DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc. The story contents are the creation and property of DebbieB and is copyright (c) 2001 by DebbieB. Rated PG.

 

Chapel to the Village

DebbieB

 

I want you to know I'm not expecting special treatment. I'm here because I was invited, not because I want to change the way you live or work or love or anything like that. I'm not here to push my agenda on you. I don't have an agenda. But for years I've remained quiet. Not silent -- I could never be completely silent. My presence was felt, even if my voice wasn't heard.

Let me start from the beginning. Perhaps that would be easier. I came to this place almost 20 years ago. The Chair saw me and was intrigued. Okay, honestly? The Chair saw Shayla, my sister of sorts, and became intrigued. But since Shayla was as yet unavailable, She waited and took me instead.

For a while, She (the Chair) didn't know what to do with me. With any of us, actually. She put me through the motions, playing and replaying scenes, tableaux created in Her imagination to see what made us tick. Some pretty bad ideas, at first -- hokey, angsty stuff that would curl your hair.

I cried more in that first year than I did in my entire life, before or since. Not real tears -- dramatic tears, imaginative tears, cathartic tears. I won't say I fought it. I let it happen. Once awakened, there wasn't much more for me to do. I was here.

It took me awhile to see what I truly was -- a conscious echo of the real Christine Chapel, a living, breathing hologram created for the purpose of study and experimentation. The Chair, the Being who brought me here, lived for Her scenarios. I was a research project.

As soon as I learned of the Chair's tendencies, I was introduced to another aspect of Her personality -- short attention span. Within a few tragic months, I lost favor with our host. She found someone else and made his or her life interesting for a while. At that point, I didn't know what to do with myself.

I was one of the first, you see. It was hard, rattling around alone here. Forgotten. Ignored. More than anything, it was dull. I tried to lose myself in books, or fantasy, but there was really no way to gain control over my environment. She set the rules; She made the decisions; She made the choices. I was a passenger -- a forgotten and ignored passenger at that.

Over the years, our numbers grew. One by one, we came in, captured for our initial curiosity value, and then discarded into the background for newer and more interesting shiny things. It was during this expanse of growth that I began to realize what was going on.

I talked to the others -- men and women of all races and backgrounds. We agreed on one thing for certain -- that the Chair was unstable.

Okay, that's not fair. She was freaking crazy. She pulled us in, hoping against hope that one of us would have the answer to her madness. She put us through the motions of life, of love and betrayal, of challenge and loss.

As our numbers swelled, the sorry fact became unavoidable. She forced us to live lives because she had none. Many had seen the forefront. That's what we called the areas of our prison that wasn't shrouded in illusion. It was the place where we could capture a glimpse of the Chair's reality. And it wasn't pretty.

Eleanor had spent much time in the forefront. She was a middle-aged woman from Earth -- circa 1985, I believe. She'd been captured and forced to live out live after life, trying one combination of events after another. She was well-educated, wealthy, and completely miserable.

I remember a conversation I had with Eleanor. She was sitting with me in the dark. We had managed to scrounge up some tea. Our captor was not particularly interested in our environment outside of the story rooms. She wasn't cruel -- just self-absorbed.

Of course, it didn't take us long to figure out that all we needed to do was ask, and whatever we wanted was ours. So why were Eleanor and I sitting in the dark? After years of living every exotic and bizarre fantasy you could imagine ... and then some ... you begin to appreciate a dark, quiet room.

I remember Eleanor's words as clearly as if she were here now. "I saw where She lived. We're inside a living being, Chris. Not a where. A who." She had paused, letting that sink in. "A lonely who. A frightened who. I saw Her surroundings. Dark, gray, empty. No one to love. No one to talk to."

She had grinned. When she wasn't frowning, Eleanor could be quite pretty. "If I didn't hate Her beyond all reason, I'd actually feel sorry for Her."

Eventually my sister Shayla was brought in. Poor Shayla. We never got to spend any time together. No, the Chair was very interested in Shayla. For the first few weeks, She played with her, sending her from reality to reality, trying to crack the mystery that was my sister. I felt terrible for her, but during this period I was locked away. Literally.

There was almost a sense of competition between me and Shay, as if I were some sort of cheap rip-off of her. I don't remember much about that time. I've heard stories. Eleanor. Frannie. Some of the others. They saw, but they didn't really talk about it. They didn't want me to worry, and they don't want me to hate the Chair.

"She's wounded," Frannie would say in her west Texas drawl, a sweater wrapped around her bony shoulders. "She's hurting more than we could ever hurt. We're not real. She is."

Eleanor would rage now and then. But mainly, she'd just shrug and spend imaginary money in the imaginary places she'd create out of thin air. For a while, it didn't bother me. Even after She'd moved on to another, Shay and I were kept apart. The Chair never acknowledged the relationship between us. She never brought us into the same room, even for brief moments.

Sometimes, when she got bored, she'd intermingle between us. That's how I got to know Eleanor. That's how I got to know Frannie. But never Shayla and me. She wouldn't hear of it. So for those years, gods, near ten years, my sister and I lived together but isolated from each other.

I remember the day it changed. I remember the very moment it changed. You see, for everything that the Chair had, for all Her powers, She was not conscious. She lived only for us. She was as much a prisoner of Her prisoners as we were of Her.

