Rafter T Ranch
Central Mountain Region, Terra Alpha
Ethan kicked Jake in the sides with a light tap of both boot heels and the buckskin colored quarter horse jumped into action running full speed at a Black Angus cow with her tail raised high like a flag pole. Her calf was close behind. It only took Jake a few quick bounds. As a trained cutting horse he didn’t require direction from the rider and soon Ethan was riding along side the pair. “Ho!” Ethan shouted as he slapped his lariat against his chap covered right thigh. Mother and calf veered right and merged back in with the herd again.
Elizabeth Kyle his much younger cousin who was also on leave from Starfleet was riding point. David Sackett, also a cousin and ranch foreman, rode swing with his wife Trinity. Ethan was taking up the rear in the drag position. One of the least desirable positions because of the unending work and ever present dust, but Ethan never asked someone to do a job he wouldn’t do himself.
The snow was melting in the high country with only patches lying under trees and in the deep crevices of the northern sides of slopes. The creeks were at full capacity, brown with mud and wooden debris as the runoff ran off the mountain and eventually into one of the oceans.
The four riders pushed the small herd of twenty-two cows and calves over crest of a hill and down into a little valley that served as the summer range for the ranch’s cattle. Along a small creek was a round correl and a some chutes. The chuck wagon sat outside the correl near the creek and a tendril of grey smoke rose into the air.
Running the herd into the pen Ethan looked skyward. The sun was high. If it wasn’t noon it was close enough. “Let’s grab lunch,” he said to his family as the gate latched shut. There were grins as the others stripped the saddles off their mounts and hobbled them so that they could graze. They would draw fresh horses from the remuda after lunch.
Ethan did the same for Jake and rubbing him down and giving the horse an apple core from his saddle bags. He had saved from earlier that morning for this purpose. Finished grooming his horse Ethan approached thr chuckwagon. Mrs. Ackers their house keeper looked strangely out of place cooking over the open fire, but her movements were a deft as ever. Trinity was seated with breaking cornbread into a plate of beans for their twins Aurthor and Diana.
“Coffee?” David asked standing next to the fire with the pot in his hand.
“Yeah,” Ethan replied. “Of course.” He plucked a tin cup from the back of the wagon and held it out for David to pour the bitter dark-brown liquid into. Taking a sip of the black coffee Ethan smiled. “Nothing better than camp coffee.”
“I can think of a few things,” Elizabeth chimed up. She was already seated in the grass with her back propped up against a log with a plate of beans on her lap. The thick slices of bacon floating in the mixture made Ethan’s stomach grumble.
“Yeah, well so could I, but some things you can’t do in camp in broad daylight surrounded by family.,” Ethan replied as he dug out a wooden plate and a spoon from the wagon which Mrs. Ackers ladled two scoops of the browb-grey beans from the kettle over the fire onto his plate. That was followed by a thick chunk of yellow cornbread from the nearby Dutch oven.
“That’s why you got twins and another one on the way dearie,” Mrs. Ackers said in her Northern English accent.
“I can’t depend on these bums. Gotta grow my own cow hands,” Ethan joked.
“And you can do the growing yourself, ” Trinity shot back. “I’m done. I hate being pregnant, and I seriously hope you didn’t ‘forget’ your pill on purpose just to get more help on the ranch.”
Ethan chuckled, “Naw, I certainly didn’t. I still have nightmares from the twins when they were newborns.”
“You didn’t have one on each nipple trying to tear it off,” Trinity replied.
“No, that definitely did not happen. But still, glad it’s only one this time.” Ethan replied as he dropped into the grass next to his wife. Diana crawled onto his lap with a her own hunk of cornbread held in both mouth and right hand. She had her mother’s dark hair and it flew wildly in the breeze. He ruffled her soft locks and she leaned in and kissed her father on the cheek leaving crumbs in his stubble.
“After lunch,” he announced, “Elizabeth saddle up that grey. Other than Jake he’s probably the best cuttin’ horse in the herd. I need you to heel while David and I castrate and brand. You still remember how to rope don’t you?”
She smirked, “I can rope better than you cousin.”
“That’s not saying much,” David teased raising his coffee in salute to Ethan. “The man can’t rope to save his life.”
“I do just fine thank you very much,” Ethan protested through a mouthful of beans.
“Diana sweetie,” Trinity said to her daughter. “Don’t act like your dad and talk with your mouth full.”
Bad Daddy!” Diana admonished slapping him in the chest with surprising strength for a three-year-old. That of course elicited laughs throughout the camp. Diana returned to her cornbread with a satisfied look on her face.
“Like daughter, like mother,” Ethan said shaking his head.
The calf bawled in protest while his mother returned an annoyed moo as Elizabeth drug the hapless animal near the fire by both back legs. Ethan lifted the calf and wrestled it to the dirt with a knee on its shoulder behind the neck pinning it to the ground. David already had his laser scalpel in one hand and an antiseptic spray in the other. With quick deft hands he removed the animal’s reproductive organs tossing the offending tissue into the nearby fire to discourage flies from buzzing around everywhere.
Trinity approached with a branding iron and pressed the cherry red steel against the calf’s right hip leaving a black chevron over a capital T. The brand of the Rafter T Ranch. There were few fences and the Talons weren’t the only ones running cattle in the area. Quick identification was a must and microchips could be removed or compromised. A brand was significantly harder compromise.
For his part Ethan pressed a hypospray against the red fur of the animal injecting it with antibiotics, vaccines, and yes even a microchip. This would allow them to track the health and growth of the animal as well as the location of its movements.
