Literary Challenge #37 : Mirror, Mirror on the... Viewscreen?
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Join Date: Jul 2012
01-24-2013, 11:23 AM
Personal log: Tylha Shohl, officer commanding USS King Estmere NCC-92986
I look into the viewscreen and I try to keep a tremor out of my voice as I answer: "Well. Hello, me."
The strange-yet-familiar face breaks into a sly smile. "Quite," she says. "Hello. Now, about that favour -"
"Are we in a hurry?" I ask. I want to buy time. I want to... process this, to understand it. The mirror-me smiles more broadly; she must know that, I realize.
She seems to be on a Tholian bridge, her own
's, perhaps? She is like me, and yet not; she is wearing Tholian silk robes, scarlet and gold, and her antennae peek out of an elaborate hairstyle, where I've always preferred something plain and simple. And my gaze is drawn, again and again, to her right cheek; smooth and flawless blue skin, no trace of the looped scars that run across my face.
"It's important," says not-me. "And it's a matter to our mutual advantage...."
"Sir," Science Officer Zazaru interrupts from her console, "I'm reading something coming through the anomaly. Mirror universe quantum signatures... Tholian energy readings... it's massive. Sir, I think it's a Tholian dreadnought...."
"Oh," says not-me, "she's a bright one." She leans back on a throne-like command chair, grinning now. "We need to talk," she says. "And I think you'll find, once you've scanned my ship... I'm in a position to insist."
has been chasing anomalies for a week, through the wormhole-eaten margins of Tholian space, following streams of particles so exotic Zazaru doesn't even have names for half of them. The chase has led us here, to a... something... that's a vague glow at the edge of visibility in normal space, but a bizarre and complicated web of folded spacetime in my science officer's console displays. And now, as we skirt the edges of this thing... now, this.
"Confirming energy signatures and transponder codes," says Anthi Vihl. "Sir, it's the
- or the mirror equivalent." There's no trace of nervousness in my exec's voice; I'm glad of that. My mirror self smirks at me from the viewscreen.
I glare back at her. "
was in the battle group that took down the
, in this universe," I tell her.
"You don't seem to have brought a battle group with you, though," she answers. "Careless of you."
was supported by five full squadrons and a dreadnought consort," I snap back. "I don't think you're as well placed to
as you think. And you
I'm not bluffing. Besides -" I force a smile, myself, conscious of the way my stiff right cheek moves "- I can't do you any favours if I'm dead, can I?"
"True," she says. "In any case, I don't
a fight - not with you, anyway. I'm serious about needing your help, and I'm serious about it being in both our interests. So, let's meet, and talk. How about it?
ship -" She's anticipating my objections, damn her. "I'll just bring two of my senior officers, no armed guards -"
I think furiously for a second. "No," I say. "I'll come to see you. Consider it a gesture of trust, if you like."
Her smile disappears. "I don't credit that," she says. She pauses a moment, and I can see her antennae twitch. She's trying to read me, to second-guess me, just as I am with her. "You're
," she says. "You want to see what it's like over here... what
like." Her smile comes back. "All right," she says, "I'll indulge your curiosity. And
can bring all the armed guards you like, if you want."
Like I could bring a raiding party big enough to take over a Tholian dreadnought from the inside.... "Same terms as yours," I say. "Two senior officers, no armaments. Agreed?"
"It'll be a pleasure," she says.
"One hour from now, then," I say firmly.
She sighs. "You want time to think. I suppose I understand. Try to think quickly, though - this opportunity won't last forever."
Minutes pass. I pace up and down in my quarters, trying to think quickly.
The mirror universe. It's easy to think of them simplistically, we are the good guys, they are the bad ones. But there's plenty of bad in our universe, too.... It's not a flip side, good versus evil. Somehow, in the mirror universe, technology kept pace with ours, but society remained frozen at a barbarian, or at best, mediaeval level. That's not an
me, out there. That's me as - what? Me, without the benefits and constraints of civilization. Me, as some kind of mercenary leader or petty warlord. Me, with no limits on my bad side.
