The Farther Shore | Chapter 19 of 35

Author: Christie Golden | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 1879 Views | Add a Review

Please hit next button if you encounter an empty page

Chapter 10

ENSIGN LANDON FERGUSON liked his new job. Many would have thought it excruciatingly boring, standing around all day with nothing better to do than send high-ranking Starfleet officials to various ships or other locales, but Ferguson was more than content with his lot. He had just graduated from the Academy and had no particular craving for adventure and action aboard a vessel of the fleet. Nor did he particularly care for the delicate dance that was the diplomatic path. He didn’t have a real aptitude for computers or engines, either. But he had been a diligent student and gotten decent enough grades to pass, and Starfleet always made sure its former cadets had useful and respectable employment.

So Ferguson was here in San Diego, one of several dozen people who manned the transporters. San Diego was an enormous hub for Starfleet comings and goings, [123] hence the usage of humans rather than holograms at the transporters. Here was where one was officially cleared to beam onto a vessel, or to a top-security site. So even though Ferguson knew his job wasn’t particularly glamorous, he also knew it was important. Let others fight the enemies or entice new species to join the Federation. He would happily see to it that those people got where they needed to go.

He snapped to attention when the door to the large transporter room hissed open. His brown eyes widened slightly as he recognized the rather well-known figures that stepped briskly inside.

“Admiral Montgomery, Admiral Janeway,” he said smoothly. He was getting used to greeting high-ranking personages. Just last week, he’d had the honor of transporting the Mirkashu of Junn to Starfleet Headquarters.

“Good morning, Ensign,” said Montgomery. “These good people need to be transported to Voyager.”

The blood drained from Ferguson’s face as he regarded Janeway; Commanders Data, Tuvok, and Chakotay; Lieutenant Commander Tom Paris; and Lieutenant Harry Kim. The other two, who like Montgomery were carrying some sort of briefcase, he didn’t recognize, but he was willing to bet they were from Voyager, too. And that was a big, big problem.

“Uh,” he said, less than eloquently, “uh, Admiral Montgomery, sir, may I speak with you for a moment?”

Montgomery glowered. Ferguson cringed, and swallowed hard. “These kids fresh from the Academy,” Montgomery sighed, shaking his head. “Give me a moment, Kathryn, will you?”

[124] They walked away a few feet. “Well?” Montgomery demanded.

“Sir, are you forgetting your orders?”

“I never forget my orders. I sometimes change them, though. Like I’m doing right now, if you get my meaning.”

“Yes, sir, I do indeed, sir, but you were quite adamant when you spoke to us,” Ferguson said, wishing his voice wasn’t so quivery. “You said under no circumstances was anyone who had served on Voyager to be allowed admittance. You made it very clear what would happen if anyone did permit them to transport.”

“I’m glad I made myself clear then, and I hope I’m making myself very clear right now when I say, that’s an order, Ensign!”

“Yes, sir, of course, sir,” said Ferguson, scurrying back to his position behind the console. “Just one moment and—”

“What are you trying to do, Ensign? Are you bucking for yeoman? Time is of the essence!”

Ferguson felt sick. “It’s procedure, sir. Look, I’ve got him on the screen already. Commander Watson, I have Admiral Montgomery for you.” He stepped back quickly to allow Montgomery to see Watson on the small screen.

“Good morning, Admiral,” said Watson, a handsome black man whose hair was just starting to get sprinkled with gray. Watson always intimidated Ferguson. Then again, most people intimidated Ferguson. “What can I do for you, sir?”

“I’ve got seven people who need to board Voyager. Don’t give them any guff. Stay out of their way and let them do their job. That understood?”

[125] “Yes, sir.”

“Oh, and Dr. Kaz is going to be joining them shortly. The same applies to him.”

“Of course, sir.”

“I’m going to be in some very important meetings for the next few days, and I’d appreciate not being disturbed. These folks know what they’re doing. The ensign here has been stammering protests and it’s worn me out. I don’t want to hear a peep out of you, Watson.”

