Chapter 11 - Silvered Scars

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In the darkness of the chief engineer’s cabin, a body sprawled across the bunk. Rolling over restlessly, the knotted mass of fur and sinew tossed aside the tangle of sheets. A sound halfway between a groan and a snarl poured out of the Caitian’s throat. Rolling back onto his other side, Tomaasz hunched his shoulders, either against the coming day or against some attack from within his memories. His ears and tail twitched restlessly. 

Between one moment and the next, another Caitian was standing beside the bunk. Her silver fur glowed gently in the unlit room. She stood for a while, watching his fitful half-sleep with an expression of fondness and concern. Then she leaned over to gently brush the tangled rust of his mane back from his forehead.

At the touch of her fingertips, much of the tension drained from Tomaasz’s body. The transition from pained sleep to alert wakefulness was swift and smooth. Yellow-green eyes opened, focusing on the QAI who had awakened him. “Morning, Silver,” he murmured. “0500 already?”

“0415, actually,” she replied. “Your physical movements indicated that you weren’t likely to get any more restful sleep.” Her expression softened. “The dreams again?”

“Always the dreams.” With a groan, he sat up and swung his legs over the edge of the bed. Through habit so deeply ingrained as to be reflex, he took in his surroundings with all of his senses. The subtle hum of a starship operating at rest, with a dozen harmonics from Engineering offering a muffled chorus from behind the bulkhead. The vibrations of a healthy reactor beneath his paws. The faint melange of rel-grass and lacquer mingled with the stronger scent of blade and leather oils from the far wall.

Raising his eyes, he finished with a visual survey of the room. The sparse, simply furnished quarters suited him well. The only overt decorations were hanging on the wall. A ceremonial Caitian mask of lacquered woven rel-grass hung above a set of heirloom weapons, the long curved blade, the shorter hooked blade, and the coils of the weighted tangling cord. He nodded his head respectfully to those symbols of his past.

Standing, he stretched his arms over his head, extending arms, legs, and tail as far as they would go. His right arm hitched slightly on the way back down but that, too, had an old familiarity. Stepping to the center of the room, he began the Waking Sun. One of the oldest dances of his people, and the first his parents had taught him, it was a moving meditation to loosen the body and mind and open the spirit. He had found and learned similar practices from other cultures, such as the Terran Tai Chi or the Vulcan Sha’mura. Each were valuable, but he favored the harmony he found in the Waking Sun. His breathing deepened into a measured rhythm, his movements slow and controlled as he spiraled outward and then back in, ending in the same position he had started.

When he reached the end, he took three deep breaths, opened his eyes, and bowed. Silver, standing before him, returned the bow. Together they purred the short chant of greeting the day. Then he stepped into the refresher for a quick cleaning. A thorough shake settled his fur back down; the refresher always left it comically fluffed up. Returning to the main room, he took his day uniform from the closet and laid it across the bed before moving to the dresser and mirror. With smooth, efficient movements, Silver took a brush from the dresser and began braiding his mane back into the utilitarian style he favored.

As she worked, his eyes traveled over the network of old scars that crossed his arms and torso. Some were faded to the point that only a hint of lighter gray in the rust-and-heather of his fur revealed them. Others were thick furless lines. All told their stories to his gaze. 

More than one doctor had asked why he would not allow full dermal regeneration. It would not completely remove all of them, but it would reduce them to inobtrusiveness. Most assumed that he kept his scars out of pride, as trophies of adventures past. Some had recommended seeing counselors over the matter. They did not understand. Most of them could not understand, and he worked and prayed and hoped every day that they would continue to live in a galaxy that allowed them the luxury of not understanding. 

Every scar was a reminder, yes. But not a trophy. Each marked a time when he had been not strong enough, not fast enough, not clever enough, and someone had paid the price for his failure. Each represented a life that had been maimed or lost because he had failed to protect them.

That one was from a dk’tagh, the day Ensign Barrowman lost his life. There, from a Jem’Hadar dagger when Piper, Tulok, and Ch’ree fell. The plasma burn across his ribs where a Nausicaan sniper had taken Commander Tennant. The tally went on and on, the list of failures a constant litany in his mind.

The tour of his scars ended where it always did, with the circular scar on his right shoulder and its mate on the back of his shoulder. That was the most galling failure of all, since it was entirely of his own making. He had always loved tinkering and improving weapons, a hobby he indulged frequently back on the Ramirez. One of his improvements had been a higher-intensity coil for hand phasers. He had made it to allow for a faster cutting beam, to get past barriers more quickly for both security and rescue applications. A relative handful had been made, with a dozen set aside to be sent to the Starfleet Armory for assessment. His pride at potentially adding to Starfleet’s materiel had turned to horror when he learned that nine of the twelve coils had vanished from the starbase’s “secure storage.”

