When the Dust Settles

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them. They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more, nor walk, nor plod;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond the grace of God.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night; As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end they remain.

(apologies to Laurence Binyon)

o

o

In years to come the battle would become known as one of mankind's finest hours. When the scores were counted the tiny force of men had destroyed nearly a hundred aliens for every human. For every fighter they lost ten enemy ships had been put out of commission. All this against an enemy far better equipped and far more capable than Earth had ever expected. On the face of it no greater victory could have been asked for.

On the bridge of the crippled Nemesis the Captain didn't quite see it that way. To her and her crew the losses were more than figures to be tallied against kills, they were the lives of friends, family, shipmates and even lovers.

People like Flight engineer Tomo, killed even as she lowered the shield that allowed Ranma to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

People like Faye Valentine and her crew, killed trying to save pilots from the long dark.

People like Lisa Hayes, killed at her station trying to keep it open for just a few seconds longer, and so not leave the interceptors unsupported.

People like Flight Lieutenant Rogers, killed trying to defend the ship, his body never to be found.

People like Teaching Specialist Ruby Devine, killed defending the crèche and its precious cargo, unwilling to stand aside even though she had never fired a shot in anger, her duty to the kids coming before her own life.

Perhaps worse still were some of the injured, people like bridge officer Pervis, whose mind had been invaded by an alien presence at just the wrong time. Now he lay, strapped to his bunk, dribbling and drooling, his mind shattered like a pane of glass.

Unfortunately sickbay was full of them, the injured and the maimed, it just wasn't possible to treat them all. Everyone with the smallest amount of medical experience was down there, trying there best just to keep their fellows alive long enough to be treated. Nabiki had even ordered the 'med-bay' aboard several of the disabled Harvesters used, unfortunately this meant that in far too many cases patients were being treated by glorified orderlies and under only the sketchiest of anaesthetic.

That she herself had been one of those treated was little comfort. At the height of the fighting the alien invaders had made it onto the bridge. They had been repulsed but only after doing more than enough damage. Too many of those present at the time would never grace another bridge, and the lives of others still hung in the balance.

Richard had his own tank, right next to Yuri Valentine. Both had literally used their bodies to shield hers. It was very humbling indeed.

The other side of the coin was the miracles. The remnants of Laura's team found bloodied but alive on the de-powered station. Roy Fokker found clinging to the ship's hull, having survived his ship exploding by being blown clear of his cockpit just beforehand. Gosunki, his body dead but his mind somehow transferred to the matrix and preserved.

And of course Ranma, found more dead than alive, face down, bare feet from the Alien Mother Brain. He had enough wounds on him to stop a whole herd of elephants, and his aegis hood was literally fused onto the back of his head. Yet somehow he had still managed to ask "What took you so long?" That he had passed out soon afterwards and was yet to wake up was cause for concern but Nabiki knew her man well enough to know that he wouldn't let a little thing like being technically dead slow him for long.

Unlike far too many others. The days since the battle seemed to have been one long procession of sorrow, as one by one those missing were confirmed dead, as those whose hold on life was too tenuous slipped into the last journey. On the machine deck one workshop did nothing but build coffins. For the majority of the pilots there would be no need, the void had claimed them for its own.

Right now Nabiki was doing the part of the battle she hated most of all. Not the body count, that was bad enough, but the 'personnel defaulters.' Those members of the team that had buckled under the pressure, had by action or lack of it let their comrades down. The sad thing was that for most of them it wasn't their fault, they had been asked to do the impossible and turned out to be merely human. Unfortunately that wasn't good enough, everyone of them had effectively forced another member of the Nemesis crew to do their jobs, had at best failed, at worst actively hindered.

In the past there would have only been one punishment for such betrayal, and thousands of men and women through history had paid that ultimate price. But the new modern world required a gentler hand. So despite the fact that part of her wanted everyone of the names in front of her shot Nabiki was going through the reports and trying to filter out the innocent from the traitorous, every case sticking like bile in her throat.

