"A Coin For Passage Part Three"
by Lieutenant Commander Sakarra Tyrax
and Lieutenant Nimue Andraste
"It is indeed impossible to imagine our own death; and whenever we attempt to do so we can perceive that we are in fact still present as spectators. Hence [...] no one believes in his own death, or, to put the same thing another way, that in the unconscious everyone of us is convinced of his own immortality."
=/\= Shuttlecraft William Hurst =/\=
Lieutenant Nimue Andraste had never really believed in death. Certainly she knew people died. She had seen it happen. And the logical part of her frail thing though it was according to her Vulcan friends told her that she too would one day perish. The truth was, however, that despite all these things she was not convinced, in her heart of hearts, that she'd have to meet her maker.
She never had been.
That is why the perilous heights of Stratos had never frightened her.
That is why she could fly with reckless abandon and laugh with the purity of a newborn babe. This secret disbelief in her own mortality did at times make her a little reckless, but it also made her brave.
It allowed her to take leaps of faith and love without the fear of being hurt. It let her pause and relish every moment in her life because she was certain that in the end there would be time enough for everything.
Nimue was not immortal. She only lived as if she were.
And so as the Hurst spun out of control with Nimue suddenly at the helm, her head still pounding despite the painkillers she had been taking, consoles exploding around her, she was concerned and worked furiously to bring her craft under control and assess the situation.
But she was not truly frightened for in her subconscious the young Ardanan/Betazoid was certain that she would not be required to fork over a coin to Charon for passage on this day.
The helm responded. Slowly and reluctantly, but it came around under her gentle, insistent touch. The Hurst came to a stop, having avoided any further collisions. It was only then that Nimue let herself
acknowledge the screaming of Beyla, the bloody prone form of Lieutenant Jilani.
"Is he dead?"
"I no, no ." Casta gave her a relieved look. "No, Lieutenant. He is still breathing. Barely."
The use of the rank was purposeful, she realized. These were no longer the people she was joking with a few minutes ago. They were no longer just her friends who had let her come along on this mission, knowing full well she was supposed to be in the brig. Small though it might be, this was her command now.
That realization frightened her more than the possibility of death.
She ignored the feeling as best she could, as she ignored the pain at the side of her temples.
"Can you keep him stable? And hit Beyla in the head with something or give him a sedative to make him shut up?"
Casta shrugged. "Jim could do it better."
"You do it. Ensign Dodd," she said, turning to the thin scientist who had gone alarmingly pale, his eyes wide and fixed on Jilani's scorched uniform. He was barely breathing himself. "Report. Jim. Jim, take your station."
The young officer did not respond. Muttering a curse, Nimue rose from her seat and walked over to him. She knelt down to be at eye level for him, but was too short for it. Gently, she reached up and pulled face towards hers, forcing him to meet her warm eyes.
"Jim. You're with me, right?"
Ensign Dodd looked at her a moment and then took a deep breath. With a shaky, weak smile, he managed a nod.
"I need a report."
As he turned to his scanners and she went to the helm again. There was a hiss of a couple of hyposprays in the background and Beyla stopped screaming. She heard Casta whisper a prayer.
"The the tadpoles aren't they aren't attacking, Sir," Dodd reported, his voice strained but relieved, "They are just well, they are just zipping around out there. Looks like this was an accident."
"The tadpole that hit us?"
"Looks better than we feel."
Andraste nodded as she studied the damage report she had called up. "We've lost impulse, shields. Hull integrity is at forty-seven percent and holding. Life systems stable. Transporters are down, aux systems are failing." With an encouraging smile, she said, "See it only felt like the end of the world."
Tapping the comm display, she grimaced and said the words every pilot despises. "Mayday. Repeat. Mayday. Lieutenant Nimue Andraste on the Hurst. We have injured and we are dead in the water. Request assistance."
Well, that left only the minor matter of how to render said assistance when you were surrounded by miniature space dragons who thought this was all just awesome fun. Never mind that if they towed the poor shuttle back to Charon said creatures might find the big silver shape even more interesting.
"George Two, Leader is breaking off. Formation is yours. Engage the friendlies, distraction only." Judging from the way one of the fighters was already doing quite interesting somersaults, catching the attention of several delighted 'tadpoles', the pilots had already begun to get into the spirit as it were. Not that Sakarra was surprised. In the absence of things to shoot at, playing was the next best things as far as pilots were concerned.
