Chapter Sixteen

Soji stayed with Sutra as she settled into her quarters on the Zheng He. Sutra balked when she realized that a guard was placed outside her quarters but Soji assured her that the restrictions would be temporary until the council decided how to proceed. Afterall she had ignored the retraction of Altan's orders and could have been put in the brig. Rynar took over so Sutra could have space to process her new circumstances. He found he enjoyed the synthetic's company. She had studied his culture and even figured out how to perform a mind meld. This encouraged him to believe that Enid's attributes could be synthetically recreated. He would not have to bond with the girl or even keep her alive once they were done. Both agreed that the abilities that Enid possessed were wasted on the girl. They spent much of their time discussing what they could accomplish together once their plans came to fruition.

On La Serina there was still the issue of the murderous holo programs. Narek kept Plutarch updated on the progress and Plutarch was adamant that La Serina would not leave until they were assured that the holos were fixed.

"That wasn't what we agreed on," Riker reminded him. Plutarch took command of the Ghoyiph to oversee the repairs. Back on a Romulan ship, he was much more himself. The loss of the Sseikia was hard to bear. It had been his flagship for many years. If all went well, he'd be able to commission a new, much more powerful ship.

"It is a fluid situation," Plutarch told him, "When I am satisfied that La Serina no longer poses a threat to Enid, they will be allowed to leave."

Noah Magel headed up the team working on La Serina's holograms. He knew that Soji had been through every line of code after it was discovered that A'den reprogrammed the hologram on the Enterprise. Rios had been afraid he had done something similar to his holograms but Soji had found nothing. Still, Noah thought the synthetic would be useful. Riker approached Soji wearily, he had seen for himself how badly Narek had hurt the synthetic girl on Nepenthe. Soji steeled herself for the confrontation and agreed to help.

Enid refused to transport to the Ghoyiph until both Narek and Ni'ael did which irritated Plutarch but he was learning that there wasn't much he could do if Enid wasn't being cooperative. If she had been raised Romulan, she would have been easier to manage, he thought. While she had a hypo of snakeleaf with her, Yumuen believed the dose would be too soon. She needed the break. Picard, being of little use to the technical team, engaged her in a game of Terrace. Picard was entranced by how different Enid appeared without the snakeleaf. She refused to look at him straight on preferring her peripheral vision. She spoke only in sign which he had studied and appreciated the opportunity to practice. Like everything, he found, the theoretical was different from the practical. Enid laughed at a few of his gaffs. He asked her what she had written at the table before.

"Captain Rios," she signed, "He is interesting."

"How so?" Picard was thrilled to have the opportunity to finally talk to Enid about her music.

"Who programs their crew to look like themselves?" Enid asked.

"He said it was an accident," Picard told her. She laughed again and shook her head. "You don't think it was?" he asked.

"I know it wasn't," Enid replied, moving her piece several spots. She had taken advantage of a miscalculation on his part. "You should keep your head in the game," she told him.

"Why do you think he did it?" Picard's curiosity was piqued. He never believed it was an accident either. Rios was too meticulous about how his ship was run.

"He was in pieces at the time he programmed them," Enid said.

"Is he still in pieces?" Picard asked. Enid nodded and pulled out her composition. She pointed to a few stanzas but Picard didn't see the connection. Enid agreed to let him scan the paper so he could look at it later. Raffi checked in to see how they were doing.

"How is it going with the holos?" Picard asked.

"Not well JL," Raffi said, "You might be able to smooth things over between the parties." Enid made another strategic move to win the game.

"Perhaps you will have better luck," he told Raffi and excused himself, "She's clever and doesn't miss a trick." Enid smiled at the complement and invited Raffi to take a seat. A'den had devised an intelligent worm. His programming of the Enterprise EMH had been rushed but he had a week to complete this nasty bit of work on La Serina. Picard wondered if A'den had been intending to kill his foster sister all along or was he waiting to see if she would choose to go with Picard and live on his vineyard?

"That doesn't make sense," Soji insisted, "I personally went through the holo matrix myself. We deleted the program."

"The program approaches AI in sophistication," Narek told her without looking at her, "It is aware of its surroundings and can adapt."

"It also has the ability to reprogate after deletion," Cailum told Rios, "The only way to eliminate it is to reset the holomatrix to its factory defaults. "

"But the ENH program wasn't infected," Rios said, "Why?"

