Noah put the last item in the backpack and closed the main flap on his Bergen. He did a double check of his quarters and made sure he’d packed everything. Satisfied that he’d gotten it all, he shouldered the backpack and headed out of his quarters. This was the first significant amount of time he’d had off duty since the El Camino Incident and the most recent brush with the Gorn Task Force. He was heading into the mountains for two very important reasons: one- he had been unable to perform an intimate and important personal ceremony and two- he needed to clear his head and re-establish his focus.
The walk out of the quarters building was uneventful, as most everyone was off enjoying their time off, too. Noah nodded pleasantly to those that acknowledged him and moved through the common area as quickly as he could. Between the Science and Lounge buildings sat the main trail that headed into the foothills. Noah knew he would follow this trail for about a half a kilometer. At that point, it would branch off into numerous other trails one of which he would take. He also knew that the trail he would take, named for one of the local avian-like creatures, would end and he would have to blaze his own trail to the site. He’d picked the site from a topographic scan stored in the station’s database partly because it was out of the way but mainly because a mountain stream ran about 10 meters from where he’d be camping.
Twenty minutes or so later, Noah found himself at the end of the secondary trail. The terrain difference was immediately visible. Where the trail ran, a path about two meters wide on either side of the trail had been cleared of vegetation, rocks and other obstacles. In essence, a large walking path had been created. But ahead of him, Noah saw nothing like that. Tree roots snaked out of the soil ran for a length and then, just as abruptly, returned to the recesses of Bersallis III’s crust. Rocks, either that had been cleared from the trail or portions that had fallen off the mountain, littered the area warning of twisted ankles or worse for those that forgot to respect their environment. Noah oriented himself, using the topographic printout as a map, and then set out. He hoped to make camp within the hour but he also knew to take his time.
In all actuality, Noah misjudged his map reading skills. He followed the map and was making good time until he came across a ridgeline that wasn’t on the map. He scouted out about ten meters from the ridgeline and found only a few usable landmarks. Those that he did find were ambiguous at best; nothing to point him in the right direction until he found the stream. When he’d originally scouted this area on the topographic scan, he had noticed that the stream came out of the mountain face in a small waterfall, which terminated in a shallow pool, and then ran along the surface of the mountain for some 500 meters before the stream entered a crevice. After this, the stream exited the mountain again and continued downstream, running on the surface, until it finally emptied into the ocean about four kilometers from OPX. Where Noah currently stood was about midway up the stream just before the crevice. Since the spot he had scoped out was situated very near the pool and the waterfall, Noah made his way up stream. Where the terrain between the stream and the trail had been uneven and strewn with natural debris, he found this to be almost manicured in comparison. He removed the map again and looked at the last update info. It had last been updated about three days before the first of The Events. No wonder everything looked off, he thought to himself. With the amount of seismic activity that happened, not to mention that the planet was, according to records, actually ceasing to rotate, Noah thought it was pure luck that the landscape wasn’t altered more than he was seeing. He continued on until he found the waterfall.
After he found the waterfall, which was also affected by the recent activity, Noah made camp. When he was still planning this excursion, Noah had made numerous trips to the Meteorology office to find the best window for his trip. The civilian tech had assured Noah that the computer model showed there would be no precipitation and no inclement weather during the two days that Noah had requested off. Noah had taken the Bolian at her word and packed a small tent just in case. Though, in keeping with the simplicity of the ceremony he would perform, he would sleep in his bivy bag on top of a bed of vegetation. Once this was taken care of, Noah set to making a fire. This would be integral to the ceremony in addition to the necessity of living for the next two days. He scooped out a shallow pit and lined it with rocks. Next, he retrieved two, 5 gallon bladders from his pack and headed to the stream. He filled each of the bladders with water and then picked up fire wood along the way back. Back at camp, Noah dropped a purification tablet in each bladder and began building what would ultimately become his fire.
