Location: Deck 8, Crew Quarters, The Khallianen
“Wake up, Lieutenant Dox. It’s time for you to wake up.” Came the voice that seemed to drag across Mnhei’sahe Dox’s mind like nails on a chalkboard as the world came back into focus. She was in a familiar room and she felt a dull, numb sensation pressing around her neck and arms as she tried to move and failed.
Blinking, she was met with a familiar and wholly unwelcome sight. The grinning face of Riov Dalia Rendal. Struggling for a moment, the young Romulan woman couldn’t move and felt panic begging to set in. Above her were a series of lights that seemed a little too dim as the royal Riov tilted her head to keep her face in front of Dox’s wandering eyes. “What’s wrong, Lieutenant? Are you surprised to see me? You are wondering what’s going on, aren’t you? You were back on your quaint little starship, weren’t you?”
Her voice was hoarse and dry as she struggled to speak, feeling weakness deep inside her bones. “I don’t… I shouldn’t be here… I… I escaped… I made it… I made it… ho…”
“Home? Oh, you are home Lieutenant Dox. You’ve been home for five months, here in my care on ch’Rihan. Here on Romulus, Lieutenant.” The smug voice stretched out as Mnhei’sahe’s eyes finally focused. She was in a large, round room. Surrounding her was a bank of workstations and monitors with uniformed Romulans working at them. Above her, was a series of cables that moved as she tilted her head.
“No… NO! That’s not TRUE!!!” The sense of mounting panic was threatening to boil over in the young woman as she realized she was still strapped to the cold metal chair of the Neural Extraction Converter machine like she had been on her Grandmother’s Warbird five months ago. “I beat this! I… I DID!! This isn’t… this isn’t REAL!! It’s can’t be…”
“Real? Of course this is real. But it was amusing for a time to allow you to believe that you beat the most advanced neural conversion technology the Star Empire had ever developed. We plugged you into a machine designed to enter the mind, implant new memories and experiences and you, what, defeated it because you are so strong and skilled?” Rendal’s cruel voice seemed to echo from every direction as Mnhei’sahe tried to pull against the restraints that pressed cold against her wrists and neck.
“NOOOO!!!! STOP!!! I did!!! I made it out! I got away!!! They saved me!!! They did!!!” Mnhei’sahe began to scream as tears flooded her cheeks.
“Oh, Lieutenant, that was exactly the scenario we programmed into your quaint little mind. We gave you everything you wanted to see happen. Your gallant Captain and oh-so noble friends coming to save you. Your lovely little promotion. Your mother, alive and well. Your pathetic, avian wife on that ship of yours. We wrote the life you wanted. We let you pretend to go back and resume your pedantic duties, showing us everything we wanted to see. Command codes. The Hera’s defensive capabilities. Crew rosters. Everything, my dear Lieutenant.” Rendal said with a dark chuckle as the grabbed Mnhei’sahe by the face and leaned in.
“But you are here. And you are mine, my little apprentice. And now… you will serve me as such.” The woman’s face twisted into a dark sneer, “We will reactivate the machine, and give you a new program. We will remake you into the perfect Romulan officer. You will be a loyal, noble daughter of a powerful house. You will succeed your grandmother in the senate after serving the military with distinction. You will show us exactly where that colony of traitors is hiding, and you will lead the ship that will wipe that stain from the face of the imperium. Say goodbye to Lieutenant Dox… Mnhei’sahe t’Rul.”
Then, Rendal’s voice vanished, stepping away as she let go of Mnhei’sahe’s face and the embattled young woman’s grandmother, Verelan t’Rul, stepped into view before her. Wearing a long black robe, she looked as regal and strong as she always had, but her eyes were cold and distant as she spoke in a dull, listless tone. “You weren’t strong enough to save me, Granddaughter. You weren’t strong enough to save yourself. You won’t be strong enough to save the people of Mol Krun’chi. But at least this way… Dalia’s way… we can be together. Together as we should have always been.”
