Kat didn't want to be around people.
But she didn't want to be alone, either. In less than twenty-four hours, Discovery's mission would be complete, and either Georgiou would fail, and the war would be lost, or she would succeed, and the Klingon Empire would fall.
That was a nice way to put it, she thought. Detached. Bloodless. The phrase overlooked the probable reality: the decades-long collapse of Qo'noS's ecosystems, the evacuation of a whole planet, the people who would inevitably be left behind.
On her order. Not hers alone, but that was small consolation.
If she believed in hell, she might have taken some comfort in knowing she wouldn't be the only one there.
The invitation came in the final hours of her official work day: a night of solemn contemplation and silent meditation at the Vulcan Compound. Humans were more than welcome; the Vulcan ambassador would consider it a personal honour if she attended.
It was, she figured, better than a sleepless night spent in the company of the single malt she had liberated from the Lorca imposter and messages from her family that she couldn't answer.
An hour in, she knew she had made a mistake.
Sitting, stillness, silence -- attempting to meditate only raised the thoughts she wanted to ignore.
Eighty thousand dead on Starbase One.
Gabriel, who had surely died alone and afraid in that other universe. I'm sorry.
The population of Qo'noS. Billions of lives. Civilians, children. Surely there were Klingons who didn't care about the war. Surely some were innocent.
Their lives were about to be upended, their entire world literally destroyed, on her order.
She wondered if the Klingon generals who ordered the attacks on Kelfour VI, Starbase One and the rest were haunted by the dead. Probably not. It didn't seem to be the Klingon way.
The thought ripped through her with the violence of a Klingon boot against her ribs--
For a moment she was on the Ship of the Dead, the Klingons' laughter ringing in her ears as she struggled to her feet, knowing they would knock her down again--
Kat opened her eyes, and she was back in the Vulcan compound. Her heart was beating so fast, she was amazed the people around her couldn't hear it.
From the other side of the meditation chamber, Sarek was watching her. With concern, not judgement, Kat thought, but it still burned. Where was his guilt and fear and conflict? She wanted to--
She pushed that thought away, swallowing her rage.
She shouldn't have come.
Fortunately the meditation sessions were structured to accommodate undisciplined humans. When the gong struck to signal a rest period, Kat climbed to her feet. A handful of the other human guests followed.
She was going to slip out of the compound and beam home, but an acolyte waited for her outside the chamber.
"Admiral Cornwell," she said, "Madam Grayson invites you to join her in the conservatory if you've wearied of meditation."
Kat spared a longing thought for her whiskey and her bed. But she was still Starfleet enough that curiosity outweighed everything else.
She followed the acolyte.
The compound dated back to the late twenty-first century, constructed in the aftermath of the Third World War and First Contact. It had served as an office building for thirty years before the Vulcans took possession, and of all the changes they made to the interior, the most dramatic alterations were on the top floor. It had once been a penthouse; now it was one open space, the walls and ceiling replaced by transparent aluminium. On a clear night, Kat guessed, you could look out over the bay. Now, the view was obscured by heavy rain and fog. But inside it was as warm as a Vulcan desert, and the air smelled of redspice and favinit plants.
"Admiral Cornwell." Amanda Grayson had a seat by the window, beside a table that held glasses and a jug of sparkling water. "I'm so glad you came."
"Your invitation was very kind, Madam Grayson," Kat said.
"Please. Call me Amanda." She picked up the jug and added, "Have a seat. And feel free to take your jacket off. I could get heatstroke just looking at you."
Kat was glad to shed the layers, and to accept the drink, but she was puzzled. She had spent little time with Ma-- with Amanda, and only at official events. Amanda was her age, or a little older, but seemed much more youthful, despite the lines of tension around her eyes and mouth. Kat couldn't imagine that they had much in common.
Amanda sipped her water and said, "Did you know that marriage between Vulcans involves a close telepathic bond between partners? Even when one of those partners is an alien."
"I didn't," Kat said, and though her voice was calm, her mind was racing. What does she know? Is Starfleet aware of this? Or is this one of those things the Vulcans have decided to deal with themselves?
And, behind it all, Does she know her husband and I organised a genocide?
It was, she realised, the first time she had allowed that word to enter her head.
Amanda just said, "You should know that my husband has a very high opinion of you. He's come to consider you a friend." Her smile revealed the ghost of a dimple, although the strain around her eyes did not lessen. "I know he doesn't always make it obvious."
"I like Sarek," said Kat cautiously. "I'm glad it's mutual."
She liked him, and one day she might be able to forgive him for listening to Georgiou.
Amanda, too, seemed uncomfortable. Her gaze rested on her hands, out the window, anywhere but Kat's face.
Kat let the silence stretch, until, at last, Amanda said, "I don't know the details, and I won't ask. But you and Sarek … you made a decision, didn't you?"
Kat said nothing.
"It troubles him." Amanda watched her. "It troubles you, too, I think."
Kat put her glass down.
"I should go," she said, standing up, retrieving her jacket.
