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Old October 31 2008, 08:03 PM   #1
Starkers
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Oct challenge: In This Life Or The Next

Ok, here's my entry. It's 3017 words which I appreciate is over the limit, if its any consolation it was 3606!! Anyway if its an issue I'll retract it from the voting


**********************

Jennifer Tolliver had been on planet for five days. And every night she’d had the dream.

She supposed she should have expected it coming here. People aboard the Wellington had cautioned against the move, especially since she wasn’t even getting a promotion out of the deal. She’d been a junior lieutenant in security aboard ship, and she was the same planet side.

She’d needed a change though. After three years even a Galaxy class starship started to feel small. Her career was going nowhere and her personal life wasn’t doing much better. Not that life had ever been great.

Growing up on Kinvarslish had been tough on the only child within the tiny scientific outpost, and her parents weren’t the most loving or thoughtful of people. She’d been a mistake of course, and by the time her mother had realised she was pregnant they were just weeks away from the end of a year long journey to that remote ball of ice, and too late for the ship’s surgeon to do anything about it.

The first ten years of her life were spent living inside of a sterile, metal environment. It was a cold, lonely existence.

Moving to Earth had almost been worse. Open spaces terrified her, as did the hundreds of people she saw every day. She’d been used to the same faces day in and day out, and though she’d longed for new people to meet, what she found back on Earth amounted to sensory overload.

She spent a year seeing the therapist, stopping only when her parents cancelled the sessions, embarrassed at having a daughter with psychological problems. They left the day before her twelfth birthday for a three-year expedition to Lekanis. It was the last she saw of them as they were both killed during an Orion raid.

She was left with an uncle…she stayed six months before running away. It was a period of her life she didn’t like to think about. It wasn’t long before she was taken in by the local orphanage, her uncle escaping off world before the authorities could arrest him.

Life settled down after this. The orphanage turned out to be the best period of her life. The staff were kind, and as for the fellow children, well they were like children everywhere. She was never one of the popular kids, but by the same token she was never bullied, and she had friends.

Given her adolescence was spent within such a structured environment it was perhaps no surprise that she joined Starfleet. If she expected it to be more of the same she was mistaken. She didn’t have a terrible four years, but life was harder. She struggled with some classes, and didn’t make many friends. For some reason people seemed to steer clear of her. It was as if she gave off some kind of aura that pushed people away, even though she craved companionship. It hadn’t been like that at the orphanage, but then she supposed all her fellow orphans had given off the same kind of ‘I don’t belong’ vibe so they’d cancelled each other out.

There had been many relationships at the academy, but no love ever seemed to take. Part of her thought it would be different once she graduated, but it wasn’t, and when the Wellington’s Chief Engineer dumped her for a young Ensign she decided enough was enough.

Right now though she wasn’t sure she’d made the right choice.

It was cold here, and she’d arrived in what passed for summer. The Starfleet base was located in a barren valley, kilometres from the city, sitting astride a dried riverbed on sturdy duranium legs. The valley acted like a funnel, and if you were outside the freezing wind whipped at you like a shower of needles. For the most part those stationed there divided their time between R&R in the city and staying on base. It wasn’t much warmer inside, and rarely a day went by without some glitch in the environmental system, but there was no wind at least.

Her room was a tiny, windowless box. It was like sleeping in a coffin, and she had wondered if this had led to the dreams…she knew better though, it was this place.

She swung her legs out of bed and winced as her feet touched the icy floor. Still she wished she could stay inside, but she was on guard duty today and so, with a sigh, she started to dress.

The base complement was twenty, but Jennifer didn’t see a soul as she headed outside. She already had her coat on, the hood pulled tight over her head as she walked down the stairway to the ground, but still the chill caught her by surprise.

‘Is it too late for a transfer?’ she asked bitterly as she swung herself into the passenger seat of the small 4x4.

Lieutenant Doug Barstow laughed. He was a man who she’d yet to see without a smile on his face, despite the fact he’d been stationed here for two years. Nothing seemed to faze him, least of all the cold. The man was nuts, she’d decided; why else would he leave his hood down, and have disavowed gloves. ‘You know the rules, it’s a three month tour of duty, you can leave after that, most people do.’ He started the engine and a moment later they were off, bouncing down the valley. ‘Nobody will blame you for going either,’ he added as he wrenched the wheel left and right to avoid rock falls.