Slowly, Verelan held out her hand to take Mnhei’sahe’s. Wanting to pull away and run, Mnhei’sahe instead watched as her own hands came forward, no longer bound. On her arms were the black and gray checkerboard pattern of a Romulan uniform top as she took her grandmother’s cold hands.
“NOOOOOO!!!!” Mnhei’sahe screamed in terror, flailing wildly as her hands were suddenly free again and the room went dark. Suddenly, the cold metal of the chair was gone and she felt warm fabric running around her as she heard her own voice echoing in her ears as she shot up from her bed.
Reaching to her side, Mona wasn’t there. She was alone as her mind raced to catch up with her body as she felt around in the darkness. “C… Computer, l… lights! Lights!”
With a chirp, the room’s lights came back on and she was back in her quarters on the Hera. “Computer, what time is it?”
=^=Current time is 22:42 hours.=^=
“Thank you.” Mnhei’sahe said as she caught her breath and reoriented herself. Mona was working late in the R&D lab on converting their breakroom into some kind of ejectable life raft for the department’s daycare services. She had just decided to lay down and read some possible crew transfer requests as the Flight Department was low on pilots and must have dozed off.
Then she had the dream again. The dream she hadn’t had since she was on the Golden Ghost just following her rescue. The same dream, where she had never escaped Romulus.
Five minutes later, Mnhei’sahe Dox stood alone in Flight Deck two of the Hera, in front of her small, J-Type freighter called the Khallianen. The ship that carried herself, Mona and her mother to the restaurant where she was kidnapped. The ship that carried her to the facility on Mars where Asa Dael had been tortured. The ship that always seemed to carry her someplace horrible.
Before the kidnapping, she used to enjoy coming here to work on the ship. To tinker with its engines or tweak its systems. It relaxed her to have something she could control and work on when her mind wanted to close in on itself. But since the kidnapping, she hadn’t set foot inside it. It was too connected to everything that had happened during her month-long captivity. Her torture. The murder of her father. Rendal.
So there she stood, looking at the thing she chose to symbolize all of the things that were running around in her brain. Her strained relationship with her Senator grandmother who continued to try and manipulate her into service to the Romulan Star Empire. Dalia Rendal, still out there plotting against her and her family. Still alive, with the blood of her father on her sword. In her hand, Dox carried a large spanner wrench she had grabbed from the nearby workbench.
Stepping up the ramp onto the small ship, a gift to her from the Artan Pirate family when she was officially named a Baroness, it had since become a symbol of everything in her life that threatened to pull her away from her home on the Hera. In truth, it was just a ship. But as she stood in the darkness of its interior cabin, the only light being that which streamed in from the open door and the windshield, she saw everything she hated.
She saw Dalia Rendal calling her 'apprentice' in front of her Captain with that callous grin she so often had. She saw her grandmother trying to pull her from Mona and Starfleet. She saw all the hands pulling her in every direction all at once. Rita, Enalia, her Mother, Masato Rei, and Charybdis. Starfleet. The Empire. Everyone with an agenda for her future. Everyone, no matter how well-meaning, making her feel pulled thin enough to snap. Her grip tightened on the wrench as she felt her eyes going hot and could hear her rapid Romulan pulse throbbing wildly behind her ears.
With a grunt and a shout, the tension finally boiled over. All of the pain and the fear and the anguish that had been building in her for months since her captivity exploded as she slammed the wrench hard into the control console of the ship’s cockpit. Sparks flew as the panel exploded before her, spraying hot across her olive skin as she swung again.
Again and again, she swung hard, screaming in rage the entire time. The lights in the cabin flickering on and off as the ship’s systems activated and deactivated with each impact of the slowly bending wrench. Her arms began to burn as sweat collected on her brow and tears streaked down her cheeks before finally dropping the wrench to the deckplates and collapsing to her knees, in tears.
Having shared part of the dream with her mate from across the ship through their telepathic bond, only to discover Dox destroying the controls of her personal ship, Mona could only stand there for a moment, tears on her own finely feathered cheeks before waddling up the ramp to lean against her wife and sink to her knees, her arms wrapped around the love of her life and squeezing as best she could. "It'll be ok. The nightmares... They never fully go away... But... you learn to live with them, you know? Eventually... Eventually, they have fewer teeth."
