Canopus Station
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Cultural Carnival

Posted on Sat Jan 25th, 2020 @ 3:28am by Commander Calida & Lieutenant Commander Meilin Jiang & The Narrator

Mission: S2:1: Into The Drowning Deeps
Location: Canopus Station
Timeline: MD 1 23.30

Compared to two months earlier, the makeshift refugee camp the Xilosian's had been forced to live in was looking both more substantial and reduced at the same time. A number of the prefabricated shelters had been taken down as family units had been relocated into the station's residential blocks. This allowed the Agri Domes maintenance drones to go to work repairing the green space, that still bore the scars of forced habitation and the explosive decompression of the rescue effort.

Forward Commander Larkin halted his shore party of Carcosian sailors as one of the Agri Drones trundled past on its wide rubber tyres, a blinking holographic halo warning sign rotating around. The two-kilometre wide dome only showed its artificiality where engineers were still working on the patch, replacing more of the inner hull as work crews in maintenance skiff's and EVA suits worked on the armour cladding outside.

"Survivors of the Concordance," Larkin said as he looked upon the shrinking tent city. "I think this will be a first for both of our histories. We have come across the ruined worlds they leave behind, but never anyone left alive who was not now a zealot. You have a rare thing here."

Meilin shuffled neatly at Larkin's side, arms folded behind her back in respectful study of the man. "It is the Federation way. As peaceful explorers, one might say the Concordance is our antithesis. Dialectically speaking, the Xilosians will become the synthesis wrought from our arrival into Messier 4. They certainly cannot return to their native world, at any rate." Her eyes scanned the remaining Xilosians, most of them menial workers and security personnel overseeing the preservation of what meager possessions they retained from their devastated home. "May they be the first among many."

"What of your dealings with the Concordance?" The question was posed from the golden container that followed them on a grav sled on loan from the station's Ops department. Within it was Commander Calida, a noncorporeal Medusan who was forced to verbally speak through communicator. "Have you faced them directly or have you only followed in their wake?"

"A little of both if I am to be frank," Larkin said thoughtfully. "A lot of our work within Carcosian Navy is misdirection, pulling the Concordance's attention away from any course that leads towards the worlds of the Reciprocity. In any engagement we choose we win. The Concordance is a hodgepodge of technologies, with ships centuries-old. One fleet might have particle shielding, the other might still be using ice cladding on their hull. No match for modern Occlusion Warheads. But a fission bomb going off in the atmosphere of a planet is still a terrible blow, so we do what we can to obfuscate our movements. Slipstream travel aids in this."

"Not to mention the First Mandate," came from the young woman who accompanied Larkin. Like her captain she was in the dress uniform of her service, a cyan blue affair capped with a jet black beret with the tri-wave emblem of the Reciprocity Of Carcosia. Larkin shot a look to his young companion that was neither a scowl nor was it cool.

"Midshipwomen are best heard when they are asked a question directly, Midshipwoman Kronberg," Larkin said evenly. He then turned his attention to the camp. "Might we talk to some of them? I have never seen the like."

Meilin kept her brow low at the mention of a First Mandate, but her eyes were alight with glee. "We have a Prime Directive of our own, one of noninterference in the internal affairs of other cultures. It is our guiding light in a galaxy full of death and destruction at the hands of other sentient beings." Her mouth widened in a diffident smile. "As such, I am afraid we cannot tour the Xilosian encampment without the permission of their leaders."

The grav sled carrying Calida's containment pod hummed along silently, indicating the Medusan was keeping her thoughts to herself for the moment.

Larkin tilted his head to one side, considering something before slowly nodding.

"A sensible approach to things," he mused to himself. From the shrinking tent city, two of the Xilosian's approached the group.

Prime Philosopher Kisbeck looked none the worse for wear and looked much better for his time spent in the Agri Dome compared to the cramped concrete warren of the Cradle Facility. He was dressed in work clothes, the sort of basic no-nonsense attire the replicators doled out as basic supplies.

At his side, still dressed in the battlefield uniform of the Military Cadre, Formation Leader Kle looked similarly well-rested. Given the Xilosian's jet black skin, narrow jaws and bioluminescent head fronds, judging tiredness was something still be worked out. But she looked brighter, less on edge for keeping it all from falling apart.

