symbolAncient Voices

       Hot...dry...dusty...draining... Bolar sifted a list of descriptive terms about his current location through his mind just as he sifted the dirt of the dig site through his fingers. Kahlen was one of Qo'noS' leading archaeologists. It was an honor to have the opportunity to work with him, but that honor occasionally had its drawbacks... like the current excavation more resembling a survival exercise. Bolar paused to down some water. This ancient battlefield was ripe for exploration, but its sun-baked waste seemed determined to pound flat anyone daring to walk upright. The wind was constant, although it varied in its speed and direction, and seemed to have the sole aim of sucking all moisture out of a living body. Perhaps, Bolar reflected, it was the dead ones here demanding payment of the living.
        Bolar's mind jerked violently back into reality at the stabbing pain in his hand. “AUGH!” Bolar berated himself for letting his mind wander as he watched the blood drip from his palm. The entire crew had been warned that there were sharp bits in the soil of this area. Unlike everyone else, Bolar had decided against using gloves to better detect small artifacts. Bolar glowered at the dirt. Just let him find what had poked him and he would make sure whatever it was would never poke anyone again. His search for the would-be assassin ceased as his eye came across something rounded and silver just peeking out of the dirt.
        Bolar pulled the soft brush out of his pocket and set to work carefully uncovering the object. A few minutes of work revealed a fist-size silver sphere chased with gold filigree. He beckoned to Roq who was working the square of the excavation grid. “Roq, watch this for me so the wind doesn't cover it again! I need to find Kahlen!” Bolar hurried off to the HQ tent and returned minutes later with Kahlen and Orqina in tow.
        Kahlen studied the object carefully but did not touch it. As the time passed and no information was forthcoming, Orqina broke the silence. “Sir, have you ever seen anything like this?” Kahlen started as if waking suddenly. “No, I have not seen such a thing before.” He turned to Bolar. “An excellent find! Good work!” Orqina reached for her bag. She'd been Kahlen's assistant long enough to know what was coming next, and she had the imager out before Kahlen could issue instructions to her. “Orqina, make sure to get a good recording of this in-situ and then remove it to the HQ. We will do the preliminary analysis there.” Orqina smiled. Kahlen could be so predictable. “I'm already getting good images, Sir. You will be poking and prodding at it before nightfall.” Kahlen's only answer was a satisfied grunt as he walked back to the HQ.

        Two days later, Kahlen had no further information on the strange sphere, but the Bolar and his digging partner, Roq, were continuing to turn up good artifacts. Bones, some with mummified flesh clinging to them, and bits of ancient armor and weapons seemed to confirm that some great battle had taken place here in the far past. Roq paused in his excavation of what appeared to be a skull. The empty eye sockets stared up at him from the ground. Roq realized that someone was looking over his shoulder and turned to see Bolar staring at the skull curiously. When Bolar continued to stare, Roq nudged his arm.     “Are you well, Bolar? You look odd.”
        Bolar turned to Roq with a stricken look on his face. “Who was this warrior, Roq? Who were all of them? What were they fighting for? They are gone now, and now only the Naked Stars remember. We must find the answers, Roq! We must!” Bolar blinked and sat down as if his knees no longer existed. “Answers, Roq... they are here... we must find them!” Roq looked closely at his partner and felt Bolar's ridges. “You are feverish, Bolar. You need to rest.” Bolar moaned as Roq hauled him to his feet. “They are stabbing me, Roq! The dead ones are gnawing on my bones! I can feel them!” Roq got Bolar over his shoulders and headed for the HQ bellowing for Kahlen as he did so.

