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

5 – When the Light Fades

Stardate 24016.9
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Time had passed slowly since the Away Team’s return to the Lakota in the early hours of the morning. She’d tried to get some sleep and had managed an hour, maybe two at a push, but she’d finally accepted defeat. Sleep would evade her for now. Instead, she’d showered, and pottered around her quarters for a while, trying to keep busy… whilst also putting off the inevitable. Someone had to contact Giarvar and let him know, and it should come from her. Giarvar and Or’uil were two of the most important people in her life, it had to be her.

At first, she’d thought about simply arranging a face-to-face with him over subspace, but she’d quickly decided against it. She’d cried enough tears in the last twelve or so hours, she didn’t need to cry anymore. She’d determined that a text transmission would be the only way she could get the message out, but even that was proving difficult. Slouched in the chair at her desk, using the palm of her right hand to support her chin, she’d been staring at the screen for almost an hour. Words had come. Words had gone. She’d toyed with several different openings, trying her best to come up with the best way to tell him about their loss, but words failed her. She’d lost all track of time, so it was quite a surprise when the door chime rang out and Prida waltzed in a few seconds later, dressed in her pristine dress uniform and her brunette hair slicked back into a tight bun.

“You’re not ready?!” the Bajassian asked, throwing her arms in the air in frustration. Seeing the XO sat there in her undershirt, with no jacket on and her hair unfinished did not fill the Chief Engineer with confidence about her friend’s state of mind.

“I’ve been trying to write to Giarvar,” Noli frowned, looking across the chaos that was her quarters.

“That can wait,” Prida scolded her, picking up the dress jacket Noli had thrown on the back of her sofa and walking up to the workstation. She presented the jacket at arm’s length and glared at her fellow Bajoran until she finally took ownership of it.

Noli let out a sigh as she rose to her feet and rounded the desk towards her bedroom. When she emerged a few minutes later, she looked every bit the proud Starfleet officer, and just as pristine as her friend. Prida smiled, holding out her hands. Grasping them tightly for reassurance, Noli lowered her head a little, trying her best to keep her composure.

“Hey,” Prida squeezed, “let’s do this for Or’uil.”

Noli looked up and gave a half-hearted, yet somehow sincere smile.

“For Or’uil,” she repeated.

Halfway down the corridor on deck four, the two had met up with the Captain, who was herself in her dress uniform and looking her absolute best for the occasion. Locked in hushed conversation as they entered the transporter room, they stopped in their tracks to take in the view. It was a veritable who’s who of Lakota personnel, the room crammed with people from across the ship who had all been permitted to transport to the surface and take part in the funeral service for their colleague. Naturally, the senior staff were in attendance, dressed in their very best attire, except for the Vulcan who stood at the transporter console, observing the gathering from a safe distance.

“Lieutenant Voran,” Nazir nodded towards the ever-stoic Vulcan, “Lakota is yours until we return.”

Hands clasped together behind his perfectly straight back, the Vulcan gave a curt nod. “Of course Captain.” Whilst Vulcan’s weren’t known for their emotional outbursts, to his credit, the Vulcan tried his best to be as supportive as he could be. “I wish a peaceful and reflective ceremony for your friend,” he told, drawing a smile of appreciation from the Captain.

Over the next few minutes, the room began to empty, several people at a time beaming down to the surface, led by the Captain and her entourage.

Night was on the approach. Darkness crept over the third planet’s northernmost continent as the time of the Unbinding approached. A supremely solemn occasion, the Ungeat people believed the Unbinding to be the final step in their physical journey, separating the physical form from the spiritual, and when they would bigan a life eternal with their spirits. A journey that would begin with the burning of their physical form atop what could only be described as a funeral pyre. It was a belief that Noli could entirely understand, having learnt so much about the Ungeat from her brother. She had never anticipated witnessing the ceremony for herself. But here she was, surrounded by her Lakota brethren, standing on the unspoiled, secluded beach behind the Office of the Protectorate. A beach lit with several fire pits, flames licking at the darkening sky. Having power had its privileges, such as enjoying the beautiful scenery. And such a place was the least their comrade deserved for his long goodbye.

