paws wide apart, each with three razor-sharp black claws digging into the dirt, its head lowered low to the ground, looking up at what would make an easy target to pounce on.
The beast snarled at the boy, revealing a pair of jutting fangs, its long tapered green ears standing up at attention while its long green and yellow tail wagged dangerously.
For a moment the two, Vulcan and animal, simply stared at each other, Xylion not moving a single muscle while the le-matya uttered a low, angry growl which left little doubt to its intentions. The intrusion was not going to be tolerated. Instead of hunting for dinner, dinner had come to it.
The stare-off lasted a good ten seconds before adrenaline finally kicked in with a vengeance, almost instantly dispelling the cobwebs which had clouded Xylion’s fatigued mind and he could feel his muscles tensing not unlike those of the predator in front of him.
Fight or flight was no choice at all, and an instinct honed for tens of thousand of years asserted itself before Xylion could even think about calculating his odds. With strength and agility he had not felt in days, he jumped to his side just as the le-matya made its move. The beast had miscalculated and had used too much force on its attack, and instead of tearing into a helpless victim, it smashed painfully against a large, jugged bolder instead. The animal howled in pain and anger and Xylion took the opportunity to run.
Straight out of the cave and down into a canyon which he considered to be the better option than heading into the open desert.
He ran as fast as he possibly could, leaping over rocks with an agility which had escaped him up until that point. He could hear the le-matya hissing and growling somewhere behind him, but he never looked back as he continued deeper into the canyon with blazing speed, hardly even noticing that the ground was becoming muddier as he went.
Xylion didn’t slow down until he found the canyon in front of him splitting into two paths.
Slowing down had been a mistake but thankfully he had sensed the impending attack before he heard it and ducked and turned sharply to the right only to see a large mass of green and yellow leap over his head, missing him by a few inches.
He avoided the wildcat but in doing so he lost his footing, slipped and with a loud moan hit the wet, muddy ground at an incline. Vulcan’s strong gravity immediately took hold of him. He tried to reach out for a few rocks to slow his fall but it was too no avail.
He bounced half a dozen times, each impact harsh and painful, before he landed on his back, slipping uncontrollably towards a sudden drop up ahead. He went over the edge and into a freefall before splashing into a watery surface and immediately submerged below it.
If Xylion had prescribed to the sentiment, he might have considered it ironic that he had landed right in the one thing he had been looking for the better part of day, the real irony of course being that the one thing he had needed so desperately was now threatening to drown him as he sank steadily lower.
Somehow however he managed to fight himself back to the surface and thanks to a weak current was washed up against the shore. He crawled the last few meters out of the water and then collapsed onto his back.
It was an odd melody which awoke him what must have been hours later, since he could see Vulcan’s sister planet high in the dark sky above him, indicating that it was well into the night.
Propping himself up slowly onto his elbows, the next thing he noticed was the meager waterfall which dropped into a small lake from about fifty meters above him and from which he had fallen. The basin below the waterfall was not very wide but as he had since painfully learned was deceptively deep.
Besides the steady sound of the water cascading down the canyon, something else had caught his attention, something that did not sound as if it belonged in this place.
He slowly made it back onto his feet, he clothes still wet, he took a moment to look around until he thought he had determined the source of the odd sound. As he stepped closer to it, an unusual warmth began to spread across his skin, but none that he was familiar with, none he had ever experienced before. This was not thermal radiation created by Vulcan’s twin stars, or even by artificial means, this was something else entirely.
The tiny hairs on his arms began to stand on end as he carefully approached what he believed to be the source of this strange phenomenon. Then he spotted the soft azure glow, seemingly dancing on top of a layer of sand.
Curiosity more than fear drove him even closer. Xylion was well aware of a number of naturally occurring events in the Forge, including sand fires which often sprang up with little warning, created by static electricity.
But this was like nothing he had ever seen or read about. This seemed and felt entirely alien. Not from this world.
He carefully knelt in front of the dancing light which behaved not unlike a wave of energy, rippling across the surface of the sand.
Something within it was calling out for him, he was certain of it. He didn’t recognize the language, couldn’t even tell if it was language at all but there could be no doubt, there was an intelligence behind it.
Logic told him to proceed with the uttermost caution and yet he found his hands moving almost of their own accord as they gently made contact with this unexplained energy. There was no danger, it would cause no harm. How he could possibly know this, he could not rationally explain.
Xylion had never performed a mind meld in his young life. He had of course read about the practice which was usually frowned upon in his society, and intellectually he understood what it involved. And he understood the inherent dangers of merging one’s mind with another.
And yet he offered no resistance when he felt an alien and unknown consciousness touch his own. He instantly understood its need. That, whatever it was, could not survive like this for much longer and in an odd twist of circumstances—human may have referred to it as fate—he quite possibly could not survive without it.
It seemed, and more importantly, it felt, like a perfect match.
Xylion was a very different man now, barely recognizable from the young, timid boy he had been seventy years earlier when he had set out on his kahs-wan. He was older and wiser of course, his resolve firmer and his logic sharper than it had ever been. But he had also grown physically into a tall and strong man and not just because of his Starfleet career.
Many things had changed for the young boy in that desert decades ago. He had found something there he would never have expected. Not courage or the strength to overcome seemingly insurmountable challenges. He had found, quite literally, another soul. An alien spirit wandering aimlessly through the desert, like Xylion confused and lost and perhaps even scared.
