The Insignificance of Death
Yoshino emerged onto the bridge of the dead WS24. The grueling climb through the service shafts of the ship was made all the worse because there wasn’t really any relief at the end — just yet another scene of silent, icy death. “It is like being inside a tomb,” she said softly. Worse — like being inside the corpse itself.
Katia pulled herself out onto the bridge and looked around, grimly, feeling as if she was getting lost in the death and destruction she now saw around her. She had hoped after the death of Maenier to have some sort of respite before being subjected yet again to the sight of death, but she had not been so lucky. All she could think about as she pulled herself out onto the bridge was that Narsh was probably there. Katia had had enough death for one lifetime and wanted nothing more than for it to be over.
Mira stood and stared at her sudden view of the bridge. Somehow it’s different when it’s not a teaching cadaver. She had gone cold inside, detached. Seeing all the floating bodies had done that to her.
Yoshino shook her head, trying to shake off the horror. “Doctor, is there anything I can do to assist you?”
Mira blinked. “No. The nurses and I can handle our parts.” She added softly, partially to herself, “I’ll take one from the bridge. Who would have been closest to the front, do you think?”
“I fear….that would be either Captain Narsh or Anla’shok Solo, most likely.”
Mira nodded. Motioning for the nurses to follow her, she set out to snag a body and get it stuffed into one of the eighty plastic bags they had brought. Realizing she was alone still, she looked for her nurses. She glared at them harshly when she saw them stunned and staring at the entrance while she had Narsh in her grasp. They came back to themselves quickly under the withering gaze.
Yoshino motioned to her assistant. “Darion, if you would, take a look at that computer bank, and I will take this one.” She turned to Katia, who had said nothing since they had reached the bridge, and hardly anything since boarding the White Star. “We will focus on the computer systems, Katia, unless you have something else you’d rather have us do.”
Darion, a Minbari Ranger and Yoshino’s second at Ops, went to the station at one side of the captain’s chair and began to examine it.
Mira and her team continued their work in silence. The bodies were slowly snared and checked for identification. Most had some form or another. The bodies were then color coded; yellow for unknown, green for identified, and blue for the few bodies that would be removed for a complete autopsy. They were bagged and labelled like so much produce in a grocer’s booth. The doctor worked efficiently and coldly. The nurses were trying to be as unmoved as their chief.
Katia looked around, her anger slowly growing. What could have been done to stop this? There must have been something! She fought deep within herself for the strength to make it through this mission without losing her control as she had so often in the past when put to heavy stress. Somewhere deep within her, the power to go on flared up and she continued silently, ignoring the others with a singlemindedness that surprised even herself.
Yoshino had crossed over to the station on the other side of the captain’s chair. She had to detach the hands of the Ranger who died there, and help a nurse get the body clear before she could begin studying the console. It wasn’t easy, for the grip of death had only been reinforced by the deathly cold of space. She tried at first to be gentle, but in the end she had to grasp the man’s fingertips and pull hard. She squeezed her eyes shut as she heard the cracking of bone, transmitted through her EVA suit, and tried to console herself that he had ceased to feel anything long ago.
To Katia, she said, “I hope we can at least get the last few minutes of the ship’s data recording. She can’t have died instantly….” It was too much, too fast, and her voice began cracking. “She just can’t!”
Mira looked up from her work. Hearing the upset in Yoshino’s voice, she frowned and waited to see if a breakdown was imminent. I will be unmoved, she thought fiercely. I will sedate that woman before I let her distress move me.
Katia glanced up at Yoshino yet still said nothing, concentrating on what she was doing so she didn’t get sick watching all the bodies being gathered by the medical personnel present. She empathized with the Ops officer, but knew that discretion was the better part of valor and anything she would say right now would seem meaningless when faced with all the destruction around her.
Darion spoke softly in Lenn-ah, the language of worker caste Minbari. Yoshino pressed her lips together, listening. More calmly, she replied, “Yes, you’re right. Thank you, Darion.” Addressing the room, she said, “Forgive me. I … will not let that happen again.”
Mira nodded. She continued bagging and tagging as if she were simply packing for a move of address. She wondered vaguely what the Minbari had said to her; he had said it too softly to be over-heard. The moment passed and she put it out of her mind as unimportant. The bodies were being stacked and anchored in a pile against a back wall. They would wait here for later removal.
A minute or two later, Yoshino spoke again. “Katia. It appears that we may be able to get these banks functioning, if we can get power to them. Can you tell if there is any left in the reserve batteries?”