        As the first shadows of evening brought a bit of coolness to the dig site, Kahlen entered the HQ. He was as dignified as ever, but Orqina could tell he was weary... and worried. She poured a cup of tea and offered it to the old warrior. “How goes it with Bolar, Sir?”
        “Bolar is not doing well. Roq is watching him right now.”
        “Can we not take him to a doctor?”
        Kahlen shook his head. “Bolar is in too much pain to move, and there seems to be something strange going on. His limbs feels bit... 'rubbery,' for want of a better term. I've sent a distress call for a medic. Someone should be here the day after tomorrow.”
        “Bolar may be dead by then!”
        “There is no help for it, Orqina. If this area were reasonably acessable it would have been thoroughly explored long ago. Its inaccessibility is a blessing to archaeologists and a curse to those who fall ill here.”
        “What do we do, then?”
        “We will treat Bolar's symptoms as best we can and take whatever precautions we can to prevent possible contagion. We will take turns watching him. Roq has chosen first watch... you take the second... I'll take the third.” Kahlen sipped his tea and issued instructions as if he were in the middle of a military exercise. “Wear a mask whenever you enter Bolar's tent and wash your hands thoroughly before and after attending him. He's feverish and must be kept cool. He is to receive analgesic medication around the clock to keep the pain under control. He has occasional lucid times. If you are there when he is lucid feed him whatever food and water you can get down him.”
        Orqina nodded, “Yes, Sir. We should get what sleep we can while we are off duty.”
        “Agreed!” Kahlen placed his empty cup on the table and turned to go to his quarters. “Between the three of us, we will hold the line until reinforcements arrive.”

        It was a long night and a longer day. Roq volunteered to do most of Bolar's care to allow Kahlen and his assistant research time. Work on the dig site had ceased, although Kahlen and Orqina continued to work on the already uncovered artifacts as much as possible. Under the attentive nursing, Bolar lingered in a haze of fever and pain. When he wasn't enjoying one of his increasingly infrequent lucid moments, he was either sleeping or babbling about the need for answers. Orqina was worried, and the heat of the day seemed to make everything more ominous.
        As night fell again, Orqina was finishing the day's cataloging and turned to the strange sphere. The camp analyzer showed it to be approximately the same age as the other artifacts and made of alloys common to Qo'noS. Scans of the interior suggested an odd crystalline structure that seemed to resemble circuitry. A better view was not possible without more powerful scanners as Kahlen was unwilling to dismantle the thing. What purpose it served and why it was in the middle of a battlefield were still unknown. Many archaeologists would have deemed it to be a ceremonial object and left it at that, but Kahlen was loathe to lump the sphere into a category that he deemed the lazy way out.
        Orqina picked up the sphere carefully and studied the intricate filigree. Whoever had constructed the thing had been a true artist. Orqina mused that perhaps the filigree actually concealed a hidden message. A message from a spy to one of the combatant armies that was never delivered? It was possible. Such codes were not unknown in the past. Orqina began to follow the lines of shining gold with her eyes. She let her eyes wander where they would and tried to let her mind perceive what was there without judgment. Orqina suddenly became aware that the sphere was tugging at her. She was being drawn into the pattern. She knew her feet were firmly planted in the HQ tent, but her sight was... elsewhere.
        Orqina's face took on a snarl as she fought the strange sensation, then she relaxed as she heard the voice behind her. Kahlen had come to see what was going on. He would know what to do. The voice took on words. “Who are you, Girl?” It was deep and resonant... only it wasn't Kahlen's. Orqina said nothing. She would not encourage this delusion. The voice spoke again “WHO ARE YOU?” It compelled Orqina to answer.
        “I am Orqina!” She turned to face the source of the voice and felt the hair on her neck rising. A man stood before her... tall, strong, wearing archaic armor, and transparent. Orqina decided to challenge her delusion. “Who are you?”
        “My name is Sukh.”
        “Why are you here?”
        Sukh laughed bitterly. “I died here.”
        “If you are dead go join the Black Fleet!”
        “I can not.”
        Orqina had had enough. Ghosts did not exist. This was a delusion brought on either by stress and heat or by the disease that had stricken Bolar. “BEGONE SUKH! I WILL LISTEN NO MORE!” Orqina screwed her eyes shut and fixed her entire being on putting the sphere down. When she opened her eyes, Sukh was nowhere to be seen. A second later, Kahlen came rushing into the tent. “Orqina! Who are you shouting at?”
        “I am hallucinating, Sir. I saw a transparent man who said he had died here. He is gone now.”
        Kahlen felt her ridges carefully. “You are not feverish. This is good.” He smiled. “We archaeologists have active imaginations. We need them if we are to decipher the past from bits and pieces, but they can play tricks on us if we let them. You are young for this occupation. I do not expect you to have the amount of mental discipline that someone older would have. It will come to you in time.” He shooed Orqina toward her quarters. “Go and rest. You will be able to think more clearly in the morning.”

