To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go
.– From In Blackwater Woods by Mary Oliver
The coup succeeded, in the end. Muninn mused on the ultimate victory of Janas’ morality over Hartresk’s while she and Asenth took the USS Plaget’s shuttle down to the surface of Oumoren V, otherwise known by its locals as Stalx. Janas himself had survived his final encounter with his one-time friend, only to be killed by one of Hartresk’s vengeful loyalists later that same day. She had never gotten another chance to talk to the measured Reman, and now, never would. Others, like Revasin, now carried the torch. More bold and violent in their approach, perhaps, but committed to similar goals as Janas, all the same.
Her thoughts turned to Hartresk. His followers were few in number, if dedicated to their erstwhile leader’s cause.
When Janas had killed Hartresk on the D’deridex’s bridge, he had merely cut off the head of a movement that Muninn felt certain would continue to fester underground. Revasin had filled her in on some of the finer details, when they were arranging this visit to Oumoren, and Muninn wondered at the stoicism Janas had possessed in those final moments. To kill his oldest friend in pursuit of the dream of peace… And she had never known, would never have guessed, the relationships at work behind the scenes. Which is the problem with being an outsider to conflict, she decided, You might find yourself involved, but you’ll never have a full picture of what’s going on. It occurred to her that within this realization lay the ultimate case for the Federation’s oft-scrutinized stance on non-interference. When one became involved, one could not do so innocently. The best of intentions would inevitably sour, no matter how worthwhile they were when you began. And then you risked becoming exactly what Hartresk feared: a colonial force, imposing your own ideologies at the point of a gun.
She sat across from Asenth in the back of the small shuttle, while the pilot lowered them through the atmosphere and bore on toward the still-smoking city. The Romulan girl had been exceptionally quiet ever since they received permission from the Provisional Revolutionary Government to land. Muninn, not for the first time, questioned her motivations in bringing the girl home. Was she doing this to sate her own curiosity in some perverse way? Would the conclusion to this adventure offer Asenth anything but more pain?
The shuttle came down at a makeshift landing area about half a kilometer from where Asenth’s home had been.
Exiting the climate-controlled cabin, they were buffeted by a stiff dry breeze, the mark of a world poorly suited to the necessities of life. A habitable world, perhaps, but not one which inspired joy. And yet so many had died for it, for the dream of what it might become.
They set off together, Muninn’s heart heavy as they walked the nearly deserted streets. Two Reman guards accompanied them on their way. Refugees would soon be returning to homes, or the ruins of such, to reclaim their lives. Both Reman and Romulan, it seemed, though the animosity and class divisions between them were still ripe for all the worst that intelligent life could breed.
The buildings were mostly intact in this part of the city. Many were two-story homes, made from a reddish clay or plaster, eerie in their silence. Their flat, overhanging roofs seemed to loom across the street, making Muninn claustrophobic. Asenth kept looking at the Remans walking with them, but the complex expression on her face gave Muninn no real clue of understanding. The girl’s silence seemed only to grow as they came closer to their goal, an absence of sound, like a scream in the vacuum, that nevertheless held an intensity greater than any mighty river’s roar.
Muninn, for all her training, did not know what to do. So, she did all she could: she held the silence. A silence that lived for several minutes more, until broken by Asenth herself, in the smallest way. A gasp. A lone exhalation from the girl’s lips that nevertheless carried with it a whole world of emotion.
“This is it?” Muninn inquired of one of their Reman guides. The bat-faced male nodded. “It is. The records were clear.”
This neighborhood had seen fighting, and a heavy amount by the look of it. The burned-out carcass of a light shuttle or personnel carrier lay some way down the street. Many of the buildings bore signs of disruptor fire in great charred pockmarks across their ocher clay faces. There were no bodies, anymore, but blood, dried into the street’s dust, could be found without trying, here and there. Stains to remind passerby of the cost of revolution.
Muninn looked at Asenth, whose eyes were fixed on a building straight ahead. Some great blast, perhaps from when the ruined shuttle had exploded, had ripped through the front corner of the building. It bore the mark of other work as well: the scars of disruptor fire, the sign of forced entry in the form of a blasted plastic front door.
Asenth began walking toward it and Muninn followed a pace behind. She had some reservations about going inside, uncertain if the structure remained safe. But there could be no deterring Asenth now. To pull her back would be to break the girl, to shatter the strange stoicism that had settled over her and unleash the ruins of the child within. At least, Muninn thought, the worst had already been made known.
