Author: Anna C. Bowling
Series: TNG (Tapestry Saga, sequel to Snowblind), Rating: PG-13 Codes: R/f
Date: 29 Dec 1998 22:32:30 GMT
Disclaimer: Paramount owns everything and anything vaugely related to Star Trek. I'm just playing with stuff they never used. Sarah Cromwell and other original characters are mine.
Summary: Riker and an old acquaintance search a frozen planet for nefarious Romulan doings
As soon as she was fully materialised, Sarah inhaled sharply, allowing the arctic air to bite at her lungs. She glanced around at the whiteness of it all; the knee-deep snow, the white dunf fur robes she and her companions wore, and the heavy, ominous white of the clouds above them. It was going to snow again, and soon, but that was normal for Philemon Three. After the snow stopped,there would most likely be another ice storm, and then the clouds would gather again. The cycle never ended. They could travel in the snow, but not very far or fast, and not at all in the ice storms. There was no time to lose in sightseeing. Not, of course, that there was much to see.
Sunlight glinted blue and silver off the shiny surface of the snow-covered ground, turning each faceted ice crystal into an opal prism. It was difficult for Sarah to believe that somewhere under that cold beatury was the place she would remember, too well, for the rest of her life, but the reality refused to leave her mind. She focused on a depression in the snow,dotted with chunks of ice, where a jagged shard of metal protruded like a battered explorer's flag. She trudged towards it, her boots crunching through the top layer of ice.
She didn't need to touch the metal to know what it had been. Nothing, not her most fervent prayer or wildest fantasy could make her forget. "Bloody marvellous," she crowed, surveying the immediate area. Beyond the shimmering expanse of snow, wild mountains rose in the distance. "Made it this far, did I? So much for Romulan vigilance." She punctuated her comment with a rueful chuckle. "Nice bit of work, this was, though. Have to give the Roms that much credit."
There were more crunching sounds as the rest of the landing party advanced toward the crash site. "What have we got, Geordi?" Riker's deep voice echoed off the ice-covered mountains that surrounded them.
"Not much. We've gotten just about everything we could from it the first time, but maybe they can do a little better on board." Geordi's hand slipped into the front flap of his robe, to tap the communicator hidden inside. "All yours, O'Brien. Whatever you can get of it," he added in a whisper.
The small group stood still and watched as the remains of the shuttle were taken up in the transporter beam. Riker broke the silence. "Any life signs in the immediate area, Data?"
Data's tricorder swept in a wide arc around them. "Animal only, sir. There should be no threat. There is a pack of dunf approximately thirty meters to the north-east. They are stationary."
"They won't be for long," Sarah corrected, her voice sharp with warning. "They're either eating or sleeping, and either way, they'll be hungry soon. They'll be headed our way the minute they smell us, and they'll be expecting a meal."
Geordi asked the question most of them were thinking. "Do they expect us to give them the meal, or *be* the meal?"
"They'd prefer to share whatever food we might have with us," Sarah explained, looking in the direction Data had indicated. "But in a pinch, we would do nicely." She almost allowed herself a quiet laugh at the irony of such a situation. In the past six months, she'd probably eaten more than a few of the pack's members. They'd probably like a chance to even the odds. "Either way, I don't care to be near them when their bellies need filling."
Riker registered the information. "Right. We'd better get moving. We're going to need to stay in tight formation. As soon as the next ice storm hits, we're out of communication with the ship. Which way, Data?"
Data's fingers flew over the surface of his tricorder. "Heat traces would indicate that the shuttlepod was travelling in a north by northeast direction," he informed them before helpfully pointing. "That way."
Riker shook his head. Data was unique, to say the least. "That way it is. Nearest shelter?"
"If we're where I think we are," Sarah began, one hand raised to shield her eyes from the blinding brightness of the sun, "there's a cave we should reach just before the ice storm hits. That is, of course," she added, with an involuntary shudder. "the dunfs don't want a snack, or we don't run into any relatives who want to travel with us. Other clans who want to join us, we can politely refuse. Other Berrek," she broke off, surprised at how easily the word *other* rolled off her tongue. Not just Berrek. *Other* Berrek. She couldn't say that phrase again and keep her sanity. "They have the right to wander where we wander," she finished, her voice faint and childlike.
Riker gave his instructions as quickly as possible, forming the *Enterprise* officers into a facsimilie of a respectable Klevv procession. Taylor and Sabu would walk in front, with Eliva between and slightly behind them. Geordi, Sinclair, and Beverly would bring up the rear , with Riker, Data and Sarah in the centre of the group, for Sarah's maximum protection.
