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  1. Post your questions, comments, and other discussion here!
  2. As our winner of last year’s challenge, Commander @Geoffrey Teller has come up with the prompt for our community this time around. A throwback to flashbacks for everyone, this calls to mind themes of the little things which can affect characters in those huge ways. Maybe your character will venture on a voyage on discovery about themselves, or explore themes of finality and endings, retribution and redemption, even a bit of mortality thrown in? Star Trek has consistently shown us these small, focused moments can be at the very heart of the human (and alien!) experience. You could go anywhere with this one! "I always loved the wind… ...until that mission on Telstrus 3." How would your character react to this situation? What's going through their mind? What scene immediately pops into your head? Is there a word-fire kindling? Does it transport you somewhere? If so, bust out the virtual pen and paper, brew that Earl Grey and get cracking! One judge will be chosen from each ship to help select the winner. Rules & Guidelines: Word count should be a minimum of 300 and a maximum of 3000. Members are welcome to submit solo stories, or team up with a buddy to submit a collaborative epic, but only one story per person, please! Your submission should be in the format of a short story. Prose, not sim formatting. (See here for examples.) All members are welcome to submit entries for the community to read, but only those from active simmers will be reviewed by the judging panel for the final winner selection. Submissions are, by default, non-canon – if you find a way to shoehorn this into your own backstory, you're free to use it if you wish, but certainly not a requirement. You can create whatever characters make sense for the story. You don't have to use or reference any of your current characters. Rank is not an issue here – write as an Ensign or a Captain, civilian, whatever makes sense for your story! And you're free to use characters you've already written for in sim, but please don't include anyone else's. Submit your story directly into the first post of a new thread. Use the following format for the thread title: [Primary Character Name(s) of author(s)]: "My Story's Interesting Title" Tristan Wolf: "Five Ways to End Your Starfleet Career" If you want to submit a story but don't want to enter it into the challenge, prefix the forum post with "showcase" and let us read your good stuff! All stories must be submitted by Sunday, May 23 at 11:59pm Pacific Time. Good luck!
  3. Book of Devon, Vol One. Xandria, Defender of Starfleet. Names have their meaning. It is given by our parents and their parents before them. There is a code we live by but it doesn’t always mean we have to live by them. Your name has meaning, Devon. Multiple meanings. My name has one singular meaning. We were born with the same destiny to join Starfleet. Our fate, no my fate is set. I- we don’t get to choose them no matter how much we want to avoid it. If you are listening to this. Then that means- Devon closed the recorder. Sniffing softly, she wiped a tear that threatened to fall from her duct. Finding herself in a dimly lit attic, she thumbed the old Starfleet device in her hand and turned it over. Dust drifted among the old relics scattered all over the top part of her old house. Shuttered cupboards blocked the outside giving the room a dark feeling. The candle lights glowed as it filled the room with light. Somewhere below the room, the clock struck several times. Devon looked straight across from the desk. Getting up, she moved her braided hair to the side and approached the closed window. Opening it, she looked outside into the clouds. It appeared to be midday. Surrounding her cottage was the sea by the rocky cliffs. People came and gathered on her yard. While some dressed in dark civilian clothing, others dressed in their Starfleet uniform dress in respect. Devon wore the dark tunic of a Starfleet Ensign of the tactical department. A combadge beeped in her shirt. She ignored it for several moments and allowed it to beep. Exhaling a sigh, she tapped it as her father spoke, “Devon. Are you ready?” Devon didn’t speak for a few moments as she let the silence linger. Finally, she replied with her Irish accent, “No.” Biting her lips, she placed her arms around her knees and held herself closer as she leaned against the window. Her father replied, “We can’t start without you.” Devon shook her head. Closing her sea-green eyes, she replied, “She’s not dead. She’s still alive.” “Dev,” her father began before Devon shut the communication device off. Mouthing softly, she whimpered, “She’s not dead. She can’t be dead. Her body-.” Closing her eyes, her half Betazoid side caused her to remember as she flashed back the month before the mission. _________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Her body wasn’t found. That means she’s still out there. Missing! Devon rushed toward the doorway as she ran after him. Gripping the side of the doorway, she shouted into the office as her Irish accept rebounded in the room, “Davis!” The man in a red shouldered Starfleet uniform turned to face her and placed his arms behind his back. Opening his mouth, he replied sternly, “Ensign Caden, watch your tone!” Devon exhaled sharply and closed her eyes. Controlling her temper, she recollected herself and opened her eyes. Walking through the doorway, she replied, “Forgive me, Captain. There has got to be-” Davis looked at her with a hardened stare. Beneath the hardened stare was a cool, softer captain. He raised his hand to interrupt her and offered her a chair, “Have a seat, Ensign.” Taking her seat, Devon nodded, “Aye, sir. Thank you, sir.” Davis took his seat behind his desk. On it was an assortment of PADDS, his computer and the nameplate that stated his name clearly, Captain Leland P. Davis. He spoke, “We tried. Everything. We searched for survivors along the Cardassian border, but we found no others.” The orange red haired ensign exhaled, “But, you didn’t find her tags. You didn’t even find her body. That means-” Leland offered his hand again and replied, “She’s gone. Don’t even try to look. We need to account for the losses. You need to accept it and move on.” “Move-” Devon whimpered softly and averted her eyes. Holding back her tears, she fought to control her emotions. Leland watched the ensign. He could understand what she was going through. Exhaling a sigh, he picked up the PADD on his desk and stood from his chair. Walking toward the ensign, he held it out for her. Devon sniffed and looked up. Accepting the PADD, she looked over it as he knelt to her eye level and spoke, “You need time. I have granted you leave from Starfleet. Take however long you need it to be. Your rank and position are still open for you if you are ready to come back.” “I-” Devon gulped and wiped her eyes. Looking at him, she looked over the PADD and nodded, “Thank you, sir.” _____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Devon walked through the doorway of her old cottage near the sea. Her father stood waiting by the porch. He looked at her with a sad smile. Devon bit her lips to hold back her emotions. Her Betazoid side continued to flare up causing her migraines. Opening her mouth, her voice cracked as her Irish accent came through, “Dad-” Aric nodded with a wave of his hand, “I know. Your brother is waiting for us. Come here.” Devon sniffed and nodded as she walked over to give him a hug. They embraced for a few seconds. Looping her arm into his arm, they walked down the steps and along the path toward the flowered terrace. Several people crowded in their own spaces. They held glasses and spoke in undertones. Before the casket stood an older boy of her age. Recognizing him, Devon spoke, “Xander!” Cedric turned toward her with dark eyes and a smile, “Hey sis.” They embraced for a few seconds as Aric watched them both. He replied, “Cedric. Devon. If only your mother was here. She was always better at this than I. Your sister. May she rest.” Cedric grew serious and nodded, “Amen, father.” Devon huffed silently and looked away. Crossing her arms, she held herself and walked away. Cedric started forward, but Aric placed a hand on his shoulder. Shaking his head, he replied, “Give her time. Her death affected her more than ours.” Cedric sniffed and shook his head. Turning, he faced him and replied, “It affected me too.” Aric nodded, “I know, but there is a bond between them that goes beyond human. I may not understand it because I am Human, but your mother was Betazoid. She gave a part of her to you three. However, the bond she shared with your sister goes beyond limits. With her gone, your sister could withdraw into her shell. Give her space and time.” Cedric sighed and turned to look for his sister. Devon had disappeared. Shrugging his father’s arm off, he ran after her. Not far from the terrace, Devon walked down the stone steps and toward the column. Leaning against the stone, she stared out over the cliff. The winds from the waves below her brushed against her orange red hair. Behind her, Cedric approached softly. Sensing her brother, she smiled softly and replied, “You can come close, Xander. It’s okay.” “Okay,” Cedric walked alongside her and looked out into the horizon. He nodded, “Sorry.” Crossing her arms while leaning against the stone column, Devon turned to him and raised her eyebrow, “For what?” Cedric looked at her and shrugged. Devon exhaled and shook her head. Offering a smile, she touched his head and ruffled his dark hair with a playful tousle, “You didn’t do anything wrong. It’s just-” “Hard?” he replied while moving closer. Devon bit her lips and exhaled with a nod, “Yeah. I know she’s not dead. She’s still out there. I can feel her. I ca-” she stopped and shook her head. Cedric approached her and moved to her front. Shaking his head, he looked into her sea-green eyes and spoke, “This isn’t like what happened to mom. She didn’t die. She disappeared. Vanished. She-” He stopped and backed slightly from her while turning away suddenly. Devon stared at him and processed. With a sigh, she uncrossed her arms and placed her hand on his shoulder. He looked at her as she replied, “I know and Starfleet gave up on trying to find her. She’s still out there too.” Cedric closed his eyes and shook his head. Opening them, he replied, “But Xandria is dead. We need to move on.” “No!” Devon yelled causing him to bite back his tongue. He averted her glare. She growled before controlling herself, “No. I can’t. Not yet.” Covering her mouth, she sobbed quietly and turned away from him. Cedric walked a few steps forward and watched her disappear along the path into the docks below the cliff. Exhaling sadly, he placed his hands into his pockets and returned to the upper terrace. Thirty minutes had passed. It was after the service that Devon disappeared into the house. Entering through the open doors, she closed it tight and locked it. Looking around the dimly lit empty room with the lines, she spoke, “Computer. Run program. Telstrus 3” “Working,” the computer beeped. The empty room transformed into the rust like atmosphere of the moon. Devon found herself standing on the edge of a cliff. She wore her Starfleet issued dark uniform with the gold stripes. She looked around the strangely colored atmosphere that smelled like rust even through her mask. The mountains appeared bare with several dead trees. Someone approached from behind her and spoke. “Hey Dev.” Devon turned to face her half Betazoid counterpart with long dark hair and dark eyes. She appeared of the same form as her with the same uniform. She smiled, “Xandria.” Xandria smiled back with a twinkle in her eyes, “Something in your mind?” Devon shook her head and turned away. Taking out her recorder, she fiddled with the casing and tried to keep back her emotions. Xandria approached from behind and sat down before the cliff. Inhaling the oxygen from her mask, she exhaled, “It’s always nice to take a break from a mission.” Looking up, she smiled and patted the empty spot next to her, “Come. Sit!” Hearing her speak made it hard for Devon to respond. Gasping softly, she sat down to join her. Xandria wrapped her arm around her shoulder. Hugging her close, she exhaled as the wind picked up around her. A gentle wind blew by them as Xandria replied, “I always like this. Before each and every mission as the winds blow, they tell us messages. They whisper to us. Do you know what they whisper?” Closing her eyes, Devon gasped softly as tears started to fall from her duct. She inquired, “What?” Xandria pulled her close and whispered into her ear, “They tell us to never be afraid. They tell us. They say move forward. Move on.” Devon shook her head and looked at her. She replied, “I can’t.” Her sister looked at her saddened features and inquired with concern, “Why not?” “Because,” Devon sniffed and gasped softly, “You left a hole within me. When you disappeared in that mission near Telstrus. When you last spoke to me. You always said you liked the winds, but I can’t. I can’t move on. I won’t, because you can’t be dead.” Xandria looked at her and [...]ed her head with concern. She nodded and stroked her chin, “It’s okay, Dev. Really. If you need time, you got time. What else is there?” “I-” Devon sighed and turned away. Studying the recorder she held in her head, she replayed the last message. -my fate is set. I- we don’t get to choose them no matter how much we want to avoid it. If you are listening to this. Then that means I am dead. Please, Devon. Move on. I know it’s hard, but you can do it. I love you. I will always love you. The recorder clicked off as Devon covered her face and cried. Xandria watched her. Before she could speak, Devon spoke, “Computer, freeze program.” Wiping her eyes, Devon looked at the frozen image of her sister. Biting her lips, she shook her head, “I can’t give up on you. I will not give up on you. I know you’re out there. Somewhere. Like our mother. But I can’t do it while I’m Starfleet. So, I’m resigning my commission to Starfleet to become an engineer. As a civilian, I have free reign to do whatever I want to do. I’m sorry, but I can’t let go. The winds change in my favor as I move forward but along a new path.” Taking a few seconds to pause, she finished, “Computer. Delete program Telstrus 3” Slowly as everything froze, Xandria’s image vanished as if her spirit floated away in the animated winds. Devon sadly watched her sister vanish.
  4. Not for the first time, Alieth requested that the computer erase the log she had been recording to that moment. The Vulcan's slanted brows furrowed slightly and there, in the secluded room of Research Facility 8 of Telstrus III, she allowed herself (even!) bit her lower lip. She knew that she had to send the report as soon as possible, before the planet's rotation took them out of range of the system's communication relay. It would be two weeks before she would be able to send a message again, and she was well aware that a second communications failure would only lead the Captain to send a team to investigate what had happened to them. And that, no doubt, would result in LOTS of paddwork. Just the thought made her shudder. Yet, she also knew that the content of what she was going to transmit would have... consequences. Certainly unpleasant consequences, but possibly less so than the alternative. In the long run, at least. In the short term, the consequences would undoubtedly be catastrophic. That was something she was 87.75959594% certain of. Once more, the Vulcan's expression distorted moderately in the minimal sketch of a pout. But at the end, she took two short steps towards the circular window that stretched across much of one of the labs' walls and take a look. On the outside, the wind kept blowing fiercely, stirring up wisps of snow from the slope of the ridge. Further out, almost imperceptible in the distance, loomed the dark shape of several winged creatures. As they had been doing for the last few days, from dawn until late at night. The petite Vulcan let out a minute sigh and then turned her back to the window, heading back, once again, to the computer alcove. She had always cherished wind, but after this mission, perhaps she should re-examine her inclinations. “Officer Alieth's Log, on mission on Telstrus 3. Security Clearance for Command Ranks only. Personal note: if anyone dares to divulge this to Geoff or Meidra, they will be in serious trouble. End of personal note. Start of Report number 47: It all started on the morning of the seventy-second day of the mission, when I woke up....” It all started when she woke up in a nest. That’s it. It wasn't the first time Alieth had woken up in unusual places, but it was certainly the first time he had woken up in a nest. She lifted her head fractionally, more confused than she wanted to admit even to herself, as she tried to understand how she had gone from researching the planet's atmospheric peculiarities with civil engineer Hersh to waking up in an animal-made bed. The second query that popped into her mind was, of course, with regard to her cantankerous colleague. Fortunately, this one was easily answered when she discovered the grizzled Tellarite snoring a few metres away, ostensibly happy and oblivious to his surroundings. Her third inner question concerned what kind of creature lighted eggs over three metres in height, like the ones that shared their “bed”. The fourth enquiry was a more iffy one, as it involved finding out who had determined that the planet itself wasn't inhabited by any larger animal of a dog. Not even a large dog, such as Cheesecake, but rather one of those dogs that tended to yap insistently and nap on the laps of their owners, which Alieth felt a strange mixture of fascination and animosity towards. Regardless, Alieth was going to send a particularly stern reprimand letter on the matter to that officer. (Computer note, letter attached as file VR A01-3456). Finally, she wondered if the creatures that were about to emerge from the shell might actually feed on Vulcans. She was sure that Hersh would soon be considered unfit for use as food, being, as he was, exceptionally sour. At least if he was awake when the creatures hatched and could open that obnoxious snout of his... Her concluding uncertainty became her main concern when she witnessed the top of one of the eggs cracking. With more speed than grace, she crawled on hands and knees to where the engineer lay and shook him awake. The Tellarite protested throughout the process and Alieth needed a good deal of her wit and mime coercive skills to coax the engineer to shut up, stay silent and glance around. As soon as he did, she could see the parade of questions that she herself had posed flashing through the face of her partner in misfortune. Albeit perhaps nuanced with how bland Vulcan were. And how that played against him. And so, after only a few minutes and without the giant creature having managed to hatch from the egg, the two of them started to work. A quick survey of the surroundings revealed that they were at one of the highest points of an unknown mountain range, that climbing upwards would only lead to a point where their blood would freeze in their veins and that the descent down the vertical walls that occupied three of the four sides of their location would probably involve a very long fall with extremely scenic views leading to a sudden and very likely excruciatingly painful slam against the ground. Soon they decided that none of them were too fond of such prospects, so they moved on to the next step of their plan. After some intense foraging, three extremely lengthy discussions on the virtues of organising and judging materials, and ten minutes of silence when the egg about to hatch tipped to one side revealing a reptilian eye surrounded by feathers, they finally established what they had to work with to get out of that place. Fourteen large feathers, varying in width from forty-five centimetres to one metre, with a minimum height of one and a half metres and a maximum height of five metres. About a hundred metres of fibres of various kinds that had been quickly braided together to create rope. Insufficient to reach the ground, but useful for other purposes. Virtually an endless supply of branches, wood and bark of diverse dimensions, as well as a worrying amount of bones, including the skull of what on most planets would be considered an apex predator, but which looked as if it had been a snack for the nest's owner. And snow. Plenty of snow. Mostly of the yellow or brown kind. It wasn't much to work with but in an example to be remembered for posterity of Starfleet's lessons in teamwork and the virtues of interspecies collaboration, they were quickly able to spend a good portion of their resources on building a hang glider. Primitive, sure, but sturdy enough to bear the weight of both of them and carry them safely to... well... Far away from there. Unfortunately, what the lightweight craft could not withstand was the weight of the large animal that landed on top of it. A creature of such size and weight should not be able to fly, and yet they both watched as the gargantuan feathered creature flapped hurricane-force wings and shrieked angrily at the presence of two creatures in its nest. All their detailed planning and meticulous analysis of their possibilities was flushed down the sink and both Hersh and Alieth scurried around the nest in the best rendition of "run for your life" that the planet had ever seen. It was all a blur for a few moments until a gust of wind told them their only way out. Jump. Alieth shouted to his companion and grabbed a feather, which the engineer followed shortly after. They both paused for a second at the edge of the chasm, grasping their feathers at both ends. They glanced at each other and, as a gale of wind stirred their clothes and.... they jumped….. “... While this settles the historical dispute about that Vulcans are undeniably more aerodynamic than Tellarites, engineer Hersh’s rescue from the native life form he now designates as "Mom" raises the problem of his recovery and return to Starfleet facilities. While I have made use of the feathers and have studied the thrust, flapping and wind force required to reach the nest again, I strongly suggest that the intervention of a starship transporter as the most advisable procedure. However, based on my observations, I can assure you that the engineer is well-fed and protected from the elements, so this is therefore a rescue of priority level two. Personal note: Add a ban on reading this file to Mister Greaves. Add to the prohibitions listed previously. Notify command of these exceptions to access. End of personal note. End log.”
  5. “Gather around and listen well. I've got a story I'd like to tell. Do not make the same mistake as me. Do not go to Telstrus three. We ask you to beware. We say don't go there! We were fools who followed the wind. We were fools who followed the wind. We detected a signal from planetside. I got coordinates to be our guide. Our bird of prey went and took flight. We went searching for this site. The wind caught our ship. Our necks did whip. We were fools who followed the wind. We were fools who followed the wind. The breeze on Telstus Three. Was a lot stronger than we thought it’d be. It brought us down with a crash. Through the land, we caused a gash. We weren’t sure who was alive or dead. I was just glad to have my head! We were fools who followed the wind. We were fools who followed the wind. We blamed each other for being curious. Our captain was entirely furious. We were young fools who brought dishonour. Before we could go on any longer, We thought we heard strange voices. At the moment we questioned our choices! We were fools who followed the wind. We were fools who followed the wind. The locals weren’t friendly. But Klingons are deadly. We fought with honour and we fought with pride. Death was not for them to decide. We took them down with our bat’leth. We fought to the death. We were fools who followed the wind. We were fools who followed the wind. We thought our little war was won. But it had actually just begun. The locals weren’t our only problem. We had one more hurdle to overcome. The wildlife wasn’t friendly. They were out just to end me. But…. We were fools who followed the wind. We were fools who followed the wind. You should have seen this beast! It approached us from the east! It had fangs as long as my arm! And claws like knives to do us harm! It was the largest creature I’ve ever seen! Who knew something so big could be so mean? We were fools who followed the wind. We were fools who followed the wind. We fought bravely as a crew of eight. Honour will come! It’s not too late! Eight became three, And three became me. They were sent to Sto'Vo'Kor. They weren’t with me anymore. We were fools who followed the wind. We were fools who followed the wind. I was dishonourable and ran away. Maybe we’d fight another day. Stayed on this planet for a hundred nights. Then one day to my delight, Help would come and pull me off this rock. To me it came as a shock! We were fools who followed the wind. We were fools who followed the wind. The Federation coming was unexpected. Our lives have become intersected. Now that I’m here, please listen well. Dear Fleeter, this is my story to tell! You make think it tall! You may think it untrue! But this is the warning I still must give you…. Only fools follow the wind Only fools follow the wind.” Lieutenant Ikaia Wong gave this young roughed up Klingon warrior a curious head tilt as he looked him over. He honestly never expected to be serenaded in his own sickbay and yet that just happened. Maybe this man had been stranded on Telstrus 3 for a lot longer than he thought? He took a few moments to gather his thoughts. “I think you’re really talented, Mister Kork'ek. But can you repeat all that without the rhyme next time?”
