The River

I heard it first. The deep, distant roar, low and powerful. At first just on the edge of hearing, but louder minute by minute, hour by hour. I knew what it was, what it had to be. The River.

It has no other name, it needs no other name. The myriad streams, creeks, brooks and springs that crisscross our land are but poor imitations of the River, tamed, harnessed and serene.

What could you call a torrent of water, moving faster than a horse could gallop, faster even than a rythan could fly, wide enough that the other side can be but dimly seen even by the sharpest-eyed scout and cutting the land apart as sharply as a knife cuts through cheese?

From the first I heard the roar, it was still three days travel to reach the edge of the River. I had been here once before, as a boy. It’s a rite of passage, to travel to the River and spend three nights on the edge. It hasn’t changed much since then, but I hadn’t expected it to. The River is eternal.

Imagine it, if you can. The woodland thins out, you can smell the water in the air, see the haze, see the moisture on the leaves, hear the deep, visceral roar which blends into a vibration from the ground itself. As you get closer to the River, so the vegetation thins further until the ground is bare rock. Bare rock which suddenly drops away revealing a sheer-sided chasm through which the River flows, its surface easily a spear-throw below the edge. An expanse of water too wide to see across, roaring past, white-flecked and violent carrying debris from lands afar.

And I have to get to the other side.

What can be found in the bookshop

I pushed the bookshop door open, slowly. Not by choice, it was one of those heavy doors that require effort to open. It creaked, as old doors tend to do, and a bell rang deep within the shop.

This was one of those old shops, wood shelves, creaky floors, narrow aisles with books piled everywhere. Knickknacks filled the few empty spaces, an old-style globe of the world here, two candlesticks with melted candles there.  At the end of the aisle, a small alcove held a table and two armchairs, the table covered in still more books. A black cat slept on one of the chairs, oblivious to my presence.

I’ve always loved bookshops with character and this one had character in spades. I almost expected to find a working crystal ball, or a real spell book filed under , that tired plot-point from so many recent stories and movies. But there were no actual spell books, no swirling visions of the past or future, just the best collection of old books and first editions I’d ever seen. By the time I’d finished browsing I had probably half a month’s income worth of books in my pile, and the sun was low in the sky.

It was then I realised I hadn’t seen the owner once since I’d walked in.

I walked towards the back of the shop. “Hello? Is anyone there?” No answer. The counter which held the till, and several precarious piles of books, had no one near it. There was a small door behind it, a door that stood open with a cool blue light coming from it.

I probably should have stayed out, probably should have waited patiently, however it was late and the pile of books was making my arms ache, so I pushed the door open and stepped inside. What I saw there, well, I can’t actually tell you. It would violate the oath I swore, the oath I was forced to swear. Not that I mind to be honest, my new job is a lot more fun than being a legal assistant, and who knows, maybe one day I’ll get to travel on business and…

Let’s just say that the sky is not the limit. Not for me. Not any longer.

The icy wasteland

Kealan gazed down across the ice-covered plain. The sun, hanging just low on the horizon cast exaggerated shadows across the land leaving the plain mottled bright and dark. The wind had died hours earlier and the silence was so profound that it almost sang. To Kealan, it sang with the voices of his friends, his colleagues, his son.

How many had died that day? How many had been driven out to die in the icy wastes to the north? How many had survived only to live each day in fear of been found, of been betrayed, sold out to an enemy that would stop at nothing to ensure that the Seers were no more.

He could remember that day as if it were just yesterday. There had been no warning, no clues, no hints, no indications of any attack, planned or otherwise. It was that the was the hardest to swallow. For a group of people who dedicated their lives to reading the shape of the future to have seen no signs of an attack against them was a travesty, a betrayal of what they were. Had She abandoned them?

Three months ago it would have been blasphemy to have thought that, but today, Kealan was past caring. When he closed his eyes he could still see the dragons swooping down upon the stronghold, riders dressed in a uniform he didn’t recognise. He could still smell the stench of burning flesh; he could still hear the screams of those caught in the dragonfire.

They should have seen it coming, but they had believed that they were above the petty warring of two nations. “She shows us what will be,” the elders had said, again and again, “If they were planning an attack against us, we would know. They will not dare to move against Her chosen.” That certainty had not saved them. The elders had been the first to die.

Kealan pulled his hood up and set out slowly across the ice sheet. Somewhere there was a place of safety. Somewhere.

