Chapter 1: Transformation
“Amazing! Simply unbelievable ... and frustrating! After three months, two Congressional hearings, half a dozen announced purges and firings ... and that S.O.B. is still in office?”
Brian “Corky” Corchoran tipped his mug, drained it of its last inch of dark beer, and motioned with two up-raised fingers to the barman standing nearby. When the barman nodded, Corky turned his attention back to his friend.
“I hate to say it, Corky, but I did tell you so. American politics is a garbage scow, carried along on a flood of anonymous cash. Actually, there are three governments in the U.S.
“There’s the government that the American people desperately want to believe in. That’s the one still taught in American public schools and promoted on network television news.
“There’s the partisan government, divided against itself under two-party rule which the elected officials pretend to support in their endless, self-serving speeches.
“And there’s the real government, the government behind closed doors where threats and promises are made.
“That’s where the true power lies, where money rules. And that is why Stinson is still in office. Anonymous money keeps him in place. Apparently the faceless ruling oligarchy of the rich and privileged class feels that President Stinson is still of some use to them. So they’ve stymied the impeachment movement.”
Steve Barringer, an American ex-patriot living in Christchurch, New Zealand, scowled as he shared his cynicism with his dear friend and companion. Corky had just returned from a long sea voyage in his ocean-going tug, the Ocean Endeavor, and Steve was bringing Corky up to speed on the latest news over a beer with fish and chips lunch in their favorite Christchurch pub.
“I still call it amazing,” Corky spat. “Half of the civilized world is calling for Stinson’s administration to be called up on charges, and the other half is demanding that the United States be expelled from the United Nations. Yet there he sits locked away behind a wall of silence in the White House. The American nation is tearing itself apart over the issue of space aliens and some perceived threat. Your country and its government seems paralyzed, the White House has become the focus and there it stands, a silent fortress of denial!”
“Not so much a fortress of denial, as a force of subversion, I’d say,” Steve said. “Stinson has thrown a third of his cabinet, including his National Security Advisor, to the wolves. He has even directed the Attorney General to research possible charges to be brought against some of them. He fired the Joint Chiefs commanding the American military, citing ‘Rank dereliction of duty, and incompetence bordering on treason.’ He blamed the command structure for its failure to deal effectively with the alien menace.“
“Steve, I never claimed to understand politics in your country,” Corky replied, after taking a long pull on his beer. “But it baffles me how your Congress can attempt three different impeachment votes and end hopelessly deadlocked each time. Also, a major attempt was made in the United Nations assembly to censure the United States for international treaty violations and a crime against humanity for that bombing attack against our friends in Antarctica. The U.S. was forced to humiliate itself with a veto against a resolution that was supported by an almost unanimous vote of the U.N. member nations. Then there’s that little thing of the diplomatic recall. Hell’s bells, Steve, half of the civilized world still refuses to restore diplomatic relations with your country!”
“Who knew?” Steve sighed. “Who could have guessed that Dee’rah and her people would have such an impact on the world’s people? She is regarded by many as a living angel, and her people are seen as humanity’s best hope to achieve the dream of world peace. I’m not surprised that Stinson’s insane actions, and by association, the entire American nation, are being condemned. Forgive me, but its almost like an Angel of Heaven appeared among us, and the American president and his military tried to blow her to Hell!”
“Yeah, you’re sure right about that,” Corky sighed. “So, what’s gonna happen back in your country? How long can things there boil over, with half of you Yanks ready to attack the other half in the streets? And what was that remark about Stinson and his bunch being a force of subversion?”
“As for the fighting in the streets, I don’t have a clue,” Steve answered. “But I’m afraid that the subversion part is more than a foolish fear. I’ve had some feedback from old Agency friends of mine. Stinson’s administration is fostering a network of fanatics and religious zealots. I’m hearing reports that underground money is being channeled to them, and the tax people and the justice department have been told to overlook violations of political funding or hate crime laws. Stinson is looking to the radical fringe to whip up hatred of the Masi’shen. I’ve been told of a private meeting where he informed a circle of fundamentalist church leaders that the laws concerning racial hate crimes do not apply to off-world visitors. Since they aren’t human, the laws don’t protect them, he said. Attacks on the Masi’shen or their followers would not be prosecuted. He gave them a green light for riots and murder, Corky!”