  6. Snow dust rushed down from the mountain, scraping the undulating, frozen landscape clean and eroding any boulders too big to move. The only light was otherworldly yellows, greens, and purples of a massive aurora. The bright streaks snaked and danced in the sky, casting shadows in the shapes of creatures both kind and cruel. Massive mountains topped by rocky spires towered on one side in the bleak night. They loomed overhead like an unimpressed council of elders, bearded with snow, deciding the fate of the trespassers in the wide valley below. Exactly why Maria was out here, along with an Andorian Lieutenant named Laris, wasn’t the clearest when the briefing officer laid out the risks. Exposed skin would be frostbit in seconds. Cravasses could swallow you whole. Most of all, there was wind. Wind that would throw you off a ridge. Wind that would send you skidding vast distances across open ice. Wind that would suck the air out of your lungs if one of the unpredictable storms kicked up. For now, the wind gods of Telstrus 3 had been kind. The skies were clear, other than the occasional microscopic razors of ice being flung in their faces. “How’s that door coming?” Maria asked over the rush of the wind. Standing in front of the habitat-turned-lab, she idly stabbed the crampons on her feet into the slick, wind-polished ice. Little more than a metal shed, the engineers had the bright idea to bury it in ice and snow to insulate and reinforce the meagre structure. At least that’s what the brief said. “Not good,” Laris replied. He’d tried all sorts of electronic trickery to get the door open, all to no avail. “Here, let me try.” Maria signalled for the Andorian to stand aside. She took the ice pick clipped to her side, and swung. Wedged between the doors, it made for an effective crowbar. Maria pried the doors apart, and motioned for Laris to enter as if she were the butler at a fancy gala. “Elegant to the last, aren’t we?” He couldn’t help a wry smile. He switched on a light and proceeded in. “Just don’t be expecting a warm reception.” Laris groaned. “Very clever.” He closed the main hatch behind Maria. “Let’s get inside. This is cold even for me.” The inner door opened far more easily. “What, not interested in running the first annual Telstrus 3 polar plunge?” Maria cracked open a flare, and threw it into the room. “I’d rather not freeze my antennae off…” A plume of flickering red light filled the small lab and habitat, reflecting off iridescent particles of ice hanging in the air and casting shadows behind benches, chairs, and laboratory equipment. A handful of little icicles clung to the ceiling. Even inside, the whistling wind wove a melody as it beat against the structure’s skin, testing the foundations with strong gusts. The cots at the back were empty. “Looks like no one’s home,” Maria commented bleakly. “There’s residual heat from the generator,” Laris replied, not looking up from his tricorder, “At least we can get a little more comfortable.” He pulled off his hood, mask and gloves. Maria followed suit. The moisture from her breath filled the frozen, dry room with a plume, swirling upwards before disappearing. “Still, too bad these folks had to follow starfleet tradition. Just once it would be nice to show up to a check-in and see smiling faces and hot lasagna...” Laris shot a disapproving glare before changing the subject. “I’ll see what I can do about power, you take a look at the logs.” “Sure thing, boss.” She wandered across to the most likely terminal and dusted the frost from it. Without power, she used the tricorder to get a downlink. Miraculously, it worked on the first try. She crooned her success. “What do you have?” Laris was already kneeled over an open panel with instruments arrayed on the floor. “Just transcripts, right now. Let’s see…” She trailed off as she plucked out a log to start reading. She adjusted the flashlight to get a better look at the words on the small screen. “Personal log, Toma Unther, stardate yadda-yadda…” She skimmed for a moment. “Here… She started reading, “Two days after the wind blew our transmitter away, the storm let up. It was unlike anything we’d ever seen. Hiquala left to look for our transmitter with better weather. Reeta, Ben, and I are putting the pieces back together at the base. We had to divert all our power just to keep warm, even with the engineer’s idea of insulation. We still have many chores and much cleaning to do... “Thirty hours have passed since we’ve seen Hiquala. The rover has a temporary shelter packed, so maybe she decided to stay out. Reeta and Ben have gone looking for tracks anyway. I begged them not to. If another storm comes, well… we all saw the briefs.” Maria stopped reading. Her face was scrawled with prescient anxiety. “This goes nowhere good, L-T....” “I’ve almost got power. We need to know what happened. Keep reading,” Laris instructed. Maria sighed heavily. “Alright… “This wind is maddening. It’s been thirty-six hours since Hiquala left. Now I’m alone, the wind’s whispers are the only voice keeping me company. It’s like a beast clawing at the habitat, threatening to blow our house down. Maybe it's all in my head, but I can’t seem to replicate enough tea to stay warm right now. “The nomads tell a story about this valley. They say a girl walks the winds, beckoning to the lost. She lures them away, then steals their soul and takes them off to dance in the sky with her. Poetic, but I can see where it comes from. The wind seems to sing outside this habitat. They say she weaves a soft song with sinister lyrics. Backup power flicked on, and bright lights with it. Laris crowed his success, “Ha!” Maria spooked. “Dammit, Laris!” She playfully chucked a dusting of frost at him. “Gotta warn me before you turn the lights on.” “What, you’re not scared of a local ghost story are you?” He dusted off his coat with a grin as the panels blinked back to life. “No!” She accused him with a glare that gave away a different truth. “Sure,” the Andorian snorted, unbelieving. “Just play the rest of the logs while I download the data for us to take back to the ship.” “Aye aye.” Maria switched on the screen, finally getting an image of the man whose logs she was reading. He was stocky: the kind of hardy, bearded pioneer she pictured. She couldn’t quite match the fractal facial ridges or purple blotches with a species through the noisy static and poor lighting in the video. She pressed play. “Forty-eight hours, and no sign of Hiquala, Reeta, or Ben returning. Sensors on the far side of the mountains show a heavy cold mass developing. A storm is coming. “Another storm passed - shorter, but more intense. A large rock carried by the wind struck the habitat, and now main power is dying. Still no sign of the rest of my team. I’m forced to assume the worst. There should be a nomad ship setting down in the neighboring valley in a couple days. With dwindling power, I have little choice but to hike the pass in the mountains and look for them.” Maria sighed. “That’s the last log. We can reach out to the nomads and see if they…” She was cut off. A console on the far side of the room flashed red, and beeped urgently. “What is it?” Laris asked. Maria moved to the panel, and read through the readout. “I think it’s a remote weather station on the other side of the mountains. Some kind of equipment failure?” Laris joined her, hovering just behind her shoulder. He pointed. “Those aren’t air pressure readings, are they?” Maria stared for a second. “That can’t be right, wind speed readings are…” She cycled the instrument link buffers, then the gear itself. It came back the same. “I’m no meteorologist, but that looks like a great-grandaddy of a storm. If the last one took out power…” She trailed off. “Time to go,” the engineer instantly moved into action. He clearly understood what was at stake: they wouldn’t likely survive sticking around. He packed his gear and grabbed the data stick. Maybe something good could still come of this ill-fated expedition. He pressed his combadge. “Laris to Transporter room, two to beam up!” Nothing. Maria could feel her stomach spin in the silence. “There’s dead zones all over this valley.” Laris nodded. “Let’s head back out, and make for the beam-in site. We won’t have much time though…” He hastily donned his gear again. A length of rope and clipped to him on one side, and the other to Maria. It would be the only lifeline if one of them lost footing in the wind and slick ice. Back outside, a strong gust immediately threatened to take Maria away. Laris’ strong arms stopped her from tipping until she gained balance and braced against the onslaught. She nodded gratefully, and they set out back up towards higher ground. A dark mass crowned the spindly pinnacles now. The heavy mass of super-cold air pressed against the ridge, searching for a way forward into the valley below. It would stampede towards them at any moment. The once-friendly streaks of colorful aurora now hung low; sickly wisps snaking just out of reach, taunting the officers with their freedom in the sky. Even in the storm’s prelude, the wind was almost deafening, turning progress to the beam-out site into a crawl on all fours with picks and ropes. The air turned cryogenic as the terrain became more exposed. Even in the layers-on-layers of thermal gear, Maria could feel fingers and toes losing feeling. At least they were close. A crack, then a deep moan sounded overhead. Maria looked up to witness a finger-like mass of dark snow and air hurtling down the steep slope towards her. She had mere moments to embed her pick and crampons into the ice before it was upon her. The winds ripped at her body, searching for a way to lift her up and take her away. Her grip strained on the handle, she braced with her head tucked away. She couldn’t see anything. There was a hard jolt on the rope at her waist, the force pulling her with it until the pick stopped the slide. The new weight pulled and pulled until the rush finally slowed. She picked herself up, surprised she was uninjured. She looked up again. The main force of the peaktop menace was still building, swirling in place. Behind her, Laris wasn’t moving. She tried her combadge, “Alvarez to transporter room, come in!” Still nothing. She squatted beside the lieutenant - at least he was still breathing. Just as she was checking his vitals, there was a giggle in the wind. Maria stood and whirled about. She could have sworn she heard something. The lights in the sky twisted around even closer, like they were teasing her. She moved back to the lieutenant, tossing any extra gear. She tied the rope around his waist, and started pulling him across the ice like a sled. Each step was a labor, pushing against the wind and gravity both. Every blast of wind trying to knock her over was a reminder of how little time was left. She trudged and trudged, until she could finally make out the shape of a rocky high spot where they beamed in. Her triumph was cut short by a gust that threw her to the ground. --- “Maria?” a sing-song voice called her out of the black. Maria groaned, a strange feeling of warm hugging her. She opened her eyes. Snow and wind and colorful lights were all around her. Thoughts of the scientist’s ghost story crowded in her mind. “Who’s there?” Another giggle - Maria was certain this time. It drifted overhead with a strand of yellow aurora she swore looked like a girl’s pigtails. “Come with us, Maria!” Thoughts of the nomads’ story gripped her with fear colder than the wind. Maria’s legs strained to push herself back upright, the throbbing in her head threatening to put her back on the ground. “Who’s there?!” She shouted into nothing. “Come dance, Maria!” A different girl’s voice whispered with the wind. A sick feeling of adrenaline pulsed through Maria’s chest into her stomach. She struggled along, pulling her crewmate along with her. Only a little further. “Won’t you dance with us, Maria?” Another high, crystalline voice asked. “I don’t know the steps,” she answered for some reason. “Sure you do, Maria!” The voice giggled again. A beam of aurora came down and swam through the ice. It looked almost like prismatic fireworks in the glossy, translucent white. Maria smiled at its beauty despite everything. For a moment, she forgot all about the wind. It looked so peaceful. She did know the steps, didn’t she? More iridescent lights joined, and she was enveloped by an otherworldly display, scintillating and lustrous. She reached out, dropping the rope to the oh-so-heavy Andorian. That was better, wasn’t it? So much lighter. So much freer. Like the lights. She stumbled forward, transfixed by the lights and the lyrics. “Come dance with us, Maria!” The girl’s voice repeated her refrain. “Yes, come dance!” Another high voice echoed. Voices clamoured over each other, beckoning to her. Maria could hear their music. The sound of the gales became a symphony and choir, weaving miraculous tones together. The gusts were friends showing her how to move her feet, how to array her arms and curve her fingers. She could feel the simple freedom of a snowflake twirling about, untethered, embodying the will of the wind. Wind that held her in a close embrace. Euphoria washed over her as the lights taught her the dance, steadily closing in on her. “Yes, Maria! Come dance…” The voice manifested into a radiant girl in front of her, swaying to the music. Maria felt the lights’ buoyant ecstasy of movement. The wind supported her limbs aloft, forgetting the weight of the gear tethering her to the ground. She closed her eyes, the feeling of synchronicity, flow, and melody washing away her troubles. No more worries about logs or power. No more worries about wind. No more worries about the ship or crew - just dance. She laughed as it all floated away. “Come dance with us, Maria. Dance with us…” The chorus crescendoed. “Dance with us…” The multitude pitched deeper. “Dance with us forever…” Dark laughter of a thousand voices boomed across the valley as the lights retreated to the sky. Maria’s eyes opened. The storm broke over the mountains, and a calamitous din was upon her. Drums heralded the coming whirlwind in the symphony of wind. She stood alone against the storm, watching as fate rolled down. It was upon her when a familiar blue-gold light took hold, and she felt herself collapse with the embrace of the wind gone. --- Maria woke with a start, dread filling her body at what nearly happened. “Easy, Maria!” The kind voice of the doctor welcomed her back to ship and sickbay. She relaxed back onto the bed, then groaned realizing how bad her head hurt. Then, she looked around wildly in realization. “Laris?” She asked. “He’s fine,” the doctor answered. “You on the other hand… You had us worried.” “Yeah,” Maria muttered, still lost in her thoughts. Had she imagined it? “Well, I’m safe now.”
  7. "I always loved the wind… ...until that mission on Telstrus 3." Telstrus 3. A little known planet, in a little known, but strategically valuable part of the quadrant. It was a perfect staging ground for Dominion forces trying to push back against the Federation and Klingons. Kincaid looked at his lovely daughter sitting in front of him, the teen always curious to learn more about her dad's life before he retired from the Corps. "Spent about eight weeks in that little backwater durin' tha War," he said with a somber smile. His teenaged daughter, the lovely Human-Orion hybrid sat enraptured as she usually did when he told her stories. "You said you were all by yerself right, Paw?" She asked inquisitively. He gave her a nod and adjusted his Stetson on his brow a bit, pushing it up with one knuckle. "Yup. It were just me, ma phaser rifle and as much explosive as I could carry within reason. Had ta do what I could ta keep tha ghosts from gettin' ta some of our allies." Kincaid explained. He recalled to her, standing on a ridgeline, looking down at a valley below all covered with thick jungle like vegetation. A perfect place for invisible hunters to hide and wage guerilla warfare on the nearby Romulans. "Lots of wind in that valley, despite tha trees. Calmin' in a way." He reminisced. Elias looked to Tylana, gesturing with his only hand. "Ya see, tha Romulans had a base nearby, and they were musterin' fer a push back against tha Dominion on the planet. I was sent ta mine their backsides as it were ta make sure the Jemmies didn't get through." It had taken days of him moving carefully along the treeline, making sure to bury the explosives well enough so they would be hard to detect, but still be deadly. Each day he was greeted at the crest of the valley with the winds whipping about him. “I’d set up some traps in the jungle, just little thangs that would sound like sparrows. An old huntin’ trick. Since there weren’t no sparrows on Telstrus 3.” His daughter smirked at her father’s cleverness and listened to him as he continued regaling her with the tale she’d asked him to tell her. “And it would come in handy too, and much sooner than I’d have thought. I’d only been at it fer about three hours that day and I heard a sparrow from in tha jungle. Then another one.” “Was it animals?” She asked curiously. Elais shook his head, “I’d made sure ma alarms were only set ta go off if’n they picked up a lot of movement. Those cloakin’ fields the Jem’Hadar used couldn’t trip ‘em, but you get enough of them movin’ through the brush, making the leaves move and it’ll work just as well.” He recalled looking up frantically each time an alarm went off, getting louder and closer. While he buried another charge. It was too soon. The Jem’Hadar were supposed to be busy elsewhere, fighting the Romulans, not here sneaking into their backyard. “I didn’t have much of a choice, once I realized they were gettin’ closer. I’d already put tha last charge in tha ground, but I heard a sparrow about a yard or two off. I knew I didn’t have time ta get clear, so I knew I’d have ta blow the charges right then and there.” "Didja do it, paw?" She asked expectantly. A little worry showed on her face. Elias gave a slow nod and fell silent for a moment. "I did, and they were getting mighty close. I’d barely grabbed the detonator out of ma pack when I saw the leaves moving right in front of me. Got ta see one of the Jemmies up close and personal when he came through tha brush right for me.” It was a terrifying thing, seeing the faint distorted shimmer of a Jem’Hadar soldier as his cloaking disengaged and he rushed you to get close and personal for the kill. Elais hadn’t been able to reach his rifle before the ghost was on top of him. “Feller had be good, couldn’t get ta my phaser and I had ta grab him ta keep the blade from hittin’ me. Aint nothin’ ta do when I saw more bushes movin’ but ta set off the detonator.” Elias pushed the Jem’Hadar on him closer to the nearest charge and hit the detonator. The entire treeline erupted in a near simultaneous eruption that shook the ground, felled trees and sent unseen enemies flying all over. The sound was deafening and the pain was unbearable. Though his opponent had taken the full brunt of the nearest charge it wasn’t enough to spare him fully. He felt his arm and leg being tugged at before the pain became too much and his body forced him to stop feeling it for a moment. As the dust settled, carried on the breeze that blew down over the ridgeline, he stared up at the sky. "As I was lyin' there, missin' my arm and leg, the breeze caught up a bit. Since then, the wind just ain't felt right no more." The retired Marine shifted his old cybernetic leg a bit, the sound of hydraulics muffled by his denim jeans. He looked at his daughter who, silently, just reached out and hugged him. “It’s okay Paw. Don’t matter how much of ya there is, I love ya all tha same.” Elias reciprocated her embrace with his one arm and smiled, letting the tears that had been welling up from his memory of that day, flow freely.
