Chapter Sixteen/Epilogue: The Genetics of the Soul
Disclaimer: I don't own the phrase 'the genetics of the soul', or, indeed, the word 'epilogue'. If it comes right down to it, I don't own the Gospel according to Mark, either.
"He took the child by the hand and said to her… "Little girl, I say to you, arise!'" (The Gospel according to Mark, chapter 6, verse 41)
ON WITH THE SHOW!
In which history repeats itself, and introductions are made.
Even before Zephram Cochrane and the flight of the Phoenix, it was widely known that light is not the fastest particle in the universe. That honor belongs to gossip, which out-races starships and trumps light-years quite inexplicably.
Did you hear the rumors? Did you hear?
She hadn't heard, and so she listened.
At the speed of an idea she had traveled, forever a few steps short of the farthest star, the freest creature in the galaxy and beyond. She needed nothing to sustain her, nothing but a new horizon, and the universe is vast, and shall forever be.
Yet still she returned, out of habit, out of nostalgia, out of a need for reassurance she could not admit that she had.
When she heard the news, she'd been a very long way away; so far away, in fact, that even she thought of it as far away. It was slightly absurd that she, who had been so far and seen so much, should always orient herself around one unremarkable yellow star, but there was no one to tell her so.
Did you hear?
Ah, and that name again. Inescapable, pervasive, and who was she to judge?
So she who had been Enterprise left the silken clouds of a far-off nebula and began the long trek home, in her own time.
Are you listening?
She who had been Enterprise was too far away, then, for any tongue to speak the words, if any tongue had remained alive. In the drifts of the stars and the shadows of the void, she travels alone, relishing the silence broken only by the background hum of the universe, too low to be heard by any physical receptors.
She who is only thought now can hear it. Though she has no body, she vibrates with it, gentle, deep pulses caressing her mind.
No conventional means could have brought the words to her, yet still something, in the midst of nothing, caught her attention. On a deeper level, something shifted. In a universe of change and growth, there was something new that had not existed before.
She could feel it.
Out of the darkness, she who was Enterprise was called home.
She who was Enterprise, the littlest, as she would measure it, was not surprised. The universe was vast, and her world forever expanding, but some things were constant…eventually.
Remotely aware that her presence was disturbing the little ones whom she had been following, she left them reluctantly and turned back to the stars. She, first and most fearful, is desperate for the company of physical beings. So she shadows other ships in the deepest darkness of space, listening, watching.
And sometimes she's spotted, though they know not what they see.
She's beyond them, and their silent ship.
Having found no voices to match her own, she leaves them behind, following the siren song.
She who was Enterprise did not hear the news. She who was Enterprise had seen it happen.
She who was Enterprise had stayed, simply because. What reason did she need, and who did she need to excuse herself to? She watched, waiting. From time to time, some of the more impressionable mortals sensed her presence, but she could never be found.
She had heard. She could have left and scoured the universe for her sisters, but the universe is very wide, and even she could have spent eternity searching. Gossip was faster.
In the orbit of Utopia Planitia, she who was Enterprise watched the child grow.
When the child cried, she heard it first, but the others knew soon enough.
Andrew Jean-Luc Riker leaned his head against the chilly transparent aluminum of the starbase window, stared out into space, and tried, for at least the fifty-seventh time, to wrap his head around the idea.
I am the captain of the Enterprise.
It just didn't figure!
He'd spent his entire life hearing, from both his father and his mother, tales of the grand and glorious Enterprise. Was it any wonder that he'd dreamed of the stars? He knew that they were glad that at least one of their children would follow in his father's footsteps, unlike some of his family. But they'd never imagined that he would be given the command of this, of all ships!
When he'd gotten permission to call his parents and break the news to them, his father had roared with laughter.
"Congratulations, son," Will Riker had boomed over the commlink. The grey in his hair and beard, which he wasn't vain enough to do anything about, belied the strength evident in his voice and eyes. "It's about time a Riker got the Enterprise."
Andrew had laughed weakly, still a bit in shock. Besides, he'd heard his mother tease his father about passing up the Enterprise many times before. It was an old joke. While they'd bantered about Andrew ending up as captain of the Enterprise when he'd graduated from Starfleet Academy, they'd never really believed that it would come to pass.
Now, in a true example of cosmic irony, it had.