For many years after this unlikely encounter, Xylion had been unable to account for how this alien presence had arrived in the Forge or how it had subsequently managed to merge with his own consciousness. But that it had, of that there was no doubt.
After finding the source of the odd energy on that fateful desert night, he had felt it flow into him and after just a few hours, take occupancy in his mind. The intrusion hadn’t been violent or painful and he had not fought it. It had not, as far as he had been able to tell, altered his mind or his own thoughts. Instead he simply found himself sharing his own head with another individual.
It had saved his life.
For reasons just as ambiguous as its presence on Vulcan and its origin, was the effect it had on him once they had become one. New and never known strengths seemed to emanate from this merger, his tired and exhausted body seemed like reborn, his logic which he had spent so many hours honing, reasserted itself with crystal clarity and purpose.
Against all odds, Xylion had reached his destination in the Plain of Blood with time to spare, requiring very little rest, food or water. While most persons would have broken down for days after such a startling metamorphosis, Xylion simply found that it had crystallized his resolve to reach his goal, his new imperative not just to save his own life but to ensure the survival of this parasite as well.
After his return to civilization, Xylion had not shared this remarkable experience with anyone, not even his parents, and instead spent much of his next few years studying this phenomenon in as much detail as he could. Coming to learn to live with another voice in his head was of course a challenge, especially since Bensu, as he had introduced himself over the years, was nothing like a Vulcan. He possessed emotions, or rather, did not suppress them the way Xylion did. In the early days of this forced cohabitation of minds, the young boy had questioned his own sanity more than once, wondered if he had truly mind melded with an alien being or if that voice in his head was merely a sign of a mental condition he had contracted from his near death experience in the Forge.
But as was usual for him, even at a young age, he had turned to logic and slowly but surely ruled out the possibility that his mind was failing him. On the contrary, he had displayed such an impressive mental fortitude, that he began to understand and accept that he had become the host to another consciousness.
And soon Bensu became more than just a voice inside his head. He became a friend and his closest confidant. How could he not be, considering that he had access to his every thought. A human or another emotional race might have been unable to cope with such a situation, with losing total privacy within one’s own head. But Xylion had thrived under these conditions.
In fact it was thanks to Bensu, and Xylion’s own unquenchable curiosity as to his origins and the way in which he had been able to take residency in his mind like a Vulcan katra, which had driven him to join Starfleet, against his mothers wishes.
It was the reason why he had once more elected to spend his leave from Eagle visiting his home world. Not to reunite with family or friends but by revisiting the place Bensu and Xylion had first become one. To retrace the same steps he had first made so long ago. To Xylion it was nothing short of a revelation and a chance to find answers to decade-old questions.
“I positively despise this blasted wasteland.”
Xylion glanced at his companion who was nearly a head shorter, dressed like he was in all-white Starfleet desert fatigues, his hood hanging into his dark face and the long robe billowing slightly around his boots.
“A wasteland implies a barren region, devoid of life and activity. The Forge however has a significant population of flora and fauna.”
He nodded. “Yes, I know. Most of which is trying to eat us.”
Xylion raised an eyebrow. He knew Bensu well enough to understand his tendencies to exaggerate and use colorful language to underscore his arguments. It was of course a common practice among more emotional species. It still confounded him to some degree that after the many years they had spent together, very few of his calmer, reasonable and more logical thoughts seemed to have made much of an impact on Bensu.
The other man considered Xylion for a moment. “I know what you’re thinking, old friend. Why must I remain so terribly illogical after all this time? Why could I have not become more like you? Ever wonder why you didn’t become more like me?”
His response remained another raised eyebrow.
“In fact, one would think that after sharing one brain for so long, you would have had a much easier time off-world, getting along with all those awfully illogical people out there.”
“I have no compunctions working with non-Vulcans.”
Bensu uttered a chuckle before he found a large rock and sat down in order to remove one of his boots. “Maybe now you don’t. But we both know it’s not always been like that.”
Xylion said nothing to that. After all it was hard to argue with a man who knew his head inside out. And the facts seemed to support his point. He had not lasted long in Starfleet after leaving Vulcan, and had quickly decided to return to his home world. He had not left Starfleet but instead taken a transfer to a local and planet bound role instead where he had stayed for decades, mostly working with the Vulcan Science Academy, and partaking in significant and notable research projects, many of which were able to support his more personal and clandestine quest for answers.
Bensu turned his boot upside down to watch the sand come pouring out of it. “I really don’t know what we are doing back here. It’s unbearably hot and dry, there is nothing to see unless you count sand, and judging by the way this wind is picking up we might be in for a storm of the ages. This place nearly killed us both once before, why are we so desperate to give it another chance?”
Xylion referred to a standard tricorder he had brought. “According to my calculations a category five sand fire will engulf this region in approximately twenty-eight minutes, which would make it one of the most powerful sand fires ever recorded on this continent.”
Bensu’s eyes widened with surprise and he jumped back onto his feet, struggling to put his boot back on while hopping after Xylion, clearly not quite having expected for nature to catch up with them so imminently. “Wait a minute, what in the world are we doing down here then? We should get out of this thing’s way as quickly as we can. You full well know that sand fires are nothing to joke about.”
But Xylion seemed unimpressed. “Indeed. However I believe that we will be able to wait out the sand fire in a nearby cavern system.”
Bensu just shook his head. “The same cavern which is the home of the meanest, most infamous le-matya this side of the Plain of Blood? I think I’d prefer returning to the shuttle.”
“That will not be an option.”
