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Milk Run: Death Defying

Posted on 14 Feb 2022 @ 1:25pm by Commander Calliope Zahn

Mission: M2 - Sanctuary
Location: Obsidian Caverns
Timeline: MD12 ~0200HRS
1904 words - 3.8 OF Standard Post Measure

Gently discordant notes came crashing like soft waves, stirred with the foam of a passing storm, spiraling lyrics, undecipherable as the flotsam and jetsam they left behind…

But it was a sharp pain in her back that made her reflexively pull away and though she opened her eyes, she wondered if she’d gone blind as it was absolutely dark. In an instant, there were hands on her and several clamped over her mouth as she started to groan. Terrifying memories embedded in her nervous system reacted before she had a chance to reason, and self preservation compelled her to kick and writhe. They all secured her more earnestly, someone with strong arms around her chest and upper body, several holding her legs and another stroking her hair… and singing a lullaby in a foreign language. Calliope settled as she realized she couldn’t break the grip and tried to get a hold of her own breath through her unobstructed nose. She bit the hand over her mouth and it yanked back. She didn’t howl, though. Something told her these people were as distressed as she was. As she relaxed, so did they. A murmur went around in the inky black. Calliope hazarded to reach into her collar and switch on her commbadge to make out what they were saying.

“You have set her on a shard of obsidian, Alvoc! Now she is bleeding!” A woman scolded.

“How was I to know! There is glass everywhere! Why don’t you just light a lamp, huh?” Retorted a young man’s voice whom Calliope guessed to be Alvoc. “I’m forced to carry her all evening, and what thanks do I get? A bite on my thumb and your berating!”

“You deserved it, cousin,” mocked a different man’s voice with a nasal sound. “You volunteered to carry her! Did you think the star djinn would awaken and thank you with a kiss for carrying her down to the grave with you?”

“If no one had lifted her, she would have been put to the sword!”

“Quiet down, both of you!” The old woman hissed. “Or they’ll silence one to silence all!”

“So they will kill us one day sooner! Oh Grandmother Jahtama! What bitter drink to be born Turani!”

“Are you going to recant in your Day of Trouble? Will you sacrifice truth for the devil’s fleeting comfort?”

“Shut up, Shut up! Keep your platitudes old vulture-mother! I am hungry and words are empty air!”

“Where is your grit, child? Niekko, my daughter, help your boy to find it. Maybe he has lost it in the dark.”

Calliope was careful not to speak. Besides not wanting to insert herself in a family quarrel, she didn’t want to give away her commbadge; it was her ace up her sleeve, or close to the breast, as it were. Even so, Calliope involuntarily muttered “Oh God,” and started to try to handle the bile in her throat. Her fellows in the dark shifted her around between them to make way and direct her to a space they seemed to deem appropriate for her morning-after upchuck. Even without being post bender, she’d gotten more or less used to a daily purge and relaxed when the spasming had passed, wiping the spittle from her face with a sleeve. She switched her commbadge off again, not willing to risk anyone knowing she had it.

“Anyone in here speak Standard?” There was no answer. Calliope reached a little further in her limited bag of linguistic tricks. “How about Rihannsu? Anyone understand? Ssuaj-difv?” She quested in Romulan, hearing her voice in something like a cavern around them. She knew many Kalarans spoke standard, but it was less likely they would speak Romulan. It was a figurative shot in the literal dark.

“Ssuaj,” came a smooth, baritone response. They both continued speaking low and in Romulan, until they made their way in the dark toward one another like a game of marco polo. Calliope supposed there to be a few dozen people in this unlit cavern, as they bumped and shuffled into one another. When she reached the Romulan speaker they both grasped one another by the shoulders to gain a measure of the other stranger.

“Where are we?” Calliope asked in rudimentary Rihannsu.

The man gathered that it was not her first language and could barely be counted as her second, since her conjugation was childlike. He decided to try very rudimentary words. “Caves. Twelve hour walk.”

That made some sense. Using the mountains was probably the best way to keep anyone from catching prisoner movements. The ancient cave systems were extensive underground networks, difficult to map or to navigate and impossible to scan. It was hard enough to get any clear reading from orbit on the mountains themselves. Just terrain maps and if you happened to be looking at the right place at the right time, visual data. But there was a limited sensor network in place. After a half a day gone missing, Calliope wouldn’t be surprised if many of those sensors had been dedicated to searching the region for her. She wondered how many small craft were combing the foothills and desert, how many uniforms were pounding the ground in the city… For a moment she felt sorry for the panic she’d likely created, but was just as much guilty as bolstered by her decision. She was clustered with dozens of other people that had simply gone quietly missing under cover of storm. Likely people whom no one was sending out a search party for. If she hadn’t purposed to be taken with them, she could have called out for a search party when Bruce returned, but there would be no means to track them. Calliope thought in the dark at how useless her drunk-ass plan to use her hidden commbadge for a signal would be from inside the caverns. If she couldn’t get word back, she was just as lost as the people she’d pitied.

