by E. L. Zimmerman
Challenging the relentless downpour, Packell lifted his weary head.
The waxy droplets smacked into his forehead and slid across his facial ridges. Wincing, he let the dirty rainfall sting his fluorescent green eyes. Ever a god-fearing Trakill, Packell wouldn’t even allow a torrential flooding to interrupt his daily sessions of ‘nalchii,’ the bonding with nature, and these last few days the rainfall had been especially harsh. It looked like Besarian Winter had arrived two jlarra early.
Blinking feverishly, he cleared his focus. From the balcony adjoining his royal quarters, he studied the ever-darkened skies over his native city. This morning, the clouds draped low, suffocating the horizon, blotting out a sky he had never seen. They were an oppressive gray hue, and he couldn’t help but wonder if they somehow sensed his mood.
Squinting, he could just make out, to the north, the orchards of Gallush Trees swaying violently from the wind accompanying the passionate rain. Closing his eyes, he muttered a brief ode for the Lemm assigned to those fields. He hoped that the Overseers had shown mercy and exercised good judgment, sending the workers back to the safety of the lodges.
"As with all things Solahh taught us," he continued his prayer, "there is no bountiful harvest when trading a life for the land."
He opened his eyes.
"Praise the Essence," he concluded.
Today, there were so few, precious workers left.
Suddenly, a bolt of yellow lightning split the drizzling gray, spiraling wickedly across the Besarian sky, spearing toward Talesee Palace.
Instinctively, Packell ducked. He turned away, wrapping himself tightly in his arms, fearing that nature’s anger would miraculously find him, rip into the balcony, sear through his pitiful flesh, and char the carefully-laid Burrk stone under his feet. Panting, he waited for the pain to wrack his body, to save him from this miserable little existence.
He waited, but nothing happened.
Instead, he barely heard the rise and fall of his own breath over the pounding of his panicked heart. He waited a few moments more, still anticipating the crackling hiss of steaming, electrified particles that would end his life, but no such luck prevailed.
Certain that he had nothing more to fear than the patter of incessant rain, he finally decided that he was safe. He sighed belatedly but refused to face the heavens for a few minutes. Cautiously, Packell stood upright, lifting his arms away from his side. His father had taught him the sacred nalchii pose many, many jlarra ago, when Packell was a tiny, innocent Trakling. Now, markedly calm, the senator again felt the pelting droplets smack intermittently into his chest, his eyes closed and his memory flooded with those lessons from childhood. His father and the city elders had taught him well, and, for a very brief moment, Packell was happy again.
He was actually happy!
Happy and fast becoming drenched.
‘The Gallush Trees,’ he thought, savoring the welcome distraction of being rained on, ‘they will bear us much fruit this season, so long as this weather keeps up!’
Then, he heard heavy, thudding footsteps from somewhere behind.
Surprised, the senator whirled to find Jorta’Rel, his Borg attaché, crossing the drawing room of the royal quarters. The drone approached the balcony, stopping inside the archway, and stood at attention.
"The lightning," the Borg explained.
"It struck near the palace."
Lowering his arms, Packell swallowed the water that had rolled down his face and onto his lips. "Yes," he agreed. "Yes, it did. Very near the palace, indeed."
Graciously, he waited for the Borg to reply, but the drone remained silent, instead peering past the senator at the darkened sky. Considering how much metal there was throughout a drone’s armor, Packell wondered if the lightning frightened Jorta, but he dismissed the thought. If he were to ask, Jorta would only tell him it was ‘irrelevant.’
Slowly, the senator stepped back into his warm chambers. "Don’t trouble yourself, Jorta. I’m fine. Really, I am."
In his glistening, black casing, Jorta stood ominously proper in the main room, as if awaiting instruction or direction, but Packell guessed that this visit, while unannounced, was of a far more official nature.
"Reassignment is inevitable," Jorta’Rel stated.
