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Aftermath - Read At Your Own Risk

Posted on Fri Aug 27th, 2021 @ 3:37pm by 2nd Lieutenant Christian Rogers & Petty Officer 2nd Class Corvus Hannah [Rogers]

Mission: Pre-Launch + Pre-Mission 1 Stories
Location: Arboretum
Timeline: 12 hours after "Calls In the Night"

The young man sat slumped on the bench under a spreading sycamore facing a water feature designed to mimic the appearance of a small lake. Rogers glanced around the area as he walked, quietly, toward the petty officer sitting by himself. The area was designed in all ways to mimic a natural area – a metropolis park or the like with small hills, broad swaths of grassy areas as well as planting areas subdivided into various climates and even planetary environments. The climatic engineering that went into the planning of a galaxy glass starship was impressive enough to think about, but the results were always more impressive. And always well worth their effort. It was nice to have some area of the ship that wasn’t bland, industrial and workplace functional. It even had a small, warm breeze carrying the perfumes of numerous blossoms and plants throughout the area.

Rogers considered how the arboretum would work as a campsite. Only it lacked areas for a campfire and he was sure that the substrata of ground under his feet was probably only a few inches deep – if even that. Which made staking a tent a very dicey problem. Yet, if he did ‘cowboy camping’ that solved at least one problem. The biggest problem was how open and available the space was and – though it was large for a starship – it was still too small and others would be everywhere, ruining the idea of a nice, relaxing and isolated trip.

Thoughts of camping and the derth of it happening for the next seven years were put aside as he spotted the young medic he’d been trying to connect with throughout the day. On several occasions he found Hannah in his work areas, but there was always some need for him to immediately depart as soon as Rogers found him. Now it was well after his duty shift was over and into the artificially created ‘evening’ time on the ship’s clock. To the point that the arboretum was currently in ‘night mode’. The ceiling overhead was holographically changed to a clear night sky full of stars as seen from Earth, the clear and thick arm of the Milky Way running through the center. The moon was in the late stages of third quarter crescent, soon to slip into the dark circle of the new moon phase.

He didn’t work to hide his approach, his boots crunching on the gravel pathway leading to the small bench sitting at the shore of the ‘lake’. Hannah hastily wiped at his face when he noticed Rogers approaching then wiped his hands on his uniform pants.

“Petty Officer,” Rogers said coming around the bench and taking a seat at the opposite end from Hannah.

“Lieutenant,” Hannah said, his voice hitching as he hastily wiped his face again. He turned his attention to the lake, slumping in the bench with arms folded across his chest. His ever present rucksack was beneath him, in between his feet. Rogers took a few moments to see if the young man would grab it and claim to have to run off on some other ‘important errand’ once again. When a silent thirty seconds ended, he figured he’d finally have a chance to talk with Hannah about this morning’s announcement.

“About this morning,” Rogers was able to say before Hannah shrugged and shook his head.

“Is this where I get raked over the coals for not waiting for a dismissal before leaving?” Hannah asked. He kept his face turned away from his unit’s CO.

Rogers held his breath for a five count before responding. He’d spoken to other members of the team and knew that the pain of Newton’s death ran deep with all of them. “I would prefer the unit maintain discipline at the tough times,” Rogers said, “but no. Nobody is getting ‘raked over the coals’ as it were.”

“Doesn’t matter much anyway,” Hannah said. Now he did reach forward and grab his rucksack. Except he opened a small compartment and brought out a PaDD. He thumbed it open before he handed it over to Rogers. “I’m asking for a transfer out. At least back to Fleet proper.”

Rogers stared at the display of the PaDD for several long moments before he grabbed it. The forms were complete and ready for transmittal. He set the PaDD on the bench between them, turning in his seat so he could see the young man better. “I’ll deny the request. It would be a waste of talent and, you’ve often spoken about how you’d rather be a combat medic then changing bed pans and biobed sheets.”

