The speaking hall was packed to the seams with rapt listeners who had traveled long and far to hear this speech and even he could not deny a certain amount of excitement about hearing what he had to say. Very few people commanded quite the same amount of respect, not politicians, nor scientists or entertainers and yet the speaker was a bit of all three. He had been greeted as he stepped onto the stage with thunderous applause.
“We have entered into our greatest age.” His opening words had the audience spellbound. It was perhaps the folly of men to believe that their generation was superior to all that had come before; that they were wiser and knew better than anyone who had preceded them. That it was their destiny to surpass all previous generations.
"We have entered this marvelous age because, after thousands of cycles of intelligent life on this planet, we have finally understood the true purpose of our collective existence. We have glimpsed the future of our kind and we are willing and able to grasp it and become that which we were always meant to be."
The speaker walked across the stage, seemingly looking at each and everyone in attendance and feeding off their enthusiasm.
“We now know that what has held us back all this time has been the physical limitations of our forefathers who were enslaved to the feeble limits of the rotten shells they inhabited. Their lives were intrinsically linked to bodies which would fail them just when their minds were ready to fully comprehend what it meant to be alive.
But we have now at last conquered this deficiency by developing shells which give us abilities we never even dreamed of before and for the first time allowing us to truly evolve as a people by allowing our minds to develop over centuries instead of over just a few cycles.”
It was no longer possible to deny that the temperatures which had been climbing steadily over the last fifty cycles were now beginning to show their toll on the general populace. It had become much more fashionable for those who could afford it to relocate away from the regions close to the equator which for centuries had contained the most popular cities thanks to the high levels of sunshine and comfortably warm climate during all seasons.
The official statements from government scientist proclaimed that the sun was undergoing a period of increased solar flare activity which was likely going to last a few decades while the system’s lone star underwent a period of rapid expansion which the scientists claimed was no significant concern and simply a natural occurrence of the stellar transformation due to its age.
Once the star had fully completed this transformation, so the scientists claimed, solar flare activity would once again drop significantly and temperatures would once more return to the usual levels.
"The progress we have made on our shells has been indisputable," the speaker had said. "Only a few hundred cycles ago, the temporarily increased temperatures we are currently experiencing would have led to widespread medical conditions but thanks to having evolved beyond our need for purely biological bodies, the new environment we now find ourselves in hasn't been much more than a minor inconvenience.
We have eliminated the majority of all ailments our forebears would have had to endure because of the eventual breakdown of their biological processes. We are able to perform physical tasks without concerns over the limitations of our bodies and as a result have been able to undertake projects which have reshaped our entire world and advanced our civilization.
For a great many of us we have been able to ensure that our shells match precisely the way we see ourselves and have been granted the unrestricted freedom to express ourselves in whatever form we wish and continue to do so whenever we replace our outer forms and thereby increase our longevity and our capacity for expanding our minds further than anyone has ever considered possible.”
The promised halt to the rising temperatures never came. Instead they continued to climb with each new cycle until the government had little choice but to focus the energy of almost the entire available workforce to undertake the most ambitious civil works project in the history of their people by constructing elaborate underground cities, some of which rivaled those found above the surface and which were being deserted by more and more of its inhabitants.
Soon it was no longer feasible to leave one’s home during daytime hours due to the relentless heat and depending to the season, people migrated to cooler parts of the planet until almost the entire population spent the majority of its time below the surface.
"Some have argued that we should have focused our great energies on developing other technologies instead of perfecting the synthetic shell. Some voices have tried to get us to abandon our greatest enterprise to instead divert our energies on some far-fetched notions as cloning or space travel. But instead of exploring the stars, we as a people have chosen to answer a much greater calling. We have chosen to explore our own minds and souls in order to fulfill our truest potential.
Instead of looking beyond our world for answers, we are looking within ourselves to explore the true limitations of what it means to be a sentient being. And once we have unlocked this promise, we will find that there will no longer be any barriers to stand in the way of what we can accomplish as a people.
Our future will be filled with unlimited possibilities as we will be able to achieve whatever we will set our minds to.”