"I can't talk about it."
"I know, but--" Amanda looked flustered. Kat suspected this didn't happen often. "Meditation helps Sarek, but if it doesn't help you -- I thought, as a friend--"
We're not friends. We're barely acquaintances.
But this was Sarek's wife. Michael's foster mother. Kat liked and -- usually -- admired both of them. Why shouldn't she like and admire Amanda in her own right?
Slowly, Kat repeated, "I can't talk about it."
"But part of me wants to."
Scream it from the rooftops. Tell the universe: the Federation has organised a genocide, and I gave the order.
If she held her tongue, was that prudence or cowardice?
Kat returned to her seat.
"The war could be over by tomorrow," she said. "The details are classified. And will remain so until twenty years after the death of the last surviving person involved."
That would probably be Sarek. The president's species had an average lifespan of three hundred, but xie was already two hundred and seventy-three, and contemplating retirement.
"And then?" Amanda asked.
"History won't be kind."
Unless it was. If the Federation turned into a place where the ends justified the means--
Gabriel was the lucky one, she realised. He died before he had to see this.
"I used to be a teacher, you know," said Amanda. "Every year, I'd explain the bombing of Hiroshima to a class of eight-year-olds."
"The comparison's apt."
Amanda's lips tightened, but she said nothing.
Are you just now finding out what your husband's capable of? What I'm sending your daughter to do?
Amanda asked, "Do you have kids?"
Whose increasingly impatient messages were piling up in Kat's inbox. Just think, nine months ago she was reading your medical file and crying. Now you can barely speak to one another.
"Is she in Starfleet?"
"No, thank God." Not that civilians were safe. The Klingons shot down a refugee fleet in orbit over Theta VII last month; the debris was large enough to devastate the colony's second city. Diana was still working fourteen-hour days, helping to rebuild. "She finished her residency last year. Paediatrics."
"You must be proud."
Kat nodded, and found herself saying, "She and her wife are adopting. Two kids, orphaned in the war. Brothers."
It was the first time she had told anyone. The message -- pre-recorded; Diana had apparently given up hope of Kat ever answering one of her calls -- had come yesterday, and Kat's first reaction was to think of the children of Qo'noS she was about to kill.
I don't deserve a family or a career or the honours the president already wants to give me--
This line of thinking was unproductive, irrational, unhealthy. She needed to find strategies to shut it down. Or, if she couldn't do it alone, someone to help her.
Amanda was smiling. "You're a grandmother. Congratulations."
Normal conversation helped.
"What did your parents say, when you adopted Michael?"
"It was bittersweet. The Burnhams were family friends, you see, I knew Michael's mom growing up. We were happy to have her join our family, but so sad to lose her parents. And she was very different, after her parents died. She'd always been earnest, clever, but," Amanda shook her head, "she just attached herself to Sarek and didn't let go. She tried to be more Vulcan than the Vulcans. Her brothers were more rebellious."
"She's a good person."
"I know. To have her back, after all these months of mourning -- I'm lucky, I know."
Kat stared past Amanda, watching the rain hit the transparent walls of the conservatory. She had grown accustomed to the heat, she realised. With enough time, she could grow accustomed to anything.
Slowly, she said, "The decision we made, Sarek and I -- we aren't acting alone. The president and the whole Federation Council support us. It's all legal."
"But … not moral."
"Slow genocide. The destruction of a planet and a culture. But we'll win the war." She stood up, walked to the window. "I met a young Klingon woman when I was a prisoner. She was good to me, in her way. I think we could have been friends."
"She says the only way to defeat the Klingons is to destroy them." Kat crossed her arms. "She's a fanatic. Unaffiliated with their government. It's not … permission."
"Of course not."
"But they're not like us. Their morality is different."
"Don't you want to understand them?" Amanda asked.
Yes. A little.
"I see." Amanda shifted in her chair. "I think … I don't want to know what you decided."
"No. You don't."
"What will happen next? For you, I mean."
"I'll do my duty."
"Will you see your family?" Amanda asked.
"If they want me." Kat tried to find words. "If we lose this war," she said, "billions will die, and most of the survivors will end up--"
"I've read about the Klingon treatment of subjugated races."
"I don't have the luxury of deciding that the cost of winning is too high."
"No," said Amanda. "You're just one person. As Sarek is just one man." Her dimple flashed for a brief second. "I don't subscribe to an individualist theory of history."
You should meet Emperor Georgiou. You might change your mind.
Amanda stood up, joining her at the window.
"I won't tell you that you've done the right thing," she said.
"But I understand." She rested a hand on Kat's arm. "You can talk to me any time."
Amanda walked away, robes trailing behind her, as regal as the Terran emperor, leaving Kat alone, feeling like an ungainly schoolgirl.
She checked the time. Almost midnight.
The next few hours would bring the moment of truth. Win or lose, either way, she would have to live with the consequences.
She should go home. Pour herself another glass of Lorca's whiskey and reply to Diana's message. Get a few hours of sleep.
Kat stayed, and watched the rain.