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Meltdown, Part One

Posted on Jul 29, 2015 @ 12:27am by Lieutenant Eve Dalziel & Captain Kassandra Thytos & Selyara Chen
Edited on on Jul 29, 2015 @ 12:29am

Mission: The Lights of Hyperion


(Continued From “Unmasking”)

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"I would say any behavior that is not the status quo is interpreted as insanity, when, in fact, it might actually be enlightenment. Insanity is sorta in the eye of the beholder."

--Chuck Palahniuk

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Scene: Battle Bridge

Time Index: T minus 45 minutes

She wasn’t doing well. She knew this. She hadn’t been careful enough, she hadn’t given herself enough time between leaving one mind and diving into another. Why had she done that? Secretly she knew: she'd been showing off, trying to impress Michael, trying to prove to his crew that her capture was a fluke. She’d overtaxed her abilities and now the thoughts and emotions, hopes, dreams, ambitions of other people swirled through her head like flurries of snow, and she couldn’t hear herself think.

Then, like a fool, like an idiot, she’d thought - in what she could now only describe as a delusion of grandeur - that helping James Barton was a good idea, and that she could handle it. Worse, she’d decided to make it easier on him by performing a two-way meld to ease his feelings of violation, rather than keeping her mind hidden from his as she was accustomed to.

In return he’d torn a raw, oozing gash into old wounds that she’d thought long healed over. He’d ripped her carefully ordered mind to shreds, leaving bits and pieces all over, leaking memories and thoughts everywhere.

Worse, those emotions that she had no name for, that she could no longer identify? James Barton had names for them. James Barton could identify them with laser-like precision. Now she had to contend with the overwhelming wash of emotions that she’d been able to ignore because she didn’t know what they were.

None of them were nice.

None of them were happy.

They hurt, so she tried to pack them away, tried to push them down where she wouldn’t have to acknowledge them, but it was impossible. Between all the stray errata of the minds of the rioters that she’d knocked out, Montoya, the damn remnants of James Barton that had been left stickily clinging and intertwined in her mind when she had aborted the mind meld, and all the feelings she hadn’t known what to do with, she felt like she was drowning. Drowning in a sticky black pit that would swallow her whole and leave her empty.

It hadn’t been bad while she was taunting Embry, when she had something else to occupy her attention, but now she, along with Embry was waiting.

“Selyara. Get to the tactical console right now.” Embry’s voice was authoritative, and she looked up at him dumbly from under eyelids that seemed suddenly heavy. She spoke and her words felt slurred and slow to her.

“Why?” She mustered up enough energy to pair her question with an arch look, and a sneer of defiance.

“You’re going to deliver a warning shot,” Embry gestured with his phaser, his voice strident, resigned.

“No.” Selyara found herself recoiling. She found the idea… Repulsive. “I will not.”

“You will unless you want me to shoot you. Or unless you want me to try targeting them myself. I of course have no familiarity with the systems as you pointed out earlier. My shot might be far more than just a warning. You, on the other hand, *Captain* are quite familiar with the systems of a starship, even if your information is nearly a decade out of date...” Embry’s eyes danced gleefully as he saw the shock in her eyes. “Oh I’ve been reading about you, Miss Chen. Now get to the console, and do what I told you to. No tricks.”

“No.” She felt fear drying up her mouth. Her heart began to hammer. Time seemed to slow as Embry brought the phaser to bear and pressed the trigger. The burst of red light splashed into the hull by her head, the heat from the red-hot metal causing the loose strands of hair near it to curl and smoke, filling the bridge with the noxious aroma of burning hair. Bile began to rise in her throat, and her stomach did flip-flops.

She - Montoya - Jason - the dozens she’d touched in the riots - didn’t want to die.

She wanted to go home. She wanted to sit under the magnolia trees in her father’s backyard during the spring, and pick persimmons in the fall so she could watch Erik Chen as he turned them into jams and breads in that magical kitchen alchemy that she’d never been able to master. She wanted to meet her niece, she wanted her mother and sister to let her back into that tight-knit circle. She wanted to be safe, be happy, belong.

