940: Soul Searching

by Zander Blakeslee and Keiran O’Sullivan
Following Here and Now

-=Blakeslee Homestead, Alaska, Earth=-

Zander let the heavy sledge fall again onto the wedge; the force of the blow easily driving it into the log and splitting it with a rending, tearing sound as the two halves fell away.

He leaned the sledge against the large stump that he was using as a base to split the logs into more manageable pieces and then bent down and grabbed the two halves and added them to the growing stack along the tree line.

Despite the Alaskan coolness in the late afternoon air, sweat beaded on his forehead as he walked over the other side of the stump and hoisted another large log onto it. He shifted it into position to be split by standing it up on its end.

He again retrieved the wedge and the sledge. He took a deep breath as he used the sledge to tap the wedge into the log before stepping back to take a good swing as he had done at least a hundred times before over the past four hours.

The view of the outside was something one would expect to see in a storybook, Keiran O’Sullivan thought, framed as it was by the frosted, snow-speckled window. He peered out through it as best he could, his eyes focusing through the haze on the man in the distance so intent on completing his task. Only problem was, Keiran knew that task had nothing to do with accumulating firewood, and Zander wouldn’t find the answer he was seeking with a sledgehammer.

“How long has he been doin’ that?” He asked Samthia, as she stopped fussing about the kitchen for a moment to look outside again as well. No matter how many times she’d done that today, her husband, it seemed, was never on his way back inside.

Keiran surveyed her features, easily reading her concern as he warmed his hands with the hot mug she’d given him earlier. His eyes shifted back to the window and he watched as Zander again brought down the heavy sledge splitting the wood with one efficient, telling swing.

The Blakeslee cabin was fairly remote and private so the transporter station did not have an exact address. The closest they could get was the town. So Keiran walked up to the cabin, a walk that he truly enjoyed as the scenery was spectacular but a bit chillier then he was expecting. Samthia added more tea to his cup and then at last, moved to sit down.

She took a seat at the large, handcrafted wooden kitchen table. She was dressed in a heavy sweater to fend off the summer coolness. Coming from a planet with a tropical climate she still had not grown used to the Alaskan weather. She took her own cup of tea into her hands and stared into it for a moment before answering.

“All afternoon.” She noticed that the large man was still holding his steaming cup rather tightly and her features softened apologetically. “I am sorry they could not have beamed you closer. I did not think to provide exact coordinates.”

“Tis alright Lieutenant. Good for the circulation.” He turned away from the window and pulled out the chair at the table across from Samthia.

She looked over at him as he sat down, and smiled. “I thank you for coming, Captain.”

"I see you've picked up the bad habit of the crew, not lettin' go of my old title." He smiled at her gently.

"It just shows how much we respect you, Sir." Samthia replied. Her voice was as vacant as her eyes, but Keiran took no offense at her distraction. Her thoughts and emotions were fixed upon one man and one only; the one for whom she had summoned Keiran in a desperate attempt to help.

"Been like this the whole time, no?" Keiran asked gently, before taking another sip of his tea.

"Yes." She sighed. "He's so far away even though he's right outside. Even with the boys, there's just," she reached up and pulled the hood of her sweater, draped over her smooth, hairless head to protect her from the cold, closer around her elegantly sculpted face. She couldn't get warm, no matter what she tried. It was a coldness of heart that plagued her, O'Sullivan observed, more than of climate and it was sadly a feeling he understood all too well.

"Well, if ya think my bein' here could get him talkin' I'm more than willing ta try fer it."

"At this point, if you can't help him, Captain O'Sullivan, then I don't know who can."

Keiran finished his tea and set the cup down as he rose. He pushed the chair back in up against the table and patted Samthia's hand reassuringly. "Name's Keiran," he smiled at her compassionately. "Give you my word, I’ll do what I can.."

He steeled himself against the icy breath of the biting wind as he walked out the door, pulling the collar of his coat up more closely around his neck. He felt his eyes begin to burn, his beard the only thing protecting his face from the plummeting temperature as it continued to dive with the waning of the day.

He exaggerated the fall of his steps upon the crunchy, untrodden snow between Zander's blows of his sledge so that he would know without looking over his shoulder that someone was approaching.

Immediately, Zander bristled. The footsteps were too heavy and noisy to belong to Samthia or even to his mother. He was about to have company he hadn't expected, and whoever it was, they were not wanted here.

"Can I help ya with that?" Keiran asked, as he took off his gloves and put them into his pockets. He always found that he couldn't chop wood wearing gloves; he needed to be able to grasp the hilt of the instrument in his hands in order to feel in proper control of it. "Looks like yer quite outta breath."

