SIM:Whale: May the Sun Ever Be at Your Back
May the Sun Ever Be at Your Back
(( STARBASE 118 - Arboretum ))
:: To say it had been a difficult few days was an understatement, though Whale supposed the difficulties he was facing were nothing compared to the grieving of CWO Peace-Lily’s family. As the officer in charge of the Drake’s marine contingent, Whale had not only been the one to break news of her death to the family, but he’d also personally made certain that her marine funeral would be a fitting tribute to the woman’s life... despite the hesitance of her parents. As strict Sevrinists, they were pacifists who had disagreed from the beginning with Wildflower’s decision to join the Starfleet Marines and had at first claimed that attending a military funeral would go against their beliefs. They’d hold a private ceremony themselves, they’d said, untainted by implied violence of a military presence. Whale had smiled, nodded, and inside his head called them all manner of horrible names. He was thankful that Wildflower’s younger sister, Ocean, had spoken up and said that aside from there being no power in the universe that would stop her from attending her sister’s memorial, reminded her parents that the memorial was about their daughter -- it wasn’t about them or their beliefs or making some kind of statement. And now, as Whale walked along the path, trying to find some peace, that memorial service was only a couple hours away. He’d be forced to say his final goodbyes to a woman he’d known for a little over two years, but still hadn’t known as well as he would have liked. ::
(( STARBASE 118 - Outside )) (( Two and a half years ago ))
WHALE: This place looks even bigger on the outside.
:: Watching various decks of the base glide by through the canopy of the Crossbow Trainer, Whale couldn't help but shake his head. He'd always thought the Constituion Class ships were big, but they didn't have anything even approaching this size back then. The first of these spacedocks hadn't been built until six or seven years after the Ackerman Event. His co-pilot/training supervisor chuckled. She was what Whale would call a diamond in the rough - surprisingly good-natured Warrant Officer in amongst a group of tough-guy Marines. ::
PEACE-LILY: Concentrate on your flying, boss.
:: He smiled. ::
:: This was his first flight in an actual starfighter as opposed to holodeck simulations. Peace-Lily was right - he needed to stop gawking and fly. Though he made another mental note to finally ask her how someone with the name Wildflower Peace-Lily ended up in the Starfleet Marine Corps. He knew from her personnel file that her parents were devout Sevrinists, which could explain the interesting name, but how the child of hardcore pacifists ended up in the military? ::
PEACE-LILY: Nose up a few degrees - we should probably avoid hitting the maintenance shuttle.
:: Whale suppressed a grin as he complied. ::
WHALE: You're enjoying this, aren't you?
:: It was her turn to smile. ::
PEACE-LILY: Yes, Captain, I am. :: pause :: How about we take her out a little ways, then you can bring us in?
WHALE: All right.
:: He watched the exterior maintenance crew for a moment before beginning his manouver. Those guys out there walking the hull of the base were probably braver than most Starfleet officers - nothing but magnetic boots to keep them from floating off into the great wide nothing. His train of thought and his ability to smoothly complete his turn were both interrupted by a familiar voice. ::
THELEV: =/\= Lieutenant Commander Thelev to senior staff. I hope you're all settling in. We will have a briefing and orientation session tomorrow morning at 0900, briefing room 3, Deck 8 in the Command Centre. Enjoy the stations facilities for the rest of this evening. =/\=
PEACE-LILY: Don't answer him right now. I'd rather not go careening off into the station's hull. You're getting awfully close...
:: Damn, she was right. He eased back on the stick and fired his thrusters, pulling the fighter away from the station with what Whale considered remarkable grace. ::
PEACE-LILY: That was pretty good, Captain.
:: Since her seat was behind his, he couldn't see the Warrant Officer's face, but he was pretty sure he detected a smile in her voice. Whether that was good or bad he had no idea. ::
(( PRESENT ))
:: Whale couldn’t help but smile at the memory. Despite her best efforts, Peace-Lily hadn’t been able to make him a pilot -- shortly after their first in-fighter training flight, the Starbase CMO Doctor Sasak had diagnosed Whale with space myopia. That put an end to that. Everything ends. ::
:: After staring at his boots for a moment, Whale looked up and was surprised to find a familiar face in the crowd, threading her way slowly toward where he stood -- though she didn’t seem to have noticed him. He’d never expected to see Kestrel Cagliari again, though he’d also thought that when she’d left the USS Independence and yet they’d both ended up serving on the Constitution. She was out of uniform, dressed casually, and Whale could see some of her tattoos poking out from under the collar of her shirt. ::
WHALE: Sergeant Cagliari.
