by E. L. Zimmerman
A Borg sentry, Noland, stood guard outside Janewayís quarters.
Her residence was simple. It contained a main room, a bedroom, and a washroom, and it was sparsely furnished with a single bed, a massive wooden desk, a series of oddly shaped chairs strewn about the place, and a large bed. When she entered the domicile, the first item she noticed was that on the bed laid her Starfleet uniform. The stone walls were bare, save for a few etches that she guessed were meant to be decorative and a computerized alcove. The ceiling held a spherical fluorescent as well as a speaker, which she guessed sufficed as a communications system for the palace. Before Cole had left, he had instructed her curtly on using the chamberís food dispensers, the prime function of the alcove. Realizing how hungry she was, the captain quickly dressed in her Starfleet uniform, tearing off the right sleeve to allow for the prosthetic to hang loose, and she ordered the dispenser to provide her with any variety of the planetís indigenous fruit. After several verbal queries to qualify her taste preferences, the unit hummed, sounding vaguely like Voyagerís replicators. Before her eyes, a large, deep green sphere materialized from the electronic mist swirling around the backlit platform. Cautiously, she reached in and took the fruit. Uncertain as how to eat it, she brought it to her mouth and bit down into its skin, pleased to find a delectable softness underneath. She chewed heartily, finding the fruit to be juicy, minty, and delicious Ö but, suddenly, she was uncertain of what effect, if any, the fruit might have on her digestive system.
"At this point," she muttered to herself, "Iím not sure you have much choice."
Without delay, she hungrily finished the green orb and ordered up a second.
Exploring her new home, she walked through the archway off the main room and stepped out onto the balcony, inhaling welcome gulps of fresh, moist, night air.
Before her, thundering rainclouds blotted the horizon, dwarfing Besaria City as they had the day she arrived.
How long ago had it been?
She didn't know. She guessed the Borg procedure couldn't have taken long, but without the ship's logs or her own personal captainís PADD, she had lost complete track of time. 'It's the little things in life that we miss,' she mused, smiling.
The city itself was nothing more than a conglomerate of squat stone buildings adorned with occasional oval windows. It appeared as if all structures on Besaria were fashioned from the same grayish stone from which Talesee Palace was carved. Curious, the stone almost matched the shade of the planetís ever-raining sky. Beyond the city, to what she termed the north, were tall orchards of lanky but leafy trees. The groves stretched to where the dark sky met the land, and, squinting, she thought she could make out work crews in the distance, possibly harvesting the fruit that fed the populace. To her left and right, beyond the wall lining the city, she found field after field of winding vines Ė undoubtedly plants of some sort. Again, she could discern crews among the vines, and, as they were much closer, she could see that they were garbed in brightly colored rain gear, making around-the-clock shifts possible. From the looks of the vines, she imagined that they produced vegetables of some sort that, once more, fed the people who happened to live within these walls.
"In case you're wondering," a voice startled her from overhead, "it's nightfall."
Surprised, she looked up.
"You should be asleep," she heard Senator Packell's advice, his green eyes glimmering from the dark balcony above.
"Good evening, Packell."
"Good Ö evening?" he asked.
Smiling up at him, swallowing a mouthful of the juicy pulp, she explained, "Itís an expression of my people. Itís a customary greeting for when two people meet at night. In the evening."
"Ah," he replied. "Then, good evening to you, ambassador. Please accept my apologies for not coming to see you Ö this evening. Senator Cytal kept me Ö occupied."
"I donít doubt it."
"He has concerns about the future of Besaria. As orator, he needs to understand that those concerns are not his responsibility. He should serve as the mouthpiece for His Highness. Nothing more."
"You should be careful what you say to the senator," she warned. "Cytal doesnít exactly appear loyal to the Quorum Ö not so much so as he does to His Highness."
"Youíre very perceptive."
She smiled. "It comes with the job."
"Captain," she replied. "A healthy intuition is one of those unspoken requirements to serving as captain of a starship. You carry the weight of responsibility that goes along with the care and safety of the ship and the crew. Being able to second guess your friends and your enemies can never be a curse."
She remembered their session from today, and she was strikingly overwhelmed with grief. "I can't tell you how sorry I am for what happened to those Renegade Trakill today, senator. It was ... the act of a lunatic."
From overhead, he turned and watched the horizon as if watching for something in particular, but she couldnít guess what it might be. "I thank you for your compassion, ambassador."
"Do you know ... how long have I been here?"
"Two days," he replied, facing her once more. "Today is your second day. The application of the Borg prosthetic is entirely surgical. Itís a slow process, and the sedation takes several hours to wear off."
"Two days," she muttered. Wincing, taking another bite of her fruit, she said, "It feels much longer."
"As it does to everyone on Besaria," he confided.
Now, she studied the horizon, watching the slow-moving storm clouds as they crawled across the dark sky. Lightning flashed in the distance, and she hoped that none of the workers in the fields had been injured.
"Is the weather always ... does it only rain here?" She peered up at him. "Senator, donít be offended, but to my people, your world would be one, large hydroponics bay!"
Packell laughed, and Janeway couldnít help herself for smiling back at the alien who had the strength to still enjoy humor after witnessing the annihilation of his people.
"Ambassador, welcome to the Besarian Winter," he chuckled, spreading his arms wide. "The children call it the Eternal Damp. It gives them cause to go out and play, but, yes, it always rains on Besaria. This is our natural climate."
For several moments, the two of them were at peace, listening to calming patter of the rainfall.
"Packell," she finally asked, "how long has the One been here?"
