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Part of USS Lakota: Episode 2: A Parting of Ways

4 – Shattered Hopes

Protectorate's Office, Un'gar
Stardate 24016.9
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Known throughout the quadrant to many different species, the Orion people were often called many things, but patience was never one of the traits associated with the green-skinned humanoids. Even for those in Starfleet, who had acclimated themselves to their surroundings and the need to develop certain traits and skills, it was still a struggle for them to bury lifelong faults.

“We’ve been here for hours…”

Nikti Keesa was struggling to keep a lid on her frustrations, having long since given up on being calm and quiet. Really struggling. According to Zinn, she had done well to keep it in check this long, with the Deltan having noted that her brethren in charge of the science department would have folded much sooner. She wasn’t interested, of course. All she wanted was to leave the small room and see their colleague.

It was all any of them wanted, but Zinn was keeping a check on his frustrations far easier than his companions. While she looked calm on the surface, Noli was a nervous wreck. She had a responsibility as XO to present an air of calm and control in distressing situations, but today it was all a facade. It had been almost a year to the day since she and Prida had adopted Or’uil into their crew, the young, misguided Ungeat struggling to find a place among the stars until the day the three had formed an unlikely bond. Since then, they had been through untold horrors together. From the Dominion invasion of the Deneb sector, where they had hunted the Breen commander, to the liberation of the very planet they stood one once again. Through the climactic final battle of the Deneb sector, to the chaos of Frontier Day and the young Ungeat’s assimilation by the Borg. All through the trauma of the subsequent Borg incursions, to the medical emergency on Quasaris. All led them to this point, and all had proven they were far more than just friends; they were a family.

She’d taken her brother for granted in recent weeks, assuming he’d always be there for her to bend his abnormally large ears with a problem. She’d expect him to always be there to give his customary, unsolicited advice that would drive her crazy but would always, always, be right. She’d come to rely on him perhaps as much as Captain Nazir relied on her, maybe even more. And what about Prida? She’d only just returned from her secondment to the Hathaway, and they all had so much to catch up on.

The XO was about to urge the young Orion to sit down and catch her breath when the door to the room opened and a familiar, languid figure strolled inside. Noli, like her counterpart from medical, rose to her feet and stood beside Nikti. “Protectorate,” she gave the best smile she could muster, “is there any word?”

“He is stable for now,” Sh’int nodded slowly, drawing gasps of relief from the Starfleet officers. “Our physicians will keep him that way until he is ready to come out of his sleep paralysis. You are free to remain here, should you wish. I have had some sleeping arrangements made for you. Alternatively, you can return to your ship. There is nothing more to be done for now,” the leader of the Ungeat people told the three.

“Thank you. We’ll stay here,” Noli replied in an instant, without so much as a second of consultation with her colleagues. “We’ll be on hand should you need us, but I would like to update my Captain?” the Bajoran asked, the fog of gloom that had permeated every fibre of her being lifted at last.

“Of course,” the Protectorate moved aside and held out a long, gangly arm towards the door. “Please, this way…” he bowed respectfully to his visitors.

Nodding in thanks, Noli led the triumvirate from the office space and followed the Protectorate. To a new room; to a new future; to a chance to get some much-needed sleep.

A grunt left the prone Bajoran’s lips as her frame shuddered under Zinn’s heavy, Deltan hand. Blinking herself awake, the XO took a few moments to compose herself as her vision adjusted to the dark surroundings, but it didn’t take long for her to notice the solemn expression on the Deltan’s face. Or to interpret the noise in the corner as the sobs of their young counterpart.

“No…” her tone was low and shaken, her head moving softly from side to side as she shrugged off the Deltan’s touch. A sharp intake of breath followed, tears welling in the corner of her tired eyes. When they began to fall, she lifted her sleeve and dabbed at her cheeks. This couldn’t be happening, could it? Forcing herself to her feet, she wiped her face more vigorously and tried her best to find a measure of composure.

“I’m sorry Noli,” the Chief Medical Officer tried to console his superior again.

“No,” she snapped, this time more forcefully, almost command-like. “He was stable, Zinn. We were going to see him tomorrow. We were going to get him out of here!” she fumed, the disbelief quickly turning to anger and outrage and causing an inability for her to hold back the tears.

“There were complications,” the Deltan tried to tell her, but the XO pushed past him and made for the door, only to be stopped by the languid frame of the Protectorate.

