Therrura carried Elnor to the bird of prey's sickbay. Kar didn't have a doctor or even anyone with more than basic first aid training aboard the ship. The young Romulan on duty was barely out of his teens and was an orphan, like Elnor but didn't receive the benefit of a loving home as Elnor did, Kar's crew comprised men all in similar situations, minimal skills, no families, no homes and no futures. A number of them drank excessively, whether they were on duty or not, and Kar counted on their desperation to keep them in line. Kar himself was not a smart man, but he had ambition and a hard fist.

Therrura didn't have an easy life either. His wife died the year following their evacuation to Vashti while he was still away on military service. He lost his zeal for the Empire after her death but still had one or two friends of higher rank who secured him an honourable discharge. He met Tenqem and Kikain upon his return, and while he found Kikain distasteful, he bonded with Tenqem, and the two were close friends until Therrura lost him as well. He let anger and bitterness take him over until they followed him wherever he went and infiltrated every relationship and every aspect of his life. He let Kikain convince him revenge would free him of those feelings, and now he had regret to add to them instead.

The young man in the medical bay quietly cursed when Therrura came through the door with Elnor in his arms. He rested him down on one of the beds as his young crewmate came over, eyes wide with shock. "What happened?"

"Kikain beat him with an ainnh oallea," Therrura replied. "I need you to help me clean him up." The young man glanced nervously between Elnor and Therrura before finally nodding. Elnor was drugged with another narcotic painkiller until Therrura was confident he wouldn't wake up and make too much noise. The pair used clean water and medical soap to wash the wounds out, and then Therrura took Elnor back to his cell. No words were said since Elnor was comatose, and Therrura carefully laid him on his side before he went back to engineering.

Picard sat in his cell, morose, and begging the ceiling for deliverance.

When he concocted his escape and foiled attempt to disable Kar's ship, he knew Kikain would punish Elnor for his disobedience, but he had no idea the punishment would be so medieval. Now that he was reflecting on the horror he just witnessed, his feelings of regret were so overpowering they made him sick.

He leaned forward and pulled his feet away from the blowback as his dinner launched itself out of his stomach with a juicy splatter. He spat a few times and lay down on the bed with his eyes closed, continuing to pray as if he could call Naseema to him with those prayers.

Therrura found Kar and Kikain arguing again when he reached engineering. His heart dropped when he heard Kar say the word, Feeonix and then it stopped dead when Kikain turned to face him as he approached. "What's this about a fucking Feeonix?" Kikain demanded.

Therrura's fight or flight instinct tried to kick in, but he stood his ground.

Now was his chance to turn Kar's crew against Kikain.

"The boy is mated to one," he flatly replied.

Kikain stared at him, astounded for a second before an abrupt peal of laughter erupted. "Did he tell you that?" Then he turned to Kar. "That dark little hole he's been staying in has done wonders for his imagination," he chortled, and Kar smirked in response. "A Feeonix, I can't say I blame him, who doesn't want to fuck one of those?" The two other Romulans in the room laughed, and Kikain turned over his shoulder to them and continued. "Maybe we should put some feathers on Saldeb. I bet in the dark, the sisterboy wouldn't even be able to tell the difference." More laughter followed while Therrura stared at Kikain with a stony expression.

"Picard told me that."

Kikain howled this time. "Right! Because that veruul has never lied before!" Once his laughter subsided, he looked at Therrura again and shook his head with a loud sigh. "I made a mistake recruiting you for this mission. I thought you could handle yourself, but you're soft, Therrura. When we reach Vashti, you can consider yourself dismissed."

"I want to hear this from Picard," Kar said, and Kikain looked at him with derision, but before he could say anything, Kar continued. "This is my ship, and I'd like to know for certain if some Feeonix is going to incinerate it."

"Fine!" Kikain snapped and motioned toward the exit. "Lead the way!" Kar glared at him as he stalked out of engineering, and Kikain turned to Therrura. "After you." Therrura followed Kar, and the three of them stayed silent as they made the walk to Picard's cell.

"What's this about some Feeonix coming to destroy us all over the sisterboy?" Kikain demanded once they were in front of Picard. "Once again, your little stunt has the entire ship in a frenzy, and you're really starting to piss me off."

"I'd hardly call three men a frenzy," Picard replied.

Kikain narrowed his eyes. "Therrura, go tell Sivit to bring the ainnh oallea."

Picard leaned against the wall and looked up at Kikain defiantly. "She is in love with Elnor, and she is capable of unspeakable violence. When she finds this ship, which she will, she will kill every man on board, and nobody will be able to stop her."

