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FNS: Dalaxia


  08:52:51 am, by Nic Wilson   , 4069 words  
Categories: Nexus

FNS: Dalaxia

We sent shuttles down to collect our crew in shifts, and burned a lot of fuel getting them all back into orbit. As a last little fuck you from the Meh-Teh, they played archived transmissions from Dalaxia for the crew. There weren?t many who could still look me in the eye after that.


Sam could barely speak to me. She said she caught something from the Meh-Teh, but I knew it was emotional bleed off the crew. They didn?t trust me- a lot of them hated me- and she was having trouble separating their emotions from hers. She couldn?t sleep with me in the cabin; she?d pretend, and a few times tossed and turned, but I started spending more time away, just so she could get some rest.


It had only been a few days, but Elle was the only one still really talking to me. Of course, she was with me on Dalaxia, so it was all old news to her. Maybe that?s why she was on edge; even a cursory look at the records would tell you she was my second on Dalaxia- fruit off the same poisoned tree. But at least she bought me a drink, before laying into me. ?A whisky for our commanding idiot.? The barman nodded and walked off. Haley told me you offered Diu?rnae a slot on the ship.?


?That gossipy AI,? I said, in mock irritation.


?Be honest with me, you were trying to bag the bear-woman.?


I slid onto a stool next to her at the bar. ?If I?d wanted that, I?m pretty sure she was offering back on her ship. And I think again in my cabin.?


The barman finally returned with a vial of the cheap stuff for me. ?Maybe not then and there. But you wanted her along; yet another back-up.?


I wasn?t sure I could deny it- and I knew I couldn?t sell a denial to Elle. And I was wary of where else this line of thought might take us. ?Hey, the rest of my life?s a long time. I don?t see the harm in keeping my options open.?


?Sam might.?


I considered a moment. ?She?s got a healthy perspective on it.?


Maybe she sensed I wasn?t in the mood for witty repartee, or maybe it really did mean something to her, but her tone got serious: ?Just don?t fuck it up, okay? If it ends when it ends, whatever. But if it ends because you couldn?t see the forest for the trees, that?d be sad.?


?I?ll be okay.?


?I was talking about Sam; I like her, and I worry about her. You on the other hand have the emotional depth of a cup of coffee.? I saluted the sentiment with my whisky, then swallowed it.


?Yes,? I had to clear my throat from the whisky burn, ?but very black coffee.?


?Are you saying you?re dark and mysterious.?


?No. Just that my emotional depth tastes like ass.? Just like that whisky. She smiled. It was the closest to an opening I was likely to get with her. ?Morale?s in the shitter.?


?Well,? she started, ?you lost your ship- temporarily, at least. Removes that sense of security from the crew. And you only got them back by threatening to go all Final Solution on an alien species- and them in the process. And you know what people think about Dalaxia?


?That?s not fair?


?It never was, but perception?s a bitch that way. You and I know what happened on Dalaxia. But to everybody else, it was your Holodomor. And for those who weren?t fucked up about it enough, there?s the extra bonus of, ?we have no medical back-ups because the company was using them for target practice,? and I mean I believe you didn?t know about it, but the crew? I mean, how could they not assume you and HR were briefed on it??


I wanted to argue, but she wasn?t wrong. And she wasn?t the problem, either. ?I?ve made an appointment with Maggie.?


?About time for that.?


?I want to talk about Dalaxia. And I?m going to broadcast the session, live.?




?If I don?t do it live, there?s going to be the lingering question, of whether or not whatever I say is just whitewashed propaganda. Hell, there are going to be people who refuse the truth, no matter what evidence I might give them. But it?s important I make an attempt to let reasonable people decide for themselves.?


?I don?t like it.?


?I know; the prospect doesn?t thrill me. But I think it?s the best chance we have of getting our ship back- no more of this awkward living with the ex and watching her get on with her life thing.?


?Was that a crack at me?? she asked with a smile.


