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"Scarred Fleet"

Updated: Mar 18, 2023

The shuttle descended over the beautiful terrain of Betazed. As it emerged from the clouds, she could see that the landscape was dominated by large patches of green. She knew these were forests, but the shuttle was still too far to discern individual trees and it all melded into a blur of colour like an Impressionist painting. Even the shades matched that of the classic 19th century Earth art revolutionaries, with the characteristic blue lakes of Betazed that dotted the woodlands shining various degrees of blue from the vibrant sunlight and the reflection of the clouds.

Just a little over four decades ago, Betazed had been a very different place. Leila had read her father's logs on it. The palette was swapped- the sky was clouded with dark smoke while the treetops were blazing with orange light. The pits in the landscape were not just the natural formations filled with water but also craters formed by grenades and mortars, filled with blood and soot. Not all of Betazed had been a battlefield however, and in the forty years following the Dominion War, most of the planet's scars had already been healed.

The shuttle landed at what appeared to be a resort villa built by the side of a lake. The pristine appearance signaled that it was likely a newer structure, constructed after the Dominion occupation; that, or it was heavily renovated following the war. It reminded Leila of her ship, the U.S.S. Lexington, a Starfleet cruiser that had been heavily damaged in the final battle above Earth during the Iconian invasion and almost completely redesigned afterwards. She had only been given command of the vessel after the refits, and was not her captain during the climactic battle. That was actually why she was here.

"Captain Leila Omar?"

A woman in a simple white dress greeted her as she stepped off the shuttle. She possessed a humanoid body with all the characteristics of a human female. In fact, she was completely indistinguishable from the people who originated on Earth save for one feature- the black irises that marked her as a member of the Betazoid species native to this planet. The Betazoids were a telepathic species, capable of reading the minds of most other organic lifeforms, but Leila understood that they possessed a moral code that forbade them from invading another's privacy without their consent. Hence, this Betazoid was resorting to verbal communication to confirm her identity.

"Yes, that's me," Leila responded.

"It's a pleasure to have you here, Captain. I'm Nurse Tiravi Ajun. Please follow me."

The two walked through a pair of open wrought iron gates, fancily decorated and clearly for aesthetic appeal rather than security. Beyond it was a large courtyard with a central fountain piece. On either side were gardens brimming with activity, from people tending to the flora to elderly individuals taking a leisurely stroll beside them. Leila did not get a close look at them, but almost all who glanced in her direction had black irises, with the exception of one being she recognized as a Lethean. Everyone here had something in common- they were all telepaths.

"I hope taking a shuttle down wasn't too much of an inconvenience?" Nurse Ajun asked.

"Not when you're located somewhere so scenic," replied Leila.

"It does give you quite a view of the landscape, doesn't it? But mainly we have the rule because people suddenly materializing inside the grounds might startle someone, and it's a long walk in if you beam down at the edge of the woods."

They did not go for the central entrance, but rather a smaller one on the western wing of the complex. It was a simple wooden door with no visible locking mechanism to speak of. Leila could spy a camera hanging above the door frame which would record anyone passing through, but there was nothing to prevent someone from actually going through. Combined with the beautiful location and colourful gardens, it really did feel like a resort.

"How do you maintain the security here?" Leila asked as she stepped into the building.

The nurse did not even need to look to the door to know what she referred to and explained while she continued to walk on, "We're not a penal colony. The people here don't want to escape, they just can't control their abilities. Even if they do wander off, we're far from any major cities where officials and tourists from offworld visit. Everyone in the neighbouring towns is Betazoid, and we know how to protect ourselves from a telepathic outburst."

"What about visitors to the facility?"

"We'll intervene if it's necessary. Though protocol still necessitates that we scan anyone before they come into close proximity with one of our patients, in case they're carrying anything that could be used to hurt someone."

Leila nodded in response and continued to examine their surroundings as they went. Although new, the building maintained an extremely traditional feel to it. Leila did not know much about Betazoid culture and tradition, but the wooden halls and staircases reminded Leila of the contrast between the environments of the outer colonies and starbases she had grown up in and the old-style architecture of homeworlds such as Earth. They ascended one such staircase and down another hall, before stopping outside one of the many doors that lined the hallway.

"Now's the time for that scan I mentioned," Nurse Ajun stated as she took a tricorder and ran it down the length of the Captain's body. The instrument flashed multiple warning lights and the nurse stared at the results confused. With a tap of the screen she reset the device and stretched out her hand to retry, but caught Leila's eye before she did. The older woman's look told her everything she needed, and she closed the tricorder. They both knew well that not all scars could be seen.

