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Nothing To Fear, Nothing To Lose, Part Two

Posted on Dec 10, 2017 @ 4:06pm by Lieutenant Eve Dalziel & Captain Kassandra Thytos
Edited on on Dec 11, 2017 @ 7:30pm

Mission: Fear Itself

“Nothing to Fear, Nothing to Lose, Part 2”

(Continued from Part 1)

* * *=(/\)=* * *


SD: [2.17]1210.1052

Location: Unknown

The doors to the sanctuary were open and the pews weren’t even a quarter full. Everyone was wearing black. Cantor could see a pulpit and a casket in the distance. He heard organ music, but instead of something traditionally mournful, the faint melodies of ‘Peter and the Wolf’ wafted through the room. Von shivered. He walked the center aisle, finally reaching the rows where people sat, and then reaching the front pews. He didn’t recognize anyone, except for Iphie and Jake. Von didn’t believe it was really them, but that didn’t stop him from trying to communicate. “What’s happening?” he asked the barkeep and chef, but she was oblivious to his query. She stared, looking through him rather than at him, her eyes red-rimmed with tears.

“Commander?” Cantor asserted to Jake, but like Iphie he was unresponsive, the only thing clear being the grief etched into his expression. Cantor Von was, in essence, a ghost at a funeral.

The Betazoid man turned his attention to the casket. Underneath, it was as solemn and gloomy as the people there. However, its plain, dark surface was draped with dozens of flowers in a spray and cascade so large it nearly covered the box completely. They were multiple shades of pink, purple, maroon, blue, and yellow, many with variances within each bloom. There were burgundy ones with an ultraviolet core that took dominance in the arrangement due to their vibrancy. Some of the petals were so small and pointed the pattern reminded him of a honeycomb. He didn’t know they were all species of Dahlias- the dead woman’s favorite flower.

Sitting in the front pew opposite the one where Iphie and Jake were, as close as he could get to the casket, was Tomas Vukovic. He was in a black suit and crisp white shirt, clean shaven, and inconsolable. “Tomas,” Von said excitedly, touching the man’s shoulder. “Vukovic!”

He did not register Cantor Von’s appearance, greeting, nothing. His fear had complete control over him, keeping him held in this perpetual wake. Von put a hand under Tomas’ chin, lifting his eyes to meet his own, but there was no reaction whatsoever. However, the movement caused a small PADD to fall out of Vukovic’s hands and clatter to the floor.

Cantor picked it up and began reading Vukovic’s words out loud. “I knew Xana Bonviva.”

* * *=(/\)=* * *

Location: Bridge

“Marines scared.” Win-Win commented, as Eve exited Kane’s ready room. “Not admit. Not macho. Still.”

Eve cocked her head at the Marine, who looked back at her with a serious expression on her face. Owen Arion had mentioned her in passing, mainly that she was a woman of few words, and that he had difficulty communicating as a counselor with her due to difficulty understanding her. Eve had assumed that he had meant that she wasn’t able to open up, and that her world view was so different from his that he had trouble seeing from her perspective, but now she realized he was being literal.

“Think tough. Think vicious. Bullshit, mostly. Young. Green. Most scared,” Win-Win supplied in a slightly defensive tone which implied she took Eve’s moment of silence as she processed what the Marine had said to be doubt.

“No, I don’t doubt you. I’m sorry, I was just thinking about my conversation with the Captain,” Eve lied. She was beginning to get a grasp of Win-Win’s strange syntax, which was utilitarian, if not expressive. “Is Sergeant Bellecotte concerned?”

“In dark. Mother hen. Men don’t want to worry. Asked me teach meditation. Tried to teach. Didn’t work. Maybe you successful,” Win-Win wrinkled her nose, clearly irritated by her fellow Marines inability to learn what she was teaching them.

* * *=(/\)=* * *

Location: Unknown

The words echoed. “I knew Xana Bonviva.” Cantor Von glanced to the casket. It made more sense now as to why Iphie and Jake were here. He continued to read the words of mourning.

