Check out our latest Fleet Action!

 

Part of USS Endeavour: Drink the Wild Air

Drink the Wild Air – 8

Aeriaumi III
September 2400
1 likes 738 views

The ATV thundered along dirt tracks and between trees, winding its way up the wooded slopes towards their destination. Yet if it were to screech past someone – not that anyone was in sight for kilometres around – it was likely not the engine they would hear, or the thudding of the tyres, or the rattling of the canopy. The pounding bass of the music blasting from inside was enough to overwhelm it all.

Inside it was like being wrapped in an aggressive blanket of sound. Rosara Thawn’s jaw was iron-tight as she drove. ‘I am trying to navigate and you two -’

What?’ Beckett only paused in the hollering sing-along between him and Lindgren to cup a hand around his ear. ‘Can’t hear you!’

‘Because you insist on blasting this out at so many decibels and you can’t -’

Lindgren leaned in. ‘What?’

Thawn’s hand slammed onto the controls for the ATV’s sound-systems and brought the Orion synth metal down to a whisper. ‘I said,’ she hissed, returning to a vice-like grip on the vehicle controls, gaze locked on the track and canopy of trees before them, ‘that I am trying to navigate.’

‘You don’t need to listen to navigate,’ Beckett pointed out. ‘Mostly comes through looking.’

‘It’s rather distracting, though!’

‘Uh, I think it’s against Starfleet regulations to not sing along to “Seventh Valve,”’ said Lindgren.

‘Yeah,’ said Beckett. ‘It comes right after General Order One. I thought you were a stickler for regs, Thawn?’

‘Do you want us to drive into a tree?’

‘Don’t worry,’ he said, patting her on the arm. ‘I don’t think you’re that bad a driver.’

She looked like she might have spat something else, but then they crested the rise and suddenly all their thoughts and breaths were gone. The trees fell away behind them, bringing the blazing sunlight down on the route ahead after an hour of branches and hills blocking it, and without thinking Thawn slowed the vehicle to a halt.

The silence became thicker the longer it dragged out, until, at length, Lindgren said softly, ‘Is that it?’

Beckett drew a slow breath. ‘So, uh. It’s a little overgrown.’

Thawn looked down at the navigational display. ‘This,’ she said, surprisingly level when she had something to hold over him, ‘does appear to be the spot.’

‘It’s, uh.’ Lindgren shifted her feet. ‘It’s a bit small.’

‘Well, it’s a few thousand years old, exposed to the elements for all that time…’ His voice trailed off. ‘Look, you can see a tower over there.’

‘That ruin can’t be more than fifteen feet high,’ said Thawn.

‘Fifteen feet of ruins of an ancient civilisation.’

‘There’s not,’ said Lindgren, ‘even a heritage site setup. We’re just in the middle of absolutely nowhere.’

‘Is that a ruin?’ said Thawn, pointing northwards.

Beckett peered. ‘No,’ he said at last. ‘That’s a tree.’

‘Are you telling me,’ she pressed on, ‘that we travelled for days across this continent to find an archaeological site that has been so thoroughly explored and then abandoned that there’s not only no heritage support system in-place, but there’s basically nothing here but four piles of rubble?’

Lindgren had her tricorder out, sweeping it through the canopy. ‘Okay, so I’m not up close, but I don’t think these ruins are actually more than, like, a hundred years old?’

There was another pause as Beckett pursed his lips, and thought back to the original message that had sent him here: a subspace communication from an old Academy classmate, with a recommendation and an attached article. Then he thought harder, back to an exam period party when he’d last seen said Academy classmate, and dimly recalled a joy-ride that had given Cadet Mulligan one tiny, insignificant, very-late disciplinary note in their otherwise spotless record.

‘There’s a chance,’ Beckett said at length, ‘that I’ve been had.’

