From the Ashes
Unknown planet, Alpha Quadrant
A maroon sun was rising over jagged mountain ridges. Massive granite formations sharply surged up almost vertically from the bottom of a deep gorge, in between them tall stone pinnacles dotted the valley, their eroded surfaces in surreal shapes, windswept coniferous trees and shrubs were clinging to even the smallest cracks and ledges, in the distance majestic snow-capped peaks framed the breathtaking scenery, the ridges shrouded in mist, floating on clouds, serene and staggeringly beautiful. The chilly morning air left a sparkling white glaze of rime on the evergreen vegetation.
Following a narrow trail of thousands of winding stone steps, hewn into the cliff, a tiny figure was clambering up the mountain. The man was wearing a thick coat, hiking boots and he was using a walking stick to balance his steps on the slippery trek. The silence around him was broken only by the singing of exotic looking birds and the rushing sound of a nearby waterfall.
Exhausted by the strenuous ascent, Captain White sat down on a boulder for a break. He opened his backpack and pulled out a canteen and a small metal box which was filled with fruit and trail mix. He gulped down a big mouthful of water before starting to munch on his provisions. Nibbling on some nuts the Captain was just enjoying the view, when he heard a rustling noise behind him. He looked around, but he saw nothing. Turning back to his hiking snack, White heard again a sound, the braking of a twig, he spun his head quickly, his eyes scanning the treeline and the large bushy ferns a few meters away for any movement; then suddenly again a sound and a shadow disappearing into the foliage. Captain White got up and walked a few steps in the direction where he had spotted the movement, aware of the threat ever since receiving an anonymous warning about a possible attempt on his life, his right hand was closing around a small hand phaser.
“Who is there? Show yourself!”, he yelled.
At this moment his pursuer made its entry by jumping on a rock next to him: it was a small animal, a prosimian mammal with striped fur, a long bushy tail and big eyes. It squealed excitedly. White put away his phaser and laughed.
“Hi there, little buddy, you scared me!”
The animal squealed again.
“What is it? Up early, looking for breakfast, huh? You want a treat?”, the Captain wondered in amusement.
He walked back to his backpack and sat down again, before he took a single raisin and placed it on a tree stump across from him. He looked at the animal and gestured.
“There you go.”
The creature began to sneak up carefully towards the treat, sniffing with its nose all the time. It climbed on top of the tree stump, took the dried fruit into his claws and slowly pecked it apart with its tiny teeth.
“That good, huh?”, White asserted.
“You want another one?”
The creature looked at him with its big eyes, squealed again, but while the Captain was in the middle of picking up another raisin from his lunch box, the animal turned its body slightly, raised its butt and with the swift motion used its long tail like a lasso to lash a big red apple from the box. With the apple tightly gripped in its tail it made a quick exit, leaping and swinging through a web of branches until arriving at a treetop where a group of identical animals were gathered. They all looked down at White and began jumping up and down, hooting and screeching mischievously before ganging up on the captured apple.
The Captain shook his head in disbelief.
“Enjoy your meal, fellas!”, he shouted.
After a couple more hours of arduous climbing Captain White finally espied his destination, shimmering in the distance: a remote monastery, perched high on a narrow ledge halfway up a steep cliff face. Hidden away among majestic mountains like these, for millennia monks have founded monasteries at secluded spots and in hard to reach regions, far from the distractions of bustling cities, in search for solitude and peace and to encourage spiritual contemplation and introspection as a key to ascetic life.
During his approach Captain White could not help but marvel at the engineering feat to construct a palatial structure at a spot like this with simple tools centuries before the invention of powered machines. Making his way to the entrance of the eerie temple, White walked over a rickety wooden bridge spanning a deep precipice, the bridges’ rotten guardrails richly blazoned with festoons and prayer flags.
The Captain stepped up to the vast wooden doors and shoved them open wide enough to squeeze through. He was greeted by a pair of towering statues, bronze-cast gatekeepers, before he crossed the large cobbled courtyard which gave access to the sprawling set of ceremonial halls, pavilions and chapels, their walls colorfully painted, petalled, embellished with strange icons and unknown characters of an ancient language, the buildings’ flared roofs rose in multiple tiers, the gables and eaves elaborately carved and decorated. On top of the wooden shingled roofs were gilded brass cupolas with flagpoles sporting embroidered banners that were blowing in the wind. White now climbed a large masoned staircase, passing by stone steles and grimacing statues of mythological animals.
He entered the main hall, which had multiple levels of galleries on all sides, the walls beautifully bejewelled and full of fabulous frescoes, murals, friezes and tapestries, depicting archaic gods defeating stooped demons and performing pious deeds. From the cavernous prayer rooms beyond the hall the Captain could hear the tantric chants of monks, engaged in religious rites, reciting old necromancies from ancient manuscripts, accompanied by the dull sounds of mighty drums and chimes. Thousands of flickering candles and lanterns were illuminating the interior. The air was heavy with clouds of incense.
