The Last Laugh
The medical officer made it clear to the two summoned parties, Ensign Aenardha Sh'vastarth and Admiral Gordon Francis, that the patient's condition was critical and there was nothing he could do. As they walked into the darkened room, they immediately saw the blue and purple Broot on a med table, a blanket stained with dark crimson blood covering most of his greatly damaged body. His face was a mess, a large gash going from his left eye down his cheek. Burn marks etched the side of his face.
Lieutenant Jameson stood next to the exam bed, monitoring his vitals.
"How long does he have, Lieutenant?" the Admiral inquired, prepared for the worst.
Aeryn looked towards Francis. “It’s hard to say Sir, given his injuries I’m surprised he’s held on this long! I suggest you make it quick.”
Francis approached the dying man and put his hand on the Broot's shoulder. Qaraq put his hand over the Admiral's.
"I'll never forget you, my friend," Francis said softly. "I'm alive because of you."
Qaraq smiled, an when he spoke, his voice retained its strength. "You made me realize I was only a small part of a much, much larger universe." He coughed. "I would have loved to have met more of the people in your Star Fleet."
Just then, Qaraq saw Ensign Sh'vastarth enter the office and approach his bed. Francis saw her, and noticed something on her temple. It was the mark of Qaraq's family, something he'd seen on all of Qaraq's children. He realized this young lady was bound to the Broot in a way the Admiral would never know.
Francis looked back down at Qaraq. "I'll leave you two alone," he said. "Be at peace." He left the room and signaled for Aeryn to do the same. Francis knew the significance of the mark on Aenardha. It meant she was family. Though Francis and Qaraq had become close friends, somehow he was bonded to this Aenar. She was family, and dying with family at your side was the true Broot honor. He would not take up another minute of their time.
Aeryn followed Francis, pausing just long enough to look back at Aenardha. “If you need me just call.” With that she left the room waiting just outside incase she was needed.
Aenardha did not respond as they passed. She had enough public vision to know how he appeared and felt the pain he was in. She had not expected the thought she had given him to have been triggered so early. Aenardha was hoping to help save the day when he needed it the most. Now, he was the one in need of saving yet that seemed to be far beyond anyone’s abilities.
Aenardha approached hesitantly. She did not mean to upstage an admiral or make him cut his visit short in any way. It appeared that he had said all he needed to say. With Qaraq’s time being short, she understood, however, his need to give them time. She knew though, that is was not really a matter of time, but if she could form a telepathic link with him. Previous experience concluded that she could.
“May I,” she started, “form a telepathic link with you? I promised to tell you something.”
Qaraq nodded and smiled as she approached. "I found your thought," he said, his voice soft, but still a rumble. "It made me laugh!"
“Considering you Broots,” she said with a small smile, “I figured it would.”
Aenardha, using what remained of Qaraq‘s vision and his sense of his surroundings, ventured around to the head of the biobed. “Do not try to speak Mr. Qaraq,” she said. “Only lie there and relax the best you can.”
She bent down over his massive head. “A final parting gift,” and she felt about his face with her antennae. Each, in turn, pressed against his face and pulled away with a dull ‘pluke’ as she continued to feel around for his temples. She came across charred skin and felt sensations of pain from him as she continued to search, apologizing each time.
Aenardha felt a partial connection as she found his right temple. Using its proximity, finding the left would not be a problem. The gash stretching across the left side of his face proved a slight hindrance. “I’m sorry,” she said as she worked the cup of her antenna into that gash and found what she was looking for.
To Qaraq, the room started expanding in all directions. The ceiling Qaraq was looking at began zooming away and the lights faded. He felt himself growing minuscule yet far more immense than he could ever have imagined. The medical bay grew into forever until this singular room seemed to have contained the cosmos. Everything went black and, though there seemed to have been no light, no air, no ground, nothing, Qaraq found himself standing in an abyss void of all matter. His body was illuminated by a sourceless light. His injuries were gone.
Before him, fading into existence, came the silhouette of a familiar figure. A similar sourceless light provided the detail to make out Ovetsya. She looked back at him with a set of bright peridot eyes.
Qaraq looked around and gaped. The universe expanded all around them, like a total perspective vortex. He felt at once a small and yet central part of the universe, feeling every sensation, all of them real and intangible at once. There was no pain anymore. He saw Ovetsya and immediately felt her stare. He'd not realized before that he'd never actually looked her in the eye.
"Can you see me?" he said. He spoke with no difficulty.
“In here…I can,” she said and looked about the space around them. “This is call the bridge of minds, neither mine nor yours. Come,” she held out her hand, “I want to show you something.” She, of course, saw that his hand could engulf her head, not just her hand. “Don’t worry. You cannot hurt me here, even if you tried.”
