The community of spokers/critiquers that I came from and the community of fan fiction writers were always one and the same. To complete the circle, I offer my own Star Trek fan story for you to critique. It is another Axanar derivative in that I chose to use the same premise and address the same themes as Mr. Lane’s “Why We Fight.” It is not an Axanar derivative in that I did not concern myself with keeping it faithful to the minutiae of the Axanar interpretation of Star Trek.
Regardless of your feelings on this story, I invited you join the community by reacting to the work or writing your own. The joy of fan fiction and fan fiction criticism is that it is equally accessible to all. A pro-writer is on the same footing as the newest amateur. When you do something for love, that’s what really matters.
A Star Trek fan story (~2,500 words)
Jack choked down another mouthful of his drink and grimaced. The beer was dark and bitter—and thick as tar—but it was real alcohol, not the synthetic stuff he was accustomed to. He could drink all night and wouldn’t remember a thing in the morning. He took a last swallow and added the empty glass to the pyramid he was building. It was like drinking liquid liquorice. He had always hated liquorice. Sasha was the one who had loved it. She would sit with him in the bar and stack glass after glass—
“Excuse me. Is this seat taken?”
A woman stood across from him with her hand on his sister’s chair. Cute. Blue uniform. Blue eyes. Black hair. A pixie cut that he wasn’t quite sure was regulation, but suited her face. A few weeks ago, he might have tried to charm her off her feet and into his bed. Tonight he just wanted her to go away.
He forced a tight smile. “Please,” he said and gestured at the chair.
“Wonderful.” She grinned. “What’re you having?”
“Th—“ Jack tried to remember how it was pronounced, but all he could think was the liquorice beer. “The Tellarite one,” he managed to say.
“Brave man,” she said. “Be right back.”
She pushed into the crowd, her blue shirt merging with the reds, blues, and yellows of the other ‘fleeters. “The Rainbow Fleet,” as some particularly cute kid had called them on the News Service. That comment had crossed the Federation faster than even The Enemy. But they weren’t a rainbow, were they? Rainbows blended at the edges.
The lieutenant returned quickly with two mugs of the Tellarite sludge. She slid one across the table to him and collapsed into the chair with a sigh. “Drink up before it gets cold,” she said, sipping her own and nodding her approval. His sister had done the same. “I’m Valerie” the lieutenant said. “Val to my friends. Physicist. Westward.”
“Jack, or John. Whichever. Engineer. Hornet.” He lifted the beer to his lips. His stomach turned at the smell of it, but there was no point in giving up now. His head hadn’t floated off his body yet.
“Did she stand you up?”
Jack thumped down the glass harder than he intended. “What?”
“Or he,” she said. “Or xie. I don’t judge.”
“Why do you think I’m meeting anyone?”
Val shrugged. “No one comes to this place to drink alone.”
She wasn’t wrong. People clustered around the room: some at tables, some on their feet, some in large groups, and some in small groups. Most were human, but there were small knots of offworlders as well. The Tellarites occupied a large table at the centre of the chaos; the Andorians huddled around an antique juke box, antennae bent towards it; and a small number of Vulcans held court in the quietest corner. There were some high ranking officers over there too, the only mixed-species group. But no one alone.
“You’re here alone,” Jack said.
She shrugged again. “I can talk to anyone.”
“And you decided to talk to me.” The beer was losing its heat already, thickening further as it did so. He drank deeply this time. Get it over with.
“Your table was the only one with an empty chair.”
He was drunk, but not that drunk. “There’s an empty chair at the Tellarite table,” he said.
“Not for me.”
“What, are you xenophobic or something?” The question came out harsher than he intended. Her head snapped up. Xenophobes didn’t last long in the Rainbow Fleet. His face burned. “I’m sorry,” he said.
She accepted with more grace than he deserved. “You’ve never lived off world, have you?”
He shook his head. “No. Have you?”
“I spent a year on Vulcan,” she said. She stared towards the Vulcan table, her eyes unfocused. “At the Science Academy.”
“I’m surprised you didn’t freeze to death.”
She blew air through her nose, more marking a laugh than laughing. Her eyes didn’t leave the Vulcans. “I won’t say it was easy.” She paused. “They feel everything, perhaps more deeply than we do. I expect the only way they can live with such passion is to shut it out. Let even the tiniest drop through and the whole dam is swept away.”
A silence thicker than the beer hung between them, isolating them from the noise of the crowd.
