Arthur felt incredibly sick when he left the XO's office. Part of him wanted to stop right there, turn around, and head back to his quarters. At least then he could bury himself in his blanket like he did as a child on Rigel. Whenever he heard a scream from outside, or heard the hovercopters blow past his window, he hid under it and covered his ears. He got to know so many people on the streets growing up, but they'd always disappear with a scream. They'd either be taken away by the police or beaten to death by those Syndicate thugs because they never paid back a loan. That's why it had been so jarring stepping off that planet and on to Earth, where each night was eerily silent and peaceful.
The only trouble? He couldn't unhear those screams. They remained with him all these years, and they continued to trouble him now. When he thought about it, he wondered if it wouldn't have been better just to be assimilated. At least all those voices might drown them out.
This wasn't a decision he took lightly. He knew what he had to do. He shouldn't have come here in the first place. There was no room for someone with his history on a ship as respectable as this. With one final step, he reached out and rang the door chime to the Captain's office.
"Come in!" replied the voice on the other side of the door.
Arthur caught sight of Alenis as she wandered over to a jar of mint leaves to grab a garnish for her tea. He did his best not to narrow his eyes, though his brow still creased as he stepped in. "Captain--"
"Hold it," said the captain, interrupting her senior officer for a moment before taking a sip of her tea. As the warm, minty liquid made its way into her stomach, she closed her eyes and breathed a deep sigh of relief, her mind wandering back to the spa on Trill. After a quick breath, she looked back at Arthur. "I try not to make a habit of working before I've had my morning tea. Care for some?"
"Afraid I've never met a tea that agrees with my stomach," Arthur readily admitted as he put a hand on the back of the chair across from Alenis' desk. He thought back to his breakfast of choice and realized he'd missed out on it that day. "I can say the same for the Portland."
"Oh?" asked Alenis, raising an eyebrow as she placed the tea back on her desk, alarmed at Arthur's admission that things on the Portland weren't agreeing with him. "Is something wrong, Lieutenant?"
That's when Arthur finally put a second hand on the back of the chair and started explaining all the events that led to where he was now. Obviously, he tried to cut the story short so as not to waste the captain's time, and so he wouldn't bring to light anything that needed to stay in the dark. Finally, he concluded, "I don't know what Bel meant about a number. But I know that this uniform never fit right. And after that incident with the Yridian, I'm starting to realize I'm not who I'm trying to be. Now there's a future me out there, somewhere, and I have to sit here wondering if he wouldn't be here now because of that damn stunt I pulled."
"Captain," Arthur realized he'd have to get to the point. He hated long goodbyes, if only because they reminded him he'd never cared about a place - or a ship - long enough to stretch one out when it was time to move on. "I request to be discharged from Starfleet before I can do any more damage. There's no place for me here... and there shouldn't be."
Alenis was taken aback. Arthur's story was surprising, to say the least, and the conclusion was no less. She started him in the eyes, pondering his request for a moment, before speaking. "Your request is denied," she replied, her tone as firm and captain-like as she could muster, even though she knew she didn't have the authority to prevent an officer from resigning his commission during peacetime.
"Why?" For once in his life, he sounded more desperate and confused rather than melancholic or void of emotion. "I'm a security risk. I lied to Starfleet. I ignored the Federation Charter. I could've started a political incident if the Yridians chose to press charges!"
"And you think that resigning your commission and running away from these problems is the best way to deal with it?" Alenis tented her fingers and leaned back into her chair, gazing into the eyes of the Lieutenant in front of her. "This is how you plan to rectify and learn from your mistakes, how you plan to become the better person? Just up and quit?"
Alenis' response gave Arthur pause, though more out of guilt than surprise. After a moment of silence, he explained, "How much longer before I learn from my mistakes, captain? How many more people have to get hurt before I get past this?" In an almost tired-sounding voice, he added, "It's been ten years. My whole career started with the death of a cadet. It didn't get any better from there."
"I have read your personnel file, Lieutenant, that's why I insisted on bringing you aboard as my Chief Tactical Officer." She leaned forward slightly, her dark eyes almost staring into Arthur's very soul. "I know you've had a bit of a checkered past. The incident at the academy, as well as whatever you had to do to survive before you joined Starfleet. But I've also seen something else in you. Foiling an assassination attempt; the negotiations with the L'Waht..."
