A thin Andorian female wearing a light blue civilian medical smock stood from checking for either pulse on the still figure on the hospital bed. Standing she shook her head slowly. “I’m sorry, she’s gone. Would you like some time alone?”
Master Chief Petty Officer, Starfleet Retired, Rexar Arthrun looked up from where he sat beside his wife of eighty-five years and nodded. Somehow, forty years of Starfleet decorum won out over his desire to break down in front of the doctor, and he clenched his jaw stoically until she left the room. He struggled for a few seconds starting to speak, but having his words choked back with grief, and starting again. His antennae tentatively pointed towards her as words eluded him. His rational side tried to tell him that this was what he had wanted, for her to go first. It proved of little consolation. Finally, as tears ran freely down his cheeks, he gave in, lay his head down on his wife’s chest, and sobbed.
In the passageway outside the room, the female doctor stood quietly, keeping all other hospital staff at bay until the man was done. Once, she reached up and wiped a tear from her cheek. After a while the man came out of the room, thanked her, and with a ramrod straight posture, left the hospital.
In no real hurry to be anywhere, Rexar meandered slowly through a park on his way home. Singly alone while other Andorians walked or played in groups, he became reminded of a strange irony, which had been largely pushed out of his awareness during his marriage. While most Andorians thrived, and even needed the close company of a number of their fellows, preferably in the form of an extended family or close knit social group otherwise, Rexar had in Andorian terms been somewhat of a recluse. The two had never even sought out another pair in order to create a mating bond, and never had children.
Growing up had not been easy for him, forced into the plethora of social gatherings and family reunions typical of Andorian culture. It was not until joining starfleet and being exposed to the wider range of social interaction practiced by humans and other Federation species that Rexar really felt, in a strange way, that he “fit in.” To her credit, his wife had never forced the issue, accepting Rexar the way he was, and maintaining her own social contacts in a subtle and non-obtrusive way during his service.
Reaching a bench where he would sit with her from time to time on their walks, Rexar slowed and turned as if to sit, then changed his mind and walked the rest of the way home quickly, with more of a purpose in his step than before.
The small apartment seemed unusually quiet as he entered. He half expected to see Nalas come around the kitchen to greet him, but neither she, nor the smells of her cooking were present. Only silence greeted him. Walking into his small study, he picked up and looked at various memorabilia of his life. He activated a moving holo-sculpture of Nalas and him dancing, taken after they had attended lessons years ago. He smiled as the gentle music drifted from the small projector’s base.
Two-dimensional images decorated the walls, framed near other more tangible evidence of their life. A photograph of the two standing at the base of a huge glacier on the southern continent was framed with grooved cobbles worn smooth by the tons of ice pressing down yet creeping incessantly forward. Another photograph, this one from his retirement ceremony, shared a plain metallic frame with his formal decorations and Master Chief rank insignia.
Rexar sat behind his desk, clicking on his terminal and almost absent-mindedly looked through his messages. Nalas, always the one with foresight, had drafted a letter some months ago. She had even cued it up with all it’s recipients pre-assigned so that Rexar would not have to comb through her records to figure out whom to notify. All he had to do was press send. His finger hovered over the button for a full minute. Somehow pressing it would add a sort of finality to things that he was not ready for. His mail would wait, and so too would everyone else, whether they knew of Nalas’ condition or not.
Standing, Rexar turned the terminal back off and shuffled to the bedroom, climbed between the covers and closed his eyes. The last thing he sensed before drifting off to sleep was the scent of his wife....
A chiming dimly intruded on his awareness. He ignored it and drifted back towards oblivion. The chiming again, this time repeated more quickly, and again. He thought briefly of silencing it. But now, clearly awake and thankfully or otherwise, fully aware of his wife’s death, Rexar realized it could be important. He got up, noticing that he had slept in his clothes, and went to the door.
The fidgeting form of a man that greeted him as he opened the door belied the smiling face. He was also the last person Rexar expected to see today. It had been over ten years since he had seen Brem Slayton, the local Starfleet Retired Affairs Officer. The man hadn’t changed a bit, and still reminded Rexar a little too much of a Starfleet enlisted recruiter. Rexar never stopped wondering at why the middle aged human chose to extend his assignment on Andoria time and time again, and yet always appear so uncomfortable in layers and layers of clothing in weather Rexar found practically balmy. Holding out his gloved hand, Brem’s smile even broadened, “Rexar Arthrun, don’t you ever check your messages? You’ve got a doozy from Starfleet.”