For all the obvious signs that had existed for many cycles, the day the world ended still came upon them all as a surprise. The government had refused to acknowledge the true scope of the crisis until the bitter end. With no viable alternatives to escape the death of their planet, the decision was made to let the populace die in ignorance, instead of allowing them a chance to prepare for the end.
He had been one of the very few privileged persons who had known what was coming and as such had enjoyed the dubious honor of having a front-row seat to the apocalypse.
The unbearable heat, the sky turning into colors entirely unnatural and never once seen before, the sudden demise and then death of flora and fauna, the breakdown of communications as the satellites in orbit stopped working and then burned up in the sky, the failure and breakdown of technology and finally the mass extinction of an entire people, all this within mere hours.
The world had ended.
Bensu awoke with a start.
He required a few moments to remember that he was exactly where he was supposed to be, in his quarters on the starship Eagle.
Looking out of the viewport beside his bed he could see that the ship was currently traveling at high warp, most likely thanks to the warp sled they were docked with but which he could not see from his window.
Looking at the star field deceptively streaking past the ship made him feel even queasier than he already did. Covered in sweat, he climbed out of his bed and walked over into the refresher to splash some cool water on his face.
The tired looking visage that glanced back at him through the mirror, the roundish face, the dark green, almond-shaped eyes, the dark skin and his hairless head with its multiple white bony ridges which ran from his forehead all the way to his neck, it was the exact same face he had seen in his dreams. It was the same face, the same body, of the man who had survived the end of his world.
Except, of course, it wasn't.
That body had died with the rest of Celerias a very long time ago.
This body was much newer but modeled almost precisely on the one he had once occupied.
How or why he had survived the destruction of his world, he didn’t know. In fact, he had only very recently learned about that previous existence at all, thanks to an excursion to the Vulcan’s Forge with his long-time friend Xylion. The same man who had come across his katra as a child some seventy years earlier and with whom he had shared a mind for over half a century.
Xylion had hoped that retracing their steps which had led to this very unusual bond between them so long ago would provide answers to their many questions. As it turned out the answers had only raised more questions.
Ever since he had managed to unlock some of the memories of his former life, he'd had the same dreams, or rather nightmares, of Celerias' elites espousing the many great virtues of the synthetic bodies which had become such an important part of the people's lives during the last few hundred cycles before their word's ultimate demise.
A glance at the chronometer brought him out of his sad reflections, realizing that he was going to be late for his shift behind the bar in the Nest, the ship’s main crew lounge, if he delayed much further.
Like he had done on so many other occasions lately, he decided to leave the past where it belonged and instead prepared himself for the day ahead and making sure that he put on the face that people on Eagle had come to expect from him. One that was always willing to listen and never seemed to show the slightest hint of his own, and as of late, increasing tribulations.
While his two lunch companions hadn’t noticed, it had not escaped his meticulous attention to detail that Bensu had not been behind the bar as was usually the case at this time of the day when he had entered the Nest along with Tazla Star and DeMara Deen.
As they often did, Xylion and his companions had chosen a table on the upper level of the Nest and near the sloped and forward-facing windows which usually allowed for a great view of outer space but which were currently obstructed by the warp sled to which Eagle was attached to and which after a few, frustrating attempts, had finally allowed the ship to travel far faster than it would have been under its own power.
“Not much of a view today. Or for the next few days for that matter,” said DeMara Deen as she picked a chair, selecting the one which faced away from the windows and instead gave her a direct line of sight of Goldie, the man-high, golden statue of the Terran eagle captured with its wings fully unfurled.
“Just until we reach Arkaria,” said Star. “If we had continued towards Seven Sisters we would have had to put up with this view for at least three weeks.
“Not sure if that makes up for it. I wouldn’t have minded sacrificing the view in exchange for a real exploratory mission,” said Deen.
The first officer nodded in agreement. “Hopefully we’ll still get the chance once this current mission is resolved. Besides, I can’t wait for that concert. I’ve heard great things.”
“Not from Michael, I’m sure. He’s still fuming over the fact that I decided against opera.”
