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Posted on Wed Dec 11th, 2019 @ 3:21pm by Az'Prel & Commander Rita Paris & Lieutenant Commander Mnhei'sahe Dox & Lieutenant Commander Sonak & Artan Pirate Helev t'Liun
Edited on on Wed Dec 18th, 2019 @ 12:25am

Mission: Neutral Zone Neutrality
Location: Med bay - the Golden Ghost
Timeline: 2396 - en route to Mol Krun'chi

Few on the Artan Bird of Prey known as the Golden Ghost slept well or particularly long overnight as the ship warped its way through Romulan space towards the hidden reunification colony known as Mol Krun’chi. The night earlier, the crewmembers of the U.S.S. Hera had rooted out a spy in their midst.

Now, as morning bells rang at 06:00 hours, those crewmembers stood ready in the brig of the Ghost outside the cell of Lieutenant Ayamo Oulette. The Vulcanoid Rigellian Intel Officer assigned as an observer from the U.S.S. Persephone who, the night prior, had attacked the Ghost’s commander, Doctor Helev t’Liun, in an attempt to gain access to the ship’s computers to learn the location of the colony they were headed too.

The timely intervention of Lieutenant Commander Sonak prevented tragedy from taking place but after a long night of frayed nerves and legitimate suspicions, it was time to come together to find out exactly what had happened to the Starfleet officer lying sedated on a bio-bed in the brig, under a security forcefield. During the attack, everything about the woman’s behavior and body language suggested a woman stripped of her own agency and control. It had been like a switch had been flipped and a second personality had taken over. Watching from the other side of the shimmering green forcefield, Lieutenant Commander Mnhei’sahe Dox’s face didn’t betray her conflicted emotions.

The chamber was entirely too much like the Romulan brig she had been a prisoner in not too long ago, but she pushed that feeling out of her mind to focus on the officer in front of her on the table.

“That could have easily been me. Me or my mother. It was my grandmother.” Dox said in a low, gravely tone standing beside the golden clad lost navigator from another time and place, Commander Rita Paris. Beside her was her husband and her rock, the Kolinahr Science Officer, Lieutenant Commander Sonak of Vulcan. On the other side of Dox, stood the Vulcan refugee and warrior-woman, Az’Prel.

From behind the group, the ship’s commander and doctor entered the room with a large tray of equipment, “Quite possibly, Captain… but your experience in that infernal Ju’rot device may help us here, today.”

“How so, Maenek t’Liun?” Dox asked, referring to the woman as ‘Doctor’ in their native tongue.

The Doctor was, like Dox, Romulan, and spoke of the red-headed pilot’s time in the mind control device known officially as the Neural Extraction Converter. Referring to the Dox as ‘Captain’, as by Artan law; the Ghost was under Dox’s command as an Artan Baroness. “I still have your brain scans from your last visit, which was not long after you had beaten that machine. With your current scans, I’m having the computer run comparisons to look for any variations as any differences might point out areas of damage.”

Setting up the tray next to the bio-bed, the ship’s doctor kept talking. “This equipment… which I would have preferred we keep in the med bay… will enable me to monitor Lieutenant Oulette’s brain activity and biochemistry during… whatever it is we’re going to be doing here… so we can see what happens while it happens.”

“That said… what exactly ARE we going to be doing here?” The somewhat out of her element Romulan doctor asked with a raised eyebrow.

"We are all going to join hands, in a gesture as symbolic as it is practical, and with Sonak's guidance, we're going to come together to discover just what was done to Miss Oulette here, and we're going to try to help her. This is a Starfleet officer, and she'd do the same for us. So run your scans and let's certainly address the biochemical science of the process. Then, so long as you're willing to accompany us as a doctor and physician in guiding us, we're going to meld minds and go literally into our shipmate 's mind to help her. In doing so, you share a bit of yourself, and there are few secrets. But this is what we're planning for Lieutenant Oulette, and we're asking for your help, to lend your expertise."

At that, Paris held out her hand, reaching across the distance.

For her part, the doctor looked legitimately nervous. More so than Rita Paris had ever seen the usually sardonic woman in the brief time they knew each other. Setting the machinery to begin scanning, t'Liun glanced over at Dox who nodded with the slightest hint of a smile on her face as she spoke in a calm, even voice. "You trusted me with your ship and your crew. We're trusting you in our minds, Maenek."

