Five months before Quantum Event.
“Navigate dimensions of time, 4 is now, 5 is then and to be, 6 is infinite—”
Riker groans as he swipes at the alarm clock above his head, missing three times before he gets up and strikes it with his fist. He looks over to West’s bed to discover it’s already made to its usual military precision and he chuckles to himself. “Guy can’t make a sandwich without destroying the kitchen, makes his bed so well a Tork’ar general would shed a tear.” He gets up and throws his clothes on, but forgoes the body armor. They traveled a full month to find this planet, as far out of the way as it gets, and it’s not often he gets to spend a day without a gun.
He presses the button to open the rear ramp and steps out onto Collier, the name the freed slaves gave the planet. In earther language, it means “hiding place.”
“Good morning Captain Everest!” Trent calls out. He was the pilot of P10, the slaver ship that got the 7,382 human slaves safely across the stars.
“Morning Trent. Have you seen my brother?”
“Hey man, I told him to stay on the ship.”
“He’s a grown man Trent, he can do what he wants. I just want to figure out where he is.”
Trent smiles, “Yeah, sure. I think he’s playing with the kids by the food replicator. Hey, never thanked you for giving us yours.”
Riker smiles and shrugs, “Least we could do. Besides we’re going to hit Tiu-Raka on our way to the next job, so we’ll just get a new one.”
“Well, I gotta get back to the Sand Runner.”
“Weird name for a ship man.”
“Hey,” He smiles, “You’re the one who dropped us off on a desert planet.” He chides before continuing on.
Riker knows it’s maybe not the best place to start rebuilding a civilization, but it’s certainly the safest. There’s very little water on the surface, and even less fertile soil. Hard to colonize, but also more likely to be ignored by bandits and conglomerates looking to harvest resources. Riker looks towards the mess hall, thinking to check on West, but decides better of it. Give ‘em a break, he thinks, you’ll be back to being in each other’s business non-stop in no time. Instead he decides to go check on the infirmary.
As he walks people greet him and thank him profusely. He wrestled with their gratitude over this last month. To them, he’s a savior, the man who liberated them from generations of abuse and servitude. And while he’s glad he could help, the truth is it was just a job at first. He was hired to get the VT to Quarak. He knew the slaves were there, and that they were set to be transported to a mining colony, but that didn’t really bother him. It wasn’t until Reginald hired him for the double cross that he had even considered saving them. But that’s what happens when you live your life fighting for the next meal, and worrying about someone else.
He remembers back to when he first met West and smiles. My whole life changed then, he thinks. Suddenly it was less about getting rich, and more about making sure he was fed and safe. Still, the pangs of guilt sit in his stomach. And they only get worse when he arrives at the infirmary.
The slaver shuttle was equipped with a variety of robots which West and another woman were able to hack no problem, so it took them no time at all to establish an infrastructure. The group leader insisted on a barracks, but when Riker came aboard The Sand Runner, he knew what the priority needed to be. He sees the hundreds of beds lined with the most affected by the radiation from the mines. Many with grotesque mutations like third arms, or boils across most of their bodies. One man has a second set of eyes, one on either side of his head, but most didn’t get 280° field of vision.
“It’s hard to look at.” Someone says behind him, startling Riker.
“Lord Verrater, sorry I didn’t—”
“Please Captain Everest, don’t call me that.” He says humbly, holding up his hand, “While I appreciate the respect my people have heaped upon me, I’m not a fan of titles such as these.”
Riker nods. “But yes, it’s sad what has happened here.” Riker continues looking back to the patients.
“There are many more I’m afraid, most don’t have visible mutations such as those here, but they’ve been forever changed all the same.” He sighs. “I worry for humanity.”
Verrater looks at Riker and smiles, “I sometimes forget how long you’ve been separate from other humans.”
“Up to a month ago, I only knew four existed,” he gestures to the rest of the camp, “and now I know over 7000 of them.” He chuckles.
“There’s not many more than that I’m afraid.”
“What do you mean?” Riker asks.
“How much do you know about Earth.”
“Only that there was some environmental disaster that destroyed it.”