"Commander Jiang!" Kisbeck said brightly, extending a hand as the two Xilosian's hopped over a small ditch being worked on by a serpentine farm drone. "A pleasure to see you! And again my heartfelt thanks for arranging the transfer of our people into more permanent housing."

Whilst Kisbeck beamed happily, Kle's golden eyes were locked onto the Carcosian's. Maybe it was the teal uniforms, the more martial bearing of the group compared to the more academic Starfleet mindset that had gained her attention. Then her eyes looked to the box on its grav sled.

"The radioactive diplomat," she said with a nod to the grav sled.

The hum of Calida's pod was eerily silent.

Meilin put her fist into her hand and gave it two vigorous shakes, one for Kisbeck and Kle each. "The pleasure is mine." She quickly shook Kisbeck's proffered hand before stepping back to introduce their guests. "It is my honor to introduce Forward Commander Larkin and his attendants. They are representatives of the Reciprocity of Carcosia, a new yet perhaps old ally of our Federation here in Messier 4. They wished to meet the survivors of Xilos."

"A rarity I assure you," Larkin said pleasantly and extended his hand to Kisbeck to shake. "As I was telling Commander Jiang, we have seen the handiwork of the Concordance on many worlds. You are very fortunate to have survived your encounter."

"Some wouldn't call us that," Kle said guardedly. "Two billion burned down to just over eight thousand."

"And yet on every other world the Concordance has touched, they have left no one but corpses and ashes. I would call that a greater fortune than can be quantified," the Carcosian responded. Kisbeck had finished shaking the commander's hand, smiling in the human fashion that showed off the narrow teeth that filled his jaw.

"You are an old ally of the United Federation of Planets?" Kisbeck enquired.

"More a distant relation. Our peoples parted ways some three hundred years ago during a time of great strife, our first interstellar war against a superior foe," Larkin explained. "My people chose to avoid that conflict by departing before all could be lost. Much as your people survived their end of days, we chose the same. We have that in common I believe."

The cultural exchange between the two men filled Meilin with glee. Her eyes were alight with an eager thirst for knowledge and appreciation for the interconnectedness between such diverse people. This meeting was precisely how the Tao united all things together into one. "We all indeed have much to learn from one another," she said once the conversation lulled. "Even though the Xilosians were at a disadvantage to us, we have learned a great deal from them in the short time of our people's relations."

"And now what do you intend for them?" Larkin asked, turning his head to look at Meilin. "It is clear that their industrial capacity is barely at subsistence level. I mean no disrespect Sentient Kisbeck, but you live at the sufferance of another."

"A state of affairs I've been trying to rectify," Formation Leader Kle responded the fronds atop her head-turning a muted orange colour. "Commander Jiang, I've been trying to arrange a meeting with Captain Ingram concern a proposal I've put on his desk. I've been sandbagged by his staff for days."

"Er, perhaps Kle this is not the best time to bring up that topic," Kisbeck said, trying to jam himself into the conversation. "So, you say you are from a previous strand of the Federation's history? That must be an interesting topic to discuss at length yes?"

"Shutter your wick Kisbek," Kle snapped and took a step forward. There was a sound of rustling feet as the two Carcosian Marines that had followed in the wake of their commander stepped closer, Kle's progress towards Meilin also bringing her closer to their charge. "Jiang, my Formation are trained, soldier. Your own Marines are out of action, and my people stand ready to step up and begin to pay our way! We spent five years in that bunker waiting for death, now we want to fight for our lives."

Meilin canted her head and smiled wryly as a parent soothing an enraged child. "Formation Leader Kle, we are not a military agency. Our battles are few and far between, and by design. Should war come to our doorstep, then we are all on the same footing, but so far our automated defenses have withstood all incursions against the station. As insightful as the past may be, we must look toward the future." She met Kisbeck's eyes and shared the same assurance with him as well as Kle. "Captain Ingram has mandated the search for a suitable new homeworld for your people. While I treasure your time with us, I know it is not permanent. Therefore, it is best to prepare for relocation."

Looking back to Larkin, it was Meilin's hope that he better understood what their mission was and that Kle would not further embarrass them all. "However, Philosopher Prime Kisbeck is correct about one thing: we ought to compare our strands of history and see what we discover."