With an edge of anxiety in her voice, the reluctant ship's commander wiped her hand dry on her pant leg as she felt it becoming clammy and replied, reaching forward to put her hand in Rita's. "Very well. I would be quite the terrible reunificationist if I were to remain... afraid of such a thing, wouldn't I?"

''It is the most intimate experience you will have in your lifetime, '' explained Sonak in his typical monotone. ''All of your mind will be shared with us; and of ours with you. Essentially, we will be one mind; not Collective like the artificial connection of the Borg is, but a truly organic mental and spiritual fusion of being. To an emotional being, it may be an intense, difficult experience to assess.''

"You don't have to if you are uncomfortable with the idea- no one is going to force this on you," the antiquated officer assured the anxious analytic psychologist. "If you prefer, you can advise us from out here, or watch our backs, as it were. That's completely reasonable. If it's just the fact that it's an intimidating prospect, that's a healthy response. I can assure you it is safe, but we're entering a brainwashed woman's mind- that's where it gets unsafe. But we push back the darkness together... so, the choice is yours."

''Of course,'' Sonak added, ''being under my overall presence, my mental shields will protect you just as well from any possible mental intrusion or attack. But the deepness of the experience will remain.''

"Plus I don't think we're through with our scans and test results yet, so you have a moment to think on it," Paris released the woman's hand after a shake. "Meanwhile, Sonak can explain the procedure. What are you picking up from Ms. Oulette at this range, Mister Sonak?" Commander Paris ended her pitch with relevant questions.

''The logically expected jumble of emotions; confusion, anger, fear; thoughts of duty and wants conflicting. A certain level of resentment but a higher wish to find out what is happening to her.''

He turned his steely grey eyes to each of them in turn.

''I will remind you that any mind meld with her must be voluntary; from any and all of us... and from her as well. It would be most unethical, even criminal, to impose our minds on hers without her full knowledge and consent of what it implies. You will have to convince her to cooperate freely, without duplicity or coercion.''

Az'Prel, the Logician Vulcan from the mirror universe took a step back. "I will decline as melds with me tend to be unpleasant due to my own training in the art from my own version of reality and extensive time inside of agony booths. Thus, I believe it logical to remain alert and... Monitor your posteriors."

''Quolloquially put, but a sound proposition, '' Sonak agreed. ''Science has taught us that a control subject is mandatory in any experiment, both for safety and validation.''

"Good point, Miss Az'Prel. Well, let's get started. Lieutenant Oulette?" Paris called out sharply, that voice of command which she'd mastered from generations before, getting the officer's attention. When next she spoke, her voice was calmer and softer, but no less urgent. "Hypothetically you can hear me in there. It's Commander Paris. You've been compromised by the Tal'Shiar, the Romulan secret police. We'd like to help you, but we need your consent to do so. What do you say, Lieutenant? Would you like to return to duty and help us with the mission?"

Though she was still heavily sedated and under a security field, Ayamo Oulette was still mostly aware of what was going on as they spoke of what was going to happen. It took her a few moments to fully process what Commander Paris was saying before she could formulate a reply, but when she finally did, the fear in her voice was obvious. "Commander... This isn't... It's not going to be like when I was captured by the Cardassians, was it? They tortured me for months... Something about lights... And then when they handed me over to the Romulans... They told me I'd been rescued... That I'd..."

There was definitely something preventing her from talking about what had happened as tears filled her eyes and started running down her face. It looked painful just to even watch her try to get the words out. "Please, Commander... I just want to feel like myself again..."

Sonak answered.

''There will be no pain. there will be no pressure unless you resist. And there will be no contact unless you agree. There will be no feeling except those you have... and those of us who wish to help. This will be a merging of minds. It will be bewildering at first. For that time, we will all be one. You will perceive our genuine desire to find the truth, to help you... and we will feel your fear, your pain. You will know all that we are, all that we lived; and we will know all that you are, all that you lived. We will be one... and we will all find you again.''

