Justin M. Howe 4900 words

Journey's Beginning

Justin M. Howe

Lupetu ran to his father, who lifted him into the air. "How's my little songbird?" In reply, the small six-year old whistled a shrill, high-pitched whistle. Songen laughed at his youngest son, "Ah, if only Kanda could see how much you've grown!" The thought of his wayward eldest son filled him with fear and regret that he always tried to shield from his youngest son.

"How was the hunt, Father?" Lupetu asked.

"Fine, fine!" Songen took his son's small hand and began the walk back to the village, grateful for the distraction. "Hunting Frowlsa is a lot like the ancient tales of hunting the great buffalo. We respect them and thank them for giving their lives so that we may live."

"Father, I would give my life so you could live."

Songen stopped walking and knelt before his son. Placing a hand on Lupetu's shoulder, he said, "My son, that kind of sacrifice should always be reserved for a father to make for his son, not the other way around!"

"I know." Lupetu answered. "I was just thinking that I'd like to be like Kanda some day."

Songen bristled. So this son was not as naïve to his brother's decision as the father would like to believe. "You know that I was not pleased with his decision."

"I know."

"The Maquis are a ruthless band of outlaws. They are only making enemies with the Federation as well as the Cardassians. We will free ourselves from Cardassian rule, but not like that. There are other ways, peaceful ways. Promise me, Lupetu," Songen's gaze was so piercing Lupetu winced, "promise me you will remember that and not be as impulsive as your brother!"

"I-I promise."

Songen looked at his son. The promise was enough for now, but he knew all too well the minds of young adult males. He knew when the time came that Lupetu would want to fight. He silently asked the Great Spirit to give Dorvan V peace before Lupetu reached that age.

Songen stood. "Come, let's clean ourselves up. Tonight we feast!" Lupetu laughed as he was hoisted onto his father's shoulders.

"Will Wesley be at the feast?"

It was Songen's turn to laugh. "He's certainly invited!" Songen liked the newcomer from Starfleet. In some ways, Wesley reminded him of Kanda. He could tell that under that brooding exterior beat a pure heart. He could only hope that he found what he was looking for on his Vision Quest.

Wesley Crusher didn't know where he was. It was a planet he'd never encountered before, he was sure of that. The sky was a dark red, with the local source of light high in the sky. The acrid smell of smoke rose into the air. Wesley coughed and turned to see a Federation shuttlecraft burst into flames. He wondered what had happened. What Starship had the shuttle come from? He moved closer and recognized some of the markings. The shuttle was from the U.S.S. Stargazer.

In an instant, he was inside the confining space of the shuttlecraft. He was drawn to the sound of coughing. He stopped himself from calling "Dad!" but knew that it was him. Wesley found his father pinned down under a large piece of the hull. Utilizing strength he never knew he had, Wesley lifted the bulk of the wreckage off of his father and tossed it aside.

"It's ok." Wesley promised as he lifted the lieutenant commander up from the deck. "It's all going to be ok."

Wesley awoke from his vision with his heart pounding in his ears. Sweat poured down his face. The now familiar surroundings of the habak again revealed themselves. Taking a deep, controlled breath, Wesley got up and made his way out of the sacred structure.

The blazing sun blinded Wesley when he first emerged. A faint blur entered his vision. It grew larger until finally the blur spoke, "Wesley, what have you done?"

Wesley's vision and mind began to clear. "Lakanta?"

The normally friendly face of his mentor looked horror-stricken. "Wesley, do you realize what has happened here today?"

"What? What do you mean?" A wave of nausea hit Wesley as his brain felt like it would explode; visions came crashing into his brain. The visions felt like memories, but they weren't his. These were memories of a life with his father. "No, this can't be-" another surge, this time he remembered growing up on Earth rather than on a starship. His father would be away for painfully long amounts of time. Wesley's mother took care of him and their small house while Jack was away. Trying to balance her responsibilities at Starfleet Medical with her duties to her son made it so that he never really knew his mother. When she was around, she seemed detached and distant, as if part of her could never return.