        The medic arrived with the sun. Orqina ran out of her quarters at Kahlen's shout of welcome to see a broad, solid-looking man striding determinedly toward them. The man bowed briefly to Kahlen. “Honorable Kahlen. I am Chutuun. Where is the patient?” Kahlen led Chutuun to Bolar's tent. Chutuun examined Bolar gravely while his medical sensor hummed. “When did this start?”
    “Four days ago. He became feverish and mentally agitated about the ancient people who had died here and claimed that they were 'gnawing his bones.'” Since then, he has remained feverish and in pain. We have been treating his symptoms with cool compresses and analgesics.”
        Chutuun prodded Bolar's arm gently. Bolar moaned at the touch, and Orqina winced when saw the man's fingers press far deeper into the flesh than they should. “That's not right.” she muttered. Chutuun consulted his sensor and looked at the Kahlen and Orqina gravely. “This man has Ragh'oy'. His bones are severely deteriorated. I have medicine, but this has progressed too far. Did he suffer a break in the skin recently?”
        Orqina nodded, “Two days before he took ill, he cut his hand while digging. It did not seem to be a very serious wound.” Chutuun nodded. “It does not have to be serious to allow the disease entry into the body. Once Ragh'oy' is in the bloodstream, the body begins to reabsorb parts of itself. Sometimes it is flesh that is affected and sometimes the bones. This is the latter case. If treated quickly, the disease can be stopped and its effects reversed with the proper medication.”
        Orqina's mind began to race. “Can you not move him to a medical facility and put him on life support?”
        Chutuun shook his head. “It is too late for this man. His bones are honeycombed with voids. If I were to try to move him now, it would likely shatter every bone in his body and he would suffocate under the weight of his own flesh. I judge that within the next day or two his skeleton will begin to break up from his breathing alone. All I can do for him at this point is to aid his passing.” He produced a small, sharp blade and looked at Kahlen inquiringly.
Kahlen nodded and knelt by Bolar's bed. “Bolar! Listen to me!”
        After long moments Bolar responded. His voice was raspy and labored.“I... hear... you... sir.”
        “Bolar, you have served well under me. Your work has been exemplary, and you should be proud of it. I will see that the academic world knows of your contributions.”
        “We can do nothing to arrest your disease, Bolar. We can tend you and make you as comfortable as possible until it kills you, or we can speed your way to the Black Fleet. Which do you choose?”
        “I... go... now... with... honor...”
        Kahlen motioned to Chutuun. “Do it.”
        Chutuun's stroke was quick and Bolar was gone in seconds. Chutuun carefully cleaned the blade before putting it away. “Are there any others who are ill, Honorable Kahlen?”
        Kahlen shook his head. “I am fine. Orqina?”
        “I feel well, Sir.”
        “Roq?” There was no answer. Kahlen called again. “ROQ!” The call faded into silence. Kahlen led the way to Roq's tent with Orqina close behind. Roq was lying on his cot. He attempted to rise at Kahlen's entrance without success. Chutuun pushed past Kahlen and Orqina and began to examine Roq. “Fever, dizziness, bone pain?” Roq nodded, and Chutuun once more consulted his sensor. “You also have Ragh'oy'. Did you suffer a wound anywhere recently?”
        “No, Sir.”
        “Then the pathogen has become airborne. Normally, one can only contract Ragh'oy' through a wound, but once a person is infected the infection can mutate within them to an airborne variation which spreads readily to others.” Chutuun began rummaging in his bag. “Fortunately, your disease has been detected quickly. You are going to feel worse before you feel better, but the medicine should be effective in your case... Provided you do not develop secondary issues.” Chuttun administered a dose of the medication to Roq. “This will also aid in pain management.”
        As Roq drifted off to sleep, Chutuun turned to Kahlen and Orqina. “You have both been taking precautions against contagion?” As the two nodded, Chutuun continued. “Continue to take them.” He motioned to the oblivious Roq. “He must be moved as little as possible. This version of the disease attacks the bones and makes them fragile. Too much movement may shatter any number of them. Once the active stage of the Ragh'oy' has past, the medication will stimulate bone growth and healing. However, full recovery will take time. I will remain here with you for the next few days... just in case.”
        Kahlen beckoned to Chuttun and indicated the HQ. “You may share my tent, Chutuun. Orqina's quarters are the wing on the right. My quarters are the left wing. The extra space in it is taken up with supply boxes which can be moved. Go and unpack your things. Orqina and I must see to the proper disposition of Bolar's body.” As Chutuun disappeared into the tent, Kahlen took Orqina's elbow. “Come, Orqina. Let us assist Bolar in his final passage and then we must care for the living.”
        “Yes, Sir.” Orqina paused. “I am relieved to know what foe it is that we face.”
        “So am I, Orqina.” The old warrior squeezed her arm.