“Understood, sir. No peeping.”

“Good. Montgomery out.” He turned and glared at Ferguson, who tried and largely failed not to cringe underneath that piercing gaze. “Now, transport these people immediately.”

Ferguson couldn’t do it fast enough. When the transporter whined and the seven people dematerialized, he heaved a huge sigh of relief and slumped against the console. It was far too busy a day for his liking.

 

Janeway didn’t miss the slight widening of Commander Watson’s eyes as he recognized her. She smiled, hoping to put him and the other two security guards in the room at ease.

“I know our appearance here is a bit unexpected, Commander Watson,” she said, and recalling Kaz’s comment added, “but desperate times call for desperate measures.”

“Indeed they do, Admiral Janeway,” Watson replied coolly. “If I hadn’t had it straight from Admiral Montgomery himself, I’m afraid I’d have to detain all of you until you were cleared.”

“Your thoroughness does you credit. But as the admiral said, we’ve got work to do.”

[126] She stepped lightly off the transporter and was heading out the door when Watson moved smoothly to block her way.

“I’m sorry, Admiral, but before I let you pass, I do need to know what you’re doing here.”

Her jaw tensed. “With all due respect, Commander, no, you don’t.”

She tried to move past him, but he blocked her way again.

“Commander Watson,” said Data, “what is your level of security clearance?”

“Level Beta,” he said.

“Is everyone on the ship cleared for that level?” Chakotay inquired, glancing at the other two guards present. Watson nodded once. “Good. Then you can tell him, Admiral.”

Janeway didn’t bat an eye. “We’re here to assist Starfleet in discovering a cure for the Borg virus. We’ve had more experience with the Borg than anyone on Earth, and the information in our databanks as well as our familiarity with their technology is an asset.”

Watson narrowed his eyes. He looked like he didn’t believe her. “Why didn’t Montgomery tell me that?”

The real reason “Montgomery” hadn’t said anything was because first, of course, it wasn’t really Montgomery but one of Baines’ holograms, and second, the hologram had no idea who Watson was or what level security clearance he had.

But Janeway didn’t mention either of those particular facts. Instead she said, “Montgomery was standing right in front of a particularly edgy-looking young man who was clearly fresh out the Academy.”

[127] Watson nodded his comprehension and seemed to relax slightly. “You may proceed.”

She smiled slightly. “You know, Commander, they never formally relieved me of duty. Technically, this is still my ship.”

Let him chew on that, she thought, and stepped past him into the corridor.

For a moment, they all stood staring. “What the—” began Kim.

“They’ve gutted her!” said Tom, saying what they all thought.

Voyager had looked worse, but Janeway was having trouble remembering exactly when. The technicians under Montgomery’s command had probably done their jobs well and thoroughly, but they had left an enormous mess in their wake. Panels had been opened and tossed aside. Conduits gaped open, naked wires hung loose and occasionally sputtered.

“Didn’t their mothers tell them to tidy as they went?” Janeway asked, sighing.

“Admiral,” said Tuvok, “I believe we can expect this level of ... untidiness ... throughout the ship.”

“Project Full Circle was about discovering Voyager’s capabilities and enhancements,” said Chakotay. “It wasn’t about getting her ready to fly again. And I imagine when the virus broke out, the last thing on anyone’s mind was taking the time to put things back where they belonged.”

A shiver went down Janeway’s spine. “The regeneration chambers,” she said. “There’s no telling what they’ve done to them.”

“As a prime example of Borg technology on the ship, it’s probably going to be one of the most thoroughly [128] dismantled,” said Paris glumly. Seven and Icheb, despite their holographic facades, looked worried.

“All right,” said Janeway. “We mustn’t panic. Here’s what we’re going to do.”

 

Commander Roger Watson stared at the closed door through which the former Voyager captain and her crew had just left.

“Something wrong, sir?” asked one of his men.

