About the Author
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
There was a real bite in the air, but Will Riker liked watching his exhalations waft through the mostly still air. He and his father had been up before the sun, hiking at least five kilometers to get to this particular spot. The night before, his father, Kyle, had told him they would have to get up that early to stake out the spot for themselves ahead of the competition. It never occurred to the fifteen-year-old that people competed for coveted spots, but it made sense.
His father had rustled him awake and shoved a mug of hot cocoa into his hand. It felt good cupped in both hands, but he couldn't savor it very long because they had to get moving. Will had put on several layers of clothing, all the while hearing his father bang around the house, getting the last of the gear ready.
They didn't speak much during the hike; Will was tired and excited but knew Kyle preferred not to disturb nature if at all possible.
When they arrived at the site, Kyle beamed, thrilled to get there ahead of the other area fishers. It was a small, naturally clear semicircle, obscured from the path by trees. A circle of stones in one corner indicated that many a fisherman had not only caught his dinner, but had cooked it at that spot. The view from the location was spectacular. Will was impressed, even though he had grown up appreciating the natural beauty of Alaska. He let out a low whistle, earning him a broad smile from his father, although it lasted only a moment. Will quickly set up folding chairs, assembled their poles, and found the container with his father's patented bait. Kyle, meantime, set up the makings for a campfire, something they might need later. He also set up a container for their catch and a small transceiver. Will had grown accustomed to the sight of the device. After all, his father worked for the United Federation of Planets and his tactical skills might be needed without advance notice. All too often Will would arrive home from school to a note from his father.
It had been relatively calm the last few months, so Will was anxious, convinced that his father would be called away any moment.
They sat side by side, casting and reeling in their lines, neither saying much. As the sun peeked up over the horizon, it painted the lake's surface in dazzling colors. Once the sun cleared the horizon, his father decided it was time for breakfast. He pulled out a few wrapped meal bars, bottles of water, and a bunch of grapes. They ate in continued silence, his father very content with the slow passage of time. Will desperately wished to use the time to start talking, to have a real man-to-man conversation about the years ahead. He was doing well in school and was beginning to seriously consider Starfleet. His father's missions had captured his imagination, and Will was beginning to yearn to see what was beyond this land's snow-capped mountains. Will considered his grades to be good enough, and he wanted his father's perspective. But every time Will wanted to have this conversation, something came up. He had grown frustrated and more than a little angry. Kyle Riker, it seemed to the boy, was just not interested in his future.
Watching his line, Will grew impatient, and he felt himself starting to fidget. If he was going to spend the day in the chill air, he could at least have a decent conversation with his father. But every time he started to talk, Kyle shushed him. The teen finally gave up and cast at a much faster pace than his father, earning nothing but a scowl.
As the sun neared its zenith, Will finally felt a tug. It had some force behind it, and he imagined it to be a large fish, easily more than five kilos. He didn't say anything, ready to impress his father with the first catch of the day. Slowly, he reeled in the struggling fish, his pole bending in an impressive arc. Finally, Kyle noticed Will's effort and spoke encouragingly, breaking the uncomfortable silence that had grown over the hours.
The line, which he had cast out at least twenty-seven meters, was now half that distance, but Will's reeling had slowed. The fish seemed to be winning the struggle. Unwilling to lose his prize, the teen dug in his heels, gritted his teeth, and yanked a bit on the pole to show dinner who was the boss. The prey responded by yanking back, and it was large enough to gain back some distance.
And that was when Kyle grabbed the pole, his huge hands covering Will's. He used several sharp tugs and then reeled in quickly for several meters before tugging again. Ignoring Will's protests, he took command of the situation. The teen's hands remained trapped. Finally, the catch seemed to give up, and the last few meters were effortless.
Not again, Will thought. His father had done the same thing to him six years ago, and here he was, taking control of the situation again. Dammit, he was fifteen and he was going to bring in the fish or not -- on his own.
"It's a beauty, Willy," Kyle said as the sheefish came out of the water. Its silver-and-blue body wriggled as Will reached down to remove the hook from its protruding jaw. "Make us a fine dinner."