Xylion could see that Star seemed slightly confused by that response and he wondered if DeMara Deen had exaggerated the captain's feelings over her choice of performance act. The young Tenarian wasn't prone to embellishments as many other more emotional people he had met over the years. She was, however, one of the most emotional and therefore often difficult to predict.
Since Deen clearly did not seem willing to elaborate on her statement, he decided to take the conversation in a different direction. "Has the captain made a decision on briefing the crew? As of yet we have not been given any indication of the nature of this new assignment which has already preempted a carefully planned expedition."
Star shook her head. “Not yet. But he will soon. Probably once we get to Arkaria. The captain doesn’t like keeping secrets from the crew. And trust me, he was just as excited about the Pleiades as you were,” she said with a little grin. “He’ll do whatever he can to make sure we get this latest mission resolved as soon as possible and get us back to do what we were meant to.”
“Excited is not the term I would have used,” he said. “However, a significant amount of planning has been invested to ensure the success of our exploratory assignment.”
“Of course,” she said, still grinning. “And I’m sure you’re simply expressing the missed opportunity to satisfy your scientific curiosity.”
“Not just mine, Commander. Any exploratory mission has the potential to further the scientific knowledge of the entire Federation.”
“Anyone seen Bensu?” said Deen, looking around. “Isn’t he usually already serving us by the time we sit down?”
Star offered the younger woman a frown. “The replicators are just over there if you can’t wait. It’s not part of his job to serve us.”
But before Deen could offer a retort, the resident bartender did appear, climbing up the spiral staircase while skillfully balancing a full tray. “Apologies for the delay, folks.”
“None are required,” Star said and shot Deen a quick look. “We are perfectly happy to serve ourselves.”
“Nonsense,” Bensu said. “The hardest working officers on this ship deserve a little bit of pampering now and then,” he said and began to distribute the food and drinks he had brought. “Plain boring Plomeek soup and a Vulcan mocha for you, Xylion,” he said and placed a bowl and cup in front of him. “A chicken club sandwich and raktajino for the commander and a baba ghanoush with a Tamarin frost for the lieutenant.”
Deen looked at her beverage for a moment.
Bensu noticed. “Something the matter with your usual choice?”
She bit her lower lip. “Actually, I feel like something a little different today if you don’t mind.”
Star appeared mildly annoyed by Deen’s insistence on making things more difficult but Bensu seemed more than happy to accommodate her. “Of course. What can I get you instead?”
“How about a Supernova?”
Bensu visibly froze and simply stared back at the Tenarian as if she had just grown a second head.
Deen briefly glanced towards Star, uncertain why her request had prompted this response. “Is there … something wrong with that?”
When the bartender remained unresponsive, the Trill first officer gently touched his shoulder. “Bensu, are you alright?”
He turned to look at Star. “Huh?”
“Is something the matter? You seem out of sorts.”
Bensu quickly shook his head, offering her and Deen a beaming smile again. “No, no of course not. I’ll get you that drink now.”
But Star was not willing to let the matter go quite so quickly. “Are you sure? You really zoned out there for a moment.”
Bensu kept his confident smile. “It’s nothing to worry about. To tell you the truth, I get a little dizzy when traveling at very high warp speeds. It usually goes away after a while,” he said, picked up the unwanted Tamarin frost, placed it back on his tray and then quickly departed to fetch the replacement.
“Do you think he’s alright?” Deen whispered to the others.
“Perhaps next time, just get your own drink,” Star said.
“Sensations of disorientation are not uncommon in many humanoid races when exposed to excessive warp velocities. Considering that Eagle has never traveled at this speed for extended periods of time, it is not entirely unexpected that some persons may experience discomfort.”
“It would help if we knew what race Bensu belongs to,” said Deen.
“If he doesn’t know—“
Star didn’t get to finish her sentence and she stopped herself suddenly when she spotted Xylion jump onto his feet.
He had watched Bensu carefully after he had left the table, possessing a great amount of certainty as to what had prompted his odd reaction to Deen's drink choice. After all, he had shared the memories Bensu had only recently unlocked via a mind meld he had facilitated.
