Part of Endeavour: Through The Thick & Thin

Turnabout is Fair Play

Science Lab, Endeavour NX-06
Tuesday 5th April 2157
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‘I hope you’ve used this time to think, Commander.’ The lab doors slid open to admit the Orion Nytehr, his gait casual but controlled, a slink that put her in mind of a jungle predator. ‘Because it’s time you and I got down to business.’

Keeping track of time had been a herculean task in the time she’d been left alone with Miller. It was easy to let minutes become hours, or days become minutes. A less-disciplined mind would not have known up from down by now. ‘This would go more easily,’ she rasped on her second attempt at forming words, ‘if I had some water.’

Nytehr paused in consideration, looking between his two captives and his two guards. Then he shrugged. ‘Remove her restraints,’ he instructed, before pulling a canteen and pressing it into her sluggish hands. ‘We can be civilised about this.’

After all, thought Leonov as she drank. There’s nothing more civilised than a slaver. The water tasted a little acrid but it was still water, rejuvenating her as she stalled for time.

‘You should know my conversations with your comrades have been most productive,’ Nytehr pressed on. ‘They might not all need to become fodder, after all.’

That was such a common interrogator’s tactic, to claim that allies out of sight had already capitulated and thus there was no point in continuing defiance, that she didn’t dignify it with a response. ‘You captured the crew of a ship that travels faster-than-light and is decked out for war. Were you expecting idiots?’

Nytehr gave a thin smile. ‘You’d be surprised at the stupidity and incompetence of many ships’ guards. But I know that doesn’t include you.’

Leonov tilted her head this way and that as he took the flask back. ‘You seem to have drawn plenty of conclusions about me already. Do I need to talk here?’

His smile didn’t fade. Not even as he stalked across the lab to grab Miller by the hair and drag the slouched officer to a kneel. Miller grunted in pain; with his head-wound unattended, he’d been increasingly sluggish. She suspected a concussion. ‘I expect I’ll learn something about you one way or another, Commander Leonov,’ Nytehr said levelly. ‘It might not be your skill, but how much you care for the wellbeing of your subordinates.’

It took a conscious effort to not tense. ‘If you want me to tell you about him, there’s not much to say. I’m sorry to break bad news: he’s only a geologist. I know, it’s possibly the least interesting area of scientific study, yes? Rocks?’

Nytehr gave a gentle scoff. ‘You’re trying to sound like an expert on the topic yourself, Commander. You’d have me believe you have a stone for your heart even about your own people?’ The blow he landed on Miller was not hard, but it was at the same bruise as before, and the scientist gave a low moan as he was knocked back, held firm in the Orion’s grip.

Leonov did not let herself so much as tense her jaw. ‘If you’d rather pummel my subordinates than me,’ she said simply, ‘then don’t let me stop you.’

Nytehr’s gaze clamped on her. He gestured between the guards and Miller, and one of the big Orion soldiers advanced as he tossed Miller to the floor. ‘I don’t know which prospect would impress me more: if you were this good a liar, or this ruthless a survivor.’ Without taking his eyes off Leonov, he snapped his fingers. Behind him, the guard’s boot thudded into Miller’s ribs.

Leonov barely blinked. Even as Miller moaned and curled up in a tight ball, even as the guard landed another kick, she didn’t let her gaze leave Nytehr’s cold, assessing eyes. ‘I’m not here to impress you.’

With a curl of the lip, Nytehr straightened and waved a dismissive hand at the guard, who backed away from the moaning Miller. ‘Then if you are so intent on playing the lone survivor, Commander Leonov, let me make this plain: explain to me your skills, or you will be destined to be sold for targ food.’

‘That would make this a very inefficient use of your time, if you’ve spoken to me twice and let me cook for several hours in between, only for me to become one of your cheapest commodities,’ Leonov pointed out.

‘I understand what you’re doing, Commander. You think that if you waste my time on you, that’s time I’m not spending on your crew.’

‘I thought we’d established I don’t particularly care about them?’

‘That’s true,’ said Nytehr, nodding solemnly. Then his fist cracked into her temple.

Well, thought a detached part of Leonov’s mind, racing away from the pain and fear to observe at a comfortable distance. That was only a matter of time. Somewhere in the background, Miller groaned a sound of protest.

After I did and said nothing for you, kid? Really?

The sound of the impact was probably brief, but to Leonov, the ring it left in its wake echoed on for long, thudding heartbeats. She gripped the side of her chair hard, chest heaving as she tried to steady her breathing, steady her vision. At length she dragged her chin up to finally regard Nytehr again. ‘Maybe,’ she rasped, ‘I’m not delaying for the others. Maybe I’m holding out so you give me the best offer. If you’re sinking all this time in me, after all.’

Nytehr rubbed his knuckles, scowling. ‘Some slaves are mere fodder. Purely for the animals, or to be slaughtered in fighting pits for entertainment. Then there are the fighters who stand a chance. Then there are the pleasure slaves.’

‘Asking me to choose my death isn’t very encouraging.’

‘If you have value, perhaps you can be of use as a domestic slave. Perhaps a labourer, though in your case… I think not.’ He hunkered down so they were of a level height. ‘Tell me of your expertise, and you may become a very valuable slave indeed. A scientist to solve the problems and pursue the weapons research of wealthy, powerful people. I don’t have all the time in the world for these games.’