“I’m Calliope Zahn.” She told the Romulan.

“Leivad Danak. Honored.”

“Where go we?”

“I know not. Death. Beyond death. To the Heart of the Divine. Though that is…” He struggled for a simple way to express the concept of blasphemy “Evil-speaking in other tribes.”

“You are Romulan? And speak Obsidian?”

“Yes.” He chuckled at the Orion’s surprise. But then he had seen her unconscious body being carried. She was only just guessing from his voice. “There are many Obsidian languages in the desert tribes. I speak Saluus and the Turani dialect. I married Turani.”

“Really?” Calliope was certain even the most progressive of the Obsidinaites had strict rules against intermarriage or fornicating with offworlders.

“Yes. Last year. But my wife and baby son— missing. I will meet them again, in this life or in the Heart of the Divine One.”

Even in his simply phrased words, Calliope heard his broken heart. “We will look for them, Leivad.” She assured, as if she had any power over the situation.

Leivad was not so impressed with the kind of hope Calliope seemed to be extending. “We may meet death.” He pressed with grave concern. “Are you prepared?”

“No.” Calliope twisted Lance’s necklace in her fingers. “No dying.”

“Are you prepared if you do?”

“No death.” She pressed in a combination of defiance and denial. Death was off the table. Just because she said it was. “Not plan. No one prepare to die.” Calliope was frustrated trying to speak in Romulan. It wasn’t what she intended to say. She knew plenty of brave people prepared to meet death. She was trying to tell him it wasn’t the plan now. She had a different one.

That wasn’t enough reassurance for the Romulan. “Not true. The Turani are prepared from birth for the call of the Divine. You must pray. If you do not speak true you may not come into the courts of the Divine.”

“Okay," agreed Calliope. Leivad seemed really concerned, possibly on some kind of soul or spirit level and she wanted to put his mind at ease for her sake. The young father had enough to worry about with his family missing. “How do you Turani pray?”

Leivad asked for Grandmother Juhtana to come and put a hand on Calliope’s head. Several other hands found her head and shoulders, until she felt pressed down to the ground more by the gentle pressure of hands than by gravitation itself. There was a strange sense in her nervous system from all of the touch, as if there were magnets pulling in all directions. A soft chanting grew, not in repetition as much as a call and response of a prayer that must have been some kind of meaningful Turani liturgy, even if it was spoken in earnest whispers under their breath so as not to have their captors reaction from beyond the dark confines. As the alien prayer continued in the alien tongue, Calliope felt strangely as if she were in someone else’s body, deep in a dream.

At long last, there was a pause in the communal liturgy and Leivad asked her, “Do you wish to serve the Divine in this life and the life to come?”

“I…” She struggled, stumped. At first she thought she’d only ever made one real oath in her life. The one to Starfleet. But that wasn’t true. There were the vows exchanged with Lance.

Lance. How foolish of her. Unlike her other errant adventuring over the years, he wasn’t just going to hear this story after she was safely returned. He was likely going to hear she’d gone missing while she was missing. She pictured him anxious and angry and felt her heart break for paining his. Even if getting herself captured had been the right thing to do, it didn’t prick her conscience any less for likely causing him worry.

There were other promises, too. Her memory took her back to that moment when she was ten and she had promised at the altar of her friend’s church to serve some kind of creator they professed. No. One whom she had professed. She’d repeated the prayer in her childlike excitement then… but it never resulted in a confirmation; she’d never received her promised spiritual gift. So much disappointment. She could still feel like that little girl left with her offered heart in her hands. Was this her confirmation, almost three decades late, worlds away, in the pit of a sleeping volcano? Something stirred in her and she felt her heart freshly ache. Maybe she was just meant to be without a gift. Or maybe her gift was a knack for getting into these fixes.

Distinctly she sensed the mantle of the mortality she had been in denial about. The weight of all of these escapades that her willing spirit rushed into while her flesh kept the score. Calliope knew two things were true at once— that her body wasn’t going to survive the beating, and that her spirit was determined to never, ever, say die. There had to be more than the mortal coil. And she was ready, once again, to make it personal.

“Yes.” She laughed through tears. “Yes I do. I think I always have.”


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