Even while Xylion had spoken, he had observed Bensu sway slightly in his walk and when it had become clear that he was about to collapse, he had quickly stood up to get to him before he could reach the staircase.
He was not quite fast enough to keep Bensu from losing his grip on the tray he was carrying which, along with the beverage it still carried, crashed loudly onto the deck, followed a moment later by Bensu himself.
Star and Deen jumped up from their seats as well.
Thanks to the head start, Xylion was by Bensu’s side first and already tried to help him back up and onto a nearby empty chair when the other two joined him.
“Bensu, are you alright? What happened?” Deen asked with obvious concern.
“I don’t know, I just got really dizzy for a moment and next thing I know, I’m on the floor.”
Star was already looking him over for injuries. “Are you hurt?”
He shook his head once he was in the chair. “Nothing but my pride, Commander. Pretty darn clumsy of me.”
“Maybe we should take you to sickbay,” said Deen.
Bensu quickly shook his head. “I’ll be alright. As I said I just get a little dizzy at high warp. I probably just need to catch my breath and then I should be perfectly fine again,” he said and tried to stand up but Star had put a firm grasp on his shoulder, keeping him from leaving the chair.
“I’d be much more comfortable if Eli gets to look you over first.”
Xylion knew that she was referring to Elijah Katanga, Eagle’s veteran chief physician whom Tazla Star’s previous host had been a close friend to. He also understood precisely why Bensu didn’t like the idea of being examined by a doctor. “We seem to understand what has brought on his loss of balance. It is doubtful that Doctor Katanga would be able to significantly add to this diagnosis.”
Star aimed him an almost puzzled look which quickly morphed into a more determined expression. “Regardless, I want him checked over. He may have been injured without knowing it. Or there might be a remedy for his condition.”
Bensu glanced up at the Trill with an almost pleading expression on his face. “Commander, that’s really not necessary. I’ll just go get some rest and take it easy until I’ve fully acclimated to racing across the stars.”
Xylion could tell from the look in Star’s eyes that she had made her decision and was not going to be swayed. “You’re going to sickbay, Mister. And just to make sure you get there, I’ll take you myself.”
Bensu uttered a resigned sigh. “Very well, Commander.”
“I shall accompany you as well,” Xylion said and shortly after all three of them set out to take Bensu to the medical bay.
As it turned out, Xylion’s prediction as to the level of assistance Doctor Katanga could provide Bensu had been fairly accurate. With his patient sitting somewhat restlessly on the biobed with both Xylion and Star nearby, the octogenarian physician ran a number of tests on Bensu seemingly without much success.
“Anything you can do?” Star said with her arms crossed in front of her as she watched on as the doctor had just completed a third scan.
Katanga didn’t respond to the question as if he had not heard her speak at all. Xylion observed a noticeable frown growing on the Trill’s face, clearly not appreciating the way she had been rebuffed.
Not for the first time Xylion took note that a number of crewmembers who he understood to be on friendly terms with each other acting in rather unexpected ways as of late. And also not for the first time did he realize how much simpler and less confusing interactions between Vulcans were compared to those of races who insisted on displaying their emotions so openly.
“I’m fine,” said Bensu and looked over his shoulder at Star. “It’s just as I told you earlier. A bit of space sickness and nothing a good rest cannot fix.”
“I would thank you to leave the diagnosis to the professionals,” said Katanga sharply.
“Which is?” said Star.
Katanga looked up to at least acknowledge her presence this time but said nothing and returned to consider the readouts of his tricorder instead and murmuring quietly to himself.
Bensu continued when the doctor did not offer an answer. “I just really hate making a fuzz over this and wasting everyone’s time.”
“The wellbeing of every member of this crew, Starfleet and civilian alike, is never a waste of time,” Star said, sounding just as crisp as the doctor had.
Katanga nodded. “Quite so,” he said without affording the Trill a look. “You are a most interesting individual, Mister Bensu.”
“Just Bensu will do, Doctor.”
“Right. What race of people did you say you belonged to?”
Bensu glanced at Xylion before answering. “Well, there is no easy answer to that question, I’m afraid.”
Katanga looked at his patient before following his glance towards the Vulcan.