No rank would be used in addressing any member of the party, and if the cover names happened to be forgotten, the general address of "Companion" would do for any of them. Riker reminded everyone to pace themselves, so they would make as much progress as possible without running the risk of exhaustion. In this cold, stopping could be, and often was, deadly.
With instructions complete, they started off, in formation. Riker slung his pack over one shoulder, wishing he could have talked Governor Anderson into lending them at least a pair of dunfs. It would have been more comfortable to let them carry some of the load, and should Sarah prove less hardy than her tests had declared, the animals wouldn't mind such a light passenger.
He shifted the pack so that a particularly sharp protrusion no longer threatened to puncture the small of his back, but which caused something hard and lumpy to settle in its place. The improvement was negligible. Swallowing a less than polite word regarding the governor's dubious parentage, he reminded himself that obtaining dunfs would have been extremely inadvisable. Clan loyalties, as Sarah had reminded him, transcended philosophical differences among Philemites. The Berrek were one of the larger clans, and it was essential that the away team's presence go unremarked. The borrowed dunfs would have had to come from somewhere, and there would have been questions.
Riker had enough questions of his own. For one thing, he wanted to know how much further it was before they found that cave Sarah had mentioned. Affording her a quick glance, he noticed that she didn't seem to be tiring, as he'd thought she might. He'd been surprised that Beverly had certified Sarah fit to accompany them, and even more than a little disappointed. Still, he accepted it. Sarah very seldom did the expected. It was one of the reasons she'd advanced as quickly as she had in Starfleet. She'd make Lieutenant Commander for this, at the least, and probably get a medal or two in the bargain, he wagered.
Judging from her pace and posture, Riker thought that Sarah actually seemed to be enjoying the excercise. After the close confinement she'd described, being able to walk around outside must feel like heaven, or at least something close to it. She was doing as well as the rest of them, he assessed, tuning in to her conversation with Data.
At the moment, Sarah and the android were discussing Veklad Rhu'gesh and his influence on Klevv philosophy. Riker had tried to follow the discussion, but gave up what seemed like hours ago. Instead, he listened to the play of the voices against each other as every sound was magnified in the unsettling silence. Data's voce was mechanical and steady, no different from his normal everyday tone. In contrast, Sarah's was almost musical in its precise soft rhythm and distinctly British pronunciations.
Maybe, when all of this was over, and they were all back on the blessedly warm *Enterprise*, he'd take her back to New Orleans. Of course, it would only be a holodeck simulation, but he intended to pay very little attention to his surroundings. He planned to focus only on his lovely companion, especially if he could entice her back to Papa Henri's. The thought caused him to quicken his step. *New Orleans, French Quarter, Hotel Bouchard... * He rehearsed the specifications for the program. This time, everything was going to be right.
*Summer, early afternoon, heavy rain.* He couldn't remember, for the life of him, the name of the band, or exactly what the subject of their bet had been, but he hadn't forgotten the look on Sarah's face when he insisted she get on the stage and sing the next song with the musicians. She hadn't been half bad, he recalled, hearing again the sweet strains of a perfectly tuned piano. Blondes and jazz didn't often mix, but short...no, petite British blondes were another animal entirely.
No, he qualified as he trudged on, there was only one exception to the rule. The same one who had just referred to the Klevv's most ancient and revered philosopher as a *Gawdelups*. Riker was sure Data would be rifling through all of his language banks for a translation. He wouldn't find one, unless he broke the syllables down into distinct words. *God help us*, Riker translated silently. It meant idiot. In Cockney. Someday, Data would have to hear it spoken around a hand-rolled cigar.
Definitely, the woman crunching through the snow beside him was no child. She didn't need fussing over, and wouldn't appreciate any. Plenty of other women might, but not Sarah. If she'd gotten this far, she'd make it the rest of the way, if only on resolve alone. She had to; they couldn't do this without her. If she was strong enough to hotwire a Romulan shuttle, acclimate herself to heat and light, view her father's message, and still volunteer to lead them back to the Romulan compound, she didn't need a babysitter.
Riker wondered if that was what he'd planned on doing. Sarah had been through hell,and she was only human. Sooner or later she was going to... *Cut it out, Riker. Would you act like this if it were Geordi? No. O'Brien? No. So cut it out, okay?*
Thwack! The cold, hard object made a decisive impact with the back of Riker's head, pulling his hood away. He whirled about, his pack falling to the ground as he instinctively reached for the concealed phaser at his waist. He called an abrupt halt to the procession, a second before his eyes locked with those of his assailant. Sarah was already preparing another frozen missile, but her wide violet eyes held a near-believable look of innocence.
