“It’s been a long time since I’ve had food that good.” Forrester announced as brought the last bite of his mother’s homemade steak sandwich to his mouth. His mother beamed warmly and rubbed his arm before lifting his plate and taking it to the sink. The captain washed the food down with a sip from his glass of wine. Mrs Forrester had insisted on opening a bottle to celebrate the homecoming of her son.
There was no part of the kitchen that he recognised. It must’ve been remodelled a number of times in the past quarter century. There was no doubt that this was the kitchen he sat in to do his homework and eat meals but it looked nothing like he remembered.
Mrs Forrester turned as she dried the plate. “It’s good to have you home, Thomas.” Her warm smile became sad. “I just wish you hadn’t stayed away for so long.”
“I know.” Forrester said with a sigh. “But dad made it clear that if I left, I wasn’t going to be welcomed home.”
Having put the plate back in the cupboard, Mrs Forrester placed the drying cloth on the counter and turned to face her son. “It wasn’t just your father you left behind when you went off to the Academy.” She reminded him in a soft, sad tone. “Your father may not have welcomed you back with open arms, but I would have. So would George.”
“I know.” Forrester said, repeating himself as he focused intently on his fingernails, unable to meet his mother’s gaze.
A heavy feeling, a mixture of guilt and regret, settled in his chest. Of course he’d wanted to see his family, wanted to visit them and tell them about his latest adventures. But fear had kept him away. The idea of facing his father, seeing the anger and disappointment in his eyes, had terrified him and it had been easier to stay away.
“I’m sorry.” His voice wasn’t much above a whisper.
The kitchen door was flung open seconds later and Forester’s younger brother, George, barged in. “Dad told me you were here.” He said breathing heavily. Apparently he’d run from wherever he was working to the house.
“In the flesh.” Forrester stood and turned to his brother with an uneven, guarded smile.
The younger Forrester slowly approached his brother, the captain unable to read his expression. Out of nowhere, he landed a punch on Forrester’s left shoulder. “Oww” He groaned, his right hand instinctively moving to the punch site.
“That was for leaving.” George told his brother seriously. When his older brother moved his hand, he landed a second punch. “And that was for never visiting.”
Captain Forrester rubbed his left shoulder. “I’m not sure what’s worse; your punches or,” he jerked his head in his mother’s direction, “mom’s guilt.”
“Mom’s guilt.” The brothers announced simultaneously before launching themselves into each other’s arms.
“Welcome home, Tommy.” George whispered
Forrester patted his brother on the back and pulled away. He clapped a hand on George’s shoulder. “It’s good to be home.”
The door opened again and Forrester’s father entered the house, shooting a glare in his eldest son’s direction.
“So, how come it’s taken Starfleet two months to send someone to figure out why we went quiet?” George asked.
Forrester’s eyes flicked towards his father and could see the ghost of a satisfied smile, apparently pleased that George was giving his older brother a hard time.
“Yeah,” Forrester said, drawing the vowels out, “about that.” For the second time that day, Forrester launched into the explanation for what was happening with Coltar. He was careful not to talk down to his family, his father would’ve jumped all over him for that. Mrs Forrester and George gave him their full attention while his father moved around the kitchen, making himself a cup of tea and pretending not to listen.
When he was done, the group sat for a few silent moments. “We’d heard about the Century Storm on the news feeds and,” Mrs Forrester’s voice faltered, “what happened to Coronal.” Her eyes sought out her eldest’s sons. “You’re saying that won’t happen here?”
Forrester shook his head. “No. Like I said, my chief science officer,” his father snorted, “believes that the planet will suffer some freak weather events but with the shield generators we’re going to install around the population centres there won’t be much damage to infrastructure and no loss of life.
“Population centres.” His father had picked that small phrase out and repeated it. “What about the individual farms away from the towns and villages? Are you just gonna let them be washed away?”
The suggestion that Forrester would have forgotten about remote farms was risible but was no doubt just his father’s attempt to needle him. “Our intention is to install smaller shield generators on the remote farms. It may not cover their outlying fields so they could lose crops but their livestock will be able to remain within the shield.”
“We don’t need a Starfleet engineer to install a shield generator.” Forrester’s father announced. “I’m more than capable of installing it myself.”
Forrester shared a look with his brother. “Dad,” the younger Forrester said wearily, “just let Tommy’s people handle the installation.”
“I don’t want Starfleet engineers crawling all over my farm. We can install it ourselves.” Forrester’s father replied firmly.
The captain shook his head. “Fine, we’ll provide the shield generator and you can set it up yourself.” Under his breath he muttered, “Stubborn old fool.”
“What did you say?” The sound of chair legs scraping against the tiles of the kitchen floor filled the room as Forrester’s father pushed himself to his feet.
Forrester snapped. “I said you’re a stubborn old fool.” His mother said his name, a vain attempt to gently persuade the Starfleet Officer to back down. “The only reason you won’t let my engineers do the work is because I suggested it.”
“You haven’t changed a bit.” His father bit back. “You still think that you’re better than the rest of us, that you were ‘made for more than being a farmer’, you look down on us.”
It felt as if his father had just plunged a knife into the middle of his chest and twisted it. “I never,” his voice broke and tears pricked his eyes, “never thought I was better than you. I just didn’t want the life you’d chosen for me. I wanted to choose my own path.”
A pregnant silence filled the room as father and son stared each other down.
“Thomas,” Mrs Forrester said, gently breaking the silence, “why don’t you and I take a walk. I’ll show you some of the changes we’ve made over the years.”
Forrester shook his head, his eyes never leaving his father’s. “I have to get back to the capital. Governor Wells’ office is setting up a facility to house my officers while they’re planetside and I need to oversee that.”
“Can’t you let the Governor’s people handle it for a few more hours?” Mrs Forrester asked, the disappointment in her voice cutting deep into her son’s heart. “You only just got here.”
Derry Forrester beat his son to speak first. “Let him go.” He glowered at his eldest son. “He’s doing what he does best; walking away from this family.”
Forrester said nothing for a few moments, still holding his father’s gaze. Eventually he turned to his mother. “I’ll see you later.” He kissed his mother gently on the cheek and gave her an apologetic smile. As he passed his brother, he patted George on the arm before continuing out the door.
Striding across the yard, the captain muttered to himself, “That went well.”