The humans have a term for it: knowing who you are in the dark. When no one can see you or judge you, besides yourself... the decisions you take then, they define who you are. My mirror-self... is she who I am, in the dark? What am I? What faults do I have, what vices would I indulge, if no one could judge me?
To understand that... is to understand
. My reflection. My enemy.
Because I have no doubt of one thing. She
Three minutes to go. We meet in the transporter room.
"I'm not sure I understand, sir," Soledad Kleefisch says in her low voice. "Of course you need your chief science officer... but why me? I don't have any experience with Tholian ships besides the
, and I've no particular knowledge of the mirror universe...."
My cheeks are cobalt blue with mortification. I look down at the deck. "Because," I mutter, "I'm an Andorian bigot. I don't - I don't
humans, all that much. At the back of my mind, I keep thinking... damn whiny pinkskins. I
it's wrong, but it's there." With effort, I raise my eyes to meet Soledad's gaze. "I figure, if
underestimate you... my duplicate will do it worse. I want someone there that she'll - overlook, ignore. Someone capable."
"Why not Sirip, then, sir?" Soledad's voice is mild, probably milder than I deserve.
"If relations between Vulcans and Andorians are like they are in our universe, she will automatically be suspicious of a Vulcan." I shake my head. "I'm just guessing. I don't know nearly enough about the mirror Andorians - their culture, their attitudes -"
"I think you're probably right, sir." Soledad hesitates a moment, then says, "If it helps, sir, I've never noticed any, umm, attitude from you -"
It does help. A little. "Thank you," I say.
Nearly time, now. We step onto the transporter pads.
"Welcome aboard." I decide to think of her as Tylha-2. Her face is all smiles as we step off the pad.
The mirror dreadnought's transporter room is big, bright, and
. I make a mental note of that. They're having the same environmental problems we did, at first, with
- and they don't have the Jolciot poly-stable alloys to handle the temperature differentials. Tylha-2 most likely doesn't have the patience to cope with Jolciot speech patterns; in her universe, the USS
probably nuked Magamba while the Jolciots were half way through their welcoming orations.
"My chief science officer, Commander Zazaru," I say, gesturing to my companions, "and Commander Kleefisch, security."
Tylha-2's glance skips over Soledad - was there a little dismissive curl to her lip? - but lingers on Zazaru. "Commander Zazaru? Then there's someone here you
meet.... This way."
She sweeps out of the transporter room, imperious in her scarlet robes. I walk beside her, and I think of how I must look, scar-faced, with my simple practical hair and my simple Ops-division uniform. She looks like the reality; I'm not even her reflection... more her shadow.
's corridors are wide, brightly lit, and they twist and turn in odd ways: Tholian architecture. There are subtle differences, though... mirror universe alternatives, or just the differences between a Recluse carrier and a Tarantula dreadnought? We pass a data stalagmite in a corridor, and there's something odd about it.... I stop, and look.
"What?" says Tylha-2. "Oh, I see. Don't you use them...?"
My skin crawls. Behind the semi-transparent console panels, the top of the column is a Tholian head and torso, fused with the circuitry. "They can interface directly with the electro-plasma conduits and the isolinear bus," says Tylha-2, "and they have so much innate processing power, it's silly to waste it." She taps at the console. "How are you today, Commander Lukatene?"
<All functions within normal operational parameters>, the console says. Tylha-2 smiles.
"You should watch out for Tholian data ghosts," I say. "I'm not kidding," I add, as her face turns sceptical.
"Interesting," she says. "I'll make a note of that." She strides on down the corridor; I follow. Crewmen, in the barbaric uniforms of the mirror universe, stand well aside as we pass. "In here." Tylha-2 points towards a door flanked by two massive Caitian security guards.
Inside is a conference room, dominated by a holo-projector in its centre; my attention, though, is drawn to the two people seated already at the table. They rise and stiffent to attention as Tylha-2 enters.
