Monday, July 27, 2015
"INTO THE WEST" (2005) – "JACOB WHEELER AND THE AWARENESS OF SELF"
Many people would usually consider the topic of Self Awareness when discussing New Age religions or Eastern mysticism. Characters from a TV Western miniseries seems like the last thing anyone would think of when discussing the meaning of Self. Yet, a major character led me to consider this very topic, while re-watching Steven Spielberg’s 2005 miniseries about two families – Lakota and western Virginia - called "INTO THE WEST".
"Self" has been described as the essential self or the core of an individual. A person who has learned to live one’s life with a strong sense of Self is considered as someone who has achieved or come close to a level of self-actualization - namely, achieving personal growth through accepting the true core of oneself. If there is one character in "INTO THE WEST" who seemed to personify self-actualization, it was Thunder Heart Woman (Tonazin Carmelo and later Sheila Tousey), the Lakota woman who had married into the Wheeler family. I am not saying that Thunder Heart Woman was a person with no insecurities, personal demons or anything of the sort. But of all the major characters, she seemed to be more in tune of what and more importantly, who she was.
In the miniseries’ second episode titled, "Manifest Destiny", Thunder Heart Woman had seemed impervious to her white in-laws’ attitude toward her, during her immediate family’s short stay with her in-laws in Virginia. Even when faced with the disapproval of a German minister and fellow wagon immigrant called Preacher Hobbes (Derek de Lint), she remained impervious to his bigotry. At least according to her husband’s narrative. But this essay is not about Thunder Heart Woman. It is about one of the men in her life – the one love in her life, who managed to catch my attention. Namely one Jacob Wheeler (Matthew Settle and later John Terry).
The third of four brothers from a Virginia wheelwright family, Jacob Wheeler seemed very similar to his Lakota wife – the type of person that seemed to know his own mind. The miniseries’ first episode, ”Wheel to the Stars” revealed that Jacob’s Virginia family seemed to view him as a non-conformist . . . or oddball. He, in turn, regarded his hometown of Wheelerton, Virginia; his family and its profession with mild contempt. In short, this young Virginian was a fish out of water in 1825 America and he knew it. This would explain Jacob’s longing to see the world beyond his hometown and the eastern United States. He did not hesitate to express his enthusiasm for the West. After meeting mountain man James Fletcher (Will Patton), he immediately set out to achieve his desire to leave Wheelerton.
Possessing a talent for persuasion, Jacob managed to convince two of his brothers – Nathan (Alan Tudyk) and Jethro (Skeet Ulrich) – into joining his trek to the West. Jethro turned back at the last minute and Nathan ended up accompanying him. After Jacob and Nathan parted ways in St. Louis, the former caught up with Fletcher and famed mountain man, Jedediah Smith (Josh Brolin) and convinced the latter to allow him to accompany Smith’s expedition to California. I could probably list a number of examples of Jacob’s talent for persuasion, along with his exuberant and non-conformist nature. What I had failed to mention was that he possessed a strong and stubborn will to achieve what he desired. A perfect example of this was his determination to return to California after he, Smith and their fellow mountain men had been kicked out of the province by Mexican authorities. Not only did Jacob manage to achieve this goal, he did so at a great price. And yet . . . one of the interesting aspects of the Jacob Wheeler character is that despite possessing a strong will and extroverted nature, he also had certain vulnerable characteristics and insecurities. Especially insecurities. In both ”Wheel to the Stars” and ”Manifest Destiny”, Jacob’s relationships with his Wheelerton family and Thunder Heart Woman revealed just how insecure he could be.
Jacob seemed to have a rather peculiar relationship with his Virginia family. Despite regarding them with contempt for their provincial attitudes, he had also allowed their attitudes to bring out his own insecurities. His grandfather Abraham (Ken Pogue), his father Enoch (Serge Houde) and his three brothers – Nathan, Ezra (Joshua Kalef) and Jethro – either derided or teased him about his lack of interest in the family’s wheelwright business. And all of them viewed Jacob as a daydreamer with no sense of family duty or any common sense. The Wheelers have never hesitated to express their low opinion of Jacob’s desire to experience life beyond Wheelerton. I cannot help but wonder if the Wheelers’ contempt toward Jacob’s non-conformist ways had bred a sense of insecurity within him. Or if this insecurity was one of the reasons behind his desire to escape Wheelerton for the west.
It is possible that I may have stumbled across one result from Jacob’s less-than-ideal relationship with his Virginia family. I do not know if anyone else had noticed, but it seemed to me that whenever any of the other Wheelers teased, ranted or expressed contempt toward Jacob or his views on the West, he rarely bothered to defend himself. Jacob did not defend himself whenever his brothers mocked him at the dinner table.; when Jethro made the ”tail tucked between your legs”comment, following Jacob’s return to Wheelerton in ”Manifest Destiny”; and when Enoch accused him of luring both Nathan and later, Jacob to the West. Instead of defending himself, Jacob merely remained silent in an effort to ignore the hurtful comments.
