The screams were like she always heard them – terrified as much as agonised, the yells and whimpers of those who died but also those who were trapped watching. She was another step away, the helpless watching the helpless, caught in the winds just beyond the eye of the storm of pain and loss.
But though the sound was the shards of the anguish of others, the sights were from her own personal hell. The tight clamps on her wrist. The cold metal of the chair she was strapped to. The darkness surrounding the ring of light, shrouding unknown technologies and procedures preparing mysterious experiments and sufferings just for her. The leering face of the warped mirror image of Noah Pierce.
‘Don’t fight,’ he said, like he’d said on the ISS Endeavour as the other Doctor Sadek had tried to pry her brain open to turn it into a weapon. ‘It’ll only make it worse for you.’
The shadows swirled like they hadn’t at the time and never before had in her memories, and the screams of the slaughtered Brenari shifted to become those whispers that were like old and unwelcome friends by now.
‘This isn’t the same,’ they hissed. ‘A day of suffering against a lifetime of being hunted -’
‘I didn’t bring us here,’ Thawn whimpered, eyes slamming shut as tears streamed freely. ‘I didn’t ask for this. I came to speak to you and this happened…’
‘There is a light. A tiny escape. When we are gone, all there is, is you. You will remain, after we press on to the beyond – or after the Devore kill all our people, you and yours will go on because they will not hunt you…’
‘The Devore are trying to use you!’ she hissed. ‘You can feel it, can’t you? In here we’re being pulled two ways. Sent back into subspace, ending this imprisonment. Or dragged into that – that engine of suffering that’s being brought on your people -’
‘We can escape,’ the voices pulsed. ‘We see the battle of your comrades, we see their determination. We can flee, move on, end this -’
‘Not in time.’ She struggled against the restraints, but to no avail. ‘Not before too many of your people are hurt or killed. And not before my people are killed – killed trying to save yours…’
‘We can be freed…’
‘Not yet!’ The restraints rattled and she felt them shudder, felt them almost break. ‘You can help us!’
Then the shadow loomed over her again, the broad figure of the twisted mockery of Noah Pierce slamming her back onto the cold metal. His touch was like fire, not on her shoulder where his hand gripped tight, but in her temples, inside her head.
And though she felt the shards of the slaughtered Brenari slip away to freedom slowly, far too slowly, everything else was the searing agony of torments past and present.
Endeavour rocked as the latest flurry of weapons fire thudded into her, and Rourke had to grip tight on the armrest to not be thrown from his chair.
‘Shields are down to twenty percent!’ called Kharth, fighting to be heard over the thundering sound of impact and alert sirens, barely keeping her footing.
‘Escort is breaking off its attack; we gave them a beating.’ Danjuma had been forced to drag herself back up to her console. Rourke had worried how the nervy young officer would do on bridge duty under combat conditions, but it seemed like everything had been too fast and too terrible to leave time for fear.
Still, her inexperience shone through with how optimistic she sounded, and Rourke’s jaw tightened as he read the sensor display. ‘But not enough to finish them off, and the main ship’s coming for us. Brace for impact.’
‘Rerouting shields to protect -’
Kharth’s efforts were lost in the next hammering. The deck bucked and this time, Rourke couldn’t keep a hold. He flew from the chair and onto the carpeted deck, catching himself only enough so he didn’t hit his head very hard. Stars exploded in front of his eyes, and in the distant ringing that filled his ears it was all but impossible to hear the bridge.
It felt like he’d only been down a couple of seconds, stirring slowly, but when he pushed himself upright he realised it must have been longer. Valance was stood over him, barking orders. Blood trickled down the side of Lindgren’s face from a blow she’d taken to the temple, and Athaka was no longer at Ops but propped up by the bulkhead, Lieutenant Zherul checking him over. Commander Rosewood had taken his post.
‘We’ve got hull breaches on decks six through nine,’ he was barking. ‘Trying to reroute emergency power to our shields, but we’ve lost a whole power relay on deck thirteen and Engineering have bigger fish to fry.’
‘We’ve got a hint of shields on our port side,’ Kharth confirmed. ‘Not much.’
‘Arys, bring our port side to face them,’ Valance snapped. ‘We can still manoeuvre faster than them.’
But when Endeavour spun it was more of a lurch than her usual graceful slide, and it made it even harder for Rourke as he clambered to his feet. The deck’s shuddering almost made him fall again, then Valance’s hand was at his elbow, hauling him upright with the strength he always underestimated.
‘Still with us, sir?’ Her brow furrowed with concern.
‘Present,’ he rasped, pressing a hand to his aching temple. ‘Danjuma, what’s the word on the Regulator?’
The science officer shook her head. ‘The psionic energy emissions off the lead Devore ship have gone down – but only ten percent, sir. I’m detecting the antiprotons from the Guinevere’s distortion, but nothing’s happening fast enough.’