"I hope you may know these two," Tylha-2 says. "May I present my mirror counterpart and her officers, Commanders Zazaru and Kleefisch? Science officer Quon; chief engineer Izini."
The tall Andorian who isn't my Shrin Izini smiles. His gaze measures me in a way that makes my flesh creep... again. Science officer Quon is dressed in a scanty Terran Imperial uniform, but is otherwise the image of Zazaru. "Zazaru?" she says, eyeing her counterpart. "Ah, I understand. This husk was called Zazaru, before I came to occupy it. Well, I shall have to keep my explanations simple, so that a single-lifespan humanoid can understand them."
Zazaru's face is paper-white. Unlike many Trills, she's never sought out joining with a symbiote... now, I suspect, she never will. The joining, in our universe, is a marriage of minds... I should have realized it would be different, on the other side.
To try and defuse the tension, I say, "In my universe, Shrin Izini has been promoted... he's no longer on my ship."
Tylha-2 chuckles. "Well, I don't keep him just for his engineering expertise." Shrin-2 responds with a lascivious grin. "Anyway. To business." She takes a seat, gathering her robes around her. Her two officers sit back down. I motion to my people; we take our places. Zazaru's face is still white.
Tylha-2 taps at a console; an image forms in the holo-display. "The anomaly," she says. "We found it... a little ahead of you, I think. Once we discovered it, though, I knew someone on your side would come... and I rather hoped it would be you. It made
for it to be you."
"Because the quantum parallelisms between the two universes extend to macro-scale phenomena," Quon says.
"Quite." Tylha-2 smiles. "We've had time to analyze it, to an extent... and we will share that analysis with you. But, basically, what we have is a region of space-time with ambiguous quantum energy levels - it can flip from my universe to yours at any time. It's taken us a little while to work through all the implications of that."
"A gateway between the two universes?" I say.
"For a start," says Tylha-2. "But, we need to stabilize it, somehow - make it reliable. And that's why we need your help. To hold the gateway open, we need particle-generator - anchors, I guess is the best word - on both sides. And each set of generators needs to have the right quantum signatures for their universe. If this is a door, it needs to be held open from both sides."
"I can tell you now," I say, "that we're not keen to allow the Terran Empire unrestricted access to our universe."
"But it wouldn't be unrestricted," Tylha-2 says. "You would retain complete control of the gateway from your side - and, without that stabilization, we can't move outside this very limited region of overlap into your space. Think about it. We could have a genuine neutral port between my world and yours. A place for commerce and diplomacy, not just haphazard raiding. You pride yourselves on having a superior culture, don't you? You can send over missionaries, or whatever, and teach us the errors of our ways." Her smile is sly and derisory. "And if we tried to send raiding parties in return, all you need do is - flip a switch, turn it off." She turns to Quon. "Now, tell them the clincher."
Quon leans forward, taps at a console of her own. Data starts to scroll across the holo-display. "The quantum states in the anomaly," she says, "do not resolve in a binary function, but in a solution which is at least trinary, more probably has indefinite or infinite arity." She shoots a contemptuous look at Zazaru. "Do you follow the implications of this?"
Zazaru's voice is cracked, tense, but she answers, "Yes." She turns a troubled look towards me. "Sir, if this is right... this anomaly doesn't just form a bridge between our universe and theirs. It could connect to... an infinite number of different realities."
"Exactly." Tylha-2 sounds triumphantly smug. "You people are scientists and explorers, right? How would you like an
of new worlds to explore?"
Afterwards, once we've received the data downloads, and Zazaru has never once met Quon's eyes, Tylha-2 comes up to me as we make ready to leave. "Come to my quarters," she says.
"Sir," Soledad says, speaking for the first time, "is that wise?"
Tylha-2 gives her a brief glance and dismisses her. "It's all right," I say. "I know why she wants to talk to me. Wait in the transporter room."
"Oh, don't be a bore," Tylha-2 says, "let them look around, it's all right. I'll detail some of my people so they don't get into any trouble."