Listening, Dox felt her compassion for what must have happened to Oulette and leaned in and spoke in a soft voice, "I know what they did to you, Lieutenant Oulette. They tried to do the same thing to me, but I had help. I had Commander Sonak's training and other minds to help me keep my own. Together, we can show you how to fight what they did to you. We can give you that, if you'll let us"

As she tried to nod, Ayamo choked back more tears and some words that seemed to get caught in her throat, her face scrunching up in pain. After several moments of the tortured look and her attempts at trying to say something, she let out a small scream and her facial features seemed to shift to that of the persona that appeared during the attack on Maenek t'Luin. "You may get her consent Vulcan but you will never have mine... If you think you have what it takes, let's see if you can do it by force. If you can't, you'll lose poor little Ayamo forever. She'll be heartbroken as I murder everything she cares about, starting with her plantsss..."

With that, the Tal'Shiar embedded personality tried to spit at Sonak, though it didn't even get off the biobed. Thankfully... Mercifully... It then let go of her and left her a sobbing mess under the security field.

The Vulcan didn't flinch. His eyes stayed on the woman.

''This emotional response is a clear indication that the false personality embedded in the Lieutenant is aware that we can find it and eliminate it. Since it is in itself a violation of her integrity, for her sake, we do not need to show any restraint in doing so.''

The coldness of his emotionless voice left no doubt as to his resolve in this matter.

Looking first at the data readouts with narrowed eyes, Maenek t'Liun then looked across at Rita with the apprehension in her face gone. The guiding star of those that served the Artan family was freedom, and to see first-hand someone's freedom taken from them so cruelly from within like that clearly moved the passions of the Rihannsu doctor. She nodded quietly as she took the hand next to hers, that of Lieutenant Commander Dox.

Reaching out her other hand, Mnhei'sahe nodded assent. 

With a sly smile, Rita Paris extended her index and middle finger toward the Kolinahr master, setting her weight comfortably as she turned to take the hand of Mnheisahe Dox. "Ready for another adventure, Miss Dox?"

"Stronger together, Commander." Dox said as she took Rita's hand confidently. As she did, she closed her eyes, taking slow and steady breaths to prepare herself. "Commander Sonak, we're ready."

"What matters is when he's ready," Rita quipped, her fingers still extended patiently. This was an undertaking, after all- not many beings could even do what Sonak was about to make look easy.

Sonak made contact with his wife's hand, then, slowly, extended his other hands to sprawl his fingers on Lieutenant Oulette's head, setting his long thin fingers on specific points of her cranium like a pale spider nesting delicately on it. he lowered his head and closed his eyes.

To everyone, it felt like when you wake up from sleep. Suddenly there was consciousness; not one but several minds now joined as one, sharing all thoughts, feelings, emotions, knowledge, and memories.

Be they real... or fabricated.

The Vulcan's mind was the center of their connexion. His mental shields protected them all from assault; Dox had her own psychic barriers as well and even Rita, because of her bond with Sonak and frequent melds, was far from being defenseless, if only on an instinctive level. Thus they could delve into the psyche of the hybrid woman, Sonak building up her defenses, Rita's thoughts being a refuge of comfort; find the parts of her that were genuine and needed their protection.. and the parts that were not of her and needed to be found and expunged.

And that would be Dox's task.

At the center of the Meld, Sonak's mind served as the maestro conductor taking the cacophony of thoughts and directing them towards harmony. Maenek t'Liun's deep medical knowledge opened up their path through Oulette's mind like roads before them that she, and therefore they all, knew the map of. But it was Dox’s mental training that would define their battlegrounds.

In her own mind, Sonak’s intense training had helped her construct a unique defense in the form of Mount Selaya. The legendary steps of the great peak from the Kolinahr master’s home was recreated in exacting detail in the young Rihannsu pilot’s mind for her to climb. There, she could feel the oppressive heat and sapping dryness of the air as if she were truly on that ancient world her people once abandoned.

When Dox had entered her grandmother’s mind with Sonak to help free her mind from the machinations of the Tal’Shiar, that training manifested itself within the parameters of Verelan t’Rul’s memories. Instead of the craggy, red stone of an ancient Vulcan landmark, Dox found herself on ch’Rihan. On Romulus, at the foot of the Imperial Senate where her grandmother served. And in her grandmother’s mind, she climbed those steps and fought past the barriers placed within as she rose until she had defeated them.