However, there have also been moments when he did defend himself. Jacob made a snarky comment about his grandfather Abraham’s penchant for rambling on about his past as Revolutionary War veteran and the family’s business. And the elderly man reacted in such a vitriolic manner that I found myself wondering if Jacob had ended up with a new hole in his backside. When Nathan raged against him for helping an escaped slave named Ben Franklin (Sean Blakemore) in Tennessee, Jacob insisted they had done the right thing considering that Ben had earlier released Nathan after holding him hostage with a knife. And when Nathan lost his temper over Jacob’s refusal to follow him to Texas, the younger brother merely insisted upon continuing his intention to join Jedidiah Smith’s expedition.
One could only wonder why Jacob had rarely bothered to defend himself against his family’s scorn. Did he share Thunder Heart Woman’s talent for imperviously ignoring the scorn and prejudices of others? I rather doubt it. Whereas Thunder Heart Woman had seemed unconcerned by others, Jacob’s face tends to express his pain or embarrassment caused by his family’s attitudes. I suspect that deep down, Jacob longed for not only his family’s respect, but their acceptance of his true self. But unlike many people, he was not willing to change his nature for the Wheelers or anyone else’s acceptance.
Why did Jacob decide to return to Wheelerton with his pregnant wife and daughter after eleven years in the West? In his narration, Jacob claimed that he wanted Thunder Heart Woman and his daughter Margaret Light Shines (Elizabeth Sage, later Irene Bedard) to meet his Virginia family. Perhaps he was telling the truth. Yet, a part of me found that hard to believe. The moment Jacob began to enjoy his Lakota in-laws’ hospitality, he felt certain that his own family extend the same kind of warmth to his wife. And yet . . . he had insisted upon returning to Virginia. Why? Had Jethro hinted the truth in his ”tail tuckered between his legs” comment – that Jacob encountered nothing but failure in the West and returned back to Virginia for a livelihood? Or was it something deeper? Perhaps a last chance for Jacob to seek final acceptance from his family? Who knows.
Whatever Jacob had sought in 1836 Virginia, he did not find it. His father Enoch revealed that the family’s wheelwright business had suffered a setback, due to the economic depression that struck the United States in the mid and late 1830s. And the Wheelers seemed no more closer in accepting Jacob for himself or his Western family. His cousin, Naomi Wheeler (Keri Russell) viewed Indians as non-human. His brother Ezra regarded Thunder Heart Woman as a mere”squaw”. Naomi’s sister, Rachel (Jessica Capshaw), viewed young Margaret’s hand as a piece of dung. And Enoch seemed to act as if his new daughter-in-law and grandchildren did not exist. No wonder Jacob ended up complaining about the Wheelers’ treatment of his Lakota family.
Eventually, Jacob decided to take his wife and children and return to the West permanently – preferably Californa. It seemed the Wheelers’ continuing disregard toward them – along with news of his idol Jedediah Smith’s death – led to this decision. He almost seemed cold and distant toward his parents and Ezra. But he did not count on Jethro and his three female cousins’ decision to accompany him to California. Apparently, not all of the Wheelers viewed him as an oddball for his preference for the West. Jacob seemed heartened by Jethro’s decision to join him. And although Naomi, Rachel and Leah’s (Emily Holmes) decision to join the trek West took him by surprise, Jacob readily accepted their company. In the following narration, he came to this conclusion:
”I hope that I would prove equal to the responsibility I had undertaken.”
I found this comment rather odd. Jethro and the three cousins had been determined to follow Jacob and Thunder Heart Woman on the trek to California, regardless of anything he would have done or said. Even Jethro had later pointed this out.
The next three years (1837-1840) must have been the best Jacob had ever experienced with any of the Virginia Wheelers. The three cousins – Naomi, Rachel and Leah – finally began to view Thunder Heart Woman as a member of the family and cherished her and Jacob’s three children (Abraham had been born in Wheelerton in 1836 and Jacob Jr. was born in Missouri sometime in late 1840). Jacob’s close relationship with Jethro seemed like a far cry from the conflicts with Nathan that marred his trip to the west back in the 1820s. One would begin to think that Jacob no longer suffered from any insecurity by this point. And yet . . . they only remained buried inside him, waiting for the right moment to manifest.
In the end, it took the wagon train journey to California (dubbed ”the Wagon Train of Doom” by me) featured in ”Manifest Destiny” for Jacob’s insecurities to get the best of him. Upon their arrival in Independence, Missouri in the fall of 1840, the Wheeler family remained there during the winter before joining a California-bound wagon train led by one Stephen Hoxie (Beau Bridges) in the spring of 1841. Surprisingly, only Thunder Heart Woman seemed reluctant to leave Missouri. I suspect she had enough of being constantly on the move for the past several years. But the rest of the Wheelers, especially Jacob, seemed determined to head for California.
Once the Hoxie wagon company began their westward trek, everything seemed to be faring well. The weather seemed beautiful. Everyone seemed to be in good spirits – including the black family from Illinois named Jones that managed to join the wagon train without any opposition. Both Naomi and Rachel attracted the romantic attention of the train’s two scouts – ‘Skate’ Guthrie and James ‘Jim’ Ebbets (Ryan Robbins and Christopher Heyerdahl). This contentment finally ended when Thunder Heart Woman spotted wolves feeding off the corpse of a buffalo and when the train later crossed what I believe was the Big Blue River. The incident proved to be the first of two disagreements between the couple. Thunder Heart Woman viewed the wolves as a sign that the wagon train would come to a bad end. She insisted that the Wheeler family return to Missouri. Jacob dismissed her worries as superstition on her part. But the expression on his face clearly indicated his doubts on the wisdom of the trip.
