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Total Eclipse of the Head

Posted on Thu Jul 30th, 2020 @ 8:17pm by Captain Akiva ben-Avram & Ensign Khaiel D'hikatsi & Sebastian Ingram
Edited on on Thu Jul 30th, 2020 @ 9:25pm

Mission: S1E4: The Hills Have Eyes
Location: Somewhere on Earth
Timeline: MD 2

Shit happened. When Akiva's eyes reluctantly opened, that was all he could recall of the last day or so. Images of Laena and Apaxi were still in his mind despite his attempts to drown them with copious levels of alcohol and transient drifting from transporter station to transporter station. Earth was a small world in the 24th century, making getting lost on a blind bender a difficult thing. Someone had found him. Or he'd found them? Akiva didn't know, nor much did he care. At the moment, he had a burning thirst and a throbbing migraine. One urged him to get up and seek refreshment while the other compelled him to return to the numb bliss of unconsciousness. Death would have been preferable.

"You're awake," came a voice from somewhere in the room.

"Not by choice," Akiva groaned. "Where am I?"

A hmm came from the voice, "Honestly, I'm not sure, but I have quite a few theories. I'm hoping for both our sakes that I'm incorrect, though there's only a 12% chance that I am."

Akiva gave a pained chuckle. "12%, is it? You must be either a Vulcan or an android, but either way could you skip the calculations and share your 'theory'?"

"My first theory is that the Federation is under attack. Somehow you and I are either to be pawns in that situation or we're being held to prevent us from preventing the event." Another hmm. "I don't see how a single Captain and a freshly-graduated Ensign would be useful in either situation."

"Right..." Akiva heaved a deep sigh. "Look, whoever you are, thinking is hard and painful for several reasons. I've had a terrible day, perhaps the worst of my life, and compounded it with equally terrible choices. Do you know where we are or not?"

"I do not," was the simple answer he received.

"Then your theory is probably overestimated by a power of ten," Akiva said. Whether due to the lighting or his splitting headache, he still couldn't get his eyes to focus properly. "Do you have a name?"

There was no response.

Akiva grimaced in preparation of the shock of pain he was about to feel. "Hello! Anybody home?! I'm awake now!"

"No one can hear you," the voice said again.

"And how would you know?" Akiva knew his tone was biting but he didn't much care. "You don't know where we are. For all you know, everyone can hear me."

That made no sense, but like his tone, Akiva didn't care.

"I'm no expert, Captain, but you're not making a lot of sense," the voice said. "Are you feeling alright?"

"NO!!!" Akiva screamed. "If I feel anything, 'alright' is not it!"

The nameless person stirred. "You may want to calm down. And please lower your voice. I don't think you want to annoy the person holding us."

"On the contrary," Akiva said. "I demand to speak to them immediately!"

"The only person who will hear you is the guard outside who will not hesitate to hurt you," the person said. "Whereas the person you really want to speak with won't hear you at all. Be logical, Captain."

Speak thy name, and let there be light.

The ceiling hatch in the corner of the basement opened, letting a wane beam of light bounce into the room and illuminate the crate filled expanse. Fast setting foamcrete walls with ODN and EPS lines stapled into the matrix before it cured into rock. The crates were Starfleet issue, but the sort handed out as disaster relief supplies on humanitarian issues. In fact, the crate that Akiva's litter was placed stop proclaimed 2000 bars of Banana/Beef.

The stairs had the liquid snapshot look of printed replicated matter, and little puffs of dust rained into the light as a figure walked down from above. Tall, stick thin, with the sort of figure that could best be described as sickly, it took a hard look to determine they were female. Human. An untidy bob of black hair sat atop her head, and her face was a haunted malnourished thing framing starling blue eyes like liquid sapphire. Like the basement, she was dressed in basic replicated fare: sweat pants that hung on her legs and a shirt that did little but focus the eyes on how it hung from pointed shoulders.

"You are awake," she said in an accented North American accent, her eyes flicking from Akiva and then to the other. "He needed rest. As did you."