Wesley fell to his knees. Looking up at Lakanta he asked, "What are you doing to me?"

"I didn't do this, you did."

Another memory; this one of a cadet Wesley Crusher at his Starfleet graduation. Wanting some connection to his father, he had enlisted, but lacked motivation. Serving on one starship or another, never achieving a higher rank than lieutenant, Crusher always had this feeling like he'd missed out on something. Like he could be something more.

The memory-visions stopped as suddenly as they began, leaving a sobbing, weeping mass where Wesley Crusher stood moments ago.

With a look of sincere concern, Lakanta nodded, "Now you understand."

Panic welled up inside Wesley. He looked down and saw that he was wearing a Starfleet uniform. He felt the three pips on his collar. A strange voice issued from his combadge. "Lieutenant Crusher? Bridge to Lieutenant Crusher. We lost contact for a moment, are you alright?"

He had thought that these could all be visions, but now he realized he had changed the course of history. "What have I done?"

"You have altered time and space with your self-serving actions. You have torn a hole in the fabric of reality and severely altered the lives of everyone you hold dear, and everyone they would encounter in life."

"Self-serving? I had nothing but good intentions!" Wesley's head snapped up to look at Lakanta, who reverted back to his Traveler form as Wesley slowly stood.

"I believe you humans have a saying: 'The road to hell is paved with good intentions'? This illustrates the first and probably most important rule to a Traveler: we will do our best not to interfere with other's lives. Ours is merely to observe, to learn, to gain insight from the behaviors and cultures of others."

"But, you've interfered in my life several times."

The Traveler draped an arm around Wesley's shoulders and led him down the Mesa's stairs. "Wesley, you and I have a gift. We are able to manipulate forces that your kind is barely even aware of. You told me seven years ago that you felt that such concepts as thought, time, and space are not as separate as we would like to believe. You knew then of the methodology of what we Travelers do. This power comes with a certain amount of responsibility. We owe it to the universe to seek understanding without completely tearing it apart."

"My mom seemed so sad when Dad would go away. I felt hurt every time he walked out that door, putting his career ahead of us..." Wesley's voice trailed off as he resisted the urge to burst into tears. He felt the regrets of two time streams. He wept for the combined missed opportunities. He and the Traveler stopped walking and Wesley looked at his friend with new understanding. "I want to make things right."

"Done." The Traveler said. Wesley's emotions roiled and then lightened. He still had both sets of memories, but now when he looked down, he wore the traditional garments of the people that settled this colony after two hundred years of searching. "You are to encounter many travesties in your travels, Wesley. You will be asked to resist the urge to interfere, to learn from others' mistakes." with a grin he added, "Including mine." The two enjoyed a light-hearted moment of silence.

"You know," Wesley said, "I know it will probably take me a while to fully grasp everything that you've shown me today, but I want to thank you now."

"No thanks are necessary, young traveler," the Traveler replied, "It has been my pleasure." The Traveler returned to his Lakanta form. "I believe Songen has had a fruitful hunt. Shall we join the feast?"

Wesley looked up at the beautiful Dorvan sky. The alien stars were beginning to become familiar. His belly gurgled contentedly. That had to have been the biggest Frowlsa he'd seen since joining the Dorvan colony. He thought of Kanda, who had left soon after the Enterprise had. Was the Maquis as dangerous as many people thought? Wesley thought of all the times in Earth's history where people were forced to live under someone's rule they did not agree with. The Federation was supposed to oppose such things, but now they had handed over Dorvan V and many other Federation colonies to the Cardassians. Most colonists chose to flee. Some, like the Dorvan colonists, chose to take their chances. But a few chose to fight, becoming the Maquis. Wesley felt a kinship with them. Hadn't he abandoned everything in his life that had felt safe to pursue something he felt was worthwhile? Lupetu ran up, forcing Wesley to abandon his thoughts for a while.

"So you lived most of your life on a starship?"

"Yes I did."

"Were you ever lonely?"