“We lost contact with the shuttle twelve minutes ago due to the increasing electromagnetic interference which is being caused by the approaching sand fire.”
“So let me get this straight, you decided to come to one of the most dangerous places on this entire planet in the middle of sand fire season, putting not just your life in jeopardy but mine as well. What possible reason could you have for such madness?”
Xylion didn’t immediately respond and instead glanced at the tricorder again, after which he quickly increased his pace.
Bensu followed suit, dread already spreading across his face. “What now?”
“Sand fires can be unpredictable this time of year. It appears that this one has picked up speed and intensity. We must expedite our efforts to reach the cavern.”
Bensu had no arguments to offer safe for one. “If we survive this you’ll owe me one serious explanation.”
By the time they reached the cave, the wind had picked up quite a bit and both their long desert fatigues were rippling against the strong gusts beginning to build up and howling across the desert. The static electricity in the air was palpable and the first sign of the vicious electromagnetic storm which would soon turn this part of the Forge from an inhospitable wilderness to an outright nightmarish landscape of sand, wind and fire in which little could survive.
Xylion quickly lead Bensu into the cave entrance, the very same he had entered seventy year earlier as a child. This time he walked confidently but without abandoning caution and a deep respect for the creatures that usually inhabited these places.
They both switched on their wrist beacons to illuminate the dark cavern as they moved deeper and further inside to get as far away as possible from the entrance. Xylion had produced his tricorder again which softly hummed as it scanned their surroundings.
“Anybody home?” Bensu asked.
But Xylion closed his tricorder and returned it into the pocket of his cloak. “As I expected, the storm is interfering with sensors. We will have to rely on our senses.”
“So what you’re saying is that it’s between being cooked alive outside or ripped to shreds and eaten in here. If I have vote in the matter—”
But Bensu stopped talking when Xylion gently touched his shoulder and then indicated for him to be quiet after he had caught his attention.
He indicated towards the deeper, darker end of the cavern and then for Bensu to head right and into branching passage.
Bensu responded with a frown, clearly not happy about this but when Xylion insisted with a persistent look, he relented and slowly trotted off.
Xylion for his part turned off his beacon and proceeded deeper into the cave, staying as quiet as possible.
Bensu couldn’t shake the feeling that he had made a terrible mistake as he made his way slowly through the passage which really didn’t seem any less dark than the one Xylion had chosen. After just a few meters he was certain he could hear someone, or something else in the cave with him. He stopped and shined his light back the way he had come from.
Finding nothing there.
With a heavy sigh he continued on, taking just one small step at a time and desperately trying to figure out why Xylion had believed that splitting up had been a good idea.
It wasn’t long until he heard that first hiss and once again stopped in his tracks. There was no more denying it. He was not alone.
The light of his beacon caught the yellow and white streak jumping into his direction and he ducked just in time to avoid contact.
The full grown le-matya was not pleased at all by his intrusions into its layer, this much was clear when he finally managed to steady his light enough to fully capture its angry, hissing face with its razor-sharp teeth.
The wildcat was getting ready to pounce but just before it was going to launch itself from its powerful hind legs to hurtle towards its prey, the massive animal whipped its head to the side.
A bright orange light filled the otherwise dark cave, striking the le-matya’s side with perfect accuracy. The creature hissed loudly before it collapsed.
Bensu directed his beacon towards the far end of the cave to illuminate Xylion, calmly standing in the open and securing his weapon.
“What in the name of Surak was that?”
Xylion raised an eyebrow. “A female Regarian le-matya. By its body language and behavior I estimate it to be roughly thirty-two years old, however a more detailed analysis would be required to determine its exact age.”
“I know it’s a bloody le-matya, the razor-sharp teeth and the bad attitude were a dead giveaway. What I want to know is why you didn’t tell me that you were going to use me as bait?”
Xylion walked over the where the beast’s body was now slumped on the cavern floor and kneeled next to it. The way that mountain of green and yellow fur still rose and fell ever so slightly gave proof that Xylion had merely stunned the wildcat. “The likelihood of your objection to the plan would have caused a significant delay in its implementation, which would have led to us losing the element of surprise which was vital for the plan to succeed,” he said as he stood again once he had been satisfied that the le-matya no longer posed an immediate threat. “I further deduced that had I made you aware of the plan before hand, you would have eventually agreed to it, once you had understood the logic of it as well as the limited danger it posed to your safety. However, as I mentioned, we did not have the time for you to arrive at that conclusion.”
Bensu fumed. “Better to ask for forgiveness than ask for permission, is that it?”
Xylion sat down on a nearby bolder, as he continued to look at his old friend. “I have also estimated that you will show indignation over my decision for the next six to eight minutes until you decide that it is a wasted effort and that my logic was unassailable. Would you prefer to take that entire time to express your aggravation, or shall we skip that step and agree that I made the correct choice?”
He had kept his voice so perfectly neutral and without any indication of smugness or arrogance it only helped to infuriate Bensu further. “Are you made of flesh and blood or are you a damn computer? Honestly, sometimes I really cannot tell anymore.”
Another eyebrow climbed upwards in response. “We have shared one mind for sixty-one point three years and you are still astonished when I am able to predict your responses. Is that not curious?”
Bensu uttered a heavy sigh and found another rock in the dark cavern to sit down, except that it took him a few attempts until he felt even remotely comfortable on the hard, jagged surface. “I guess I should not be surprised. It just seems like common courtesy to me that you would tell a person before you intend to place them in front of a wild and hungry beast and risking his life and limb.”
