“I ought to be dead.”
Kendra looked across her desk to the woman shrunken into the chair and wondered where she was going to go with this.
“Shi, you’re not.”
The brown eyes which lifted to meet hers were haunted.
“Everyone else is.”
Her eyes dropped down again.
“You’re not,” Kendra repeated with more emphasis. If she hoped for a reaction she was disappointed. When Shi finally answered it was with the same toneless, flat voice she’d been using the entire meeting.
“You have no idea what it’s like to see your entire crew, people you’d lived with, worked with, loved, blown apart in front of you. You don’t know what it’s like to see your Captain’s body explode as a laser passes through her, boiling her alive from the inside. You don’t know what it’s like to cling to your station as pieces of your ship fly around you, shred your friend next to you, and leave you untouched. You don’t know what it’s like to have the power die and everything go dark and realize you’re the only person alive in the compartment, being able to see space where a bulkhead ought to be. You have no idea how tempting it is to unstrap and float away with them.” Shi trailed off and Kendra allowed the silence to stretch out for a moment.
“You’re right,” Kendra finally said. “I don’t. What I do know is you didn’t unstrap. You didn’t choose to join your friends in death, Shi, and that takes a kind of strength I can only imagine.”
Shi looked up, the haunted look somewhat lessened.
“I’m not going to give you a speech about best choice and unused potential and all the other crap psychologists use to twist your mind around. I want you on Pike because she needs a lead helmsman, and you need to be needed. You need to be around people again.”
She waited for a response. Getting none, Kendra continued.
“Shi, this mission is going to challenge the crew in ways we haven’t begun to imagine. You’re going to travel farther than any other humans in history, be more isolated than any other crew. You’re going to be 4,000 people, Fleet and civilians alike, in a flying tin can four kilometers long and crammed with enough supplies and scientific equipment for deployments up to three years. Frankly, I need tough-minded individuals in the crew, and you’re as tough as anyone in Starfleet.”
Shi’s face mirrored the disbelief in her voice.
“I’m not tough.”
“Bullshit.” The unexpected vulgarity snapped Shi’s head fully upright.
“Bullshit,” repeated Kendra. “If you weren’t tough-minded you would have drifted off into space. You did the hardest thing you possibly could: you chose to live.”
Kendra leaned forward.
“That, I know. I know how hard it can be to choose to live. And anyone who can face that choice and talk about it afterwards is someone I want at the helm of a starship. I want you, Shi Hendrickson. Are you in?”
The woman, no longer looking as defeated, nodded. “I’ll do my best for you, Admiral.”
“No,” Kendra disagreed. “Do your best for your friends from the Roosa. Keep their memories alive, bring them on the mission, and live.”