"All right, then," I say. Soledad still looks troubled. "Carry on, Commander," I tell her, and I follow my mirror-self down more Tholian corridors.
Tylha-2's quarters are larger than mine, refreshingly cold, luxuriously furnished - cushions and silk hangings, crossed blades on display panels, a chunk of half-melted machinery on a pedestal in one corner. "A trophy," she says, subsiding languourously onto a pile of cushions. "From a first contact, one time."
I wonder if it was Magamba; I don't ask. I sit stiffly on a cushion across the floor from her. "So, you want to talk. Talk."
She laughs. "I suppose I don't have many secrets from you. How'd you get the face? Walk into a door?"
I lift my hand self-consciously to my scars. "It was from Gimel Vessaris," I say. "Many years ago."
"The Nausicaan attack?" I nod. "They hit us there in my world too." Her face turns savage. "We beat them back... but my fathers were executed, for allowing them to get past our defenses. Scapegoated. I paid them all back, though - Nausicaans and so-called Starfleet Admirals, too. What happened with you?"
"We had no defenses," I say. "Gimel Vessaris was... just a colony world. I was hit by disruptor fire, a stray bolt from a Nausicaan marine. I was lucky. Both my fathers were killed, too." Another parallel. Alike, but not the same.
"You should get it fixed," she says. "It's not very appealling."
"There's too much underlying damage. My whole cheekbone was pulverized - there's a prosthetic implant holding my head together, now. The nerves and the connective tissue are too messed up, further surgery would just... move it around a bit." My eyes meet hers. "When I recovered, I knew things like that... had to be stopped. So I joined Starfleet."
"You know how to fight. And you have a cause. That's good." She rises to her feet. "I've got a cause, too. Do you know what I want, from all this?"
I don't. What drives this woman? Power? Revenge? What would drive me, if I had no restraints? "Enlighten me," I say.
She walks over to a replicator. "Dh'syara tunnel wine, Kidane Province, standard, two." She hands me the glass of warm, milky liquid. "Do you know how we make it, in my universe?" She tells me, in gleeful detail, how it's made. I sip my wine and say, "Some things don't change, then." She looks disappointed.
"I'll tell you what I want," she says, abruptly. "I want your Starfleet's support. And don't give me any guff about your so-called Prime Directive, you know it doesn't apply."
"Support for what?" I ask. "A neutral inter-universe trading post? They may go for that...."
"I want more than that," she says. "Do you know what it's like, in my world? The endless wars, the factions tearing each other apart, the struggles for the imperial throne.... We're a warrior culture in a time of weak leadership, and you know what that means, historically." Her smile is gone; her eyes are hard on mine. "We're not
to be like that," she says. "Some people, I know, think different - think something mechanistic, in our universe, keeps us from having peace. I don't believe that, and I don't think you do either. We can
my world. With your Starfleet's help, I intend to."
"How? And what help do you want?"
She laughs. "What sort of help do you think I want from a giant military machine? Listen," she says urgently. "People are tired of war, tired of fear and uncertainty - and when they're like that, they will rally around a strong leader. I can
that strong leader. I've got the
, and I'm Andorian - do you understand how much of the Andorian military will follow me if I strike out, with your people's backing? I'm guessing we could subdue Earth and Vulcan inside a matter of weeks, and then it'd just be a case of mopping up the remaining resistance. Scrap the corrupt Terran Starfleet and install a brand new Andorian Republican Guard in its place."
"With you as Empress of the Republic?"
"Don't tell me you're immune to ambition,
." Her smile comes back. "We can think of a different title, anyway. Praetor, perhaps - like they used to have in the Romulan People's Collective. Come on, Tylha, you
I would do a better job than the current leadership. All those scheming Vulcans and corrupt Terrans - you know
better than that. You might not want to admit it, but you
There's something lurking behind her words; the bigot's infallible excuse,
I'm just saying what everyone else is thinking
. Maybe it's even true... but just because everyone's thinking it, that doesn't make it right.