The Vulcan managed to glide close enough to the battered shuttle to get a clear view and was deemed much less fun than the other Valkyries when even a green golden face with iridescent eyes peeking over the fighter's nose failed to elicit any interesting reaction. Still, the inquisitive creature did not deign to race after Mr Athalla like its comrades but had apparently decided to see what this one was up to. Or perhaps
One could hardly conclude from the young serpent's behavior it was wondering whether the shuttle was 'hurt'. Nor would it be logical to interpret its circling as concern. Still, it was unusual and therefore fascinating.
"Hurst, preparing to engage tractor beam. Please reroute power to structural integrity if possible."
"On it," Andraste replied over the comm before falling silent once again. From what Sakarra had heard about the Lieutenant, the quiet was unusual. However, for the Hurst at least, it was all over but the waiting.
Or perhaps not, seeing as the miniature dragon caught on to the idea with astonishing speed. No sooner had the Vulcan engaged tractors and begun to tow the battered shuttle towards Charon, the inquisitive creature poked its nose at the sparkling blue beam and sneezed? Not precisely, for to perform such an act one usually required air which could be expelled. However, the motions were oddly similar.
But the forward motion appeared to make a proverbial light bulb appear over the young serpent's head and it eagerly dove under the Hurst to nudge it onward.
"Flight Ops, this is George Leader. Please have tractors standing by for guided approach."
"Negative, Sehlat. Mother advises a foul deck."
Not that Sakarra would ever let any exasperation enter her level, melodious voice. But they had picked a rather inopportune time to break ... whatever they had broken.
"I strongly suggest expedience in resolving the matter. Our escort appears to be capable of solid reasoning and may attempt to guide the Hurst unassisted."
"Brought us a visitor, Sehlat? It's kinda cute, too."
"If by 'cute' you mean inquisitive, your assessment is correct."
"You think it can reason out Starfleet landing procedures? Or should we just pull out a big cushion?"
"Mr Van Draken, I fail to understand what " a light flashing on the Vulcan's console indicated exceeding stress on the tractor beam apparently the young serpent had indeed seen the open shuttle bay doors and realized it was where they were headed. Logically, it was attempting to nudge the 'injured' shuttle forward. Logically from its point of view.
"Lieutenant Andraste, you might wish to advise your passengers to 'stick on to something'."
"I don't suppose we could just zap it with a phaser and get this over with." Andraste's reply came over the comm, followed by chatter between the officers aboard the Hurst from which it became clear that a slight argument had begun among the junior officers. Finally, Nimue's could be heard say, "...would be like shooing a dog, wouldn't it? Or an force field fence? No...I don't care if I hurt its feelings.... I don't care what Starfleet would say, they aren't in here, are they?" Another period of silence followed.
Finally, Andraste returned, "I was thinking we could nudge the creature away, Sir. I mean, the thing is kind of a wad of energy covering...whatever it is the energy is covering. We could just chance the shield frequency to repel it. You should know that there has been some concern voiced that this might ruin the first contact, triggering a galactic war that would these things eat Sol for a snack. I think it is worth the risk, quite frankly."
Sakarra was quite accustomed to the non-Vulcan tendency to exaggerate. However, the leap from a mildly surprised miniature dragon to an all out war that would end in the destruction of Sol still managed to elicit a brow climbing unseen.
"A logical approach, Lieutenant."
Not to mention a much gentler one than Sakarra herself had considered which was grazing the creature's tail with phasers set on minimum.
"Please proceed Lieutenant Andraste. However, be advised that emergency landing procedures are not yet available."
"Yes, Mr Van Draken?"
"Well the tractors are still playing merry hell but we got the nets and the foam on the deck. Just thought you'd like to know."
"Copy, flight ops."
"Wouldn't like the nice lady to bump her head is all I'm saying. Shenn even offered to nail his pillow to the deck but I think that'd be overdoing "
"Mr Van Draken."
"Right you are. Well, bring her in."
Vulcans don't sigh. At least not when they can actually be heard doing it. That doesn't mean they aren't tempted every once in a while.
"Acknowledged," Nimue noted, "Executing both maneuvers on my mark. We'll secure Lieutenant Jilani so he doesn't move around too much."
"Still need a smooth landing," a voice noted in the background, "Or the Counselor may not make it."
"Yeah," Nimue snapped back, "Not helping with the pressure. All right. Time to say a little prayer to the seven mad gods of the sea."
There was a pause. And then suddenly, Andraste's voice was back, this time strain evident in her tone. She said a single word. The word she chose was a simple one, used by pilots and commanding officers routinely now. When the stakes were high though, and the outcome uncertain, it was apropos that this one word had been the title of a book that had spanned an epic and changed the course of a world's history. In the face of the unknown, it was comforting to know that there was poetry even in the most mundane of things.