Katia closed her eyes. “Hold on, I will do some checking…it may require my going down to Engineering, though.”
“If so, Darion can go with you.” The Minbari nodded his agreement. Yoshino managed a smile to herself. He had taken all the shocks and horrors of their mission with the sort of unruffled equanimity that a Zen master would have been hard pressed to exceed.
Sieeing the last body getting snagged, Mira decided on a small examination. She looked closely at the man. He was human. She scanned him with the few scanners she had brought along. They all said the same thing — he had just stopped. She nodded to the nurses and when the man was bagged, Mira said, “I have finished here. I and my staff will start our sweep through the ship.”
Katia merely nodded. Yoshino said, “Of course, Doctor.”
Mira nodded. Waving for her nurses to follow, she checked to make sure one last time that the bodies were secured out of the way. The medical staff headed out through the service shaft through which they had come.
As she went, Yoshino said softly, “S’ran-to go with you.”
Mira’s head came up at the unexpected words, a human invoking Mira’s own patron deity on her behalf. For a moment her composure slipped and pain screamed from her eyes. Then the mask slammed back into place and she nodded curtly. Unable to think of anything to say, she said the obvious. “We’ll be doing a systematic sweep. Link me if you need to.”
“We’ll be listening if you need us,” Yoshino said.
She returned to studying the consoles, exchanging words with her assistant in Lenn-ah before speaking again to Katia in English. “Everything has just shut down. Like someone told the ship to die. And when she did, she took the crew with her.” She sighed. It was fanciful, like something out of one of the ghost stories of her childhood, but it was the only conclusion they had been able to reach.
The medical staff went through all the hallways on Deck One. They found that doors would not open without power. There were only a few bodies drifting in the hall and they were duly bagged and tagged. They stacked them close to the main doors of the bridge. Mira decided to return to the bridge to wait for power to come back.
Mira arrived as Katia finally caught a few bits of power floating around the reserve batteries. As she worked on rerouting the final bits, she told Yoshino, “I think I can get you a little power..not much though.”
“Send it to this bank, and I’ll try to do a fast data dump to the crystal port.” Katia nodded, fighting with the systems to get the remaining power where they needed it.
As she waited for the excitement to stop, Mira glanced at her nurses. They are handling this better now. That is good.
Yoshino said, “I can’t believe even the inorganic reserve batteries are so low. Almost as if…she fought whatever it was that told her to die. Perhaps an attempt to give the crew a few seconds more.”
Hearing this, Mira frowned. “Does that mean there will be no chance of getting her powered back up?”
“Not anytime in the near future, I’m afraid,” Yoshino sighed.
Katia shook her head. “I don’t even want to think about it … because if it can do this to this ship, it can do it to the Phoenix.”
“We can’t afford to spend time thinking about that,” Yoshino said. That way lies madness, and we have enough to deal with as it is.
Mira’s frown deepened. She shifted about in her EVA. “Then I have a problem.”
Before Yoshino could respond, Katia finished the rerouting. “You got power for a max of five minutes, so hurry it up!”
“Right. Darion, start running the ship’s data recorder. Voice, telemetry, AI, everything you can get, from the end back. Just dump it all to the crystal ports on my console here. We’ll look at it later.” Finally, she could turn to Mira. “I’m sorry, Doctor. What is the problem?”
“I need a way to get into the rooms that have closed doors. Also, a possible way of getting the bodies out of these rooms.”
Yoshino thought it over, even as her hands flew over the console, swapping data crystals as fast as they filled. She didn’t envy the doctor — hers was by far the grimmest task of all — and she wanted to help make it easier if she could.
Katia straightened up finally. “Well, Doctor, I am afraid that may not be possible.”
“Then we’ll have no way of knowing who might have died here.” For some odd reason, Mira found that this disturbed her more than anything else.
“The Minbari weren’t big on manual overrides for things, thinking the organic technology would compensate for the mechanical machinery.”
“There is one way,” Yoshino put in. “Slow, and ugly, but I don’t think it matters any more.” Katia crossed her arms, listening.
“The service hatches?” Mira asked. Her mind was balking at the idea of pulling a body through a tube.
“Yes. Also, we can get the cutting torches and burn our way through doors.”
Even as Katia furrowed her brows and cried, “Do you know how long that would take?” Mira shook her head.
“No, cutting torches will be unnecessary.” She closed her eyes.
“Doctor?” said Yoshino. She wasn’t sure what to make of the doctor’s sudden capitulation.
