North just might have made a deal that's going to quickly go south. Then again, maybe Section 31 isn't as bad as we've been made to believe (which includes some of my own works).
Commander Nandel hated this part, but she always forced herself to endure it. But instead of being in the moment, of assuming the place of the person she had been several years ago, she stepped outside, allowing her simulacra the unaltered grief that Nandel had once experienced.
It felt wrong, disrespectful, to playact that period of excruciating pain in her life. So the Halanan had changed the holodeck’s programming to allow for her to be an unobtrusive observer.
She now watched as Lt. Commander Nandel stood silently over Demetrius’s flag draped coffin. His was one of two dozen that filled one of the Tyche’s shuttle bays. The woman was broken, sobbing softly, yet uncontrollably. At the time Nandel felt inconsolable though Lt. Laxle had done his best to be there for her.
The Ithenite held her hand and silently stood witness as she gazed upon the photon torpedo casing. Nash had always wanted to be buried in space, shot of out a torpedo tube into the great vastness beyond. He had once told her that he never wanted to stop seeing what’s out there.
Briefly glancing at the other coffins, Nandel had guessed at the time that he hadn’t been alone in his sentiments. The Rushmore first officer turned toward the soft swishing of the bay’s entrance as it opened. The grieving Delagrange operations officer she had once been, had been oblivious to the new arrival.
Laxle had not. The Ithenite had turned to see who had entered the makeshift morgue. A tall, fair-skinned Arin’Sen officer crossed the threshold. A golden stripe ran across the shoulders of the man’s uniform. His uniform was singed and tattered, some cut pieces of fabric hanging off his arms and legs at points. It was a tad worse than Nandel’s soot-stained uniform had been.
Ensign Effad, of the security division, Nandel remembered. She didn’t pay attention as the man introduced himself to the Delagrange officers. “I heard-I heard you were here,” Effad had addressed the operations officer. He had bowed his head, his tears flowing from his eyes. “I’m sorry.” Without elaboration, the man turned on his heel and quickly left the funereal bay.
As he walked out, a green-hued, mono-finned Aquan female, this time wearing Sciences blue passed him. The woman walked stiffly, either due to injury or reluctance. Laxle nodded at her. Nandel had not turned around.
The woman took up a position near them, but not too close. She had bowed her head and prayed softly. While doing so she touched the necklace of sea shells hanging from her neck and the sea shell in the center of her forehead, held their by a headband.
Once the prayers were complete, she had looked at the Delagrange officers. “I am Dr. Lilaea, junior medical officer,” she had said. Laxle handled the introductions for him and Nandel.
“So, you’re Nandel?” The Aquan had said, shaking her head sorrowfully. “I wish we had met under different circumstances…Lt. Nash was always talking about you.” The woman had mused, and then stopped, a stricken look on her face. She had apologized profusely.
Laxle had tried to mollify her distress, but Nandel had remained mute throughout. Finally she had pulled her gaze away from the coffin. “How did he die?”
The Aquan was taken aback by the woman’s bluntness. It took her a moment to compose her thoughts. While she struggled, Commander Nandel flashed back to her memories of that frenzied battle.
There had been so much heat and smoke, as consoles erupted like volcanoes, showering searing sparks on any unfortunates caught in their wake. Nandel had suffered minor burns, her duty uniform fortunately taking the brunt of it.
The mission of course hadn’t gone according to plan. Though no Dominion warships had been guarding Cuellar Nor, the taskforce had been met by a Cardassian force nearly twice the size of their own.
Nandel had gotten swept up into the battle and the varied reports coming in from the other starships had become mishmash, a cacophony amid the flurry of orders barked by Captain Liyange.
The Klingons, despite their small number and questionable space craft, had proven their worth, losing all but two ships while taking out twice their number. The tide of the battle hadn’t changed though until Captain Machk had driven the Bowie, which had been trailing plasma and on the verge of a warp breach, into Cuellar Nor’s central core, decimating the station.
The remaining Cardassian ships had broken off at that point, with nothing else to fight for. Once they saw the enemy retreating, Nandel had sworn that the ship’s structural integrity field had been compromised as the structural supports seemed to shake with the collective roars and whoops of approval.