:: At the sound of her name, the woman stopped and looked up. And what really caught Whale off guard was how the normally belligerent look in Cagliari’s eyes was softened by something else. Sadness? Helplessness? He wasn’t quite sure. She nodded to him, almost grudgingly. ::
CAGLIARI: I’d heard you were back with the marines. :: beat :: And it’s just Corporal now.
:: Whale nodded, but didn’t pry. When they’d last served together, she’d been a Sergeant, so something had clearly happened to “earn” her a demotion. ::
WHALE: So, what brings you here? I thought I heard you’d been assigned to DS17 when the Constitution was decommissioned.
:: Her eyes narrowed slightly and she looked at Whale like he was an idiot. ::
CAGLIARI: The funeral.
:: With a grimace, Whale shook his head in apology. ::
WHALE: Sorry, I’m... I wasn’t thinking.
CAGLIARI: Obviously. You’re speaking, eh?
WHALE: Yes. As her direct commanding officer-
CAGLIARI: I know the drill. You could have fobbed that off on someone.
WHALE: I didn’t want to, Corporal.
:: There was a long awkward silence between them. Both just looking out into the passing stream of people rather than at each other. ::
CAGLIARI: So why is she dead?
WHALE: Uh... what?
CAGLIARI: Why her? Why not someone who.. you know, why not a terrible person instead? Someone who causes nothing but trouble? But no, instead it’s someone who actually contributes something worthwhile to the frakking universe. Me, all I do is frak things up, but I’ll probably live forever while Wildflower is-.
:: She stopped herself. Clenched her jaw. Whale could see tears in her eyes and it seemed like sheer willpower was keeping them from falling. ::
:: He sighed. ::
WHALE: She saved a lot of people. I know that doesn’t make it easier, but its all I’ve got.
CAGLIARI: It isn’t enough.
WHALE: I didn’t realize you two were so close.
:: Another pause and Whale could see Cagliari’s jaw muscles tighten. ::
CAGLIARI: We weren’t.
(( USS INDEPENDENCE - Enlisted Quarters )) (( Two years ago - just after Operation Bright Star ))
:: With most crew members off celebrating the re-taking of Deep Space 17, the enlisted quarters were essentially deserted. And quiet. Both were a rarity and Cagliari had never figured she’d enjoy peace and quiet so much. She was usually all about bars and barfights. Taking a small sip from her flask, she lay back on her bed, wearing nothing but underpants and an undershirt. Her companion wore even less. A slight sheen of sweat still covered both of their skins. ::
:: Savouring the quiet moment, Peace-Lily lightly traced the lines of a tattoo on Cagliari’s shoulder. The tightly-wound marine had started to open up a little over the past few days, but Peace-Lily could sense the defenses going back up. And she badly wanted to stop that process. ::
PEACE-LILY: Everything okay?
:: Cagliari took another sip. ::
PEACE-LILY: You know you can talk to me, right? About anything.
CAGLIARI: I know. I’m just not much of a sharer.
:: Peace-Lily grinned, moving her hand up to Cagliari’s cheek. ::
PEACE-LILY: Yeah, you’re such a hard-ass. It’s one of the things I love about you.
:: Turning to face her companion, Cagliari frowned. ::
:: With a chuckle, Peace-Lily pulled herself over and kissed Cagliari softly on the lips. ::
PEACE-LILY: I love you, Kestrel.
:: It was like an electric shock had suddenly gone through Cagliari’s body and Peace-Lily’s soft smile turned to a frown as Cagliari slid quickly out of bed and pulled on her pants. ::
PEACE-LILY: Where are you going?
CAGLIARI: I... I’ve got a thing.
