Thursday, April 9, 2020
Previous: Ardra plans to make Picard a believer in magic--or else.
Emerging from the wormhole with Ardra, Picard found himself in a busy medieval kitchen. His tricorder proved it was not a hologram, and his comm badge got no response from Enterprise. Still, it didn't prove they had left the planet. "Where is this place?"
Ardra wore a wistful look. "The Andromeda galaxy, a thousand years in your past. You wanted to know my origin; the first clue is in this room. Don't worry about these folks. They can neither hear nor see us."
Always up for a mystery, Picard searched the various faces, unnerved when a fat cook passed though him from behind. At length, he squatted beside a maid tending a firepit. There was no mistaking it.
"That's right," Ardra said. "She's me, a girl who dreams of being on a strike team as a spell caster, but lacks the required brain structure; a certain link by which thought becomes reality. A gout of flame, a flurry of frost balls. You get the idea."
Picard rose. "It would appear she succeeded anyway." Despite his disbelief in magic, he could hardly wait to learn how she did it.
"She found a discarded magic text," Ardra went on, "and studied it at risk of her life. She was already a skilled herbalist. Let's move forward in time to when her resolve reached a boiling point, and she did something really desperate."
They stood in a noisy and crowded tavern, underground by the looks of massive support pillars. A spiked iron fence separated them from an arena where teams outfitted with weapons. A massive iron gate opened to admit a returning team carrying an unconscious member. It set off frantic calls for the camp healer, who apparently wasn't here. Picard had spotted the young Ardra carrying a tray of drinks.
Ardra watched him approvingly. "Very good. Keep a close eye on her."
The maid stood on a table to lively objections from its occupants, and leapt over the fence. She avoided clutching hands on her way to the stricken team. A petite blonde exchanged hurried words with the maid, and prevented others from interfering.
"What's happening?" Picard couldn't take his eyes away.
"That fighter was stung by an insectoid down in the labyrinth, and is having an anaphylactic reaction that has closed his airway. The maid recognizes this, and has some herbs intended for making tea--except there's no time. She decides on a desperate measure."
"Indeed." Picard watched her clamp the pouch over the man's nose and mouth. He jerked to a sitting position, coughing and gagging, to a delirious celebration. The forgotten maid was escorted out by camp security.
Ardra shifted them to the tavern side, where the forlorn maid was getting glad-handed and some amused pats on the head. The kitchen mistress would have her hide for this, if Picard knew his medieval history.
The blonde peered through the iron bars from the arena side. "You deserve better. I'll send for you in the morning." The young Ardra went open-mouthed with euphoria. She wouldn't even feel the blows from her boss's strap.
"The blonde is the sorceress Iris," Ardra said. "She taught me forbidden magic in gratitude, but scoffed at the notion I'd ever be able to use it."
"Yet you did."
Ardra nodded, shifting them once again through time and space. Two girls--the young Ardra, along with Iris, huddled on the floor in predawn gloom. They wore night gowns, sitting between beds, intently discussing highly technical details of spell casting.
"This is Iris' room," Picard surmised. "The maid was found to have the required brain structure after all, and has been accepted by the academy."
"Very astute, Picard! Actually, her brain structure is unorthodox. Was it there all along, or did she grow it by iron force of will? I still don't know."
"I'm prepared to believe the latter," Picard said.
A faint blue glow appeared about the former maids' fingertips, setting off a frenetic bout of celebratory hugging.
"And there you have it," Ardra said. "My first animus, the spell precursor phenomenon."
Picard gazed down at the happy tableau. "I begin to understand. You pursued your newfound abilities with the same zeal by which you brought matters to this moment. There came a point where this galaxy was no longer big enough. I still can't believe in fairytale magic. This is some kind of very advanced telekinesis. Does that satisfy your condition?"
"Call it whatever you like." Ardra shrugged. "As long as you know it's genuine. We'll return to Ventax now. I'll need you to be out of town by sundown."
"Yes." Picard made a wry grin. "Quite so."
Wednesday, April 8, 2020
In the Ventaxian senate
Captain Picard's confident face helped assure President Jared that Ardra's hours were numbered. The senate waited fearfully for her appearance at a hearing she had agreed to. If she could prove being a "goddess", the Federation had no choice but to honor her claim to the planet.
"Have faith, Mr President." Picard practically beamed. "This woman is a fraud. She's using a stealth ship to power her parlor tricks. I'll have my chief engineer explain how we'll unmask her." He touched his comm badge. "Picard to LaForge. Is all in readiness?"
"All set, Captain. We'll direct a tachyon pulse at the tectonic plate, so you can create an earthquake on command. Then we'll envelope you in a hologram so you can alter your appearance like she does. When it's her turn, we'll disrupt her ship's transmission--she'll be impotent!"
Jared relished watching that happen. "Excellent. Now we wait for her to take the bait. I can't wait to put her in irons."
Minutes later, Ardra made her usual flashy arrival in an energy cyclone. She looked out imperiously from Jared's seat, now serving as her impromptu throne. "What's this about Picard duplicating my feats?"