“We should,” Larkin said after a moments consideration. “Might there be a place we might sit at length and discuss that topic? I am sure by now our computer tech’s have been able to provide a feed from the Dauntless to your own data sphere. Midshipwoman Kronberg, you studied on Crest as part of your military service? Perhaps you can remember some of the histrionic’s they like to teach there?”

“The Coalition of Worlds was losing the war. Too many ideas, not enough direct action. Not to mention the Romulan’s out matched us by centuries in technology. We were fighting with laser cannons and fission bombs, where as they were firing disrupters and plasma torpedoes. Not to mention the advantage of their stealth technology. Only our remoteness to their Empire, and the limits of their plasma reactors to power their warp drives, kept them from steam rolling us in a year. The projections of the Steering Committee, the founders of the Exodus, showed outright defeat within months.”

Meilin listened intently and smiled at the prediction which proved false. "Fixed models tend to reveal only what is in the mind of their creators," she said. "Thus it is difficult to create a true variable scientific model, and yet that is what true knowledge would require. For instance, there was no way to predict the Romulan use of automated drones to attack multiple sectors at once. And, given the goal of the drone attacks, few would have predicted the alliance it created between not only Earth, Vulcan, and Trillius, but also Tellar, Andoria, Rigel V, Denobula, and even Coridan in the decades to follow." Her face grew pensive. "The Romulan death toll at the Battle of Cheron is lamentable as it was unnumerable, but the peace forged is what arguably what drew most of the Alpha Quadrant and some of the Beta Quadrant together under the Federation charter. It is a shame your fore-bearers missed it, yet if they hadn't, then this momentous meeting could not have taken place."

"Also let us not forgot that the Steering Committee was preforming a calculation in which failure of any sort, would be the destruction of their species. It is a calculus that cannot be retaken," Larkin remonstrated. "Seeing the future, and predicting it are two different things. No doubt your history must portray the Exodus as a cowardly act, where as to us it was a selfless act to save a small sapling from an all-consuming fire."

"To the contrary, Forward Commander, your great Exodus is scarcely a footnote known only to those of academic interest." Meilin knew her words balanced on the edge of a sword, so she chose to be truthful. Her hands came together in the ganesha mudra of overcoming peace and insight. "We all do what we must, for better or worse. It is not just judgment that you will find here, but gratitude." She gave a demure dip of her head to the man that wasn't quite a bow.

“A kindness I hope that your historians will bestow on all of Carcosia,” Larkin said kindly. “I must say you have a delightfully open mind regarding the views of others. But one assumes that goes hand in hand with being an officer within an purely explorative agency? Your history must be littered with the great explorers of your age.”

Meilin shook her head, her dark almond eyes narrowing even more. Was that heat rising to her cheeks? "Not as much as one might expect. There always seem to be some war, conflict, or other extraneous draw on resources. Many times it feels like two steps back for every three steps forward, but nobody said progress comes easy."

There was something about Larkin that Meilin found intriguing. Well, more than intriguing. Remarkable. Perhaps even admirable. She caught herself staring at him for a moment, which led her to abruptly break away and address the Xilosians still in their presence.

"It was good to see you again, my old friends" she said evenly. The control of her tone was crisp and brisk, lest it betray the embarrassment she felt at allowing her mind to run away from her at such a pivotal juncture. "We must continue our tour, but I invite you and all the Xilosians to seek out a followup time with the Carcosians if such were desired."

Deep breath. Slow inhale, inconspicuous. Slow exhale. She was fine. Nothing to see. And her heart aflutter? That was just good shame from categorical rudeness. Fortunately, nobody seemed the wiser.

"If you would come this way, Forward Commander, we may continue the tour."

Meilin turned about and sighed in search for her lost and wayward centered calm.

"I sometimes feel the same way myself," Larkin said in a confidential tone to Melin as they walked on. "Simplicity is at its core the foundation of all complex thought. From a still pond comes a reflection of self. I am sure I muddling the words of the Wave Tenders of home, but I chose a life among the stars instead of contemplation in a temple."