:: She hurried out into the corridor. ::
(( PRESENT ))
:: Two days later, she’d transferred to the Constitution. She’d never seen Peace-Lily again and now she never would. Would never be able to say those three words she was so afraid of back then, words she’d never said to anyone in her life, because she didn’t even know how to feel them, let alone say them. And not counting Cagliari’s mother, Wildflower Peace-Lily had been the only person in the universe to ever say those words to Cagliari -- the only person who had ever truly cared about her and had not been afraid to admit it. To say it out loud. To just open themselves up and let her in. So simple, so pure, and yet so paralyzingly terrifying. Despite her best efforts, she could no longer stop the tears from falling and though she absolutely hated herself for it, when Whale put his arms around her, she buried her face in chest and sobbed like a little girl. ::
(( --TIMEWARP-- ))
((Shuttle Bay, Deck 47, Starbase 118))
:: Oliver walked slowly down the boarding ramp behind the ghost white coffin. He’d promised David that he’d see it to the correct time and place so that his friend could have a few moment alone before the ceremony and his speech. The crew aboard the starbase had furnished him with a grav sled to make the job easier and he was glad for it. ::
:: The sight of the young Intelligence Officer drew more than a few stares. Dressed in his long wool great coat and pushing a pristine white coffin, he was very thankfully given a wide berth by the score of crewmen working the Bay. ::
:: The atmosphere of One Eighteen didn’t fit. How could anyone be business as usual when something so horrible had happened? Of course the thought was irrational for a myriad of reasons but grief had a way of bringing out the irrational in people and Oliver was no exception. ::
:: With his gaze lowered he entered the Funeral Hall and found the people he was looking for. Jupiter and Fawn, Wildflowers parents, stopped and stared as Oliver quietly made his way into the mostly empty hall from a side door. Thankfully Wildflowers sister Ocean was there to rescue them from the horribly awkward moment. ::
:: She approached slowly. As siblings can sometimes be, Wildflower and Ocean were very different people. While her sister was outgoing and at ease talking with just about anyone at just about any time, shyness was something with which Ocean Peace-Lily fought a constant battle. ::
OCEAN: Are you from the USS Drake?
WESTON: Hullo ma’am. My name is Oliver Weston. I’m sorry to have to meet you this way.
OCEAN: Ocean Peace-Lily.
:: She threw a look over her shoulder toward her parents, who glanced briefly at Weston before returning to their quiet conversation. ::
OCEAN: Our parents. Sorry about that, they just... they’re hardcore pacifists.
WESTON: I know. I was told that they wouldn’t be receptive to uniforms. No offense taken.
OCEAN: Good. :: pause :: So, you served with Wildflower?
WESTON: I did have that honour, yes. Your sister was a remarkable woman. I hope that you’re proud of her. If you don’t mind my saying.
:: She smiled, just a little. ::
OCEAN: I am. And I don’t mind at all. I’m certainly not a warhawk, but I understand Wildflower’s reasons for enlisting. She always said that a democratic society can be incredibly fragile if it’s not prepared to defend itself. Kind of ironic, isn’t it? My parents need people like Wildflower to protect them, so that they can keep on condemning people like Wildflower who protect them. :: pause :: Sorry about the tangent. No matter what my parents may have said, I’m glad you and Colonel Whale came. I know Wildflower would be too.
WESTON: Thank you. I’ll leave all of you to have a moment alone before the ceremony. It was a pleasure to meet you Ma’am.
OCEAN: Likewise. And please, call me Ocean.
WESTON: :: Oliver smiled. :: Ocean.
(( FUNERAL ))
:: Whale stood at the podium, gripping the sides with both hands, his double-breasted greatcoat fastened all the way up, the red poppy standing out starkly against the grey of the coat. In front of him lay the white-lacquered casket, closed of course, since there had been nothing left of Wildflower Peace-Lily to put inside. And beyond that, a sea of faces -- some reddened by tears, some still contorted with grief, some sadly stoic. He cleared his throat. As Peace-Lily’s direct commanding officer, her family had asked that the last statement of the ceremony be his to make. ::
WHALE: Back home, back on Earth, at this time of year, some of our nations celebrate Remembrance Day or Armistice Day. The eleventh of November. A day we wear poppies to remember those members of our armed forces who have fallen in the line of duty-
:: He caught Weston’s eye. ::
WHALE: To make certain we never forget their sacrifice. To make certain we never forget them, or what we owe them for giving us our future. :: pause :: A Canadian military officer in World War I -- a Lieutenant Colonel, appropriately enough -- named John McCrae wrote a poem about war and sacrifice after presiding over the funeral of a friend and fellow soldier.
