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Part of USS Endeavour: Certain Dark Things

Certain Dark Things – 9

Infirmary, Starbase Bravo
February 2400
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Now there were four biobeds in Airex’s room in Bravo’s infirmary, and Kharth had to hope this would be the end of it. She perched on the edge of hers and scrubbed her face with her hands. ‘So what’s this going to entail?’

‘I’ll be connected as well,’ said Guardian Pharan, ‘and monitoring the brain waves of both Airex and Davir. But I won’t be immersed like you.’

‘Karana said that she had to guide Obrent through a memory where his life was in danger, and get him to accept he didn’t need to be scared – he didn’t need to be in full survival mode,’ said Carraway, scratching his beard. ‘We originally believed that this… burrowing down to try to stay alive… was what was keeping Davir and Airex disconnected.’

Kharth glanced at the biobed on which Valance lay still. ‘Then something else happened. And you’re not sure what. This is a great idea.’

Cortez was leaning against the wall, arms folded across her chest, brow furrowed. When she spoke her voice was quieter than Kharth had ever heard it. ‘You’re still gonna try, right?’

Kharth could not quite look at her. Not after their row. ‘I’ll try,’ she said, and swung her legs up to lie on the bed. ‘Go through Airex’s memories. Try to find Valance. Try to… to get through whatever got her caught up in his disconnect. If I don’t come back, you have to stop sending rescue parties. Try another Plan B.’

Pharan looked over at her, mouth opening, and she knew what he was going to say: There is no Plan B.

Carraway stepped forward to grasp her shoulder. ‘I know this is going to be a lot, Saeihr. But -’

‘But lives are at stake. I can suck it up.’ She shrugged. ‘Not the worst thing I’ve ever done. Hit it.’

It was only like falling asleep if one took the concept of falling literally. Kharth’s stomach flipped as the Infirmary tumbled away, darkness rushing up to consume her, and yet it was at once as if she stood on her feet in the middle of nothingness.

In the distance, something dripped. Kharth turned this way and that to see what felt like rolling hills of black on black, oblivion stretching and rising and falling. Only when she had turned what felt like a hundred times for a hundred years did she look and see a distant pinprick of light.

And a figure silhouetted against it.

‘Dav?’

She stumbled forward, hand coming up to shade the shining brightness. The figure stood before a doorway, light streaming past them as they acted like a sentinel blocking the way, and as she got closer she realised it was not Davir, was too short and stocky. She knew this man though she had never met him, had seen his face on a thousand pictures and recordings.

Lerin.

‘You owe me,’ Kharth growled before she could stop herself, ‘some damned explanations.’

Lerin tilted his head towards her, a smile crossing pointed features. ‘I look forward to it,’ he said.

But then hands grasped her from behind, and dragged her back into the darkness.

When light rushed back, it was with the sound of a Starfleet computer interface and the familiar sight of Starfleet bulkheads, consoles. This was the cockpit of a Waverider-class atmospheric shuttle, and one she knew well from her years on the USS Cavalier.

‘Oh,’ said Kharth in a tone that held less surprise than she might have expected, and turned around to see Davir Airex sat in the co-pilot’s chair, peering at her with a polite curiosity.

No, she realised a heartbeat later. Not Davir Airex. Davir Hargan.

‘This is when we met,’ said Kharth, tongue feeling too big for her mouth.

He had been softer before he was Joined. Gentler and less confident. Now his smile was nervous, self-conscious, and he fidgeted with a PADD. ‘Technically we met a few weeks ago. You were complaining to Lieutenant Parim about guarding the armoury while we had guests aboard. And we were introduced yesterday when you came on this mission.’

‘Two weeks on a geological survey of these asteroid belts,’ Kharth sighed. ‘What a waste of time for a security officer.’

The corners of Davir’s eyes creased. ‘Was it a waste of time for you?’

She looked around. There had only been four of them that fortnight, another scientist and a pilot, and she had been bored witless for most of the trip. Almost. ‘You were the only person who bothered to treat me like I wasn’t your babysitter.’

‘You were interesting.’ Davir hesitated. ‘Are interesting. Not just as a Romulan in Starfleet. I wanted to understand how you ended up here.’

‘I didn’t know why you cared.’ Kharth walked the line of the controls, the darkness of space spilling beyond the shuttle’s cockpit, and ran her finger along the brushed metal panel. ‘Or, I thought you saw me as an oddity.’

‘I saw you as different, yes. But you were fascinating. I’d never met anyone like you before.’

Kharth didn’t look at him, swallowing hard as she stared at a power readout. ‘I’d never met anyone who treated me as interesting without thinking I was… pitiable, or a new experience for them, to be poked and studied. You didn’t inspect me. You listened.’

Davir shifted his weight. ‘I tried to.’

Now she rounded on him. ‘Why are we here? Greg said Valance was taken to moments of danger. Nothing dangerous happened here. Where’s Valance?’

He stood, and it was a shock to be reminded how he loomed as Airex, tall and straight and emanating only force. But as Davir, all he did was slip into her orbit like he belonged. ‘Can’t we just remember this? Remember when it was good?’

