Muninn walked alongside the rest of the Mogrus’ crew at a fast clip, flanked by Janas and three Remans loyal to the coup. The path to the nearest transporter room was a winding one that took them through some of the more populated corridors, and curious gazes twinkled out at the trio of humans as they passed. They were so poor in spirit, so worn through, that Muninn wondered how any of them could sit so quietly. They were refugees, slaves barely free from their chains, and yet these Remans bore a dignity, even in the midst of all their suffering, that one could simply feel.
She thought back to her history lessons: there were times in her own people’s history that saw the same sort of darkness, the same sort of terror. The slow grind into World War Three — a war that, even before the nukes started falling, took the lives of hundreds of thousands and saw millions displaced from their homes.
And before that, the earlier troubles of the 21st-century, the rampant runaway capitalism that created so much horror… and sowed the seeds for the philosophies that would one day underpin the Federation itself: socialism, mutual-aid, destruction of class as a determiner of success and wellbeing. It struck Muninn that these Remans reminded her a little of the people she’d seen in old films about the Bell Riots back on Earth. A people trod upon, weary, used to pain as a matter of course, but still strong. No, it’s more than that. The thought came as she saw a Reman child peering out from around its parent. They’re not just strong, they’re unbroken. As a people, they’ve somehow maintained a sense of self, against all odds.
“Here,” Janas said, breaking into Muninn’s ponderings. They had arrived at the transporter room.
Their guards ushered them inside, and two waited outside the door to fend off any approach. Muninn was pleased to see Lish, still unconscious and strapped into a floating medical pallet, already positioned nearby. Janas went immediately to the console that stood facing the raised circular transporter platform and began programming in their return to the Mogrus.
“How long before you begin?” Muninn asked.
“It’s already started,” Janas replied without looking up. “The duty shift is about to change, and our people have all been assigned to key positions. We’ll take engineering, then the bridge. Hartresk’s friends are devout, but few.”
A faint hint of sadness in Janas’ voice did not go unnoticed, and Muninn suddenly wondered how many of Hartresk’s friends were likewise dear to Janas. In a society as close-knit as this, could any Reman raise a weapon upon another without threatening a friend, or at least someone known? No faceless coup, this. She thought. Perhaps that would make some difference in the end.
The others moved Lish’s prone form up onto the transporter and lowered it to the ground before switching off the medical pallet’s repulsors, which couldn’t be allowed to interfere with the function of the transporter. Then they positioned themselves on the remaining circular transporter pads. Muninn joined them, and found Janas’ looking up at them. No, not at them, she realized. At her. She found herself in sudden awe of the trust he was placing in her, for all Revasin’s exploration of her mind.
“When you arrive on your ship, you must leave immediately,” Janas said. “We will not have control of the bridge, and that means they will still have full weapons and flight control. Disabling those from engineering will take time, and the bridge of a Warbird is designed to be difficult to take by force.”
Allan gave the Reman a small, informal salute. “Hat’s off to you.”
Janas cocked his head to one side.
“Old human saying,” Allan said with a small smile. “I can’t promise to know what Starfleet will decide to do, but know that you’ve got my full support when I speak to command.”
“That’s all I can ask,” Janas said. He pressed the control.
A vague fuzziness overtook Muninn as the system activated, storing her pattern of atoms and electrons in perfect frozen harmony, then reconstituting them through subspace and toward their destination. She was strangely aware of the process as it began and ended. Aware enough to realize, microseconds before full re-materializing on the Mogrus, that something was very wrong.
Fully materialized in the Mogrus’ transporter room, they were not alone.
“Well,” said Hartresk with a cold grin, like the eternal smile of a shark, “it seems that the rumors about betrayal were right after all. Who was it? Revasin? Kanast? Never mind, we’ll find them soon enough.”
He stood, pointing a disruptor at them with one hand, flanked by two large Remans similarly armed. And, next to Hartresk: Asenth. Hartresk’s other hand was clasped around the back of her neck, his long talon-like nails tensed at the smooth and vulnerable flesh of her throat. The teen stared at Muninn with wide, utterly terrified eyes.
Allan was the first to speak. “I assume you are Hartresk?”
It amazed Muninn that the commander’s voice could remain so steady, beneath such a sudden threat as this. She remembered his speech about command and thought she now understood what he had meant. A captain needed to be more than ordinary. Needed to see the world in a different sort of light, and not even — but especially — when faced with the threat of death.
“Starfleet,” Hartresk said. The sneer on his face showed his pointed teeth. “Surprised to see your Romulan saboteur caught so easily?” He gave Asenth a little shake, actually lifting the teen off the ground so that she dangled and flopped like a fish. She gasped, clutched at his hand, but the Reman’s strength far outmatched her.
“That’s not a saboteur,” Allan said. He stepped off the transporter pad and, guided by some subtle instinct, Muninn did the same. The weapons pointed at them jerked up, aggression taut behind the movement.
“Stop!” yelled one of the two Reman guards.
But Muninn understood why Allan had taken the risk. No easy way to beam them back now. They were all in the room together. Tension flooded the air like gas, a miasma through which all sound and light seemed subtly affected, as if slowed.
“Captain,” Muninn said, gripped by the tension, and an overwhelming realization that Hartresk would undoubtedly kill all of them right then and there if given any choice. “It’s over. We should give it all up.”
