The Relative Solace of Ground

by February Grace
110730.0200

---=/\=---

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

-William Shakespeare


-------------------------

December 2, 2468

-=/\=-Symbiosis Commission, Trill -=/\=-


All was still.

The sheet of rain that cascaded down over the windows all night long had altered now, as the first light of day began to bleed through the billowing canopy of gunmetal sky, seeking the relative solace of ground.

Those solitary rays of the new dawn were the only illumination that remained here. Every previously glowing candle snuffed out, the ceremonial brazier itself withered down to an ember of its former flame; signaling to the Host that he was going to have to accept that his time here was truly over.

The bleary eyes of newly-joined Aidran Grace stared blankly ahead, past the thin wisp of smoke still rising from the display. They gradually moved beyond it, to the exhausted frame of the woman who silently slept nearby.

She was slumped over to the side, head resting on the arm of the plush couch on which she’d been sitting, guitar still clutched in her hands as a security blanket she could not let go.

He did not remember falling asleep.

He remembered the voice of his friend, Milanya, as she asserted her personality above that of the currently-dominant former host and told him she needed to rest a little while before going on. He’d agreed, of course, but had never meant to let himself lapse into dreaming too.

Such strange dreams, he found, all disconnected from the life he’d lived before, unable it seemed to begin to integrate without the conduit that was the life force and memory of February Grace.

It was time to send her home.

Besides, if Ligle came back and caught him sleeping, there would be absolute Hell to pay…

“Hey…” he said softly, placing a gentle hand upon her shoulder. “Bru. Wake up.”

“Hmm?” Milanya’s voice was not her own, and he knew that he’d managed, once again, to reach the psyche of Grace’s last and in some ways most important past host.

She was the narrator of his life: the compass by which he would somehow find his way forward even though everything seemed so utterly overwhelming to him now, he didn’t know how he could possibly manage it.

“Good grief, what did I do?” she asked, bolting suddenly upright. “Didn’t mean to doze off on you. That was quite a chat we had, wasn’t it?”

“Yeah.” His hand found its way to his temples as he tried to still the spinning of the world within his head.

She slowly unfurled her fingers from the neck of the guitar and leaned it up against the nearest wall. She squinted a moment at one of the windows, taking stock it seemed of the insufficient effort that the winter sun was making to try and brighten the atmosphere.

“Too dark,” she decided. “Too cold.” With surprising grace she rose up, sweeping into her open hand the lighting tool on the table beside them. She circled the room, igniting every remaining unspent candle on hand. She even took the liberty of stirring the dying fire in the brazier before setting the necessary tool aside.

“He’ll be back soon,” she added softly, her eyes flashing for an instant to the doorway. “Surprised he stayed away this long.”

“He knew how important this was to me,” Aidran replied. “How important you are to me.”

Color rose to her cheeks and spread across her pale, delicately constructed features.

“You are the most important Host of all, Aidran.” She moved toward him and affectionately brushed the angled fringe of his hair out of his eyes. “You are the future.”

He looked down, toward the floor, wondering how he could possibly do justice to all the experiences of the being that depended upon him now so to do. His hands moved toward his abdomen as he considered Grace, but stopped mid-motion, hovering reverently above. The contents of all the souls the symbiont had been were the gift now bestowed upon him.

With that great gift came enormous responsibility, and his shoulders slumped beneath the weight of newborn fear at the thought he might not be worthy to carry it.

“No,” February said simply. She placed a hand firmly under his chin and yanked until he was forced to look into her eyes once more. “You are enough. Just as you are. If you learn nothing else at all from me this night, Aidran, please, for the love of all that’s good and holy in the universe, learn that.”

The tears that filled his eyes were mirrored in her own. She brushed them away lightly with the back of her hand as they fell, first his, then hers.

“So,” she clapped her hands together once and smiled at him anew, though he knew her by this point well enough to know when a smile was forced. “Is there anything else you wanted to know before I go?”