But now, the four that were one… Sonak, Mnhei’sahe Dox, Helev t’Liun and Rita Paris… found themselves someplace new and unknown. They were in the mind of Lieutenant Ayamo Oulette.

The mind palace that formed around them was that of a grand old greenhouse, the glass frosted and the joining bars made of ornate brass or copper. Similar steampunk fixtures could be seen hanging from the ceiling to provide light or water where necessary. Plants were arranged in long beds separated by winding bronze and stone-lined paths. Plants from hundreds of worlds could be seen scattered throughout the magnificent array.

However... Blue, creeping vines had invaded every part of the greenhouse and coiled like snakes on the paths. Rain beat down on the glass roof. increasing the overall mental pressure of just being there. And at the far end? Poor little Ayamo, as a child, strapped to a trellis by the vines. She looked so weak and defeated as they tightened their grip on each of her limbs individually, pulling her spread eagle.

“Well this certainly won’t do,” Paris replied to the vista before her as she rolled up her sleeves, which were bare of the ancient bronze bracers she tended to wear. Here in the mindscape, she instead looked for local tools, and in short order located them- pruning shears and heavy-duty work gloves. Slipping on the gloves, she hefted the shears, scissoring them experimentally. Moving in on one of the choking vines, she tested the empty pruning shears, then used then to snip through one of the blue vines to test their strength and resilience.

Which was when every vine in the greenhouse began to shudder and tremble, some of the ends moving to wave about menacingly.

“Ohhhh, this won’t do at all…”

The vines where the programming in Oulette’s mind defending itself, threatening to engulf the real woman still within. They were the obstacle that needed to be overcome, and they knew they were being threatened. As they began to loom around the grouping, as it was in Dox’s Grandmother’s mind, Sonak was not visibly there. He was the link that connected the others and it was to them to free the embattled Lieutenant.

And each of the three brought into this mindscape a specific skill. Rita Paris was a problem solver and a negotiator. She could find her way out of any sticky situation and was like a living compass that always pointed to what was right. She would be the key in giving Oulette the strength to fight, if only she could reach the young woman at the center of the labyrinth.

Helev t’Liun was a healer. A doctor who understood the pathways of the mind medically. The pathways they were now standing on, metaphorically. And as the vines began to creep up higher and closer, she looked around at the rows of plants and tables and her eyes went wide. And while their minds were linked, in the mindscape and the moment, old fashioned communication seemed to come easily. “The defense is strongest in the main corridor. The plants are denser in the center… this way! This pathway is better.”

Pointing to a narrow path between some of the rows of plants to their left she began to move forward when Dox stepped over and put her hand on the doctor’s shoulder. Of the three, Dox’s mental defenses were the most refined. The strongest, and bolstered by Sonak and the others, that was what she brought to the mindscape: raw strength and a powerful defense. Looking on the nearest table, she saw what she would need in a medium-sized shovel that she held up like a staff and started forward. “Commander, if I may take the front?”

"If you'd be so kind as to clear us a path to the patient, Miss Dox, I'd be most appreciative," Paris replied, snipping at an encroaching vine. "Doctor, stay between us if you would, and let's move, shall we?"

"You will hear no argument from me there, Commander." T'Liun said, stepping behind Dox.

"Aye, Commander," Dox said as she started into the narrow side path with the shovel raised. And as soon as she did, the vines began encroaching towards her and the group. Swinging tightly, she began to chop away at the vies as they got closer doing her best to keep them from getting to t'Liun or Rita. 

As they advanced, the Vines began to fill in behind them, making retreat impossible. And in the front, after having only advanced a few feet, the first of the vines began to get past the Rihannsu pilot's swings. "GYAAGH!!" Dox cried out in pain as a length of thorns cut across her arm, drawing a strip of green blood. But as soon as the blood was drawn, she grabbed the vine with her free hand and sliced it off with the head of the shovel. 

"Baroness?!" T'Liun called out, seeing the injury and reaching forward to help. But Dox shouted back as she kept moving forward, panting from the effort.

