12: God Emperor of Kathoom I
The Bulikaya Particle
Location: Kathoom, Nexus dimension
Timeline: 3,946 yeard A.R.
History, when taught well, shows us how to improve the world. But history, when taught poorly, falsely claims there is nothing to improve. ~John Oliver
Appearing in darkness, Rita began to panic and immediately reached for her EVA suit. Summoning it from the pocket dimension in which it was stored, even as it wrapped about her, she could feel the heat of the place, and she felt gravity, so she knew she wasn’t in deep space. But the air seemed thick, and she wasn’t that keen on breathing it if she didn’t have to... which she did not.
Bringing up her sensors, they splashed about the room, painting it in rather vivid detail for her. Given the offerings, the placement and the central figure seated on a throne, she was in a tomb. As this was another Bulikaya leap, she reasoned the tomb must be her own. Which was lent credence by the Starfleet delta on the breast of the ancient mummy seated on the stone throne.
“Kathoom... Sonak never rescued you from Kathoom, and you lived the rest of your life here, over a few days in the real world,” Rita realized. Briefly she panicked- if sixteen hours had to pass in the real world for her to leap, she might just die of old age here as well. With a fatalistic acceptance, rather than panic now, she decided she’d find out in sixteen hours or so.
Looking around the tomb, she tried to piece together just who her local counterpart had been, and what she had done. How she had ended up enshrined here, with a simulation of her delta inscribed into the wall behind her, along with pictograms.
Since her story had been left here to be told, Rita Paris studied the history of her less fortunate counterpart, who had spent the rest of her life on the yellow desert world of Kathoom.
It had taken Rita a few hours to study the pictograms, to use the onboard computer in conjunction with the linguistics program, entering in the scans of the pictograms and characters and putting it all together. But she now had some idea of just what had come to pass on the savage desert world, where she’d been leading a revolt when she had been called back to the stars, by her love, who would always come for her.
On this Kathoom, the revolt had led to a council, composed of the seven of them- Ka’diq, whose quiet strength came from his compassion. Alar, whose hands and words ever sought to heal. C’Vhala, whose clever mind always saw a way out. Quvuk, whose anger was his strength and his weakness. Ta’ak, the builder in a word where no one built anymore. Ch’rup, the idealist who was the common man amongst the escaped gladiatorial slaves, swept up in momentous events.
With the Masters overthrown, she had formed them into a council. She had entreated them to form a federation of nations, all coming together with elected representatives who came to serve the interests of the people of their regions. It seemed her plan for government had been successful, and the world of Kathoom had passed a century under her watch. On the back of the sealing stone of the tomb was her final message.
I came from the stars, but I am above no one.
I pray Kathoom will rule itself wisely and justly.
Eyeing the mummified ancient- who, she noted, conspicuously lacked the bronze bracers she would have guarded with her life- Rita expanded the scan web to begin figuring a way out of here without destroying what was likely a significant archeological find for the world of Kathoom.
“Well, we’re both about to find out, Rita...”
The street was cracked and bleached by the beating sun, and wound down the narrow gap between the weathered stone buildings that were packed a bit too close together. Walking down the path, a young boy who seemed no older than 10 for a human, was carrying a makeshift, driftwood pole with two rounded shells lashed to it with old leather straps.
On his feet were old, worn and stained sandals that barely covered his dirty feet. He wore a thin, beige linen hooded cape that did it’s best to cover his head from the blistering sun. At the end of the narrow street, he peeked his head out and looked both ways, before he ran across the empty perpendicular alley. Filled with cracked stones and broken bits of glass and wood, he picked his way through nimbly as he made his way to the base of one of the twelve meter tall columns that seemed to act as a wall, to mark the border of the small village.