Her throat tightened. ‘You have to come back, Dav. I brought you back before, on the Odysseus; this can’t happen again, I can’t keep saving you over and over only for you to slip away…’

If he was in her gravitic pull, it tightened and he slid to stand before her. A hand came up for a finger to trail her cheek, her jaw, and his expression folded into grief and guilt. ‘I’m so sorry. I’m sorry I keep dragging you after me. I tried to not let you, I tried to keep you safe, but I’m just… I’m so weak…’

It wasn’t conscious action that had her falling into his arms. It was like the memory overwhelmed her, even if she hadn’t kissed him here. His lips were soft, his embrace soft; everything she’d never had and never known, of warmth and closeness and protection and belonging.

When she pulled back, all around them was different; they were not on the shuttle, and he was sitting down. She’d bent over a desk to kiss him, and he had a stupid, surprised look on his face she remembered so well as her eyes swung around to take in the office. ‘…you’d been so hesitant that first date,’ she remembered aloud, heart thudding in her chest with that anxious, thwarted need for him that still stole her breath and steadiness to this day. ‘I came down to your office to see… see if we needed to talk.’

Davir gave a small, pleased smile, eyes bright as he looked up at her. ‘You didn’t talk much. You just kissed me.’

‘It seemed like the thing to do,’ she admitted. ‘I guessed if you were scared off, then this wouldn’t happen.’

‘Or were you trying to scare me off? You were so hard to read, I couldn’t tell if you just didn’t know how to politely turn me down.’ She went to pull back, and he caught her hand quickly, impetuously. ‘I try to not think about this. I try to not remember. But now we’re here. Can’t you just stay?’

It was everything she’d wanted him to say for years, and only his hands on her jerked her back to, if not reality, then the truth of the moment. ‘It was you,’ Kharth breathed. ‘I was heading for Lerin and you pulled me back.’

He rose as she stepped away, unable to keep his grip on her hands. ‘It’s not safe. What do you think happened to Karana?’

‘Then what’s this?’

‘If I can’t stay away, if you’re here, then the least I can do is keep you with me.’

‘…with Davir Hargan. Not with Airex. With nothing to do with Airex.’ Kharth swallowed. ‘What changed, Dav? Why could you be an open book to me, and then slam everything shut the moment you were Joined? Who is Lerin, and what does he have to do with the Myriad, with my father -’

And darkness rose again. This time light did not rush away so much as fade, a gentle glow ebbing to the corners of her vision. She was warm and still, could hear the hum of a starship at warp around her, and felt utterly at peace as she nestled up in bed against the anchoring presence of Davir Hargan.

He kissed her bare shoulder, and she had to fight the giggle she remembered he could elicit. ‘You are trying to distract me,’ Kharth murmured.

‘You did this,’ he said with a sigh. ‘You brought us here.’

‘I’ve spent years making my mind sheer away from even the thought of how you feel…’ Her fingers trailed along the back of his hand, along his bare arm, to the warmth of his body, and she twisted with the bedsheets to face him. Only as she saw their surroundings, his tidy and small quarters on board the Cavalier, did she realise what he meant, and she stiffened. ‘This is when I told you about my father.’

Davir leaned in, pressing his forehead against hers. ‘This is when you told me about a lot of things,’ he breathed, and her insides squirmed because she remembered feeling safe, and remembered training herself to writhe away from him and all memory of this. ‘Your mother. Losing your home. Teros. This was when you showed you trusted me, Cara Sai.’

Then, he’d held her close and listened as she’d bared her soul to him in the dark. Now Kharth wrenched away, dragged herself from the warm bed and into the impossible cold of the room. The edges of his quarters blurred before her vision, perhaps because this was no longer memory, but confrontation.

‘I trusted you with everything.’ Her voice rasped as she glared down at him. ‘And then you took all my secrets, all my worth, and let it spin off into nothing.’

‘That’s not what happened.’ His protests sounded tired, not at her, but weary from the weight of them. ‘I didn’t cast you away. I locked you up inside me. And I locked you away from me.’

‘Then why can I see it now? Is it just because I’m here?’ There was an impossible breeze on her naked body, like his mind was set to punish her for straining against the memories they shared. That was fitting, in its way. ‘Why did you grab me? Pull me from Lerin? Is reliving this, everything we’ve both tried to banish from ourselves, better than me finding Valance, finding these answers?’

Davir sat up, and his voice ached when he said, ‘This is better than what comes after this.’

Then they weren’t in his quarters on the Cavalier, together and more intimate than she had ever been with anyone in her life, but on the corridors to an airlock on Starbase 371. This time no compulsion brought them together as she stepped to him and wrapped her hands in his uniform jacket, because she knew what this was, too, and however much she’d hidden from it all, she couldn’t turn away now.

Not from this. Not from the last time she’d seen him.

‘I’ll be back,’ Davir breathed against her lips, his forehead pressed to hers. Perhaps there had been other people, a handful of officers also embarking on this shuttle headed for the borders, eventually taking him to Trill, but she hadn’t cared at the time and she didn’t care now.

