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A Space Odyssey Chapter 23

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#1 Guest_VigaHrolf_*

Posted 07 March 2006 - 03:38 PM

The crew of the Gorion joined Bran on the central dais, each facing the command chair and its long dead occupant. Silence descended on them as each looked on the remains of the woman who once commanded the Helios. No one seemed eager to be the first to speak, each unwilling to break the spell. Even the usually overly loquacious Lilarcor was silent, although whether that was out of respect or Minsc simply having the foresight to mute the thuggish disruptor was not a question anyone felt like posing.

“Poor woman,” Imoen said softly, finally breaking the long quiet.

“Considering the options, hers would be my choice,” Valygar said softly.

“I am surprised that the Captain did not go down with both boots firmly planted in the buttocks of Evil. Minsc would,” the big gunner rumbled like a polite volcano. A squeak turned his head. “But Boo has a point. Even mighty warriors who fall rise as the Evil. Minsc would not want that.”

“No,” Jaheira answered, her voice hard as flint. Her head was turned to look at the fallen captain, but her eyes glared out at the ship beyond. “No one would. Enslaved in such an unnatural state. An abomination for all eternity, even denied death’s release. A horror beyond imagining.”

“T..the pain she felt,” the Avarielian doctor whispered, almost trembling. Hearing the tremble, Minsc wrapped one heavy arm around her slight frame.

Bran’s eyes had yet to leave the desiccated face of the fallen captain. Voice leaden, he picked up where Dr. Av’lina left off, “It would have been a living nightmare. To not just lose your ship and your crew, but to see them perverted. To be forced to send your people into fight and have them fall, only to rise up again as your enemy. To see your ship stolen from you by the twisted images of your former crew. It is…”

“A living hell,” the Yolandan captain interjected with the finality of the headsman’s axe.

Starting, Bran turned to face Fentan. Her face was a mask of barely disguised pain. Realizing that his litany applied as much to the diminutive Yolandan as it did the Helios’s captain, Bran felt his stomach sink to his knees. He knew how it would feel, he could see it in her face. Shoulders slumping, he said, “Fentan. Mazzy. I’m sorry. I… I didn’t think…”

Mazzy held up a hand to silence him. “Captain, you only said what I was thinking. How could I not? Not hours ago, I found myself in an even less enviable position. I had lost my ship, my crew and my freedom. I was completely subject to their will.” Her eyes involuntarily flicked to the discarded pulse pistol lying on the deck. “I didn’t even have the same option she did.”

“You are among friends now,” Jaheira said, resting a gauntleted hand on Mazzy’s shoulder.

“And for that I give thanks to all the gods,” Mazzy replied sincerely.

“We may need all of their help,” Bran quipped, “if we’re going to get out of here alive.”

“Something I intend to do,” Valygar asserted.

“Heck yeah dreadhead! I’m way too cute to die here,” Imoen added.

“That is debatable,” Valygar deadpanned.

“Stuff it.”

“I don’t think any of us want to die here,” Bran interjected before his navigator and ops officers could get up a head of steam. “That’s why we slogged our way up here. To find information to help increase those chances.” He waved his arm at the darkened computer panels. “Hopefully there is something in these computers to help us do that.”

“So, I guess you’ll need me to go cybersurfing, eh big bro?” Imoen asked with a strange hesitancy.

“If it isn’t too much trouble.”

Imoen rubbed the back of her helmet and bit her lip. “Well, no, not really. I mean computers are my thang ya know. Shouldn’t be a problem. But…”

“But what?” Bran demanded.

“Well, all the station consoles are offline. All except those,” she said, pointing to the glowing panels the dead captain’s hands rested on.

“I see,” Bran replied, now understanding his sister’s hesitancy.

“Yeah,” Imoen answered, a slight pink coloring her cheeks. “Now I’m usually not all that squeamish, but I’d really not like to have to work around a dead person if I can help it. Do you… do you think we could move her?”

Bran looked from his sister to the captain’s chair. Grimacing slightly, he replied, “Part of me says that her command chair serves a fitting tomb and that moving her would be wrong. However, the part of me that doesn’t want to join her says we should do it. The question is, can we move her?” he asked, turning to the doctor.

“M..my scans show that her body is in..intact enough. Th..the cold and dry air mummified it,” Aerie answered as if anticipating the question.

“Very well.”

“Thanks,” Imoen sighed with relief.

“You’re welcome,” he replied, shouldering his Bladesinger. Stepping up to the command seat he said, “We should move her to her ready room. Think you can pop the door for me?”

“On it,” Imoen replied, bounding off for the hatch leading to the captain’s office. Once again, the door proved to be unlocked and Imoen slipped inside. The room had a significantly more lived in look than most captain’s ready rooms. Dust covered, empty emergency ration boxes lined one wall and the couch on the opposite wall was made up as a bed. A few other knick-knacks lined the floor and walls but the path to the desk was clear. Turning her head back towards the bridge, Imoen called back, “The room is clear. It should work just fine.”

Hearing Imoen’s report, Bran positioned himself to lift the mummified captain from the chair she’d sat in for the last five hundred years. He slid his hands behind her back to get the leverage to lift her. As he did, he whispered softly, “Forgive me Captain.”

