You, Me, and the Parachute
Posted on January 22nd, 2006 by T'Kirr and Ian Blackthorne
T’Kirr and Ian Blackthorne
During the day, the sky had been red, but now a black canopy of diffuse stars spread itself above the treetops. Two Starfleet officers leaned against trees in a makeshift camp, passing a field ration kit back and forth as they quietly talked, as to not be overheard by potential enemies. Ian Blackthorne winced as he leaned over to take the kit from T’Kirr, as three of his ribs were cracked, but he was alive. So was she. And he intended to keep it that way.
Taking a drink from his canteen to wash out the taste of a ration, Ian quipped, “I wish I had eaten that lunch box that Yeoman Ryan brought.”
T’Kirr swallowed on her ration and drew her eyes away from the endless columns of trees and forest growth to glance momentarily at the admiral. “I don’t recall receiving one.”
“You likely didn’t notice it, being that all hell broke loose shortly afterwards. Still, it had to have been better than this stuff,” he said, gesturing at what was probably a stick of some sort of meat jerky, but whatever animal this was, it was genetically unclassifiable.
The attack had been without warning. While their dogfight between fighters just above orbit had been short due to the overwhelming numbers against them, it had been intense, and had quickly become defensive. That wasn’t to say they hadn’t taken out their fair share of Machen Bren. The memory of entering the atmosphere in a crippled Mustang had been a companion to T’Kirr while trekking to their current location and setting up a suitable camp. Having to eject early due to her craft’s imminent structural breach, she was thankful for her heritage that she didn’t pass out at such an altitude. She had just lost her first fighter in their last battle, then her second in this one. While she knew they were small and vulnerable compared to a starship, and that she had fought her standard best, T’Kirr found herself thinking she could have somehow prevented its destruction.
Had she managed to, however, Admiral Blackthorne would be on this planet alone. “Do you believe it likely the fleet is safe?”
Ian nodded, taking another short swallow of water. “Shelev followed orders and got the fleet away. He’ll be back for us. All we have to do is survive until then.”
After a few moments of staring off, T’Kirr slowly nodded to herself, accepting his words as the most likely scenario. She didn’t feel it would be difficult for her to survive in this environment–if they hadn’t been in this forest, the higher gravity and reddish tones could have fooled T’Kirr into thinking she was in a remote area of Vulcan. The inhabitants, however, were a far more ominous factor. “We won’t be difficult to find if we’re near an outpost. The Machen Bren have to know where we landed.”
“Yes, our landing wasn’t exactly subtle, was it? We’ll likely be here a few days, so we’ll stay on the move to evade detection while remaining near the crash site.”
Both were quiet for a while as they finished up that night’s allotment of the ration kit, each lost in their own thoughts. A single, splattering sound on a distant undergrowth plant caught T’Kirr’s attention momentarily. Finally, she drew in a quiet breath and resisted the impulse to look at Blackthorne. “Have you ever lost any starships?” She paused. “Or fighters, before today?”
Blackthorne smirked. “You were there with me when the Constitution went down. I certainly never thought I’d lose a starship because it sank. But sure, I’ve been shot down before.”
At first, T’Kirr had dismissed the Constitution as being a valid loss, as they had been assigned only temporarily and been aboard it for such a short time. As she thought over it more, she realized it was just as important at that time as any other vessel they had ever called home. “Have you ever thought that you could have made a more appropriate choice, and, in the end, saved your ship?”
“Sometimes. But I try not to. Second guessing your decisions accomplishes nothing, since you can’t go back and change them.”
“But certainly one can learn from them.”
“Would thinking through other options one could have made not have something to teach?”
He looked up for a moment at the dusky red leaves of the tree above him, then back to her. “T’Kirr, what I’ve learned is that if you made the wrong decision, you know it without having to agonize about it. When you do go back and second guess yourself, you probably did make the right choice.”
His words made T’Kirr’s mind stir in another direction. It did make sense. Furthermore, she thought that perhaps she had known it all along. She had needed a Human to point at it for her. He had said it without any premeditation, as if it had been obvious. Fascinating.
T’Kirr’s comparison of Vulcan/Human brain aging was interrupted by the realization that many more splattering sounds had closed in around them. She looked up.