Kharth swore in Romulan. ‘We have to take Halyx’s ship out.’
Rourke all but collapsed into the command chair. ‘Get me the full scan of their condition,’ he ordered, waving a hand at the viewscreen. The reading wasn’t encouraging: damaged but functioning shields, minimal impact to the hull. The shining bright power signature from their warp core, a less-sophisticated engine than Endeavour’s but still burning hot.
Valance cleared her throat. ‘Sufficient damage to their aft engines could take out the whole ship,’ she confirmed.
‘How,’ said Danjuma, ‘are we supposed to hit them that hard?’
The pain in Rourke’s temples didn’t fade, but the thudding felt like it stopped as it became wholly irrelevant. His gaze drifted right to meet Valance’s, and for a heartbeat they regarded each other. Her nod was almost imperceptible.
‘Two million people,’ he mused, lips setting into a hard line before he drew a deep breath. ‘Lieutenant Arys, I’m giving you a flight route. Kharth, you and the Black Knights have to keep the escort ships from stopping us. Rosewood – give us a balance between durability and speed. This is no good if we can’t get there.’
Silence met his words, though the sound of his officers’ hands hitting their controls, the bleeps of these commands, made it clear they were setting to work. Heartbeats later, the first voice was from Lindgren, small and apprehensive.
‘So. We’re really doing this, huh?’
‘It was a good plan,’ offered Arys, his expression set. ‘This’ll do, too.’
Rosewood twisted back in his seat at Ops. ‘What does Starfleet do, not save two million people?’
‘Historically, yes,’ pointed out Kharth dryly. ‘But I promise I won’t keep on about it.’
Again, Rourke’s gaze landed on Valance, who sighed before she shook her head. ‘I’d refuse to say this under any other circumstances. But today is a good day to die.’
‘It’s bloody well not,’ he scoffed good-naturedly, ‘but it’s the day we’ve got.’ Matt Rourke jerked a finger at the viewscreen, shining with the hulls of the two battered Devore escort ships and, beyond them, the main vessel carrying the Regulator that could bring death to the millions of people on the green-blue orb of Senolok below.
‘You have your orders, everyone. Mister Arys? Ramming speed.’
Eventually she fell to darkness. For a time that was all Thawn knew: the black, the pain, the tormented whispers slipping away. Her own prison. By the time faint pinpricks of light broke the dark, she did not know if she had been there moments or lifetimes.
But they were not mere beacons; they were stars, shining brighter and brighter to fill a night sky, however much she was adrift. The whispers surrounding her took more form and focus, sweeping towards a single dot that grew stronger even as it began to flicker.
This was all around her and all around the ship, as far across the system as she could sense, and the single dot was the anomaly. The distortion their runabout had fractured, with the probe now nestled within sending out its pulses. Its summons, its calls, bringing the echoes of murdered Brenari forth from the blood dilithium, sending them back to subspace. Dissipating them. Ending this.
But slowly, all too slowly. Thawn could feel them, almost see them as they drifted through the dark, ebbing and pulsing rather than rushing to this gate that would let them loose.
And on the far end, like a thread tugging at them, was the Regulator. It was as if she could spin and see it, and then she saw the knot of lights pulsing around Senolok. Minds, feelings, fears – millions of them, and all centred around the twist that was Endeavour and the battle. Her people, her family, locked in a struggle they could not win. Their helplessness pulsed off them and into her. Their determination.
She reached out like she could grab a thread of the receding Brenari echoes. ‘You have to help them. You’re being turned on your own.’
‘If we flee,’ the voices murmured, ‘they’re safe…’
‘My people won’t be.’ But she could not bring more than fear with her, and fear seemed to only drive the Brenari echoes on, encourage them much too slowly to their escape. The fear nestled in her heart was only good to send the echoes on their way.
‘Look at the Devore,’ Thawn insisted instead, and turned her focus – all their focus, the focus of this place where only thought and memory ruled – to the warships nestled in the knot of light of battle. ‘They’ve come to conquer. They’ve come to kill. You can feel them. Their hate. Their disregard. They’ll cut down anyone in their way because that’s easier than facing their fear.’
The thread of Brenari echoes wavered, and Thawn felt as if her heart rose at the anger humming within them. Her mind reached out further across the system. She stretched out with her telepathy like she hadn’t in years, decades – perhaps ever – to pull as far as she could, drag her senses towards the Devore soldiers. And beyond them was the Regulator, twisted like a thorny bramble in the centre of this all, burning along with the hate blazing in the hearts of the Devore. If she could dredge it to the fore, the Brenari echoes would see it. She needed their rage.
And though that blazing fire came out, and though she felt the echoes stir, she also found something else. A tiny beacon nestled amid the flames, something precarious and unexpected. Amid the knot of hatred of the Devore, she found Nate Beckett. Trapped. Afraid. Alive.
