The rat trap torpedo sped through space, looping back on its trajectory and zeroing in on its target. The Sprite's Spittle sat immobile and darkened as the hasty power down from Gardner took effect. The Kestrel berthed alongside was similarly darkened and powered down. And to all intents and purposes was similarly exposed and extremely vulnerable.
The rat trap struck home. The explosion bloomed wildly and instantly. The cold white light of the explosion was blinding as it enveloped the Sprite's Spittle and Kestrel, washing over their hulls, crackling with a fierce angry energy, crashing upon them like the thunderous wave breaking on rocks. The shock wave smashed into the ships, jolting them heavily, flinging the occupants inside about.
The electrical energy coursed over the hull of the ships, sweeping across in a torrent, seeking out any other power signatures. Any power signatures were quickly and greedily ate up the EM pulse, eradicating them.
In the engineering compartment of the Sprite's Spittle the electronic device of the bomb crackled with energy surges as the pulse attacked its power source, the interior of the department lit up by the violent release of the electrical storm. To those trapped within, it seemed as if they were caught in a lightning storm trapped in a bottle and if they failed to flee they lay prostrate on the deck plates. The deafening roar of the crackling energy coursed through the compartment.
What seemed an eternity, eventuality passed. The storm abated and the silence and darkness that replaced the fury of the storm seemed so complete and yet so fragile, the scene awaiting to be disturbed and the bodies within reanimated with life as they continued to lie still and lifeless... until a broad and bulky Bolian stirred.
Gardner groused and bitched as he pushed Submino in his heavy black armour gear off the top of him. "Yeah?"
"What's that earth expression again, that I think aptly fits this moment?"
Gardner looked up at the short-circuited bomb device and the darkened interior of the Sprite's Spittle engine room. Then he turned back to the Bolian who only moments ago had been lying atop of him in a rather compromising position. "I haven't the faintest clue what you mean. Ack!" He protested as he sat himself up and puffed out his bearded cheeks in a sigh of relief. It whistled out of him and sounded very much like he was giving thanks for being alive.
"Yeah." Submino rubbed his bald blue head as he sat up, for a moment wondrous about the still being alive part. He looked to the chief and tried to recall it. "I think it went something like ... fuck a duck!"
Gardner rubbed his beard and began patting down his own uniform. He furrowed his wrinkled brow and looked at Submino, trying not to think of the compromising position and the expression in the same thought. "Yeah. I guess all things considered," he fumbled in his engineering jacket to pull out a cigar, and proceeded to light it up, puffing on it happily before continuing, "that might be pretty damn apt."
* * *
"Ouch." McGregor rubbed the back of his neck as he picked himself up off the floor of Stallion Two. "So, that's what the other end of one of those feels like."
"You think it will make you reconsider using the rat-traps in future Cap?" asked Poulter, who unlike the captain had been strapped into the cockpit seat.
"Heck no. Not when I know it works so good. Ugh. ‘Zeus', get systems back up and going as quick as," McGregor stated to Zuzentine, the Kobheerian seated at the monitoring station of the Stallion. To Poulter he said, "Chris, as soon as we have power chase after Stallion One. I'll man the weapons station."
Poulter's eyes bulged in shock and then he quickly assimilated the captain's orders. "Erm ... yes sir."
Dexter moaned lightly as he raised himself off the floor. "You do realise that this is your entire fault?" He gave McGregor a scolding look.
Pastiche style, McGregor returned, throwing a look at Chris Poulter and the Zeus at the controls. "Caleb don't question me in front of the juniors."
"Damn it to hell McGregor. We've near been blown to hell and your most pressing need is to chase after that deranged Vulcan. You permit her to be a constant threat to the security and safety of everyone onboard the Kestrel."
"My pressing concern was to stop the Kestrel being blown up. Viola!"
Dexter corrected, "Voila, I think you mean."
"No, I played a small violin and then I did that." McGregor mimed playing a tiny violin and then snapped his fingers. "Now onto the next pressing concern, that being T'Vel in the other Stallion. And for the record, I trust T'Vel more implicitly than just about anyone."