"Keep moving, Maenek! It's not a real injury. We... we get through this and it's gone. Just stay behind me!" Dox called back, and rather than slow down, the red-headed Lieutenant Commander picked up her pace. And as she did, the thorny blue vines began to criss-cross in front of them, trying to bar their way. But as fast as they did, Dox swung and slashed and physically pushed past each barrier. And each barrier cut deeper into her skin, over and over again, trying to force them all back.

Grunting with each step and doing her best to stifle any more cries of pain, Dox knew the real threat wasn't in taking the intense pain of the thorns but in letting that stop them. Being stopped by the programming in Oulette's mind would allow that programming to infiltrate their minds just as Sonak warned her on ch'Rihan with Dox's grandmother. So, just as she pushed through each barrier in her grandmother's mind, she did so for Ayamo Oulette. The Lieutenant's mind had been infiltrated much deeper and the defenses for that programming was that much stronger, but they weren't going to be stopped.

They kept pushing forward as the vines got tighter and closer. Each woman taking their share of hits as it became more and more impossible to defend against them all, but none more than a few scratched compared to Dox who absorbed the lions share of the attacks from the front position. Pushing forward, they seemed to walk far longer than the length of the room should have allowed, but finally light began to leak through the gaps in the plants as Dox made one final slash with her splintered and stained shovel. With that small opening, she threw the shovel down, grabbed the thorned vines with her bare, raw, blood-stained hands and tore them open with a hoarse cry.

There, in front of them, was Ayamo Oulette as she was as a child. Stepping through the hole Dox tore, all three women emerged whole. As they did, as Dox predicted, the injuries sustained seemed to vanish and the intense pressure that had been building abated. T'Liun looked over at the Red-Headed Commander and let out a sigh of relief that the massive amount of damage she seemed to absorb to get them through the vines had vanished.

A strange soft sound then reached their ears. At first, it came from afar, something invisible yet slowly but surely filling up the vegetation from the edges of it and coming toward them. Then, a trembling went through the vines as if something was moving under; and a soft, low sound was heard as whatever it was came nearer under the leaves.

A purring sound.

And then, they saw. Under the vegetation slowly moved an ever-increasing number of small purring furry shapes as they came near them, eating with gusto the roots, the stems, the leaves, the seeds, the flowers, the fruits, every scrap of vegetation down to the thorny vines themselves. And as they ate, they seem to multiply and spread even farther into the encroaching greenery. They all knew what they where; the most inoffensive form of life known in the galaxy... except to tasty greens.


"Why is it always Tribbles?" Rita sighed.

''Because they are inoffensive to humanoids, incessantly voracious and breeds fastest of all land creatures in the known universe; the perfect counter for this... encroaching foliage,'' came in answer the thought of Sonak. ''An apt representation of an antivirus program purging a corrupted system.''

Turning to face the unconscious child, the Starfleet commander called out in that bark of command that made people listen, and she paired it with a reinforcement of identity and military protocol. Every officer in Starfleet knew what it was to be awakened in the middle of the night by the call to attention on deck- the military signal of old which meant that you should be up, alert and ready to take orders.

"LIEUTENANT OULETTE! Attention on deck!"

As if waking from a long and lethargic nightmare, the child entwined in vines before them snapped her eyes open and blinked blearily for a moment before trying to stand at attention. Finding herself still mostly trapped in the vines, she focussed and visibly grew stronger and closer to her current age over the course of about twenty seconds as she, with the aid of the tribbles, eventually freed herself of the vines.

She then stood before Commander Paris at attention and gave a crisp salute. "Lieutenant Oulette, reporting as ordered, Ma'am."

Just then, the back wall of the greenhouse seemed to fade away and the group found themselves standing in a warm cave on Cardassia. Screams could be heard in the background and the industrial desk of an 'interrogator' could be seen. Behind that desk was a seated fat Cardassian man, a Standing Romulan woman, both of whose faces were hidden by shadows, and five intensely bright lights on the wall behind them.

As the scene came into focus, Oulette slowly turned, a look of terror spreading across her face as the Cardassian slowly intoned the phrase, "How many lights are there, Ayamo..."

Looking around, the room felt as real as the greenhouse did. The warmth of the damp air filled the lungs of the assemblage. They felt the heat from the lights and the brightness stung their eyes. It was as real to them as it was to Lieutenant Oulette. Whispering slightly, Dox turned towards Rita, "This... this feels like a memory. The greenhouse was an abstraction, but this feels... different. More grounded. And if this is something that happened to her, we need to make sure that if she succumbed before, she doesn't this time."