"Sometimes, but my mother is the ship's doctor; and I had a lot of friends." Wesley gazed into the fire. "Sometimes though, they would get annoyed with me. Saying 'Shut up, Wesley' was supposed to make me just go away."

"That happens to me too. But I can go play in the tall grasses or in the river, where did you go?"

"To the holodeck."

Lupetu wrinkled his nose. "You've told me about those. Does everything smell like it's supposed to on a holodeck?"

"I guess I never really thought about it. Everything looked real enough."

"But it wasn't real. Now you are someplace real, Wesley."

Wesley looked at his little companion, the fire dancing on his face. "You're right. I am definitely someplace real."

Wesley didn't think he'd find himself on this planet again. The red sun beat down on him, but this time he didn't smell smoke. He looked around and came to see the same shuttlecraft, perfectly intact. Three human forms exited the craft. He knew one of them had to be his father. He followed them up a steep tropical embankment. At the top there was a drop-off of several hundred meters. Jack Crusher's foot slipped, and time stood still. Wesley approached his father, caught in suspended animation above the hungry crevasse. All it would take was a gentle tug, and Jack Crusher could be saved. Tears welled up in Wesley's eyes as he remembered the words of his mentor. Wesley stood back and looked at his father one last time before returning time to its normal flow.

A gold-sleeved arm grabbed Jack's crimson one, loaning its balance to his. Jack quickly righted himself.

"Are you ok?" the crewman asked.

"Yeah, just watch that first step!" Jack replied.

Wesley smiled. He had never really known his father other than the holorecording his father made for him when he was a baby. He had always wondered what kind of sense of humor his father had. He knew that he would treasure this moment, no matter what horrors may come in this vision. Wesley followed the men, careful to stay a few paces behind.

The party traveled for several kilometers before they heard it. A powerful storm was rolling in. One of the crewmen pulled out a tricorder.

"I don't understand it, sir!" He yelled to Jack Crusher over the howling winds. "Sensors aboard Stargazer didn't detect any kind of bad weather!"

"Somehow the sensors were wrong, Ensign," Jack answered, "use that thing to find us shelter, would ya?"

Wesley watched in breathless anticipation as the nameless ensign raised his tricorder arm in an attempt to get a better reading.

Wesley awoke once again in the habak. The brilliant turquoise flash that took his father and the other two crewmen still burned in the back of his eyes. It felt as if the lightning had engraved the image into the back of his skull. He raised a trembling arm to his forehead in an attempt to wipe the sweat from his brow. It proved useless, as the arm of his tunic was just as drenched as every other part of his body. This time I couldn't save them. Wesley thought. If I could have done something, would I have? Despite everything the Traveler has taught me, would I change the events of history again?

Wesley gazed into the calming flames and felt his taut muscles slowly begin to relax. He inhaled and exhaled deeply, as he slowly gained control.

That night at the campfire, even the companionship of Lupetu didn't do much to liven Wesley's spirits. When a clump of soil and grass hit him in the face, he knew he'd been off somewhere else, and Lupetu had caught him.

"Where are you, Wesley Crusher?" Lupetu asked.

The accusatory tone that only a child can manage made Wesley laugh. "I'm right here, you little scamp!" he answered, tossing the dirt clod right back.

Lupetu had no interest in returning the volley; he just wrinkled his nose and said, "Watch who you're calling 'little scamp'! I'll be bigger than you before you know it!"

Wesley laughed again, "I'm sure you will."

Lupetu crawled up into Wesley's lap. They shared a moment of silence. Wesley was always amazed at how mature Lupetu could sometimes be. He always seemed to know exactly what Wesley needed. Wesley started to tell his friend this, but Lupetu was breathing deep. He had fallen asleep. Wesley gazed up at the stars and wondered not for the first time what life as a traveler would be like.

Wesley was starting to grow weary of this planet. He didn't think that he could bear watching his father meet another gruesome end.

Ahead of him was a small tent village. He was drawn there by intuition alone.

"This is a fine meal, Bok Kr'tu." He heard a voice say.