“I am well aware that I was not the only person to be graced by the presence of Xana in my life. All of you have been. And to know someone is not to only know them in the good times, but in the dark and difficult ones. Her vocation, her ambition, took her to many more of the latter than it did the former. It was her strength throughout those trials that reminded me that the flower that blooms in adversity is the rarest and most beautiful of them all.”

“I was the Borg Consul when Xana was a Commanding Officer. I was her Chief of Staff when she became an Ambassador. And I am the godfather to her daughter. And I consider myself lucky to have had those titles and those memories. Without knowing why, we shared a friendship between us that perhaps should not have been there. But it was, and it was special.”

“I ask that you keep those times with her in your hearts as we say goodbye the corporeal form of Xana Bonviva, but hold tightly to her spirit. This is something I will struggle to do the rest of my life. Because even though we all how bereft and lonely life is without her in it, that pales in comparison to the joy she brought to us during her all too brief time among us. Continue to take care of each other as Xana took care of us.”

The grief of Tomas’ words had fallen squarely on the sympathetic ears of Cantor Von as he finished reading the eulogy aloud. And while the spectre of death was all around them, Von did not sense death was the Borg’s fear. It was the loss itself. The loss of loved ones and friends. The fear of being finally and irrevocably alone.

Ironically, that same fear was preventing Vukovic from seeing that someone had come to collect him, to help rid their world of the presence that was destroying the crew one by one. “Tomas!” Von yelled.

The man was unresponsive. Von found it beyond frustrating that he could see and touch but could not communicate or seem to shake Tomas’ assertion that this was reality. He had even gone as far as composing his farewell to a dear friend and colleague. Cantor looked down at the PADD he still held in his hands and had an idea.

He placed the PADD back on the pew next to Tomas. Then, he stood on top of the pew facing away from the coffin. He raised his leg twice, focusing all his energy, and on the third pass used the force of his lower body and a well placed, satisfying heel strike to crack and shatter the screen, causing a few pieces to scatter on Tomas’ pant leg and the floor below

The Borg man blinked as he saw the broken PADD, feeling the impact of the damage, then seeing the PHOENIX’s Operations officer standing over him before he could blink a second time. “Von?” Tomas Vukovic said, confused.

“It’s going to be okay,” Cantor responded, jumping down. “We need to stick together so we can find-” Suddenly, the people were gone. Jake, Iphie, all of them just… gone.

“What happened?” Tomas asked as he watched the disappearing act.

“This isn’t real. Your imagination’s been working overtime.” Cantor knew the explanation was inadequate, but it was the best he could do for the moment. That was when he saw movement at the other end of the room.

There was a lone figure near the doors leading out of the sanctuary. He was tall, undernourished, and had a faint, undignified moustache. Unbeknownst to Cantor, it was the weaselly man that had asked Tomas to sign the guest book. Unlike the others, he looked straight at the two of them before turning away. He *saw* them. Was he the personification of the killer? “We need to follow him,” Von said.

“I don’t like him,” Tomas observed out loud.

“Which is why we need to follow him,” coaxed Cantor Von as the man exited. “Now.”

* * *=(/\)=* * *

Scene: Corridors

Being scared, truly, deeply scared, was not an emotion Kassandra was intimately familiar with. She had a passing acquaintance with it, the occasional ‘howdy do’ when she was in a tricky situation, but beyond that, it was alien to her. She had thought she knew what fear was, but she realized now, in the midst of the drug induced terror, that she had been wrong. It was worse, so much worse than she’d imagined it could be.

Her heart hammered in her chest, tap dancing like an elephant on her internal organs, making her feel nauseous. Her lungs competed with her heart for space in her chest, squeezing it and confining it cruelly with every shallow breath, making her chest ache, and her lungs hurt as though they were being bruised. Every pore in her body seemed to have opened to emit a foul, cold sweat which drenched her clothes and left her shivering and miserable. Every anomaly in her sensor net’s output seemed to become a reason for overreaction, and she found herself jumping at shadows.

Even her thoughts were betraying her. Normally in a tense situation such as this with an unknown enemy, they would have been an orderly progression of ‘if: thens’ with possible problems identified, and multiple solutions and permutations thereof would immediately follow, allowing her to react smoothly. Now, hyped up on the potent drugs in the hypospray, her thoughts were jumbled, racing, and she felt jumpy and uneasy, unable to trust her own judgement. Her hand drifted down to her hip, where her trusty phaser should have been slung, but it was empty- a wise decision, she knew.

