All Those Who Wander

(Takes Place directly after USS Chimera's final mission Dead Space and concurrently with the opening of USS Gettysburg's first mission Exile of Providence)

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by frost.

:: Unknown world ::
:: Unknown Mine ::

A swath of undefined time passed as Torrik Nils slipped in and out of consciousness. Sometimes sounds dominated his senses, and sometimes light. More times than not, however, it was dark and quiet. There were periods of movement and voices and violence fringed in pain. But always the quiet returned. The Bajoran Officer felt as if he’d been living underwater and in a fog and nothing made sense. The neuro-chemical toxin had rendered him harmless and malleable. And like a broken rag doll he’d been dragged across who knows how many sectors of space and dumped here in this underground.

As shapes began to take meaning, and up differentiated itself from down, Nils tried to sit up. He vomited instantly at the exertion then collapsed back into the cold wet stone beneath him. The fog of confusion still shrouded him as he tried to make sense of his surroundings.

“The Speaker awakens again,” said an unknown voice. Nils tried to turn his head toward the sound of bare feet scuffling across dusty then wet stone, but instead he threw up again. The toxin still worked him over.

“Speaker… We are here… What words do you have for us?” This voice was not the same as the first, but Nils could not attempt to turn his head even once more.

“Where…” He croaked out the first word and clamped his eyes shut in an effort to focus and continue speaking. “Am…” This time he thought he may wretch again but fought off the urge and finished his question. “I?”

“His mind still spins… Give him water,” the first voice said.

Before Nils could muster the strength to refuse he felt a vessel pushed against his dry, cracked lips and an oily fluid that very vaguely tasted like water tricked into his mouth. It was bitter and chalky. He fought not to choke on it. Opening his eyes he was able to make out the blurry outlines of two beings that seemed to be aiding him. One sat him up and loomed close to his face. The other maintained a bit of distance but watched on bended knee. There was more movement even further behind, but the drowsy Bajoran couldn’t process any further than the two unrecognizable figures nearest him.

“Where am I,” the weary Starfleet officer asked again, this time with a little more coherence.

“It is simply called ‘beneath’ to our people. But this we have told you. You ask every time you stop your labor… Speaker, what words do you have for us?” The beings hands held firmly to Nils shoulders and supported most of his weight, but the Bajoran could feel the urging anticipation with each pleading word.

“I ask this every time I… What?” Nils felt even more confused. Wisps of memory floated about his consciousness like smoke, but try as he might he could not make sense of them. As soon as he latched on to one it would slip through his grasp like a vapor. He remember Chimera’s battle with the Yith and his plan to take out the mining asteroid with Gamma’s auto-destruct. Then there was Attie. A wave of sadness and nausea over took him and he threw up again. His aid leaned him to the side and righted him after the deed was done. “Jillian was there too…” Nils said as he wiped his mouth with a torn sleeve.

The two beings rocked with excitement and spoke to one another in a series of clicks and whines. Nils reached for his combadge, but the effort was in vain. He realized he was without his badge and therefore the UT.

"Speaker, we wish to hear more of the Jillian…"

The bewildered Bajoran shook his head and pushed himself up into a reclined position. Although still nauseous, he seemed to have the wherewithal to hold his own weight up. "How is it that you can understand me and speak my language?"

"Our kind know many forms of speech and tongue. When we glean we learn," said the strange reptilian face.

Reptilian face? With his vision clearing Nils could finally see who he'd been conversing with. The blur had coalesced into none other than one of the Yith. And behind him (or her) was another Yith. And further back still… A gathering of Yith surrounded them. Their eyes were trained on him and he became suddenly quite afraid. He tried to push himself up on his feet but failed and instead crashed back into the rock wall behind him. He pressed himself into it and raised his hands in defense.

"Ease, Speaker… Be at ease…" The closest Yith moved away apparently trying to appear non-threatening.

"The toxins are worked through," said the second Yith with relief. "He will survive and recover."