“What…happened next?”

“Oh. Is that all.” She rolled her eyes and folded her arms over her chest. She huffed a seemingly impatient sigh, but it was impatience with the passage of time itself, with the insufficiency of the space it granted her to tell the whole of the story that she resented, not him, or his question.

“After the New Year’s celebration that year, Reece and I came to a decision.” Her voice turned grave, and she began to wring her hands so that her knuckles turned red and then white as she alternately tightened and released her grasp.

Her expression clearly painted the picture of just how difficult that decision had been to make. “As much as we loved the ‘fleet, as much as we loved that crew, we wanted a different life for Sophie.” She paced a few steps and turned away. She dropped her head into her hands, recalling.

“We took Vol’s advice and kept dual residences on Earth and Betazed. We taught the things we were best at to other people. Our work was different, but it went on. We went on.”

“And the rest?” Aidran’s voice cracked, evidence of the feeling that the air was being forcibly extracted from his lungs, as he considered just how much she must have missed the people of The Alchemy Project.

The realization of just how much he was going to miss them, too.

She stood as stone with her back still toward him, before shaking her head quickly side to side. She sniffled as she tried to stifle her sobs, and it took her a very long time to speak again.

Slowly, she turned and looked him dead in the eyes. “When Ligle returns my consciousness to you, you will remember it all. You will know it all.” She strode forward suddenly, grasping hold of him firmly by both shoulders. “Be prepared, Aidran. Not everyone who served aboard the Sera got a storybook ending.”

He nodded.

They continued on, locked in that stare of mournful knowing without his even fully understanding yet. With their time ticking away so fast now, he forced himself to open his mouth and speak a single word.

“But…”

Before she could respond, they were both startled by the sound of a key in the lock.

Ligle entered the room. As he began tsk-ing and fussed with the fire, the eyes of Aidran’s friend once again reflected the sadness of the woman she embodied.

She leaned forward and rested her forehead against his. Her fresh, silent tears rained down upon his lips, salty and cold.

“There is no ‘but’, Aidran. There is no more.” She sighed, with her lips now pressed near his ear. “We’ve reached the end of my story.”

Again Aidran found himself biting back tears of his own, but he had little chance to try to hide them as Ligle the Guardian made short work of commencing his last remaining duty.

“It’s time,” the man said simply, gesturing toward the altar.

Aidran reached out and took hold of the hand of the woman before him; with not only a new appreciation for the one he’d been speaking to, but the one who had allowed herself to be subjected to this ordeal for his benefit.

He would never take her place in his life for granted, wherever life should take them. She would always hold a place too dear to be touched by any other.

The eyes of the woman left his face only at the last minute, when she closed the lids and focused all of her will on the sacred recitation.

In a matter of seconds, it was over.

Milanya’s form wilted, completely exhausted, and Ligle leaped forward to catch her from falling as a reeling Aidran fought his own continued battle, just to stand.

In the moment February Grace’s consciousness returned to him in force, a torrent of memories issued forth from it.

He’d wanted to know what happened to the rest of the brave souls of the USS Serendipity: and in that moment, he did.

Just as the information had come to Reece and Grace as flashes in letters and other communiqu├ęs from their former crewmates, so Aidran, too, began to understand their fates.

Images flickered as frames of Reece’s beloved motion pictures between his mind and his closed eyes, playing out an unstoppable reel of news footage until it reached its end.

The images began with the announcement that Dengar had been chosen for a special assignment on another ship.

They continued to reveal highlights of TC Blane’s colorful career: brilliant, storied, and among the most respected in Starfleet.

2390 turned out to be the beginning of many new adventures for those who had inhabited the Sera. The year that brought such high honors for some…

…Lance Hartcort won the Nobel Prize for medicine. Twice.

It also brought an end, for all time, to others.