She would never have that if Embry killed her, so she stood mutely and went over to tactical. She ran her eyes over the displays, noting with - with relief that someone had disabled the torpedoes.

“Now, Miss Chen.” Embry said. His voice was still pleasant, cool, but Selyara felt like there was an underlying layer of cruelty. He was enjoying making her do this, although he probably told himself he found it distasteful. He enjoyed her powerlessness, much as she would have relished it in his position.

She thought longingly of home, of midnights during the winter when fog was heavy around the house making it damp and cold. She’d sneak downstairs, and her father and sister would always be there, sitting around the kitchen table, drinking hot chocolate and eating sugar cookies shaped like snowflakes fresh from the oven.

She pressed the button and the lance of white light splashed across the hull of the saucer section suspended in space in front of them. The blue of the shields had sprung up a moment too late, but it hardly mattered. Her shot had been good, it missed them by several hundred feet.

* * *=/\=* * *

Scene: Bridge, Saucer Section

Time Index: T minus 35 minutes

Eve looked down at the laundry list of ‘suggestions’ that Arthur Embry had provided. Most were impractical, to say the least. Some were just plain ridiculous. He seemed to think that he, as the representative of Shanty Town and the voice of the Refugees, deserved to have an equal say in all decisions made on the ship, and wanted to be the Co-Captain for the remainder of the trip. He wanted the refugees to have free rein of the all the non-sensitive decks in the ship, he wanted the refugees to have unlimited access to permanent replicators and all of the ship’s recreational facilities.

He had graciously allowed audio communications to be cut while the bridge crew was supposed to be discussing terms of compromise, as long as he could see them on video, lest they try to escape. The Counsellor suspected the man was tiring from his injuries and the strain of trying to commandeer the ship. His waning energy was a precious commodity to be conserved. He hadn’t struck her originally as a rash man, merely passionate, but as he tired he seemed to cross over into a realm of fanaticism, and began to give voice to political views that seemed rooted in anti-Federation sentiment .

There was still the issue of trust for Eve when it came to Selyara Chen. She’d felt uneasy since the moment Embry hailed them and she’d seen the other woman seated in the XO’s chair next to Embry. She knew the Captain was being sincere in the reasons for his faith in their guest of unusual talent. But Eve couldn’t shake the nagging distrust, which was only heightened by the fact that Selyara had, apparently let Embry have the command codes. One well placed touch or thought and the man would have been a puddle of gelatin. What or who had distracted her from an attempt at self-preservation?

There was an abrupt flurry of motion on the viewscreen, and Eve looked up just in time to see Embry fire a phaser at Selyara Chen. The shot was wide and was clearly intended to force the woman in line with Embry’s wishes. The look on Selyara’s face was as though she’d swallowed a lead weight, and she raised her hands in a supplicating gesture. Eve watched the exchange and wondered: If Selyara had agreed to help Embry, how had she now ended up on the Mayor of Shanty Town’s bad side? Selyara was manipulative enough, especially to those of the opposite gender, that she should never have made a misstep that would lead Embry to fire on her if she was in control of the situation.

Eve leaned forward and studied Selyara’s face intently. Normally, the exotic woman was unreadable behind a facade of indifference. But now, essentially a captive, her face was different. Even with the less than ideal quality of the projection, parts of her visage had softened, weakened somehow. Emotion, raw and wild, seemed to be pushing towards the surface. One thing was certain; the time below decks had not been good to her.

Eve’s attention was attracted by the flicker of lights to her left. The console instantly reacted to Embry’s unexpected advance.

“Incoming!” BaShen shouted, his hands flying frantically across the panels in front of him, attempting to move the saucer out of the way of the incoming phaser blast.

“Shields,” Aerdan Jos said back, and hands flew across the controls in a deft display. The shields went up, but a moment too late, but it was moot anyhow. The phaser fire came up short, blazing past them neatly.

The Andorian sat down, nervously twitching his antennae. “What in the Wall of Heroes was that?”

Dalziel looked to her ExO. “He’s toying with us now. Although I don’t know why.” She’d been (mostly) civil with the man, trying to placate him with every little trick she could think of. If any of the PHOENIX crew shared a like mind, there was some kind of strike team headed to the Battle Bridge right now to catch the elder statesman unaware and regain control of the ship. Maybe it was too much to hope for.