With her own sense of reality shaken by the nightmare that still lingered in the corner of her mind, Dox turned to clutch tightly to Mona. Their telepathic and empathic bond, the only thing she knew in her soul was real as she felt the emotions of her bond-mate and their three, unborn children flood into her.
The brightly plumed Miradonian woman was her anchor. The memory that kept her sane and whole during her captivity and the constant that she used to chart her course, like an ancient mariner using the stars to navigate. So long as she had Mona, she was still herself. So long as she had Mona, she knew who she still was.
Feeling the distress of their Romulan mother, the three chicks almost ready to be born in Mona's belly began the thrum, sending our their own waves of comforting energy to their mothers. But feeling it, Mnhei'sahe simply held herself tighter to Mona, tears streaking down her cheeks. "I... I don't know what to do. It's... it's too much... It's too much, Mona! I... I... I can't do it. I can't... I just... I just want to run away. Run away with you and... and forget everything else. I don't know how to be what everyone wants me to be."
"How about..." Mona began, the wheels in her head turning with a plan she'd been thinking of for a little while now. "You let me and the girls fix up the Khallianen, make a few design changes to make it more family-friendly, and I'll finish planning our trip to Miradonia so that includes a vacation? We can spend a couple weeks touring the capital city Miradon, visit the countryside, see the singing cliffs, you can see the orphanage I grew up in. And then we can end at the aeries and bring our lovely chicks into the universe. How does that sound?"
With the tears beginning to slow, and her mind opening back up after feeling as if it had collapsed upon itself, Mnhei'sahe sat back a little to wipe her cheeks dry. With a nervous chuckle, the exhausted Romulan pilot smiled at how easily her wife seemed to be able to refocus her anxiety and take away her stress with a few words. To Mona, every problem seemed to be little more than a speed bump to be worked around with the slightest of tweaks. Nothing was impossible for the inventive, enthusiastic avian who was thrumming a soothing vibration of her own energy into Mnhei'sahe as she spoke.
In truth, the embattled young Romulan hadn't had a break since just before their wedding. Immediately after being freed from her captivity, she spent two weeks being grilled by Starfleet intelligence and then given the legendary Sword of S'task from the retired Starfleet Admiral and Romulan expatriate, Charybdis MacGreggor. Immediately after that, she returned to duty only to be promoted and sent off to help negotiate with a colony of Romulan reunificationists which left her linked through her grandmother to the Senate of the Star Empire. Then, there was the revelations of her relationship to Masato Rei, and the dark woman who was the embodiment of Death itself, who had chosen Mnhei'sahe to be her possible successor. She hadn't had a chance to breathe and just be.
But with Mona, none of that was important. With Mona, she could just be a wife and a lover. A mother to be. Not a Commander or a Romulan representative. Not the savior of the Star Empire or the successor to Death. Just a woman in the arms of her love, with nothing else to worry about but that. The relief it gave Mnhei'sahe was beyond belief in that moment as her shoulders sunk and she let herself be weak.
"You... you always know how to work things out, don't you? You just... you see through it all like it wasn't even there." Mnhei'sahe said, her voice cracked and broken from screaming. "That sounds... that sounds wonderful, really."
"Well, I've had a bit of practice," Mona replied, holding her bond-mate and wife as tight as she could. "It's also one of my failings though, if you haven't noticed. I plan so well for the future that often the present gets neglected and the past comes back to haunt me."
"Well... and I do tend to give you plenty to plan for and worry about." Mnhei'sahe said, wiping her nose on her sleeve. "I'm... I'm sorry."
"No, don't say sorry," Mona replied softly, planting birdie kisses on Dox. "Say thank you. Always say thank you. And thank you for being here and loving me."
Holding Mona tight, Mnhei'sahe began to cry again. This time, softly as she nodded and quietly whispered. "T... thank you."