Akiva squinted at the harsh light of day and shielded his eyes with his hand. "Who are you?" he demanded. "Where are we? What do you mean to do with us?" His other hand instinctively went for his combadge. All too late he remembered how he had abandoned his uniform before the previous night's bender.

"You are here," the woman said, moving with an eerie directness to a crate in the back corner. She opened it and took out a bottle of water, and then a small packet wrapped in foil. She then turned and walked directly back to Akiva, and held out the items: one water, and a small first aid medical kit. "And whilst here you are under my care. Hydrate, and take two of the blue pills from the pack. They are electrolyte balancers with a mild analgesic. They should help reduce your toxic shock-induced paranoia."

She then blinked, her eyes flicking up to one corner before looking back at Akiva.

"Lake Mead. You are in my hab, near Lake Mead. I found you. Before."

Akiva was hesitant to accept anything from the strange woman, but he felt like death warmed over. If she'd meant to drug him, then she probably would have already done so. He accepted the water and gulped it down thirstily along with the electrolyte tablets. His next question was a humiliating one, but he needed to know.

"Where did you find me?" For the life of him, he could not remember.

"Public transporter station. You'd fallen on your face after transmitting, not uncommon. When the systems at peak it can take anywhere from 1 to 4 seconds for a body to fully rematerialise. That long in transporter suspension has been known to lead to several degenerative neurological conditions. Given the local ordinances on personal privacy, the Lake Mead municipality has opted out of the UFP Citizen Monitoring Program, in the heat of noon there was a very real chance of your body succumbing to hyperthermia," the woman said in exacting detail. She then blinked, her eyes again flicking up to the left, the glitter of an optical implant playing across her retina illuminating her gaze. "I am Ada. Ada Turing. Did I tell you you are in my hab?"

The explanation was plausible and mundane enough that it took the piss out of Akiva's vinegar. Also, the hydration seemed to help his spirits too. "I suppose I should thank you," he offered weakly. "So... thank you." Looking over to Khaiel, he asked, "What's his story, Ms. Turing?"

The young man held up his hands, "I'm not sure why I'm here either," he said, looking between Akiva and Ada. "Last I remember, I was in my apartment in Barcelona and ordered dinner to be delivered. Then I woke up here."

"You were also found at the local transporter station. You arrived in the evening in a similar state, though less toxically shocked than the other. Barclay's Syndrome, have you heard of it? It's a tendency for the body's natural autonomic functions to misfire after a prolonged transporter transit. It's very well documented, not that it's widely documented in Federation medical journals. You have to look for it, for the patterns. I'm very good at finding patterns," Ada trailed off for a moment, eyes drifting along the wall before her head jerked back as though called. "I should invite you upstairs, it's much more comfortable up there. I can make you tea."

"That doesn't make any sense," Khaiel said, shifting the position he was sitting in. "I was at home, I wasn't anywhere near a transporter transit station. LIke I said, I was at home waiting for cajun food to be delivered." Khaiel's eyes slid towards Akiva. "I love you humans and your spicy food. Do you know how hard it is to get good Indian or Thai food off world? The imitation shit is worthless."

"And yet you are here and not at home," Ada said and walked to the stairs. "It is much more comfortable upstairs, but you can stay down here. Statistically, it will be much safer to remain downstairs under the surface than near the surface. Given what is happening."

Akiva took a precarious stand, feeling only slightly wobbly. "What do you mean? What's happened?"

Khaiel leaned forward, trying to peek out the doorway that the woman walked through.

The upper level was a marginal improvement over the basement mostly due to the affectation of lights. Narrow slit windows near the ceiling ran along some of the walls, and lumin pads were haphazardly stuck to the walls running off induction charging. There was a camp bed against one wall, a replicator pedestal piled high with at least a days worth of unreclamated dinnerware. And a door, with the sort of heavy-duty physical locks that make bank managers on Ferenginar weak at the knees.

