Posted on August 28th, 2019 by Kathryn Harper
by Kuari and Kathryn Harper
In the aftermath of the battle at the Xovul station with sufficient repairs made, the USS Atlantis sailed smoothly through slipstream towards Trondheim. First Officer Kuari had the bridge, having caught up with reports and the status of repairs since being released from sickbay. She lay prone across her backless seat to the right of center, staring ahead at the slipstream tunnel on the main viewer. It wasn’t at all like warp with the stars streaking by. Even though they were going exponentially faster than warp, the effect seemed slower and more relaxed, a calm passing of blue clouds. A freeze-frame of it reminded Kuari of looking into the detailed irises of Lt. Commander T’Lira’s eyes.
Kuari shifted an elbow on the firm front edge of her seat. Further back the seat was softer, and she was especially glad for it with the discomfort in her belly from her injury. Starfleet’s top doctors had healed her up and this gave her peace of mind, but it would take some time before it stopped reminding her of what had happened on the Xovul station.
Her right eye shifted to the ready room door. Captain Harper had disappeared beyond it some time ago, and Kuari thought it a good time to check in with her. She turned her head towards Commander Wright, carefully stepping over and off her seat. “You have the bridge, Alexis.” She was aware of Wright’s professional confirmation in the back of her mind, but her thoughts were already on their captain as she made her way a bit slower on all fours than usual towards the ready room door.
In the ready room, Atlantis’s captain was also watching the slipstream effect out the window behind her desk. Her mind had wandered away from the after-action report she was preparing for Admiral Blackthorne, and the serenity of the view was a welcome diversion from worrying about her injured crew members and what she had been forced to subject them to aboard that Xovul shipyard, along with the pending task of writing letters to the families of those they had lost. Captains tended to stare out their ready room windows in thought, perhaps searching for an answer out in the void, but Kathryn Harper was no closer to whatever she sought when the door chime startled her. With a deep breath, she turned to the door and answered, “Come in!”
Kuari’s practiced eyes were already focused at Harper as the doors swished open. Seeing her looking back told her it was probably a good time, so she walked in all the way to the desk so the door would close beyond the length of her tail. Sitting on the floor, the tail wrapped tightly around her paws. She was still eye level with Harper and she offered a small smile to her friend, a contrast to her professional greeting. After Kuari’s last mission, she knew Kate had worried about her, and they hadn’t yet had a chance to speak in private. “Captain.”
Still grateful to see Kuari back on her feet, Harper subconsciously smiled back and lowered the formality with her reply. “Hi, Kuari! How are you feeling?”
Carefully taking in a deep breath, Kuari’s thoughts turned inward. “Not my best, but good, considering. I still need time.” Her eyes met Harper’s. “I’m no stranger to battle, but being trapped in that room, outnumbered with the Xovul against our Marines…well, I wasn’t sure if we were going to make it out alive.”
Kate’s face sank at seeing her usually unflappably optimistic friend in such a state, and Kate found herself fighting suddenly misty eyes with several quick blinks. “I am sorry, Kuari,” she quietly began, her tone having shifted considerably from her hopeful greeting, “I never want to send any of my people into such hellish situations.”
The Rucara’s heavy eye ridges lowered in a frown, and her chest puffed out a little. She didn’t expect Kate to feel responsible for what happened. “I hope you’re not apologizing for sending me. I would have rather gone through that over another of our Marines. I’m strong, and I’m proud to have brought the Federation’s justice upon the Xovul!”
That was a bit more of the Kuari she knew, and it did actually help Kate to see it, if only slightly, but her voice remained resigned. “No, sending you gave us a better chance of success, and I hate that it sometimes just comes down to cold, heartless numbers. But it never gets easier seeing your people get hurt, or worse… and having to send them anyway, knowing they may not come back. It just pains me to see one of my best friends suffering, regardless of your willingness to do so.”
Kuari nodded her understanding, her posture and expression softening. After a few moments of gazing at Kate’s face and studying the pain she saw there, she added in a resolute tone, “Put the blame on the Xovul where it belongs, not on yourself.”
She had always admired Kuari’s way of putting things right into perspective, but in this case, it was not a new one. Kate did blame the Xovul, and as someone who prided herself on her diplomatic acumen, that was not a welcome thought. She even now accepted that no level of diplomacy short of total capitulation to their strict belief system would have avoided this confrontation, but doubt occasionally surfaced as she replayed their first contact in her mind’s theater. With a deep sigh, Kate answered, “Oh, I do blame them. They have put us both in sickbay now, after all. I just hope this was enough to convince them that an all-out war with the Federation is a bad idea for both of us.”
In a perfect universe, Kuari would want to avoid war, too. Her species in general was peaceful, and their ideals matched up well with the Federation’s. Some species were driven by instinct and were bred into a culture that praised aggression, however, and they could only view peace as weakness to be preyed upon. Kuari had to learn this fact as she grew up, and she imagined Kate and most other peaceful people had to as well. Still, they had to try. “I hope so, too.”
Kate looked down at her desk and, remembering the experience of seeing the bloody battle play out on the bridge’s main viewer along with its deeply unsettling effect on her, quietly confessed, “Watching that battle through Colonel Wolfe’s helmet cam, the sheer brutality of it… I do not know how you Marines cope with it, Kuari.” Marine, in this case, being a mindset, since Kuari had transferred to regular Starfleet when she was promoted to XO, but they say that there’s no such thing as an ex-Marine. “I have taken lives, of course. Shooting down another fighter usually kills the pilot if they are unable to eject, but it is so much more impersonal than what you have to go through.”
