O’er Mountains to the Sea

Everything was fine as they began their first night in the mountains. The whole convoy was in high spirits as they left the comfortable homesteads of their people which surrounded the central settlement. Ten years had passed since their crash landing on Darkworld, as some had begun to call it, and in that time the settlers, now known as “pilgrims,” had built a secure rural community. Now, however, Markley Toms and some others decided to leave it all.  As he walked he noted that the land continued to rise and he reflected on what had brought him to this point.


It was only shortly after the crash that the crew of the ship and the pilgrims reached an agreement that their varied beliefs and priorities would best be served by living separately but close enough for help in time of need. Though the trials they endured were many and often severe, they survived and grew over the years the connection forged by the need to survive led to amiable bonds between most of the pilgrims and settlers. Some of the pilgrims had even moved into the settlement and new families formed.

The “settlers” as they were now known were primarily comprised of what was left of the crew-members of the crashed star freighter, Blue Star.  The longer they remained here on Darkworld the more the crew members began to accept that no rescue was coming. So after two years of veritable tent-living, they began to forge a proper town and make plans for the future. The pilgrims simply dubbed the settlement “Crewtown”, but the people of the settlement called their new home New Dawn.

Life was hard in New Dawn, but was eased somewhat by certain technologies that had either escaped the crash with them in hastily gathered baggage; or been salvaged in the short time before the craft sank and was lost forever. Precious little time had led to precious little useful salvage. People grab the strangest things in a panic, and most of it proves useless when you’re marooned. Picture albums, a watch left on the counter, jewelry, personal com-units…all perfectly understandable in normal daily society; but nothing in their life on Darkworld had been “normal.” As a matter of fact, they probably would not have made it at all had it not been for the Fourth Day Miracle.

They had been stranded for three days on Darkworld and were running low on rations and water. It wasn’t that the planet lacked water; but something about the water, or in it, caused nausea and worse unless boiled sufficiently. On the day after their arrival it had rained like the heavens were purging and washed out what fire they had along with any hopes of starting a new one. On the third night there, the pilgrims had all assembled on the coast in the rain and called out to their god to rescue them and supply their need. The crew, huddled in their storm-tossed cloth shelters, snickered and tossed a few curses in their direction; shouting obscenities at the pilgrims and their god. Crew Chief Markley Toms sat with his head in his hands. He was the highest ranking crew member now.  Ruul had been the only officer of the bridge crew to survive; but he had been attacked by something in the water as he swam out to see if successful dives to the sunken star ship could be attempted. They still didn’t know what manner of creature it was; one moment the Second Engineer had been swimming strongly out to sea and then the water exploded and he just never re-appeared.

Chief Toms didn’t go in for the actions of the crew-members as they vented their bitterness on the pilgrims; but he wasn’t ready to make his first act as leader something as unpopular as taking the side of the pilgrims over his own men. The pilgrims ignored the attack and eventually others of the crew silenced their comrades. Misery may love company; but it only tolerates irritating, loud outbursts for so long.

In the morning when the crew rose up to their first clear day on Darkworld, they looked toward the beach and saw what must have been half the pilgrim throng gathered around two large objects reflecting the slowly emerging sunlight. The crew chief ran down the beach and into the gathering as the pilgrims began to sing a song of praise. They had just opened the first of the two identical pods and a quick glance inside confirmed what he had not dared to believe until then. In the dark of the night, two survival escape pods had somehow ejected from the cargo launch bay of the scuttled star ship and washed up on the shoreline within 30 feet of each other. Basic tools, some weapons, more rations, water filtering devices, basic medical kits; a SAM2 solar generator, and some solar powered lights (most were damaged), and perhaps what turned out to be most useful, a Composition Analysis Scanner. Even though the scanner could not correctly identify most of the new plant-life, it gave them enough information to eliminate most things that were poisonous from their diet, and to analyze soils and rocks for usefulness. This uncommon stroke of “luck” did much to bring hope to the crew and the pilgrims; and the pilgrims were quick to share the rewards – never mentioning the angry words that had been shouted in the previous dark night of despair.

Even with the windfall of equipment in the pods, survival was difficult. Winter had come on quickly after their arrival; but fortunately it was mild and only made food gathering more difficult. The crew tossed together shacks of wood and mud- not a durable shelter; but enough to stave off the chill in the air. The pilgrims, who had already picked out an area to settle just a short hike from the beach, built ancient looking long houses each of which held several families.

Still, disease, wild animal attacks, accidents and other hardships dropped their numbers from 297 to 207 in the first six months. Then, as the pilgrims, the crew, and their new home adjusted to each other and found some balance; things began to turn for the better. They were coming out of the spring season which had been utilized to plant seeds from edible plants they collected the previous autumn. The pilgrims, about 192 in number, were beginning to take to this new life with hope and excitement for what lay ahead.

The fifteen crew members, on the other hand, were still hoping beyond hope for rescue…that some ship of the convoy would have caught the brief transmission of their distress beacon and would be coming for them as soon as they themselves had settled on their new world. In the meantime, they left most of the food gathering and production to the pilgrims while they worked on piecing together a distress beacon, or working out a way to use the pod containers to reach the ship and perhaps make it out with an inter-system communication unit or even a shuttle craft.

The months lingered on and the reality that that no help was coming washed over them in ever-increasing waves. Eventually, the desire to avoid another winter in primitive shelter and minimal food supplies pushed them into accepting this new life and creating some durable and comfortable residences while giving a little aid to the pilgrims stockpiling food.

