Note: This story may make more sense if you read “Dance of Chameleon and Mirror”, in my Q section, first.
I’m standing at a grave with two men beside me, and it’s my fault.
Not solely my fault. I am not that arrogant. But enough of it is my fault that my heart is breaking for them, for the man who is dead because of my mistakes and the two men who stand, hands clasped, both eerily in control of their grief though one is Human and the other is half that. It was a year ago, but a year is a blink of an eye to me. And, though they are much younger, an eyeblink to them as well, I think. At least for this. At least in their grief for this man’s death.
I remember him only vaguely--an impression of gold, of power, in the midst of my nightmare. Even as his mayfly existence was breaking down too soon, as it does for all Humans, I could feel the flicker of his strength, his will, as he pulled us back from the brink of Heaven and returned us to the World-That-Is. It took me years to forgive him for that, and some, obviously, never did. But it was necessary, and I learned gratitude, eventually. The World-That-Is is harder than any joyful illusion, but it is real, and for that reason it is where I belong, as painful as it can be at times. I never thought I would have a chance to express my gratitude, and I didn’t. I thought he was dead, which was not true then, and that I would never see him again, which, as it turned out, was.
Now I’m standing at his grave with two men--the one that loved him and was not there when he died either time, and the one who took his place. Who was there for his friend as he could not be, there for his father as he could not be. Who was there for me, when I was a child and again when he was, and I was a woman broken by loss. Who stood in the place I escaped and was consumed by what swallowed all that I knew, but unlike them, came back.
They stand, heads bowed. Neither weeps, and so neither can I. I am a mirror, I am what people need me to be. They need not to break. They need not to let their pain overwhelm them and break their control. And so I can’t set them off, although I would weep if I could. It is partly my fault this has happened. I cannot make matters worse for them.
When you are my age you don’t take the blame for the universe’s actions lightly. Children think that Daddy left because they were bad or Mommy died because they were angry at her. I know better. I don’t blame myself for the things I could have changed. But I blame myself for decisions made of arrogance, for the belief that I knew best, and what it did to everyone.
Behind my eyes lay the toppled towers of an ancient civilization, hundreds of thousands of years old, destroyed in a matter of months. Days, if one considers only our heart, our home, the center of all our worlds. I remember seeing the homeworld turned to ashes, remember catching up with a group of refugees and desperately fleeing our implacable, unreasonable enemy.
That was my fault, too. A spoiled child with too much power told me he’d save us all, if I’d meet his price. And I misjudged him. I saw what was coming, but couldn’t see exactly what or how to stop it. In my arrogance I thought we’d be better off dead than saved by him, that if we couldn’t find a way to stop what was coming then it was only our fate. I couldn’t imagine, even as old as I was then, what genocide was really *like*. I couldn’t see that the death of my people would not be a true death, that they would be consumed in a living soulless death and their bodies would walk, with their memories, but not their minds or hearts. I didn’t know that *anything*, even bargaining with a spirit of Chaos, would be better than that.
I don’t blame him. I hate him, so profoundly that in a hundred years I have not been able to let go of the hate, but I don’t *blame* him. He acted according to his nature. I was the one who should have read that nature, I was the one who should have understood what he was after. I should have known that if he was making the offer he already knew that there was no other way for us to survive, and I should have realized that my life, my soul, would have been a small price to pay for my entire civilization. My pride, my fear, my misjudgment. My fault.
And when I knew what my failure had done, when I knelt on the ruins of my world and wept, I would have done anything to undo what I had done, to undo the time, although it was the greatest sin an Adept could commit. I asked him, and he would not, and left, his revenge complete with watching me broken far enough to beg him for the worst thing my people had ever imagined, because I felt our imagination had failed and what took us in the end was far far worse. And I fled, and my ship failed, and I rejoined refugees of my people. And they came, the soulless ones, and attacked, and our ship was failing, and we would die and worse than die, our souls consumed. I knew what fate awaited us. I had seen.
I tried to undo the time.
An El-Aurian Adept has powers over time. We can see the lines of fate, and with great power we can alter them. But we cannot simply reverse time, change the universe retroactively--our power works going forward but cannot alter the World-That-Is. I didn’t know that then. I thought I could change the past. Instead all I could do was summon an illusion.
It was my power that drew the Nexus. And we fell in.