After that initial outburst a sense of deep sympathy had poured out of everyone over the sacrifices of not just the Bowie, but all of their comrades who had died in the assault. Nandel had been given the sad task of composing Delagrange’s casualty list.
She had gone at those duties with grim determination, as well as whatever else had been ordered or she thought necessary to get the ship back in shape. As far as they knew, the retreating Cardassians might be rendezvousing with another force and would come back to reclaim their broached territory.
All that while Nandel had been bursting with desire to see Demetrius, to inquire if he was okay, but her duties had come first. Hours later, a ragged Captain Liyange had stepped from her ready room. “Nandel, I need to speak with you.”
The first officer had remembered looking up, with certainly a confused expression on her face. Liyange was generally a stickler for rank titles and she wasn’t the chummy sort. Maybe it had just been the ferocity of the battle that had thrown the woman off a bit, Nandel had reasoned. Though deep inside she had known what had prompted the name change.
“In my office, please,” Liyange had added, her countenance morose. Reluctantly, Nandel had pulled herself from her station.
Within the confines of the ready room, the din of repair efforts on the bridge muffled, Liyange had turned to her. The captain had placed a hand on Nandel’s shoulder. To this day Nandel wasn’t sure if that gesture had been to steady the Halanan or the captain.
Liyange had leaned forward, as if her stance had become wobbly. “I received the casualty report from the other ships, including the Tyche.”
“No,” Nandel had shaken her head, her eyes welling as grief sought to rob her of speech, “No,” she got out though a great weight had settled on her chest. “Please…”
“I’m sorry,” the captain had said, “But….Lt. Nash, he didn’t make it.”
Commander Nandel choked up again at the memory. A part of her had been ripped away, and that wound would stay with her until she died. Halanans bonded once, and it was eternal. She could never imprint another being and another being could never mean as much to her. She could have relationships, she could even learn to care for another, but she would not love them, she couldn’t. The part of her soul that she had given to Demetrius she could never reclaim.
Nandel would never be whole again.
“Lt. Nash…Demetrius…he died with honor,” Lilaea had replied. “There had been a plasma coolant leak in Main Engineering. Demetrius led an evacuation team. He saved many lives, including Ensign Effad, but-but the injuries he sustained in the process…they were just too severe.” The woman had reached out to Nandel, but the Halanan had shrunk from her touch.
“Thank you,” Laxle had said, his voice full of apology.
“It is alright,” Lilaea had smiled wanly. “I understand. I had just wanted the Lieutenant Commander to know.” The Aquan had then left the two to their ongoing, silent suffering.
Nandel had been so engrossed in reliving the morbid vigil that she hadn’t heard the holodeck door open. “Commander Nandel?” A skeptical voice had called out. “Is that you?”
Nandel jumped with a start, turning to the speaker. “What are you doing here Counselor, and who else would you expect me to be?”
Nitsa looked her over, with an appraising eye. “You know the answer to that, and you know that revisiting this tragedy can activate your psychoprojective alter ego. And you don’t need to do that. You’ve progressed a great deal. The last thing you need is a relapse.”
Nandel sniffed. “Don’t patronize me doctor. As if you could understand what I need.” The woman turned briefly to snap, “Computer, end program!” The somber holographic recreation vanished and was replaced by a black room, lit by a softly glowing room-wide crisscrossed grid.
“It took you a long time to cope with your grief, to not lose yourself by giving Fyren license.”
Nandel’s heart pinched at the mention of her alter ego. She could never remember the actions of her projections, each an aspect of her subconscious desires or fears at certain times in her life. Fyren was the most recent, and the most destructive. She bore all the rage of losing Demetrius.
The Halanan knew that she should be grateful to Nitsa for helping her learn to accept Nash’s death instead of allowing her unresolved emotions to give birth to an impish force like Fyren. The situation with the rogue alter ego had become so dire that Nandel had been removed from active duty and placed at Elba II for rehabilitation. The modicum of progress she showed there had prompted the administrator to transfer to Starbase 337 and into the care of Counselor Nitsa. The Mizarian had gained acclaim for her work with telepathic mental disorders. While pyschoprojection was not abnormal, deviant manifestations were considered worthy of treatment.
