by Rada Dengar
After Meaningless Words
-=San Francisco, Earth=-
After Meaningless Words
-=San Francisco, Earth=-
As Rada took an unintentionally deep breath he could feel the dust that disturbed the air drawing into his lungs. It was a sensation more familiar to the lonely desert than on this so often busy city street. The walls left a similarly filthy residue on his hands and the cloth he used to contact them. The dust that came with him seemed to suggest this place left a lasting impression on those it touched.
Yet as he wiped the cloth up along the frame of the door and found it easily removed the outer layer to reveal the faded natural colouring of the wood below, it told him that this place had remained almost entirely untouched for a very long time. It was like the world had simply continued on around it, forgetting it was even there.
There were several thick and heavy wooden boards crossed unevenly over the face of the door. They looked the strongest part of the entire building, and their comparative cleanliness suggested that this was the state the place had been in when whoever had been here decided to leave it forever. The sign on the front told nothing of who they were or where they’d gone, it said simply ‘Closed’ and appeared to have been nailed down so it could never be turned around again.
“Getting in shouldn’t be a problem,” he said over his shoulder. From the looks of this place, it keeping someone out was far more remarkable than him getting in. “Once I pry off these four boards I only have to get through the lock. It appears to be a fairly basic magnetic seal. If I counteract the magnet then it should just slide open.”
Wren said nothing in response, just kept standing back where she was; watching him, so he could only assume she had accepted his words. He could feel her eyes upon him, not on what he was doing but upon him, just as they had been the entire walk here. It wasn’t that he objected to being the focus of attention of a beautiful woman. Even if he did he wouldn’t dare to ask her to stop for fear he’d misread what was happening and would insult her by suggesting she was interested in someone like him.
He wasn’t vain enough to think that was why she was looking at him anyway. Sure he’d worried about being perfectly tailored to the tastes an alien species where the women ate their mates, all normal men did, especially considering that if that’s what they do to those they like they must surely do far worse to men who turn them down. He’d accepted however that normal sane non-homicidal women didn’t feel like that about him, and that was back when he’d thought far better of himself. He was only really uncomfortable as he thought of what Wren must surely be thinking of him. If he had truly done this horrible thing he’d forgotten, at a time while she was on the ship, then she didn’t need to be a Betazoid to have seen in the darkest depths of his wicked soul.
“Why do you want to get inside anyway?” He asked, trying to break the awkward silence. “Did you leave something in there?”
“No, it’s not that,” she answered a little too quietly. Something in her tone had said far more than she was prepared to.
Rada didn’t wish to pry however so he said nothing more. He didn’t have many tools with him but Mad’s husband had left her with a small magna-spanner which he realised he still had clipped to his belt. In all the confusion he’d forgotten to give it back after he’d hit his head but he’d have to remember to return it along with the icepack he’d now stopped using.
It wasn’t exactly the perfect equipment for the job but that was a luxury afforded to Starfleet engineers and not to him. Starfleet engineers were disciplined. Starfleet engineers wore near uniforms rather than these baggy grey clothes. Though he had managed to shave this morning, thanks to the sweet gift of a razor from Mad who declared that the hair didn’t suit him, he knew he didn’t even look like an engineer. Still, as he brought the spanner near to one of the nails he found it did indeed begin to draw it out and so hoped it would be enough to loosen these boards until he could remove them by hand.
However it soon became apparent that ignoring what he’d just heard in her tone wasn’t going to start sitting right with him.
“Are you okay?” He finally asked, turning to look over at her over his shoulder though deciding better of it in the end and facing back to what he was doing
He didn’t know Wren well but in his memories he’d remembered her being far different than she was now. She was bolder and she was happier. He remembered being in the café and watching her smiling the most heart warming smile. Now that smile was gone. She was different now and he wondered if this place wasn’t part of the reason.
“Yes, I’m okay,” she assured him, slowly exhaling, and he swore he could hear the weakness of her false smile. “It’s just…it’s hard for me to be back here.”