Then the first disaster struck. One of the emigrants, a German-born minister named Preacher Hobbes (Derek de Lint), lost control of his wagon during the crossing. Distracted by the Hobbes family’s situation, Jethro nearly lost control of his wagon. Leah fell out of the wagon and drowned in the river’s fast flowing water. Although Hobbes received an angry response for his carelessness from Captain Hoxie, the Wheeler women’s anger seemed to be directed at Jacob for leading them to this western trek. The expression of guilt seemed very palpable on Jacob’s face, as Naomi demanded that he take the family back to Missouri. Leah’s death proved to be just the beginning.
The further west the wagon train traveled, more disasters followed. The emigrants were forced to deal with a severe thunderstorm and a cattle stampede that left the only son of a black emigrant named Absalom Jones (Neville Edwards) dead. Not long after the storm and the stampede, both Naomi and Rachel married two of the wagon train’s scouts, Skate and Jim. But that brief period of happiness failed to last when the wagon train attempted to travel through a pass. While traversing a pass, a wagon broke free, knocked Rachel down and ran over her leg, causing a severe compound fracture. The leg eventually became infected. Hobbes, the closest thing to a doctor available, tried to amputate Rachel’s leg; but his efforts turned out to be clumsy and Rachel died before he could finish. Although no family member angrily demanded that return to Missouri, the expression on Jacob’s face obviously conveyed his feelings of guilt.
The final blow to Jacob’s disastrous return to the west occurred when Mrs. Jones died from cholera. Since the Wheelers’ wagons had been traveling with the Jones’ wagon at the back of the train, they had been exposed to the disease. Hoxie and the scouts forced the Wheelers and the remaining members of the Jones family (Mr. Jones and Sally Jones) to remain behind under quarantine while the main body of the wagon train carries on. Only Naomi was able to continue with the train, since she had been with her new husband. Jethro became afflicted with symptoms of cholera but recovered. Both Jacob and Thunder Heart Woman drifted into a serious quarrel, when he suggested that she take their children and attempt to find her Lakota family. Needless to say, Thunder Heart Woman took the suggestion badly and reminded Jacob that he should have listened to her warnings about the journey.
No new outbreaks occurred after Jacob ordered that all drinking water be boiled. The Wheelers and the Jones rushed to catch up with the wagon train, but discovered that it had been attacked by Cheyenne warriors. All of the emigrants had been wiped out, aside from Naomi, who first became a captive and later, a wife of a Cheyenne chief Prairie Fire (Jay Tavare). The Wheelers and the Jones families were also attacked by Cheyenne warriors. They managed to repulse the attack, but Jacob ended up seriously wounded by an arrow in his chest. The surviving emigrants tried to move on with a wounded Jacob, but the juts and bumps of the trail made it impossible for him to endure the pain. Instead, he insisted that Thunder Heart Woman, Jethro, Mr. Jones and the children continue west to California without him, since he would only prevent them from crossing the Sierra Nevada Mountains before winter. They left him behind with great reluctance.
The period that Jacob spent east of the Sierra Nevada Mountains allowed him to wallow in loneliness and grief over the separation from his family. But he remained determined to find them. And it took him another four to five years before he finally did. Becoming a member of John Charles Frémont’s California Volunteer Militia during the Mexican-American War allowed Jacob to scour the region for signs or news of his remaining family. Five years passed before he finally came upon the ranch that Jethro and Thunder Heart Woman had settled. Jacob also discovered that in the intervening years, his brother and wife had considered him dead, began a relationship and had a child – a little girl named Cornflower. Devastated by this turn of events, Jacob decided not to reveal himself to his family. At least not openly. Instead, he left the wooden medicine wheel necklace that Thunder Heart Woman had given him when they first met to his youngest child, Jacob High Cloud. Another five years passed before Jacob finally reconciled with his family, due to the efforts of his daughter, Margaret Light Shines.
Ever since I first saw ”INTO THE WEST” and especially the above mentioned scene from ”Manifest Destiny”, I have found myself wondering about Jacob’s actions. I understood why he decided not to intrude upon the family that Jethro and Thunder Heart Woman had formed upon their arrival in California. But why did he leave the medicine wheel necklace to young Jacob? Surely, he knew that his family would be aware that he was alive . . . and knew about their situation? Looking back on his action, it struck me as a very passive-aggressive on his part. He lacked the courage to face Jethro and Thunder Heart Woman. And yet, he seemed determined to thwart the happiness they had created . . . as if he was punishing them for continuing their lives without him. Or perhaps Jacob felt a great deal of envy toward Jethro because the latter turned out to be the one who successfully led the family to California, and not him.
