I did want to show that Norrbom isn't a bad person. She and the captain have been friends for a long time and I think their friendship can weather this rough patch. Of course it remains to be seen who will survive this story.
I'm pleased to hear that you feel bad for Gedrik. He's a bad guy, but he does have some sympathetic aspects. I'm glad you have seen them. I think his ultimate goal is a good one, he's just going about it the wrong way and also perhaps for the wrong reasons.
The Burning Claw
The guards pushed Gedrik through the doors. Legs still rubbery from the torture, the deposed ship’s master stumbled across the threshold and fell to the floor. “Oh, how the mighty fall,” the mocking voice drew his attention.
While clambering to all fours, Gedrik looked up. Mavaar, now in a skintight, V-necked lavender catsuit, leaned against the crystalline device, stroking its dull orange exterior tenderly. Gedrik’s eyes shifted to the device, unable to resist its mesmerizing pull, as he stood up.
“What are you doing? Don’t touch it!” He snapped, lurching towards her. The Nuvian threw back her head and laughed.
“What a foolish snoot you are,” she replied. “You think I’m merely a plaything for whoever controls this vessel? I’ll have you know that the Alshain lord that first purchased me sent me to some of the finest academies in the quadrant. He liked his harem well educated, better to show off at his parties,” she added, her eyes darkening, her laugh turning bitter.
“He thought the tracking device and the poison capsule he had implanted inside his slaves was enough to keep us under his thumb, and it was, for most of them,” she shook her head, her focus on the past. He pondered rushing the distracted woman at that moment and slashing her throat. It would not help him escape, but it would certainly make the scientist feel better.
“But not me,” she snapped back to the present. “Oh no, during my studies, I also took courses on medicine and anatomy, I performed surgery on myself, removed both shackles and force fed my master his own poison. Stealing one of his shuttles, I sold myself to the Orions. I knew the last place the Alshain would look for a murderous runaway was an Orion slave processing station.”
“Touching biography,” Gedrik sniffed, forcing his claws to retract. “But none of that equips you to toy with a device of such…” his words caught in his throat as he gazed upon its jeweled casing, “immense power.”
Mavaar, completely nonplussed, chucked a thumb toward the back of the room. “That’s what he’s here for,” she said, “and now you.” Gedrik tore his eyes away to follow where the Nuvian pointed. Ramlo hung in a darkened corner, cradling the stump where his hand used to be. The man was bent over, broken.
“The death of his compatriot has stricken him profoundly,” Mavaar said, “It has been like squeezing blood from a stone to get him to cough up as little as he has thus far, so I suggested to the captain that perhaps you could pull him out of his shell.”
“And what if I can’t?” Gedrik asked, his mind flashing back to severing the man’s hand with a borrowed knife. The digits had continued twitching even after the hand fell to the deck.
“Then you will die, most painfully,” the Nuvian promised. Gedrik gulped, knowing she meant every word. “If you had been able to divine the secrets of this contraption alone you wouldn’t have kept the prisoners alive. Both of your intellects are necessary, and I’ll be here to assist.”
“And to insure that we don’t escape?” Gedrik asked.
“Ah, your wits are returning,” Mavaar smiled, pulling a small controller from the cleft in her ample cleavage. “I would so hate to activate the neural servos…on either of you.”
“I’m sure you would,” Gedrik didn’t hide the sarcasm he felt. Their Nuvian overlord chuckled, while tucking the controller back into her bosom.
“You and the Arkenite need to get to work,” she ordered, “because your lives really do depend on it.”
In deep solitude, away from the madness just outside the too fragile hull, Commander Narskene’s thoughts leapt far beyond the Caldera Expanse. Hir thoughts rushed across the mindline of the Lattice and into the deepest reaches of the Ruling Conclave’s Castemoot. Narskene sent an update, but also s/he requested information in return. S/he wanted the truth, the whole of it.