You can’t take the sky from me

“Program complete. Enter when ready”

The air inside was dry with a distinct chill and a slight smell of dust. The platform was barely 5 meters across and there was no sign of the ground, just a red horizon fading to midnight blue overhead. The winds howled and twisted around the platform

It wasn’t historically accurate, it wasn’t completely physically accurate either. The atmosphere was ship-normal, but a high-altitude Martian atmosphere, a high-altitude, pre-terraforming Martian armosphere would have required an EVA suit and sometimes comfort took precedence over physical accuracy.

Stephan regarded the primitive craft standing on the edge of the platform. A light-weight metal frame with a several meter wingspan covered with fabric, no propulsion of any kind. It was a far cry from modern atmospheric craft. Just getting this far had required months of research. First with the shuttle’s limited computer while in the Gamma Quadrant, then with the main historical archives at Utopia Planitia. Either the early Martian expedition hadn’t recorded the complete schematics of the glider or the details had been lost during the Eugenics wars.

‘No time like the present.’ He climbed into the glider’s framework and pushed it off the platform.

Stephan fought for control as the wind tossed the glider around like a toy. After several long minutes he managed to wrestle the flimsy craft in-line with the wind. The ground, now just visible far below,  raced past at an incredible speed and the howling of the wind faded away.

“Yeeaah!”

Stephan tilted the wing very slightly downwards, dropping altitude would make the view of the ground clearer and with all the dust he couldn’t make out the features of the terrain below. Noctis Labyrinthus was to the North-West, but that left a lot of margin for error. He tilted the glider left, aiming it for a NNW trajectory. As he did so, an errant gust of wind caught the glider and spun it out of control. The fabric on one of the wings ripped away and the glider plummeted towards the surface. A second later the wind ceased, the wide expanse of the planet’s surface was replaced by the yellow and grey grid of the holodeck and Stephan fell 10cm to the floor of the holodeck.

“Damn it.” He pushed himself to his feet and leant against the nearest wall, willing his hands to stop shaking. “Computer, analyse the last 5 minutes of the flight, identify the cause of the structural failure.”

“Working”

“Back to the drawing board…” Stephan muttered to the empty room as he left.

 

Homeward bound

Personal log Stardate 52110.1

—- Text only —–

First time I’ve flown a freighter since I joined the Marquis. Was one of the motivations for joining, so bored of flying cargo ships. Still this one’s rather manoeuvrable for a freighter, I wonder if the insectoids used this as a blockade runner on occasion.

I like flying ships, but 3 months of 12-hour shifts is starting to wear. I hope those really are indications the wormhole is open, I don’t like the idea of spending another couple of months here.

Three and a half months. What’s happened back in the Alpha quadrant in that time?

Unwanted news

Location: Salva II

The transporter sparkles dissolved into a view of a small agricultural settlement, still showing the signs of the recent Cardassian occupation.

Lieutenant Commander Tony LeStrange, USS Boston, sighed and headed down towards the center of the settlement. Third and last visit of the day, then he intended to find a bar and get seriously drunk.

He checked his padd and looked around, but didn’t immediately see anyone matching the picture he had. ‘Excuse me,” he called out to the  nearest person, “I wonder if you can help me locate someone?”


Twenty minutes later, on the outskirts of the settlement, Cmdr LeStrange spotted the person he’d come to see. He was part of a group clearing away debris from what appeared to be a collapsed building of some form.

“Excuse me,” Cmdr LeStrange called out, “Mr Carthright?”

“That’s me,” the oldest man in the group answered, “What can I help you with?”

Twice that day and three more times the previous week and it never grew easier. “Mr Carthright, I regret to inform you that the ship your son was serving on has been declared lost with all hands. Starfleet sends their condolences and if there’s anything that that I can do to assist, you just have to ask.”

Malcolm Carthright took a step back, shaking his head, ‘I think you’ve got the wrong person, my son’s not in Starfleet.”

Cmdr LeStrange checked his padd carefully and frowned, “Lt Stephan Carthwright, Starfleet service number 28492992, born 2346 Salva II, joined Starfleet 2374 as part of the Correctional Service Amnesty Program. Assigned USS Rutan stardate 51834.” He looked up from the padd. Malcolm had gone several shades paler and had pressed a hand to his chest. “Sir, the USS Rutan was declared lost with all hands stardate 52002. I am sorry to be the one to inform you.”

‘No…” Malcolm staggered back against some debris and sat heavily, ‘No, no, no!!!!”

Going away

———————   Subspace message Stardate 51833.8 ———————
———————–    Destination: Ivor Prime Colony     ————————
———————–       Recipient: Sarah Rotheford      ————————

Congrats on the promotion. You’ll be running the entire colony in no time I’m sure.