"The primary directive of the doctor's program is to do no harm," Noah said solemnly, "I believe that it would eventually shut the EMH program down. Given time, the worm would win out."

"I downloaded every bit of information on holo programming there is," Soji told him, "I have never heard of anything like this."

"So you read a few books," Cailum admonished, "And think you're an expert?" Cailum enjoyed chastising the synth as much as he would an arrogant Romulan who was just out of school.

"You are not an expert in artificial intelligence. Romulans don't have AI." Soji insisted.

"You are right," Cailum admitted, "But I have been working with holomatrixes for over 20 years. I can recognize code that is out of place."

"There is always a difference between the theoretical and reality," Picard intervened, "Even in engineering. Starship designers balk at modifications to their designs but they don't have the field experience to understand every contingency." Soji seemed satisfied with this response even if she didn't trust the Romulans to consult on La Serina.

"I've made changes to the factor specs," Rios said. He didn't want to have to redo all those settings but he would of course. He didn't like the idea of a homicidal worm loose on his computer.

"Their memories would need to be wiped as well," Narek interjected. Soji was taken back. Rios's holos were sophisticated. Although they didn't have corporeal form, they were nearly as sophisticated in programming as she was. Wiping their memories would be like killing them. Seeing Soji's reaction he continued, "Plutarch will not let La Serina leave with the program intact. Eventually the worm would gain control of your ship and…"

"Could it do that?" Rios asked. Rios wondered if his holo crew would be the same.

"Theoretically," Narek said, "Yes. The holos would have one mission. To kill Enid." He kept his voice low. At least he knew Enid wasn't paying attention. She was much less focused when she was not on the snakeleaf.

"You don't have any proof that will happen!" Soji fought for her fellow AI's but saw that Rios was already in agreement.

"Soji," Rios said, "We don't have a choice. Even if it is at all possible…" Rios folded his arms over his chest, "Besides, Narek is right about Plutarch."

"I believe you can save your settings in a data file then manually reset them," Noah told him, "I'll help you," Noah worked with Rios and Cailum to fix the programs. Having finished her game with Raffi, who was much less of a challenge than Picard, Enid wandered outside La Serina. One of the Romulan officers had recognized Irina and told Ni'ael and she sensed the girl's fear. Narek noticed she was gone and went looking for her.

"You can't make Irina go with you," Elnor told Ni'ael, "I have bound my sword to her."

"Please!" Ni'ael spat, "You can not bind your sword! You are not Qowat Milat!"

"You may test that assumption at any time!" Elnor's posture conveyed that he was ready for battle.

"No!" Enid screamed and stood in front of Ni'ael.

Ni'ael placed his hand on her shoulder, "I can handle Elnor," he said.

Enid shook off his hand and bounced on her toes repeating, "No, no, no…" She batted at Narek when he attempted to intervene as well.

"Enid," Narek told her, "No one is going to fight." He looked at Ni'ael for confirmation but Ni'ael was studying the young man on the other side of Enid for cues.

"I won't let them take her," Elnor told Enid. Enid signed to Narek who signed back his answer. He tried to explain that Irina's parents had allowed her to be conscripted since she was a telepath. They had been assured passage off Romulus at the time of the supernova. This did nothing to calm her down.

"Everyone should have been evacuated from Romulus!" She signed haltingly.

"I've told you!" he signed back, "There weren't enough ships!" Narek had to admit that his sign language was significantly improved. He could keep pace with her now. Enid responded and her signs became exaggerated. Their audience could see this was not going well for Narek.

"I am not going to be put on trial everytime something about our culture shocks you, Enid!" Narek finally shouted at her. He noticed the audience and returned to sign, "The same thing could have happened to me if Ramdha hadn't taken us in after our parents died! Don't be a child!" Enid looked stricken at first then stomped her foot and made a sign that needed no interpretation.

Ni'ael rubbed his forehead and shook his head, "I have no intentions of taking Irina. For Enid's sake we won't." He smiled at Enid who sported a smug grin before she started shivering uncontrollably. In a fluid motion, Narek removed his jacket and placed it over her shoulders. Her teeth were chattering when pulled her into his chest so that she could benefit from his warmth. Romulan body temperature was considerably higher than Betazoid. Whatever disagreement they might have, Enid's wellbeing was still his foremost concern.

