Atlantis Log of the Month Awards
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Log of the Month for June, 2010

Under the Dust

Kathryn Harper

Although the physical evidence of her traumatic injuries had long since faded, Kathryn Harper absently ran her fingertips over the site of one of the disruptor blasts she had taken almost a year ago, this one on her stomach. Medically, there were no remaining traces of the wounds, but psychological aftereffects remained, most commonly manifesting as phantom tingling. Often she could still feel both the white hot bolts of pain lancing through her torso and the exasperation as she laid on the bridge floor afterwards, unfocused wide green eyes staring upwards during her struggle for breath and continued life.

Now Kate sat on the floor of her quarters, contemplating a stone idol that sat on the coffee table as her fingers idly sought out old wounds. If she were praying to the statue, one might consider her attire to be irreverent; all she wore were standard-issue Starfleet exercise shorts and a sports bra. After returning from an evening tennis game with Roxy, her intent was to take a shower, but while taking off her shirt her eyes had settled on the idol, quietly gathering dust in a neglected corner of her bedroom. After a moment's hesitation, she had crossed to it and picked it up, the stone cold to the touch. Wondering why she noticed this old thing right at that moment, she blew the dust off, and the finding the result unsatisfactory, wiped the idol off with the shirt still in her hand.

The idol itself was a simple depiction of an aged man clad in robes, arms outstretched and hands open. Traditional Risan belief held this to be Lunatu, god of the moons and bringer of rains, but the sculpture could have been from any number of cultures given such a generic subject. Although the Lohlunat, or Festival of the Moon, remained a popular holiday celebration and tourist attraction on Risa, few actually still believed in Lunatu as an actual deity. Few adhered to the old faith, but her parents were notable exceptions, and this statue had been their parting gift to her as she left for Starfleet Academy.

Wary of her enthusiasm to leave her homeworld, they had called it a reminder to not forget her roots, but it had never really been effective. Although she was in the Science track at the Academy, she found herself thirstily diving into every language course and culture she could study while keeping up with the required curriculum. A sound in Kate's given Risan name was physically unpronounceable by humans, so she had adopted a human name. Soon she had stopped wearing the distinctive ornament on her forehead, and all that remained of her Risan heritage was the curious inflection in her voice.

Kate stared at the statue as it stoically rested on the coffee table, wondering if perhaps it was trying to tell her something. Were her parents right and Lunatu was not only real, but trying to help her now? An indeterminate amount of time passed before she shook her head. No, she was a scientist, if only a mediocre one, and knew exactly why Risa was soaked in rains before the weather control system was installed, and it had nothing to do with the whim of a deity. She had never believed in the gods, nor had she paid much attention to the traditional pre-tourist Risan culture, and wasn't about to have a religious epiphany now.

So what was it, then? Why did this artifact of a nearly extinct lifestyle have her captive on the floor?

A little later Kate was lying on her stomach, head propped up in her hands, still lost in thought while staring at the sculpture. The thought briefly wandered through her mind that if Roxy could see her now, she'd think Kate had gone insane. As if in a rebuke for the errant thought, she was then struck by a moment of sudden clarity, and slowly sat back up as she began to sort it all out.

Following the Academy she had served on a progression of science vessels and starships, her duty record unremarkable, and Kate considered her own talent for science to be average. She could do the job, but had no zeal for it, and considered it a mistake to have chosen that track upon joining Starfleet. Her real talent was with linguistics, but there wasn't really much of a need for linguists any more with the level of sophistication that the universal translator had reached. By the time she made lieutenant commander, Kate found herself fairly bored with her career. After taking the command aptitude test and scoring well, she ended up getting the job as Atlantis's beta shift CO, welcoming the change of pace.

It was a first transformative step, she realized, but the real defining moment was when Admiral Blackthorne suddenly appointed her CAG a couple of years ago. All Starfleet jobs carried some level of risk, but it was the first real danger she had faced in the line of duty. Although lives were in her hands in her previous assignment as beta shift CO, it was far more real when it was your fellow pilots and you couldn't just call the Admiral when something went wrong. She had even been shot down once, having to eject into space, but was really no worse for wear, and Kate had safely continued the far riskier assignment, only suffering the loss of her long red hair that was now cropped just above her shoulders.

Until that day on the bridge of the Atlantis, a place Kate thought to be far safer than the Boudica's cockpit, the bridge of a Starfleet flagship, a mighty Sovereign-class starship representing the strength and power of the Federation - until that day when the Klingons boarded and shot her six times in the back as she fought to stay at the helm and keep Atlantis from harm.

Until that day, Kate had never truly faced death.

Even though she had a healthy fear of dying, she'd never really entertained the notion that she could die. That, of course, always happened to someone else, and as long as she did her job Kate would survive even if she were scared as hell while doing it. It was always those macho idiots that weren't afraid to die that did, at least in the movies on Earth. At least that was the way she thought things were until she woke up in sickbay after extensive surgery with several new internal organs.

She finally rose from the floor and picked up the idol, the weight in her hands a tangible reminder of a duty that she had been neglecting. Kate had always thought that, in her enthusiasm to explore other cultures and languages, there would always be time to return to her own. Now keenly aware of her own mortality, she finally realized that Lunatu wasn't trying to awaken some dormant spiritual side that she'd kept hidden away, but to merely remind her that it was time to reconnect with her own culture while she had the chance.

Kate located her shirt, lying in a forgotten puddle next to the table, and put it back on after crossing to her desk and placing the idol next to the communications terminal. Paying her otherwise disheveled appearance no heed, she sat down in front of the screen and opened a desk drawer, taking a few moments to rifle through it. Emerging with the Risan forehead ornament she hadn't worn in years, Kate regarded it in her palm for a few seconds, then bowed her head and pressed it to her skin, just above the bridge of her nose. Looking up again, she leaned toward her muted reflection in the black terminal screen and made sure the mark was on straight, and was pleased to find that it was.

"Computer, open a channel to my parents on Risa."