Slamming his fist on the makeshift table at the heart of the gathering, the normally mild mannered Betazoid known as Matheus Ren of the Starship Ulysses was almost apoplectic with rage. The Starfleet crewman had been there for what, five, maybe six days, yet this poor soul they had befriended had been detained on the wastes of Haess IV for four years? There was no way he, or the rest of his colleagues would be there that long – their Starfleet training wouldn’t allow it, nor would their personalities. Starfleet officers were not made for captivity; they were made for exploration and the freedom it afforded to them. The freedom so many had given their lives to protect in conflicts in years gone by. No, four years of captivity was not an option.
Nodding slowly, the older creature opposite the scientist ruffled his scraggly hair. His green skin was mottled with brown flecks and more than a few deep lines. His ridged nose looked off center and, whilst Ren was no physician, had probably been broken at some point during his stay in the ‘facility’ he called home.
“I’ve not seen another of my kind in the entire time I’ve been here,” the alien recounted sadly, but more than a hint of resignation in his voice. This was his norm now, and he’d lost hope. Hope of seeing his kin, hope for returning home, hope of ever seeing anything but this rocky wasteland ever again.
Reaching over the crate, a second alien placed a gentle hand on the alien’s shoulder, rubbing it in consolation. Her face was a far cry from that of the older gentleman. Silky, smooth pale skin and deep brown eyes, her most distinguishing feature was actually her peculiarly shaped ears that filled the sides of her head. It was clear that she had not been there anywhere near as long as the others.
“Have faith, Arivek.” Her smile warmed the old man’s heart, but it was her next words that caught the attention of Ren the most. “I have a feeling that things are going to change for the better,” she nodded in the Starfleet officer’s direction.
Whilst he didn’t want to get anyone’s hopes up, the scientist couldn’t help but feel this woman was different. Like she knew something anyone outside the Starfleet quartet couldn’t possibly. But how? Massive neuroinhibitors supposedly prevented prisoners from using their telepathic, telekinetic or empathic abilities, and everyone the Betazoid had met so far had confirmed as much. But this woman was different. He clearly had to be more careful with his thoughts.
Rising to his feet, the brown-haired man in the blue of the Starfleet science division reached across the table and gave his own reassuring touch to the older Arivek. “You have more friends now, Arivek. We’re here if you need anything,” the Betazoid smiled, before stepping away from the table.
Standing around, he made eye contact with Tempa and Zinn, both stood talking to a purple-skinned, smooth-headed creature about three feet taller than the rest of them. Spornak (the nickname they had given the giant since his actual name was unpronounceable to them) had been the first alien they had made contact with upon being released from their cells two days earlier. His camaraderie had proven useful, thanks to the shine he had taken to the much smaller Aenar Starfleet flight controller. He’d stood up for the fleeters when they made the error of talking to the wrong crowd the previous evening, and had taken on a protective role for the Starfleet crewmates.
Ren was just about to join the three, when the female from the table caught him by surprise with the placement of a hand on his arm and guided him to the wall outside his cell.
“You’re very kind to Arivek,” Maevis spoke in a hushed tone so as to not draw attention to their conversation, “but I sense I may have alarmed you before. For that, I apologise,” the brunette beauty smiled apologetically.
Matheus scanned the room nervously for a second or two before addressing her apology. “I didn’t think anyone here was supposed to be able to sense anything,” he asked, hinting at the obvious but hoping the connection was made by the woman. She didn’t let him down.
“For the majority, no. But a few of us have telepathic abilities of such strength that even their neuro devices can’t prevent us from using them completely. They may be dulled somewhat, but I can still sense feelings, can still read certain minds,” she advised him, “like yours.”
Now that did panic the Starfleet officer. “And what exactly do you think you know?” he asked, his tone sterner than before, his eyes narrowed and intense.
“I know you and your friends have some sort of plan,” she responded honestly, “and I know you’re going to need help when the time comes.” She took a fraction of a step closer to him and lowered her tone further. “You’re the first people to come here with any credible way out. I want to help,” she smiled to him, her hand rubbing up and down his left arm slowly, gently.
