A burst of sunlight shattered brilliantly against an ocean that reached undisturbed to a cloudless horizon. Small waves slapped a pale sandy meandering beach that arbitrated the ocean and dense jungle. Lahn carefully surveyed the beach, feeling the heat oozing into her skin only to be brushed off by fits of cool breeze. She felt an ache in her hand, and looked down at her tightly clenched fist. She took a deep breath and slowly unclenched and flexed her hand, then sat on the beach and pulled off her boots. She looked up and down the beach as she experimentally burrowed her bare foot into the warm sand and decided any direction would take her to Yassal. She rose and picked one, leaving her boots on the lonely beach.
By the time she reached the twin beach loungers, the heat of the sun had baked her languid, and the tension she had felt outside the pool was adrift with the waves. Between the loungers was a small table on which sat two perspiring fountain glasses. They were filled with a dark slush thick enough to hold the straws at attention. Yassal wore a one-piece, stretched back on the lounger, her eyes hidden by the smoky ovals of a pair of enormous sunglasses. She lazily turned her head toward Lahn.
“I’d have thought you’d have at least changed your hair.”
Lahn settled into a lounger. “I rather like this style.”
Yassal reached for the glass closest to her. “So, were we successful?”
Lahn nodded. “We were successful.” She watched Yassal’s sarcastic smirk become a far more genuine smile.
“I had my doubts, but you – and Rose – were quite persuasive. Did you re-assume command of the Munin?”
Lahn nodded slowly. “For a time. Then they switched me to the Valkyrja. Command said you had a hand in the name.”
“Oh yes, they wanted to name it the Valkyrie. You know, after those Norse warrior maids that –“ Her tone became one of mocking grandeur. “--carried brave heroes to Valhalla to fight and eat, drink and screw until the Mother of All Battles.” Lahn could feel Yassal roll her eyes despite the sunglasses as her tone became more normal. “I preferred Valkyrja – an older vision.”
Lahn sifted memory, and found what she sought. “Valkyrja were more … spirits of war and carnage?”
“Exactly. Dragging everyone – the bold, the brave, the timid, the terrified, the smart, the stupid – to an eternal slaughter. War is not just for the brave, everyone is pulled in and they’re all fucked.”
“Until that last battle where even the gods die and the world is made anew from the ruins.”
“Made into what?” Lahn asked, reaching for one of the fountain glasses. It was gratifyingly cold in her hand.
Yassal shrugged with a frown “Beats the hell out of me, but like any good myth, a transformation. Supposedly something better, but likely more of the same. Kind of like your lives, Lahn.”
Lahn ignored the barb and instead mused, “I would have thought you would have found an eternal battlefield attractive.”
“Fuck that.” Yassal said, and paused. “I studied strategy and tactics to win, not to be trapped in some eternal stalemate. Universally a battlefield is a pretty horrid place to be. Any body armor worth anything chafes. Replicated rations are tasteless. Your ears ring all the time from the explosions, and there’s always this smell -- how come no one talks about the smell of someone getting vaped?”
Lahn wrinked her nose, “Thank you for those memories.” She sipped at the straw, and was pleasantly surprised to find the slush was kanar.
“What, you’d rather experience a vape close up for the first time again? You’re talking to this guy, maybe giving orders, he’s a Phd. Maybe a spouse, even a parent. The next, they’re vaped. Gone. And then there’s this smell.” Yassal sniffed deeply. “It won’t go away. You smell of it. Food tastes of it. Dear Mr. and Mrs Johnson. I regret to tell you your son Billy was killed in action. I was his commanding officer. He served with courage and distinction until he lit up like a disco ball and left behind a stench like a plasma-static targfart.”
Lahn tsked. After some silence wearily asked, “Why are you trying to kill me?”
Yassal paused, sipping her drink. “Are you sure you don’t have me confused with someone else? You’re not exactly the Commission’s best friend, you know.”
“Your photonic copy seems to be at the front of the line.”
Yassal frowned. “I don’t’ know. For some reason she thinks you didn’t hold up your end and pulled an Alain.”
“But I did—“
“I know that.” Yassal said, and Lahn thought she heard a tinge of regret. “I know that now. But then, when I saw Rose, and only saw Lahn--”
“That was Rose’s choice.” Lahn snapped with irritation.