Despite the frequency of the Borg’s intrusions and the cold efficiency of his communication, Packell couldn’t help but maintain a fondness for Jorta. As all members of the Quorum were forced to endure a prisoner’s solitude in Talesee Palace, Packell guessed that everyone – in some curious way – shared the unique bond of considering their respective drones a bizarre sibling – the only sibling available any longer for the Foundation’s Senate. While he and Jorta never shared more than ‘relevant’ conversation, the senator couldn’t stifle the feeling that, in his own calculating way, the drone reciprocated the attachment, but it was secreted away, hidden from detection or discovery, in one of the myriad subroutines that comprised Borg programming.
Frowning, the Trakill senator asked, "You’re moving on in your assignment?"
"Reassignment is inevitable."
Packell arched a thin eyebrow. "Has it been six jlarra already?"
"Servitude is complete," the drone icily replied, his economical choice of words denying any hint of emotion. "As of 0800, this duty assignment expired. As of 0800, you were granted full seating in the Quorum of the One, with all rights, privileges, and responsibilities corresponding. By decree of the One, full senators are disallowed attachés."
Suddenly, the drone tilted his head in Packell’s direction. "Full senators are granted no individual attachés. Talesee Palace is highly populated by sentries of the Borg Army in the unlikely event of social insurrection. At present, the palace guards answer to Commander Cole."
"Cole is the designated commander," Jorta repeated flatly.
Bringing up a hand, Packell stroked his chin. "And where is this Mr. Cole?"
"He is currently engaged in classified duty," the drone said. "He will report to the palace upon completion of his current duty assignment."
"Which is what?"
"That information is irrelevant."
Smiling to himself, Packell knew the answer before Jorta offered it.
"Is there an error?" the drone asked.
"Of course, you would know that better than I, Jorta."
Nodding, the senator shuffled his feet, feeling his rain-soaked robes dangling heavily around his green-skinned legs. Still grinning to himself, he shook the rainwater from his robes, allowing it to splatter across a nearby chair … and the drone.
"Is there an error?"
"No," the senator consented. "None at all. You wouldn’t understand, Jorta."
"Understanding is irrelevant."
"Well, then, I’ll thank you," Packell interrupted the drone. He cleared his throat and stood up in front of his attaché. Softly, with humility, the senator added, "And, even though it’s irrelevant, I’ll wish you well for finding me when you did and for bringing me to the Palace."
Glancing up at the Borg, the Trakill studied his face closely for any trace of emotion. To his dismay, he found no comfort in Jorta’s expression of indifference.
Mumbling, the senator added, "I trust that you were only doing your duty, following the orders of the One, but I still thank you, nonetheless."
"Servitude is required," Jorta’Rel repeated.
"I understand, even though you’ll probably tell me that it’s irrelevant," the senator snapped, stepping forward and closing the gap between the two of them. "But if you hadn’t found me and brought me to Talesee Palace when you did ... well, I wouldn’t have been able to see my father before he ... died."
"The all shall serve the One," Jorta droned.
"Of course," Packell agreed, clearing his mind of such heavy, personal thoughts. While he had realized long ago that trying to have anything remotely resembling a conversation with these Borg was futile, he held out hope for Jorta. There was something about his attaché, something that drove Packell to the conviction that whatever species this drone originally belonged to followed a code of ethics that confounded Borg central programming. For the time being, however, it appeared that the senator was mistaken. "Yes, the all shall serve the One. I couldn’t have said it better myself."
His task complete, the drone turned to leave.
Insistent, Packell stopped him with a question. "What’s next for you?"
"Duty assignment is classified," Jorta’Rel admitted, not facing the senator. "By decree of the One, the fact of my position is not a topic of discussion."
Smiling, Packell tried, "Surely, you know you can trust me. I’d never betray our friendship and report you to the One."
Apathetically, the drone said, "The all shall serve the One."
Resigned, Packell nodded.