The last thing she needed was anything potentially deadly to others around her when she was knowingly walking into a situation with an inter-dimensional being that was capable of causing waking hallucinations. The last thing she wanted was to find herself coming to and finding that she’d shot someone, or you know, dying, and accidentally having taken out Byte while she was at it.

{{Major, are you okay?}} Byte’s voice broke into her fugue, close, too close to her for comfort. She hadn’t realized until that moment how creepy it was to have the android whispering in your ear- his lips moved, the noise emanated, but there was no accompanying tickle of air, no slight heat as breath met skin. This, more than his appearance, marked him as unnatural, inorganic, to Kassandra. She swore viciously, and the android took a step back. {{I’m sorry, I did not mean to startle you, however I noticed your heart rate and blood pressure are becoming dangerously high, and I was wondering if it was an indication that the phobophage was here.}}

“No, it’s a sign that I’m gettin’ too caught up in mah own head, an’ not payin’ attention to what I ought to be payin’ attention to. I’m pretty sure I ain’t hallucinatin’ yet, donchya worry. I’ll let you know if I start feelin’ anything hinky.” She took a deep breath and let it out slowly, willing her heart to slow down. No sense burning out too quickly, she had no idea how long this might take. They continued down the halls in silence for a minute or two, before she felt compelled to break the silence once again. “Heeeeeeeereeee little nightmare demon! Heeeeere little nightmare demon! Who wants a tasty snack?”

{{... Do you think that will work, Major? I am not sure that the phobophage is capable of understanding our speech.}} It was meant honestly, in that infuriatingly earnest way Byte had, but it still rankled Kassandra a bit. He was facing away, but Kassandra could tell that he was ‘looking’ at her. She and he both tended to drop the conventions of eye contact and looking at each other on the rare times they worked alone together, understanding that it was an unnecessary distraction.

“No, I don’t think it’ll work, but I feel pretty dadgum useless just wandering the hallways, waiting for it to come and find me, so I figure I might as well try. Pretendin’ to have that critter at my beck an’ call makes me feel a smidgen better anyway, so I might as well. Don’t wanna kill myself with fear before it can come an’ have its tasty snack!”

{{I see,}} Byte said in a tone that made it obvious that it clearly did not. It was silent for a moment or two. {{Major, what is it like to be scared?}}

“I think that’s an Eve question, not one for me,” Kassandra frowned. It bothered her when Byte tried to understand being human. It always made her feel like she was supplying some sort of foreign invader with the information it’d need in order to blend in until it so it could act as a sleeper agent. She reminded herself that this was probably speciesist, or whatever it was called when you were suspicious of inorganic life forms.

{{On the contrary. I believe that you are more likely to be able to answer this question. It is my observation that you are rarely scared. In fact, you seem to experience enjoyment in situations that others would find fearful. Therefore, I believe that as you are experiencing an emotion that is not overly familiar to you, that you will be able to describe it more accurately.}}

“I doubt it Byte. If I say that it makes your heart hammer, and makes you break out into a cold sweat, that means nothin’ to you. You ain’t got no circulatory system, you don’t sweat. If I say your mind goes racin’, thinking of all the bad things that could happen to you, and all the ways in which you could die at any given second, that also means nothin’ to you. You’re always thinkin’ of all the bad things that could happen as well as all the good, an’ you don’t die, not properly. Unless your brain was completely obliterated, Asta and Maynell and that bag a dicks Commander in Engineerin’ could probably pull a lotta your program off it, and patch it together with the help of your siblings, an’ it’d be close enough ta you-”

{{I find that reductive and.. offensive. I am not merely lines of coding and programming. If my body is obliterated, and my memories patched together, than I am not the same, and you should not consider me as such, any more than you considered Thomas Varn to be the same person when he was resurrected by the Promethean device,}} Byte’s tone was no different, but Kassandra had the sense that he was as offended as he was capable of being.

