Never Finished, Only Abandoned
Episode 5: Escalation
Location: Illiran Cultural District
Timeline: MD 05 - 1832 hours
2708 words - 5.4 OF Standard Post Measure
Max looked up at the sky and watched some of the traffic going by overhead.
"Thinking about the ship?" Kanani brought him back to earth.
"I know I'm technically not on duty, and the ship is docked, but," he thought about how much he could tell her while they were in public about the mission going on around the planet, "I'm a bridge officer, and always on call. You never know when I'll need to pilot something."
"Well, try to enjoy yourself while you're not being called in. Don't waste your free time worrying it will stop being free time, because then it already is."
"You're right, as usual."
Kanani looked over his shoulder and her face lit up, "Ooo, street meat!" She hooked her arm through his and pulled him to a cart that was selling some sort of food on a stick, ordering two. Max didn't even ask what it was before taking a bite. Kanani sniffed it briefly, and poked it with her hand to determine the consistency, before taking a bite.
Kanani, "Brave of you to just dive right in without asking any questions."
Max, "It's food, right? Worst case scenario, I have to go to sickbay later." It wasn't too bad. Like a combination between teriyaki chicken and lime pudding.
Kanani dragged him down the street by the arm, with each of them pointing at various shops and carts as possible points of interest.
Kanani stopped at a poster, "Let's go here."
Max took a look at the poster. It was some sort of ad talking about a new art exhibit. Flashy print claimed that it was a famous artwork never before display before the public and there was a picture of a building with classic Illiran architecture. If he was honest, he had trouble telling apart any Illiran buildings unless they had signs or drastic color differences.
He shrugged, and Kanani took that as good enough. They joined a line outside of the building from the poster. The line seemed excited but orderly as they slowly moved into the exhibition. They chatted lightly while they waited.
Near the front of the line, just before going into the building, Kanani picked up a brochure from a bin, which she began to read it to herself.
"So, what are we here to see?" Max asked.
"It's called, 'Lost Liaison'," she began to read out loud as they shuffled ahead, "Liaison is the final work from the late revolutionary artisan Tousiata Alofa. This ultimate expression of his perspective on the repression of the Pa'aga movement at the end of the Tupu period was thought destroyed following the siege of the movement's compound by government forces at the end of the period. However, the sculpture we re-discovered circulating in the black market. The recovery and restoration of this seminal work has been funded by noted philanthropist Masalo Salo. We are proud to be the first gallery able to publicly display the work deemed so provocative and dangerous that it would be destroyed. Oh," she switched tones, clearly speaking for herself, "It seems like this Salo guy is going to give a little speech.
"Sounds like a really complicated way to say, 'It's a nice statue'."
A solitary man behind them interjected, "It's a really complicated way to say it's a stolen nice statue." Max and Kanani turned to look at him. He was fairly nondescript with very generic features. The only things notable amount him were he seemed a bit on the older side and he was dressed very simply in all black.
"Have you seen the statue before?" Max asked the stranger.
"Yes, but not in a long time. I consider myself somewhat of an expert on Tousiata's work."
"Well then," Kanani lowered the brochure, "Maybe we should defer to your expertise instead of the marketing blurb. Is it worth seeing?"
The three of them entered the building and followed the crowd.
"Oh, definitely. It's a wonderful statue, I just wouldn't read too far into what the exhibitors think the statue means. Museums tend to try to make art much more complicated than it is."
"Probably to make it seem important so people come see it," Max suggested.
"Maybe. Hard to tell what someone's agenda is when they're the ones telling you. Take this 'noted philanthropist', you'll note they make no mention of how he became wealthy enough to give it all away or why he was interested in this statue. Nor do they specify that he bought it from the black market years ago and only 'recovered' it after someone managed to recognize it in his home."
Max nodded along. This version of art was much more interesting than what the brochure had said, "If you've seen it before, what brings you here today?"
"Oh," the man smirked, "I wanted to see what Salo had to say for himself. You?"
"Our ship is getting overhauled in the docks," Max offered.
"This is Max, our pilot, and I'm Kanani, one of the counselors."
"Starfleet? I should be careful what I say around you two, then," the man smiled, "these days people just call me Milakais. How pleasant to make your acquaintance. It's just this way," he took the lead and started cutting through the crowd.