“Captain,” Mazzy interjected just before he lifted the captain from her chair. “May I ask a favor?”

Turning his head to look at her from over his shoulder, he asked more testily than he wished, “Yes?”

“Allow me to assist in carrying the captain,” she asked sincerely. For a moment, he was tempted to turn her down and insist he could handle it. Then he saw the tightness around the eyes. The woman whose body he was about to lift belonged to that special fraternity of ship captains, just like himself. And just like Mazzy. If someone was to ‘disturb’ the grave of one of their number, both should. Nodding deliberately, he turned so she could grab her feet.

Mazzy moved quickly into position, grabbing a hold of the now dust caked boots while Bran got a solid grip underneath her shoulders. With a nod, the two lifted the captain from her command chair. Thankfully, the doctor’s assessment proved correct and the ancient body remained intact. As they moved past, both Jaheira and Valygar straightened, a subtle honor for a fallen Alliance officer even with their service separated by a half millennia. Nodding in gratitude, Bran carefully guided the body across the deck and into the empty office.

Bran nodded to Mazzy and the two made their way around the desk. Luckily, the chair faced the door so the two captains could easily rest the third in it. Gently, they lowered her into the aged and cracked leather. Mazzy reached over and arranged the near skeletal hands onto the arm rests while Bran made sure she was sitting up straight.

Arrangements done, Mazzy nodded towards the heavily nebula scarred transsteel viewport, “We should turn her to face the viewport.”

“So we don’t have to look her in the face as we pull apart her bridge?” Bran asked.

“No,” Mazzy said softly, staring out the badly obscured viewport. “So that she can see the stars once more.”

A small smile crossed Bran’s face. “A good idea. Will you help me?”

Mazzy nodded and gripped one side of the ancient chair as Bran held the other. Slowly to not disturb the fallen captain, the two living captains turned the chair starwards.

Chair positioned, Bran and Mazzy stepped back in silence, neither one’s eyes leaving the cracked leather chair.

“We should say something,” Mazzy said, breaking the silence. Some final benediction for her.”

“Despite how often I’ve seen Death, I’ve never been able to find the right words for moments like these,” Bran admitted, his voice laden with regret. “None of them ever seem even close to hitting the mark.”

“I too have always found it a difficult task, trying to find some proper phrase to assuage grief and loss,” Mazzy answered, her voice quavering slightly. The control slipped as she continued. “Even in my days of imprisonment with no other distraction, I could think of nothing proper to say for my friends and crewmates.” Tears began to tickle her eyes. “I can’t even fall on those age worn clichés of dying nobly or in service of their nation. They died for a mistake. They died for nothing.”

Part of Bran wished that the words existed to ease the pain he knew the other woman felt. There weren’t. Intending to offer what comfort he could, he reached out his hand. His hand halted a few centimeters from its destination as faces boiled up from the dark. Crewmates. Friends. Wife. All dark-eyed and bloodstained, all screaming.

His hand tightened into a fist as their silent howls of betrayal filled him. He was about to offer solace to one of the race that had murdered them. One he’d already rescued. His stomach churned at the notion.

Closing his eyes, he fought off the specters, forcing them back into the darkness. His obligations were to the living, not to the dead. And Fentan was one of the living and as strange as it seemed, part of his crew now. Or at least under his protection.

Finally, he relaxed his hand and gently rested it on her shoulder. Whether or not she noticed the hesitation, he couldn’t say. Gripping her shoulder lightly, he said softly, “We aren’t perfect Mazzy. Not a single one of us, no matter how hard we try to be. We’re going to make mistakes, and people are going to die because of it. Hell, we don’t even have to make a mistake,” he said bitterly. “The question is what we are going to do about it. Do we let the pressure of the Chair crush us or do we as one Terran philosopher put it, ‘Turn death into a fighting chance for life’?”

“I know that Captain Varnas,” Mazzy said in her clipped accent in an attempt to keep her voice from betraying her emotions. “But it doesn’t make it any easier.”

“It shouldn’t. When you stop caring about the people you lose, you aren’t fit for the Chair any longer. You know that, I know that, and I’m sure she knew that,” he said. Then after a long pause, he added, “And… please, call me Bran.”

“Very well Cap… I mean Bran,” Mazzy replied.

“And maybe… maybe that’s what she was trying to do Mazzy. Turn death into a fighting chance for life. Not for her crew’s or hers. But for others she rode this hell ship and its crew of the damned into the darkness. To save others,” he said, staring at the back of the office chair. “And maybe we can do the same. Make their sacrifices worth something, all our sacrifices,” he added as the smiling image of his auburn haired engineer flashed behind his eyes.

“It would make a fitting epitaph, I think,” Mazzy said after a moment’s silence.

Bran nodded. “I agree.”

Silence descended on the small office as both Bran and Mazzy stared at the back of the chair, lost in their thoughts. Finally, Bran spoke. “We have work to do. We should be about it.”

“Quite right,” Mazzy replied, her voice confident again.

“Rest well, Captain,” Bran said.

“May the stars guide you home,” Mazzy added.

With a final nod, the two captains silently strode out of the captain’s ready room. Outside, Bran pressed the button to seal the hatch and leave the Helios’s captain to her rest.

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