He watched the light fade from Hugh's eyes and stayed there with his body for a few minutes afterward, still holding his hand. It was his fault. He was foolish enough to believe the Zhat Vash woman would fight honourably, but she'd taken advantage of his naivety and murdered his friend. Hugh's blood was still on his hands. He knew he needed to find somewhere to hide, some way to get away from this terrible place. He had wanted to help save the ex-bs from being slaughtered by the Tal Shiar, but he was in way over his head, and now Hugh was gone. He was alone, and he was afraid.
He found his way back to Hugh's office and curled up in a dark corner. The Fenris Ranger SOS card clutched in his palm as he prayed for deliverance. He didn't know how long he'd been on the cube. It was dark and labyrinthine. There was no way for him to keep track of time, but he was hungry, and his throat was parched. He didn't know what to do except wait for a rescue he wasn't sure would come in time or even at all. He didn't want to die here in this cold, unwelcoming place. All alone and far away from anything familiar.
Suddenly, he heard the door to Hugh's office open. He drew his tan qalanq and moved out into the open, presenting himself just as his enemies wanted him to. Something clattered along the floor towards him. He took a step back as the object came to a stop, and a bright flash of light exploded from it completely blinding him. He instinctively brought his free hand up to shield his eyes, and he felt the SOS card fall from his grasp. The first silhouette through the door was joined by several others, and they were on him. The initial blow knocked him backward. He blocked the second assault quickly enough, but these foes were organized. They knew how to attack as a group. Every move he made was immediately countered. They had not just stumbled onto his hiding place. They knew he was Qowat Milat, and they had been sent specifically for him.
He fought back as only someone who is truly fighting for their life does. He connected with fists, feet, and elbows. His mind worked quickly in a fight, and he noticed not a single one of his enemies had drawn a disruptor. He realized they wanted information from him. Information he would not surrender. His tactics became more desperate, almost frantic. He held his own until the idea of torture squirmed into his mind. Now, he was losing his edge and starting to panic. He lashed out with his tan qalanq, but his target was ready for him. They skillfully dodged his thrust. A sharp fist came down on his wrist, and he dropped his weapon. He blocked the next attack, but the third caught him across his face. He lashed out again but missed, and then there were hands on him, shoving him backward. He felt his back hit a wall. Another blow against his jaw before he ducked down, grabbed his opponent's arm and twisted it back. He braced his foot against the wall and launching his body over his opponent's head. He tried to yank them forcefully to the floor, but his attacker brought him down. Now, he was on his back and vulnerable. He flailed as they pulled his arms over his head and lashed his wrists together. They hauled him to his feet as he struggled against them, but it was fruitless. He was caught.
From the instant, she set foot on this cube it was obvious the place was in upheaval. The centurions were in tight, heavily armed groups. They were all exhibiting behaviour consistent with a highly tense, borderline chaotic situation. The android child she had come to find was lost somewhere in this mess and was likely the cause of the overt military action. If the Romulans had discovered what Soji was, a synthetic life form unwittingly masquerading as a human, it would certainly provoke a reaction like this. She had come here with the expressed purpose of finding Soji and bringing her home, but she worried now that she was too late.
She also hadn't expected to find what she was looking at now.
From the shadows, she watched him put up a hell of a fight, but he was outnumbered, and the Tal Shiar were ready for him. She winced as he was thrown to the floor and quickly swarmed by his attackers. He was only a boy. He couldn't be any older than twenty. His wrists were bound, he appeared to have been beaten, and the expression in his eyes was nothing short of terrified. He didn't look like the other Romulans either. His clothes were different, and she could see what looked like a scabbard on his back.
What organic would be crazy enough to come to a place like this armed with only a sword? He looked like an assassin, but who had he come here to assassinate?
The leader of the small squadron brought his fist hard across the boy's face. "Where is Picard?!" was the demand, but the captive remained composed, and said nothing.
