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Part of USS Pathfinder (Archive): Go Your Own Way

Go Your Own Way – 12

Drapice IV
February 2401
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They threw a blanket around Beckett and rushed westward out of town until the gathering dusk forced them to make camp. They stopped just as the road curved along the river, and bowing trees offered a little shelter from the wind that during the day was a refreshing breeze but at night threatened to cut to the bone. Valance instructed Gov’taj and Thawn to make the fire and set up the tents, even though she knew she would be of more use than the Betazoid, while she sat the tired Beckett down for answers.

‘I thought you were at the archives on Starbase 26?’ Thawn had demanded the moment they’d been out of the gates.

He’d just given a tired smile, his common expression when he was going to be, in Valance’s opinion, a pain in the ass, and said, ‘Of course, you remembered exactly where I was meant to be.’ Valance had shut them both up before they could fall into another one of their arguments as if a month hadn’t passed. Now they were secluded from the prying eyes of locals, she repeated Thawn’s point.

Beckett quickly swallowed the ration bar he’d been given. ‘I was, Commander.’ He had a swig from a water flask to wash it down, then straightened up. ‘A few Starfleet ships have scoped out this region of formerly Star Empire territory. They’re not equipped for significant archaeological research, so if they find anything, they ship it back to Starbase 26. I’ve seen a lot of disparate data come in for analysis and archiving and I spotted a pattern.’ There was a spark in his eyes despite all he’d been through, a hum of excitement. ‘A highly advanced species was active in this region thousands of years ago. One Starfleet never heard of, thanks to the Star Empire not sharing their research. So when the Kingfisher was sent to this region to find out if the pre-warp people of Drapice had experienced any external cultural influence or contamination, I was assigned last minute. Not to study any Romulan involvement. But to study their involvement.’

Valance narrowed her eyes. ‘Who are they?’

‘We don’t know a lot,’ Beckett admitted. ‘They were active no more recently than three thousand years ago. Then they died out. Their influence stretched over multiple star systems. I was working on a theory that they were telepathic, though I don’t know what to think now. We didn’t think they had technology particularly more advanced than our own, but I don’t know what I think about that now, either.’ He drew an apprehensive breath. ‘The only Romulan research we could buy called them the “Vorkasi.” And they are certainly the ones who built the site in the mountains and whatever’s taken over Doctor Frankle. Did you get the crew out?’

‘My science officer and the rest of the away team are at the basin.’ Valance shook her head. ‘We found the Kingfisher, no sign of the crew, and these sealed doors to a subterranean facility. We couldn’t hail the crew, but we could detect their life signs. Commander Dashell will get them out. We had to follow your tracks.’

Beckett frowned. ‘Dashell? Endeavour got another new chief science officer?’

Valance couldn’t help but glance at Thawn at that. She was trying to help Gov’taj erect these traditional tents, and wasn’t necessarily much more use than if he’d been left to his own devices. It wasn’t helped that she was plainly eavesdropping, and their eyes met for a moment before Valance looked back at Beckett. ‘Endeavour didn’t come after the Kingfisher, Lieutenant. I command the USS Pathfinder, and we were sent to find you.’

The young officer’s eyes snapped to Thawn. ‘You left Endeavour –’ But he quickly shut himself up and, still agitated, turned back to Valance. ‘You left Endeavour? I thought Cortez was -’

‘What happened here, Lieutenant?’ Valance had to work hard to not snap this.

He hesitated, then his shoulders slumped. ‘I expect you’ve seen the crew roster for the Kingfisher. One of them was a civilian expert, Doctor Frankle. He wasn’t in command, but he was easily the most experienced and knowledgeable scholar aboard and thought he should be calling the shots. He especially didn’t like me. Thought I’d steal things from under his nose to send back to the archives on 26. This is relevant, I promise.’

Valance settled down to listen. ‘Go on.’

‘We detected an energy signature in orbit. Something the people of Drapice shouldn’t have been able to produce. We had to land the ship in the basin and quickly found these constructed passages underground. So we set up the camp. After about a day, we found the deep chambers.’ Beckett sighed and scrubbed his face with his hands wearily. ‘They were artificial and clearly with a lot of computerised systems to do something, but most of them were down. We had to restore power to a bunch of them to get access to the chambers, then to try to access the systems themselves. But while it was definitely Vorkasi, we still haven’t got enough information yet to translate their stuff.’

Gov’taj turned away from the small tents and advanced on the campfire. He’d set up a kettle to boil and sat beside them to pour into metal mess cups. ‘Tea,’ he explained, passing the mugs over to them both. Gingerly, Thawn moved to sit beside him – on the opposite side of the campfire to Beckett.

Beckett took the mug with a grateful nod, wrapping his hands around its warmth. ‘The energy signature led to some sort of sophisticated container at the heart of the chamber. That was all I last knew for sure. I wanted to study it further. Frankle was convinced this was the find of the century and I’d take it from him.’ He sighed deeply. ‘Then one night… I don’t know. Something happened down there. I was asleep, and when I woke up I found everyone else had gone into the facility. The facility doors had closed. And Frankle had run off. I couldn’t open the doors, so I went after him to try to find out what the hell had happened.’

Gov’taj frowned. ‘You left no mention of this at the landing site.’

Beckett waved a hand. ‘It was night and Frankle was running off. I thought I’d lose him in the dark. And I didn’t expect to be gone for days, I thought I’d just run after him, he’s not exactly a young man.’ He shook his head. ‘I followed him to the town. And that’s when shit got really weird.’