Again, the senator glanced away at the distant horizon. "My apologies, ambassador, but that question I cannot answer for certain. You see, I've lost track of time Ö up until a point. I think all of us imprisoned here have." Pausing, he put his hand out to feel the droplets splatter against his skin. "I think itís safe to say that my family cannot remember a time when he wasn't here."
Sadly, he shook his head. "I am not the original Trakill Senator," he replied, tucking his hand under his robes to dry it in the folds there. "I inherited the post, as did my father from his father. I have only served for six jlarra now. Iíve been tracking the days Ö since I watched my father die at the hands of the One."
"Your father?" she asked. "The One killed your father?"
Solemnly, Packell answered, "He did. I can only thank him for waiting until I could be brought to the Grand Hall to bare witness to his death. It is Ö it is a requirement that the position pass down through the bloodlines. Were I to perish for some just cause, it would cede to my lifemate, Aulea."
"Yes," he explained. "Shortly before I was plucked from the fields and dubbed ambassador in place of my father. If you will indulge me, I will tell you the story. Long ago, Talesee Palace wasnít this Ö ordinary. When it belonged to the Trakill, we adorned its walls with our exquisite native tapestries. The tapestries, as I recall, told the story of my people, our history from birth in the galactic community up until the coming of Solahh, the Trakill spiritual leader. He is the Essence of my people. He changed my race forever. He altered the way we thought about ourselves, our purpose for being. He forever changed the way we behaved.
"The myth," he continued, "tells us that Solahh was born of the land, not of natural Trakill blood and breeding. One day, he simply came to us from out the great Lussenta Tree Groves, far to the north of Besaria City. Even today, itís a common belief that to eat of the sacred Lussenta fruit brings immortality. In any regard, Solahh told us that he didnít believe that it was in our destiny for Trakill to live forever. No, we were to live to service the land. Upon our deaths, we would be buried in the soil, and our essence would enrich the ground, bringing forth an even greater bounty for the next harvest. So, while he was with us, Solahh taught us the ways to better cultivate our crops and to grow foods more plentiful. Certainly, we still traveled space, but Solahh defined our purpose in this universe. Simply put, we were to produce finest grown delicacies this star system would ever know."
"I sampled your fruit," she replied, holding up the orb in her hand. "This. Itís wonderfully juicy. Iíve never had anything quite like it."
"Gallush," he replied. "The juice comes naturally from the abundance of moisture in our atmosphere."
"There are some Trakill who will tell you that Solahh is mythical," Packell sighed. "They will tell you that his existence is a story told to teach morality to children and to give adults cause to think twice should they entertain thoughts of leaving the planet. My father taught me differently. He taught me to respect Solahh's teachings. He told me to always put my best effort into the land, which, as Solahh promised, would always provide for me. Take from it graciously and thankfully all that which it provides." He gestured over his shoulder. "The walls of this palace Ė Talesee Palace, named for Solahhís lifemate Ė were adorned with tapestries that told us those stories." He chuckled. "One of them even explained how, after the arrival of Solahh, the Trakill were so enraptured with cultivating the harvests that our efforts turned even our eyes green!"
Together, the two shared the moment. They laughed at the simplicity of the tale.
"That, I do believe, is a fable best left to children," Packell concluded, and a timber of sadness came into his voice. "The tapestries were the only record of Solahh's teaching, and my father cared deeply for those messages passed down from one generation to the next."
"Your father sounds like a great man."
"I wish I had known him."
Packell held out his hands. "By knowing me, you know my father."
Curious, Janeway guessed, "Your father wanted the tapestries returned to their rightful place on the palace walls, but the One wouldn't allow it. That's why these walls are blank."
He squinted down at her. "Youíve already heard the tale?"
She shook her head. "Itís that healthy intuition I warned you about. I know that a madman would find Solahhís messages of hope a threat to his foundation."
Nodding, Packell sighed heavily. "The all shall serve the One," he said. "There was no place in this foundation for Solahh."
"I'm sorry," she said.
"To tell you the truth," Packell continued, "my father wasn't arguing so much that the tapestries be returned to their rightful place on the walls of this city. No. My father was simply asking for color. Paint. Something other than this charcoal front. In retaliation for his civil disobedience, the One used his abilities to crush my father in full quorum of the Grand Hall. That might sound ruthless, but it was actually quite lenient. Cytal recommended that His Highness wipe out all Trakill. When His Highness didnít, a band of rebels Ė the Renegade Trakill Ė escaped the planet somehow." He stared down at her, lost in his own thoughts for several moments. "Extinction of an entire race? That would have been ruthless."
She felt a faint breeze blow rain droplets across her face. Her heart ached for these people - for all of these people. All she remembered was the feeling of sheer helplessness to do anything about it.
"It's late, ambassador," Packell offered. "You sleep now. I am going inside, as well, to sleep and, hopefully, to dream of my lifemate Aulea. I'll have a Gallush for myself."
She stopped him before he left. "Packell?"
"Where are the tapestries now?"
He paused, sighing again.
"They ... they were burned ... along with my father's body ... in the city's square ... near the spaceport."
Janeway sensed the rising anger in her. "I give you my word as a Starfleet captain, senator," she vowed. "Iíll find some way to stop this madman."
She wasn't certain that he had heard her, as there came no immediate reply. After a few seconds, Packell replied somberly, "Sleep now. Tomorrow, I will visit you, and I will begin tutoring you in the ways of the Quorum."
"We do not speak of such insurrection in the palace," he warned softly. "It is considered Ö bad for the harvests."
With that, Captain Janeway stood alone, staring quietly at the dark that had fallen not only over Besaria City but also her very soul.