The implication was clear, shared through the mind meld from what Sonak had taught Dox previously, that if Oulette succumbed in this memory, they could become potentially trapped with her. 

Sonak's voice reverberated within the cavern.

''Throughout the history of every known world, there has never been a single case where a tortured prisoner was left unharmed or freed, even after fully collaborating. Since cooperating will not alleviate suffering or death, it is logical to refuse to cooperate. Do not answer. Do not comply. Do not speak. Do not acknowledge anything. Thus, the failure will be theirs. And we know the price of failure on Cardassia... on Romulus. That, will be your victory. That, will be worth the price of your pain and your sacrifice. That, will make you free.''

“Lieutenant?” Paris called out clearly, “This is a memory. This is what went before. It cannot hurt you, and these people cannot reach you. This is only a memory of this time and place. We’re here to see what they did so that we, in turn, can undo it. You are not alone here, not this time. We are all here with you, and our strength is your strength. You are here with Starfleet this time, and Starfleet stands together. So you stand tall, and we're here with you.”

It wasn’t her best pep talk, but sometimes simplicity worked best in Rita’s experience. The gold-clad commander had every confidence that they would overcome the programming, and that Lieutenant Oulette would be saved. That confidence was all of their confidence, here in the communal mind meld of the embattled Lieutenant, so Rita shared it with them all. Failure, after all, was not an option here.

Ayamo nodded silently and kneeled on the floor, clasping her hands before her in the method of her clan - that of the Forgiveness clan, and began meditating within the meld, which prompted more dialog from the two shadowy figures.

The Cardassian man spoke first, with slow deliberation. "You know how I dislike your incessant prayers, Ayamo. And you know how much pain I can cause when you..."

Then he was interrupted by the now familiar voice of Riov Rendal, which caused Dox to flinch ever so slightly. "If I may, I have a far more... expedient... option... And then we can just let her go. We'll have everything we'll need from her."

"They no longer have any power over me," Ayamo said to herself, trying to believe it as she found herself suddenly strapped into a Ju'rot chair in that same room, those five lights still glaring down on her. "I have friends fighting with me now. Everything will be ok."

"You're right. We've beaten her before, Lieutenant Oulette, and we are one now. So you've beaten her before too." Dox leaned in to the embattled officer in the chair, just as Rendal had done to her, "Those straps don't exist. Those lights don't exist. You will be free because you are free. That is the truth. Everything will be okay because we will make it so together. The vines that held you are gone. What they did to you is broken."

Dox said softly but firmly through their mind meld, offering the strength she once used to defeat the Ju'rot. "You know your truth. You know who you are. Tell us all... who are you?"

"I am..." It took her a moment to compose her thoughts as pain seared through her brain. "I am now, have always been, and always will be... Ayamo Oulette... Starfleet officer... Member of the Forgiveness clan of Rigel five... I am myself!"

Stepping forward to confront the shadowy figures, Rita Paris wagged a finger between them as she looked over her shoulder at Oulette. "Do you recall their faces, Lieutenant Oulette? You're doing very well, and I think we should take advantage of this opportunity to identify the criminals who perpetrated this particular injustice." Turning back to regard the two shadowy figures, Rita Paris waited to see if their identities would come to light.

Focusing through the pain, Amaya glared at the pair of shadows and forced the lights to dim, causing the two to come into sharp focus. The woman was wearing the accouterments of a Tal'Shiar erei'Riov but the face was unmistakably Dalia Rendal. She even had that haughty smirk plastered on her face, though it was obvious that this memory of her was at least twenty years younger.

The Cardassian man was an overweight Gul known for his ruthlessness and ties to the Obsidian Order. He had been listed as killed during the liberation of Bajor, yet here he was, interrogating a Starfleet prisoner during the Dominion war. Gul Kerrat Jalan seemed to be alive and well when this memory was made, at the very least.

"More grist for the mill, I see?" the Cardassian Gul sneered, reaching out to stroke the backs of his fingers along the cheek of Rita Paris, who smiled benignly as she took the fingers in a painful hold.