After two more trips for fire wood, Noah was ready to put fire to the little “nest” he’d built in the pit. He started by removing a small, wooden case from one of the outside pockets of his rucksack. From the case, he pulled a small rod of ferrocerium and an equally small piece of angle steel. Noah moved back to the pit and knelt beside it. He leaned into the pit and dragged the steel across the ferro-rod, amazed at the resultant small shower of sparks. Many of the sparks fell inertly into the pit but enough fell on his tender bundle to cause an ember to form. He scooped the bundle up, blowing to feed the ember till he could place it in the right spot within the pit. Once he placed the bundle, Noah began layering small twigs on the tinder bundle until the flame took to the twigs. He continued this process with the twigs and eventually the large pieces of wood that he’d collected.
Once he’d gotten the fire to the point that it was self-sustaining, he switched his focus back to finishing camp. He found two rocks to use as legs and a large, flat slab to use as a tabletop. After this, he removed a small hatchet from the rucksack and moved to one of the nearby trees. Because Bersallis III had once supported a human colony, some Earth species had been cross-bred and had taken hold. One of the native hybrids resembled a loblolly or spruce pine. The branches formed boughs just like pine trees on Earth but the Bersallis pine needles were purple and blue colored rather than green. Noah used the hatchet to remove a dozen or more boughs. These he carried back to the camp and laid them out to make a bed. On top of this he placed his sleeping/bivy bag combo. He surveyed the setup for a moment and decided it would work for tonight and tomorrow. Although he had eaten before he left OPX, the hike into the area and setting up camp had long since burned off those calories. Hearing his stomach rumble, Noah had his next goal established for him.
He set two Starfleet-issue hard cases on the “table”. Both cases contained food; the first one contained tonight’s dinner, a prepared meal that Noah had put together back at OPX. The second case contained unprepared food for tomorrow and the utensils and accoutrements that he would need to prep the next day’s meals. After another moment’s thought, Noah replaced the second case in the rucksack. He opened up the case and removed a small metal kettle and two cups from the set. These he sat on the table along with a small sealed, cube container. He closed the case and returned it to his rucksack. From the rucksack, he pulled a 1 liter metal flask that was emblazoned with the Starfleet Academy logo. He took the flask and the kettle to one of the bladders and filled each container. He set the kettle on the edge of the fire pit. He’d make tea or coffee later but for now, he wanted to focus on hydrating. He sat admiring the beauty of the area around him while he sipped from the flask. He was glad that the purification tablets hadn’t produced any strange flavors. More often than not, they did and that would ruin the ceremony. Noah took another drink and watched the fire burn. His mind drifted- back to home and what he thought Ichiro and Shinobu would be doing right now; how to correct the mistakes in the bow he’d carved; his interrorgation on King’s Cross; the ordeal with the Gorn Task Force and finally it drifted to the one place he didn’t want to go: the chips and how he’d failed to decrypt them. Since he’d come into contact with them, he’d been over and over how to decrypt them but everything he’d tried had either failed outright or only shown minimal success. He’d even gone so far as to go back and combine various methods; each one had failed or extracted the exact same amount of info. He took another sip of the water and pushed another branch piece onto the fire. He looked at the remainder of the pile and thought it wise to gather as much as possible before he lost the light. He replaced the stopper in the flask’s mouth and got up. He grabbed the hatchet and headed off into the tree line. Secretly, he hoped the physical labor would take his mind off of those chips.
An hour and numerous trips to and from later, Noah stopped stacking firewood and laid out his dinner. He’d used the replicator to make this meal, a pair of grilled chicken breasts on a bed of glutinous brown rice and mixed veggies, but he would be making each meal by hand tomorrow. As he ate, he mentally ran through the ceremony and what he’d need to perform in each part. He was confident that he’d gotten everything he needed and he’d performed the ceremony enough times to know it by rote. He should; with the help of Ichiro and Shinobu, a 12 year old Noah Masterson had come up with the idea for this ceremony. Noah smiled at that memory. He’d been nervous and apprehensive- he wanted to carry out the ceremony but he didn’t want it to alienate his adoptive parents. He’d eventually shared his feelings with Ichiro. Ichiro had taken the notion in stride and quelled Noah’s fears. He had reminded Noah that Ichiro and Shinobu had dedicated themselves to giving Noah a better life and if carrying out this ceremony was what was required, then so be it.
