Thirty years. That had been how long she had, for all intents and purposes, been alone in her life. Beyond the windows before her spun the adopted homeworld of the Gorak'nar, capital of their new Commonwealth, where they had worked to rebuild what remained of their ancient civilization...and coming to terms with the ghosts of their past. Thirty years ago today, this planet had taken one of the men she loved, the one she had loved most of all - and it had damaged the well beyond repair, and eventually to his own demise.


How she hated this planet. How she hated coming back here...but she had to. For him. For all of them.

"Ambassador Britanov?" She turned slightly. "We've received clearance from New Po'gaenei to proceed to the surface."

"Thank you, Captain." She sighed. "Time we were about it." She looked out at the planet again, then followed the captain out of Ten Forward.

Catherine Britanov had made the voyage from Earth aboard the Sovereign-class U.S.S. California, detached from its duties in Joint Task Force 87 to travel beyond the Gateway. In late March on the Terran calendar, every year, she had made this voyage across her own galaxy, and then beyond it to M90, to pay homage to her late husband, General Mikhail Britanov, who had been mortally wounded during the liberation of Kelenek'che'sa. He had died on the 28th of March, 2386, and Catherine had made it a point to travel to his grave in the Fields of Sanctity every year. He had been buried on the field of his last great battle, alongside the dead from three nations - the United Federation of Planets, the Reydovan Empire, and the Gorak'nar exiles who would eventually form the Commonwealth of Kelenek'che'sa.

On occasion, she was accompanied by her three children - her daughter, Anastasia, and her sons, Anatoliy and Vasily. Sometimes she was accompanied by her elder brother, Fleet Admiral Saxtus Fayhan, who had retired after a long career. More oft than not, she went alone, travelling aboard any ship that came out this way.

For this trip, her companion was the ship's captain, Taelinkayn - the only daughter of High Inquisitor Velenkayn VI, the leader of Kelenek'che'sa, and his wife, Battlelady Zira'gaenus, who commanded its military. They had led the Gorak'nar exiles here in opposition to the "False Prophet", Artimus Devaneaux, who had allied with the Divine Alliance during the war. Taelinkayn had been born just after the conclusion of the war, and had been the first Gorak'nar to graduate from Starfleet Academy in 2409; Saxtus had sponsored her admission. Seven years later, she was now a starship captain, one of the youngest in the Fleet. She had not been back here since she had left to enter the Academy, eleven years earlier.

As they stepped into the turbolift to the shuttlebay, Catherine looked up at her - the Gorak'nar Warrior was a good foot or so taller - and smiled. For all that she looked professional in her white-shouldered captain's uniform, Taelinkayn had a certain look about her that Catherine recognized. "Nervous?"

"Very," Taelinkayn admitted. "With all that has happened these past few years, I have always feared that the Iconians would come here as well." The recent war against the ancient and powerful race had been even more destructive than that with the Divine. A Herald fleet had, in fact, made its way to Theta Antares and through the Gateway to attack the Alliance holdings in M90 - namely Gateway Station, the Kro'tak colony, and Kelenek'che'sa - and was destroyed by Zira'gaenus' fleet, in conjunction with Gateway's defense force. They had braced for reinforcements to pour through when word came that the war had ended at Earth, with the Iconians electing to cease hostilities for some reason. "Plus...I have not seen them since the graduation. I know that their duties keep them here, but I do worry that they..." She trailed off, as if unwilling to finish the thought.

Catherine chuckled. "Just like my sons, the first time they were allowed to come back to Earth on leave." Her smile widened as she noted Taelinkayn's surprise. "No matter what planet you're from, military families tend to have standards. Misha was very keen to ensure the boys upheld their Starfleet oaths, just as his father had done with him. Judging from the fact that you're a Starfleet captain in command of a starship, and a decorated veteran of a brutal conflict, I think you're covered." As she mentioned the "brutal conflict", her smile had faded.

Taelinkayn noticed it, too; the aura of sadness had followed the ambassador for the entire journey from Earth. "You don't like coming out here, do you? It reminds you too much of what happened."

Catherine hesitated for a moment, and then finally nodded. "This planet left its mark on the men I upheld the most in my life, Captain - my husband, my brother, my sons, and my eldest grandson. Misha fell here. Saxtus made his career here. Anatoliy and Vasily took their father's place at the head of the family here. And Kieran...Kieran was broken here. It peaked his meteoric rise...and then led to his fall." She was painfully aware that Kieran had left a divided legacy. As the son of Artimus Devaneaux, the old human saying about apples and trees had come readily to mind - and the events on Reydovan Prime seven years ago had seemed to prove them right.

The seemingly endless turbolift ride ended just outside the shuttlebay, and the pilot had prepared their transport for them. While they could have gone by transporter, Catherine elected to travel by shuttle whenever she visited here. It gave her time to think before the final approach. Taelinkayn took her seat next to the pilot up front, while Catherine sat behind them. As the bay door opened and the shuttle lifted off from the pad, it made its way around and over the saucer of the California before navigating the asteroid field in orbit - the field that had given the planet its name, meaning "Halls of the Blind" in Gorak'nar, for the obscuring density of the field when the planet was discovered. It had thinned out somewhat since then, though - partly to allow easier access without resorting to guideships for every vessel travelling through it, and partly due to natural stellar drift.

Either way, the planet was keenly visible as they approached, and made their way through the atmosphere. As the clouds cleared, Catherine looked out the side window across the Plains of Sanctity, and the sight of one of the planet's two moons in the sky. The fact that this was a beautiful planet tugged at her heart-strings even further. It was a feeling she often experienced making this journey. She couldn't help it. She would endure it until the time came for the final journey. El-Aurians lived for a long time, and she did not know how long it would be before, at last, she returned to Misha's side. But she would.

Until then...she would continue to hate this planet.