Obsidian Command

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Faith and Time: The Fall

Posted on 12 May 2022 @ 4:27pm by Commander Calliope Zahn & Lieutenant Commander Lance Quinn

Mission: M3 - Into the Deep
Location: Planet Obsidian, Kalara, Seed Vault
Timeline: Backstory (between M2+M3, following "All That Remains")
2570 words - 5.1 OF Standard Post Measure

The seed vault was something of a public building and stood open to Lance and Calliope as they approached from their parked shuttle. It was a very different atmosphere than the evening they had attended the party. Much of the banners and trappings and event lighting were all missing. The building had a much more somber glow in the low angle of the early desert sun. The cool of the morning was a fleeting a relief from the oncoming warmth of Loki. While Lance had agreed to come along before work and was in his uniform, Calliope had on a simple fatigues colored jumpsuit and a hair wrap that made something of an effort at being a head covering in a nod to the comfort of the locals. She'd left without her cane, having gained some strength and balance between all of the training and resting she'd done. For some reason, Calliope found recovery easier after she'd unloaded the weight of her confessions.

Once inside the cool walls and descending the stairs to the primary hall where the dinner had been held, Calliope took Lance's hand and walked close to him to speak low enough that the echo of her voice wouldn't disturb any of the laborers that happened by in the other wise empty hallways.

"The night of the party, when I wasn't feeling very well? You remember we had to make our excuses and head out early?"

"I remember." His lips curled up faintly at his recollection. A fun memory.

"Something had... kind of set me off, really. I didn't talk about it at the time." He hadn't seemed able to listen to much and she had determined to keep it to herself. "During the party, I was looking for an easier walking route around the guests and went along the back." As they walked through it, Calliope motioned beyond the meeting hall, past the saplings under the grow lights and to a depression in the architecture at the back. She kept her voice low as it echoed through the sizable chamber. "There's a really interesting room. I think it leads down to the seed vaults themselves."

Leading Lance to the recessed gap in the back wall, they crossed though a heavy shadow and into a softly lit room, which was a half dome hewn from the glossy obsidian rock. It was colder than the Great hall and Calliope hugged herself involuntarily. Sensing the discomfort, he rubbed his hands against her arms.

Arrayed before them were six heavy, squared-off door ways topped with heavy lintels, each equally spaced. In every square inch of the wall and ceiling were magnificent and bizarre figures and creatures made from a mosaic of durable materials ranging from precious to semi precious to common place- gold, glass, ceramic, stone, and bone. The forms overhead seemed to be roiling in a black sky-ocean as if the sea and the stars were overlaid, and it "spilled" into visual waterfalls over each door. The walls pertained more to earthbound landscapes and seemed to form a vaguely sequential series of panels between the doors. The landscapes of the walls were decidedly similar to the mountains, steppes, oasis, and deserts of Obsidian.

Calliope found the figures just as uncomfortable in their renderings as she had the first time she beheld them; the anatomy demonstrated was a tension between realism and glyph, insinuating monster people in a myriad of skin colors and forms. They were aliens- outsider djinn. The forms of depicted Obsidianites were more properly measured and carefully rendered within the style. It was clear which forms were acceptable and which were detestable.

"Fascinating..." he murmured, taking it all in. His eyes floated over the designs and the forms, both the literal and metaphorical interpretations. "It's a little removed from 'warp plasma exhaust purple' and 'the crooked tree', don't you think?" he remarked, drawing on the memory of their conversation beneath the stars.

"Just a bit," she agreed, recalling his impromptu lecture on how many cultures didn't have pictorial constellations. It seemed possible to her now that the Obsidianites, or at least the Kalarans, were among them. These creatures were among the stars and sky and nature, but not transcribed over any of the patterns. Lance was right. But then, he often was. Calliope threaded an arm through the crook of his elbow, as if they were at an art gallery.

Rather than constellations that told stories, these were icons and legends carved into the surface. "Quite remarkable..." he commented.