“I shall consider that on the next occasion we have need for such a strategy. Time allowing.”
Bensu said nothing to that. Instead he had decided to ‘punish’ his friend by not speaking at all for a while. Of course that plan was doomed to fail since Xylion didn’t crave conversation and was perfectly content to remain sitting quietly in the dark for as long as necessary. Bensu was not.
He only lasted a couple of minutes or so during which time the only sounds he could hear was the muffled hissing from the intensifying sand fire outside.
Ultimately he had to admit, even if only to himself, that Xylion had been absolutely correct, or at least logical to a fault, as far as his plan had been concerned. He would be damned however before he admitted as much out loud. “Alright so now that we have slain the beast, what’s next? Do we just sit here and wait for that storm to pass?”
“Correct. From my last readings, the sand fire will reach category six strength within the next two hours. It may last up to four additional hours to subside.”
“Wait a minute, earlier you said it was going to be category five, one of the most powerful ones ever recorded.”
“This one will most likely break the previous record.”
“And with us right in the middle of it.”
“This cave should provide ample protection.”
“Should? That doesn’t sound like your usual confident self.”
Xylion didn’t anything further on the subject and all of a sudden Bensu found himself desperately wishing that he’d be the one to keep talking in order to elaborate his point, using his unassailable logic to reassure him that they were, in fact, perfectly safe.
But the Vulcan refused to do so.
Giving up on having his mind put at ease, Bensu got up from the hard rock he had chosen as a temporary seat and headed for what looked like a moss covered patch on the ground. After inspecting the surface carefully, and testing it out with his boot he finally determined that it would make for an adequate place to rest and placed himself on top of it. “Not sure there is anyway to get comfortable in this place. Sometimes I can’t help but wish I were still in that noggin of yours. Didn’t have those kind of worries back then.”
9 Years Ago
Xylion found his modest home in the outskirts of Sh’calla, the city of his birth, exactly how he had left it when he had departed Vulcan three years earlier.
The few belongings he owned, including his sparse furniture, remained untouched. Even the four, fern-like plants that decorated his living space and his bed chamber were precisely the same size as when he had last seen them. And even though nobody had lived in this space for seventy Vulcan months, there wasn’t a spec of dust or dirt in sight.
Of course there was nothing unusual about this, after all Xylion had arranged a caretaking service before he had set out and Vulcans prided themselves in ensuring that anything they looked after appeared exactly the same way on the final day as it had on the very first day they had taken on such a responsibility.
Therefore Xylion took no time whatsoever to take in his home he hadn’t laid eyes upon in three years, after all everything was the way it had been before. He carried with him a medium-sized shoulder bag but it contained no personal items or clothing. Everything he had needed had been available to him while he had been away and like most Vulcans, he didn’t believe in taking with him personal mementos or trinkets.
“Welcome, Xylion,” said the monotone computer voice upon having registered the homeowners return. “You have three waiting messages.”
Xylion didn’t even slow down on his way to his study. “List all messages in order in which they have been received.”
“Message one: Sender T’Nal.”
His mother. It was not surprising that she would be in touch as soon as he had returned from his expedition. No doubt the message included an invitation to their home to discuss his future plans and to convince him to take on a permanent position on Vulcan, instead of remaining with Starfleet. It had been a conversation they had repeated often since the day he had left Vulcan as a young man to join Starfleet Academy. The fact that he had returned home after only two years to join the Vulcan Science Academy as one of their many Starfleet liaison officers and an astrophysics specialists had only ever given her more ammunition in this decade long argument.
“Save message,” Xylion said, determined to review it at a later date. He had more urgent matters to attend to.
The computer beeped obediently. “Message two: Sender Vice Admiral T’Lara.”
Xylion knew that Admiral T’Lara was the current head of Starfleet Sciences and was likely getting in touch to discuss further details about Starfleet’s recent decision to award him and the rest of the expeditionary team a special award for breakthrough scientific study. Even though he had been the only member of the Soval to be a member of Starfleet, it had been found that their collective contribution to astrophysical research was significant enough to award the citation to him as well as to the remaining civilians.
Xylion didn’t spend much time concerning himself with awards, even if he appreciated the recognition for the work he and his fellow colleagues had made during the three-year study jointly sponsored by the Vulcan Science Academy and Starfleet. He also understood that as a member of Starfleet it was probably not wise to keep a flag officer waiting too long for a response. He was, however, currently on leave and his present business simply took precedence. “Save message.”
Another beep. “Message three. Sender K’tera.”
Xylion had just placed the bag onto his desk and then stopped suddenly when he heard that last name.
“Really don’t think you should put her off. Not anymore.”
Xylion ignored the voice in his head and instead opened the bag on his desk to retrieve a black case from inside it and placed it on his desk. “We have more urgent matters to attend to.”
“I am not going to argue over the implications of our latest find. Can’t even deny feeling a certain sense of excitement over it but I told you before, she is not going to wait forever.”
“Nor will she be required to.”
“Xylion, last time you two spoke you told her you were planning on going through with it once you returned. Now that you are back it’s only fair that you make good on your word.”
He carefully examined the case, ensuring that no damage had come to it, before reaching for a tricroder he kept neatly placed in a drawer of his desk. “Unforeseen circumstance may require amending our previously considered time table.”
“Right. Just like the unforeseen circumstances of you suddenly deciding to go off into space for three years? If I didn’t know any better I would say that you have been doing everything you possibly can to avoid marrying her. And it just doesn’t seem very Vulcan to— my, will you look at that?”