The memory stirred many emotions in Noah; love, anger, hurt, longing. Noah had, early in his childhood, come to love Ichiro and Shinobu. But this fuelled his anger; not at them, but rather at the Romulans for taking his birth parents. The whole situation made him hurt, if he concentrated on it too much. But right now, he longed to be home; he longed to help Ichiro in the small garden he kept or to help Shinobu piece together an Andorian text. But most of all, he longed to be able to tell his parents about his life so far.
Darkness fell on Noah’s camp quite quickly. He finished stowing everything and then pulled a large log, practically a tree trunk, onto the fire. This would keep the burning through the night without requiring Noah to wake up and feed the fire more wood. Once this was done, he crawled into his bivy bag and fell asleep in no time.
Noah awoke and saw the soft rays of the Bersallis star spilling in through the flap of his bivy bag. He took a moment to orient himself and then got out of the bivy bag. The first order of business was a quick trip to the river and more specifically, the waterfall. The ceremony always began the way: a ritual cleansing. At home, this was conducted at a glacier-fed stream with both Noah and Ichiro wearing ritual clothing. The similarity to the ceremonial place at was what had motivated Noah to pick this particular spot. The runoff was probably a few degrees warmer here than at home but that, in Noah’s mind, was inconsequential. He gathered his things and walked to the stream and the waterfall.
He stripped down to his skivvies and waded into the stream. The water temperature was hovering at around 15.5 degrees Celsius; warmer than home, but not by much. Noah waded upstream to the fall, turned to face away from it and then backed into the waterfall. The temperature of the water made Noah fight the instinct to slide into tachypnea, or shallow, short breaths. He focused on breathing evenly; after several minutes, he no longer had to consciously focus on his breathing. Noah stayed in the water for about 20 minutes and then he moved back to the bank. He took a microfiber cloth and dried himself before dressing. Once he’d dressed, Noah moved back to camp and prepared his first meal: scratch made pancakes with strawberry compote, his mother’s recipe. He also used some of the purified water to make a large mug of tea; a blend his father enjoyed called Russian Caravan. Noah savored the smells and the flavors as he was instantly transported back in time to his childhood. He took his time with breakfast, enjoying the memories as they came though they were few in number. Once he’d finished his breakfast, Noah packed his sleeping bag and one of the now empty water bladders. He took the boughs that had formed his bed overnight and spread them out under several trees. He looked at his firewood supply and estimated he would easily have enough for two more meals. He settled down and enjoyed the mug of tea. He could see why his Dad loved this blend with its smoky sweet malt flavor. Noah sipped the remainder of the mug and then another before realizing that the morning had slipped by. Noah stood up, walked over to his Bergen and took a PADD from the pack. On the PADD Noah pulled up a picture of his parents and him; it was the only one he had and it had been taken on his 7th birthday. He set the PADD up against a small rock, so that he could see it while he was still seating, enjoying the final cup of tea. Finally, after he composed himself, Noah addressed the picture.
“Hey guys, sorry it’s been a while since we last did this. I’ve been a little busy. I finally got my posting; Outpost Phoenix…”
“…and then the Gorn commander fled the system. Captain Bonali squared off with him and never backed down an inch, Dad. I think that you two would have gotten along well. I wish you were here to help me make sense of my mission with Intelligence because of your stint with them. The way that mission fell apart just gnaws at me…or…well, the lingering doubt that I said something or gave up information does anyway,” Noah finished some ten minutes later.