She saw Shavar and Maria glance her way, and Allan shot her one swift, probing look. But he must have understood because he gave a little nod, then sighed.
“Right,” he turned back to Hartresk. “You wanted proof that Starfleet Intelligence has been working to undermine you? Well, we’re it.”
Hartresk’s eyes widened. The triumph there was palpable. “You admit this freely?”
“It’s Starfleet policy to never let our own wellbeing stand in the way of protecting civilian life.” Allan nodded meaningfully toward Asenth as he said this.Hartresk glanced at the girl, and for one horrible moment Muninn saw his long fingers clench tighter. The teen gasped, choking for air, her face growing darker as she struggled in his grip. But then the fingers unclenched, and he let her go, shoving her into the grip of one of the guards.
“A civilian? I think you need to stop lying, captain. You’re not good at it. You wouldn’t risk your lives for one Romulan girl. Who is she, then? Some Agent of the Tal’Shiar? Is that what this is? A combined mission by the Romulans and Starfleet Intelligence?” His words had a probing, alert quality, but one riddled with an almost ecstatic security. He knew he was right, and everything they said and did only confirmed it. “Get back on the transporter pad, Starfleet,” he said with a waggle of his disruptor. “We’ll speak at length when we’re back on board. And this time, I’ll have Janas use the toys the Romulans left behind. We’ll get to the core of things then, most certainly.”
Which was the point when Lish’s medical pallet rose suddenly six feet into the air.
Unknown to the others, transport had woken the Bolian from sleep. He’d lain there, as still as he could, barely breathing, while the Reman warlord gloated before them. Only one part of him moved—his fingers—as he slowly inched his hand toward the pallet’s repulsor controls.
The Reman guard not holding Asenth swore as the pallet hummed up over their heads and fired a wild shot that went wide, smacking into the far wall of the transporter alcove and burning a four-centimeter hole in the alloy. Shavar and Maria dived for cover, narrowly missing being hit by a second blast from the same guard—more green jets leaving blackened marks across the room. The second guard had started to raise his weapon to cover the others but, with a shriek of alarm, found Asenth’s teeth buried down to the bone in his hand. He clubbed her over the head, sending the girl to her knees, but at almost the same moment Allan had flung himself bodily across the room. The Lieutenant-Commander crashed into the guard and sent them both sprawling on the ground.
It would have all come to nothing if Hartresk made not made one mistake.
The Reman warrior had held off firing at the pallet, but had still pulled his weapon towards it as it moved. Then, when Allan dived across the room, Hartresk had been startled enough to take his eye off Muninn. Just that: a single moment of distraction, nothing more.
It was all she needed. Muninn grabbed his hand, the one holding the disruptor, and squeezed with every bit of power her augmented muscles could muster.
She was rewarded by a high-pitched and plaintive wail from the Remann as bones snapped beneath the pressure of her grip. And she went on squeezing, hard as she could, fueled by adrenaline and rage and fear, and Hartresk’s fingers turned to jelly as she ground them into the unyielding chassis of the weapon that he held.
He swung with his other hand, clawing at her face. A white-hot pain tore through her whole head as he landed his blow. But as she fell back, Hartresk also dropped the disruptor from his ruined hand, eyes wide with sudden fear. Around him, things were going poorly.
Shavar had retrieved a phaser from the locker beneath the transporter console. A beam of brilliant orange, plasma and electricity hissing as it cooked the air, smacked into the still-standing Reman guard. Meanwhile, Allan and Maria were grappling the second, barely managing, together, to keep the lanky warrior down.
Muninn reeled away from the blow she’d been struck, coming up just in time to see Hartresk take two steps forward onto the transporter panel. With his still-good hand, he pulled a device from a clip on his belt and pressed a button there. His eyes blazed with hatred as he began to dematerialize. That gaze met Muninn’s, and held it until he was completely gone, and Muninn knew that if he could bring death to them, and to everything they held dear, he would do so happily and call it justice in the end.
The fight ended quickly after that. Shavar stunned the second Reman, and Lish, who had dived for cover as the pallet rose into the air, volunteered to take Asenth to the medical bay. The teen was bleeding from a nasty contusion on her head, tears spilling from her eyes.
“No, I’ll take her, you’ve got more bridge experience than I do,” Muninn said. “They’ll need you up there.”
And so, while the others ran off toward the lift and the bridge, Muninn lifted Asenth and carried her to the medical bay on her own, ignoring the blood that trickled down the side of her face from her own wounds.
Blearily, the young Romulan looked up at her, eyes hazy. “I’m sorry,” she said. Her voice was weak, distant. “I tried to do what you told me.”
No other words could have wounded Muninn so deeply. The pain she felt, hearing them, struck her more deeply than any blow Hartresk could have ever achieved. Looking down at her charge through a sudden sheen of her own tears, Muninn could only shake her head. “No… hush… you were incredible. You did just fine.”
This seemed to be what Asenth needed to hear because she shuddered and closed her eyes, pulling in close to Muninn’s body. The girl felt suddenly heavier in Munnin’s arms as all the tension flowed from her, leaving her limp. Still breathing, but flown from consciousness for at least a time. And Muninn, alone in consciousness save for her own pain and shame, carried the teen into the medical room and placed her on the biobed. And, while she worked the medical controls, the blissful automation of her training ruled, and allowed her conscious mind slunk into the background to lick its sour wounds.