Wednesday, April 8, 2015

A Perfect Join, Part II

Netzach and Hod

Captain Evlyn Lahn broods in the low light of her ready room, a shadowy form somberly uplit  by the wan light of the PADD on her desk. Her stony expression conceals her troubled thoughts as  her mind slowly ruminates over the inexplicable events of the last few days..

Lahn’s eyes flicked upward. “Commander Grupiro, what are you doing?”

The Ferengi held two cordials and a carafe in her hands. “Narrating, Captain.”

She regarded her first officer a moment. “I am not brooding.”

“You have been sitting there for quite some time, Captain.” She set the glasses on the desk.

“The light is not dim.”

“To a Reman, perhaps.” Grupiro poured a clear, slightly vicious fluid from the carafe into each cordial glass.

Lahn dismissively waves her hand. “My mind is not troubled.” 

“Whose mind is not occasionally contemplative in these troubled times?”

Lahn sighed. “Actually, I feel rather upbeat, thank you.”

Captain Evlyn Lahn briefly sat in her adequately lit ready room, blissfully unaware she was brooding…

Lahn sighed focusing intently on her PADD. “I’m not in the mood for snail juice, Commander.”

“Try some, Captain” Grupiro insisted. “I made it as a special batch with Star Anise and Kanar…”

Lahn looked up from her PADD to forlornly gaze at the cordial. She swallowed. “You fed the snails Kanar?”

Grupiro leaned in, clearly sensing weakness. “They practically wallowed in it, Captain. I assure you it did not go to waste.”

Lahn gave up, “Perhaps, just a little.” She lunged for the cordial, finding it ice cold against her fingers.

They sipped in silence. Lahn sat back, a serene briefly crossed her face. “Exquisite. I fear that Kanar is an acquired taste. Not many will appreciate this snail juice.”

Grupiro topped off Lahn’s cordial again. “Perhaps, but not everything must turn a profit to be valuable.” She sips at her own cordial, and shrugs, insisting, “You were brooding. Your visit to Alpha Centauri was not helpful?”

Lahn sighed. “Perhaps a little.”

“The visit? Or the brooding?”

Lahn was silent as she regarded the Ferengi  sitting across from her carefully.  “Someone is being more persistent and inventive in their efforts to kill me – or kill someone they think I am.” She furrowed her brow. “ You served with Captain Yassal for five years. What was she like?”

Grupiro glanced up from her contemplation of the cordial, her expression perplexed. “That is an interesting question, coming from you. You have her memories.”

“I have what she chose to give me.  Yassal chose to hide many memories from me.”

“Take it from me, no parent wants their child to see everything about them – the mistakes, the moments of weakness,  the frantic trysts--"

Lahn arched her brow at Grupiro. "Well!"

"--those bad examples.” She sighed. “And there is the agreement that certain secrets stay secret.”

“More than the agreement.” Lahn gently countered. “I don’t like being kept in the dark by my own host.”  After a pause, she added, “Or my first officer.”

Lahn tried to keep malice out of her tone, driven by the memory of Grupiro herself telling Yassal, If you don’t put a price on it, you can find out more in what people offer. Grupiro  was a capable opponent in chess, a demon in cards.  Yassal had learned more than a little of misdirection and bluffing from her.  She wondered -- every sense aching for clues in Grupiro’s expression, body position and tone -- whether Yassal had given her enough to see through any subterfuge her first officer chose to put forward.

“I have kept secrets from you.” Grupiro calmly conceded, adding,  “I do keep secrets from you.”

The snail juice felt sour in her mouth. “Why? Orders?”

Grupiro rested her hands on the arms of the chair, leaning back. “There are orders involved, but you already know about those.  But there are other things Evlyn Yassal asked – begged  me not to share.  If I determine that any of those secrets are a danger to you, I would tell you, Captain.”

“If you determine they are a danger?” She let her flat tone indicate her chagrin

“You do respect my ability to assess threats, do you not?”

Lahn thought for a second, taking the cordial her hand, sipping. Her expression a speculative mask. “I do.”

“Then perhaps you could take your hand off your pistol?”

“What pistol?”

“The one under the desk.”

Lahn coyly stared at her First Officer.  Her free hand remained concealed behind the desk. 

Grupiro sighed. “Captain, do you remember the Ferengi delegation visiting the USS Munin?”

Lahn furrowed her brow. She remembered it vaguely, and had simply accepted the gaps that had occurred there.  “Something about your family as I recall. ”

Grupiro scowled. “It was one of those times, when there was resurgence in the desire for the old ways – women shouldn’t be out in public, acquiring profit –“

“Wearing clothes” Lahn added dryly.