Above the street, at the top of the column was the great Aqueduct that flowed from the mountains of the northern region into the glistening capitol city of Konaar, passing high above the short, crumbling stone and clay houses of the impoverished slum the boy called home. As the life giving waters that ran down the channel above were only available to the residents of the town when the regional magistrates allowed them. But they didn’t know about the small crack in the chute that slowly trickled into the sewers, down the side of the column, down the end of this particular alley.
But the boy did. Crawling behind the column into the thicket of brush that grew at its base over the grate to the old sewer tunnels that ran beneath the slum, the boy tucked the first of the two shells under a crack in the column, and slowly it began trickling with clean water.
When the shells were filled, the lad adjusted his load and made to sneak away when he heard a grunt, and a grating sound behind him. Grasping fingers were coming out of the sewer grate, straining to move it. Then the grate neatly flipped out of place as a golden metal hand burst out of the sewer, shoving the grate up and off.
Startled, the boy froze, careful not to spill his precious cargo as he watched. Then out of the sewer, rose the form of a woman clad in a gilded armor that shimmered in the sun. Shimmered like the giant statue in the courtyard of the grand church in Konaar.
The statue of the first god-Empress in her holy vestments that he bowed before daily, when the sun was its highest in the sky. There, before the boy, whose knees began to shudder with fear and awe, was a sight he had been taught for as long as he could remember. With sun-blackened skin caked in grime and made rough by the brutal heat, the boy's eyes went wide and he dropped to his knees, the shells falling to the ground where their previous waters spilled around him.
"P… p… praise be to the will of the Ritaris. F… forgive me. P… p… p… please. I sought only to… to date The thirsts of my family who serve in your great honor." The boy said as he bowed on his shaking knees, his right arm folded on his chest, his hand spread on his shallow chest.
Like magic, the holy vestments of the god-empress vanished, and in their place was a woman. Her skin was so pale, like alabaster, and her eyes shone like the sky. She knelt beside him, hands outstretched, palms toward him. “Whoah whoah whoah, it’s okay, it’s okay... calm down, nobody’s gonna hurt you. Are you injured?”
Scooching on his knees, away from her, the boy was working himself into a panic at the sight that his mind was telling him was impossible and only his fear of bringing punishment down upon his family was keeping him as calm as he was. “N… No. I… I am… I am…. I beg forgiveness. I have spilled your gift of water. I am s… s… sorry, great one.”
“Gift of water?” The pretty face look puzzled, until she saw the shells, looked back to the aqueduct and the trickle that the boy was harvesting. “Doesn’t seem quite right, why aren’t there actual dispensing stations?” she muttered to herself before picking up one of the shells.
“Look, I didn’t mean to scare you- I’m sorry. My name is Rita Paris- I’m an explorer, I’m Starfleet- I’m here to help, and I come in peace. I think I was here a very long time ago...” Looking around, the woman offered her hand to the frightened youth, her tone soft, her smile welcoming. “Come on, let’s refill your shells. Your family needs this water, hm? Source of life for all, right?”
The intended effect of calming the child instead seemed to instead elicit the opposite response as he reared back so far on his knees that he fell back over in utter shock. With wide eyes and mouth agape, he stared at Rita. “R… Rita… Paris? I… It’s true. It’s… you ARE her. The Reckoning. The first of the Ritaris. S… She who brought our ancestors knowledge of the will of Fedra’shuun. You… you… you are HERE!”
As the boy spoke, his wide eyes began to show intense confusion as he didn’t understand the calm voice or the warm eyes he was being met with which clearly didn’t mesh with the descriptor he blurted out a moment ago of ‘The Reckoning.’ As he tried processing what he was seeing, he watched as Rita picked up the long wooden handle with the shells attached carefully.
It made no sense to him. The God-Empress was… helping him with his chores?
While the woman, clad in her odd golden vestments she was trying to hide with a burial shawl, looked confused. When she spoke, her tones were soft and soothing, albeit with a bit of consternation. “Look, I don’t know what you may have heard about me, but... I’m really not going to hurt you. I’m a stranger here, and it looks like I haven’t been here in a very long time. I mean, I discussed building aqueducts with Ta’ak, but there was nothing like this...”