‘How come you’ve stayed so long?’

‘Don’t fancy anywhere else,’ he said. She wasn’t sure she believed him but didn’t press further.

The drive was short, just a few minutes, and soon they exited the valley, coming up on a vast tundra, the bare ground broken up only by the occasional tufts of blackened grass. Oh and the gravesite of course. There was no fence, instead four tall red pillars marked out the corners of the area. Doug slewed the 4x4 to a halt close to one of them. There was another vehicle already parked, two shivering forms seated within.

‘You’re late,’ groused the Andorian, Venk.

‘Engine took a while to ignite,’ Doug lied, and Jennifer silently thanked him for covering for her.

Venk grunted. ‘All yours now,’ he said and, without further preamble, he gunned the engine and drove back the way Jennifer and Doug had just come.

‘Cheer up, only three hours till we get relived,’ said Doug clambering out of the vehicle.

‘Great,’ she muttered as she followed him to the tiny metallic hut set a dozen metres away.

* * *

The wind was strong today, and the walls of the hut shook with an uneasy rhythm. Doug was sat at the tiny desk, staring at a PADD, checking supply levels. He was second in command of the facility and as such got all the mundane jobs. Damn if he didn’t whistle happily while he worked though.

She was sat less than a metre away from him, but it might as well be a light year. There was a gulf between them, a gulf between her and everyone.

She’d been staring out of the window for the last ten minutes. The glass was toughened, but years of abuse had taken its toll, and it was so scratched and scarred as to be almost opaque. Still, she could make out the four perimeter posts, and the stone obelisk that lay between them, and she saw the shuttle land.

‘Visitors,’ she said, leaping to her feet.

Doug grunted and stood as well. Both officers checked their phasers, ensuring that they were close at hand yet out of sight. Only then did they step outside.

A woman, stepped out of the shuttle and, ignoring them completely, moved towards the gravesite. Jennifer tensed, almost eager for the stranger to break the rules, anything to cut through the monotony. She didn’t though; instead the woman stopped a respectful few metres from the perimeter and began taking images using a holo-camera. They watched her for five minutes, she moved around the gravesite, taking shots from different angles until, eventually, she put the camera away and departed in the shuttle.

‘Tourist?’ Jennifer asked as they toured the perimeter.

‘Yes. The shuttle run doesn’t take too long to get here from Crater City but it’s costly.’

‘Only ever one or two then?’

He shrugged. ‘Sometimes it’s more. Had a truck with two dozen people in last winter. Thought we were going to have trouble for a while, there were Klingons amongst them, but they took their photos and left.’

They passed one of the pillars. ‘Some do cause trouble though, right?’

‘Yeah, some are just tourists who are a bit ghoulish. They want to go up to the monument, steal a bit of dirt from the gravesite, that sort of thing. We still get the odd relative too, mostly they’re fine but occasionally someone will charge in and start digging, like they can somehow dig up their great-grandfather’s bones.’

She frowned. ‘But there are no bones buried here,’ she said.

‘These people don’t think rationally. It’s the oddballs who are the worst. You should see what it gets like come Halloween…’ he shook his head. ‘And there are the deniers, and the “fans” with their “K the Ex” t-shirts.’

They’d reached another pillar now, Jennifer stopped. She’d been allowed to go up to the monument during her first visit, all the security force were allowed to once, the logic being that it was better they did it officially than got curious during shift. She hadn’t noticed before that there were names attatched to the pillars though. She was about to query this when Doug spoke.

‘Then there are the suicides,’ he said darkly.

‘Suicides?’

‘We get one, maybe two a year.’ He stared at her, and for once his smile dropped. ‘It’s even happened to Starfleet guards.’

‘Really?’

He nodded. ‘Makes sense, this is a grim place. Even now, more than a century after the event there’s…’ he looked off, almost wistfully. ‘An air about the place.’ He looked back at her. ‘I’ve heard it’s the same in other such places, Auschwitz, Carn, Rigel…’ He shook his head. ‘So, you had the dream yet?’

Her mouth went dry. ‘The dream?’

He nodded. ‘Yeah, usually kicks in just after you arrive, people dream that they were amongst those here, those put to death. You haven’t?’

