“Any sign of him?” Tom asked after bursting into his mother’s kitchen. He’d made it to the farm in record time and found his mother kneading dough. This had always been her way of coping when she was worried about something and it brought him a moment’s delight amidst everything.
His mother shook her head and wiped her hands on a nearby towel. “Nothing. George and Ellie are still out looking and the weather’s getting worse. They won’t be able to stay out much longer.”
“Where are Beth and Rory?” Forrester asked, lowering his voice.
Mrs Forrester looked towards the lounge. “They’re doing their homework.”
“Do they know Dad’s missing?” His mother nodded as fresh tears welled in her eyes. “He’ll be fine. The old goat’s too stubborn to die. He’s probably just taking shelter somewhere.”
His mother diverted her gaze to the floor and Tom could see a few tears splashing on the tiles. “When it’s your time, there’s nothing anyone can do.”
“Maybe so,” Tom conceded, “but it’s not his time yet.”
The kitchen door opened again, the sound of the rain and wind becoming louder. George and Ellie blew in along with more than a few leaves. “Did you find him?” Mrs Forrester asked hopefully, but when George closed the door behind him, her hopeful face fell.
“No.” George replied as he removed his soaking wet coat. “We checked the entire farm. There was no sign of him.”
Tom placed an arm around his mother’s shoulder as a gentle sob escaped her. “What about the gully?” He asked.
“We didn’t make it that far, the weather…” George trailed off but it was obvious that it wasn’t safe to be venturing out with the weather as bad as it was and only due to get worse.
Giving his mother’s shoulder a squeeze, Tom decided that he would venture out. “I’ll go check the gully.”
“I’ll go too.” George quickly chipped in.
Tom shook his head. “You’re soaked to the skin, George. Stay here, change into some dry clothes and warm up. I’ll be fine on my own. I have my commbadge and my tricorder. Once I’m clear of the perimeter, I’ll activate the shield from my tricorder.”
“Be careful out there.” His mother told him, placing a hand on his cheek.
He leaned in and kissed her cheek. “I love you.”
Tom stepped out into the wind and rain, bracing himself against the cold air that rushed past him. By the time he left the farm’s yard, he was soaking wet. He soldiered on towards the gully that lay beyond the family’s land. The ground was muddy, making the going all the tougher.
His tricorder beeped when he moved beyond the shield perimeter. Removing the device from its holster, Tom opened it and input the command to activate the Forrester’s shield generator. He watched as the shield bubble formed. Trees inside the bubble immediately calmed, no longer affected by the gusts of wind that continued to affect everything outside, Tom included.
Tom forged ahead, checking his tricorder periodically for any sign of his father’s lifesigns. It was more than an hour between leaving the farm and reaching the gully. It was only when he was two hundred metres from it that he picked up human lifesigns. “Dad!” He shouted as he reached the edge and found his father lying waist deep in rising water at the bottom of it. Tom gingerly made his way down the sloped bank of the gully and was shin deep in water by the time he reached his father’s side. “What happened?”
“The ground shifted from under me up there.” Tom followed the direction his father’s finger was pointed and could see where the top of the gully had broken away, no doubt the result of the amount of water saturating the ground. “I think my leg is broken.”
Already scanning his father with his tricorder, Tom confirmed what his father suspected. “Yeah, your left leg is broken but it doesn’t look too bad.’
“Well it feels pretty bad.” Derry Forrester grumbled.
Tom ignored his father and studied his tricorder for a moment longer. “I’m gonna get you outta here.” He announced as he snapped his tricorder closed and replaced it in its holster.
“Even if I lean on you for support, I’ll never be able to make it to the top.” Forrester Sr pointed out.
Looking around, studying his surroundings, Tom quickly formulated a plan. “I’ll drag you up the banking. Once at the top I can get you on your good foot or I’ll throw you over my shoulder.”
“You just can’t help but be a big Starfleet hero.”
Tom rolled his eyes. “If you’d prefer, I can leave you here and you can drown when the water rises higher.”
“I’d like to see you explain that to your mother.” Derry braced himself as Tom placed his hands under his father’s arms.
As Tom started dragging the older man up the banking, Derry let out a loud scream. “I forgot to mention that this is gonna hurt like hell.”
“Thanks for the warning.” Forrester spoke through gritted teeth.
Tom counted down to their second move up the banking, giving his father a chance to brace himself. As expected, his father screamed as he was dragged along the ground. Tom prepared to drag his father further but his foot slipped and he ended up on his back in the mud.
“You okay?” His father asked, craning his neck to see his son.