Refocusing on the moment, the woman knelt, lowering herself down to the level of the frightened youth. “I’m afraid I don’t know anything about the local religion, or any Reckoning, or really much of anything. Let’s start with the basics- this is Kathoom, right? Desert planet, water, the stuff of life is a precious commodity and it’s a hard life. That’s pretty much all I got until the ancient history crash course... but my name is Rita. Just Rita’s fine, okay? What’s your name?”
The question was delivered with a smile and an outstretched hand. If she planned to raise the deserts as seas to claim all life, she was warming up slowly to armageddon, it would seem.
“B… B’Jen.” He muttered sheepishly, trying to look away from the gaze he had been raised to believe would vanquish him to the darklands below the sun, ruled by Sonak, He With No Pity. But there he sat, un-banished on his dusty rump under the beating sun, looking at the outstretched hand that he was taught would turn whole armies to dust with a wave.
Hesitantly, he reached out for the hand, not wanting to anger the God-Empress, but still afraid. And as he put his hand in hers, it was warm. Not so warm as to burn him to nothingness as the stories said she could do. Just warm like his mother or his baby sister. Warm like a person. Flinching slightly as he took the offered hand, he slowly opened his eyes back up to see he wasn’t a pile of dust on the dry wind. He was fine, and she was smiling.
“I… don’t understand, great R…. Rita?”
“Just Rita, B’Jen. I am no greater than you, hm?” she gently corrected him.
“ I was taught… we were all taught by the Priests of the Ritaris that your return would herald the great Reckoning. That you would… punish us?” B’Jen said, with the fear in his voice evident, but beginning to take a back seat to a child's curiosity.
“Hmmmm,” the pretty face scrunched up in a frown. “That certainly doesn’t sound like any message I wanted to send.Tell you what, B’Jen. How about I help you gather your water for your family, because they need it. And you can tell me all about this religion that has you so afraid of an avenging prophet from the skies- which I am very much NOT, I assure you- and maybe you could help me understand what’s happened to the world I knew?”
Even as she spoke the words, she suspected it was a statement that would be proven untrue in time. Kathoom was a world where the strong and the clever survived. More than likely, if she started sticking her nose into things, she would likely encounter resistance. Which meant that she might just do some avenging after all. In the here and now, though, she focused on the dark eyes of the frightened young boy who was doing very well, having encountered a mythological figure as part of his day.
Looking around, B’Jen saw no Magistrates watching for disloyalty. The street was still empty, but he knew it would only last for a short time as he looked at his water collector in Rita’s hand and spoke again. He had never wanted to believe that the stories could be true, even from his beloved grandmother long since passed. But this woman was not like the great doom the priests spoke of. This was the teacher. The Guide. The God-Empress that the old ones spoke of in hushed tones for fear of reprisal. But she had said the words, B’Jen though. The words his grandmother used to whisper to him when she tucked him into bed.
Thinking of her, he smiled in spite of himself, remembering what she used to say. A message passed down along the generations, that when the TRUE Ritaris would return… it would be with the words ’I’m here to help.’
“Come…” he said a bit less nervously. “We must be quick. The Magistrates decree is that this is the prayer hour. All are in the center of town praying to… uh… to you, Gr…. Rita. There is a crack here, at the base of the column where water leaks down.”
Moving back into the brush behind then, B’Jen moved it aside to show Rita with a little bit of excitement, the child showing through once again. “The Aqueduct is for the CITY, not us, but our water rations have been thinner and thinner. So… so I sneak out during prayer.”
Suddenly remembering he was speaking to his living god, he bit his lip slightly. “I pray… I have not angered you. The priests say it is against your will to defy their word. But… but I was… it has also been said that you wish for all to be content. And… I had prayed that my finding this crack… was your will.”