They came around a corner and saw a very large room. Various small sculptures lined the walls, and there was a selection of carved masks.
"Those masks are pa'aga ceremonial masks. Also taken during the government raid.
Dominating the room and the crowd's attention, however, was the sculpture in the center of the room. If it could even be called a sculpture, with its size it was bordering on architecture.
Max and Kanani started to follow the crowd, but Milakais waved another direction, "It's intended to be seen from this side. Like I said, you can't really trust an exhibitor." They followed him in the opposite direction of the crowd until his stopped and faced directly at the piece of art.
Kanani sighed her appreciation. Max was having trouble deciphering what it was supposed to be a sculpture of. He kept subtly turning and tipping his head to see if it would become clear to him.
Milakais tapped his arm, "I can see you're a little confused. Look at the negative space."
Max tried to focus on the gaps in the sculpture.
"Start in the very center. Do you see where the sculpture has the four large swirls in the middle. Look at the gap between them."
Max squinted to try and reverse what his brain was focusing on.
"It's a little easier if you know some anatomy," Milakais offered.
"Is it a... heart?"
"Very good. Now, knowing that heart is the center, try to look at the next gap."
Max could kind of make out an outline, "It's a person. There's a person at the center of the sculpture."
"Very good. Keep going."
"And it looks like they're floating. In space? In water?"
"The ocean. Walk around this way, but keep watching the sculpture and describe what you see," Milakais took Max by the shoulders and moved him counter-clockwise around the sculpture. Kanani followed along.
"Oh, it looks like they're moving. They're reaching out. For something. No, someone. There's another person in the sculpture. They're reaching out for each other. But there's something in the middle pushing them apart. Now they're completely separate, and going in opposite ways. Now they're gone."
"I must say, you have an excellent eye."
"Necessary for a pilot."
"It truly is a pleasure getting to see someone experience it for the first time, again."
The sound of someone clearing their throat was amplified through the room. Max looked behind himself and saw a small clearing in the crowd where a few people were standing apart. One of them was raising their hand and slowly waving it to get people's attention.
"If I can have everybody's attention," they were saying, "I'd like to welcome our benefactor who has made this once-in-a-lifetime exhibit possible, Mr. Masalo Salo, to say a few words," they indicated a man to their left, who was tall and distinguished, holding his chin up above the heads of most of the crowd.
It seemed the sculpture was forgotten as people pressed toward the clearing to get closer to the philanthropic celebrity. Milakais rolled his eyes to Max and Kanani but also moved a little closer to the speakers.
Salo began to speak, "I won't keep everyone for too long, I'm not one for speeches. I like to let my good works speak for themselves," at that Milakais let out a low huff, "I'm honored that I am able to use my position and resources to restore such artwork as this to the public so that more people can appreciate the special gift that Alofa had," Milakais huffed again, "As many of you know, I consider myself the foremost collector of pa'aga artifacts. I believe I may be the expert on their art--"
"He's even more full of himself than I remember," Milakais spoke under his breath but over Salo.
"--which is why I'm so proud to be able to display 'Lost Liaison' for the first time publicly. This sculpture showing the subject reaching for the stars represents everything that is best about our society."
Now Max talked over the speech, "But that's not what it is."
"Like, I said," Milakais responded, "you can't trust an exhibitor understands a work just because they say they do."
Out of nowhere an alarm started blaring and lights started flashing. At the end of the gallery, large doors were lowering into place to secure the area. It looked like security guards were trying to keep people in the room.
"Is someone trying to steal something?" Kanani asked.
Max looked around, "Not exactly," Near one of the doors, a man in oversized clothes was standing next to a pedestal for the pa'aga masks. It was empty, and he looked to be wearing the mask that had been there. Max looked around and saw several others had also put on masks from the exhibit.
"What are they doing?"
The question was answered when they pulled weapons out. One yelled out, "Everybody down!"
The crowd murmured as if unsure what to do. The one who seemed to be the leader of the Masked fired his weapon over the crowd's heads, causing them to crouch.
"Down! Hands on your heads!" It seemed like they were herding the crowd toward the end where Salo was.
Milakais was still watching Salo. Salo had stopped speaking loudly and looked to be whispering to someone next to him. Someone who looked like a bodyguard stepped out of the crowd and in front of Salo.
"What do you want?" Salo confronted the Masked.
