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Part of Phoenix: Back in Black

Prologue: 2161

Paris, Earth
Federation Day, 2161
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It was the end of all things, so of course there was a party.

That was a cynical way to view perhaps the most important day in Earth’s history, but Professor Juliette Gauthier was in a cynical mood. It was the end of humanity’s independence, it was the end of the galaxy as anyone knew it, and it was the end of the war. A treaty might have been signed with the Romulans a year earlier, but the echoes and ripples had been felt through the Commonwealth for those long months of grieving, of recovery, of rebuilding.

Now, on Federation Day, it could end. Now, on Federation Day, it could begin.

Gauthier had watched the ceremony in the café not far from her office, eschewing the company of colleagues and students and friends at the Sorbonne. With an espresso long gone cold in her hands, she’d stood in the crowd and listened to the speeches and proceedings and pontificating and signing, and as the gathered survivors of humanity and their guests – new family – had cheered and hugged, she had been still. Alone.

Even a dreary day could not overcome the jubilation filling the streets when she left. Everyone smiled, even at strangers, which was the sort of thing that normally got one shunned in Paris. But few people were out and about for long. After all, they had celebrations to get to.

It meant that when Gauthier reached the Memorial Gardens, they were empty. Most people wanted to spend the day in cheer, and certainly not under clouds threatening rain. But this had to be done, because it was the end of the world, and on a day like that you had to say goodbye.

Each path she walked was flanked with verdant beauty or the small plinths marking the losses of the Romulan War. What had started as tall stones with plaques for each battle or attack, listing the names of the losses, had expanded with the conflict. Worlds had taken to carving out small gardens in the grounds, winding paths taking the viewer from plaque to plaque covered in names. Earth’s was first, but she passed the grounds for Alpha Centauri, Deneva, Vega.

To reach Starfleet, she had to go deeper. And even then, the fringes were not her goal. The oldest of the tall stones erected for each ship lost were five years old, and she had to pass them all to get where she wanted; past Columbia, past Sojourner, past Pioneer. To the small forest of memory for the casualties of the Battle of Charon.

And there Professor Gauthier stopped, not because she had reached her destination, but because she was not alone.

‘Lieutenant?’

Jack Corrigan was not in uniform, but Gauthier barely knew him and didn’t want to be presumptuous. For such a big man he looked small before the memorial, shoulders hunched, build swaddled in ill-fitting clothes. The stubble on his chin was too short for a beard, but too long to suggest only a little neglect of his grooming. He looked as startled to see her as she was him. ‘Oh, Doc.’

‘It’s Professor, actually,’ Gauthier drawled, approaching. ‘So if my full title is still too much, that’ll be Prof.’

He winced, and she saw the bags under his eyes. ‘Sorry, Professor. Didn’t expect nobody to be here.’

She waved a hand, guilty. ‘That’s alright. I didn’t mean to get at you. I thought I’d be alone, too. You don’t have a party to get to?’

He scoffed. ‘With who?’

‘It’s been a year, Lieutenant.’

‘An’ here you are, too, Professor.’

He had her there. Gauthier stepped up next to him, extending the umbrella to shield them both from the light drizzle. ‘Yes,’ she sighed. ‘Here I am.’

‘I just can’t stomach it,’ he said at length. ‘Celebrating. Every second I think, they should be here.’

‘I know what you mean.’

Corrigan frowned. Paused a moment. Then said, ‘Begging your pardon, Professor, but no, you don’t.’

Gauthier looked at the long list of names on the plinth before them. Considered how many she didn’t recognise. Considered how only one of them made her heart turn inside out. And the fizzle of indignation died. ‘No,’ she sighed. ‘I don’t. I’m sorry.’

He hunched his shoulders, staring at the list too. ‘Nah, I’m – I don’t know what it’s like for you, neither, do I.’

‘We’re both here today when the rest of the world is smiling and dancing and cheering. We’re both here today when we have other places to go. We’re both here today, looking back, when there’s a bright future before us. I’d say we have more in common, Lieutenant, than our grief today lets us feel.’

It was not for his sake that she hadn’t bit off his head for dismissing her pain. Nor was it for some greater sense of humanity and compassion fighting through her fog of grief. No; the grief itself gave her focus as her eyes landed on the first name on the memorial plaque for the Phoenix NX-08, and she knew that Nat would want her to treat the boy better.

For her, most of the names were just that – names. Antar, Ritter, Kayode. Others, like Takahashi and Black meant something, if only a little; faces and stories. Only there, at the top, did the name Captain Natalia Lopez evoke more. And what it evoked, she couldn’t bear.

So despite herself, Juliette Gauthier stepped closer to the young Jack Corrigan next to her, and put her hand on his shoulder. Because for whatever she felt in her complicated, messy grief, the sole survivor of the Phoenix’s final battle had to feel it tenfold.

And if they didn’t face this bright future in unison, it would break them both.