"How can you say that when she has cleared off with hostages? She's no longer in control of her own faculties?"
McGregor pointed at himself adamantly. "Because she owes me! And because she was not the one who planted the bomb in engineering."
"And how the hell do you figure that?"
McGregor shrugged it off as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. "Rah was on her team."
Dexter angrily chewed his lip. "I meant how do you figure she owes you? Simply because you allow her to run about the ship when she ought to be cashiered out of the service." Poulter and Zeus kept their heads down trying to get the systems up and going trying to ignore the heated words. "It is officers like her who give the Border Service a bad name."
"T'Vel could beat two hells out of any Fleeter, Dexter." To Zuzentine he barked, "Time to re-initialisation Zeus?"
Chris Poulter eagerly interjected, "It should be less than a minute Captain."
The more serious and precise Zuzentine objected to the estimate. "It will take a little longer Captain. Only a little. But I won't have systems restored in less than a minute with such little pre-warning." The Kobheerian's features brokered no argument from Chris.
McGregor knew the NCO to a grafter and skilled technician, if a little too straight laced for McGregor's own tastes. Though apparently the young and brash NCO wanted to earn his pips and follow his captain up the hawsehole. "Keep at it then." Spying Dexter's thunderous face, Chris put his head back down while Zuzentine stuck his head into an open panel, working on its inner mechanisms.
Not to be derailed, Dexter persisted darkly, "Her violent streak is not going to be a trait in our or her favour at this present moment."
McGregor did not bother to answer that, instead he impatiently slapped a brace support of the Stallion cockpit. "Come on, come on."
"I could never understand why it is that you allowed her to remain onboard. You are trying to tell me it is because you trust her more than anyone?"
"Not more than anyone. More than most." McGregor shrugged. He offered nothing more conclusive. "More than others."
By default, it seemed the captain accused Dexter. "Not me?"
He threw a barbed joke at Dexter. "You were a crook once upon a time."
"That's why you hired me. Or so you said."
McGregor stared out the Stallions window, trying to follow the track of the other vessel. He saw the tell tale flash of it going to warp. He winced seeing them escape. "I only mean that someone onboard is working for T'Hos and I know for certain it isn't T'Vel and that it never could be."
Caleb's features grew darker. "She is a pretty compelling suspect. Heck, she can even use the insanity defence if she ever gets caught out."
"She isn't insane!"
"Yeah she's bat shit crazy McGregor. You can't dispute that."
"She isn't insane."
Dexter stabbed an angry finger out the cockpit window in the direction of the fleeing Stallion. "Tell that to the ensign on that stolen Stallion. I bet she would differ in her opinion."
McGregor grabbed Dexter at the lip of his armour suit's neckline. "Tac, I've already said it, she isn't insane."
The security chief pulled loose of McGregor's grip, yanking his captain's hands away. "Yeah, we don't have to worry about T'Vel at all."
"We don't!" He turned and faced forwards again. To himself, he said, "We need to worry about T'Kas. And pray T'Vel is still in there."
Dexter was not in the mood for any cryptic murmurings. This day had been long in coming, but it had been coming. "Why then?"
McGregor climbed into the chair in readiness to arm the weapons station. "Why what?"
"Why ever have you allowed her on the Kestrel?"
"She served on the Kestrel before I was ever an officer. Before I was her captain. Or hers." The former her McGregor referred to the Kestrel itself.
"That is no reason."
The Stallion filled with the whine of returning power, the consoles glowed with electronic life and McGregor sat up as if charged with a similar charge. Zuzentine declared, "Power is returning."
Poulter engaging the flight controls, added, "Laying in a pursuit course." The Stallion took off and bulleted after T'Vel. "I've got a lock on their heading."
"Hit it. Warp 4 and whatever else you can chuck at the engines." McGregor added as an afterthought, focused on the initial pursuit. "I owed her."
"Now you owe her." Dexter got into a seat and tried the comm. console to raise the Kestrel and apprise. "Which is it?"
"Both. But you are correct it is my fault. It would never have happened if it hadn't been for me ... returning."