  8. The Last Job The very tail end of the Dominion War "Looks like we lost ‘em, boss." Every muscle in my body ached. I leaned back in the pilot's seat of our cramped, rusty Ferengi ship, my antenna sagging with relief. The nervousness, the fear, fled my system, leaving my blue skin chilled and goose-fleshed. At least, I was pretty sure we had lost them. “Well done, Mikki,” said DaiMon Xhard, the loathsome Ferengi in charge of us. He leaned forward in his throne-seat like he was about to fall off, mouth parting to reveal a row of jagged, perfectly sharp teeth. “Now that the Federation dogs have lost the scent… resume previous course. We have a very special pick-up to make today, and I don’t want to be late. Got a hot tip.” Special? Our pickups were far from special. If anything, Ketracel-White smuggling was a remarkably simple job. Go to where the White was stored, take it to the Dominion forces in the Alpha quadrant, go to another pickup for more. Don’t get caught. That was the job. Had been ever since I left Andoria. Andoria. The cold winds that whipped around its surface would burn the skins of most Federation citizens, but we Andorians were blessed with tolerances far exceeding most (except the Breen). For me an average day on my home moon was bikini weather. How I missed the pleasant, cool air on my blue skin. Almost as though remembering the cold, my fingers trembled against the helm console. Quick as I could, I clasped my left hand within my right, eyes darting furtively from side to side. If the crew saw that momentary display of weakness, it would come back and bite me. I had to dose, but I couldn’t while I was flying Soon, though. Soon I’d have relief. Andorians had an old saying: don’t get addicted to drugs while dealing drugs, but I had learned that lesson a little too late. Andorians had another saying, too, that was more appropriate for my circumstances: Oops. My bad. “Resuming previous course,” I said, hoping my confidence would cover up the momentary display of weakness. I tapped out the commands on the console, guiding our useless rust bucket of a ship toward our pickup location, the only moon of some nameless planet that started with T. --- The “3” in the world’s name suggested whateverworld was the third blasted rock from its sun. Normally those kinds of worlds in the “Goldilocks zone” were teaming with hosts of andorianoid life, and sometimes their moons too, but not this one; our ship’s puny sensors showed that the moon was a dry, barren, sandy planetoid with an oxygen-nitrogen atmosphere, large numbers of vast subterranean lakes with algae (that produced the aforementioned atmosphere), and a scattering of large, probably dangerous life forms on the surface. Okay. I plotted a landing vector, taking the ship in low and slow. We didn’t know what damage the ship might have taken in the chase with our Federation pursuers, and I didn’t want to tax the old boy any more than I had to. Fortunately, though, we didn’t skip off the atmosphere and fly off into space, nor did we plunge toward the surface and burn up. Instead, thanks to some careful flying on my part, our rust bucket made a perfect re-entry and we touched down on the southern hemisphere, just a few short kilometres from the pickup zone. The crew assembled in the main cargo hold and I was given the dubious honour of opening the door. Taking in a deep breath of recycled air, tinged with the scent of metal and grease, I thumped my fist on the switch to lower the loading ramp. The hull cracked open with a hiss, the rusty loading ramp shuddering as it descended, dropping down to the sandy, desert floor and settling, groaning like an old man settling into a chair. Fresh air rushed in, blowing through my hair, my antenna perking up as they sensed the change in pressure and temperature. This air was not the cold, refreshing Andorian wind of my home moon. This moon’s air was a dry and hot blast like opening an oven, the heat and sand-choked gusts sucking the moisture out of my skin. My lips cracked almost instantly and I held my hands up to protect my face. “Ugh, blech! Sand!” “You’ll get used to it,” cackled Damon Xhard, moving up beside me, the Ferengi laying a hand on my head and rubbing between my antenna. An affectionate gesture from most, but one I despised from him. The heat of his hands glowing like lamps in the 'eyes' of my twitching sensors. I had told him, repeatedly and using the wonderful library of Ferengi obscenities that I picked up living on the Geesh-class ship for as long as I had, that if he ever actually touched my antenna, I would slice off whatever skin met mine. Yet he always managed to avoid actually making contact by a few millimetres. Dexterous when he wanted to be, knowing his fingers were on the line. “Don’t touch me,” I reiterated for the tenth time, brushing his hand away. “You’ll get used to it,” he said again. --- The distance to the pickup was close but the terrain was treacherous. We walked for what seemed like hours over hilly, rocky terrain covered in sand. I dosed myself about half way, and the shaking in my hands stopped. Almost all the crew (mostly Ferengi excluding myself and a few others) were not overly well suited for the journey. Everyone else was complaining by the time my tricorder finally said that we were close, but with fresh powdered White in my lungs and the prospect of more on the horizon, my spirits were high and my energy boundless. Perhaps it was the heightened sense of alertness the drug brought, but I seemed to be the only one concerned about the ominous signs we were seeing on the way. A large rock with a dark scorch mark on it. A piece of starship debris carrying the insignia of the Starfleet Marine Corps. A discarded plasma pistol of a make and configuration I did not recognise, but one Remi said was Jem’Hadar. She was usually right about these things. Had the Federation found the stash before we arrived? I worried on my lower lip as we walked (a not-uncommon symptom of being high, or so I justified it). Anxiety spiked and my heart thumped a staccato beat in my chest, the wind blowing sand into our clothes and ears and eyes, DaiMon Xhard’s voice echoed in my mind. A very special pickup… I hoped it was worth it. As we crested the last dune, one dotted with sharp rocks and shifting sand, a strange smell drifted to my nose carried on the hot, whipping wind. Rich, pungent like spoiled meat, mixed in with other strange scents I struggled to identify; some kind of burning plastic, scorched electronics, a whiff of discharged plasma. The normal setup for a Ketracel pickup was a set of hidden crates containing vials of White, hidden under bushes or water, sometimes broken up in to individual vials and stashed in cracks or buried. Hidden in a variety of ways, all trying to avoid Federation sensors. This particular pickup wasn’t anything like that. It was a war zone. Or rather... it had been, months ago. Bodies lay everywhere, Jem’Hadar and Starfleet Marines alike, some practically linked together as though they had fallen in the midst of hand-to-hand combat; some laying in improvised fox-holes, some spread out in the open. All dead. Half a Type 9 shuttle jutted out of the sand, its hull blown open and inside exposed, full of sand and slowly succumbing to rust. My antenna swung from left to right, taking in whatever information they could. The only mercy to my nose was that the dry heat had preserved the bodies. The odour wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been. “Where’s the pickup?” I gasped, my hand pinched over my nostrils, trying in vain to keep the stink out. “You’re looking at it,” grunted Xhard, his face uncharacteristically grim, dark eyes scanning over the battle site. “The Jem’Hadar bodies will have plenty of White on them. Have the crew collect as much as they can carry.” Almost as an afterthought he added, “And strip the Federation dead too. Weapons. Personal effects. Anything valuable. There’ll be a bonus for everyone out of that half of the haul.” A bonus. That’s what the dignity of the dead was worth. Just a pocketful of latinum. “You can’t be serious,” I whispered, my antenna drooping. “You want us to desecrate the dead? Starfleet dead?” “What does it matter?” Xhard picked at a crooked tooth. “They’re dead. They have top-of-the-line weapons, tricorders and sensors, and enough rations to feed our crew for months. Make sure you strip the shuttle, too, who knows what treasures might be still working there.” No. This was wrong and I knew it. Despite the heat, my blood ran colder than the deepest glacier on Andoria. “Stealing from dead Jem’Hadar is one thing, but Starfleet too? You want us to defile the bodies of those who are fighting to stop the Dominion from taking the whole quadrant?” “I want you to do your job,” said Xhard, making a dismissive, shooing, ‘go forth’ gesture. “All of you. So do it. Your pay comes out of the Starfleet half, and you do want to refill your inhaler next month, don’t you?” Every part of me wanted to protest, to fight and struggle and kick and bite and scream at the injustice of it, but the fading dose in my lungs made a compelling argument. If I didn’t get more, within a month what I had would be out. And then withdrawal. The coughing. Running nose and eyes, like the galaxy’s worst flu. Shaking. Puking. Crying. I’d tried to get clean once. It had nearly killed me. Never again. I had no choice. Dejectedly, I adjusted my backpack and got to work. --- Six hours. It took six hours to loot everything we could get our grubby hands on. We stripped the power cells and atmosphere processor out of the shuttle (we were running on backups, so this would be a welcome addition), and each of the crew had an armful of rifles and pistols to carry back. Along with almost a thousand vials of White between us, each plucked from the mummified Jem’Hadar bodies. And... stuff. A Vulcan children’s toy. A Tellerite prayer charm. A Human gold watch. A Benzite breathing apparatus. Several strips of latinum. Stuff that didn’t belong to us. Stuff we had looted. The sun was starting to go down, and we couldn’t do our vulture’s work in the dark. Everyone started to get ready to camp for the night in preparation for heading back tomorrow morning. We had gotten the most valuable stuff and didn’t know who else would be showing up here, angry and spoiling for a fight. But I didn’t sleep. I couldn’t. I didn’t even set up my tent, just marched around our desert camp muttering to myself, until I finally did something very stupid indeed. I double checked my disruptor pistol was charged and marched into Xhard’s expansive, expensive, luxurious tent and pointed it straight at him as he was settling in to his giant puffy bed. Xhard barely looked up as I came in, casually pulling the blankets up against his chest. “Well, well, well,” he said, casually clicking his tongue. “My Mikki has decided to pay me a visit right as I’m getting into bed. This really is a very special pickup.” The weapon twitched in my hand. Almost to draw attention to it, just so he could see. “In your bloated pathetic dreams,” I spat. “I’m here because I am not okay with what happened today.” “You’re not okay with seeing your pocket full of latinum and your lungs full of product?” Xhard smiled disarmingly (for a Ferengi). “Well, then, you’re right. Let’s put everything back just like it was. We’ll go back to the ship, lift off, and you can just go ahead and explain to the Dominion why we failed to meet their quota this month. I’m sure they’ll be very understanding.” His voice took on a sinister edge. “Maybe you can point that little thing at them when they complain too. I’m sure they’ll be terrified.” My upper lip curled back. Xhard, as terrible as he was, had a point. We had thrown in our lot with the Dominion (for now), but we all knew they had no love for us. They would just as soon shoot us all if we failed them. “The stuff stays,” I said. “The dead aren’t using it anymore. But we are going to bury those bodies before we leave tomorrow.” “Bury them?” Xhard narrowed his eyes in confusion. “Do you think they’ll turn into zombies, Mikki?” Xhard knew I was afraid of the dark, but it wasn’t that. “No,” I said. “But I want them buried regardless. The Dominion soldiers and the Starfleet personnel both. Decent graves. Got it?” “Why? It won’t make them any less dead.” “It’s what they deserve.” The corner of Xhard’s mouth turned up in amusement. “Even the Jem’Hadar?” I waved the disruptor around like a lunatic. “Both of them!” I shouted. “Starfleet! Dominion! It doesn’t matter to me; nobody deserves to just rot out in the open like that, no matter what side they’re on! We’re profiting from this war, the least we could do is show the victims of it a little common decency!” Xhard locked eyes with me, and I sensed a battle of wills happening at this very moment. He was testing me. Would I actually shoot? “Very well,” he said, stifling a broad yawn and nestling down into his overly comfortable bed. “First thing tomorrow morning.” He ever-so-casually patted the side of his bed. “Want to be warmer tonight?” I sheathed my disruptor in disgust and marched out. --- I stayed up all night, tossing and turning. No sleep. In the morning, everyone dug in the blazing sun for a full day making graves. Then we had a service. Even Xhard attended, something I genuinely did not expect. As the moon’s sun dipped below the dunes and cast its light on the bodies for the last time, we lowered each down into its impromptu grave we’d dug. Each grave had a headstone, a rock with the symbol of Starfleet or the Dominion as appropriate. At the foot of the graveyard I planted a stone onto which I burned a small inscription with my disruptor. STARFLEET MARINES AND JEM’HADAR SOLDIERS FELL HERE THERE WAS NO WINNER Some of us said words. Not much. We were drug smugglers, not poets, but we did our best. Then we packed up our tents and equipment and marched back to the ship. And that was that. --- I took the rust bucket out of the moon’s atmosphere, the ship shuddering briefly as it crossed the threshold into space, our cargo hold full of our ill-gotten gains. We were free and clear. When I was certain the ship’s autopilot was engaged and my job was done, I turned about in my helmsman’s chair. “DaiMon,” I asked, “may I see you in private?” Xhard merely nodded, and together we stepped into his Parlor, the equivalent of his Ready Room. It resembled the inside of his tent; pink clothes everywhere and a luxurious, fluffy bed, with only a curtain separating it from the bridge. So much for ‘in private’. A moment of silence hung between us, neither of us knowing what to say, until finally I spoke up with dry, cracked lips scoured by the wind. “I'm done with this, boss. I won't do it anymore. Shipping drugs is one thing, picking from the dead is another. This was my last job. Let me off at our next stop in Federation territory.” “You'll forfeit that bonus you worked so hard for,” he said, like it had even the slightest chance in Greth’or of convincing me. “And ten percent of your signing bonus, plus a handling fee on top of the breaking-contract fee, plus relevant dues and deductions.” He raised his voice and spoke over his shoulder to the rest of the crew. “Read your contracts, folks. It's all there.” “I don't care. Take whatever you want.” An eager grin spread over his face. “I’ll need that in writing,” he said. “That last bit. About me having whatever—” I reached down for my disruptor and he, wisely, didn’t complete that sentence. “Fly the ship to delivery,” he said. “And when we get to Bajor I’ll consider your request.” Consider? No. “You will drop me off at Bajor.” “Should have read the fine print, Mikki,” said Xhard, condescendingly. “It’s not that simple.” “Make it simple,” I said. “Leave me on Bajor.” Xhard put his hands on his hips. “I’ll consider it. Now get back to your post.” We wandered back out to the bridge. I once again sat at the helmsman’s console, staring out the main viewer of the Geesh-class ship that had been my home for the last five years, absently tapping at my console. Was there a better life out there for me? There had to be. Anything was better than this. What would I do? I’d have to get clean and stay clean this time. Really try, no matter how sick I got. And I’d need to find somewhere to live. Hopefully somewhere where the wind was nice and cold and gusting at fifty kilometres an hour, and where every day was -3°C or lower. Bikini weather would be a fitting holiday after my last job, but as the ship drifted through the stars, I reconsidered. Maybe somewhere quieter. Peaceful. Somewhere without a breath of wind. fin
  9. After Action Report Search and Rescue, Planetary Evacuation Telstrus III Lieutenant JG Piravao sh’Qynallahr Starfleet Rangers I always loved the wind. Howling across the frozen plains of my homeland, bringing with it eerie songs and bitter cold. I felt safe in the clan keep, with its imposing stone walls, hundreds of years old, breaking the wind, defiant against the forces of nature. I would watch from my window as it carried the snow across the world, warm and safe. Filled with childhood wonder. Telstrus III sat on the Federation border. A thriving colony on a lush Class M world, orbiting a white Type A star. Or rather, it was thriving, it was lush, it was Class M. For several months the inhabitants of Telstrus had observed changes in their star, spectral changes slowly shifting it from white to yellow, a shift which grew faster by the day. The USS Amundsen was already in orbit when our team arrived. The spectral changes in the Telstrus star were the result of rapid cooling, which had in turn thrust the colony on Telstrus III into a rapid Ice Age. In the space of three days, the Amundsen had observed a rapid surface temperature drop, and the freezing of much of the planet’s surface. It was now officially a Class P world, the same as Andoria.. The Commanding Officer of the Amundsen, Captain Alexis Widmer, briefed us upon arrival. The Amundsen was an aged Excelsior class, retrofitted for stellar observation and scientific research. They had no experience in Search and Rescue operations, and were not equipped for an evacuation. Transport ships had been diverted from nearby cargo routes, and were arriving day by day to help with the evacuation. Due magnetic interference from the cooling star, transporting the nearly 50,000 colonists off the surface wasn’t possible. With night time surface temperatures at the equator already reaching freezing temperature, there wasn’t much time left before the inhabitants would freeze to death. Our team, consisting of Commander Styvark along with Lieutenants R’Nara and Fessler and myself, took a shuttle to a mountain top observatory on the surface of Telstrus III where we joined three teams of security officers from the Amundsen. I was the junior officer on the team, and the only one with any proper cold weather experience. I will confess to nervousness, while the Commander and Lieutenants knew the theory, as they had received cold weather training, they were all from much warmer worlds than my own. They would be relying on my experience. The plan was simple enough, and had already been communicated to the inhabitants. The observatory sat at the top of a long valley near the equator. The rapid cooling on the surface had created gale force winds that swept across the planet, running North and South as the ice raced down from the poles. The valley faced East, causing the mountains to give it a modicum of shelter from the wind, allowing shuttles to fly up and down it with relative safety. The colonists were to make their way from the settlement to the observatory where a shuttle evacuation point had been set up. By day our team would trek out of the valley and guide any colonists we found back to the observatory for evacuation to a waiting transport. By night, we hunkered down in the observatory and watched as the world froze around us. By the end of our second day on the surface, ice had reached the valley. Only half of the colonists had been evacuated so far. On the morning of day three, when we reached the mouth of the valley, we were greeted by a wall of icy wind. Visibility was reduced to almost nothing, and interference from the star rendered our tricorders useless beyond a couple of meters. Yet still we searched, unwilling to give up on those still making for safety. We found them. In ones and twos, turning blue as the cold took its toll, small families, wrapped in clothes that did little to protect them from the harsh wind. I think that by the end of that day we all knew the truth. There were still thousands of colonists out there, many of whom would never reach the observatory. At the end of the fourth day the wind shifted, blowing up the valley, carrying with it the faint sounds of voices. None of us slept that night. We stood vigil as we listened to the colonists freeze. When dawn broke, the wind shifted South again, leaving us free to walk the trail back to the mouth of the valley. It was a somber journey. The first body was barely a hundred meters from the observatory, a young man, frozen solid with his hand outstretched, as though reaching for a rescuer that would never come. All along the valley we found more of the same. Yet not all was lost, we found a family, huddling together in a small hollow under a fallen tree. They were almost as blue as I am, but they were alive, and they had hope. At the mouth of the valley we entered the wind wall, hoping, praying to all the gods who might listen that we might still find survivors on that frozen, howling plain. Day to night wind shifts were regular now. Every night we struggled to sleep as cries for help were swept up the valley, carried on the mournful song of the wind. It was a haunting melody, one that I will not soon forget. Every day we found less survivors than the last, and more bodies. After a week on the surface, we were ordered to evacuate, lest we too join the dead marking the path to the observatory. On our last day we had found only one survivor in the valley. A baby crying out, swaddled in his mothers coat, buried under her stiff body. She had sacrificed her life to act as a shelter for her son. One last gift, and the hope that he might be found. I always loved the wind. Howling up the valley, bringing with it haunting songs and deadly cold. I knew I was safe in the observatory, with its thick glass and solid steel, the height of federation technology, breaking the wind, defiant against the forces of nature. I watched from the window as it carried the snow across the world, warm and safe. Filled with sorrow that we could not save them all. I always loved the wind... ...until that mission on Telstrus III.