Jos’ blue eyes stared confidently back at her. “Yes, you do, Lieutenant. How long has it been since he’s eaten or slept? He wants this over with before he can’t hold up his end of the bargain any longer. He doesn’t have the luxury of depending on others. All he has is one hostage.”

“A hostage that could easily destroy him to boot.” A cautious relief spread across Eve’s face. He did appear to be the more desperate one, despite having tentative control of the Drive Section.

One of the Marines looked to the center of the Bridge. “We’re being hailed, Sir.”

“Oh, I’ll bet,” Aerdan said with an unexpected cockiness that would have been more suited to his brother, but fit the moment just fine. “Go ahead.”

* * *=/\=* * *

Scene: Engineering

Time Index: T minus 35 minutes

Kassandra waited a moment more, feeling uncomfortable amidst the oppressive air of antagonism. The situation was bad, but not hopeless, yet here she was in the middle of engineering, and they were letting their male egos get in the way of progress. In an instant the temper that she’d been keeping a tight leash on since she’d woken up in sickbay snapped. She was tired, she hurt, and quite frankly, she just wanted someone to decide on something so she could leap into action, rather than hanging around like an idiot while smarter minds than hers discussed esoterics.

“You know if you guys wanted to know who’s dick was bigger, you coulda just asked me and saved us all a lot of time,” Kassandra barked at the three men who were eyeing each other with barely concealed animosity. It had the desired effect of breaking the three men’s attention away from each other.

“I was trying to be helpful, he’s the one who turned this into a-” the man she now knew as Jason Barton objected, looking in her direction as though he was looking for her support. She glared at him. It wasn’t so much that she cared that he had hidden past- the fact that he had saved her life told her all she needed to know about him - but he had knowingly put her in an intensely embarrassing position with the Captain. Furthermore, the man had been interrupting her and treating her as one would a child for the last half hour.

“Shaddup. I’m talkin’ right now, and since you’ve been talkin’ over me fer the last few minutes and treatin’ me like you don’t think I could take you in a fight you damn well and better be quiet and listen!” Her voice unconsciously dropped into the authoritative tone she’d used on the twins when they were younger. “As it is, I’ve just lost patience with alla you. I can’t believe that you’re making me, *ME* be the peacemaker. I know things ain’t ideal, but you know what? I nearly died less than a week ago, the crew can’t even look me in the eye after seein’ that footage from Barbossa, an’ I’m swimmin’ in amphetamines just ta stay awake, which I have to do because there’s only nine a’ us who actually know how to use a damn weapon. I left my kids on Terra because Edgerton literally had ‘em in the sights of a goddamn sniper in order to blackmail me inta bein’ quiet about the CENTURY after his assassin failed to kill me, an’ there weren’t no way to get them to the Phoenix. They could be dead cos I decided to join you, an’ you guys are fightin’! Fightin’! An’ I’m the one bein’ reasonable! If we’re all actin’ like we ain’t civ’lized officers anymore, I gotta get a few things off mah tits.” She rounded on Barton, and stuck her finger in the giant man’s face. “You! I don’t give a damn about yer past, Jebediah Chastity, or whatever yer name is, but I do give a damn about this alpha male bullshit yer pullin’. Yer a guest here, mind yer manners. Were ya raised in a barn or somethin’?” She rounded on Kane, and hesitated. Her innate respect for the chain of command won out over her exhausted bad temper, so she continued lamely: “Cap’n? You knew he was tryin’ ta get a rise outta you! So why didn’t ya ignore him? All you’ve done is given him the satisfaction a’ gettin’ you riled, and rewardin’ him for being an asshole.” She turned to Jake, who, while technically outranking her, was not part of her command structure, and therefore fair game. “As fer YOU Commander? Where’d’ya get off escalatin’ things? You saw me tryin’ t’ settle these two down and instead a’ helpin’ me, you jus’ made things worse! Callin’ the Captain Mike an’ choosin’ that moment to do some big reveal on people’s pasts when it don’t have no bearin’ on this major crisis we’re facin’ right now? I’m disappointed with all a’ ya.”