‘We heard he’s been hailed as a “prophet” by the locals,’ said Valance.

Yeah.’ Beckett smacked his lips. ‘I didn’t know much about Drapician society. But by the time I caught up with Frankle, he was walking into the middle of the market, spouting scripture from the Drapician holy texts and demonstrating he had, well. Telepathic capabilities. And more than that; that he knew things about Drapician history and culture that there’s no way Frankle did. Ignoring the fact Frankle, for all his ego, was never going to run into the middle of a pre-warp settlement. It was only when I snuck closer to him that I saw the circlet.’

‘The circlet?’

‘Yeah – metal, quite chunky. Pretty plain. Never saw it before in my life. But I think it was in the container in the facility. I think it opened itself, or Frankle opened it, somehow wound up wearing it, and is now…’ Beckett made a face. ‘Permission to give wild conjecture, Commander?’

Valance sighed gloomily. ‘You may as well.’

‘Something’s making Frankle present himself as a holy figure of these people. I think the Vorkasi – or one of them – set themselves up as the Drapician god via this telepathic circlet, and it’s now taken him over.’

Thawn leaned forward. ‘You think the Vorkasi were controlling Drapician society?’

‘I don’t know why else they’d keep a psychic god in a box,’ Beckett countered, a little sharply.

Gov’taj leaned in to cut them off. ‘How were you captured?’

Beckett’s gaze drifted back to him. ‘I spent a few days trying to figure out what was going on,’ he continued after a beat. ‘Scoping out the town, talking to locals. It’s not easy to learn about simple things about a culture, or their religion, without sounding too weird. But Frankle quickly disappeared into the arms of the local clergy, who thought he was wonderful, and I had to figure that out. And where he was.’ He made a face and sipped on the tea at last, his shoulders relaxing an iota. ‘Then I tried to break in and get to him, only… I got caught. They took my stuff, including my combadge – don’t worry, I took the usual precautions. Its insides will have solidified after me not using it for twelve hours, so they’ll think it’s just a pin. But it also meant I couldn’t understand them. Then… well. You saved me.’

As Valance hesitated on how specific to be, Gov’taj grinned toothily. ‘Lieutenant Thawn saved you. It was most impressive work to use the Watson’s transporter systems remotely when you were difficult to pick up.’

‘You always were a dab hand with a transporter,’ Beckett mused in Thawn’s general direction. Neither looked at each other, and he turned back to Valance. ‘What now, Commander? Uh, Captain?’

‘Apparently Frankle was taken by this local priest to the capital, to be presented to the Pontifex.’ Valance rubbed her temples. ‘We have to get Frankle back. If nothing else, who knows what happens should they discover he’s an alien? His genetic alterations to look Drapician won’t last forever. And it’s one thing for him to cause a stir in this town, but to get access to what sounds like the heart of a faith and influence that?’

‘How far is the capital?’ asked Gov’taj.

‘Two days on foot,’ said Thawn, and eyes fell on her. She’d sat before the fire quietly, knees up under her chin, staring at the flames that played along her red hair and cast her skin even paler. She stirred, less distant, at the attention. ‘The ionisation of the Drapician atmosphere doesn’t make use of sensors very easy, but I can pick up major pockets of life signs. We keep going west along the river, and we’ll get there.’

‘The biggest settlements aren’t always capitals, especially not religious capitals -’

‘She’s right,’ Beckett interrupted Valance, and sounded like that hurt a little. ‘We follow the river west. We’ll know it when we see it.’ He shrugged at their looks. ‘I did some reading before I got here. I’ve been on this planet a few days.’ Now he grimaced. ‘Do you mind, Captain, if I get some rest if we’ve got hiking ahead of us? Prison cells weren’t great fun.’

Valance nodded. ‘Sleep. You can share the tent with Lieutenant Gov’taj.’

Beckett stood creakily. It looked like this was the first time he’d heard Gov’taj’s name, though, and he squinted at the burly officer. ‘Oh, you’re a Klingon.’

‘I assure you,’ Gov’taj said with mock-haughtiness, ‘I am normally much more impressive.’ He looked to Valance. ‘I can take first watch.’

She nodded. ‘You rest, too, Thawn. Take last watch. I’ll stow our gear and then check in with Dashell.’

Gov’taj waited until the two younger officers had turned in, sitting at the edge of the fire so his eyes could adjust to the gloom beyond their riverside camp, before he spoke. ‘You know him.’

Valance sighed as she finished securing gear in packs. There was always a chance they’d have to move quickly in the night. ‘He was a science officer on Endeavour. He left before I did. Thawn knows him better, really.’ She didn’t particularly want to think about that.

‘He seemed surprised you left.’ She could feel his eyes on him and didn’t respond, focusing on closing buckles and fidgeting with straps longer than needed. At length, Gov’taj pushed on. ‘He suggested you left someone behind.’

Now she looked up. ‘I thought you believed that perfectly normal behaviour from me.’

Gov’taj sighed. ‘Yes, I would like it if you did not turn your back on the parts of your past you believe are… difficult. But most of all, Sister, I would like it if you accepted you could rely on me.’

Valance swallowed. Then she stood and shook her head. ‘This is no time to talk about this. I should check in with Dashell.’ She turned towards the riverside, where she could likely talk without being overheard, and only spoke once she’d reached the edge of the campfire’s ring of light. ‘Oh. And it’s Captain.’

He did not reply as she ducked into darkness.