"The Feeonix are extinct," Kar said.

Picard shook his head. "No, they are not."

Kar looked at Picard with curiosity. "Can you prove this Feeonix exists?"

Picard stared back. "No, I cannot."

Kar snorted, and Kikain turned to Therrura. "This circle jerk is getting us nowhere. Go get the sisterboy."

Therrura, who was already doing his best to hide his growing unease, opened his mouth to protest. "He is-"

"NOW!" Kikain's sudden, terrifying scream startled the other three men. Therrura jumped and scurried from the room to do what he was told as Kar and Picard exchanged a disquieted glance. It was becoming obvious just how unhinged Kikain really was, and now Kar was beginning to believe the man would, in fact, get them all killed. He strolled over to the wall and folded his arms as he leaned against it to wait for Therrura to return. A few minutes later, Therrura came through the door with a sloppy, barely conscious Elnor, whose arm was slung across Therrura's shoulders and was hardly moving his feet as the big man dragged him across the room. Kikain pulled the chair over and set it in front of Picard before instructing Therrura to sit Elnor in it and restrain him. Then, Kikain went to the door and shouted down the hallway at whoever was there to get Sivit.

"And tell him to bring his bag of tricks!"

Therrura leaned over Elnor and tried to rouse him, but the young monk was still under the influence of the latest dose of painkillers he'd received and could barely focus his eyes. When Sivit arrived, Anclon was with him and readily shoved Therrura out of the way to slap Elnor across the face. Elnor grunted and then coughed several times but finally opened his eyes to give Anclon a watery glare.

Anclon smirked as he gripped a handful of Elnor's hair and jerked his head back. "I told you I'd see you later, Sisterboy."

"I need someone to hold him still," Sivit said as he held up a thin, wiry metal tool and examined it. Picard tried to look past Anclon's broad back to see what Sivit was doing but couldn't get enough slack from his restraints to lean over far enough. He didn't have to wait long to find out as Sivit then approached the chair with the tool in his hand, and when Anclon rotated himself around behind Elnor, Picard saw it was an ocular speculum. Anclon wrapped his arm under Elnor's jaw as if putting him in a chokehold and held him still as Sivit, less than delicately, forced the speculum into Elnor's eye socket. He fiddled with the screw for a few seconds before he locked it as Elnor squirmed in Anclon's hold. Sivit returned to the table where he had an assortment of surgical instruments spread out across its surface. He came back over to Elnor with a small scalpel this time, and Picard's eyes widened as they shot over to Kikain.

"What purpose does this serve?" he demanded. "Torturing him further will neither prove nor disprove what I have told you!"

A slimy smile spread across Kikain's lips as he went over to stand beside Anclon. He leaned in and whispered in Elnor's ear. "Well, Sisterboy, the old man here tells us you have a girlfriend."

Unable to move his head, Elnor used his peripheral vision and matched Kikain's smile with an inebriated one of his own. "She's going to kill you."

Kikain's eyebrow went up, and he turned his eyes to Picard. "He seems to be supporting your story so far. What's her name, Sisterboy?"

"Naseema," Elnor replied without missing a beat. Picard kept his eyes locked with Kikain's as he watched the man's smile melt away.

He knew Elnor's quick answer lent credence to his claim, but he realized Kikain intended to torture Elnor until the claim was refuted. The man didn't care if it was true, regaining control of the crew was all that mattered.

"Why do I know that name?" Kar asked from his spot against the wall.

"The Treaty of Algeron," Sivit replied.

"Which means he's full of shit because that bitch has been dead for decades," Kikain spat and followed it up with a nasty laugh. "You were banking on us not having any idea of our own history, weren't you?"

Picard sighed. "Elnor is telling you the truth. Naseema is her name, and yes, her signature is on that treaty. The Feeonix are far more difficult to kill than you realize."

Kikain straightened himself up and squared his shoulders as he glared at Picard, then he motioned for Sivit to move on Elnor. Anclon tightened his grip, and a low whimper made its way out of Elnor's throat as Sivit's hand came down on his forehead.

"Blinding him proves nothing! You are only adding fuel to the fire!" Picard cried, but Kikain ignored him. Elnor watched the scalpel as it moved toward his eye until it came so close its edges blurred, and it became a shapeless blob of shadow and light. Then, as if by some impossible miracle, the ship's engines suddenly roared back to life, and the room brightened. Sivit paused and threw a glance at his boss.