  10. "The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails." — William Arthur Ward > CONNECTING... > CONNECTING... > CONNECTING... > ERROR 503522: CONNECTION TIMED OUT. PLEASE TRY AGAIN OR CONTACT YOUR LOCAL SUBSPACE NETWORK ADMINISTRATOR IF THE ERROR CONTINUES. "Come on!" Nnenna thwapped the side of the display screen and threw her hands up in the air, sinking down into her seat with an exaggerated pout. The outcome was the same as it had been for weeks, as she knew it would be, yet at the end of each shift she made the attempt. To what end, she wasn't sure. "I don't know why you keep trying." Bex said. "It's not as if—" "I'm not having this conversion again." Her reply was a whip crack through the quiet of her office. Nnenna looked away from her reflection, frowning back at her from the depths of the gloss black console, to see her Denobulan friend leaning against the doorframe. Where she was gangling limbs and sharp edges, Bex was all curves and softness, from her figure to the spun gold curls of her hair. "You always have to have the last word. Stubbornness isn't a virtue, you know." "I thought you were a meteorologist, not a counsellor." The Denobulan shrugged off the grumble with a smile and sip from the mug she carried, blue like the tunic of her uniform, emblazoned with Starfleet's emblem. The petrichor scent of umoya tea drifted on the recycled air, and for one blissful moment, Nnenna was back home. Standing by the river in New Oslo, bundled up like an arctic explorer, watching the aurora haunt the rain clouds. Then it was back to reality, to the glare of technology and the stark walls of their insulated underground bunker. "Heliophysicist. If the weather's not in space, I'm not interested." Uncurling a finger from her mug, she pointed across the room toward Nnenna. "Speaking of which, it's another night of strong winds, so we're going up top to watch the lights. You coming?" "I'll think about it." "Come on, it's your favourite thing. Plus Caedan's going to be there." She wiggled her flared eyebrows, and there was no attempt to disguise the impishness in her smile. "He likes you." Nnenna rolled her eyes and shook her head. "I'm married, Bex." "Sure, sure. Whatever you say." The blonde chuckled, her blue eyes sparkling with a joke she wasn't sharing. "I'll see you there." * * * * * The door closed, and the thud of the magnetic clamps rang out across the valley. A cool night drew goosebumps across Nnenna's skin, instantly calling her toward the bonfire burning nearby, where laughter played between the snap and crackle of burning wood. She took a deep breath and filled her lungs with fresh air, the scent of smoke mixing with the crisp, sweet smell of alien conifers, their fine leaves whispering secrets in the breeze. "Hey, you made it." Caedan accompanied his greeting with a cheeky, boyish smile, and a gentle bump of his shoulder to hers. Trying to ignore the sudden crash of her heart against her ribs, Nnenna smiled back, and the evening chill vanished in a rush of warmth across her skin. "It's the one good thing about being stuck in this place." She held his gaze until it felt as though her heart would beat itself clear of her chest, and then pointed up at the sky. "The storm puts on a good show." He looked up. Above them, the aurora folded through the sky, ribbons of ethereal light dancing between the stars. Usually, the lights were brilliant shades of ruby and emerald, but tonight they danced in amethyst and sapphire. Perhaps later she'd ask Bex why that was, and do her best to follow the physicist's animated explanations of excited elements, molecular transitions and atmospheric composition. Right then, Nnenna was far more interested in the rosy-cheeked Rodulan, and the way the auroral flare reflected in the depths of his featureless midnight eyes. Metallic pings and plinks echoed through the valley, and Nnenna looked toward the creaking hulk that was the Tanaka Maru, cooling after a long day in the sun. The freighter's stubby nose was buried in a mound of rich, dark soil, the roots of broken trees erupting from the dirt like witch's claws. Behind the ship, a deep furrow scored across nearly a kilometre of earth, damage that would take nature years to repair. "Not exactly what you signed up for, is it?" she said. Her question invited his gaze to join hers, and the colour fled from his skin, smile faltering. She could guess why; it was a wonder any of them had survived the abrupt plunge from orbit, their ship left for dead by a sudden lash of solar winds. The terror they must have felt in those few minutes was unimaginable. But as quickly as his expression had wobbled, it settled. Back to his amiable smile and generous cheer, as if he hadn't a care in the world and everything was as it should be. "Are you kidding?" He chuckled. "It was right there in the brochure. Become a Merchant Marine: see the galaxy, meet interesting people and crash land on their outposts." "How are the repairs going?" "It's hard to say. Half the time the tools won't power on with all the geomagnetic interference, and we don't dare try to bring any systems online in case we fry them worse than they were before." He lifted his shoulders in a shrug and grinned. "Afraid you're stuck with us for a while longer." As if she'd heard the conversation—and Nnenna suspected the Denobulan had, the nosy little minx—Bex made a suggestive gesture from across the fire and then pointed toward them both, finishing with an obvious thumbs up and a beaming, wide-eyed smile. Caedan bit down on his lip, trying to keep a straight face and failing cheerfully. "She's not subtle, is she?" "It is not a word in her dictionary." Bex had three husbands, no expectation of exclusivity, no hesitation in pursuing anyone she wanted, and a distinct sense of confusion over why anyone would do things differently. Life was too short, said the ridiculously long-lived Denobulan, the galaxy too big to limit yourself to just one person. Why waste love when you found it? Perhaps she was on to something. Her heart thrumming, Nnenna brushed the back of her hand against his. Lightning charged across her skin, arcing up her arm and into her chest, crackling through her veins. For a single moment, she was conscious of how naked her ring finger felt, of the gold band hidden at the bottom of her trinket box, and then it was forgotten when she slid her fingers through his. His smile blazed into brilliance, even more beautiful than the aurora dancing among the stars. * * * * * He'd laughed at her the first time she lit candles, asking why she didn't just ask the computer to dim the lights and shouldn't a Starfleet officer know naked flames were a fire hazard. She'd retaliated with an upholstery missile, throwing a cushion in his face, and declared romance dead. It had, of course, only made him laugh more. But over the weeks and months as the star continued to rage in the sky, the candles had become a part of their ritual, lighting them together before falling into bed. That night, like so many others, they laid there in a tangle of limbs and sheets, basking in a cocoon of gentle light and soft caresses. A world away from research outposts and broken freighters, from solar storms and absent husbands. Usually. That night, she couldn't get them out of her mind. They were a growing shadow, casting a veil across the small parcel of happiness she'd found in Caedan's arms. "I'm married," she said. He froze. Leaned back. His eyes locked on hers, and she shrunk under the dark weight of his gaze, unable to look away. Goosebumps shivered on her neck where his lips had been a moment ago. She remained silent, wishing she'd said nothing at all, knowing it had been unfair to say nothing for so long. "What does that mean?" he asked quietly. "You don't know?" "No." His hand dropped to her waist, a perfect fit for the slight flare of her hips, and he shook his head. "I know it's important for some, but my people don't marry. I don't really understand it." Nnenna laughed and immediately felt cruel, but he answered it with a small smile and a tilt of his head. The advantage of sleeping with a telepath; she rarely had to explain herself. He knew when a retort came from anger and when it came from insecurity, he could tell a self-deprecating laugh from a mocking one. No one had ever understood her so intuitively before. "For what it's worth, I don't understand it either." "Fair enough." He nodded, his smile giving away nothing, and she felt a brief flare of frustration that the intuition didn't flow both ways. "Why are you telling me now?" "Bex said the storm's subsiding." She reached for him, brushing the backs of her fingers across his cheek, and he dipped his chin to press a kiss to the heel of her hand. "We'll be able to get comms again soon, and you..." "I'll be leaving." He paused. "I don't have to." Her heart thudded deep inside her chest, and Nnenna couldn't deny she'd hoped he would answer that way. But what they had was a fiction, a storybook that lasted only as long as the solar winds barricading them from the rest of the universe. Her mind was made up, her course set. "I owe it to my husband to try again." "You don't love him." "You don't know that." He drew in the air to answer, then exhaled it with a resigned smile and a shake of his head. Whatever he was thinking, he kept it to himself, and instead slipped his arm under her shoulders, drawing her against his chest. Nnenna curled into him, breathing in the earthen scent of his skin, trying to chase away the small seeds of doubt his embrace sowed. "You've got me for a little while longer," his voice was a low rumble, pouring shivers down her spine, "should you change your mind." * * * * * > CONNECTING... > CONNECTION ESTABLISHED. > HAILING USS RAMANUJAN. > HAIL ACKNOWLEDGED. ROUTING TO: LIEUTENANT MAKANI KAHELE. > CHANNEL OPEN. "Oh. Nnenna." Two words. Two benign little words, but they screamed their meaning across the stars. It was there in his face. In the clench of his smooth jaw. In the bob of his Adam's apple. In the way he leaned back in his chair. "Hello Makani." She took a breath, words jostling on her tongue. I still love you, but I'm not in love with you. It's not you, it's me. I've had an affair. It's over. Nnenna swallowed them down. That wasn't what she wanted to say, it wasn't why she'd called. She forced a smile to her lips, but instead of a smile, her reflection wore a rictus grin, taut and hollow-eyed. Makani flinched upon seeing it. "How are you?" she asked, starting with the safe and banal. "Yeah. I'm... Good." "Good. That's good. Me too." He hadn't asked, she realised. Indeed, he barely seemed to know what to say at all, and that wasn't like him. Her next question fell from her lips on reflex, though the answer was obvious. "Is everything all right?" "It's been months, Nnenna. I haven't heard from you in months." "That's not my fault. Telstrus was at solar maximum and the storms cut us off." "I know." He shifted in his seat; a schoolboy sat in front of head teacher. She knew the look. He'd worn it the time he'd dropped and broken her grandfather's Agbogho Mmuo mask. When he'd volunteered them to look after his delinquent nephew for a year. When they'd booked a holiday on Deluvia, and at the last minute he cancelled his leave to fly the captain to a conference. She'd gone on her own. Instead of hating every minute, she'd never felt so free. "But," he continued softly, "it's been a lot of time to think. About us, about what I want, and... I'm sorry, Nnenna, I don't want this." "What?" It was barely a croak. She cleared her throat and tried again with an unsteady voice. "Can we talk about this?" "No. No, I don't think so. I'm..." He shook his head, looking at her with hangdog eyes. "I'm done." Nnenna's pulse beat a tattoo in her ears. This was not how the conversation was supposed to go. It was not how she'd rehearsed it. Not the outcome she had prepared for. Heat rose under the piped collar of her uniform, eyes narrowed, muscles grew rigid and dense, and blood thundered through her veins. How dare he. "Out of sight, out of mind, is that the way it is?" A frown chased away the apologetic guilt on his face, and she noticed that he'd taken down her favourite Rewa portrait and replaced it with the Roth piece she hated. Too bright and too cartoonish, too Makani, it looked all wrong in their living room. How long had he waited before removing all signs of her from their quarters? Had he been living as a singleton all this time? "You were the one who said you needed space. It's why you accepted the assignment on Telstrus. Don't come at me because you got what you asked for." "I asked for some time. I didn't ask you to decide we're over before I had a chance to—" "Come on, Nnenna. We both know it's over. You're only sore I said it first." "Don't be ridiculous." "Why do you always have to be so stubborn? We hadn't been happy for a long time, that's why you left." He shook his head, and his braids swung across his shoulders. "What's the problem here? It seems like you're only mad because I figured out the same thing you did." He stopped. Stared at her. And laughed. Much as Caedan could intuit her inner workings, she knew what was behind Makani's sudden mirth. A flush laid siege to her cheeks, heat stabbed behind her eyes, and as he continued, she clamped her jaw shut to keep her bottom lip from wobbling. "That's it, isn't it? You expected to clear out for a year, have your me time in the arse-end of the galaxy, and come back to your dolt of a husband who'd been so lonely he'd fall over himself to change all those things you don't like about him." He snorted. "I hate to break it to you, but you're the one who ran off. No one blew the chance to fix our marriage but you." "You're an ass, Makani!" "It takes one to—" He vanished at the slap of hand, the smack of her palm against the controls not nearly as satisfying as it would have been against his cheek. * * * * * A tiny flash of light in the sky, barely more than a pinprick spark, and the Tanaka Maru disappeared into warp. Nnenna stared helplessly at the dark spot between the stars, then her gaze dropped to the scar in the earth where the freighter had sat for so many months. Grass already seeded in the disturbed earth, wildflowers sprouting in all the colours of the aurora she'd spent so many months watching. With him. "It's not too late. You could call him." For once, there was no tease or mischief in Bex's voice, but the quiet concern of a loyal friend. She stopped beside Nnenna, offering a gentle squeeze of support to her arm, and peered up at her. Unable to tear her gaze away from the space where Caedan's freighter had languished for months, Nnenna shook her head. "And say what? 'Hey, so it turns out my husband doesn't want me after all. How would you like to be my consolation prize'?" "Well, maybe something a little more—" "This is your fault." With no warning or preamble, Nnenna snarled the accusation in a fierce whisper, snatching her arm away as she rounded on her friend. Bex took a step back and stared in return, jaw slack, curls bouncing with the dumbfounded shake of her head. "Come again?" the Denobulan finally spluttered. "You didn't spot the gigantic solar storm that made the Tanaka Maru crash—" "That's not—" "—then you didn't warn me it as going to trap us here for months—" "I couldn't—" "—then you pushed me to chase Caedan when I'm married—" "You were—" "—and if you'd spent half the time doing your job properly instead of being an interfering busybody, I wouldn't be in this mess!" A Telstrun owl hooted in the silence that fell between them, gliding otherwise silently on its nocturnal hunt. "It must be so hard being you. All those terrible decisions people force you to make." Bex glared, red-faced, tiny fists rigid at her side. Her voice strung as tight as piano wire, the small woman vibrated just like one. "Get over yourself, Nnenna. It's no one's mess but yours." Her hand came up, finger stabbing with more to say, and then she thought better of it. Bex turned on her heel and stalked back toward the bunker, vanishing into its depths. Nnenna clamped a hand over her mouth, stifling a sob, and looked back up at the sky. There, the solar winds once again ignited the sky, arcs and rays of garnet in tsavorite and pyrope, reminding her of what she'd lost. Of what she'd thrown away. Of how much she hated herself. And she watched them. Alone.
  11. Smoke punctuated the air. Its pungent, acrid scent infused his nostrils and filled his lungs, sent his body shuddering with explosions of hacking coughs in an attempt to clear them of the invading substance. That was what awoke him, the choking fog that tried desperately to vacuum all the air in order to dominate and establish its dominion. Garrett resisted, his eyes opening to a world of chaos, his brain finally cognizant enough to register the blare of alarms and to recognise the blaze of orange that had ignited and began to consume the remnants of the capsule in which he had at one point found refuge. Now it would be his tomb if he could not spur himself to action. As he set his arms and legs into motion, they rebelled, complaining against the pain that flared as he tried to move. Forcing them into submission, Garrett pounded against the clear dome that rose over him, supposedly a protector, it had now become his captor. His fists raged at the barrier between him and freedom, the heat of the flames seeping through. Sweat trickled over his brow, down his neck and salt stung his tongue. Finally, it popped up, but the heat only seemed to slap him in the face as he struggled from the bowels of the capsule only to tumble down off the side and into a mound of sand. Behind him, he could hear the groan of metal and the crackle of the fire as it continued to rage. The small capsule that had rescued him from the fiery hell in space was now consumed with its own raging fire. Almost as soon as he had vacated, tongues of flames licked over the seat he had just abandoned, greedily devouring everything it could, the metal shrieking and twisting under its assault. Stumbling back, the world blurred, then cleared, only to blur again, going in and out of focus as he ordered his legs to move, putting distance between him and the vehicle that had given its life to save his. When the explosion finally came, it was still close enough to feel the blast of hair and heat, the sudden clash of noise in his ears drowning everything else out, then fading away only to be replaced by a high pitched ringing. Debris flew everywhere, flung at him as the dying module raged in anger at his desertion. Falling face first into the sand, he curled up, hands over his heads in desperate hope that none of the makeshift missiles would strike true. A moment later, he cautiously unfurled and attempted to bring into focus the world around him. His breath came in gasps, his chest painfully heaving, but he pushed himself up to a sitting position, hands digging easily into the shifting ground beneath him. His eyes found the same thing around him. Sand. Miles of it. Rolling hills and dunes of pale orange that stretched out as far as he could see. The only break was the burning rubble, a blackened scar on the landscape and the consequences of its dying fury. The ringing faded, and in its place, the whistle of a stark, dry wind that clutched at his throat and slapped at his cheeks taunted him. From above, the sun beat down, and even that rough breeze did little to ease its stifling heat. Eyes turned back to what had been his salvation only to bring him to his doom. Klaxon alarms sounded in his head and his hands clapped at his ears, but they did no good. Closing his eyes only brought into sight chaos. Fear. Shouts and screams as the ship rattled with explosions, bodies writhing as everyone clamored for the escape pods, arms outstretched, hands clutching, tugging, fear driving the mass forward. He had been among the last, his intent to help everyone off the ship before he himself went. The captain...her dark eyes had set upon him. He had insisted she go. Instead, she had used her superior strength to physically place him in a pod and launch it before he had the chance to breathe a protest. Then it had exploded, just like his pod had just done, the force of it sending the few capsules still nearby spinning out of control. Another violent tremor, another scream of alarms, and then...darkness. Darkness and into light, but it was an unwelcome sight, and now that pod was gone. All of them should have landed in the same place. He should be with the others, those who had managed to escape, but the ship’s destruction had only set him off course, and now he was alone. Alone with the sand. His body shuddered with another deep breath, and he once more tried to clear his head. To think. To assess. Strangely enough, he was hardly injured. Bruises, a few cuts, a blow to the head, but nothing terminal. Yet. Lifting his hands, he felt himself all over, but his uniform, torn and bedraggled, had no supplies. All of those would have been in the pod, the one now lost to him. Panic gripped him and his hands began to search through the remains of his uniform, unsnapped the red and black overshirt of his uniform and jerked it open. The sight of a small, rectangular piece of thick, glossy paper remained and immediately he breathed a sigh of relief. A relic, one he’d been teased about, nonetheless he kept it and kept it close. It was there. If it was there, then all was not lost. Leaving the overshirt unbuttoned, Garrett forced himself to his knees, then once more to his feet. Turning around, he tried in vain to ascertain his position, to get a sense of where he was, of where he could go, where he might find others or, if nothing else, water. All that lay before him was the silent, endless view of the dunes. One way, then another, it didn’t matter. It was all the same. Finally, unable to make any accurate assessment of direction, Garrett simply set his eyes forward, his dying chariot at his back, and began to walk. Beneath him, the sand shifted, impeding his progress, forcing his body to exert more energy as he slipped and slid with every step, sometimes stumbling forward as the ground beneath him gave way. The sand seemed to laugh at his fumbling efforts to make progress, opening its mouth to catch hold, tugg him downward, then repeat as he pressed onward. Above him, the sun arched, rose and fell, then finally passed below the horizon, easing the painful heat that stung at his skin, turning it crimson within even only an hour under its purview. What time of day was it? He had hoped it would be toward evening, that the great orb which hovered low in the sky was on its descent into slumber, giving up its heat and allowing the wind to be cool rather than cruel . He was disappointed. Rather than lose sky, it gained, driving its way upward. Had there been a place to seek shade, to take rest, whether under the long armed, stoic sentinel of the giant cacti that could be found in certain areas of his home or in the sheltering shadows of cliffs that jutted up from the earth. With either of them, water might have been found. Those spiked arms Held life-giving water within, salvation to a man dying of thirst. Cliffs often had vegetation, and while it was no substitute for water itself, it could help stave off the worst of dehydration, even if only for a little while. Neither were present, however, just the endless sweep of sand, of dunes rising to bask in the unrelenting hammer of heat from the sun. His mouth was almost as dry as that which stretched before him, the constant rise and fall of hills, dune after dune, wave after wave, never changing, constant and stark, devoid of life save for his own as he struggled onward. The heat burned at his body and he had already removed his overshirt, removing the treasure from within, sweat staining the paper and stretching across one of the faces it contained. That shirt became something of a shield, for all the good it did. The fiery laugh of the sun was no match for his puny attempts at finding some sort of shade. Little was gained, the barest hint of shelter in a shelterless world. Over the crest of one and down the slope he turned his eyes back to the horizon, seeking, searching, hoping. A shimmer of golden silver glimmered across his sight and he paused, startled by its appearance. A flatness and sparkle indicated something more than just the miles of mindless grains that formed in heaps and piles of a wasteland. His tongue ran over his lips, but after the hours beneath that burning sphere, there was no moisture left. His mouth and throat constricted, desperate to retain moisture, finding none. A gasp of breath escaped and energy surged through him, spurring him forward. Sweat had ceased by that point. How long had it been? He’d forgotten? The fathomless distance he’d crossed, the stretch of hours where the circle of light seemed to barely crawl across the sky held no true sense of time, no indication of how long he’d truly been - only that hours had passed, though he could not gain any more concrete of an answer. Hours beneath the burning hands, under the torment of that laughing, parched wind that only seemed to make things worse rather than provide any sort of relief. It pushed back against him, pressing him away from that shimmer, from the gloriousness of that oasis that surely lay ahead, that surely waited for him if he could just press onward, persevere through, force himself to pass the last distance between himself and its edge. Still it laughs, that shifting breeze. It whipped his face and cackled in his ears, tormenting, slapping grains of sand that stung his skin and drew streaks across them, welts rising in their wake. Still, he pushed on, ducking his head in an effort to cut through the worst of that assault, glancing up to ascertain his direction, striving onward, striving forward. Yet it never drew closer, that distance never grew smaller. The sheen of distant moisture remained just that - distant. Time passed, the heat of the day sweltered and the man dwelt beneath, his steps slowing, his pace unsteady. The wind had changed course, shifting to press from behind, whispering promises into his ears, promises that remained far ahead, enticing, calling, but unreachable. The whistling laughter echoed as he sank to his knees, hovering a moment before another push from that incessant companion set him toppling. He didn't know when, but at some point, he had taken his treasure in hand. His grasp had remained constant, clutching it without any hint of easing, desperate to hold on to that which had spurred him forward, helping him dare to try to cross the vast space that lay ahead. It was a thing of times passed, an item rarely used, but one he had been determined to acquire. Stiff lines and sharp corners of the digital variety were ill suited for carrying upon his person, and he longed to keep it with him, pinned over his heart, until he’d set out on that terrible journey that inspired him to keep it there, clasped in his hand, its presence the only reminder that he was not alone, that he was loved, that he had a reason to live, a reason to hope. That hoped dwindled, and where it once dwelt, sorrow replaced it. Pain had long ago ceased to plague him. Now he was merely numb, the lashing of the sand by that ineradicable gale. All that remained were the dying embers of a man, cooked beneath an uncaring sun. Slowly, he drew his hands upward, trembling fingers attempting to smooth out the glossy paper. The sweat had dried, leaving only the stains behind, crossing over the face of a woman, her dark hair tumbling over her shoulders in a cascade of undulating waves. Darker eyes sparkled with the smile that lit her face, and in her arms she cradled a child, the bundle of cloth only parting enough to reveal the round, wide-eyed gaze with similar dark eyes, and a soft, downy head covered in wispy curls. One sand crusted finger traces the lines of that smile, then of the sweet innocence of the other. The pain that ravaged him then was not of the tormented body that had suffered under the abuse of the elements, but that of a heart, clenching and writhing within, twisting and finally bursting in grief as he could bear no more. The hand that held the picture dropped as his body went slack. The desert wasted no time, utilizing the rush of the gusts, closing in over him. For a few moments, the photographs remained, pinched between his fingertips, but in the end, the wind took hold and wrenched it free, the piece of paper fluttering helplessly away as the sands consumed their victim.