He felt Thawn tense beside him in the silence, and braced for an admonishment he, for once, knew he would absolutely deserve. When she shuddered, he winced and only then dared to look at her – only to find her shoulders shaking, her head down, and at last, the faintest giggle escaped her lips.

‘So you’re not telling me we travelled for days to find an underwhelming archaeological site,’ she wheezed as she struggled to maintain control. ‘You’re telling me we travelled for days to find the remains of, what, an old weather monitoring outpost because someone told you it was an ancient lost city?’

Beckett bit his lip and drew a slow breath. ‘…yes.’

Lindgren laughed next. Then they were all cackling, sat in the front of the vehicle they’d commandeered for a mission of exploration and adventure that had turned out to be nothing but a while goose chase.

‘We ate that shitty pizza,’ Lindgren squeaked between laughs, fighting for breath, ‘for nothing.’

Thawn had not remotely regained her composure. ‘I got stung by a bee yesterday!’

Beckett stared again at the broken remains of what he was now sure was a weather surveillance tower. ‘I can’t believe Mulligan lied to me. She must have faked that article!’ It seemed disproportionate, until more memories slunk back. ‘Oh,’ he sighed. ‘I did sleep with her boyfriend that one time.’

Lindgren laughed harder even as she looked scandalised. ‘Did we go on a ridiculous trip to nowhere because you couldn’t keep it in your pants?’

‘They weren’t together then, she just had the mad hots for him and I got there first!’ said Beckett, aware he didn’t have much moral high ground if they dug deeper into other past Academy exploits.

The two women fell apart cackling even more, and it was some time before Lindgren wiped her eyes and reached for the door. ‘Come on,’ she sighed. ‘Let’s see what wonders await us at the end of all our journeys.’

Thawn watched as she clambered out. ‘Gosh, it’s a bit chilly, isn’t it?’

‘We are pretty high up,’ Lindgren said as she sprang onto the moss-covered and somewhat soggy ground. ‘I’ll get the field jackets.’

She shut the door to head to the rear of the vehicle, and Beckett sat in silence with Thawn for a moment, biting his lip. ‘So,’ he said at length, ‘I expect you won’t let me forget this.’

Never.’ But when he looked at her, her eyes shone with delight. ‘This is the best of all possible outcomes. You bloody idiot. But.’ She glanced to the rear of the vehicle. ‘Elsa’s happy.’

His chest tightened. ‘And you? You left Rhade behind for this…’

‘I left Adamant to have his own shore leave so I could help Elsa.’ Thawn paused, and rolled a shoulder. ‘Alright, and maybe to get away a bit. But I didn’t change my entire shore leave plans in five minutes for the lure of an ancient lost city. Don’t worry, Beckett. I have other things to hold against you.’

They were done with the ruins in about a half-hour, and it only lasted that long because Lindgren drew out and invented as much trivia as possible about twenty-third century weather monitoring systems to add nuance to their tour of rubble and metal. Despite Beckett’s burning shame and desire to get something out of this wild goose chase, even he couldn’t conjure more of an occasion out of the venture, and there was nothing for it after but to turn around.

He couldn’t blame Thawn for being in a better mood most of the return journey. He was so despondent he couldn’t stop her from commandeering the sound system, and far too-modern and popular music became the soundtrack of the journey. Lindgren bounced along with it too, and he opened himself to be sneered at by making dismissive and provocative comment of girl-rock.

‘I think we’ve established,’ said Thawn with her nose turned airily towards the vehicle canopy and a sky burning to dusk, ‘you don’t really know anything about culture, Beckett.’

‘Unless that culture is last-century weather monitoring stations,’ Lindgren chirped.

He sighed. ‘I’m just gonna have to eat that for a while, huh.’

‘At least another week,’ said Lindgren.

‘Month,’ amended Thawn.

Neat,’ concluded Beckett.

But it was good-natured, even if being the clown when he’d hoped to be the saviour stung. He couldn’t deny that he had lightened their spirits, even if it wasn’t anywhere near as cool as he’d have liked. It didn’t have to be about him.