Because this was a place of only thought and memory, she did not scream. But this was also a place of feeling, and in her heart burned a new fire. Brighter and fiercer and more righteous than the hatred of the Devore, it blazed out from her in a wave that did more than capture the echoes of the Brenari.
It ignited them. And turned them.
Her pleas had not altered their course. Her begs for assistance, her raging fear, had either fallen unheard or ushered them to escape, flee the sucking vortex of the Regulator and rush for the door opened by their probe. Now, with the call of the Regulator to help them manifest and her fury and hate lighting the way, there was a new path, a new target: every single Devore in the Senolok system.
The howling rage she had felt since her first brush with blood dilithium joined with her own fury now, and the echoes of the Brenari fell upon their enemy.
The cuff on Beckett’s wrist had rubbed his skin raw, but with the sight of the battle raging before him on the Devore ship’s viewscreen, his own hide was the least of his problems. He gave another experimental tug, rattling against the railing and winning a suspicious look from his Devore guard, but otherwise achieved nothing. All eyes were on Endeavour.
‘What are they doing?’ Halyx mused as she saw the mighty Obena-class come about towards them and trying to slip past one of the Devore escort ships. ‘They’re coming right at us; they must know they can’t sustain a frontal assault.’
‘Oh, no,’ breathed Beckett before he could stop himself.
That won Halyx’s attention, and she ignored the reports of her bridge officers as she rounded on him. A vein throbbed at her temple. ‘Explain, Starfleet.’
His breath caught. ‘I thought you just wanted me to witness Devore might, not help –’ The blow from the butt of his guard’s rifle caught him at the temple, and had it not been for the cuffs, he’d have fallen to the deck. Instead his knees hit the deck awkwardly, jarring his shoulder, his head spinning.
Halyx scoffed and turned back. ‘Some blaze of glory of righteous fools,’ she sneered. ‘We’ll see how…’ Then she staggered, eyes shutting.
‘Commissioner?’ called an anxious soldier – then he, too, wavered.
Beckett blinked hard to clear his vision as across the bridge, Devore soldiers swayed on their feet, pressed hands to their heads. He was wary as he pulled himself upright, mindful his guard might hit him again, but when he looked at the man he saw him dabbing at a nosebleed, eyes widening with confusion – and pain.
When Halyx turned to him again, blood seeped from her eyes. ‘What are you doing to us, gaharey?’ she gasped of him. Had she had more strength, there would have been more fury. Instead he heard only a rasping fear.
‘I don’t…’ Beckett’s jaw fell, his gut twisting in sick and terrified knots. A metre away, a Devore soldier keeled over. On the other side, one clutched his head with both hands and began whimpering. From the distant corridors of the ship, he heard screaming.
‘You hunted us…’
One by one, the tiny dots of light that were the minds and hearts of the Devore clustered together went dim.
‘You trapped us…’
Only as Thawn’s own fury faded could she truly feel that of the Brenari. If in her heart there had been a fire, all around her was a blazing inferno. And it would not stop until it had destroyed all in its path.
‘You slaughtered us… then you sent us here to suffer and watch…’
And as the raging hatred and vengeance of the murdered Brenari echoes, what lingered of the minds of the telepaths, reached to snuff out, one by one, every single Devore within their reach, all Thawn could do was reach out also. Not to kill, not to hurt, not with fury. But to find that tiny speck that was Nate Beckett and wrap her thoughts around him in a bubble.
‘…and we will have our vengeance.’
‘But not,’ Thawn’s thoughts urged, ‘against him.’
For what felt like a lifetime, all that could be heard on the Devore bridge was the chirruping of ships’ systems and the rasping of Beckett’s breathing. If he could, he would have stayed there, clutching himself as he stood trapped amid a sea of his captors’ corpses. They had struggled. Writhed. Screamed. And then they had, all of them, dropped dead. Leaving only him.
Only desperation gave his muscles strength, so he had to drag himself forward. Had to step over the corpse of his guard so he could reach.
Blood stained his fingertips as he stretched out, just barely able to reach the controls Halyx’s corpse was slumped next to. Only because he had watched, quietly hoping he might be able to do something, anything during the battle, did he know what button to press to open the comm systems.
‘Endeavour – stop what you’re doing! It’s over, the Devore are – they’re dead, I can’t explain it, but don’t fucking ram us!’ His voice was borderline hysterical, and Beckett knew that he only found words and coherency because if he didn’t, they were all going to die.
And still he couldn’t help but add in a quick jumble, ‘Oh, it’s Nate by the way, I’m not dead.’
A pause. More bleeping of the Devore systems, more merciless silence from the corpses of the crew. A crackle. Then Rourke’s voice, rough and surprised. ‘Nate?’
But Endeavour broke off its suicide run, and that was enough for Nate Beckett to close his eyes and slide to the deck of the Devore ship, still shackled to a bridge railing, and still trapped in the middle of this sea of slaughter.