The moment of silence stretched as the Stallion banks sharply in pursuit. Dexter looked intently at McGregor who deliberately ignored him. He appeared to not want to hear Dexter's question.
Piqued by the turn of the discussion Zuzentine, his Kobheerian features more wrinkled by his frown, ventured, "You mean to do with the Event?"
McGregor hooked round to look at Dexter darkly. ‘Bad enough talking about this without involving the junior officers and non-coms' his look said. To Dexter, he baldly stated, "We haven't the time for this Tac."
"Make the time before we catch up with them. Cos otherwise," his tone turned menacing as he hefted his phaser, "I'm popping that Vulcan in the head."
McGregor's eyes grew baleful. But he relented. "If it hadn't been for me and Rah returning, with Stanley, she would never have had cause to be on the Seleeh. She would never have been attacked, injured ... damaged."
"Sod's law should be no reason for keeping a deranged lunatic onboard."
"It wasn't Sod's Law. Get that through your head! When we returned, it was always going to be T'Vel who was going to be called upon to investigate. T'Vel was the scientist who had done all of the work on the Wash. No one else ever bothered to study it. In any other region of space, it would garner the interest of a hundred different scientists for its anomalies. Instead, it is in a stinking backwater region of space of no importance. All Starfleet ever cared about the Wash was the fact it acts as a convenient barrier along troubling borders."
The captain studied his instruments as he continued. "But she knew about as much as anyone could fathom. Wanted to know more and when the chance to do so was denied, she chose to transfer to the Border Service, chose an assignment on a cutter travelling within the Wash. She came to the Kestrel before..."
"Before I was its captain. Before I was an officer. Before we, Rah and I, disappeared into it." He nodded out the window, in the direction of the Wash, as if a part of his brain was a compass with a fixed bearing on the tumultuous region of space.
Dexter finished the story for him. "And came out the other end, decades later, with a blue gilled friend in tow."
"Exactly. On top of being the only scientist with knowledge of the region she had also known Rah and me. She could verify who we were and verify the science behind our disappearance and return. So it was always going to be her. It wasn't serendipity or plain bad luck. She lost everything she was, her science career, her betrothal, her emotional discipline and her mind. For all of us," he spoke bitterly, sadly, "it was the wrong place, the wrong time." McGregor stopped again. The pause was heavy and pregnant, filling the Stallion with its presence, prompting Poulter to dare a sideways glance at his captain.
Dexter snorted with derision. He exclaimed, "Damn, I didn't think I would ever hear a sob story from you McGregor. If that's your reason for putting up with her, I can tell you it sucks."
The captain stood and turned on Caleb. "How about loyalty as a reason?"
"Yeah, loyalty Dexter. It's about being something more than yourself. Being part of something else. Part of a crew. Part of a mission. A shared duty to uphold. The Kestrel is a crew. We save lives together. We protect borders. We draw the line. We stand and defend! We command them to ‘stand down and prepare to be boarded'. We are the last hope of civilisation, a call in the wild for law and order for those on the edge, living on the frontier. We call out, ‘Hold on, we're coming; coming to help.' That is who we are! We don't back down. We don't give up on one another. We don't turn our backs. We don't pop each other in the head. Loyalty!"
"Shut up." He took his seat again. "Poulter! Bring us in hard and fast. We're going to strafe the port side, take out shields and the engines. A bash and catch!"
Poulter paled at the prospect of making a hard, fast contact with the other Stallion. "Ok."
"Loyalty? Huh. You say that, and then in the next breath get ready to open fire on them."
"That's my job."
Then Poulter interrupted them. "Wait! They've dropped out of warp. But..."
McGregor looked at the sensor read out. Looking over his shoulder, so did Dexter. Zuzentine, normally a reserved technician, exclaimed as he studied his monitors, "What's happening now to the Stallion?"
Poulter answered the obvious. "It's ... out of control."
Dexter added, "It ain't the only thing out of control."
* * *
"I am not T'Vel."
Leoni frowned at the Vulcan, deeply troubled at her fierce angry demeanour. "Lt. Commander T'Vel?"