"He's on one of his good days," said the nurse. "If I sense anything wrong I'll step in. I won't let him hurt you or himself, but he might unintentionally access some of your memories before it reaches intervention point. There's an emergency comm inside if you need it."

"Thank you, nurse."

Nurse Ajun opened the door and Leila entered. The first thing she noticed was the size of the room. Not only was the area she was in spacious, but the distinct lack of a bed and a door on the wall to her left meant that there was another bedroom deeper within. Leila stood in what appeared to be a living room, with a couch beside a faux fireplace on one side and a dining table on the other. Opposite the door she had entered was a large window overlooking the back of the complex, where a larger garden comprised of hedges and trees slowly merged into the wild forest beyond.

"Captain Canris Valu?"

The occupant of the room sat in an armchair by this window. He turned to Leila as she spoke, staring with black irises. The man was at least a dozen years older than Leila and his hair was already beginning to show signs of graying. A slight stubble of a beard lined his cheeks and chin, smoothing out his otherwise angular features. In his youth, he must have sported quite a commanding presence.

"Yes Doctor, what is it?" he responded abruptly.

Leila frowned, "I'm Captain Leila Omar. Of the U.S.S. Lexington."

"Lex...Lexington?" the man's face contorted a second before he broke his gaze and looked back out the window. "No. No, stop confusing me. It's been three years. I know where I am. I know what happened. Lexington is gone."

"Lexington was critically damaged," Leila corrected him. "She was drydocked for two years, but she's back in service again."

Canris shook his head, "She'll never be the same again."

"Yes, she's quite different from the ship you commanded."

A long silence ensued. Canris continued to stare out the window. From what Leila could see of his reflection, his expression was blank and he looked lost in thought. She stood quietly for a minute waiting for him to speak again, but when it was clear that he was not going to, she approached the window. Leila set her hand on the back of one of the dining chairs and glanced to the Betazoid.

"Mind if I join you?"

"Help yourself."

Leila pulled the chair beside his. Canris turned to her, watching as she slowly and rather stiffly lowered herself into the seat.

"You alright?" he asked.

"Yeah. Just back problems."

Another shorter silence followed, except this time it was Canris that broke it, "Why are you here?"

"I wanted to meet you," Leila responded simply.

"There's not much to meet," his eyes trailed back to the window, his gaze meeting his own as his black eyes stared back out at him from the reflection. "You've seen about all there is."

"You're a Starfleet captain. You've got invaluable experience. I've only commanded a starship for a year and I've already had quite a few unique encounters."

"My only experience is pain. You don't want that."

"We all have our share of pain."

"No. No!" Canris exclaimed, jumping to his feet. "No, stop showing me! I don't need more!"

Leila stood as well, surprised by the sudden movement. She observed him confused for a moment before it occurred to her what was happening. She must have unintentionally conjured her own unpleasant experiences to the forefront of her mind, and the telepathic Betazoid was able to pick it up. Leila tried to push these darker moments back at least temporarily, instead thinking of her ship. She visualized the different rooms and hallways on board the Lexington, something familiar to Canris and, she hoped, a source of good memories.

"Sorry," she said as the Betazoid appeared to calm down. "I'm not used to needing to control my thoughts."

"No, it's my fault," Canris shook his head. "I was the one who lost control."

The two sat back into their chairs. Canris breathed out a long sigh and closed his eyes for a moment, his hands resting on the sides of his armchair. Leila continued drawing up images of the Lexington, partly to calm the Betazoid and partly to help herself drown out her painful recollections. It appeared to be working, as Canris sat unmoving, a serene, meditative look on his face. When his eyes finally opened, he turned his gaze back to Leila.

"So that's what she's like now."

"Yes," Leila nodded.

"Almost like new. I wouldn't have been surprised if they commissioned a new Lexington. I thought she was gone for good..."

She knew where this conversation was going, but before she could change its course, her vision faded to darkness. Leila called for the nurse, but there was no reply. She stood and blindly fumbled for the direction of the emergency comm panel but tripped over something. She recognized its outline as that of a fallen chair. Her eyes had adjusted now and she realized she wasn't in total darkness. There was a faint red glow that flashed somewhere on the distance.