Kikain was silent for an instant before he finally looked at Sivit and shook his head. "We'll wait until we're planet-side, just like the original plan." Even though it was short-lived, Picard dropped his head into his hands as a rush of overwhelming relief hit him while Therrura exhaled an undetectable sigh of the same. Sivit shrugged, withdrew his cutting implement and returned to the table to begin packing up his tools. Kikain and Kar headed for the door. "Take him back to his sewer," Kikain told Therrura before he left.

Therrura took a step toward Elnor, but Anclon turned around and held his hand up. "You can take him when I'm done with him." Then, he moved to stand directly in front of Elnor with his legs on either side of the chair. When he began unfastening his trousers, Therrura's eyes widened with horror, and Picard yanked on his restraints in a desperate attempt to free himself.

"No!" he shouted with skyrocketing anger that just might have given him the strength to tear his bonds from the bulkhead. "Stop him!" he shouted to Therrura, but the man was so shocked all he could do was stand there with a look of utter disbelief plastered across his face. Anclon grabbed Elnor's hair and jerked his head back, then leaned over and smirked.

"So tell me, Sisterboy, is your imaginary girlfriend as pretty as you?"

Elnor looked up at Anclon with bleary, unfocused eyes and mirrored his smirk. "She's going to kill you too."

"Not before I shove my dick down your throat." Then, Anclon wrenched Elnor's head again and crammed his other hand down the front of his pants. Therrura finally snapped out of his daze and rushed at Anclon. He spewed curse words as he threw his enormous fist into Anclon's face. Anclon fell back into the cot, forcing Picard to dodge his large frame as it slammed into the bed and then hit the floor. Therrura barreled around the chair and hauled Anclon to his feet before slugging him again. Anclon took a wild swing, but Therrura moved quickly for his size and dodged to come back with another punch to Anclon's jaw. Once he recovered, Anclon lunged at Therrura and collided with him so hard they both crashed into the chair Elnor was tied to. It went over sideways, and the two huge Romulans spilled over top of Elnor as they continued to throw fists at each other. Therrura managed to get the upper hand and pinned Anclon to the deck with hands clenched around his throat. Then, Kikain and Kar came back into the room, and as soon as they saw the struggle, they raced over to separate the two. Kar tackled Therrura while Kikain hauled Anclon to his feet and held him back. The still enraged Therrura continued to scream Rihan slurs at Anclon and called him a child rapist. That got Kar's attention. He looked over his shoulder at Elnor, who lay unconscious and still tied to the toppled chair, before turning his eyes to Anclon.

"What the fuck." he said as a disgusted expression took over his face.

"You're an animal!" Therrura roared. "He's just a boy!"

"What happened?" Kikain asked Picard, who stared at Anclon with a hard look of abhorrence.

"Exactly what Therrura claims," Picard replied. "Your friend attempted to violate a shackled, half-conscious teenager as if this were a Lethean prison camp."

Kikain curled up his lip and shook his head as he shoved Anclon toward the door. "Have a little class, Anclon. We're not Klingons."

Kar and Therrura exchanged a glance as the former allowed the latter to get to his feet. A narrow cylindrical piece of metal fell out of Therrura's pocket as he stood, and as it clattered to the floor, Kikain looked over. "What the fuck is that?"

Kar bent over and picked the object up. "It's a hypospray," he replied and then turned to Therrura with a look of surprise and suspicion on his face. "What are you doing with this?"

The expression on Kikain's face suddenly dropped and he let go of Anclon to go over to where Elnor lay on the floor. He pushed the young monk's head back and pried one of his eyes open. "You've been drugging him, haven't you?" he asked with a rapidly darkening tone. Therrura stood stone-faced and silent as Kikain rose to face him. "That's why he's been so compliant, isn't it? Because he's high as fuck! How long has this been going on?" Therrura didn't offer an immediate answer, and the green flush in Kikain's face grew brighter with each silent second that passed until he finally boomed. "HOW LONG?!" Anclon smirked while Picard, Kar, and Therrura all startled at the rage in Kikain's voice.

Therrura finally squared himself to Kikain and met his angry glare with calm resolve. "This has gone too far. He made a terrible mistake, yes, but he is only a boy. He does not deserve what we are doing to him, and Tenqem would condemn us all if he could see what we have become, torturing a child to death, and Zani's child no less."

Kikain seemed stunned at first. He stared at Therrura with wide eyes and an open mouth, but once he started to move his lips to respond, Kar's second mate walked in. The man quickly scanned the room with noticeable discomfort and ultimately chose to ignore the tense standoff. He gave a glance at Kar before he almost casually informed Kikain that the ship was approaching Vashti and would reach transporter range within a few hours.

