THE COST OF DESTINY

 
 

By Carol Sandford

 
 

Chapter 27

 
 

"Three survivors, in those hills," he pointed off to the far horizon, "I want them found."

Moments before, his gaze had searched the surrounding barren desert, inch by inch, the exploration hampered by the swirling rusty clouds of dust rising up from dead ground resembling miniature tornado's. As the slate-grey eyes reached the protruding crags, sweeping over them disinterestedly, barely giving them a glance, until something tickled in the back of his mind and he slowly swung his eyes back. It was the only logical destination. It was the only way to go. It was the only safe place to hide.

On arrival, it had taken the party a while to survey the metal graveyard. The still smouldering, twisted beyond recognition, carcasses of Federation and Sindareen craft lay strewn over a two mile radius. And just as tragically lay the dead and dying souls that had given their lives to fight the cause. The dead were quickly vaporised. There was no time for elaborate funerals. The dying enemy were treated to the same fate, and their own wounded, mercifully transported onto the ship hovering not too far away in orbit.

One by one, the reconnaissance party moved from one torn ship to another, searching for survivors and thoroughly destroying the ships so that the enemy couldn't gain any knowledge of their technology.

That was until they reached one of the last ships that fell to earth like a fatally wounded bird. The men milled around the Federation craft searching for it's occupants and not finding one. But then the leader spotted the abandoned medikit, tossed away, discarded, already half-covered by the red dust that blanketed the planet. As he stepped cautiously inside the shuttle, searching the hidden corners for signs of trouble, he couldn't fail to miss the tell-tale layer of oozing extinguisher foam, now sticky from the heat and time. It could only mean one thing;

Survivors.

Stooping as he stepped free of the confining ship, he straightened his long form up and surveyed the nearby ground looking for evidence of life, and found it. Footsteps. He followed their somewhat scuffed and muddled trail towards a crashed Sindareen ship, ducking once more as he stepped under the enormous wing, studiously attempting to ascertain his quarries movements, and soon deciding that they had remained there for some time whilst they had watched and waited out the fight in the skies above, out of sight, and out of relative danger.

Signalling his men, using his menacing weapon as an extension of his arm before nonchalantly throwing the bulky, cumbersome load onto his shoulder, the tall Sindareen raider began walking in the direction of the distant hills, his steely eyes following the footsteps that led the way. One by one, his comrades tagged on behind him, creating a formidable line. Each one with an agenda in their mind. Each one with hatred in their soul.

~*~

The ship descending into the metal graveyard was almost obliterated by the red dust cloud that billowed up from the burnt earth. As they touched down and killed the engines, it plunged them into a ominous hush that fitted the scene of annihilation that surrounded them. A scene that plunged it's captain back in time, and back to a hellish moment in time that would torment and torture him for the rest of his life.

The sight of the smouldering ships shimmered out of focus to be replaced by burning buildings. Screaming, terrified people, either running away or rooted to the spot they stood on, too dazed, too scared to move. Moans oozed from some of the torn bodies strewn around his feet. Others lay noiseless. Lifeless. Some he recognized. Some he didn't, and some, God help him, he couldn't tell, and that was the worst. Who were they?

Who were they?

He snapped back to life as the quiet was when the shuttle's hatch lowered, the whoosh of released air pressure momentarily filling the air, breaking the eerie stillness. Four men stepped out from the ship's belly, their phasers held firm in steady hands as they warily surveyed the immediate area.

But instead of hate in their hearts, these men had apprehension. These men had come to look for their venerable leader and his companions. These men had come to take their own home, regardless of their fate.

Captain Bill Travern's eyes lit up when he spied the open hatch on the doomed Federation craft, and with feet that were as keen as his heart, he bounded over to the ship and stepped inside, his eyes adjusting to the dim interior caused by the trapped dust and the setting sunset that cast a ghostly haze over the cockpit.

He heard the rest of team come up behind him, their eyes too searching for men, that in their hearts they knew they would not find. Travern ignored the dispirited lull that cascaded over them, his eyes too intent, too busy searching for clues; A sign, any sign that the men that fell with this craft didn't perish.

But when he recognised the distinct grubby-white globs of foam that a fire extinguisher expelled when triggered, another image flashed through his mind, forcing his eyes to close against the visions and unable to stop them coming; Skin. Melted skin, burnt clothes, the unforgettable stench of burning flesh. The screams. The moans. The desperate cries for help. He swayed with remembrance as he struggled against the pull of his memories.

But with an effort that created a half-strangled croak erupting from his throat, Travern pulled himself back and allowed the sight before him to overrule the sights and sounds racing through his head, purposely injecting the hope that his voice and heart held with his discovery.

"Survivors!" he said, turning to his fellow comrades, his relief more than evident in his brown eyes, hastily pushing past them to step back outside the ship and begin the search in earnest, determination strengthening his demand, "Find them."

The group exited the ship and searched for signs of movement in the drifting sands that covered the ground, but Travern soon silently howled in frustration as he tried desperately to filter out the partial footstep remains. It had been too long, too long since the battle had happened. Too long since he'd left a shell-shocked race of intensely peaceful people. Too long since he'd searched for, and lost the Sindareen craft that had spirited away innocent public; men, women, even some children from their homes, from their loved ones.

Too long since he'd heard that his revered leader's woman, Deanna Troi, one of the planet's most admired citizens, had lost her life.

He began to tremble, as he began to remember her with horror, Oh, God, too long,

 
     
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