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Part of USS Helios: Threadbare Flags

Case Unclosed (Pt. 5)

Cyodan II
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The woman’s tinny voice fades into the background as she taps her stylus rhythmically against the metallic desk surface of her plexiglass cubicle, the hum of the forcefield generator lending a high whine to the atonal symphony of noises in the Gendarmerie reception. She continues talking, spouting a flat and rehearsed apology but the words never reach David’s brain, lost to unresponsive synapses at his ear drums. 

“What do you mean the investigation is closed?” Helena shouts, placing a hand on the counter slightly too forcefully causing the nearby armed guards to turn their heads threateningly. Raising them deferentially she continued in a calmer and quieter tone. “We are here to find out what happened to this man’s uncle and lay him to rest.” 

She motioned imploringly towards David, his slowly withdrawing body becoming progressively more lost in the layers of loose shirts and trousers the team had replicated as local clothing. He didn’t react, in truth he hadn’t even noticed. 

“It’s closed. Case SM53562 was closed several days ago by the local magistrate. Medical records confirmed it was Saul Mitchell as you can see on the coroner’s report. Cause of Death listed as accidental.” The young woman motioned with her stylus to the display fitted into the panel to her right, it too was covered in transparent plexiglass, it’s surface filled with telling marks and cracks of unhappy customers. On the screen a few short paragraphs of text appeared in several languages, accompanied by a 3D rendering of the recently deceased engineer hovering to the side. 

“What about an appeals window?” Helena lowered her tone even further.

“There was a standard appeals window.” Her stylus motioned to the small panel again. 

“24 HOURS!” The nearby guards were now focused on the vocal Trill their long disruptor rifles nestled in the crooks of their arms. “We were lightyears away, how are we meant to appeal in 24 hours from the other side of the Federation?” Helena bit her tongue so fast it almost drew blood, ‘don’t mention the Federation’ she admonished silently.

“It is standard in incidents where there is a clear cause of death.” the young receptionist offered a weak shrug. “And since there was no family to claim the remains they were destroyed.”

There was that word again, the one that had taken a grip of David’s consciousness and blocked his brain in its tracks. 

Destroyed. 

Obliterated. 

Annihilated. 

Another person taken from his life without even a speck of remains to bury. His father burnt up in the wreckage of Probert Station, his closest friends cast into superfast dust by the explosion of the Exodus sphere. His uncle, disposed off under an unforgiving distant sun as he fled from terrorists. David simply didn’t have the energy to be anything other than accepting. 

“Helena. There’s nothing more to be done.” Oshira reached out, clutching the woman’s shoulder enough to draw her attention to the blank expression of the young Lieutenant who stared emptily at the image of his Uncle on the screen. So similar they could have been twins, it was like looking into his deceased father’s eyes. With a sigh Helena turned from the counter and began making her way to the doors at the end of the grimy foyer, trading dagger filled glances with the guards as she began making herself busy donning her travelling coat, the rustling of the linen barely covering her frustrated mutterings. 

Oshira took a long pause. The young man looked dishevelled and fragile, had she not known any different she would have marked him as one of the many young men resigned to a life of hard labour in the lucrative mines of the small planet. Overwhelmed by a maternal instinct she fights every muscle that shouts to take the broken young man in her arms. “Were you particularly close?”

“To what?” David slops from the side of his mouth, his eyes still fixed on the slowly spinning bust of his recently deceased uncle. 

“To him.” Oshira took a step closer, standing shoulder to shoulder with the raggedy lieutenant. 

“Not particularly. He first left Earth when I was young, maybe 4 or 5. Took a transport off world looking for a good cause.” A slender smile crept across his lips. “He was back a few months later with dirty boots and an empty belly.” Oshira could see the mist beginning to form behind his eyes and placing her manicured fingers on his shoulder guided him towards the nearby seats. “That was Saul’s thing, he was forever back and forth for the next good deed.”

“That must’ve been difficult for your family.” She could see Helena’s frustrated boot tapping in the corner of her eye but dismissed it with a wave of her slender hand.

