Check out our latest Fleet Action!

 

Part of USS Endeavour: Fire and Ice

Fire and Ice – 6

ISS Endeavour
August 2400
0 likes 973 views

‘Get off me.’ Rhade yanked free of a ghost’s grasp as Elias Juarez dragged him over the threshold into Dathan’s quarters.

‘Did you ever have him secure?’ Dathan snapped at Juarez. ‘Or did you want to let him go at the last moment so he could try and kill me?’ It was easier to be cold. It was what Rhade expected, it was what projected strength, and it was what stopped the howling in her.

It also provoked exactly the reaction she’d wanted, as Juarez’s lip curled. ‘I don’t answer to you, Bajoran. The prefect says you get a play-thing, you get a play-thing. What happens when it gets here and tries to kill you is your problem. The commander said I should give you whatever you want.’

Rourke would love it if she was murdered in her own quarters by someone she’d been spying on. But while Adamant Rhade looked furious, she was confident he wouldn’t kill her outright the moment they were alone.

‘But fine,’ said Juarez. ‘Enjoy your wretched degeneracy.’

I haven’t missed this, Dathan thought with a more flat internal voice than she usually dared assign to her feelings. Juarez exited, leaving her in the rather modest officer’s quarters that Prefect MacCallister had ordered she be given, bare and stark and with all of the military bearing of the Terran Empire that she had never embodied. It embraced hard metal edges, a solid but comfortable bunk at the far side of the room, and barely a comfortable space to sit on or at.

But sartorial concerns became the least of her worries when the doors slid shut behind Juarez and Rhade hurled himself at her.

Alright. Maybe he will try to kill me outright.

Rhade.’ But she had to pivot back as he swung at her, bring her forearm up to parry his next blow, step back and back as he came at her with all of his speed and fury.

‘You betrayed us,’ he growled, and she was too slow to stop his next blow from landing in her gut.

Dathan kept moving even as she was nearly bent double, and his elbow came down on empty space. ‘Listen to me -’

But he didn’t, and as she knocked aside two more swings, she realised there was only one way to end this. So for the first time she fought him as well as she possibly could. He was big, well-trained, and highly experienced. But he was also Starfleet, and she knew his tricks by now, knew his techniques. She had never fought him like she’d fight in her own universe, all dirty back-alley methods and with more sheer viciousness than she’d ever wanted to suggest Lieutenant Dathan possessed.

She turned aside another blow before stepping inside his reach to slam her heel on his toe, drive her elbow into his solar plexus. As he staggered, she adjusted the curl of her fist, and drove it into his throat. Not enough to crush the windpipe, but still following through. From there it took a sweep of the feet to knock him down, and then she was above him, knee driven into his chest.

Adamant.’

He looked stunned in every way possible, chest heaving against her weight. When he shifted, her hands came to pin down his shoulders, putting most of her weight on him and keeping him from pushing up. ‘I trusted you,’ he croaked at last through his wounded throat.

Somehow, that hurt worse than his blows. ‘Please, please, please listen to me. We don’t have a lot of time.’ The first thing she’d done upon getting in was check the room for security measures. The second thing she’d done was make sure nobody was getting any solid audio out of these quarters.

‘Is this the part,’ Rhade hissed, ‘where you say it wasn’t a lie? That you weren’t working for a band of murderers and feeding them information?’

Her jaw tightened. ‘You have two choices. You can decide you know what’s happened and condemn every member of the away team to death when this ship returns to my universe in less than twenty-four hours. Or you can listen to me, really listen to me, and have options. If I let you go right now, are you going to do the first?’

She watched his eyes rake over her, felt their usually piercing edge – and felt him reel back in apprehension, clearly not trusting whatever he saw in her, whatever his senses felt in her. She couldn’t blame him. She’d been tricking a telepath’s passive awareness for a year now. But he still went limp under her hands, expression folding with frustrated suspicion. ‘Talk.’

Dathan slid to her feet, cautious as he staggered upright, too. ‘My name is Dathan Tahla. I was born on Bajor. But my Bajor was conquered by the Terran Empire. Humanity rules half the galaxy, and they are as authoritarian and xenophobic as you can imagine.’

Rhade rubbed his wrists, gaze still baleful. ‘Then why are you a trusted spy?’

‘I was a slave. But I was a slave to someone who took care of me to earn my loyalty, who recognised my talents, and who used them. Prefect Leonidas MacCallister.’ They’d neither of them met this universe’s Leo MacCallister, but the older crewmembers, the originals, spoke of him with a quiet reverence she could almost understand. But hers was love laced with fear. ‘He was on the political rise, and knew all of his rivals would underestimate me. So my first experience as a spy was… spying on others in the empire.’