The fleet of Masi’shen ships hovered in tight formation around the orbital transfer station. The ice planet, their home, gleamed against the star-glittered backdrop of space like a pearl on black velvet. Three ships stood watch over a damaged fourth vessel, itself surrounded by a scattered string of service and repair craft. Clusters of modules and lightly-suited workers hovered around the central spine of the damaged ship, cutting away torn hull sections and removing dangling cables, ducting, and shattered connectors. Fore and aft of the central area, the ship’s bridge and propulsion sections’ silver-gray exteriors were stained and discolored by two millennia of laying buried in the frozen wastes of a distant, alien planet.
Nothing about this scene could reflect the absolute joy felt throughout the fleet and on the planet. The lost were found. Those thought dead were alive and they were safely home. But generations had passed. Over the course of two millennia the original crew of the T’shu-niach (Galaxy Surveyor) had long since passed on. Their descendants, the sixth generation, had returned home. They brought with them two millennia of exploration and science records, data gathered and carefully evaluated, indexed, and recorded during their long isolation. They brought knowledge of a new sentient species, homo sapiens of the planet Earth of the Sol system. The Masi’shen cosmologists would integrate the Earth terms and coordinate systems into their own, broader system, but the knowledge itself was new and precious. And disturbing.
Father-mine, does he adapt? Please, is he well and coping with the ... the change? Dee’rah looked closely into her father’s eyes, seeking reassurance.
Yes, daughter-mine, I am told by the healers that he is quite well. The change is complete. He thrives and grows stronger with each cycle, Jon’a-ren assured her. I am told that he will be ready to transport with us when we leave for the gathering and celebration.
But, surely he will need rest ... and peaceful solitude. There is so much ... he is so ... so much change, so much to cope ... surely he must... Dee’rah struggled to express her concern, her worry.
Please, daughter-mine, calm yourself. He is well! He will be well, and every care will continue to be taken to ensure that he remains well during our transition to the surface. Quarters have been arranged for us all. Only your mother and I will be required to attend the nis’prax mas’shi-dul (planetary high council) consultation. You and Michael will have a suite for yourselves in our quarters. There will be healers there to observe and assist should Michael have any need. All will be well, I promise you. Jon’a-ren wrapped his arms around his daughter to calm her fears.
Please do not worry so, Dee-rah. Michael is strong in body and spirit. This was his choosing, his strongest desire. He would not be left behind, he would not be separated from you. He loves you more than his own life-spirit. There is no greater strength, my child. Be assured. He grows stronger as he adapts. You will see. You will rejoice when you see how he has grown!
The rejoicing in the assembly of the nis’prax mas’shi-dul was exuberant and emotional. This was a rare thing for the restrained and reticent Masi’shen race. The surviving descendants of the shipwrecked crew were welcomed home with profound joy. Exquisite care had been taken by the survivors to maintain birth and death records and a genealogy tree. Planetary records were updated and arrangements made for the descendants of the ship’s crew to be introduced and reunited with their families. Events were tempered with somber respect for those who were swept into the void and lost during the ship’s tragic accident.
It was a strange and awesome experience for everyone involved. There was no precedent for such a thing. Never had there been such a long separation and reunion. Careful arrangements were made for counselors and advisors and spiritual guides to attend each family reunion; to make introductions, to smooth the assimilation of the new-found relations. The process was greatly eased by the profoundly spiritual nature of the Masi’shen race. Suspicion and distrust were impossible among them. It did not factor into their lives. The impediment, however small, to assimilation into their new families would be the vast gulf of time and the many lost generations.
“You have brought a human among us?” the High Council spokesman asked Jon’a-ren. “Such a thing has never occurred in the memory of our race. No member of any alien race has ever come to our planet, welcome or unwelcome. I see by studying your records and reports that he represents an aggressive, violent, warring species! Their evolution is hardly advanced! Their technology is primitive at best and, far more to their condemnation, their race is disunited into warring factions that hold their entire planet hostage to thousands of armed nuclear weapons. Most are targeted at innocent populations in their largest cities! I am puzzled, Jon’a-ren. You brought this human here to us. Why?”
