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Loxley: Cries on the Wind


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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.


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