A strangely accented voice replied, "Szank oo. It be mine wivezz vavorite rezzipe."

Wesley peered through the flaps of the tent. He saw the same three crewmen that he had seen in the previous vision. They and several reptilian creatures sat on the ground on small mats in a circle around the largest creature. Reptilian was how Wesley thought of them, but their skin was a deep violet and there were bright red feathers atop their heads. The center creature wore a headdress of long black hair.

"We waz mozt pleezed that you came to uzz, we half not zeen an ootzzider en quite zzome time."

Wesley realized that the creature's strange accent came from the fact that he was not relying on the universal translator, but was instead speaking English! He didn't have much time to ponder this, however, because then the entertainment began!

Wesley wanted to join in the fun when the aliens began to play strange instruments that seemed to be stringed and percussive at the same time. Several of the creatures, Wesley presumed they were female, stood and began to dance. Wonderfully graceful for their cumbersome shape, the dance was truly elegant. Wesley soon realized that the dance was intended as a narrative. The story the dancers portrayed was that of a fierce warrior. Several dancers crawled on all fours in the oppression of this incredible fighter.

Wesley wasn't sure where he came from, but the smallest of the creatures entered the 'stage'. While the dancers wore elaborate costumes, this one wore only enough to maintain his modesty.

The small one helped the dancers up, and they now danced around him. This made the large one mad, and he raised his whip to lash out at the small one, who simply bowed his head.

The large one began the lashings and the small one took it. The whip caught the small one behind the knee, toppling him into the dust. Never crying out, never fighting back, this small wisp of a creature took his beatings until the warrior lost his fierceness. The look on the warrior's face was one of respect, and, perhaps, humility.

The warrior passed around the circle of dancers, touching each one lightly on their heads, with each touch, the receiving dancer leapt into the air, the music continued to crescendo as all the dancers were freed. They leapt and sang around their small fallen hero, who with a tear in his eyes, stood and began to join them in their celebration.

"You zee, good zzirz, we are a peezfull peeple. While your 'Fed-ration' holds many fascinachionz with uz, we could not join you until you are az peezfull az we."

The music had faded, and the locals along with their visitors seemed to be waiting for someone to speak. With a clearing of his throat, Jack Crusher was the first. "With all due respect, Bok, humans have lived in peace on our homeworld for almost three-hundred years!"

"Tizz may be true. How many wurldzz in your 'fed-ration' can zzay zzame?" Bok answered. "Iv oo are zzo peezfull, why have weaponz strapped to oor zzidez?"

Crusher fell silent.

"No. No, we cannot jhoin oo."

"Well hey," Jack Crusher said, trying to recover his failure, "we've still got a few days, you don't have to rush into a decision right now. Why don't you sleep on it?"

The Bok seemed to think about this for a moment. "Yez. Yez, we will 'zzleep on it'."

Jack smiled, "Great. We'll see you in the morning."

The vision seemed to morph and twist right in front of Wesley. He was now standing beside the cot that the creatures had provided for his father to sleep on.

His father must have been having a nightmare. Jack tossed and turned, muttering incoherently. The tossing and turning became more fervent, and Wesley realized his father was suffering from seizures.

Wesley's vision morphed and twisted again. This time, everything coalesced to form the sickbay of the Stargazer. Wesley's father lay on a biobed. On one side stood a doctor, who was busy scanning Jack's motionless body.

On the other side stood Captain Jean-Luc Picard, looking almost ill.

"What happened down there, Doctor?" Picard asked. "From their reports, the Kruk'tau were very welcoming!"

"Well," the Doctor permitted himself a large sigh. "While I wouldn't rule it out completely, I don't feel that foul-play occurred here. There must have been something in the food that didn't agree with human physiology." The doctor turned and plugged his tricorder into a console.

As Wesley's vision faded once more, he heard the doctor say, "The computer will have the results within the hour."

It doesn't matter, Wesley thought bitterly, the end result will be the same.

