Part of USS Hathaway: Episode 16: The Inner Sanctum (The Lost Fleet) and Bravo Fleet: The Lost Fleet

How could it have come to this?

Various
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Even now, as I rest in my bed, the silence assaults my senses and drags me home, kicking and screaming in defiance. A deafening silence; an interminable, restless silence. Then there was a nausea-inducing, insurmountable stench of rotting flesh and charred remains that engulfed the air. A duvet of dark and threatening clouds sporadically disturbed by the glimmer of moonlight that shone through the planets that encircled our villages. Dead planets, with singed rubber leaves and scorched stems. Roots rotten to the very core.

 

The sky, or what sky that could be seen, was navy blue as the sun sank beneath the horizon. Darkness approached. A new, pungent, and unexplained odour penetrated the nostrils, mixed in with a whiff of stale tulau root that could shrivel the taste buds. Layer upon layer of dust lined every inch of every room, of every house, of every path and of every farm. A dust hiding layers of secrets and sins.

 

Sins of the son long since gone.

 

And as I lay in the safety of my quarters, cradling a cup of the preferred liquid sustenance of my hosts, glistening tears of inadequacy soak my wrinkled skin. Yet again, I wonder how it could have come to this.

 

A village, relatively small and cradled like a baby in the arms of the surrounding flora and fauna. Figures stood, shivering, until night surrounded them, the moon struggling to penetrate the cloudy canopy above. The leaves were unyielding, hanging on firm in the sudden chill that succeeded sunset. The sounds of unseen creatures and of the creeping dead chilling us to the bone as we slowly breathed in a dank mustiness that filled our nostrils and burnt our insides. With darkness fully set in, only the waning glimmer of light from the moon illuminating the village, we took one last, lingering look. Only the thin rays of moonlight illuminated the landscape, and it made us sorrowful to know that this was once a thriving village… now turned into a desolate consummation of filth and misery… and death. And still I wonder how it could have come to this.

 

Back on the comparative safety of my new home, even with bulkheads compromised, power offline on several decks, engines disabled for who knows how long, and a rising death toll, I wonder if it was really worth it?

 

Peace has returned to Un’gar, but at what cost? How many lives have the people of the Federation given to restore freedom to my home world? And why? Because of some old defence pact signed before I was born? How is that right? How is that just? How am I expected to sleep at night?

 

How could it have come to this?

For most it was proving hard to fathom that it had only been a matter of days since the liberation of Un’gar had begun, for Or’uil, it was damn near impossible. There had been nights aplenty where the young Ungeat had dreamed in such vivid detail about the world he had left behind so long ago. Such detail that when he woke now he would find himself confused, forgetting for a fraction of a second that the world he had known was long since gone. And every time he woke, for the minutes that followed, he felt the same sense of grief all over again, the same feeling of loss of things he never even considered missing. He’d never been one to dwell on flowers, the shape of a tree or passing clouds – poetry hadn’t been his thing. He’d never longed for a life in space. He’d simply wanted to make his family proud. Then Starfleet came to Un’gar, and everything changed. Once the sadness of loss became less acute, he’d go about his business as if nothing had happened. But it had, and he’d be scarred by them for the rest of his life cycle. Part of him wondered if the dreams would change if one day they’d be the same monochrome shadows of his days…

Days like today, when he would go back to his Starfleet roots, and would lend a hand with repairs, anything he could do to shake the feeling of failure that threatened to engulf him every waking moment. Whether it was working on the propulsion systems in engineering, or the energy transfer conduits that had fried on deck seven, or, like today, when he simply did what he could to help give his adoptive family their favourite space back.

Perhaps the most spacious of all the recreational facilities aboard Hathaway, the Starlight Lounge was by far the most popular place to go – until liberation day. Built across two levels, it was one of the most spacious facilities on the ship and was never quiet – until liberation day. With dozens of seating areas across both levels, with varying degrees of comfort and privacy, the room was usually a constant hive of activity for anyone and everyone aboard the ship – until liberation day. People would come to work in a relaxed, but active environment, or they would come to sit and read while people milled about and conducted their business – until liberation day. Food would be obtained either from replicators dotted around the room or from the lounge staff who would serve bar snacks and beverages around the clock – until liberation day. The room’s most exquisite feature was the large, floor-to-ceiling aquarium that he had once helped to maintain alongside the science division, an aquarium that housed some thirty different species of marine life – until liberation day. Everything changed on liberation day. Everything.

Furniture was scattered all over the place; features and ornaments had broken; light fightings had fallen from the sky. Stairs had collapsed, and glass safety rails had smashed. But as the adolescent Ungeat stood at the heart of the devastated lounge, it was the shattered glass of the aquarium that upset him the most. The carpet was flooded, damp beneath the feet of anyone who approached the tank. And all around him, the space was littered with the bodies of dead aquatic life forms that once glided through the tank’s warm water with effortless ease. It hurt. It really hurt.

It was probably a weird thing for someone to fixate on, especially given everything that had transpired of late, but for the young Ungeat, whose entire civilisation had been built on farming and aquaculture, and had an affinity with the flora and fauna that inhabited their worlds with them, these lost lives were another symbol of how he had failed. He had let his people down when they needed him the most. When the armoured vehicles and the soldiers rolled in, where was he? He wasn’t there, protecting his people; he’d left them behind years ago for a career in Starfleet. He had let these wonderful creatures die.

Watching from a distance, a dark-haired figure observed the peculiar-looking creature from the planet Uviri. She had always found the man to be quite intriguing, and unlike any creature she had served with yet. From his choice of words and his matter-of-fact tone to the mannerisms he exhibited; a head that bobbed from side to side when talking, the nasal tone to his voice, even the inadvertent stare he gave because of the lack of eyelids. She found him refreshingly honest, and easy to read – until liberation day. Everything had changed for him that day, and seeing him now, staring at the ground, so alone, even at the heart of the social centre of the ship, helped her to feel his pain.