A menacing smile then crept across Kikain's lips. "Thank you, Commodore," he said over his shoulder, his voice suddenly cool and steady. The first mate nodded and immediately retreated from the room. Picard's gut tightened as Kikain drew his weapon, pointed it at Therrura, and instructed him to collect Elnor from the floor. Therrura kept one nervous eye on Kikain as he did what he was told, unfastened the restraints and picked Elnor's limp body up. "Let's go," Kikain ordered as he waved his disruptor at the door.

"What are you going to do?" Picard demanded from his seat on the cot.

Kikain exhaled an irritated sigh and turned to face his captive. "We'll be heading down to the planet by day's end, and neither you nor the sisterboy is in for a pleasant stay once we get there, so I'd save my strength if I were you, old man, and maybe worry about my own fate rather than that of a treacherous saboteur like this veruul." Picard opened his mouth to counter, but Kikain abruptly raised his sidearm and fired into the bulkhead over Picard's head. "Just shut the fuck up for once in your life," he spat. Picard stared in shock as Kikain turned his back and ushered Therrura into the corridor. Kar dawdled in the room, waiting for Anclon and Kikain to leave before he turned to Picard.

"Is there really a Feeonix coming for us?" he asked, his voice oddly quiet and concerned.

Picard softened his expression and nodded. "Everything I have told you is true. The Feeonix are profoundly emotional creatures, and Naseema is deeply devoted to Elnor. If he dies, she will hunt down every man involved. She will never stop, and you cannot fathom the violence she is capable of."

A worried frown descended on Kar's brow. "My men had nothing to do with Kikain's plan for the boy once we brought him here, and they have no stake in its success. We might be criminals, but we're not like Kikain, no one agrees with what he's doing, but they're afraid and desperate."

"Naseema has a dark side," Picard replied. "A malevolent beast that lives inside her, and once unleashed, it will make no such distinctions."

"We don't deserve to be slaughtered for scraping by the only way we know how."

"I'm sympathetic to the struggles your people have faced, Kar, and I readily accept my failures in that regard, but Elnor is an innocent-"

"I wouldn't call murdering a man in cold blood innocent," Kar interrupted.

Picard's tone hardened as he shot back. "Elnor is far more innocent than your men, who were paid to abduct him and turn a blind eye while he is brutalized. You cannot honestly believe that anyone, regardless of any perceived wrongdoing, deserves to be stripped, beaten, starved, and tortured. Whether you care to accept it or not, you are all complicit in the horrendous crime committed here, and there is nothing I or anyone else can do to stop Naseema from exacting biblical retribution for his suffering."

Kar stared at Picard for a minute before responding, eyes full of fear and deep creases of anxiety on his forehead. "There must be some way to reason with or redirect her. I've never begged anyone for anything in my life, but I'm begging you now, Picard, please, you must help me."

Picard leaned back against the wall and briefly searched Kar's face. "The only chance you have is to find our ship and return us to it with no further harm coming to Elnor."

Kar swallowed and took a shaky breath. "What if I can't guarantee that? Kikain is determined and dangerous, and his men are loyal. If I renege on our deal now, it could tear my ship in half."

"If there is truly nothing you can do to secure Elnor's safety then I strongly suggest you start praying to whatever god you believe can help you because, without that assurance, there is absolutely nothing I can do." The steady conviction in Picard's voice was un-nerving, and Kar's face went white as the stark realization finally came into focus. Picard wasn't bluffing.

He'd been foolish to ever get involved with Kikain. The man was ruthless and crazy. No amount of money was worth the fate he was now convinced was about to come down on him. The Feeonix was coming, and she was going to kill them all. It was only a matter of time. He needed to be rid of Kikain, Picard, and the fucking sisterboy as soon as possible. He needed to purge any trace of them from his ship. If he could convince the Feeonix that they were never there, that it wasn't his ship she was looking for, maybe she would just move on peacefully without incinerating it and everyone on board.

Kar said nothing further as he turned on his heels and quickly left the room. He headed straight for the bridge, determined to unload his passengers at the first opportunity. Picard watched him go and knew in his heart the fate of every man on board was already sealed.

Kikain and Anclon marched Therrura back to the damp little room, where Kikain ordered Therrura to carry the unconscious Elnor into the room. Once they were inside, Kikain blocked the doorway with his disruptor still trained on Therrura. "Since you've become so attached to Sisterboy here, I'm sure you won't mind sharing a cell with him until we reach Vashti. Then, you can have it all to yourself."