Picard? As in Jean-Luc Picard? That was a name she hadn't heard in decades.
"No answer?" the leader sneered. "Suit yourself, Qowat Milat. The Colonel will get it out of you."
She knew her Tal Shiar enemy well enough to know they meant to torture their captive, and she knew herself well enough to know she wasn't going to allow that to happen.
The stranger came out of nowhere and melted out of the blackness like a Demogorgon. His captors pulled their sidearms and opened fire. He forced himself to watch and was astounded as the stranger stood her ground, unfazed by each disruptor blast. After firing several shots each, the Tal Shiar realized their weapons were having no effect and stopped shooting. They looked at each other completely at a loss for their next move.
"Release the boy to me and leave," she said in Romulan, but nobody moved. The eerie standoff went on for what felt like an eternity until somebody whispered,
He had heard of the Feeonix before. Picard told him about them. About one in particular, when he was a child. Her name was Naseema, and she loved the android, Data.
Remaining motionless, she looked right into the boy's eyes, and as he stared back, he felt a strange calm come over him. He'd never seen eyes like hers before. Dark blue and enormous, there was a fiery orange ring around each of her irises that seemed to glow in the dark room. The stranger gave him a single nod, and he watched in amazement as the orange rings flared out, and filled her eyes with light.
Armed with a double-bladed quarterstaff, she exploded into action. She moved almost too fast to see, but he seized the opportunity as the woman on his left moved on him with his tan qalanq. He brought his hands up and twisted them to catch the blade between his palms. It sliced through the binding at his wrists, and the instant they were free, he used his elbow to fling it from her grasp. Elbow again, back into her face. Hard kick to the man on his right. A spin to bring his foot down into the skull of the last of his captors. Now, crouched on one knee, he looked up wide-eyed at the stranger who rescued him.
"Your reaction time is impressive," she said as her eyes turned blue again. Then she asked, "Are you alright?" Overwhelmed with gratitude, he was unable to answer her with words. He instead sprang to his feet and threw his arms around her. He hugged her tightly, buried his face in her hair, and almost lifted her off the ground.
She was startled at first. It was a very un-Romulan reaction. She almost expected him to stick a knife in her back, but his gratitude seemed genuine. She didn't even know the boy's name, and it had been a very long time since she had accepted physical contact like this from anyone, but she allowed him to hold onto her and gently patted his back to soothe him.
After several seconds of clutching her, he released her. "Thank you," he said quietly.
"You are welcome, but we cannot stay here," she replied. "Once this lot fails to report, there will certainly be more." He nodded and returned his tan qalanq to its scabbard. He glanced around the room now painted green, and at the eviscerated bodies that littered the floor before following her down the corridor.
"Are you a Feeonix?" he asked, and she nodded.
"I heard them ask you where Picard is," she said. "Were they referring to Jean-Luc Picard?"
He stopped walking and stared at her. "Do you know Picard?"
She also stopped moving and looked back at him as a rueful expression crossed her face. "A very long time ago."
"My blade is bound to his cause," he said.
She started down the hallway again. "And what cause would that be?"
"To rescue the android girl, Soji," he replied.
She halted abruptly as the name left his lips. She spun around and grabbed his arm, hard. She looked into his eyes with frightening urgency. "Do you know where she is?"
"They escaped," he told her and unable to help himself he asked, "Did you know Naseema?"
She searched his face for a second before dropping her eyes. "No."
He knew she was lying, and this time he grabbed her arm. There was a flicker of anger in her eyes, but he didn't let go. "Who are you," he demanded. "If you want my help, tell me the truth."
Her expression hardened, and she yanked her arm from his grasp. "I do not need your help, and if you want a ride off this death house, I suggest you keep up." She stalked away from him, and he called after her,
"You are Naseema, aren't you?"
Without turning around, she replied, "Are you coming or not?"
He immediately followed her, and once he caught up, she continued, "If you are truthful and Picard did, in fact, escape with Soji, there is somewhere I must be."
