An archetale of the Assembling Terrania Cycle.
I was Garth of Izar.
At the summit of my career, I held the Starfleet commission of Fleet Captain. Titles informal and formal trailed along after it: head of my graduating class, ensign, lieutenant, commander, captain; explorer of worlds, negotiator of interstellar treaties, victor of Axanar…
All that was a very long time ago. Before the accident, in fact, after which I encountered the wise physicians of Antos IV, the fourth planet of a G-class star in the Alpha Quadrant. They taught me how to change the shape of my healing body, but not the shape of my psychotic mind. Being eminently sane, they had no idea how deranged I was, none whatsoever.
In return I offered them the conquest of the galaxy, with me as the instrument thereunto. They refused, of course. Outraged, I ordered my crew to annihilate them. Fortunately, the officers on duty disarmed me and relieved me of command. After a stay in the brig I was transferred to the asylum on Elba II.
Apt naming, that. Deprived of sanity and memory, I used my shapeshifting ability to take over the installation. I was determined to lord it over the entire galaxy, you see, killing and maiming everyone not on board with my inflated agenda. I even captured the fabled James Kirk and threatened his life, although he got the upper hand in the end.
A newly developed medicine cured my psychosis, and I returned to myself.
Or so they said. Which self? Not the crazy Napoleonic madman, fortunately; but neither could I measure up to the noble fleet captain of my earlier days. Not after what I had done. My brain was cured, but not the blood on my hands. I was a broken man. Little wonder the Starfleet psychologists refused me a commission. I was beached, permanently.
At this point I must point out an ancestral irony. I descend from one Thomas Garth, an American psychologist of the late 1800s and early 1900s. He was a professor of brain research at the University of Rochester. He also studied learning and memory. He wrote scholarly papers on the need to understand our physiological selves. Tell me all about it, ancestor. I did not even know about him until after my “recovery” and the self-searching following it.
I tried. I attended Starfleet events as an honorary former captain. I went live in broadcasts on the nature of disability and mental illness and neurodiversity: in my case, of the extreme sort. I wrote books and articles on the history of the Battle of Axanar. I faced audiences of people ready to empathize with my plight.
The Antos healers and Starfleet psychologists had given me tools for self-reflection: never easy to use for someone as extraverted as I am, but there for me nevertheless. I dug in. And after a series of dark damp months, some of them on Earth in a northern hemisphere winter, I realized that what pained me could only be dealt with outwardly, relationally. No amount of internal massaging, journalizing, or therapizing could assuage it. Believe me, I tried.
Antos IV is a member of the United Federation of Planets. In spite of everything I had tried to do to them, they approved my travel plans, much to my surprise.
The civilian ship that carried me docked at the orbital spaceport above the south pole, and I transported to the surface.
I don’t really know what I expected. A part of me wanted to be vaporized: a need for expiation, I suppose. Instead, I was shown to a human-style lounge and offered a restful chair to recline in. Subtle sadism? Punishment through kindness? I could hear the faint remnants of my psychotic self speculating, and I shut it down. My neurology had been healed, but the psychological imprint remained and probably always would. Perhaps I deserved it…
－Well, I’ve been describing all this as though I weren’t here, haven’t I? I wanted, perhaps futilely, to be a little more objective, a little more chronicled and apart. Perhaps I wanted to hide from myself, or from you, even while seeking from your species an absolution I have no business asking for and that you probably cannot give me.
Thank you, you are quite correct: I was not in my right mind even after being treated here. I do understand that. But the guilt of what I did remains. Why is that? Why can’t I let myself off the hook?
I never in my life let myself off the hook? You raise a good point. I always expected a lot of myself. That was how I succeeded. I was trained that way, raised that way under the orange sun of Izar…
I have come to suspect that my ego took up a lot of space even before I got sick. In fact, maybe the sickness, for me if not for others, was a kind of unavoidable takedown. Everyone looked up to me—teachers, trainers, cadets, crewmen, officers—and I basked in it even while weighed down by the responsibility of being a role model. It has always been so for me.
My successes fed my ego. Take Axanar as an example. I scouted the territory well, as every battle commander should. The Klingon commodore did not. He was too eager for a pivotal kill. We lured him there, and when their shields fluctuated, we hit them hard. A victory for Starfleet and the Federation, and a commendation for my collar. That kind of thing.
I admit it: I’m still proud of that and other achievements earned during all those decades of service. The doctors on my world assured me that nothing, not even my disability, could erase those from history. Even so…
Even so, if I could do all those things, how could I not fight back against the illness that made me hurt so many and threaten your entire world with extinction?
Yes. Oh, yes, I see it now. You can win medals for bravery and cleverness, fight hard all your life, push back as hard as you can, harder than anyone else, and still lose. Gods almighty. What depths of existential unfairness confront us fragile mortals?
Let me say it plainly for once: The accident that took me down was too much for me. I could face raging Klingons and disruptor blasts, but not, in the end, my own damaged brain. Even your own healers could not repair it.
Do you have any idea of how hard this is for me to accept? Say again? What is the water dripping from my eyes down across my cheeks? I’ll tell you about it some time.
What am I thinking now? Oddly enough, about Kirk. I can read people, even when crazy. Kirk does not know any of this. He’s far too heroic. One day he will lose someone he cannot do without. Then he will learn, or maybe not. He will be offered a chance at post-heroism. Will he take it?
I must, moving beyond the role model Kirk told me had inspired him and other heroes like him. Maybe Starfleet still needs heroes; maybe the universe does. On the other hand, maybe the universe needs one fewer. I know I do.
And I see something else: I must teach others, heroes in particular, about the place where heroism comes to an end. Not to discourage them, but to welcome them into a life beyond what they do, beyond reputation, recognition, achievement, even greatness. In the end, in the very end, we’re all just human beings.
I thank you, Antosian, whose cultural name in English means “flowering.” Not only for letting me come here again and hearing me out, but for helping me at a second opportunity to heal. These heroic tasks I have always charged myself with are no longer up to me. My primary accuser of personal failure has not been the courts or the asylums or Starfleet Command or the disapproval of my peers, but my own ambitious perfectionism, which I now set to one side to allow in further healing.
I go home with a new sense of purpose burning within me. Starfleet is full of heroic captains. Perhaps what I have learned can temper them, season them with a little hard-won, difficult wisdom about facing their own limitations. Although I hope so, I am finally unhooked from any outcome.
You know what? A synchronicity: Starfleet Academy has just requested a presentation from me to their cadets on enduring the hardships of, for want of a politer term, mental derangement. Space is perilous. Heroism more so.
I will accept. And for the first time in decades, I will appear before them in my old uniform. I can no longer command a starship. But perhaps I can command an audience long enough to convey something useful to them. Perhaps even something permanently transformative, at least for some. We will see.
I am Garth of Izar. And I am healed.
And from realms both distant and near at hand, the archetypal Power of Healing, Kaila, smiled.