Jon’a-ren sensed no hostility in his leader’s statement. Only curious puzzlement. He scanned the circle of council members, nearly a score of them assembled together in a private audience with himself and his wife, Lyn’na-ra. The presence of a human on their world was beyond their logical understanding. He carefully considered his answer and decided to address their concern by increasing their sense of mystery.
“Revered elders, I confess that my knowledge of the worlds around us is incomplete. I have studied the histories and explorations contained in our ship’s library, but as you know, our volumes of knowledge were current only until the time of our stranding. After that, we were confined to that alien planet, Earth, and therefore my knowledge outside of Earth has a gap of two thousand earth cycles. So I cannot claim to know whatever new races the Masi’shen may have encountered since that time, or whatever unique or extraordinary cultural mores or aberrations may have been encountered.” Jon’a-ren paused and paced for a moment, carefully considering his next statement.
“But speaking from my own knowledge of our past explorations, our encounters with alien races across the known galaxies, from our records of the known species of sentient beings, of their evolution and cultures and behaviors, I am forced to admit one simple fact. This human, this Michael Hawthorne as he is named, is absolutely unique. There is no known individual to whom he may be compared! It is for that reason, and one other, that I bring him among us. The other reason is that he loves my daughter, Dee’rah, and she loves him They refused to be separated. If we had not brought this human with us, my daughter would have forced us to leave her behind. And I am certain that if we had forced their separation, both would have perished. That was an abhorrent, intolerable choice which no one on our ship considered for a moment. So rather than leave my daughter on a hostile planet, we brought them both here.”
Jon’a-ren saw a circle of confusion. Some mouths gaped open; all stared at him in near disbelief. The eldest who had questioned him stood mute, unable to ask another question.
“Revered elders, I do not speak lightly. Please consider my statements most carefully before you attempt to rationalize my words with your collective knowledge and your long lifetimes of experience. I say again, this individual is truly unique. There is no another like him, unless perhaps there is another of his kind on their home planet of similar quality. It is possible; we had no opportunity to seek others, but I suspect there may be many who share his qualities. But be assured there are a great many more of his kind who do not. Even among humankind, Michael Hawthorne could be regarded as one of a precious small number.
“But beyond that, I must also advise you that as of this moment, Michael Hawthorne is no longer entirely human!“
With that announcement, the circle of councilors erupted in confused exclamations of disbelief. Several moments were required for the elder spokesman to quiet the council, and to address himself to Jon’a-ren.
“No longer human? Jon’a-ren, what do you mean? Please explain, carefully, and in detail that we might understand this thing. Jon’a-ren, you challenge our capacity to believe, this day. You bring us too much, too suddenly. How can we possibly begin to understand this vast layering of the unknown that you pile upon us?”
“Forgive me, revered elder, respected councilors. I believe there was no other than the way I’ve chosen. This knowledge is too vast to skirt around, too profound to touch upon lightly, the implications too far-reaching to treat with anything less than the most considered care. Thus I delivered the core essence upon you so candidly that the shock of it would cause you all to pause and contemplate this discovery most carefully. As I warned, there is no way these humans can be compared to any sentient beings we’ve encountered in the known universe. I will attempt to explain.
“Our guest, our human who is no longer human, our Michael Hawthorne, saved our ship, the T’shu-niach, and he saved all of us who have returned with the ship. He risked his own life—as did his companions—in his quest to provide the means for our salvation and rescue. Without his intercession we would surely have perished. That is a provable fact.
“He committed acts of the most extreme violence during his mission on our behalf. He used his military training to harm and kill others of his kind. He was a warrior of his nation and he had killed many.
“He underwent a most amazing transformation. Each life he had taken became a scar upon his soul. The totality of those acts became an unbearable agony for him and he faced insanity or self-destruction. Instead, with the guidance of my daughter, his soul-mate, he faced the torment of his conscience.He transformed himself into a new being. Killing, the taking of life, aggression, violence: this is now as abhorrent to him as it is to any Masi’shen.
