CPA Muse Award Winner
Posted on July 5th, 2004 by Ian Blackthorne and A.C. Zuriyev
The lights were dim, as he hadn’t bothered to raise them when he came home. He had poured himself a gin and tonic, but it now sat neglected on the end table. The only sound, besides his breathing, was the subtle hum of the engines that constantly resonated through the bulkheads and deck plating. He felt that he was one with the view out his windows, which might explain why it had kept his attention for so long. Black. Empty. Alone.
She had been gone less than eight hours and her loss stabbed his gut, a sinking feeling that wouldn’t go away. For the remainder of the shift, he had forced himself to be the Captain and not think about what he’d left behind at that lonely, wandering planet. Now, alone in his quarters and staring out the windows into the utter blackness of intergalactic space, the guilt and anger were gradually starting to bubble forth.
“Computer, request a secure channel to Starfleet Command, Director of Alpha Quadrant Operations office.” His biting voice cut through the near silence, almost insulting it, the sanctity broken.
“Working,” came the computer’s calm reply, a stark contrast to his angered tone. At this distance from Earth, it would take a while to establish a subspace channel, so he waited. After a few moments, the peace of the room returned, timidly creeping back in after being shooed away. The gin and tonic finally got some attention while the time passed, but just a perfunctory sip.
Several minutes later, the computer serenely broke the silence once again. “Channel open.”
He stood and walked to his desk, carrying his drink, and sat down hard. “On screen.”
The Federation logo appeared for a few moments as his identity routed his call through the maze of assistants and right to the Director. Finally, the face of Admiral A.C. Zuriyev appeared on the screen, his head as bald as it ever was and his goatee now salt and pepper. “Ian,” he began, glad to hear from his friend, “we have been anxiously waiting to hear from you. What happened at the Crystalline homeworld?”
“Did you know, Alexi?” Ian’s voice was angry, lashing out at something, anything.
“Did I know what?”
“Did you know that she was just a bloody sacrifice?”
“She was what?”
“The entire purpose of her making this trip was to be killed, Alexi!”
Alexi’s brow furrowed as he frowned. “Did they promise peace because of it?”
Ian stared at the screen for a few long moments before being forced to answer. “Yes. They did.”
“And she went of her own free will?”
“Of course she bloody did, I’d never force that fate on anyone.”
“Da, of course. To answer your question, then… I did not know. But even if I had, I would still have asked you to take this mission.”
“And I would have bloody well done it!”
“Then what is the issue?”
“It doesn’t make it right! Or fair for Amy. And it seems like that I was the only one who gave a damn about her. Everyone else seemed perfectly happy to throw her life away!”
“We never happily throw lives away, but sometimes we have to sacrifice them when the cause is just. You know that just as well as I do, Ian.” Alexi realized that Ian probably needed to hear these things that he knew so well again, to reconcile his conscience with his actions.
Ian sighed, slightly frustrated that his boss didn’t understand, but then he realized why. “You would have to have met her, Alexi. She was just learning about what it was to be alive, to be human, when it was all cut off.”
“Yet with such a short time to learn, she was ready to give her life so that many others would live?”
“And because she thought life was all about the fear, distrust, and outright hatred she felt directed at her from most of my crew. To her, it wasn’t something worth fighting for.”
“That is terribly sad… Nevertheless, you did what you had to do, Ian, and that is part of why you are good at your job.” Alexi suddenly felt that his words were hollow, as if he was just repeating the party line.
“I sometimes wonder if being good at this job and being a good person are one and the same.”
“To keep our sanity, we have to believe that.”
“I don’t buy it! This was the bloody Kobayashi Maru all over again, Alexi! And show me a crew that would actually care about sacrificing the life of a woman who had been nothing but gracious and kind to them!” Ian slammed his fist on his desk, causing his drink to jump. “But no! She’s bloody Crystalline, so they can’t even give her a chance, her human half be damned!”
“Alright, Ian, I’ll stop with the ‘you did what you had to do’ stuff. I don’t believe it anymore anyway. Yes, there are times when there are no right answers, and this was obviously one of them. Something terrible had to happen no matter what you chose.”
Ian’s anger dissipated with Alexi’s admission. “Yes… I just feel terrible for doing that to her.”
“Of course you do.” Alexi could sense something more, though, just from the tone of Ian’s voice when he talked about her. “You had feelings for her?”
Ian nodded, unafraid to admit it. “Yes. I could have loved her, if I – and she – had been given the chance. Our one evening together in the arboretum was really her only experience with positive emotions.”
“I am sorry, Ian.” The apology felt shallow, but it was the only thing Alexi could say to the situation. “I suppose I should tell you that the crew of the Atlantis is up for an award, for carrying off this dangerous mission given the condition of the ship. Pending your approval, of course.”
“They don’t deserve it,” Ian replied, his voice pure ice, colder than the vast vacuum that separated the two men.
“With what you have told me, I am inclined to agree.”
Ian looked away from the screen for a while, lost in thought. “You’ll have your full report soon, Alexi. Give my regards to Brooke and the children.”
“She will be expecting you for dinner when you get back to Earth, so you can tell them yourself. Take care of yourself and my ship.”
He almost smiled at the running joke between them. “My ship. Blackthorne out.”
Ian tilted back the gin and tonic, finishing it in one fell swoop before he stood and walked back to the windows. Staring again into the starless void, holding an empty glass, Ian contemplated the lessons Amy had inadvertently taught him about what being alive truly meant. Once more, serenity took over the room.