She ran her tongue along her teeth, and considered her next move carefully. ‘If you’re on a clock,’ Leonov said slowly, ‘I can help you with more than my own talents. You’re right, I’m a high-ranking officer. I know what the others do, too.’

Nytehr tensed. ‘I don’t need you to do me favours.’

‘Really? Because you’ve wasted a lot of time on me so far. Make me the right offer, and when we get to whatever processing facility we’re heading for, I’ll help you walk off this ship with a comprehensive catalogue of the Endeavour’s crew’s abilities.’ He hesitated, and she leaned in. ‘Because from the look in your eyes, I don’t think we have the weeks it’ll take you to break us all down, the progress you’re making. Or not making.’

His fist jerked up and she tensed, anticipating the next blow. But before he could swing, her nostrils twitched, and she tensed in an altogether different manner. ‘Alright!’ Leonov said sharply. ‘Let me tell you what I know.’ If she was right, it was imperative she kept him distracted.

So she looked him dead in the eye, and said, ‘The Orion Syndicate didn’t send multiple ships after the Endeavour simply out of mercantile greed. This took a considerable amount of effort, a considerable commitment of resources. You can’t have just wanted to grab us as slaves to be sold. If that was the case, why did a superior you plainly hate have been allowed to brutalise the captain like he did?’

Nytehr faltered at that, jaw tightening. ‘That’s none of your concern.’

‘If this was just a run for slaves, you’d be calling the shots,’ she continued, fighting to keep her voice level and soft. It meant she had to breathe less. ‘And you wouldn’t have been sent on such a job at all, considering your obvious lack of personal experience in interrogating humans. Or I wouldn’t have succeeded in getting you to leave Miller alone by feigning indifference, or in distracting you so you’ve spent a very long time interrogating me, and not interrogating anyone else.’

‘I don’t…’

‘You’re clearly not an incompetent operation – you did take the ship in record time after all,’ Leonov mused. ‘Which suggests that you planned this with enough resources to back it up. Which suggests the ship itself was the target. Maybe the captain, though that would make his interrogation incredibly unprofessional.’

‘The job will get done,’ Nytehr spat. ‘You’ll maybe even live to see that.’

Then one of the Orion guards gave a sharp sniff. ‘Is that…?’

Leonov’s gut lurched. ‘I’m an astrophysicist,’ she blurted, and Nytehr’s head snapped back to her. ‘I’m a trained pilot. For one month I held the record of the human who’d travelled furthest from Sol. I hold a doctorate in astronomy, I’m one of Starfleet’s top experts in stellar phenomena.

‘And as a scientist, I’m trained to make observations and from them draw a hypothesis, which is how I know you’ve been hired to hand this ship over to someone, then deliver the crew for processing. If you’re running out of time, I’d wager processing isn’t too far. Verex III? Which means your delivery point for the Endeavour, which you’ve hinted I’ll be around to see, must be even closer. Maybe the Ikalian asteroid belt? It’s a good place to hide if you want to wait.’

Nytehr’s lip curled. ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about,’ he snarled, but she could see him blink faster, see him standing more unsteadily on his feet.

The acrid smell was threatening to fill her nostrils now. ‘You should also know that as an astronaut, I have one essential skill: staying conscious even under adverse conditions.’ And she drew one last, deep breath.

Four seconds later, Nytehr took one staggering step – then toppled over and hit the deck hard, and didn’t move. The guards advanced, confused, only to follow suit moments later.

See? Leonov thought, but didn’t say. She’d recognised the smell of anesthizine gas, and at that point her primary focus had been to keep Nytehr too distracted to realise in case he raised the alarm. Talking hadn’t done her any favours, but she’d been lower to the ground – further from the ventilation systems – and measured her breathing as best she could. Miller was unconscious already, which was unsurprising considering his condition and likely a blessing.

When she’d asked for a drink, they’d removed her restraints and assumed one human watched by two armed guards was not enough of a threat to cuff her again. Lungs burning, head swimming, Leonov lurched from her seat and staggered across the lab.

Her feet were unsteady, her vision swirling before her, and she had to clutch the cabinet on the wall to not collapse. It took almost more concentration than she had to thud in the security code, but then the cabinet door could be yanked open and the rebreather dragged out with it.

Sweet, clean oxygen filled her lungs as she pressed the mask to her face. For what felt like a long time she did nothing but slump against the bulkhead, breathing deeply until the deck stopped rippling under her feet and the ship stopped spinning before her eyes. Only when she could put one foot in front of the other and not feel like she was in danger of passing out did she move.

Restraints were taken from the guards and used to truss up them and Nytehr, while she took one side-arm and placed it thoughtfully near Miller, if he woke up and found himself their captor. Another side-arm and the guard’s rifle, she took for herself, and looked up at the door.

I really hope that was part of a plan, and not a malfunction with the ventilation system, Leonov mused as she headed out. In the corridor, one guard was still conscious, a hand resting against the bulkhead, clearly struggling to stay upright. He whirled towards her, rifle coming up, but a quick blast from her weapon sent him thudding to the floor. He did not rise.

A glance up and down the corridor did not provide answers, only more unconscious Orions. Shouldering her rifle, Leonov squinted.

If I were a jailbreak plan. Where would I be next?