Narskene waited agonizing minutes before a flood of shared memories flooded into hir cortex…
S/he inhabited the mind and body of Ambassador Lelrene as s/he stood in a great, yet chilly, alien hall, surrounded by a gamut of other sentient beings as held a special stylus to commit the Tholian Assembly to the Polaric Test Ban Treaty more than a century ago….
.…Those thoughts swirled into those of High Magistrate Pernox reporting before the Ruling Conclave, hir spindly arms held wide, in her oft noted dramatic fashion, “Though the non-aggression pact has been signed, I fear it only a temporary measure. After the Alpha Quadrant organics have been defeated, the Dominion will turn all of its might on us…and it is not a war we could survive,” s/he had concluded to thunderous reaction, both verbally and telepathically. Pernox had withstood the mental pummeling to conclude, “We must be prepared for the imminent victory of the Dominion.”
“And what would you propose?” The typically skeptical High Magistrate Zezrene, sitting back comfortably on hir haunches, had interjected. Pernox didn’t hide hir distaste for hir old rival.
“That we continue developing polaric ion energy,” Pernox had replied, causing another disruptive row across the Conclave.
“You cannot be serious?” Zezrene had scoffed. “To do so, to violate the treaty we signed with the Federation, the Romulans, it would unite them against us.”
“The Federation is already against us,” High Magistrate Cylax had replied.
“No, the Federation is fighting the Dominion,” another Magistrate, Mokena had then interjected. “We are out of this conflict.”
“It is foolish to think that we can stand by and remain untouched from the conflagration,” Pernox said.
“We are not alone in being foolish then,” Zezrene had riposted, “The Miradorn, the Romulans, and even the Bajorans have all taken the same action that this assembly has.”
Pernox had pinned hir rival with a blazing stare. “The Miradorn only seek to side and reap the profits from the Dominion since their tide is currently cresting. The Miradorn are a short-sighted species. The Bajorans have little choice but to remain neutral, since their planet resides near the wormhole and would doubtlessly be the first conquered or razed by any invading Dominion force. As for the Romulans…they are merely biding their time, studying the Dominion for weaknesses, as we should do. I spent years serving on Romulus, I know its people and its leaders well.”
“Then perhaps we should seek their counsel, to form a secret alliance with them against the Dominion?” suggested Magistrate Bethor.
“As I said, I know the Romulans…and they cannot be trusted, not at this stage of the conflict,” Pernox had replied. “We are in this alone and only we can defend ourselves.”
“I have not seen enough of the purported prowess of these Jem’Hadar to believe they our Chakuun warriors would fall so easily against them,” Zezrene had declared.
“Then your eyes have been closed,” Pernox had shot back. Laughter had filled the chamber. Even Zezrene had nodded hir head in acknowledgement that s/he had been bested.
Holding hir arms forth again, Pernox had implored the conclave, “We must begin polaric ion energy exploration and we must begin posthaste!”….
….Magistrate Pernox had pressed hir hands against the frigid window, gazing out at the sleek, crystalline vessel hanging in front of the space station. High Command had named it the Eye of Tholia. Hir eyes had traced along the triangular vessel’s three tapered nacelles, and imagined the power from the polaric ion drive that would soon flow through them and propel the ship’s pilots into galactic history.
All of hir efforts of the last several years had led to this moment. Despite the relatively rapid conclusion of the war, the project had continued. Too many resources had already been invested in polaric ion energy exploration for it to stop, and so many of her compeers had been seduced by the power residing within polaric ions that even more funding and support had come after the Dominion collapsed.
Now all the weakened powers were scrambling to hold on to their empires while reasserting themselves. In this chaotic situation, the Tholians were primed to step onto the galactic stage in a way never before seen. Further who could stop them, even if they brazen broke the test ban treaty? Neither the Romulans nor Federation was in any position to oppose them. Certainly the foolish Klingons might, and they would snarl and charge their way to their destruction.
“Your pride radiates through your carapace,” Arezene’s voice had trilled in hir mind, before the Tholian spoke aloud. “The deep orange flush quite suits you.”