There was silence for a moment and the men looked like school kids who’d been scolded by the schoolmarm. Then Kane and Barton’s face began to darken. She beat their anger to the punch, and turned her finger on herself, waggling it inches from her nose. “Now least all a’ you ain’t as bad as the goddamn Major here! Whatta bitch. No respect for authority, what room does she have t’ be lecturin’ a bunch a’ grown men, even if she is nearly old enough t’ be their mother, the geriatric -”

Her tirade was interrupted by the sudden sound of a phaser blast over the still open speakers to the bridge. They’d largely ignored it during the fight, but now all of a sudden the feed had their full attention. A strangled feminine voice made a squawk of protest, or fear.

[[NOW, Miss Chen.]] Embry’s voice rang out, flat, pleasant, but devoid of his usual charm.

There was a slow shuffling sound of someone- presumably Selyara, moving across the bridge, and the lights flickered.

“We’ve just fired on the saucer section, Captain,” Cindy Rochemonte’s voice snapped from across Engineering. ”Doesn’t look like it hit, I think it was a warning shot.”

[[There, didn’t that feel good?]] Embry was asking Selyara soothingly, before his voice became authoritative. [[Now, hands in the air until I tell you otherwise. I need to talk to the other bridge for a few minutes.]]

There was a long pause as Embry presumably attempted to open hailing frequencies. Engineering was dead silent, like everyone was holding their breath, waiting to see what happened next.

[[No,]] a quiet female voice whispered into the silence, before Embry began to loudly state his demands.

“We need to get in contact with the saucer section.” Kane said brusquely. “Any way we can do that?”

“We might still be able to reach Double-trouble- er, Massimo and Kuenzi- on the Marine communication equipment, but it’s dicey -” Kassandra chewed on her thumbnail thoughtfully. Without atmospheric disturbance the communications array would have a greater range than it would planetside, but she had no idea how far the saucer section was from the drive, nor how the background radiation from the Hyperion Expanse would affect the range.

The scaly Gorn in the corner, who had until now been making himself invisible while the humans engaged in their dominance displays unfolded himself and tapped his claws sharply on the edge of the display he was standing next to. Once he had their attention, he rapped his claw more urgently on the console, and then pressed a button on his wrist band.

{{My name is Chaucer. Help.}} The Gorn slithered his tongue out and stared at Jake, who moved quickly to the side of the Gorn. Chaucer tapped on the display frantically, and looked from the console to Jake slowly.

“Smart.” Jake clapped the Gorn on his scaly arm. “Chaucer’s just suggested that we use the remote engineering link. It’s supposed to allow Engineers to fix the saucer section remotely, that way during a separation event, the drive section which is supposed to bear the brunt of any attacks will be able to run with nearly a full compliment of engineers, instead of having to send half of them over to run the saucer. Embry hasn’t shut that down, probably doesn’t even know about it. I think we should be able to splice the Marine’s communication equipment into that feed to contact the bridge.”

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Scene: Battle bridge

Time Index: T minus 30 minutes

Selyara stared dumbly as the glow of the phaser shot splashed harmlessly across the bow of the saucer. She hated herself for having done it, even as she felt nothing: No concern for the people on the saucer, no petty enjoyment at taking back a bit of the power that had been stripped from her, nothing. The ghost of James Barton’s mind told her that there should be something there, that there should be something more to her feelings.

“There, didn’t that feel good?” Embry asked soothingly. “Now, hands in the air until I tell you otherwise. I need to talk to the other bridge for a few minutes.” He opened the hailing frequencies, and the main bridge appeared in the viewscreen. “So, Mister Jos. Have you made any headway locating your wayward Captain? Is he perhaps more willing to speak to me now that I have shown that I am deadly serious? I think Miss Chen here is starting to see things my way. She was the one, after all, that fired that shot. You better start looking for Kane very hard, because I’m going to have the lovely Miss Chen fire on you every 15 minutes until my demands are met, Kane deigns to speak to me, or you prove to me he’s dead and Mister Jos has his authority. From now on, I’m done firing warning shots.”

