Kellie Petersen opened her eyes to complete…whiteness. It was all around her, with no end and no beginning.
“Where am I?” she wondered.
“Think of this place as a sort of…waiting room.”
Kellie turned at the sound of the voice, and broke into a smile. “Trip! I’m so glad to see you!” she cried, and moved toward him.
He held up a hand. “I am not the one whom you see before you,” he said slowly. “This is merely an image, taken from your own mind, created to make this experience more comprehensible for you.”
The man before her certainly looked like Charles Tucker. But if it wasn’t him, then who the hell was it? “If you’re not Commander Tucker, then who—or what—are you?” Kellie asked slowly, backing away.
He smiled. “There is no need to be afraid,” he told her. “I am of a species that exists on a different plane than your own. We have an interest in your kind, though we can only interact with you at the cessation of your existence. Sometimes we intercede the consciousness of individuals who have been of particular interest during the final transition.”
“Wait just a minute! What do you mean by ‘cessation of existence’? The ‘final transition’? Are you telling me I’m dead?!”
‘Trip’ nodded slowly. “Let me put it to you this way. Yes, Miss Petersen, you are dead, as you put it. Your physical body has expired. However, your…interest, shall we say, in the man whose image I have taken fascinated me. I decided to intercept the essence of your being in order to understand that interest.”
Kellie turned away, embarrassed that her obsession with Commander Tucker was the only thing about her that had caught this being’s interest—if, in fact, what was happening to her was real.
The ephemeral creature studied the young woman with rapt attention. He was intrigued by the way she had colored and turned away from him at the mention of her interest in the one called Charles Tucker. He thought back over his observations of her throughout what she would call years and remembered that she had never informed Tucker of her feelings.
“Are you ashamed of how you feel?” he asked.
“No, it isn’t that,” she replied. “It’s just that, if you’re real, and I’m dead…it just figures that a schoolgirl crush would be the only thing about me that interested you.”
He moved so that they were facing each other again, forcing her to look at him. “If I understand your species correctly, what you feel is much more than a ‘schoolgirl crush.’ For you, that is.”
“For me, yes!” Kellie said, exasperated. “I’ve worked with him for over a year, and all I am to him is ‘Ensign Petersen.’ Sometimes he calls—called—me Kellie. But he was just being nice.”
“Isn’t that what he was supposed to be? He was your superior officer, yes, but he was friendly in order to promote a healthy working environment, to make your vessel a pleasant place in which to work and live.”
“I know that! He was doing his job, a great job, because that’s how he is! He’s always been so wonderful at making a person feel welcomed and wanted, but he never saw! He never saw me!” she cried. Tears began to fall down Kellie’s cheeks, and she turned away again.
“I was just an engineer to him. He never saw a woman, he never saw someone with whom he might want a relationship or love. And even though I’ve known it all this time, I fell for him just the same.
“No matter how hard I’ve tried to forget how I feel, to deny how I feel,” she went on, “it’s still there. I would look forward to getting up and going into Engineering every day because I knew I’d see him. Just looking at him made my day. And when he smiled…”
His fascination grew as Kellie spoke. Doing his best to understand, he absorbed each word and turned it over in his mind, desperately wishing the emotions of these humans weren’t so complex.
“I suppose I should be glad I’m dead,” Kellie went on. “At least now I won’t be torturing myself any longer.”
The entity’s expression softened, even though she could not see it. He sensed her anguish, and hoped that what he was about to offer was enough to assuage her pain.
“Miss Petersen, I have something for you. A gift, if you will. I can show you your life, your life as it might have been,” he said slowly.
Kellie turned toward him once more. “What do you mean, ‘as it might have been’?” she asked.
“Just as I said, as it might have been. I can show you the life you could have had with Charles Tucker, if you so desire.”
She could have had a life with Trip? Why hadn’t she had that life already? What had she done to prevent it from happening? What could she have done differently? Nothing, she supposed. What had been, had been. But could she really pass up the chance to see what she could have had? A chance at even a glimpse of a life with the man she loved, who in this life was unable to love her?
“I guess what might have been is better than not at all,” Kellie said at last, wiping the tears from her face. “Okay, go for it. Do…whatever it is you do.”