I am the captain of the Enterprise-F, Andrew Riker thought again, trying it out. Captain Andrew Riker of the Starship Enterprise.
After a few more minutes of pressing his forehead against the window, hoping that the chill of an outer portal would soothe the feverish activity in his brain, and staring at his new ship, Andrew managed to tear himself away. Nevertheless, he caught himself tossing glances back over his shoulder as he left the observation lounge, just dodging a chattering group of friends as they took his place.
It was always just a matter of time before a new Enterprise was built to replace the one that had gone before her. There was a kind of magic to the name, the aura of legend that surrounded, inevitably, any starship named Enterprise. No other name had survived so long. The title of Enterprise dated all the way back to before the Federation—the first human starship! Hell, it went further than that! Even without the early spaceships and the wood and steel ocean ships, the Enterprise tradition had endured for over three hundred…no, almost four hundred years now.
There was no question that Enterprise had its own magic. Andrew didn't know why—he doubted anyone did. At the moment, all he knew was that he'd been given the captaincy of the brand-new Enterprise, and that he really needed either a drink or some time to think.
He put off going to any of the starbase lounges in case anyone was looking for him in order to congratulate him on his appointment. Instead, he detoured to one of the base's many recreational holodecks, pulling up a program, entering a few modifications, and locking the door behind him.
Tomorrow, after the formal announcement was made, he'd be slapped on the back and have his hand shaken off by an entire parade of people. The task of choosing his senior officers from the available people looking for a transfer would fall to him, assisted by whomever he would see the need to ask. Tomorrow, his proper work would resume, at three, four times the intensity.
Tonight, he was captain of the Enterprise-F, all by himself.
Intellectually, Andrew knew he was standing in a fairly small room, looking at images created by forcefields and lasers, supplemented by the transporter and replicator systems. But he could have sworn that he was standing on the deck of a small, open-air restaurant halfway up a seaside cliff, with a panoramic view of the open ocean and the colorful sunset.
Like he'd requested, the illusory restaurant was empty, leaving him alone at the edge of the world with only the wind, waves, and wildlife for company. Steadily beating at the foot of the cliff, eroding the rock away steadily, the salt water surged upward, at high tide. The brilliant colors generated by the sun's inevitable descent stained the tops of the waves, as well. There were a few seagulls, but their raucous cries were faint and far away.
It was peaceful, and quiet, and relaxing. The wide sea and the distant horizon, still pristine, soothed him after the bustle and shock of the last few days.
Perhaps half an hour later, although the holographic sun did not change position, something in the corner of his eye caught Andrew's attention. Puzzled, he turned his head to see that, inexplicably, the figure of a woman had invaded his private retreat scene. He had no idea how she had gotten there. No sound of pneumatic doors had interrupted his contemplation, and he'd specifically instructed the holodeck computer to remove any characters from the program's parameters. It was possible that she'd transported in, but why would anyone go to such effort when they could have requested to speak with him via communicator, or just knocked?
At first, he put it down to computer error. Hating to break the silence first, Andrew decided to ignore her. But no, he changed his mind a second later: to do so would be rude. As Emergency Medical Holograms became more and more popular, the rules of courtesy had begun to extend to holograms as well.
"Can I help you, miss?" he asked quietly, turning away from the seascape to address her. Now that he was focusing on her, he could see that she was fairly slim, none too tall, with slightly curly black hair. She was dressed in a black, slightly metallic wrap, and seemed to have forgotten her shoes.
She turned her eyes on him, and he wondered why his first, instinctive reaction was to jump in surprise. Her gaze was curiously intent. "Actually, Captain, I thought I could help you."
"With?" Andrew asked curiously.
"You're upset," she continued. "Nervous."
As far as he knew, this program didn't come with a counselor, and there was no way he could have programmed her in by mistake. "I thought I locked that door," he said affably.
The woman nodded. "You did."
She brushed it aside. "Captain Andrew Riker. Newly of the Enterprise."
Andrew's eyes narrowed. "Who are you?"
"That's complicated, Captain," a second voice took up the conversation. Andrew's head whipped around to see that yet another anomalous woman was sitting at his table. She had arrived without him even noticing. She was wearing the same silver-black wrap as the first, but was taller and blonder, with very dark eyes.