For a second, Matheus forgot where he was, but only for a second. He then pulled his arm out of her reach. “How do I know I can trust you?”
Maevis’ brow furrowed at the implication that she could not be trusted, but she could understand his reluctance to take her on face value. Despite their new friendship, they had only met the previous day. Grabbing his arm a little more forcefully, she dragged him inside his cell, stopping only when she noticed the cell’s other occupant.
“Maevis…” Vittoria smiled, sitting up from her slouched position on the slab that was her bed, only to wince slightly as she did so, a slight throbbing in her left temple.
“You’re going to want to round up your others for this,” Maevis told, the look of absolute seriousness on her face telling Ren that this was not the time to trifle with her.
Nodding slowly, he turned in the doorway and looked out, surveying the immediate area for guards. When none could be seen, he whistled in the direction of Doctor Zinn and waved the Deltan over. Just a mere moment later, the Deltan physician and his Aenar colleague returned to their cell.
“This better be good,” Zinn scolded the scientist, ignoring Maevis as he pushed past and perched on his bunk, “Spornak was telling us a rather amusing story about him, his brother, and the time they nearly detonated their shuttles warp core,” the Deltan mused, folding his arms across his chest.
“Despite the neuroinhibitors, Maevis can still use some of her abilities,” Ren blurted out, “and she may have stumbled across our plan.”
Suddenly, the tension level in the room rose, with Zinn standing up from his perched position and taking a step closer to the science officer. “There IS no plan, remember?” the Deltan chided him.
“I think that’s pretty moot at this point, Commander. Maybe we should let Maevis tell us what she knows?” the ever wise voice of the young Aenar helmswoman pierced through the Lieutenant Commander’s anger, and he took a step back.
“I’ve been hearing things,” Maevis began, “nothing more than stories and rumours at first. Something about a new method the guards are using to extract information from us in search of what they call the gaharey.” She could tell from their silence, and the lack of a reaction from each of her new friends, that they were not particularly surprised. “There were rumours that they were taking prisoners at random. Torturing them in some way. Supposedly causing significant telepathic responses, progressively more violent with each story. Some people came back, others didn’t, yet no one I spoke to seemed to know anyone in particular that had been taken,” she told them, before turning her head and looking out the doorway and back to where they had sat a short while ago. “Then they came and took Arivek.”
That certainly piqued the curiosity of the majority of the room (save for Zinn, who had yet to warm to, well, anyone other than Spornak).
“When he was brought back,” Maevis continued, “he was unconscious. He slept for three days until he came round and could tell us what he knew.”
“And what exactly was that?” Zinn asked, unconvinced by her story so far as he folded his arms across his chest in his trademark stance of unconscious protection.
“They took him to some laboratory. He told us they strapped him to a bed and lowered the neuros in their lab,” she revealed, the room (save Zinn) on tenterhooks as she recounted the events from Arivek’s story. “Then they brought in some small fragment of crystal unlike anything he had seen. Apparently it was a deep shade of crimson, and when they brought it closer to him, it glowed.”
Now that definitely got Zinn’s attention, causing him to drop his defences and step closer to the woman. Matheus looked past the two and exchanged concerned glances with Vittoria, both silently mouthing just two simple words.
“We call it blood dilithium,” Zinn spoke quietly, “it’s why we’re here, in the Delta Quadrant. We’re here to collect and study it,” the Deltan revealed to her.
“It’s what we were looking for when the Devore captured our ship,” Tempestava added briefly. Soon, the Starfleet officers were in full brainstorming mode.
“We know it affects telepaths significantly.”
“Makes sense that they should have it. Dirty son’s of a…”
“That’s probably why they are using it as a means of torture to extract information.”
“Of course! That’s why they have neuroinhibitors in place. It’s not to stop us using our abilities at all…”
“It’s to stop the blood dilithium from having an impact on us while we’re in general circulation…”
“Arivek is thirty-seven years old!” Maevis interjected loudly, bringing the discussions to a screeching halt, all eyes firmly on her as she nodded her head out of the door. Zinn, Matheus and Vittoria all wandered to the doorway and huddled around Maevis, looking out at the old man sitting at the table.