"You should take her to the Ghoyiph," Ni'ael told him, "But I don't think she will accept that." No, Ni'ael thought, Enid wanted to make sure everyone she loved was safe before she would relax. It pleased him that Enid counted him among those she loved. She was part of his family as much as his daughters or Lorlani. Yumuen suggested that Enid return to La Serina. She sat in the captain's chair and Raffi brought her a blanket and some tea which she used to warm her hands. Enid's hands were still shaking but she made the sign for thank you.

"I'll stay with her," Yumuen told Narek, "The sooner you finish the better it is for Enid." Narek agreed but moved the cube of folded paper from his breast pocket to his pants pocket before kissing Enid on the forehead. Enid finished her tea then dozed. Yumuen considered his charge.

"She was an odd juxtaposition of strength and vulnerability," Picard said softly to Yumuen as he approached.

"Indeed," Yumuen acknowledged, then added, "I think it's a beautiful contradiction."

"Not very Romulan of you," Picard observed. Yumuen froze. What was the synthetic old man talking about? Had he blown his cover? "I think she will do well with her people," Picard continued.

"How so?" Yumuen decided to indulge himself in the conversation. His job was a lonely one.

"I can't believe Ni'ael would agree to let Irina slip by if it hadn't been for Enid," he told him, "I hope he doesn't change his mind."

"Unlikely," Yumuen said, "Enid would know. She has a way of arranging things as she pleases."

"What did Narek mean when he said Enid was shocked by Romulan culture?"

"I wouldn't know," Yumuen had heard of arguments between Enid and Narek from the servants at Audit Ei'krih but had not witnessed any. If the couple argued telepathically, he had not heard of it.

On top of his concern for Enid, Narek was uncomfortable working with Soji. Luckily he didn't have to really. He and Ni'ael gave Cailum latitude to do this work. Cailum found the synthetic to be technically proficient but lacking in imagination but supposed that was not something you could program. Soji kept a close watch on the Romulans which made his work somewhat difficult but when it was finished the holo matrix was cleared.

The Romulans returned to the Ghoyiph and La Serina was cleared to leave the system. Fank would take the Ra'kholh and escort the Zheng He to Federation space. Plutarch arranged for the pair of ships to encounter his allies on their way as a show of force in case the Federation got any ideas. Before they got underway, Picard hailed Plutarch.

"I look forward to our continued conversations about the refugees on Vashti," he said.

"As do I," Plutarch told him although he wondered if Picard would be so cooperative the next time they met. After the comm was cut he turned to Ni'ael, "Was Cailum successful?" he asked.

"Yes," Ni'ael told him. Plutarch knew that the synthetic ship while it would have valuable technology would take a long time to reverse engineer. They brought the ship into the Ghoyiph's cargo bay but the real prize of the day had been the specifications that the synthetics had given La Serina. Narek noticed the way the ship handled and gave Cailum a heads up. The worm program had been a concern but one that Cailum could have handled easily within a few hours. He had spent much of his time downloading the specs while reinitiating the worm to be a distraction. With the specs in hand, Plutarch calculated they could have a design by the end of the month and a working prototype within three months. There were more than enough talented engineers on Surruk who were just waiting for a worthy project. Instead of returning home less one ship he was bringing new hope to the elites of Surruk. The warbird that carried the elite refugees arrived at the same time that the Ghoyiph did, making his return truly a triumph.

The first ship created with the new technology was a small powerful vessel that was christening the Gi'halidrl. Unlike other Romulan ships, the Gi'halidrl was white with feather details. It was the ship that would allow Narek and Enid to disable synthetic traps throughout the galaxy. Their engineers had not just copied the synthetic technology but improved upon it. Many of the traps lay within the territories of traditional enemies so it had to be an exceptionally powerful and agile ship. Cloaking technology did not limit its speed. Both Narek and Enid ran simulations on how to pilot the ship. If it lived up to their expectations it was truly revolutionary. The crew would include Fank, Cailum, and Yumuen.

Picard spent much of his time listening to or studying the composition Enid had done for Rios as La Serina warped towards Vashti. It took several times but he could hear elements that he missed when Enid first showed him the piece. It was polyphonic and riddled with dissonance but laid out in such a way that the non aligned harmonics did not sound harsh. The ear still wanted, no needed, the tones resolved but the passages conveyed a hope that was eventually fulfilled when the melody took flight. Rios even had to admit it was beautiful even if he was uncomfortable listening to the composition. Picard reckoned that listening to one's own soul would be difficult but the reality was that Rios was taken back at how accurately the albino composer had captured his inner turmoil. He was heartened that the music ended on a high note and hoped it was prophetic. He still felt he had a long way to go.