        A few days later, Roq was feeling well enough to resent being bed-ridden. Chutuun allowed him to snarl for a time and then invoked rank. “When one is ill or recovering from an illness, medic outranks all others. You will rest!” When Kahlen backed up Chutuun's order with a menacing scowl, Roq decided that he was significantly outnumbered and resigned himself to his fate. Kahlen and Chutuun removed their masks once outside Roq's tent. Kahlen remarked, “I thought he might be strong enough now to give you trouble. That is why I decided to attend your evaluation.”
        Chutuun consulted his medical sensor and nodded. “If Roq continues to progress at this rate, I believe that he will be well enough for slow travel within the next two days.”
        “Good! We will begin preparing for our departure tonight.”

        Kahlen and Orqina began preparing the artifacts and remains for transport in the cool evening. There were many to pack, but Orqina had been meticulous in her cataloging of the items which made the job of sorting the items into logical groupings within the larger containers. Kahlen looked up from his packing to see Orqina struggling with a particularly unwieldy box and moved to help stabilize the load. He gestured with his chin. “Move your end that way while I lift this end. On my mark... three... two... one... now!” The two began a coordinated shifting of the box when Orqina felt the load drop. She looked up from watching her path to see Kahlen leaning against the box. Kahlen straightened his back and staggered against the box again. Orqina was immediately at his side. “Sir! Did you injure yourself?”
        Kahlen's eyes were slightly unfocused, as he shook his head and pushed her away. “Keep your distance Orqina... and ask Chutuun to attend me.”
        Orqina did as she was bid. She was back at the HQ with Chutuun in a few minutes. Both of them were wearing the masks that Chutuun had insisted they don. Kahlen was sitting in a camp chair when they arrived. He beckoned to Chutuun. “I believe you will find that I have become infected, but I need you to confirm it.”
        Chutuun's examination did not take long. “You are correct. You are now one of my patients, Sir.” He moved to Kahlen's side and motioned Orqina to take a position on opposite side. “Help me get him into bed, Orqina.” The two of them supported Kahlen as he made his way to his bed. Chutuun administered the medicine to Kahlen and waited until he was asleep before leaving Kahlen's quarters.
        Orqina was waiting for him in the HQ's great room. Chutuun carefully cleaned his hands and then beckoned her over. “Hopefully, it is early enough that the medication will be effective. The two of you have been working together closely. I need to examine you for signs of the disease.” Orqina sat and allowed Chutuun to go over her thoroughly with his sensor and his medical training. Long minutes later, Chutuun sat back with a satisfied look. “You are clear of any trace of of the disease. Continue to take the precautions against infection and I believe you will escape it. Fortunately, being a medic, I have been vaccinated against Ragh'oy' among other things.”
        “Why am I well when Kahlen is not? We have both had about the same exposure to the disease.”
        Chutuun looked at her critically. “It is known that young people are less susceptible to Ragh'oy' than older people. You are young, my girl... significantly younger than either Bolar or Roq and younger, by far, than Kahlen. So long as you use common sense precautions, I do not believe that you will catch it.” He nodded toward Kahlen's quarters. “His age is working against him, and his recovery will not be swift or sure. We must be vigilant.” Chutuun took his leave to monitor his patients, and Orqina suddenly realized that responsibility for the entire site fell squarely on her shoulders.