I’m going to be out of contact for a while, should just be a couple of weeks. Can’t say more, you know how it is. Please tell Ken I wish him a very happy birthday in advance. I’m glad he’s feeling better than when I last saw him. Oh, and he doesn’t owe anyone anything. Personally I wouldn’t wish my worst enemy a stay in a Cardassian prison. I told him that when he was onboard the Agora, maybe he’ll believe it if it comes from you. If he insists on doing something, he can send a ‘thank you’ message to Captain Jason West, USS Rutan. It’ll get to us eventually.

I will speak with Father again when I get back, if only to stop you nagging me. I don’t know what you expect to achieve, but you were always the peace-keeper in the family, even before Mother died. Honestly though, he’s made up his mind about me, it’s going to take some significant event to make him reconsider, you know how he is.

Look after yourself and the brats, love to you all, I’ll call when I can.

Excitement, adventure

Personal log Stardate 51885.2

——–Text only ————–

I joined the Marquis for the excitement. I was bored, I wanted to see the galaxy and I wanted to do it on my terms.

I told myself at the time that it was for good and noble reasons, defending our homes, resisting Cardassian aggression, that kind of thing. Told anyone else that would listen that as well. But that doesn’t make it the truth. I wanted the adventure, the resistance against Cardassia was just a convenient excuse.

Was that really less than three years ago? It seems like a lifetime. So much changes in just three years. I’d like to think I’ve changed as well, but am I just deluding myself again?

Suicide mission?

Personal log. Stardate 51962.1

————— Text only ———————

In retrospect, I suspect that was a suicide mission. Well, not exactly, that’s not Starfleet style. More like a mission where the expected probability of success is expressed in single digits. Small ones.

It’s understandable, they’re not going to send their best ships or best crews on such a mission, but did they really have to give us a bunch of kids just out of the Academy? This was Ensign Kulia’s first combat mission. He’s still having nightmares.

To be honest, he’s not the only one.

I keep thinking back over that battle, if battle is the right word for it, was there anything we could have done differently. It all went down so incredibly fast, one moment everything was fine the next every alarm on the ship was blaring. I’m sure I saw stars for a second just as the transporter activated, literally, where the port bulkhead should have been.

That Vorta had better be worth all of this. Otherwise I’m throwing him out of an airlock myself.

So far it’s been a month since we left Doza. The less said about the trip, the better. Current estimates are another two weeks back to the wormhole, and that’s assuming we don’t have any technical problems. I’m going to strangle Hagen well before that.

Aftermath

———————   Subspace message Stardate 51690.8 ———————
———————–    Destination: Ivor Prime Colony     ————————
———————–       Recipient: Sarah Rotheford      ————————

Hi Sis.

I know you’re following the news on the war, so I thought I’d send you a message before you start worrying.

Yes, there was an attack on Betazed, the entire system is under Dominion control. Two fleets were sent in to reclaim the system, including the one we’re part of. I think someone under-estimated the Dominion’s resolve, thought they’d pull back if hit hard enough. Didn’t quite turn out that way, the Dominion reinforcements were far faster and stronger than anticipated. The battle to reclaim the system turned into an attempt to evacuate as many as possible.

We were quite some distance away when the invasion started, so we weren’t part of the initial battle, we were tasked with evacuating some people from one of the outer planets. I won’t bore you with the details, it was similar enough to the Salva II evacuation, just more people, more ships and more enemy resistance. We did have one encounter with a couple of Jem Hadar ships on the way in, took a bit of damage, nothing too serious.

It does mean that we’ll be spending a few days at a starbase again. I might be able to call on Danny’s birthday, but I can’t make any promises.

To answer the question you so carefully danced around, yes I did speak with Father while he was on the ship. Eventually. We’re never going to get along well, it’s too late for that, too much water under that bridge. We didn’t end up having a shouting match in the middle of sick bay, so I guess that’s something.

I didn’t tell him about what happened to the rest of the Marquis or about the prison time. I didn’t tell him about being in Starfleet either. I don’t know if he guessed or not, I mean there’s not that many other reasons why I’d be on the ship, but he didn’t say anything.

He insisted on going back to Salva II, nothing I could say would dissuade him. Old fool.

Sarah, promise me one thing. Don’t come back. Not now, not until this is over, it’s not safe in this area. With Betazed under their control, the Dominion can strike at half a dozen of the core worlds, not just at the border.

Take care of yourself. I’ll call when I can.

———————–       Recording terminated        ————————