Nodding again in full agreement, Kuari found herself recalling her training. “Yes, it is. Not only do Marines train in physical routines, we do it with a specific mindset. When ordered to attack, the enemy has no value, and simply must be neutralized.” Kuari smiled a little, attempting to soften her statement. “An even greater challenge is being able to switch that off and resume your normal life, full of compassion.”
Kate wasn’t sure whether she should be envious of Kuari’s ability to compartmentalize that aspect of herself, or grateful that being properly horrified by the realities of face-to-face military combat had never been trained out of her. Regardless, she was thankful that there were people like Kuari who could maintain that duality and still somehow remain well-adjusted and moral, so that was worth reinforcing. “And you succeed admirably, Kuari. Thank you.”
This time Kuari’s grin was broad, stretching back behind her big eyes. It was brief, though. “Someone must protect those I care about. It might as well be me. It’s do or die, sometimes. I have to keep that scary image of my friends dying from becoming a reality. Despite my training though, this was very real, and if the Marines didn’t put everything they had into this battle, our mission could have failed.” Kuari dipped her head to Kate. “I’m the one who should be thanking you. Just talking to you has helped.”
“No thanks are necessary, and it has helped me, too.” Adding a hopeful smile, Kate added, “You will let me know when you feel up to going for a swim together, yes?”
Kuari brightened and opened her mouth wide, but she stopped herself. She was going to say that now would be a great time, but when she thought about how carried away she tended to get in the water, swimming would probably not count as “light duty”. Smiling sheepishly, she replied, “I definitely will.”
Turning to gaze at the ready room window, Kuari watched as the clouds of the slipstream vortex wall floated by for a moment. The view had come to make her feel safe, and she still marveled at the power the technology granted them, being able to travel so much further than many species could. Even with that power, they were still mortal and could die. Opportunities they never believed possible were presented to them now though, and their decisions could have an even greater effect because of it.
Taking in another careful deep breath, Kuari’s head swiveled back to Harper, her eyes turning down with curiosity at her desk. “How goes the report?”
It took Kate a moment to remember the unfinished work on her terminal after the heavy discussion. “It is… strangely difficult to write for a successful operation. It feels like every sentence should have a footnote containing a caveat, even though that is not true. But, we accomplished our mission, and I know the Admiral will be pleased with our performance.”
Kuari nodded. “I read the reports, what happened while I was in sickbay.” She smiled proudly. “T’Lira handled the situation on the station well. We secured it and captured all the civilians. Mission accomplished, even though neither Wolfe nor I were conscious to see it through.”
“You did your part, nonetheless.” Kate turned toward the terminal and tapped the screen a few times, making minor adjustments to a couple of things that caught her eye. “Everyone did wonderfully, and part of writing these reports is conveying that fact to command. We have four ships full of Starfleet crews that gave their all for this result, and four captains making sure that the admiralty knows it.”
The proud posture returned to Kuari’s sleek form. “We did good. Judging by the Xovul’s behavior and what we’ve heard of them, it’s about time someone showed them decency towards other species. Our alliance will grow with others in the region.”
“Yes, from the Kvolir to the Free Fleets, and perhaps to even those we have yet to meet, it must be good to see someone standing up to the Xovul. And as for the Xovul, I hope that our sparing of their civilians will not go unnoticed.” Kate refrained from mentioning that she also hoped that the aggressive species would not see that as a weakness to exploit in potential future conflicts, and instead offered, “If all goes well, perhaps more peaceful missions await us.”
“We can only hope,” Kuari replied. She was happy to see the more positive side of her friend and captain. Her eyes dropped again to the report. “Also…unless we’re ordered somewhere new, I think the crew could use some leave after a battle like this.”
It was one of Kuari’s duties as XO to report on crew morale, and she was right; it had been a significant length of time since their last shore leave, and the crew had been through a lot of stressful situations. As she leaned forward and pinched her chin, the captain’s mind briefly wandered to thoughts of spending vacation time with her wife, or to hosting one of her beloved crew functions. Kate admitted to herself that she could certainly use some true leisure time, and if she was feeling that way, then the crew must be long overdue for it. “I will include the request in the report. It depends, of course, on the Xovul reaction to our mission, but Atlantis has been away a long time, and we are not the only ship in the fleet.”
Kuari nodded, considering. “We could start at Trondheim. Communication has mostly been war talk, and we could use time to catch up with them. Celebrations of victory together are good at uniting peoples. Atlantis would be in orbit in case the Xovul decide to come back, and we could quickly mobilize if necessary.”
“Trondheim would be a start, yes,” Kate nodded. “But it would hardly be a real vacation since we have been out on the frontier for almost eleven months. I would like to see us get some time closer to home.”
“Yes!” Kuari agreed whole-heartedly. The idea of being in the heart of secured space was very attractive to her in her compromised condition, and comforting thoughts of her family back home made her smile. “That does sound very good.”
“Then, I should get back to this report,” the captain stated, gesturing at her terminal screen. “For some reason, the idea of including a request for shore leave has renewed my enthusiasm for completing it.”
The Rucara stood back up on all fours. “I’ll let you get to it, then.” Dismissed, Kuari left the ready room and returned to the bridge. With a smile, Kate regarded the serene cerulean slipstream effect for a moment longer before diving back into her work.