"We have saved you, Speaker. You need not fear us. You have spoken to us for days, but you apparently do not recall," the first Yith eased forward and knelt down beside the Starfleet Officer who still tried to press himself into the safety of the tunnel wall. "Our toxins took some of your life and memory, but our toxins also healed you." A series of clicks and hisses spouted forth as he turned to the others. They responded in kind. "Toxins is not a good word. It works in your language, but for us it is not the same."

"How long have I been down here?" Not trusting a single word, Nils tried to get as much information as he could before the tide turned.

"Days… Merely days… And you have enlightened us beyond measure in that time. We have been waiting for one like you that we could glean from." The second Yith stretched its mouth wide in what appeared to be a very strange and hideous smile.

"Where am I?" More details were necessary. Chimera's CO needed to find a way back to his ship. Or what was left of it.

"This is the 'beneath' as we have said. These mines are on the smallest moon of the 'first world'. This is our people's most shameful place. You must have done something very wretched to be sent here instead of the many other mines the offworlders toil in." The first Yith skittered closer, his eyes wide and eager. "But tell us more, Speaker. Now that you have gained your full wisdom we shall glean more of the knowledge you impart."

"I don't understand," said Nils as he rubbed his head. He quietly hoped he hadn't revealed any Starfleet secrets to his captors while he was under the influence of the neuro-toxin. Not that he had ever really been privy to many secrets.

"You must understand," the Yith said drawing closer still. "You are the Speaker for the Prophets. And we must glean all you know of them…"

:: Yith Moon of the First World ::
:: Beneath ::

From a tactical standpoint, the 'beneath' was not well guarded. Upon investigation, Nils discovered that there were only two guards who patrolled the deep caverns and even they didn't 'patrol' as much as cross from one central location to their barracks. They did not administer the injection into Nils' neck, as was done on the mining asteroid, and they did not regulate the behavior of the Yith who labored in the caverns. And in point of fact, there was not that much labor to be done. The mine appeared to have been tapped centuries earlier and all work to excavate further seemed almost ceremonial. But the Yith, whose numbers were staggering, didn't stop working and didn't try to escape. They seemed to accept their fate. And by the hundreds they would pass Nils by with loads of stones or bits of shale.

It was in that passing, however, that Nils became the most unnerved. Each one looked upon him with something akin to awe and reverence. Often they would dip their heads or offer an open palmed salute. The Bajoran would quickly look away in each instance. His characteristic deep sigh echoed often through the tunnels of the moon. Since they were so deep underground, Nils couldn't distinguish day from night, nor was he sure there was even a sunrise or sunset for this world. For all he knew, this moon could be in the constant shadow of some huge planetary body. And since he had never required much sleep to begin with it was difficult to sort out what kind of time passed. He approximated that it had been three standard days since he'd come out of the toxin induced stupor.

"Speaker, we bring you food," said 'Scowler.' Nils couldn't form the correct sounds to call the Yith by their given names so he'd come up with substitutions for them. They seemed very pleased by the nick-names and began to use them for one another. 'Scowler' earned his name because of the deep ridges over his eyes. Their shape and location on his face made him look angry all the time. Then there had been 'Red', 'Croaker', 'Muscles', 'Spike', and 'Alfred'. Each one's name represented something that helped Nils distinguish them - except for Alfred. Alfred appeared older and wiser than the others.

"I'm not really hungry, Scowler," said Nils with a forced smile.

"You need to keep up your strength," insisted the Yith as he settled into a squat and offered the food once more.

Already accustomed to the routine, Nils took the bits of meat (he refused to ask what it was) and nibbled on it to end the exchange. The Yith watched Nils eat with great pleasure. It made the Bajoran intensely uncomfortable. In order to deflect some of the awkward, he began a conversation. Aside from the simple purpose of making the situation more bearable, the question had been nagging at him anyway. "Scowler, why don't the rest of you just rise up against the guards and get out of here? You outnumber them by the hundreds."

Scowler crooked his head to the side and looked perplexed. "But we are beneath. We belong beneath."

"But why? Why are all of you here? And why am I the only offworlder in these mines?"