‘No, I haven’t dreamed that,’ she said truthfully.

‘Hmm. Hope I haven’t put the idea in your head. Come on; let’s get back to the hut before you freeze to death.’

‘Wait, these names,’ she said and pointed to the pillar. ‘Victims?’

‘No, they’re not victims,’ said Doug. ‘They’re the guilty ones, the people who did the killing.’

‘I don’t suppose I ever thought of that,’ she said. ‘That there were others responsible.’ As she spoke she ran her hand over the names. Each affixed to a dull grey plaque.

‘Four thousand people died on Tarsus IV,’ said Doug. ‘Kodos the Executioner couldn’t kill them all.’

‘I guess not.’ She scowled. ‘Some of the names are scratched off.’

‘Yeah, that happens from time to time. We’re never sure if it’s crude vengeance, or a descendent trying to erase their family history.’

‘So many of them,’ she muttered. Her fingers lingered over one name. Silas Jones.

‘Like I say, four thousand victims. Their incinerators weren’t as effective as ours are now. They did the killing using old fashioned projectile weapons, then burned the bodies and dug the ashes into the ground.’

‘All right here?’

‘Yes.’

She finally looked away from the name. ‘Were they punished?’

‘A few,’ he said. ‘Not enough. Plenty of them escaped in the chaos like Kodos did. It pisses me off. Still, they’re all long dead now, all we can do is maintain this monument, try and prevent the same terrible thing from happening again.’

She smiled. ‘Is that from the official Starfleet pamphlet?’

He laughed. ‘Busted! Come on; let’s get back inside.’

* * *

She was dreaming again. Always the same. She was on Tarsus IV, only it was then not now, and she was a man.

It was midday, judging by the sun overhead, and she was marching a group of colonists to their execution. It all felt so real. The bite of the wind, the hunger pangs, even the warmth still emanating from the machine pistol she carried, still warm because it hadn’t been long since they’d herded the last group of colonists this way.

Thankfully she had no recollection of their deaths. This group though…there were children here, some of them so small that they couldn’t even walk and had to be carried, their tearful mother’s holding them close, covering their tiny eyes whilst they hummed lullabies in their ears.

An old man stumbled and fell; one of her fellow guards kicked him hard in the ribs. Jennifer wanted shoot him; shout out that this wasn’t right. Instead she just laughed.

A pall of black smoke rose up from the incinerators, whilst other guards dug ash into the ground. She helped position the colonists on the bloodstained killing ground. One young man, barely out of his teens, tried to run. He was cut down before he made five paces, gunshots tearing his legs out from under him but leaving him alive, and in agony as he slowly bled to death.

Jennifer tried to ignore the fact that she’d fired the shots.

Please, she silently pleaded, let me wake up before I do this. The colonists were in position now. She had her gun at her shoulder. Please!

‘Hey wake up, it’s my turn.’
‘What…’
‘Come on,’ snarled Venk.
‘Sorry,’ she said, finally awake now. She wanted to thank him for rescuing her from the dream…somehow she didn’t think he’d care.

He was asleep in minutes, his nasal snores reverberating around the hut. Jennifer didn’t mind the snores, nor the darkness outside. Anything was better than being asleep.

Her legs ached though. She rubbed her calves but it didn’t help. She needed to stretch her legs.

Picking up her torch she quietly opened the door. The darkness was almost total, the only illumination she could see either emanated from her torch, or from within the hut. The night sky was overcast, so the stars weren’t visible. The City was too far away, and the base camp obscured by the valley walls.

It was cold of course, but she’d been here two weeks now, she was almost getting used to it. Shining her torch towards the gravesite she decided to walk the perimeter then get back inside. She took it slow, watching where she stepped to avoid turning her ankle.

She hadn’t planned to stop, but for some reason she couldn’t fathom she paused by one of the pillars and shone her torch along the list of names. There it was again, that strange feeling as she saw the name Silas Jones.

Something cried out in the night.

Jennifer lifted her torch, shining the beam into the perimeter, towards the origin of the noise. ‘Jesus…’ she whispered as the torchlight illuminated a dark figure standing there. Her hand was halfway to the haft of her phaser when she realised that it wasn’t a figure, it was the monument. She laughed, more out of relief than anything. ‘Bloody idiot,’ she chided herself. She played the torch around the gravesite but could see nothing. Probably a rat, she mused, although it hadn’t sounded like a rat, it had sounded like a child.