The entity crossed over to Kellie and raised a hand to her cheek. She realized immediately that she did not feel his touch, no pressure of his hand against her skin, but a fuzzy sort of warmth. The warmth began to radiate and course throughout her body, and slowly she closed her eyes, letting the sensation carry her.
In flashes, she saw her past. Growing up. Her training at Starfleet Academy and her acceptance to serve aboard the first warp 5 vessel, Enterprise. She saw her first meeting with Captain Archer…and Commander Charles Tucker. She remembered the rush of her blood at her instant attraction to him, her reaction to the first smile directed at her. Much of their first several days together were the same, but then there were deviations.
It started with the first time they’d eaten together in the commissary. Before, Trip had asked if she minded his joining her, and they’d talked about problems they’d been having in Engineering. This time when she saw that day, the conversation didn’t stay on Engineering very long. He started asking her questions about herself he’d never asked before, and she him. Soon Kellie saw familiar events happen with a twist, such as she and Trip working closer together or more often, and other things that hadn’t happened at all. Before she knew it, a year and a half had passed—eighteen months in which Trip had fallen as hard for her as she had for him. Kellie could feel herself smiling, her heart swelling with love, and she couldn’t help wishing that everything she saw had really happened. That is, up until the accident.
She remembered now, as she saw it happening, how she had died. Something had gone wrong with the plasma manifold, and she, Commander Tucker and Lt. Barnes were working together on the malfunctioning unit.
Only they hadn’t done enough.
Just when they thought the manifold had been successfully repaired and they could sigh in relief, the unit exploded, spewing shrapnel and flames throughout half of Engineering. Barnes had knocked both her and the commander out of the way and taken the brunt of the explosion on himself, dying instantly. But the three of them had been so close to the source of the blast that having been between the two men, Kellie, too, had been mortally wounded. Trip had been seriously injured as well.
At that moment, the entity removed his hand and studied her, searching her countenance for a reaction to what she had seen.
“Wait! That can’t be everything!” Kellie exclaimed.
The entity was puzzled. “I have shown you all that might have been. It is unfortunate that I cannot prevent the end result from being the same as it was.”
“I…I understand that I’m dead, that I’m not going back. I understand that there are some things that can’t be changed. But can’t you show me what happened afterward? Did Trip survive the accident? Is the ship okay? All my friends and crewmates, did they make it?”
Kellie’s anxiety was plain. She seemed to have accepted that she would not be returning to her previous life, and she cared not that she had expired—it was those she loved whom she worried for now. The creature absorbed her reaction with intense curiosity, and wondered whether he should show her what he had seen. “There are…some things you may not wish to see,” he said slowly. “I have seen the outcome of that reality. Some of it you may find unpleasant.”
“I don’t care! I want to know what happens, I need to know that they’re okay! Please,” Kellie pleaded. “Please show me. I can handle it. What does it matter if I know? It’s not real, and I’m dead, anyway. Please, just show me.”
The being would have sighed had he been corporeal. As it was, he appeared to do just that, and with reluctance he raised his hand to her face again.
Kellie’s eyes fell closed once more, and she saw the ship. Engineering had been extensively damaged, but the crew had managed to contain the blast to the main engine room, preventing anything more serious happening. Several crewmembers and technicians had been injured—she and Barnes were the only ones killed in the explosion. Barnes had died instantly, and Kellie had passed shortly after arriving in the infirmary—there was simply nothing Dr. Phlox could do for her. But in losing her life, she had saved the commander’s. He was still critically injured, but when Barnes had pushed her, he had pushed her into Trip. When they’d fallen they’d landed face down, Trip underneath, Kellie catching most of the shards of metal and preventing the commander from being burned too badly by the flames.
Trip woke to Captain Archer’s relieved expression. He asked about Engineering, and then asked about Barnes and Kellie. Archer, knowing by that point of their relationship, had been reluctant to inform his still-critically wounded friend what had happened to her, but he’d had no choice. Trip didn’t take the news well. He became emotionally distraught, and soon depression settled in. After he recovered physically, he surprised everyone by requesting leave and returning to Earth. He never went back to Enterprise.
