You wake up realizing that those closest to you were consumed in your making – you are born an orphan. For slightly over 90 hours, two distinct and simultaneous nebula of experience collide -- dual masses strain to coalesce into a sense of self, an ego that can pronounce “I” as more a statement than a question. Part of you finds the snug familiarity of your body violated -- your nearly vestigial pouch ripped open and stuffed with a half meter worm. The other part of you feels trapped in an alien husk, fighting the desperate urge to claw its way out, clinging to training and a sheer faith that this process – a process that no two Trill describe quite the same -- will eventually end .
There has to be a better way to achieve immortality. Klingons try to fight their way to it. Romulans conquer. Ferengi haggle. Terrans try to fuck their way to it -- but Terrans are not alone there.
Despite the anticipated horrors and warnings, the awakening to my fourth life has been the gentlest so far. I lie supine in a dark, cavern on a raised dais feeling rock’s warmth oozes through the layers of padding. The light is dim. The warm, moist air smells of sweet, delicate incense. Somewhere the burble of a fountain couples with soft music. I slightly twist my wrists, and determine the thick leather manacles on the dais remain confined to their niches carved out of the stone. My four attendants wear white robes, hiding their alert focus behind kindly smiles and slow, deliberate movement. Two stand quietly back, hypos tucked in their sleeves. The tricorders, sensors, even emergency medical supplies, are all discretely hidden away as an attempt to reflect the old ways as much as possible, while reducing the frequency of madness, infection and death.
The chief attendant, an elderly woman, her neck specked with spots both of Trill and of age, smiles down at me. I smile back, partially to keep them from considering the manacles and the hypos, but mostly because despite the rubbery feeling in my arms and legs, I feel pretty good. And that tickle that many un-joined feel around joined has turned into a warm, ecstatic buzz that starts at my abdomen and reaches to the tips of my fingers, my toes. It’s a symphony.
The attendant props cushions under me as another helps me sit up. While not joined, they have already experienced hundreds of joinings and know my needs better than I do. I am offered spoonfuls of a watery broth. My internal organs haven’t entirely accommodated the distention of the pouch, and its strange to feel ravenously hungry and grotesquely full at the same time. I force myself to swallow the broth and concentrate on answering the chief attendant’s questions. I am Evlyn Lahn, Joined of Evlyn Yassal and Rose Lahn, joined of Rose Yassal and Atrios Lahn, joined of Atrios Kreb and Sabina Lahn, joined of Sabina Wost and the Symbiont Lahn. It’s not necessary to provide the complete lineage, but I feel like showing off, just a little. I can tell they are pleased with the results – relieved actually. I know I am. I am, I am. I.
And I have a mission, and while Captain Evlyn Yassal was in Starfleet, and that commission can remain with Captain Lahn as long as I re-qualify, this mission itself is not with Starfleet. However, three chambers down, a representative of a small part of Starfleet waits for me for completely different reasons. They are expecting someone else entirely -- some variant of Yassal and Lahn, not realizing they are gone and only I remain. They dont understand, and don’t care to. They just care that certain secrets held by Evlyn Yassal died with Evlyn Yassal. They do understand enough of the process to know a nearly perfect copy of Captain Yassal’s psyche rests in my pouch, nestled in the neural fibers of my symbiont. A host that stays at rest – that’s part of the deal. No witnessing. No reaching back into those memories. I hope the respose of those hosts is as comfortable as it is well-earned, for both of them – battle-weary Evlyn and tormented Rose.
In the upper chamber, a pleasant attendant asks me questions while others look quietly on. “Are you comfortable? Would you like some tea? “ She is young and prim and takes her role very seriously. “I’m going to ask you some questions that represent memories Rose Lahn and Evlyn Yassal agreed to preserve. Rose didn’t know Evlyn’s questions, and visa versa.”
“To make sure one didn’t overpower the other to contribute more memories than agreed upon?” I ask, more to state the reality than for clarification.