?No, I thrive on our awkward sexual tension.? I paused, if only to prove to myself I could be momentarily prudent, before I said, ?Besides, we both know you?re still maddeningly in love with me.?


She looked at me, and for a moment I was terrified, because I saw something honest and delicate in her brown eyes, and I thought she meant to disturb our détente, but she broke eye contact, and said, ?You?re such an ass.?


I left after that. I?d dodged a bull, and knew better than to keep waving my cape at the beast. I stopped by MedDiv, where HR was finally in the care of proper doctors. We hadn?t seen each other since the Stalagmite. Between coordinating the evacuation, overseeing HR?s department and Dalaxia, I?d been putting out fires eighteen hours a day. I assumed he was just laid up, so I didn?t knock at the door.


?We?ve staunched all of the internal bleeding, but there?s still some anal leakage we?re concerned about.? MedDiv stopped when he noticed me. ?At least, we?ll be concerned if it doesn?t resolve, after the nanobots finish.?


At that moment I couldn?t stop from grinning. ?I?m beginning to think the last time wasn?t me, that you just have a bloody colon- or an interesting personal life.?


HR grinned at me. ?Heh, heh, heh. I kind of expected laughing to hurt, but these painkillers, man, everything that should hurt just feels floaty and disconnected.? When he tried to gesture on the word ?floaty,? he knocked a sheet off his shoulder, revealing a sling wrapped around his wing.


?What?s with the arm bra?? I asked.


He did his best to shrug, but there was a strange pop, and he made a face- not quite pain, just- confusion.


MedDiv sighed, and shared a 3D scan of HR?s arm. ?I?m afraid it wasn?t just the internal bleeding or ribs, he actually caught the full force of the Meh-Teh in his arm; shattered the humerus, and severed the axillary nerve about 90% through, as well as damaging the ulnar and radial nerve. In a way, he?s very lucky. A common complementary injury would have been to the axillary artery, and if that had been severed, he would have bled out before he could be removed from the alien ship.?


MedDiv scowled. I recognized his bedside manner kicking in like it had with Elle?s cancer. ?While we managed to save the arm, we?re having a little trouble getting the nerves to reconnect properly. Normally, we?d simply hack off the arm and replace it with an extra from the freezer, only, the freezer isn?t full of brainless vegetables, it?s full of people. Obviously there are? ethical complications.?


That?s putting it mildly.?


?They?re fully-functional clones. They have no legal standing as people, but that doesn?t change the fact that they are people. Ethically, I can?t-? MedDiv was fumbling, trying to justify it, as much to himself as his patient.


HR had heard it before, and even if he hadn?t, he wasn?t in the mood to be dour. ?I can?t feel my funny bone,? he said, grinning. ?That?s funny, right??


?Well,? I deadpanned, ?you never did have a sense of humor.?


One of the PsychOffs entered the room, and flushed slightly. I recognized her as the woman who had co-written that dreadful speech for Alexandra?s celebration with HR. She walked over to his bedside, and took his good hand. ?I was stalling until you got here,? he told her. ?Badly. But Cassie and I are getting married.? He turned to me. ?I?d like you to perform the ceremony.?


I started to put out my arm for effect, then stopped and said, ?I?d shake your hand to congratulate you, but that?s your dead arm, right??


With great effort he raised it, and forced his middle finger up. ?You have no idea how, uff, difficult, or satisfying, that was.?


?I assume you?re asking to avoid the religious connotations.?


He thought for a moment, about being shy, then he looked me straight in the face. ?You did also keep me from dying- plus you got her back.?


I wasn?t comfortable being that friendly with a man I?d made an effort to beat to death. ?I don?t know; I argued we should leave you behind- you were pretty out of it, so maybe you don?t remember. But I just got outvoted. It was actually the other ship?s captain that broke the tie. If anything you should probably be thanking her.?