“Ichiro and Shinobu send their regards. Ichiro sent me the tea from a shop near their house and Shinobu is growing strawberries this year for next year’s pancakes, Mom,” Noah said through a surge of pride and a stab of loss.
“They’ve been wonderful to me but I still miss you two deeply,” he said, his voice breaking. This reaction amazed him. Even after all these years, he still felt the pain as fresh and new as that day. But now, he’d learned to deal with it and how to experience it without it taking over. Noah spent another moment or so gazing at the picture before his stomach reminded him of his next chore: lunch.
Lunch was another Masterson tradition: a cold cut plate with cheeses and olives. His parents had established the tradition back when they visited Greece on their honeymoon. Noah could remember his father sometimes supplementing the lunch with a beer. Sometimes the cheeses would be exotic, like Vulcan brie or Klingon stilton, but most times they were traditional Terran versions. Noah had picked traditional Kalamata olives and Italian hard salami but the cheese was one called Castellano de la Luna. The original Castellano cheese came from Spain and was made from the milk of goats. But, at some point in the history of the lunar colony, the goat’s milk was taken to the colony and thus the cheese was made. Because of their time together in Armstrong City, Chris and Nicole Masterson had fond memories of the cheese. Noah had selected it for this very reason.
After lunch, Noah checked the weather for the area. He didn’t like what he was seeing: a cold front was moving across the mountains and would be in his area by dark. Traditionally, the ceremony would continue until the final meal but this year would have to be an exception. He had a tight timeframe to begin with; getting stuck on the mountain and request a shuttle to extract him or, even worse, becoming lost and causing a search-and-rescue mission would not be good. Instead, Noah decided to play it safe. He’d break camp and head in early, well ahead of the storm. He’d finish the ceremony in his quarters.
Noah took a last look at the campsite. He’d broken camp as efficiently as possible and was sure he’d cleaned up after himself. He lingered for a moment and then headed down the stream bank for home. He reached his quarters without incident. He took a few moments to unpack his Bergen and stow everything before he placed the PADD with his parent’s picture in its niche on the shelf. He then took out the last components of the meal. Whereas the other two meals had been designed to remind Noah of his parents and their traditions, this meal was designed to tie Noah’s past to his present. He pulled a hand-crafted, kiln-fired clay tea set from its protective box and placed it on the countertop. He then picked up the now mostly empty water bladder from where it sat beside his desk. Noah knew he’d have to improvise heating the water. He pulled several small chemical fuel tabs and a perforated metal frame from a pocket on his rucksack and set them in the small sink. Noah pulled a strip of adhesive from each of the tabs and the exposure to the air started the chain reaction. He then placed the frame over the tabs and placed the now-filled pot onto the top of the frame. He then busied himself with the rest of the preparations. From the same box as the pot, Noah removed a small handle-less cup, a whisk, and a small cylindrical container. After this, he checked the state of the pot and concluded the water had been heated to the correct temperature. He used a hot pad to remove the pot from the cooking frame and poured the cup full of water. He set the pot aside and turned to the cylinder. He unscrewed the top and dumped the cylinder’s contents into the mug. In this case, the cylinder held about 15 grams of green tea powder.
Once in the water, Noah used the whisk to stir the cup and then placed it aside. He went the hard case that had carried the other meals and removed the last case. He set the case on the counter and opened its lid. As he did so, a hissing sound announced the release of a gas seal. The scent of fish and seaweed escaped with the gas and Noah was instantly transported home. He opened the container the rest of the way to reveal handmade sushi. Shinobu had sent him his favorites: salmon, yellow-fin tuna and albacore nigiri as well as sashimi for each type of fish. Noah indulged himself and was reminded of how much his adoptive parents had worked to give him. They had striven to ensure he never forgot them but never asked anything for themselves. They had always been selfless in their actions; there it was. Noah had reestablished his focus. He would be the best Operations officer because he would follow their examples. Noah sipped the tea and savored the sushi before turning in for the night.