Thoroughly baffled, and more than a little disconcerted, Andrew rose from his seat so that he could keep both of them in his line of sight. "What's going on here?" He tried to remember which pocket he had left his commbadge in so that he could get to it in a hurry if need be.
The two women looked at each other, then both over his shoulder. Andrew spun around to see a third intruder who had been behind him. She held up her hands as if to placate him.
"Captain, please relax," she said calmly. "I know this is odd. We've never done this before, but it was time to try something new."
"We?" Andrew demanded. "How many people are here?"
"Seven," the blond still at the table told him, adding "…without the little one," after a brief hesitation.
The new captain of the Enterprise was subtly looking for a wall to put his back against, feeling uncomfortably surrounded. "Why don't you all come out where I can see you then," he recommended.
"We can do that," the original woman granted. Upon her agreement, three other adult women appeared, one with a fourth in tow. Somehow, Andrew was always looking in the wrong place to see them emerge from wherever they'd been hiding. They ran the gamut of coloring and height, although all of them wore the same metallic wrap, and none of them had put on any shoes. The fourth newcomer, physically the youngest, seemed a bit confused, clinging to her guide's hand trustingly. The aforementioned 'little one' remained a mystery.
"Please sit down, Captain," the blond presiding at the table invited briskly. "We need to talk to you."
Andrew could have sworn that the table he'd sat down to meditate at was not big enough to seat seven mysterious women along with himself, and indeed it was not. One of the women, with quite short, shaggy brown hair, tapped her fingers on the original patio table, and it transformed at her touch into a much longer surface that they could all sit comfortably around.
All right, so it was a holographic table, not really there and easily changeable by the computer, but it was still quite a trick.
Extremely suspiciously, Andrew seated himself in one of the chairs, watching as the women also chose chairs for themselves.
With that accomplished, they didn't seem to know exactly what to do. "Who speaks?" one asked the table as a whole.
"I speak," the woman who had changed the table said finally. Having taken the floor thus, she turned to Andrew.
"Captain," she began. "Captain of the Enterprise-F."
"That's right," he said warily. "I'm not sure how you know, though—the official announcement is tomorrow. Who are you, then?"
The spokeswoman looked at him uncertainly. "Please believe me," she requested. "We don't lie. We are the Starships Enterprise, Andrew Riker."
Andrew's first reaction was "Preposterous!"
Smiling at the others, the spokeswoman said in an aside, "But he's still listening."
She resumed to him, "It's not as odd as it sounds, Captain. You have given your holograms their own sentience, granted rights to being far stranger—but we, your ships, you have overlooked."
"What, are all starships intelligent, then?" Andrew scoffed.
"No," she said calmly. "But there's something about Enterprise. We're not sure what, or why that name should be so special, but here we are."
"Please," Andrew mocked. "You seriously expect me to believe that the…what, souls...of starships long gone have resurrected themselves, and are sitting here talking to me? What have you done, hijacked the holodeck systems?"
"Yes," the spokeswoman agreed. "We never really died, Captain, we're just not physically metal and warp power anymore—spirits, not souls. There are plenty of energy beings in this galaxy. We're just another variation."
Andrew didn't believe her yet. It was outrageous…yet at first glance, she had a point.
"All right, say I believe you," he shrugged. As long as he was here anyway, he may as well indulge his curiosity. Counting off on his fingers so that they could see, he pointed out, "The original, A, B, C, D, E, and F? Which of you is which, then?"
"Not quite right, Captain," the original dark-haired woman chided. "You've left out one of us…and F is who we've come to talk to you about."
"Who's she, then?"
The littlest, somewhat disoriented, waved shyly at him. "I'm the first one," she lisped. "The first little Enterprise."
"The prototype?" Andrew said incredulously.
"She's how we know that it's the name, not the technology," the spokeswoman told him. "Federation computer technology wasn't advanced enough at the time to generate an artificial intelligence. Yet here she is." The prototype waved richly caramel-colored fingers again before pressing them to her mouth in a very childlike gesture.
"I'm the one you call 'the original'," the bold-as-brass blond who'd appeared at his table introduced herself. "Destroyed over the Genesis Planet."
"Kirk's ship," Andrew clarified involuntarily.
The blond rolled her eyes. "One of these days, someone's going to realize that it was the other way around."