On Vashti, Zani welcomed Picard and the crew of La Serina. Picard spoke with Zani regarding Elnor and the events on the mountainside. He didn't know how to talk to the boy about his internal conflict. Perhaps a mother's touch would be more appropriate.

"You have brought me another girl who needs help," Zani told Elnor.

"Irina doesn't need help," Elnor said, "Not like Enid did. She will make a fine warrior." Zani had to agree that Irina had talent. She fit in well with the other sisters with the Qowat Milat although after years of hiding, adjusting to the openness of life in the house of truth would take some time.

"Elnor," Zani said tenderly, "You do not have to serve a life sentence."

"It's not the promise," Elnor said. He could keep the promise, "I am ashamed."

"Shame corrodes our spirit," Zani told him.

"I can not undo what I have done," Elnor told her, "Enid did not behead the synths. I did."

"What was your reasoning?" Zani asked the tortured Elnor.

"I wanted to help Enid," he said, "I thought she needed me."

"But it turned out that she did not," Zani observed, "Enid has proven able to take care of herself."

"She seemed so helpless," Elnor told Zani.

"Even after killing nine synthetics?" Zani asked, "I too doubted that she would survive but she did." Elnor explained that Enid had used the baboons. That was not part of his promise. Her secret was not what happened, it was why. Enid didn't want her enemies to know how painful killing was for her and how terrified that she would have to kill again. She wanted people to fear her. For him, killing was black and white. The Qowat Milat was justified in killing to defend the peace or to protect someone to whom they bound their blade. For Enid, killing caused soul crushing pain, even if it was justified. Even if it was in self defense. He had felt it but couldn't tell Zani that. At least not without breaking his promise.

"She tried to behead them herself," Elnor told Zani, "She was hurt and weak. I didn't realize how much it was going to hurt Soji. Now everyday I have to see her." Zani thought quietly for a moment. She did not like to give advice. In fact, she had refused to give Enid advice that day when Enid was faced with the choice of going with the Tal Shiar officers or Picard. She had given Enid the opportunity to stay with the Qowat Milat although she doubted at the time that the girl belonged with them.

"You are right that you can not undo what you have done," Zani told Elnor slowly, "You can only learn."

"How can I make things right with Soji?" Elnor asked.

"That might be what you need to learn," Zani suggested, "Remember it is not Soji's job to relieve your pain." Elnor considered this and went to seek out Soji. It would take time to gain the synthetic's trust and she would ask him again and again what his motives had been. He wished he could have told her but he still had the promise to Enid.

On Surruk, Enid slept soundly at night but Narek no longer could. Some nights he managed to hide it from her but that was rare. Most nights he would wake screaming and Enid would be there to comfort him although many times he would end up comforting her.

"I wish I could take them back," she told him.

"No," he'd assure her, "After everything you've been through, I will do this." He kissed her deeply, "I wish I could devour you. Then I could keep you safe inside me."

"Eww!" Enid pulled away, "Until you…"

"No," Narek interrupted, "No. You, my love, would take a lifetime to digest."

"Where should you start?" Enid teased, kissing him.

"I think the ears," he rolled over and captured her in his arms.

"Like a chocolate bunny!" the words just popped into her head and out her mouth.

Narek laughed, "A chocolate bunny? That memory says Missy." Enid explained that every spring, Missy and her family would eat bunnies molded of chocolate.

"They also would hunt colored chicken eggs," she said, laughing.

"The eggs of colored chickens?" Narek propped himself on one arm.

"No they would paint chicken eggs bright colors and hide them," Enid knew Narek was teasing her.

"The eggs were brightly colored?" he raised an eyebrow, "Not much sport in that. What would the person who found the most get?"

Enid shrugged, "I think it was a fertility thing," she giggled. It sounded absurd when she said it.

"Fertility," Narek nibbled on her ear again, "So after one has consumed the ears, what comes next?"

"Well, that is a matter of some debate," Enid struggled to hold back her giggles, "Some people eat the nose."

"Mmmm," Narek kissed her nose.

"Some people think it is the toes," she smiled broadly, "But most people eat the...tail!" Enid erupted into giggles and stopped only when Narek covered her mouth with his. The timeline they were living was not the happily ever after that Enid hoped to accomplish later in life, but for the moment, they both were happy on Surruk. Soon they would leave on the Gi'halidrl with their crew for adventures unknown.