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[2009: MAY-JUN] The Symbolic Tomb

Rocar Drawoh

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The Symbolic Tomb

By Toni Turner

Standing at attention, Captain Laura Willingham quietly observed her crew being buried in a symbolic tomb. Supposedly, the representation would encase the remains of their lifeless bodies so they would dwell in the repository for safekeeping throughout the eons of time, but judging from the size of the casket, the catastrophe left far too few remains to justify a remembrance of such grandeur.

She thought of her Bridge Crew fondly, picturing them at their consoles, working together to fight the unknown. They were so young, filled with promise, well-versed in their duties, and in her estimation, fit to wear pips far beyond their rank designation. In Laura's mind, she questioned the validity of the well-meaning logic of the symbolism. oO If the Federation can design a casket to hold them in safekeeping in death, why couldn't they have done the same for them in life and protected them from their enemy? Oo

Her eyes lifted, and she gazed across the hallowed field to the tear stained face belonging to a young woman, one of many who had also come to show their respect to the fallen crew. In her arms, a baby rested quietly at her bosom. Laura contemplated the scene. oO New life will not come from the lifelessness found here. Is it too much to ask that these orphaned children be the last to lose a parent? Oo

Laura pondered that question, then resigned herself to the facts. oO Of course it’s too much to ask. It’s something that happens in life, and although we hope to find the reason for children who must cry alone, we cannot justify the sense of it. Oo

Laura's vessel, the USS Andrea Doria, had suffered the same fate as its namesake. She wondered, oO Had it been its destiny from the beginning to have an ill-fated crew? Was it happenstance or had it been the predestined climax of events rendering it foredoom to failure? Oo

Replaying the events, her mind’s eye saw the collision with the enemy ship. A burst of blinding light, then the blackness of space became aglow with a million particles and ambers twisting violently through the heavens. No fireworks display had ever been so spectacular, nor heart and soul wrenching.

She began to slump, but the young Aide standing beside her, caught hold of her elbow, and steadied her stance. With concern in his voice Ensign Pitts inquired, "Are you okay, Ma'am?"

Giving him a weary smile, she tried to answer honestly, "Yes, Pitts, I'll be fine. It's . . . well, I was remembering."

Her Aide nodded as if he knew exactly what she meant, but how could he? No one had seen her view of the tragic scene, unless . . . oO Oh, that's right he was the one who helped me from sickbay to the shuttle. Oo She gave him a strained smile, dismissing his hold, and stood up straight on her own volition, determined to see the ceremony through.

Scores of Federation Officials were in attendance. All of them proclaiming the bravery of the ill-fated crew and posthumously awarding them with the accolades that Laura felt they should have had in life rather than death. oO How many requests for commendations did I send . . . a hundred? . . . two hundred? Oh, yes now I remember . . . the same number that went unanswered. Oo

As a bugler played his rendition of taps, the casket was lowered slowly into the tear dampened ground, then the attendees filed by, adding handfuls of sod, until the grave was covered. Watching the crowd walk away, Laura imagined them starting life anew. It was a bitter pill to know her crew could not do the same.

Her emotionless facade threatened to fall as the honor guard moved away so the headstone could be placed, but when she read the inscription, her knees buckled. Again Ensign Pitts steadied her, "Ma'am it's time to go. May I have the honor of escorting you?"

She nodded, giving Pitts a slight smile, knowing the validity of his wisdom. Leaning on him, they walked until they vanished from the field. She had done all she could do for her crew in life, and now, a piece of her heart would dwell with them in death.

A few moments later a young woman with a baby at her bosom stood quietly reading the headstone inscription.

"Dedicated to the memory of Captain Laura Willingham and the crew of the USS Andrea Doria NCC 285996 - Lost in Battle 238603.22 "

Weeping bitterly, the woman whispered the question she desperately sought to be answered, "Why did you go back, Mother?"

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