"We want you, Colonel," the apparent leader responded, getting into Salo's face. Salo's bodyguard moved to intervene and another one of the Masked cracked him from behind, sending him sprawling.
"What's going on. Did they call him Colonel?" Max whispered to Milakais.
"They did. Salo considers himself an expert on the pa'aga movement because he was the colonel who led the raid to wipe them out. He made his money selling off things he stole during his raids."
"We need to contact the ship," Kanani nudged Max.
"I'd keep your heads down. Only Salo is in any danger," Milakais warned.
"Still, we have to do something," Max reached for his comm badge, "Max to the Eagle."
Milakais grabbed the badge off of Max's chest and tossed it to the ground. Stomping on it, he held out a hand and took Kanani's as well.
"What are you doing?" Max had that gut worried feeling again.
"I told you you should keep your head down," Milakais stood up and walked over to Salo," Well, Colonel, we meet face-to-face again," he stared up into the other man's face.
A dark smile spread on Salo's face, "Well, well, well, I honestly thought you were dead by now, Tousiata."
"Hoping your version of events would be the final word? No such luck." Tousiata motioned to one of the masked, who tossed him something. With another keeping a weapon to his face, Salo's hands were pulled behind his back and Tousiata bound them. Then he started pulling Salo toward the center of the sculpture.
"What should we do?" Kanani whispered to Max.
"I don't think we do anything. We have no way to contact the ship, and it sounds like this is the definition of an internal affair," he replied.
"What brings you out of whatever dark hole you fell down?" Salo didn't seem to be one easily intimidated.
"Why, you do, of course. You always were too proud to understand you were completely missing the point of everything. Even while you were torturing us, and trying to beat the answers out of us, you couldn't understand our answers. I'm here to finally help you understand."
Salo was led to the center of the sculpture and pushed up onto a pedestal just large enough for one person, putting them out of earshot. Max watched several of the Masked arranging things around the sculpture.
"Those look like some sort of field generators. Could be a shield generator, or transport inhibitors," Max pointed out.
"What do you think their plan is?" Kanani whispered back.
"Maybe they want to kill him."
"They really don't seem to be acting that way. I've met a lot of personalities, and Milakais, sorry, 'Tousiata', isn't acting like a killer."
"It's not like they can just pull this and disappear back into the crowd."
Tousiata turned to the crowd, and one of his associates handed him the microphone, "People, congratulations, for the first time in public, you are all going to witness the true expression of Tupu Pa'aga from this statue." He snapped his fingers, and the field generators started humming.
The statue started to lift and glow around Salo at its center. The pieces started to float, and then slowly rotate around the center of the statue. Light ran along the edges of the pieces, and when they seemed to get up to speed it was like everything Tousiata had pointed out to them before had become glaringly obvious. The figures in the statue seemed to animate, as two people came from one, becoming separated, pushed apart by something they both shared.
The light from the statue started to get brighter, and the figures were sweeping around the edges, still reaching for each other. The light got almost too bright to bear. A slow but steadily rising scream rose from the center of the statue, where Salo's silhouette could just barely be seen. There was a growing hum, as well, and the Masked seemed to all focus on the scene.
Max could barely look directly at the statue, and was feeling the hum in his bones. There was suddenly an extra bright flash and a loud clap, like thunder, rushed through the crowd. Max felt himself knocked back to the ground and covering his eyes instinctively.
When he managed to sit back up, the light and hum were gone, along with the Masked and Tousiata. Kanani was propped up next to him.
"Where'd they go?"
"Where'd Salo go?" They looked at the statue and it seemed to have fused together, the figures once again combined, but with outstretched arms. Max wondered if they had, in fact, killed Salo. Then he heard a shouting and banging coming from the statue. He scrambled up, and offered a hand to Kanani, lifting her to her feet. They stepped past the security rope with several others and listened to the statue.
From inside, they heard Salo knocking and shouting for someone to let him out.
"So..." Kanani began, "would you say the statue was saying there's no way to escape Tousiata's perspective?"
"This was definitely more energetic than most museums I've gone to in my lifetime."
They stepped away from the statue.
"I guess we should make our way back so we can find someone else from the ship," Max looked at his smashed comm badge.
"So, are you enjoying your leave now?"
"Speaking of," Max got a glint in his eye, "Want to find some more street meat?"