Astrid watched Ly'et walk up the steps to the upper portion of the bridge through the holographic representation of space that surrounded her position at the helm like a sphere.
From here, the ship seemed to hum beneath her fingers, the quantum slipstream tunnel almost vibrating through the very decking plates at her feet. Every few seconds, the computer instructed her to make minute course corrections to follow Q’sar’s calculations. Most of the time, Astrid had already begun shifting the ship’s course a few nanoseconds before the computer reminded her.
Splitting her attention between the helm and watching Ly'et, she saw the Cardassian woman stop at the door to Sarine's ready room and press her thumb to the plate to announce her presence. She stood there for a moment, then pressed the plate again. Finally, the door slid open and Ly'et vanished inside.
, Astrid thought idly. The tension between the two commanding officers seemed to be increasing. She wondered how long it would take before Sarine broke down completely. His Company file certainly seemed to indicate that he was fragile.
And how much of this tension has been caused by Dax’s revelations? She had learned just the day before that Dax had been to see the captain. Though no one knew the details, it had widely been reported that the Trill second officer had been removed from duty and remandered to quarters. Astrid had a good idea of why, and she had to admit that she was surprised. She hadn't thought the man would have the courage to go to Sarine.
Since her confrontation with him, Astrid had spent a lot of time thinking about what had happened, trying to make sense of it. She had surprised herself with how violently she had reacted to him. The Company had provided her with intensive counselling to help her work past the feelings that had been left over from Haebron Dax's attack against her parents. She had been convinced that the counselling had worked.
She had been wrong.
Still, the time she had spent analysing the situation had allowed her to gain a little perspective. She now realised that Dax represented a real and present danger to her mission. As far as she was concerned, that gave her licence to handle him as she saw fit.
And she had a very good idea of how she was going to handle him.
First, though... Glancing briefly back at Lieutenant Barani to make sure that the other woman’s attention was occupied elsewhere, Astrid brought up the program she had been working on secretely all morning. The program was hidden behind her normal controls, dissimulated by a code that only she knew the access to. More importantly, it had a secret set of controls on the left hand side of her screen that appeared to be a link to the quantum flow regulators down in Engineering, which allowed her to continue working on the program even when it was hidden.
Thanks to her genetically engineered intellect, Astrid had a perfect image of the program spinning around in her head, that she modified as she worked, allowing her to work on the program even when she didn't have it in front of her.
Thank you the Company
, she thought brightly. The cerebal modication and training that had gone with it had been essential to this mission.
It took her exactly two seconds to confirm that the program conformed to the image of it she had in her mind's eye, and then she hid it behind her control module once again.
Almost done. Two or three more lines of code to make sure that the routing corresponded to Redemption's internal communication processor, and it would be ready.
Thank God for multiple processing abilities
. While working on this program, she was also able to continue piloting the ship and begin to put together a message to Doctor Keene to meet her that night. And they say women can't do more than two things at the same time.
After making another minute change to Redemption's course, she wrote the last few lines of code and added them to the program she had designed. Using the information Keene had given her and the remnants of his transmission to the Klingon fleet, she had been able to design a fairly good approximation of the holo image - one that showed then-Commander Kalara discussing the upcoming attack of Romulus with a Klingon general. The code she had added would damage it just enough so that no one would be able to notice the tiny imperfections in Keene's holo emitter, as well as flagging it – discretely – for anyone who was looking for it.
She would just need to find someone - a suitable patsy, as it were - to find it.
Accessing the system, she transmitted the program. Her lines of code would hide the provenance of the program, thanks to highly complex Company encryption. No one would ever know that it been inserted into the mainframe from her station.
Once the recording was gone, Astrid finished compiling the message to Keene. She needed to see him that night, both to inform him of the progress of their little plan, and to get his help with a slightly more personal endeavour. She smiled. Keene would be just right to sort out her little problem.
Hydroponics Bay 4
Keene slipped into the hydroponics bay, his eyes already searching the darkness for any sign of Underhill, aka Lieutenant Astrid Williams.
The air was heavy, pregnant with humidity and the overwhelming pungent aroma of wet earth and plants. A hint of spices from one of the nearby shrubs tickled his nose.
As he made his way forward, eyes sweeping every row and corridor, he thought about Lieutenant Williams. In the days since meeting with her in the cargobay, he had tried to make sense of the revelation that she was the agent onboard Redemption meant to help him. He hadn't been able to. It seemed totally and utterly unbelievable.
After all, according to her Starfleet records, Astrid Williams was a model Starfleet officer, one of that bright new generation of humans who had almost no memories of the Dominion. Lucky her, he thought wryly as he began to make his way carefully down the rows of shelving, each one holding a different type of plant.
He had done his research, of course, pulling every detail he could trawl from the main computer. Beyond the fact that her parents had died in an earthquake soon after the Jem'hadar pulled out of the Earth, she was so banal she was tantamount to boring. Her adoptive parents had been farmers, and she had grown up in what was known as Midwest America. She had slightly above average scores at school, enough to gain her a place at Starfleet Academy, but not enough to make her stand out from the crowd.
Her work at the Academy had been acceptable, though her final scores had been high enough to ensure her her choice of postings after graduation. But still, only slightly above average.
How could this human child be such an important operative that Lady J’tar believed she could help me?
And yet - if the message he had received was to be believed - she had done just that.
The air in the bay had started to bother him. Hot and humid, it seemed more suited to a Cardassian. Keene could feel his sinuses start to ache and he rubbed a hand over the bridge of his nose. Why did she have to choose this place?
He had had enough of this. He was about to call out for her and be damned anyone else who might be in the bay, when a shadow detached itself from the darkness and slid into view.