Zander knew the voice immediately and did not turn. He stared down at the sledge handle, his chest rising and falling rapidly as he tried to slow his breathing in a vain attempt to prove O’Sullivan a liar.

A sudden feeling of concern gripped Zander and he turned around. “Captain O’Sullivan? What brings you to Alaska? Is everything alright, is the ship OK?”

"Ship is in one piece, as is her crew with the exception we're missin' somebody important." Keiran paused as Zander's fingers relaxed and then tensed against the sledge handle again. "Nothin’ else’ta do with the ship really matters right now."

Zander wiped away the beads of sweat on his forehead with his hand and nodded. “OK, so not to be rude, but why are you here?”

He saw that Keiran’s hand was still extended in expectation, and sighed as he finally handed over the sledge. He rotated back towards the large stump, picking up the freshly cleaved pieces of wood and tossing them onto the stack before retrieving another un-split log from the opposite end of the pile and placed it on the stump in front of O’Sullivan.

The Irishman swung the sledge easily a few times to get a feel for its weight in his hands and then nodded for Zander to put the wedge into a flaw in the log. Once it was placed, Keiran raised the sledge and in one fluid motion the log was split.

They continued on this way, with Keiran letting Zander settle into the idea that his solitude was being intruded upon, until several more logs were divided at which point Keiran finally paused. He laughed a little as he fought to catch his breath. "Not quite as...young as I...once was." His smile faded as he took in the sight of Blakeslee’s face. "As young as you are."

Zander grinned weakly. “Yeah, well young in body anyway.”

"Ya asked me why I'm here Zander Blakeslee and the answer can only be this. 'Cause you're not."

Zander frowned. “Funny, if I was not here I would not be as cold as I am. Sure feels like Alaska to me.”

Keiran ignored his remark and continued; making sure his tone was that of a friend and not that of a father figure or worse, a ranking officer. "You weren't truly on the Sera when ya left, and ya haven't been here with your family since. You've been off somewhere on your own, locked away in an ever-shrinking prison cell of your own making. I know the location well. I spent many years of my life living in it."

Zander opened his mouth to respond that he did not know what Keiran was talking about. But he quickly closed it again when the words sounded like lies even in his own head. Instead his shoulders slumped slightly and he slowly sat down on the chopping stump.

For the first time, Keiran felt that Zander looked worn out.

“Sam called you then?” It was a question but it sounded more like a statement.

"She's worried about ya is all. Wives, they do that, ya know. They worry. Part of why God gave 'em to us, because sometimes they see the things that we just can't."

"Or won't." Zander replied.

"I don't mean to pry into your business, Zander. But we've worked together a good long while now. And... I've come to respect you a great deal. As a fine man, and an great officer. As an outstanding husband, and father. And as I would offer to any man for whom I hold such regard, I'm offerin’ an ear to listen."

He paused, inhaling and exhaling slowly. "I've, seen some things in my time, Zander. I know you have too. I think," Keiran's blue eyes glinted in the low, lingering sunlight and his breath made slowly billowing clouds in the air with each word he spoke. "That is what makes truly good friends. When a person can understand what another has been through. Is at least a place to start."

Zander looked up at the man in front of him and then back at the house. He could see Samthia walking past the window in the kitchen. She would be in the midst of getting dinner ready about now.

He slowly stood up and retrieved a dark colored coat from its place hanging on a low branch nearby. He slowly put it on as he considered Keiran’s words, as well as the concern of his wife. Concern that ran deeper than he thought; deep enough to call for help.

He wife and children were his entire world. The realization that his own confusion about his feelings was causing them pain struck him like an arrow, causing a pang of guilt which cut through his own haze of self-doubt.

Maybe he needed help.

He glanced back at Keiran who was standing patiently by. “Take a walk?” he asked. “We still have plenty of daylight. Sun does not really set this time of year, kind of a constant twilight.”

Keiran simply nodded for Zander to lead the way. The two men took a path that led up the mountain behind the log home and through the thick groves of pines. The path was easy to travel and ascended slowly.

O’Sullivan continued to wait without a sound, and after a short while, Zander began to talk.

“Captain I’ve been many things in my life. I’ve been angry, sad, happy, and vengeful.” He glanced over at Keiran. “But I’ve never been as scared as I am now.”

Keiran listened intently, his features conveying an understanding that words never could.

Zander sighed. “Not for myself mind you, but for my family. I nearly left my boys fatherless and widowed Sam at the age and time when they need me the most.”