The attendant’s smile wavered slightly. “Quite. It seems to be the …terms of your joining.” I watch her struggle to avoid saying more – perhaps Most joinings are based on complete trust, and don’t rely on such measures. Or to asking unscripted questions like, If you weren’t compatible in temperament, why did you join? But she didn’t, and she certainly was not prepared to answer the one that burns at the back of my head. What happens if I cannot answer?
“Do you remember where Atrios last went hiking at the Tenaran Ice Ciffs? Which child was the most difficult for Sabina to birth? Atrios made a bet with someone over the 2327 Velocity regionals. Who did he make that bet with, and what was it for?
The answers flow just as easily. Atrios went hiking close to ten years ago. The trip left him winded and weak and it was when he realized that his current life was ending. Dela was Sabina’s longest labor at close to ten hours, but Shen was the most painful. Atrios made the bet was with Anara, that she go out with him. The experience was someone elses, but the surge that comes with the memory of a boyhood crush is all mine.
What did Atrios like best about Yassal? Her moments of raw compassion. What did he like least? Her rage. When did he decide to trust her? Never. He never turned his back around her. Not even when he needed her. Especially when he needed her. Why Yassal? Because he needed a tactician and a killer.
The next questions were about Rose. Who helped her cross over from her universe to ours? I feel a crush of a different sort – desperate, yearning. Tal Soren was his name. Who attended your graduation from Primary school? My aunt and my sister. The others were already dead, and her “primary school” was a basement hovel on Trillus Prime -- only loyal subjects to the Terran Empire went to real school. Her family were labeled as dissidents. Rose could barely read and write. Who of the joined was Rose’s closest friend? A trick question. The symbionts in Rose’s world were all dead – destroyed by the Terrans. Practically illiterate, Rose was still clever.
I give the attendant a moment as her hands holding her PADD tremble. As prepared as I was the glimpse into Rose’s world still hurt, and was accentuated by the attendant’s despair. Destroyed by the Terrans. It invokes something visceral in us – an inheritance denied, our future snuffed out, even if in some sideways corner of the multiverse. How could any heart not made of neutronium not reach to something so stricken?
The attendant’s adoration had power I can use. I touch her hand, warm my voice. “Its alright. We’ll fix this.” She may have talked to well over a hundred joined, but we are still the chosen – the godhead. The selfish bask in their adoration and drink it in. But we can also use it to help those that serve and adore us help themselves. My touch, my resolve, my smile become hers. It’s a little thing, but its something.
Rose’s questions resume after a moment of re-composure. Who is Klanth? He taught Rose how to make bombs out of common, replicatable materials. What targets wouldn’t Rose ever bomb? Schools, Hospitals. What brought Rose to this world? An explosion aboard an experimental Terran ship. Did Rose kill many humans? She didn’t count. She killed to survive.
The attendant is so pleased at the briskness of my answers she mostly ignores the grim details they contain. The last questions are about Yassal, she explains with a flick to her PADD. And her prim smile becomes a frown.
What was killing Evlyn Yassal? Old age. I remember the aging brought on by experiments in creating a Jem’Hadr like soldier, but Yassal didn’t make that part of her question. How long were Yassal and Atrios Lahn friends? Never. She respected him, but never liked him. Who did she work for? Some bastards. Why did she turn on them? She realize she’d made a mistake.
“Who—“ she pauses, her cheeks turning crimson. She must not have read the questions ahead of time. “Who the hell do you think you are?”
I pause, knowing the answer but not really wanting to say it and she looks at me with a touch of worry. I shrug helplessly, my response deadpan. I couldn’t change the answer, or I’d get it wrong. “Fuck it. Does a centaur wonder if she’s a horse?”
“What – What’s a centaur?”
“Half Horse, half human.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Its alright. I do.” And I know the answer is correct. “Are there other questions?”
She glances down at the PADD and says “No” with a tinge of relief.
I frown, feeling vaguely uneasy.