He snarled at her use of his real name. "Do not play games with me, little girl. You might get hurt."
She smirked at him. He had hoped to see even a hint of fear, but she seemed totally unafraid. Who is she?
What is she?
"Now, now, no need to get riled up. I needed to be sure you weren't followed."
That I wasn't... Keene scowled. I was infiltrating Dominion slave camps when this child was still a babe in swaddling clothes. Impudent...
Astrid's smile widened as if she could tell how much she had riled him. Keene forced himself to remain calm.
"You said that you had news for me?"
She nodded, suddenly all serious professionalism. "It is done."
"You have planted the recording as we discussed?"
"Yes. A simple matter. The recording of you as Kalara now lies hidden deep in a communication's sub processor."
Keene felt his blood flow cold. "You mean me as Malok. The doctor."
To his horror, she shook her head. "Too difficult. It was much simpler to use the original recording and damage it enough that the holo-image was unmistakeable for the real thing."
Keene didn't consciously decide to move but he found himself towering over her moments later, his hands clenched into fists at his side. "Do you have any idea what you have done?"
Astrid didn't flinch, nor did she draw back. She simply looked up at him, an expression of real confusion on her face.
"I don't see what the problem is," she said slowly. "Kalara is as good a candidate as Malok - you obviously thought so or you wouldn't have chosen her to imitate in the first place. Besides, everyone aboard ship knows that Ba'el Sarine hates the woman. He'll be that much more willing to accept the evidence."
Keene swore he could taste ashes in his mouth. What has she done?
Eveything had fallen apart because this child couldn't follow simple instructions. If - no, when - the recording was discovered, Kalara would be arrested. All of his plans - all of Lady J’tar plans - would fall apart.
I have to stop this
, Keene thought. He made to turn away, to leave the hydroponics bay, but Astrid reached out and grabbed his shoulder.
"We're not done."
He shrugged off her shoulder. He didn't want to hurt her, but if she pushed him too far, he would. "I have nothing more to say to you."
She grabbed him again, and this time he had had enough. Reaching up a hand, he grabbed her fingers and threw her over his shoulder. Or at least that's what he tried to do. Instead, he quickly found himself on his front, a weight pressed against his lower back, his arm twisted up behind him.
By the old gods
, he cursed. How had she done that?
He felt her leaning down, her lips pressed against his ear. "Never, ever, try that again," she said. "You hear me?"
When he didn't respond straight away, she forced his arm further back, forcing a gasp from between his lips. "You hear me?" she snarled.
To his shame, Keene found himself nodding. "I hear you," he managed to gasp out.
"Good. Now hear this. Whatever you thought before now, whatever you had planned, forget it. From now on, you work for me."
Keene shook his head, tried to struggle against her, but she seemed to have been blessed with strength any Klingon warrior would have sold his honor for. She kept him down on the ground as easily as if he had been a little child.
"I know everything about you and I could reveal the truth about your identity at any moment. If you want to have any chance of carrying out your mission correctly - and if you don't want to die at my hands - you will do exactly as I tell you." She forced his arm further back again, sending pain shooting down his spine and sides. Then she waited for a moment before going on. "Now ask me what I want you to do."
He gritted his teeth, refusing to give in to this child's whims. Her other arm moved fast as lightning, forcing his head forward and smashing his nose against the hard decking. He felt bone give way, followed by a flash of pain so intense that he couldn't see for a few moments. When his sight returned, he could see red, though he couldn't be sure whether that was blood or just the aftereffects of his minor concussion.
His voice shook. "What... What do you want me to do?"
The bitch woman leaned forward. Keene was suddenly very aware of the feeling of her breasts pressed against his back and found himself becoming aroused. If a Klingon woman had attacked him this way, he would have been about ready to tear her clothes off with his teeth. As it was, he felt ashamed that this human child was getting such a reaction out of him.
Astrid pressed down on him, her lips now brushing over the skin just behind his ear. Keene felt his human skin break out in goosebumps.
"I want you to kill a man," she whispered. "I want you to kill Jasto Dax."
It took a moment for the words to punch through the haze left over in his brain from the mixture of pain and arousal. When they did, he was sure that he had misunderstood.
Astrid laughed, and for the first time, Keene realised that this woman was insane. "He's much more than just the Trill," she snarled. "He could ruin everything, for both of us. I need him out of the way, and I know that your little holo emitter still works. You can get rid of him without incriminating either of us."
"No," he snarled. "I can't use it again. If Kalara or the doctor find out that..."
"I don't care about that," Astrid whispered, shoving his arm up again. "You will kill Jasto Dax or I swear I will go straight to Captain Sarine to tell him about the nice little Klingon spy he has working in his crew. And once they've thrown you in the brig to await your nice little Starfleet trial, I'll come in the middle of the night and cut off your balls." She paused, and he could hear the smile in her voice when she spoke again. "And then I'll feed them to you with a spoon."
He knew that she was deadly serious. By the old gods, what was he going to do? She had him in a bind, figuratively and literally. He knew that there was nothing he could do to get out of it, nothing except go along with her damned fool plan and hope for an opportunity to take control once again. Hating himself for it, he nodded.
"We have an agreement?"
He nodded again.
"Good." For a moment, she pushed his arm that little bit higher, and Keene felt something give. Another flash of pain rushed through his body, forcing the breath from his lungs and leaving him swimming in darkness. When he came to again, she was gone.
He lay there for a good ten minutes, unwilling or unable to move. As he stared at the blood stains on the floor in front of his nose, Keene wondered what the hell he was going to do. How could he possibly regain control of this situation? Could he?
The only thing he knew was that if he wanted to survive, he had to do exactly as she had told him.
Somehow, he had to find a way of killing Jasto Dax.