“In Flanders fields the poppies blow Between the crosses, row on row, That mark our place; and in the sky The larks, still bravely singing, fly Scarce heard amid the guns below. We are the Dead. Short days ago We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, Loved, and were loved, and now we lie In Flanders fields. Take up our quarrel with the foe: To you from failing hands we throw The torch; be yours to hold it high. If ye break faith with us who die We shall not sleep, though poppies grow In Flanders fields.”
:: Frowning slightly, he held up his padd in his left hand. ::
WHALE: You know, I had this... I had this speech written. I’m sure it’s good, I’m sure it touches on all the standard funeral stuff, but you know what? Wildflower Peace-Lily was a pilot who liked -- no, who LOVED -- to fly by the seat of her pants.
:: He could see a few grins in the audience as he tossed aside the padd. ::
WHALE: When I first met Wildflower, she tried to teach me to fly a Crossbow Interceptor. Turns out I’m a dunsel of a pilot, but then I didn’t need to be any good, because I had her to rely on. I don’t think I’ve ever met another pilot who was so in love with those battered old Flamingoes as Wildflower Peace-Lily. :: pause :: But we all know she was a great pilot. We also know she was a great person. She was the kind of person who never had a bad word to say about anyone... well, except that one guy who shall remain nameless...
:: There were a couple of chuckles in the room. Clearly a few people knew who he was talking about. Once upon a time, there was a CAG on Starbase 118 named Torrant Krazzut. He was long gone by the time Whale had taken over command of the marines there, but the name had lingered in a very interesting way -- the marines pilots on 118 had started using “Krazzut” as synonym for “moron.” ::
WHALE: She loved to fly and she got to do what she loved, she got to do what she loved in some challenging situations but it never shook her confidence, never got her down, never dampened her enthusiasm for... for not just getting behind the stick, but for life in general. And Wildflower was the kind of person who believed in you. Not just a little, but whole heartedly. She’d smile at you and wink, and you’d...
:: He paused, taking a deep breath. He felt a slight flutter in his chest and willed himself to go on. ::
WHALE: Wildflower Peace-Lily could see the best in people. You could- you could just see it in her eyes when she looked at you. There were times... :: pause :: There were times when I didn’t particularly like the person I saw in the mirror. But Wildflower was the kind of person who gave me something to strive for -- to become the person she saw when she looked at me.
:: Looking out into the crowd, Whale’s eyes met Cagliari’s for a brief moment. ::
WHALE: I know I’m not the only one who felt that way. :: pause :: It was my privilege to have served with Wildflower Peace-Lily three different times. And it is my honour to present her posthumously with the Legion of Merit Ribbon and with a promotion to the rank of Chief Warrant Officer, First Grade.
:: Stepping down from the podium, Whale gently laid the ribbon and the new rank insignia on the casket, then took two steps backward and crisply saluted. The gathered crowd followed suit and then the marines, dressed in their throwback greatcoats, formed into two lines, one on each side of the aisle, standing at attention. Whale found himself next to Cagliari and he could tell the woman was barely holding it together. As the band began playing the Starfleet Marines Corps’ “To The Fallen,” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4JQ3IwF6qdw) the attendants began to guide the casket down the aisle, between the two rows of marines. Whale could see tears in the eyes and on the cheeks of most of his fellow marines and could feel them on his own. Each marine snapped off a crisp salute and remained in that position until the casket had disappeared down the hallway, followed closely by the Peace-Lily family. ::
:: Cagliari disappeared almost immediately without a word to anyone. Whale stayed, shook a few hands, shared a few stories. Most importantly, spent some time with Ocean Peace-Lily, Wildflower’s younger sister, the only member of the Peace-Lily family who had been proud of Wildflower’s decision to join the marines. And then he left the family to its wake in Twilight’s Edge, while Whale and several others headed further into the bowels of Starbase 118. ::
(( Tan’s memory: Flashback, Pilot's Ready Room, USS Independence-A, 2387 ))
:: Tan thought a moment, scrolling through the names on his PADD. Obviously he'd forgotten someone. ::
TAN: Sorry, you are..?