The pretty face saddened as he spoke, and when he finished, it was replaced by resolve. “Water is for EVERYONE, to share alike. Something tells me and the local leadership are going to have words about this... oh, I see, you wedge the shell lip into the crack so the water will fill the shell. Very clever B’Jen, well done!”
It was important to praise the young and encourage them, and while she found the situation distressing, Rita was very keenly aware that the dark-skinned and scrawny youth would take her words and actions to hear, so she was being a bit more careful with him than she might have normally. Which might excuse why, as they were finishing filling up the shells, they heard gruff voices behind them.
“This is the Prayer hour. All are to be in the circle in honor of the glory of Fedra’shuun.” The first of the two large, lightly armored men said. Standing behind them in the alley were two thickly built, stern faced men wearing dark red leather tunics and pleated skirts, looking like something out of ancient Rome. In their hands were long metal pikes with gilded tips, and strange writing down the shafts. Their unfriendly faces were visible through the open face plates of gilded helmets.
But what caught Rita’s eye the most was what was emblazoned on each of their chests: A raised metal badge in the center of their breastplates, in the shape of the Starfleet Delta.
As the second man spoke, his eyes fell upon the shells and the water within as B’Jen placed the shells down on the ground, carefully trying to avoid spilling it this time. “The Waters of the Aqueduct are for the splendor of the great Ritaris, child. Stealing it is a sin. Would you call the wrath of Sonak upon yourself and your family?”
The other Magistrate was less gentle in his words as he reached for B’Jen’s arm, anger in his eyes. “This sin must be punished! You thieves are to come with us.”
Stepping in front of the child, physically interposing herself with one arm guiding the child behind her, Rita Paris glared at the Magistrate. “Water is life, and it belongs to everyone. Whatever your religion teaches otherwise, I really don’t know, nor do I care. I’m going to give both of you an opportunity here to change your lives. You know keeping water from the people is wrong, and you know a child should not be punished for bringing water to his family. This is the most important moment of both of your lives, and I would consider my next choices very carefully were I you.”
It might have been a bluff- after all, the woman, while taller and overall larger than anyone in the conversation, was unarmed and unarmored. While it was abundantly clear from her fair skin and odd raiment that she was not a local, she didn’t exactly look all that threatening either. So telling the Magistrates to sort out their lives, on the surface, might have seemed a bit laughable. But the determination in the woman’s eyes told a different story. No harm would come to the child under her protection, and if one could read intentions, that one shone through clearly. Just as clearly as the mein that indicated that her words were quite true, and that she was indeed offering them a choice.
Sneering, the angrier of the two clutched his hand upon his pike and began to lower the tip towards Rita. “Take care, woman. To threaten the Magistrates of the Realm is a sin with a high cost, indeed. SUBMIT! On your KNEES! Both of you!”
One long black-booted foot came up in a high kick, knocking the pike out of the surprised man’s hand. People did not resist, after all, so the Magistrates were accustomed to compliance- resistance surprised them. As the weapon tumbled in the afternoon sun, it was caught by the woman in one hand, after which she took it in both, and with a grunt, she bent the metal pike over her knee.
“Once more, I come in peace. I ask you to reconsider your life choices, because I’m Starfleet- I’m here to help. But I’m not getting on my knees, you’re not arresting us, and I will absolutely NOT submit. Your move,” she finished as she tossed the bent weapon into the dust.
Watching, B’Jen’s face opened into a light smile that spoke to astonishment. The guards, however, were still trying to process the emotion they were entirely unprepared to deal with in the moment: fear.
“I… Impossible! None may handle a Magistrate’s pike in such a fashion!” The confused and overwhelmed man, used to being in a position of power, muttered like a child in school citing meaningless rules. The other, who still had his own pike, took a defensive step back, kneeling down out of Rita’s kicking range.
“Starfleet? Who… who are you to speak the holy words, woman?” He said, fear encroaching in his voice as he tactically assessed his weakening position.