Xylion had opened the case to reveal what looked like a large piece of silver and reddish rock, glowing ever so faintly and visibly emanating a high level of heat.
“The object is still reading as an alkaline metal, similar to Barium or Radium, but the tricorder is not able to properly designate it.”
“If the science labs on Soval weren’t able to tell you for certain what this is, neither will your little gadget. But trust me, it is exactly what we need to complete the superconductors and merge them with the biological components of the prototype.”
He closed the tricorder when it refused to tell him anything he hadn’t already learned after discovering the strange metal on a barren planet over twenty light-years away. “I still do not understand how you can be so certain of this. This appears to be a hereto unknown chemical element.”
“And neither do I.”
“It must be connected to your origins.”
“I am not comfortable having hidden this find from my colleagues,” he said as he continued to consider the pulsing rock. “I would prefer for it to be properly catalogued and presented to the Academy for further study.”
“So that you can get another award? Sure go ahead. But all they are going to do is probe it and study it for years and you will never get to see it again. Or use it for that matter. If you are serious about the prototype, we have to do it this way.”
Xylion of course had already made his decision on this and Bensu knew this, considering that he shared a consciousness with the Vulcan scientist. After all Xylion had spent much of the last forty years on this project. In fact one of the reasons he had returned to Vulcan after his short stint serving on a starship after graduating Starfleet Academy had been to pursue this project in the privacy his own lab would afford him. He had claimed that he had not acclimated well working with so many colleagues who displayed their emotions so openly, but that had only ever been one of the reasons, maybe even the lesser one.
This was his life’s work and thanks to Bensu, who had been an invaluable assistant over the years, he may have now finally found the missing piece to bring it all to fruition.
Bensu was understandably excited over what this would mean for him personally but even Xylion couldn’t deny a certain amount of enthusiasm of coming so close to the realization of his greatest achievement. Even if he would never show any signs of such feelings openly.
“Let’s get this thing into the lab already.”
Xylion offered no objections as he quickly closed the case and returned it into his bag.
The computer beeped again. “Please advise how to process the most recent message.”
Uncharacteristically Xylion had all but forgotten about the messages including the one from K’tera. “Save all messages,” he said as he headed back out of his home. Much more important things were going to occupy his mind for the foreseeable future.
The newly discovered element was incorporated into the prototype with little difficulties, once again relying on Bensu’s inexplicable insight into the technical aspects of their work which had confounded them both over the last two decades during which they had jointly designed, developed, fabricated and refined the prototype.
Of course their chosen designation was somewhat misleading, after all there were no plans to construct any additional versions, in fact it would have been near impossible to do so considering the amount of time, effort and most importantly resources which had been expended for just one model. And of course it had never been a plan to mass-produce. On the contrary, its uniqueness was by design and very much an essential quality.
Now that the final, missing piece had been acquired and incorporated, a nearly twenty-year effort had finally reached its conclusion. All that was left now was to bring it to life.
Where to do this had been obvious. Ever since their first joining at the Forge, Bensu had maintained a connection to the place Xylion had later learned had been named Deep Oasis hundreds of years ago.
That connection persisted not just because his first conscious memory remained tied to that location, there had been something else and more unquantifiable that linked him to that place.
Xylion had since determined that it was part of the sensation he had first perceived, both through tactile stimulation as well as through thermal radiation, when he had first awoken there as a child after falling from the cliffs above and which had ultimately drawn him to Bensu’s katra, for a lack of a better term. And it was indeed a form of radiation his sensory equipment had been able to register, even if any kind of classification had eluded him for years.
It affected Bensu as well and perhaps even more significantly. It was the reasons he was not fond of revisiting this place, even if he could not articulate this anxiety clearly to the one person with whom he was so inextricably connected.
Xylion had of course insisted on returning to Deep Oasis on numerous occasions after their joining, and particularly once he had reached adulthood and his focus on trying to understand Bensu’s nature and origins intensified.
Deep Oasis’ remote location left it undisturbed by other Vulcans and yet rarely had any of those visits yielded any kind of significant results.
This one was to be different.
Xylion had arranged a shuttle to transport the prototype and then used an antigrav unit to move the casket-like container to the exact position in which he had first ‘met’ Bensu.
“What if this won’t work?” the voice inside him asked.
“Then we will analyze the results and try to identify any possible faults preventing us in succeeding,” he said as he prepared the container for what was to come.
“Of course. But what I mean is, what if something goes wrong? What if …”
Xylion knew what he meant without it having to be spelt out. After all, to his knowledge, what they were about to attempt had never been done before. Certainly not in this manner. Xylion was no the first Vulcan or even non-Vulcan for that matter, to serve as a vessel of sorts for another consciousness. What his thorough studies on the subject had demonstrated, was that no Vulcan had ever possessed the katra of an unknown alien being before, and more importantly, nobody, in recorded history, had ever attempted to separate such a katra in the way they were about to.
“Considering the time and resources we have committed to this undertaking, this appears to be a most inopportune juncture to develop indecision on what we are about to endeavor.”
“My dear, old friend, I may have been part of your immensely and impressive logical mind for sixty years, but I am not, nor will I ever be a Vulcan. It should be obvious that what I’m seeking now is some reassurance before we do what has never been done before.”
Xylion raised an eyebrow even if of course there was nobody within one hundred miles who could have witnessed his facial expression. “In that case, I offer you my reassurances that we will proceed with an abundance of caution as we will bring to bear all the knowledge we have been able to accumulate over the last decades.”