Perhaps Jacob had always a passively-aggressive personality from the beginning. His relationship with his Virginia family struck me as being marked by a great deal of passive-aggressive behavior from the start. Jacob seemed determined to be his own man, whether in his enthusiasm for the West, his decision to leave Wheeler or join Jedediah Smith’s expedition over following his brother Nathan to Texas. And yet . . . he never defended himself in the face of their criticism. Instead, he resorted to resentful silence. Why did he constantly fail to defend himself? Was he merely trying to keep the peace? Or did some small part of him fear that his family may have been right about him? It seemed strange than many fans and critics of "INTO THE WEST" seemed to adore Jacob for his seemingly self-assurance and outgoing personality. At the same time, they derided Jethro for being an insecure loser in their eyes. I got the feeling that they were so busy either scorning Jethro or adulating Jacob that they failed to detect the latter’s personal insecurities and darker traits. And Jacob certainly had them by the bucketful.
Did Jacob ever overcome his insecurities? Perhaps. Perhaps not. I wonder if many are aware of this, but it usually takes an individual to overcome his or her faults during an entire lifetime. A good number of people never succeed in overcoming all of their faults. And since "INTO THE WEST" focused more on his and Thunder Heart Woman’s children in the last three episodes, audiences never discovered if he had overcome all of his faults and insecurities. Jacob certainly seemed more at peace in his old age than he did during his first forty years. Perhaps those years of solitude near the Sierra Mountains foothills helped him finally achieve some inner peace.
Monday, July 20, 2015
Below are images from the 1965 comedy, "THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES". Directed by Ken Annakin, the movie starred Stuart Whitman, Sarah Miles, James Fox and Terry-Thomas:
"THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES" (1965) Image Gallery
Friday, July 17, 2015
"SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN" (2012) Review
A period of ten months around 2011-2012 was a busy time for the Brothers Grimm. During that period, at least two television shows and two movies featured their work. At least one television series and the two movies retold the literary pair's tale about Snow White, including the 2012 film, "SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN".
Directed by Rupert Sanders; and written by Evan Daugherty, John Lee Hancock and Hossein Amini; "SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN" is a twist on the Snow White tale in which the Huntsman not only becomes the princess' savior (somewhat), but also her protector and mentor. In this tale, Snow White is a princess of Tabor and the daughter of King Magnus and Queen Eleanor. After the Queen's death, King Magnus marries a beautiful woman named Ravenna after rescuing her from an invading force of glass soldiers. As it turns out, Ravenna is a powerful sorceress that controls the glass soldiers. She kills Magnus on their wedding night and seizes control of Tabor. Duke Hammond and his son William (Snow White's childhood friend) manages to escape the castle. But Snow White is captured by Ravenna's brother Finn and imprisoned in one of the castle's towers.
As a decade passes, Ravenna drains the youth from the kingdom's young women in order to maintain her youth and beauty. When Snow White comes of age, Ravenna learns from her Magic Mirror that the former is destined to destroy her, unless she consumes the young woman's heart. When Finn is ordered to bring Snow White before Ravenna, the princess manages to escape into the Dark Forest. Eric the Huntsman is a widower who has survived the Dark Forest, and is brought before Ravenna. She orders him to lead Finn in pursuit of Snow White, in exchange for her promise to revive his dead wife. But when Eric learns from Finn that Ravenna will not be able to resurrect his wife, he helps Snow White escape through the Forest. Snow White later promises him gold if he would escort her to Duke Hammond's Castle. Meanwhile, the Duke's son William manages to infiltrate Finn's band in order to find Snow White on his own.
What can I say about "SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN"? It is not perfect. Well . . . I had at least two minor and one major problems with the movie. The two minor problems centered around the performances of Chris Hemsworth (Eric the Huntsman) and Charlize Theron (Ravenna). Basically, both gave first-rate performances. I cannot deny that. But . . . there were moments during the movie's first half hour in which I found it difficult to comprehend Hemsworth's accent? Was he trying to use a working-class Scots or English accent? Or was he using his own Australian accent? I could not tell. As for Theron . . . she had a few moments of some truly hammy acting. But only a few moments. But the major problem centered around the character of Snow White.
The movie's final showpiece featured a battle between Snow White and Ravenna's forces at Tabor's Castle. The battle also featured the princess fighting along with both Eric and William. When on earth did Snow White learn combat fighting? When? She spent most of the movie's first thirty minutes either as a young girl or imprisoned in the Castle. I figured that Eric, William or both would teach her how to fight in combat before their forces marched back to Tabor. The movie featured a scene in which Eric taught Snow White on how to stab someone up close . . . but nothing else. In the end, the movie never really supported the idea that someone had trained Snow White to be a military combatant.
The only reasons I wanted to see "SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN" were the visual effects and the fact that I was a fan of ABC's "ONCE UPON A TIME". That was it. Otherwise, I would not have bothered to pay a ticket to see this film. But I am glad that I did. Because I enjoyed it very much, despite its flaws. Thanks to Daugherty, Hancock and Amini's script, "SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN" is part epic, part road movie, part fantasy horror tale and part romance. For me, all of these aspects made this tale about Snow White fascinating to me. And Snow White has never been one of my favorite fairy tales. Director Rupert Sanders not only meshed these attributes into an exciting movie. More importantly, his direction gave the movie a steady pace. I find it amazing that "SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN" was Sanders' first feature film.