“Then why do you want to go inside?” he asked without thinking. Instantly he regretted it. If anyone should understand the needs to torture themselves it was him. Before he had a chance to remedy his statement however she had answered.
“Eight years ago, I made a big mistake here.”
Her words and more particularly the way they’d been spoken were so honest that he felt suddenly like he was infringing on a great intimacy even by being here let alone by asking things like this. He could really feel her watching him now.
“I’m sorry. I realise it’s none of my business,” he said, as he attempted to busy himself with his task. Clipping the magna-spanner back to his belt, he placed one hand on either end of the board to test how securely it was in place, but found the nails still weren’t quite loose enough for it to budge.
“No, it’s okay,” Wren answered with a sigh that seemed to suggest she’d really rather she’d not said anything. “I mean I have to tell someone about it, right?”
“You don’t have to if you don’t want to,” Rada assured her, feeling as he did like he sounded like the most horrible uncaring person in the galaxy for even suggesting it. “I mean obviously you can if you do want to. I just…”
“I know what you mean,” she said, as if to suggest he hadn’t offended her. “Sometimes it helps to have an outside opinion though, you know?”
Rada nodded his head, even knowing she couldn’t see his face as he continued working, unsure of what else he could do. Suddenly the silence seemed much more comfortable in comparison to this moment. It didn’t seem she was entirely satisfied with his lack of a response.
“Do you believe that people can change?”
“Well…” Rada said, worrying that any answer he gave would be the wrong one as he continued with his work. “I think people can learn.”
“But not change?”
“I didn’t say that,” he answered awkwardly. “I mean we all change over time, right?” Wren said nothing yet somehow he sensed she wanted him to continue. “I guess I’ve always thought people are sort of like computers. You change their programming and you change what they do but you won’t actually change what they are. Some cruel people can learn to be kind. Some kind people can learn to be cruel. No one though can learn to be naturally kind or cruel.”
“So then what wins out? What you are or what you learn?”
Rada sighed uncertain that he had any right to give an opinion here.
“I’d like to think it’s what you learn.”
“So if someone made a mistake…if they hurt you, you could trust them not to do it again?”
Wren’s words seemed to be becoming more emotional and this conversation was taking a confusing turn for Rada. He sighed again, trying to make sense of a situation that was making less and less.
“Why are you asking these questions?”
“Because I betrayed someone I love in this tavern,” Wren answered, her voice beginning to break. “He forgave me for it but I don’t know that he ever did fully trust me again.”
“I don’t know what to say to that,” Rada said quietly, as he was finally able to yank the first board away from the wall and to set it down onto the ground, never once having to make eye contact with the woman behind him.
“Just tell me, if it were you.” Wren inhaled slowly. “If the woman you were in love with, the only woman you’d ever loved, got herself pregnant to another man. If she then abandoned you with nothing but a cowardly note to tell you she’d gone. Could you ever trust her again?”
“Just tell me honestly.”
“Honestly…I don’t know,” Rada said, as he moved on to the second board, hating himself for not being able to give her a better answer and for not knowing whether it was time to turn around. “I mean, I’d have to know what happened to decide.”
“She was stupid,” Wren blurted out immediately. “She didn’t know what she wanted. We, I mean she and…I mean he and I, had been going out for a little over a month and everything was good. We were happy. We were in love. Then one night, he decides to do something sweet for me.”
-=Flashback 2381, San Francisco=-
It was a beautiful afternoon outside. It was a beautiful afternoon inside as well now that everything looked so clean. Stretching her body lazily out along the bed, Wren couldn’t help but smile at what had become of this room since he had been here. Though he wasn’t the first man she’d had in this room, he was the first one to actually clean the walls for her in her sleep. Bit by bit he was going through and fixing this place up for her. It was a strange experience that he was really making things better.
His side of the bed was empty now as he’d gone into the Academy earlier in the day so she had plenty of room to stretch herself out. She was in no hurry after all. The bed was warm and she had nowhere she needed to be just yet.