The Vulcan sneered, "I am not T'Vel!" The Vulcan's speech seemed almost a hiss.
The situation seemed so surreal, Leoni had to look upon the fallen figure of Keren to begin to believe this was really happening. The Trill struggled to process these events as she took in the still Andorian even as her past lives told her this was very real, very dangerous. "I don't understand."
"You need not understand. You need only to unclamp the locks and fly this vessel away." The Vulcan's eyes bulged manically as she commanded, "Now!"
A sound filled the interior. A transport beam started materialising within. It coalesced into the form of Commander Molly Cartwright with her phaser raised.
The Commander's face was a mix of concern and anger. "Stop T'Vel."
But the Vulcan moved swiftly and grabbed the arm of the commander wrenching it back painfully causing Molly to drop the phaser. Before Jex could capitalise on the movement T'Vel stuck her carbine into the side of Cartwright. "Do as I say or the Commander is dead."
Jex turned and started the de-docking procedures. Molly protested, "Don't do it Ensign. Ow!" Molly winced visibly as her arm was twisted high up behind.
"She will do it." T'Vel hissed into the commander's ear but locked eyes on the ensign.
Keeping her eyes on T'Vel and her hostage, Leoni lowered herself into the pilot seat. She looked from the crazed Vulcan's face to the pained and defeated Cartwright who tried to shake her head, trying to convince Leoni to not follow through the orders. But Leoni recognised the eyes of a killer. She knew that if she defied T'Vel the Vulcan would not hesitate to kill Commander Cartwright. Leoni knew too that the T'Vel might kill them even if she complied. She could only but hope for time and an opportunity to make sense of the madness. Jex offered a silent, helpless and apologetic shrug to Cartwright as she pulled her knees in under the piloting console and started the engines up.
The Stallion rumbled with the abrupt take off. Molly tried to take the moment of off balance to tackle the Vulcan. The struggle was brief as the Vulcan's strength subdued Molly easily but brutally. T'Vel's hand struck the Commander forcibly sending Molly against the bulkhead before she grabbed Molly's hair roughly in her hand. "I will kill you if you do not comply Cartwright."
The Stallion suddenly pitched as a blinding light and a momentary flicker of power in the Stallion made it seem as if it dropped out of the sky.
T'Vel threatened, "Try no more tricks."
Leoni called out frantic as she consulted her console. "It wasn't me! It was an EM pulse."
T'Vel paid the answer no heed. "Take us to warp."
"Wait!" Leoni exclaimed in panic from her pilot seat. "We need to outrun the effects of the rat-trap first." The Vulcan woman glared at her but took it at face value that the Trill spoke the truth.
The moment allowed Jex to steal her nerves and find her calm. Leoni allowed herself to lean on the symbiont, its mettle, its experiences and memories to bulwark herself. The Trill host was buoyed by the reassurance and the strength she could draw from the symbiont. Now she had to try and think of a means of escape or a means to stop the Lt. Commander.
The Vulcan meantime shoved Molly against the side, pushing her down into one of the seats. Using the straps she tore from the adjacent seat T'Vel tied the commander down and into it. Molly protested the whole while. "T'Vel you can't do this. Captain McGregor will not allow it. You will not get away with it. You can't do this. Listen to me T'Vel. McGregor will come after you. He'll stop you. Where do you think you can escape to? T'Vel! T'Vel, listen to my voice."
T'Vel swung her arm to slap Molly's face hard. Very hard. Blood pooled at the corner of Molly's mouth from the strike. The Commander blinked away stars and her eyes rolled in her head as she reeled from the blow. The Vulcan stood over Molly coldly.
"I will not repeat myself again. I. Am. Not. T'Vel." She grabbed Molly's hair, her tight bun now in disarray. Molly winced from the pain that seemed tenfold from the blow. "T'Vel is lost to you. I am T'Kas."
Jex blurted out, "Who?"
"No one! Just the mad ramblings of..."