“Anyway,” Val said, turning to look at Jack again, “it’s a lot of work when you live off world. You spend your days either speaking a language that is not your own or trying to piece together meaning from the rough translation the u-tee gives you. Understanding every cultural marker, every idiom, is a battle. So when you see someone from home, the two of you snap together like magnets. You may have never met before, but you become best friends just because—for once—it’s easy to talk.”
“Oh,” he said. “I just thought they didn’t like outsiders very much.”
“No one joins the fleet if they hate outsiders.” She turned to the Vulcans again, then brightened. “Oh, hey. It’s Val.” She grinned and waved with a big sweep of her arm.
He followed her gaze. A Vulcan at the far table was facing them, eyebrow raised. At least, Jack imagined his eyebrow was raised. Wasn’t that what Vulcans always did? He blinked a few times to clear his vision. There was something off about that one.
The Vulcan was standing, moving, cutting through the crowd like a knife.
Jack stood. “I should go,” he said.
“No, wait,” Val said. “Just meet him. You’ll see what I mean.”
Jack slowly lowered himself back into his chair. Why did that Vulcan look so familiar?
He was certainly distinctive for a Vulcan. Shaved head, with the slightly shiny, too-smooth look of newly grown skin across his scalp and half his face. The tip of one ear had been sheared away, leaving a thick, ragged scar. He wore a sub-commander’s uniform.
“Greetings, Lieutenant Nelson,” the Vulcan said to Valerie, extending his hand. The skin was shiny and tight there as well. “It is agreeable to see you again.” His fingertips brushed hers a fraction of a second longer than necessary as the handshake ended.
“Val, I told you. It’s Val.”
Val, she called him. Where had he seen this Vulcan before?
“I will never understand the human obsession with attaching significance to coincidence,” the Vulcan said. He turned to Jack. “Pardon my rudeness. I am Valerik, formerly of the Seleya.”
Jack went cold. There was a buzzing in his ears that drowned out even the noise of the room.
“John Wilkinson. Hornet.” He barely felt the Vulcan’s handshake.
Valerik. The Hero of Beta Tauri.
Valerie was chattering away, but Jack didn’t hear what she said. The story had been all over the News Service for days. Seleya’s bridge had been destroyed, most of her officers and crew were dead or wounded, manoeuvring thrusters and warp drive gone. An engineer had taken command and steered her out of the fight from the engine room with only the impulse engines.
“And left the Washington to die,” Jack whispered.
The Vulcan didn’t hear him. He was wearing soft earplugs, Jack realized. Some hero. Couldn’t even handle a little noise. But he wasn’t really a hero, was he? The Enemy had won that battle. Seleya left fit only for scrap. Washington left as debris.
Anger drove the words from his chest. “To Valerik,” he cried, raising his glass. “To the Hero of Beta Tauri.” He drank and slammed the glass down.
Valerik started at the sound, a slight flinch away. It was such a tiny movement that Jack almost missed it, but the Vulcan had his full attention now.
“Jack, what—“ Valerie began, but the Tellarites picked up the toast. The room filled with cries of “To Valerik,” “To the Hero,” “Beta Tauri,” and “Seleya.” It was always so much easier to talk about the living. More glasses crashed against tables.
The Vulcan looked almost brittle, each cheer like a tap of a hammer on a porcelain doll. “If you’ll pardon me,” he said, voice tight.
“Of course,” Jack said. “Run. Run, ‘Hero.’ Run like you did at Beta Tauri.”
The Vulcan froze.
“Jack.” Valerie was on her feet.
Jack heard his voice getting louder, but he didn’t care. “Let me guess. ‘It was logical?’ Or is it ‘the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few?’ It’s easy when you’re one of the many, isn’t it?”
The Vulcan didn’t move, didn’t look at Jack. His knuckles were white. The bar was quiet.
Jack ignored it. His sole focus was the Vulcan. “Look at me,” he hissed.
“Lieutenant!” The voice hit Jack with the force of a blow. He turned, ready for a fight. A captain marched towards him, her lips thin with anger. “Outside,” he said. “Now.”
“What the hell were you thinking, Lieutenant?”
The captain barely contained her rage. Jack stood at attention and stared straight ahead, praying their eyes wouldn’t meet. His head swam and his stomach rolled. He felt faint. “I don’t know, sir,” he said.
“Don’t give me that Academy bullshit,” the captain said. “You damn well do know, Lieutenant.” She stepped closer, and Jack wanted nothing more than to retreat. A brick wall was cool at his back. He didn’t move.
“I was toasting our hero, sir.”
The captain’s voice grew quiet, dangerous. “You did a hell of a lot more than that.”