"I had to do something," she offered in explanation. "You were looking far too stern. Klevv are supposed to take pleasure in their wanderings; it's Mykba's command. I didn't think you wanted to anger the local deity."
Riker grunted. "That may be, but there are other ways of getting my attention." He gave her his most intimidating glare, then bent down to scoop up a generous handful of snow.
* * *
The snow came down heavier now, and light was fading. Any tension they'd relieved was back, creeping up on the away team like the darkness did. Sarah knew that she'd had feet at one time, but she couldn't feel them anymore. That was probably a good thing, considering how far they'd walked in the short time they'd been planetside. Looking at the darkening horizon, she shivered. The darker it got,the sooner they could expect the ice storm.
She plodded on, concentrating on the crunch of her boots through the frozen top layer of snow. There really wasn't any reson to worry about speed; they were still within the protective circle of the mountains, and unlikely to run into much trouble. The dunfs, thank God, seemed to have found something more appetising than the away team's rations, and hadn't yet put in an appearance. *Yet* was the operative word. Sarah thought she'd heard the dunfs' sharp barks and howls not too far away.
The formation they had started in was much more relaxed now, and more likely to pass for a true procession when that need arose. All they were lacking were dunfs and children, but the violent ice storms could explain those losses all too easily. To the nomadic Klevv, death and loss were members of the family.
Sabu, Sarah noticed, had fallen into step beside Eliva. At least Sarah thought it was Sabu. If she remembered correctly, he was just a bit taller, but more slender than Taylor, and carried his pack slung over his left shoulder instead of his right. The smaller, musclebound man, Taylor himself, if the first man were indeed Sabu, kept on course, straight ahead, and hadn't even bothered to talk to anyone for quite some time.
Willie was on one side of her, Data on the other. She could still hear three different sets of boots crunching along behind her, so everyone was still there, by her count. Losing members of one's party in a storm like this was devilishly easy. Klevv parents raised their children on cautionary tales about those who strayed from the procession, never to be found again, forever buried beneath the ever-higher mounds of ice and snow, unprotected from Mykba's wrath.
Morbidly, Sarah wondered how many bodies there truly were beneath the snow. She knew of one. *So terribly sorry, lovedy. I did try, you know. I had to get us out; it was for both of us, not just me. I wanted you out, too. I would have loved to have held you... Bloody Roms.*
Four faces sprung to terrible life before her eyes, faces she wished she could delete from her memory. *No, Cromwell, you're not going to give in. You're out of this. Giving in means they win.* They can't win. She inhaled another blast of lung-freezing air, tasting the sharp cold of the snowflakes on her tongue, willing herself to think of being a little girl who'd caught snowflakes like that, at play. When it was safe, when it was a game. It was safe now, wasn't it? She blinked hard and shook her head to clear it of the confusion. The action sent her dunf fur hood sliding off.
"All right, that's it." The female voice came from behind, sending Sarah's heart pounding in a wild rhythm.
She felt slender, gloved hands pulling her hood back up over her coiled hair, arranging the fur about her face. She blinked again. The faces were gone now, and all she could see was the endless, blinding white. There were hands, strong, broad hands, on her shoulders, on her legs. She bucked against them, her hands curled into lethal claws as she lashed out. *Not again!*
The female voice was back. "Let go of her. Eliva, Sinclair, help me get her inside." The hands on her were still strong, but gentle in their grip. "Let's give her some room. I'll need the hypo."
Sarah steeled herself for what was to come next. She still saw only the unrelieved white, but she didn't need to see, didn't want to see anything. The corridor would be next, then the room with the table. There, she'd find the straps and the lights, and whatever humiliation they had planned for her this time. There would be questions, too many questions. She resisited the hands guiding her down to the ground, twisting her neck away so that finding her jugular would be difficult. If she couldn't manage impossible, she'd give them difficult.
A flash of greyish metal sliced through the white of Sarah's world. Had they finished that quickly? It was too much to hope for; of course they hadn't. These things went beyond forever, every time, again and again. The tip of the metal object was coming towards her, intent on its course, like a trained missile. She could almost swear she heard her own blood pounding through her veins. Maybe she did; she didn't trust anything that happened when they were around.
*Give no aid. Give no aid. Do whatever the bloody hell you're going to do, but you're not getting a bloody thing out of me. Give no aid. Give no aid.* She set the order to the beat of her racing heart, biting down on her tongue until she tasted her own blood.