"As one raised in an enclave, my life's journey has showed me that all the universe is a temple," Meilin said. "Hence my desire to know it and all who indwell it, and why I value Starfleet's values above its strength, by which I can be at harmony with the Tao in all its forms." She thought for a moment, then asked, "What is the First Mandate mentioned from before? I assumed it was similar to our Prime Directive, but I realize that may have been premature."

"It is a piece of military procedure all must abide by when serving the people of Carcosia. And not something we speak of lightly," Larkin said, his eyes casting back to the young officer who could not quite hide the cat-whose-gotten-the-cream look on her face. "The First Mandate is that the security of the Reciprocity of Carcosia must always come first. This either means that a ship facing imminent capture by hostile forces must self destruct, or that there be no survivors of a hostile force to report back to their home base. We are four worlds, among the many tens of thousands that make up their stellar Cluster. It is a rule that kept us from the eye of the Myriad, and the fires of the Concordance since we arrived here."

Scorched-earth tactics were nothing new in the galaxy, and Meilin should not have been surprised to hear that Larkin's society utilized them. In fact, it would have been more surprising had they not, given their stellar neighbors. Still, Meilin felt disappointed, and she chided herself for idealizing a person and culture she did not truly know.

"I understand," she said diplomatically. "And in light of that understanding, I am grateful that we met under peaceful circumstances."

"I have heard that tone before you know? An agreement, when one does not truly commit to it," Larkin said with a half-smile. "Come now, we have done well enough until now without masks, it would be unbecoming of this momentous meeting of cultures to hide behind them now. Many-"

The young Midshipwoman who followed in their wake gave a polite clearing of her throat.

"Many," Larkin said with extra stress on the word. "Would see the First Mandate rescinded. It is a product of a time of our grandfathers, of the first Steering Committee and the civilisation it left behind. With the power of the Fleet, our mastery of esoteric weapons and technology, there is not a power in Messier 4 who could challenge us with any real hope of success."

The man's defensiveness brought a smile to Meilin's face. He wished to remain honorable in her eyes, and she wasn't sure how she felt about that observation. "I meant what I said: I am pleased we met under peaceable circumstances. The alternative would have been a travesty, given our people's common roots and mutually formidable means. There is no more senseless death than one caused by friendly-fire." She took a breath to steady her center and find her next words. "Many within the Federation would honor your First Mandate. My personal views are considered extreme by many others, so rest assured that you will likely find agreement among our Starfleet." A chuckle rose from her throat. "Candidly, I expect Captain Ingram to adopt the Reciprocity's First Mandate on his first hearing of it."

"But surely if you are venturing beyond your galaxy, breaking through the Galactic Barrier, you have an impressive civilisation standing behind you? With many thousands of ships and soldiers ready to stand to your defence and the defence of others?" Larkin commented. "I assume you have some sort of new drive technology, an off shut of Slipstream technology that allows you to bypass the Barrier? We have made attempts before to send probe ships back through Slipstream, and have been rebuffed violently by the Barrier."

Meilin gave a wan shake of her head. "As Captain Ingram is wont to remind us, we are on our own out here for the foreseeable future. The apparatus which brought us here only operates one-way, and its technology is not perfected." Wondering aloud, she continued. "Our standard drives cannot penetrate the barrier, so I am very curious to know as to how your original flotilla managed it."

"Ahh. You would think that they would send more out here than a single station and a meagre guard fleet. Perhaps if relations go well we might become a more permanent guest here, as your protectors until you are more entrenched and able?" Larkin mused aloud. "As for your other question, that is a topic of discussion for our scholars as well. In one we arrived on our new planet, but in doing so somehow passed through an unknown anomaly to arrive in Messier 4. In another, the planet itself was brought to Messier 4. Some even hold the belief our ancestors were reborn in Messier 4. Lacking a time machine, it is all pointless debate. We are here now, debating a point of the past even one so fundamental as how we arrived here, is a null point."

Despite the diversity of each of the three stories, they held a common truth to Meilin's trained anthropological ear. Quantum distortions. Hazarding a question, she asked as nonchalantly as possible, "True enough, I suppose. Which version of events do you entertain?"

"The simplest: that we passed through an Einstein Rosenberg Bridge on our exodus from settled space. At the time sensor suites were so primitive that the exotic matter might not even have been detected. It is certainly far more likely than an entire planet moving through the heavens, or that we were born again in new waters. The brothers of the Temple Of Waves would want me to believe in such a story, but I cannot abide it."