Standing up from her desk, Alenis paced back and forth across her office a couple times, glancing out the window, before returning her piercing gaze to Arthur. "Do you know why we're out here?" she asked.
"I don't," Arthur openly admitted. "But I'm betting you do."
"It's not to explore space, or to defend ourselves from galactic threats. We're here to better ourselves, and to better all the people who make up this Federation. Through scientific discovery, diplomacy, and yes, from time to time, defense. And part of that, as Starfleet officers, is holding ourselves to a higher standard. And when we fail to meet that standard -- which happens often -- we grow and learn and become better people as a result." Alenis paused for a moment, detecting a little bit of doubt on Arthur's face. As a Bajoran, she knew that doubt all too well. Many of her people did not want Bajor to join the Federation, and many others sympathized with the Maquis. And to some extent, the clean corridors of even a century old starship and the pristine cities of Earth were very different from the occupied Bajor she remembered. "Now, I know for someone with your background, that might sound a little silly. Like something that a bunch of galactic do-gooders with no understanding of what things are actually like on the border worlds might say. And maybe to some extent that's true."
Pausing for a moment, Alenis turned back towards Arthur. "But look at how far you've come since you first joined the academy. You need Starfleet, as much as it needs people like you, whether you like to admit it or not." Alenis took a deep breath. "So, no, I won't accept your resignation."
Finally, Arthur slowly lowered himself into the chair across from Alenis' desk. For a moment, he didn't say anything, eyes staring off into space or at whatever speck of dust he could find on the captain's desk. But when he spoke again, he faced her with an uncertain look. "Captain, I won't lie. I did those things because I felt they'd make me a better person. But both times, I did the most deplorable things. In the assassination attempt, I pretended to be that young ensign's friend. She and I were so alike, all we had was each other. So what did I do? I laid out a carpet of silk for her to rest on, then I pulled it out from under her." A pause, then he continued. "When I negotiated with the L'Waht, I used them as an excuse to avoid an ambassador who -- who could read my mind, who pitied me." In a regretful tone, he said, "But, in the end, I knew all she wanted was to help me... and I -- I told her she couldn't swoop in and save me. She couldn't stop the nightmares, the pain... nobody can."
He leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees as he brought his hands, clasped loosely together, up to his face, where they briefly lingered over his lips until he spoke again. "Then this incident with the Yridians... captain, I really believed they were the same ones responsible for stealing that data from the Intelligence outpost. But I was so intent on finding out before they left, I took matters into my own hands and lied to a Starfleet officer. Next thing I know, I find out they didn't have the data, so I stole navigational data and put it on to a data rod. The next day, I wake up to find it gone before I knew what to do with it, and then I find out some version of me from a parallel future stole it?
"I don't have anywhere to go beyond the Federation, I know that," Arthur had to admit that difficult truth. He fled from his home on Rigel, and he couldn't go back. But he had nowhere else to go. "But I can't let more people get hurt because of something I did."
"And you think the best way to prevent people from getting hurt is to just turn in your commission and run away from your problems?" asked Alenis, both incredulous and disappointed in the Lieutenant. "You resign, and then what? We still have a future version of yourself running around, doing prophets-know-what to interfere with the timeline. A violation of the temporal prime directive that you swore to uphold. Not to mention that whatever data these Yridians had, your future self clearly thought it was important enough to steal, and the fact that they didn't press charges tells me that they don't want the authorities to know about it either."
Alenis took a sip of her tea and then placed the cup back on her desk before staring into Arthur's eyes once more with a gaze that could melt carbonite. "Regardless," she said, with a wave of her hand, "you have two choices in front of you. You can do the right thing, come clean, take whatever reprimand Starfleet dishes out, and fix your mistakes, or you could run away and go back to whatever you were before you joined Starfleet and leave this mess for someone else to clean up." With that, Alenis spun in her chair and faced the stars. Her composure was slightly shaken; as a commanding officer, she felt as though she failed one of her senior officers. And the last thing she would do was let him fall.
"The choice is yours."