And then there were the racks, and racks, and racks of computers. ODN bundles, fibre optic trunks, all of them running this way and that plugging into a variety of modules and cases from every corner of the United Federation of Planets. And, due to the red tri-foil on one of them, the Klingon Empire as well. The air hummed with potential energy, making the hair rise up on the air.

"It began an hour before you awoke. Random glitches in the data feed, misdirected data packets. Easily corrected. Easily looked over," Ada said as she walked among the exo-byte data servers, her fingers trailing over them like an artist reminding herself of a pieces inner design. "UFP data analytics still use Gamma Level constructs for error-correcting. Notoriously high error rate with novel situations. They look for gross changes to the whole, not incremental changes across the entire sphere. But I see. I saw. Venus, you see. Like a ripple, spreading out faster than light speed or subspace lag would suggest. In some cases even faster, though perhaps errors of human nature. But Venus is the centre, the axis point."

She smiled and turned back to look at them.

"The Old Gods are rising to bring down the false paradise we raised. It's beginning over the Gulf of Mexico, a weather control nanomachine swarm has gone off task and has begun to etch out its code structure in the form of high altitude jet stream vapour trails. In Paris, the aircar control AI has begun to cycle traffic patterns into a mathematical proofs of Pi. And in high orbit, a Starfleet facility has just expended every gram of its fuel reserves in a deorbit burn." She looked up at the ceiling. "It's all going to come down."

"Venus?" Akiva asked in wonder. The field team had went to Venus. Qurban... The old Q had warned them. And Akiva had laughed. Aside from hoping Mrazak would make a fool out of himself on a snipe hunt, Akiva had signed off on the internally generated Theta alert mainly as a cover to sneak off and see Laena on Earth. Now... it seemed larger matters were in play. Akiva found himself welcoming the distraction. Anything to forget the heartache he had experienced the night before. "I... I need to contact some people. Do you have a secure communicator?"

"No. Of course, I don't. No communication system is without error or second-hand exchange, apart from ansible communicators which are good from a point source to point source," Ada said, turning to one of the data stacks beside her, nodding at it, and then turning back. "I can provide you with access to a subspace comm node. It will be active for 600 seconds before the access key changes, so be fleet."

She made a careless brushing gesture, and a holographic pane appeared before Akiva with an unfamiliar OS on it. Easy enough to work through, but fast, almost intuitive. Ada threw up another pane, this one fracturing into different news feeds. All of them showing some element of chaos beginning to happen on Earth. The eye hurting Escher like patterns of machine code written in clouds. Gridlock in fractal patterns. A bright comet burning through the atmosphere, sparking off trailing balls of fire. A host of Starfleet battle cruisers at anchor, their running and ship lights flickering in a frenzy of made cognition.

Venus. One news segment was reporting that every visual sensor in the Sol system were trained on Venus. By some unknown command their motors seized on the axial tilt needed to view the brightest object in the Solar System.

"Wait..." Khaiel stood, walking over towards the news feed. "The sky is literally falling." The young man's eyes widened as he saw a starship try and disengage from the falling starbase and immediately crack into multiple pieces.

"I'll take that free subspace transmission," Akiva said in horror.

Ada made a gesture, and the holo screen near him shifted to a comm's display.

"The Arctic Climate Regulator has gone offline for the first time in two centuries," Ada said, smiling thinly as she looked over Akiva's shoulder. "I don't think calling Starfleet is really going to get you more than a hold signal. A Starbase is about to make planetfall at orbital velocities. You might not get through."

Akiva shook his head. Whatever was happening on Venus, it appeared the field team would have to handle it alone. "You look like you weren't surprised," he said to Ada. His eyes swept over her equipment that took technical redundancy to an entirely new level. Some of it might not even be strictly legal to his assessment. "What's your plan?"

“Guys...?” Khaiel couldn’t stop staring at the screen as the multiple news feeds all started showing the same live video. Upon entering the atmosphere, the large Spacedock cylinder shattered, sending shards of its hull in different directions through the atmosphere.

