Neutral Zone Neutrality
Location: Deck 11, Main Brig
Stepping off of the turbolift, Lieutenant Commander Mnhei'sahe Dox adjusted her crimson tunic and stepped forward into the corridor. Immediately, she felt her stomach tighten and her already fast Romulan pulse quicken slightly.
This was, in part, due to the task she had asked for that was ahead of her, but largely it was due to where she was. She was on deck 11. The Brig of the U.S.S. Hera.
As she walked down the corridor towards the security checkpoint, she did her best to bury her mounting anxiety. After a moment of showing her orders from Captain Telvan and giving her credentials to the two guards on duty, she was allowed to pass into the main body of the facility. Once inside, as the door hissed shut and locked behind her, the corridor of cells seemed to get more and more narrow as she went, though she knew that wasn’t truly happening. On her right was a stark, gray bulkhead and on the left, a series of empty cells. But at the end of the corridor, one of the cells had its forcefield activated, letting a light blue glow bleed off into the space. The corridor was well lit and fairly open, but Mnhei’sahe had to focus her attention completely to be there where she was, and not back in the brig of the Romulan Warbird, the People’s Will. The brig she had spent weeks in not that long ago, shackled to a cold metal chair day and night. The forcefield may have been blue instead of green, but that hum was the same.
That same low, consistent hum generated by the forcefield that kept the occupant inside in place was the same as the hum of her old cell. That hum seemed to get louder and louder as she finally stopped in front of the one populated chamber.
Sitting in front of her, wearing a simple black top and pants, was Ensign Varnok Jahal. The Cardassian Intel operative that was revealed to be a Tal’Shiar sleeper agent who betrayed the Hera, attacked her crewmembers and jettisoned vital data on Protomatter technology into space where it was recovered by the Romulan Commander, Dalia Rendal. The same Romulan commander who had kept Mnhei’sahe in that cell on the Warbird not too long ago.
“Hello, Ensign.” Mnhei’sahe said, her face a mask of calmness, well-practiced during that month of captivity that she was still working to bury within her.
The young Cardassian Ensign turned slightly with haunted eyes, “Commander Dox, is that you?”
“Yes. I asked the Captain if I could speak to you.” Mnhei’sahe said as softly as she could. Her anxiety had nothing to do with the man that had befriended her when he joined the ship. Her mother and Captain Telvan had interviewed him previously, and by all accounts, he was very likely another victim of the Ta’lShiar’s Neural Extraction Converter. The mind-control device she had defeated during her captivity. “If it’s alright with you, that is.”
The tired-looking man stood up slowly from low slung cot that he had been sitting on and quietly made his way over to stand in front of the Romulan commander. “Thank you for coming to see me. I’m so confused. I can’t believe the things that I’ve been told.”
“I didn’t want to either, Ensign. But I reviewed the security tapes and spoke with Yeoman Dedjoy, who you locked into her recharging cradle. And I spoke with the Captain and my mother, who interviewed you previously after everything.” Mnhei’sahe said calmly, her hands folded behind her back as she looked up at the taller man separated from her by the security force field. “But we need to figure out how to help you, if we can.”
“If what they say is true, then how can anyone help me. I’m beyond help.” He said as he looked at her sadly, and then turned away.
“Before all this happened, did you read my report on what happened to me when I had been taken?” Mnhei’sahe asked in a slightly more pointed manner.
“Yes, I read that report.” he sighed softly.
“Then you know that when subjected to the same device that we believe was used on you, I beat it. And with Commander Sonak’s help, I was able to use the training he gave me that enabled me to beat that thing to free my grandmother from its influence.” Mnhei’sahe said, a bit more force in her voice. “We did it again as a group with the sleeper agent on the Golden Ghost that tried to betray us to the Tal’Shiar. Together, we can do that for you as well, Ensign. You’re still Starfleet. I’d like to think you’re still my friend, and we can fix whatever they did to you... if you’ll let us.”
There was a heavy silence in the room as Varnok simply stood there, quietly saying nothing for a long few seconds. Clearing her throat, the young section chief raised her voice to that of a commanding officer speaking to a subordinate. “Ensign, you are still a Starfleet Officer, and you will turn to face me when I am addressing you. That’s an order.”
Slowly, he cricked his head to look at her over his shoulder for a moment before turning completely to face the forcefield again. When he did, his head was low but his eyes were locked on her with an expression and intensity that gave the red-headed Romulan woman the slightest of chills. Staring coldly at the red-haired woman in front of him, Varnok spat out at her, “So you would take my mind? My greatest asset?”
Looking up at the man that she no longer recognized as the same that she had been speaking to, she raised an eyebrow and replied with a flat, even tone. “I take it you’re the problem? Did the threat of erasing you from an innocent man’s head wake you up? Had Varnok so much as nodded assent, Sonak would have been authorized to come here and link us. Is that what activated you?” Is that what you're afraid of?"
Eyes widening in fake surprise, Varnok chuckled, “Innocent man.” He gestured wildly, spreading his arms wide. “Are any of us innocent?”
Bowing slightly, he continued. “Even you, my dear, are not so innocent.”
Ignoring the taunt, Dox tilted her head slightly and just kept speaking, “Varnok has done good work on this ship, and he could continue to do good work. You’ve not yet destroyed that for him. And by your own admittance, the operatives that once held your leash let you go a long time ago. Why keep serving a master that abandoned you?”
Looking directly at Dox, he hissed, “I have done good work on this ship. I serve myself and no other.”
“I’ll be sure to tell Riov Rendal the next time we encounter her. You served her needs quite well, and all without orders.” Dox said, testing him. In his interview with her mother, he claimed to have no knowledge of the duplicitous murderess from the Tal’Shiar that collected the data module that Varnok had jettisoned into space for her ship to recover.
