Its just one of those things, Jim Kirk had quietly said. Regrettable, yet unforeseeable and therefore unavoidable, Spock had calmly said. Damned stupid waste! he had said, more than once and neither quietly or calmly. He was so upset he didnt even notice his captains hand tightly gripping his shoulder, or even more surprising, Spocks hand on his arm.
Thank God he didnt have any reason to hold back his tears. These people were his direct subordinatesmany of them long-standing shipboard associates, some of them personal friends. He had hand-picked the landing party for a quick shuttle trip down to a medical conference on Pacifica. Who couldve known that an undetected microscopic rupture in a plasma manifold would have caused explosive decompression in the shuttlecraft?
And the sightmy God the sight! All of them shriveled mummies, blood vessels exploded, eyes widely staring in a horror of disbelief, flesh literally freeze dried by the frigid vacuum they experienced during the sudden decompression of the shuttlecraft.
The captain had become concerned when communication was lost as the shuttle approached, but that sometimes happened due to interference with a starships warp chambers coil emissions. But when the shuttle door remained tightly closed upon full pressurization of the bay, Scotty had called Sickbay ASAP. The hiss of rapidly incoming air when the door was pried open confirmed both his tricorder readings and his worst fears. Only God in His wisdom knew why the shuttlecraft hadnt imploded when the shuttlebay was repressurized.
Maybe there was something to be learned heresomething positive to be salvaged out of this sad sorry mess. Seven lives! Seven lives snuffed out in the span of a few secondsseven empty spaces forever in their families and shipmates heartsseven autopsies he would permit no one but himself to perform as a last pathetic gesture of love and respectseven canisters to be gently cast adrift upon the infinite netting of space, never to be seen again by those who knew and loved themseven subspace letters Jim Kirk would agonize over.
Im ordering you off duty for seventy-two hours Bones. I want you to get some rest...and some perspective, Kirk had told him. Not a request, an order mind you! Oh well, maybe the captain was right. His friend well knew the emotional toll this horrible accident had taken on the entire crew in general, the science and medical sections in particular, and his CMO personally. He just couldnt shake the image of the shuttles gruesome passengers out of his mindcouldnt shake the numbness of such a senseless loss, couldnt shake the brutal rending truth of the captains words at the memorial: "We lost them so close to home!"
He decided to take something to ease him on the way to a blessed temporary oblivion, and noticed the incoming message light flashing on his computer as he passed by on his way to the head. It was coded high priority urgent, so he opened it. It was from Spock. What on Earth was he sending that was so damned important? A column culled from the daily Starfleet communiqué? Curious in spite of his irritation, he scrolled down the text:
This Day in History:
1 February 2003 Old Earth calendar. Columbias Final Flight. Today the world mourns the loss of the seven astronauts aboard NASAs space shuttle Columbia who died when their vehicle disintegrated and burned up in the atmosphere sixteen minutes shy of landing at Cape Canaveral.
Sixteen minutes!! he thought bitterly. Sixteen minutes.
This stunning loss comes only four days after the observance of the 17th anniversary of the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger, in which seven astronauts also perished, and five days after the 36th anniversary of the fiery Apollo tragedy in which three astronauts died.
My God, he thought. What a litany of loss! These dear souls from so long agono less precious than those just recently losthad no doubt left gaping holes in the fabric of their friends and family. Kirks forcible speech of a few years past came unbidden to his mind. God! He could still feel his face burning with shame at Jims words. He had asked one question: Why!? "Risk!" Jim had said. "Risk is our business! Thats what this starship is all about! Thats why were aboard her!" He couldnt deny that. He knew that as sure as the stars burned hot in the galaxy. He lived it every day! But it did nothing to lessen the pain of this loss.
He rolled the names off his tongue silently as he read themChaffee, Grissom, White, Scobee, Jarvis, McAuliffe, McNair, Onizuka, Resnik, Smith, Husband, McCool, Anderson, Brown, Chawla, Clark, Ramon. He realized how much he and all who preceded him owed to these pioneers and others like them. They didnt give up. They didnt quit in the face of heartbreaking tragedy. They cried, they grieved, they mourned, they carried on. He knew that he, too, needed to cry, grieve, mourn, (yes even rant!) and finally carry on. They wouldve wanted it this way. He wearily massaged his temples, then changed the comm mode to "do not disturb".
Thanks, Spock! he whispered as he arose to move to the bunk. Sedatives forgotten, he stretched out to slip into the deep sleep of grief and exhaustion. He knew that time would gently ease even this deep wound closed, as it always had in the past, and always would throughout eternity.
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