        Kahlen wandered through the hot, hazy desert. He knew he was looking for something but could not remember what it was. The pressure of the wind against his body was uncomfortable and he shifted to minimize it. The discomfort was suddenly punctuated with stabs of pain. Startled, Kahlen opened his eyes. The desert had been so bright. Why was it suddenly dark? Ah yes, now he remembered. He was heading an archaeological excavation, but it was now night. The air should be cooler. It wasn't the air that was hot, it was Kahlen who was hot. “I am ill,” he said aloud to ground himself in reality. The facts of the matter now established, Kahlen turned his attention to the dig site. He had been looking for something. What was it? He remembered a sphere. Yes, that strange sphere would need further analysis. He must remember to remind Orqina to pack it by itself for special consideration. Kahlen closed his eyes again. He was weary as he never remembered being before. Some rest would do him good. His mind began to drift. Must remember about the sphere... the sphere...
        An hour, or perhaps a year, later Kahlen felt a feather touch of cool fingers on his ridges. It had to be Orqina. Chutuun's touch was not that light. He opened his eyes to see a man, not Orqina, bending over him. Kahlen could not recall ever having met the man before and attempted to sit up to demand the man's business in his quarters. Kahlen quickly discovered that he was too weak to sit, but that did not stop his voice. “Who are you?”
        “I am Sukh, Grandfather. Who are you?” The man did not appear to be a threat.
Kahlen took a closer look and realized that he could see faint lamplight shining through the man's body. A ghost? Such things did not exist. Ah, thought Kahlen, I am delirious. This man is a creation of my mind. Why not converse with it. It will do no harm and should prove interesting where it leads. “I am Kahlen. What are you doing in my quarters?”
        “I am here because you can see me and I need a service done.”
        “What service? I am rather indisposed right now.”
        “Finish my mission. You have found the Sphere of Wisdom. Deliver it to the Sisterhood of the Enlightened. Their home village is very close.”
        “What is this Sisterhood you speak of? I have never heard of them.” Kahlen reflected that this look into his own mind was fascinating.
        “Some call them the Mind Witches.”
        “I have heard of the Mind Witches. Legends say that they were evil women who used thought control to force people to do their bidding. They no longer exist.”
        Sukh shook his head. “The Sisterhood is no more evil than you or I. They have talents that others do not understand and so fear.” He motioned around the tent. “You are a scholar, Kahlen. When you are well, research the Sisterhood of the Enlightened. Discover the truth for yourself and deliver the Sphere to them if any still live.”
        “What if none still live?”
        Sukh's face was devoid of any emotion. “If none of the Sisterhood have survived then destroy the Sphere and release me from my prison.”
        Kahlen was growing weary again despite his desire to hear more of this fantasy. As interesting as the conversation was, he'd best end it and sleep again. “I will investigate this, Sukh. I will not promise anything, but I will consider your words carefully.”
        Sukh nodded. “That is all I can ask.” He turned, took two steps, and disappeared.
        As Kahlen dropped off to sleep he reflected that even if his body was ill, his imagination was quite well and active.