"Is there a reason I would try?" Qaraq asked as the whole of the universe around them swirled into dust and started forming again. A dark blue sky appeared and the dust trickled down forming a village of houses made of ice. Off to the side, the ground sloped and vanished beneath the surface of sparkling water. Icebergs floated in the distance. In the sky came the gas giant, Andora circled around. Frozen crystalline clouds floated about the sky. The whole scene felt like it would chill to the bone, but Qaraq did not feel cold in the least. "Is this... your home?" Qaraq asked.
“It is,” she replied.
The whole scene burst into flames. Again, the ice village was burning but not melting. From behind the wall of flames arose a dragon, smoke pouring forth from his nostrils as he breathed.
“You’ve seen this before,” Ovetsya said. “This is…” she paused for a short and embarrassed moment, “…this is what came to mind when I was but a little girl. The eldest of my sistren was to be married off to an Andorian starship captain. He arrived with his ship hovering over my village. I had not yet mastered telepathic vision at a distance and was hiding in my room. As the ship lowered, everything shook and rumbled. I thought it was a dragon coming to destroy us all.”
After a low rumble of a growl, the dragon receded into the ground and the flames wafted away, leaving the ice village unscathed.
Ovetsya turned and looked at Qaraq. “I told you I would explain my name change. It is because I did something very few Aenar have ever done and none in many decades.” She could feel Qaraq’s life force beginning to wane. Despite the time they had left, even within this telepathic link, she could feel he was slipping away. There was little time; not enough for grand detail. “You see, I was to be married off. I didn’t want to. Khrap…yes his name is Khrap…was very forceful that I take his hand. He drew me in close and yelled at me. I simply cupped my antennae to his and gave him a few thoughts of my own. Enough to send him into a mental break…and the Andorian Military Mental Hospital. My actions were ruled to be very unbecoming of an Aenar and I was cast out until my ‘anger issues’ were filtered out. I was given the name ‘Aenardha’ which, in the ancient Andorian tongue means ‘Not Aenar,’ and I chose to enter Starfleet.”
There was another slip of his life force and she could see the telepathic image of him begin to wither.
“If I could do it all over again,” she stepped in and gave him a hug. Her arms barely reaching half way around him. “I would not change a thing.”
Qaraq embraced her with a hand on her back. With their minds linked, he could feel the sadness she felt for this moment, as well as the happiness she felt having known him, even for a short time.
It was then that the entire scenario changed. The icy planet melted away and morphed itself into the living room in Qaraq's mansion on Delavi. Aenardha stepped away from her embrace, and Qaraq felt a hand taking his. There, sitting beside him, was the woman he'd loved for so long. The woman he was more than proud to call his wife for so many years. He remembered her as the young girl of his youth who had punched him in the face for making some lewd comment at school. How many times had her fist met his face with every screw-up? How many times had they made love so passionately afterward? She was a true Broot woman, he thought. Feisty, bossy, aggressive... beautiful, understanding, forgiving...
And then he noticed his children all around him in the room, with his grandchildren at his feet. All were looking at him with pride on their faces. It didn't match the amount of pride he had for all of them. He looked each one in the eye with pride. None of his brood held any dishonor with him. Some of them had been harder to raise than others, and to this day his relationships with them were difficult to maintain. But he didn't love them less for it. And like it or not, there were times when it was he who bought the drinks after a hard dispute.
Now, all of his children raised their ales, the little ones their ciders, and Qaraq was overcome with emotion. He looked up to see Ovetsya hand him a tall ale, and raise a glass of her own.
"Thank you," he said with reverence, and raised his glass before gulping its cold content. A final drink, to soothe his transition from one life to the next.
He set down the glass mug and gave everyone a final look. Then he leaned back, and a bright light overtook him. Before he was buried in the light, there was a final feeling he did not expect. It was a feeling of completeness, as if the last word had been read in a book, and now the book was being closed. In that moment, every question he'd ever asked seemed to be answered in full, as if the universe had been keeping this one giant secret the whole time and it could only be known at the very last moment. At this sudden understanding, Qaraq did what he always did. He bellowed a giant laugh that boomed into the afterlife.
Suddenly, she was back in sickbay, standing over him, the only sensation from her antenna being tactile, one on his temple, and the other in the gash on the other side. She gently removed them. Never had she been linked thus with anyone as they died. In fact, only Aenar elders were allowed to perform such a connection at such a time. And now she knew why. Though her infatuation with Mauricio, a result of their extended telepathic connection, was finally gone, her feelings for him were replaced by feelings for the recently deceased before her.
“Mr. Qaraq,” was all she said.