Will didn't say a word as he finished removing the hook and dumped the fish into the storage container. The youth seethed, and didn't say anything to his father for the rest of the day. Not that Kyle noticed. He never picked up on Will's anger, or if he did, he never reacted. Once again, his father hadn't let Will complete a task on his own. He was still taking charge and refusing to let the boy grow up.
Will swore it was the last time he was going to let Kyle Riker control his actions.
Christine Vale ran a hand through her thick auburn hair, smoothing it down. She had already washed up from her last visit to the surface and changed into a fresh uniform. She refused to beam back down with Aiken's blood splattered all over her. It was their first casualty on Delta Sigma IV and she wanted it to be the last one. She knew, though, that was not likely.
Leaving her quarters, she refused to acknowledge how tired she felt. Vale would have to exist on adrenaline and caffeine for the moment, since she was needed down below. Sure, she could get some sleep and send down her second-in-command, Jim Peart, but she was their leader. Captain Picard had specifically asked her to oversee the deployment. She didn't want to let the man down. If they were going to suffer, she was going to suffer right beside them. And if she fell, Vale knew Peart was eager to step in and complete the mission.
The mission. She laughed mirthlessly to herself. Vale sent down her teams of security guards to augment the meager numbers of peace officers that were all the police or military support the planet had needed until this week. Her teams had been detailed to help maintain order while the public was panicked over the planet's first murder in a century. That homicide had quickly turned into a string of murders, and then a wave of madness had engulfed the populace. Vale's people were suddenly endangered on all fronts, and she hated it.
She preferred things to have reasons, patterns she could see and react to. Instead, the citizens of Delta Sigma IV were rapidly losing their inhibitions, acting out without rhyme or reason, and her people were managing, at best, merely a holding action. There was no victory to be had here; they could only minimize the damage.
Christine took the turbolift to engineering and, emerging, practically walked into the chief engineer himself.
"Sorry, Geordi," she said, stepping aside. They were approximately the same height, and she looked right into his eyes, which were augmented with cybernetic implants. Their irises narrowed, adjusting the focus, and she found herself staring and quickly looked away.
"I'm fine, but I think you need some rest," La Forge responded, unperturbed by the penetrating look.
"Later. I have to get back to the surface. Listen, the people have escalated the violence. It's also become destructive, and I'm going to need some of your people down there. I'm afraid of infrastructure problems, and the last thing we need is to incite further troubles because people can't get fresh water."
La Forge stroked his bearded chin and nodded in understanding. He turned around and led her to a workstation where he called up duty rosters. Names rolled upward on one screen, color coded by shift. "I'll alert my damage control teams, equip them for general-purpose needs, and have them on standby. You call, they'll come running."
"And my people will be with them, providing protection. Still, captain's orders are they beam down with sidearms."
La Forge nodded again, not surprised, but also not pleased that his people would be facing danger. His features softened a bit and he added, "Hey, I'm sorry about Aiken. He was a great kid."
"Yeah, he was." A kid, fresh out of the Academy, and all his promise snuffed out. The pain refused to budge.
And she could tell from La Forge's expression that he understood why she was pushing herself to get back below. He'd do the same thing if it were strictly an engineering problem.
"Listen, I think we need to start by restoring water to Testani."
"That's the city that burned first," he said, clearly having stayed current despite remaining aboard ship during the mission.
"Right. The fire in the capital was smaller and was extinguished pretty quickly."
La Forge went back to studying the roster, his hand back to his beard. "Have you heard from the captain?"
"Not since he and Counselor Troi returned to the planet," Vale said. She felt herself growing anxious and got ready to leave. But first, she had to get something out in the open.
"I know you're working with him, but if Nafir screws up and costs me time, I'm going to use him to clean the armory."
La Forge frowned at that, thought a moment, and responded, "Look, I know he's not at the top of anyone's competency list, Chief, but T'Bonz and I are working with him. He's gotten better since he transferred over. He won't fail you. You have my word on it."
"Good." She turned to leave and could hear La Forge already ordering his alph...