The pilgrims had adapted well to testing and transplanting some of the local vegetation, as well as fishing and hunting small game. They had no “home” to return to and so they had taken to their new life with an adventurous plunge. Midst the hard work of transforming an untamed and strange land, the frequent bouts of illness, the lack of so much they had relied upon or found comfort in during their old life; they colored their new life with the close bonds of family, the warmth of a fire at twilight, the simplicity of fresh stew shared with neighbors over the shared faith and hope in a joy-filled tomorrow they already believed was theirs for the living. The fathers and mothers nurtured their children with a devotion and love that melted the often harsh edges of this beautiful but gritty place. It was something they never could really grasp or explain in to those in Crewtown.

This was no grand adventure or sentimental journey to the crew. One day they had been on a routine mission dropping off passengers and supplies to a far new planet and now they were exiles with no real hope of salvation. Most hated this planet…and held the pilgrims in contempt since they were the reason; they had begun to believe, for their current situation.  After all, had they not been the pests of their planet they wouldn’t have needed to seek another one.  And what was more; the pilgrims seemed contented with this abhorrent life and were beginning to thrive here.

After two years with the crew, Markley Toms had succeeded in providing for his crew the start of a new town. They had strong, durable shelters to live in, a cave they had begun to mine metallic ore from for making strong implements and fueling the dreams of future travel off the planet; though most knew it was a futile dream.  They had also begun to build good relationships with the pilgrims, at least enough to barter for food with the tools they were forging.  A few of the pilgrims had even returned to the crew’s settlement desiring more modern conveniences than what they had in the pilgrim village creating a population explosion of 28 adults, and 3 children and 2 teenagers.

At the meeting to commemorate the second year of their crash-landing, Toms stood before the men and told them that it was time to drop the old rank and file hierarchy. What earned you authority on a ship was not the same as what was best for this community; so they would have regular elections. Toms also announced that he would not be seeking a leadership position.

When the elections were over and a mayor and a small town council had been elected; Markley Toms left New Dawn and walked the little over a half-mile stretch to the nearest pilgrim settlement. The more he watched the pilgrims the more he found to respect, admire and eventually to long for. They were content, fulfilled… happy.

He was restless, empty, tired and stretched thin. Keeping the crew from self-destruction had worn on him mentally, physically and emotionally. Just walking out of the newly ordained town hall brought the smell of new life into his lungs. One could almost see the weight lifted as he slowly morphed through the stages of evolution from Cro-Magnon man to contemporary man like the old chart, put into motion. When he reached the top of the rise that marked the border of the town he could see the broad expanse of plains and the forest rising behind it, and in between he could see the curls of smoke marking a pilgrim village; he never looked back, he only glided down into the low valley and set off for the a new life.

The sun was beginning to slip low into the sky behind him. The day was ending. But with patience and time, it would rise on a new day straight ahead.


The mountain wind blew in Makley’s face bringing him back to the journey to which he was embarking.  Markley wasn’t young anymore but age wasn’t dragging heavily on him yet…yet; but he could feel it seeping in with each new year, especially in the winter when his knees reminded him that in the spring of the new year, he would be 34 years old.  He reflected that nearly half of his adult life was lived here in Darkworld.

That name, coined in those first despairing days had proven to be the paradox of his existence. His life in Darkworld slowly purged the darkness from his life. Living with the pilgrims for the last eight years brought him peace, worth, purpose, belonging; all in greater measure than he knew before, and out of them came a family and a faith in something bigger than himself.

He farmed some basic crops for the family; but he primarily spent his time engineering things for the community. He worked in wood and in metal that he obtained from the settler’s mine.  He was welcome, respected, and genuinely cared about. His wife Lyra, was the daughter of one of the female pilgrim leaders, Mirht now dead four years.  Lyra was a clothier for the community; and their two children were growing up too fast. Mika was six and had her mother’s reddish hair and green eyes while her brother, four year old Caleb, had brown hair and eyes like his father. He also shared his father’s adventurous spirit.

‘That spirit,’ Markley thought, ‘was what led him into space in the first place when he was only 16 years old.’  Now it was bubbling up once again. Life had become too routine and constricted around him as the seasons flowed on endlessly. It ate at him that a world was theirs for the inhabiting but no one had seen more than a 10-15 mile swathe of it in the nine years since their arrival. What if this wasn’t the best place to live? What if they were not the only sentient inhabitants? What if… and that was the real crux of the matter- too many “what ifs.”  It was all too intriguingly intoxicating.

Had he been alone in this neurosis, he probably would have stayed put and farmed out the years of his life but there were others who longed to explore and discover. Just because the pilgrims chose simplicity in their lifestyle, didn’t mean they all lacked any ambition for discovery. Several of the pilgrims found themselves staring longingly at the mountains off to the southeast in the lulls of the workday. What if there were new medicinal plants to be discovered over the mountains? What if there was bigger game or an even better climate for planting? The “What ifs” again.

And so, a decision had been reached and a plan drafted for a new colonization. A group of 12 families were going to pack up supplies and establish a new settlement at the foot of the far away mountains. Then, once the settlement was established and secure; they would use it as a base to conquer the mountain and explore what lay beyond.

The wind gusted again and Markley heard Lyra yell at Caleb to “get back in her sight.”  That kid… if they lived, he would have some adventure to tell his children.

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