The crew stood at parade rest, assembled in formation facing the dais situated just inside the main shuttle bay doors. They were arranged in alternating red, blue, and gold departmental colors, an unspoken testament to the reality that despite whatever division they served, their destinies were inextricably intertwined.
Between the dais and the crew lay thirty-seven torpedo tubes, each one draped with the powder blue flag of the United Federation of Planets. Most of these caskets contained the body of a fallen crewmember, while others were merely symbolic, representing a person who’d been completely vaporized or was otherwise unrecoverable.
Lar’ragos stepped up to the podium, setting his padd down atop the lectern and reaching out to ring the ship’s bell which hung next to him.
Wu called out, “Attention to orders,” with flawless precision and the crew snapped smartly to attention in unison. She waited for the order to relax to come forth from Lar'ragos, and then activated her padd to transmit data.
Lar’ragos began with the traditional refrain, “We are gathered here today to pay respects to our honored dead.” He paused to collect his thoughts, and then continued in his own words. “Eight of our number fell in the confrontation with the Romulans, and twenty-nine others were killed in the battle with Masada
. Like you, I grieve for friends and comrades among the dead. I mourn the lost potential, the end of friendships and familial bonds. A piece of us shall remain with them always, and they in turn will reside within us. Their sacrifice will propel us forward, reinforcing our determination to see this task through to completion.
“Despite the burden of these losses, we must acknowledge that they will not be the last among us to fall. I wish I could offer you more comforting words, but the reality is that Starfleet is all that stands between the Alpha Quadrant and the horde of refugees bearing down upon our respective civilizations. We cannot rely on our traditional allies to rescue us, as we have seen with our own eyes how divided the Romulans are in their purpose, and the Klingons have yet to even arrive.
“Every life given here in the Delta Quadrant may equate to millions, or even billions in the Alpha Quadrant who will remain healthy and whole as a result of our individual sacrifices. We few who have chosen to stand shoulder to shoulder on this line knew the risks that came with this uniform. We have been tested time and again in our training and over the course of our careers. Here is where we will face our ultimate trial, the challenging of confronting this gravest of threats while keeping our morality and our ideals intact.”
Lar’ragos looked out onto the ranks of officers and enlisted personnel, his eyes scanning across their faces, many known to him while others were unfamiliar, replacements filling the positions of those they were there to honor.
“Issara Taiee was affectionately known as ‘doc’, and she was a healer in every sense of the word. Her skills as a surgeon saved my life, and perhaps more importantly, her caring nature and her generous spirit helped to save my soul. Issara possessed a wisdom far greater than her years would suggest, and given the horrors she endured and the risks she ran to treat our wounded during the Dominion War, she could have elected to work at nearly any planetary installation in the Federation.
“Instead she chose to remain aboard an outdated, outgunned escort ship that saw far more action than it should. Then she decided to join Vanguard, knowing full well the dangers involved. Her humanitarian actions aboard In’Drahn Station, working with minimal support and few resources, earned her the Bronze Cadeceus. Doc Taiee’s last action in defense of her crewmates, that of sealing Sickbay off from the rest of the ship, has warranted the submission of her name for consideration for a posthumous Medal of Valor.”
As he spoke, Lar’ragos’ eyes grew glassy with emotion, something he’d once believed far behind him, lost to the mists of time. The man who’d hardened his heart in order to perform the unspeakable, the man who’d so recently studied the intricacies of Vulcan Kolinahr
in an attempt to hold his demons at bay, now felt the surge of genuine grief coursing through him.
“Olivia Juneau was a pain in my side from the moment we met. She was opinionated, stubborn, and had a mischievous streak that rubbed me raw. And yet, in the time I knew her, this shy, awkward woman blossomed into something more. She grew into a formidable presence that shepherded this crew through a hopeless battle against the seemingly unstoppable Romulans bent on our destruction.
“Juneau became more than the sum of her parts, and in so doing, she achieved a greatness none of us knew existed within her, not even herself. That will be Olivia’s enduring lesson to us all, that when called upon, there is enormous potential within each of us. We await only that spark, that confluence of circumstances to ignite our true selves.”
Lar’ragos continued, referencing his padd to draw from painstakingly researched histories to speak with surprising detail about the other fallen crew. Wu had collated these stories and anecdotes the night before during a marathon research session that would have made a Starfleet Intelligence analyst envious. Her findings complemented Pava’s inherent emotive gifts, and the result was a touching memorial that seemed to help salve the crew's psychic wounds while girding them for the challenges yet to come.
Following his words, Lar’ragos moved to join the others, falling into formation at the front of the gathering. The dais and podium dematerialized before a forcefield flickered into existence which separated the ranks from the great bay doors. Those doors opened to reveal the aft end of their drydock gantry and the stars beyond. The engines on the individual torpedoes flared, lifting them slowly off their pedestals and sending them in a staggered formation out and away from the ship. Once clear of Galaxy Station’s traffic, the flotilla of torpedoes turned gracefully and set a final course for the system’s central star.
“We commit these dead to the depths of space,” Lar’ragos announced with finality.
* * *