?I?ll send her a card,? he said, but he barely cared I was in the room anymore. Since the moment Cassie had entered, he hadn?t been able to keep his eyes from her. ?Nearly losing her- it sort of put things into perspective, for me. Life is short. That?s something we can lose track of, adrift in timeless space. But there are things that have meaning among all that emptiness. And we should cling to those things. We need to. Because that?s what makes us human.?


?So long as you two promise me, and I know from my tone it sounds like I?m kidding, but I?ll want this in writing, not to ever collaborate on a speech for me again. I?d rather read pages taken wholesale from Atlas Shrugged.?


?I didn?t think it was that bad, for a mid-twentieth century novel.?


?It would have been bad for the mid-eighteenth century.?


 ?I don?t think everybody bears your disdain for Dickens or Hugo.?


?That?s because not everybody can be right. But mazel tov on the announcement. I assume you?re going to put it together sooner, rather than later.?


?There aren?t a lot of friends or family to coordinate, so no. Shouldn?t be more than a few days.?


?Well, don?t dawdle on that,? I said. ?You never know what can happen over a few days.? He squinted at me, then at his fiancé, to see if it was just the medication. ?I should go.?


I made my way to Maggie?s office. She?d set things up like I asked, and had been nervously waiting my arrival to protest: ?You don?t have to do this.?


?Actually, Maggie, I do. I owe the crew an explanation.?


I dropped into a couch that looked like an oversized catcher?s mitt and was about as comfortable. ?Then give a speech. Prepare a presentation. But broadcasting a therapy session-?


She lowered herself into a chair opposite mine while I answered. ?I don?t want to drone, or massage. Ask the questions you would ask if it were just you and I, to get to the heart of the matter. If you can, forget there?s even anyone listening. We want this as authentico as posible. Haley, open up comms shipwide.? I waited for a soft click through the speakers.?This is the captain. I know a lot of you have questions about what?s just happened, and in particular about Dalaxia. So I?m going to answer as many of those as I can. With me is the head of the Psychiatric Division, Dr. Maggie Allbright. Doc??


Her eyebrows went up, and she tensed, then forced herself to relax. ?As a point of disclosure, what?s the nature of our relationship?? she asked.


?Uh,? I stammered, already on the spot. ?Friendly, more so than I?d say professional.?


?But while we two were on the steering committee for the Nexus, didn?t we engage in a romantic ?agreement???


I winced; I really hadn?t expected her to bring it up. ?Yes.?


?And isn?t it also true that that agreement was never consummated??


I shuffled in my chair. ?It?s weird, you asking like you don?t know. But, um, no. We were both assigned to the Nexus before we ever consummated our agreement. At that point, you worried it would be unprofessional to begin a physical relationship with your commanding officer- or whatever the hell I am.?


?Okay,? she said, and crossed her legs, waiting patiently.


?So?? I asked, expecting another shoe.


?It?s your dog and pony show.?


?Then I?ll try not to screw the pooch- or the horse, for that matter.? She didn?t laugh, and the sound of an entire ship full of people also apparently not laughing was deafening. I cleared my throat and started over. ?Dalaxia is infamous. I imagine most of you have heard about it, at least the broad strokes. A lot of you are probably aware I was there, maybe even that I had to defend my actions in an official governmental inquiry.?


?Pretty much all of you will have heard the propaganda- though you might have no idea that?s what it was. Dalaxia was a space port in the Milky Way, close to our home solar system, about the size of Titan, Saturn?s 6th moon. The colony was concentrated around a single city about the geographical size of New York. It was moderately prosperous, as our company?s first foothold outside the system- years before the Argos. The people there were on a standard indentured contract, like all of us aboard the Nexus. But some of them didn?t like the terms of their agreement. They wanted to renegotiate.?


?But their renegotiation took the form of an armed revolt. They killed most of the company reps on-planet, and about 2/3 of the security division staff. I was in charge of a security ship that was tasked with getting the remaining security evacuated, and watching the colony until an the new security force could be trained.?