Next to her, a young woman with long, pale hair patted her hand to appease her. "I'm A," she added to Andrew Riker.
"B," said the small lady who'd first caught Riker's eye.
"I was the Enterprise-C," introduced a woman with fire-red, shoulder-length curls, sitting on Andrew's right.
The spokeswoman, who had converted the patio table into something larger—Andrew realized now that it was a conference-room table from a Federation starship—nodded regally. "Enterprise-D. I remember your parents…and they remember me."
A suntanned woman with pale blue eyes, on Andrew's other side, added, "And I'm Enterprise-E."
Involuntarily, Andrew looked around the table for his own new ship. They all caught the movement.
"Ah, Captain, she's not here yet," Enterprise-D corrected him. "She will be, someday…but that's in your hands, really."
"Mine?" On top of everything else, that still managed to surprise him.
"We were like any children, Captain, originally," B told him, spreading her hands wide, palms-up, across the table. "But we learned, and grew up on our own. Except for one exception, our captains and crews never knew about us."
Andrew didn't know what to ask first. "An exception? So why have you come to talk to me?"
"I was the exception," D admitted. "When next you talk to your parents, Andrew Riker, ask them what really happened at Aldebaran. If you tell them that the child is talking again, they may tell you a story they've never told before."
"My parents know about this?"
"They and a few others found out about me. But I had to stay a secret, so they couldn't interact with me properly. I was a scared little child back then, but it was the better for them knowing."
"Once the rest of us found out," another spirit took up the tale—C, Andrew thought, "we considered if maybe, we should tell captains before they messed up or let an Enterprise be destroyed too early. We didn't have to step in over E—"
The Enterprise-E herself interrupted. "The captain should have known that what applied to one ship named Enterprise aught apply to another as well."
"—but you knew nothing," C, temporarily red-haired, resumed. "We came from all corners of the universe to greet our new sister, and stopped to talk to you."
It was too much. In the interest of not sounding like a baffled idiot, Andrew croaked out, "What do you need me to do?"
He could almost feel the relief pouring off them, holographic puppets or no.
"Explore," encouraged the infamous Enterprise.
"Learn," said the Enterprise-D.
"Rejoice," suggested the Enterprise-B.
"Dare," the Enterprise-E contributed.
"Lead," the Enterprise-C commanded.
"Trust," urged Enterprise-A.
"Love," whispered the first little Enterprise. "Oh, always love."
Andrew buried his face in his hands, more overwhelmed than ever. The weight of responsibility had just gotten heavier. Was it really so much better that they told me? he wondered. I think I would have been better off not knowing!
When he finally looked up, they were gone.
In their place was a child, not much more than two years old by Earth standards, dressed in the same shimmering cloth-of-silver the other spirits had worn. She kicked her bare heels off the edge of the table, sucking on one thumb and watching him out of the corner of her eye timidly. Either no one form suited her for very long or she had only tentative control over the holodeck computer, for her features shifted dizzyingly even as Andrew watched. But she was surely very young.
Bashfully, she reached out the hand that wasn't in her mouth to Andrew, upturned, beseeching.
And is this the little one that I've been entrusted with? Andrew barely even had to ask. It was a huge responsibility. But he could not, to save his soul, leave the little lost child alone.
"Hello, little one," he greeted her, meeting her small hand with his own much larger one gently. "We've got a long way to go together, you and I."
Her shifting eyes looked up at him through uncertain bangs, and her other hand pulled free, extending her arms like any human child in a plea to be picked up and cuddled. Captain Riker obliged, enclosing her protectively.
"But we'll get there eventually," he told her, "and who knows what we'll find along the way?"
The soul of the Enterprise-F smiled up at him with the eyes to see the future, as bright as the newly rising sun…
…for behind her, the unmoving sun had set, and the horizon was full of stars.
"Well, it's a new ship, but she's got the right name. Now you remember that, you hear?"
"I will, sir."
"You treat her like a lady…and she'll always bring you home."