PEACE-LILY: Chief Warrant Officer 3rd Class Wildflower Peace-Lily.
:: She heard the usual quiet chuckles from the back of the room that nearly always accompanied the first time she said her name in a new group setting. She was used to it - it didn't bother her anymore. ::
TAN: Peace-Lily? That your callsign?
PEACE-LILY: No callsign, sorry. :: smiling :: Never figured I needed one with a name like mine.
:: Poor girl. Tan had some sympathy for the woman in green. Peace-Lily... such an unfortunate name for a Marine. ::
TAN: To be honest, I think you're right.
PEACE-LILY: Will we be adding more planes at Midway?
:: Tan nodded in the affirmative. ::
TAN: Thank you for bringing that up. Yes- we'll be restocking our Mauls while we're there, but I am going to petition the Captain to expand our flight roster a little- give us some diversification. We might also be taking on some more crew, so get used to a lot more new faces around here.
:: She smiled. ::
PEACE-LILY: If you're taking requests, I wouldn't mind having an FI-25 Crossbow.
:: Tan tapped his PADD. ::
TAN: Crossbow's a nice bird- to be honest, I wouldn't mind a wing of those myself. I had originally wanted Hammerheads, but I doubt there'll be any at Midway they'll be willing to part with.
:: He liked the idea of Crossbows. They didn't have warp, but that wasn't usually a problem. Usually. ::
TAN: Okay, no problem. Banshee, you're with me. I'll be navigating for you for a while. Long story.
(( Flashback ends ))
(( Mundok’s Bar ))
:: Mundok’s was just as run-down and dingy as Whale remembered from his time as the starbase’s Chief of Security, but that night, the darkness of the place was exactly what Whale needed. It matched his mood, certainly, and he figured he wasn’t the only one at the table feeling that way. ::
WHALE: You know, once you guys found me in Nullspace, she was supposed to go back to Starbase 94 with Quon.
:: Major Quon Jaio-Zhi, head for Starfleet Search and Rescue at Starbase 94, had brought Peace-Lily with him to the USS Drake as part of the SAR team looking for Whale. ::
WHALE: I don’t think he was too happy when she decided to stay and join the 103.
:: Tan had attended the funerals of pilots before. It was always difficult, and this time was no different. He’d stood in mute silence throughout, saluted where he had to, and followed Whale when it was all over. ::
TAN: I can understand that.
:: Whale took a long sip of his second gin and tonic. ::
WHALE: For a while there, the 103rd SAR Squadron had the three best pilots in Starfleet -- Peace-Lily, Hartmann and Maravosh.
:: He took another sip, then smiled slightly at Tan. ::
WHALE: Well, three of the four best, I suppose.
:: Alleran gave a cocky smile, nodding his head. ::
TAN: Hartmann’s a better flier than I am, but hey. Number four’s not too bad.
:: The Trill tilted his head, upending his drink. Something strong and burny and Klingony. His voice was soft, mournful. ::
Tan: Guess that’s a hell of a way to get a promotion.
WHALE: I suppose it is.
:: Whale sighed, took another sip of his drink and Alleran tapped the glass on the table idly. ::
TAN: I don’t know. I guess... I’d had pilots die under my command before, but nobody I’d really spent a large period of time with, you know? And certain not... someone with the kind of happy-go-lucky feel that Peace-Lily had.
WHALE: She... knew how to live life. :: pause :: She didn’t even really have any baggae that I’m aware of. Not like most of us.
:: Tan couldn’t dispute that at all. ::
TAN: I figured. I don’t know. I just think, sometimes...
:: He drank again. ::
TAN: Sometimes I think that the universe needs more people like Peace-Lily. I don’t know. I’ve been serving the last year as an Operations officer and it’s been a bit of -- no, scratch that, a lot of -- a change. And it’s been painful. I miss flying, I miss everything... I miss it, damn it, you know? Operations is... a job. I know Tracey loved it, but... it’s not my calling. I’m good at it, but it’s not what I was born to do.
:: Draining the last of his drink, Whale smiled a little. Not much, but a little. ::
WHALE: Life’s too frelling short, Trill. Just get back in the cockpit. Do what you love.