Waving dismissively as he paced the small room, he replied, “She is just another cog in the bigger wheel.”
“The bigger wheel of the Tal’Shiar? The Star Empire?” Dox asked in a straightforward manner, standing where she had been, but following him with her eyes.
“Yes, yes!” The Cardassian said, sounding annoyed. “It’s ALL the bigger wheel! All the bigger picture!”
“Interesting.” Mnhei’sahe said, trailing off. “And what bigger picture were you serving when you helped rescue me from Romulus? You had countless opportunities in the control booth of that landing pad we were on to betray the Captain and hand me and everything the Tal’Shiar wanted with the flip of a few switches. But you didn’t. You fought the Romulan centurions. You risked yourself, all to save me.”
“Or rather, Varnok did.” Dox asked, her own voice lowering as she stared at him.
Slowly turning to face her again, he strode up to her, inches away from the humming force field. Giving Mnhie’sahe his most charming grin, Varnok purred. “We could have made such beautiful music together, had you only given your Grandmother what she wanted.”
“Or had you helped Rendal finish what she had started with me. But he wouldn’t LET you, would he? You aren’t in as much control as you think you are, are you?” Mnhei’sahe replied, looking right back into his dark eyes, unblinking.
“Oh, I’m more in control than you might think. After all, I was top of my class in my training at the order. Do you really think they did this to me? I volunteered.” Varnok snapped back forcefully, with pride in his voice.
There was a long, drawn-out moment as the two simply stared at each other, neither giving the other an inch. Then, letting out a tense breath, Mnhei’sahe replied in an almost whisper, “I know.”
“When the Obsidian order was disbanded during the occupation by the Dominion on Cardassia, their records were all but destroyed. There is no paper trail on that world to tell us much of anything about you before you were made a refugee during that conflict. Before you were made an orphan.” Mnhei’sahe continued, watching his eyes narrow slightly as she spoke. “But the colony they served on as scientists still kept records. Not of you, of course. And nothing of particular note about your parents, per se. But my mother is a very industrious woman when she has a mystery in front of her with missing pieces.”
“They objected, didn’t they? They opposed the Obsidian Order. They opposed the Dominion occupation. And according to a message she found that they sent from their science station to Cardassia, they were on their way to pull you from the academy and take you with them when their ship was destroyed by an unidentified ship.” She tilted her head slightly. “Leaving only debris marked by molecular… disruption.”
Narrowing his eyes even further, a crimson flush under the dark gray scales came and went quickly as he composed himself. “My parents were fools. They were all fools in the end.” He turned his back on her and walked to the other side of the small, tight, confined quarters. Mnhei’sahe continued to watch while the Cardassian paced like a caged animal in too small a cage.
“Varnok didn’t think so.” Mnhei’sahe replied as she walked to the side to get closer to the edge he was closest too. “He spoke of them with love. He missed them and was proud of their achievements and missed them.”
Turning to face her one more time, Varnok reached out as if to almost caress her face through the forcefield, as a single tear went down his cheek with pain and suffering in his eyes. Mnhei’sahe almost flinched, as the image of her father caressing her cheek as Dalia Rendal ran him through with her sword in her own cell back on that Warbird flashed before her for an instant.
Then, pulling his hand back and shaking his head, Varnok then let out a roar, screaming, “NO!!! This is MY BODY! This is MY mind! YOU’RE weak! They were ALL weak! YOU’RE the construct, NOT me!”
Grimacing, Mnhei’sahe’s body tensed at the display. “Varnok, let us HELP you. ONE word and Sonak and I will wipe this stain from your mind, I promise you!” She yelled out, the emotion bubbling past its boiling point.
“SUSSE-THRAI!” He shouted, the Romulan word for ‘bitch’, “I’m stronger than HIM! Stronger than you think and not so easy to wipe away! Much easier to wipe away your precious friend, that parasite!” There was venom in his voice as he hissed at Mnhei’sahe, but also fear. The crimson-clad commander could see it hiding behind the rage in his eyes and hear it in the warble in the back of his throat.
“You won’t. We won’t let you, because whichever of you came first, the man I served with is real. And he is noble. And he is worth saving, so we will save him from you, like it or not. He’s a Starfleet officer, and Starfleet does not abandon its own. And the crew of the Hera doesn’t abandon her friends. And neither do I.” Mnhei’sahe hissed back, as he reared up to rush the forcefield, she shouted out the control phrase her mother taught her in Romulan. The trigger phrase the Tal'Shiar inserted in him that forced him to sleep.
“Ihlla'nh, Card'hassinnsu ben'Lehrie Varnok. Ehhaai!”
And as she spoke, Varnok froze, doubling over as it looked as if he were struggling to resist the command. But after letting out a hoarse cry, the intel agent crumpled to the ground, unconscious.
Standing in front of the force field, Mnhei’sahe’s shoulders slumped. She failed. All she needed to do was get the Varnok she knew to agree to help, but the sleeper persona had been too strong and defended itself. It was smart enough to know that it couldn’t stand against the mental might of a Kolinahr master, so it fought back and asserted itself. So it would fall to Starfleet Psychiatric to peel away which was the true Varnok and which was the Tal’Shiar agent.
Soon, another Intel ship would arrive and Ensign Varnok Jahal would be transferred to their custody to be returned to Earth. And maybe there, they could save her friend. But it was cold comfort as she looked down at his sleeping form laying in a lump on the deck.
She had failed him in the here and now, but standing there, she whispered to him a promise. “I’m sorry, Varnok. We will help you.”