After several moments of ticking his head from side to side in thought, Scowler responded quietly. "Our kind cannot have two ways. We can only have one way. We," he said gesturing to the other Yith milling about in the caverns. "We have chosen a way that is not like the way of the Hegemony. It is the old way. And so we accept our banishment." Scowler's mouth stretched into an awful smile. "As to why you have come here? You are here because it is the will of the Prophets!"

And there it was again… "You say that you never heard of the Prophets before I came here. I find it surprising that you would be so very interested in the religion of a far off world uttered by a man lost to the dreams of your toxin. Bajor, my home, is not even in this quadrant of the galaxy. And I was completely out of my mind. I don't even remember what I said to all of you. That is…strange to me."

"It is strange to you because you are not one who gleans. Our people, for time beyond our remembrance, have found what is of value in every culture and made it part of our own. It is our way. When we were tribal peoples on our First World, our tribes would meet for convocation and exchange ideas and thoughts and trade techniques and technologies. All of this strengthened us…" Scowler spoke with pride and his chest literally swelled. The membranous skin stretched out from his breast plate and doubled in size. "We took to the stars eventually as most peoples do. And we gleaned from all those we met. Only in the last few centuries has the gleaning turned…dark."

"Turned… Dark?" Nils' eyes narrowed and he leaned in to listen.

"Our way is not to conquer. Our nature is not to destroy… But the new Hegemony found that simple gleaning was not enough." The Yith looked disappointed and his pronounced eye ridges began sinking over his eyes. In a way, the look reminded Nils of himself. "A change happened during the reckoning. We turned from a peaceful race to one who takes what we will. And the important things, like culture, art…faith… They became overshadowed by technology and weapons. Now our kind ventures into the stars as scavengers, and we steal." Scowler's chest deflated as he spoke. He looked ashamed. "The 'beneath' was created during the reckoning to lose those who remember the old ways. For generations those who hold to the old ways have been abandoned to this place. It is our fate. We do not belong to the new ways and so we must move aside so that our kind can flourish."

Nils shook his head. "That's appalling. And it is the opposite of what the Prophets would require of any follower." The Bajoran stood up and put his hands on his hips as he looked out over the immense cavern. Yith of all shapes and sizes moved about with loads on their backs or lugging about heavy tools for excavation. Their work was in vain, since the moon had little to offer in terms of resources. The labor was empty. "My kind was enslaved by a race not so long ago. My planet was conquered and my people scattered to labor camps not too different from this. We are an old race of people as well. The Bajoran culture was flourishing when many of the current galactic powers were still discovering fire. All of that was almost destroyed in an instant when we were occupied by our own 'dark' nemesis." He spun around and locked eyes with Scowler. "And we would still be there had it not been for the passion of those who knew it wasn't right. The Prophets teach us to fight injustice and to stand against oppression. We fought for freedom and many lost their lives. Certainly there were those among my kind who thought it would be easier to accept their fate and give in to the Cardassians. Some even lost their faith in the process," he added sadly. He'd been one of the latter. "But the Prophets never gave up on us. And my people resisted. It took long years, but we resisted and triumphed. And after our triumph, the Prophets sent us our Emissary. Only after our deepest dark, did the light truly return to my people…" He paused and stepped closer. "We never accepted our fate as a defeated people."

Scowler nodded. "What a wonderful story, Speaker. I will go and tell it to the others so we may pass it on to our progeny in these caves. You have given me much to glean!"

"Wait," called Nils raising a hand to halt the Yith who'd already begun skittering away. "Your progeny does not have to be raised in these caves. The point of the story wasn't the story itself… Weren't you listening?"

"I was listening, Speaker. And many more will listen. And for generations these walls will hear of the Bajoran people and the Prophet's Providence." Scowler looked very pleased.

