I do not own the seaQuest or its characters, and am making no money with this story. I do not have any rights to the poetry of Wilfred Owen.
Heartfelt appreciation to ano, bbclarky, Diena, dolphinology, Fiona, Fishface12, Jan, Jen, kas7, Katknits, Kiddo, liz, lo, Mar, Nerene, pari106, Pheniox-Skye, PhoenixTears80, sara, Teresa, Zoe and anyone who reviews this chapter. You are kind and generous people to give up your time to review this fic, and to stick with me, whether you reviewed once or 18 times. It's been real, guys.
I've added the poem that inspired the title of this fic onto the end of this chapter – you'll have to scroll down a little, I didn't want to make it look like a continuation of the story. Hope you enjoy it.
Pro Patria Mori
The old man sat on the verandah watching the sun sinking towards the ocean. The sunset was going to be glorious: already the clouds were lined with fire, and a river of gold marked a path across the dancing water from the beach to the edge of the world. But to the man, everything was grey.
He heard the sound of a motor humming, somewhere further along the shore. There was no television on the island; the only contact with the outside world was an antique two-way radio. So he had no way of knowing if it was a rival confederation coming to claim the land, or the UEO again, coming for the hundredth time to try and persuade him to captain their boat again. He didn't know why they came; if he wasn't even capable of protecting a defenceless young man, he didn't think much of his chances with a whole confederation.
It had been almost six months now. Six long months. Sometimes it seemed to the man that the moments of his life stretched out before him, endless and empty. The everyday functions of life were not enough to fill them. Sleep, when it came, was barely a relief; the faces he saw in his dreams made waking life all the more painful.
The sound of footsteps on the wooden decking brought him out of his reverie. He looked up to see a familiar figure, down to the bright orange jumpsuit. He was surprised: after the memorial service, Ford had asked him to use his influence to stop them imprisoning the Wolenczak kid. Apparently he had been trying to disable the stealth system; he had almost managed it too, before he was dragged from the computers. So, Ford had said. He chose us. And Bridger had tried, truly he had. But he had been so tired, too tired to even tie his own shoelaces, let alone win a battle with the might of UEO bureaucracy. That had been the same day that he had left for the island, leaving his shattered life behind him.
"So," he said calmly. "They let you out."
The young man took this as an invitation to sit down.
"I kind of escaped," he said.
Bridger raised his eyebrows, glancing at the boy out of the corner of his eyes. "From a maximum security prison?"
Lucas' face remained impassive. "You give them too much credit, Captain."
There was silence for a while. Then Bridger, still looking out to sea, said, "Why did you come here?"
"I wanted to request a posting on board seaQuest," the young man said, matter-of-factly.
Bridger shook his head. Still full of surprises. "Why would you want that?"
Lucas didn't look at him. "Where else am I going to go?" he asked softly.
Bridger sighed. "Firstly, I don't think the UEO would be too keen to have an escaped POW as a crew member aboard their flagship. Secondly, it may have escaped your notice, but I am no longer captain of the seaQuest."
Lucas didn't speak for a moment. Then he said, "You know, they never asked me for my name. They weren't interested in that. And I never gave it."
"What are you saying?" Bridger asked.
"It would be simple enough," Lucas said. "Just tell them you found the long- lost son of Lawrence and Cynthia Wolenczak, and he turned out to be good with computers. So you took him on."
Bridger frowned. "They didn't do a DNA test?"
"Again, Captain, too much credit."
Bridger sighed again. "Well, you still haven't solved the second problem," he said heavily.
For a while, neither man spoke. Far out to sea, a bird was wheeling, diving and soaring in the air. A gentle breeze stirred the ragged vegetation that fringed the verandah. It seemed to Bridger as though the two of them were alone at the end of the world, watching the last day die in splendour before the coming of endless night. Then Lucas turned to look at him. His eyes, normally so emotionless, were filled with grief.
"Robert was a good man," he said. "He loved you very much."
Bridger felt a lump rise in his throat. "I wasn't much of a father to him," he said huskily.
"You did what you thought was right," Lucas replied simply, and turned to look once more out to sea.
For a moment, Bridger was silent, struggling with the crushing weight that seemed to be pressing down on his lungs. He didn't trust his voice. He felt an insect bite the back of his hand, but he didn't move to brush it off.
"He was very fond of you as well," he said finally. "I didn't want it to be true, but it was. I think," he stopped for a moment, trying to find the right words. "I think he always regretted the fact that he was an only child."
Lucas closed his eyes briefly, and then nodded in acknowledgement. Silence fell once more.
The two men sat side by side, staring out to sea as the day went down into the west, together and yet alone in their grief. For a brief, perfect moment, as they fell, their tears reflected the glory of the setting sun.
Then they shattered on the ground, and were gone.
Dulce Et Decorum Est
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of disappointed shells that dropped behind.
GAS! Gas! Quick, boys!-- An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And floundering like a man in fire or lime.--
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,--
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
Dulce et Decorum est
It is sweet and proper
Pro Patria Mori
To die for one's country