The metal was touching her now, but instead of the searing pain she'd prepared herself for, there was only a subtle warmth circulating through her body. Was this something new?
She cursed herself, knowing she should be accustomed to such tricks by now. Whenever the pain came, or the burning, or the images, she'd be ready. *Give no aid...*
Male hands were on her again, only one set now. Only one. That was better than all four at once. One set was over more quickly than four. One was easier to remember afterwards, easier to imagine what she wanted to do to him afterwards. Easier to imagine smashing one nose up into one brain. *Which one?* She picked out an intricate orange pattern slicing through the white of a Philemite face, and a pair of pink eyes riveted on hers.
She allowed herself to relax slightly, but remained alert. Just because the natives hadn't before didn't mean they wouldn't now... She focused on the features, needing to remember each one so that if she ever got out of this hell...
That wasn't right. That voice didn't belong here. She knew all the voices that belonged here, both Romulan and Philemite. She knew all too well every accent, every inflection, every impediment. The morning guard dragged his vowels, and the one who brought the food had harsh consonants. The one who brought her back from the table room had a chronic cough. This was none of them. The voice could have been Willie's. It wasn't going to work. No matter how much she'd wished for him, Willie wasn't there.
"Brit, it's me."
Tossing suddenly, she managed to wrench one hand free, and lunged upwards, grabbing a handful of the Klevv's beard. She tugged until, with a sharp yowl of pain, he released her, the portion of beard she held coming away with her. Springing to her feet, Sarah bolted, running straight into another Klevv. Before this one could grab her, she dropped to the ground once more, rolling to the side. When the roll was completed, she came to her feet in a smooth motion, wondering what the hard thing was that seemed to be strapped to her hip. Her free had closed around the familiar shape of a phaser. That didn't belong, either.
It was a *Starfleet* phaser. It wasn't hers, though; it couldn't be. They'd taken it from her, first thing, breaking her wrist in the process. Nobody was trying to take this phaser, though, she realised. Unable to make sense of anything, Sarah simply stared at the phaser, not attempting to maintain her hold when a gloved hand motioned for her to give it up. There was no demand, only request. She let the weapon slip from her fingers.
Hands under her arms were lowering her into a sitting position, gently, slowly, more hands supporting her head. It felt heavy, as if all the thoughts and images had tangible weight. She shrugged the hands away from her head as her vision began to clear. The lights she saw were dim, not the bright, harsh lights of the table room; the sources too small and irregularly spaced to be what she'd expected. From far off, she heard the unsteady pinging sound of ice hitting... stone?
"That's right," the female voice soothed. "Slow down. Just breathe. It's all right. You're safe." Someone pushed a loose lock of hair away from her mouth. "Do you know where you are?"
The voice wasn't Klevv, nor was it Romulan. The features were somehow familiar, but didn't belong here. Ignoring the voice, Sarah concentrated on her tactile senses. Stone. She was sitting on stone, not metal, not the too-thin padding of the table. Now that she wasn't paying attention to the voice, she was able to put a name to the strangeness of it, why it didn't fit. "Standard?"
"Yesss. We are ssspeaking Ssstandard." The voice was female, with a heavy sibilant S. The accent sounded Andorian, but the speaker had learned Standard on Earth.
Sarah squinted against the bright light shining in her eyes. The person looking at her couldn't be Klevv. The accent was definitely Andorian, and she could see...antennae? Definitely an Andorian. She knew this Andorian. Was it Derl? No, Derl was dead. This was a female.
"Good enough. That's as close as she's going to get for a while, trust me." This voice was male, deep in timbre, and resonated with authority. "Do you recognise me?"
Sarah found it hard to concentrate, but forced herself to look beyond the colouring. This face, she did know. The man, who she knew for a fact was not Klevv, had a hand on her arm. She was allowing it. His breath felt pleasantly warm against her ear. He'd called her *Brit.*
"Willie." Something was being held to her lips.
"Drink this," he ordered.
Sarah pressed her lips tightly together. She wasn't taking anything from them. No, she had to. For the child, but there wasn't any child. Not anymore. A finger stroked her cheek, as if by accident. She knew that touch. It was his touch, Willie's touch. The Roms couldn't duplicate that.
She gulped down the liquid without tasting it, only feeling the wet heat it brought as it slid down her throat. Air and liquid came at once, causing her to hiccough. The reaction startled her, making her inhale some of the fluid. As though that weren't enough, the bile in Sarah's stomach rose to meet the water. Both came up in a violent retch that drove her to her knees.