“I’m the one telling you to rethink your life choices. I’m the one whose symbol you bear on your chest as your threaten children. I’m the one who can bend iron in my bare hands, and is very unhappy with what’s being done in my name. I’m Rita Paris,” the buxom blonde declared, knowing she was violating the Prime Directive like Jim Kirk in an intergalactic singles bar. “and you have now had your second chance to reconsider your life choices. I’ll give you one more, but after that, we’re going to get physical. With your lighter gravity and the fact that I’m not in the mood for your dogma, I doubt that’s going to go well for you. But I come in peace, as mentioned- I would rather not resort to violence if it’s unnecessary. Which is now up to you.”
Through it all, the stranger from beyond the stars kept the child shielded with her ample form. While she didn’t fully understand the situation just yet, the youngster had been kind and inquisitive, and she’d be damned if she was going to let any harm befall him.
Clutching the pike closer to his chest, the Magistrate looked at the delta visible on Rita’s ample bosom, where the wrapping she was wearing had parted, and his eyes went as wide as B’Jen’s had earlier. With trembling lips, he muttered. “T… The Ritaris? It… it… cannot be?”
Taking a step back, he grabbed his partner by the shoulder and pulled him back. “You… you cannot be!! This is some… some trick!” Looking Rita up and down, it was clear that he didn’t quite believe his own words as the two began to run back down the alley shouting. “The order will find you, blasphemer! You will perish in flames!!!”
Watching the men retreat, an upraised and appraising eyebrow in place, the stranger turned, crouching before the small boy. Taking his shoulders in her hands, she looked him in the eye. After all, it was scary watching people stand up to the absolute authority you’d known all your life. “Are you alright, B’Jen?”
The fear on his face was just one of many emotions that ran across his dark eyes as he watched the men he feared all his life run away. Glancing from them, to Rita and back, there was another emotion that Rita could see in those eyes beginning to emerge as well: hope.
Stepping back, B’Jen picked up the water carrier and placed it across his shoulders in a practiced move he had clearly done many times. “Come. More will be here soon, and it won’t be safe for you. I know a place we can go… but I must get this home before service is over. We don’t have much time.”
“Lead the way, my guide and protector,” Rita said with a warm smile, rising smoothly from the crouch.
“Come. The alley is safest.” B’Jen said, allowing a smile to show as he began to walk quickly but delicately down the alley between the two rows of old clay homes. “Our home is not far. I can drop this off and we can move more quickly.”
There was a little touch of nervousness in his voice, very much like the child he was, still afraid to give up a secret. “There are some… my grandmother was one, before she passed to the stars… who taught the word differently from the church. She taught me that you had come many thousands of years ago, from the stars yourself. From the realms of the travelers… and you helped our people. She said you came to show us the path. You were the Great… Navigator.”
The alley smelled of trash, and worse, and it was clear that the deeper groove down the center was where the houses dumped their waste. Coming upon a ragged, reclaimed wooden door hooked on with what looked like leather straps, the boy stopped and listened at it for a moment. “I don’t hear anyone.” Opening the door, B’Jen placed the water carrier inside gently and then closed the door again. “Is it true? Are you really her? The Great Navigator?”
Looking mildly embarrassed, Rita Paris realized she had to make a choice, here and now. She could not deny who she was, but at the same time, she was uncomfortable with being held up as a religious icon. However, troops in the streets, bearing a Starfleet delta and oppressing others in her name, was not something she would stand for. Prime Directive be damned.
“I don’t know about ‘great’, but... yes, B’Jem. I am Rita Paris,” she admitted softly. “I come from the stars, and I came here many, many, many years ago, and led your people in revolt against their cruel masters. I tried to teach them guiding principles to live by, to be better, to care for one another, and to uplift one another, together. As with lots of good intentions and ideas, it seems it went wrong at some point.”
“So it looks like I’ve got just under half a day to lead a revolt, bring down a corrupt and oppressive system, and take another shot at helping this world to be free.”