“It’s times like these I wish I could sigh heavily.”
“Perhaps soon you will.”
And with that Xylion went to work, and even Bensu began to focus in earnest, understanding that they would both require their uttermost concentration for the next few hours.
First Xylion removed the cover of the two-meter long container to reveal a seemingly unconscious body. Male, and not overly tall with the skin the color of deep copper, almond-shaped eyes and a hairless head featuring four prominent, white bony ridges running perpendicular along the scalp. The body looked like no race Xylion had ever encountered or even read or heard of before and yet Bensu had been able to implant a perfectly clear picture of this body in his mind.
Its outer appearance was not the truly revolutionary aspect of this body. Xylion was well aware and had in part studied android designs, most notably those of famed cyberneticist Doctor Noonien Soong. But the idea of crafting a fully artificial body had not appealed to Bensu, even if it could be argued that this was exactly that.
Instead they had partly grown a synthetic body which was a hybrid of sorts, mostly biological in nature with only very few mechanical components at all. As far as biosensors were concerned, this body was real flesh and blood. Albeit currently entirely dead.
It was perhaps one of the greatest achievements of synthetic design known in the Federation and yet nobody was aware of this, thanks to the total secrecy in which Xylion had worked on this prototype. And it was impossible for him to claim much of the credit for either its development or its construction. Most of that expertise had come from Bensu directly, even if he had been unable to explain how he had come to posses this knowledge.
The most critical step in bringing the prototype to live and making it more than essentially a dead husk of flesh, muscle, bones and blood was also one of the most dangerous. For this part Xylion had to depend on what he had been able to learn about the Vulcan ritual of fal-tor-pan, the transfer of a katra from one body into another.
He had spent years studying this, spending a great amount of time with Vulcan priests and masters of this discipline to gain a complete understanding, never letting on that what he planned to do was even outside their realm of experience or knowledge. And yet, as far as he knew, it was the only way to ensure Bensu could inhabit a body of his own.
What Xylion didn’t believe in were the ceremonial aspects of this age-old ritual, nor was he a man of hesitation.
So he carefully touched his own face, planting his fingers exactly where he would have done if performing a mind meld and mirrored that move on the prototype’s face.
And then he closed his eyes and began to focus inwards. His mind enveloping what in a sense was Bensu’s essence inside himself. Bensu for his part needed to do much the same, focusing on who or what he was and where he existed inside a body and mind-space not truly his own.
It was an experience like no other for both of them, and while it felt somewhat reminiscent of their first encounter in this very desert many years ago, it wasn’t exactly comparable either. First and foremost neither Xylion nor Bensu were the same person any longer, thanks to the vast experiences they had shared over that period of time.
The intensity of those experiences suddenly washing over him, without a filter or restraint, came as a surprise to Xylion, who was unable to remain on his feet and instead fell onto his knees while managing to hold on to the prototype’s face.
He saw glimpses of another set of experiences, of another life he knew as not his own. The amount of information that washed over him was too much for even his disciplined Vulcan mind to process. And it rushed by him like a starship at high warp, with nothing staying behind as it all streaked past him with mindboggling speed. The only true sense he had of this experience was that it seemed to last for hours, an endless stream of fractured and jumbled memories. He couldn’t be sure if he could even trust his perception of time while in this state as the world outside of his mind had ceased to exist.
A burning pain shot through his head followed by what felt like a terrible emptiness, like the never-ending vacuum of space itself. The dread this invoked was so beyond anything he had ever known, a terrible scream reached his ears and it took him a long time to realize that it was his own.
He heard a distant voice somewhere in his head and began to focus his thoughts solely on that in order to avoid the pain he felt. He thought it sounded vaguely like Bensu, except muffled and extremely distant.
His first fully cognizant thought in his mind was that whatever they had attempted—incredibly foolishly, considering its extraordinary scope— had ended in failure since Bensu’s voice was still there, inside his mind as it had been for decades.
He opened his eyes to see the stars.
A few moments passed until he caught up with the reality of his situation. He was lying flat on his back in the sand, staring up at the clear night sky. It had been early morning when they had started out the experiment.
The voice was still there.
But it didn’t come from inside his head.
A shadow fell over him and the prototype stood above him.
“You look a lot taller in person.”
The sand fire had lasted well over four hours and when Xylion and Bensu reemerged from their shelter, they found that the storm had left their surroundings significantly changed. As far as Bensu could tell, the ubiquitous sand dunes had shifted dramatically and causing entirely new valleys everywhere he looked, almost as if they had stepped into an entirely different desert.
It was only thanks to Xylion’s tricorder that they were even able to locate the entrance to the canyon which led back towards Deep Oasis and any sign of the small, meandering stream that had once run along it were gone.
Bensu feared that the sand fire had altered the landscape so drastically, they would not find their way back to Deep Oasis at all.
But as it turned out it was still there even if the cliff didn’t appear nearly as high as it had before. The small lake at the bottom of the cliff had practically disappeared.
They unpacked the mountain climbing equipment they had brought along in their backpacks and then repelled down about fifteen meters.
Bensu immediately felt a familiar tingling sensation all over his skin the moment he had set foot on the sand again, something in this place had always caused this reaction in him, even when his consciousness had lived inside Xylion’s mind. There was no doubt that he was inexplicably connected to this specific area of the Vulcan’s Forge. How and why however, he didn’t know. His memories simply refused to go back any further than seventy years when he had first joined with a young, lost Vulcan boy.