“He’s what?!” Zinn asked.
“He’s thirty-seven years old,” Maevis echoed her previous statement. “When they took him, he was a handsome young man, but whatever they did to him using that blood dilithium, he came out looking about fifty years older, and drained of the youthful optimism he had always shown.” She sighed wistfully.
“Frak me…” Matheus whispered, shaking his head as they returned to the middle of the cell. Looking at Zinn, then Chiera, then Zinn again, the scientist folded his arms this time. Their conversation was about to start again when they were interrupted by the facility alarm, which meant only one thing; lockdown.
“I need to go,” Maevis told her friends, “whatever you do, whenever you do it, I’ll be ready. We’ll all be ready…” she assured them all. With one final touch of Matheus’ arm, the woman fled their cell so that she would not be caught in the wrong place, at the wrong time.
Returning to their bunks as per lockdown rules, the quartet stayed silent for a time, each pondering the conversation they had just partaken in. Each one had read the briefings, each taking particular care to read the logs of the Merevek crew, and how the blood dilithium had impacted the telepaths aboard the ship.
Unbeknownst to her crew mates, as she lay on her slab, Counsellor Chiera felt more than a little worse for wear. Beads of sweat trickled, dark shadows appeared beneath heavy eyes, and most importantly, the twinge of pain she had felt in her temple previously had now progressed into a sharp stabbing pain. But as she suffered in silence, the others began conversing once again. At first, she tried her best to listen in, but the words soon began to fade and she was struggling to make sense of them. It was infuriating. So infuriating in fact that the normally mild-mannered Betazoid sat up quite quickly and glared across at Matheus and Zinn.
“I swear to whatever gods you believe in,” she fumed, “if you don’t shut your mouths I’m going to smash your heads into the brick walls of this cell, and then I’m going to make you SWALLOW YOUR FRAKKIN’ TEETH!” A few far more severe expletives left gaping jaws threatening to hit the dust of the cell floor.
“Vittoria…” Tempa gasped at her colleague, sitting and turning her body towards the blonde Betazoid.
“DON’T!” Vittoria snapped at the young Aenar. “What a joke YOU are?! Who in their right mind sends a blind child on a mission of such importance as ours. What good are you? What do you even bring to this mission?! YOU CAN’T EVEN SEE WHAT’S RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU!” Chiera had clearly lost the plot, going on a vicious tirade against her young colleague, despite the protestations of her male counterparts.
And then things turned physical, the Counsellor leaping towards the innocent, quite clearly distressed Aenar, snarling and thrashing. Only the timely interception of Matheus grabbing his fellow Betazoid and pinning her to the nearby wall stopped her from causing any harm to the youngster.
“LIEUTENANT CHIERA! THAT IS ENOUGH!” Zinn barked at the top of his lungs, standing in defence of his junior colleague, and hoping that he might snap the Betazoid out of her malaise.
Whilst she stopped thrashing against the superior strength of Ren, the vitriol she spewed only got worse with a particularly vile remark about how the youngster should have been terminated in the womb because of her blindness. “You’re a waste of space, Tempestava th’Zorati.”
Placing his right forearm across the upper chest of the blonde, Matheus used his strength to push her back against the wall and draw her attention to him, albeit briefly. “One more word, and I swear, I’ll knock you on your ass.”
Gazing at the man pinning her to the wall, a breathless Vittoria let out a devilish grin, and then a laugh. “Oh Matheus. Can you feel it? The buzz? The thrill? I can sense it from you,” she whispered to him, but still loud enough for the other occupants of the cell to hear. “You want me, Matheus, don’t you? Whatever would Akaria think if she knew you were here, sharing your lustful thoughts with a woman you find so attractive?”
At such a repulsive notion, the scientist released his grip on the woman from his homeworld and took a step back, standing beside Zinn, but still close enough that he could step in should she again target the youngest member in their quartet.