"I think not, shadow, You have no power here as but a memory," she expressed as a sword cleaved the air where she'd stood a second ago, through she had seeming casually stepped out of the way. Moving with a fluid grace and surety, it was representative of the woman's personality, as well years of mental training by a master of the craft. "You may be adaptable and rooted, but today is weeding day in this mental garden, and you're due to be pruned." Tugging the Gul into place to use as a shield, the sword-wielding aspect manifested by Rendal was frustrated by the human woman's seemingly effortless evasion, even as she called over her shoulder.

"Miss Dox, if you would be so kind?" the cheerful Commander called, even as she shifted her grip to drive the fat Cardassian to his knees. "I believe this is more your specialty."

"My pleasure, Commander." Dox replied with a mild sneer as she stepped forward. In the real world, when the two clashed with swords, Dalia Rendal handily defeated the much less experienced Dox. But in Ayamo Oulette's mindscape, where Dox's natural mental talents have been honed by training by that same Vulcan Kolinahr master, the odds were well and truly reversed. 

The shadow of the woman who would eventually murder Dox's father and attempt to turn her as she once did Oulette raised her blade to strike. And as the blade came down, the red-headed Rihannsu woman simply reared back and swung her unguarded arm in a backhanded strike against the curved blade... a reflection of the same blade that took her father's life. And in that instant, Dox's mental defenses, fueled by her will, represented themselves in what appeared to be an uncanny display of strength as the razor-sharp blade simply shattered against Dox's arm like a gentle wave would against a bolder.

The shadow of Dalia Rendal that had rooted itself in Oulette's mind fell back against the cave wall with a loud smack, thrown back by Dox's advance. "The programming that gave you any strength is broken, Rendal. You are NOTHING here."

Then, the young Lieutenant Commander turned to Ayamo Oulette, still strapped in the chair in the center of the room and spoke with authority. "There is no chair, Lieutenant. No metal shackles. No straps. No pain. It's time to stand up."

The deep, deliberate voice of Sonak reverberated all around her with a calm, factual conviction.

''This, Lieutenant, is not you. This is the past. The past is gone. Now, YOU are in control of YOURSELF, of YOUR future. This is all but a memory, a shadow with no substance, a wisp of falsehood, a lie from someone else. This is an illusion. YOU are the reality.''

He appeared beside her, as calm and poised as a mountain facing clouds.

''And you, Lieutenant, are not alone. You will never be alone.''

As Ayamo realized she was no longer in pain or being held down, she stood and found herself looking up at the most handsome man she'd ever seen, causing her to blush mightily. It took her a moment to compose herself anew as the current scenery dissolved and changed once more to that of the agrarian plains of Rigel V, the clouds moving across the sky at an accelerated rate to mimic her heart rate.

"Yes, I understand now. Thank you. All of you, thank you so very much. For the first time in years, I feel... Free."

Looking around, Maenek t'Liun was taken aback by the reality of the vista surrounding her as she let out a whispered, "Remarkable."

Sparing a smile for the amazed Rihannsu doctor, Dox took a moment to reach out with her own senses. The mindscape felt clean and free of the programming they had fought collectively against, but the young student turned to Sonak, to defer to his expertise.

“That seemed a bit easy… mind you, it was five against one, and one of us is Sonak, but I would like to be positive. Can you verify a clean bill of health for Lieutenant Oulette, T’hy’la?” In the midst of the meld, Paris’ personal and professional boundaries were not quite as strictly enforced, as she used the encompassing term for their relationship. Which was what naturally came to mind for her when she called him ‘Mister Sonak’. Here in the mindscape, however, the truth slipped out. Not that she objected or was at all embarrassed- if anything, Rita found it amusing to witness her mental substitutions revealed.

The Vulcan science officer nodded.

''It is over. Through our meld, Lieutenant Oulette has gained full control of her own mind. What has been done to her is now but a thought she can ignore at will. Whoever or whatever would again attempt to influence her mind, she would know how to recognize it, shield from it and nullify it.''

He looked at Rita and then at the others in turn, finishing on Ayamo herself.

''Further training would consolidate, even expand this capability, all the more since she is in part Vulcan. But like a child who has finally learned how to walk, she can now walk alone; and in turn, come to run like the wind."

"Knowledge has set her free.''


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