But something was different to the last time they had come here.
While Xylion checked on their equipment, Bensu left it were it was and instead walked away from the cliff as if something was calling out for him. He couldn’t say what it was, only that it existed. Like a tractor beam homing in on him.
Whatever it was, it seemed to take him to one of the large rocks which surrounded the barely remaining lake.
He didn’t recognize the oddly, almost cone-shaped rock which seemed unlikely considering that it was far too large and heavy looking to have been placed there recently. As he stepped closer he realized that the rock had indeed always been there, but the sand fire had shifted much of the sand surrounding it, revealing much more of the stone.
Bensu dropped to his knees in front of it and gingerly touched the rock. It did not feel in any way special but he was certain that something had pointed him to this exact spot.
Xylion joined him when he noticed his interest. “Have you found something?”
“I’m not sure. Something’s here. Something that hasn’t been here before. Or at least something we didn’t notice before.”
Xylion retrieved his tricorder again, flipping it open and pointing the scanning nodes towards the rock. “Curious.”
He waved the tricorder into other directions briefly to get comparative readings of their surroundings before coming back to the rock which was almost half a head taller than he was. “The background radiation levels appear to be stronger in the immediate vicinity of this boulder.”
Bensu looked up at him. “But this boulder has always been here, I’m sure. Is it possible that the sand storm somehow intensified the latent radiation to this level.”
“We do not have enough information to formulate a hypothesis.”
Bensu expression made it clear that he was not happy with that response.
“It is … possible.”
He nodded and looked back towards the stone. From all outward appearances it was just that. And perhaps, he thought, it wasn’t the rock itself that was unusual, perhaps it was some sort of energy which had been released thanks to the intensity of the sand fire which had ravaged the area for hours.
He suddenly knew exactly what needed to be done. Bensu looked back at Xylion, right into his eyes. “Mind meld with me.”
The Vulcan simply raised an eyebrow and Bensu knew why. Xylion was not entirely comfortable with this ancient Vulcan ritual and had only very rarely practiced it at all. It was hardly surprising of course that after spending the better years of his life sharing his mind with another person, that he wasn’t exactly eager to do so again, even temporarily. As such Xylion’s and Bensu’s minds had not touched again since their permanent separation and Bensu knew of only a couple of instances over the last ten years in which he had been forced to make direct telepathic contact with another being.
“I am uncertain what you would hope to achieve by performing a mind meld.”
“There is something here, and I think it wants to make contact with me. But I don’t have the facilities to do so. I need your mind as a bridge of sorts,” he said and was sure he sounded us uncertain to Xylion as he did to his own ears. There was no scientific evidence to support any of this. It was merely a feeling and even then, he couldn’t be sure if that feeling justified what he had proposed.
Xylion took a moment to consider the stone and then his surroundings as if he could gleam another explanation for what Bensu was experiencing. “We know that the radiation levels in this immediate area have increased since the sand fire. It would be more prudent to fully investigate these new readings before deciding on a course of action.”
But Bensu shook his head. “We’ve been looking over these radiation readings for decades, just because they are somewhat higher now doesn’t mean we are going to learn anything else. And what if this spike won’t last? What if this is our only opportunity to take action? We have to take advantage of this now.”
Xylion remained unconvinced. “That is not a valid scientific argument.”
He uttered a heavy sigh, pretty much having expected this from the man he knew so intimately. “Fair enough. But come on, Xyl, you are the one who wanted to come back here in the hopes to learn more about me and where I came from. I’m telling you that the way to do that is to perform a meld, not spending another decade pouring over data. Do you want answers, or not?”
It was an interesting reversal of roles, Bensu had to admit. Even though this had always been about his origins and his history, it had usually been Xylion who had driven any new discovery. It had been Xylion who had chosen Starfleet as a career to find a way to learn more about Bensu, and it had been Xylion who had chosen to dedicate much of his life to that task afterwards. Bensu had only ever really been in the passenger seat for most of this. A willing participant, certainly, but only a participant nevertheless.
This inexplicable feeling he was experiencing now however was prompting him into action like never before.
In the end perhaps Xylion came to understand this change as well, realizing that for the first time since he had known him, Bensu was truly insistent on following through with something that could possibly lead to unraveling the greatest mystery of his life.
“Very well,” he said. “Allow me twenty minutes to prepare. While you wait, try to clear your mind of any thoughts not relating to this effort.”
He smiled at that. “Sure, I’ll just go ahead and flip the off-switch on my mind. No problem.”
The empty look he received in return showed that Xylion was not in a joking mood. Nor was he really ever.
They both knelt quietly in front of that stone with their eyes closed until after exactly twenty minutes Xylion indicated that he was ready. They moved closer to each other and Xylion made contact with his face, just like he had done nine years earlier when he had successfully transferred his katra into an empty shell of a body.
What followed was both strange and familiar to Bensu. He immediately recognized a mind he had come to know well, one which had been a home to him for over sixty years, and yet it was also new and changed since he had last touched it. Experiencing it this way was very different then it had been before. Thanks to their familiarity they merged easily, and yet it was odd to have an entire body between them.
But this was by far not the strangest element. He could feel another presence with them and judging by Xylion’s thoughts, he too was aware of this straight away. It wasn’t exactly another mind, or even an intelligence but a force of some sort. And even though he didn’t recognize it, couldn’t name it, he immediately knew that it was part of him. Something that had been left behind in this place when Xylion and Bensu had first merged.