Pernox had turned from the window slowly, to try to appear unruffled by Arezene’s sudden appearance. “What brings you from the bowels of Chronological Defense Corps Headquarters?”
The temporal agent’s eyes had narrowed to slits. “You know exactly why I am here.” The Chronological Defense Corps, charged with protecting against temporal incursions, had opposed her push for polaric ion usage. They had argued that the temporal properties of the energy could have unforeseen and destructive consequences. Wisely, the Ruling Conclave had ignored the hysterics from the self-important pseudo-scientists.
“This is a proud day, for all Tholians, even the naysayers,” Pernox had offered, with as much charitableness that she could muster, which wasn’t much.
“The sun has not set yet,” Arezene had replied. “May I watch the disembarkation with you?”
“Do I have a choice in the matter?” Pernox had asked.
“There is always choice,” Arezene had said, with some good humor. “What happened between us Pernox, we were once hive-mates.”
“We were…of one accord, before you chose temporal investigations,” Pernox had spat, not hiding her scorn. “All of that breeding, for naught.”
Arezene had shaken his head, “I wish you understood how important my work is.”
“You never let me,” Pernox had rejoined.
“Perhaps that was my mistake,” Arezene had offered. “A mistake that can be corrected. As we say in the Chrono Corps, ‘there is always time.’”
Pernox had shuddered. “I see that you have not lost your penchant for questionable humor.” Arezene had chuckled. As the sonorous computer voice of the countdown began, the two former hive-mates quieted and turned their attention back to the ship.
Pernox had allowed Arezene to touch her hand as the ship broke from the docking ring, gracefully turning to face, and acknowledge Pernox for hir efforts. The High Magistrate had beamed with pride as the assembled guests joined in congratulating her. Pernox turned from the ship to bask in the praise. Even a begrudging Zezrene had bowed in respect.
Unable to mask her rush of color throughout her body, Pernox had barely heard Arezene. S/he had continued soaking up the adulation, until he roughly pulled on her arm. “Something’s wrong,” Arezene had declared.
Pernox had rounded on him, pulling her hand out of hirs. “How dare you!” S/he had hissed. As a member of the Ruling Conclave s/he could have anyone, even one of the protected professions, executed on the spot. Four-legged Chakuun soldiers, dressed in dull green environmental suits, tensed, their hands reaching for the ceremonial disruptor rifles slung over their shoulders.
S/he had quickly waved them to stay back. “Something is wrong,” Arezene had repeated, completely oblivious to how close he was treading to execution. S/he had pointed out the window.
Violent colors clashed within the transparent strips of the nacelles. The ship had stopped, and even from this distance, Pernox could see that it was shaking badly, as if the structural integrity field had collapsed. Pieces of hull blew from the ship, venting plasma. Some of the brave and curious had rushed to the windows to view the tragic malfunctions. As the ship had imploded, Pernox could only liken it to her career.
“Grand Admiral Gadol, what’s happening?!” S/he had whipped around, to pinion the project lead. The heavy limbed Tholian had lumbered forth. He didn’t immediately answer, instead he cocked his head to the side.
“The command center is trying to hail the prototype,” s/he had replied, “But the pilots are not responding…to either verbal or telepathic entreaties.”
“There must be some way to stop this!” Pernox had declared, “We must save the lives of the pilots and prevent the ship from being destroyed. We can salvage this.” S/he left unsaid that Pernox hoped the actions would also save hir career.
“I think we have bigger problems than that now,” Arezene had projected the thought into hir mind. Seconds later the station rocked and a blinding light overpowered the dimmers on the viewport windows. When Pernox’s eyesight returned she saw nothing where the ship had been. The explosion had been all consuming….
…. “Or so they had thought,” Narskene replied, breaking free of the past memories. She accessed those of the Chronological Corps next, to confirm what s/he suspected.
“The Eye of Tholia hadn’t been destroyed,” she surmised, “It had merely fallen through the cracks of time.”
The High Magistrates were so desperate to possess the alien device because it wasn’t alien at all, it was Tholian.