“What did your people do to him?!” Gone were the pleasantries of earlier as she glowered up at the taller Ungeat, clenching her fists at her side in an effort to stop herself from lashing out and punching something… or someone.

“Please remain calm Commander,” Protectorate Sh’int urged the woman, his hands out in front of him in a form of protection, but also to placate and calm the Bajoran. “There were complications caused by his earlier assimilation. Our medical team were unable to save him,” the region’s leader advised her.

“Why didn’t you get Zinn? Or Nikti?!” Noli asked incredulously, “They know more about what happened with the Borg than you ever could have. They could have helped!”

“I tried…”

With a drop of her shoulders and the closure of her eyes, the XO let out a massive breath, before turning on her heels to look at the downcast Deltan.

He stood there, motionless, staring at his hands which were palm up and shaking. “I tried to save him,” he explained, “they called me, and I tried, but none of us could figure out what was happening…” he slowly turned his head and looked the Bajoran in the face, his tear-stained cheeks flushed red. “I tried to save him. I tried…” he repeated, over and over, his voice trembling more than before, and his shoulders shaking as he sobbed.

Nikti, who had been watching this entire exchange from her bed, almost sprinted to his side and put an arm around the medical officer.

Watching with wide eyes, Noli couldn’t quite believe what she was seeing. Through everything that they had all gone through, Zinn had always been the one to stay calm and carry on. Today, he had finally broken, and it forced Noli to reflect on what an ass she had been in the last few minutes.

“You have my apologies, and my condolences,” the Protectorate told, a small sigh accompanying his words. “As is custom with our society, we have begun preparations for Or’uil’s Unbinding. There will be a ceremony tomorrow. You, your Captain, and as many of your friends as you desire, will be welcome to attend.”

“Thank you,” Noli nodded, and bowed in respect, and apology, to their gracious host. “May we see him?” she asked hopefully. Her request was greeted with a solemn shake of the Protectorate’s head.

“I am sorry,” he cocked his head in the same, peculiar way Or’uil often did when delivering bad news, “but that is against our customs. You will be able to see him tomorrow, at the Unbinding. My advisors will be on hand to assist you in any way you need,” he told, before walking away again slowly, leaving the Starfleet officers to grieve in the only way they knew how – huddled in the center of the room, holding each other tightly and allowing the sorrow they felt to freely wash over them at last.

Emerging from the ready room, Captain Nazir held her arms aloft as she let out an almighty yawn without any attempt to stifle it, drawing amused glances from those still present in the command center. It had been almost ten minutes since they had received the cryptic and impersonal message from the Office of the Protectorate which informed them of the Away Team’s impending return. Henry had been in charge of the night shift, with strict orders to wake the rest of their team if they received any updates. As such, he’d sent messengers to wake Teyahna, Prida and Zh’ito, the latter the last to arrive on the bridge just a few seconds before the Captain had left her ready room.

“Are they aboard yet?” the Captain asked, taking a few steps towards the command chair, watching the pilot move from her seat.

“Yes ma’am,” Henry smiled, “they beamed aboard a few minutes ago. Commander Noli is on her way up here now,” he revealed, then bid his farewells and returned to the CONN.

It seemed to take the lift an abnormally long time to reach the command center, and even longer for the doors to open. As they did, the gang rose to their feet and looked across to the lift with bated breath.

Slowly but surely, Noli emerged from the turbo lift just far enough for the doors to close behind her. She could feel the weight of expectation in the room bearing down on her shoulders with all eyes on her. Keziah stood before the command chair, but didn’t need several lifetimes of expertise to know the news wasn’t what they wanted. Her head dropped, her hands clasped to her hips as Noli locked eyes with her best friend, eyes watering as she lifted a trembling hand to her lips, shaking her head in disbelief. Teyahna let out a gasp and collapsed back against the science station, steadying herself with her hands at the last minute and preventing herself from falling to the floor. Henry wandered over to the Counsellor and put a warm, loving arm around her shoulders, the Andorian nuzzling into his chest, sobbing uncontrollably and staining his uniform jacket.

Staring at her ‘sister’ in disbelief, Prida struggled to grasp the news, refusing to believe until Noli slowly crossed the bridge and embraced her. At that point, in an overwhelming show of emotion, the floodgates finally opened and the realisation hit her.

Their colleague, their friend, her brother, had gone.