How long we were carried within I don’t know. Time stops there, and the world becomes a joyous illusion where everything you’ve ever wanted is in your grasp. I do know that we covered a distance that would have taken our ships two years to traverse. But because time had stopped for us, for our minds, we could not repair our ship, which being material and non-sentient was still bound to time. It was falling apart as it drifted across the Nexus. When the Starfleet vessel found us we were on the verge of death, but we didn’t know it. We would have happily remained within and died for our illusions rather than return to the World-That-Is. And when the Starfleet officers pulled us from the Nexus, disoriented and broken, we awoke to the World-That-Is like one wakens from a beautiful dream, and we cursed them for waking us. There is no death within the Nexus because time cannot affect anything that has a mind, there. We would have floated within and lived in illusion forever.
We didn’t have the strength to turn our backs on that, not after the Borg destroyed all that we were. *They* did. My dear friend, and the man who died to save us and died again a year ago. Because lives were at stake, because they could make a difference, because they could change the World-That-Is, they turned their backs on an illusion of Heaven and returned to what is real, and one of them died for it.
Because I summoned the Nexus to swallow us. And because I would not do it again, when Tolian Soran begged it of me. I knew what was best, you see. I was an ancient Adept and he a mere child, hardly two centuries old, and I knew that the World-That-Is, as hard as it is, would be better than the illusion of happiness he sought. All that he loved was dead. He needed to accept that, and move on with his life. I told him so.
And he might have been able to, except that he could remember the Nexus. Because I showed it to him. I drew it, in my pain and fear. And then I would not give it to him again. So he found a way to take it, a way that would have cost 600,000 innocent lives, and instead cost one hero’s, and his own.
“He died as he would have wished,” his best friend, the one half Vulcan, half Human, was saying. His voice rasped, and even as he tried to exert Vulcan control I could hear the pain in it. I can always hear the pain in what people say, even when they say nothing. I can never stop listening for that.
“He shouldn’t have died that way,” I say, whispering. Another way. Another act of heroism. I have no illusions; he’d be dead by now anyway if he hadn’t fallen into the Nexus for 80 years. A Human like that doesn’t live to grow old. But this was not the way he should have died. This was due to my mistakes.
“Perhaps not,” his friend says. “He said to us once that he was sure he would die alone. I am grateful to see that in the end, that was not the case.” He rests his hand on my friend’s shoulder. “Once again, you have done for my cherished ones what I could not. You have my gratitude.”
“If I had been able to save him, I would perhaps deserve your gratitude, Spock.”
“No, Captain Picard. He chose the manner of his death, not you. He gave his life to save innocents. And I very much doubt he regretted any of it.”
*It’s my fault*, I want to say. *I summoned the Nexus. I pulled him in. I showed it to Soran and drove him mad. All because I could not control my grief, for the doom that I could have prevented and didn’t.*
I don’t say any of those things. I listen. I don’t speak. I am many times older than anyone I know, than even the few survivors I still know of from my world, and there is no one I can ever confide in, no one who should listen to me. That is not my role.
“You’re very quiet, Guinan,” Picard says. He knows me better than I wish he did.
I smile sadly. “I’m listening to the two of you. I didn’t even really know him. Just met him for a few minutes, while he was saving us.”
He nods. “I see.” And turns back to Spock. “I’m returning to my ship. If you would like a few moments alone...”
“Actually, I’d appreciate it if Guinan remained with me a few minutes.”
This doesn’t surprise me. Even Vulcans need to talk to a sympathetic ear sometimes. And this one is half Human. “I can do that.”
“Then I’ll leave you two. Call when you’re ready to return.” He touches his combadge. “*Enterprise*, one to beam up.”
Even before he fully disappears, Spock says, “You blame yourself. That is illogical.”
I am startled. Vulcans are hardly known for their empathy. “What makes you say that?”
“That blaming yourself is illogical?”
“That I blame myself in the first place.”
“I lived with Leonard McCoy for entirely too long,” he says dryly. “And I grew to understand my own people in the years I spent there after my service in Starfleet had ended. Your emotional control is excellent, but I am used to reading Vulcans. I can see it clearly.”
“Why do you think you’re seeing that?”
“Don’t ask questions to prevent me from noticing you aren’t giving answers. The tactic does not distract me. If you choose not to answer me, tell me so.”
He has, I think, the right to know.
“I summoned the Nexus in the first place,” I say softly. “None of this would have happened if I hadn’t lost control of myself.”
His eyebrow raises. “Fascinating. I take it Picard doesn’t know you can do this?”