“I’m not sure,” Watson replied slowly. He had been in the field of security for over twenty years. He had gotten as far as he had by trusting his instincts, and now, they were sounding a red alert. Yet there seemed to be nothing amiss. He’d seen Admiral Montgomery with his own eyes. He knew about the Borg virus, of course, and it made sense that the people who knew the Borg the best ought to be allowed access to the ship they knew the best.

And yet ... Montgomery, and even Commander Grady, had been adamant about not allowing anyone from Voyager to return to the ship. What made them change their minds? And why now? And why was Commander Data with him? Last Watson had heard, the android still served on the Enterprise.

Although all protocol had been observed, his instincts were still warning him that something was wrong.

“Something just doesn’t feel right about this,” Watson said at last, still staring at the door. “Get the second team up.”

 

As she sat roasting the flesh of some creature she’d trapped and killed—it had large soft eyes, four legs, and horns along its spine, but she didn’t know its [129] proper name—Torres thought back to the last time she had sat beside a fire cooking her dinner. It had been with her father, uncle, and cousins during that final, disastrous camping trip. B’Elanna smiled as she tried to apply the term “camping trip” to the Challenge of Spirit.

She hadn’t killed her dinner then; just brought hot dogs and marshmallows to roast over the fire. There had been comfortable tents, dry, clean clothing, and people—people she loved. There had been companionship, even though it was destined not to last.

The chunks of meat impaled on sticks dripped juices into the fire. The flame snapped and sizzled. B’Elanna’s mouth watered. The smell was delicious.

Despite the tentative overtures they had both made upon her returning home, things were still tense between Torres and her father. Now as she sat by the fire alone, waiting for the meat to cook, she realized that she really did want to patch things up. She needed to make things right with both her parents, her put-upon and absent father as well as her audacious, violent Klingon mother.

Maybe they’d have another campout, B’Elanna and her father and Tom and the new little one. Maybe they could start a new family tradition. As for her mother ...

Torres still shuddered whenever she thought about the rite she’d been forced to endure prior to embarking on the Challenge. Her memory was hazy, due no doubt to the fumes emanating from the lava pits, but she remembered enough: heat and pain and nakedness. And yet despite the extremity of the ordeal, it had all felt right, appropriate. She had indeed felt reborn as she ventured out into Boreth’s wilderness. She certainly [130] didn’t want to do it again. But she was glad that there had been something, some kind of ceremony, to mark her departure as something worth doing ... something worth acknowledging.

B’Elanna picked up a skewer and blew on the meat, touching it tentatively until she was certain it wouldn’t burn her mouth. She took a huge bite. Juices flowed down her chin as she chewed. Nothing had ever tasted so delicious. She looked down at the six other makeshift skewers and smiled. She’d sleep with a full belly tonight, and wouldn’t even have to eat a single grub to do so.

The flesh was melting off her. She’d always been slender, even small, but tough and wiry. Now even the faint layer of fat that had softened her musculature was all but gone. She was bone and blood and muscle and sinew. She made good time during the day, had learned to find food to keep her going, and slept like the dead at night. A few months ago, she would have laughed at the notion that such an intense physical ordeal would be “purifying” rather than a hardship. But now, she knew it to be the truth.

With every step she took, she was nearer reconciliation with her mother, and that was a journey that had taken years. She sweated her old grudges into the clay that she carefully layered over her body whenever she ran across any mud. The clay absorbed her emotional toxins as well as her physical ones, and when she did run across a clear pool or waterfall and allow herself the luxury of washing off the dirt, she felt cleaner than she had ever felt in a sonic shower.

Despite herself, she had to admit that she was thriving on this diet of fruit, tubers, grubs, and close-to-raw [131] meat. She could almost feel her body greedily absorbing the nourishment as she feasted on things that once would have made her stomach churn. No wine or replicated beverage tasted as sweet as water from a rushing brook or raindrops caught in a large, carefully positioned leaf. She had no husband or child to take care of, no engines to repair, no crew to manage, no captain to report to. Only the jungle and the sky, and her ceaseless steps over the harsh terrain which would take her toward this next segment of her life.