“Yes, I know that now too. But – how could I believe that when what was standing in front of me—“
“Joining wasn’t good enough for you?” Lahn asked acidly.
“I thought it was all holoshow.”
“Your disbelief could end all this. It could end everything.”
Yassal set her glass on the table and sat up, turning to face Lahn. “Not if I use what I gave you. Listen, I had to change the memories—“
“What? Why? We had an agreement--”
“So you wouldn’t make a mistake I’d made – so you wouldn’t be me. I knew that would cause some concern with Grupiro and the crew, but I trusted they could handle it. I wanted you to be better. The things you would have remembered about Andrea—“
“Yes, Captain Myles. Her and about seven hundred other liberated were part of a damned collective ship project. They figured liberated could use their neural links to improve efficiency by entering into a semi-collective state."
Lahn looked at Yassal, “A semi-coll--?” She shook her head in disbelief. “Did those idiots come up with any good plans?”
“I was to followed her and her crew around, prepared to destroy them both if they showed signs of forming a Unimatrix while in a collective state. They – almost did. It was close. They remained in a collective state far longer than they were supposed to – well past the point the Munin was supposed to pull the trigger, but I just couldn’t, because --”
“Because you cared about her. The daughter you’d never have thanks to the experiments you were put through. You made sure I knew that.” Memories of Andrea made up the most tender moments Yassal shared with her.
“With the original set of memories I’d planned, you wouldn’t have.”
Lahn furrowed her brow. This was something she didn’t know. “Why?”
“Captain Myles assimilated me.”
Lahn barely resisted coughing up kanar and held her drink away as she herself sat up. “What?!?”
“You’re right – the only thing I inherited from the Jem Hadar experiments was a five year lifespan. I started to age rapidly and before long I was slightly over a century old biologically when every system in my body wanted was in a state of failure. Oh, there were plans to fix it – doctors -- but we were out of time. Andrea was frantic, but I had accepted what was coming. I closed my eyes figuring it was for the last time – but I opened them again, and realized that she’d injected me with those damned nanites of hers.”
“Oh.” Lahn said simply, unable to keep the shock out of her voice.
“Gods Unfortunate, I was furious. I said things. Did things. She fled from me. Closest thing to a daughter and she fled. The nanite purge up nearly finished me off, but I managed to survive out of pure spite. I saw Andrea as dangerous, and was consumed with destroying her. Then Rose arrived, and for a moment there were bigger issues to deal with but I still had plans. I was still so furious, turning me into -- when I agreed to the join, I initially wanted to pass on a set of memories where you’d finish what I started about Andrea.”
“What changed your mind?”
“Rose did. Andrea had been Rose’s anchor in this world, even when I chased her off, she was devoted to Rose. I realized that Andrea couldn’t bear the idea of me dying. Her parents had been assimilated and lost. I was her only family, and no one had prepared her for that loss. I couldn’t hate her for that. I switched out my memories but – you know what the join is like. It was hard to keep it all straight. Things slipped.”
“You did well with Andrea's memories. I remember her as kind, and brilliant. She’d do well with the Cooperative.”
“Cooperative. Liberated Borg are in groups they call Cooperatives.”
Yassal looked nonplussed, and sipped her kanar. “Oh, well I guess that’s something. Do they form a general consensus before they assimilate you?”
“Stop.” Lahn chided but was smiling herself. "We need Andrea. He ship is one of those Iconian fakes –“
Yassal smirked. “So that worked too, huh? Damn I was a hot set of spots.”
“That ship could be useful. How do I find her in the Rolor Nebula?”
“There are frequencies – you’ll still need to do some hunting. The Rolor is a real tangle.”
“How will I –“ Lahn asked, then stopped when she realized in that moment the knowledge was simply there.
“Just don’t let them try to dismantle her like before.”
“Those orders were rescinded.”
“They could just as easily be reinstated.”
“They need her. We’ve lost a quarter of the fleet to the Iconians.”
“Iconians? Protect the library.”
“Too late. It was destroyed in the attack that took down a quarter of the fleet.”
“Oh. Your tactical position is basically--”
“Fucked.” They said as one, pausing to sip their drinks.
“There are options.” Lahn said.
“Lahn, my photonic should know all everything I’ve told you. I don’t know why she’s still on the old nav-plan.”