Tom sighed and pushed himself out of the mud. “Yeah, I’m fine.” Once back on his feet, Tom prepared his father for another pull. It took great effort to drag his father to the top of the gully and by the time he did, Tom was breathing heavily and needed to take a break but time was not a luxury they had. The rain wasn’t taking its time to come down and the wind had already felled a number of trees.
“Alright, let’s get you up.” He reached down and helped his father up onto his good leg. Father and son looked off into the distance and Tom’s heart leapt into his throat. “Please, tell me that’s not a-”
Forrester Sr cut his son off to finish the sentence. “A tornado. And it looks like it’s heading this way.”
“We’ll never make it back inside the shield perimeter.” Tom announced as he once more visually scanned his surroundings and began to formulate a plan. The light was rapidly fading, and it was already darker than it should have been at this time of day because of the weather so it was difficult for Tom to get his bearings but once he did, he knew just where to go but he couldn’t afford to be slowed down by his father’s injury. “I have an idea.” He moved around in front of his father, bent down and threw the older man over his shoulder.
Tom set off at what would have been a gentle jog, but with the additional weight of his father was more like running at a sprint. “Where are we going?”
“Somewhere we can wait out this storm.” Tom replied amid heavy breaths. “George and I used to hide there from a different kind of storm.” He made his way carefully along the muddy trail, turning right when they came to a sheer cliff face. He followed the route he’d memorised as a boy and soon hit upon the familiar fissure.
Gingerly, he set his father down on his good foot. “What’s this?” Forrester Sr asked, clearly confused why they’d stopped here.
“There’s a cave in here.” Tom replied as he squeezed himself through the opening in the cliff. It was a tighter squeeze than he remembered, though he’d been shorter and scrawnier back then. His father would just about fit, or so he hoped. Reaching out as his father hopped towards the opening, he helped his father through and set him down on the ground..
Finally out of the rain and out of the way of the tornado, they could rest and wait for the ion storm to pass. He activated his tricorder and attempted to open a commlink to his mother, with little success. “The ion storm’s interfering with communications. I can’t contact mom yet.” Moving to his father’s side, he pointed the tricorder at the injured leg. “I’m gonna try and set your leg. There’s a branch over there I can use as a splint.”
“This is gonna hurt.” He told his father, meeting his gaze.
The elder Forrester nodded. “Do it.” In a swift, sharp move, Tom reset the broken bone. A glance at his tricorder, which lay on the ground beside his father’s leg, confirmed that he’d been successful. He collected the stick, which must’ve been about a metre and a half long, and ripped the sleeves from his uniform. He tied the splint against his father’s leg.
The only thing left to do now was to wait.
They waited for an hour. One hour became two, two hours became three, three hours became four. It was well into hour five before either man said more than two words to each other. “I suppose once you’re finished here, you’ll be off again.”
“Yeah,” Tom replied with a nod, “I would imagine we’ll be moving on as soon as we’re done here.”
His father’s piercing eyes studied him for a moment. “Still quick to walk away from your family.”
“I didn’t walk away,” Tom shot back hotly, “you cast me out, remember?” His father’s eyes dropped to his lap. “You told me that if I went off to the Academy, I wouldn’t be welcome in your house anymore.”
Derry’s eyes darted sharply, meeting his son’s gaze again. “And you went anyway. You knew the price for disobeying me and you chose to leave.”
“You had no right to give me an ultimatum like that.” Tom jumped to his feet, an angry finger jabbing in his father’s direction.
Forrester Sr leaned towards his son. “I’m your father!” He shouted. “I had every right!”
“You should’ve been supporting me, not giving me ultimatums!” Tom thundered back.
Still seated on the ground, Forrester Sr immediately shot back, “I was trying to keep you safe.”
Tom opened his mouth to reply but quickly snapped it shut again as his father’s words registered. “Safe?” He asked softly, the confusion he felt written across his face. “How was giving me that ultimatum supposed to keep me safe?”
“I thought,” Derry began sadly, his eyes dropping to his lap again, “that it would make you think twice about going off to the Academy, that you would choose to stay if leaving meant losing your family. I wanted you to stay on Coltar where it was safe, even if it made you unhappy.” His father glanced at Tom’s face, seeing his eyebrows raise high in surprise. “I know how bad that sounds but that’s how I felt.”
Never taking his eyes off his father, Tom lowered himself slowly to the ground. “Keeping me on Coltar didn’t guarantee my security.” Tom told him. “The Dominion occupied Betazed and Benzar. They attacked Earth.” He let out a heavy sigh. “Even forgetting the war, life on Coltar isn’t completely safe. There are plenty of ways I could’ve been injured just working on the farm.” Silence fell for a few seconds. “Mom reminded me recently that tomorrow isn’t promised to any of us.”