When he began to move, she strained to see what he was doing, only to gasp and lift her trembling fingers to her lips. Slowly, softly, and one at a time he picked up each of the sea creatures that had perished in the attack. Holding them so gently in his palm, he bowed his head and whispered kind words to the creatures before placing them on a blanket on a table beside him. It took him several gut-wrenching minutes until she could no longer just watch her colleague. Weaving her way through the devastated lounge, she lifted chairs and tables on her path to the Ungeat. When it became possible to hear his words, she stopped and listened respectfully.

“Mo gbe soke si o, Ẹmi Nla ti awọn baba, awọn ti o sọnu li ọjọ oni,” his voice reflective and sad as he cradled a small, orange fish with white and black stripes. “Fun wọn ni itunu ati alaafia rẹ. Fun awọn ti o kù, jẹ ki wọn kọ bi a ṣe le gba isonu bi ayẹyẹ igbesi aye, kii ṣe opin ọkan.” He bowed his head one last time before spinning and gently laying the fish to rest with the rest in his blanket. When he finally caught a glimpse of the nearby woman, he bowed, ever so slightly and respectfully, to her.

“Amphiprion ocellaris,” he smiled a sad smile. “I believe the Terrans call it a… Clownfish? I’ve never understood that, since clowns are supposedly funny. But I’ve never understood them, either. Good day to you Counsellor,” he finally nodded in acknowledgement of her presence.

“Hello Or’uil,” the Betazoid nodded in return to his greeting, “I heard what you were saying… it sounded beautiful. Was it a prayer or blessing of some sort?” She asked as he picked up another creature.

“I seek a blessing from my ancestors,” he told her through his synthesiser, head bobbing as he spoke, “I lift to you, Great Spirits of the Ancestors, those who are lost on this day. Grant them your comfort and peace. For those that remain, may they learn how to embrace loss as a celebration of life, not the end of one.” He looked at the creature, and then the Betazoid. “It doesn’t have quite the same impact in Federation standard.”

“It’s still incredibly kind and thoughtful,” Chiera told him reassuringly, “I understand your people have a strong, almost telepathic bond with the creatures on your world?” She asked, seeking to engage in dialogue with him further, she gestured to a nearby seat and toppled it back to its normal position.

“We believe that all beings are equal, and without one, the balance of life shifts until equilibrium can be restored,” he told her, taking the preferred seat and sitting opposite her. “I believe we could call that death and rebirth. A blessing is the least I could do, after everything…” he trailed off, looking over his shoulder at the devastation around the room.

“None of this was your fault, Or’uil,” Vittoria whispered to him, leaning forward and placing a caring hand upon his trembling knee. “From what I saw, and what I have heard, you did everything you possibly could have for your people,” her voice cracked, betraying the sadness she felt for him in this time of great grief.

“It was not enough,” he responded, his voice a more ‘normal’ tone. “My people counted on me to save them, and I failed.”

“No, Or’uil, you didn’t,” Chiera shook her head vigorously, “Millions on that planet below will argue that they live because of you. Take pride in that,” she reminded him.

“And what of the billions who died through my inaction?” He asked of her, tilting his head as he spoke, his bulbous eyes trained on the Counsellor the entire time they conversed.

“It wasn’t your inaction,” the Counsellor disagreed quite vociferously, “it was Starfleet’s. We could have, should have, responded much sooner than we did. But remember, no one would be in the position we find ourselves in if the Dominion hadn’t emerged from their hibernation and rekindled their alliance with the Breen.”

Her statement was an assessment of facts, but it was something the Lieutenant didn’t need to hear right now. Rising back to his feet, the tactical officer looked down at the Counsellor. “People have their own way of handling grief, Counsellor. I must now try and do what I can for my family here, as they are the only family I have left.” He nodded to her respectfully and moved back to the destroyed aquarium. “Equilibrium must be restored…” he whispered as he walked away.

Standing, the Betazoid watched the young man go back to his ritualistic blessings, sensing sadness, and loneliness, but also some semblance of peace. By seeking blessings here, was imparting blessings elsewhere, and it gave him just a glimmer of light at the end of a very long tunnel. Smiling, she began to walk away, stopping momentarily to listen as the Ungeat spoke his beautiful native tongue once again.

“Mo gbe soke si o, Ẹmi Nla ti awọn baba, awọn ti o sọnu li ọjọ oni,” he began again, a blessing for much, much more than just the creature he held in his palm.

Glancing back at the newest member of the Hathaway family, and then at the scene of devastation around her, the Betazoid’s smile faded. She found herself focusing on a question she had not yet asked herself, a question being strongly projected from various minds across the ship. It was the question on nearly everyone’s lips.

How could it have come to this?

Comments

  • Unknown Author

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading your story. Your writing style is captivating and your characters felt incredibly genuine. The way you crafted the narrative kept me engaged from beginning to end. Well done!

    June 6, 2023
  • Wonderfully written and as your characters put it. "How could it have come to this?" I hope to read on and learn more as this story unfolds.

    June 22, 2023
  • First of all, a knowing wink and nod to the borrowed line! But more importantly, I loved this. It was very poetic and bittersweet and evocative. Great use of repetition with “until liberation day” and “how had it come to this” to create rhythm and move us from the point of view of one character to the next. It’s an intriguing way to introduce a new planet and species. It’s both a chilling set-up of what’s to come and a lovely rumination on grief and healing. Using the dead aquarium creatures as a focal point for Or’uil’s grief really makes it hit that much harder. Very well done!

    June 23, 2023