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 the 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 is the real government, the government behind closed doors where threats and promises are made. That is where the true power is, 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 and 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 U.N. Yet there he sits, locked away behind an iron wall of silence in the White House. And the entire American nation is tearing itself in half over the issue of space aliens and some perceived threat. Your whole damned country and its government seems paralyzed, and 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 — even directing the Attorney General to research possible charges to be brought against some of them. And he fired the entire Joint Chiefs commanding the American military. 'Rank dereliction of duty; incompetence bordering on treason' he called it. He blamed the entire 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. And 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. And 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!"
"Yeh, 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 of 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 extremist 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 would not apply to off-world visitors. Since they are not human, the laws don't protect them, he said. He told them that attacks on the Masi'shen or their followers would not be prosecuted. In essence, 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 clustered around a fourth, obviously damaged vessel, linked 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' dull silver-gray exteriors were stained and discolored by two millennia 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 passed on. Their descendants, the sixth generation, were returning home. They were bringing home two millennia of exploration 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. Of course, 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 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, and 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 ... you who he loves 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 — a rare thing for the restrained and self-disciplined 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 with the information, and arrangements were made for the descendants of the ship's crew to be introduced and reunited with their family counterparts. The events were tempered with somber respect for those crew who had been swept into the void and lost during the ship's tragic accident.
It would be 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 and smooth the assimilation of the new-found relations. The process was greatly eased by the enhanced spiritual nature of the Masi'shen race. Suspicion and distrust were impossible among themselves; it did not factor in their lives. The impediment, however small, to assimilation into their new families would be the vast gulf of time and the many lost generations to bridge.
"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 a violent, aggressive, warring species! And 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. 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 that were 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 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 historical explorations, of encounters with alien races across the known galaxies, and of all 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 another, that I bring him among us. The other reason is simply that he loves my daughter, Dee'rah, and she loves him, and they have refused to be separated. If we had not brought this human with us, my daughter would have remained 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 here."
Jon'a-ren saw a circle of confusion. Eyes were wide, some mouths gaped open, all stared at him in near disbelief. The eldest, who had questioned him, stood muted, unable to form another question to ask. They were stunned into silence.
"Revered elders, I do not speak lightly. Please consider my statements most carefully before you attempt to rationalize my words with your vast knowledge and your long lifetimes of experience. I say again, this individual is truly unique. There is not another like him, unless perhaps there is another of his kind on their home planet who may be of equal 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 that 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 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? What do you mean? Please explain, and carefully, in detail, that we might understand this thing. Jon'a-ren, you challenge our capacity for belief 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, revered councilors. I felt there was no other way than the way that I've chosen. This knowledge is too vast to skirt around, and too profound to touch upon lightly, and the implications too far-reaching to treat with anything less than the most abject care. Thus I deliver the core essence upon you so candidly, that the shock of it will cause all to pause and consider most carefully. As I warned, there is no way this new discovery can be related to anything we've encountered in the known universe. I will attempt to explain.
"Our human who is no longer human, Michael, 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 him, we would surely have perished. That is a provable fact.
"During his mission on our behalf, he committed acts of the most extreme violence. He used his military training to take the lives of others of his kind. He had been a warrior for his nation, and had taken many lives previously.
"Then he underwent the most amazing transformation. Each life he had taken became a burden upon his soul, his conscience. The totality of those lives became an unbearable burden for him, and he faced insanity or self-destruction. Instead, with the guidance of my daughter, who became a soul-mate to him, he faced his demons, the torment of his conscience, and he transformed himself into a new being. Killing, taking of life, aggression and violence became as abhorrent to him as it is to any Masi'shen.
"His new character is far more profound and remarkable considering the journey of transformation that he has made. We have never known violence; we have never been tempted. We have never been so enraged or fearful or threatened that we have had to make such horrible choices, either as individuals or as a world. He has caused me to wonder: who is the greater soul? Who has emerged from the crucible of choice more pure?
"Dee'rah was horrified when she learned of this human's life. Anathema she screamed at him. He responded with a simple Earth lesson: that of the shepherd who protects his flock of helpless creatures from the slavering predator. 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 limits, that is a great parable. We have learned the concept of the hero and heroic sacrifice during our time on that planet, and none have exemplified that truth more than the human we bring among us.
"Could Michael Hawthorne kill again? No. Not willingly. I know with absolute certainty that he would never do such a thing, unless there were absolutely no other choice. And he would never do it to preserve his own life. He would willingly die before killing, if only his own life were at risk. But he would kill to save Dee'rah, or myself or my wife, or you sitting here in your august circle, or to save the people of this planet ... a people and a planet that is not his own? Yes. He would kill and die to save any of us or all of us, but it would be his absolute last option. He would exhaust all other options before killing.
"Now I pose the question: is there any equivalent to what I have just said, anywhere in our known universe? Have we encountered a race from which heroes spring? Have we encountered it even in their histories, their fables, their myths, their legends? Is there an equivalent to the human quality of self-sacrifice, of self-destruction for the sake of others? I researched our ship's library, and 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 all of our encounters have been with alien races that have either evolved beyond aggression and violence, or with the remnants of those who had 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 me for my words. He does not believe himself to be a hero. He is reluctant to discuss his life, his evolution, and his accomplishments. He is a modest individual, to use another human term. He is embarrassed by praise, and he would not welcome anything more than the simplest respect, or the most casual regard for his abilities. Although we of the T'shu-niach owe him our existence, our return home, and our futures, we dare not belabor him with our praise. He told me in all sincerity that a simple thank you is all he wishes or will accept. I am sure that he extends the same wish to you as 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 requested and my daughter demanded, he has been transformed. Michael has changed. As of yesterday, when the process had 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 with 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.