(( Part 3 of 5 ))
(( OOC: I don’t think this necessitates a content warning, but here’s one just in case - “read at your discretion” ))
(( Araucanía, Argentina, Earth - Mapuche Village, a Retirement Home ))
Long silver hair spilled down the back of a woman with a million wrinkles on her face. There was something uncomfortably familiar about the woman. She stared intently into the ceiling - looking for something. She rocked back and forth in a chair. Back and forth.
Maria, back in an ensign’s uniform, crossed the small distance to the woman, from one side of the room to the other. The woman just kept rocking back and forth.
Ironic, that the old native villages in the mountains had become places of healing and rest for the old and weary and unwell. They’d long been sterilized of most of what made these places unique and revitalizing - gone were the native ways, rough as they were, replaced with a comfortable pastiche. If one knew where to look, you could still find the old cultures thriving in a corner of these towns, but in a building such as this, none of that could be found. In a building such as this, just about all there was to do was rock - back and forth.
This was the place one came when there was nowhere left to go. Drab walls, drab ceiling, drab bedding, drab art: in more variations of taupey brown and hospital blue than could possibly be imagined. The single source of life was a small window covered by a dusty brown shade, the light attempting to stream through like a final lifeline to a better life that once was. A better life than rocking - back and forth.
Alvarez: Are you okay, señora?
The woman breathed a breathy groan, cleared her throat, and smiled. It was like looking at a broken mirror, aged a hundred years. It smelled like it too, with the inescapable march of time finally taking its toll on the woman’s skin, there was no amount of washing that would make her smell young again. Maria wondered if she even was capable of washing herself. Or if she was restricted to rocking. Back and forth.
Old Woman: Have you seen my daughter? She’s around here somewhere…
Maria’s eyebrows pinched together. She suspected from the voice like an old door-hinge and mediocre hygiene that this woman was not very aware of where she was or what was happening, where she was, or what state she was in. Her heart went out to her, as uncomfortable as it was to see such age. She leaned over, and adjusted the knit blanket keeping the woman warm from the slight chill. Only then did she finally stop rocking and look up to Maria.
Alvarez: I’m sorry, I don’t think so. What does she look like?
Old Woman: She’s somewhere around here… :: She reached out a knotted finger, pointing at the door. :: Have you seen her?
Alvarez: :: She sighed. :: What’s your daughter’s name?
Old Woman: She’s probably getting in trouble again. Will you help me find her? :: Familiar eyes pleaded with Maria. ::
Maria sighed. She drew a breath, but was stopped.
Fernandez: You won’t be getting much from her, you know…
Maria swiveled, and glared down her tormentor.
Alvarez: What’s the meaning of this? Who is she? What happened to her?
Fernandez: I’d tell you to ask her, but I’m afraid the answer is a whole lot of nothing.
Maria growled, conceding she wasn’t going to get an answer from the man who liked pretending he had all of them. She took a breath, and tried talking to the woman again.
Alvarez: Can you tell me what your daughter looks like?
The woman’s darkish skin parted into a kindly smile. Her voice nearly trembled with the simple joy.
Old Woman: She’s such a pretty girl. Such a graceful way about her… pretty like you, dear.
Maria frowned. With Fernandez hovering over her shoulder, waiting for the scene to play out, she knew where this was headed. Or imagined she did.
Alvarez: You’re enjoying this aren’t you. Reuniting me with my broken mother, decades from now?
Fernandez simply smiled, and hummed a “hmmm.”
Old Woman: Such a pretty girl, always getting in trouble…
Alvarez: You’re sick. I don’t care if she has nothing left, I’m not letting her back in my life. Besides, I don’t see anything to be afraid of here. I’m nothing like this woman.
Old Woman: If you see my daughter, will you tell her I’m here?
Maria wheel about, tired of the vapid cyclic chatter of old age, and let loose what she wanted to say.
Alvarez: No, I won’t! It’s not her fault you couldn’t make a meaningful life of your own. No daughter should be the only hope and focus of her mother. She deserves to make her own way, whatever that is. Be her own person, whoever that is. Find her own story.
Fernandez: At what cost, though? :: He checked his dirty nails. :: By chasing everything, you end here. With nothing left, you’ll only have the next generation to fill your dreams. Like your mother.
Maria turned and shot him a glare, then realized there was something else afoot. Her brow furrowed in consternation. The look must have cued Fernandez in she was on the verge of putting together the truth.
Suddenly, Fernandez transformed into a nurse, wearing scrubs-like wear, and bearing a steaming brew of maté alongside a cup of medications. He gave that disturbing, toothy grin as he leaned over to give them to the woman.
Fernandez: Here you go, María. Sorry I’m late with your drugs. I know how you get…
The woman lit up at the sound of her name, and graciously accepted the beverage and medication alike. Maria nearly interceded, fearing poison or worse, but found herself unable.
Old Alvarez: Thank you, Fernandez! What would I do without you?