?Barring utter collapse- say the locals eating each other- we were ordered to maintain distance, by staying in orbit. The company didn?t want to be seen as either just abandoning the majority of colonists to the 15 percent or so who were separatists, and they also didn?t want to look like they were sending us in to crush a resistance- they?d learned that lesson from how things happened on Rutherford.?


?But regardless of the company?s intent, the separatists saw us as floating fascists, big brother watching them from orbit. They realized that a second, larger security force, one prepared for a fight, meant the end of their rebellion, and that we were a bridge to that reality. So they tried to goad us into a ground war, which we declined to join.?


?I honestly thought they?d given up. We?d been there since early February by the Earth calendar, and aside from chest-thumping not much had happened. It was May 3rd. I was woken up early by my second in command.?


?You mean the Nexus? SecDiv, Lt. Templeton?? she asked.


I cringed; I really hadn?t wanted to drag Elle into this. ?Yes. The colony was on fire. All of it. It was arson, on a scale I?ve never heard of. A subsequent investigation turned up the fact that the separatists, after driving out the security forces, had deliberately reorganized the way resources were stored to make that kind of a scorched earth tactic work- they?d been planning that from the beginning, going back to at least late January of that year.?


?The plan of the separatists, as near as we ever pieced together, was that they wanted the fires to draw us in. Then, when we came in to restore order, they wanted to film propaganda of soldiers firing on ?civilians? against the backdrop of burning buildings and chaos. Blame the entire thing on us, the fires included, with slow, mournful instrumental accompaniment playing in the background.?


?But they grossly overestimated the size of our force. Even assuming the conservative estimate of separatists at 10 percent, they outnumbered our forces seven to one. They convinced themselves we had an entire shadow military project stationed on the ship above their heads. But we only had the skeleton of a policing force. We didn?t even have anybody trained in fire fighting.?


?So the odds were not in your favor,? Maggie said.


?They were not. Even then, we planned to go in anyway. But the fire spread too quickly. We got cut off from tactically sound landing zones. So we looked for tactically unsound ones- but that took more time.?


?By the time we had boots on the ground, over half the colony had burned. But the separatists weren?t going to give up without a gunfight. So rather than being able to help out the remaining civvies, we ended up trading fire with assholes. Frankly, I would have just left a contingency force to deal with them. But because of where we were forced to make our LZ, we were cut off from the colony. The only way in- the only way to help anyone- was through the separatists.?


?Their homes were on fire. We could still hear the screams of women and children, any time there was a lull in the shooting. But they wanted to have a pissing contest with us. It was complete and utter fucking madness.?


?I mean, I?m the last person who will give this company a blanket pass. They?ve done some terrible shit. On Rutherford, in particular. And what they attempted to do, through MilSec, I?d rank up there with Rutherford. But the peaceful turnover of Kaien over to colonists proved that the separatists? goals could be had, through the right channels- with patience.?


She tapped her fingers on her chair?s armrest. ?I think you?re straying.?


?Right. The fighting was brutal. The separatists had their backs to the fire; we were pushing them into a corner, and they knew they were dead either way. They fought like animals; we paid for every inch we took from them with blood. Our casualties were in the low eighties, KIA in the mid-thirtieth percentile. But we couldn?t push them fast enough. There was barely anything left on the colony by the time we routed their position. It was as hollow as victories get.?


?We busied ourselves. The fires had been set deliberately to circumvent the usual evacuation procedures- basically blocking all the exits. Because of that there were still people trapped. Collapses killed a lot of them, but some ended up pinned under smaller piles of burning rubble.?