Once again, Wesley found himself seated on the floor of the habak. The fire had long since burned out. Wesley closed his eyes. He inhaled and exhaled deeply. He was beginning to think of this as the 'cool down' period. These visions had started to become so troubling, that he needed to take a moment for his emotions to cool. Collecting his thoughts, Wesley got to his feet, only to be knocked off of them by a near by explosion.

"What the-" he muttered, picking himself up. Another explosion, this time he kept his footing. He raced to the door. Several Cardassians were gathered in the courtyard in the center of the village.

"That was your final warning!" hollered Gul Evek. "We only want the traitor's father!"

Wesley opened his mouth to speak.

"What traitor?" This was spoken by Anthwara, the village chief, before Wesley could ask that very question.

"The father of the one called Kanda." Gul Evek said. The initial response was a collective gasp from the other villagers. "We have reason to believe that Kanda has joined the resistance movement known as the Maquis. Since Dorvan V is under Cardassian jurisdiction, we will consider this an act of treason. According to Cardassian law, the father is responsible for his son's disobedience."

Songen stepped out of the crowd. From the few encounters Wesley had had with him, he knew him to be strong and brave. Songen didn't disappoint him now. Head held high, Songen approached Evek without a hint of fear.

"I am Kanda's father," Songen said. "Charge me with what you will."

"No! Father!!" little Lupetu cried and forced his way past the crowds. Two Cardassians blocked his path. He began kicking and screaming, punching the Cardassian's armor with his tiny fists. Wesley took the stairs two at a time. He knew how the Cardassians would react.

The phaser bolt confirmed his worst fears. A guttural roar sounded not from Wesley, but from the combined voices of Songen and Evek himself. Evek was the first to reach the boy. Cradling him in his arms, he sobbed over the lifeless child. He gave the gunman a hard look as if to say, you'll regret this. Handing Lupetu to his father, he said, "My deepest regrets and sincere apologies to you." Songen stood silently clutching his boy. "I feel you have just received the worst punishment a father could ever receive. You have lost two sons this day."

Wesley gritted his teeth and balled his fists. He was ready to do something when he felt a hand on his shoulder. He turned toward it and saw the Traveler, who motioned Wesley to continue watching the drama. Wesley was compelled to follow his lead.

Gul Evek composed himself, standing tall once more. "People of Dorvan V." he announced. "You have suffered a great loss today." Evek paused to either choke back a tear, or keep his rage in check. To Wesley, Cardassian emotion was still hard to read. "From this moment forward, I swear to you that I will do all that is in my power to make sure that the Cardassian presence on this world will no longer be felt as strongly as it has today. We will leave your people to your own."

"But sir," another Cardassian, the gunman, interjected, "they are traitors who should be dealt with!"

"No!" Evek snapped, with a look that told the Glin his anger would not be held in check much longer. "They are people who need a place to live. If this is the land they have chosen, so be it."

Evek broke through the ranks of bewildered Cardassian soldiers circled around him and walked away from the village. The other Cardassians reluctantly followed him.

"It's not fair." Wesley said.

"For now, these people will again know peace." The Traveler reminded him.

Wesley sighed, "I know, but Lupetu had a good soul. The universe will miss an influence like his."

The Traveler took a deep breath, looking up at the stars. "Yes, today I feel the pain of Lupetu's sacrifice." He turned and looked Wesley in the eye, taking him by the shoulders. "But the universe abhors a vacuum, Wesley. It soon replaces what it's lost."

Tears welled in Wesley's eyes. "No one will be able to replace him."

The Traveler sighed. "Wesley, I am not asking you to deny Lupetu's existence. I only ask you to accept that this day has served a greater good."

"I'm sorry," Wesley said. "Today I just can't accept that. I think I need to be alone now."

To the Traveler's astonishment, Wesley vanished.

Gul Dukat watched out the window of his ready room with detached interest. This Dorvan V was of no consequence to the Cardassian Empire in his mind. It didn't serve any strategic importance. A few scans revealed some dilithium and sparse uridium deposits, but nothing of dire importance at the moment.