Nils shook his head and turned away to watch the Yith workers toil in vain. "You may have heard me… But you weren't listening," he muttered softly. "If you accept the fact that the story will not escape this prison then you weren't listening…"

:: Yith Moon of the First World ::
:: Beneath ::

"For the Bajorans there were nine Orbs, that we also called 'Tears'. Each held a different aspect of piece of wisdom that could be accessed by the followers." Nils sat on a large boulder and a crowd of Yith listened intently to anything he could think to share with them. At this point, he'd become resigned to the regular convocations and on some level found purpose in them. He'd even begun to consider, perhaps, that the Prophets had brought him to this moon for a reason. If sharing the stories of the Prophets was his small part in a grand scheme, he would not fight it. "But we've come to learn that the original nine Orbs may not have been the only bits of revelation left to the galaxy. The Emissary found a tenth Orb. And more recently the crew of the USS Hawking, came across another." Bringing up the Intrepid class vessel brought a pang of frustration. Speaker for the Prophets or not, he had a duty to fulfill.

"The USS Hawking took the Orb to your people then?" Alfred, the apparent eldest of all the mine dwellers always asked the most questions.

"No," answered Nils as he scrawled meaningless shapes in the dust that had collected over eons on the flat surface of the boulder. "No, we didn't actually. That Orb belonged to another people called the Devanagari on a world called Girijan. There were some who believed that the Orb should belong to the Bajoran people, but…" Nils shook his head smirked. "I didn't."

"And it was you who got to choose for your whole world?" Alfred spoke in hushed tones of awe. An amazed murmur spread through the crowd. "You must be very wise for your planet to heed your words on such matters."

"No," said Nils again raising his hands to silence the crowd. "It wasn't like that. Not at all. I was the Captain of Hawking - just one ship. And I made the call in that moment," he contined. Self doubt plagued him suddenly. Did he ever have the right to make such a vital choice for his whole world? He hadn't viewed it like that at the time. "The Devanagari had their own prophecies, called Neviim! And the Neviim spoke of a time when their own ancestors would bring a great blessing, but only after great strife. And their Hentaara, or the way of their Ancestors echoed my own people's relationship with the Prophets. I decided," he paused and swallowed hard realizing what he'd done all those months ago. "I thought that it was not our right to strip these people of an artifact that had been placed on their world by the Prophet's Providence."

"So it was not your quest to bring more wisdom to your own people?" This time it was Scowler who asked the question.

"No," said Nils shaking his head. "I don't think so…" Had he really considered the full spectrum of implications when he decided to leave that Orb on Girijan. He'd not even sent word to the Vedek assembly about what he'd found. Did he really have that right? He gazed out into the dozens of faces staring at him now and the sheer arrogance of what he was doing slapped him in the face. There was a reason Starfleet had created the Prime Directive. His pride had guided him falsely. "I have to get off this rock," he muttered under his breath.

A moment of shocked muttering went through the crowd as the Yith responded to his words. Then they began speaking in their own language and a cacophony of clicks and growls filled the cavern. When the horrible sound finally subsided Muscles, a tall and powerful looking Yith approached the stone on which Nils sat. Despite his size he seemed intimidated by the Bajoran, which Nils found positively absurd.

"Speaker," the large Yith began. "We did no know that you wanted to leave us. This knowledge troubles us…"

More absurdity. "Don't take it personally, Muscles. It's nothing against all of you. I have… It is my duty to be somewhere else." Or is it my purpose to remain here? "I don't mean to offend you."

"We are not offended, Speaker. You misunderstand my words. If you do not wish to be here you should not remain! And if you feel you are a prisoner then we have done you a great disservice. You are no prisoner, Speaker." Muscles shifted his gaze back to the other Yith and they seemed to encourage him on. Returning his attention to Nils he continued. "It would be our honor to help you 'get off this rock.' We have the means…"

"What? You can help me escape?" A jolt of adrenaline shot through Nils chest and he pushed up on his feet. He stood on the stone surrounded by the Yith and they watched him. "Why didn't you… I thought…" He didn't know what to say.

"We are beneath," answered Muscles. "You are not. It only now becomes clear to us. It is your right to leave here and if it is what you desire then you should. Tonight we will begin preparations to send you back to your home."