T'Vel, now calling herself T'Kas, grasped Molly's mouth, squeezing it shut, clamping down. "I am no mad rambling. This you know Commander." She changed her voice to a cloying, slickly taunt. "Molly." She pushed Molly's head back sharply, slapping it hard against the neck brace. She turned to face the Trill. "I am the High Priestess T'Kas. My katra has lain trapped within this pathetic and fragile mind. I am now free. Free of the one you call T'Vel. Free and ..." she levelled the carbine towards the Trill, "the one in control."
T'Vel, T'Kas, then looked upon her hands, twitching her fingers, flexing the muscles of the hands and arms, testing them, probing her control over the body she now possessed fully. A smile spread on her face as a mad look gleamed in her eyes. She flashed a dangerous look at the ensign.
Leoni flinched under the scrutiny. It served to make the madness and smile grow.
Restrained in the seat, Molly goaded T'Kas. "If that mind is so weak and pathetic, then how come she has managed to contain you? How come the fragile T'Vel has managed to lock you up, keep you boxed in? You, the mighty High Priestess T'Kas!"
"You mock? Or do you seek to taunt me? A truly pathetic attempt to bait me, Molly." She sauntered up to the Commander, her body moved almost seductively. Her mouth came close to Molly's as her fingers stroked the Commander's face. "I am above such petty tactics. I am so much more than the one you knew as T'Vel. She did not contain me. She used her precious vials of medicine to suppress me. Without them, she is unable to stop me."
The console chirped a warning. Leoni's eyes went wide as she took in the pursuit of another Stallion. The Vulcan's head whipped round at the alarm and started forwards. Panicking, Jex had to think of a way to stall and distract the Vulcan. She decided to feed into the comments from Cartwright. "Who is T'Kas?"
"I am T'Kas. A High Priestess of Vulcan, you ignorant fool. The commander and the captain seek to protect T'Vel by keeping the truth about me secret. It matters not anymore. I am T'Kas and I am free."
"Huh. You call yourself a High Priestess and yet you are no Vulcan." Molly spat a glob of blood and spittle onto the deck.
T'Vel sneered as she looked back at Molly. "More baiting Commander?"
Molly pushed against her restraints, as she leaned forwards to rile the Vulcan. "You claim to be a High Priestess, a true adept, yet you cannot control your emotions. You show no discipline. T'Vel is a hundred times the Vulcan you are."
Angrily snapping, T'Vel raced forwards and hit Molly with the back of her hand. "You think me weak? I am not constrained by the petty teachings of Surak. My research revealed to me the true might and ability of the Vulcan mind. Our true potential when not tied and bound by strictures. My disciples understood my call. They understood my calling to make the Vulcan character even greater than the shackled people we have become."
Leoni shook her head. "This makes no sense!"
"It makes no sense Ensign because this woman is a deranged lunatic. A shadow of a Vulcan. A perversion of a Vulcan. She is a maddened witch, send mad by the effects of the Wash, so demented even her ‘disciples' turned on her, cutting her down." Molly turned from soeaking to Jex to address T'Vel directly. She spat venomously, "They sliced your belly open and spilled out your putrid guts."
T'Vel grabbed Molly by the throat, starting to choke the life out of her. T'Vel screamed with her spittle flecking Molly's reddening face. "DO. NOT. SPEAK. OF. IT."
"No!" Jex rushed forward, slapping the controls of the Stallion into a mad spin as the Stallion dropped out of warp. The Trill charged at the off balanced Vulcan hitting into her hard. Only for Leoni's amour did her charge have enough of an impact to dislodge the grip of T'Vel from around Molly's throat. They fell back in the Stallion as it pirouetted through space.
They scrabbled on the deck but T'Vel's Vulcan strength quickly started to assert itself over Jex's struggles. "You fail to understand. You will die. All who will oppose me will die. All will die!"
"Lt. Commander T'Vel! Please! I know you are in there." Jex pleaded. Molly pushed against her restraints as she watched the two of them wrestle in the wildly careening Stallion. "Listen to me. This T'Kas is ... but .... one ... voice. Your's ... is ... the voice. You ... can ... control it. You can."