The most interesting aspect about the film was its love triangle between Snow White, Eric and William. Although Eric was originally supposed to be nothing more than a savior and mentor for Snow White, someone made the decision to add a little spice to their relationship. I suspect that this had something to do with Hemsworth's age and his chemistry with star Kristin Stewart. The movie did not end with Snow White romantically clenched with one man or the other. Although some people were either disturbed or annoyed at this deliberately vague ending, I was not. I suspect that if Snow White had chosen either Eric or William, she would not have found her choice an easy one - either politically or romantically.
There are other aspects of "SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN" that I found admirable. One, I was impressed by Dominic Watkins' production designs, which ranged from horror to light fantasy. I was afraid that the movie would visually turn out to be another fantasy production with another second-rate "LORD OF THE RINGS" look about it. Watkins' designs were ably enhanced by the special effects team led by Vince Abbott and Greig Fraser's beautiful photography. And I loved Colleen Atwood's costume designs. She did a great job for most of the cast. But her designs for Charlize Theron's evil queen were outstanding. Take a look:
The performances featured in "SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN" struck me as pretty damn good. The revelations of the actors portraying the Seven Dwarfs took me by surprised. Toby Jones was the first to catch my eye. Then I realized that a who's who of well known British character actors were portraying the dwarves - Bob Hoskins, Ian McShane, Nick Frost, Ray Winstone, and Eddie Marsan. They were all entertaining, especially Hoskins, McShane and Marsan. More importantly, I was very impressed by their roles in the movie's final battle. Sam Spruell's performance as Ravenna's sleazy brother Finn sruck me as almost as frightening as Charlize Theron's Queen Ravenna. But only almost. Despite her moments of hammy acting, Theron nearly scared the pants off me, making her Evil Queen just as frightening as the one featured in the 1937 Disney animated film.
I must admit that I was not that impressed by Sam Claflin's performance as the missionary in 2011's "PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES". But I suspect that was due to the role he was stuck with. "SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN" provided him with a much better role as the aristocratic William, who felt guilty over his and his father's failure to prevent Snow White's imprisonment following the King's death. Not only was Claflin was able to strut his stuff in a more interesting role and prove that he could be a first-rate action hero; he also had surprisingly great chemistry with both Stewart and Hemsworth. As for the Australian actor, he was superb as the grieving huntsman, Eric. Okay, I had a few problems with his questionable accent during the movie's first half hour. However, he overcame that flaw and gave a great and emotionally satisfying performance as a man whose destructive grieving was overcome by his relationship with Snow White. And he also proved that he was more than an action star in a scene in which he gave a beautiful soliloquy regarding Eric's feelings for the princess. The belle of the ball - at least for me - was actress Kristen Stewart. I must be honest. I have never been a fan of the "TWILIGHT" movies or Stewart's role of Bella Swann. But I certainly enjoyed her performance as Snow White in this film. For the first time, Stewart seemed to be portraying a character that seemed animated, interesting and pro-active. She has great chemistry with both Hemsworth and Claflin. And she did surprisingly well in the action sequences . . . especially in Snow White's confrontation with Ravenna. I hope to see Stewart in more roles like this.
I heard rumors that due to the movie's surprising success, Universal Pictures hopes to release a sequel to "SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN". I do not know if this is a good idea. Do not get me wrong. I enjoyed the movie very much, despite its flaws. The script proved to be an interesting mixture of fantasy, horror, comedy, romance and a road trip. And the cast, led by Kristen Stewart, Chris Hemsworth and Charlize Theron, was first-rate. But considering how the movie ended, I simply do not see the need or possibility for a sequel. Besides, I felt more than satisfied with this particular film. Unfortunately, a sequel is now in the works. And without Stewart as Snow White. Hmmn. I do not know about this.
Monday, July 13, 2015
Here is a STAR TREK VOYAGER story I had written, called "Glimpses of the Future". In it, B'Elanna Torres discovers a device that enables her to see the future. The story is set during Seasons 1, 7 and in between:
"GLIMPSES OF THE FUTURES"
DISCLAIMER: B'Elanna Torres, Tom Paris and all other characters related to Star Trek Voyager belong to Paramount, Viacom and the usual Trek Powers to Be.
"I must say," Neelix commented reflectively, "this is a beautiful-looking planet. But then, Hotak was always a popular place to visit. Especially during its heyday."
Lieutenant B'Elanna Torres glanced at her surroundings and grunted. She had to agree with Neelix about the planet's appearance. It did look beautiful. The green trees, sloping hills and the river nearby reminded her of Earth. At least certain parts of Earth. But the abandoned structures and crumbling ruins gave the planet's surface a desolate air. "What happened here?" she asked.
Neelix adopted a mournful expression. "War. About forty years ago, the two major inhabitants became involved in some kind of civil war. They literally wiped out each other. I recall hearing details about it, while I was a boy."
"How tragic," B'Elanna commented. She glanced at a one-story building, still scarred by scorch marks.
The Talaxian continued, "Legend has it that a holy man had premonitions of the upcoming war. Unfortunately, no one bothered to listen to him. He was among the first to die."