:: Moon of the Yith First World ::
:: Ascending ::

As the temperature dropped the air got thinner. Even gravity began to loose its grip on the travelers as they ascended the caverns. Nils found that the farther they traveled the more breaks he needed to keep up. He surmised that the surface of the moon had zero atmosphere and the internal atmosphere dwindled in concentration nearer the surface. That prospect brought a whole new set of problems to be dealt with, but for the present it was all Nils could do to maintain steady breaths.

"We will have to stop here," said Muscles when he took a look at the Bajoran. "This may be the threshold of his warm blood."

"We will rest with you for a moment, Speaker, and then we will proceed without you," added Scowler.

"Thank you," said Nils feeling a sense of release. He settled onto the ground and took long slow breaths. "I suppose the lack of air and warmth doesn't affect your kind like it does mine?"

A strange sound which resembled something like a chortle emanated from his three companions. Alfred answered, "We are space born, Speaker. The void is as home to us."

"What?" The Bajoran was puzzled. "I thought we were on a moon of your first world. Your home world?"

"Ah," said Alfred with his characteristic twisted smile. "You seek to glean from us. You have learned from your time with us. Perhaps next time when you have a chance to glean an Orb of the Prophets for your own kind you will not pass up the opportunity." He chortled again, apparently pleased at some kind of odd attempt at humor. "No it is not our home world. It is the First World from which we awoke. We came from the void. But that is all I can speak of to an outsider."

"I hope your plan involves some kind of ship parked on the surface. I hate to tell you that my kind won't make the journey home without a ship of some kind." Nils leaned his head back on the stone wall still unable to take a true breath.

Muscles responded. "There is no ship on the surface," he said finally.

"What? No ship? Then how am I going to…"

"I said there is no ship on the surface. There is an old sentry ship in low orbit." Muscles squatted and took a break.

Nils, however, was apoplectic. He looked from Muscles, then to Alfred, and finally to Scowler. "I'm going to need a bit more than that? How are you going to get to an orbitting ship? I have an notion of what you are suggesting but it can't be accurate. I hope it's not accurate! Tell me there is a matter/energy transfer station. Or maybe a space elevator?"

More laughter. "We will delve into ourselves and cross the void to the ship. Gravity on the surface has no hold. Our kind make these crossings when the need arises." Scowler seemed to scold Nils as he revealed their plan.

"I can't let you do that," said Nils seriously. "It sounds dangerous… And statistically such a thing doesn't stand much of a chance of success. I mean, you could over shoot the ship or under shoot it and end up floating through space forever. It's too risky."

"Quiet! And glean!" Alfred didn't just seem to scold. It was quite actual. "Do not suppose to make your estimations… They are meaningless. The crossing is not without risk, but it is also not so dangerous as you may think. Our kind is space born. This you should have already gleaned. We were space born before we had the faculties of deep thought and speech. We will make the crossing and we will make it successfully. Then we will bring the sentry ship here."

Muscles took up the explanation. "It will take some hours for us to get there and return. You should rest." He placed a hand on Nils shoulder and turned to lead the trio on the remainder of their trek. Alfred followed immediately, but Scowler remained for a moment.

After making sure they were alone, he began speaking in a hushed voice. "I have considered your words, Speaker. And I have concluded that there is more to glean from the Prophets. And if gleaning can not teach us and change us then gleaning is unworthy of its name. To glean for the sake of gleaning alone is without purpose."

"I think I understand," said Nils quietly.

"It makes sense that if we find the Hegemony's methods to be 'evil,' as you call it, then we should stand against it and make our voices heard. Those beneath will not understand this at first, but I will make them hear… In time, I will make them hear."

Nils smiled and put a hand on Scowler's arm. "That is very good to hear." Which it was. Scowler nodded and followed Muscles into the ascending darkness.

Once alone, Nils felt as if perhaps he understood the grand purpose for his capture and the destruction of Gamma… Maybe even Attie hadn't been sacrificed in vain. Then the weight of the truth settled on him and crushed his hope. A few hundred Yith convinced that their masters were in the wrong may amount to nothing. In fact, he very well could have sparked a very short civil war in which the Yith Fleet descended on this moon and obliterated this group of 'resistance' fighters. They had no weapons, no ships… And Starfleet certainly wouldn't agree to taking a side in a civil war. The Prime Directive forbade it. Dark thoughts troubled him as he drifted off into an oxygen deprived sleep.