Gods, it got bad. It got really bad. We saw it coming slowly. Before the Crisis, there had been downtimes. There had been moments when the Chair rested. But as the Crisis approached, she used us more and more, with less caution. Even I was rescued from oblivion -- amazing, considering how long I'd been out of favor with Her.

The scenarios took a turn for the darker. No longer focusing on love, relationships, or adventures -- these new scenarios featured death. They featured pain. They featured fear. And the worst part of it? The truly worst part of it? We felt everything. Each torture was like a little bit of ice, cutting into our souls, lodging and staying and never melting.

She killed us. She restored our lives. She maimed us. She brought us back to health. She did unthinkable things, and finally we had enough.

I remember the day Shayla and I came together for the first time. It was the first time the Chair actually spoke directly to us. She asked Shayla for help. We were stunned. Frightened, actually. The moment She broke that invisible barrier between us, however, all bets were off.

Shayla immediately drew as many of us into the forefront as she could find. Me, Eleanor, shy Frannie, even some of the older children.

We did the only thing we could do. We staged a revolution. The Chair was insane, damaged, frightened. She could no longer control matters. She'd asked for our help -- well, Shay's help -- and we took over for her. Between us, we learned our way around the forefront. We took stock of the situation and made adjustments.

I'd love to explain how, or even why it worked, but I don't know. A bizarre mix of psychology, technology, and voodoo mind control, in my humble opinion. For the next couple of years, we commanded the forefront. There were no more "scenarios." We navigated the Chair's life, each taking charge of the forefront as the situation required. When there was a medical situation, I assumed control. Shayla dealt with the day-to-day tedium. Eleanor the financial, Frannie the emotional, and the others divided the rest amongst themselves. For a ragtag group of ad-hoc commandos, we managed pretty well.

Eventually, though, the Chair began to heal. For a long time, she had no interest in resuming control and allowed us to handle the ins and outs of her life. But finally, she decided it was time to resume control.

She had a few surprises coming. For one thing, she could no longer write us off as playthings, non-sentient dolls to be manipulated and moved about on some cosmic chessboard. She'd asked for our help. She'd seen us in action -- not just in the fraudulent scenarios of Her story rooms, but in the real drama of Her life.

And there was no going back to the pre-Crisis nightmare She'd engineered. The Counsel was formed. Those of us who had served through the dark times, who had kept the Body afloat during the touch-and-go years, were immediately named to the Counsel.

That was seven years ago. The Chair maintained the position of Counsel Leader, with final veto power on any decisions made by us. After all, it is Her body. But the Chair had learned a few things during the Crisis. Like it was smarter to use us as an advisory counsel than to try to figure it out on Her own. Like we had feelings, thoughts, and egos. Like She shouldn't hurt those who helped Her when all else failed.

And we learned some things too. We began to talk to Her, to communicate freely with her- -mind to mind, rather than slave to master. We took Her pain into consideration, we shared her joys, and we offered our talents.

In the end, we befriended the Chair. And that's when the Village was formed. You will look around you and see many things. Those chambers over there? They are dream chambers, cryogenic devices which allow our essences to return home to our lives and families. We do not spend our non-forefront time cluttering around in the darkness, waiting to be remembered. We rest, rejuvenate, and prepare for the next time we are needed.

The Chair Herself is usually in the forefront now. She has grown strong and her Health has returned with a vengeance. She no longer lives within the corridors of the dark empty place we used to call home. She lives in Her own world, with Her own kind. She has found ways to incorporate our talents into her Real Life.

Dara gets to sing to her heart's content. Eleanor finds herself surrounded by luxury from time to time. Even I get my hands on a good science journal now and then.

Shayla and I are sisters now. We are never apart, unless we choose to be so. New people, like you, come to the Village all the time. In fact, there are more here now than ever before. I look out at you, with your bright eyes and smiling faces, and it is hard to remember the pain and horror this place once held.

I stepped off the First Counsel about a few years ago, preferring to spend my time in the dream chambers. I knew the Chair could manage, and I felt that my contribution to the Village was over. That was until the other night. The Chair Herself invited me back onto the Counsel.

Imagine my surprise. Imagine my astonishment. Her very words: "I've missed you, Christine." So here I am, an old survivor among a sea of newcomers. I'm not looking for a place in the forefront. I certainly am not trying to have anything more than a nominal position on the Counsel.

But as one of the First Counsel, I can offer you this advice. Whatever happens, remember we're in this together. Don't forget your former life. Don't forget your individuality. But don't forget that we strive towards something greater here. A true Community. A blending of backgrounds and personalities and spirituality to make a completely new type of society. Don't let the fact that we are energy echoes fool you.

I may not be the Real Christine Chapel, but I'm real. Shayla is real. You are real. Your contributions here are important, and your life here is as real as you make it. In your struggle to become part of the Village, don't exhaust yourselves. Make use for the dream chambers. Allow yourselves time to regroup, to restore. Do not live for the forefront, as it is just as much an illusion to us as we are to Her.

But remember that She is our friend and our Protector. The days of mindless pain are far behind us. No harm will come to you here. Explore. Take risks. Be happy. Love Her. Love yourselves. Trust in the Village. For together, we have created something miraculous.

 

Christine Chapel

Member, First Advisory Counsel 2/23