        Kahlen was vaguely aware of time passing. Time for him was now measured in events... long treks through a hot desert punctuated by brief, cooling rains, voices that faded in and out, the momentary presence of Orqina or Chutuun holding broth to his lips, and over and through everything else was pain. Like the constant wind, the pain varied only in its location and intensity... sometimes dull and aching... sometimes sharp and stabbing. It was time with no beginning and no end.
        Kahlen suddenly realized that there was an oasis on the horizon and he headed for it. Coolness enveloped him as he passed its borders and he reclined on the soft grass to rest. The bird songs gradually morphed into Chutuun's voice. “So you have decided to remain with us, Honorable Kahlen!”
        Kahlen opened his eyes to see the medic peering at him closely. “How long?”
        “It has been touch and go with you for the past week, Sir.”
        “Roq and Orqina?”
        “Roq continues to improve by the day. He is not ready for more than light duty yet, but is progressing well. Orqina continues to enjoy the perfect health of the young and has been running the camp very effectively in your absence. You have an excellent assistant, Sir.”
        “Yes, I do.” Kahlen struggled to sit up and was annoyed that he could be restrained from doing so merely by the weight of Chutuun's arm.
        Chutuun shook his head. “Lie quietly. Your bones are still very fragile. You are not ready for any activity yet. If you need something done, tell Orqina. She is quite capable of doing whatever you need.”
        “Call her in.”
        Chutuun called to Orqina as he left the tent. From her rapid entrance, Kahlen got the impression that she had been waiting just outside. He smiled. “I hear you have held things together in my absence, Orqina.”
        Orqina smiled. “Yes, Sir. I am pleased you are recovering at last. It has seemed strange without you.”
        “It has been strange here too.” Kahlen wondered if she would understand just how strange. Why not bring up the subject and confirm that the visitation had been no more than a dream. “Orqina, think back to the night you hallucinated and the man you say you saw. Did he speak to you?”
        Orqina's eyes widened. “Yes, he did.”
        Kahlen felt the nape of his neck prickle slightly, but he went ahead with his questioning anyway. “What did he look like? Did he give you a name?”
        “He was tall and wore the same type of armor that we have been finding in this field.         He said that his name was Sukh. Why do you ask?”
        Kahlen realized that his strange visitation had just moved beyond strange into something requiring investigation. “I do not believe that you were hallucinating, Orqina. I too have seen such a man who said his name was Sukh.”
        “When did you see him?”
        “He visited me while I was lying ill. We had a very interesting conversation, and I felt him touch my head. The odds of both of us seeing the same person in independent delusions are minuscule. Therefore, Sukh must not be a delusion.”
        “What is he then? Ghosts do not exist!”
        “Agreed! Assuming that Sukh is neither a fever dream, nor a hallucination, nor a ghost. he must be something else. We need to discover what that something else is.”
        “Where do we start?”
        Kahlen thought carefully back through his conversation with Sukh. “See what the computer can find on the Sisterhood of the Enlightened. Sukh mentioned them to me. Let us see if that line of inquiry will lead anywhere.”
        Orqina nodded. “Right away, Sir!”

        There were still some artifacts that remained uncatalogued, so Orqina put Roq to work cataloging them and double checking the artifact inventory. Faced with some sort of activity that was not beyond his current state of health, Roq was almost gleeful... at least, he was no longer snarling at people. This left Orqina free to track down anything pertaining to the Sisterhood of the Enlightened. She spent the next few days in front of the computer searching for and noting any scrap of information that mentioned the Sisterhood. She spent each evening at Kahlen's side discussing the day's finds. There was not much to go on, but the little bits of data were beginning to add up.

        “I found something very curious today.” Orqina settled herself by Kahlen's bed. The old man was strong enough to sit up for short periods, and he was taking advantage of it now. Orqina adjusted the viewer so that Kahlen could view it clearly. She called up the image of her curious find and pointed out the details. “This is in a private collection, Sir. It is just a scrap of a larger whole and almost illegible, but watch what happens when viewed under strong ultraviolet light...” Orqina made the switch on the computer, and the ragged parchment took on a new clarity. “See what it says?”
        Kahlen looked closer and read aloud. “... The courier has been attacked and I fear the Sphere has been lost or taken by the enemy. It will do them neither good nor ill, but the loss to the Sisterhood is immeasurable. It is likely our wisdom will vanish with the passing of those of us who are left...” His eyes skipped down to the very bottom edge of the parchment. “... Odval of the Enlightened.” Kahlen handed the viewer back to Orqina. “What do we have so far?”
        Orqina consulted her notes. “The Sisterhood of the Enlightened existed. I have found evidence that they were more commonly called the Mind Witches by those uninvolved with the organization. Both the Sisterhood and their detractors agree that the Sisters had psionic talents... mainly telepathy. We now have part of a letter from someone, apparently in the Sisterhood, that describes a messenger who was to deliver a sphere and who fell in battle. The age of this letter bit is known to be the same age as the artifacts we have been finding in this area. The finds from this area are strong evidence that there was a great battle here.”
        Kahlen closed his eyes in thought. “So it appears that our mysterious Sukh has been telling us the truth. I would conclude that the man is, indeed, no fantasy. Have you been able to find any evidence that the Sisterhood is still extant?”
        Orqina shook her head. “No, Sir. From all accounts, both contemporary and subsequent, the Sisterhood was wiped out. Even this latest letter seems to support those accounts.”
        “Now we have considerable knowledge of the Sisterhood. What we still lack is the knowledge of what Sukh is.” Kahlen's scarred face scowled peevishly.
Orqina was silent as she thought, then grasped Kahlen's arm. “Why don't we ask him?”
        “Ask Sukh?”
        “Who would know better?”
        “You have a point, but how are we to reach him. It was he who initiated contact in both our cases.”
        Orqina swallowed hard. “We can try doing what I did when I first saw him.” She would not say it, but she found the idea frightening.
        “Very good, but I do not want you trying it on your own. You are strong, but we are stronger as a team. When Chutuun declares me fit enough for such mental endeavors, we will make the attempt together.”