Selyara wanted to say something, anything, but the competing noise from hundreds of voices in her head rendered her mute. Instead she stared at the screen with a lackluster gaze, trying to lock eyes with one of the people there, hoping to convey to them that this wasn’t what she wanted to be doing. She wasn’t sure it had any effect, and so she sank her head down and tried once more to shove everything back where it had come from, trying to regain her rapidly dwindling self control, to no avail. She found her voice, but it was barely there, just a whisper, a defeated whisper.


Aerdan Jos, the Andorian first officer, tried to placate Embry and assure him everything was being done, and then cut the connection when the older man issued another fools’ ultimatum.

Embry didn’t notice the audio was still open, and neither did his hostage.

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Scene: Bridge, Saucer Section

Time Index: T minus 27 minutes

{{...from now on, I’m done firing warning shots,}} Embry said haggardly.

Eve and Aerdan Jos looked at each other as the conspirators they were, then back to the view of Arthur Embry and his captive.

The ExO tried for a voice of reason, but it was strained against the lies they had told in an effort to buy some time. “I urge you to reconsider, Mister Embry. If the Captain is alive, but gravely injured and unable to respond, and if you destroy our section of the ship, he will most certainly die.”

Dalziel looked from the battered face of Embry to that of the equally injured Selyara Chen, and found the woman staring, expressive eyes somehow boring deep into the pale woman’s teal trimmed uniform. It wasn’t a stare of defiance, or a stare of power; it was a stare of desperation. Eve shifted in her seat uncomfortably. The woman, who was their ace in the hole in the fight against the Neo-Essentialists, needed help. Differences aside, the Counsellor was certain of that now.

Arthur laughed. It was a brittle laugh, the laugh of a deranged man. {{You think I forget that you would probably be dead also. Which neck are you valuing more, Commander?}} he said with an edge of snark. {{The drive section can make it out of this morass, but the saucer section with only impulse power… I’ll just say the Hyperion Expanse can have you and your supposedly dead Cap-}}

“Sir,” Thomas Varn cut in from his station to address the blue-skinned ExO. “I’m reading an Amaterasu presence just outside the ship. These signatures lead me to believe it’s an orb type.”

“Is it moving?” Jos asked.

“Negative,” the winged man responded, then refocused his look at the readings. “Well, actually, it’s not completely static but it’s not coming closer to the ship. The location corresponds to where the warning shot landed.”

Aerdan tried to be forceful. “Mister Embry, you have to listen to me. The Amaterasu are attracted to energy discharge. You’re right. You can crank that warp core up and move. But you’re going to have visits from these beings. You’re going to have damage to the ship, explosions, and radiation exposure that you can’t even begin to control with an untrained skeleton crew.”

Embry laughed again, and it turned into a choking cough. After he regained what was left of his composure, he continued. {{I’m tired, Commander… tired of being played for a fool.}} His voice was strident, mocking. {{‘The Captain’s dead.’ ‘This ship’s going to explode.’ Enough. You have fifteen minutes.}}

Aerdan sank in his seat, his antennae moving more than anything else as the gears in his head turned. If the interference from Embry had just been a blood clot, a tumor, or an errant nerve ganglion, he could simply excise it, with methodical precision. It reminded him why being a surgeon felt a lot less stressful than what lay in front of him now. “Okay people, we have fifteen minutes to counteract another phaser attack and the potential Amaterasu interest in said attack.”

Varn glanced at the data once more and addressed the ExO. “Their only interest, as hard as that may be to believe, is in the energy. Our physical constructs and organic bodies are just in the way. I don’t think they realize that we’re here, other than the energy we create and generate. And the larger the output, the greater the attention. We just need something bigger than the phaser array hitting the hull.”

“Like an unmanned drone?” Russ BaShen asked, turning to face the rest of them.

Varn gestured to the helmsman. “That’s good. But it would have to be taken a step further. This ‘drone’ as you say, would have to have enough power to attract them away from us.”

“What if we just fire our own phasers out to a point in space?” One of the Marines asked. Varn thought it was Maximo or something similar, but he wasn’t the best with names.