"I wouldn't know how to tell a lie even if I wanted to," he said. "Soji did escape with Picard."
She paused for a second and took in the young Romulan with his long hair, his simple clothes, and his wide-eyed innocence.
She had an acrimonious relationship with most others of his kind. She had been the one to negotiate the first treaty between the Federation and the Romulan Empire. She spent the decades that followed as the face of Feeonix. The Federation's ultimate weapon against hostile incursion. The Romulans hated her, but more importantly, they feared her. She suspected that fear had eventually driven them to action. The Feeonix had nearly been wiped out by the attack on Mars. Its burning atmosphere poisoning the Feeon nebula, leaving only a handful of her kind left. It remained unproven, but she and the others were convinced the Romulans were responsible for that attack. Perhaps they hadn't been the primary target, but their destruction was an advantageous side effect. She knew her family would believe her insane to rescue a Romulan from other Romulans. It seemed like an obvious trap, but somehow she knew this was the furthest thing from that. This boy seemed completely unaware of the history between their respective peoples, and so far, he didn't exhibit any of the traits she'd come to expect of most other Romulans. Primarily, arrogance and duplicity. This young warrior triggered no internal alarms. She detected no ulterior agenda, no deceit. She was sure he was as honest as he was fresh-faced. She'd known him less than an hour, and she still didn't know his name, but she couldn't help being reminded of her past. This boy needed her help, and something told her their meeting may not be accidental happenstance.
"What should I call you?" she finally asked.
"Elnor," he replied.
"Well, Elnor," she said, "How about we get out of this terrible place."
"We need to get to the Queen's cell," he said. "The Tal Shiar are murdering all the Borg here. We have to stop them."
"What is it you believe I can do?" she asked, looking at him like he was more than a few bricks short.
"You're immune to their disruptors," he insisted. "You are fast and strong. You can help me stop them."
She took a step back. "Are you crazy? Do you have any idea how many armed soldiers there are here? We cannot fight them all with a sword and a staff!"
He glared at her with frustration. "Picard told me you have powers. You can use them to help us win!"
She looked at him sideways. "I do not know what you were told, but my powers are strong and very difficult to control. I cannot simply snap my fingers and make it happen like some asshole deity."
"Well, what can you do?" he demanded.
"I can incinerate this entire cube and everyone on it, including you, and the ex-borg you want to save," she snapped. "Is that what you wish me to do?"
The look of sour defeat on his face made her feel bad. "Look, Elnor, I am very sorry about your Borg friends, but I cannot get involved in this. I need to be somewhere else to stop an entirely different slaughter. My mission here is moot now, and I have to leave. I will take you with me, but we must go immediately."
"A Fenris Ranger is coming," he pushed. "I activated the SOS. If we just wait-"
"I am not waiting for anything," she bluntly replied before continuing down the hallway.
Suddenly three Tal Shiar operatives came through a disguised passageway, but she cut them down before they even had a chance to yell Halt! She turned back around to face Elnor.
"They will not stop coming," she told him. "If you wish to wait for your ranger that is your choice, but you should be aware they are stretched pretty thin. I would not hold my breath if I were you."
He watched her walk away, and his stomach growled.
What if she was right? What if he had to wait for hours or even days longer? The ex-bs would all be dead by then. What if nobody showed up at all? He had no guarantees that it would be Seven of Nine either, and there would be no way to take control of the Artifact without an ex-b. The Feeonix was offering him a chance to get out of here. He had refused his last opportunity to do that and look what happened. He would be a fool to stay, and he knew it.
She paused and let him catch up. "Look," she said. "I know that was not an easy decision for you to make, but you made the right one. They would have found you eventually, and they would not have given you a quick death."
He knew she was right, but he still felt guilty for wanting to leave with her.