So they drove. Back down the winding paths that had taken them to this ridge, back from dirt-tracks to narrow roads. Stopped off for a night near a roadside diner that did terrible burgers but, it transpired, excellent desserts, and then were back on their way bright and early the following morning.

To descend from the hinterlands was to slide back into the depths of infrastructure, of Aeriamui’s settled civilisation. They started the day barely seeing anything person-made but the road for a whole hour, and by the end roved from village to village. As dusk soaked in around them, Beckett pointed out a fish restaurant at the edge of a lake he thought promising, but it was Lindgren who shook her head and said, ‘Let’s keep on another hour and just use the replicator.’

He wasn’t in a position to argue. And when Lindgren eventually parked the ATV, he realised they were on one of the last great peaks before the land fell to the flat and sandy scrubland racing towards the ocean, and from up here, they could see it all. Not merely the horizon, finally unobstructed by hill or rise, but the dazzling web of lights of settlements and cities. Huddled in hubs but skittering along roads and connections, it was as if he could see the ebbing threads of life – and here they were, high in the dark, above it all.

‘Unlike Nate, I did a little reading,’ Lindgren said as she parked, but her tease was gentle. ‘This view is one you’re not supposed to miss.’

They sat in the driving compartment in silence. By the time Thawn spoke, a hundred years might have passed. ‘I suppose we’re back into it all tomorrow.’

‘Still two days’ driving or so,’ murmured Beckett, ‘but yeah. Towns and cities and shuttles overhead and everything.’ He glanced at her. ‘You going to Yorviken after?’

Her lips pursed. ‘Even if we only get a cabin for a couple of nights.’

But her voice sounded heavy, and he had to scrub his face with his hand. ‘I’m back at the resort, I guess? I don’t know. Hard to complain about more sun, sea, and sand. But I’m not sure.’

‘You don’t want to join Tar’lek in the old town?’ said Thawn.

‘And cramp his style sitting in coffee shops looking terribly pretentious?’

‘I’m quite sure,’ Thawn said, ‘you can make him look even more pretentious.’

Beckett opened his mouth, then shook his head and looked across Thawn to Lindgren, sat in silence at the driver’s controls still. ‘What about you, Elsa? Fancy some sun, sea, and sand?’

With the vehicle dead, light came only from the stars and moon and the faintest glow of distant civilisation. Even this close, she was nothing but a silhouette in the shadow beside him, and her voice was thick when she said, ‘I think I’m ready for that.’

They were silent again, and despite the dark Beckett could feel himself exchange an uncertain glance with Thawn who, ever awkward, reached for Lindgren’s hand. ‘I can stay instead of -’

‘Rosara, you don’t get to use me as an excuse to hide from your problems any more.’ The admonition was gentle but firm. ‘Go see Adamant and talk, whatever it is you say.’ But Lindgren sighed in the silence, and when she swatted at her cheeks, Beckett could see the glint of tears smeared away. ‘But. Thank you. Both of you.’

‘We didn’t do much,’ Beckett admitted. ‘Really, I didn’t know what you needed. Except maybe not be treated like a warhead about to go off.’

‘Unless you are a warhead about to go off,’ said Thawn. ‘In which case we should have probably been more directly attentive -’

‘No, I…’ Another sigh as Lindgren slumped back. ‘I’ve been walking around trying to make sense of things after Agarath, and honestly? I don’t think I can do that.’

Thawn’s nose wrinkled. ‘If you need more time to -’ But Beckett touched her arm lightly, and she shut up.

‘I mean,’ said Lindgren, ‘I don’t think there’s a sense of it to be made. Of Petrias, I mean. Battle happened, and he died, and it’s senseless. And more importantly, he and I were involved, and that was senseless. I’ve just been tying myself in knots trying to give everything more… significance than it had, as if that’ll give it purpose.’