B'Elanna shivered. Her eyes remained fixed on the structure, nearby. For some reason, it reminded her of a religious temple. Or a shrine. She pointed at the building. "Did the holy man resided there?"
Neelix shook his head. He had no idea. "I don't know, Lieutenant. However, I believe we should continue helping the others search for that gallicite." Presently, the U.S.S. Voyager orbited over Hotak, a Class-M planet that the ship's sensors had detected, two days ago. The sensors had also detected signs of gallicite on the planet's surface. And Voyager needed the mineral badly to repair its eroding warp coils. B'Elanna found it frustrating that after six months in the Delta Quadrant, the ship was in danger of breaking apart.
The Chief Engineer heaved a sigh, as she and Neelix joined the remaining Away team on its search for gallicite. Two hours later, their search proved fruitful. B'Elanna figured they had collected enough gallicite to keep the warp coils in top condition for the next year or two.
While the other members of the Away team beamed back to Voyager with the gallicite, B'Elanna decided to indulge in some last minute sight seeing. Namely, the one-story building she had spotted earlier. B'Elanna approached the building and slowly entered. The dim light made it difficult to see. However, she was able to make out the remnants of what looked like an altar. It seemed that her first perception of this building being a temple had been correct.
Before she turned away, B'Elanna spotted an object on the altar. She picked it up. It was a small, rectangular-shaped box. A case made of dark-brown leather. Curious, B'Elanna unhooked the silver latch and opened the case. A blinding light flashed in front of her eyes . . .
* * * *
Three officers stood before the ship's warp core, as it shimmered with a brilliant blue. Captain Janeway and Commander Chakotay grinned happily, while B'Elanna stared at the core with intense satisfaction.
"She is quite lovely, isn't she?" the Captain drawled.
B'Elanna frowned at the auburn-haired starship captain. "She?"
"Sorry. Figure of speech. I meant the warp core."
Chakotay added, "Discovering that gallicite on Hotak turned out to be a blessing. I understand the Away team managed to collect enough gallicite to keep the warp coils in condition for at least a year."
"Two years," B'Elanna corrected. "However, I do think it would be a good idea to collect more gallicite along the way. You know, to make sure that we don't find ourselves in this situation, again."
Janeway smiled approvingly. "An excellent idea, Lieutenant. In fact, I would like to commend you and your staff for a job well . . ."
* * * *
Once more, a bright flash blinded B'Elanna. She let out a gasp and immediately closed the case. It took her over a minute to realize that she had not left the ruined temple on Hotak.
"Lieutenant Torres? Are you okay?" Neelix poked his head inside the temple's doorway.
Breathing heavily, B'Elanna nodded. She immediately hid the case from the Talaxian's view. "I'm . . . I'm fine, Neelix. Just a little . . . the air is so dense in here. I'm having a little difficulty breathing. That's all."
As Neelix led her out of the temple, B'Elanna wondered why she had lied. And hid the device from Neelix. It would have been much easier to tell the truth. That she had stumbled across a device that allowed a person to view the future. Yet, B'Elanna knew that if she had revealed the device to Neelix, he would eventually inform the Captain. And Janeway would have insisted upon the device remaining on the planet's surface - where she had found it. The device had piqued B'Elanna's curiosity and she was not ready to relinquish her new discovery. At least not yet.
* * * *
Not long after the Away team's return to Voyager, B'Elanna's staff commenced upon refitting the warp coils. The half-Klingon spent the next two days supervising the task, while Voyager resumed its long journey to the Alpha Quadrant. On the third day, B'Elanna announced the completion of the job during a Senior staff meeting. Captain Janeway and Chakotay paid a visit to Engineering, four hours later. And the next moments unfolded just as B'Elanna had envisioned.
". . . your staff for a job well done," Janeway said, repeating the very words B'Elanna had heard in her vision. The Captain peered closely at the younger woman with blue-gray eyes. "However, you do seem a bit exhausted, Lieutenant. I suggest that you get some rest. What would you recommend, Commander? A day off? Maybe two?"
B'Elanna felt slightly affronted. Granted, she did feel tired, but she still had enough energy to sustain her for the rest of the day. "I'm fine, Captain," she replied. "Besides, there are other matters to attend to. Those irregular fluctuation readings in the sensor power couplings . . ."
Chakotay spoke up. "Minor repairs that your staff can deal with. As of now, you're on a forty-eight hour leave. That's an order, Lieutenant."
Her first instinct was to protest even further. Yet, B'Elanna noticed the adamant gleam in both Janeway and Chakotay's eyes. She had been outflanked and there was nothing she could do about that. B'Elanna heaved a silent sigh. What the hell could she do for a day? Harry will be on duty until this evening. And there was no one else, aside from Chakotay, with whom she could spend some free time. Including the ex-Maquis crew.
Then B'Elanna remembered her little souvenir from Hotak. Perhaps this leave would give her the opportunity for further examination of the device. And more glimpses of the future. Feigning defeat, B'Elanna gave a little shrug of her shoulders. "Oh well. I guess I know when I'm licked." Both the Captain and the First Officer smiled.
* * * *
The moment B'Elanna entered her quarters, she headed straight for her desk and opened the drawer. She sighed with relief. The Hotak device had remained where she had left it. After removing the case, she strode toward the sofa. After her last experience on Hotak, B'Elanna felt it would be more prudent to sit or lay on something in case she suffered another dizzy spell. Or passed out.