He kept close to her as she wove her way through the maze of chambers and corridors, ducking into shadows to avoid being seen by others, Romulan or otherwise. The frenzy of activity made it clear they had not been forgotten by the Tal Shiar. She led the way to a dark, musty smelling part of the cube. By all outward appearances, it was a completely abandoned area. Elnor stayed within inches of her, silently mirroring her footsteps all the way. As they neared their destination, she abruptly stopped in her tracks. He opened his mouth to speak, but she pressed her finger to his lips, and he remained silent. He watched her stand perfectly still, poised and alert, for a few brief seconds before she whispered,
"We are being followed."
Elnor's eyes widened, and he scanned the blackness for any movement. He listened for any trace of footsteps or someone breathing, but all he could hear was the almost inaudible sound of the ventilation system. The Feeonix put her hand against his chest, an indication for him to stay where he was as she stepped out of the shadows into the sickly green glow. She slunk away from him, melted into the blackness again, and then came the sounds of fists on flesh. He strained his eyes to see what was happening, but he could only make out two shadows struggling with each other. Then those shadows spilled back into the light, and he could finally see her wrestling with an enormous Romulan man more than twice his size. He had her by the throat and lifted her clear off the ground before he slammed her into the wall.
Elnor drew his tan qalanq, and his peripheral vision caught someone move behind him. He stayed hidden in the shadows and disappeared into the open framework above him. Three more operatives descended on his hiding place, but by the time they realized he was gone, it was too late for them. He dropped down at their backs, and with a few precise strokes, they were no longer a threat.
She continued to grapple with the giant and exchanged repeated assaults with him. She pulled a small curved knife from a hidden sheath, but the man moved fast for his size and caught her wrist. He twisted until she dropped the weapon.
"Please, my friend, choose to live," Elnor told the big Romulan as he raised his sword in a defensive posture. No sooner were the words out of his mouth when someone else attacked him from behind. A hard blow to the back of his head. He went down on his knees, and his sword skidded away from him. Another vicious strike to his ribs, and he heard a crack as white-hot pain shot through his body. He rolled and raised his hips off the ground to pivot on his shoulders. He swung his legs around to catch his attacker's knees. He grabbed his tan qalanq and leapt to his feet to meet his attacker face to face. They circled each other, and the operative made a move for his disruptor, but Elnor was faster and disarmed him before he severed his carotid artery.
He returned to aid his new friend but only had time to witness the big man grab her around the neck, and pound her into the wall again. He held her off the ground, pulled his own knife, and drove it into her, all the way to the hilt. The Feeonix howled with pain and rage. Elnor attacked, but the giant swung his elbow out and connected. He threw Elnor into the opposite wall. The young Romulan scrambled to his feet as she dug her thumbs into the big man's eyes. He tightened his grip around her neck, and she started to gasp. The air around her began to crackle as the orange light came back, and then she erupted into white and blue flames. Elnor watched in horror as the giant man was engulfed by the ghostly fire. Completely ablaze, the man screamed in agony, locked in the Feeonix's grip. Elnor could only stare, mouth agape as the screams rang in his ears. The enormous beast of a man turned to ash right before his eyes. She released her hold, and he crumbled to a pile of chalky dust as she slid back to the floor.
She winced as she pulled the knife from her body and tossed it aside. "We must go," she said, but her companion didn't respond. "Elnor," she repeated. "Elnor, we must leave, or there will be others."
He nodded slightly but was paralyzed by what he just witnessed and unable to move.
She took his face in her hands and forced him to look at her. "I know you are frightened," she told him. "But we are injured, and we need to leave now!"
He blinked a few times and nodded again. She took his hand and quickened her gait until they were almost running. He remained silent and compliant as she released the door to the airlock and pushed him inside. She directed him into a seat in the tiny craft and wasted no time with their retreat. Her vessel possessed a phasing cloak and, she easily evaded the fury of warbirds that swarmed around the cube. Once they were clear, she slipped the ship into subspace and put the autopilot on. Then she got out of her chair to tend to her new companion.