‘A slave who could go anywhere, learn anything,’ Rhade mused, expression not changing.

‘And then this ship got into a fight with a Romulan resistance vessel near a black hole. Something about their warp drive and the phenomenon collided when we destroyed it, and the whole ship ended up… here. That was about two years ago, now. We had no way home. Little idea of where we were. So we began to investigate.’

‘You mean infiltrate.’

Dathan swallowed down irritation. His responses were the least she deserved. ‘We sent parties out. We learnt more of this universe, of its people. And yes, eventually, we realised that if we did it right, we could replace our doppelgangers in this universe. If they were the right candidates. It was only… half a dozen or so of us. And almost all of those were botched quite quickly – never losing opsec but needing to go dark and leave Starfleet with mysteries. Except for me.’

Rhade drew a raking breath. ‘What made you so special?’

‘Luck,’ she admitted. ‘The Dathan Tahla of this universe was a recluse with no family and no friends but a promising-if-quiet job in Starfleet Intelligence. She was abducted. I learnt what I could. I replaced her, and then I transformed her career, and blamed any changes of suddenly becoming assertive on a spiritual experience nobody could question me on. Superiors suddenly had someone more useful. And there was nobody who knew her well enough personally to challenge this change.’ She hesitated. ‘It helped that I’ve been lying and masking my entire life to get by. It helped that I’m much, much better at pretending to be something I’m not than anyone else on this ship.’ That wouldn’t make him trust her any more. But at this point she had no choice, save the truth.

‘And other groups,’ Rhade mused, ‘tried to find a way back. Like the Wild Hunt.’ He hesitated. ‘Why are you telling me this?’

‘Because I could have left Endeavour,’ she said softly, barely daring to look at him, ‘and I didn’t. Because the person I killed at Theta Curry IV wasn’t an old Intel contact, it was this ship’s Tom Kowalski, and he’d come to bring me back. Because I…’ Swallowing was somehow the hardest thing she’d done. ‘Because I was an idiot and I wanted to stay in this life, and we are not here right now because I sold you out. I didn’t know the ISS Endeavour was here. I didn’t know they were so close to getting back. If we’d been a day later to this convoy, they’d have been gone, and I… I’d have been here forever.’

He watched her with a dark, bewildered glint. ‘Do you really think,’ Adamant Rhade said softly, ‘you could have kept this up forever?’

There was a tone in his voice she’d never heard before, and it was impossible to not hear it as disgust. She shook her head. ‘I was selfish.’

His shoulders fell for just a moment, his expression crumpling – then he tensed again. ‘Then why are you telling me this now? If it’s too late?’

‘It doesn’t have to be too late. If I can get you – all of you – off the ship in the next day, they won’t stick around to hunt you down, they’ll jump, they’ll be gone forever.’

‘You want to help.’ Rhade worked his jaw. ‘Then send word to Endeavour.’

Her blood went cold. ‘No.’

No?’

‘Look at this ship – the size of it – and it packs more punch per deck than any Starfleet ship, even in its condition. You do not want a battle between this Endeavour and our – your – Endeavour. More people will die than just the four of you.’ Five of us.

He gave a frustrated sigh. ‘You’re playing with me. I don’t know what sick game you’re -’

Adamant.’ Now she advanced on him, reached to grab his arm before she could think twice. ‘I’m back, I’m home, I’m with my own people. What possible reason could I have to do anything but bask in the acclaim of a successful mission and let you all hang if I’m the monster you think I am?’

‘I don’t know what I think you are,’ he snarled. ‘All I know is that I can’t trust you. And I did! I trusted you, I even…’

She didn’t think even he knew what words might have finished that sentence. Words were not merely limiting; they were absolutes. And nothing about what either one of them felt had been, in any way, an absolute.

‘I spent a long time,’ Dathan said quietly, ‘mastering my feelings so nobody, not even a Betazoid, would pick up on them. But that also included giving you no reason to dig deeper than the surface.’ She drew a shaking breath. ‘So… you should dig deeper.’

Rhade’s eyes snapped on to hers. ‘You’ve tricked me so far…’

‘Do you really think anyone, anyone, can completely fool you if they let you in?’ Her throat tightened with not only apprehension at the situation, but a thread of raw terror at the notion of opening herself to him – to anyone – like this. ‘I want to try to save the four of you. Get you off this ship before you’re condemned to death. And I can’t do that without your cooperation. So if this is what it takes…’

Now the corners of his eyes creased. ‘Why? Why do you want to save us?’