He woke from fitful dreams several times and time stretched out for what seemed like days. Without a sun or moon to even vaguely mark its passing, time became almost meaningless. Perhaps it had been days… In the dark, Nils huddled alone, nibbling on rations and saying prayers. Twice a lone Yith came up the tunnels and offered him more food and sat with him as if on some kind of pilgrimage. They would talk for a while and Nils would tell stories of his people, or of his travels during his career in Starfleet. And then he found himself alone again.

A low rumble suddenly shook the cave walls and for a moment the Bajoran thought perhaps he'd snapped. But the bright lights of a strange vessel made a slow turn around a corner far up above him and he watched a peculiar orb shaped craft settle onto the ground and hiss to a halt. Loading bay doors opened and amber light flooded the darkness.

"Speaker, we have achieved success," said Alfred his expression dour. "We brought down the Star as the prophecies foretold and the remainder of your journey commences."

Muscles smiled proudly. "Your vessel awaits speaker. You will not soon be forgotten."

No… Scowler's absence was palpable and immediate. "Where is he? Where is Scowler?"

Alfred shook his head. "He made the sacrifice needed," he said offering the cryptic response.

"He… made the… I don't understand," said Nils sadly. "What Star and what prophecy? Why was there a sacrifice?"

"You do not understand and you will not. This you cannot glean. It is for the beneath alone," Alfred said softly.

"Then Scowler is dead?"

No response confirmed the sad truth. And with that truth came the death of Nils weak reconciliation of Faith. His capture had been in vain. Attie's death had been in vain.

"Promise me," said Nils before he made any motion toward the ship. "Promise me that nothing I have shared with you will put any of you at risk. They are just stories after all. I thought at first… I thought maybe things could change for you and for your people, but I was ignorant to think that. The Yith I met in space are not the same as you. Those beneath are different. And though you are few, your kind could be wiped out if anything I've told you changes the 'arrangement' you have with the Hegemony."

"You understand so little, Speaker," Alfred answered with shock. "We are not few! This moon is home to millions! And this is but one moon! The First World has many moons and many are beneath the notice of the Hegemony."

"Millions? Millions here alone?" The Bajoran suddenly felt very tired and very confused. The low oxygen content coupled with everything he'd been through wore him down and he couldn't find the strength to ask any more questions. "I don't understand."

Muscles moved close and whispered in Nils ear. "We don't understand either… But you've shed light for us to glean."

"I understand," said Alfred with great pride.

"No he doesn't," said Muscles in jest. The two Yith hissed and clacked at one another then their language got lost in the chortle of laughter.

Alfred guided Nils then to the cockpit of the small auxiliary craft. It was very old, but her systems seemed simple enough to decipher. In fact, it looked very similar - uncannily similar - to the text scrawled all over B'Hala. That in and of itself overwhelmed Nils. He could no longer speak.

"All things end, Torrik Nils. But endings always signify new beginnings," Alfred said as he programmed the ship's auto pilot. "Things change or there is death and atrophy. Go Speaker… See what you can glean…"

The doors closed and the small bulbous ship heaved itself off the ground with a long slow whine. Then the auto-pilot engaged and shoved the small vessel out into space. Warp lines stretched around the canopy like a web of salvation and drew the lone inhabitant out of Yith space and core-ward. The thrum of faster than light travel drowned out Nils quiet sobs. He wasn't sure if he cried for the Yith, or for Attie, or for Scowler. Or even for some nondescript ending he felt himself catapulted toward. But he knew things were not the same as they'd been before he'd gone beneath. Not for him and not for the Yith. He slipped into a long slumber as Alfred's words echoed in his head. Perhaps there was a new beginning before him. But he couldn't help mourning what he left behind.

For T'Shaini…

Continued in Exile of Providence…

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