Ian followed her gaze and noticed that the stars were gone. The planet had no moon, so the clouds eclipsing the starlight had made the night even darker, and a few moments later, much wetter. “Of course this planet couldn’t let us have it too easy, could it?” he asked bemusedly as the drizzle began.
T’Kirr shrugged her shoulders against the fat droplets that sank easily into her breathable uniform and began inching around the camp in the dark toward where she had put her flightsuit. “The trees don’t seem to provide as much protection as they first appeared to.”
Ian was still in his flightsuit, and probably wouldn’t have moved to find it if he weren’t, because his ribs hurt too much to bother with it over a little water. Instead, he washed his face off with wet hands and leaned his head back, his faded blue-jean eyes taking in what little light there was. “You know that I used to have night blindness?”
“What changed?” T’Kirr legged into her suit as she peered at him, appearing to actually be enjoying the rain.
“Had it fixed surgically so they wouldn’t ground me back when I was an Ensign. I hid it until after I graduated so I wouldn’t get disqualified from flight school.”
She pulled at the zipper of her flightsuit, only to have it stick unexpectedly halfway up her middle and blinked at him. “I have never heard of the condition.”
“I wouldn’t be able to see anything at all without the surgery. Like my Science Officer struggling with a zipper,” he said, looking up at her and smirking.
T’Kirr’s struggle ceased abruptly when she broke the tab right off the zipper. Clenching her jaw, she mumbled, “It must’ve been damaged when I landed,” and looked over at the makeshift parachute-tent and spared it a second’s notice before forcibly looking away from it. Blackthorne was watching her, perfectly fine in the rain. She decided her flight from excessive moisture was illogical, and made her way back to the tree.
“So tell me why you asked me all of that. I think I know, but I want to hear it from you.”
It had been a question she had wanted to ask for a while. Being in dangerous territory while coordinating a massive fleet of partially uncooperative Xindi had made it insignificant. Now, however, they weren’t going anywhere for a while. “Why did you choose me to pilot Atlantis? My fighter training is wholly inadequate for such a situation.”
“Right then, I needed an experienced pilot at the helm, and you fit the bill. Your logical mind gives you a natural talent at spatial relations as well, I believe, which means I thought you would easily transition from the size of a fighter to a starship. Yes, I could have done the job, but that would have taken me away from command.” He looked at his surroundings and considered the irony of what he had just said.
The significance of Ian’s trailing thought was lost on T’Kirr. As she absorbed his explanation, she found herself having to actually put effort into subduing her anger as the rain pelted her face. The admiral had rest the lives of the entire crew into the navigational decisions of a fighter flier based on her limited piloting experience with only the strengths of her Vulcan mind as a supplement. “I was hardly…”
She stopped herself, untrusting of her voice. He had to make a choice whether to do it himself or not. Would his command decisions have been too compromised, had he taken the helm, to see his crew through?
T’Kirr shivered and pulled on the flap of her flightsuit. It wouldn’t stay closed. Her anger slowly changed into another disquieting feeling–one that was supposed to be illogical. Despite the uneasiness, the sense of pride swelled within her unchecked. His faith in her ability went beyond her experience, beyond her heritage–he knew her, and trusted her.
There was silence for a time, but for the steady drum of rain. Finally, T’Kirr glanced over at Blackthorne, his black hair now thoroughly soaked, the profile of his wet face shining slightly in the near darkness. She swallowed with difficulty to clear her throat. “It’s fortunate that even though we are down here now, Atlantis still has a capable pilot and captain.”
He didn’t reply for several long moments, until quietly saying, “I should still be there.”
T’Kirr watched him, stating meaninfully, “We were overwhelmed. There was no way to anticipate an attack like that.”
“That’s not the point.” He sat up a bit, wincing as his ribs reminded him that they were unhappy. ” It’s bloody irresponsible of me to keep flying and taking the risk when I have a crew to look after.”
Lowering her eyes in thought, several articles of the Prime Directive came to mind. She knew Starfleet Headquarters would have something to say about someone of Blackthorne’s rank flying around in small ship practically made for lining up in the crosshairs. She also knew, however, that there was little they could do about it. For every regulation against one in command putting his life in jeaopardy, there was an equal loophole that gave way to interpretation. “Do you believe your skill as a fighter pilot is outweighed by ‘unnecessary risk’?”