B'Elanna took a deep breath. Anticipation tingled with every nerve in her body. Then she opened the case. A familiar light blinded her eyes and once again, B'Elanna found herself in the future . . .
* * * *
Red klaxon lights permeated the Engineering section. Chakotay's voice announced over the Comm system, "All hands to battle stations!" The inhabitants inside Engineering, rushed to their posts. Their chief engineer barked out orders to check the engines and every system to make sure they were operating at a hundred percent. Seconds later, the attack commenced.
Voyager rocked from the enemy's first blow. One of the consoles near the warp core exploded in a shower of sparks. B'Elanna muttered angrily, "Damn Kazons!" A second blow followed, minutes later. One panel near the anti-matter chamber exploded. Sparks flew into the face of one of the engineers. "Ashmore!" B'Elanna rushed toward the injured man.
Chakotay's voice barked over the Comm system, again. "B'Elanna! Reroute power to the shields!"
"I can't! We need all available power to keep the war engines functioning! And one of the . . ."
Another blast rocked Voyager. More explosions followed. B'Elanna curtly ordered the computer to transport Ashmore over to Sick Bay. Then she turned her attention to another injured crewman, Lindsay Ballard. Just as she was about to attend the injured woman, the Captain's voice cried out, "Lieutenant! We need that extra power! Now!"
B'Elanna emitted a growl, before she transported Ballard to Sick Bay. Then she barked at one of her engineers. "Kurt! Reroute at least 50% of the warp plasma power to the shields!"
Kurt Bendara, another former Maquis, who now served under B'Elanna, reached for the nearest console and began entering data. Before the engineer could finish his task, and explosion blew up the console and sent him flying to floor. B'Elanna rushed to her friend's side. Kurt's face resembled a mass of molten flesh and blood. By some miracle, he had remained alive. "Computer!" B'Elanna barked. "Lock on to Crewman Bandera's combadge and initiate emergency transport to Sick Bay!"
Seconds later, Kurt's body disappeared from the floor. B'Elanna rushed over to another console to complete his . . .
* * * *
The bright light flashed once more, ending B'Elanna's vision. A surge of dizziness took hold of her and she fell back against the sofa. Seconds passed before the dizziness abated. B'Elanna took a deep breath.
Kahless! Kurt! Had she just witnessed Kurt's death? Or did he survive the attack? B'Elanna wished the vision had not ended so abruptly. If she knew more details, perhaps she could warn him in time. Not only was Kurt Bendara a fellow ex-Maquis, but also a close friend. He had once saved B'Elanna during an incident near the Cardassian border. And had met Chakotay at a bar on Telfas Prime. B'Elanna could imagine how the former Maquis captain would react to Kurt's death. The two men were like brothers.
B'Elanna glanced at the chronometer on the wall. The time read 17:03 hours. Which meant that Neelix had begun serving dinner. With the ship's power fully restored, B'Elanna considered replicating a meal in her quarters. But thinking about what she had just witnessed, she needed to see Kurt. Reassure her mind that he was still alive and well. Without further thought, B'Elanna donned a loose, pullover blouse, kept her uniform pants on and left her quarters for the Mess Hall.
At first, she could not find Kurt. Or Chakotay. Many crewmen filled the Mess Hall and most of the tables seemed occupied. Then B'Elanna spotted both men sitting at a table located in the left far corner of the room. Relief overcame her, as she strode toward their table.
"Kurt! You're here!" The words came out of B'Elanna's mouth before she could stop herself. The two men stared at her with surprise. Okay, perhaps she had sounded a bit too relieved.
Chakotay's dark eyes expressed concern. "B'Elanna? Is there something wrong?"
"I . . . uh, I was looking for Kurt," B'Elanna replied rather feebly. "I wanted to ask him about the warp coil. If there had been any setbacks, after the refit."
The concern in the First Officer's eyes gave way to a rebuke. "Pardon me, Lieutenant, but I seemed to recall that you were ordered to take leave."
"Of course I'm taking leave!" B'Elanna retorted flippantly. "I just . . ."
Kurt flashed a knowing smile. "You might as well give up, Chakotay. You can take the engineer out of Engineering, but you can't take engineering out of the engineer." He shook his head. "If you must know, B'Elanna, the warp engines are doing fine. You have nothing to worry about."
"That's what you think," B'Elanna muttered. Her slip of the tongue brought forth more stares from Chakotay and Kurt. Kahless! She really must tired. "I guess I better returned to my quarters. I must be more tired than I thought."
Chakotay added, "You do look a little exhausted."
B'Elanna mumbled a quick, "Yeah, yeah." Then she turned away and left the Mess Hall.
* * * *
The remaining evening passed uneventful for B'Elanna. But the image of a severely wounded Kurt Bandera refused to leave her thoughts. She tried everything to vanquish the image - going over old Engineering reports, and reading one of the two Klingon romance novels she had brought with her from the Liberty. B'Elanna even tried a trip to Sandrine's in the hope she would encounter her close friend, Harry Kim. Her hopes ended in disappointment after a quick trip to Holodeck One. Harry was no where to be found. And so, B'Elanna found herself back inside her quarters. Alone.
