A Small Act of Courage


Character codes: R (AU)


The last thing he'd hoped to do this trip was die.

It's all right, Slokum. Try not to move.

He'd heard all the security jokes a hundred times (what "red-shirt" hadn't?), but he'd never really given it that much thought. At least, not enough to actually think that this, or any of the other two hundred odd away teams he'd been a part of, might be his last. It was just a routine contact: nothing spectacular, nothing heroic, nothing dangerous. It was just his job. And yet, here he was, lying in a puddle of his own blood and wondering if he'd told everybody everything he was supposed to tell them.

...massive trauma. I can't slow the internal hemorrhaging...

The guys at the Academy ribbed him unmercifully ("Hey, Slokie, why not just throw your tie over a rafter and save your mummy four year's tuition?" "Yo, Sloke, if your IQ was one point higher, you'd be a security chief!" And, of course, his all-time favorite, "Security?!? Oh, my God, honey, whatever it is, your father and I will help you work it out!") over his choice of majors, but he'd never really considered anything else. Every post on a starship had its risks. Security was no worse and no better than any other.

Hang on, Slokum. Just a couple more minutes...

On graduation day, the guys'd all chipped in for a proper tunic--a red one, like they used to wear, but with one minor difference. Someone had painted a fluorescent green target on both front and back. He'd laughed. Everyone had advice: "Keep your head low and your eyes open." "Don't bet against a stacked deck." "Never let them see you sweat."

Damnit, Will. We're going to lose him...

Jaxx's was the best, though. "Hey, Slokie," he'd said, solemn as a preacher. "My words to you are these: Don't spit into the wind, man, 'cause I'll most probably be standing right behind you." It had been a comfort to know someone on the new ship. Especially Jaxx. They'd always been friends.

...lost his pulse. You're going to have to help me aerate.

They fit in, like they always did. Made more friends than he'd ever meant to make Soralee, Vasquez, Morrison, Kolaski...even Bishop wasn't bad for a guy who'd only laughed twice in the past three years.

... not a doctor...

And then there was Yar.

...have a choice. Now, hold him steady and do exactly what I...

Tasha had liked him. He'd liked Tasha. They'd kind of mutually liked each other. He missed her more than even Jaxx suspected.

...in the clear, Commander. Take 'em several minutes to find their way back. We can skin out of here if we do it now. No way one of them could see us...

Never really thought much of Riker, though. Too slick. Too straight. Respected him, maybe--the kind of respect that came with the knowledge that the Number One's favor or disfavor could make or break a career--but never really liked.

Hang on, Slokie. We're on the way home. Don't give it up now...

That's why it came as such a surprise. What in God's name had possessed him to jump in front of Riker like that? Why would anyone do anything that stupid? Had he really thought he wouldn't die as easily as the commander?

...losing him, damnit. His neural net's flatlining...

But he'd done it anyway. Instinct, maybe. Or stupidity. Either way, he'd seen that beady-eyed little weasel setting himself for the strike, and he'd seen Riker half turned away... working the chieftain...doing his job...

Come on, Deanna. Hang in there, buddy.

Deanna. God, how he hated that nickname. Jaxx tagged him with it shortly after they'd signed on. Like it was his fault his mother was short-sighted enough to name him Troy when he'd one day be serving on a ship boasting a Betazoid Troi.

Everybody clear.

And Jaxx, being Jaxx, never felt the need for decorum. He'd shared his little joke with most everybody he could trust not to take it back to the counselor.

...no brain activity at all...

"Hey, Deanna," he'd leer as he upped the bet to twelve credits. "Do you feel anything?" Morrison and Skaggs would snigger. Even Bishop periodically cracked a grin. "I sense nothing," he would play along, aware that outrage or indignation would only prolong the fun of it. "I have no sense at all."

...nothing, Doctor...

Sometimes it was hard, hiding stray thoughts of the well-worn joke from her during their semi-annual psych visits. Sometimes he wondered if...

...damnit, again...

...he hadn't. If that mysterious smile hung in her eyes because she knew all along what they...

...forty ccs of adreninile...jump the power to twelve...

...said behind her back. If she merely tolerated them, amused like adults often were at the pranks of nauty little boys...


Complete, Absolute Silence

...over, Beverly. Let him go. There's nothing more...

Silence like a church

Like a cathedral

Silence like the moment after the last thing that ever happened.


Will Riker released the doctor's thin wrist and stepped away. She stared at the finger-prints of blood he left behind--Slokum's blood--for a long moment before she spoke.

"Damnit." The single word hung in the silence like a benediction.

Pushed deeper into the far corner of Sickbay by the weight of disbelief, Evan Jaxx stared numbly at the still form of his best friend. The stark pallor of shock waxed his face chalkier in life than Slokum's was in death. "Oh, God, Deanna," he breathed. Horror pooled in normally laughing eyes.

Wiping bloody hands on his uniform, Riker turned away from the body on the diagnostic table. "I'm sorry," he told the dead man's partner quietly.

"Sorry?" Jaxx's voice was hollow. Angry eyes rose accusingly to the first officer's gaze. "That cover it for you, Commander? Sorry?"

Riker's jaw tightened. For a moment, he said nothing at all. "No," he answered finally. "That doesn't cover it for me."

The two men stared at each other for a very long time. When the silence between them no longer expected anything, Riker slid past the security man and headed for the door.


Riker paused.

Jaxx drew a shaky breath. "Buy you a drink?" he offered quietly.

Riker turned to face him. "Why?" he demanded suddenly. His voice was low with reined-in rage. "Why would he do something stupid like that?"

Evan Jaxx's lips twisted sadly, the smile a shadow of what it had once been. He watched the doctor pull a sheet over Slokum's lax features and remembered.

"He was good at his job, sir," Jaxx murmured.

"It wasn't his job to die," Riker retorted. The ramrod tension in the first officer's spine mirrored the restraint in his features.

It was then that Jaxx realized what his friend had seen...what it was that pushed Troy Slokum into the line of fire. "It wasn't yours, either," Jaxx stated simply.