Now there was the question. Blackthorne thought of himself as damned good, but so did most fighter pilots. His record spoke volumes, though, and few had actually continued on to design a successful fighter spacecraft. But did all of this give him the right to risk himself, even though he enjoyed doing just that more than about anything? “I don’t know. It’s the curse of success, you might say. Do well at something and they promote you so you can’t do it anymore, even if you love it.”
“Yes… a curious situation,” T’Kirr mused, squinting at the silhouette of a dark bough in the gloomy distance, “but you don’t have to accept a promotion.”
“True, but this is the path I’ve chosen.” He thought of his ex-wife, Liz, and smiled a bit. He had truly loved her, and was even going to leave Starfleet to settle down with her. She had divorced him because he canceled his retirement when the Dominion War broke out, believing that the war needed him and that it was his duty to fight. What might have been had he retired anyway? “And it’s a one-way path.”
She nodded slightly at the truth of it. “Then, you have a decision to make?” She quickly added, significantly, “Once we’re back aboard.”
“At least I know that if I do step down as CAG, the Sharks will be in good hands.”
A small frown formed between her brows as she stared at him, attempting to confirm what she thought he must be implying.
T’Kirr pulled her eyes away, realizing too late she failed to hide her surprise. It made sense, yet she had never considered it before. While T’Kirr was only a few years older than Blackthorne, the Vulcan had naturally matured more slowly. After all these years, she had never sought a position of leadership. She would have to meditate on the subject. However, Blackthorne’s decision had not yet been made.
Attempting to dismiss the matter for later, she offered, “There will be time enough once we’ve safely escorted the Xindi to think about such things.”
“Of course. Thinking to do, decisions to make, always with lives on the line, even my own. Did you know that I used to be married?” The slight tanline from the wedding ring had long faded, but sometimes he could still feel it on that finger.
She gazed at Blackthorne, wondering what had prompted the question. “No.”
“I chose Starfleet when the war started. It wasn’t the life she wanted.”
“But you wanted it,” she suggested.
“Did I? It was my duty, of course, and lives had to be protected. But that’s different from it being what I wanted for myself.”
T’Kirr nodded, considering. “Do you regret the choice you made?”
He sighed, leaning back again. “Sometimes. I really did love her. I think about the children we might have had together too. But I feel like I’ve made a difference, the way I am now, and that’s comforting.”
“Has she found someone else?” she asked tentatively.
“I haven’t spoken to her since.”
“It may not be too late.”
“I’d have to resign. She wants nothing to do with being a military wife, even if she would take me back.”
T’Kirr again looked away, now understanding the difficulty of the situation. “Perhaps you will find someone willing. Someone else you can love as much as you did her.” It was strange to be speaking about such things with Blackthorne. Now that she thought back, T’Kirr couldn’t recall ever having a personal conversation with him.
Ian bemusedly thought it odd to be getting emotional advice from a Vulcan, and smirked. “Perhaps. You know, it’s amazing what people will talk about when put in a situation like this. Things they would never say otherwise.”
“I agree.” She took a deep breath and ran a hand down her short hair, trying to squeeze out the extra water. Pursing her lips, she quipped, “However, I believe we would both still prefer being aboard Atlantis.”
“Yes, you know it,” he said with a long sigh. “A cigar and a gin and tonic would be grand right now.”
T’Kirr couldn’t relate to his choice of hobbies, but didn’t comment. She hugged her shoulders, forcing the flightsuit to shield herself better from the rain. How long would it keep up?
Ian pulled out a long tube from a flightsuit pocket. “I at least have a cigar with me, but it’s not like I could get it lit in this mess. Get some rack time, I’ll keep watch and wake you in four hours for your shift.”
“I don’t need sleep, if you would like me to watch.”
“Nonsense, Vulcans still sleep, last time I checked.”
“Of course, but I can remain alert for several days.”
“Best that you don’t have to. Hit the sack, that’s an order.” He gestured to the parachute-tent.
Their eyes locked for several moments before she obediently pushed off from the tree. “Yes, Admiral.” T’Kirr crouched down and climbed into the tent. She could at least meditate. Before pulling the flap down over the opening, she popped her head out. “Wake me early if you’re tired?”
“Will do. Good night, Commander.”