Since their sessions, Fyren had disappeared. She had become subsumed and Nandel was learning to live life as a half-being. But there were times when she resented the Mizarian’s interference. When the woman wouldn’t let her relive the past, wouldn’t let her see Demetrius’s smile or feel the warmth and protection of his arms.
“I went looking for you, after the party,” Nitsa explained. “I had a feeling that being presented with such vestiges of the war would trigger your anxieties. You held up well in at the gathering by the way.”
“You are patronizing again,” Nandel chided, though she wondered if the counselor had a point. Nandel hadn’t had an adverse reaction even to the presence of the Jem’Hadar. Perhaps the lack of Cardassians had been not triggered a bad display from her? Cardassian forces had played a miniscule part in either the taking or liberation of Benzar. And it made sense that the Cardassians would not want to attend a gathering with Dominion representatives, due to the Dominion nearly exterminating the Cardassian race.
“My apologies,” the Mizarian replied. “I had just wished to emphasize that you are doing well, and you have no need to continue dwelling on things you can’t change.”
“Who said that was what I was doing?” Nandel snapped. “Have you ever heard of nostalgia?”
“Yes, but like everything there are healthy ways to experience it and unhealthy ways,” the counselor answered. “This is not healthy.”
“We heal in our own way,” the Halanan shot back. “Let me heal my way.”
“I wish that it could be so simple,” Nitsa said, “but you and I both know that it isn’t. As long as you stay rooted in the past, you can’t move forward.”
“I’m Halanan, we bond for life, there is no moving forward for me,” Nandel remarked, her voice cracking. “There will always be a missing aspect; it will always be out there, among the stars with him.”
“I am cognizant of the uniqueness of Halanan physiology,” Nitsa replied, “and you are right, I will never fully understand the depth of your loss. But I want you to understand that you can still have a full life, a good life, even if you can never bond again. But to do that, you have to stop miring yourself to this dark passage in your life.”
Nandel laughed coldly, “Easier said than done Counselor.”
“Well, let us continue to do it, together,” the Mizarian offered. “I’m here as long as you need me to be.”
“Or even if I don’t,” Nandel riposted. Despite the counselor’s concern, the Halanan bristled at the knowledge that her return to the exploration division had been contingent upon Nitsa being brought on to monitor her. Many starship captains had passed on Nandel before Captain North had decided to give her a chance.
After intense psychotherapy Nandel had repaired some of her career as the executive officer on Starbase 337, and North had been willing to take a chance on her. It also helped that Rushmore had also been in need of a counselor, and despite the unique arrangement, both Nandel and Nitsa were overqualified to serve on a New Orleans-class frigate so getting them could be considered a boon.
“You still do,” Nitsa assured her.
“And maybe you just need a pet to continue your experiments on!” Nandel gave her both barrels, feeling awful instantly at her words. She knew they were coming from a very raw place. But they did crack Nitsa’s professional armor. The Mizarian took a step back.
“I’m sorry you feel that way,” the other woman said stiffly.
“No,” Nandel shook her head, “I’m sorry for making such an accusation, it was unfair of me. You’ve-you’ve been a great help Counselor. It’s just, well, it gets hard sometimes, being without him, being so…alone.” She turned from the woman, not wanting the Mizarian to see her tears. “I-I try to hold it in, to dam all these surging emotions, to be the model officer this ship and Captain North need me to be.”
“And you’ve done that,” Nitsa said softly, “You have provided exemplary service. And this isn’t about Rushmore or your career. This is really about your life and freeing yourself from the ghosts of the past.”
“It’s a process,” Nandel admitted.
“I know,” Nitsa conceded, “And I want to be there for every step of it. We are in this together. I don’t abandon my friends.”
“So I’m more than just a patient to you?” Nandel asked, “More than a puzzle to be solved?”
“Of course,” Nitsa replied, a hurt expression on her face. “Did you think that’s how I saw you?”
“I thought I was a research topic,” Nandel admitted.
“Well, you’re not,” Nitsa answered. “You’re so much more than that. And it will be my honor to help you discover what that is.”
The Mizarian’s earnestness struck a deep chord within Nandel. It didn’t fill up the void, but it did make it feel a little less frigid. She sighed, working up the courage she knew would be necessary. “Computer,” Nandel finally said, “Delete all Delagrange and Tyche holographic programs.”