Happier memories that Grace clung to, of times spent meandering through museums the galaxy over with Vol Tryst and watching Sophie learn her first words were soon overshadowed by the weight of the sadder reports that had followed.

Some that they’d known had just gone missing, moved on, or were far too deep undercover in new assignments to dare risk contact to advise old friends of their whereabouts.

By last word, William Lindsay had continued working for TI, out there, somewhere, jumping timelines.

Lair Kellyn’s life came to a sudden, quiet end in the early weeks of 2390.

At last she rested in death with no chance of resurrection; plagued no more by fears of failing at redemption.

It was over, finally, and that was enough.

After continuing on for a while at her post, the Captain’s condition continued to deteriorate. Fight it though she did, the day came when she had to accept that it was time to relinquish command of her beloved Serendipity.

At the age of forty, Zanh Liis O’Sullivan took a medical retirement from Starfleet. She settled on Earth, at the house in Cork built just for her, where she would battle the unrelenting darkness of chronic Primary Time-Displacement Psychosis for the rest of her days.

The crew largely scattered after that, with those who were TI’s own returning to the fold as the focus of the program changed and The Alchemy Project, as it had been, was disbanded. It was said to have fulfilled its role in the development of the proper timeline; but there were those, like Keiran O’Sullivan, who would go on record as having said that there was so much more they could have done.

Some of those who’d served the Project continued on in their work as teachers of advanced tactical training courses. Others took the end of Alchemy as the sign it was time for them, too, to retire.

That was where the initial onslaught of Grace’s memories subsided, and though he still wished he could understand them all in greater detail, for the moment, Aidran was grateful now for the silence.

After Milanya regained her footing, she nodded to Ligle, and the Guardian silently exited the room, leaving the two friends alone amidst the faltering light of the last remaining candles.

Aidran was frozen, shaking as if in physical response to the slashing pellets of icy rain that pelted the windows behind them.

Milanya knew, though, even without the guidance of her Betazoid senses that he was not trembling because of the cold.

She gathered him into her arms, finding new strength within herself as he leaned against her for support. She ran her hand back through his hair and lifted his face toward hers, expecting to find him still crying.

He was not.

Too stunned to cry, or perhaps too overwhelmed, he simply leaned closer to her, closed his eyes, and pressed his lips to her own.

Their first kiss: tender, affectionate, and beautiful though it held much more melancholy than Milanya thought she could bear.

“Aidran?” She placed her hands upon his face, again seeking his eyes. “Are you alright?”

“No,” he whispered truthfully. “Not now. Not for a very long time.”

She caught her lower lip between her teeth a moment before speaking again. “What can I do?”

“Hope that a day is coming when I might be.”



-=Twenty-Four Hours Later=-

Personal Log, Lt. Aidran Grace

Of all the things I learned from February the last day and night of my Zhian'tara, the single most important lesson has been this: live every moment, to the best of your ability, where you are.

Every day, every second, every experience we will ever have is truly one of a kind--a time and place that will never exist again.

For the rest of her life, the people of the Serendipity mattered to her.

She would think, even at the end of her days, that she had never again known their like.

I know that no matter how long I live, I will never find their equal.

End log.


The young Trill raised a glass to his lips, and found himself humming a tune that at first seemed unfamiliar before the words and melody finally joined as one again in his memory.

He traced them back in his mind to a song an old friend used to sing: a towering Irishman with a fine voice, someone that February had always so looked up to.

He paused.

He held the glass of Macallen single malt Scotch out before him, watching the light bounce off the liquid as he tilted it to and fro in the glass.

He drew a breath and softly began to sing in lonely tribute to the ghosts of memory, long past.

“...‘goodnight, and joy be to you all’.”



---------------------

-=/\=- February Grace


NRPG: I will never again have the good fortune to be in such fine, generous company.

The stories we wrote together will stay with me for the rest of my life: every word, every line, every post.

Thank you, gentleman.


~ZL