Therrura glared at the two men in the doorway. Anclon carried the same smug smirk he put on after the hypospray was discovered, while Kikain wore an expression that almost seemed to express pity. Then, he suddenly fired and hit Therrura in the leg. The big man cried out in pain as his knee buckled, and he gripped Elnor's body tightly so as not to drop him, throwing his weight to one side. He felt the cartilage in his injured joint tear as he collapsed to the wet deck plate with a hard thud, Elnor still clutched in his arms. Kikain let out a snort of derisive laughter and closed the door, leaving the gasping Therrura and the narcotized Elnor alone in the dark. After a few minutes, the intense pain finally ebbed away to a dull throb, and Therrura shifted Elnor's body so it sat between his legs. Then, he shimmied them backward until he found the wall and let Elnor's headrest back on his shoulder as he wrapped his arms around the young monk to try and keep him warm. He leaned himself back and sighed.

A part of him was grateful he'd been discovered. He felt a strange relief when Kar found the hypospray. He took a stand against Kikain, against this gross miscarriage of justice, against the disgrace of Tenqem's memory and, as long as he was locked in this cell, he could protect Elnor from Anclon's disgusting predilections. He found comfort in that even though he knew it was likely Kikain would kill him once they reached Vashti.

Elnor regained consciousness within the hour, and even though he was still stoned, he was startled when he felt himself up against a warm body but quickly settled as he realized it was Therrura. He blinked a few times, even though it was pointless as there was no light for his eyes to adjust to, and finally asked. "Did you bring me any water?"

"I'm sorry, Elnor, I do not think I will be able to bring you any more water," Therrura replied, his voice quiet and defeated enough for Elnor to realize something was very wrong. "The ship will reach Vashti in a few hours and, it is unlikely I will be going to the surface with you."

Elnor swallowed as a hard knot formed in his gut. "I'm going to die soon, aren't I?" Therrura didn't answer, and his silence said more than any verbal affirmation could. Elnor straightened himself up, crossed his legs, and sighed. "Thank you for trying to help me."

"I am sorry I allowed Kikain to convince me that we were pursuing justice with this vicious errand," Therrura replied. "I have shamed myself, my family, and our people by involving myself with gangsters and criminals. I pray you can forgive me for the hand I played in this crime against you."

Elnor could hear the catch in Therrura's voice and realized the big man was crying. "We all have regrets," Elnor softly said. "The best we can do is try not to add any more to our already heavy hearts. I forgive you."

Therrura couldn't help but smile at Elnor's kindness. Even though they both knew his painful, violent death was imminent, Elnor was still willing to extend whatever comfort he could to another despite their treatment of him in the past. "Stay strong, Elnor, your Feeonix may come still."

"My only wish is to see her one last time and fall asleep in her arms," Elnor admitted, his voice dropping to a sad whisper. "Even if it means I will never awaken again."

"Will you tell me about her?" Therrura asked.

Elnor sighed, and his voice changed again, becoming more wistful. "She's gentle and kind. She listens to me and laughs at my jokes. Her skin is soft, she always smells nice, and she's a good kisser."

Therrura chuckled gently. "The Feeonix are reputed to be good at far more than kissing."

"I wouldn't know," Elnor said. "I probably never will."

"You don't desire more than kisses?" Therrura asked.

Elnor was quiet for a few seconds, unsure if he should open up that far to Therrura, but ultimately decided it probably didn't matter what he said at this point. "She would kill me if we ever tried to make love together."

"So, the stories about their fire are true?"

Elnor nodded. "Yes."

"Your feelings for her must be strong if you would so readily make that sacrifice to be with her," Therrura said, impressed by such a level of devotion from someone as young as Elnor.

"We're bonded."

Therrura hoped if he could encourage Elnor to focus on something other than their current situation, it might inspire him to hold onto the hope of rescue however faint that hope might be and fight against the feelings of despair creeping up on both of them. "Tell me about your bonding."

"When we touch, we can share our deepest feelings with each other. Our spirits are joined, and I can feel her energy inside me. Even now, it still lingers in my blood. It's warm and comforting, and sometimes it makes me sleepy."

Therrura chuckled again at that last detail. "That is an amusing side-effect."

"It's the best sleep I've ever had," Elnor said with a quiet laugh, but then his mood abruptly sank. "I feel things I've never felt before when I'm with her, and I would give anything just to have those feelings again. I miss her." His voice broke, and he could feel the lump forming in his throat as he spoke. He didn't want to cry, but he wasn't sure he could stop himself from doing so. Therrura could hear the heartbroken inflection and pulled Elnor into him, careful not to touch the open, oozing wounds on his back. Elnor let Therrura comfort him and took a few ragged, mournful breaths to calm himself down, but it was almost fruitless to try.