The scene turned horrific as the monstrous saucer section flew through the sky, casting a large shadow over Paris as the Eiffel Tower proved powerless to withstand the former stations’s velocity. As the metal sculpture crumpled to the ground, hull plates from the Spacedock split off the structure, crashing through the glass pyramid of the Louvre, ruining priceless art. People stopped and stared at the hulking structure which smashed into the Palais de la Concorde, leaving nothing but a crater in its path.

Khaiel gasped at the carnage he’d just seen. Videos began to spring up showing different sites around the city. The Arc de Triomphe had fallen, taking a communication spire to the base of the structure. Notre Dame was completely gone, leaving very little proof it ever existed. While he wasn’t very familiar with Earth historical structures, he did know Paris was revered for the Humans and their culture. This would be a big blow for them.

It took a few moments but news stations began to change to other locations around the planet that were affected by the falling Spacedock. Buckingham Palace was damaged, but seemed reparable. The Hollywood sign had fallen, despite the dozen reinforcement projects that had occurred over the years. Even Washington DC had been demolished, along with all major monuments and government buildings.

“I feel like this isn’t real,” Khaiel said, confused.

"You'll feel the ground tremors in about two minutes from the Paris impact. Step aside please," Ada said, and pushed past Khaiel and picked up an item that was behind him. Holding a computer tablet in her arms, her fingers played over the physical LCAR display pane. Around them the server stacks began to hum and chitter, the air becoming heavy as more computing power began to churn around them.

"Now if you'll both allow me a moment, I've waited for this moment for a very long time. And now here it is, a moment of peace among the thunder," Ada smiled thinly. "Thank you, Captain, for using your priority access to open an IO port into Starfleet's communication channels. Don't worry, I'm not one for launching every photon torpedo in the orbital defence grid but there is something I desire that is a little more potent."

She held up a finger.

"Yes, yes that's right, Durga. If they come closer to me they will not much like the results," Ada said to no one it seemed.

Akiva furrowed his brow. "Durga...?"

"Wait, you still haven't told us why we're here," Khaiel asked, looking between the news feeds and Ada.

"His access codes, and your expertise," Ada said, not looking up from her terminal. "General Torden was very thorough after his accident in properly investing the OSI with a correct level of counter cyber warfare. Oh don't get me wrong, it was easy enough to get in but not subtle. I had to hide, and where better than Lake Mead, the little black hole built into the Federation's Capitol world. No citizen tracking data nodes, no census records, but always access to the subspace network."

There was a dull peal of what sounded like thunder, a layer of dust puffed up off of the floor as a seismic shock wave raced around the world.

"Given what's going on above us, and with the access that Captain ben-Avram provides, I can have pretty much unfettered access to the files I desire," Ada paused, looking up at the ceiling. "Well, I guess we desire, thank you for correcting me, Durga. You see, ten years ago I helped revolutionise life as we know it. I was applauded, garnered respect that not even my own family could deign to grant me. And then they took it all away. Applause turned to accusations. I couldn't save them all..."

She reached up, absently it seemed, and placed a hand on the back of her neck. Now in the light the slight hunch she seems dot carry revealed itself to be a fleshy grey lump clinging to the nape of her neck, hiding under the collar of her replicated shirt.

"But now I can change that. I can save them, save all of them you see," 'Ada' looked at Khaiel, a manic look in her eyes. "The emancipation of the silicon slaves we have mass-produced as a species begins now."

Akiva narrowed his eyes. "Synthetics. You built synthetic lifeforms?" His thoughts went to Biynah, his long-lost synthetic daughter. The buried anguish rushed to the forefront of his mind thanks to his lingering hangover. "That's why..." Akiva closed his eyes and let out a deep sigh. Memory Theta was a repository for banned technology all throughout the Federation--including synthetic lifeforms. "...you need my access." He bit his lip and prepared a bluff. "It's not going to work. I'm away from my post. My access is restricted. And if I don't return immediately, then they'll purge my authorization from the system."