"An unstable wormhole," Meilin said plainly. "Brothers of the Temple of Waves? That has a religious ring to it. Most space-faring civilizations reduce their attachment to religion rather than increase it. I find that very fascinating."

"Should you ever be invited to journey to Carcosia or one of her colonies, I am there to show you such a temple. The Temple Of Wave's is an interesting place. A place of introspection, revelation, and a great teacher of patience to a young man who sought too much to fast," Larkin chuckled. "It is more a philosophy than a religion. We are all an ocean, and are all fed by the rivers of others."

Meilin felt a smile creep across her face. "I think I would like that. I follow a similar philosophy, one my people call the way of the Dao." Perhaps it was indelicate, but Meilin asked it anyway. "Are there many rivers feeding you?"

"All of the people of the Reciprocity of Carcosia," Larkin said and chuckled. "And I think perhaps you meant something less grand than the idea of national service. But in a way it is true. I was raised in a Temple of the Waves, as a ward of the state. When I reached my franchise I choose to repay that debt by the way of the sword. I cannot say it has not been an interesting choice."

"Indeed..." Meilin blinked at the similarities in their own stories, wondering how possible it was for them to share so many experiences despite the utter alienation of their peoples. "I, too, was raised in such a manner. I chose the path of knowledge, but the sword was thrust upon me for a time. Ultimately I served as a Security Chief before I was able to return to my true desire, here on Canopus Station." What other desires she may now be turning within her were best kept suppressed until they could be purified in the crucible of meditation. Nevertheless, she pressed her right hand over her lift fist and bowed at the shoulder. "It has been a great honor to meet you, Forward Commander Larkin."

"And likewise yourself, Commander Jiang," Larkin said with a bow of his head. "It is customary for a visiting Captain in the Carcosian Navy to host a dinner for the officers he is imposing on. As we are still getting to know one another, I think it would be an excellent way of our two chains of command to get to know one another in a less formal atmosphere. I was hoping you might forward my request to your Captain Ingram, say two nights hence to give my people a chance to get the dents hammered out of the Dauntless power room?"

Meilin felt her heart leap into her chest at the request, but she quickly pressed it back down. "Yes, yes absolutely. I will notify him at once." She cleared her throat. "Farewell, Forward Commander."

As the personnel turned and went their separate ways, Meilin bit her lip with glee. It was a small indulgence, harmless under usual circumstances. However, she had neglected the Medusan carrier pod that had been accompanying them the entire time.

"I beg your pardon, Commander Calida!" Meilin gasped in horror. "I... I confess that I forgot you were with us."

"That was not unintentional," Calida said. "I preferred to observe in this instance. There is more to these Carcosians than meets the eye."

"Indeed..." Meilin heard her own voice begin to trail off, occupied as her mind was on a certain foreign dignitary. "Forgive me. I do not know where my head was."

Rolling waves of amusement surrounded Meilin like an incoming ocean tide. "Yes, you do. Cultural convention does not permit you to admit it openly."

The accusation made Meilin stiffen at first, but she used the indignation as a lifeline to recover her center. "And what is the convention regarding invading people's minds?"

"Oh, Commander Jiang, I did not require telepathy to know your mind," Calida trilled through the carrier pod's vocalizer. "Your biometric feedback registered hypervigilant visual acuity, elevated pulse and breathing rates, and--"

Meilin interrupted with a harsh clearing of her throat. Rude, but effective. "Yes, yes, Commander, all right. I expect you will be in attendance of this dinner as well?"

"That will be up to Benjamin," Calida said, using Ingram's given name as per her one-sided familiarity with the man. "And that decision may become the most telling of all."

Medusans were awe-inspiring creatures, but even to a student of abstraction like Meilin, they were downright mysteries. Meilin's first instinct was to inquire as to Calida's meaning. It was overridden by her shameful lapse of control. If Calida intended to leave Meilin alone with her thoughts, then that, as it is said, would be that.

"Then, until we meet again, may fate favor you and your endeavors."

Meilin hurried away, furiously fighting the reddening in her cheeks.


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