“I’m sorry, Byte. I ain’t real good with deep philosophical concepts such as personhood an’ bein’ and stuff. Didn’t mean to offend. I just meant that you’re less squishy than the rest of us. So. Fear. Fear is all the stuff that runs through your head during a moment where you’re facin’ death, or pain. It’s all the things you might do in order to save yourself. You’re able to kill in self defense, right?”

{{I am.}}

“Would you be able to if you had to?” Kassandra ran her fingers along the smooth wall of the corridor.

{{I do not know. It would depend on the mathematical probabilities of the threat being neutralized by killing the attacker, and how likely grave bodily harm was.}} Byte cocked his head and mimicked her posture, trailing his own fingers down the corridor walls.

“Which, of course, you can do in your head in milliseconds. Well, fear is being stuck in those milliseconds while you’re trying to come up with an answer to all those probabilities. Fear is that calculatin’ process repeatin’ over an’ over but gettin’ interrupted before you get that answer that tells you what to do with certainty. It’s that calculatin’ process gettin’ cut shorter an’ shorter in your head, until all that’s goin’ through your head is ‘I could die, I could die, I could die.’ I ain’t even sure that’s really accurate, but it’s the best I can do to try an’ explain it.”

{{I think I understand. I will have to try running my processes like that in order to see what it is like.}}

“After this is all done.” Kassandra poked him with her index finger, none too gently. “Don’t go gettin’ distracted at this juncture.”

{{Of course.}} Byte was silent for a moment. {{I will not let you die, Major. If you ability to function becomes impaired, I promise you I will do my utmost to ensure your survival.}}

* * *=(/\)=* * *

Location: Unknown

The two men rushed outside the church. There was no physical sign of the man they had followed, just the barren farmlands, the building, and the oak tree. But the sunlight and the brilliantly colored leaves were gone. In their place dwelled a cold gray sky, frost on the ground, and the bare branches glistening with a few icicles.

“Where am I? Where are we?” the Borg FCO asked, knowing that he hadn’t been inside long enough to explain the change in climate, not to mention the disappearing guests.

The dark-haired man started to further explain. “We’re still on the PHOENIX.”

“This is a holodeck?” Tomas said, rubbing his addled head. The last thing he remembered was being at the party at the Vulgar Tribble and needing to regenerate.

“No. There is an being of some kind killing people by subjecting them to their deepest fears.” He gestured to the scene surrounding them. “This is a manifestation of your fear to be abandoned, left truly alone.”

Tomas paused. He’d never said it out loud, but that was accurate. “Am I going to die?”

Cantor shook his head. “No. Your Borg technology and physiology has prevented that. However, you have been in a sleep-like state for several days.”

“How do I get out?”

“We must work to destroy it, the entity, or force it back to its own dimension.”

“Why did the funeral disappear?” It still felt real to him even though Von’s explanation was indicating that it absolutely wasn’t. “My fear didn’t change.”

“First, I was able to break through your subconscious mind to communicate. And second, now there’s someone much more scared than you aboard the ship. They’re being used as bait to help us hunt it.”

“How? Which way do we go?” They were essentially in the middle of nowhere.

“Either focus on the man we saw or focus on Kassandra Thytos.” Cantor Von was doing the same, reaching out with the tendrils of his mind until something nagged at him to head what appeared to be imaginary west, where the last remnants of sun were slipping closer to the cold horizon. He pointed towards the dimness. “Let’s go.”

* * *=(/\)=* * *

Location: Corridors.

“This. Is. Getting. Ridiculous.” Kassandra growled in frustration. “Byte, we’ve been wanderin’ for what feels like hours. What the hell is keepin’ them?”

“It has not been that long, perhaps twenty minutes,” Byte said, its voice expressionless. “You are likely experiencing time dilation due to your fear. It is a common side effect, caused by the fact that your brain retains more details-”

“That was more hypothetical than anythin’ else, Byte…”



{{Rhetorical. A question not intended to be answered. Versus hypothetical, a question that requires one to imagine a situation, and posit an answer based on an imaginary situation.}} Its even tone made it sound haughty. Kassandra was about to make a snide response when she heard a sound down one of the branching corridors, the unmistakable sound of a small child’s scream, and a familiar one, at that.