Talking about Naseema uplifted him at first, but the feeling was fleeting. The more he thought about her, the heavier the weight of his reality weighed down on him, and he couldn't keep himself from thinking of all the things he would never get to experience and all the people he would never see again. He missed Naseema and her warm, musical laugh, he missed La Sirena, the constant gentle hum of its engines, and all Rios' eccentric lookalike holograms. He missed his friends and the bohemian camaraderie they shared. He missed Zani with her patient understanding and the sisters who loved him even though he could never be one of them. A profound sadness overtook him, and he stopped trying to hold back his feelings. He wanted so badly to be brave, but he was exhausted and in pain, and probably most significantly, he was afraid.

"I don't want to die," he finally confessed.

Feeling beyond defeated and emotionally drained, Picard lay on his cot and teetered on the brink of dozing off just before the door opened. Sivit walked in, approached Picard, and wordlessly removed the restraints. "Where are you taking me," Picard asked, half-hearted and not expecting an answer.

Surprisingly, Sivit actually answered him. "We are approaching the planet, and you will be departing this fine vessel once the rest of your party convenes in the transporter room." Picard offered no visible response to Sivit's flat but polite reply and allowed the man to lead him from the room. They walked down the corridor in silence, and the closer they came to their destination, the harder Picard found it to push the fatalistic thoughts to the back of his mind.

He'd always been inclined toward optimism. He wanted to see the best in people and believe in the moral right. Facing his own violent death was something he'd come within a hair's breadth of more times than he could remember. He was well steeled against it, but to impotently watch someone he cared for be broken was something he couldn't compartmentalize. Kikain's end game was a level of barbarity he could barely comprehend. When he considered that Elnor's story was one of the few small successes of the disastrous Relocation project, the greatest failure of his life, it was almost enough to completely crush his soul.

The transporter room was deserted when the pair arrived. Still uninterested in conversation, Sivit motioned for Picard to sit on the room's small bench before going over to lean against the bulkhead near the door with his arms folded across his chest. Picard sat with his hands folded in his lap and stared at the floor for a few minutes before finally looking over at Sivit. "It's not too late to stop this."

"You still seem to be under the impression I have a personal stake in this, and you are gravely mistaken about that," Sivit replied, flat and emotionless. "I contracted to provide a service, nothing more, and I do not renege on my contracts." Picard expected that would be the end of the verbal exchange, but then Sivit tilted his head slightly and frowned with what could only be interpreted as curiosity. "I must ask you, Admiral, why you are suddenly so concerned about Romulan affairs at this stage in your life?"

"My only concern is Elnor," Picard replied.

Sivit shifted his position against the wall, so he faced Picard and examined him for a second or two. "Why return to the boy's life after all this time?"

"I am not a man of many regrets, but I have them just as every man does," Picard said, dropping his confrontational tone and replacing it with one that was far more penitent. "And I must take every opportunity I am presented with to redress those regrets to the best of my ability."

"Pardon me for being glib," Sivit mused, his face still void of expression. "But your efforts to redress that particular regret appear to have borne fruit that is rotten on the vine." Picard wasn't sure if Sivit realized just how cutting and appropriate his remark was, but he wasn't interested in finding out. The excessively astute allegory was enough to shame him into silence, and he simply nodded as his eyes returned to the floor.

While Sivit was crushing Picard's spirit in the transporter room, Anclon and Kikain were arriving at the tiny, dark hole they had their remaining prisoners stashed in. Therrura was jolted awake by Elnor, who cried out in pain as Anclon yanked him to his feet by his broken wrist. The young Romulan stumbled forward and fell on his knees as Anclon twisted his injured arm behind him before grabbing his other one to do the same. "Hey," Therrura said, his eyes still adjusting to the glare of the light in the corridor behind his former crewmates. "The boy is already close to death. What must you prove with the continued cruelty?"

Anclon merely snorted in response while Kikain just shook his head as he looked down at Therrura almost with pity. "Don't worry, my friend," he said. "The sisterboy isn't your concern anymore, and his sentence won't be weighing on your conscience much longer." Therrura stared up into Kikain's cold eyes and sighed.