Arthur briefly averted his eyes when she glared daggers at him and proceeded to berate him with all the force he'd come to expect from a superior officer. When she was finished, he almost didn't know what to say, until a thought occurred to him. "You know, I ask myself each night what could motivate me to abandon everything I worked for. What kind of future would I have to endure to turn against everything I want to believe in?" Pause, followed by a deep breath. "Then I realize that it's easier to take the beast out of the jungle than the jungle out of the beast."
Then Arthur lowered his head. "Have you ever seen an orphanage on Earth, captain? You know, those ones where they keep those kids they bring in from the more violent parts of the quadrant? Children that were forced to kill, to steal, to--" He stopped, catching himself before he could go too far. But now his attention was focused squarely on her. "How many of those children do you see serving in Starfleet? How many of them did you see living good and normal lives after?" A stern frown crept on to his face as he narrowed his eyes. "Not many. And why do you think that is?" Before she could even answer, unintentionally ignoring the unspoken rules of Starfleet etiquette, he said, "Because nobody could help them."
Alenis sighed. She knew that often people from those outer worlds had difficulty in Starfleet. But on the other hand, she grew up on occupied Bajor, which was no picnic either.
"You said we're out here to better ourselves. Well, I want to captain. But sometimes, want isn't enough. Because when something goes wrong, when something happens that requires me to act on instinct... the last thing I'll be thinking about is whether or not my actions are morally right or wrong. Why?" Without pausing, he stood and put his hands on his hips as he began to pace, clearly agitated with himself. "Because that's how I grew up: on Rigel. That damned planet made me..." For a moment, he nearly choked on his words, but he stood tall and tried not to show any sign of weakness. "It turned me into a monster. And even after ten years - ten years... I still haven't changed the core of who I am."
"You want to talk about who you are; let's talk about who you are going to become." Alenis looked up at Arthur, almost pleading with him. "You have to stay in Starfleet. If only to stop yourself from becoming that future Arthur out there, tampering the timeline." She paused for a moment for emphasis, and glanced over at a religious icon mounted on her wall. Thinking back to what she had seen in visions from the prophets when she came back, she looked back up at him. "Arthur, the prophets have shown me the future. At least, one possible future. I've seen what you become." Pausing again, she took a deep breath before continuing. "The only thing which is different in that timeline is that I'm not there. Now," she said, looking into his eyes, "maybe I'm an idealist. But as someone who was born on occupied Bajor, who came to earth as a refugee with my mother with nothing but the clothes on our backs, and who now commands a Starfleet vessel, perhaps my idealism could be excused as a product of my upbringing. Regardless, as the only difference between this timeline and the one I've seen, it's up to me to prevent you from becoming him. Arthur," she said, staring him down, "stick with me and I won't let you fall. Leave Starfleet, and there is nothing I can do."
That stopped Arthur for a second. He grew quiet and bowed his head as she spoke, still not willing to face her right away as she explained her position. When she mentioned the prophets, he at first began to shake his head, as if he thought the mere mention of them wouldn't convince him. Then she pointed out her own origins from the occupation, and that made him turn and look back at her, his brow creased. But as she continued, his gaze grew distant, and he realized she had a point. Once he found the courage to speak again, he could only face her, his commanding officer, with a distinct sense of unease, arms crossed as if he were caught in a blizzard.
"Thank you, captain," he managed to say in a somewhat broken voice as his expression softened. "If only I was so sure--" His eyes closed a moment, and he shook his head to get those thoughts out of him. He couldn't afford to think that way if she was right. "No, you're right. The more I think about it, the more it makes sense. I only wish we knew what my future self was after." Arthur started pacing anxiously. "Why would he be after the Yridians? What the hell is in that data they stole?" He stopped and looked to the captain for answers once again. "Does Starfleet Intelligence normally keep senior officers in the dark? They wouldn't do anything to jeopardize the Federation, would they?"
"There is classified information, some of which is above my pay grade," admitted Alenis. Most of her interactions with Starfleet Intelligence had been left her feeling irritated at being kept in the dark on the whole story due to classified information. But she had never thought that they had been working against the Federation. "But I can't imagine Starfleet Intelligence doing anything to harm the Federation." She took a deep breath, trying to wrap her head around the whole situation. "I also have a feeling that this isn't the last we've heard of your future self."