Calliope allowed Lance to absorb the scene, struggling a little with how to explain that she'd allowed herself to be manhandled. But she decided to keep practicing better communication and trust Lance to understand. "So I was here... It was a little jarring. I was trying not to cause a stir, but one of the council members, a chieftain I think... had me physically grabbed by his attendants to make a point with me. I knew I could still call out and maybe someone on the outside of the alcove could hear. I was just afraid of making a stink at a diplomatic dinner. I let it happen." She admitted. "But I gathered something from his... derisive commentary."

"Grabbed you?" Lance asked, his attention drawn from the murals back to her. "Explain." There was more to her story, otherwise they wouldn't be here. And although Lance Quinn was hardly a fighter, he could still defend her honour.

She held Lance's arm closer, trying to be reassuring, but bit her lip. Did he know how often she'd ducked away from intrusions into her personal space, fended off uninvited comments and wrenched out of someone's hand? Then again, as she thought back over their vacationing that Lance had, in fact, made more than a few interventions on her behalf... and she smiled to herself remembering likewise that there were times she'd had to clear up that Lance was spoken for. But this was a little different.

"I will," she assured. "I'll explain everything—

"I was looking at the mural, and I backed up—" Calliope paused in front of the insane looking nude green female with the snakes wrapped around her wrists. "—right here. I didn't hear them come in behind me, and he was hovering over me. When I bumped into him, I tripped over and ended up taking a fall. One attendant sort of... hit me in the leg with my cane to tell me to get up. Then under pretense of helping me up, he had two of his attendants hold me by the upper arms." She left nothing out. She'd decided sternly to herself to leave nothing out, even when it was awkward. Especially when it was awkward.

"So they were...helping you...?" he posed, not really convinced.

Calliope shook her head. "Like I said, no one had seen them do anything, really, and I felt like if I raised my voice about it, they would just attest to helping me off the floor. I was already on thin ice with Corvus about my meds and lying." She looked at her feet. Even if she had worked through the worst of her own trouble, she still wasn't right with Corvus. She wasn't sure she would ever be. "She might have thought I was trying to garner sympathy or attention and overstating it. It would have just made me more of a liability to everyone to spoil the tender diplomatic attempts."

"Even so. That's no excuse for ignoring behaviour like that," he replied, growing frustrated with a sense of injustice about it all. He'd thought that kind of misogyny had been abolished centuries ago.

"Maybe it isn't... but I decided to allow it." Calliope continued being firm that it had been her own decision and not strictly done to her. "I'd already seen something of the same behavior the first time I was on Obsidian, in the market, when a man tried to strike me for not wearing a hat... Winslow had stopped him, but then this retired Admiral, Madison Indri, stepped in and for some reason volunteered to be slapped to fill some sort of dishonor in my stead. And not because she likes me either. I'm pretty sure I'm on her shit list for some reason." Calliope sighed. She had some theories as to why, but that was a separate rabbit trail. "Anyways. There's a backward system here, and I decided I needed to let it play out. He had my attention and I wanted to know what the hell he felt he had to say to me."

"So you let them insult you...to understand their culture?" He noted.

"Essentially."

"This is why I failed diplomatic classes at the academy."

Calliope looked up at Lance's profile and understood from his phrasing that his disapproval was not over her part in it. She felt she could continue the story.

"He called me a few things, but primarily, 'Star Djinn'. I think that's who all these colorful figures are— Us. Everyone who isn't Obsidianite. To his reckoning, we're not exactly spirits, and not exactly animals, but some sort of soulless servants of a Devil of the Outer Dark." Calliope motioned up at the black ocean sky of the carved obsidian glass ceiling, twinkling with the inset gemstone stars. "He said that the Federation's technology was all 'lying wonders' and was... something like making the people soft. Making them leave their faith in 'The Divine One'. As if they needed to suffer to survive and we were taking that from them."

"Devils? Spirits? Divine intervention?" Lance scoffed. "I could have told him a thing or two about quantum mechanics and string theory..." he recognised that he was about to start an anti-spiritualist rant and shut himself down. This was about Calliope, not himself. "So, aside from the fact that we are not, in fact, devils, and we work for a peaceful Federation of aligned worlds...I assume you told him his ideas were poppycock."