Mira looked up, saw the worry in Yoshino’s expression. “No need to be concerned. I’m just thinking of the logistics.” She nodded to herself. And what suggestions I will make to the captain for burial. “None of the manual hatches are locked, I hope.”
“Team One was able to go through them all,” Yoshino said.
“All rooms have a hatch available? Are they all designated the same way?”
Yoshino thought, looking to Katia for confirmation as she spoke. “The working areas of the ship should be accessible through the manual hatches and service ducts. Some of the smaller, living quarters type spaces may not.” She sighed. “I doubt there is anyone to be found in the living quarters of the ship in any event.”
Mira nodded grimly. “So be it. Thank you.” She left the bridge with nurses in tow. When once again out in the hall, she set up a closed channel to the Phoenix. “Trassano to Captain Hale. I have encountered a small problem that makes me realize that this might take longer than I had at first believed. If it is possible, I would be grateful for any more of my nurses you can find a shuttle for and send along. Thank you.”
That chore out of the way, Mira turned to the two nurses she had. “We each have a data pad, yes?” They nodded. “Good. I will finish on this level. You two will deal with level Two. Then, I will deal with level Three and we shall proceed in that manner until we get to the last level. You will record on your data pads each body’s number and whatever information you have as we did on the bridge. Also you will record which rooms you could not inspect. If you come across a body that appears to have died differently from the others, I want you to link me and I will come to investigate. Do not worry about blue tag bodies. I will take care of that chore. Now go.” Mira turned away from them and started searching the wall for a service hatch.
Yoshino pulled a data crystal from the port as the console in front of her went dark. “That’s it. Batteries drained. I hope we got enough to find out something.” She paused, thinking. There has to be something more we can do. Something I can do, so I don’t have to feel any of this…
“Katia, you know the structure of the White Stars better than I. Is there something else we can look at that might tell us something? Down in Engineering, perhaps?”
Katia looked up. “There is the organic memory in the hull membrane hooked up to the main computer in Engineering..but we need to have power for that.”
“Two possibilities then: we bring over some portable batteries from the Phoenix, or … if quarantine protocols permit … we remove a portion of the hull membrane and take it back.” She sighed grimly. “It may be that the doctor will not be the only one doing autopsies.”
Looking grim herself, Katia said, “That is more difficult than it sounds.”
Yoshino couldn’t help but crack a wry smile; better than crying. Nothing was easy, was it? “I seem to be throwing … challenges at you today.”
Katia chuckled. “Today?” She looked down, not wanting to get on that subject, and pushed herself away from console. “I have to get to Main Engineering to check things out from there.”
“Need some assistance? There doesn’t appear to be much more we can do here.”
Katia smiled slightly, warmed by the eagerness to help. “I can always use a second hand or two.”
Yoshino gestured to Darion, then herself. “Well, here are four.”
Katia nodded and motioned toward the door. “We will be going through a few tubes to get there, so be ready.”
Yoshino flexed her hands in the EVA suit’s gloves, preparing to follow.
Mira was at that very moment crawling down a tube, dragging Captain Narsh’s body behind her. She had finshed her sweep of Deck One and decided to get the body down to the shuttle bay now instead of collecting it later. I feel like a twin baby trying to be born, but being slowed down by my grip on my dead twin’s ankle. Such a birth often kills both babies, if not also the mother. Of course, an operation could be done and the both of us could be lifted whole out of the womb.
Mira shook her head. These are foolish thoughts, Mira Trassano. Stop it, before you drive yourself mad. The body bumped into her again and Mira almost screamed.
The journey to Engineering was long and slow as Katia, Yoshino and Darion wound their way through tubes and hatches. Katia had lapsed back into her troubled silence, and Yoshino thought she could make a pretty good guess at what the engineer was thinking. There had to be something she could do to help break this pall of horror and dread that seemed to be choking them all.
She thought of Darion’s calm, which turned her mind to Zen masters, and from there…. Yes. That’s it. Softly, Yoshino spoke in Japanese, partly to fill the silence and partly because she needed to hear the words to feel them.
“What was that?” Katia asked.
“We must become new,” Yoshino answered.
“I was thinking of something Musashi wrote:
“When fighting with enemies, if you get to feeling snarled up and are making no progress, you toss your mood away and think in your heart that you are starting everything anew. As you get the rhythm, you discern how to win. This is ‘becoming new.'”1
1The Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi, trans. by Thomas Cleary