“Ecological,” he says solemnly, “humanity destroyed it’s own home. An alien race came to save us, it’s how we became space faring. But they were only able to save 2 or 3 million. And between thousands of foreign diseases, our uncanny ability to be used as breeders for dozens of alien species resulting in many of our women being sold for extreme profits… There’s fewer than 10,000 of us left.” Riker listens stunned, and then looks around the camp. “You might be looking at all that’s left of the human race.”
“I— I…” He stutters taking it all in, “I had no idea it was this bad.” Verrater nods solemnly. “But, I mean… It’ll get better from here, right?”
Verrater bobs his head from side to side. “Maybe. You getting those robots working for us will certainly help. And assuming we can get to the iron deposits below us, we should be able to build weapons to defend ourselves. But the bigger problem is the effect of genetic impurities.”
Riker looks at him, and then back to the infirmary. “Sir, I don’t think you’re going to have to worry about that.”
“No?” Verrater asks, looking genuinely confused.
“I know they withheld treatment, but that was just to torture you. Radiation mutation can mostly be reversed, and you already have the medical equipment needed to make sure that genetic alteration isn’t passed onto future generations.”
“Ah,” he says in realization, “I see. You seem to know a lot about this.”
“Jobs for space pirates are few and far between, and even further between for human space pirates. That leaves mostly risky ones nobody else wants, and I gotta make sure it’s safe for West and I.” Riker says, already moving towards the mess-hall.
“It’s a miracle he’s lasted this long. Your… brother, was it?”
“Yeah. Well, I mean, we’re not related by blood, but yeah he’s my brother. And, don’t sell him short sir.” Riker says, slipping into the tone of a Down Syndrome educator. “It wasn’t me that hacked the robots and got them working, it was West and a woman from your ship, I think her name was Crysta? Anyways, they’re the ones who got them working, not me.”
“Well,” Verrater smiles, “praise Cheney for Crysta and… your brother.” Riker does his best to not show his annoyance at Verrater’s hesitation to give West praise for his contributions. Riker thinks he should be used to it by now, but he isn’t. “Where is your brother? Should he be unattended?”
“He’s fine. I’m sure he’s doing something to help out.” A few moments later, as they enter the mess hall, they discover West has gathered the children for a pizza pop eating contest. “I mean… boosting morale counts, right?” Riker asks with a grin that quickly dissipates as Verrater gives an unimpressed glance to the two of them.
Several stomach aches later, everyone is back to work on the settlement, while Riker and West prepare to disembark. “Ah yah sure I cannae convince yah ta stay?” Reginald asks as Ohana’s engines warm up.
“Sorry Reginald,” He runs his hands along the ship, “we don’t belong down here, we belong in the black.”
“Damn shame, though… It is a nice ship I must say.”
“She.” Riker corrects walking up the ramp.
“She. Ships are girls.” He smiles and presses the button to close the ramp. A few seconds later the landing gear retracts and the engines fire as they arch up into the atmosphere. “Board is green, all systems go.” Riker says as the projections fade from fiery blue to black.
“And I packed extra pizza pops,” West says as he takes a bite out of another, probably his 30th of the day, “just in case.”
“Seriously man? We’ll be at Tiu-Raka in, like, an hour.”
“We could get stranded. You don’t know.” West says biting ferociously into the pizza pop and then offering his big, lopsided smile.
However, the flight offers nothing so eventful. As promised, the pair arrives at Tiu-Raka without interruption, and Riker sets off to get a new food replicator. “Sure you don’t want to come? P’Ran’Du always loves to see you.” Riker asks, grabbing his satchel from the drawer by his bed.
“Yeah, and pinch my cheeks!” West exclaims, prompting Riker to laugh. “Anyways, I’m going to stay here and catch up on some diagnostics.”
“Uh-huh.” Riker offers a knowing look to his brother. “So how bad does your stomach hurt?”
“Like a ten. I’m going to lie down, can you get me something?” West says suddenly grimacing and crawling into his bunk offering a very wet and heavy belch.
Riker rolls his eyes, “Bonehead. I’ll find some Tuvien tea.”
The next time they saw each other, West would be moments from death, and Riker would regret his words not being more affectionate.