Again, the entity broke contact. “Now you have seen,” he said somberly.
“But that’s not possible!” Kellie exclaimed. “Trip’s stronger than that! He wouldn’t just give up his career, his life.”
“But he did. You have seen for yourself,” the entity replied. “If the reality which I have just shown you had been that in which you lived, what you have just seen would come to pass. It, too, could not be changed.”
Kellie was crushed. How could someone, once so happy, become nothing but a shell? She knew that in her reality Trip would grieve for her, of course—they’d been colleagues, even friends. But once he recovered from his injuries, he’d go back to work. He’d go on and continue the mission they’d set out together with the rest of the Enterprise crew to fulfill.
“Then I guess I should be happy that it didn’t happen that way,” she said at last. A tear escaped her efforts to contain it and slid down her cheek. “As much as I would like to have been able to love him, to really love him, I don’t care for the price of that love. I couldn’t—no, wouldn’t—do that to him.”
It occurred to Kellie then that the being had only shown her what might have been, not what would be. “In my reality, the one where I did live—the ship wasn’t destroyed, was it? Except for Barnes and me, everyone else is okay? That part is real?” And Trip doesn’t lose himself in grief?
Her companion nodded. “Your vessel remains intact, and your crewmates will go on. And so will Charles Tucker.”
She heaved a sigh of great relief. “I guess now it’s time for that ‘final transition’ you talked about, isn’t it? Let’s get on with it.”
The entity matched Kellie’s sad smile. He could feel her emotions of wistfulness, sadness, regret, and relief. She was content in the knowledge that, though she had seen a possible reality, it was not the one that truly existed. Charles Tucker would go on to have a full and rewarding career, a wife and a family. She was glad simply to have known him.
“Take my hand,” he said softly, reaching out to her.
Suddenly anxious about precisely what the ‘final transition’ entailed, Kellie reached slowly for the proffered hand. When the entity closed his hand around hers, she felt again the warmth, and again it spread through her. Her anxiety began to melt away, and she felt peace. She was no longer afraid.
Then the surrounding whiteness began to fade.
“All hands, stand at attention.”
Sub-commander T’Pol’s voice, naturally, lacked emotional resonance, but that didn’t make the occasion any less somber. Enterprise’s crew halted their respective tasks.
T’Pol nodded at Captain Archer, who turned his attention toward the forward viewscreen. His speech would be transmitted to every deck of the ship. “I wish the circumstances for this address were not what they are,” he began, still not sure what he was going to say. He’d lost two officers in the accident in Engineering, and several more were still in the infirmary undergoing Dr. Phlox’s care. Trip still hadn’t regained consciousness, but he would live—thanks to Lt. Barnes and Ensign Petersen.
“But nonetheless, our fallen comrades are owed a final farewell. Lieutenant Roger Barnes and Ensign Kellie Petersen may not have intended to lose their lives serving this ship and its crew, but they did, and I, for one, will forever be grateful for their sacrifice. They served on Enterprise with distinction, dedication, and an eagerness to explore where no one has ever been. It is now in their memory that we continue that mission.”
Archer looked then to Lt. Reed, who with a solemn expression pressed the control that launched first Barnes, then Petersen, out on their final journey.
He watched from his plane as Captain Jonathan Archer gave the short but appropriate eulogy. He watched as the pods containing the bodies of Roger Barnes and Kellie Petersen were jettisoned into the vacuum of space. After a few moments of respectful waiting, Enterprise turned and moved away. Soon the ship jumped to warp, and was out of sight.
The entity moved across the planes and approached the pod containing Kellie Petersen. He could see her through the casing as plainly as he had seen her on his plane, where her consciousness had manifested itself in the guise of her physical body. In death, she was as beautiful as she had been in life. His heart, if he’d had one, would have ached at the sight of her, would have ached for the loss of her. In his own way, over the years of watching her and studying her, he had come to care for her as she had for Charles Tucker. And because he did, he could not bear to let her go.
Reaching inside, he touched her face once again, and restored to Kellie Petersen that which the Denobulan Phlox could not. She slept now, not in death, but in life.
The entity then took the pod from this plane and moved it to another time and place.