He knew exactly what that reply meant. They were taking Elnor and Picard down to the planet to meet their deaths, and Kikain had undoubtedly instructed Kar to kill him once they were gone. The Feeonix was too late. Even if she managed to find the ship now and get anyone to talk, she would never find Elnor before Kikain tore the kid to pieces after letting Anclon do whatever depraved things the man's imagination could cook up. He was horrified with himself for getting involved in this barbaric crime and wished there was some way he could take Elnor's place or redeem himself even a little before meeting his own death. With the way it stood right now, he deserved to die in disgrace.

Anclon used his foot to shove Elnor all the way to the floor, then fastened his wrists behind him with far more force than necessary. The entire display, including the smug smirk, seemed to be directed at Therrura as some kind of macho display of dominance that made even Kikain raise an eyebrow. Kikain took hold of Anclon's arm once Elnor was secured and softly groaning on the floor. "Relax," he warned. "You'll get your chance, but if you kill him before I'm finished with him, I'll take it out on you instead." Anclon fixed a hard stare on Kikain, and for an instant, it seemed like a fight between the two would explode, but then Anclon relaxed his face and nodded. He shot Therrura a glare before he heaved Elnor upright and escorted him through the door with a far more tempered level of force than he'd ever used previously. Kikain turned to Therrura one last time with a look of saddened disappointment. "I'm angry at myself," he said. "I really thought you believed in our people, the future of the Empire, and that you stood for justice, but I was wrong. I really hate being wrong." He raised his disruptor, pointed it at Therrura's head, and stared at him in silence for the slowest five seconds of Therrura's life before finally lowering the weapon without firing. Kikain then lowered his eyes and moved toward the door, stopping just as he reached it to look at Therrura over his shoulder. "I instructed Kar to kill you quickly," Therrura said nothing as he watched Kikain leave.

Anclon put the hood over Elnor's head before they reached the transporter room and, once there, shoved him bodily onto the pad. Unable to see, Elnor tripped on the single step and went down hard. Picard stood up and shouted his protest as he took several steps toward Elnor, but then Kikain entered the room with Kar directly behind him. He pointed his weapon at Picard and shook his head. "Shut up and do as you're told, or you'll witness worse." Picard stood firm for a few seconds and fixed a hard glare on Kikain but finally boarded the pad when the disruptor was waved in its direction with irritation. Hardly three more words were said before Kikain joined him, and the last of his optimism vanished in the shimmering light of the transporter beam.

"That is probably not the best place for those," Enoch politely suggested and casually motioned toward the four lowball glasses crowded on the console in front of Naseema. She sat in the chair opposite him, deeply reclined with her bare feet braced against the console and a fifth drink in her hand. She turned her tear-stained face toward him, and with a disdainful expression, she slid her foot across the surface of the console until all the glasses crashed to the deck.

"Sorry," she said flatly before returning her eyes to the expanse of space in front of them. Enoch glanced over his shoulder at Jagger, who lounged in Rios' chair behind them, and gave the Feeonix an exasperated look. Jagger met his eyes, shrugged and went back to scrolling through the padd in his hands.

Naseema had become an ill-tempered dragon in the days following the attack on La Sirena and the abduction of Elnor and Picard. When she wasn't in her cabin, crying and sharpening every blade she could get her hands on, she was making everyone else miserable. Emil refused to leave the medical bay since she'd taken to threatening him every time he appeared anywhere near her. Ian was left constantly looking over his shoulder after she'd taken one too many strips off him. The others actively avoided her and even Soji, her sole defender up to this point, was finding her limits tested. The entire crew was on edge as they slogged their way back to the Qiris sector and Elnor's home planet with the damaged La Sirena, doing everything they could to track down Kar Kantar and his flying rust bucket. Nothing seemed to calm Naseema's stormy temperament, not even Jagger's attempts to keep her spirits up, and while everyone understood she was suffering, their patience was wearing thin. They were all afraid for Picard and especially Elnor, but they were almost more afraid of what would happen once they actually found the bird of prey. Naseema drank constantly and seemed to be perpetually teetering on the edge of an emotional breakdown of spectacular proportions. Raffi tried to convince her to ease off on the amount of liquor she put away until Jagger pulled Raffi aside and cautioned her that all the alcohol was the only reason Naseema wasn't on fire. Raffi stopped trying to curb Naseema's drinking after that, but Jagger's warning just made everyone more restless and anxious.

They were all currently in their cabins, in varying states of perhaps sedative-induced sleep while Jagger performed his duty of keeping Naseema from terrorizing the holograms, with half-assed enthusiasm. He could feel Enoch burning a hole in him and finally put his padd down again. With a long, irritated sigh, he got up from Rios' chair and took the three steps to reach Naseema's back, then leaned close to her ear and whispered. "You could dial the raging bitch meter back just a touch."