T'Vel stopped wrestling, pressing down on Jex's limbs. Her eyes bore into Leoni's. "You foolish girl. You think to reach T'Vel. She is dead. I am in control."
"No!" Jex fought back as hard as she could, wriggling from under her hold. "I understand how difficult it can be T'Vel. Not in the same way but in a way. I am Leoni. I am Jex. I am Deodzi. I am all of the others. All of their voices, all of their minds, I can hear in my head. But it is MY mind. MY mind, not theirs. MY life. Not theirs."
The Vulcan seethed with rage. She slapped Jex harshly. "Shut up! You cannot understand. This mind and this body are mine."
Jex used the slap to free herself further and kicked the Vulcan in the chest. It served to push the Vulcan loose but she was immediately on top of her again. But Jex kicked out again. Her foot contacting with the Vulcan's chin. She reared up and fell back heavily as the ship dipped and spiralled. Rolling on to her side, Jex grabbed a seat to steady herself. Then hauling herself by the straps onto her feet, Jex launched herself at T'Vel before she could recover.
Tripping on the body of Keren, they both tumbled over, rolling towards the cockpit. Jex threw her elbow back, smashing it into the Vulcan's nose. T'Vel's head snapped back and she fell backwards. Jex got to her feet and brought the Stallion to a stop. Throwing herself atop of T'Vel, Jex grabbed a chain from around her neck by accident, losing her grip and falling away from the Vulcan. The chain pulled at T'Vel's neck before breaking.
The Vulcan roared and rolled atop of Jex. She clamped her hands down on the Trill's wrist, bracing them against the deck. The chain in Jex's grip glimmered in the light catching the Vulcan's eye. T'Vel stopped suddenly. A voice broke through, that sounded desperate and broken, but more recognisably that of T'Vel's. "Seleya!" Her voice seemed to grasp on the word and the mad facade seemed to slip for a second.
But the mad witch returned quickly. "You will die!"
"Please! T'Vel. You can control her. You are in control T'Vel."
"You are wrong." T'Vel now grabbed Jex and started choking her.
The Trill squeaked out, "T'Vel..."
Molly vainly pushed and pulled at the restraints. She implored, "T'Vel, think of Ronak. Think of your son. Think of him. He is of you. Not this mad woman. Think of him T'Vel. Think of Vulcan. Think of ShiKahr! Think of your home T'Vel."
"You are wrong!" Her baleful eyes caught sight of the IDIC held on the chain in Jex's hand. Her features seemed conflicted, twisting from a heinous anger to a despairing struggle. "You are wrong." She let go off Jex. The Trill coughed for breath. T'Vel twisted from sitting astride the Trill and met Molly's eyes. "You ... are ... wrong. Kestrel." She struggled to get the words out, the struggle plain on her face. Pain etched the lines on her face. Perspiration beaded her knotted brow. "Kestrel is my home."
A transporter whine filled the room. T'Vel's features turned ugly once more, as the forms of McGregor, Zeus and Dexter surrounding her, their weapons trained upon her.
Molly ignored their appearance but appealed to the Vulcan. "T'Vel! Think of your home. Think of Kestrel. Think of Ronak there. Don't let her win."
The madness came back to her eyes as T'Vel declared, "You are too late. I will not be suppressed. I will not go away. I am free. You cannot stop me."
McGregor addressed her with a tight voice simply saying, "Vel."
T'Vel stood centre in the Stallion. "I am T'Kas."
Zeus declared using his carbine to underscore his command, "You are ordered to stand down."
T'Vel cast him a withering scornful look. "You dare to command me."
"Vel." Her head whipped round from Zeus to McGregor, her eyes widening in recognition of the man and in venomous hatred.
"McGregor! You know I speak the truth. All will die."
"Not today Vel. Not today."
"I am T'Kas! You cannot stop me." She charged at McGregor roaring murderously, "All will dieeee!"
Without a hesitation, Dexter fired four consecutive bursts from his carbine until he felled the Vulcan. He stepped up to her fallen body and over it said, "Live long and prosper, bitch."
* * *