Finally, her stomach empty, everything settled. Sarah sat back from the foul-smelling puddle in front of her, and wiped her mouth with the back of her glove. Her head still spun as she looked at the complex designs of the Klevv cave paintings around her.
Bright colours seemed to dance across the dull surface of the cave walls, the crude figures seeming like nightmare shadows. They were only pictures, she knew, and posed no real or immediate danger. Still, her heart pounded as though those who had left the drawings still surrounded her. *Bugger all.*
The flask was back again, the hand holding it seeming as though it didn't feel Sarah's attempt to push it away. "Try some more."
She drank again, slower this time. Slowly, that was it. Slow down. She concentrated on slowing her breaths gradually, each one taking just a bit more time than the last. *One, one-two, one-two-three...* She took one last swallow, allowing the water to trickle down her throat, all the way to her stomach. This, she promised herself, would stay. "Thank you."
Beverly waved a tricorder in a slow arc about Sarah's head, then keyed a few buttons and handed the instrument to Eliva. "It looks like you've had a flashback," the doctor guessed. "Do you feel up to talking about it?"
*Rather not, if it's all the same,* Sarah thought, wiping her mouth again, this time with the other glove. She scraped the dirty one against a rock as she tried to trace her thought pattern back to whatever had keyed the flashback. "I was looking at the snow, and then I was thinking about how the Klevv warn their children against straying from the procession. They tell them stories about how the ice storms come so suddenly that it's dastardly simple to get lost and..." her voice cracked. "And buried."
"Guess it's the Klevv version of the boogeyman," Geordi ventured.
"One might say so." Sarah took a second to moisten her lips. "Or Mother Goose. There's not much difference between the two in those stories." Even after the drink, her mouth felt dry. She looked to Riker, drawing strength from the concern in his eyes. "It made me think of...the child. They said they'd...that they'd taken...outside," she finished, unable to voice anything further. *You're not going to cry, Cromwell. You're not. That's an order. A court-martial offence, for that matter.*
Outside? Riker tried to make sense of it. He busied himself by closing the flask he'd given to Sarah and putting it back in the pack. His first instinct was to forget all about whatever had caused her to be frightened and just hold her. He knew Sarah was more upset than she was letting on. That was her way. Her gut might be going supernova, but ask her how she was, and she'd say she was fine.
Maybe, he thought, as he pretended to inventory his pack, he should have asked Deanna on the landing party after all. She might have been able to see when Sarah was starting to remember. Maybe she could have spared Sarah the worst of it. Even a little would have helped.
He tried to get his mind on the mission at hand. Several pairs of pink-tinged eyes and one silvery-bright VISOR were trained on him, waiting for instructions. He rose from his seat slowly, and began to pace off towards the cave entrance. As he walked, the unsteady pounding of the ice against the outside of the cave brought his thoughts back to Sarah. As if they'd gone far from her. *Why would the Romulans put the body of a miscarried child outside?*
He didn't think for a minute that the father of Sarah's child bore any tenderness for the offspring of his violence, but it still didn't fit. Disposing of the corpse in any number of other ways would have been more efficient; cleaner, and just as quick. Less of a risk of discovery, as well, which was the most important thing to anyone in hiding.
Riker fingered the thick white fur of his robe as he drew it closer about him. *Dunfs. Never assume a dunf isn't hungry... In a pinch, we would do nicely...Damn.* He slammed a fist against the icy cave wall.
The ice storm made the blizzards he'd seen in Alaska seem like the middle of July. These things could last for hours, even the better part of a day, and it wasn't uncommon for them to go past twenty-four hours. That was fine for the natives, who were used to it, but for Riker, who had to plan some order in the middle of one of those storms, it stunk. Any tracks the landing party had made before, deep as they were, would be filled by now. He didn't imagine many Klevv children strayed. Certainly never more than once.
He turned from the entrance. "Any signs of life, Data?"
END OF PART ONE
Chamber of the Warrior Queen
This story is re-posted with kind permission from the author.
Snowbound is part of the Snow Quartet. It is #2 out of four. We hope that we will be able to post the other parts here at nrw.co.uk, too; however, at the moment, I'm unable to find them. Please take a look directly at the Tapestry Saga website. Also in the saga is E. Catherine Tobler's story, "Treasures," with more to come from both Anne and Catherine. The site also includes a saga timeline, family trees and other "companion" resources.
Back to the Main Menu