He had taken it upon himself to personally track down the thieves and smugglers responsible. Using leave time and connections on every side of the law, he had found them. Three friends had learned what he was up to. Instead of reporting him, they went with him to retrieve the coils and capture the smugglers and their buyers. He had counted himself lucky to have such friends. Until they ran into an ambush where his own phaser designs cut through their cover like butter. Lieutenant Commander Donal Jackman, the Terran with a penchant for atrocious puns, was speared through the heart from behind a meter-thick wall. Sergeant Lara Keren, the irrepressible Bajoran who could find an innuendo in the most unlikely situations, was cut nearly in half while laying down covering fire. And Chief Petty Officer Vaas Horthrov, the Tellarite who had been his favorite sparring partner, lost both legs in the mad charge that had sent the gunrunners fleeing. The medics said that Tomaasz had been lucky to have a clean burn through his shoulder, that a replacement joint could be grafted in easily. He was not lucky. A lucky man would not have led his friends to death and mutilation. 

Only Vaas’ testimony, and Starfleet’s desire to keep the initial theft of the coils quiet, kept Tomaasz out of the brig after that debacle. His war record, highly classified as it was, also held weight in certain circles. As part of the deals that were struck, he was removed from the Ramirez, and from the security track. After going through the Academy’s engineering curriculum, he spent three years on meaningless, nowhere assignments. He had thought he would waste away the rest of his life without any chance for redemption. Then Captain Azjure had contacted him with an offer too good to refuse. A chance, however slim, to try to make amends for his crushing failures.

A slim silver hand on his good shoulder pulled him gently out of his spiraling thoughts. Meeting Silver’s eyes in the mirror, he smiled faintly. She knew where his thoughts had taken him, of course, and when to bring him back. His braids were neatly in order, and he thanked her as he turned to pick up his uniform. Some people didn’t bother being polite to their QAI. Tomaasz never understood those people. Why put so much effort and soul into programming a personality construct if you weren’t going to treat it as a person?

As he faced the wall and began putting on his uniform, Silver spoke up. “I worry about you, you know. It’s good that you’re making friends with that nice young Terran, but that isn’t enough.” While she spoke, her appearance shifted. Still Caitian, she looked much older, though still beautiful. Her fur faded from silver to white, but the white of a performer’s makeup over barely visible hints of darker grey. Her voice, however, remained the same. “It’s not good for you to be alone with your thoughts so much. You should find a pretty girl to keep company with.”

His back still to her, his tail twitched in amusement. “Really, Sil? Playing matchmaker now? I don’t remember programming you to worry quite so much.” His affectionate, teasing tone gentled the words. “Besides, the organic crew roster of this ship is quite small. Finding a lady to ‘keep company with’ wouldn’t be so very easy.”

Silver’s own smile was both fond and sad, wrinkling the corners of her eyes. “You worry too much when you’re on your own. It blinds you to the obvious. For example, that lovely Andorian nurse. She’s also a dancer, you know.”

By the time Tomaasz shot a glance over his shoulder, Silver had reverted to her normal appearance, with a bland smile. “Sil, have you been poking around in the crew’s personnel files?”

“No, dear. You have.”

His tail stilled completely for a moment as that hit home. It was true, he had reviewed the crew’s files on his first day aboard the Tanjura. That was one of many old Security habits he held to. He considered it a reasonable thing, to familiarize himself with his new crewmates. But hearing Silver say that so bluntly in response to his half-teasing remark pulled him up short. There was a line between reasonable familiarity and invasion of privacy, of course. Was he skirting closer to that line than he had thought? Something to consider, at length.

Something else to consider was Silver’s suggestion. She was surprisingly perceptive when it came to his emotional well-being, and when she made an outright recommendation it was a good idea to listen. Companionship, of a different nature than his budding friendship with Kyle, might well be a balm for some of the scars that didn’t show on the outside.

“All right, Sil. When I get a chance to, I’ll talk with Nurse Chyne and see how we get along. But don’t get your hopes up. I doubt this beat-up old cat will hold much appeal for her.” He sealed the collar of his uniform and tugged the tunic straight. Bless her holographic heart, Silver had the grace to not look smug as she nodded and blinked out. Shaking his head, Tomaasz strode out of his quarters to begin another busy day.