July Writing Challenge 2009- Co-winner
Our challenge theme for the month of July is "Major Malfunction."
The challenge is to write a story where something goes terribly wrong: a ship suffers a major system breakdown, a character suffers a severe physical, emotional, or psychological breakdown, etc. In short - something gets broke! Whether or not it gets fixed is up to you.
(Yada, yada, yada)
Any Star Trek era is acceptable, whether canon or your own created characters. Word limit is 3000. A link to your entry must be posted in this thread to qualify.
Please submit original work only, not a story that has been previously posted.
His Strongest Weakness
Enabran Tain sat in his home office, superficially occupied with some minor reports that weren't time sensitive enough to warrant his full attention at the Obsidian Order Headquarters. Less obviously he was waiting for his housekeeper, Mila. At his right hand sat one glass of rokassa juice. Across the desk directly in front of him sat another.
Although he didn't glance up from the data pads, he was aware of her in the doorway the moment she arrived. Peripheral vision caught everything he needed to see, the way she ever so briefly hesitated at the sight of the rokassa juice, her firm step forward to cover the hesitation, the hand that protectively cupped at her belly beneath her loose shift before dropping back to her side with a small twitch of her fingers. He saw it all and found himself disappointed at her lack of subtlety. To punish her for it, he made her wait until he finished scanning two more reports.
“Ah, Mila, I didn't hear you come in,” he said with a smile that never reached his dark eyes. “Please, have a seat. Make yourself comfortable.”
The chair in question was anything but comfortable, lacking a cushion and straight backed, slightly too low, and positioned directly across from Tain. He had seen Guls tremble in that chair, an invitation to Tain's personal office neither honor nor privilege. He had a reputation for viciousness that gave even his superiors pause. Mila perched on the edge with her knees together and her hands folded in her lap. She met his dark gaze with her light one. Whatever hesitation she showed upon arrival was now subsumed behind a mask of calm curiosity.
Tain took a sip of his rokassa juice and smacked his lips. Still holding the glass, he said, “Perhaps you'd like to drink with me?” He gestured at the glass closest to her.
“I'm not thirsty at the moment,” she demurred.
“Suit yourself,” he said, as though it were nothing more than a triviality. Setting his glass aside, he laced his fingers over his flat belly and leaned back in his seat. “How long have you been with me now, Mila? I confess the days escape me.”
“I very much doubt that,” she said mildly, a brief spark of something defiant in her level blue gaze.
Who else would I allow even that?
Tain wondered. “Indulge me,” he said, his voice smooth and soothing. “How long?”
“Three years,” she replied, “eleven weeks, and five days to be precise.”
“In all that time, I don't think I've ever seen you dress in that fashion,” he continued, gesturing at her shift. “Indeed, you've hardly changed at all. Your food is still mediocre, your cleaning services adequate, your discretion impeccable. I'd say were it not for that last, you wouldn't still be here. Do you think that's a fair assessment?”
“I think you know your own mind,” she replied.
He dropped all pretense of cordiality. “How long did you think you could keep it from me?” he asked.
She hesitated. He saw the protest trying to form behind her gaze, then the lie, both in less time than it took for him to draw a complete breath. Wisely, she chose neither course of action. “Until my body betrayed me,” she said, sounding resigned. “I take it you want me to leave.”
“On the contrary. You're an asset. I never willingly part with assets. I don't want you to leave. I want you to get rid of that,” he said, this time gesturing at the gentle swell of her belly beneath the shift.
Her gaze dropped from his and settled on the glass of rokassa juice. She swallowed thickly but made no move to reach for it. “Even though it's yours?” she asked in a low voice.
“Especially because it's mine. Mila, of all people, I didn't think I would have to explain this to you. Make this easy on yourself. Drink the juice. The miscarriage will be painful, but you will live to see another day. I chose a drug that ensures that. Otherwise, more drastic measures will be necessary.”
He watched her stand slowly and reach for the glass. He was taken off guard by the flood of relief he felt at the sight. The thought that he might actually be attached to this woman was intolerable. She lifted it and turned it so that glass and juice both caught the dim light then suddenly flung it to the floor, sending shards skittering.
Tain reached her in two strides around the desk and seized her throat in a powerful hand, pinning her wrists with his other. “You idiot woman,” he hissed, so close to her face that he could feel her restricted breath flutter over his lips. “Do you think I'm giving you a choice?”
“I'm giving...you one,” she gasped and glared at him with bulging eyes. “You want the baby gone...then kill me.”
