Captain Sydney Satterwhite, Personal Log, supplemental. 0525 hours.
He's there again. At the house. Who invited him? Sitting on the steps all comfortable and happy. I half expect Momma to come out on the porch and hand him a glass of iced tea. She's always doing that. Mrs. Hospitality.
But I'm more upset about the guy sitting on the front steps than about anything Momma would do. I walk up the path and cross my arms over my chest in my best "who the hell do you think you are" pose. He looks up at me and doesn't seem one bit put out.
"Don't you have somewhere else to go?" I say, getting madder every second.
"Not until you deal with me, Sydney," he says, calm and cool.
"Deal with you? All I know is your name."
"Too bad. You would have liked me. I'm a likable kind of guy."
"You're already used to me being here, so I don't know what the big deal is."
That really gets me hot.
"Look, I didn't even want to be there--"
I hold up my hands as if to push his image out of my sight. "You're not going to get me involved."
He wags a finger at me. "Oh, you're involved, my dear. Inextricably. For all eternity. Well, at least as long the files remain in some database at Command."
I narrow my eyes at him. "Keep it up, Rudolph, and stop being so happy!"
"That's me," he says, opening his arms in a big welcoming gesture, "Happy Jack Rudolph, Captain of the Good Ship Vesper. Want to take a crack at it?"
"You know. THAT. That thing you don't want to talk about."
I glare at him and say not one word.
"Sydney, Sydney, Sydney," he says, shaking his head. "It's been almost two years now. When are you going to let it go?"
"Let it go? You died!"
"Yes, I'm very dead. Oh, let me check." He takes a hand and passes it completely through his body. "Yep, still dead!"
"I wouldn't joke about that. You weren't alone. Forty-five other people died. Forty-five members of your crew."
"Yes, they did, we did. A warp core breach. I ought to know, I was there. You know, you're taking this pretty hard for somebody who's not dead."
I want to reach out and strangle him, but what's the use? "I showed up to make sure you or any of your crew didn't die."
"And I thank you for it. The two hundred twelve people you rescued thank you for it."
"I was only the First Officer. Mishenko wasn't on board, and I just happen to be in command of the Toledo when the distress call came in."
"I'm sure the crew of the Toledo are thankful for what you did, too."
"What I did was bug out before I got everyone off the Vesper ."
"And I kept telling ya we could handle it." He shrugs. "Didn't do such a good job, did we?"
"Stop making jokes!"
"I'm dead! I got all the time in the Universe, I got a million of 'em!"
Now I'm walking around in angry circles. "I bugged out because I thought--I knew--you didn't have as much time as you thought to eject the warp core."
"And I heard you when you told me," he nodded. "The ejection system malfunctioned and Engineering was working hard to get it back online. I was coordinating with you to get the rest of the crew beamed off the ship. Where's the problem here?"
Those were the facts. I couldn't refute them. But still--
"I left before I got everyone off the Vesper ."
"You left because your ship was in danger. Don't you remember what I said? 'You've done all you can, now get the hell out of here'?"
Of course, I remember what he said! I can't forget.
I can never forget.
"You have to deal with me, Sydney. I'll come back. Whenever you sit in that center seat, I'll come back. It doesn't have to be this way. Let it go. Let go of the guilt. You did nothing wrong. You listened to a voice no one else has and you acted on it not only to help me, but to protect your ship and your crew. That's all that matters: your ship and your crew.
"Please let me go. I don't belong here, and you know it."
Just then, I sense someone coming up behind me. I didn't need to turn around to know who it was. His calm, measured, rational voice knifes through all my doubts and fears.
"Whenever you are ready to talk, Number One, I will listen."
Then it all disappears. The house, Rudolph, the voice. I wake up. A tingling lingers on my shoulder, as if a reassuring hand once rested there. I lie in bed staring up at the ceiling thinking, "what the hell is wrong with me?"
It's been this way for almost two years. Almost every time my head hits the pillow, some remnant of that invades my dreams. But that last part, the part were I hear the voice behind me. Tonight was the first time I ever dreamed that. Maybe I was finally ready deal with it. Ready to let Jack Rudolph go on his merry way.
It was late, 0240 hours, but I had to make contact with the Ithaca . I knew her Captain would be awake. Seeing his calm face come up on the screen made what I needed to do a little easier.
"This is Sutek. What can I do for you, Captain?"
"I need to talk."
Chapter End Notes: There's a little more about the Vesper disaster in "Stand And Wait".