Her hand slid up his arm, and she tried to not brace herself. ‘Come and find out.’

It wasn’t that all the tension melted away as she felt his mind reach out to hers. It was replaced with a different tension – no longer the walls and spikes of being on opposing sides, of betrayal and desperation and terror. This was something altogether more mundane and yet existential: the gut-wrenching horror of being truly known. The fear of diving forward and knowing.

He did not need to disguise what he was doing. She felt him at the edges of her thoughts, and first she tried to marshal them – both out of instinct to protect herself, and some misguided idea that he would find it easier if she ordered herself. But she felt his presence recoil, and so Dathan tried to do what she thought she’d never done in her life: relax.

Thoughts and memories rushed up before her, unbidden. Her conversation with MacCallister and Rourke. Her sincere horror at the sight of this Endeavour filling up the King Arthur’s canopy. And back, back, back.

It was like falling into herself, and she didn’t know if it was his work or who she was now that he was like a thread running through her back a year. Every crossroads, every key moment, had him in it, from the new year’s celebrations in the Round Table to standing on the deck of the Uther Pendragon and clutching at him like he was flotsam and she was drowning after she’d killed Kowalski.

Then back again – working in Admiral Beckett’s office, working to reform the career of Dathan Tahla, working to learn everything she could so she could slip into this world. Standing at Prefect MacCallister’s side for years in her own universe, a slave with power, a tool who needed to please or she’d lose everything.

Then back –

‘No.’

She’d spent a lifetime not thinking about her life. Years not thinking about those years. The earliest years under MacCallister, the years on Bajor, and all the torment and loss and suffering. But even now she didn’t fight Rhade, the word escaping her lips unbidden, and all she did was clutch at him as if the mere concept of turning inward that much would destroy her.

But rather than press, she felt his thoughts leave hers – an echoing ripple of him in her wake – and even as he mentally pulled back, his hands came to her arms. Only then did she realise she was in danger of collapsing.

‘I’m sorry,’ Adamant Rhade whispered as she struggled to stand without his help. Only he, she thought distantly, would apologise after he’d learnt what a treacherous monster she was. ‘I’m so, so sorry…’

But she was too turned inside-out, too folded back in on herself, to muster a steady response. And all she could do was fall against him and sob – sob like she never had before, feel like she never had before. Sob for the situation she was in, sob for him and his shipmates about to be condemned. Sob, above all else, for herself, and for all she’d suffered and all the suffering she’d inflicted.

While Rhade stood there, wrapped his arms around her, and pulled her close. ‘You didn’t deserve this,’ he whispered against her hair. ‘You didn’t deserve any of this.’

Nobody deserved the things I did to them either, she thought, and knew he heard that, too, because he tightened his grip on her, and just held her even closer. This was why she’d stayed, she knew. She’d looked at Starfleet’s principles and the Federation’s softness and thought it weak, when all along it had been an absolution she hadn’t known she’d craved.

‘I only wanted you to listen,’ she croaked against him. ‘If I’ve done all of this, the least I can do is save you, and if I’m going to save you, you have to listen. I can get you out of that cell, I can get you back to the runabout, not yet but soon, but…’ She lifted her head with effort, tears streaming down her face as her eyes met his, peerless black and all-embracing. ‘You shouldn’t be forgiving me, you should be hating me, you just have to listen…’

His forehead came to hers, his breathing shaky. ‘I don’t hate you. I don’t hate you. Your whole life you’ve never had choices, not really. Then when you did have choices, you only made good ones. You saved us, Tahla, over and over, even at risk to yourself.’

She couldn’t start an escape plan right away, anyway. Her superiors would expect her to stay in here with him for some time. So she didn’t know if he bent down or if she stepped up as their lips pressed together, and then she was truly lost. If she’d thought, if either of them had thought, this would never have happened. But they were too intertwined still in mind, body; too intertwined in fear and desperation, and to kiss him was like melting herself into the only thing that made sense in the universe.

He was as desperate as her, and it wasn’t just as if he was pouring every ounce of stability and comfort in. She could feel him unleashing himself, too, just as he was; shedding layers of illusions he’d placed over himself, even to himself.

In that moment, she was not Dathan Tahla, liar and spy, or even Dathan Tahla, officer and colleague. Nor was he Adamant Rhade, a man of duties so numerous they tied him up and blindfolded him to his own heart. It was perhaps, for both of them, the first time they were nothing more than their true feelings and their true wants.

A brief time. But it was all they had, and so it had to be all they needed.