Dancing With the Devil
Summary: When the government grabs Zin's second in command, he goes to Cole for help. Post-"In Sheep's Clothing".
Disclaimer: I don't own them, but I should. They'd have been treated better by certain programming execs and other idiots in charge...
Author's Note: Mahalo to Kameka for betaing :)
Timeline: post "Morning After", "Training Day", and "In Sheep's Clothing:
Feedback: Better than Fek-Maln. Good, bad, or ugly, input is always welcomed, otherwise how would I know what I'm doing wrong? Please feed me...
"How's Maria?" Mel asked Vic quietly, pouring two fresh drinks.
"Exercising selective amnesia." Vic shrugged. "Right now, she remembers what she wants to, what she thinks makes sense. Probably for the best."
"Usually, yeah," she agreed quietly, rubbing the small of her back.
The gesture was not lost on Vic. "What about you? How you holding up?"
"Hanging in there." She shrugged and glanced to the alcove where Cole was tinkering with the jukebox. "There have been... more good days than bad lately. For both of us."
"I'm glad." He smiled and reached across the bar, squeezing her shoulder. "I've been worried about you."
"You're a good man, Vic," she told him. "Maria's a lucky woman."
"Yeah, well..." He shrugged and sipped at his drink, not looking at her.
"So, how did she take the revelation that you're actually insanely shy?" Mel teased.
Vic chuckled and shook his head. "What about Cole?" he asked, lowering his voice. "How's he handling things?"
"He's... a very patient man." Mel smiled towards the Cirronian in the alcove. "A lot of men wouldn't put up with me the way I've been lately. Cole understands, like you would. So he waits."
That was not exactly what Vic had meant, but it was good to know that Mel was not feeling any pressure to get on with that particular aspect of her life any faster than she was comfortable with. His instinct told him that the Cirronian was more than capable of tiding himself and Mel both through the aftermath of her abduction. As Cole joined them at the bar with a friendly smile for Vic and a tender one for Mel, Vic felt his instinct was confirmed. If Cole seemed a little more on edge, that was only to be expected. He was bound to be hyper-alert for a little while at least given the circumstances.
When Cole jumped to his feet as the bar door swung open, Vic's first reaction was to suppose that it had been just another startle reaction. Until he saw the man who had just walked in, hands held away from his sides. Mel let out a yelp, backing away as Cole advanced and Vic pulled out his gun.
"Zin," Cole muttered, his Collector in hand as he closed on the Vardian.
"Do it," Zin suggested quietly, lifting both hands. One he pointed in the direction of the human leveling a gun at him. The other, he held in front of Cole's face, palm-forward. "Put us both out of our misery..."
Cole took a step back, pocketing the Collector. "Why have you come here, Zin?"
"Cole!" Mel protested when it became obvious that he had no intention of Collecting the Vardian's life-force.
"It's okay," Cole assured her.
"Like hell it is," Vic protested, struggling to move.
Zin ignored both, focusing squarely on Cole. "You have to help me, Daggon," he whispered, staring up at the Cirronian. "They have Lana."
"They?" Cole asked, frowning.
"Their government!" Zin spat, waving his hand bitterly towards Vic and Mel.
Mel caught a glint of something metallic embedded in his palm. "Cole, what's going on?" she demanded. "Why don't you just Collect him?"
"He has a suicide-patch, Mel. If his heart stops beating, the resulting explosion would be powerful enough to completely destroy this building." Looking down at Zin, he added, "It would destroy the Collector as well. You'd be killed."
"So, we can play chess and discuss philosophy in Hell." Zin shrugged. "It was a chance I was willing to take under the circumstances. I gambled that you hadn't changed much. I'm glad I was right."
"What do you want from me?"
"If I release the human Detective, is he going to shoot me?" Zin asked absently. "I'm getting a headache."
"Vic, you won't shoot Zin, will you?" Cole asked, half-turning towards the Detective. "You do understand that we would all die if you did that?"
"He may be a scumbag, but his life isn't worth either of yours."
Zin smiled sardonically, waving his hand in Vic's direction with flourish as he released his telekinetic hold. "Smart man, your friend. Almost as smart as that woman of his."
Vic bristled. "How dare you mention Maria, you piece of--"
"Vic! Zin!" Cole snapped. "This is not the time. Zin, why have you come?"
"I told you, they have Lana!" Zin snapped, pacing the length of the bar. "She was taken during her morning jog in the park by almost a dozen armed men. She fought. Oh, she fought the way only she can, but they had tranquilizers and stun-guns and a cattle-prod!" He stopped pacing in mid-step, running both hands through his hair, his expression anguished. "Damn it, Daggon, those monsters used a cattle-prod on the child!" he moaned.