Captain White advanced in the direction of an old cleric in a hooded saffron robe who was meditating in front of an ornamented shrine filled with relics and figurines.
White bowed and greeted the priest:
“Master, I bid you a good morning.”
The monk glanced at him for a second before he closed his eyes again and answered:
“I bid you the same. It has been a long time since your last visit.”
“Very long. I felt my age during the climb”, White replied.
“Then your effort is more commendable. You took up the quest to come here during a harsh time of the year. What is it that you seek?”, the priest asked him.
“I seek answers. I require your council, Master.”
“I see. Then let us first rest and dine together. What you seek asks for strength of the mind. A strong mind can only come from a strong body.”
With this the monk got up and led the Captain into an adjacent room.
Captain White and the cleric were sitting cross-legged on the ground, beneath them a marvelous mosaic adorned the room’s floor. They each finished a bowl of meager soup, the cleric reached for an iron tea service next to him and poured the Captain a full cup.
“You gorged your meal like a hungry child. Did you not have breakfast?”, he asked the Captain.
“I had a bit. A local animal stole my apple though.”
The cleric smiled knowingly.
“You encountered a maki, certainly. They are fast and smart.”
“And greedy”, White added,
“I offered it a raisin, but then it took the apple.”
“The maki is not a bad character, it is merely an opportunist. You showed great generosity when you shared your food, the animal will reward you some day”, the priest explained.
“Master, I would like to get your advice?”, White asked the man.
“Yes, please go ahead.”
“I have come to hold a position of great responsibility, where many lives are dependent on my decisions. Recently I discovered a dark secret. There are evil powers that have conspired against the ideas I serve for. Their might is great and far-reaching. They lurk in the shadows and will not reveal their existence. Lives have been lost due to their actions. I have tried to uncover them, but my warnings fall on deaf ears. I can not prove their wrongdoings. If I try, they come after me and those who assist my efforts. If I confide in someone I take a great risk, either because their wellbeing may be in danger or because they may be agents of those evil powers sent to watch me. I received a warning this morning that my life is in peril. I can not stand idle, but I fear for the people I might be putting in danger”, White explained.
The monk got up and paced the room for a while. Then he turned around and said:
“You came here to seek answers, you told me?”
“Yes, Master, I would like to know what I should do?”, White inquired.
“I see”, the monk replied.
“But this is not a place of answers. It is a place of questions.”
The Captain looked at him, not understanding.
The cleric continued:
“You said you wanted answers, but you need to ask questions. And you need to ask the right questions.”
“I am sorry, but I don’t think I know what you mean”, White responded.
“Tell me again of your problem, but condense it to the most basic obstacles.”
“Well, there is a secret that must be revealed, my enemies are dangerous and it is a risk to ask others for their help.”
“Very good, now formulate questions for these problems”, the monk instructed.
The Captain thought for a while.
“The secret, how do I reveal the secret? By telling someone.”
“Not quite, ask yourself, what is the nature of a secret”, the monk told him.
“A secret is knowledge of something that only few possess and that everyone else is not supposed to have.”
“Good, go on”, the priest encouraged him.
“My enemies, they are dangerous. How do I defeat them? Why are they dangerous? Because a single life means nothing to them.”
The monk nodded contentedly. White continued:
“I take a risk revealing the secret to specific people. Why is it a risk? Because they could be working with the enemy or become their target themselves. How can I remove both these dangers?”
And then, recounting the meaning of his previous questions, Captain White suddenly understood:
“I have to tell everyone?!”
The monk nodded and walked over to a door, opened it, revealing a small wooden balcony beyond it. It offered a marvelous vista of the lone landscape of the mountains and the valley beneath the monastery.
The monk asked him:
“How many people do you see?”
Captain White looked out quickly and replied:
“I see no one.”
“If you were to yell that what you know, no one would hear it. If you slipped on your way down and fell over the edge, no one would know it or could come to your aid. Your dilemma is like being here in these mountains. You are on your own and nobody could help you.”
“But if I were in a populated place and stood in the middle of a crowd yelling what I know, people would hear me and if I fell down people would see it and they could help me.”
The cleric smiled warmly and asked him:
“Do you have further questions, my friend?”
“No, Master. I know what I have to do. I thank you for your guidance and hospitality.”
“You are always welcome, I bid you farewell and wish you safe journeys.”
Both men bowed to each other and the Captain quickly grabbed his backpack and went for the main hall.
He rushed out of the building, crossed the courtyard and passed by a group of monks walking in the opposite direction on his way to the gate. One of the hooded clerics detached himself from the group, turned around and began to follow the Captain out of the monastery and down the mountain.