Before Rexar could protest, Brem pulled out a message hard copy and started reading, “In accordance with Starfleet regulations pertaining to Retired Reserve reactivation, you are hereby ordered to report to Lt. Brem Slayton for initial processing NLTSD 53298.4 You are then to proceed to Commanding Officer, Starbase 216, for further mobilization instructions NLTSD 53315.6. Travel code 265553 priority AAA. Signed M.A. Brennan, Adm.”
Rexar stood still as if in shock for several seconds before simply slamming the door in Brem’s startled face. The door chime started ringing again as Rexar walked to his terminal and scrolled down to his own copy of the message Brem had read. The messages were the same. He read it twice. Outside, Brem continued ringing the door chime, interspersed with knocking.
When the door opened, Brem was just about to knock again, and had to pull back his hand to avoid hitting Rexar. “Lieutenant, there must be some mistake, the war has been over for almost a year, what could they possibly want me for now?” Slayton was a bit startled because in all their years of casual association, Rexar had never before used his rank. “Well, Master Chief,” the protocol returned to him, albeit somewhat rustily. “I can’t tell you why they want you, only that they do. This message is genuine, I called and verified it myself before coming out here.”
Rexar scratched his chin, looked down at the ground, then back up at Lt. Slayton. “Lieutenant, you are going to have to do better than that. My wife just died last night, so excuse me if I say that your timing has something to be desired.”
Lt. Brem Slayton had been on death notifications before. They were hard, but at least they could be prepared for, and they were impersonal. This was different. Although he only knew both Rexar and Nalas through years of infrequent casual contact, they were still not strangers. He’d also had no time to steel himself against the news. Any remaining color drained from his cheeks and it was his turn to be shocked.
“I’m so sorry Rexar, I really am. Let’s call Admiral Brennan. I’m sure there must be someone else they can take, under the circumstances.”
Admiral Brennan was either less sympathetic or more callous. He all but glared through the view screen in Rexar’s study as Lt. Slayton attempted to explain the situation to the Admiral. As Rexar stood back and watched, it only took the retired Master Chief thirty seconds to realize that Brennan was the type of self-important pompous flag officer who’s primary leadership ability consisted of throwing his rank around to bully anyone lower on the food chain.
Thirty seconds was enough. Rexar gently put his hand on Lt. Slayton’s shoulder and said quietly, “That’s enough Son, let me talk to him.” Lt. Slayton mumbled something that could have been “excuse me sir,” and stepped back, relieved, as Rexar stood full in front of the view screen and the Admiral. “Sir, there is obviously some confusion here. I am not questioning the recall order. I merely want to know why, before I bury my wife who refused to give up hope while I drifted in stasis for twenty years after an Admiral like you decided a rescue mission wasn’t cost effective when my ship was lost doing his bidding. Why after rejecting six applications to be voluntarily reactivated during the Dominion war, Starfleet has decided, suddenly, that it needs my service again. I believe I deserve that, at the very least.”
The stunned look on the formerly smug Admirals face pleased Rexar greatly, as did the pause that followed. When Admiral Brennan spoke again, his smugness was gone, replaced by trepidation, “Alright, I don’t know the whole story, that will have to wait until you get to Starbase 216. What I do know is this, the Shepard has been re-located, and Starfleet is sending a team to retrieve her, crew her up, and restore her to operational status. They need you because you are the only one still alive that actually worked on her engines.”
If the Admiral expected surprise from the retired Master Chief, he was disappointed. If anything the Admiral was taken aback by the quickness and clarity of his response, as well as it’s assumption that he could speak freely, an assumption that people never made around him.
“Re-located my ass! I told them exactly where she was seventy-five years ago. That ship and crew was written off as acceptable losses. Now I’m not a bean counter, but let me guess. Starfleet lost a lot of ships in the war, and until strength is built back up someone has decided to augment the fleet with old mothballed ships and the like? So it’s cost effective to go and retrieve the Shepard now? I suppose somehow that whole ‘can’t risk violating the Prime Directive’ excuse has somehow disappeared as well. How convenient, I guess some things never change.” Silently, Rexar wondered just how much Admiral Brennan knew about the Shepard’s engines, as he hadn’t even been born, much less in Starfleet, when the Shepard was lost.
While a little flustered at being talked to in a way he was not used to, Admiral Brennan tried to re-assert himself when he replied, “So, I take it that you are not onboard with this plan, Master Chief?”
The intensity of the look Rexar gave him as he replied, even though the view screen, caused the Admiral to push his chair back from his desk. “Admiral, with all due respect, you couldn’t keep me from being on that team.” With that, he merely clicked the view screen off, looked at the puzzled Lt. Slayton and smiled. “I believe Lieutenant, that we have some paperwork to do.”