((Deck 3, Somewhere...))
Squad Leader: I’m sorry. I let you down.
Shayne (through Waters, with crown): No! NO! It was me! This was my fault! I made the mistakes! I did the crime! I hurt Lucas, it’s on me! Don’t hurt yourself for my mistake! Let me make it right! How can I make it right? I’ll do anything!
He collapsed to her knees, and the memory resolved itself, turning to smoke and leaving him without answers…
He was on her knees, his face red and raw from tears, and when he looked up, the main shuttlebay leered.
The maelstrom had released, and it spilled words out of her head like an endless tide. Epithets, objects, appreciations- they flowed out of him like so much flotsam. The pressure of a star, released against his will.
It had to end.
It would end.
He stepped into the shuttlebay, his own, revealed thoughts a chorus as he walked.
Deck Officer: Lieutenant?
Shayne ignored her, wandering toward the console to the side of the bay.
Deck Officer: Can I help you, Lieutenant?
Still he moved, until he was behind the console. He pressed several buttons.
With the characteristic, high-pitched alarm, the shuttlebay doors began to rise. Around the rim of the previously sealed barrier, a brilliant blue glow shone- the forcefields that prevented the pressurized compartment from being vented into space.
Deck Officer: Ma’am! Can you hear me?
Another few button presses, and another alarm sounded.
Computer: Warning! Failure of Life Support Systems, Shuttlebay 2. Evacuate immediately!
The Deck Officer’s training kicked in.
Deck Officer: Everybody out! Let’s go, move, move!
One of her technicians pointed at Water’s body at the console, but the Deck Officer didn’t hesitate.
Deck Officer: Go! Secure the compartment!
And then Randal Shayne, Captain of the Arrow, was alone, with the barrier between oxygen and relief growing thinner all the time. For the first time in years, he felt like he was in control.
Years. Decades. Building it up. Letting it grow and fester. He thought he could sculpt it, have it take a helpful, obedient form. But it didn’t. It turned to vivacious slurry in his heart, left it pounding day in and day out, terrified of what failure he’d concoct next, what mistake he’d make now, what loss such errors would incur, what cowardice he would endure today. No rest, no respite- the doubts and worries and fears might relax, or grow quieter, but they would never leave. He was tired.
He was so, so tired.
Collins could take over, couldn’t he? Good man, good officer. A little eccentric, but a solid right hand man. Arrow could do far worse than him as a commander. Alvarez… could get that promotion, finally. He smiled tearfully at that. She’d enjoy the still. She might even enjoy not having to fight with Shayne on every level all the time. Serinus… he’d probably be running his own ship in the not-too-distant future. Mason, she could only go far with her skills. R’Ariel… R’Ariel would help the crew adjust. Wouldn’t she? Of course she would, the beautiful soul. Ander, Caden, DeBarres, Rodan… they all had so far to fly, so far to go, and they’d make it wonderful. Ash… she’d move on. Right?
By now, his resolve was failing, but he had failed once too often to be swayed by simple things like regret and guilt.
He reached forward to press the manual release.
And Chloe’s hand responded.
At that moment, the sheer exhaustion he felt could darken a sun. This… wasn’t his body. This wasn’t his right. Chloe deserved to be back in her proper form again. His crew. He needed to protect his crew. No matter what.
The crew came first. The crew came first. The crew comes first. The crew, always the crew.
Shayne: (through Waters, with crown): The crew… the crew…
It wasn’t honorable, or strong, or patriotic. It wasn’t the firm, rough, masculine projection that he tried so desperately to maintain, as a leader and as a person. It was a whimper, a quiet, squeaking sound that he was glad no one was around to hear projected through the crown.
He had to take care of the crew. Leaving them now would be an abdication of responsibility of the highest order, the highest disgrace, after all they’d done for him. All the trust they’d placed in him. He had to take care of them first. The crew… the crew…
Shayne’s unusually delicate hands pressed the right button, and the blast shield slowly lowered. The alarms faded.
With slow, exhausted, tired steps, Shayne shambled his rented form out of the shuttlebay, and toward the turbolift. There was still a delegation to honor.
The memories still raged in him, the feeling still overwhelmed him, but still he walked. In the abject darkness of the fractured mind, the spinning insanity he’d allowed to grow, a single, subtly glowing rock beckoned. It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t interesting, or opulent, or large. It wasn’t even fond of him. But that is why he clung to it so fiercely. He knew it wouldn’t just slip away and betray him. This rock was his. And he would hold onto it for as long as he could.
Because he could live with it.
And he would live for it.
And that would be his recompense.
Captain Randal Shayne