The afternoon sun was hitting her face through what before he’d come along had only theoretically been the window. Under normal circumstances she’d have grumbled about this but this morning she was quite keen to bask in it. She’d been through many nights when the sun the next day seemed to be attempting to make her head explode and so it felt good to have it feeling good instead. It felt weird, like a lot of things he’d brought with him, but it definitely did feel good.
She decided to close her eyes for a little longer. There’d be plenty of time to be awake later when he was back. She was aware of course that all this extra rest she was getting could lead her to wear him out and she wouldn’t want that. Well, maybe she would.
Now Wren grumbled as she overheard the voice of a friend, feeling the need to describe the sensation of her rapping on the nearby window as she did it.
She made the knocking so loud that Wren worried about the stability of the glass. She’d dumped that nice paramedic months ago and so if Di did hurt her hand now then Wren didn’t know who she expected to help her fix it. Knowing Di though a trip to the emergency room would be seen as the perfect chance to meet a new paramedic or even a handsome young doctor. A cardiologist would make the most sense as she’d eventually break their heart anyway.
“Hey girl. Open the damn door,” she heard Di’s rather loud cry. “Come on, I’ve brought your favourites; hot coffee and bitchy gossip.”
Wren suspected that Di had much greater preference for the latter, although the former did sound delicious right about now. This was especially true given Di had been flirting with the poor guy in the coffee shop for years now and he seemed convinced he’d just have to find the right quantity of extra sugar to give her before she’d agree to go out with him.
“Alright!” Wren finally declared, forcing her eyes to open. “I’ll be right out.”
Half awake, Wren swang her legs over the side of the bed and managed to stand. She quickly scanned the floor around her for some clothes. Finding instead they’d been placed in the closet, she grabbed the first things she could find and threw them on.
As she did she realised there was something in the pocket of the shirt. Taking it out she found it was a card saying simply, “I love you. Have a great day.” She smiled, he must have left this for her here to find.
He really was so sweet and she promised herself she’d look at it properly once she was awake, before putting it away again. Getting a quick glance of herself in the mirror on the cupboard door she ran a hand up through her hair to try to get it into some decent shape, but she decided it was likely a lost cause until at least after she’d had a shower. There was no time for that now though as the smell of coffee guided her to the front door of the empty unlit tavern far more than her sense of sight.
“Hurry up!” Di complained, getting even more impatient than usual, and repeatedly knocking on the wooden door.
Undoing the lock, Wren opened the door to find Di with a frustrated look on her face at having been made to wait. She was dressed in what looked like it must have been last night’s outfit. Wren could always tell because at night Di always thought that no one noticed she’d chosen dresses a size too small just to show off her long exposed legs. Of course, she secretly hoped everyone noticed.
“Coffee,” Wren said, extending her hand.
“Hello to you too,” Di objected as she handed the nearest of the two coffee cups she was carrying in the handy cardboard tray to Wren.
Wren ignored the comment as she savoured that sweet taste of the first sip of caffeine; it truly did taste far better than the coffee itself.
“You may enter,” she said with a nod of approval, though Di had already decided that she was going to and pulled out a chair at the nearest table, leaving Wren to be the one to close the door.
“You missed out on a hell of a night last night. Let me guess, you were with what’s his name again?”
“Yes, I was with what’s his name,” Wren answered dryly.
“How are things going with him anyway?” Di asked without stopping to allow Wren to answer or giving any indication with her tone that she cared for her to do so. “You’ll have to tell me everything, but don’t tell me anything until after I’m done talking. You know Cam from work? The boring lanky one?”
“I know he’s a nice guy,” Wren answered, though she did so without really looking up as the coffee was rapidly disappearing.
“Of course he’s nice. He has niceness pouring out of every end of him,” Di answered, exasperated. “But we’re not all like you. We can’t all just settle for nice.”
“I haven’t settled for anyone,” Wren retorted. “He’s kind. He’s sweet. He’s a great guy. You know, he left me a card this morning in my shirt pocket to tell me he loved me?”