Next to the command crew from the Starfleet vessel, Protectorate Sh’int stood, in hushed conversation with the Captain, seemingly discussing something that made the Trill smile – something Noli hadn’t seen her do for hours. Perhaps they were sharing memories of the fallen? That was what she hoped anyway.

Her thoughts were disturbed by a tight squeeze on her left hand. She instantly turned to look at Prida, only to see several enormous Ungeat, almost double the size of the Protectorate, assembling a dozen or so feet away.

“They are the Aelorian,” a voice whispered in her ear, causing her to turn and briefly acknowledge the Captain’s words. “I was reading up on the ceremony this morning. The Ungeat believe that melodic or musical forms of blessing will enhance the spiritual and emotional journey the departed will take. The Aelorian will perform that benediction,” the Trill revealed, loud enough for the senior most officers on her staff to understand what would happen next.

“Excuse me,” the familiar voice of the Protectorate interrupted, drawing the eyes of everyone in the small party. “Commander Noli; it is customary for a departed’s loved ones to light the path for his spiritual journey by setting the pyre alight,” their host revealed solemnly, “In the absence of any of Or’uil’s biological family, I extend the offer to yourself.”

Her acceptance of his offer was almost instantaneous. To be able to say her goodbyes and start him on the final journey to his afterlife would be an honour. “I accept your invitation,” the Commander smiled in thanks to Sh’int.

A beautiful melody soon floated across the ocean waves, the sounds emanating from beautifully carved instruments played by four of the leading Aelorian who were dressed in resplendent crimson robes as they began the procession to the pyre. Behind them, dressed in a darker violet attire, four more of their kind marched, but their role was far more significant. They were the Favoured, Sh’int had explained, the people chosen to carry Or’uil’s body one final time. Or’uil had been wrapped in the same purple colour as those that carried him to his resting place upon their shoulders.

As the procession passed the Starfleet crew, Captain Nazir led them in a tribute of their own, the entire contingent snapping to the tightest of attention stances, eyes staring directly ahead and out to the ocean before them. This was the hardest part for his closest friends, struggling to fight back the tears as their loved one passed them by. As if coordinated, the Favoured began a low, solemn song, words no one in the Starfleet company could translate. Not that they even tried. Instead, they listened to the beautiful harmonies that melted into the melody of the instruments.

“Beautiful…” Prida whispered next to Noli, lifting her sleeve once her stance softened and wiped the tears from her cheeks. Indeed, it was a truly magnificent spectacle worthy of their friend.

When the procession reached the pyre, the music began to fade, the words stopped and a calming silence replaced them. Slowly, purposefully, the Favoured lifted the wrapped body and placed it atop the pile of wood. Taking three strides back from the structure, the Aelorian bowed their head in silent blessing. All but one, however, who walked to the nearest fire pit and stoked it with a nearby piece of wood, one which has one end wrapped in a highly flammable material. When he removed it from the fire, he turned slowly and stared directly at Noli.

Taking a deep breath, the Commander looked to her left, at Prida, and then to her right, at the Captain. Both gave her a gentle pat on the back, a sign of their support and assurance that she could do this. Tentatively, and with her hands by her side, the Commander made her way towards the Aelorian holding the fire stick. Reaching out with a trembling hand, the much taller figure placed the stick in her hand, and clasped his tightly around hers. It was almost as if he had somehow transferred her some of his calming energy, a wave of… of… something… flooding over her and enabling her to take a step closer to the wooden construction.

Once she was stood in position, everyone, everything, melted away. She was alone. And in that moment, she whispered her own blessing, one of the Bajora, and prayed for her brother to find peace and happiness on the next stage of his journey. Then, with her hand no longer trembling, she lifted the fire stick and touched the pyre. It was ablaze within seconds, flames roaring around the structure and claiming Or’uil’s body.

Standing back from the structure, the heat threatening to burn her face, the Bajoran smiled through tear-soaked cheeks. In her head, she could hear Or’uil’s voice, reminding her that they would never be apart, that very same promise he had made when they accepted him into their family. And for a fleeting moment, all the pain and suffering ebbed away.

“Your legacy will never be forgotten, Or’uil,” she gave her solemn vow, watching the flames begin to fade.

“Goodbye, my dear friend. Until we meet again.”