“Maybe. I loved it, of course. What little boy wouldn’t be fascinated by a man who turned up laden with gifts, bountiful with stories of chasing Orion pirates and freeing Gormaganders and rebuilding Xindi Prime. He was…” David stopped, a barely held lump in his throat gaining traction. “He was foolish.”

Oshira rubbed his arm through the layers of linen fabric, “Foolish?”

“He had good intentions but he wasn’t the smartest. More than once he came home after getting into trouble.” 

“The road to hell.” Helena muttered as she joined the two on the bench, resigned to the fact they weren’t likely to leave imminently. 

“Saul was easily convinced, he wanted to do good so much he was often blind to the dangers, or the intentions of others.” 

“I’d rather have a good man who is a little blinded than a cruel one who sees everything.” Oshira’s own eyes were threatening to mist as she gripped his hand in hers, attempting to draw out David’s thoughts further, conscious that Bib had quietly mentioned his concerns about David’s lack of mourning on the flight deck before departure. At the time the woman had cursed her wrinkled cheeks that she was quickly becoming ‘mother’ to this misfit group. Now she couldn’t imagine anyone else taking her place. “He was lucky to have your family to fall back on.”

“He’d regularly come back bruised and beaten, often dropped at the far end of the garden path by police officers from the court. As I got older I realised that the colourful stories covered more greyscale truths. Truths my father struggled to support.”

“Is that what caused the fracture?” Oshira had heard this story many times from young adventurers passing through many of her dockyards over the years. Enthusiastic young people desperate to right galactic wrongs, turned away by a family that couldn’t understand their desperation and refused by a Starfleet that required too much order. 

“One night, when I was about 15 I think, he appeared at the door, covered in wounds, bloody foot prints trailing into the kitchen.” David’s eyes narrowed, his mind carried to the teenager creeping round the staircase to see what the commotion was about. “I can smell the soap my mother used to clean him down, I can smell the char of his bloody jumpsuit being burnt in the fire. Like prime cuts of steak on the grill.”

“What was it?” Helena leant in, her interest peaked. 

“It was just after Utopia Planitia and the synth ban. He was with a group trying to smuggle a group of synthetics off planet before they were shut down, or as he saw it executed.” David’s brow furrowed, straining to remember the details. “It turns out the freight captain they had hired got bought out by a bigger party with more latinum. He barely escaped with his life.” He leant back in the chair as the memory faded. “Had several artificial implants as a result, kept his heart going, his lungs. A lot of cyberwork, he kept joking that the ban might apply to him now.” Turning towards Oshira shrugged. “Never came back once the hospital released him, would send messages to Dad every few months but that was it.”

Helena shot up from the chair, shacking the rickety bench causing it to clang loudly across the foyer. The two armed guards shot her a threatening look but she was quietly building steam like a kettle, her eyebrows riding high as her brain began to bubble. “You’re absolutely sure about the implants David? You don’t think he would’ve got them removed?”

David shrugged. “He definitely had them.”

“I doubt he’d had got them removed, the only real treatments involve experimental regrowth. Artifical organs are pretty common, especially outside Starfleet.” Oshira tapped her cheeks indicating her rebreathers. More advanced and smaller than the ungainly metal structures used by her people a century passed but prosthetic adaptations never the less. 

Helen’s eyes widened as she turned to return to the counter and the decidedly unhelpful clerk. 

“What is it?” he found himself drawn from his grey gloom by her sudden activity.

“The Coroner’s summary specifically lists no prosthetics.” Helena was already at the plexiglass, rapping on it with her knuckles.

“I don’t understand…” David muttered.

Oshira gave his shoulders a squeeze as she jumped to her feet, a smile beginning to spread across her face. “It means David, that body wasn’t your uncle’s.” 

Seconds later the three of them were all knocking on the battered plexiglass window. 

Comments

  • I love this entire story—a pacing emotional journey that lifts us up and puts us down, where we feel sadness. In the end, it unwinds, and we get something exciting—some faint hope that this isn't going to end in sadness, at least in death. It has great structure, great narrative, and, as always, compelling characters pulling us as readers along.

    May 22, 2024