Di’s paused to give an exaggerated look that seemed across the table to suggest ‘you poor dear’ before she continued on. Even knowing that none of the characteristics that Di looked for in a man were something to aspire to, Wren certainly didn’t like how it felt to get that look. Worse though was how strongly she could feel Di meant it. She considered that maybe the man she’d found could be a little sappy but she didn’t think there was anything wrong with that .Luckily Di’s attention always quite quickly found its way back to herself.
“Anyway back to my story. You wouldn’t believe it. Last night he actually tried to come out with us. Can you imagine it? He was in the middle of the club, nursing a single beer half the night, barely talking and when he did it was about stuff none of us had even heard of. Then it gets to about midnight and he finally marches his way through the crowd and up to Trish, then he asks her in this tiny little voice if she’d like to go out with him some time to some poetry reading. Obviously she laughed in his face. I don’t know what the hell he was thinking.”
“Trish can very cruel when she wants to be,” Wren thought aloud, though her Betazoid senses made it quite clear that Di shared neither empathy nor sympathy for the young man.
“Can’t we all,” Di thought right back as she took a swig from her coffee. “It’s not worth doing the nice thing all your life.”
“No, think about it. After we ditched Cam last night we went through five different clubs. We danced. We got wasted for free off drinks from more guys than we could count. Whereas what did you and what’s his name do?”
Wren was reluctant to answer as she wouldn’t have exactly called the experience fun.
“He had a lot of studying to do. We ended up just spending the night in.”
Di then gave her that ‘poor dear’ look again.
“There’s nothing wrong with spending a night in,” Wren weakly protested, though the words didn’t sound like they were her own.
“No, but it’s never just one night,” Di argued back. “Before you know it you’re getting to bed by ten o’clock and looking forward to a shandy at the end of your monthly puzzle night.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. You know me. That’s not going to happen.”
“Then prove it,” Di said in her most challenging tone. “Come out with us tonight and get completely blitzed.”
“You know I can’t do that. The tavern’s open tonight.”
“The tavern is where other people come to get drunk,” Di complained. “The purpose of tonight is to get drunk yourself. Come on, you used to be so impulsive. If I were running this place…”
“If you were it’d be closed down within the month.”
“There’s no need to get snappy,” Di answered, slamming down the last dregs of her drink. “Just because you’re bored with your life doesn’t mean the rest of us should suffer.”
“I’m not bored,” Wren protested, her voice now getting louder to emphasise the point. Di simply dismissed it with a snort of disbelief.
“Think about it. How do you think your boy knew which outfit to leave the card in? You’re already getting predictable, even to someone like him.”
Now Wren was getting angry. She was angry at Di and she was suddenly very angry at that card. Neither of them got to suggest she was boring.
“You know what? Get out,” she demanded, even knowing from experience that Di would be back anyway.
“Whatever,” Di said, standing from the table to leave but of course leaving her empty cup where it was for Wren to clean up. “At least one of us has the guts to admit when they’re bored here.”
Suddenly Wren stopped telling the story, her breathing having gotten progressively heavier throughout as she thought of how angry she’d felt back then. She treated him so badly and it’d all been such a ridiculous waste.
“Are you alright?” Rada asked with concern, finally no longer able to keep going with his work now that all four boards had been removed and so lay on the ground beside him. He turned to see tears in her eyes.
“Why do you trust me so much?” She blurted the question out.
“What do you mean?” Rada asked with confusion, wishing he understood what he needed to do to help.
“I mean….” Wren started out with her voice full of concern, but seemed to stop herself before she said something she really didn’t want. “I mean I’ve basically asked you to break into someone else’s property for me and you don’t even question it? Why?”
Rada stopped, momentarily stunned as he realised what he’d just done. He looked to the boards and then he looked back up at her. He honestly had no idea.
Lt. Commander Rada Dengar
Chief Engineering Officer
USS Serendipity NCC-2012
Chief Engineering Officer
USS Serendipity NCC-2012