“No. And I’d appreciate it if you didn’t tell him.” I had told him a half-truth, that my time in the Nexus had attuned me to it, giving me my powers over time. Well, perhaps that wasn’t even a half-truth. Perhaps it was an outright lie. But I couldn’t have told him it was the other way around. “He has great respect for me. I’ve tried to teach him that too much power in the hands of those who live in Time is dangerous--that nothing which can die can be trusted with such power, and that includes a lot of entities that don’t think of themselves as creatures that can die. If he knew how much power I have, he wouldn’t start distrusting me; he’d accept the power. And he shouldn’t. He should distrust anyone with such power, including me. But he wouldn’t. It would encourage him to think such power can be controlled, and would set him up for a fate I don’t want to see happen to him. So I’d rather you didn’t tell.”
“I have seen a great many abuses of such power,” he agrees. “And if you did summon the Nexus in a moment of emotional weakness, I can certainly understand why you believe such power should never be held by mortals. I will not tell Picard.”
“But I do not wish you to blame yourself, either. Soran made his own choices, and it was by them that Jim died. You didn’t kill him.”
“No. But I set in motion the events that did. And I should have known better.”
“Your entire planet had been destroyed. Illogical behavior is to be expected in such circumstances. I have participated in plans to alter the timeline in order to save Earth, and Jim was the planner. He would have forgiven you. As do I.”
“Thank you. But it doesn’t help. I can’t forgive myself.” I stare down at the grave. “I’ve been trying to work out the guilt by helping people in small ways for nearly 80 years, and now it turns out something I did during that time, that I *thought* was wise, led Soran to this. I could have just given him the Nexus, but I didn’t. I thought he needed to get over it. And he did, but, as it turns out, he couldn’t, so what good did it do to tell him to do it? He just tried to find another way.”
“You are not responsible for his actions. You tried to help him, with the information you had at the time. I do not believe you can see the future any more than the rest of us can.”
“Not per se.” And I hadn’t even looked at Soran’s line to see how far it would extend, whether he would, in fact, ever get over it.
“Then it is still illogical to blame yourself.”
“I’m not a Vulcan. Telling me it’s illogical isn’t going to make me stop.”
“Would you consider the possibility of taking on another project, then, to try to... I believe you said ‘work out the guilt’?”
“You have something in mind?”
“I have been working on Romulus for the benefit of the Romulan people, for many years now. I believe that by doing so I can help the Romulans improve their own lives and also cease to be a threat to the other species around them. Perhaps they may even be able to teach my own people something, someday. For a time my work was compromised by a betrayal. I intend to return now. A person with a gift for understanding what people truly think and believe when they speak would be invaluable in my work.”
“I hardly look like a Romulan.”
“There are surgical techniques that can assist with that.”
I consider. I had never thought of using my gifts to protect others from betrayal. But then, there’s a reason for that. “I’m sorry. I can’t Listen to people with an ulterior motive in mind. I think it’s an empath you need, not someone like me.”
“I see.” He nods. “What will you do then?”
“Picard’s new ship doesn’t have a bar, so...” I shrug. “Find somewhere to work, I guess. Try to make a difference a little bit at a time.”
“An admirable ambition.” He means it. “If you change your mind, Captain Picard will be able to obtain the codes to reach me.”
“I doubt I will. But thanks for the offer.”
“One does not thank logic,” he says, but if he were full Human he’d be smiling. “I will be returning to my quarters to meditate now.”
“I think I’ll do that too.”
He calls the new *Enterprise* to beam us up. My quarters are in a different direction than his, so we part ways almost immediately. I’d offer him a drink, but it doesn’t do for Vulcans what it does for Humans or most other species--they’re affected by it the same way physically, but they don’t perceive the effect as pleasurable or a release.
What he says does have a logic from a purely pragmatic standpoint. I didn’t hold a gun to Soran’s head to make him do these things. And I was out of my right mind when I called the Nexus in the first place, or I’d never have done it. In fact if I’d known exactly what I was doing I wouldn’t have done it; I was trying to change the World-That-Is to the World-That-Could-Be rather than summoning an illusion. But it doesn’t matter. When you have power like mine you have to take responsibility for what you do, for what you set in motion. That’s the way it works.
James Kirk is dead twice and both times the result of what I have caused. The fact that his best friend knows this and forgives me anyway helps a little. But not enough.
I watch the stars go by the porthole in my quarters, distorted by warp speed as we leave the planet, and wonder how long it will be before it is enough.