To many of the sensors, Matron Sheldt was already gone. Life support kept her basic bodily functions running while her mind struggled to ascend. Soon, it would break free, and all that would be left would be a shell forced to function long after its purpose was done. Juliette looked down at the waxy, weathered face, a soft mash of creases held together by medical tubing. Juliette tried to picture Matron Seldt’s face from her school holos about the heroes of the Dominion Occupation. Hadn't her hair had been dark then, instead of this sparse tangle of grey thread? Weren't her eyes dark and vibrant, instead of dull grey orbs? The strong arms of a farmer instead of thin, spindly sticks sheathed in withered flesh? However, even at the end of this world, Juliette felt the strength and power in her presence that remained.
You are afraid, Scion of House Sri.
I am, Matron.
Those joining in Ascension usually have someone to serve as an anchor on this side to guide them back. Do you fear getting lost?
There is risk, Matron, but I am confident in my ability to return.
But you are not at ease.
It is just -- my mother and my sister passed and I failed to accompany either.
You fear facing their displeasure when you face them beyond the elements?
I fear I will face nothing at all.
Sri felt a sliver of genuine fear along the connection, mixing with her own. She plunged ahead. Compassion
You ask me to perform a very personal and private honor. If you still wish my unworthy company. I will—
Juliette didn’t answer for a long moment. When she did it came out a rush. Perhaps...perhaps I deserve to die in the void of space like my sister. I am a poor scion and selfishly abandoned my family for Starfleet. I damage that which I love. I am more Vulcan than Betazoid, and yet am distant from both. I don’t believe in elements or gods or vessels that neatly separate the elements and mix them back together to make the universe. Forgive me, but if there are broken vessels, it’s because we broke them. When you asked me to help with your ascension, I was reminded of so much lost -- so many secrets kept. I...was overwhelmed.
Why did you return then?
How could I not? I am afraid, but the only who suffers from my terror should be me.
Our watch words –
Are just words I remember, and not my compulsion. I have to do this – to try. Sri tried to hide her worry as she removed her glove, and placed her hand over the matron's. I will help if you still wish it.
The matron's words were as chilly as her hand Do you think you are the only one with secrets, House Sri? The hard, bony fingers twitched against hers, then suddenly gripped with a fierceness that caught Juliette by surprise. Like a balloon released under water, they coursed ascendant.