Last Rites

Characters: Terry Hale, Tomás Darquin, Margaret Morgan

“Captain?”

Terry Hale’s eyes cracked open reluctantly, the sight of the bridge slowly resolving out of her blurred vision. With a wince she straightened and didn’t bother trying to find a more comfortable position on the thrice-damned chair. It was doing one job, at least in keeping her awake. Unfortunately, after hours, the soreness left one feeling like a cripple trying to climb out of it. The Minbari could do to learn a few things from the “decadent” races.

“You wanted to know when all crewmembers were aboard and the White Star made fast in our grapples.”

Hale barely recalled the order, but then she had only a ghostly impression of her return from medlab. The dead seemed far more corporeal than this waking horror. She cleared her throat and somewhere found her voice.

“Good. Best speed to the nearest star and then all stop at a safe distance,” she ordered. Her intentions needed no explaining; understanding transcended race and creed as only those dark times of war have the power to produce.

“Yes, sir.” There was a soft flurry of activity as the star charts were assessed and plottings made. The ranger turned back moments later, hands clasped in the sleeves of his robes. The Minbari’s gaze flickered between Hale, and then past her shoulder to where Margaret Morgan held to her tactical station with equal determination. “Course set, sir. We will reach the star in approximately seven standard hours. Shall I summon you back to the bridge in six?”

Hale’s mouth twitched with faint amusement. It was not a… suggestion she though she had the will to fight for long. With a muffled groan she pushed herself out of the chair and momentum kept her going toward the lift.

“In six, then,” she called over her shoulder. “And get the Hellfire on our scanners, and a channel, when you do. I don’t want to be throwing signals around. They should be in range soon.”


 

Beyond the Phoenix, six fighters wove a waiting dance around the two stilled ships, the usual chatter on the Commlink almost nonexistent. Calling to their brethren, Storm and Desell Squadrons scanned the void to make sure they would be undisturbed. Darquin was among the pilots, returned to flight to see the White Star 24 on its final voyage. It was nearly time.

Within, Margaret Morgan held the bridge amidst a slowly building crowd. All stations were occupied, the quiet murmur of preparations an amplification of the ship’s soft operation. The all-call to the crew was almost unnecessary. It seemed that, like Margaret, few left but for the short time necessary to get a fresh set of clothes and try to wash away the exhaustion and horror of the day.

Hale entered the bridge, arrowing not for her chair, but toward the viewports.

Margaret considered waiting, but after giving the final orders to the pilots and Helm, she stepped around her station and walked up to stand a step behind Hale.

“The Hellfire is missing, sir,” Margaret said quietly.

Hale glanced over her shoulder, brows knitting. Her head bowed a moment in understanding, and shouldered yet another mishap in this forsaken place. But first…

“All is ready?” she asked.

“Yes, sir,” Margaret replied. A moment later, there was a delicate shudder as the White Star 24 was let free from the Phoenix’s grapples. It was as if the ship itself staggered at this finally parting.

Hale faced forward again to see the attached boosters flare on the White Star 24. Winging above, the fighters fell into the old, marred pattern; the missing man formation.


 

The words came, low and clear, as sure as their first speaking, but now solemn with the deepest understanding of their price.

“We walk in the dark places no others will enter. We stand on the bridge and no one may pass. We live for the One. We die for the One.”

In the pause, there was nothing but the whisper of fabric as one by one they straightened to look out the forward viewports. Resolve could not wholly fill the rents grief had made, but remembered oaths had their own power. Perhaps it was now time to use it, Hale thought.

“The Anla’shok have survived more than a thousand years,” Captain Hale said, “through peace and war.” Though her back was to them, she spoke to everyone assembled. “We must be determined to see another thousand… then demand a thousand more, especially in moments like this. We have to remember that no one died in vain here… for they lived pursuing what too few of us ever dare; the right to make their own future.”

Rod-straight at her console, Margaret added her own blessing. Intended for her ears only, but it needed to be spoken aloud. “‘Sleep, O sleep in the calm of all calm, Sleep, O sleep in the guidance of all guidance, Sleep, O sleep in the love of all loves.'”


 

“Let’s go,” Darquin said.

“But sir, the ceremony isn’t–”

“Let’s go.” Quivering in pain, his voice silenced the comm channels. The Starfuries and Zen’Thas fighters spun about to face the Phoenix behind them and, thrusters glowing blue in the darkness, left their dead to burn in the light of an ancient sun.

 From the Stars we came
 To the Stars we return
 From now until the end of Time
 We therefore commit these bodies to the Deep

Copyright (c) 1998 Leslie McBride, Joe R. Medina and Alida Saxon. All rights reserved.