If he knew it was possible, Asu would swear he felt Ronus revolting inside his body. The symbiont was 267 years old and it had never seen anything like this. Not even Borg drones were as horrible as this. They at least felt no pain and their minds were switched off. This poor man on the bridge appeared to be fully aware of where he was and what was happening to him. He reacted to their words, which was the best proof he had heard and understood them. When the Cardassian doctor put the hypospray to the man’s chest, the victim’s body reacted to it like he was shot and his face pulled in a grimace of pain. Stripped of name, stripped of life, stripped even of clothes, but they left him his personality to be fully aware of all that had been done to him.
The commander looked at the Cardassian engineer next to him. The man was quiet; he walked staring ahead. The whole Cardassian team seemed shocked. They didn’t approve of it any more than Ronus did. Even the Cardassians had their limits of how far they would go in their service to their precious Union.
What else had they been doing in the Orias system? Planing a genocide, that’s one. Constructing ship-man fusion monstrosities, that’s two. What else? Could it get any worse? How far could their imagination go?
Ya’val stopped. Another door with a panel identical to the one by the door to the bridge.
“What’s wrong?” Ronus asked when the engineer stood there, motionlessly.
“We have to ask him to open the door.”
The Trill understood the Cardassian’s reservations. It’s one thing to talk to a ‘ship’ and another to a tortured man whose mind was imprisoned in that ship.
“Maybe we could—“ Churmou pressed the button and didn’t finish her sentence as the door slid open.
“Maybe he deactivated all security protocols,” Fong wondered.
“Maybe,” Ya’val muttered. Ronus could now tell with certainty that the Cardassian engineer was shaken by the whole situation.
They entered the engineering which was a little bit bigger than the bridge. And just as the bridge, it appeared too small for its purpose.
There were four oblong boxes of the size of a man in the far end of the room, behind another table with another mutilated victim.
“Unbelievable,” Glinn Karama moaned.
“Medic Taret, please report to the engineering on the double,” Ya’val spoke to the communicator he wore on his wrist.
This victim, however, was plugged to the ship’s systems differently. His brain was exposed the same way as Saratt’s and so were his neck ridges, but his fingers and toes were free. There also were tubes coming out of his body—Ronus was guessing they were some kind of feeding tubes. The man’s back seemed to be fused with the table below him. Did they need access to his spinal cord?
“Look at their fingers,” Ma’Kan’s voice came from the back of the engineering, where she was inspecting the boxes.
Everyone moved closer and the boxes occurred to be stasis chambers. One was empty, three occupied and it was obvious even to Ronus, who had no medical experience, that one of occupants was dead. The other two looked normal. Except for their fingers.
“Looks like...” Sabal started but didn’t finish. He didn’t have to. Ends of men’s fingers were severed and replaced by mechanical components. Two fingers on each hand—the small finger and the ring finger—were equipped with ports that perfectly matched the access ports in the wall panels.
“The crew,” Av’Roo said.
Taret stormed into the engineering and abruptly stopped, not sure who he should check first: the man on the table or the men in stasis. After a short moment of hesitation he went to the man on the table, simultaneously calling the Damar
to beam a few nurses to help him.
“They seem to be normal,” Churmou said. “Apart from their hands, of course.”
“Nothing here is normal, sir,” Tarub commented. “You don’t know what they did to their brains.”
Ronus had to admit the Cardassian could be right. In this house of horrors everything was possible and no torture would be too much.
Suddenly the door closed and red alert activated.
“What a...” Ya’val muttered and tapped his communicator. “Ya’val to Kapoor. What’s going on?”
He received no reply.
Ma’Kan went to a console, but it turned off as soon as she touched it. She moved to another one, but the effect was identical.
Av’Roo scanned their surroundings. “There’s a forcefield around this room. It wasn’t there before. And I detect a dampening field too.” She lowered her hand and looked at Ronus. “We’re trapped here, Commander.”