I should get inside, she thought. Instead she stepped across the invisible perimeter and began walking towards the monument.

Stopping before the marble obelisk, she reached out and touched the stone, fingers playing over some of the four thousand names carved there. She felt tears streaming down her cheeks.

Another cry. She spun so fast that she almost dropped the torch. She jogged the beam left and right, but there was no one there, nothing there…but…. she dropped the beam to the ground. ‘What the hell?’ The ground was covered by a layer of black and grey ash.

Something shifted amongst the ash and she focused her torch beam on it. At first she thought it was the wind, but then a hand burst out of the ground. Or what remained of a hand. She saw skeletal white fingers, to which clumps of bloody flesh clung. Another hand arose, then another, and another. She wanted to scream but the cry caught in her throat. She could barely even breathe, and her heart was hammering in her chest.

When the first skull appeared, and she saw fire in the hollow eye sockets, she did scream. She was still screaming as dead body upon dead body hauled itself out of the ground. She was still screaming as the cadavers walked towards her, still screaming even as her phaser blasts passed uselessly through their bodies.

Eventually though, her screaming stopped.

* * *

Doug shook his head sadly. He was knelt by Jennifer; her body was slumped against the monument, her eyes staring sightlessly into the sky. The ground around her was still damp with blood; already insects were swarming over the jagged cuts in her wrists. Absently he wondered where she’d found the rusted blade that was still wedged between her fingers.

‘I shouldn’t have gone to sleep. It’s my fault.’

Doug stood up and walked towards the Andorian, leaving the corpse to the medical technicians. ‘It isn’t your fault,’ he said. ‘So you were asleep, we’ve all done it. No, this is my fault. I knew there was something wrong; she didn’t seem comfortable, either with herself or with this place.’ He glanced around, even as the cold wind whipped through his hair. ‘This place,’ he muttered. He clasped Venk on the shoulder, then started back towards his vehicle.

As he did so he paused by one of the red pillars, frowning. He couldn’t be sure, but he thought another name had been scratched off.
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Old October 31 2008, 08:50 PM   #2
Nerys Ghemor
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Re: Oct challenge: In This Life Or The Next

VERY interesting idea, that somehow the souls of those who committed the crimes are being re-tortured inside these visitors and taking them down with them.

Very creepy...yet in the midst of it you still manage to do a good job of reminding people of the horrors of such places in the real world and the importance of remembering so that those things do not happen again.
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Old October 31 2008, 09:09 PM   #3
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Re: Oct challenge: In This Life Or The Next

I liked the TOS tie-in to Tarsus IV and Kodos the Executioner. A very haunting tale - nice work!
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Old November 1 2008, 03:19 PM   #4
trampledamage
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Re: Oct challenge: In This Life Or The Next

Wow - I love the end! A great story, and I love the link back to TOS.
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Old November 1 2008, 08:30 PM   #5
RevdKathy
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Re: Oct challenge: In This Life Or The Next

Creepy! The idea I never got round to was tied to Kodos - but wasn't nearly as good as this. Excellent story!
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Old November 1 2008, 09:28 PM   #6
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Re: Oct challenge: In This Life Or The Next

Ok, Starkers-these last minute, mind-blowingly great entries have got to stop. enter sooner so we can spend a few weeks picking it apart!

Great job!
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Old November 2 2008, 07:40 PM   #7
Starkers
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Re: Oct challenge: In This Life Or The Next

Mistral wrote: View Post
Ok, Starkers-these last minute, mind-blowingly great entries have got to stop. enter sooner so we can spend a few weeks picking it apart!

Great job!
Yeah sorry about that I really must get my arse into gear quicker next time. In fairness I did start writing a version of this story about three weeks back but it never really took, hence why I had to start again late.

Thanks for the praise anyway, and same to everyone else who posted. I had the thought that Kodos, like Hitler, likely didn't get his hands dirty himself, so some of those colonists must have carried out the killings.

Anyway, kudos to TOS for giving me such a great backstory to work with!
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Old November 3 2008, 10:50 PM   #8
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Re: Oct challenge: In This Life Or The Next

Hehehe. Nice one. I liked the ending especially.
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