Xylion squared his shoulders and clasped his hands behind his back. “Bensu’s exact origins have not been determined. It is a matter we have both explored in some detail and continue to do so.”
“Interesting,” said Katanga, more to himself than to anyone else in sickbay.
“But not entirely uncommon,” said Star. “I appreciate it is not the same circumstance but my own parentage is somewhat of a mystery.”
Xylion recalled that according to Tazla Star’s personnel file, she, or rather the host which had later merged with the Star symbiont had been either orphaned or possibly abandoned while she had been an infant.
“Perhaps. But in your case there was never a doubt that you are a Trill,” said Katanga. “Whereas what we have with you, Bensu, is a complete mystery as to your origins. And what I can tell from my surface readings, you possess a very remarkable anatomy which I would be quite interested in studying further.”
Bensu stood. "If it is all the same to you, Doctor, I would rather return to my quarters and rest. Unless, of course, there is something specific you think you can do for me. Without any further examinations, that is."
“To be honest, with that unique anatomy of yours I wouldn’t even know where to begin and it would be quite reckless to simply prescribe you something without having a closer look at what makes your body tick. But I believe we absolutely should schedule some time to have a closer look at you. Not just to satisfy my own medical curiosity, but we might find further clues to your own origins as well as be better prepared for any medical emergencies you may suffer in the future.”
Bensu offered Katanga a wide grin. “I promise I will consider that kind offer, Doctor.”
“You know, I could make that an order. As the chief medical officer of this ship I do have that authority.”
Xylion considered Katanga very carefully. “I believe, Doctor, that since Bensu is a civilian, you will find that there are certain limitations to your authority concerning any non-essential medical procedures.”
“Of course, I forgot that you swallowed the Starfleet rulebook when you were a child,” Katanga said with a good-natured smile to which Xylion merely raised an eyebrow. The doctor turned back to Bensu who was clearly ready to leave sickbay. “I apologize, I didn’t mean for that to sound like a threat, nor would I ever suggest to misuse my authority in such a manner. I merely want to make sure that we’ll be able to treat you should the occasion arise.”
Bensu was clearly not offended. “Thank you, Doctor, I do appreciate your concern. And as I said, I will consider what you have said. Now if you will all excuse me, I think I’ve already taken up more than enough of your time today.”
“You’ll be heading straight back to your quarters to rest for the remainder of the day, won’t you?” said Star.
He gave her a firm nod. “You have my word, Commander.”
“I will ensure you reach your quarters without further incident,” said Xylion.
“And Bensu, if you experience any other—“
“Rest assured you would be the first person I call, Doctor. Thank you again. All of you,” he said and then headed for the exit with Xylion following closely behind.
Tazla Star remained behind after Xylion and Bensu had left, and for a moment simply watched on as Katanga began clearing up the instruments he had used to unsuccessfully attempt to diagnose his patient. “What are your thoughts on Bensu?” she asked after a moment of awkward silence had passed.
He finished putting away the instruments and shrugged. “He doesn’t like doctors. Certainly wouldn’t be the first iatrophobic person I’ve come across in my career,” he said and then headed towards his office.
When he refused to stop, Tazla followed him. “Alright, mind telling me when all this is going to stop?”
He took his seat behind his desk and picked up a padd without gracing her with another look. “When is what going to stop?”
She uttered a heavy sigh at his insistence on sticking with these immature antics, particularly considering that he had celebrated his eighty-eighth birthday not to long ago. “Aren’t you getting a little too old for these childish games and holding on to grudges?”
At that, he did look her in the eye. "I don't know, Taz, shouldn't you know better, with those many lifetimes of experiences inside that slug of yours, than to betray your closest friends."
“That’s a bit melodramatic.”
"I don't think so. You acted against my implicit wishes by issues an apology in my name regarding a decision we made over sixty years ago and which I still fully stand by to this day. I would call that a betrayal."
“Fine,” she said and took a few steps closer. “And I apologized for doing it. How much longer are you planning to punish me for it?”
He uttered a little humorless laugh. “You apologize for a mistake or maybe an error of judgment. You knew exactly what you were doing and you were fully aware that I didn’t wish you to do it.”