“There are two problems with that,” Jos responded. “The first is that Embry is not experienced being in charge of a ship. And I wouldn’t call his mental state particularly stable. He’s liable to think we are trying to attack him, and just continue firing. The other is that I’m concerned the Amaterasu would also target the source of the energy, and not just the destination. If we fired out into space, it would dissipate fairly quickly without anything to hit. But the residual energy on the phaser banks themselves would be more measurable… and we’re not going anywhere at the moment.”

“We have access to some shuttlecraft in our portion of the bays,” Eve said. “Could we remotely control one, all systems rigged to generate an unnatural expulsion of power?”

Aerdan winced. Whatever they sent out there, there was a good chance it would be destroyed. Explaining a jettisoned shuttle to the not-so-departed CO wouldn’t be pleasant, if they managed to stop Embry’s machinations. “I would prefer something a little more expendable, but that’s the right idea.”

The dark haired woman thought. “What about an escape pod?”

The first officer looked to Russ, still wanting to consider, but feeling the unwelcome push of time against them. “You think you can modify an escape pod in,” he asked with a glance to the chronometer, “about twelve and a half minutes?”

The man grinned. “I’m on it,” he said, bringing up an interface on his console and funneling all of his attention to that.

* * *=/\=* * *

Scene: Battle Bridge.

Time Index: T minus 25 minutes

Embry turned away from the viewscreen and inspected his hostage. Things would go much more smoothly if she helped; she had proved to be completely useless as a bargaining chip. Embry felt to his bones that Captain Kane was not dead. Embry was sure it was a ruse to keep him at arm's length, helplessly treading water so Kane and his crew could laugh at his futile efforts. Embry clearly had yet to exert the proper pressure to compel action from the Captain.

Perhaps Captain Kane did not believe that he would actually kill Selyara, and admittedly, this assessment was correct. Without her as a hostage Embry had nothing aside from control of a ship he had no idea how to run. He couldn't afford to kill her, and he didn't have the stomach to torture her. Besides which, torture would be impossible without touching her. He’d seen what she was capable of with just the briefest of touches, and he did not want to become one of her victims.

A nagging thought pushed its way to the forefront of his mind. Captain Bloodface. Something he’d told Embry on that terrifying day when his thugs had kidnapped Embry off the streets of Limbo and brought him to see the Betazoid captain. Bloodface had a job for him, as it turned out: breaking a prisoner whom he needed broken without leaving a mark. Embry had asked…

Embry had asked Bloodface why he didn’t use his telepathic abilities to find out what he needed to know from the prisoner. Bloodface had sneered, his port-wine stained face giving the illusion that his face bled, that going into a mind might be easy, but getting out unscathed was the difficult part. Embry had asked Savaar about that when Bloodface’s thugs had returned him to the boarding house they shared, and Savaar had said that this precise problem was why powerful telepathic Betazoid children were often insane. Then he’d sniffed, well, as much as a Vulcan would sniff, that this precise problem is why Vulcans attempted mind melding only after intricate rituals and preparations, when both minds were calm - A mind meld was *much* more problematic if carried out in haste, or with a distressed mind.

He looked back at Selyara, more closely this time. Her cheek was tinged with green from the burn his phaser fire had given her as it passed by her. Her green dress was rumpled, torn, and stained from her fight in the cargo bay, and she no longer looked elegant and deadly. Though she no longer had the lean, half starved look, her eyes had the look of a Vulcan who hadn’t slept for a week, and her body sagged with an exhaustion that wasn’t just physical.

Embry could work with this. She must be nearing the brink of her emotional control with all the times she’d used her powers in the Cargo Bay, to say nothing of engaging the enraged Barnes in a mind meld. Embry was sure he could push her over the edge - She might be a seasoned manipulator, but he was far better at sinking his fingers into the emotional cracks in people’s armor and prying them open.

All he needed to do was to push her until she broke. Then he could call the Bridge again, show them that he could do damage to his hostage that wasn’t physical, and show them that he was serious, so they would stop treating him as a joke.

He brought up the files he’d found on Selyara, hidden away in a backup computer bank. They were unredacted versions of the reports, and at first blush would have passed for merely back up copies, but Embry knew what to look for. He was good at finding computer files people thought they had hidden, and that had been his downfall in the Diplomatic Corps. That and illegally helping to fund a planetary coup in the FARIS system.