Her eyes fell upon the small leather case on the sofa. The Hotak device. Kurt Bendara flashed in her mind once more. She had to find out what happened to Kurt. She had to know if he had survived the Kazon attack.
B'Elanna plopped herself on the sofa and snatched up the case. She closed her eyes for a second. Maybe if she asked a question, the device would allow her to witness the answer. Taking a deep breath, she murmured quietly, "What happened to Kurt Bendara, after the Kazon attack?" B'Elanna slowly opened the case. The familiar light consumed her . . .
* * * *
The two senior officers inside Holodeck Two swatted a ball against the hoverball court's wall. At least B'Elanna continued to swat the ball. Her opponent, Commander Chakotay, seemed to be having less success. After B'Elanna returned his serve, he reached out to hit the ball and missed it entirely. Panting heavily, Chakotay's legs crumbled underneath him, as he fell to the floor.
A concerned B'Elanna stared at him. "What's going on, Chakotay?" she demanded. "I seemed to be beating you a lot easier than usual."
"Nothing . . . I'm fine," the First Officer said in between intakes of breath. "I guess . . . I'm out . . . of shape."
A mild smirk curved B'Elanna's lips. "Out of shape? After a three-month camping trip? You should be in perfect shape."
The morose tone in Chakotay's voice captured B'Elanna's attention. She glanced sharply at him. "Okay, now I know there is something wrong. Did something happened on that planet, between you and the Captain?" B'Elanna hoped that her friend had not heard the waver in her voice.
Apparently, Chakotay had not. He still seemed to be brooding over his problem. "Look B'Elanna, can we discuss something else? Nothing happened on New Earth that would make interesting conversation. Trust me."
A sigh left Chakotay's mouth. "Kathryn and I . . . I mean, the Captain and I named the planet, New Earth. Especially since as Humans, we were the only humanoids on the planet."
B'Elanna murmured, "How convenient."
"Yes, it was. And also very pleasant." Chakotay took a deep breath. "For the first time I . . . well, I got to know Kathryn very well." B'Elanna noticed that her friend had stopped referring to Voyager's commanding officer by her position.
B'Elanna quirked an eyebrow. "Really? So, you two became close?"
"Get your mind out of the gutter, Torres!" Chakotay retorted. "We weren't as 'close' as you might think." He paused. "Although . . . I wish we had. Listen, can you keep a secret?"
A small, mirthless laugh left B'Elanna's mouth. "If you're talking about how you feel about the Captain, I already know." She heaved a small sigh. "In fact, I've known for quite some time. And so have other members of the crew. You're not 'that' good at hiding your feelings, Chakotay."
A heavy silence filled the holodeck. B'Elanna gave her friend a sad look. Poor Chakotay. Nine months ago, she would have been devastated by his revelation. Nine months ago, B'Elanna had harbored a deep love toward the First Officer. Until she realized that what she had really felt was infatuation, fed by her gratitude toward him giving her a new lease on life, over two years ago.
"Wow!" Chakotay said, breaking the silence. "I . . . I had no idea that you knew . . ."
B'Elanna chirped in, "You don't have to say anything, Chakotay. As far as we're concerned, it's an open secret. Does, uh . . . does the Captain . . . feel the same way about you?"
Chakotay's shoulders sagged. "To be honest, I don't know," he murmured. "I think she might be attrac . . ."
* * * *
The blinding light ended B'Elanna trip into the future. The familiar wave of dizziness followed. Only this time, it took her a little longer to overcome the dizziness. After several minutes, B'Elanna's eyes flickered open. She heaved a shuddering sigh.
Recovering from use of the device seemed to be getting more difficult. But that did not disturb B'Elanna as much as what she had witnessed. Despite her efforts, the device had failed to give her an answer on Kurt Bendara's fate. Instead, it confirmed a suspicion she has harbored for the past three months.
Chakotay was in love with Kathryn Janeway. The realization hit B'Elanna with the force of a tsunami. She still remembered that moment when she first harbored suspicions about her mentor's feelings toward Voyager's captain. It happened three months ago - during the incident with that living organism they had mistaken for a nebula. Upon visiting Chakotay's quarters, she found him inside with the Captain, teaching the latter how to use his medicine wheel. It had been a startling moment for B'Elanna, finding the man she love being cozy with another woman. Granted, no sex had been involved. But there seemed to be an intimate aura between the two that made B'Elanna feel very uneasy.
Another thing B'Elanna remembered from her vision - the future Chakotay had seemed uneasy about Kathryn Janeway's feelings toward him. That alone gave B'Elanna hope that she still had a chance for a different kind of relationship with her mentor.
B'Elanna felt tempted to use the Hotak device again. To learn more about a possible future with Chakotay. But since the device never responded to her question regarding Kurt Bendara, she suspected that it would be hopeless to use it in order to automatically receive another vision about Chakotay - if asked. And to be honest, her last use of the device had left her feeling exhausted. B'Elanna realized that she would, instead, benefit from a good night's sleep. She returned the device to her desk and made her way to the bedroom.
End of Part 1