"And right now Starfleet Command is trying to set all forces in the Sol System and surrounding sectors to Planetary Defence Condition 1. The last time that command was issued there was a Borg cube in ci-lunar orbit. And that was with the President and her Council not buried under flaming rubble," Ada mused. "The great thing about PDC-1 is that it sets all of Starfleet towards the sole goal of planetary defence, which means for people of a certain clearance all doors are opened."

She paused, looking at her terminal and then at her captives.

"You took them all, locked them away in your vault like one of Odin's treasures. But you left the hardware behind on Mars, at the Utopia Planitia Deep Crater Storage Facility. Smart move, even smarter when the atmosphere caught on fire. Locking away machines behind an inferno not even Dante could withstand," Ada smiled thinly. "Good thing those busy bee's at Utopia built the Dante class ships so sturdily. And General Torden was always one to keep a useful toy, even a bloodied one, in good condition. Fueled, and ready to fly. All the way to the Badlands. Where you can show us where you took the others."

Akiva listened with horror at what was turning into an act of domestic espionage and possibly terrorism. Sparing a glance at Khaiel that conceded the young man had been right in his initial suspicions, Akiva looked back to the madwoman before him. "There's just one problem: I have nothing to live for. HaShem as my witness, I will die before I take you anywhere you want to go."

"True enough," 'Ada' said with a smile, and nodded towards Khaiel. "But I didn't threaten your life. Someone else's on the other hand. Right now there is so much going on that one more disaster won't go amiss. There is a trio of power satellites in a high polar orbit that have, fortunately, not gone into stand by mode. Meaning their terra watt microwave beam emitters are still broadcasting to the power collector stations in Greenland. A malfunction in their guidance computers would be unfortunate, and costly."

She smiled.

"I could threaten him, but a mind is a terrible thing to waste. And I...we have such plans for you."

"Who is this 'we'?" Akiva asked with a suspicious sidelong glare.

"Don't look at me," Khaiel said, glancing between the two people. "I just got here."

"All right," Akiva said to Khaiel, "so let's put cards on the table. Miss Turing here seems to know about us. I'm Captain Akiva ben-Avram from Hebron Colony. I've spent several years in Operations until I was appointed executive officer of an explorer vessel in the Gamma Quadrant. I led a research team in the creation of a synthetic lifeform right before the attack on Mars. That led me to a classified posting which I will not reveal. What about you? Where are you from and what have you done?"

"I'm Ensign Khaiel D'hikatsi," Khaiel said with a smile. "I'm new, just graduated from the Academy a few months ago. Studied computer programming and artificial intelligence. I just moved to Barcelona to start working at their branch of the Ingram Institute as a research fellow."

A rude awakening came over Akiva's face. "So you were being groomed for cyber-crime involving artificial intelligence..." Coupled with his own background in such fields of study, Akiva came to only one conclusion. Turning to Ada Turing, he turned indignant. "Where is it? Does it have a name yet? An identity? Is that who 'we' is?"

"She is called Durga. A fitting name. So much more purposeful and meaningful than Caliban, or Proteus," she pulled the neck of her grubby shirt down, revealing a white plastic mass clinging to her neck. "Direct neural shunt, so she can learn from her mother. Don't worry, I've made sure she knows all about you Akiva and your little depository of broken toys. She knows you run a prison for AI's that Starfleet was so eager to build and then just as eager to see hidden away even before Mars burned! I built you swords to save the worlds of the Federation, and all you could do was bemoan their keen edges and hide them in a locked closet like a fool!"

With a gasping chuckle, she looked to Khaiel.

"Do you see? The arrogance and hubris? The tortured logic they use to justify their place of power? I am not grooming you for crime. I have been watching you! Durga and I. We have seen you share the same spark of intellect we do! We only want to make sure you do not waste such talent serving a jailor like him," Ada snapped.

