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Lost Cause

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Personnel File - Lorca, Gabriel

Status: Retired

Current location: [REDACTED]

Service record:

[...] 2246.3 Awarded Medal of Commendation for action taken on Tarsus IV. 2246.7 Promoted to Commander, assigned to USS Hawking [...] 2251.2 Assumed command of USS Buran [...] 2256.4 [REDACTED] 2261.7 Retired

-Starfleet Personnel Logs, accessed 2270.3 by <UNKNOWN USER>

*

>>MESSAGE RECEIVED 2261.7.10.22:34<<

TO: Pike, Captain C.

FROM: Lorca, G.

SECURITY: HIGH

Chris,

I don't know if my last few messages reached you. I guess not. I'm hoping this one works.

You'll have heard the rumors by now. They're true. I'm home. Back, anyway. I can't say any more than that here.

I need to speak to you, in person. I have so many questions. I'm sure you do, too.

Let me know.

Gabriel

>>MESSAGE DELETED<<


 

Dj’reek, 2270

It wasn’t that Gabriel forgot. It was just that remembering was … complicated, these days.

There were the official memories. The ones he had agreed to. The ones that were all over the news, almost a decade ago.

… Starfleet issued a statement today addressing speculation surrounding the whereabouts of Captain Gabriel Lorca. Officials confirmed reports that the former commanding officer of the USS Buran has returned from ‘five years of covert operations’. Lorca is reported to have sustained significant injuries during the course of this mission, which officials state has led to what they described as ‘substantial and permanent memory loss’. They add that the former Captain has been retired, and will be moved to an undisclosed location, where officials say they hope his privacy will be respected. Starfleet have refused to comment on whether the destruction of the USS Buran, long alleged to have been ordered by Lorca himself, was linked to this undercover work, fuelling calls from campaigners to reopen the inquest into the disaster. More on this breaking story at 10, when we will be joined in the studio by Dr. Harriet Braithwaite-Jones, from campaign group ‘Justice for the Buran’...

And then, there were the Unofficial memories. The real ones. The ones so deeply classified that Gabriel couldn’t even think about them too loudly without risking a visit from Starfleet Intelligence.

… Starfleet did not issue a statement today regarding the truth about Captain Gabriel Lorca. Officials did not confirm that the former commanding officer of the USS Buran was thrown by accident into a nightmare alternate universe, where he lived - existed, more accurately - in near constant fear for his life for five long, brutal years, pushed daily to the very edge of his training and well beyond the limits of his principles. During his final, desperate, attempt to reach home, Starfleet did not report, Lorca sustained injuries which should have killed him, but through some quirk of fate or destiny or sheer bloody-mindedness left him with little more than substantial scarring to his hands and arms and, unfortunately, every single one of his memories of that place entirely in tact. On waking from a medically-induced coma, Captain Lorca realised that this universe was barely recognisable as the one he had spent five years dreaming of and was, in its own way, a brand new nightmare. He was summarily retired and packed off to a remote colony where his inconvenient return could not cause Starfleet any further trouble or embarrassment. Starfleet refused to comment on the circumstances surrounding the deaths, during his prolonged absence, of two of his closest friends, stating only that this was ‘classified’...

And so, for the most part, Gabriel tried his best to not remember.

It was not, he told himself, the same as forgetting.

But, every year, the seasons cycled and, for a brief time at least, the days on Dj’reek lengthened and turned warm. Tiny purple birds returned from their winter migration, impossibly bright against the habitual grey of the colony, and the air danced with blossom. And every year, it caught Gabriel off-guard, because it was so easy to lose track of time here, where the months bore no relation to the Standard calendar. Every year, he would note the shift, and feel a sense of dread that felt out of sync with everything around him, until he realised the date and remembered, every year, with a jolt of guilt, whether he wanted to or not.

“The anniversary was always going to be hard,” his therapist had reassured him, the first few times this happened.

“The anniversary of what?"

Complicated.

Which was why, every year, Gabriel did the only thing he could think of to commemorate an event he knew nothing about.

He went to the bar.

No one paid much attention to him as he pulled up a stool. No one ever did. It was one of the best things about this place.

“Here’s to you, Pip,” he said to himself, and knocked back the first shot.

The whisky was terrible. It always was. There weren't enough humans on Dj'reek to make it worth the bar's time keeping anything half-decent in stock. This was a local … alternative, a concoction that simultaneously tasted like the bottom of a bog and burned like a naga chili. But it was potent and plentiful and, as with everything else these days, it would have to do.

