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May/June Winner: "Not Until This World Burns"


Chen
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“Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret.” - Ambrose Pierce

The first rays of liminality shone through the parting clouds of rage and intoxication. The dull ache in Chen’s back and neck was a souvenir from having spent the night propped up against the bulkhead. The not so dull ache in his head was a souvenir from the amount of glow ale that he’d consumed. His parched mouth craved water just as his head craved solace from the memories of the previous night that were ranked along the borders of his conscious mind. An invasion was looming.

The computer recognised the scratch of his desiccant voice and obediently produced a glass of clear, cool liquid. Today would be a day where the world would stop crashing down around him, leaving confusion and shame in its wake.

Once again, his mind leapt back to his childhood, reinforcing the bridge that had been built the previous night. He’d felt this way the morning after his talk with Dar, his charan; the emotional blow he’d taken that day had not led him to a bottle of ale but had instead shaped his life up to this point. The memories that had pooled behind the [...] came bursting forward, overwhelming his defences and threatening to drown him in an irresistible tide…

The blue-green grasses of the Irimari plains sighed in murmurs of a youth of too quick a passing. Laughter from a distant farmstead carried on the breeze in recognisable peals. Chen and Dar had been walking in silence for some time, the reason for their stroll along the plains driven between them like a wedge. Chen’s antennae twitched as he concentrated on preventing them from indicating the full extent of his anger; his heart was heavy in the knowledge that the parent to whom he was closest was so disappointed in him. Each footfall brought with it the temptation to break the near silence, to goad his charan into saying what he had brought him here to say. Yet, out of respect, Chen waited. He was resentful that Dar had chosen this particular time, a visit to see long standing family friends, to confront him on this issue. Escape was impossible; it had been a long time since their last visit and Chen had no intention of causing their current hosts any worry or acting in a manner that might offend them. That left him with no other option than to weather the incoming storm.

Finally, Dar stopped, turning to look back at the farm rather than Chen as he laid down the first brick in what Chen already knew would grow to become an insurmountable wall between them.

“I heard that you have broken your bond.” The older chan took in a slow breath. His sombre tone was laced with bitter dissatisfaction. “That there is to be no shelthreth.

It was a decision that Chen had not taken lightly. The woes that befell an Andorian that broke his bond were well known to all after the media had blown every incident involving ChariVretha zh’Thane’s chei, Shar, out of all proportion. He had been forced to live with the disgrace of reneging on his obligation to further the Andorian genome for every minute of his Starfleet career. Chen was eighteen, the right age to tread that same path. Pursuing a career in the fleet, however, was not the reason for his withdrawal from the bond that had been prearranged for so long.

“Even more disturbing than that,” Dar continued, still refusing to face his chei, “are the alleged reasons behind your choice.”

Chen nodded grimly. “You’ve been talking to Shalla.”

Dar was the only one of his parents with whom he had not discussed this matter; it was not that he respected them less but simply that he knew all too well what Dar’s reaction would be. He had made the mistake of thinking that leaving him until last would give him time to prepare more carefully what he might say. Of those that remained, his shreva was the one he considered most likely to have passed on his reasons for breaking his bond.

Dar’s antennae swept backwards dramatically as his rage flared. “It doesn’t matter who told me!” Just as quickly, he forced his temper back under control. “What matters is that it is not too late for you to reverse your decision and fulfil your obligation to your people, despite what you believe your personal rights to be. The Whole comes first, Chen, always.”

The younger of the two chan was shaking his head before his elder could finish speaking. How could he just change a fundamental aspect of who he was? He had never been attracted to zhen or shen; the only other member of his bond for whom he had feelings strong enough to perform the shelthreth was Toren, their thaan. He understood tradition. He understood obligation. They were things he took very seriously but he could not understand why Andorian culture would mandate him to perform a sexual act with which he was not comfortable, in violation of his own personal wishes. In truth, he was also struggling to understand why his charan, with whom he had always been close, would force him into honouring that custom. His antennae roamed in confusion and disbelief. He had planned his defence, for want of a better word, since the moment the bond had been broken, yet no part of it seemed appropriate. How should he justify himself where no justification should be warranted? How should he rationalise that which ought not to be rationalised?

“I cannot put the Whole first, Charan.” He struggled to contain his own anger. What right had anyone to make him feel ashamed of who he was? “If my being Whole requires me to mate with three others in violation of who I am then I have no other option than to break my bond.”

“Violation?” Dar laughed at the idea. “Violation of who you are? You are an Andorian, my chei, and bound by the same obligations as are we all. If your current obsession with only one other gender causes you to miss this opportunity, think how you will regret it in later life. Think how we all will regret it.”