  12. Telstrus 3 had been home. It had also been hell, a prison, a betrayal. What it was now, Zill Tomox wondered, was an unknown. Her azure skin glowed as the sun sank lower in the sky, bathing the vast grass plains of Telstrus in golden light. Zill followed the old path, the steps familiar even after all this time, as it wound up the hill. Zill had been just twenty years old when she’d left Bolus in order to become a colonist. The thought of expanding the borders of the Federation, building a new world from the ground up, sowing the first seeds of something that would one day, far in the future long after she was gone, be a planet of billions taking its place in the UFoP – it was exciting. And they’d done so much. The planet had been home for ten years. The work had been hard but fulfilling. And when war had broken out between the Federation and Cardassion Union they’d not been important enough to be worried about it. But when the war ended the peace that followed destroyed everything. Zill reached the hilltop and sat on the bare rock, finding her old comfortable spot and gazing out at the view. The plains stretched for as far as she could see in every direction. She knew it went on for hundreds of miles, an unchanging sea of grass, gently undulating in the ever-present breeze. Waves forming, flowing, breaking. That constantly moving air was a feature of Telstrus 3, more so than on any other planet she’d visited. It was so prevalent, blowing across the vast open plains, it factored into every aspect of daily life here. The colonists had used it to help with their terraforming work and harnessed it for both power and play. But it had always seemed to have a mind of its own – usually playful, often stubborn, sometimes malevolent. She gave a little shiver and pulled her jacket a little tighter at that though. The wind. The traitor. “Why did you do it, Zill?” The voice came from behind her and she gave a sad smile, speaking without turning. “Aaron. I knew you’d be here. Nothing ever happened in this place without your knowledge. And I did it because I had to, you know that.” “Yes, but I want to hear you say it.” Zill sighed and nodded. Behind her there was the scrape of metal and the sound of a spark. A moment later and the familiar floral scent of Aaron’s cigarette drifted past her on the breeze. She could imagine the wind tousling his untidy blond hair and she smiled. “You see out there?” Zill pointed at some brightly-coloured specks in the distance. “Sail carts. Remember racing them?” “I remember you nearly killing us both.” His deep voice carried a sense of mirth. “Me?!” Zill laughed. “That was your fault and you know it. You’re the one who turned in front of me, there was no way I could avoid you!” “It wasn’t my fault, Zill, there was a sudden gust. You know what’s it’s like out there, how quickly the wind can change.” Zill nodded silently. Ah yes, the wind. Always the wind. She watched the sail carts for a while, watching them tacking across the plains for all the worlds like sailboats on a sea. And those winds! Sometimes they would play along, filling you with joy, almost taking your breath away with the intense speed, racing across the open, grassy oceans until all she could do was laugh at the sheer exhilaration. And other times the wind was sullen, needing to be coaxed to help, but that was better than the times it turned on you suddenly, that sudden burst of adrenaline as you had to fight it. Still, racing those sail carts had been part of Zill’s life here and she’d loved it as much as she’d loved Aaron. Sometimes the wind that filled their sails had left her as breathless as he had done on many a night. “I missed the wind, you know.” She was speaking to herself now. “It was one of the things that brought me back here, why I joined the Marquis. When the Cardassians came and took our colony, our homes, it was the wind that I missed the most. It has always made this place feel so free, yet they took it from us and the Federation let them.” Aaron remained silent as she continued. “So when you came to me and said we could fight to take it back, you knew I would never say no. I just didn’t realise how long it would take.” “The Marquis needed us to do other things first, Zill. There were a lot more places more important than Telstrus, more strategic targets, and they needed to use everyone they had.” “I know, I know.” The Bolian sighed. “And I expected it to take time, but three years? That was a long wait…” Again, silence fell over the hilltop as the wind rippled the grass around them. The sail carts were out of sight now, vanishing in the direction of the buildings of the new colony. “Three years was long enough to make this planet a home for the Cardassians that came after us. Time enough for them to make families here.” Zill paused. “I wonder if they raced the wind like we did?” “Doubtful.” Aaron’s voice was darker now, angry. “And this was our home, not theirs. Everything they built was on top of our foundations.” “That didn’t mean they should die!” “They weren’t supposed to die, Zill! Nobody was. They were just supposed to… leave.” There was a deep sigh. It could have been regret, or it could have just been a gust over the exposed stones. “It was an accident, you know that as well as I do. The fire was only supposed to destroy their crops and with the Marquis disrupting supplies, they would have been forced to leave the planet. And then we could just come home.” “I know what the plan was, Aaron. I know what was supposed to happen. But we didn’t account for the wind, did we? Ten years living here we should have known.” She gestured to the air around them. “It has always been capricious, and it turned on us that night. It betrayed us.” She didn’t have to explain further, they both knew what had happened then. The Marquis team, all former Telstrus colonists, had landed in the middle of the night with a mission to raze the fields and burn the food stores in order to force the Cardassian interlopers out. They’d planted incendiary explosives and set them off, the flames spreading across the fields and everything was going as planned. But then the wind changed. It was if the planet had decided to get involved - a sudden strong wave front came up from the south, completely unexpected, and had fanned the flames straight into the colony. The high winds created a firestorm that had lit up the place like daylight in hell. Zill, Aaron and the others had watched helplessly from this very hill as the place burned. They watched some Cardassians try to fight the fire, others try to flee from it. They watched them all die as their cries fluttered across the landscape. Zill had refused to move after that. Aaron had tried to convince her, of course, pleading for over an hour until the sky started to glow with the dawn light and it was too dangerous for them to remain. They could have stunned her or overpowered her but Aaron had seen the look in her eyes and knew. And so he had led the others back to the shuttle and Zill had stayed here, watching the smoke drift over the plains in the morning sun. The Cardassian military patrol found her a day later when they arrived. She was arrested immediately and imprisoned in one of the burnt-out buildings, having to endure the scent of the smoke and feel the wind blow through the ruined walls, as if it was mocking her. She told the Cardassians everything, then. They didn’t even have to threaten her, she volunteered it all, everything she knew about the Marquis and about their mission. Anything that could prevent something like this from happening again. She betrayed her friends just as the wind of Telstrus 3 had betrayed them. “I’m not proud of it Aaron. I wasn’t praised, or treated as a hero, if that’s what you thought. They still found me responsible for the deaths and they kept me imprisoned here. In fact they added a cell just for me when they rebuilt the place so I could serve my time here, on this planet, looking out on these plains and remembering everything I saw that night.” She gave a bitter laugh. “There was no glass on the window, only bars, so the wind was always there, always present. Always reminding me.” Zill ran a blue hand over her bare scalp before continuing. “And I served my sentence the same as everyone else in this prison that was once home.” There was another sound from behind her then, one she knew well. Aaron’s phaser was a battered old Federation type-2, the sort of Starfleet surplus that always made its way to colonists, and it made a distinctive sound as he drew it from his holster. “You know what has to happen now, Zill. And for what it’s worth, I’m sorry.” Zill nodded sadly and closed her eyes. But of course he didn’t shoot her. He couldn’t. Aaron Duncan had died when Cardassian soldiers had raided the hideout of his Marquis cell, acting on information Zill had given them. She’d heard that they were taken by surprise, nobody even had a chance to draw a weapon let alone use it. So they’d surrendered. And then the Cardassians had executed Aaron as an example, a disruptor to the back while he was on his knees. She often wondered if he’d known how they’d been discovered – likely he had, not much escaped his attention. The sun was down past the horizon now and it was getting darker. The wind blowing across the hilltop had taken on a distinct chill. Zill sighed as she reached into her coat pocket and wrapped her hand around the cold metal object within, pulling it out and holding it up in the last light of dusk. It was an old phaser, Aaron’s phaser. Getting hold of it had not been easy, in fact it had taken her all the time since she’d been released from prison just to track it down. But she knew what had to happen now. Darkness fell on the colony of Telstrus 3. Darkness that was briefly lit by the flare of an energy weapon. And then there was nothing but the wind.
  13. Scotty was getting ready for what was a big day. He was being re-assigned as Captain to the USS Artemis, a newly retrofitted Sovereign-class vessel. He was to meet his new crew today at Starbase 20 as he was walking towards the XO's room on the base. He arrived outside the XO's cabin. He did a gentle knock on the door. "John! You ready to go to the briefing?" said Scotty. John replied, "Yes! One second." The door opened, and John appeared. They both walked to the briefing room, where they met the commanding officer of Starbase 20. They were going to go over some briefing items before they were allowed on the ship. "Welcome, All!" said the CO. Scotty and John both took their seats. After a few minutes of introductions, the discussion went into operations. The first thing that was brought up in the debate on how the ship design was changed to reflect the issues of the previous Sovereign-class vessels. These changes were mainly intended to overcome the problems that were present during the visit to Telstrus 3. Scotty remembers this well as he was the XO at the time on the USS Galway. Scotty was asked by the CO of Starbase 20 to provide a brief response to what happened on Telstrus 3. Scotty started his flashback into why he hated that mission so much. The crew of the USS Galway was on a routine patrol mission when they received a distress signal coming from Telstrus 3. The Captain musted an away team from the Galway that would beam down to assist. The away party consisted of me, an engineer officer, a science officer, and one security officer. I oversaw the away team. After gathering our gear, we beamed down to the surface. The first thing that we noticed was a heavy dust storm on the planet's surface. This severely impeded our vision and made our tricorter useless due to the dust in the air. The team started walking towards the colony. The first thing that we noticed was the colony looked like it had been abandoned for a long time. "Phasers on the alert team!" said Scotty. He was nervous that they might be walking into a trap as they walked into the colony. Scotty decided to radio the Galway bridge give them an update. "Bridge, Scotty here do you Copy," said Scotty. "Loud and clear, Scotty, what do you have?" replied the bridge. "The colony seems abandoned; looks like no one has been here for years," said Scotty. "Copy Scotty, look around, but preceded with… "replied the Galway bridge. "Bridge, message was choppy, say again," said Scotty. Suddenly, a bunch of people started firing their phasers at us. "Take cover! Fire back!" said Scotty. The teams started to shoot the intruders. They managed to subdue all the intruders. One of the security officers took a phaser shot but was expected to survive. "Bridge! What the hell, we were shot at!" replied Scotty. "Beam us back up!" said Scotty. "Beaming up now!" replied the transporter team. As we resurfaced on the vessel, we noticed that the ship was on a red alert. I asked what was going on. "What's happening!" said Scotty. "Were under attack! They were hiding in the clouds of Telstrus 3." Replied the transport officer. Scotty ran immediately to the bridge. He walked into the bridge and noticed there was a bulkhead breach on the bridge. Luckily the forcefield had engaged in containing the breach. It seemed the Captain got injured from the debris field. "Scotty! I am transferring the conn to you." Replied the Captain. "Copy! Commander, I will get us out of here," replied Scotty. Scotty asked the helm to warp us out. But the damage to the ship was so severe that it knocked out the warp drive. "How've shields?" asked Scotty. "10%, sir. Failure eminent," replied the tactical officer. "Copy! Fire all we have got into that ship; I want it destroyed," replied Scotty. After a few moments of tense fighting, the team was able to destroy the enemy vessel. "Vessel destroyed!" replied the tactical officer. "Good! Damage report please," replied Scotty. "Major hull damage. Breaches on Decks 1,6,7 and 10. We have no warp drive/impulse engines now as well. Engineering is working on getting the warp drive back online. 15 casualties." Replied the tactical officer. Scotty felt his heart sink, they were lured into a trap, and it almost got the ship destroyed. After a few hours passed, engineering was able to get the warp drive online. The only downside is we could only go max Warp 3 due to the damage done to the warp core. "Starbase 20, this is Scotty, acting captain of the USS Galway. We have sustained major damage from a rouge vessel in orbit near Telstrus 3. We are limping our way back to base. Request immediate medical and engineering teams on hand." Stated Scotty. "Copy! Glad you guys were able to make it out!" replied Starbase 20. Scotty was relieved that they made it back, but the Sovereign-class starships needed serious upgrades, he stated.
  14. The water was calm, its gentle waves lapping softly against the shore. Even the sky overhead contributed to the calm of the place. A secluded little lake tucked away in the mountains. Tall trees stood like sentinels around the water, reaching nearly to the shore. Aspen and pine alike reached up and painted the horizon in hues of greens beneath a blue sky. The dark wood of a small log cabin peaked out from the treeline before a thin wooden dock, a single figure sitting alone at the end. Wes Greaves relaxed in a cheap folding chair, fishing line in the water, and a cool drink in hand. It was a warm day at his little hideaway, and he let out a deep breath. A breath he felt like he'd been holding for months. He'd needed this break from real life. A break from the doctors, from the counselors, and from Starfleet. They thought he was crazy; he knew it. No one believed him, but it didn't matter. Wes heard it before he felt it. His breath caught in his throat as a deep chill ran the entire length of his spine. The sort of chill that comes from deep fear and unspeakable terror. The sound was rushing through the trees behind him. The subtle rustling of leaves in a thick forest. A warm wind blew past the man and ruffled his short hair. The Marine turned his thoughts inward, just like the counselors had taught him. He'd always loved the wind; after all, he'd grown up sailing where the wind was his lifeblood. He tried to focus on that, but failed. After Telstrus III, that love had turned into something else. Something dark and foreboding. That mission had started like any other—a mystery that needed solving, a starship and crew nearby eager to solve it. Wes had even led the away team himself. Six young men and women, including himself. Just the sensation of the breeze took him right back to that terrible day... The surface was cool and rocky, with wide-open plains to the north and quickly steepening mountains to the south. They'd materialized at the base of a rocky cliff and immediately had set about their scans. He took stock of his small team, each a fine young officer. In no time at all they were spread out in a search pattern looking for the strange life sign that was the source of the mystery. A smile crossed his face at the team's proficiency, and Wes did his best to help their science officer with his scans. An hour into the mission was when he’d first begun to realize something was amiss. The ship wasn’t answering any check in calls. Their communicators still worked, but the guardian angel in orbit wasn't responding. Nothing on the tricorder that could determine why. That was about the time Wes heard it for the first time. A light breeze, nothing out of the ordinary except for the fact it was the first indication of wind he'd experienced since they'd beamed in. Ever so faintly, hidden in the sound of the breeze, Wes could make out a whisper. It was a scratchy voice, dry and worn with age, but he couldn't make out the words. The Marine rallied his team and began searching in the direction the wind to no avail. No one else had even heard the voice, but with each new breeze came another whisper, just barely audible. They searched for another hour, and the wind grew stronger by the minute. No one would say anything, but Wes could tell they all heard it. The wind would roll in, someone would look surprised, searching for the source of a sound, but when he would ask about it, the officer would simply wave him off and say it was nothing. The day dragged on, each new search pattern resulting in more questions with no answers in sight. By the time the sun was beginning to set Wes was getting concerned. Surly, the ship would send a relief team or a shuttle to extract them. He’d only planned on being down there for a few hours. As the horizon darkened Wes finally made the decision to seek shelter near the rock face. In minutes the team found a small alcove that allowed a respite from the still-growing wind. He could still hear the hint of the whisper in that breeze, but now the man was sure he wasn't the only one. The eagerness of the small team had been replaced with something darker. They all looked at each other with narrow eyes and suspicious glances. As the evening faded away into blackness they turned in for the night. One by one, each person found a comfortable position and curled up to sleep. For what seemed like hours Wes laid awake, trying to fight for rest while inaudible whispers in the wind kept his mind spinning. He was nearly asleep when the wind changed direction and whipped into the alcove. "They're killers…" This whisper was stronger. The dry raspy voice spoke as if directly into his ear. Wes snapped up and looked around in the dark, his hand reflexively reaching for a phaser. No one was there. Not even his team. He was alone with the wind. "Hello? Who's there?" the Marine called out. "You won't survive the night… They'll find you…" With a flourish Wes was on his feet, phaser in one hand, tricorder in the other. For a moment, the wind died down, and the voice relented, but Wes couldn't detect anything with the device. He took a hesitant step out of the alcove and scanned in an arc for the rest of his team. "You can't run from them…" A shiver ran down the Marine's back as the wind and the whisper seemed to whip around him. There was no explanation for it all. His tricorder detected no life signs, not even his own team. The Marine tried his communicator again, but there was no response. The darkness of the planet seemed to consume him. Wes could see no more than ten feet in front of himself, and the wind dominated his senses. With as much gusto as he could muster, he called out and challenged the wind. "I'm Captain Wes Greaves of the United Federation of Planets; identify yourself!" The wind, already blasting and strong, seemed to snap at his clothes in response. A whirlwind of dust spun around him, and with it a raspy cackle. "Find them first. Before they find you…" He snapped his tricorder shut in frustration and the spinning, cackling wind blew around him again. Without hesitation, Wes pushed forward, directly into the gust. It was like walking through water. Every motion took extra effort. Every move was resisted by the howling wind. He wasn't sure how long he marched through the dark, but when he finally stopped he wished that he hadn’t. Wes found the first two bodies together. Their security and science officers lay on the ground no more than a few feet apart. The distinct dark color beneath their bodies was a muddy, gore-soaked, mess. The sight of a blood-stained rock and the crushed skull of one turned Wes's stomach. Deep bite marks in the other's neck spoke to clear causes of death. For a time, Wes tried to talk himself out of the obvious, but he came to no other conclusion. They'd killed each other. The bloody rock still lay at the feet of their security officer, and the blood soaked mouth of the science officer was testament to their final actions. "They found each other at the same time…" whispered the wind. "Who are you!" the Marine cried out in anger, and the swirling wind laughed at him in response. "Find them first. Before they find you…" Again he trudged along, searching for the rest. One by one, he came across each of his team members. Their doctor, stabbed to death. Another science officer strangled, the bruises on her neck evident, even in the dark. Each time the wind had laughed in its dry, evil, whisper of a voice. Each time it had told him to find the others first. Each time he'd marched deeper into the night. Until the last one. Wes's tricorder beeped with a lifesign ahead, and even as his spirits lifted, the wind laughed at him again. "They found you first..." Before he could react, a giant rock whistled past his head, narrowly missing him. The Marine spun to find their chief of security standing near a boulder, reaching for another rock to throw. The look in the woman's eyes was crazed, and she cackled with delight as another rock was hurled, this one hitting Wes in the left arm with a sickly crack as his forearm broke. A burst of adrenaline carried him through the pain and the man dove for cover, drawing a phaser in response. "Dianna, what the hell are you doing?" he shouted. "I’ll get you first! Just like the rest of them!” came the woman’s chilling reply. The wind snapped and swirled and laughed as another rock narrowly missed Wes’s head. “Stop! It’s me, Wes!” he screamed across the now roaring gale. His words were stolen by the wind and the man watched in horror as the chief of security drew a long slender piece of metal and charged him. A bright beam of light crossed the distance between the two in a split second, illuminating the ground in a bath of orange hues. When darkness once again engulfed them, it was quiet. The gale stopped, and the plains were deadly silent. Rushing to the fallen woman, Wes scanned her. Not believing the tricorder he reached trembling hands to the woman’s neck. Her pulse was gone. It didn’t make sense. None of it did. His phaser was on stun, he triple checked the setting. “Is this what you wanted?” he shouted up to the sky. “Show yourself, whatever you are!” Despite his pleas, there was no response. No wind. Not even a gentle breeze to answer. Just the cool hum and the faint blue shimmer of a transporter beam taking hold and whisking the Marine off to saftey. The XO told him he’d only been on the surface for an hour. They said that there was no evidence of strong winds on the surface, let alone a gale. The ship’s captain was adamant that they’d beamed him back as soon as they had realized that communications weren't working. For months, he’d undergone tests. The doctors couldn’t find a thing wrong with his head. The counselors did the best to reconcile his memories and feelings. It was all chaulked up to stress induced hallucinations. No one believed his story. No one believed that the wind spoke to them. That it told them to kill. The only thing they all could agree on was that Wes Greaves was the only survivor of Telstrus III. The gentle warm breeze ruffled his hair again and Wes stood from the chair on the dock. The faint sound of whistling wind through the trees terrified him. Not bothering to reel in his line, the man left the fishing pole and retreated into the cabin. Away from the wind. Away from its insidious whisper.