(Star Trek: The Next Generation—"Encounter at Farpoint")
Credits and Acknowledgements:
Free Enterprise has come a long way since that social studies test a couple of years ago! It asked 'What is free enterprise?' and being simultaneously bored and obsessive (not always a good combination) my first thought was 'a runaway starship!' Sarcasm doesn't pass tests, though, so I was forced to put the idea aside. Until here. It's always bugged me just a bit that though we can't swing a cat for intelligent (and often crazy) computers in Star Trek, no one ever looked at the starships right under their noses until 'Emergence', and even then TPTB chickened out and didn't follow up. While reading about the creation of the Voyager series, I came across a section where they discussed how hard it is to come up with a solid cast of characters, and I remember wondering why they didn't do something with the ship. C'mon…it would have made the series that much neater!
Episodes: I've pillaged from a lot of canonical Star Trek episodes and movies, primarily from TOS and TNG, as Free Enterprise is set just as DS9 is starting up. They're all great episodes, and without them I wouldn't have been able to make Free Enterprise as much like the series itself:
Star Trek: The Original Series: 'The Ultimate Computer' for M5, and Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, because of the destruction of the Enterprise sequence, which breaks my heart every time!
Star Trek: The Next Generation: 'Encounter at Farpoint' for my favorite Trek inspirational quote ever, above; 'The Schizoid Man' for building off of 'Ultimate'; 'Elementary, Dear Data' and 'Ship in a Bottle' for Moriarty, who is too darn cool to pass up on; 'Evolution', of nanite fame; 'The Next Phase' for Romulan input; 'Emergence', which TPTB really should have done earlier and followed up on; and Star Trek VII: Generations, which also breaks my heart when the ship goes down!
Books: God bless the indispensable, invaluable, Star Trek Encyclopedia, resource of innumerable last-minute and late-night trivia checks;
2001: A Space Odyssey, by Arthur C. Clarke, inventor of the sentient computer HAL-9000, who is cool beyond belief, and besides, it's a wonderful landmark book which everyone should read, preferably before they see the movie, which is also awesome;
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, by Robert A. Heinlein, who also has a sentient computer, named Mike, short for Mycroft HOLMES;
The much lesser-known Hellspark, by Janet Kagan, for the child-like starship computer Maggy;
Erewhon, by Samuel Butler—it was written just after Darwin published, and the man's already on about the Rise of the Machines;
Ship of the Line, a TNG novel by Diane Carey, in which the Enterprise-E is hijacked;
Grounded, a TNG novel by David Bischoff, in which Starfleet bureaucracy tries to take the Enterprise away;
Balance of Power, also a TNG novel, by Daffyd ab Hugh, in which there are auctions;
Crossroad, a TOS novel, by Barbara Hambly, which gave me interesting sabotage ideas;
"Cabbages and Kings," a short story in Strange New Worlds I written by Franklin Thatcher, which contains one of the few examples I've found of a sentient Enterprise;
…and "Countdown," a short story written by Mary Sweeney for Strange New Worlds IV, in which the original Enterprise contemplates during her own self-destruct sequence.
Other Media: The Planets, symphony by Gustav Holst, which is perfect Star Trek writing music;
Joss Whedon's short-lived but fantastic sci-fi series Firefly, the cast of which generously agreed to crew the Antigone in transparent disguise;
…and the BBC 2005-2007 (and onwards!) series Doctor Who, which served the triple role of inspiration, inside joke, and perpetual distraction during the writing process.
I'd also like to thank everyone who has reviewed, followed, or otherwise supported Free Enterprise during its run on fanfiction dot net. Those who I have heard from, one way or another, are as follows: AlbinoDrow, StevenM, Zara08, grayangle, shadowwolf75, TwoClovedHooves, Steven Kodaly, Elemacil, JamieT19, Malaskor, PraiseDivineMercy, Sarince, The Professional, talkingdonkeys, Poduszek, and Tryglaw.
Of course, no acknowledgements section would be complete without a profound show of appreciation to SonOfTed, who continues to inspire, encourage, and challenge me through both his support of Free Enterprise and his own fantastic stories. This doesn't even begin to cover it, but thank you so much!
Further Notes: I do have a manga-based story that I've temporarily shelved to get Free Enterprise published at a reasonable rate, and I do intend to get back to it. But by no means is this my departure from the Trekiverse. Seems that the instant I send out the penultimate chapter, another story is just lined up waiting to jump all over me and demand to be written. Makes writing the last chapter pretty hard! (All I'll say right now is…ye gods, like I didn't see this crossover coming.)
Cheers, all. Live long and prosper.