Hanging dark against the pallor of his face, the skin beneath Torden’s eyes was a sunken navy blue. He exhaled, slumped into a corner seat of the officer’s mess. His antennae drooped towards the raktajino like boughs of an Earth willow stooping towards a river’s edge.
He’d seen those trees, silhouetted against real sunlight, leaves flitting with a gentle hiss back and forth as summer air flowed along with the water below. Back at the Academy a whole delicious host of Earth’s vibrant greens and dense life had surrounded him. Even on board the G’Mat there had been new planets to survey, uncountable life forms of every biostructure imaginable. He was thrust into wild and varied scenes from mountains puncturing stratospheres to oceans pressurised enough to crush even the strongest duranium submersibles. Then they were at warp again, on to the next system, the next civilisation; the next life.
It was late. 0200 hours. The spotless metal table stretched before him, and the fluorescence of the lights shone spectral over his already cold features. Black space was all that stared back at him through the large viewport, and he cast his eyes back across the mess. A few night owls littered the room. They kept to themselves. Some stared grim-faced down the barrels of their own beverages, sipping quietly, engrossed in PADDs. The soothing hum of the starbase’s environmental systems was also the sound of an invisible barrier between them all. No small talk on the graveyard shift.
Torden exhaled through his nostrils. The upward dance of coffee vapours fluttered as the airflow changed. Now two hours into a week’s shore leave, he had no more of a clue on how to spend it then he did when he was forced to apply. “You look like death warmed up, Lieutenant,” Commander Batbayar had said. And then he was here.
He couldn’t leave, of course. The usual destinations; Bethsemet, Frentor, Risa, all seemed somehow distasteful to him now. Even a return to the Dirfaan tundras of Indarax would give him no rest. He thought for a moment of the steady, thick snowflakes of home. It was all that fell upon him there. There were no reconnaissance reports, ship movements or combat readiness evaluations. There were no log transcripts of desperate captains and demoralised crew. There were no hollow faces traipsing back through airlock doors.
Here, instead of snow, endless data rained down. The computers could only do so much to sort it. Strategies and plans changed by the minute. Every new development sparked a new frenzy of simulations and projections. 311 destroyed at Chin’toka. Ships and lives hypothecated as collateral for the objectives drawn up. It sickened his soul. Pushing paper in the business of death from behind a pristine desk. Request after request for transfer to starship service denied.
He pushed the mug away. A few black droplets splashed over its edge. Starbase 104, read the lettering, emblazoned bold against the chrome under a Starfleet arrowhead. The humans said that war was hell. Torden supposed this place was his. Yet now he chose to stay. Partly from fear, partly from guilt, it didn’t matter. They were the many, and he was the few.