He tightened his grip until no more breath escaped. She jerked and shuddered, struggling in earnest. Her tongue protruded wet and pink between rapidly blackening lips. Tain stared deeply into her eyes, the bloom of subconjunctival hemorrhages darkening the whites. His hands began to shake.
he thought. You can always find a better housekeeper. Do it! You can't afford this attachment. You're already too close, and you know it. Best to get it done with now!
Despite his thoughts, his hands mutinied. He flung her backwards. She hit the chair and toppled over sideways, lying on the floor and coughing violently. As she spasmed, he backed up and startled himself by bumping his desk. Never in his life had he allowed himself to back down from what was necessary. Never?
the insidious thought came, colored with amused contempt. Be honest with yourself now.
Growling under his breath, he strode for the door. “Clean up this mess!” he bellowed at the prostrate woman without once glancing back.
The next several days were tense ones in the Tain household. Neither spoke of the incident in the office, but every time Tain looked at Mila, her blood darkened eyes and bruised neck and wrists silently accused him, not of the assault, but of his failure. He avoided her as much as he could by day. By night he obsessively examined the memory from every angle. Each time he reached the point where his hands began to tremble and then betrayed him, he tried desperately to grasp exactly what impulse caused the breach of willpower.
It can't possibly be love,
he thought, and yet, how would he really know? He had closed himself off so thoroughly to such indulgences, he wondered if he would recognize one that managed to breach his defenses. It was a troubling thought for a man unused to being troubled. Most confounding of all, he could trust no one with his dilemma. His sole confidant was the source of the trouble.
After another sleepless night, Tain descended the broad, curved staircase leading to his well appointed parlor. Mila swept the floor near the kitchen door close to the base of the steps, keeping her head down. “Why are you still here?” he growled, pausing on the third step from the floor.
“You haven't sent me away,” she said simply, not looking up.
He heard, or at least thought he heard, a silent accusation after the response, and you didn't kill me.
“Nothing is keeping you here,” he flared. “I don't pay you that well. I don't need you that much. Why don't you just leave?”
She stopped sweeping and leaned on the broom. Some of the spark of spirit he admired about her flashed in her damaged eyes. “Go where? Do what? I know too much to think for one instant you'd let me waltz out of here free to pursue other employment. If anything, it would just give you an excuse to kill me and feel justified. No. Enabran, if you want me gone, you're going to have to do it yourself, with no excuses and no justification other than what you can come up with on your own.”
He felt himself grow deadly still. “What did you just call me?”
Sighing, she leaned the broom against the wall and spread her arms. “I can't do this,” she said. “I'm pregnant. It's stressful enough without our playing these games. If you don't know how I feel about you by now, it has to be because you don't want to know. Precious little escapes your famous attention. I'm carrying your child. Decide what you want to do about it and stick to it. You owe me that much.”
The trembling returned. He tucked his hands behind his back and clenched them into tight fists. She was right about one thing. He had to decide. I'm carrying your child.
Family, the one thing those deep within the Order could never afford, was nevertheless a strong temptation. If he gave into this weakness, he wouldn't be the first of the Order to do so in secret, but oh, the costs if he was discovered! It could bring down everything he had worked his whole life to achieve, expose the secrets from his carefully obscured past, and destroy any chance he had of ascending to head the Order, unless....
I could raise the child as my replacement, give it all of the advantages I never had, make it into what I could only hope to be. Yes,
he thought, seizing upon this idea like a drowning man to floating wreckage. Sentiment already has me. I'm lost, but I could spare that child all of this. I could create the perfect operative, a fitting heir, an empty vessel filled with nothing but loyalty to Cardassia and the will to do anything necessary to protect it.
He realized the truth of it as he looked at the woman confronting him more bravely than most with years of training could manage. He couldn't kill her that night because he loved her. His body knew it before his impressive intellect, a fact that was damning, crushing, and strangely freeing all at once. Nothing would ever be the same. He dropped his arms to his sides and descended the remaining three steps, still towering over Mila at floor level. “You know when it's born, it can't stay here,” he said, pausing and adding, “and neither can you. Cardassians can never know a child of Enabran Tain walks among them.”
She reached a hand up, lightly brushing her fingertips across the ridge of his jaw. “They'll never learn it from me,” she said, letting her hand drop back to her side. “Now, will you be wanting fish juice this morning?”
“Did you make it?” Tain asked.
“No,” she said. “I bought it at the market yesterday.”
“Then yes,” he said. “I do want fish juice.” Things were far from normal, far from routine, and yet life went on. Wasn't that the Cardassian way?