In the twenty six years since joining Starfleet, Captain Forrester had never hesitated before stepping onto a transporter pad, but now he stood rooted to the spot, unable to take the first step. Although he was confident the transporter chief would be able to successfully deliver him to the surface, a niggling voice in the back of his mind, which grew louder with every passing minute, was working hard to convince him otherwise.
“What’re you more nervous about?” Mitchell asked, standing to the captain’s left. “Beaming down or coming face to face with the Governor?”
On Forrester’s right, Doctor Miller chimed in. “Why would he be afraid of meeting Governor Wells?”
“Our captain has become something of a local celebrity on Coltar.” Mitchell answered in place of Forrester. “Governor Wells wants to give him the Freedom of Coltar. He’s been ignoring her messages for months.”
Forrester finally pushed forward with a sigh, stepping up onto the transporter pad and turning to face the three people in the room. “Death would be preferable to standing here listening to you two hens clucking.” He quickly followed this statement by the order to the transporter chief. “Energise.”
Mitchell managed to wish the captain luck before Forrester felt the familiar pull of the transporter. Typically the time taken for the transport to be complete was just a few seconds but that wasn’t the case here. It felt like he was spinning endlessly for what seemed like minutes. Eventually he rematerialised in the office of Governor Wells’ executive assistant and was immediately hit by a power wave of nausea.
“Uhhhhhhh.” Forrester moaned and immediately hinged forward at the waist, placing his right hand on his hip as he fought the urge to revisit his breakfast. “Uhhhhhhh.”
So focused on not throwing up, Forrester didn’t notice the Governor’s assistant rise from his desk nor was he aware of the Governor joining them. It was only when Wells spoke that Forrester became aware of her. “Are you okay?”
“Give me a minute.” Forrester said through gritted teeth before taking a deep breath and then another. As the nausea began to pass, he straightened and leaned back slightly, tilting his head towards the ceiling before taking another deep breath. “Sorry about that, Governor. That wasn’t particularly becoming but I have never experienced a beam down as rough as that.”
Forrester quickly typed a message in the large PADD in his left hand and sent the databurst back to the Challenger. “What’s going on, Captain?” Governor Wells asked. “Why has it taken Starfleet two months to reach us?”
“I think,” Forrester cast a sideways glance at Wells’ assistant, “that we should speak in your office.”
Wells nodded and motioned towards her office before turning to her assistant. “Have Connie step in and join us, would you?” She followed Forrester into the office and announced, “I’ve asked my Chief of Staff to join us.” The pair fell into an awkward silence until Wells spoke again. “You’re a difficult man to get hold of, Captain.” Forrester gave her a tightlipped smile and could feel the flush rising on his cheeks. Before he could respond, the Governor’s Chief of Staff stormed in.
“Jake says there’s a Starfleet Officer here?” The woman Forrrester could only identify as ‘Connie’ asked before catching sight of the captain. “And not just any Starfleet Officer but Coltar’s favourite son. A pleasure to finally meet you, Captain Forrester.” She extended a hand, “Constance Forsyth, Governor Wells’ Chief of Staff.”
Forrester gasped her hand firmly. “Good to meet you, Miss Forsyth.”
“So,” Forsyth began as she flopped down on one of the couches while Wells and Forrester sat on a pair of armchairs, “why has it taken Starfleet two months to investigate losing contact with Coltar?”
There was an edge to her voice that betrayed a feeling of anger directed at Starfleet. Coltar had often felt forgotten or overlooked by the Federation Council, no doubt this experience only reinforced that belief. “This is gonna sound a little crazy.” Forester said, crossing his leg. “The Federation only lost contact with Coltar roughly eighteen hours ago.”
“You’re right, Captain.” Wells replied evenly. “That does sound crazy. It’s been two months.”
Forrester set the PADD down on the nearby coffee table and activated it, tapping a command into it. The holographic representation of Coltar that he’d viewed during the briefing on the Challenger appeared above the device. “No, it hasn’t. The subspace rift that’s opened above the planet is emitting tachyons directly into the planet’s atmosphere.”
“We know.” Forsyth’s tone was defensive. “We’re not as backward as Starfleet thinks we are. The rift is responsible for our loss of communications. But you still haven’t explained how it’s supposedly only been eighteen hours since you lost contact with us and not two months.”
The urge to roll his eyes was strong but somehow, Forrester managed to resist and replied instead with a single nod. “Actually, it’s been both. The tachyons have caused a temporal differential to occur.” The politicians shared a confused look so Forrester continued. “Time is passing faster on Coltar than for the rest of the galaxy. We’ve calculated that for every hour experienced by the rest of the galaxy, Coltar is experiencing three point seven five days. So, while it has been two months for you, it’s only been about eighteen hours for the rest of the galaxy”
Both women were visibly shocked and Wells pushed herself to her feet and stepped towards her desk. “I can’t believe it.” Silence fell and Forrester allowed the two politicians time to process the news. “If the rift is closed, will time return to normal?” Forsyth asked.
“We believe so, yes.” Forrester replied. “My science officers are working on a way to close the rift right now.” He paused for a moment, knowing that the response he would receive was bound to be worse than his own response less than an hour earlier. “But we’re proposing to hold off on closing the rift for now.”
Governor Wells spun round, her eyes wide while Forsyth’s eyes burned with an intense anger. “Why?” Forsyth asked sharply. “What possible reason could you possibly have to ask us to endure this situation any longer than we absolutely have to?”
“Because there’s an ion storm bearing down on the planet,” Forrester told her calmly, “and the temporal differential buys us the time we need to put into place the necessary protection against freak weather events the planet will experience when the storm hits.”