        The next day, Chutuun gave Kahlen the go ahead for some serious mental activity. “You are not to physically do anything, and if you begin to feel tired stop and rest. Is that perfectly clear?”

        Kahlen saluted the medic. “Perfectly clear, Sir!” Chutuun left the tent grumbling.

        Kahlen and Orqina waited until the cool of the evening to make the contact attempt. They settled comfortably into seats on each side of the Sphere and placed it on the table between them. Kahlen turned to Orqina. “We are ready. What did you do before?”
        “I thought the filigree might have a hidden message in it, so I followed it with my eyes and left my mind open to seeing what was actually there.”
        “That is when Sukh appeared?”
        “Not quite. I felt like I was being pulled into the pattern of lines if that makes sense. Once that happened I heard Sukh behind me.”
        “Then that is what we will do now. Ready?” Kahlen nodded to Orqina.
        "Ready, Sir.”
        “Let us begin.” Kahlen fell silent, his eyes wandering lazily over the Sphere.
        Orqina swallowed and did the same. It took some time for her to calm herself enough to let her mind wander along with her eyes, but once she did she felt the familiar pull of the Sphere. She didn't fight it this time, but let it draw her in. She got the impression of a desolate waste stretching to the horizon. “Kahlen?”
        “I am here, Orqina.” Kahlen's voice was right at her side and Orqina saw the interior of the HQ around her as if a thick mist had been overlaid on the view of the desolation. Kahlen turned to scan the area around them. “Sukh! We must speak with you!”
        The answer to his call was not long in coming. Sukh's voice sounded out of the mist and he appeared in front of them. “Kahlen. Orqina.” Sukh nodded to each of them. “You have discovered the way of the Sphere. You have news for me?”
        “We have researched the Sisterhood of the Enlightened. By all accounts, there are none of them who still live. We can not deliver the Sphere to them.”
        Sukh stared at Kahlen with haunted eyes. “Then destroy the Sphere of Wisdom. Destroy my prison and free me.”
        Orqina glared at him. “You are asking us to destroy a precious part of history! Bolar gave his life to bring it to light! Why should we destroy it?” Orqina was angry, but Kahlen cut her short. “Enough, Orqina. We do not know the whole of the story yet.” Orqina fell silent.
        Kahlen turned his attention to Sukh. “We will consider your request, but you must tell us the entire story so that we may judge properly.”
        Sukh sighed. “It is fair. I was on a mission to bring the Sphere of Wisdom to the Sisterhood of the Enlightened. I was near to their home village when I was attacked by enemies of the Sisterhood. Defenders came from the village to help fight off the attackers. We fought with great valor and honor, but we were outnumbered and overwhelmed in the end. All were slain, myself included.”
        “This battle was where we are now?”
        “Why do you call the Sphere your prison?”
        “The Sphere of Wisdom was designed to let members of the Sisterhood record their knowledge and memories for posterity. They knew that opposition to them was very strong and wished to make sure their knowledge lived on even if the Sisterhood did not. The Sphere was designed for use under carefully controlled conditions. I died with it in my hands under very uncontrolled conditions. I remember, as my strength ebbed, that I felt drawn to it. The Sphere acted as it was designed to and captured my thoughts and memories... it captured my mind and consciousness.” Sukh's face was pained. “My body is long gone, but my mind remains linked to the Sphere.”
        Orqina's curiosity was overcoming any fear she felt about the situation. “Are you aware of time?”
        “I am aware of the passage of time but not its measure. Orqina, this half-existence is an endless wandering. Kahlen was ill enough that he experienced a bit of it, but he had a way out. There is no way out for me. As long as the Sphere is intact, I will wander this plain.” Sukh turned to Kahlen. “I am weary, Kahlen. I wish to join the Black Fleet and rest. Destruction of the Sphere would allow me to do this. Will you not release me?”
        Orqina looked inquiringly at Kahlen. His face was thoughtful, and he spoke carefully. “I understand him, Orqina. My illness was such that I lingered between life and death. I was neither in one state nor the other and was passingly aware of that fact. I wandered with no end in sight, looking for something I could not name, and not knowing the meaning of time except to know that it was passing.” Kahlen shuddered. “I was not fully aware of my state at the time, and it is an experience I never wish to repeat. How much worse must it be for someone who is in that state, is fully aware of it, and has no hope of it changing?”
        Kahlen's words rocked Orqina with a brief glimpse of his horror. “I see your point, but Bolar gave his life for this! Does his life not count too?” She was torn. Certainly, Sukh mattered but so did Bolar. Which was the right course of action?
        Kahlen studied Orqina's face carefully. “The Sphere is indeed a precious part of history, but it is only a thing. Under the Naked Stars, things count for nothing. Only lives and deeds have any weight. Bolar's life and his deeds will be remembered whether or not the Sphere exists. Consider, also the way of the universe. One lives for a time and then dies. One does not linger forever between the two of them. Sukh's journey has been interrupted by this imposed thing. In this small place the flow of the universe is impeded We hold in our hands the opportunity to eliminate that interruption and allow the universe to flow free again. If we do not do this, Sukh's life, such as it is, will be our responsibility and the responsibility of our houses for the rest of time. Are you ready for that responsibility? I am not.”
        Orqina thought about Kahlen's words and shook her head. She was not ready for such a weight of responsibility. She looked at Sukh. “What is the best way to destroy the Sphere?”
        Sukh smiled. “Cut open the shell and crush the interior structures. Once the matrix is gone, I will be free. The shell is only the path in.”
        Orqina nodded and turned to Kahlen. “You are right, Sir. Let us do this thing and put things right again.”