He had never met this Gul Evek, but from his file, Evek sounded pathetically weak. It would be a pleasure to set Evek straight after this latest bit of insubordination. So the father's youngest son was killed, that didn't exempt him from the crimes against the Empire that the oldest had committed.

Dukat thought of his own daughter and wondered how he might react if anything were to happen to her. He quickly cast the thought aside. If he was to rule the Empire, he could not afford such sentimentality.

Gul Dukat had never feared anything in his life. Yet when he saw the reflection in the window his heart skipped a beat. He whirled around to face the intruder. Before him stood a young human. Dukat laughed. "And who might you be little one?" The young human's face seethed in anger. His hands were balled into fists. "May I help you?" Dukat asked again, feigning indifference, but fear rose again in his throat like too much kanar. He quickly turned the fear to anger. "How did you get on this ship, boy? What do you think you will accomp-"

The boy raised his hand and stopped the Cardassian's bleating. "You are the captain of this ship, are you not?" Wesley's voice surprised even him, dark and threatening. Dukat strained to nod his head.

After a couple of squeaks from his throat, Dukat finally managed, "Who ... are you?"

Wesley grinned. "I'm the protector of Dorvan V. Whatever you're business here, you will turn around and leave or suffer my wrath." Dukat reluctantly nodded. He would not be a good Emperor if he was killed by this young, surprisingly powerful upstart.

Wesley released his grip on the Cardassian and quickly vanished. Dukat was too busy regaining his breath and maintaining consciousness to notice.

Wesley was curled into a ball. Tears ran freely from his face. He now existed in a total void, which seemed only too appropriate. For all his power he should have been able to do something to prevent this. How could he feel this helpless when he was capable of so much?

In the vacuum of space, can noise exist? Wesley had always thought that answer was a qualified no, but he now heard footsteps just the same.

"Hello, young Traveler." the Traveler said softly.

Without unraveling himself, Wesley answered, "Go away."

The Traveler pulled up a bit of ether and sat down. "You know, Wesley, you may be able to change the course of time, but you can't change a human heart. Or a Cardassian's."

Wesley stirred and looked at the Traveler. "I wanted to hurt him."

"I know."

"I wanted to make sure the colonists on Dorvan V could never be touched by the Cardassians again. But I kept hearing your voice, telling me not to interfere. I don't know if I want to be a Traveler if I constantly have to hold back my abilities."

The Traveler took a deep breath and thought about how to proceed. "If I told you that you have the power to go back in time, would you kill Adolf Hitler before he committed his atrocities? How about Colonel Green before he could assemble his drug-addled army?"

As much as Wesley hated it, he knew his mentor was right. For all the evil that occurred during World Wars two and three, he knew that in both instances Earth emerged stronger and more unified than before. Without those wars, there wouldn't have been a United Nations, a United Earth, or a Federation. Wesley bowed his head and shook it.

The Traveler put an arm around Wesley and said, "Everything happens for a reason, Wesley. What doesn't destroy us makes us stronger. We learn. We adapt. Life moves on."

"But not for Lupetu."

"I know this is hard for you. Many of the other Travelers believed I had made a mistake in beginning your training so early in your life. I felt it would be a terrible waste to leave you at Starfleet Academy, wondering what it was that you were missing out on."

Wesley thought of his vision of his life if his father had lived. He had felt that something was missing. He understood now that tragedy has a motive. Things do turn out for the best. With a deep breath, Wesley said, "I don't understand what Lupetu's death means for the future, but I now know what my father's death meant for mine." Tears welled up in Wesley's eyes and he was compelled to hug the Traveler, who returned the gesture, patting Wesley's back. "Thank you," Wesley whispered.

"My pleasure." The Traveler answered, pulling back from the embrace.

"Well," Wesley said, "I suppose I'd better be getting back to Dorvan V."

"No," the Traveler answered, "I believe you've learned all that you could from them." The Traveler offered the shocked Wesley a hand. "Shall we explore other planes of existence?"

-end-

Howe, Journey's Beginning- 27 -