Wells returned to the armchair she had originally occupied. “Bad news piled atop bad news.” The Governor let out a sigh as she sat back down. “This job used to be fun.”
“Heavy lies the head that wears the crown.” Forrester mused, knowing full well just how heavy that crown could be.
The comment drew a small smile from Wells. “It would at least be some compensation if I had an actual crown.” She quickly moved back to the pending issue. “What have you come up with to protect the colony?”
“My chief engineer first suggested installing a weather control system,” both women opened their mouths to object but, anticipating their reaction, Forrester held up a hand and continued, “but I made it clear that was a non-starter. So instead, we’re going to install shield generators around the population centres and upgrade the planetary power grid as necessary.”
A wry smile crossed Forsyth’s lips. “I’m glad to see you haven’t entirely forgotten where you come from, Captain. How long will this work take?”
“About a month and a half.” Forrester told her. “The ion storm is due to hit the planet in about twenty eight hours, that’s just over three months, so we have plenty of time to get the work done and close the rift.”
Wells and Forsyth shared a look and, from Forrester’s perspective, seemed to be able to communicate a lot of information in that one look. “The resources of Coltar are at your disposal, Captain.”
“I appreciate that, Governor. To start, I’ll need somewhere to house my people. I have about a hundred and fifty people beaming down to work on this project. A gymnasium where we can set up bunk beds would be ideal.” Forrester reached forward and picked up the PADD, quickly typing out orders for Jackson and his team to begin beaming down.
Wells nodded as she stood up, causing Forrester and Forsyth to follow suit. “Connie will see to it.”
“If you’ll come with me, Captain, I’ll see what we can find.” Forsyth said as she moved towards the door.
Forrester bowed slightly. “Thank you, Governor.” He followed Forsyth but stopped at the threshold at the sound of Wells’ voice.
“I look forward to discussing the Freedom of Coltar with you while you’re here, Captain. Welcome home.” Forrester turned to find Wells watching him with a devious smile. He was quickly coming to the conclusion that she was a very capable politician.
It took less than an hour for Forsyth to find a large gymnasium near the centre of the largest town on the planet and she accompanied Forrester to view it. He quickly agreed that it would fit their needs and sent another data burst to the Challenger providing instructions to beam directly to the gymnasium and begin setting up a barracks. It was another half hour before he received a reply to both of his communiques at the same time. The temporal differential was already beginning to annoy him, even more when he discovered that the half hour it would take for Jackson’s team to be ready to beam down meant that the captain had about forty five hours to kill.
Deciding it was best to just get it over with, Forrester made his way back to his hometown. He was surprised by just how little he recognised. In his mind, he’d imagined he would find the place exactly as he left it, frozen in time, but very little was as it had been. Trees that had been small back then were considerably larger, new trees had been planted and others had been removed, restaurants and cafes had updated signage, houses had been extended, repainted or torn down and replaced with something newer.
Moving beyond the edge of the town, he walked for a further ten minutes before finding a familiar dirt track leading away from the main road. Even it had changed. New trees had been planted along it but this was definitely the lane that led to his family’s farm. He stood looking down the lane, the house just visible around the curve near the end. With one final deep breath, Forrester placed one foot in front of the other and started down the track
The lane led to the farm’s yard. There, a familiar figure was hunched over a piece of machinery. Forrester steeled himself against what the next few minutes would bring. The figure looked up and at first didn’t recognise the Starfleet Officer standing in front of him. Forrester used those few seconds to study his father. His hair had receded and turned grey, the beard he’d once worn was now gone and replaced by a few days of stubble, the lines that he remembered were deeper and had been joined by new ones. He could see the moment recognition struck him and his features clouded over.
“I thought I told you never to come back here.” The elder Forrester said as he approached his son.
His stomach fell as he anticipated where this was going and it was nowhere good. The captain nodded. “You did.”
“And yet here you are.” Derry Forrester let out a single humourless chuckle. “I shouldn’t be surprised. You disobeyed me before, I should’ve expected you’d do it again.”
Forrester sighed. “Dad-”
“Go back to your starship, Captain.” Forrester’s father cut in, disdain dripping from his voice. “You’re not welcome here and I’d hate to see those fancy pyjamas of yours get dirty.” Forrester senior cast a disparaging look over his son’s uniform before brushing past his son without another word.
Letting out a heavy breath, Forrester’s head dropped forward. “Good to see you too.” He muttered.
A high pitched scream from inside the house drew his attention and within seconds the form of his mother appeared at the back door. Tears filled his eyes and a genuine smile brightened his features. She moved slower now but his mother walked towards him. Like his father, her brown hair had turned grey and the lines on her face were deeper and more numerous. But her warm smile was unchanged as was the twinkle in her eye.
“Thomas.” She said breathlessly as she reached out and enveloped her son in a warm embrace. Forrester’s arms immediately snaked around his mother, gently rubbing her back. Their tears fell silently, save for the occasional sob or sniffle that escaped them.
When they pulled back, their eyes were red and neither could stop smiling. “Welcome home, son.”
Forrester’s smile faltered as he looked over his shoulder after his father. “I’m not so sure if I’m welcome here.”
“Oh, don’t worry about him.” Joyce Forrester waved away her son’s concern. “This is your home. It always will be, no matter what your father says.” She hooked her arm around his and led him towards the house. “Come inside and I’ll make you some lunch. I’m sure you haven’t eaten real food in a long time.”
As much as he was soothed by his mother’s words and presence, he knew that trouble was brewing on the horizon and it had nothing to do with a subspace rift or an ion storm.