Beckett tensed as he heard Thawn swallow, but then she said, ‘Why were you with him?’ and despite the bluntness, he was quietly relieved she’d asked it.

Lindgren’s first response was a quiet, bitter laugh. ‘I thought it was because he was interesting, and smart, and a different sort of choice for me. And that’s sort of true. But really, I wanted him because he was a truly terrible choice.’

Thawn frowned. ‘I don’t understand.’

‘Sometimes,’ Beckett found himself saying, ‘deliberately bad choices make us feel like we have a bit of control over our lives.’ His gaze fell on the web of lights below, towards the line between bright and gloom that was the shoreline – and somewhere there, the resort where most of their shipmates were enjoying themselves.

‘There’s that,’ Lindgren agreed, ‘but also, ever since I came aboard Endeavour I’ve been… Elsa. The sensible one. The responsible one. The nice one. I don’t think any of this was very complicated. I think I was sick of being what everyone expected of me all of the time. Sick of being someone who never made stupid or selfish choices.’

‘Definitely don’t relate to that,’ Beckett drawled gently.

‘But then,’ said Thawn, ignoring him, ‘Graelin died, and you felt… it should have been more than a silly whim to have been with him because it didn’t really… matter that much?’

‘And also everyone expects me to be so sensible they expect me to be much more heart-broken than I am,’ Lindgren sighed. ‘Please don’t mistake me. I’m horrified he died, and I miss him. But now everyone seems to expect me to be this bereft, widow-y person because the guy I was sleeping with for a few months got killed, and I’m not that, either.’ She looked over at them, and now she sounded lighter, less burdened. ‘So, thanks for this. For helping me get away without – without hiding from me. I needed a bit of time.’ Another silence settled on them, but this one wasn’t as thick. The lights of civilisation below shone upward with a hint more promise than apprehension, as if they beckoned them back to reality without the searing of unwelcome truths.

It was Thawn who broke it once more, quiet and small. ‘I needed this, too,’ she admitted. ‘I need to talk to Adamant about… about the other Endeavour. About everything that happened there.’

Beckett watched her and held his tongue, wondering if she actually would. But instead of commenting, he blew out his cheeks and said, ‘This was a complete goddamn waste of time for me; I mean, no alone-time, no ruins…’

‘A little bit of an ego-check?’ said Thawn, but her small smile shone over the gleam of light, and it took any sting from the jest.

He scoffed. ‘Didn’t want that, either. So, I don’t know about you. But I’m ready to go back.’

‘Even if you don’t know what you’re doing when you get there?’ said Lingren.

‘Oh,’ said Nate Beckett. ‘Especially if I don’t know.’

Comments

  • "They weren’t together then, she just had the mad hots for him and I got there first! " - classic Nate Beckett here! I couldn't stop laughing when it turned out our favourite himbo couldn't keep it in his "pants" which results in his plans going wrong. Poor Nate! That said, the fact that the trip gave both Thawn and Lindgren the time needed to reflect on previous events made it all worthwhile in the end. I really do like the close friendship between these three, especially where Thawn and Lindgren are like sisters and Nate is the younger brother who knows he needs to be there for them but will only push when he needs to. Now the big question is will we see Thawn finally sort things out with Adamant or not? I feel like we are on the edge of it tipping one way or another, but it might need some one else to push Thawn in a direction.

    October 24, 2022
  • I've just caught up on all of this and man oh man did I enjoy it! People might call Nate a himbo but you've written the naturally caring and supportive friend wonderfully. I just got that feeling throughout of Nate not really even putting effort into it, it just came naturally and away it went. The solid friendship of Elsa and Rosara as well is evident and one I always like to see, would love to see more of even! They've got a good read of each other and I like where it's all going. This was a beautiful unwinding for these characters, a chance to decompress and destress before you inevitably torture them with the next mission!

    November 2, 2022