?We were at it for forty-eight hours, trying to tear survivors out of buildings before they cooked or died from smoke inhalation. Every sound was drowned out by the fire and human screams- even our radios. That was the most difficult part. Even though we were all working tired and hurt, and I can give you three names- Markez, Gryzlov, and Allen- SecOffs who worked themselves to death, from nonfatal founds. But without sounds, it felt like you were the only person there. Like it was all up to you. And the sound of fire became synonymous with life- even though it logically should have been death- because by the time the fires in an area were dying down, there weren?t any survivors left.?  


?And how many survivors were there??

?We managed to save 67 people. Out of thousands, nearly tens.?


?Do you accept responsibility for what happened on Dalaxia??


?I was in command, so ultimately failure rests on my shoulders. But we didn?t have the numbers to take the colony back, let alone put out the fires- not in time, anyway.?


?You?re dodging. Do you take personal responsibility for Dalaxia.? There was an edge to her voice, that forced me to consider: was it my fault?


My response came out weakly. ?Yes.?


?Given what you?ve told me, why do you blame yourself??


?Even if I couldn?t stop what happened- I was the only one in a position to. And I didn?t. I made decisions that slowed the only potential rescue for the colonists on Dalaxia.?


?Do you think you could have seriously impacted the outcome??


I hesitated. ?Maybe.?


?Stop being stubborn. In your estimation, what were the chances that, say, you could help the colonists, versus the likelihood of losing your contingent??


?We had between a 20 and 30 percent chance of some level of success. There was a 90 percent chance that we would suffer catastrophic, potentially even total, losses.?


?And if you had suffered total losses, what would have happened to the colonists??


?Any that survived would have been beholden to the separatists. Prisoners or forced converts at a minimum; hardline dissenters would be murdered, the rest traded as hostages. The separatists needed to be able to spill enough blood across the table to scare the corporate negotiators and PR people.? 


?This doesn?t match the records of Dalaxia- at least not the popular construction.?


?That?s because enough support for the damn separatists survived that they got their propaganda victory anyway. They painted me as a tyrant, as a blood-hungry conqueror who set fire to the colony for the sin of disrespecting me and the company brand. It?s a sexy narrative- certainly more fun than demagoguing dead ?patriots,? or reporting on all the innocent people they killed.?


?Then why do you feel guilty??


?I?m not perfect, but I?m more than adequate at what I do; I may have even made the right decisions on Dalaxia. But that doesn?t absolve me from the consequences of those decisions. Maybe the thought of a reality where men with a zeal for liberty so intense they?d willingly set their neighbors on fire is worse, and I?d rather be responsible, personally, for all of those deaths, and have the universe make some kind of fucking sense.?


Maggie leaned forward, and touched my knee. ?Okay. I think our time?s up.? I knew it hadn?t been close to an hour, but I was happy to have the out.


?Thank you everyone, for listening. This is your captain, signing off. Haley??


?Comms are disconnected, captain,? she said. I could tell from her tone that she had questions about Dalaxia, too, but wanted time to formulate them properly.


?Thanks, Maggie.? She wanted to hug me; and she looked like she needed a hug, too. But after her disclosure, she knew neither was a good idea, so she just nodded.


I took a long, meandering walk around the ship. I suspect Haley must have sealed my path, because I didn?t see a single crew member, when I should have seen a dozen. When I got back to the cabin, Sam was waiting, sitting on her edge of the bed.


She seemed softer than she had in days. I sat down beside her, but she didn?t look at me as she started to speak. ?You know, when we were taken, I wasn?t worried about what might happen- but I couldn?t bear to think that I?d never see your stupid face again.?


?I thought my face was one of my smarter features,? I said reflexively, and stroked her cheek with my fingers. She looked up and into my eyes. ?I couldn?t- I couldn?t let myself think about that. Because if I?d thought about losing you, I would have shut down, and we never would have gotten you back.? I collapsed into her lap. ?I?m so tired of pretending none of it mattered.?


?Shhh,? she stroked my hair. ?It?s okay. I know it mattered. It?s okay to let it overwhelm you now. You?re safe. And I?m here.?

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