“His new character is both profound and remarkable considering his journey of transformation. We have never known violence. We have never been tempted. We have never been so enraged or fearful or threatened that we were forced to make those horrible choices, either as individuals or as a race. Michael causes me to wonder: whose is the greater soul? Who has emerged from the crucible of choice more tested or more noble?
“Dee’rah was horrified when she learned of Michael’s life. Anathema! she screamed at him. He answered her with an Earth parable, telling of the shepherd who protects his flock of helpless creatures from the slavering predators. ‘Sometimes, ‘ he told her, ‘it is necessary to kill the few to protect the many. Mercy to the wolf, ‘ he explained, ‘is injustice to the sheep.’ On their world, given their circumstance and realities, that is a profound parable. We, those of us who were lost on that planet, have learned the concept of the hero and heroic sacrifice. None we know have exemplified that truth more than this human we bring among us.
“Could Michael Hawthorne kill again? Not willingly. I know with absolute certainty that he would not do such a thing given any other choice. He would not kill even to preserve his own life. He would willingly be killed before killing. But he would kill to save Dee’rah, or myself, or my wife, or any of you sitting here, or the people of this planet. He would kill to save a people and a planet not even his own! But it would be his absolute last option. He would first seek all other options.
“Now I pose the question: is there any equivalent anywhere in our known universe? Have we encountered a race from which such heroes spring? Have we seen it in their histories, their fables, their myths, or in their legends? Does any known quality in our realm of experience compare to the human quality of self-sacrifice for the sake of others? I researched our ship’s library; I found nothing approaching this level of ... of nobility! That is the human term for such a concept. Truly, there are tales of courage, of dedication, of selfless acts on behalf of others among all races. But our encounters have been with alien races evolved beyond aggression and violence, or with the remnants of those who destroyed themselves in warfare. Nowhere have we found a race of beings that are both as horribly savage and as nobly altruistic as these humans. Michael Hawthorne is a magnificent example of the best of their kind.
“If he were here before you, he would challenge my words. He does not believe himself to be a hero. He is reluctant to discuss his life, his transformation, and his accomplishments. He is a modest individual. That is another human quality. He is embarrassed by praise. He would not welcome anything more than simple respect or honest regard for his abilities. Although we of the T’shu-niach owe him our lives, our return home, and our future, we should not embarrass him with our praise. He told me in sincerity that a simple thank you is all he wishes. I am sure that he asks the same courtesy of you, the governing council of our people and our planet.”
Jon’a-ren paused again, paced a few steps, turned and paced back. He studied the faces of his audience. Each of them sat back in relaxed but attentive postures, their faces displaying wonder and curiosity. He had their attention, and even more, he could tell that he was reaching deeply into their conscious thoughtfulness.
“As for Michael no longer being entirely human, that is true. Still, he remains partially human. Yet, as he asked and my daughter demanded, he has been transformed. Michael has changed. As of yesterday, when the process ended and the healing was complete, Michael became Masi’shen. He retains the nobility of his human character, and we anticipate that he has gained our powers and abilities. We anticipate that he is now masi’na ... a Masi’shen male of significant stature.”
Jon’a-ren interrupted the sudden arousal of the council members with another statement, one with a bit more emphasis:
“I should also advise the High Council that my daughter has demanded, and sought permission of myself and her mother, to join her soul-mate in his new existence. This morning she entered the healing chamber and is being administered human DNA to make the transformation. We expect that she will emerge exactly as Michael has done. She will retain her Masi’shen powers and abilities, but she will possess human qualities. I trust that she will share a high noble character and strength of will similar to those of her soul-mate.
“Revered elders, I praise you for your attentiveness, and I beg that before I answer the many questions I am sure you must ask, that we do so only after we’ve had time for rest and refreshment. I wish to contact my family to ensure that they are comfortable in their new quarters. I respectfully thank you all.”
Seeing no opposition to his request, Jon’a-ren backed slowly away from the circle, turned, and strode out of the chamber. A short while later he joined Lyn’na-ra and Michael in their assigned suites on a lower level in the capitol city’s government district.