“Waste of talent, yeah, right,” Hannah scoffed. “Some medical officer I am. Everyone keeps dying around me.” He seemed to curl tighter around himself, staring pointedly at the lake. Making a point of not looking at Rogers.

For himself, Rogers observed the younger man. The swollen eyes, hitch in his voice, hastily wiping his face and now and adamant refusal to even look in his direction. He took some time considering several responses, most of which considered the overly dramatic statement he just heard. But no matter what he thought of it, this was serious for Hannah, if he’d gone so far as put in a transfer request.

“You’ll be able to draft another one for your unit. The project has a couple who are currently finishing up certification and wouldn’t mind getting a chance to put their training to use. Young, idealistic and without a clue as to how it’ll destroy their lives.”

“Oh come off it, Petty Officer!” Rogers said, exasperated now with the melodrama.

“No, you leave it, Lieutenant!” Hannah said, finally turning to him. If Rogers needed more evidence on how deeply this was affecting Hannah, that he was so completely insubordinate was proof of it. Though in the beginning Hannah was a stone around him, quiet and stiff. Through their months of service, however, Hannah’s reservations melted away and he loosened up around him and the others. But never to this level. “Just leave me alone! I don’t care if you don’t approve the transfer, I’ve already planned I had to go above you anyway. Not that I’d thought you’d give a damn anyway, as long as you got a replacement.”

He shook his head again and turned away. “Maybe you’ll even get someone worth having.”

“I have someone worth having already, and I’ll fight the captain or Rear Admiral or anyone I have to to stop this pile of worthless self-pity. If I didn’t want you, I could have gotten another medic for this trip. But I want the best I can get and that means you.”

Hannah exploded off the bench and took several steps before turning back to Rogers. His body trembled as he held his clenched fists at his side. “The best? I’m not even good enough to keep one man from killing himself! I realized today I’ve lost count of the number of patients have died because I couldn’t save them!” His voice raised into a shout, echoing in the quiet nighttime arboretum. “I couldn’t even save one person when I had months to save him!”

Oh, shit, Rogers thought. This was a bit deeper than he expected. Yes, he and the team were hurting over the news, over the loss. In smaller units such as this, it was more than just teammates, it became what some called ‘family’. It was the closet Rogers ever known what family was like. Growing up in the Marines and being shifted from unit to unit was reminiscent of his childhood and being shifted from foster care to a foster family and back several times. Only this time, it wasn’t the ‘family’ that was rejecting him but a natural progression. But he finally got a point where he had some stability. Newton was his unit sergeant, his XO and the binding glue that brought this team together. He was responsible for those in the team understanding Rogers wasn’t just another ‘butterbar’ OTS grad with more rank than know-how and capability. Losing Newton wasn’t just losing a man whose fights with his internal demons finally came to an end, it was like losing a member of the family. The unit’s father figure as it were.

How deep did that go with another man, raised by a loving mother after the death of his father as a young child? Someone who knew what having a father was like? Finding out that man fought his battle mostly by himself. Only occasionally allowing himself to get help from those closest to him, but refusing to get further help. Hannah joked and kidded as much as the rest of the team. In most respects, he was only slightly older than most of them but was still significantly younger than Newton, a man whose military career was at the highest he ever wanted. He led by example, tough when it was necessary. Disciplining harshly when necessary, but always fairly and then moving forward with the team member like it was over and done. He was the type that wanted to build up and sometimes knew he would have to tear down in order to build better. Hell, though they were closer in age to each other, Rogers looked up to the sergeant and wondered how different his life would have been if he’d had someone like Newton as a parent.

Hell, Newton even harped on him to form a closer bond with Glenn and Rob – the two men in his childhood who tried their best to give him something approaching normalcy. Two men who strove to steer Rogers into the man he’d become. If he, at his age and experiences admired Newton as more than just a team leader and unit sergeant, how would a younger man like Hannah view him? With a much deeper affection and bond, it would seem.