:: He shook his head. ::
TAN: My heart’s not up to it. It’s still recovering... turns out, getting shot is bad for your health. ::a wry grin:: As you well know. I even had a cane, like you, for nearly six months. ::the grin faded:: But while I miss the thrill of flying, its things like this that remind me that there are things about the job I really, really hated.
:: Looking around for a waitress to refill his drink, Whale just nodded for Tan to continue. ::
TAN: I just wish... I just wish that time we’ve all been told about, that “future”, would come where we don’t need fighter pilots, you know? I just wish that people like Peace-Lily’s family -- good people, with a good kid -- didn’t have to bury their children, you know? That’s what I wish.
WHALE: Frelling right, my friend.
:: And he agreed even more now than ever, what with Fiona likely mere days away from giving birth. ::
WHALE: I’m probably the only green-collar in the entire fleet who does what he does in the hopes he can make himself obsolete.
:: Alleran laughed. ::
TAN: You know, maybe it’s just the booze talking.
WHALE: Booze tends to speak the truth.
:: Tan nodded and went to stand. ::
TAN: Thanks for inviting me, I really appreciate it. It was good to see her off. I’d like to think that I get a good reception when I kick it. My previous host didn’t. Attending funerals are important to me.
:: Oliver stepped up to the table and pressed a rocks glass filled with a shot of dark liquid into the Trills chest. The action was gentle but insistent, and Oliver tried to dissolve any negativity involved with a sad smile. With his other half-hand he set a twin of Tans glass down in front of David. ::
WESTON: They’re important to me too Commander. But if you wouldn’t mind bearing with me for a moment. :: Oliver turned and gestured to the young woman approaching Mundok’s small stage. ::
TAN: Who’s that?
:: Whale glanced over at the girl and closed his eyes briefly. ::
WESTON: Wildflower’s sister. We were talking and decided that this would be a nice way to say goodbye.
:: Alleran nodded somberly. ::
:: Oliver said nothing and instead turned to face the stage, accepting his own glass from the waitress following him with a nod. Ocean slowly ascended the small dias and nodded a shy hello to the patrons of Mundok’s. From somewhere behind her a piano started playing a few quiet notes and Ocean began to sing. ::
:: It was an impossibility to keep ones eyes open during such a piece. Or so Oliver thought as his own closed and memories of his friends, living and dead, started racing through his mind. Smiling happy faces drifted by as Ocean sang a song that earlier they had both discovered that Wildflower, Ocean and Oliver had loved as children. Once Oliver had been told that it was about the ‘Prodigal Son’ but to the young Officer it had a myriad of meanings. And while it’s original certainly fit, you couldn’t help but make the connection between these lyrics and Wildflower Peace-Lily’s life. ::
WHALE: :: muttering :: Damn it.
:: Wildflower had been one of his, not just because she served on the Drake but because even back on Starbase 118 she’d been one of the few who had fully bought in to his idea of how the marine contingent should operate. And she was his responsibility as commander of the 103rd SAR Squadron. And now she was dead. Whale had never believed in any gods, never subscribed to any religious beliefs -- he’d always thought them antiquated and frankly a little ridiculous... but in some ways, he envied the religious just then, those people who could say “oh she’s in a better place now” and actually believe it to be true. ::
TAN: ::softly:: Goodbye, Peace-Lily. I wish I could have known you better.
:: Only a handful of the patrons knew the source of Ocean’s grief, or why the mood in the bar was so low and dark, but the sound reached everyone. The words rang of home, hearth and love. Everyone here had been on a journey at some point. Whether now or in their past or still yet to come, and so the strong struck true with every soul within. Everyone leaves at some point, and everyone longs for home, whether it’s ever in reach again or not. And by the final chord, every thought came back to that final journey, that we all must one day take. ::
:: As the song faded and some rose in applause, Oliver raised his glass with the two men next to him and held it high. He was dimly aware of the words spoken next and the eventual soft clinking of cheap glasses. ::
WHALE: To one of the best.
TAN: One of the best.
WESTON: To Wildflower. :: The words of his mother rang in his thoughts, a traditional maritime goodbye. :: May the sun be ever at your back, and the wind in your sails.
WHALE: To Wildflower.
:: Tan bought his drink up, taking it down swiftly. ::
TAN: May we remember the joy of her life and the sorrow of her passing.
:: Oliver drained his glass and tasted nothing. ::