"Hate to be the one to tell ya this, Blakeslee, but they'll never need you any less." Keiran answered thoughtfully. "Needs will change, to be sure. But just wait until the boys are seventeen and runnin' headlong into a world they only think they understand. They'll need you even more then than they do now." Keiran thought of recent letters from Carrick, and made a promise to himself to be sure that he saw his son before he started his next assignment.

Zander shuddered as simply the thought of what could have been chilled him to the bone. He zipped up the jacket as they continued to walk. The trail now had turned north and was beginning to descend.

“I, I’m confused about what to do. For the first time in my life I simply am too afraid of the future. Do I leave Starfleet? I love what I do, I live to get up and serve. To try and make the universe a better place.” He looked down at his hiking boots. “At least I used to.”

Keiran let Zander's words hang for a moment as the merest traces of a memory came together, congealing in his mind. It was an image frozen in time; the sight of the newly formed Serendipity crew before the ship was even launched from space dock for the first time.

They'd gathered for a party, and Keiran, a man much different at the time as he was still existing under the veil of his last resequencing, playfully spoke words that he chose to repeat now, in a very different tone of voice than he'd originally spoken them on that night lifetimes ago.

"Tell me, Zander Blakeslee, about yer soul."

Zander's eyes darted to Keiran's now. He, too, spoke the same words he had at that party but also in a much different way this time. "My soul? How do you mean?"

Keiran sighed and walked a few paces away, to allow Zander more physical space in which to think, uncrowded. "Your soul, Blakeslee. I asked ya, if you remember, what it was that motivated you. I rattled off a short list, 'the adventure of space' 'the tactical challenges of a fight...'"

Keiran's voice lowered to the point where Zander had to move closer once again to make out his words over the sound of the increasingly stirring winds. "...the love of a good woman. Do ya remember what'cha said to me?"

"I said," Zander replied wistfully, "all of it." He wondered what had become of the idealistic man he'd been that night.

"Aye. All of it." Keiran began to twist the ring on his left hand. He had been, at different points, asked to face the sort of choice that Zander was setting out before himself now. He'd never been quite sure, until recently, that he'd gotten it right.

"But men change over time. And time has changed you more than most twice your age. I say that again with only the utmost respect for how ya've handled it all." Keiran's voice warmed, and he held his hands up into the air at his sides. "After half of what you've been through an'a'one with a brain in their head would stop to rethink his priorities. But the time comes, Zander, when thinkin' isn't what is gonna help you get to the next step."

"It's not?"

Keiran shook his head. "No, is not. Time comes when ya have to stop thinkin' and listen to what yer heart is tellin' you to do, right? Then, when ya end up later on lookin’ back to this day, then you'll always know, at the very least, that ya did your level best. For her," he gestured back toward the direction of the house, "for your boys." He paused, knowing he was now treading onto dangerous ground. "For your father, but most of all, for yourself, Zander. Because in the end, you're the only one who has to, and can, live with the decisions that you make."

Zander did not respond, instead he slowly continued to walk the trail as Keiran’s words sunk in. Suddenly the trail broke out of the pines and the two men found themselves standing on the dark gravely sand of Lake Kenai’s shore.

The water was so calm that it acted like a silver mirror, reflecting back the image of the clear blue sky and white-capped mountains to the heavens.

Keiran took a moment to offer a silent prayer, in thanks and appreciation of the beauty surrounding him; perfect as it was, painted by God’s own hand.

"So, tell me about yer soul, Zander Blakeslee. If ya can do that, then you'll know whether you're meant to stay here in Alaska for the rest of your life, or if you're meant to go back. To wear the uniform again."

“I need to serve my family. In every way possible.” Zander replied as he stared out over the water. “More then that, I need to make sure that I prepare them for what is to come, good and bad. I truly believe that my uniform is part of that.”

He looked at Keiran, knowing that he understood. “Most importantly I need to do that while being who I am. If not I will leave part of myself in hiding, and they will not know the whole of what I am.

“I won’t be happy unless I am in Starfleet. I’ve tried leaving once, it did not work out. I need to know that if I should be killed…to know those who I call my friends will ensure that my children know the man I am or at least aspire to be. I am sure, now, that I can rely on that.” He held out his hand to Keiran.

“Thank you.” He smiled. “My friend.”


Lt. Commander Zander Blakeslee
Chief of Security
USS Serendipity NCC-2012


-=/\=- Captain Keiran O’Sullivan
Currently Between Assignments
Temporal Investigations/ The Alchemy Project