In a dream, approximately 35 years ago
The runabout touched down in a small clearing at the base on the western side of a yet unnamed mountain range and Th’lora cut power to the engines. It was her fourth successful landing of the day as she and her colleagues of the USS Triton shuttled colonists and supplies from the transport ship to their new home of Veela III. Not the most glamorous job, but it beat filing reports or plotting flight plans. Before releasing the outer hatch locks, she made a half-witted remark to Lieutenant Whitby, her co-pilot about this landing in particular compared to the others, causing him to smile.
One by one, each passenger gathered their carry-on belongings and exited the runabout, including a man carrying a newborn child. Th’lora checked each name off a list on her PADD as they crossed the threshold onto the planet surface, finalizing their transfer and ensuring that everyone was accounted for.
Without warning, the ground beneath them began to tremble. Not so significant, that anyone lost their footing, but enough to be noticed. “Vehl to Porter, status report.” she called out after a quick flick of her combadge.
Porter was the scientist leading the survey team helping to locate the specific location for the permanent settlement of the colonists. “Tricorders are picking up increased levels of tectonic instability that had not been registered…”
Before Porter could finish her report, the ground began to shake again, much more violently than the last. If Th’lora had to guess, she would have estimated a magnitude of mid six to low seven on the Richter scale, though she was no seismologist. Large boulders could be heard, and seen in the short distance of the mountainside beginning their tumble to its base. It was not safe for her and the colonists to remain there, and while the runabout could have offered some shelter, if it were hit by a boulder large enough or the ground beneath became too unstable, its level of safety would be greatly diminished.
Th’lora took out her tricorder and scanned the vicinity. She picked up two cave entrances several hundred meters from their present location with multiple chambers large enough to hold a few hundred people combined. “Whitby!” she yelled out, “We need to get these people to safety. There are some caves due East. Watch for landslides and prepare for aftershocks!”
Activating her combadge a second time, she called out to her commanding officer, more as a report of her intentions rather than seeking advice, “Vehl to Jemieson. My team and I are heading for some caves in the mountains East of here. I suggest any personnel you’re with do the same. Vehl out.”
She didn’t wait on an acknowledgement, and proceeded to direct her group of colonists in the direction of the caves. The steep incline and the loose dirt and rock coming down the mountain made the trek difficult, but after a handful of minutes they found themselves at the first of the two entrances and began funneling in. Whitby led the group, conducting scans as he went while Th’lora rounded up from the rear to ensure that everyone made it inside.
They came to an opening about twenty meters in diameter with an adjoining path toward the South, presumably in the direction of the other cave entrance. Surveying the area it appeared that this location would suffice there were plenty of ledges or rocks that could be used as a place to sit and the opening was wide enough that if they needed to add a heat source, they could do so in the center of the room. The adjoining path traversed slightly lower in elevation from where they were to a similar but larger sized opening. While spacious, from her vantage point, the path did not appear safe to cross while the earth was in a state of shaking.
Crying could be heard from the newborn. Th’lora approached the man holding the child to see if she could offer any assistance, “My name is Th’lora. Is everything okay?”
“Matthew.” he said returning the greeting, “Yes ma’am. She’s just scared. The loud noise from the earthquake is just too much for her.” the man replied.
“Where is her mother?” Th’lora asked.
“My wife is with our eldest daughter on the colony ship. Our daughter had to have some spinal surgery before coming down to the planet. I’m sure you know how protective mothers can be. She’s worried, even though I told her there’s nothing to fear. It’s a routine procedure. So she suggested I come down to the planet with our youngest and start setting things up down here.”
“Well…I commend your bravery under the circumstances. If you need anything, let me know and I’ll do what I can to help.”
The man nodded, coddling his daughter as he attempted to calm her down. Th’lora continued circling around to each of the colonists, making sure no one was severely injured and needed medical attention.
“…Vehl…present location…200 meters.” a garbled but comprehensible enough transmission came through. It was Commander Jamieson. Magnetic interference from the rock must have been scrambling the comms. She was able to infer from what she’d heard that the commander was in the opening south of where she was. If she could call him from the adjoining path she could at least give him a status update.
When she turned around, Matthew and his daughter were nowhere to be seen. Fearing the worst, she ran to the pathway. About fifty meters ahead Mathew was slowly making his way to the other chamber at the coaxing of her commanding officer. “Matthew! Come back!” She yelled.
Matthew turned back around to look at Th’lora, then back at the man on the other side.
“Commander! That pathway is not safe! If another earthquake or aftershock happens, that rock face will give way.”
“All the more reason to get everyone into the same room. If it does collapse it’s best if we’re all in the same place. Let’s move everyone over here on the double.”
“No sir! I can’t do that. I will not jeopardize the safety of these people. Matthew! You need to come back before…”
Th’lora was immediately cut off by an aftershock that shook the mountain nearly as fierce as the initial quake. A large rock and other debris broke free from the ceiling and hurtled toward Matthew.
“Noooooooo!” she screamed.
Th’lora vaulted upright in her bed. It was just a nightmare. The same nightmare she’d had for the last thirty-odd years since that incident. Like clockwork on it’s anniversary every time she reflected on the events of that day.
“Computer, begin letter.” she said after regaining some sense of composure.
The computer chirped, signaling that it was ready to begin recording.
“Hello Elizabeth. I’m composing this letter to you, hoping that I have the courage to actually send it when finished. It’s been so many years since the tragic accident that took the life of your husband and daughter. As the leader of the team that was in charge of your husband’s group at the time, not a minute goes by that I don’t blame myself for not doing more to prevent what happened. The extent of your loss cannot be put into words, and I hope that one day you’ll forgive me for what happened.
“I have not been to Veela III since that incident. I hope that you and your daughter are doing well. I keep telling myself to make a trip there or stop by in passing on one of my next missions. However, the fear of the animosity you must hold toward me and the rejection of my arrival has prevented me from doing so.
“In the event you would like to reach me instead, you can contact Starfleet and they can make sure any message is delivered to me.
“With sincerest regards, Captain Th’lora Vehl.”
“Computer. Save the letter but do not send it. If I do not send the letter after ninety days, delete it.”
“Acknowledged. Letter saved” the computer replied.