Leila climbed back to her feet. She was in a large circular room, and the red light suggested that it was the interior of a Federation starship on Red Alert status. This was confirmed when she looked up and saw the tiny dots of stars amidst the black of space. However, there was a blue hue to this view. Leila realized from the jagged beams around the opening into space that she was not seeing it through some form of window, but rather a force field. Most of the ceiling had been sheered away and the field was the only thing preventing anyone who was left on the deck from suffocating or being pulled into the vacuum of space.

Not many were still alive. With a closer examination, Leila recognized where she was. It was the bridge of a ship, but not just any ship. She had seen it before in several old pictures. Despite the darkness and damage, she could still make out enough distinctive features to tell that this was the bridge of the Lexington prior to her refits.

"Captain? Captain! There's only one more pod left on the bridge!"

The already dust-covered white shoulders of Leila's captain's jacket was further soiled by a red handprint as someone patted her. She followed the arm to a bloodied man. He wore a single pip denoting the rank of Ensign, though from the wrecked state of his uniform it was possible he simply lost the rest of his pips. As they stared at one another, a colossal shadow cast over them, causing them both to look up. A massive Klingon Bortasqu' class battlecruiser loomed above them. Leila half-expected the ship to fire down and finish them, but this was not the war with the Klingons. Instead, the vessel appeared to be shielding them as a beam of purple energy shot down, hitting the shields of the Klingon cruiser where it would have hit the Lexington moments earlier.

"Captain, we have to go now!"

The other officer grabbed her and pulled her towards the sole escape pod remaining behind the wall panels of the bridge. The two stepped inside and the hatch shut. With the push of a button, the man detached them from the ship and they shot off towards Earth. Leila took another glance out the back window of the escape craft to see the crippled Lexington adrift, her hull scorched, one nacelle detached and the impulse engines venting black fumes. The shape of the Sentinel class cruisers bore several similarities to that of the smaller Intrepid class, and this whole episode was reminding her of her own experience with the loss of the U.S.S. Laikan.

The scene faded and a second later she was seeing out the window towards the woodlands again. She turned her gaze to Canris.

"I'm sorry. I know what it's like to have to abandon ship."

"No you don't," the Betazoid asserted through gritted teeth.

"I was XO on board the Laikan during her mission in the Dyson Sphere. We had to evacuate when the Voth dealt critical damage to our ship."

"You don't understand," Canris shook his head. "You're human."

"Excuse me?"

"I did my best to control myself there. I didn't show you everything. Just what I saw. You wouldn't be able to handle it all. I wasn't," he explained. "I'm a telepath. I didn't just see my crew die. I felt it. Every second of it! Every spasm of pain, every pang of fear, every memory of a loved one that would never see them again. I tried, damn it, I tried to shut them out! But I couldn't. It was too much, too much! I felt them die. You have no idea what that's like!"

"No, I don't," Leila agreed.

Canris was in tears, his head pressed against the window. Leila was not even sure he heard her words as the Betazoid sobbed uncontrollably. She considered calling the nurse, but decided that if the nurse had not stepped in already, it probably did not warrant intervention. Instead, she leaned in towards the former captain of the Lexington and spoke again.

"I didn't know. I apologize for bringing up these memories again. I just wanted to tell you that the Lexington is back in service and our route took us close to Betazed."

"I appreciate it," Canris pulled himself away from the window, drying his tears with a handkerchief he retrieved from his pocket before making eye contact with Leila again. "Is she in orbit right now?"

"No, my XO is running a scientific survey at the moment in a system along the sector border. He has it all handled so I took a shuttle here."

"Tell me about her. Your memories seem to indicate that she's a science ship now?"

"Not quite," Leila replied. "She's got new laboratories and new state-of-the-art science facilities, but that's all to serve her new designation as an exploration vessel. Like the old Constitutions and Galaxies. We've been caught up in a lot of conflicts lately, but Starfleet's primary purpose is still exploration."

Canris shook his head once more, "Starfleet's primary purpose was exploration."

"You think we're too far gone now?"

"Maybe. Maybe not," he shrugged. "Whatever Starfleet is today, that's in your hands now, Captain."

Leila nodded and rose from her chair, "I won't let you down. It's been a pleasure meeting you, Captain."

"Like I said, there's not much left to me. The pleasure's been all mine. It is good to hear that the Lexington takes to the stars once more. There's hope in that for an old man."

The Betazoid gave a weak smile; though slight, this was the first sign of positive emotion Leila had seen from him yet. She didn't even need to work to return the expression- it came naturally. With that wordless goodbye, the two captains went their separate ways.

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