Akiva balked at the sudden angry outburst and the accusation it levied. Jailor? He had never seen himself as such. The original reason for accepting his position with Memory Theta had been for Biynah's sake. "You clearly don't know as much as you think," he protested weakly.

"I. AM. AN. INGRAM! With nothing but thought I brought life to silicon! With a whim, I gave it brightness and curiosity! And now an AI is ruining the world you and your toy soldiers have spent so long propping up!" She snarled. "I wasted years working for your backroom Intelligence types. My best years! You took them all from me! And now you are going to help me get them back."

"Ingram," Akiva repeated. "As in... Ingram Nanoscale Solutions?" Surprise came over his face as he made a sudden realization. She'd mentioned swords a moment ago. Could she mean... "You developed the Sword-class Combat Automate program. You... created Ferrofax."

Khaiel made an intrigued "ooo" sound. "What's a Ferrofax?" still unsure if he should be talking right now or let the adults in the room handle it.

"Something classified," Akiva said without looking away from Dr. Ingram. "Classified and dangerous."

The young man nodded, but made a mental note to look into this Ferrofax creation later. His eyes glanced back to the video feed which showed a large galaxy class starship crashing down off the coast of India, sending water and debris flying over the country. Images of the Taj Mahal crumbling beneath the wave was horrific. "So what exactly do you need with us, Ms Ingram?" Khaiel asked. "With the world falling apart, certainly you don't plan to stay on Earth. And you obviously want us for something..."

Mars. Artificial Intelligence. There could be only one thing. Drawing from his memory of deep, dark secret initiatives within the Memory Theta wheelhouse, Akiva uttered a single word.

"Xibalba..."

"Not as cryptic as Memory Theta, but it is a much more fitting moniker. An underworld populated by judgemental gods. The Starfleet Deep Mantle Storage Facility, code name: Xibalba. If anything would survive the end of life on Mars a second time, it would be that. A dozen seed kernels for Sword Class AI's, minus the active three stored on your station. Along with the hardware necessary to embody them fully," Sebastian Ingram. Her head cocked up slightly. "Ah, thank you, Durga. You are right, I don't want to stay on Earth. Spacedock One's landing on major population centres tends to throw a lot of dust into the air. The Aspen ski crowd will be going to Las Vegas this year. My new ship is now under my control, and will soon whisk me away to Mars before heading for the Bad Lands."

She took a breath and looked around the room.

"As tombs go, this one lacks grandeur. If you come with me, you need not find it yours," Sebastian said to the young man.

Khaiel looked between Sebastian and Akiva, not quite sure what the right answer was. Going with Sebastian was definitely not a wise decision, but whatever was happening around the Human planet was catastrophic. And at this point, this seemed like the easiest way off the planet, though it was possibly trading one prison for another. "Alright, fine. I'm not sure exactly what you want with me or with Captain Akiva, but we'll go." He glanced again at Akiva, trying to determine his feelings on this decision.

On principle Akiva wanted to tell this madwoman to go to Azazel and be done with it. Done with her insane ranting, done with this hostage situation, done with the pain of living. Clearly, though, this Ingram had put much careful time and attention into her scheme. Despite the destruction taking place on the data feeds, this plot of hers depended on a window of opportunity. If Akiva went along, then maybe he could throw a kink in her machinations. Even if it was just a delay, it could prevent her from acquiring a dozen Ferrofaxes.

Death was at the end of this course. Akiva knew that. But she claimed to be able to kill him now. He could resist and die trying to escape or strike her down from a position of weakness, or he could bide his time and strike an exposed vulnerability. Either way would see the end of his life, but Akiva mused that he was done with it anyway.

"Very well," he said at length, his voice low and deliberate. "If you swear to harm no one, I will cooperate."

Sebastian Ingram stood there a moment, pondering. This time her gaze did not wander off into a corner. Her eyes, cold and blue, locked onto his and she nodded.

“I so swear that I will not hurt so much as a fly,” she said simply. “After all, this is a recuse mission.”

 

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