“Well that nav-plan is off the starcharts. She made a copy of herself, and your friends tortured the original until she forced herself to shut down – then they just reset her and did it again.--”
“Of course they did. Its who they are – who they were.”
“—Over and over again” Lahn pushed, feeling the angry edge in her voice. “They’ve had one life too many.”
“Yes.” Yassal said with finality. “Its why they had to be dealt with, and I only had one piece on the board left that I could use and that was myself. You’ll remember codes now – codes that should let my photonic know she’s of the nav-plan and that I’m – you’re – we’re fine. I am so sorry, Lahn. I wanted to give you more, but I was afraid that if I switched around even more memories that it would make things worse. I had to trust my – our crew – would do the right thing.”
Lahn stood, and with a tenderness that surprised her, kissed Yassal on the forehead. “They did. They’re great, though it hasn’t been easy. You did really well by them. You’re my host, Yassal. We share this life, and I would trade it for no other.”
Yassal suddenly hugged Lahn, and Lahn knew what to tell Yassal’s photonic. She held the hug for a long moment.
“I hope this is like the fresher, where the light goes out when no one is in it. An eternity of even a perfect moment would drive you crazy.”
Lahn smiled nodded assuringly “It must be like that.” She closed her eyes, willing herself back, further than before, chased by the thought that Yassal’s perfect moment wasn’t the beach or the battlefield. It was nothing. Nothing at all.
Lahn slowly opened her eyes, her jaw felt wet. Her eyes focused on Sri, holding out a washcloth. “Don’t move too quickly. You’re still settling back to your primary brain. And you were right. Your husband was a saint.” She paused at Lahns withering look. “Sir.”
The washcloth was warm against her face as she wiped away the saliva. Her neck was a little stiff. The cavern was gone, replaced with the stark lines of the holodeck. She heard the tricorder probe hum around her head. Sri's tone assumed a clinical air. “You were in a lucid state for 63.7 minutes. You accessed three host memories, right?” She reflected Lahns nod. “Good. Your neurotransmitter levels are returning to normal levels.”
“You were busy.” Lahn said, nodding to Sri’s cold tea and uneaten biscuit.
“Not terribly.” Sri said with nonchalance, taking the washcloth and offering Lahn a delicate teacup. The tea tasted slightly bitter and Lahn was surprised as it washed the taste of kanar from her mouth, briefly wondering how a taste from memory could be real. She frowned, her hand reaching for her phaser. The strap arrangement was different.
“You took my phaser.”
Sri took a kneeling position opposite Lahn, still reviewing the tricorder data. “You brought up the possibility that you could lose control.”
“So it was possible.” Lahn said sullenly, casting a directed stare to Sri.
“You conceived of it. That made it possible.”
“Things can happen just because you consider the possibility?” Lahn asked with a trace of irritation, which only increased at Sri’s slight nod. “I’m not sure I like your world much, Lieutenant Commander.”
Her shrug in response was barely perceptible through the thick Trill robe. Our actions in this world are also a product of prior conception, Captain.
“You told me it wasn’t possible, and not to worry because you wanted me to believe it wasn’t possible.”
Sri’s eyes flicked up from the tricorder. “Yes. Mostly." She paused, then abruptly changed subject. "Captain, I know we talked about this before. I want to make sure you know that what you experienced – this data – remains between us.”
Lahn felt her thoughts take an ugly turn. Until someone wants it and decides to torture it out of you. Gods Unfortunate, if that happened I’d reach for the very darkest parts of Rose and Yassal and their end will be as horrible as they can conceive. It was only when she heard Sri’s gasp did she realize she’d not concealed her thoughts well enough.
Sri stammered, “Captain, I’m sorry. Just I was monitoring you and you thought so strongly –“
Lahn shook her head, warning herself to be more careful. “Don’t worry about it.”
Sri expression became firm, “I had already realized there was risk—“
Lahn shook her head again. “Not at all. This data goes to the Commission. I’m tired of all of this being hidden – besides, the work you’ve done with our techniques could be useful for other Trill. Send them everything.”
“Well, “ Lahn said after a moments consideration, “Perhaps the part about snoring could be redacted.”
“And drooling?” Sri asked. “It really doesn’t have…scientific value.” Sri paused. “Sir.”