  15. “Grandmother, why does Grandfather hate me?” Meidra’s eyes were focused on the sea of stars revealed on the small ship’s viewscreen. The man had tried hitting her with his staff for not knowing some obscure historical fact in front of his business associates. She was seven years old, why should she care who won the Great Battle of Vogan? T’Ria frowned as she turned to the child. “He does not hate you, my child. He hates himself.” Meidra highly doubted that. If Samek loved anyone, logic insisted that it was himself. She continued watching the stars, wondering why she wasn’t good enough for him. Grandmother had told Meidra’s mother that she was taking her on a trip for a few days to further the girl’s interest in biology, there was a little cabin not too far away on a planet just far enough away, and she intended on visiting it with her granddaughter. Lenore had known better than to argue, and had sent them off with a wave and a guilty expression. Meidra believed it signified relief, but would not speak the thought aloud. Meidra landed the shuttle in the hour before dusk, taking care to not touch down near where she knew firebirds would have their nests. She’d been gone for far too long, the memories too raw to bear. But she had promised herself she’d put her past behind her now that she had a brighter future. If the counselor were to listen to her grandfather, journeys to the past were illogical. What was done, was done, and dwelling on history prevented one from moving forward. Of course, if one was a ruthless shipping magnate with poor impulse control, that philosophy made sense. They landed at sunset, the purple sky streaked with dark blue clouds. A storm was coming, and Meidra loved storms. She thought that if a big enough storm could just come to Vulcan, it might blow the bitterness from Grandfather’s heart. She frowned, it was just this type of fanciful nonsense that Samek despised from her most of all. They made their way through the thick forest, and Meidra smiled when she saw her castle in the trees that Grandmother’s friend Arid had made for her two years ago. It was good to be back where she felt safe. She could be a pirate, or a princess or a real Vulcan. She said as much to her grandmother, not seeing the look of sadness in T’Ria’s eyes. Days passed, and they made friends with the multi colored fish that lived in the nearby creek who seemed to sing each morning as they greeted the day. She was allowed to give them special treats that she had helped T’Ria make, with extra nutrients to help them keep their vibrant color and health. Meidra felt very important and special because her grandmother trusted her with taking care of all of the animals near the cottage. One night, Meidra and T’Ria sat round a small fire, roasting the sweet confections of gelled sugar her grandmother had sampled on Terra decades ago. They were sticky and had no discernable nutritional value. Grandfather would have hated them. So Meidra loved them. Plus they tasted like happiness. Slowly making her way through the small forest on Telstrus III, the counselor noted every sign of her past that still survived the years since she had last been here. The hand painted sign, Meidra’s Castle, pointed the way to a treehouse built from Goklim wood, only found on this small world. A discarded pirate’s flag from Rimla where the oceans still cradled wooden ships through fierce storms. She could almost hear her grandmother calling for her to come inside for end meal, and moments later she saw her summer refuge. The cottage was small, crafted from dusty grey and white stone, with a bubbly creek nearby filled with multicolored fish that let you hand feed them once trust was established. She wondered if they would remember her. Sighing, she remembered her last day here, on vacation with T’Ria, hiding from some perceived sin committed in her grandfather’s eyes. He’d flown into a rage, swearing he’d throw her out of his home until T’Ria had smuggled them both to this cottage to wait out the storm of his wrath. They’d spent the day picking flowers, telling secrets, and promising to come back each year to have a week together. Now, the house was kept up by Grandmother’s friend Arid, who never seemed to age. He greeted her with warmth, then left her to her memories. “Meidra, I do not bring you here to run away from your problems.” T’Ria seemed very serious, and so Meidra listened even more carefully, eyes wide. “You cannot run from them, none of us can. But what you can do is find a spot where you feel safe, and work through the pain to find your strength. There is no shame in taking a step back and letting others pass. The path will still be there when you are ready.” “But what if the path takes me somewhere scary, Ko’mekh-il?” T’Ria allowed herself the small smile she had for her favored grandchild. Pushing the dark red hair from Meidra’s eyes, she put her forehead against Meidra’s and whispered. “Then you make a new path, my child.” The winds were picking up, soon a storm would surround the small home. She closed her eyes, letting the breeze greet her. She smiled, feeling the arms of her grandmother as if she were there. So many lessons learned here, and so many more to share with someone, when the time was right. Grandmother would have welcomed the one Meidra would bring here, feeding them sugary treats and teaching them about the singing fish. “Meidra, come inside, you will blow away if you don’t shelter from the winds.” “Just a few more minutes, Ko’mekh-il, I’m pretending I’m a firebird and can just fly away.” She paused. “Grandfather would like that, I think.” The old Vulcan woman came outside and scooped the child up into her strong, loving arms. “You are a treasure, my lara, and you are worth more than all of his gold.” Lara, Meidra thought. A pretty blue bird that soared amongst the heavens. She looked up at the sky. Someday, she would soar through the stars, she just knew it. Sitting near a campfire, watching the flames, Meidra put a marshmallow on a stick, just as T’Ria had shown her so long ago. As the fire kissed the sweetness, she realized it was yet another metaphor to be savored, The flames come close, but if you stay vigilant, they can’t engulf you. “I found someone, Grandmother. He’s kind and you would have loved him as I do.” Meidra felt the peace of this place shelter her as it had throughout her childhood. Many times over the years, she'd come here to remake her path, and it had always led her to better things, and a stronger sense of who she was meant to be. It had been a long road, getting from there to here. She slowly ate her treat, then sat back, and listened as the sounds of the forest welcomed her home.
  16. Cheldon ch'Doro sat quietly reading at his desk. The standard issue office chair was sized for a regular sized Andorian, and buckled under his 350 pounds of bulky musculature. It barely came past the middle of his back when his 7'5" frame sat upright. He was busy studying a tome on Vulcan meditation, handily ported to a PADD for the convenience of the modern reader. He had become something of a spirtual seeker in the last several months. He had never been a spiritual person before Theta 122, when the Brotherhood of Thet had saved his life. He had spent much of his life in animalistic survival mode. Competing with others for scraps in the orphanage, on the streets, or in the fighting pits. The scars that decorated his blue body like a tapestry laid bare tales of violence for all to see. On the opposite side of the scale, a fortunate encounter had put him into excess and luxury body guarding a local crime lord. That too vanished, and the ensuing gang war, and prison sentence had brought him back to a more primal survival mode. His path to salvation had begun during a prison riot, which afforded him a chance at escape. A month later the cult had found him in the desert (no place for an Andorian, and much too reminiscent of his time on Telstrus 3) near the wreckage of his stolen cargo shuttle. They had saved his life. And he had thought, for a time, saved his soul. Their ascetic lifestyle actively embraced the destitution that marked his formative years, but traded the struggle against others for a real family. It likewise revealed to him how foolish and wasteful the hedonistic lifestyle he later had embraced was, and the futility of the revenge plot that had followed. The Brotherhood was gone now, it's gods proven false, but it had made an indelible mark on his soul. He would forever more be a seeker of truth. The behemoth Andorian had read more books in the last months than the rest of his life combined, each one about some spiritual tradition. He had studied dozens of them by this point. Cheldon had bought passage on this Andorian freighter to his ancestral home planet from Star Base 812. The Captain didn't seem too curious when he was handed the Latinum. ch'Doro had earned it over several months of bouncing bar. The job had been a natural fit for a man of build, skill set, and now much calmer personality. Some fortuitous gambling had added to his nest egg, and he would be comfortable for the foreseeable future, especially with the monk like lifestyle he had continued to embrace. His belly rumbled, and he ignored it, favoring his contemplation of this particular passage. When it protested more vehemently, he acquiesced, and slowly pulled his massive form into an upright standing position. Ducking low, he stepped through the door into the corridors. The mess hall was not that far away. From his own quarters he turned right and walked about 15 meters, before taking a right down a t-intersection. On the left, another 40 meters were the doors that opened into the mess hall. It seemed more crowded than usual, and after replicating a very simple plate of Andorian tubers and bread, he was forced to set at an already occupied table. Not only did his unusual size make him stand out, but the fact that he was a passenger. Everyone else at this table were wearing their navy blue work jumpsuits, while he was in black leather boots, blue jeans, and a white tank top. Worse yet, the Andorians at this particular table might even be an established quadruple, as there were two masculine, and two feminine ones, and they each acted very familiar with the rest. Cheldon spoke up "I hate to interrupt, but mind if I take a few of the empty seats?" There really was no other place to sit for someone his size. The four looked between themselves, and finally, one of the feminine ones spoke, the taller of the two. "I think we can make room." The masculine ones scooted closer together and let the stranger in. The shorter male, with his round face, decided that he wanted to befriend the mysterious giant stranger. "We've all heard about the tall passenger. But this is the first time any of us have ever seen you." Cheldon looked over, and down, craining his head. "You've probably heard that I only come out of my quarters to eat, and that I always sit alone, then," the giant retorted. The other male, several inches taller, with a pointier chin, chimed in "Our husband didn't mean to be rude, he's just a friendly, and curious type." Cheldon shaked his head "Yeah. Sorry. I didn't mean to be rude, either. I'm Cheldon." The taller male replied again "My name is Vart, he's Raf, she is Dagy, and she is Sinena. It's nice to meet you, Cheldon. So you are going home?" The big blue monstrosity shrugged "I guess you could call it that. I've never been to Andoria." Simena, the shorter of the women spoke "You grew up on a colony?" Cheldon simply shrugged heavily "Who I was before us dead. I don't like to talk about him, sorry." It was true, the Brotherhood, false as it turned out to be, had fundamentally changed him. Seeing as he wasn't contributing much to the conversation, his new acquaintances went back to conversing amongst themselves. This was fine by Cheldon, and it gave him time to return to his meal. He paced himself, eating his humble plate in a manner that was befitting of an ascetic. He let them talk, hut his thoughts returned inward, until one particular phrase caught his ear. Telstrus 3. He looked up, suddenly, as if he been violently roused from a deep slumber. "Telstrus 3?" He asked, in a startled tone. His visit there had been unbearable. Dagy, responded "Yeah. A family friend of my parents is moving there." Cheldon frowned deeply, his huge face full of disapproval. It had been 14 years ago. In the middle of the violent gang war that had ultimately landed him in prison. The cousin of the man who had tried to kill his employer ran a drug ring there. The targeted assassination at his remote outpost went smoothly, and they began their trek back to the shuttle. They had stashed their landing shuttle in the desert, a desert, and a cave that he would be reminded of later, when he joined The Brotherhood. They were a mere mile out, and Cheldon, with his artic loving physiology, was already miserable. Sweat flooded his body, and ran down his face, stinging his eyes like an angry hornet. A breeze kicked up from over some far off dunes, and it seemed to bring respite, but it did not in fact bring respite. The wind continued growing in intensity, and they had walked directly into a sandstorm. Fine particles of eroded rocks flew against every exposed millimeter of skin, sand blasting each of them. To make all of this worse, it was blowing in from the direction of their destination, trying to push them backwards. The sand was so thick that they could no longer see, and Cheldon chided himself for not packing sunglasses. He heard a voice shouting, it was Ving, a former Romulan soldier that had joined his former employer half a decade before he had. "Role call!" "Here," Cheldon called out when he heard his name. They pushed on, taking role on the fives. Each of them being constantly set upon by blasts of sand trying to strip their skin. Cheldon couldn't see, but as it grew even louder, and the atmospheric pressure changed noticeably, he was sure that a dirt devil was passing near them. This had to be the most miserable experience he had had since he almost died in the fire, and began thinking about the Hell the Nuns had preached at him in the orphanage. He almost didn't hear the role call. When the wind did die down, the cave was no where in sight, and it took them hours of back tracking to locate it. Fortunately, no one seemed to have found them to make them answer for the killing. Cheldon looked askance at the woman named Dagy. "It's no place for an Andorian." She quirked a brow at the stranger. "Is that so?" He nodded "It's enough to make an Andorian hate a cool breeze in the desert."
  17. Standing on the cliffs East of Kinsale, Aine looked out over the Celtic Sea. This was the first time visiting since leaving Starfleet just two months earlier. She loved visiting this place as a child, but after all she'd been through, those memories seemed as though they belonged to someone else. The sea was rough and near black from the thick grey clouds that hovered low. Her black hair, now with a few streaks of grey, was much longer now and whipped about by the heavy winds. She used to love standing in this very spot, smiling when looking out into that same wind. It was hard to imagine that feeling now. The wind once felt like adventure. Like those tall ships she'd read about as a child. Wind was what was out there in the distance, calling to you. But now it felt like the darkness. Confusion. Fear. It felt cold. Not the cold you feel on your skin, but the cold that cuts deep to your core. From her first assignment on, danger seemed to be a common theme in Aine's career. Many times she'd been in situations that seemed hopeless. Often outnumbered and pinned down, they narrowly escaped, time and again. They were nothing if not resourceful. She'd seen fellow crewmen injured and killed, but that wasn’t what finally did it. She closed her eyes as the wind seemed to howl louder in her ears. On this last mission, the small team had been called upon to rescue another lost team. It wasn't the first time, rescues seemed routine anymore. But when they arrived, things were not as they seemed. It was not a rescue as much as a recovery. The team they had been sent to rescue had been killed in ambush. And the same awaited them. By the time “contact” had been called, two of their six team members were down and the rest were scrambling for cover. Seconds later, two more were dead and Ranlard, the fresh ensign, lay injured. Aine opened her eyes and looked out to the sea again, it had grown darker. She thought about Starfleet. How when she was a new Ensign, the idea of adventure, discovery, and exploration was everything. With war looming, things changed. Starfleet changed. She could feel the weight of that change in her chest now. She closed her eyes again, taking in the cold air. Aine had been fortunate. She was able to retrieve Ranlard and they made their way into the trees. They found a small hide. They were surrounded. They could hear the sounds all around them. An unknown and unseen enemy in the night who wanted nothing more than to kill them all. Footsteps on leaves and crackling sticks. Whispers in a language they couldn't understand. Before the sounds of around could disappear in the distance, they disappeared with the wind. A storm was brewing. The night seemed to last forever and there was no way of knowing now if the threat was gone. Aine and Ranlard hunkered down and tried to keep each other warm. Every time he tried to speak, she hushed him. Neither dared use their communicators for risk of being heard. The best they could hope for was that Starfleet would send help. Time wore on and soon the storm was passing, the wind died down. But it seemed as though her teammate’s fate was tied to the wind. By the time the calm came for the storm, he had died, right there in her arms. It wasn’t until morning that help came. Time was moving fast now. On the shuttle going back, Aine couldn’t look anyone in the eye. She felt as though someone had been careless with their lives. Her eyes opened, her hair whipped across her face as she once more looked out to the ever darkening sea. The solace she was seeking wasn't here, in this place. She turned to go back down the path. She couldn’t let herself wait for the winds to die down.
  18. It was a routine arrest mission - Tiria's squad, sometimes nicknamed the Flying Squad for how often it traveled across the sector, was sent to Telstrus 3 to arrest a rogue scientist. Dr. Alfred VanBuren, a weapons scientist, had been trading weapons with the Cardassians, which was fine, if he had a license and was trading export-approved weapons. He was not, and some of the weapons were illegal even to own in the Federation for *Starfleet*. The black haired woman looked at the planet, and was frowning. Telstrus 3, an older Federation world, had a standard climate control system, and she looked at the Constable handling the sensor readout. "Constable Lain, that weather looks.. unusual. Can you check the functioning of the climate control system and if it'd be safe to fly through it?" She requested, the precise Federation Standard accent still unusual in her ears, no matter how long she had practiced to arrive at it. "Yes, Detective-Inspector." The petite Andorian worked the panel, then frowned. "Ma'am, there's an odd interference. There-" A flash in the screen distracted the five man squad, and a beam from somewhere in the southeastern archipelago struck a satellite, then another, then another. The pilot of the shuttle, a Benzite, cursed, and rapidly moved away from orbit, but Tiria only had eyes for a rapidly forming mega hurricane, dominating the southern continent and spreading, with a gigantic eye. Another, Kazri, an Andorian sergeant sitting at the comm panel, cleared his throat, with a bit of a shaky voice. "We're detecting a message from the archipelago. It's our scientist, and this is apparently a test of a new weapon he's developing - one that can devastate worlds. If we don't guarantee him safe passage to neutral space, he says he placed a virus in another world that would do the same. Distress signals are spreading across the planet." Tiria took a deep breath, as she was the commanding officer on scene, and needed to prune a few options. "Send a signal to the USS Illinois, with a status report and include the message. Can we destroy the climate control system?" While that wasn't technically normal operations for Federation Security, she was trained - especially after the Siege of Resilion IV - to take more aggressive actions. Lain shook her head. "The interference would scatter our phasers - we'd need the power of a starship. Also, we can't destroy enough before the hurricane would reach the size of a continent. Whatever he's done.. we'll need a science ship to figure out." Tiria suspected that was the only reasonable explanation, but she could see with the magnification the sensors were providing them, the *350 km/h* winds tearing apart even reinforced structures. And sensors were suggesting that it was still increasing. Lain frowned. "But.. it looks like this requires a constant signal, and if we can cut it off.." The Andorian paled Tiria took a deep breath. "He'd likely trigger the second system, and without knowing where it is, we can't act." The words were ashes in her mouth. "Priority One distress signal, get Starfleet on scene now, and alert Federation Security." She looked at the strengthening hurricane destroying towns and houses across the continent and had to fight to keep her voice steady. "If anything comes up where we can stop this madness, tell me." The shuttle fell into deathly silence, as all of them silently witnessed the destruction.