        A month later, Roq, Kahlen, and Orqina stood beside the stream near Kahlen's house. Once Roq had been briefed on the situation surrounding the Sphere, he had insisted on coming along. Though Roq had never seen Sukh, he felt it only proper that the man receive a warrior's send-off. The late afternoon air was warm, but it was cool and shady beneath the trees... surroundings far removed from the desert of the dig site. Kahlen brought out the Sphere of Wisdom and looked at his two companions. He had cut the shell open in his workshop, and now he lifted the top half off exposing the crystalline circuitry inside. Orqina picked up the small mallet she had brought and used it to break the crystals. “Be free, Sukh. The Black Fleet awaits.” She caught a flash in the corner of her eye and looked up just in time to see Sukh wave at her and then disappear into the forest. Kahlen had evidently also seen Sukh as his howl of warning to the Black Fleet began the instant Sukh vanished. Roq added his voice to Kahlen's, and Orqina listening to them had no doubt that the Black Fleet would be waiting for Sukh's arrival.
        The warning howl ceased and Kahlen nodded... his face calm and satisfied. “Sukh has resumed his journey. Come, my friends.” He led the way back into the house. Once inside, Roq gazed into the fireplace... lost in thought. Kahlen, too, seemed to be alone in his thoughts. After long minutes, Orqina realized that she had learned a profound lesson and voiced it aloud. “It seems that some of the best wisdom comes from ancient voices.”
        Kahlen threw back his head and laughed. “That is exactly why I became an archaeologist, Girl! Be careful, or you will find yourself following in my footsteps yet.” Roq and Orqina could not help but join in the laughter.

Ancient Voices --- Susan Stahl, May 2009

       Once again we visit with Orqina. Susan has done what I consider an excellent job of showing use the other face of Klingons. The face they have when not in battle. For no people can be all of one thing and nothing of the others. There must be Klingon bakers, artists and yes, archaeologists. Why should Humans be alone in their desire to know the past so as to better understand the present?
       The Mind Witches are something that came up in my Starbase 600 game. Susan used the concept of skilled Klingon pisonicists. And yes they were feared for the power they could wield. A power difficult to understand by those whose power ended at the edge of their blades. -- Garry Stahl


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The Above is a work of fiction. All characters are fictional, any resemblance to persons living or dead is coincidental.

Copyright © Susan Stahl: June 2009. All rights reserved, re-print only with permission.

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