It was difficult to explain, it was really more a feeling, a sensation and it felt like a whirlpool of energy, a stream of power known and unknown at the same time.
He resisted it at first, with Xylion providing a convenient buffer, but he could tell that whatever it was, it meant him no harm. He let Xylion know to let it through, to let it touch his mind unfettered.
And so he did.
It struck him like lightening.
He felt an immense force upon him in an instant, tossing him through the air like a ragdoll and with such speed it made him dizzy. The world around him changed as suddenly and so quickly all he could perceive was a blur. The impact was just as sudden and unexpected and it forced all the air out his lungs. Then everything went black.
Bensu had no idea how long he had been out when he finally came to again but he knew that something was very wrong. Firstly, his own body didn’t seem to respond to his commands, he couldn’t move his arms or his legs and appeared completely paralyzed.
And if that by itself wasn’t worrisome enough, he also quickly realized that he was no longer where he had started out. Instead of in a desert, he found himself indoors somewhere. A hospital perhaps, which would make sense. Something bad had clearly happened during his mind meld with Xylion and it had brought him here afterwards.
His vision was too blurry to make out any details of this new place he found himself in, but he was certain he was surrounded by artificial light and no longer outdoors as he couldn’t feel the powerful Vulcan suns warming his skin anymore.
He perceived movement just in front of him and apparently it was enough to upset his seemingly fragile condition as it immediately caused everything around him to move as well.
His vision cleared slightly and something struck him immediately. This wasn’t like any place on Vulcan he had ever seen. He was inside a building but its design was not reminiscent of Vulcan architecture. In fact he wasn’t sure if he had ever seen this style employed anywhere within the Federation.
Doors, windows and even decorations employed a pronounced triangular shape with a strong focus on right angles everywhere he looked. Except, he realized, he wasn’t actually able to move his head at all.
Bensu knew exactly what was happening, after all he had lived his life in this manner for over sixty years. He had no control over the body he was inhabiting, he was merely along for the ride. But this time he couldn’t sense another mind with him, certainly not Xylion. He was alone.
But then, who was in control?
Whoever it was, they moved confidently through the unfamiliar structure, clearly having been there many times before, and heading to their destination without hesitancy and with obvious purpose.
The more he saw, the more familiar it became to him. He had been here before, he was certain of this.
And while his surroundings became sharper and more recognizable with each step his host made, sounds mostly remained muffled and unintelligible. He spotted other people, shapes at first, unable to truly make out faces, and he heard distorted voices but was unable to hear what they were saying.
And then, little by little, pieces were beginning to fall into place and the world around him began to take on clear and familiar forms.
The Central Authority.
Those were names he had known once very well and they were coming back to him now.
He entered a large, triangular shaped room, made to look even larger by the small number of people inside. The assembly hall had been designed to hold a few hundred people and yet less than twelve were currently inside, all of them clustered around the wider, far end of the room.
Bensu joined them and quickly fell in with the smaller of the two groups which were standing at opposite sides of a large, three-cornered table.
Jetro was currently addressing the small crowd. He was by far the oldest person in the room, even though possibly only in body. He wore long robes and steadied himself against a simple cane he took wherever he went.
“It is not conscionable to keep this from the people any longer. They have a right to understand what is about to happened. They have a right to prepare themselves for what is to come in their own way. It is not too late to reverse our earlier decisions. To do what is right in the face of this calamity that has—that will befall us all.”
Jetro spoke slowly and with great consideration as he had always done, ever since he had first met the elder politician and scientist some ninety rotations prior when his body had still been young. The older man had quickly become a teacher and mentor to him.
His audience was unmoved however and the leader of the opposing group simply shook his head. “Our decision is final and it has been final ever since we first made it. A panic will serve no one. This matter is closed.”
“As is, it appears, the matter of dignity and decency,” said Jetro, never shy to get in one last shot.
“This meeting is now adjourned.”
Jetro and half the people in attendance shot the speaker confounded looks at the choice of his words. And from the pained expression on his own face, he too realized that his word choice had been poor. Of course no precedence for this had ever existed on Celerias. Nor would this one become one for future generations.
“May the Soul Father have mercy on us all.”
With those final words the speaker and the rest began to stream out of the assembly hall.
Bensu caught up with Jetro outside the Central Authority building.
“So, what’s next?”
“That’s an excellent question, my young friend, isn’t it?” Said Jetro as he looked up at the sky above which over the last few weeks had turned an increasingly darker shade of purple. As far as the general population was aware, this was because of an increase of harmless solar radiation outputted by the Celerias sun and flooding the solar system. Jardo and Bensu knew that this was only a very small part of the truth.
“We have spent the last six hundred rotations thinking about what comes next. We have spent incalculable amounts of time and resources worrying about the continued survival of our species, and what have we come up with? Transference.”
“Without transference we would have died out as a species a long time ago,” said Bensu.
Jardo nodded slowly. “We have been so concerned about keeping us going as a people, to maintain our memories, our experiences, our culture, we never once stopped to think about preserving that which we need most to survive.”
Bensu didn’t respond to this, after all he knew exactly what his mentor spoke off and instead he simply followed his glance.
Jardo raised his cane, pointing at the sky. “That’s where our future could have been. That’s where we should have focused our efforts on. Not spending all our time wondering what our next body should look or feel like. All this time we were looking inwards when we should have looked outwards. That, my young friend, would have been our salvation.”
The older man looked back at Bensu and a knowing smile formed on his lips. “It’s too late for us now. But not for you.”
Bensu shot him a quizz