Finally she came to one she had been dreading, a young marine who had fled his position under fire. His comrades had been left exposed and slaughtered. Nabiki had met the man, the boy, and his face had said it all. Whatever she did to him would never match the pain he felt. No punishment would ever assuage the guilt, nor bring back his friends. The boy was on suicide watch twenty four hours a day and Nabiki had honestly considered cancelling the order. She couldn't imagine what it must feel like but she had seen the pain and wouldn't of wished that on her worst enemy.

How much of a contrast then between the boy and his Commanding officer. Everett, even under the barrels of Kaji and Misato, had maintained his arrogance. The men and women who now lay boxed below because of his intransigence seemed not to affect him in the slightest. Even now he was composing a letter of protest to high command. A letter that placed the blame firmly at her door.

Which was the problem: if his target had been anyone else then she could have dismissed it as irrelevant posturing from an insubordinate pig, but she couldn't in good conscience make that decision about herself.

"What the hell am I going to do with you?" she asked herself, "and Weir for that matter." Weir had actively resisted arrest, going so far as to try to wrest Kaji's weapon from him. That she had obviously been put up to it was little help. It had been an act of mutiny and for that there remained only one sentence. By law Weir must die.

"Why couldn't you have tried something too bastard" Nabiki swore, knowing full well that Everett was far too shrewd an operator to e caught like that. She also suspected that he had known exactly what he was doing when he had forced Nabiki's hand with Weir. It was hardly going to harm Everett's case when HQ heard their special representative had been sentenced to death.

"Bastard! Bastard! Bastard!" Nabiki swore again.

"Mommy?" interrupted little Kimiko, suddenly standing in her mother's makeshift office's doorway. The little girl had thankfully come through completely unscathed. Indeed the crèche had been one of the few places least affected by the dying scream. Nabiki had her suspicions why, but wasn't about to confirm them for fear of what exactly that would mean for her baby girl.

"I thought you were sleeping Kimi-chan" Nabiki replied, pulling the nightdress-clad child up onto her lap. "Its way past your bedtime," she scolded.

"But daddy just woke up" Kimi replied, half exited, half apologetic.

"He did?" answered Nabiki, not bothering to wonder how Kimiko had known. "What's he thinking?"

"He's looking for you mommy" Kimiko replied, "he's seen Yuri and Richard and is afraid that you might be hurt."

"Will you tell him that we're okay" Nabiki asked

"O-tay do-tey" Kimiko replied happily, closing her eyes to concentrate. Seconds later she opened them. "Its not fair" she pouted.

"What's not?" Nabiki asked.
"He told me to go to bed too!" the girl whined. Nabiki laughed and ruffled her baby girl's hair.

"How's about we both go to bed then?" she offered. Kimi smiled and nodded and that was that. The two of them cuddled up in Nabiki's bed and were soon fast asleep.

O

O

The next day was no less hectic for the Captain. Everything from damage and repair reports to quartermaster's lists seemed to need urgent attention. In the corridor outside her room there seemed to be a permanent conference of people waiting to see her. Eventually it was Misato that saved her. Still bandaged and somewhat unsteady on her feet the 2 i/c simply ordered everyone to find someone else to bother for a couple of hours and shooed them back towards the lifts.

"Thanks Misato-chan" Nabiki offered.

"No worries Biki-babe" the woman returned. For a long few moments the other woman just sat there and let Nabiki finish the report she was reading. Then finally she voiced the words that had been burning to be heard.

"So what now?" she said and Nabiki knew exactly what she meant.

"Now" Nabiki began, "now we have a problem. Our lift drive is KO'ed, presumed dead, most of our weapon systems are off line and our able bodied crew barely enough to skeleton man the ship. I just don't see that we've got much choice."

"So we stay?" Misato asked.

"We've got nowhere else to go" Nabiki confirmed.

"I'll see what I can do about getting the station back on line." Misato offered.

"And see if the drone plan will work" Nabiki added.
"Seems like a long shot to me" Misato replied, "but it can hardly do any harm."

"My thoughts exactly" Nabiki replied.