“From the society that says it never had slavery. Those of us who had businesses or found careers in Starfleet were bad examples, that violated old laws.  Of course, its always been easier to force laws on those without means, and my family was under considerable economic pressure. My father and brother were offered substantial sums to see it that I returned to my proper place.”

“Which they naturally refused.” Lahn said with thick sarcasm. “You generally do not wander. I trust there’s a point to this narrative?”

“They visited, and I told them what they could do with their demands, that turned into a rather one sided brawl. The damage to my quarters was … costly.  They next tried to bribe Captain Yassal. She was--”

“Pissed?” Lahn asked, feeling a rush of anger all her own.

Gruperio chuckled, stating more diplomatically, “Not keen on the idea. Especially when after she said no, an assemblage of powerful interests decided to buy the muscle they didn’t have.  After the first run-in, it became personal. Rules and regulations were broken. Blood and other fluids were shed. Eventually an understanding was reached, and mysterious boxes of lobes stopped being found in inconvenient places.”

Lahn involuntarily looked at Grupios ears as she shuddered. Her expression became a mix of disbelief and rage. “You cannot be serious!”

Grupiro crossed her arms, resolved. “When you are out of latinum, force becomes a commodity. The old guard and their supporters got a glimpse of the bill for a more medieval Ferengar, and many skipped out without paying. It became much more affordable for a strong consortium of female business owners – a consortium I had no small hand in forming -- to buy out the old guard’s interests.”

Lahn felt her head pounding as she struggled to find the memories. Yassal had left her enough so the strategy and tactics were plain. She could easily imagine the atrocities. But imagination was not memory, and the events on Ferengar were simply not there – those memories were locked deep inside Yassal. Atrios and Rose had chosen Evlyn Yassal precisely for her cold, bloody mindedness. She wondered if they knew exactly how bloody.  Rose probably did, coming from a universe where being rutheless and bloody was the only way to survive but Atrios…. “Captain Yassal had your back when it might have been politically expedient for Starfleet to mutter something about the Prime Directive and sent you back to Ferengar.”

Grupiro nodded, looking out the ready room window.  “As did you, when things went bad on the station.  It was a smart move, leaving for Delta rather than fighting.”

“Fighting at the station only gets you covered in cat pee." Lahn muttered.  "But is your point that you have loyalty to both Yassal and myself?”

“The point being, the entire senior staff has loyalty to Yassal and yourself.  We would not betray you--"


“But sometimes those loyalties were at odds. “Captain Yassal was worried that Atrios would do to her what he had done to Rose. She said after the joining and adjustment, there was very little of Rose left.  That it was Alain all over again.”

Lahn sighed. Alain. The symbiont who had chosen to bond with Yassal’s first husband, and by sheer strength of personality had driven nearly all that was the man Yassal had known -- had loved -- from the join. Rose had been a completely different situation,  but there was no way for Yassal to know that.   “Yassal was looking at the total eradication of self, and still didn’t back out of the mission.”

“She did ask me to take – measures -- if you returned from the mission, should you not have the agreed-upon knowledge”

“Alain was horrible, but Rose…Rose  had expected to die in the blast that had shoved her into our universe. Everything around her had been killed or destroyed, and all she wanted was to make the Terrans pay for destroying the symbionts.  All she wanted to leave behind was enough achieve that end.  Atrios told Yassal that. But of course she didn’t believe me -- Atrios.” She leveled her gaze to Grupiro.  “ Did I have the agreed-upon knowledge?”

“You did, but I learned Yassal had added redundancy to her failsafes, and you were tested by others.  Not all those inquiries went so smoothly.  I had thought they had gone well enough that measures were not initiated. They were certainly never completed.”

Lahn shook her head. “Yassal made her own failsafes, but she didn’t understand that joining…isn’t exact. Its why the Commission was supposed to handle the questions, to allow for mnemonic drift and establishment of cross-questions.  But Yassal didn’t trust the Commission. She trusted no one.”  She sighed, steepling her fingers against her lips, analyzing.

“Yassal believed no one, but there were many that Yassal believed in.

Lahn’s gaze softened. “Yes. You for one. Andrea for another. Friends.  She cared for them – loved them – she just couldn’t trust them.“ She shook her head somberly. “ No, I can’t believe that this is the product of failsafes that Yassal introduced years ago.  She was a brilliant tactician, but planning this out years ago – predictive tactics like that are to the point of being prescient. Not years.

“Are we back to shooting the First Officer?”  Grupiro asked calmly.