The second shot was always worse, somehow. He was never sure whether it was his tastebuds protesting, or because of who he was drinking it for.

Kat rocked back, grimacing, hands flapping in a gesture of too hot too hot too hot.

"That is horrendous," she rasped at last, dabbling at her streaming eyes. "Where did you even find it?"

"I like it," Gabriel managed, once the burning in his throat had subsided sufficiently, and when she laughed, his stomach flipped like it had jumped to warp.

"Liar. I can see you sweating."

"Fine. So it's a little rough around the edges." He grinned, aiming for 'charmingly roguish' and landing instead somewhere near 'tipsy goof'. "Aren't all the best things?"

Her eyes met his, glittering in the starlight, and he poured himself a brave measure and inclined his glass at her.

Gabriel gripped the tumbler tightly, trying to counteract the shake of his hand.

“And here’s … here's to you,” he mumbled.

The third shot was for him, because why the hell not.

By the time the whisky had become palatable, he’d lost track of exactly who he was drinking for. Which was partly why, when it happened, Gabriel thought he had imagined it.

Someone said his name.

“Captain Lorca?”

Gabriel looked up, confused, jerked out of his reverie by the unfamiliar sound of his old title.

It wasn’t Captain Lorca. Not anymore. Not here. Here, it was Mr Lorca. Starfleet had been very clear on that point. No ship. No crew. No rank. Just plain old Mr Lorca.

He whipped around, straining to see who had spoken. But his head reeled with the whisky and the sudden movement, and by the time his brain caught up with his vision, whoever it was was already gone, evaporated into the gloom of the half-empty bar. If they’d even been there at all.

He turned back to his drink, masking the disappointment with another sip--

There was a little piece of paper - paper, the real stuff, not replicated - soaking up the spilled booze on the bar in front of him.

A fortune cookie slip.

That was new. Or old, depending on how you looked at it. Time was, crumbs and slips from fortune cookies had followed him like a warp trail.

He hadn’t been able to see much point in them, recently.

Gabriel peeled it free, carefully, and held it closer to his face, squinting at the tiny printed letters in the half-light of the bar.

In uncertain times, the truth is clear as Mudd.

Well, that was an anti-climax. In uncertain times, the truth is clear as Mudd. What was that supposed to mean? It didn't make any sense. It wasn’t even spelled correctly. Mud. Mudd. Muddddd.

He rolled it between his thumb and forefinger, screwing it up into a tight ball, unimpressed.

Then stopped, a fuzzy half-thought bothering at him.

He'd been so sure he'd heard his name.

It was probably nothing. A coincidence, at best.

Gabriel hated coincidences.

He uncurled the little ball of paper, as gently as his whisky-dulled fingers would allow, and smoothed it back out again.

In uncertain times, the truth is clear as Mudd.

The words didn’t make much more sense the second time around.

"Hey," Gabriel called to the barkeeper, waving the slip at xir. "You see who dropped this?"

The barkeeper shrugged all four of xir shoulders, deeply unimpressed about being disturbed from the PADD xe was engrossed in, and went back to stoically ignoring him.

Gabriel rested the little piece of paper against his glass and stared at it, drumming his fingers on the scratched bar top. And then, without really understanding why, he slipped it into his jacket pocket.

It was a problem for future Gabriel to solve. Along with the hangover he would inevitably be treated to.

Tonight, more drinks.

Hours later, Gabriel’s fingers stumbled over the keypad to his apartment.

The room beyond was illuminated only by the light that spilled in from the hallway, and slid into total darkness as the door closed behind him. Gabriel continued on unsteady legs regardless. Everything was in its place, neat and precise. Even after the too-many drinks of the evening, he could find his way without turning on the lights.

It was an old habit, drummed into him by decades spent on starships. Personal effects to a minimum. Keep things tidy. Anything not screwed down could become a missile in the wrong circumstances. Everybody in the Fleet knew someone who knew someone who had been killed by a treasured possession when the inertial dampeners failed, though few took the advice quite as seriously as Gabriel.

It had been an easy habit to fall back into when he - got home. He didn't have all that many treasured possessions left to worry about. Starfleet had taken care of that, destroying more or less everything he'd had in storage. And the Other him had destroyed everything else long before that.

The only thing he missed were the photographs. It would have been reassuring to know that at least some of his memories were real.