She turned toward him but stopped short of meeting his eyes and was quiet for a minute before she looked over at Enoch with a sigh. "I am sorry, Enoch. I will stop leaving my drinks on the console."

The apology was half-hearted but sincere enough to pacify the hologram, who smiled congenially. "Thank you." Enoch then turned back to the controls and continued to pilot the ship in silence while the pleasant smile remained on his face. Naseema slid out of her chair to clean up the mess she'd made, and Jagger dropped to his knees to help her.

"It's crossed my mind that it might be better if you stay here on La Sirena once we find Kar Kantar's ship," Jagger said as they carefully collected the pieces of broken glass and stashed them in the one that managed to remain intact after it hit the floor. "Rios, Raffi, and I should be able to handle the extraction ourselves."

Naseema stopped what she was doing and looked at him as if he'd just said the dumbest thing she'd ever heard. "That is not going to happen, Jag."

He sat back on his haunches and stared right back at her. "Can I trust you to keep it together?"

"Jagger, I have been involved in more than my fair share of missions like this. It is not as though I have no idea what we are getting into," she replied and started picking up more glass shards.

"I didn't say that," he said, his tone hard and more insistent now. "But you have a very personal stake in this, and I don't think my concerns about your future conduct are unwarranted. We're taking on the Romulans here, and we both know this isn't going to be a cakewalk. There are other lives on the line besides ours."

Naseema looked up and glared at him. "We are not taking on the Romulans, Jag. They are not military, nor are they Tal Shiar. They are a bunch of disorganized thugs with a vendetta. I never said it would be a cakewalk, but it is not the same thing, and you know it. I am also not ignorant of what is at stake, so if you have a point, please get to it."

"What if we're too late and all we find are bodies?" he asked. "What happens then?"

"If Elnor and Jean-Luc are dead, then I will find everyone involved and kill them," she replied with an alarmingly dismissive shrug. "If it comes to that, your company will not be necessary."

Jagger expected that answer but appeared dismayed by it anyway. "That's exactly what I didn't want you to say."

"Well, what did you expect me to say?" she snapped. "The Romulans have taken everything from us, from me! Elnor is the first flicker of light I have seen in twenty fucking years, and if they take him from me, I will not slink quietly back to my room to spend the next twenty crying into a liquor bottle!"

"Shinzon wasn't Romulan," Jagger patiently reminded her.

She slammed the pieces of glass in her hand back onto the floor in anger and got to her feet. "How can you say that? They created him and then drove him insane!" Jagger tried to grab her hand, but she jerked herself away from him, and he ended up kneeling on a piece of glass as he reached out.

"Ow! Goddammit!" he cursed as he staggered to his feet. "Naseema, wait!"

"Perhaps she needs to be angry for a while?" Enoch gently offered and made an awkward face.

Jagger looked over at the hologram and opened his mouth to fire off a snarky reply but thought better of it, ultimately relaxing his facial expression with a defeated sigh instead. "Yeah, you're probably right." Then, he turned to watch Naseema stalk toward the stairs and muttered. "I hate it when she gets like this."

Something out in the expanse of space in front of them suddenly caught Enoch's attention, and his head snapped toward it as his eyes searched the blackness ahead with the intensity of a hungry raptor. "What was that?"

Jagger moved over to stand behind him and also stared out into the sky. "What was what? Did the sensors pick something up?"

Enoch shook his head. "No, I saw something out there." Naseema heard the exchange and stopped just shy of the top stair, turning her head slightly toward Jagger and Enoch so she could hear them better. The pair continued to stare into the darkness, straining to catch another glimpse of whatever Enoch saw.

Then, Jagger abruptly pointed and cried out. "There! Did you see that?" Enoch followed Jagger's finger with fixed eyes as Naseema finally came over to join them, and then she saw it too. A barely visible ripple of black on black, the sensors were silent, but it was there, and the shape was unmistakable. It was the bird of prey.

"Their cloak must be damaged," Jagger said as all three of them eyeballed the spot where the inky ripple had appeared.

Enoch frowned as he stared out into space. "It does not appear to be moving."

Jagger made a displeased clicking sound and glanced at Enoch. "Are we within transporter range of Vashti?"

Enoch nodded without moving his eyes. "Yes."

"We need to make a move before they realize we can see them," Jagger said, his voice turning cold. He glanced over his shoulder to say something to Naseema, but she was already heading for the stairs and he had to call after her. "Where are you going?"

"Wake the others," she replied without slowing her pace. "We need to go now."