For the first time, B’Elanna Torres really understood what her mother had been trying to tell her. There was a deep, resonant purity in scoured skin, in hardened muscle, in casting off the vestiges of the comfortable, ordered, technical life. She could hear her heart steadily pumping blood, could feel the oxygen she drew into her three lungs enriching that blood, could feel her muscles working as they obeyed her thought: Keep walking. Here, in the most unexpected of places, was a kind of peace the tormented half-Klingon woman had never thought to find.

“I’ve got to tell Chakotay about this,” she said aloud, to hear herself speak. She’d talked to herself a great deal when she first embarked on this adventure. She had needed to hear a voice, even if it was just her own. Surrounded by people as she had been for the last seven years, solitude and silence was unfamiliar and, if she were to admit the truth, a bit frightening.

But the more time she spent by herself, the more she realized that she wasn’t truly alone; the more time she spent in silence, the more obvious it became that she was embraced by sound. There were countless [132] species here in the rain forest to keep her company, and they all spoke. She learned to listen to them and not herself, to the point that now, as she uttered the phrase, her voice sounded harsh and unused in her own ears.

Content with her own company and that of the thousands of other beings who lurked unseen, she finished the meal in silence. She ate the meat off of all seven of the skewers and her belly swelled with food. It rumbled, uncomfortable and unused to the volume she’d just subjected it to. She patted it gently, trusting that it would digest properly and that her body would welcome the nutrients.

Torres glanced over at the carcass. There was still a lot of meat left. It would last marginally longer in a cooked state than in raw, certainly enough to feed her through the day tomorrow at least and perhaps the day after. She started to load up the skewers again when she heard a sharp crack.

She was on her feet at once, a makeshift spear in her hand. Beyond the ring of light cast by the fire, the jungle was utterly dark. There was no moon tonight, and the stars offered too little illumination. She stood as still as if she had been carved from stone, resenting even her breathing, even her heartbeat, as her ears strained to catch any sound. The jungle, so full of birdcalls and sounds of insects and other creatures, had gone very, very still.

It came again. Crack.

Torres cursed herself mentally. She ought not to have lit the fire. She could digest raw meat. She’d done it before. But the quietness—and dryness—of the last few days had lulled her into a false sense of security, and [133] the thought of a bright, cheerful fire crackling away while she roasted the meat had been too seductive for her to resist.

But now something was out there, something big, it sounded like, by the rustling of bushes. She debated extinguishing the fire, but it was too late for that to do her much good. Anything lurking in the night was going to see better than she could by starlight, and she needed every advantage. She slowly stepped forward and took a bundle of twigs she had gathered and tied together for just this purpose, and lit one end.

With her makeshift torch, Torres stepped forward. She held it aloft, trying to catch the glint of the eyes of the Something that was making all the ruckus. If she needed to, she could also use the torch as a weapon. Most wild creatures had a natural fear of fire. Was it another grikshak? Or maybe one of the maasklaks.

She moved boldly through the jungle. No sense in stealth now. The light of the fire grew fainter behind her and the darkness closed in. Every nerve ending was alert. Where was it? She’d have heard if it had left. It was still here ... watching her ... waiting for her.

Out of the corner of her eye she saw something move, something that was darker than the rest of the darkness. A cry burst from her throat as she whirled, brandishing the torch.

Something knocked the torch out of her hands. It went flying and landed in a pile of foliage, smoldering sullenly as the flames tried to catch the wet leaves on fire. Another blow, this time to her midsection. B’Elanna went sprawling, the wind knocked out of her. Even as she tried to scramble to her feet, she knew it would be [134] too late. The spear clutched in her left hand would be less than useless at this close range. She wished she’d brought her chipped stone dagger instead.

The thing dropped on top of her. She struggled, but even as it dawned on her that this was no animal, but a humanoid, a voice cut through her haze of adrenaline:

“ ’Lanna!”

<< < 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 > >>

Comments

user comment image
Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

Share your Thoughts for The Farther Shore

500+ SHARES Facebook Twitter Reddit Google LinkedIn Email
Share Button
Share Button