The Daylight Trilogy - part 3
The glow of the new day was a burning ember on the horizon. The angry waves crashed in protest against the cliff, throwing up spray in a gesture of defiance. The pace of the moment was held by the low, intense chanting and drumming. Funeral rites Skolaran style - a public ceremonial burial for one of the victims of yesterday's explosion; to allow for a formal acknowledgement of grief. The other victims would be buried by their families in private.
I watched fascinated and yet distanced by the unfamiliar ritual. The returning to the waves was elemental - I could tell that much, something I'd seen in other cultures. The privacy of the other ceremonies indicated that the Skolarans had a respect for their dead, for the bodies that remained. I wanted to know more, to find out about those private funerals, to explore the Skolarans' attitude to the after-life. I wanted to know as well if the chanting and drumming deliberately echoed a heartbeat - or if that was just my imagination.
But this was not the time to ask questions.
Beside me on the cliffs, waiting for the dawn to herald a new day, was Kathryn. She looked unfamiliar in the cream dress she had chosen to respect the Skolaran's request that we wear their traditional colours of mourning. I was feeling a little uncomfortable myself - no, not uncomfortable - vulnerable. How we use the uniform for protection, how we use it to hide from ourselves and from each other.
She turned a little, just enough to catch me watching her and I shrugged, almost apologetic at being caught stareing. Looking at her now it was difficult to believe that she had cried this morning. That for just a few, brief seconds I had held her, soothed her and attempted to offer her some comfort before she recovered and backed away to face the day ahead.
I'm still trying to decide if she is all right, trying to decide if we both are. After a difficult day and an emotionally charged night I feel closer to Kathryn than I have done for a long time. But she's backed away from such growing intimacy before - I know she will again if she feels compromised by our friendship. It's a complicated situation that I'm beginning to believe we will never find a solution to.
The drumming and the chanting stop - dead, and the sudden, startling silence stops my line of thought in it's tracks. We all turned to look at the solemn procession making it's way slowly towards us. They moved with complete precision, the body lying between them on a simple platform carried by four Skolarans. Beside them, four other mourners held aloft streams of white material that billowed in the wind like sails.
The drumming and the chanting began again, more slowly this time. My Universal translator didn't catch the meaning of all the words, enough to convey the general meaning, but the funeral rites and the language used in them were probably ancient.
The procession grew ever closer, the faces of the mourners composed and sombre. Glancing towards the horizon I could see the burning globe of the Skolaran sun just beginning it's ascent. At the moment of sunrise, our hosts had explained, the body would be returned to the ocean. This action represented a connection with the past, with the waters that gave the Planet and it's people life - sunrise marked a new beginning. Past and future aligned in a single moment.
Emotive too - the symbolism was everywhere. Around us on the cliff top dozens of torches had been lit and the heavy, almost oppressive scent of the smoke filled the air. It felt as though I was being drugged, even though the Doctor had checked and reassured us that the smoke was of no danger to the human metabolism. He hadn't warned us about the colour, must have slipped his mind - the smoke was blood red and was already staining our pale clothing. More ritual. It was disturbing to see so much red at a funeral - I had to remind myself that it might mean something quite different to the Skolarans, that they might not realise that for us it was like being surrounded by a cloud of blood.
Almost as though she had read my thoughts Kathryn turned to look at me and I saw the expression of awe and distress she wore, I could have sworn from the look on her face that she had not been expecting to be so moved by this.
I knew the exact moment she decided she couldn't allow herself to feel this way and tried to do something about it. But before she could push away those feelings I reached out blindly to her, touching my fingers to her face and breathing the word 'no' into the scented air as though it were a talisman.
The scent must have gone to my head, the sound of the drums and the chanting echoing the beating of my heart, pulsing through me. She didn't move, not for infinite aching seconds, until finally she lifted her hand to mine and turned her head to press a kiss to my palm.
The sudden silence startled me again, shattered the texture of the moment in every one of my senses. We both pulled away, turning to face the Minister who had assumed a position in front of the body. Unwilling to relinquish the contact I took a step closer to Kathryn and placed my hand on her shoulder. She moved her head slightly to look back at me for a brief second before returning her attention to the proceedings.
The address was brief, there was little to be said, a great tragedy had befallen these people and as yet, no explanation had been found. But this was not the time to attempt to find reasons, this was the mourning time. The sun's progress was an elemental force that could not be slowed and it held us all in it's grasp. Carefully the platform that held the body was placed onto a small structure that stretched away from the cliffs. The chanting began once more, slow mournful notes dragged from the souls of those closest to the dead. The sun edged closer and closer to the moment when all of it would be visible above the horizon.
And then it happened, almost in slow motion. The chanting ceased, the platform tilted forward sending the body, wrapped in pale cloth, hurtling to the sea. The sun slipped the last of the bonds of night and a new day was born.
People left quickly, there was nothing to say and still too much to do. Even the Minister lingered for only long enough to thank us for our help. Suddenly, finding myself alone, with Kathryn I struggled for something to say. It seemed as though a lot had happened since I had last used my voice. I was still struggling when she turned and said, a little shakily,
'That was remarkable.'
'Yes.' My sudden reticence seemed to strike a chord with her, there was a sudden flash of understanding in her eyes.
'I feel as though all of my senses have been bludgeoned. Does that make any sense Chakotay?'
It was exactly how I felt. 'It's difficult to shake off something like this, perhaps we shouldn't even try.'
'Perhaps.' I wondered abruptly, if we were really talking about the funeral. 'Chakotay I wanted to thank you, for last night and yesterday and for all the times before when you've offered me comfort and I've never acknowledged it. I'm only just starting to realise how selfish I've been.'
'You haven't been...' I started to brush off her remark, but she silenced me by touching her finger to my lips. 'If you don't let me acknowledge my faults how will I ever be able to do anything about them?'
'All right,' and this time it was my voice that was shaky.
'I want us to be friends and perhaps something more in time, but friends will do to start with. I know the reason that we aren't close is my fault and I'd like to do something about it, but I can't on my own.'
'I've never stopped being your friend Kathryn.' There was a reprimand there that I had not intended but she responded only with a slight dip of her head and then,
'Granted, but will you allow me to be your friend?'
She was remarkable really and the combination of the heavily scented air and her unpredictability seemed to have dulled my senses. Words formed in my head that didn't join up to make complete sentences, my response remaining unspoken, leaving her to fill in the silence with explanation.
'It happened yesterday, when I was squelching through that mud to reach the child. I realised that helping to rescue someone I didn't know, and I do mean really helping, not just giving orders, or sending an away team, was the most human thing I had done for a long time. I don't want it to be that way, I need a...' she shook her head, apparently frustrated by her inability to explain further.
'A connection?' I suggested, finally finding my voice, 'someone to tell you when you're being a brat, someone to hug and to hug you?' At her nod I smiled, 'well, finally she understands. I was beginning to think you were never going to scale the walls you'd erected around yourself.'
'Oh, I scaled them a while ago - I've been sitting on top of them, surveying the landscape, looking for a likely candidate to catch me, should I decide to jump.'
'I'll catch you Kathryn.'
'I know you will.'
We had so many things to do, the crew of a Starship greedy for our attention. But it was the right moment to stand, gazing out to sea, contemplating the wonderful feel of the sun on my skin and the warmth of Kathryn's hand in mine. A new day indeed.