“I didn’t want to lose you.” Derry told his son, a lone tear falling down his cheek.
Tom reached out and placed a hand on his father’s forearm, causing the older man to meet his son’s eyes. “You lost me anyway.”
“I know.” He fidgeted absentmindedly with his trouser leg. “I couldn’t let go of my anger. I allowed it to fester.”
Tom squeezed his father’s arm. “We both did. Two stubborn fools, neither willing to be the first to reach out.” His father nodded silently in agreement. “Look, what’s done is done. We’ll get nowhere dwelling on that. Instead, why don’t we work on repairing this and moving forward.”
“I’d like that.” Derry’s voice was thick with emotion when he spoke.
Tom leaned forward and wrapped his arms around his father’s neck, hugging him for the first time in more than a quarter of a century. His father wrapped his arms around his son in response. “I love you, dad.”
“I love you too, son.” His father mumbled. “I’m proud of you.”
Tears pricked at Tom’s eyes and fell freely within seconds. He’d waited what felt like a lifetime to hear those words coming from his father, convinced that it would never happen. The euphoria he felt at hearing them was tempered with sadness for the years that they’d lost but he’d meant what he said, he didn’t want to dwell on that.
The next few hours were spent in conversation as father and son caught up on twenty six years of each other’s lives. Derry regaled his son with tales from the farm while Tom would share stories of his adventures in Starfleet.
Neither of them had been keeping track of time so when Tom’s commbadge chirped, they were both taken by surprise. The voice of Commander Kailir emanated from the communicator. “Challenger to Forrester.”
“Forrester here.” He replied, breathing a sigh of relief. “Good to hear your voice, Commander. What’s your status?”
“The ion storm has dissipated, sir.” Kailir reported. “The weather on Coltar is beginning to calm but it’ll be a few hours until it returns to normal. Challenger is fully operational and ready to assist with any cleanup operations.”
Tom couldn’t help but feel pride in his crew. “Very good, Commander. Lock onto my signal and beam the two of us directly to Sickbay.”
“Are you okay, sir?” Kailir asked, a hint of worry creeping into her voice.
His XO’s concern was touching. “I’m fine, Commander. My father’s broken his leg.”
“Understood, sir. We’ll beam you up momentarily.” Kailir replied.
Derry moved to stand but Tom motioned for him to stay seated. Better to let the Challenger’s medical staff help move him. Within seconds the familiar pull of the transporter beam took hold and the cave they’d been taking cover in was replaced by the familiar surroundings of the Challenger’s sickbay.
Medics were immediately moving in, helping Derry to the nearest biobed. “I hear we have a broken leg.” Doctor Powell announced as he approached Derry’s beside. He scanned the elder Forrester with a medical tricorder and within seconds had confirmed the diagnosis. “We’ll have you patched up in no-time.” The Englishman assured his patient.
Derry looked to where his son was standing at the bottom of the bed. “You’d better go and let your mother know we’re safe.”
“Good thinking.” Tom agreed before turning to Powell. “Doc, any objection to me using Miller’s office?”
Powell shook his head. “Not at all, sir.”
Tom thanked him and made his way into Doctor Miller’s office. “Computer, open a communication channel to Joyce Forrester on Coltar IV.” The computer beeped in response and within seconds his mother’s face appeared on the translucent holographic display.
“Thomas. Are you okay? Did you find your father? Is…is he alright?” Mrs Forrester peppered her son with rapid fire questions.
As he held his hand up, his brother appeared over his mother’s shoulder. “We’re fine. I found him at the bottom of the gully. He has a broken leg and we’re both cold and hungry, but we’re fine.”
“Where are you?” She asked, the urgency still not leaving her voice.
Tom smiled. “We’re onboard the Challenger.”
She didn’t need to finish her question for Tom to know what she was asking. “Of course. Let me know when you’re ready and I’ll have you beamed up.”
“Okay. We’ll be ready in a few minutes.” Mrs Forrester told him.
Tom smiled and nodded. “I’ll see you soon then.” They quickly said their goodbyes and cut the channel. Tom immediately instructed to prepare to beam his mother and brother up as soon as they signalled ready.
It took less than five minutes for Mrs Forrester to signal her readiness and she and George were promptly beamed onboard. Tom had taken a few minutes to pull on a clean uniform so Commander Kailir meet them in the transporter room and escorted them to Sickbay.
Joyce immediately fussed over her husband while Tom filled George in on the details of the circumstances that he’d found his father in. The two conversations quickly merged into one as the four Forresters chatted, oblivious to the people around them watching out of the corner of their eyes, for the first time in decades without the tensions that had plagued them or the same old arguments surfacing yet again.
Thomas Forrester had finally come home.