We're at war with the Borg because they think they have a right to eat the universe. We're at war with the Klingons because they think Klingon rights and Klingon customs are more important than their own lives, never mind ours. I don't know
we're at war with the Iconians, but I'm betting it doesn't have anything to do with Iconian humility. Everyone might think
we're better than those other people
, and sometimes they might even be right. But nothing good ever comes of thinking that way.
I don't say any of this. I can't. I just look at this woman, who is me, who wants to be Empress of the galaxy, and I wonder, how is this me? Zazaru, at least, when she looks at Quon, has the comfort of knowing it's not
, it's just an arrogant alien slug moving her limbs and her voice. I don't. This woman is me, in her body, her genes, her life, her thoughts... she is more me than I am, better looking, more commanding, more confident in herself....
And she is, by my standards, quite mad.
I rise to my feet. "I'm going to talk to my people about constructing the particle anchors," I say. "As for the rest... I don't know."
"We're really going to do this?" Soledad asks, as we step off the
's transporter pads.
"We're going to build the particle anchors," I say. "Let's not get too far ahead of ourselves."
Zazaru has hardly spoken; now she finds her voice. "I - I don't think we should, sir."
"We need to know how that gateway works," I say, firmly, "and the best way to do that is to pool resources with our... counterparts. So we've got to play along with them, at least for a bit.
of what they say makes sense, in any case."
"You can't be serious!" Zazaru's eyes are blazing. "You can't let
like - like that - into our universe! Sir -"
"You've had a shock," I say. "I understand that. Try and stay calm - take a break, get some rest, see Dr. Beresford if you have to - but try and stay calm. I
you for this."
"You must have had something of a shock yourself, sir," Soledad says quietly. "I'm... rather glad... I didn't meet my double. There is something rather uncanny about the idea."
"Yes," I say, shortly, "but there's work to be done. Zazaru, we need to understand how this thing works, because we may need to turn it
. All right?"
Zazaru takes a deep breath. "Yes, sir." Her voice is still sullen.
I turn to Soledad. "Any insights?"
"Not much, sir," she says. "You were right, though, they didn't pay me much attention. In particular -" she taps the side of the data monocle she wears "- they didn't notice that this was set to visual record. At least we've got some data on the inside of a Mirror-adapted Tholian dreadnought. And I sneaked a download from one of their consoles at one point. It's not much, but it might help."
It might indeed. "Thank you," I say, and I mean it.
circles the vague glow in space, following the massive shape of the
as it moves around the gateway anomaly. At precisely measured points in space, each ship spits out a drone, a glittering metal sphere studded with particle generators. When they activate, the anomaly will be wrapped in a web of energy, will settle and stabilize... will be a true gateway between my reality and hers.
My mouth is dry with tension. On my viewscreen, her face is exultant.
"Completing deployment run in two minutes," Anthi Vihl reports.
"Confirmed," I say. I turn to Zazaru. "Status?"
"Generators idling," she says tonelessly. "All units report full function."
"Keep me informed," I tell her. I cross the bridge to my command console, start to tap in the codes I need....
"Very soon, now," Tylha-2 says. "I must invite you over for a visit, sometime... when everything is settled."
"For your coronation, maybe?" I ask her.
She laughs. "At least, if you don't get that face fixed, I won't have to worry about you impersonating me."
"I never imagined my face on a coin," I say. Seconds tick off. "Deployment completed," Anthi reports.
Tylha-2 glances at something outside my field of vision. "On our side, too," she confirms. "Synchronize countdown."
I touch my console. Zazaru's face is wooden; her eyes, though, glare accusation at me. "Countdowns locked. Energizing in three... two... one... Energize."
Latticeworks of golden light flow from drone to drone, enclosing the anomaly in an immense sphere of exotic forces. I look at the data displays. Everything seems to be working as planned. The structure of the gateway is changing, becoming more orderly, more precisely aligned.... "Steer three-zero-zero mark zero," I order.
starts to come about, her needle prow turning, slowly, to face the gateway.
Tylha-2 frowns. "What are you doing?" she says.
