Pell glared across the ready room desk at Lar’ragos, her flinty gaze causing the exhausted El Aurian to look away first. “Pouting won’t change matters, Ojana,” he offered a bit too flippantly, even for his taste.
“You bring me on board and then restrict me from your senior staff meetings,” Pell countered in an even voice that belied the hard set of her features. “Please explain to me how that makes any sense whatsoever?”
“You’re not serving in the capacity of a senior officer here,” Lar’ragos explained as he struggled to collect the shredded remains of his patience. “You’re a diplomatic advisor in case we make contact with the Amon.”
“So, in the meantime I do what? Sit in the TOC and polish the consoles?”
“How you spend your time is your affair, Commander,” Lar’ragos deflected. “If I were in your boots, I’d be spending all my available time collating everything we know about the Amon in preparation for our genuine First Contact with them.”
Pell’s eyes remained fixed on Lar’ragos. “I did that before we’d left Galaxy Station, sir, and as I sent you my compilation of all relevant records prior to our departure, you already know
that.” She sat forward in her chair, her posture inviting a candid reply. “What’s really going on here, Pava?”
He hesitated, but finally answered. “We’re heading for an inhabited planet that’s about to be overrun by two warring intruder species. The mission profile has certain… similarities to Velkohn.”
Pell nodded her understanding. “You wanted to avoid my causing a scene en route to the planet. I can respect that.”
Lar’ragos threw her a surprised look, clearly caught off guard by Pell’s sedate reaction.
“I was forced to learn a good deal of pragmatism as Worf’s XO, Captain,” Pell said by way of explanation. “The mass migration is a tragedy for everyone involved, and I’m not so naive as to think we can save everybody.” She gave Lar’ragos a sanguine expression. “It’s important to me to be of real value on this mission, aside from just being leverage to influence Donald.”
Lar’ragos raised his hands in a gesture of supplication. “Then I owe you an apology, Ojana. Given our strained history, I thought it was better to handle you with kid gloves.”
“I can be an asset, if you’ll let me,” Pell offered.
The El Aurian inclined his head. “I’d welcome that.”
* * *
Lar’ragos hopped from one river-wetted rock to the next in order to get close enough to Counselor Liu to be heard over the burbling river and the chattering of swooping bullet-head sparrows.
Liu stood waist-deep in the water, wearing hip waders. He cast the line from his fly-rod in gentle, swishing arcs above his head.
“This another North American river?” Lar’ragos asked, forced to raise the volume of his voice to be heard over nature’s cacophony.
“No,” Liu called back. “It’s a tributary of the Cochrane River on Alcent.” He gestured offhandedly to the reptilian bullet-heads that flitted back and forth above the river. “Not so many flying lizards on Earth anymore.”
Lar’ragos nodded distractedly, the gesture lost on Liu. “I’ve never been to Alpha Centauri.”
Liu continued fishing, and an awkward silence followed before Lar’ragos was moved to say, “I wanted to apologize for snapping at you during the staff meeting. It was out of line.”
Liu shrugged. “I did lay it on a bit thick, but I’d be lying if I said the moral ramifications of this mission didn’t bother me.”
“It’s a shit mission,” Lar’ragos admitted, “for all of us.”
“Apology accepted,” Liu said. “I’m sorry if I struck a nerve.”
“Some nerves are especially sensitive, even after four-hundred years.”
Another silence followed, this one more comfortable, leaving both men alone with their thoughts for a few minutes.
“You’re not Sandhurst,” Liu said finally.
“I never claimed to be.”
Liu turned to glance at Lar’ragos. “You keep trying to be, though. You played by Sandhurst’s rules in the engagement with Masada
, and they handed us our asses.”
Lar’ragos’ expression soured. “I’m well aware of my failings, Counselor.”
“Then play to your strengths,” came Liu’s response. “You’re a bloodthirsty, cold-hearted bastard, Captain. That’s not a criticism, by the way, so much as an acknowledgement of your gifts. When you play against type, you stumble. When you’re so focused on following in Sandhurst’s footprints, you lose sight of the objective.”
Lar’ragos bit back an acidic reply as he was forced to concede the truth of Liu’s words to himself. “What would you recommend?”
“Be what you are,” Liu pressed.
“And what’s that?”
“They don’t send a man like you to make treaties, Captain. You’re not a scalpel for precisely excising a cancer. You’re the last option, the doomsday weapon launched to lay waste everything in your path.”
Lar’ragos digested that. “That’s quite the backhanded compliment.”
“If you want someone to blow sunshine up your ass, look elsewhere,” Liu sighed.
“You’re suggesting they sent Europa
out here to do… what? Destroy the Amon outright?”
“And Sandhurst, if necessary,” Liu added. “I think Command is hoping you’ll convince Sandhurst’s tribe to make war against their countrymen, before wiping out whoever’s left standing at the end of that fight.”
A thrill of realization arced up Lar’ragos’ spine as Liu so effortlessly articulated what Lar’ragos had been unable to verbalize for days.
“When they replenished the Alpha Weapons Ramirez made off with, did Command issue us anything new?”
Lar’ragos closed his eyes, cursing his own lack of imagination. “As a matter of fact… yes.”
Liu called out, “Computer, end program.”
The idyllic environment vanished, leaving both men standing within a naked holodeck.
“There’s your answer then, Captain.” Liu walked towards the exit, pausing as the heavy doors parted with a pneumatic sigh. “If the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst at once into the sky, that would be like the splendor of the mighty one,” Liu quoted from the Bhagavad Gita. “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”
He left Lar’ragos alone on the holodeck, the younger man’s prophetic words ringing in his ears.
* * *