  19. Mercifully alone after hours in sickbay, Geoffrey John Teller stood in his quarters and wept openly for the first time in his adult memory. Wracking sobs shook his torso as he supported himself with one hand against the bulkhead, peering through tears at the indifferent stars beyond the viewport. He’d maintained his composure through all the debriefings and the mandatory counseling sessions but now, in the safety of solitude, Geoff let the feelings he’d been tamping down pour out unfiltered. Tears ran down his face and onto his uniform unchecked as the events replayed in his mind once again. It started, as it always started...with the children. Their smiling, delighted faces. Their giggles and laughter. Their pure, innocent wonder. Their screams of terror. Geoff tried to shake the memory away but it would not be restrained anymore and he collapsed to his couch, hunched over with head in hands. A renewed series of sobs made his entire body shudder. It was several minutes before he could compose himself, and even then he was far from settled. His mourning had given way to a fierce anger every bit as unrestrained as his grief. With a hoarse bark he called out to the computer, his mind growing dark with increasingly violent thoughts. “Give me all the atmospheric surveys conducted on Telstrus 3 prior to beam down, along with the names of every officer and crewman responsible for their research. Someone is going to pay for this if it’s the last thing I do.” The computer's polite request to have him restate his query led to a shattered display and four broken bones in Teller’s right hand, although he didn’t know that. At the moment, the pain was strangely satisfying and helped focus his incoherent rage down to a fine, precise edge. He dug into the research for almost two hours as his hand throbbed and discolored, subsisting on a diet of cold coffee and even colder rage, but he came away with his answer. “Lieutenant Kowalski, report to my quarters, now!” The comm successfully conveyed the acid in his words because moments later his door chime rang. “Get in here and stand at attention, Mister.” Geoff’s tone was harsh, his quarters a mess and his own appearance far from uniform standard, but none of that mattered to him at the moment. The sole thing on Geoff’s mind was justice but at this point he’d happily settle for a violent measure of revenge. “Lieutenant Koawlski reporting as ordered. Sir, may I speak freely?” The tension in Koawlski’s voice was thick enough to land a shuttle on, but Geoff wasn’t in a mood to be compassionate. “No you damn well may not, Lieutenant. And I thought I told you to stand at attention!” Kowalski’s already rigid posture became ramrod straight, their unblinking eyes fixed on a far off point on the bulkhead. Geoff finally turned his attention away from the console and stood, closing the distance to Koawlski until they were nose to nose. Geoff’s eyes were frantic, red and bulging. A passing medical officer could have checked his blood pressure from the hallway. “Lieutenant, I am going to ask you a series of questions and you are going to respond Yes Sir, Commander Sir or No Sir, Commander Sir. Is that absolutely clear?” Geoff’s tone made it clear what answer he expected. “Yes Sir, Commander Sir.” To Koawlski’s credit, they weathered this volcano of rage without flinching. “Good. Were you the planetary meteorological officer on duty when we arrived at Telstrus 3?” Geoff knew the answer but he needed to hear the man say it to his face. To admit it was him and not some incomprehensible computer error. “Yes Sir, Commander Sir.” Again, it was the answer Geoff had expected, and it did nothing to quell his anger. “Were you responsible for preparing the atmospheric survey the Captain used to judge the coordinates of our beam down?” “Yes Sir, Commander Sir.” “When the Captain asked you to prepare that survey, were his instructions in any way unclear or subject to misinterpretation?” “No Sir, Commander Sir!” “Do you consider yourself competent at your duties, Lieutenant?” “Yes Sir, Commander Sir!” “In that case, Lieutenant, perhaps you’d like to explain why the Thor’s first children's kite flying contest was such a massive disaster?!” “Sir, I...the wind...it was supposed to be gentle...favorable...nothing in our models suggested hurricane force wind gusts!” “Perhaps you’d like to explain that to seventy-three primary school children who just saw two months of their hard work turned into high altitude confetti while they suffered scrapes and boo-boos the likes of which I’ve never seen!” “Sir, I can’t...I...I’ll resign...or...or you can file charges...you can’t possibly….” “Oh yes I damn well can, Lieutenant. As of now, you are assigned to serve as a class mascot until such time as I feel you’ve learned an important lesson.” Kowalski’s voice went up several octaves in shock. “But Sir!.....” “But nothing, Mister. Now get into that Flotter costume and get down to Deck 12. Those kids are getting blankies and juice boxes and they expect a visit from their new pal real soon....” Kowalski sputtered in incoherent shock but retreated in defeat, leaving Geoff alone again in his quarters. He’d always loved the wind but after today...he’d never be able to think of it without remembering Telstrus 3.
  20. "I always loved the wind… ...until that mission on Telstrus 3." They were visiting Betazed this shore leave, an unexpected treat for sure. Her father was pleased to hear about her surprise visit, and while she knew her mother would be busy back on Earth, there was still a twinge of regret there, along with her brother out on his own mission amongst the stars. As such, she dressed in her favorite pink summer dress, her blonde hair flowing free today, under a beige wicker hat with a bow on it. The walk to the greenhouse was never long, just enough to get the mind wandering about, but not enough to tire her out. At least not now that she was older and no longer smaller than her kneecap whose steps equaled to that of three adult ones. A knock at the door before she pushed it open. "Dad?" "Corliss!" She heard a distant crashing and couldn't help but let out a small sigh of a laugh, shutting the glass door behind her. Plants upon plants upon plants surrounded her, creating their own version of a rainforest, one might say. One ivy crept along the top of the roof, and a tall tree bearing fruit that glowed blue caught her eye as her father appeared. "You've grown!" "You say that every time!" He had his arms open and she couldn't help to walk into the hug being gifted, both of them squeezing as hard as possible, feeling her ribs creak and she had to smack his back, laughing. "Let go, hah!" "Fine, fine!" He did, albeit one hand remained on her shoulder, a happy goofy grin remaining on his face that was echoed back on hers. "My, it has been a long time, hasn't it? Oh, where's that boy you wanted me to meet?" And there it was. It made her face heat up and she sighed, shaking her head, arms crossed. "Dad, I'm not a little girl anymore. He's not a boy. He's a Starfleet officer as well, you know. Medical." "What a field to go into! Mind you, I can't say anything," he laughed, his hands now on his hips, looking as always over the top, his glasses shining in the light like one of those cartoony villains. "I remember taking that course of study for half a semester! Never could wrap my mind into the whozits and whatsits, so good show on him!" She couldn't help rolling her eyes, snickering. That was just her dad, being his usual self really. She'd been told they were so alike it was scary but she didn't see it. She had no green thumb and he was all green thumbs...so, yeah, she didn't see it. "Anyway, we thought we'd go into town and eat, it's kind of our thing," she grinned. "There's a place I promised to take him that has that sweet tea that's a bright green, remember? The uttaberry chai." "Yes yes, your mother adores it, although I think she likes it more for the decorations, I think," he nodded. "Well, let me finish up here and we'll get our wheels rolling!" With a tap to her shoulder, he was off back to wherever the crashing had come from. She shook her head with a laugh, leaning against the doorframe for a moment with a sigh. It was colder than she remembered, or maybe, she was used to the ship being warmer. In fact, she regretted not lugging along a thin jacket. The mountains made everything feel just that much...heavier? Plus the snow in the winter, the sadness when the plants would inevitably die, the refreshing spring or fall weather... The sun was beaming down now, warming her up through the glass of the greenhouse. Honestly, it was such a beautiful day. Perhaps she could convince both of them to go out and walk around the central plaza, the hedges always made such a wonderful maze... "And I am ready, dear daughter!" He skidded back into view with a grin, this time wearing a checkered shirt and slacks, plus his mirrored glasses of course. She shook her head, smiling. "Way to make an impression, Dad." "Why of course! Who did you think you got your sense of fashion from?" ...she was not going to answer that. Instead, she opened the door with a sweeping arm. "After you, dear father." "Why thank you, dear daughter," he playfully bowed, she bowing back, both of them cracking up in laughter. Two steps out the door, the wind picked up. "And you see, I thought I could make-Corliss?" The wind whistled around the greenhouse, her hair picking up along with it like fingers sliding through the strands, her hat tilting as she froze in place. "Corliss?" The wind whistled angrily, more a shriek of anger than a simple whistle, the rain pelting on them from the clouds above. "To the cave!" came a voice, she knew the voice, she did, but she couldn't place them amongst the terror of the storm. "We'll be safe there, go, go!" "I..." She could feel her breath pick up, catch in her throat like someone reaching out and squeezing it tightly, her heart hammering behind the bones that kept it safe. She fell in the mud, one hand sinking lower than what she felt was safe, shouting out in pain from the jerk of her wrist. Lightning cracked across the sky, the wind gearing up into the shrieking crescendo that only toddlers could ever seem to reach, and just as she pushed herself up, her eyesight swinging up, a large tree branch was sent flying her way. "COR-" "-liss?" A touch to her shoulder had her jerking, blinking furiously as she stared at her dad, who frowned back at her. "Are you alright? You've got your net up," he tapped at his temple. "...just....habit," she mumbled, staring up at the blue, empty sky. "Lots of people onboard value their privacy." It took a moment, but he pulled his hand away, nodding quickly, a simple smile on his face. "Right! Right, yes, that whole...keeping to oneself thing." "..." she shook her head quickly, pretending to brush a stray hair away from her cheek and clearing her throat before smiling. "Well, we're late, I suspect, we should go." He sighed, doing that full-body sag as animatedly as he did every action that continuously surprised her. "You and your mother are so very alike, do you know that?" "What!" she squeaked out, for a moment brought out of those dark, painful memories. "We are not!" "You are indeed!" He laughed, turning around to start down the path once more, and her jogging after him huffing and puffing. "Neither of you are very good about talking about yourselves." Oh. Well. He had her there. She winced, looking away, the hat tilting as if to hide her face from him. "There's not much to talk about. Just the usual...death-defying missions and all," she laughed uneasily, letting it trail off as the soft wind died down, leaving her arms covered in bumps of skin. "I'm not so sure why everyone is so okay with that," he said, lightly. "I've never enjoyed my children close to death, after all." "It's just how Starfleet is, Dad. Traveling...seeing things...doing things..." dying a few times, being yanked into an alternate reality where everyone she knew and loved was de- "How exhausting," he sighed, a hand touching his temples as he shook his head, grimacing again and making her laugh. "And to think, you've not told me about a single mission so far! Here I am, left to float about the days, alone as ever," he sighed louder, his arms dangling like a dramatic teenager, and her face hurt from smiling so hard. "Aw, Dad, don't be like that," she bumped his shoulder playfully, smiling. "I tell you things. Boss, on the other hand..." "Your brother is so secretive, shhh!" He wrapped his arm around her shoulders, a finger to his lips with a giant grin. "Wouldn't want the neighbor boy to hear his dastardly plans and reveal them to the cats!" She burst out into a laugh, swatting at him and they both started to laugh harder, their eyes clouding over from their joy as she leaned on him again, wheezing with laughter. "That's horrible and you know it! It's protocol!" "It's mildly ridiculous!" he grumbled, his hand making motions in the air before he let it dropped, letting them walk in the easy silence for a moment. "But that's what it was, right?" "...huh?" "A mission," he said. "Something happened last time, yes? Your face turned white, and normally you do that around blood." How could he know her so well? He did raise her, after all, so maybe that was part of it. She let out a very long sigh, the kind that leaves one exhausted but weightless, as if the suitcases of stress were let down and they could lie on the ground for a little while. "...yeah. A mission." He nodded, but didn't continue. They walked some more, turning the corner of the trail onto the concrete of the road. She cleared her throat, the small hubbub of the town echoing around them. "Remember when I was little, and I liked storms?" "Yes!" he laughed. "You were such an interesting child! You'd open your window at night and your room would be soaked but you loved the chaos of the night!" he laughed harder, patting her back almost a little too heavily. "Your brother told you one day you'd be taken away by the wind, and you believed him for a little while." "Mmhmm." There had always been something about storms that entranced her, the way the rain poured, the way the wind howled and squealed, arching around the mountains and bringing blasts of cold with it. "I always loved the wind... ...until that mission on Telstrus 3." The tree limb smashing into her, the wind giving it enough gust to force her back, her feet scrambling at the ground for purchase. All she could do was hold onto the tree branch as it continued to fly, the wind giving it assistance, her heart nearly smashing its way out of her chest from fear and adrenaline mixing together- "I guess the mountain wind just...it made me think of it," she shifted her hat back a little, smoothing out her bangs fussily. "But I'll be fine. Like always." "Hmm," he had his hand on his chin in thought. "You should-" "Dad," she interrupted with a flat glance, "if you say 'talk to your mother', I will tell them not to let you have cake." "So cruel!" he groaned, shaking his head with a sigh. "No, not your mother. You should talk to the counselor." "I am the counselor," she laughed. "Remember? I called you all and told you? It's been what, three years? You can't-" "That's not what I mean," he set his hand on her shoulder again, that soft half-smile where he was trying very hard not to insult her or hurt her feelings, while at the same time telling her something that she probably didn't want to hear, "that Carys woman, she's onboard too? And Vatta?" "Vaala, Dad." "Ah, her! The enthusiastic learning protégé!" He sighed, still smiling. "They're not just there to exist around you, dear. They're there to help as well, even if Vaala is only just stepping into the profession." He...also had a point, although she didn't want to accept it. Perhaps he was right, she and her mother were quite similar in that. Corliss didn't bring up anything, and her mother acted like everything was okay with herself. Or, she'd never told Corliss if she'd ever had counseling herself. Rather, it was always a storm of mystery about her, an outsider with only the most distant of relations. She rubbed her neck, smiling. "Yeah, Dad. I'll do that." "Alright then, now let's go see this boy that's so taken your eye!" She let out a very low sigh, an amused smile on her face. He just could not help calling Loxley a 'boy', could he? Then again, Dad was at least three times their own age, so it wasn't too weird for him to see them all as children. The wind picked up again, a few crinkly leaves skittering down the road, a few small children laughing as they ran by them. Her hair ruffled with it, slipping over her shoulders, the bumps of skin ghosting about her shoulders fast as wildfire. She clenched her hands, swallowed, and started walking again, content to once again ignore the behemoth waiting in the wings.
  21. Post your questions, comments, and other discussion here!
  22. For this year, following along with the themes of the recent newly released series of Star Trek: Picard, and the current situation many of us are facing at home, the chosen theme is one of Star Trek's most beloved storytelling mechanics — Echoes of the Past. "The view screen snaps into focus on an impossible sight, and a voice from your past speaks to you and you alone..." How would your character react in this situation? What's going through their mind? What scene immediately pops into your head? Is there a word-fire kindling? Does it transport you somewhere? If so, bust out the virtual pen and paper, brew that Earl Grey and get cracking! One judge will be chosen from each ship to help select the winner. Rules & Guidelines: Word count should be a minimum of 300 and maximum of 3000. Members are welcome to submit solo stories, or team up with a buddy to submit a collaborative epic. Your submission should be in the format of a short story. Prose, not sim formatting. (See here for examples.) All members are welcome to submit entries for the community to read, but only those from active simmers will be reviewed by the judging panel for the final winners selection. Submissions are, by default, non-canon – if you find a way to shoehorn this into your own backstory, you're free to use it if you wish, but certainly not a requirement. To that end, you can create whatever characters make sense for the story. You don't have to use or reference any of your current characters. Also, rank is not an issue here – write as an Ensign or a Captain, civilian, whatever makes sense for your story! And you're free to use characters that you've already written for in sim, but please don't include anyone else's. Submit your story directly into the first post of a new thread. Use the following format for the thread title: [Primary Character Name(s) of author(s)]: "My Story's Interesting Title" Tristan Wolf: "Five Ways to End Your Starfleet Career" All stories must be submitted by Sunday, May 17 at 11:59pm Pacific Time. Good luck!
  23. The tall, dark haired stranger pointed the weapon at Hayley. The young cadet stared at the barrel of the distruptor with fear and gulped. Sweat poured down her brow. Swallowing her fear, she bravely responded, “Please. Let me go and I will leave.” The stranger grinned with coldness and shook his head, “No. You don’t get out of this. Poor little girl. Fresh out of the academy, huh? Such a shame.” Without a second, he fired. The hot beam of the disruptor caught her flank thrusting her backwards. The back of her skull hit the metal post of the lamp. Clutching to her side, Hayley fell to the ground. Fighting the overwhelming darkness, she listened to him bark orders. “Men, take her body out and dump her with the others at the end of the colony. You know where it is. Do it. No one will know the truth of all this.” With her tongue stuck inside her throat, Hayley gasped with pain as darkness overcame her senses. Her life slowly ebbed away as his men carried her away. “Dev” A voice spoke in the back of her head. Hayley stood with her hands on the railing. She watched the shuttle fly from the port in a town in Ireland. She smiled watching and waiting. Already seventeen and full of promise, she waited for the shuttle to take her to the academy to begin her first studies in San Francisco. It was her life-long dream. “Devon” “Huh?” Hayley wondered. Turning around, she listened again and recognized the tone of her father. She smiled leaving her place against the railing to meet him. A barking sound followed him as she exclaimed seeing her favorite Irish Settler, “Mackie!” Her three-year-old puppy ran up to greet her as she opened her arms and exclaimed hugging her, “Father! You brought Mackie! I thought you left him to be cared for.” Mackie barked and slobbered all over her. Stroking her fur, Hayley stood and hugged her father. They embraced as he spoke, “I couldn’t let her alone without letting her say goodbye.” As Mackie sat awaiting her next command, she watched her two favorite humans watch each other. Hayley kept her smile and spoke, “Father. Thank you.” He stood there grasping her hands. He smiled and inquired, “Are you ready?” Hayley closed her eyes. Thinking to herself and feeling an overpowering feeling of emotion, she opened her eyes and nodded. As her green eyes stared at her father, she felt his happiness. Being only half Betazoid as she got half her abilities from her mother, the half Human shook her head, “I don’t know, father. I studied a lot. I learned many things. I thought I would be ready and yet.” “What?” her father inquired, “What is it,” Hayley gulped. Feeling pain on her side, she swallowed harshly and responded in a low, raspy voice, “I still feel this darkness inside me. An emptiness. A void left behind my mother. She,” Struggling to prevent her tears from falling, she turned away. Her father touched her face and responded bringing her to face him,” I know. Things were never the same for both you and your brother since your mother disappeared thirteen years ago. She left without warning and her disappearance made no sense.” Mackie watched them both and whimpered turning her head sideways. Hayley closed her eyes and nodded. Stroking Mackie on her head, she exhaled. Her puppy licked her hand. Her father placed his hand on her head and inquired, “It is part of why you joined Starfleet, isn’t it? To find your mother?” Hayley opened her eyes and nodded, “Yeah.” He sighed, “And I can’t persuade you to let go?” The young girl shook her head and swallowed her response, “No. I have to do this, father.” He nodded assuring her with a kiss on the forehead, “Okay. Be careful. Know that I love you, wherever you are.” That brought back a confident smile to her as Hayley replied, “Thanks. Love you too.” She hugged him and knelt before Mackie to kiss her. Her dog barked as Hayley turned away. The shuttle she waited for had come. Walking toward the plank, she turned to give her father a wave. Following several people, she boarded the shuttle. Halfway across the plank and entering the waiting shuttle, she heard that voice on the back of her mind again. Dev… “What?” Hayley turned around. Searching for the voice, it sounded familiar. It came again via a sudden ringing in her head. Devon… Hayley groaned. Grabbing her head, she fought the ringing pain. Stumbling against the passengers of the boarded shuttle, she banged the wall with her hand. The occupants ignored her apparently unaware of her sudden pain as the voice echoed but louder DEVON! Another groan escaped her throat as a sudden pain arched across her side. Clutching her flank, she felt something wet. Withdrawing her hand, she gasped seeing blood dripping from her hand and wound. Falling to her knees, she groaned closing her eyes as the painful voice lashed at her head like an electric whip. DEVON! Opening her eyes, Hayley gasped feeling around her. She was on her back with someone else atop her. Feeling herself whisked away from a familiar setting, she found herself on her back with a bunch of bodies around her. A man knelt over her and held her down as he tended to her wound, “Dev, stay with me.” “Huh,” Hayley groggily attempted to speak. Feeling her system filled with drugs to keep her pain in bay, a nagging ringing in her head just won’t quit as she groaned, “Captain?” The man holding her down appeared dark and clouded. Hayley’s eyes played tricks on her. Feeling her mind taken down, she muttered, “No. It can’t be. The captain is dead.” “Devon. Hey! Dev,” the man tended to her wound spoke. Soon his voice became familiar as she inquired, “Seth?” Her brother was here? That couldn’t be. He was halfway across the quadrant. No way he was here. She groaned, “Seth. What?” “Hey,” Seth spoke as she tried to get up. Keeping her down, “Dev, I’m not here. But, as your brother, I have to tell you. Don’t give up now. Devon!” “What,” Hayley groaned. Fighting to keep her eyes open, she flailed on the ground. Feeling the corpses of the dead near her, she went into a panic and screamed. Her brother yelled, “AWAKE!” Hayley stood up and gasped. Feeling a sudden rush of the smell of the dead crossing her nose, she gagged. No longer sensing her brother, she cried, “Seth!” It was all in her head as the medication was giving her hallucinations. Setting herself back against the only wall nearby, Hayley hissed with pain and groaned. Touching the bandages covering her side, she felt hot, sticky blood on her hand. Feeling nothing but silence in her mind, the half Betazoid cried softly. Realizing that she felt very much alone, Hayley gasped softly, “No.” Sitting alone among the dead colonists for a bit, Hayley felt herself drifting off. Shaking her head, she gasped, “No. Must stay awake.” Her professors had warned her that she must not sleep when she’s hurt bad. Hayley felt the darkness. It gnawed at her. It drew her in. It wanted her sweet embrace. Closing her eyes again, Hayley cried out in pain when another nerve struck her side. “Please, Dev. Stay awake.” She whimpered softly as her eyes slowly closed. The young twenty-three-year-old muttered, “Must. Stay. Awa-“ Sleep tugged at her as darkness embraced the young cadet. [End – To be continued…] Cadet Hayley Devon Caden, “Dev” In training (HCO) Unassigned