"I'm just checking something." I look at the displays again. Everything is going according to plan.
A stable gateway, between the mirror universe and our own. And a stable mirror empire, under the capable heel of one Tylha Shohl. That's the plan. That's
plan; now it's time for mine.
The readings on the data display change colour. They've reached the levels I marked, using the data Soledad stole from the
; the gateway is no longer uncertain, it is reliable... but, if something happens to it now, it will not just revert to its initial state, it will collapse and unravel completely, fading away into normal spacetime.
Something is going to happen to it. "All banks," I order, "
's polarized-disruptor cannons open up, sending a hail of deadly energies into the gateway. The ship kicks beneath me as the hyper-plasma torpedoes follow suit, balls of searing green light hurtling into the glow.
What are you doing?
" the other me screams.
"Closing the gate. You won't be satisfied with just one universe! Don't forget,
I know you!
She turns her head. "Kill those torpedoes! Then
take her down!
" She remembers, then, to kill the comms channel. Not that it matters. I know how she thinks.
"Alpha wing, Bravo wing, immediate launch," says Anthi. Scorpion fighters, the best New Romulus had to offer; more than a match for Tholian Widows, and their plasma torpedoes may make all the difference.
"Brace for impact," I order, as the
The gateway is already destabilizing, the interface between her reality and ours weakening... and that's all that saves us, as the immense firepower of the Tarantula dreadnought smashes our forward screens to nothing.
rocks; damage control lights sparkle across the bridge, and there's the flash and bang of a transient EMS overload on one console.
"Hard about!" I'd like to keep the hyper-torps pointed into the gate, but another volley on our fore quadrant will kill us for sure. "Hyper-plasma array, max power!"
Tylha-2's gunners are good; all but one of the torpedoes dies before it reaches the gateway... but one's enough to do some serious damage, I hope.
heels hard over, presenting her port-side shield to the
's withering barrage of tetryon fire. Our hyper-plasma beam lashes out, a ribbon of vicious green lightning, cutting into the glow of the gateway. The Scorpions are firing, adding their own plasma blasts to the assault.
The port screen holds - just.
is weakening -
Inside the energy web, ambiguous spacetime gives up its ambiguities. The gateway comes apart, releasing energy itself as it does, a spray of photons like stardust exploding. In another setting, it would be beautiful.
The vast bulk of the Tholian dreadnought suddenly shimmers, fades, becomes transparent, vanishes entirely. The gateway is down.
vanishes back into its own universe, taking my duplicate and her dreams of empire with her.
I take a deep breath. "Recover fighters," I order. "Stand down."
Later, there is a knock on the door of my quarters. When I answer it, Soledad Kleefisch comes in.
"Commander Zazaru confirms, no trace of the anomaly remains," she tells me. "Also, sir, she tells me to say thank you."
I say nothing for a while.
"Starfleet Command would never have supported one mirror universe faction over the others, in any case," she says.
"Wouldn't they?" I grunt. "Starfleet's ideals get a bit tarnished, sometimes."
"I think you did the right thing, sir."
I sigh. "She was the regal-looking one who dreamed of peace for her people and offered us infinite worlds to explore. I'm the scar-faced one who shot it all to pieces.... Which one of us would you cast as the villain?"
"Some peace isn't worth having, sir."
"Maybe hers would have been. Maybe she'd have got it right."
"I don't know, sir. But I'm inclined to trust your judgment." Soledad turns to go. "Even though you never asked me what
think of Andorians," she adds, as she goes through the door.
Well, I think, I asked for that.
I turn back to my viewport, and look out at the speeding stars. My face, reflected on the glass, looks back at me.
Might she have done it, achieved her empire, brought peace to the mirror universe? Or are they doomed, there, always to be that brutal, twisted mirror of ourselves? Are goodness, morality, decency, really just a matter of quantum energy signatures? I don't know. I did what I thought was right... and that's all I can do.
I look at my reflection on the glass.
It has no answers for me. Perhaps that's for the best.