Maria’s eyes widened. The familiarity of the face, clouded before, now was fully-realized. It was her! Her future. Maybe in decades to come, or more, but definitely, absolutely her. Fernandez emitted a deranged giggle at the reaction.
Fernandez: Now, do you see?
Maria took no time at all in her assessment. There was no reason to believe it.
Alvarez: I see a lie!
Fernandez: You don’t see the trajectory? :: He circled round and leaned into the decrepit version of Maria, sipping her maté. :: The clear pattern of chaos and failure that leads to this broken woman, with no purpose or meaning of her own? Or at least, nothing worth mentioning.
Maria was beginning to feel a corkscrew of anxiety burrow into her chest at the thought he might be right, far more painful than real torture would have been. She’d missed her shot at dance, and she knew her Starfleet career wasn’t going much better - and that mostly on purpose! Would she really end up with nothing of meaning in her life?
It wasn’t ambition - not really - to want to do something of value... to be someone of value. To have stories and leave a legacy as a whole person, even if only for a small crew like that of the Arrow. In some ways it was a goal far less lofty than many Starfleet officers carried: it wasn’t the captain’s chair, accolades, or even rank she was after. Yet, in other ways, it was so much harder to attain and terribly slippery to define compared to such an objective. On second thought, maybe it was the most ambitious thing anyone could ever strive for. Still, she could think of at least one thing as solid evidence she wasn’t just along for the ride in life.
Alvarez: I might do things my way, but I’ve already made a mark.
Fernandez just laughed and laughed. An ugly, pallid cackle that filled the room.
Fernandez: Really? Let’s see exactly what you’ve accomplished...
The scene blew away in the wind, leaving a void for a new one to build up.
(( USS Arrow, Deck 3 - Corridors outside Cargo Bay 1 ))
Fresh sand swept in, building on itself to form a much more familiar scene, however unpleasant it was.
Red alert lights pulsed on and off, soundless, illuminating swirling smoke pumping from broken conduits. Dull thuds of weapons fire echoed from far down the halls. Maria found herself in a tattered and burnt uniform, hair and skin singed from battle, chest smarting from a battering. She caught sight of a dear friend, with a familiar grievous injury. She knew instantly what was happening - it was her first day on the Arrow, all over again.
Unlike the true events, this time she kneeled by his side, the heart ripped out of her at the sight of his injury. A massive green figure emerged from the smoke, grinning teeth stained red. Maria didn’t need to look to know who the character was. The heavy booted footfalls alone were cue enough.
Alvarez: :: She muttered. :: If it isn’t the pirate queen.
Ghant: If it isn’t the pretty ensign. You couldn’t help your pretty friend this time either, could you?
Maria sprung immediately, unleashing a whirlwind fury against the familiar foe. There was no hesitation or doubt this time. Simply adrenal aggression to destroy the wantonly malevolent orion pirate. The blows landed heavy, but Ghant merely righted herself and laughed, as if the attack was inconsequential. Then, the fateful blade appeared from behind her back, the metal glinting red from the alarm lights.
Ghant: Is that all you’ve got? You know you can’t keep tempo with me…
It was true. She was no match for Ghant - not then, and not now. If not for an absurd sequence of fortunate interventions, chances were she wouldn’t have survived to have this out-of-body experience. That didn’t stop her from talking back.
Alvarez: I killed you once. I can do it again.
She flung herself forward in full assault, narrowly twisting out of the way of the knife, landing another blow. In a split second, she easily gained the upper hand and turned the blade against the green-skinned woman who thirsted for nothing but blood.
Ghant fell to the floor. It was over. Again. Maria turned around to help Regan.
She didn’t even get to take a step before soggy laughter filled the room.
Ghant: Did you though?
Maria spun about, and Ghant was standing again, at full strength, despite the knife in her chest. Maria’s eyes widened in surprise.
Ghant: Or did you fail at that too, like everything else?
Alvarez: I saw you die!! :: She froze in panick. ::
The pirate stepped closer, and clamped a bloody hand around Maria’s neck, stopping her from speaking any longer.
Ghant: How adorable. Did you see my body afterwards? Or the death records? :: A beat, and a sickly smile. :: Oh, right. I “expired,” according to your report, and that was that - wasn’t it? No follow-up, no post-mortem, not even burial records, are there? I wonder who you’d see about those things?
The answer, of course, would be Maria herself. She suddenly found herself wondering if it was possible. The panic on her face must have given that doubt away.
There was that grotesque smile again. Maria wriggled and squirmed, trying to escape, but the pirate’s arms were like a vice. She tried saying something, but barely choked out a breath.
Ghant: Oh, poor lady-of-wind-and-fire. How easily you’ll be snuffed out. You know, I like you better when you can’t speak. Next time I see you, it will be you who loses everything. And for what? Some dream of finding something to fulfill that empty spot in your soul? You should have taken my advice…. Take what you can, give nothing back!
Ghant’s hand clamped down, and Maria’s vision faded to black again.