“So, Miss Chen - Selyara, may I call you Selyara?” Embry put on his best kindly voice and moved the phaser ever so slightly off to the side. Not far enough to preclude him firing a shot at her if she tried anything, but far enough to give the illusion of safety and allow her to relax. “Since we have - thirteen minutes, why don’t you and I get to know each other a little bit better.”

“You may not, and absolutely not.” Selyara’s eyes traced their way up to meet Embry’s, to the now politely deflected phaser, and then back to Embry. She managed to put some fire in her gaze for a moment before she let her eyes fall again. “Shut up, and let’s both sit in silence while you continue down your idiotic path for moronic reasons. Co-Captain? what on earth makes you think they’ll agree to that? Starfleet-”

“Starfleet are the Gestapo of the Federation, and I’m surprised you aren’t eager to take this egotistic crew down a few pegs, considering their treatment of you.” Embry began to lay his trap, wedging an idea into a crack in her shell and expanding, poking the tender spots underneath, waiting for something to strike deep enough to cause her defenses to break down.

“Treatment of me? I delivered one of their flagships to the Orion Syndicate, I would say their treatment of me was fair compared to, say, the Klingons, or the Romulans.” The tone of her voice was matter of fact, but the expression on her face said she thought otherwise.

“Oh, come now. I’ve seen your records. You were a model officer, a real do-gooder; you were decorated, and judging by all your annual reviews, rather beloved by your superiors and subordinates. A perfect little stormtrooper for the Federation. Up until you disabled the Patriot, knocked out the crew, and allowed the Orions to strip it for technology,” Embry stroked his chin, and settled his face into a thoughtful expression for Selyara’s benefit. “Tell me, Miss Chen, how does a shining paragon of the Federation’s military prowess end up a traitor? How did a kind, sweet girl who cared about everyone turn into, well, not to put too fine a point on it, someone like you?”

“Not your business.” Selyara snapped back.

“Oh, but I think it is, after all, I would very much like to be able to count on your help, Miss Chen. But I think I have the answer to my own question, tell me what you think: I believe what you said when you appealed your conviction, even if no one else did.”

* * *=/\=* * *

Scene: Engineering

Time Index: T minus 20 minutes

[[I believe what you said when you appealed your conviction, even if no-one else did.]] Embry’s voice said, dripping with false sincerity. James Barton looked around to see if anyone was paying attention to this conversation, but they all appeared to be busy with other things.

Kassandra half turned from the Marine communications array she was messing around with, and smiled apologetically in his general direction, her hands still working on the equipment she was arm deep in. Whether her smile was as an apology for the Captain’s attitude, for her recent outburst, or commiseration with his current feeling of utter uselessness he wasn’t sure. He felt a momentary twinge of discomfort at the thought of her omnipresent gaze spying on him no matter where he went, then her back was turned to him again, and the feeling passed. Irrationally, a slight, nagging irritation with the Marine Major for siding against him in the argument with Kane remained, despite knowing rationally that she had known Kane for much longer than him, that Kane was her Commanding Officer and she respected the chain of command, and that furthermore, as she’d made plain on several occasions, she actually *liked* the Irishman for some reason.

He forced himself to listen closely to Embry’s conversation with Selyara instead of allowing that train of thought to drag him into resentment. He knew Embry, at least superficially, and he knew Selyara on a much more uncomfortably deep level. He might be able to gain some sort of valuable insight listening to them talk, or at least be able to tell if Embry was starting to rattle Selyara’s cage; at any rate, it was much easier to think of that than to think about having to be James Barton again.

[[I see someone has experience snooping around computer banks. I thought I would have time to delete those before someone realized they were there. But you’ll forgive me if I doubt your sincerity.]] Selyara’s voice lacked the familiar smugness, and Barton could tell the arrogance in the words was forced. [[Of course, you’ll also understand if I have no inclination to discuss anything about myself with a lunatic with a phaser.]]