“What the hell’s Buttercup doin’ up and out?? How the hell did Harry and them good for nothin’ Marines let her slip out when there’s a dadgum fear monster runnin’ around?” Kassandra swore. “I’m gonna kill ‘em, and if anythin’ has happened to her, so help me, they’re gonna wish ah killed them!”

{{Major? I did not hear-}} Byte began, but it was too late, she knew what she had heard, and she wasn’t going to let a child get hurt on her watch. Byte was saying something else about the phobophage, but she was too strung out to hear him properly. Kassandra turned down the corridor, and she saw Buttercup cowering at a dead end, tears and snot streaming down her face.

Wait- she *saw.* Kassandra came to a screeching halt and hesitated. Something was wrong, her sensor nets weren’t picking up anything in front of her, yet her mind was insisting that she *saw* Buttercup there, as though she still had use of her eyes, and as though the sensor nets were picking up the mass of sensor data she knew as Buttercup. All in all, it was extraordinarily confusing.

“It’s here, Byte,” Kassandra said, although she was having trouble telling if the android was still there. The cortical processing node where her sensor nets packaged information for relay to her brain for interpretation seemed to realize that something was wrong, and was beginning to heat up uncomfortably as it entered a series of recalibrations. Kassandra’s skin felt like it was squirming as all the nanites rushed up the length of the sensor filaments to the processing node to try and correct the problem.

Kassandra hesitated for one long minute, before she reached up and turned her sensor nets off. They were just giving her a headache anyway, and since the phobophage was giving her visual hallucinations, at least she knew for sure that it was just in her head.

Not that it helped much, especially pumped full of adrenaline. But that was the point, wasn’t it. Be scared. She walked over to the hallucination of Buttercup, and picked the child up, marvelling distantly at how real she felt. She turned around, curious as to whether Byte would be incorporated into her hallucination, or whether he would be completely ignored.

Her breath caught in her throat. Standing there, malevolent smirk on his face, was Rawyvin Seth. Kassandra stepped back involuntarily, caught up in the hallucination in spite of herself.

**Not real, not real, not real,** Kassandra thought, squeezing her eyes closed, before opening them hastily at the darkness. She put ‘Buttercup’ behind her and tensed as Rawyvin Seth crept closer, mocking, oily, creepy smile on his lips. **Don’t react, don’t react, don’t react. It’s probably Byte, the bastard phobophage is probably going to try to get me to take out Byte. Don’t move, don’t look at it, don’t do anything.**

“Well hello, Counselor. Or wait, is it Major now? I suppose it’s a good thing you switched back to killing, you were a terrible counselor. After all, you didn’t even see what a monster I was,” his smile widened, and he glanced back to look at ‘Buttercup’. “Little girl, I’m going to hurt your friend now, very badly. But you’re going to have to stay right there, or I’ll hurt her worse. Don’t even think of running away, because if you do I’ll have to hunt you down, and I get angry when I have to hunt little girls down.”

**Hallucination. Hallucination. Just a hallucination. My sensor nets are down, I’m blind. If this were real I couldn’t see.** Kassandra’s heart hammered out of her chest, and she felt like she might throw up.

The man stepped closer, closer, and then grabbed her suddenly on either side of her head, his thumbs pressing down on her eyes. Kassandra howled in pain. It hurt. Knowing that it wasn’t real didn’t lessen the pain. His thumbs pressed into her eyes, rupturing the delicate sclera, and Kassandra could feel the vitreous humor seeping down her cheeks.

And then there was nothing.

* * *=(/\)=* * *

Byte depressed the hypospray into Kassandra’s neck. He caught her as she fell, gently placing her on the deck plates. Her vitals were beginning to return to normal.

{{Mr Von, I have had to sedate the Major, I believe any longer would have proven dangerous to her long term health. Please tell me that you have a location for the portal and the phobophage.}}

[[Yes, we do. Sending the information to you right away… Good luck, Lieutenant.]]

* * *=(/\)=* * *

A joint post brought to you by:

Susan Ledbetter
Eve, and other people's characters


Alix Fowler
Kassandra Thytos
USS Phoenix


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