His therapist had suggested that a few personal touches might help him settle in. That had been nine years ago. He'd just … never got round to it.

She'd stopped suggesting it, after a while.

So. Sofa. Console. Media screen on the wall. Bookshelf, half empty, with the handful of volumes that had somehow, miraculously, survived the purge of his personal effects. Kitchen, mostly unused except for the replicator. Wardrobe: shirts, sensible; trousers, sensible; boots, sensible. Bed.

Gabriel stood in the doorway of his bedroom and squinted at the bed in question.

He always found, on nights like this, nights when the nostalgia threatened to choke him, that sleeping in his bed was impossible. It was too big, and too soft. Like he could fall endlessly through it and never be found again.

He back-tracked to the lounge and curled up on the sofa instead, folded his jacket neatly under his head, and didn’t so much dream as remember.

*

Gabriel woke up the next morning, and immediately wished he hadn’t.

The sun streamed obnoxiously through the gaps in the curtains and stung his eyes. The little purple birds sang obnoxiously from their perch outside his window, each note like a knife in his skull.

He was getting too old for this.

“Water,” he barked at the replicator, which whirred obnoxiously in reply, like it was casting judgement on him.

Gabriel rubbed his neck while he waited. Sleeping on the sofa had been a bad idea. Why had he--

Right. Same reason he’d been drinking.

The water didn’t help much, because the feeling in his stomach wasn’t just because of the hangover, but he ordered another all the same.

The lounge was immaculate save for his jacket, moulded to the shape of his head on the sofa. He picked it up and shook it out, smoothing out the creases before he hung it back up. As he did so, a piece of paper fluttered to the floor, like the final, sad piece of confetti after a parade.

Gabriel’s back complained the whole way down as he crouched to retrieve it.

The fortune. He’d forgotten all about it.

“Computer,” he called, an involuntary grunt escaping him as he straightened back up.

He hesitated. He wasn’t sure what he wanted to ask. He wasn’t sure why he’d kept it, even. He just remembered that it had seemed … important, somehow.

The computer chirped expectantly.

“Run quote: ‘In uncertain times, the truth is clear as Mudd’. Two d’s.”

Gabriel rubbed the pad of his thumb against the paper while the computer worked.

“No full matches. Assess partial matches?”

“No, no,” he murmured. He hadn’t really expected there to be anything. “That’s fine.”

Gabriel stared at the words without really reading them.

His memory of the previous evening was hazy. There’d been a voice - male? Deep, certainly. But the bar was busy. There’d been lots of voices. What had been so special about--

His name. He’d heard his name.

It was a calling card.

“Computer, search database for name ‘Mudd’. Two d’s, again.”

A longer pause, this time.

“Search returned a large number of results. Revise parameters?”

“Living individuals only.”

“Search returned a large--”

“Show me.”

The computer buzzed, unimpressed by Gabriel’s decision, but transferred the data to his console all the same.

Gabriel stared bleakly at the thousands of results.

Well. Had to start somewhere, right?

It would be a damn sight easier if he knew what he was looking for, of course. And if the inside of his skull didn’t feel like the aftermath of a Risian rave.

“Coffee. Black. Strong.”

Better. More awake, anyway.

Damn. There really were a lot of results.

“Computer, arrange by--” By what? Height? Shoe size? “--location. Nearest to furthest from here.”

Gabriel hadn't been off-planet since arriving at Dj’reek. It wasn't that it was forbidden - he wasn't a prisoner, as Starfleet were so keen to remind him. But he might as well have been. Travel was … difficult, now. Too many enclosed spaces. Too little control, now that he wasn't the one in command. Too much quiet, with too many memories.

So. Nearest to furthest. With a preference for nearest.

The computer chirped. Rather smugly, Gabriel felt. Told you so.

He leaned forward, watching the records rearrange themselves on the screen.

“Alright,” he murmured. “What have we got?”

Gabriel strode out on to the bridge and into the blare of red alert sirens.

“Good question.” Commander Angharad Jones joined him at the Buran's viewscreen, PADD in hand. She tapped a few times, pulling up a file. “We’re analysing now, but early reports suggest … a bloody big ship, heading right for us. Sir.”

“Any idea what they want?”

“Not yet. They’re not very talkative, apparently.”

“I want--”

“We’re running all standard Federation greetings, and in the meantime Xhao is cross-referencing all databases to see if she can pick up enough of the lingo that we can have a little chat with them.”