With a flick of his wrist David freed the back legs from Elizabeth’s rope and tossed it in her direction which she started to coil back and trot back to the herd to pick out another calf in need of treatment. David and Ethan released the calf and it trotted back to its mother complaining the whole way before find a teat to sooth its pain.
Ethan stretched his sore back and removed his Stetson wiping the sweat from his face, “I’m getting too old for this.”
“It’s a young man’s job,” David agreed.
“We’re not even forty,” Trinity protested.
Ethan smirked at her and snagged a canteen of water hanging on a fence post uncorked the top, took a long drink and offered it to David who took a drink as well. “I guess growing up on a ranch bucking hay and throwing calves and steers from about age ten ages us faster than you city folk.”
Trinity playfully slapped his shoulder. The truth was, her back was hurting too, but she wasn’t going to give the men the satisfaction of knowing that. Besides her back always hurt. Another reason not to ever get pregnant again.
Elizabeth separated a calf from her mother. This time a small heifer about 6-weeks old. With a couple twirls of her rope the lasso fell around the calf’s ankles and slipped tight as she dallied off of the saddle horn. Dragging the bawling animal over to the fire she gave Ethan and David a satisfied grin. “Nine for nine.”
“You’ll miss eventually,” David said teasing her.
“Still, you’re one hell of a hand. Too bad you have to go back to Starfleet,” Ethan added.
Elizabeth shrugged, “I am needed on the Aquarius. The ship needs her Chief Engineer.”
“Well, if you are as good of an engineer as you rope they are in good hands,” Ethan conceded as he grabbed the calf by the legs and tossed her to the ground. In tandem motion Ethan injected, clipped an ear tag into her ear and David pressed the branding iron onto her hip. Within seconds the spotted heifer was free shaking it’s head annoyed with the ear tag and confused.
Elizabeth smiled and coiled her rope, and with a smirk as she reined her horse back to the heard, “I am better.”
“Well, she doesn’t lack confidence,” Ethan said with a sigh.
The buzz of Trinity’s combadge brought them all back to the 25th Century. “Terra Alpha Control to Commander Talon.”
Trinity sighed tapping her combadge, “Go ahead control.”
“Admiral Korlin with Starfleet Intelligence is on a Priority 1 line for you.”
“Understood. Prepare to lock onto my combadge and beam me directly to my house.”
A second later a transporter beam enveloped Trinity leaving Ethan and David alone. “Looks like you’re going back to work,” David observed.
“Looks like it,” Ethan replied. It was always nice to come home and there was always more work than they could manage. “You’re going to need to hire some people to finish the branding.”
“Nah, I don’t think so. We’re almost done. After what we did today that pretty much just leaves the stragglers. I can use a stun phaser for the rest.”
Ethan sighed. He didn’t like using those since it needlessly stressed the animals out and had a nasty habit of causing cardiac arrest in cattle, but with David alone he wasn’t going to herd let along rope and hold the calves down. “You do what you gotta do I guess. Oh, Jake’s due some new shoes. Have Scott take care of him this week will you?”
“He’s already on the list,” David replied of their farrier that came once a week to work through their herd of horses.
Ethan nodded as he grabbed the next calf Elizabeth brought to them and tossed it to the ground.
Ethan kicked off his boots outside on the porch. The single bulb lit the area in a soft glow of yellow. The crickets were singing ther night songs and the air was still. In the distance coyotes howled. A pack had either made a kill or they were fighting over the remains of some carrion.
Carefully setting the boots next to the door he entered the house to fresh coffee in the air and a plate of food that smelled suspiciously like meatloaf covered in a cloth to keep the flies out of it. Hanging his black Stetson on the hook he unbuckled his gun belt and hung that on the hook near his hat. His rifle he placed high up on on the rack near the ceiling well out of reach of the children.
Wynonna Ackers was at the sink finishing up the dishes from the meal and smiled as he walked in. “You have a strong odor of man who has put in a full day’s work dearie.”
“That’s and understatement. I’m ready to go back to work so I can relax,” he joked. “Trinity?”
“Oh, she’s putting the twins to bed. You want a coffee Ethan?”
“In a bit,” he said with a tired smile. Going to the twins’ room he stood in the doorway not wanting to interrupt as Trinity read to them some kid’s book about horses, dogs and the like. When Trinity finished Ethan walked into the room. He tucked in Diana while Trinity tucked in Arthur.
With a kiss on her forehead she wrinkled her nose, “Eww. You stink daddy.”
Ethan chuckled, “I haven’t had a shower yet. Goodnight Princess.”
He and Trinity switched places and he kissed Arthur on the forehead, “Goodnight Bug.”
“Goodnight daddy,” he said with a small grin. “I can’t wait to grow up and run cattle like you.”
“It’s hard work,” Ethan replied.
“I know, but it’s honest work.”
Ethan chuckled, “And where did you hear that?”
“Well, Grandpa would know wouldn’t he? He’s real old.”
Author giggled and Ethan pulled the covers around his son’s chin. “Goodnight little man.”
With their Goodnights done Ethan and Trinity stepped out of the room turning the light off and pulling the door mostly shut allowing the hallway light to shine through the crack. Husband and wife were halfway down the hall before they spoke.
“So, what did Korlin want?”
“Seems like the Romulans are acting up again ” Trinity said with a sigh. “You have a mission.”
“I figured that much. When do we leave?”
“The crew that are on Terra Alpha are set to rendezvous on the Pike at 0700 in the morning . I have the rest meeting you at Starbase Bravo. I’ve sent the mission details to your terminal on the Pike.”
Ethan nodded, “Thank you.”
“Don’t thank me yet. You get to put ears on.”
“Undercover?” Ethan sighed, “great.”