Captain White was still continuing the trail down into the valley, unaware of the hooded figure secretly chasing after him only one hundred meters away. The person was getting closer, White hurrying down the stone steps suddenly stopped and turned his head into the direction of the trail leading up the mountain, but the figure had jumped behind a tree out of sight of the Captain. White now continued his descent. The hooded figure waited a few more seconds and kept hidden, before also continuing down and pulling a weapon out of a pocket.
Captain White rounded a corner and when he looked ahead on the path he spotted a person coming up the mountain. After he had walked a few more meters the Captain saw that it was a young woman in hiking clothes like him.
When they were almost about to pass each other the woman smiled and waved.
“Coming down already?”, she asked him cheerfully.
“Yes, I just came to see the sunrise from up there.”
They walked past each other on the narrow track, both not stopping while continuing their short conversation.
“Hope it was worth it. Be careful on your way down!”
“Thanks, you too!”, White replied with a friendly smile and kept walking, but suddenly his face darkened and he paused his descent.
He was about to turn around when he heard the woman saying:
“I have a clear shot at your head, Captain!”, her voice sounded menacingly from behind.
“Turn around, slowly!”
The Captain obeyed. He turned around and was now looking directly at her. The woman was pointing a small reddish disruptor at him, her expression had become that of a professional hired to kill in cold blood.
“I know you are carrying a phaser. Reach into your pocket with two fingers, pull it out and throw it over the edge!”, she instructed him.
Captain White did as he was told. The tiny device flew in a high arc and fell down into the abyss.
“Good. Now get over to the edge!”, she told him, gesturing with her weapon.
White began to make small steps towards the rim of the rock steps, a sheer drop of half a kilometer was awaiting him.
“I took the liberty of drafting the message about your demise before it is being communicated to Starfleet”, the woman revealed to him with a sleazy smile.
“Who are you?”, he asked.
“My name is not important, but I can assure you that I am an outstanding marksman. Take my word for it.”
The Captain was now less than one meter away from the cliff. The woman stepped a little closer to him, so that she could gaze down into the valley.
“Should be quite a fall, Captain. Pity you got yourself involved in this.”
“So, you are working for Section 31?”, White asked her.
“People of my profession do not ask too many questions, Captain. But yes, it would appear you have become a danger to the interests of certain individuals”, the female killer replied.
“I am not gonna jump and you can’t shoot me with that thing. Even at stun setting, the cellular damage would be noticed during an autopsy. People will know that I was murdered”, White defiantly stated.
“That’s too bad. But thanks for the advice. I guess I just have to shoot at the rock beneath your feet, the rock will break away, you lose your footing and you fall. And I will be on my way off this planet.”
“Go to hell!”, Captain White grunted.
The woman chuckled at his remark.
“Is that what has become of Starfleet? I thought you are all accomplished diplomats. Anyway, Captain, my services are in demand elsewhere. Nice talking with you, but I have got to go now.”
With this she was about to take aim, when suddenly a bushy tail snatched the disruptor out of her hand. She looked up stunned at the little furry maki on a tree branch over her holding the weapon coiled in its tail, screeching with delight, before it took off up the tree.
The woman screamed furiously:
“Hey, come back here, you stupied beast!”
But the animal was gone. At that moment she remembered she had taken her eyes off the Captain and snapped her head back in his direction, but it was too late: Captain White tackled her violently to the ground.
Both wrestled and rolled around, punching, trying to get the opponent into a hold, so close to the edge of the cliff it was a deadly struggle. The woman reached out with her hand and grabbed a pile of dust before she threw it into White’s face, blinding him momentarily. She got back on her feet and kicked him in the rips multiple times, the Captain groaned in pain from the impacts of her heavy boots. When she swung her leg for another kick, the Captain pulled at her other leg, so that she lost her balance and fell on her back. Now White got back on his feet and jumped her, but the woman reacted by raising her legs and kicked him off of her. White tumbled backwards and rolled over the edge of the cliff. In the last moment his hands got hold of a small rocky ledge and he was able to stop his fall. The killer stood up and wiped a bit of blood from her mouth. She walked over and peered over the side of the cliff, spotting the Captain about a meter below her, hanging for dear life. She looked around quickly for a way to finish the job and then picked up a heavy boulder. She positioned herself directly on top of Captain White and raised the rock over her head, ready to drop it down on him. The Captain looked up at her, the woman’s eyes in lethal fury, when suddenly a fierce fizzling sound broke the silence.
The woman stiffened, her eyes gulped out and she made a short whimpering noise, before she collapsed forward, her back showing a smoldering wound. Behind her the mysterious hooded figure was standing, holding a smoking phaser. The woman rolled over the edge and plunged down the precipice to her death.
Captain White climbed up over the edge and hurled his body back on the trail to safety. The figure approached him and offered a hand to pull White back to his feet. The Captain, still gathering his breath, looked at the person and shook his head before laughing:
“I should have known!”