"I know, that's what I said. The UFP has always worked in goodwill and protected Obsidian from incursions for a hundred years. But It was no use telling him otherwise. When I tried to deny having anything to do with devils, he said it was in our nature. That we serve this Devil without even trying." It was a verse she'd heard from a different song. "He said we were 'Born to deceive'."

"I'm sure my mother would agree with him. I wonder if we should arrange a visit." He raised his hand, acknowledging again that he was being facetious instead of supportive. "If we have no choice in the matter, there is little we can do. By their logic, we're condemned without option."

Calliope appreciated how simple Lance could make a line of reasoning. He found the logic claims and derived the end from the beginning. "Yeah. That's really what it boils down to, at least with whatever sect he is, which seems to have some prevailing influence."

Slowly Calliope moved along the panels to the one with the Romulan man and Obsidian woman who were displaying a child bearing a blend of both of their features and balanced somewhat impossibly on one of each of their hands between them. "The Chieftain said we were going to open the floodgates of judgement or hell or something, because we'd mixed blood with the Obsidianites against some Divine order not to." She tapped the air in front of the child with one finger and muttered. "It's actually not that bad a likeness..." Without explaining what she meant by that, Calliope continued on to the final door. On the second to last panel the massive, brutal, dark forms standing on piles of Obsidian skulls were looming, and in the final panel was arrayed the field of cartoonishly exaggerated horrors- flayed, burning, dismembered, stretched, disfigured, melting, sprouting disease, rotting alive, hatching with bugs, impaled- the nightmares were myriad and resisted being directly looked at for the discomfort they caused in the strangeness of the depictions.

"How quaint. And barbaric. The tagline is 'seeking out new civilizations'; it sort of hangs on them being civil, doesn't it?" He sighed.

"Heh," Biting her lip, at first to restrain the reflex of a laugh at Lance's humor, Calliope also resisted reacting to his judgement of an entire world based on their worst apocalyptic visions. She formed a 'V' out of two fingers in a double pointing gesture. "According to him, these events are about to unfold..." Calliope looked up to Lance, "and we're at fault for bringing them."

"In a period of strife, the natural thing for leaders to do in order to create unity is to blame the 'other' - the outsider," he mused. "Historically this can be seen in any advanced culture. Just think of Earth's history, when despots would blame a small group of individuals and place all of the blame on them. If only they were to eliminate the 'other' then everything would be well again."

"That is true," Calliope agreed with the overall analysis, although something in her voice seemed to say she felt that didn't account for it entirely.

He glanced over the murals. "Honestly, they're probably more like humanity than they realise. Just...ancient humanity."

For a long pause, Calliope was obviously quiet, caging her tongue with her teeth. It was all too recent that humanity and her allies had exorcised Artificial Intelligence as the latest outsider, besides the many other issues at the borders. But that was far too sore a topic for Lance, who had stood so near the unspeakable event on Mars and even lost people he had known. She was careful to comment only on the higher concept and to leave out the painful connections. "I'm not sure we're always as progressive as we think we are. I think these parts of the societal psyche are often the worst with repression and denial. We might be better off admitting them, and sometimes even giving them their due. Even if the Kalarans are getting some things wrong, the point of imagining the worst case scenario is to avoid the actions that might cause suffering. Because—" She leaned her head against Lance. "Sometimes 'Fear keeps us safe from the things that do us harm'."

"Indeed. Progressiveness is sometimes a matter of perspective," he nodded. "It can feel like you're moving forward, only to discover you have taken two steps back if you're not careful."

"Yeah." Calliope nodded in agreement. "This isn't the only interpretation of Obsidian prophecies. According to another one, one held by the minority tribes known as the Turani, there are more than six great doors... I know we have to get back for your shift, though. I can try to explain more later."

"Oh. Of course."

"Thanks for letting me show you." She said as they retraced their steps back to the shuttle. "I thought it would be too weird for me to explain without seeing it for yourself."

"I think you were most likely right. Understanding a description is different to experiencing it." He put his hand in hers as they walked. "And it's not too far different from laying on a bench and naming distant stars, in some ways."

Calliope looked back over her shoulder at the bejeweled monstrous forms beyond the shadows, and then gently swung her hand with his. "In some ways," she echoed.

 

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