  24. The courtroom was a taciturn affair, bland and uninteresting. Indeed, it was room modified by necessity; its purpose had been to hold spare deuterium tanks and spent parts, not to house the practice of law. And yet, the addition of several pennants on the walls- sigils representing Starfleet, the Federation and the starship Quin’lat added a sense of propriety and nobility to the otherwise dingy affair. For all its patriotic imagery, the room was taut. The seating was packed with people. Beings from across space had packed themselves into the cramped accommodations, rejecting the admiralty’s strategy of limiting the audience by moving the hearing to the Quin’lat from the nearby Starbase 773- the place from which this entire debacle had begun. Merchants, scholars, and- somewhat concerningly- a small contingent of purple-bedecked prylars, had taken up a vigil near the front. It was clear from Admiral T’Lara’s unusually pursed lips that this was already a poor start to what would likely be at best a grueling day, and at worst… one that might well live in infamy. Before her and to the left sat the prosecution. Commander Snow carefully addressed his already immaculate work space, smiling peacefully, but all the while bearing heavy eyes. Several feet away, the defense stewed. One of the men, identified by his four-pipped collar of red and his stolid, terrifyingly calm features, was Captain Dolame Reager, commanding officer of the Quin’lat. The other man, similarly human and composed of a softer disposition, was Lieutenant Argyle Mallon. His hands were folded before him, and he bore the confidence of a guaranteed victor. The gentle tapping of a bell, three tones of two, brought the quiet rumble of hushed conversations to an end. Admiral T’Lara cast her eyes about the room, and spoke in a clear, melodious voice. “This hearing, convened on Stardate 239601.23, is now in session. Commander Snow, you may proceed”. Snow stood slowly, spreading a dignified hand over his already smooth uniform. “I would like to call Lieutenant Mallon to the stand”. On cue, as though nothing else could have been said, Mallon stood, and airly made his way to the witness stand. He sat comfortably, and eyed Snow with vague curiosity as he extended his hand toward the verifier. A warble of electronic noise heralded the arrival of a man’s condensed accomplishments. “Verified. Lieutenant Argyle Mallon” The computer asserted. “Current assignment; USS Quin’lat. Starfleet Command decoration for valor and gallantry. Beta Serpentis Expedition Medal, Daystrom Institute Commendation for Scientific Advancement…” The list continued for some time, each success seemingly more relevant and vast than the others before it. When it concluded some seventy seconds later, Commander Snow smiled. “An impressive career, made more extraordinary by your age and experience, lieutenant. A career based in honor and intelligence, but more than that… choices. Would you agree, lieutenant?” Mallon considered Snow for a long moment before smiling. “It is… a valid perspective, Commander.” “I’m pleased you feel that way, lieutenant”. Snow genuinely did sound glad. There was an unconventional sort of openness about him, well away from the dogged determination that many prosecutors elsewhere might display. “We are, after all, products of choices. Indeed, we are here now as a result of a choice- another fair characterization, lieutenant?” This time, Mallon was slower to respond. “Perhaps, sir. The topic of whose choice is still up for much debate.” Snow puckered his lips and nodded thoughtfully. “Well stated. Allow me, then, to clarify- and do feel free to interrupt me if I make an error here. On stardate 329512.02, the entire crew of the starship Quin’lat, yourself included, received certain orders from Starfleet Command. These orders, dispatched from Starfleet Medical, included instructions for a new round of inoculating medications to be administered to all hands.” Snow drew himself out, and tilted his head in confusion. “Mr. Argyle, as I understand it, you refused those orders”. Argyle nodded. “Yes, sir. That is correct.” “Hmm. And… your reasoning for this action was spiritual in nature, was it not?” Argyle again paused. “Technically, sir, yes. My spirituality, however, is far more present in my life than that of most other humanoids. My roots stem from the Ty’bek mountains of Terra Nova.” T’Lara was listening intently to the peaceful discourse before her, but out of the corner of her eye, she could not help but notice the expression of quiet fury on the face of Captain Reager. “Yes- most present, I gather. Of particular note is your aversion, shall we say, to certain plants and medications?” “Yes, sir”. “Plants and medications that were present in the new vaccine Starfleet Medical ordered for all hands aboard the Quin’lat?” “Yes, sir- precisely.” Snow wrapped his hands around his back and began to pace before the witness chair. “Are you familiar, Lieutenant Argyle, with the circumstances regarding this order to innoculate?” Argyle nodded slowly. “Yes, I believe it was an outbreak of Rigelian Fever”. “Rigelian Fever- damned nasty”. Snow paused, swallowed slightly, and continued. “What would you, in your expert opinion, deem as the most dangerous feature of this particular illness?” Argyle perked up. “The rapidity with which it reaches the terminal stage. Those with Rigelian Fever either improve drastically or perish approximately twenty-four hours after infection.” “Damned nasty indeed.” Snow’s hands were clenched. “And yet… you refused the inoculation all the same”. “Yes, sir, I did”. Argyle was placid. Saved. But the upper hand was enjoyable to indulge. “Ingesting those ingredients would certainly see me denied entry to the Holy Resplendence after my death. I chose not to contaminate my body with such pollution. A choice, I might add, granted by the Federation Charter-”. “I would advise that you leave the intricacies of Federation law to me, Lieutenant”. Admiral T’Lara’s tone was icy but impartial. Argyle nodded towards her deferentially and returned his gaze to Snow. “That was my reasoning, and my choice.” “Then what?” Argyle sighed after a moment’s pause. “The situation was brought to the captain’s attention. Soon after, I was charged with disobeying the order of a superior, and sent to the brig. When not here, I am confined there, as I have been for approximately one standard week.” “An… unfortunate turn of events, to be sure”, said Snow, his voice filled with regret. “You then decided to challenge the charge?” “Yes, sir- and I should like to point out that, in defense of this attempt, I am enjoying the counsel of Captain Reager himself.” Argyle extended a hand to his captain and bowed his head. Reager’s eyes were intensely focused ahead of him.” “Most noble of the captain.” Snow nodded respectfully toward the glowering superior. “He protects his own. He has been doing that since he took command. It’s his job. You understand that? You understand that diseases like this kill in days? You understand that if he did anything but lock you away, and insist that everyone take the vaccine, he would be endangering everyone aboard? And everyone the Quin’lat came into contact with?” “To a degree.” Mallon leaned forward conversationally. “I’ve researched this disease and many others. Most are completely treatable with our technology today. Yes, a few may die of complications, but we are not immortal, nor are we designed to be. Plants and herbs and things overrule my feelings, my beliefs, all for what you say is the common good. Even if I don’t take it, the rest of the crew will. They will be protected! I don’t interact with many other people besides. Call me whatever you wish- delusional, irresponsible- but I do not deserve to lose my commission, and I do not deserve to be discriminated against in this way!” His voice was now high, angry, strained. The sudden attack was as close to real as it needed to be. The prylars near him kept a quiet gaze on Mallon, but murmurings from the crowd again began. “The gallery will return to order”, Admiral T’Lara confidently declared, and quickly, it was so. Snow moved toward Mallon suddenly, and the lieutenant nearly recoiled. “Argyle. I know you. I’ve known you since the Serpentis Expedition. You are brilliant. You don’t deserve to lose your commission, but least of all over something like this! You must accept that vaccine, for the good of us all! One more sacrifice to be made, but you and your life and those around you are worth it- please, Argyle! A personal favor if nothing else!” “Objection.” The tone was strong, and somber. Captain Reager was now standing, his impressive size and aura placing a blanket over any mutterings that may have resumed from behind. “The defense is influencing the witness”. “Sustained”, ruled the admiral, raising an eyebrow at the unusual statement. Snow, for his part, looked at Mallon with a genuine sadness before turning to address the audience, and Admiral T’Lara. He opened his hands and spread them to the audience, before lowering them and smiling ruefully. “I tried. I really tried. I rest, your honor.” Snow returned to his seat, now more disheveled and weakened by his performance. Admiral T’Lara looked to Reager. “Your witness, Captain.” Reager stood, and the rage in his eyes was suddenly directed precisely at Mallon. He wasted no time. “I declare that Mr. Mallon ought to be allowed to stay in Stafleet without taking the medication. Allow me to explain. Lieutenant. You were a part of the Serpentis Expedition?” “Yes, captain, that is correct.” “Describe it”. Reager’s reply nearly clipped the end of Mallon’s statement. Mallon, for his part, was ready. “Beta Serpentis was a medicinal research colony under the flag of Starfleet. Though the colony was designed to be remote in its construction, over the centuries it became larger and more general, transitioning to an active hospital facility as Federation civilians began to move there.” “And what happened there?” Here Mallon hesitated slightly, but spoke clearly. “Five years ago- in fact, on this very day- an act of terrorism partially destroyed the Beta Serpentis Medical Complex.” “Cost?” Reager’s business-like tone and apparent callousness stirred ire in the crowd behind him. Admiral T’Lara’s gavel again silenced it. “One hundred and thirteen dead, three hundred others wounded.” “Would you agree that it was a tragedy?” Mallon nodded somberly. “Yes, very much so”. “I wouldn’t.” Now the rage from behind the hearing stage swelled powerfully. The security officers flanking both sets of doors placed hands on their phasers. Admiral T’Lara stood, and gazed at the assembled masses with such insistent vigor that those that noticed advised their more irate comrades to calm themselves. “This will stop, or I will hold the next disruptor in contempt”. A muffled cough was the only response. Reager continued unabated. “Hundreds dead, yes? A sad thing to be sure. But- and this is merely my opinion on the subject- the casualties that followed were the real tragedy. Would you care to enlighten us to your experiences there?” Mallon’s eyes had gone from righteous, to startled, to utterly confused. He shook his head. Reager grinned. “Well, allow me. Beta Serpentis is a thriving world, a world with every sort of microbe and bacteria and animal. Thousands of disease samples from across the Federation and beyond were kept in cold storage and studied there, and thanks to the technology designed to maintain it, when the attack struck the hospital, the hazardous material was harmlessly destroyed. But… the illnesses on Beta Serpentis, native to that world and partly responsible for shaping it into the cruel vision of greenery it is today… change. They change quicker than most.” Reager moved toward his desk, and picked up a PADD. “In the words of the Head of Starfleet Medical at the time, ‘it is my opinion that the loss of these disease samples and equipment with which to synthesize effective antidotes to that year’s particularly egregious viral season contributed to the otherwise preventable deaths that occurred during that time- a number approaching nearly two million people.’” Reager wasn’t even bothering to hide his intensity, and Mallon continued to implore his captain for answers with his eyes. “Now… with that all said and done, answer me this, Lieutenant; In your professional opinion, why might someone keep such lethal materials so close at hand?” Mallon considered, and then responded. “To study, of course. There exist… certain occasions where maintaining a dangerous item, in order to learn from it and defeat it, is wise.” Reager allowed himself another small smile before turning toward Admiral T’Lara, who’s expression told of a dawning understanding. “I rest my case, your honor.”
  25. He hadn’t been back to his childhood home in six years, Pholin realized as he was walking through the blossoming fields of Denobula. It had been the day before he left for the academy, when he met his parents to say goodbye. He remembered the looks on their faces when he told them he’d be leaving for good. So much had changed since then… “I should never have left…”, he grumbled to himself, watching the gravel move underneath him. The planet’s three suns had just appeared from behind the clouds, casting their dawn shadows on the path to the residence. The relationship with his parents had always been shaky, but that day had been particularly bleak. Even though he’d been planning it for months, he’d barely told his parents he was about to leave. They’d always wanted him to continue the family tradition, never leaving the planet as they’d done for over ninety years. When he broke that tradition, as a young and naïve scientist, he’d scarred their relationship for life. On that day, he’d managed to disappoint them once more. Pholin had grown tired of life on Denobula and wanted to explore the galaxy like he did when he was younger. “And look how that turned out…”, he exclaimed into the emptiness around him. He’d missed the birth of his first grandson, he wasn’t there when his wife’s health declined, and he was thousands of light-years away from Federation space when he lost his mother and brother. Pholin felt like he’d turned into the person he hated most growing up, a person who was never there for his family, valuing his career more than his family. His father had been the captain of a submarine for over fifty years, exploring the vast depths of the Denobulan seas. His mother was the biologist on board, and his brother would later study to become its helmsman. It was anything but a part-time job. Pholin’s father especially would be away for months on end – leaving his children alone with his wives. He’d always hated his father for that. “Yet I ended up exactly like him…”, barked the Denobulan. Even though he’d never been close to his parents, Pholin shut down when he learnt there had been an accident on the submarine. His father, the captain, was the only one to escape the sinking ship alive. He lost his mother and his only brother. He’d just been promoted for the first time and started to dive into his work to deal with the pain. His career skyrocketed, while he barely sought therapy. He’d only opened up to a couple of friends but hadn’t shed any tears. He was always tired, always grumpy. He spent more and more time alone – working in his science lab. It wasn’t until the Columbia was decommissioned, that he seriously started to question his future. He more or less forced himself to go to therapy and moved back to his home planet to serve as Research Coordinator at the Miratha Research Centre. It was mostly a desk job, but it gave him some peace and quiet. “Ah, there you are…”, he mumbled with a sense of nostalgia. He looked up to see his parents’ home show up over the horizon, at the end of the lengthy trail. Enjoying the sight of the place he’d once called home, he couldn’t help turning his frown upside down. It wasn’t much more than a small cottage, with white walls and a thatched roof. The Denobulan approached the house, which seemed particularly messy for an abandoned home. Usually, his mother would tidy up the house before going on a mission – they had left the house last June before the accident, if he recalled correctly. He walked up the steps of the porch, seeing they hadn’t even bothered to clean up the dishes. A half-empty glass of Andorr-Loatac Ale was still on the wooden table. “Well, I didn’t come here to clean up after them…”, he said with a smirk on his face. Continuing his journey back to his childhood memories, he entered the abandoned house. He turned on the lights in the hallway and took off his shoes. Just because he hadn’t been back here in half a decade didn’t mean he could forget his manners, he thought. To his left was a gold-rimmed mirror, showing Pholin’s considerably… fuller body. It had grown into a small problem recently, having to replace his entire wardrobe for a larger size. Below the mirror stood a tiny hallway cabinet, which prominently featured one of his favourite childhood pictures. It showed him and his mum, on top of a nearby hill which had taken them three hours to climb. Pholin had been eleven years old for just over a week when his father took that, and he’d loved that picture ever since. It was just him and his mother hugging, their love so clear, nothing in their way. He missed her. A single tear managed to escape the Denobulan’s emotional defence systems. He knew continuing to explore his home would only trigger more memories, but there was something inside him with a raging need for nostalgia. He wasn’t quite sure why. Pholin opened the door to the living room. “…”, there were so many words he wanted to say, but not a single one escaped his mouth. “Pho! I’ve been waiting for you all day!”, she said, getting up and walking into the kitchen. “Would you like something to drink? The tea’s hot already!” He was left speechless, seeing his mum standing right in front of him with the classic Denobulan smile on her face. He blinked, but she was still there. “Oh, come on! Don’t be so shy, now.” The woman approached him, seeing his worry, and went in for a hug. Pholin stood there, frozen, unsure how to process what was going on. She smelled like his mum, she talked like his mum, and she hugged like his mum – although it had been a few decades since they’d last hugged. But… this couldn’t really be her, right? “You look so pale! Why don’t you sit down, sweetie?” She accompanied him to the sofa, where Pholin sat down with his head in his hands. Thousands of possibilities were zooming through his mind. She could be an alien; this could be a trap he walked into. She could have survived, without anyone knowing. She could be a hologram, set up to scare him. She could- “Have some tea, Pholin. I’m so happy to see you again!”, the woman said, chuckling. She sat down in her chair, which nobody was ever allowed to sit in when he was a little kid, and enjoyed her own cup of tea. Pholin was still not quite sure where to begin, but he picked up the cup of tea from the table and took a sip. It was real tea, burning his tongue a little. He looked around the room, seeing some of his favourite childhood toys around him. His teddy bear was still leaning onto the potted plant, where he would always put it when he went to school so it could enjoy the view while he was gone. The painting he’d made in first grade was still hanging on the wall, even though it was excruciatingly hard to look at. It was supposed to represent his family, but they were nothing more than stick figures. He’d always wondered why they’d kept it up there. He looked back to his mother, looking deeply into her eyes, his own eyes tearing up. “Wha-, why, how-”, he tried to speak. “Oh, my darling, you’re a scientist! You must know you’re dreaming, right?”, asked his mother in a worried tone. He did not. Even though he’d been processing their loss for over a year, he’d never actually dreamt of them- except when he’d gone into hibernation in the middle of a mission, when he had experienced the accident on the submarine himself. He hadn’t ever spoken to his mother in a dream. “So, you’re actually… dead?”, he said now having no control anymore over the tears flowing out of his eyes. She nodded, with an understanding face, before getting up to comfort her son. She sat down on the sofa next to him and put her arm around him. Pholin felt like a child once more, crying in his mother’s arms. He let it all out. “I’m so sorry I wasn’t there, mum. I should’ve been there!”, he said with a raised tone. “Don’t you dare speak like that, Pholin!”, she looked into his eyes. “It’s not your fault. There was nothing you could’ve done, Pholin.” Of course, she was right, rationally. Even if Pholin had stayed to work on Denobula, he would’ve never set foot on that submarine. He’d always been afraid of the ocean, he never even dared swimming in it, let alone study the bottom of the sea in it. He could’ve never stopped the accident from happening. But his cries were not rational. “But… I abandoned you!” cried the Denobulan turned baby. His mother sighed, “Darling, you only did what your father and I never dared to do. You chased your dreams!”. She chuckled. “Do you really think I liked exploring the exact same chuck of sea for years on end?” “Why’d you do it then? You must’ve spent decades down there!”, Pholin said. “Because I never wanted things to change. I never dared to dream. Son, the step you took to enrol in Starfleet took courage, courage I never had. You should be proud of that.” Even though he knew his mother was nothing more than the figment of his imagination, it felt like a massive relief to hear her say that. He had experienced guilt like never before, and there she was, saying it was alright. “But-”, he managed to get out before being interrupted. “I wasn’t done yet, sweetie.”, she eyed him. “What you’re doing right now, isn’t helping you at all. You shouldn’t be doing this to yourself anymore.” He rubbed his nose, sniffling. Pholin didn’t agree with her – himself? – at all. He had gone home to relax, to take some time off while dealing with his loss. He wanted peace and quiet. His job was inside his comfort zone, something he knew how to deal with on a daily basis. The base’s commander wouldn’t suddenly be kidnapped, and they wouldn’t be led into some trap by space kittens. There were no mysteries, only endless tranquility. He was just filing regular reports about geological findings other people were doing for him, with two feet on his desk in his office while doing it. “Your job is exactly the same as before you left! The one you fled from! The only thing that’s changed is your uniform while doing it.”, his mum continued. “But I was stressed out, mum! I literally passed out in the middle of a mission because I couldn’t sleep at night!”, he responded. “Now don’t get me wrong, darling, you definitely needed some time off. But it’s been seven months…” Pholin hadn’t realised it had been that long… He’d been posted to the Research Centre for a third of his total time in Starfleet, yet it felt like nothing interesting had happened at all. The only exciting thing that had happened was his husband’s promotion, to Petty Officer First Grade, on his birthday. In just one year, he had climbed his way up to be the First Officer of his maiden ship, and in six months, all he had done was sit behind his desk all day. Maybe, just maybe, she was right. “Tell me, Pholin. What did you like more? Being promoted to Executive Officer on the Columbia, thousands of light-years away from Federation space? Or literally watching paint dry on your office walls?”, she asked rhetorically, trying to soothe him with a smile on her face. Pholin chuckled and wiped his tears away. He couldn’t believe he was just having an argument with himself – and was losing it too. “A part of dealing with loss, Pho, is moving on. I think it’s time for you to move on.”
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