“Petty Officer,” Rogers said but stopped himself. Hannah continued to glare at him but folded his arms across his chest, standing several feet away and staring petulantly. “Hannah,” Rogers continued, standing slowly. If there was going to be a fight, he wasn’t going to rush into it. As much as he’d hoped the medic was smarter than to let this become physical, he also suspected that might be necessary. He hoped to every small god in the universe that it wouldn’t be. “You didn’t fail him.”

“I could have stopped him!” Hannah said, still loud, still desperately angry. “I could have made it an order. I’m the team’s medical…” He stopped and looked up toward the sky. His body’s trembling increased. “I could have ordered it.”

“He wouldn’t have done it, not wholeheartedly. He thought he could do it alone. By the time he realized he couldn’t, by the time he made up his mind, he was too far down. I know, I spoke with him about it several times. I threatened to make that order.”

“Yeah, he could have disobeyed it, but he’d be suspended still wouldn’t he? He’d be in a facility and he would have got the help he needed! Help I couldn’t give him!” Hannah moved as if to take a step forward but stopped himself. “For months I was right there! I watched him suffering and I didn’t do it! I couldn’t do it because…” He stopped himself again. “Just approve the transfer, Lieutenant,” he said after several long moments of struggle. Finally he put a hand across his face, hiding behind it. He couldn’t hide the shudder of his body or the hitch in his breathing.

“Hannah,” Rogers said, closing the gap.

“I didn’t want him to hate me,” Hannah’s voice was muffled. “I didn’t want him to hate me for doing it so I didn’t. I thought he would be okay. He was the sergeant! He was Newton.” He broke off again, the hitching louder, the shuddering deeper. “Because of my selfishness he...he…”

Rogers reached out, hesitantly, to grip the young man’s shoulder. In the end, however, he lowered his arm without Hannah being any the wiser about what almost happened. “Not because of you, Hannah.” He said instead. There was still the message Sarkasian had forwarded to Rogers. The message that he wasn’t able to watch completely. Or more than brief minute of it. Not pass the part where Newton greeted him. He still wasn’t sure how much of it, then, he should allow the unit to view. Part of him was angry that Newton would dare to send a message like that, some cowardly attempt to explain away his actions when he knew there was no way for Rogers to act on anything that might be said.

“They wouldn’t let me see him. I tried, in the hospital, before we left.” Hannah’s words were halting, hesitant, forced past the catch in his chest. “I could have just gone in, used my status to see him. But I followed the rules. I could wait until we were here and send a message. Not the same but, y’know, something.” Hannah let his hand drop, his face smeared and wet. “I was just glad, happy that he was finally getting help and he wouldn’t have to hate me for it.”

“He wouldn’t have hated you,” Rogers said. “Not for long. Not once he realized what you risked because of how much you cared.”

“But I didn’t...I…” His face crumbled again. “I can’t do this anymore. I can’t lose someone else because I didn’t do enough to stop them. And you, you just won’t leave me alone. I just wanted to be left alone! I need to...you hate this! You’re disgusted because I’m not strong enough, “Marine enough”, to handle this better. But I’m not!”

Rogers nodded, small barely perceptible movements of his head. Hearing that accusation cut him but he had to shove that aside. “No, Hannah,” he said and this time he forced himself to make that physical contact with the young medic. “I won’t leave you alone. I won’t let you fight alone. Not you, not any other member of this team. That’s where I failed.”

Hannah shrugged his shoulder, trying to dislodge Rogers but he kept hold, stepping closer. “I let him try to fight it alone like he wanted. If there’s anything we have to learn from this, is that we don’t have to be ‘Marine enough’ by ourselves.” Rogers closed the distance between them and pulled Hannah to him, putting both arms around him. “Leave no one behind doesn’t just mean on the ground, it means on every field we fight. I’m not leaving you alone until this fight is done.”

Hannah stiffened but then gripped Rogers in a tight, clinging hold. Despite the strength of his grip around Rogers, his body seemed to lose strength as he collapsed against Rogers. “Let go, Hannah, let go.” Rogers whispered, willing whatever strength he could into the young man.

Hannah did, his sobs deep and wretched and went on for a long time.

 

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