"Quite simple," he said. "I'll summon a quake just as you do." Picard raised a hand and caused the ground to tremble, drawing surprised murmurs from the assembly. "Next, I'll alter my appearance." He briefly became a clone of Jared. "What you've just seen, folks, is routine technology from my ship. I'd like to challenge Ardra to do anything--anything at all." He smirked.
"As you wish." Ardra swept a hand, shaking the place so hard that urns crashed to the floor. Some of the ladies screamed. "How to alter my form. . . let's try this." She became a duplicate Picard for a few moments, causing gasps of dismay.
Jared turned a betrayed look on Picard, matching his own expression. "How do you explain that, Picard?"
"It's very simple," Ardra supplied. "My stealth ship was just an illusion to see how far these people would go. What say you now, Captain?"
He remained unmoved. "I still say you're a fraud, madam, and I intend to prove it."
"Really." Ardra touched her temple in exasperation. "Reconsider, because I'm losing my patience, little man." Picard shrank to half size, which left the crowd speechless. "I give you one solar day to think about it, before the same thing happens to your ship. Begone!" Picard vanished, sent up to an astonished bridge crew aboard Enterprise. "That man simply doesn't like me."
A crestfallen Jared approached. "I suppose we're left at your mercy. What shall--"
A trio from Enterprise beamed down: a short Picard, along with Data and Counselor Troi.
"We seem to be at an impasse," Picard said. "The Federation will not sit by and watch you take over a planet."
Ardra sighed. "He really doesn't like me."
The diplomatic Troi replied, "He doesn't like what you represent: power without consequence."
"Posh!" Ardra rose and grew to double height. "He's wrong, you know. There are things that even I can't get away with." She stared down at an angry Picard. "Some guys like big girls." He didn't find that amusing. "The problem is how you people simply can't believe in magic. Am I right?" She reverted to normal size.
"Science," Data said, "when sufficiently advanced, can appear like magic to those unfamiliar with high technology."
Ardra shook her head. "Mr Data, you have no imagination. Here's what we'll do: I'm prepared to make Picard a believer in magic. It will require a short trip off-planet. Are you game?"
"I could never resist a good mystery," Picard decided. "And if I'm not convinced?"
"Then you can stay three feet tall. We'll meet here tomorrow." She started to saunter out.
"Ardra--" Troi pointed down at Picard.
"Oh, very well. A temporary reprieve." She waved her arms, and Picard grew to normal height.
Monday, April 6, 2020
Call it what you will--comeuppance or symptom of a greater ill, a society passively watching its freedom siphoned by eugenicist control freaks. Tonight's food for thought from The Twilight Zone, where bidets and guns are the top-selling items.
Sam held his breath while walking past a couple of enforcers lounging around a barrel fire. He drew some small confidence from Delgado's reputation for fairness--if forty dollars for a roll of TP could be called fair. But it didn't matter; the stuff was more precious than life itself. People willingly starved or went without medicine in order to afford it. Sam was no different in keeping his source a secret. It was every man for himself now.
He let out a breath of relief after safely reaching the grotto beneath overhanging fire escapes. A few of Delgado's camp followers eyed him with contempt. Why not? They had ready access to the paper gold, even if it meant existing as lowly hangers-on or concubines.
"Back so soon?" Delgado emerged from a rat hole in the condemned building's foundation. Like all petty warlords, he dressed in kingly style, or in Sam's opinion, like a pimp. The only thing missing was the feathered cowboy hat.
"One roll doesn't go far," Sam protested.
Delgado grinned. "I told you how to stretch it. Use four squares, then fold three times for a slender, eight-ply pad that's just right for the job."
"I do that, but it hardly lasts a week!" Sam pulled out the cash."It's a good thing the government hands out all these greenbacks so we can afford the black market." He eyed the others. "So. . . .where do you get your stock?"
"You guessed it," Delgado said. "My associates watch for people unloading armfuls of TP from their shopping trips. Then we make a little home invasion that night, and relive them of it. The cops look the other way as long as nobody gets hurt."
Sam's mouth twisted. There weren't enough cops anyway who were still healthy. Same for street cleaners, which is why streets were littered with castoff masks and gloves. "You're just turning these hoarders into criminals. They're so insecure, they're capable of anything. They hang out at stores waiting to hijack the latest shipment of TP. They roll people getting out of their cars if they have any. And all the time, they have two years' worth squirreled away somewhere. They can never have enough!"
"Sure enough." Sam rubbed his jaw. "You hear that, friends? We can't be having this. Next time you make a midnight call, check for hidey holes."
With the transaction made, Sam tucked the precious roll into his coat, hoping to avoid getting rolled on his way back to his car. Well, if anybody had a mind to take it, they'd better have a gun, and be willing to use it. He'd die before giving it up. How ironic was it that the doomsday predictors got it all wrong. The new currency wasn't twenty-two caliber bullets, but TP. Then again, the human animal was one strange critter.