Jack remained silent. Anything he said would hurt him further. Fuck it. He’d just killed his career anyway. “He left them to die,” he said.
“Who? The crew of the Washington?”
“Yes.” Now Jack met her gaze squarely. His fists were clenched at his sides. He spat each word at her feet. “They had no chance alone.”
“They had no chance together, Lieutenant. We lost half of Seleya’s crew as it is. Would you have condemned the rest as well?”
No, Jack thought. You don’t sacrifice the living for the dead. But his heart screamed otherwise. You don’t abandon your friends in a fight either. He wanted to rage at the heavens or weep like a child. He did nothing.
“Captain Suleiman. Commander Marsden.” He barely kept his voice from shaking. “Commander Roy. Doctor…Sasha…” His voice trailed off. He turned his head away. She would not see him cry.
“You lost someone.”
The captain pivoted around to stand beside him. She leaned against the wall, crossed her arms, stared up at the stars, and sighed. “At ease, Lieutenant.”
It may have been meant as a kindness, but it wasn’t one. Without rigidity to fight with, Jack felt the dam begin to buckle. He reached for whatever anger was left.
“They shouldn’t have been there.” He paused. “She shouldn’t have been there.” The anger flared. He spun to face the captain. He was yelling again. It was inappropriate, but he didn’t care. “So many lives, and for what? Something we already knew? It was a fucking waste.”
He waited for the captain snap him back. Waited for her to defend their commander’s decision. Waited for some noble speech about sacrifice for the greater good or the defence of one’s allies. Maybe something about the ugliness and waste of war, or the horrible decisions and uncertain outcomes the higher-ups faced every day. Maybe a little platitude about how they all lost something. Hell, he wanted it. He craved it more than a lover’s touch. Anything to feed his fury.
But she denied him even that. “I know,” she said. Her tone wasn’t placating. It was sincere. “I know.”
Jack took a deep breath. The damp air smelled of rotting fish and liquorice. The tide was out. He reached for the anger again, but it wouldn’t come. His shoulder slumped, his head dropped, and this time he failed to stop the tears. “She was my baby sister. She just wanted to be like me,” he said softly. He looked up again. “She shouldn’t have been there. It’s my fault.”
The captain’s eyes softened. She shook her head and didn’t say anything, just put her hand on his shoulder.
They stood there for what felt like an eternity. Then the captain released him. “I want you to apologise to Sub-commander Valerik, if he’ll have it. Then return to your quarters and remain there until your CO sends for you.”
The apology would be the worse punishment, worse even than being left alone with his thoughts. Jack already felt the eyes on him. “Yes, sir,” he said.
Jack slipped back into the bar, hoping to go unnoticed. The tone was more subdued than it had been earlier. A few of the patrons looked his way before pointedly looking away. Valerik and Valerie sat at the table. Valerik had taken Jack’s seat, sitting with his back against the wall. He appeared to have regained his composure.
He stopped before them. Valerie watched him with some suspicion. Suspicion he well deserved. What Valerik was thinking, he couldn’t say. His face flushed slightly. His heart beat fast. Apologise quietly and leave. That was the way to do it.
No. If he was going to do this, he was going to do it right. Maybe the first right thing he’d done all night.
“Sub-commander Valerik.” Jack spoke loudly enough to draw the attention of the bar. The quiet conversation died down. All the eyes turned towards him. “I wronged you earlier. I am sorry for my words. They were unworthy of us both.”
A stupid apology. “Unworthy of us both?” Where had that come from?
But Valerik merely inclined his head. An acceptance, Jack supposed. At least, he intended to take it that way. He was tired of fighting. He was just…tired.
“I am sorry for the loss of the Washington,” Valerik said.
“It was my sister’s ship.”
Valerik closed his eyes for a moment. “I grieve with thee.” He hesitated. “The Vulcan embassy intends to hold a memorial for those lost aboard Seleya. I will speak with them about remembering the crew of the Washington as well. You are welcome to join us.”
“If I can,” he said.
An Andorian stepped forward. “On Andoria, we share stories of the dead that they may be forgotten by none. Tell us of your sister’s deeds that we may remember her alongside our own absent kin.”
“Hear, hear,” said a Tellarite. “Let us name our dead and pour drinks for them.”
They were all looking at him expectantly and Jack found, for the first time, he had nothing to say. How do you share a whole life with a stranger? The room blurred slightly, the colours of all the uniforms blending together, but this time Jack kept the tears in check. “Well,” he said, “She could have drunk any ten of us under the table. And she loved that Tellarite beer…”
The words came easily after that.