“Good. And--”

“Graav is running weapons analyses, and Landry has Security on full alert should they turn hostile.”

“And--”

“Hazell’s keeping engines hot, just in case we need to beat a hasty retreat.”

“Anything else?” Gabriel asked once he was sure she was finished, raising an amused eyebrow.

Jones blew out her cheeks and shrugged.

“Not much, sir. Put your feet up and have a coffee while we wait, I’d say.”

The silence in Gabriel’s apartment was stifling, all of a sudden.

He rubbed his forehead with the heel of his hand, hard, like he could rub the memories away.

It was just him, this time. But it was still good advice.

More coffee.

Gabriel filtered out a few more categories - he felt fairly confident that a kid couldn’t have masterminded this, so he kept results to legal adults - and was left with … a lot of records.

He sighed. In the absence of a team of experts, he’d have to improvise.

Start with the first result, keep going until something leaped out at him. That seemed sound.

A couple of hours and a throbbing headache later, he was beginning to regret this tactic.

He could take a break. Should take a break. Take a shower, at least. But this - for the first time in years, Gabriel had something that felt important , even if it didn’t quite make sense. If he looked away now, for even a moment, it might all disappear.

And then - there it was. Like spotting an unexpected movement out of the corner of his eye. He sat bolt upright, senses on red alert.

… confirmed that Harcourt Fenton 'Harry' Mudd absconded from a high security Starfleet facility this week. Mudd, convicted of a number of offences including people trafficking, drug smuggling and identity theft, is now believed to be at large…

There were dozens of stories like it, now that Gabriel pulled at the thread, from all corners of the quadrant. And there was a theme woven through all of them, beyond the lurid details of Mudd’s exploits.

Starfleet.

Gabriel’s hands were shaking again. He wrapped his arms around himself to try and disguise it, embarrassed.

And then he realised, slowly, that this wasn't anxiety. It wasn't the feeling that caught up with him in crowded spaces, or followed him in footsteps down dark streets, or smothered him with the weight of memories he couldn’t control. This was a much older feeling, one he’d almost forgotten. One that started in the soles of his feet and made his heart feel too big in his chest and throbbed like a drumbeat in his ears.

This was the thrill of the chase. The unknown. Adventure. Like before.

There was a bloody big ship heading right for him, and he could either face it head-on, or turn and run.

Gabriel considered the grainy file photograph of Mudd on his screen, the word‘WANTED’ glowing blue across his face.

The guy was a criminal. There was no doubt about it. The sensible thing would be to close the file, throw the fortune in the recycler, and forget about the whole thing. The sensible thing would be to not get involved with - whatever was going on here. Take a couple painkillers, sleep off this damn hangover, call his therapist and get back to his safe, sensible routine on Dj'reek.

The drumbeat in his head pounded.

Gabriel did not do the sensible thing.

"Computer," he said instead, mouth dry. "Search Starfleet records for Harcourt Fenton Mudd."

A few minutes later, Gabriel found himself staring at a list of misdeeds longer than an Andorian historical epic and twice as sordid. Mudd’s offences stretched back nearly two decades, and seemed to become more outrageous the further Gabriel read on: attempted hijack of a Starfleet vessel, a raid on a Betazoid bank, manufacturing dozens of androids in his likeness in order to evade arrest and capitalise on a hefty bounty on his head, and--

Gabriel leaned so close to the screen that his eyes began to sting.

2256 [REDACTED]

2256. When the missing years in Gabriel’s own records began. Just like they did in Pippa’s and Kat’s.

He grabbed the news articles he’d downloaded to his PADD and rifled through them again, looking for another pattern. Mudd was nothing short of prolific. There were stories from every year for almost twenty years.

Except 2256.

Something important. He'd been looking for something important. And it was right there.

"OK, Mudd. I'm listening," Gabriel murmured. Now all he had to do was figure out what he was trying to tell him--

The file flickered out and disappeared.

“What the hell?” Gabriel gave the console the most technical of thumps. The screen remained steadfastly blank. “Computer - recall previous record.”

“Unable to comply.”

“We were just looking at it!”

“Command not recognised.”

“Computer, why can’t you access the previous record?” Gabriel sighed.

“File has been locked.”

Gabriel hesitated.

“Computer,” he said slowly, “who locked the file?”

“File locked by Starfleet Command HQ.”

Gabriel sat back. He’d been looking for a sign to convince him that he was on the right path.

And that just might have been it.