She nodded. “I made a command decision. And in the process ensured the Federation maintained a vital trade ally.”
“Exactly,” he said. “You aren’t sorry at all. You did what you needed to do and clearly would do it all over again in the same situation. That’s not regret. You are looking for forgiveness.”
"I am sorry that you're so upset over this," she said, trying to offer an olive branch.
“Well, you should have considered that before you chose to take that particular path. As you’ve said, you’ve made a command decision. Now you will need to live with the consequences.”
Star realized that there was no winning her argument. “You’ve always been the most stubborn man I’ve known,” she said and headed for the doors. She turned back to look at him before she left. “Just you make sure this will not become one of those things you’ve end up regretting. We’ve been friends too long to let something like this come between us.” She held out a tiny bit of hope that she’d be able to get through to him but when he refused to look back up from his padd, she uttered another sigh and left Katanga to steam on his own.
Xylion and Bensu hadn’t spoken after leaving sickbay and until they had reached the turbolift and even then Bensu didn’t talk until the young enlisted man with whom they were sharing the car had stepped out after arriving at his destination.
“Thank you for your support in sickbay,” Bensu said without even looking at his friend.
“I am not entirely comfortable with obfuscating my knowledge of what we have learned regarding your origins.”
He turned to look at the Vulcan. “You said it yourself, I’m not in Starfleet. It is my choice if I wish to share this knowledge with other people. I am not subject to the same regulations as a member of Starfleet.”
"Perhaps not. However, you are a member of this crew and this community. Therefore you have certain obligations to ensure the safety and wellbeing of this crew and not to compromise either."
“Xylion, the moment I believe that I might be putting anyone on this ship at risk I’d be more than willing to be forthcoming about anything I know. Or perhaps even leave Eagle if I must. But while that is not the case, I'd rather not advertise that I come from a race of extinct beings who transplanted their minds into cybernetic bodies or that I somehow managed to survive the destruction of an entire planet only to end up being a passenger inside your head. I'm also not so sure how people would react to us building this synthetic body in secret and transferring my consciousness."
“It would not be a simple explanation,” Xylion acknowledged.
“No, it certainly wouldn’t. Nor am I interested in becoming a science project to be studied and dissected.”
“Federation law protects all sentient beings. It is unlikely you would be subjected to any treatment against your will.”
The turbolift arrived on the deck Bensu’s quarters were located on and the doors opened. “Let’s just say I don’t want to put those laws to the test,” he said and left the lift with Xylion following closely.
“I take it you have continued to experience dreams of your former existence.”
He nodded. “Far too regularly than I care for. And I wasn’t lying about the dizziness at high warp. I’ve always had that.”
“That might be related to your physiology.”
“I am thinking the same thing. After all my people never really experienced space travel thanks to their enormously foolish shortsightedness.”
“And yet their accomplishments in creating cybernetic bodies cannot be disregarded.”
They both stopped outside the doors leading into Bensu’s quarters. “Really? Tell me, how many other Celerians have you met?”
“I understand that to be a rhetorical query since the answer to your question is obvious and meant to imply that none other have survived the destruction of their homeworld.”
Bensu offered him a large smirk. “Looks like sharing a mind with you for all those years has really rubbed off on you.”
Xylion raised an eyebrow. “I suggest we engage in mediation techniques to try and address your ailment and your recurring nightmares. We might be able to uncover more about your origins in doing so.”
But Bensu quickly shook his head. "To be honest, I'd rather not. I've had enough meditation to last me a lifetime when we shared a mind. Besides, what else is there to learn? These people focused all their attention on building shiny, new bodies to live longer, to be smarter and to be stronger. And then, when their planet suddenly died, they all died along with it. End of story."
“Evidently not. You remain.”
"Yes, lucky me," he said and yawned. "I have to be honest, all this excitement has tired me out. Besides, I've promised the good doctor and Commander Star that I'd be resting for what's left of the day. I think I'll do just that. Let's leave the past where it belongs, burned up and annihilated a very long time ago and very far away from here." With that, he turned and disappeared into his quarters.