Chen was deeply insulted that Dar could think that his expression of sexual preference was based on some whim that would fade, as fickle as the chill breeze that whistled across the plains. He knew better than that.

“Had I remained with my former bond mates, it would be me that regretted it. I have no such obsession, and my interest is not limited to thaan. It extends to other chan as well.”

A terrible silence fell. Dar looked up to the sky as if searching for answers from Uzaveh himself, his antennae parting in an expression of… concern? Chen’s feelings began to coalesce into something he hadn’t imagined he would ever feel while talking to his charan: despair. Dar pitied him. This was worse than he could ever have thought.

“We have contacts who could put us in touch with some very good psychotherapists in Laikan. I’ll place a few calls and we can…”

“There’s nothing wrong with me.” Chen interrupted. How could he make Dar see that? Rather than listening to him, the elder chan raised his voice, insistent on completing what he had to say.

“…get you the best possible therapy. We’ll find out exactly what the problem is, then the family will pool together so that we can have you treated…”

“There’s nothing wrong with me!” Chen’s despair was mounting. What were they going to do? They could dig around in his head as much as they wanted, peel back every last layer of his defences. He would be the same, right to the core. There was no switch he could toggle on and off. Dar’s voice raised yet another notch.

“…and help you to return to a point where you are willing and able to contribute to the future of your race in the way that all Andorians are expected to contribute: to address the continuing issue of our shrinking population…”

“THERE’S NOTHING WRONG WITH ME!”

Despite the force behind his assertion, Chen’s antennae were not flat to his skull in the usual expression of rage but hanging forwards as a sign of his anguish. The outburst had finally been sufficient to cut Dar off, who stared at him through cold eyes, looking deep into his heart, searching for a way to force his point home.

“You are a sexual deviant. You have already brought disgrace on our clan by dissolving your bonds. Do not make this any worse than it already is. Accept the help that you are being offered.”

“And then what?” His voice was pained, but he refused to back down. “Live the rest of my life as a lie? The bond means nothing to me. Would you have rather had an automaton for a chei? Someone that you could program to follow your every command? Someone who could not be identified among a crowd as the individual that they are?”

Dar’s face betrayed his disgust. “If you must defy the will of Uzaveh and turn your back on your people to be individual then yes. Perhaps I would prefer that. Our concept of the Whole is the foundation on which our civilisation is built, Chen. It represents strength through the unity of the four genders: thaan, chan, shen, zhen.”

“And as a concept it is flawed,” the youngster interrupted. Evidently there was still a measure of bravery left in him as he went so far as to challenge Andorian culture itself. He knew how much that culture meant to his charan, but the rift between them was widening by the second. If he could not make him see sense now then perhaps he never would. “Our world is dying. We refuse to explore scientific means to prevent that from happening. We refuse to take real steps to save our race. Tell me now which you think is more perverse. A chan whose sexual preference does not fall in line with your expectations or a society that willingly dooms itself by refusing to bring itself out of the past?”

Dar closed the distance between them in an instant, grabbing Chen roughly by the wrist and twisting until his chei’s face was just inches from his own. His teeth were clenched as he leaned in to hiss the words that would cause Chen to form his resolve once and for all.

“Not until this world burns in the fire of our sun will I stop loving you but, as long as you hold such an opinion, you cannot be my chei.”

He hurled Chen to one side, the pain from whose bruised wrist could not compare to the agony of his shattered heart. It would be hours before he could gather himself enough to return to their hosts, by which time everyone had retired for the night. Within a few more weeks, he would take the decision to leave Andoria for good in search of a life that he could live as his true self.

The uninvited memory, stirred by comparable pain that had been caused by the breakdown of his unexpectedly strong relationship with Greir Reinard, reminded him of how grimly resolved he had been when he had left his homeworld. The previous night, he had questioned whether or not Dar had been right, whether he should have taken him up on his offer. It was easy to believe that he was broken somehow, flawed more profoundly that he could ever imagine. ‘Easy’ was never something he had subscribed to, however, and that was not about to change. He would do what was right. He wasn’t a statistic, a failed experiment unworthy of inclusion in society. Nor was he a lovesick fool, too naïve to charge blindly into a situation where he would be vulnerable again so soon. He was what he had always been: himself. No matter how painful that made things for now, that was how things would remain.

“I never regret anything. Because every little detail of your life is what made you into who you are in the end.” - Drew Barrymore

Captain Diego Herrera

Commanding Officer

USS Vigilant

NCC-75515

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