‘You weren’t,’ she croaked. ‘You promised. You said there was no power that could make you someone who didn’t love me, and then you never came back.’

His breath caught as his arms wrapped around her, and it was like the bulkheads warped and twisted to bend in on them. ‘I didn’t lie. I didn’t break that promise.’

‘You became -’

‘I became Davir Airex,’ he breathed. ‘And I walked away from you, and I told you nothing, and I cast you out, and I never stopped loving you.’

I don’t understand, she wanted to say, but didn’t because it wasn’t true. She could see the truth like it shifted at the edge of her vision, sliding away if she tried to look at it directly, and she didn’t dare reach out and grasp it. ‘I spent years wondering what broke in you to change you. I spent years wondering what broke in me. You stood here and said you’d be back soon, and you never were.’ He had kissed her goodbye, then boarded a shuttle to go to Trill, then he had been Joined and nothing had ever been the same again.

He should have walked away, but his hands slid up to grasp her shoulders. ‘What if I stayed this time?’

The fire in her every breath told her to agree. To grasp him and tumble into this, whatever it was; memory and fantasy. Her fingers curled tighter in his jacket, and it was not for herself that she hesitated, not for herself that she kept her feet planted in this memory instead of tumbling into oblivion for him.

‘What happens,’ Kharth murmured, ‘if you stay? What happens to Airex, what happens to Valance?’

He was so close, their breath mingling, and she could fall into him and away, away from the harsh edges of a life that cut her over and over. ‘You don’t care about them,’ Davir whispered.

‘I don’t,’ she admitted. ‘But they’re my responsibility. You’re my responsibility. Besides.’ Kharth swallowed hard and met those peerless blue eyes. ‘You don’t want to slide away into nothingness with me, Dav. This – all of this – is just a distraction.’

The corners of his eyes creased. ‘It’s a distraction for me, as well. I try to not think about it. I try to not think about what we were, and what I then did to you. I try to not think about him.’

‘The truth has burnt us both.’ Her voice felt like it was being dragged over gravel, the words unwilling, her soul unwilling, and only those deep, bitter instincts of a survivor pulling her onward. ‘You hid it, I chased it, but I still didn’t really want to see.’ Her fingers ached when she let him go, not just for the physical effort of unclenching them, but for the freezing emptiness when she stepped away.

‘You have to go,’ Kharth whispered. ‘You have to go so I can finally see the truth.’

Cara Sai…’ He’d done that in her memories, called her by her true name, which he would not do again until they stood on Teros and argued and he manipulated her with every fibre of his being to tear her from the hunt for her father’s fate. But in her memory he had then kissed her, kissed her like he had expected to do so again a thousand times. This time her hand came between them, a barrier he did not push before he turned on his heel and marched for the airlock.

She’d stared at his back as he’d left, watched him as if she could soak up every second of the last lingering moments he was hers, and now she did so again. But this time the walls tumbled away, like so many things had tumbled in this land of memory and imagination, with only darkness left behind to creep closer and envelop her.

When he stepped through the airlock, all that was left was the shining light of the doorway in the midst of blackness. And the silhouetted figure who had been there when she first arrived.

Once again, Lerin turned to face her, and this time there were no hands of Dav to pull her back.

‘Like I said.’ Kharth’s voice came out furious and tense. ‘You owe me an explanation.’

‘I owe you nothing,’ said Lerin in a quiet, amiable voice. ‘And you don’t want an explanation. You want your ignorance, because raging against the dark is easier than suffering in the light.’

Her hands tightened into fists. ‘Where’s Valance?’

‘Here. Everywhere.’ Lerin shrugged. ‘Don’t blame me. I’m not the one who trapped her. I’m not the one trapping anyone. It’s them. All of them.’ He waved a hand about oblivion, and on the wind she didn’t feel she could hear the whispered voices of the rest of Airex, of Obrent and Tabain and Isady and, far, far away, Davir. ‘They prefer to keep me locked away. Get too close, and you’ll be locked away, too.’

‘All T’Sann did was try to shatter your mind…’

‘He tried to shatter us. And he succeeded. But nothing’s stopping Airex from being whole again, you understand, except for the rest of Airex.’ Lerin took a step away from the door, and light spilled out with him to ebb into darkness like white ink spilled on velvet. Behind him, she caught a glimpse of scrubland and sun, that anaemic brightness of Teros. Of her real home.

And somewhere beyond that, distinct from the voices of Airex, a sound like the wordless sense of Karana Valance.

He shrugged. ‘I’m not the monster of this place. I didn’t trap anyone away in here. They did, because they want to keep me trapped away.’ Lerin Airex extended a hand towards her. ‘It’s a pleasure to meet you, Saeihr. We should have talked years ago.’

Comments

  • Oh man oh man, Saeihr is about to have one heck of a conversation! This was a real treat to read and I enjoyed every bit of it. Explanations, not-explanations, feelings spoken, but still not given voice...so beautifully complex. And I'm looking forward to hearing more about this Myriad too. Davir still has some explaining to do, but at least now he can share the blame with the rest of Airex now.

    May 9, 2022