“Vittoria. Please…” came the quiet pleading of the Aenar just feet away. “This has got to be the blood dilithium talking. This isn’t you.”
All of the commotion in the cell hadn’t gone unnoticed beyond the cell walls, and soon enough, three armed guards appeared at the cell door. Unlocking it, the lead guard stepped inside, weapon at the ready should he have needed it. He looked around the small holding cell at each of the occupants, and then settled his gaze on the flushed, hard of breathing woman.
“Her,” was all he said, before the other two guards entered the cell and grabbed Chiera by the arms.
“What are you doing?!” Matheus declared, trying to get to his colleague, only to be met with a rifle butt to the left temple for his efforts.
As the guards dragged the kicking and screaming Betazoid away, the Doctor helped his subordinate to his feet, with the help of their blind friend. With all three of them perched on the same slab, they took stock for a moment.
“The game’s afoot…” Zinn finally remarked.
“It can’t be,” Matheus winced through the pain, “it’s too soon.”
“They’re getting desperate,” the Deltan countered, “they can’t be having much luck on the ship. sh’Elas’ plan must be working.”
“The briefing from Commander Gor was pretty clear sir,” the ever calm Aenar spoke quietly, turning her head to the scientist. “If things turn physical down here, if they start to separate us, they’ll start to use us as leverage in their efforts to take the ship. Captain sh’Elas won’t let them take Ulysses.”
“But what about Vittoria? We don’t know where they have taken her, or what state she will be in when we get her back, if we get her back…”
“Our orders were clear, Matheus,” Zinn reminded his colleague, “your own partner relayed the instructions herself.” Standing from his perch, the Deltan wandered to the door and looked out at the other cells. “The Captain is trusting us to put her plan in motion. We need to be ready.”
Betazoid and Aenar alike diverted their gaze in the Deltan’s direction.
“This could cost a lot of people their lives,” Matheus warned both of his Starfleet compatriots. “We’re not just talking about getting the four of us out of here. She wants us to liberate the whole damn facility, and with what? The three of us, a crazy Counsellor, a giant, a woman we hardly know and a thirty-seven year old who looks older than my great, great grandmother’s dead dog,” he shook his head slowly. “This plan is never going to work…”
“Captain sh’Elas and I have had our disagreements, but I’ll say this for her; no one prepares for a mission like she does,” Zinn turned and looked at the man in blue. “She’s read all of the Voyager reports and the Merevek logs just like all of us. She’s been privy to more mission briefings than you could count on all of your extremities. She could have put us in the transporter buffer, she could have left us at the Markonian Outpost, she could have even left us behind in the Alpha Quadrant. But she didn’t,” the Deltan’s passionate argument was certainly getting his colleagues attention. “She planned for an eventuality that had an infinitesimal chance of occurring, but she planned for it anyway. She knew that if we encountered them, the Devore would be predictable and true to past experiences. All the past intelligence pointed towards them impounding the ship, arresting the telepaths and imprisoning the crew until they could secure their prize. It’s their modus operandi after-all. She knew, like we all did, that if the time came where she’d need us, we’d be the away team she could count on. No one else could get into the position we’re in now.”
“He’s right, Matheus,” Tempa nodded slowly. “The Captain entrusted us with her Plan B, and we all agreed to it. While the crew prevent the Devore from taking the ship, we get the prisoners down here on side and ready to go. Then, when the time comes and they’ve managed to retake the ship, we rescue as many of these poor souls as we can and bring this whole sordid enterprise to its knees.”
“This isn’t just a prison break we’re talking about here,” the Betazoid shook his head, “we’re talking about a riot involving hundreds of people, all of whom could be at risk.”
“On the one hand, we’ve got a prison break that Noli will be pissed to miss. But on the other, we’ve got the kind of humanitarian rescue mission we have a duty to carry out,” Zinn tried to plead to the man’s sensibilities.
“Alright, alright!” Matheus finally relented. “Plan B it is. Let’s plan a prison break.”