Asenth’s parents, and her little brother, had indeed been killed. As a favor to Muninn, for the part she played in securing the coup against Hartresk, Revasin had made it a priority of the Provisional Government to dig out the bodies and verify them. Their identities were all confirmed by DNA scan. Part of the house had caught fire, presumably after Asenth had run away, and the flames had charred the flesh from the bones of her family. Nothing to see there. Muninn would not let her look at those ruined things, and her concession in place of that nightmare had been to allow Asenth to return home, one last time.
They went in through the front doorway, stepping on the pieces of the door itself, which had been blasted off its hinges by small arms fire. The hallway through the core of the building was dark but intact, blackened by soot in places, but otherwise untouched. At its end, however, lay the kitchen. Its roof had caved in, part of the back wall completely reduced to rubble. The wind, which seemed to blow ceaselessly across the face of the arid world, howled through gaps in the building’s structure, reminding Muninn of coyotes she had once heard in a preserve.
Asenth stopped and looked down. A dried brown stain haunted a spot on the floor. Once, it had been white tile. Now, thick with debris dust and dried blood, it seemed a mockery of civilization.
“Mother,” Muninn said after a moment. Then her gaze traveled to another stain, some little ways away. “Father.”
Finally, toward the fallen beam of the kitchen roof. And though she said nothing this time, Muninn knew that must have been where her little brother’s body had lain. How many other families were sundered like this? How many times would this process be repeated in the coming days?
Asenth’s gaze traveled back to Muninn, and in her eyes was a hollow void that clutched at Muninn’s heart. “What happens now?”
Muninn swallowed. The girl’s tone bore nothing, not even hopelessness. Pure flat acceptance of the worst that life could bring.
“What would you like to happen?” Muninn asked.
“You can stay here. The new government will find you someone to stay with. Maybe a relative? Friends of your parents?”
Then Muninn grasped at an outlying possibility. Something that her training told her she should not offer because doing so broke down a barrier that it was her sworn duty to never cross.
“Or you could come back with me. Starfleet would help settle you, get a trauma counselor to support you…”This time, no shrug, just a look. But in that look, a yearning mixed with hesitation. “With you?” Asenth said, after a long moment.
“I couldn’t be your counselor anymore,” Muninn said. “I don’t even know what’s going to happen after all this. There could be an inquest.” She shook this unpleasant thought away. “But… you could stay with me. If that’s what you want. We could also talk to Starfleet about finding you a foster family, someone nice and stable who could make sure you get to live somewhere safe.”
Asenth shook her head, her eyes suddenly wide. “No. With you.” Her voice was plaintive. With some great apparent effort, she managed to speak again, and some greater feeling seemed to now inhabit her words. “I’d like to come back if I can live with you.”
Lish clearly thought that Muninn had crossed a line, and yet the Bolian said nothing openly about it. When Muninn explained to him that she intended to bring Asenth back with her, Lish merely pursed his lips and nodded, and through his silence on the matter the wealth of his reservation could be heard. Never before had Muninn known the Bolian to be as reserved.
But that reservation did not extend to Asenth, toward whom Lish directed all manner of jokes and random stories, not with any obvious desire to have the girl respond, but with the simple patter of one who wishes to afford some measure of freedom to another from the need to speak at all.
The Mogrus limped along toward Starbase Bravo on its own, while she, Asenth, and Lish went ahead on the Plaget.
There would soon be representatives from the Federation, Resak’s broader revolutionary coalition, and even the new Romulan Republic all converging on Oumoren in the next few days. Muninn was glad to be well out of it before they all arrived. She wondered how long the people of Oumoren would maintain their hard-fought selfhood. They deserved self-governance at least, after all they had been through. She had heard from Revasin, some short time before they parted ways the final time, that the D’deridex class Warbird was undergoing extensive repairs and would soon be serviceable again. A functional warship of that caliber might add some weight to Oumoren’s independence claim.
As for Asenth, the girl talked little, but some of the heaviness seemed to lift from her once they were aboard the Plaget and headed away from Oumoren for good. Muninn quietly began drawing up a letter to send to Starfleet Medical, detailing the girl’s history and her likely needs. And she drafted another letter, one infinitely harder to compose, that would see Asenth placed under her care. She would not know, for some weeks yet, just what sort of response Starfleet would have waiting for someone who had so clearly flouted such a ream of protocol in such a short span of time. The inquest that she feared might still come. And, if it did, she would need to leave Starfleet before they dug too deeply into her life’s history. She would rather give up one dream than see her parents’ lives diminished by the scandal that would come if their augmented child were to be made known.
But that was a problem for another day.