[[You don’t have to discuss anything, Selyara, you just have to listen. I believe you when you said that you’d been manipulated into handing your ship over, I believe you when you said that the Orion’s had a Betazoid woman who drugged you, went into your mind, destroyed it, and made you give them the ship. Do you want to know why?]] Embry didn’t wait to allow her a response. [[Because a woman who freely, and without guilt, handed her entire ship over to the Orions is not the sort of woman who tries to kill herself not once but three times when she’s convicted. Slit wrists, ingesting plasma conduit cleaner, and cutting one’s own carotid? Those are the guilt ridden acts of someone who never would have had the nerve to betray her friends and crew like that.]]

[[Stop now Embry, I’m warning you. If you know me as well as you think you do then you’ll know not to keep going. It was my fault. End of the story.]] Barton frowned, the last phrase was not Selyara’s, it was his. She didn’t think of anything that had happened since she left behind her life as Captain Selyara as being her fault, it was all forced on her, and she was never to blame. He’d assumed that the lingering effects of the mind meld he was feeling were simply because he wasn’t used to them and that it had been forced on him unprepared, and that Selyara, being the telepath who was used to merging minds, would be unaffected. Apparently he was wrong, and she was experiencing the same issues as he.

If that were the case, then every single one of those times she’d used her powers in Shanty Town - Barton’s blood ran cold, this could be a huge problem. Selyara was already unbalanced, despite her calm, cold blooded, superior and in charge of everything facade; with lingering effects of everyone she’d touched superficially today and all of Barton’s own foibles and weaknesses adding their voice to her own there was a very good chance that Embry was going to be able to break her. He felt a wave of nauseating embarrassment deep in his stomach, feeling the intense humiliation that he knew Selyara would feel if she ever found out that everyone, particularly Kane, had heard this exchange with Embry.

He glanced at Kane just in time to witness an expression on the man’s face that he hadn’t expected to see. A mixture of surprise, pity, sadness, embarrassment and guilt flashed over the man’s face and Barton realized that Embry’s needling of Selyara had been a revelation to Kane, he hadn’t known about any of it.

For a long, surprising moment he felt bad for Selyara, Kane, and the awkward way they approached their relationships which had lead to a rift that had hurt them both deeply: She had assumed if he cared he would come to help her, just as she would still have moved heaven and earth if she thought he’d needed her; he had taken her decision to transfer off of the Discovery as a tacit message that his involvement in her life was no longer welcome and that she neither needed, nor wanted his help.

[[I don’t think you believe that Miss Chen. Everything you’ve done since says you know the Federation wronged you, and you’re a smart woman, you should realize that Kane is entirely complicit in that. You nearly sacrificed an entire ship to try to save his life, and he couldn’t be bothered to visit you in the Jaros stockade? You’ve spent several days engaging in increasingly risky telepathic endeavours culminating in that little stunt you pulled to calm our mutual friend Jacen Barnes down, all in the name of keeping Kane and his people safe, and even so, none of them can be bothered to simply talk to me as an equal and address my concerns in order to spare you from harm.]] Embry’s voice was unnaturally reasonable and soothing, almost hypnotic in a way that made you nod your head in agreement even as your rational mind realized that he was spewing a stream of crazy pants nonsense.

[[That’s… That’s insane. You’re insane. Are you calling ME insane?]] Selyara’s voice rose an octave at the end, incredulously. Barton winced because he could hear the undercurrent of doubt in her voice, and he knew that Embry was managing to unerringly take a strike at every single one of her insecurities.

[[Think about it, why are you risking injury for them? They’re part of the entire corrupt system that ruined your life and sent a monster to hunt you down. I, on the other hand, think you’re magnificent, I think you and I would be able to show these fascists exactly what we think of their so-called utopian society. You’re an intelligent woman, Miss Chen, you could teach the denizens of Shanty Town to fly this ship. Together we could strike a blow to the Federation by taking charge of their mighty flagship.]]

There was a slow hissing noise as Selyara let loose a long sigh.

* * *=/\=* * *

NRPG: Part 1 of 2

A Jeep by:

Alix Fowler as:

Two Ladies who definitely have had better days


Susan Ledbetter as:

Eve, a lady trying to talk a man off the ledge


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