Under the rule of the One, he knew all too well how Besaria – once a beacon of hope for wayward travelers venturing through this sector of space – had been reduced to a harsh, cruel, avoided world. From the stories he remembered of his youth – tales passed down from one generation to the next – Besaria City had long ago been elegant, regal, littered with buildings, archways, and thoroughfares colorful enough to catch your breath with a single glance. The Besarian Spaceport was renowned as the center of commerce in this star system. Neighboring worlds had relied on Besaria for food, and the Trakill shared the harvests freely with whoever arrived in need. It didn’t take more than several jlarra for a loose alliance of visiting species to form, and the burgeoning galactic brotherhood finally granted the peace-loving people of Besaria the opportunity to form a task force to protect the crop – to preserve ‘the Essence of Solahh’ for which all Trakill stood. Talesee Palace, named after Solahh’s lifemate, had become revered as ‘the most sacred hall’ in the galaxy, majestic and inspiring, adorned with vividly woven tapestries of history, of culture, of native cuisine ...
… and then the One arrived.
Life in Besaria City – if you could call it that – had been forever changed.
Those Trakill brave enough to stay behind when entire generations fled or were destroyed in the insurrections had reached a solemn conclusion:
Solahh, their spiritual guide, had abandoned Besaria in favor of ‘greener pastures’ of some distant, less oppressive star system.
‘Solahh,’ the Trakill whispered in shame, ‘left us with little more than a hollow, barren, nearly lifeless race.’
Hungry visitors in need of food were no longer welcomed.
Instead, guests were … compromised.
Casualties of a final, turbulent war yet to be fought … if ever begun.
Surprised, Packell blinked several times. He pulled himself mentally from his trance. Realizing he hadn’t spoken for several minutes, his silence must have drawn the attention of the drone.
"Are you well?"
Dismissive, trusting all too well that this conversation, too, would be found irrelevant, Packell smiled. "Yes. I’ll fine."
Still, the drone openly studied the man.
Intrigued, Packell turned to face his former attaché. After several protracted moments of silence and study between the two, Jorta finally lowered his head, staring at the floor. "Beware the Iajohh."
Quickly, the drone repeated, "Beware the Iajohh."
"The senator?" Packell asked curiously, tilting his head in the direction of the Borg. "Are you talking about Senator Cytal? Of the Iajohh?"
There came no reply.
"He’s the One’s chosen orator. Whatever do you mean, Jorta?"
Glancing up, the Borg fixed his single biologic eye on the Trakill senator.
"The Iajohh," the drone confessed, "are relevant. It would be wise for you to beware of them and their dealings."
Uncertain as to what an appropriate reply would be, the senator slowly nodded his acknowledgement.
Packell felt a knowing smile slowly creep at the corner of his mouth.
At some hidden level, Jorta did reciprocate their friendship or, at the very least, his programming required him to do so.
"The Iajohh and their … their ilk," the senator said. "I understand their kind all too well. Nevertheless, thank you for the warning."
Complete, the drone resumed his course toward the exit of the royal chambers, his footsteps echoing heavily throughout the room. Packell watched him go. The doors hissed open, the drone stepped efficiently through, and the doors hissed close.
Returning to balcony, Packell glanced out across the only home he had ever known: a dimly lit Besaria City.
"Has it really been six jlarra already?" he wondered aloud.
Sounding as if coming from due north, Packell heard a violent rumbling. To his surprise, what he believed to be the growl of distant thunder was actually the launching of ships from the nearby Spaceport. Raising a hand to shield his eyes from the falling rain, Packell watched as six cylindrical Bezza Craft, with their blazing white-hot thrusters, lifted from the port, glided above the rooftops, and soared into the gray sky.
"Hmmm," he thought aloud.
Six Bezza Craft.
Or a sign?
"Solahh taught us to seek the truth masked by coincidence," he muttered. The Trakill religion, like most that he had heard of, relied heavily on the interpretation of signs. The deciphering of symbols offered insight into universal truths … perhaps even a sacred knowledge regarding the purpose behind all species’ existence … perhaps even a prediction of things to come.
Six Bezza Craft.
Maybe Solahh hadn’t forsaken Besaria City quite yet.
Maybe his savior was giving him a sign.
Maybe history was about to change.