Mel's eyes widened. She had never in her life expected to see Zin near tears.
"And you think it's the government?" Cole asked quietly. "But you have your own extraction squads, Zin. Why risk coming to me?"
"Because I don't know anyone else who's managed to get into and most especially out of one of their holding facilities. Twice."
Vic laughed harshly. "Why the hell would he help you?"
Zin snorted. "And here I thought him intelligent." He shook his head and walked to the bar. "May I have a drink, Miss Porter?" he asked, pulling out his wallet.
"Her life-force is intact, isn't it?" Mel asked quietly, shifting uneasily.
Zin nodded shortly. "Intact life-force, no human host. And, more importantly, Vardians are not half the natural mimics that Cirronians are." He shook his head. "There. Now I think we could all use a drink. Well, maybe not Daggon..."
"This could be a very bad thing," Cole murmured, stepping behind the bar and filling three snifters with brandy. He handed one to each of the others before pouring himself a cup of coffee.
"The good news is that they haven't had her long and she can not be expected to cooperate."
"No, Lana would not," Cole agreed quietly. He looked up at Zin. "I'll help you."
"Cole!" Mel and Vic both protested.
"On one condition," the Cirronian continued, ignoring them. "You promise me that you will no longer try to target Mel or Detective Bruno or Detective Cruz."
"I can't promise that, Daggon, and you know it."
"Fine. Then I will find where they are keeping Lana, go to her, and take her life-force."
"No!" Zin protested. "You can't do that..."
"The Security Council says I can. She's wanted for questioning in the second Sar-Top escape."
Zin shook his head. "Fine. I'll leave your Melanie alone, but the other two..."
"They are no threat to you, Zin."
"They know too much..."
"But they will never expose you. Vic can't without exposing Mel. Detective Cruz can't because she doesn't know."
"No, but she is more than intelligent enough to find out."
"These are my conditions, Zin," Cole said simply.
"When did you start bargaining like a Vardian?" he sighed, draining his glass of its contents in one long gulp and holding it up to be refilled. "Done. They get in the way of one of my operatives and that's their problem, but I won't send anyone else after them."
"Good." Cole nodded and refilled the glass, ignoring the looks that Mel and Vic were giving him. "Can you tell me where she is being held?"
Lana moaned softly, struggling into a sitting position and assessing her situation. She had been heavily drugged and was still sluggish from repeated applications of the cattle-prod. While she had been unconscious, she had been transported somewhere. She was now in a padded room with a large one-way mirror, wearing a straightjacket. Scoffing at that precaution, she struggled to her feet and stared at the viewing glass. There would be an observation room on the other side, and escape beyond that.
Escape, escape, the word echoed in her head, bouncing off of the skull of a girl who had spent the first ten years of her life living as a caged animal. Not again. Never again...
Nodding to herself, she narrowed her eyes, focusing all of her attention on a point near the center of the mirror. Within moments, a fine crack appeared. Pleased, she redoubled her efforts, pushing herself to the limits of her endurance. Less than five minutes after the first crack appeared, the glass shattered.
Ignoring the straightjacket restraining her and two very startled-looking humans in lab coats sitting in the observation room, Lana dove through the newly-formed hole in the wall, landing on a desk in the observation room. Ignoring her fatigue and disorientation, she started towards the door. Ten seconds and three tranquilizer darts later, her knees buckled. By the time they dragged her away, she was unconscious again.
"What the hell was that?" a man in a suit demanded, stalking into the new observation room. This time, she had been moved from a padded cell into a medical exam room. She was heavily restrained and a doctor was prepping an IV. "None of the others ever displayed anything remotely like that..."
Leaning against the doorframe, a woman wearing a lab coat over an air force uniform grinned. "Makes you wonder what else she's capable of, doesn't it, Parker?"
"How many men did it take to bring her down, Kelley?"
"Ten of them. Of whom, four are still alive and not in the hospital. Three are dead, two more had their necks broken, and one is in a coma from head-trauma. It's funny, too. The survivors tell me that, of the four broken necks, she only actually touched one of them. Special forces men trying to take her, her pumped full of enough drugs to drop an elephant, and she still nearly managed to escape." She turned her attention to Lana's unconscious form, her smile widening. "Looks so harmless, doesn't she? The military applications boggle the mind."
"You'd do better to think about the military implications. That harmless-looking little waif is a threat to the National Security."
"Think bigger," she murmured, almost purring the words. "I'll bet fewer than ten thousand of them could take out the planet's entire human population." Glancing up at him, she added, "Humbling, isn't it?"
"That's one word for it." He scowled at her. "You're enjoying this far too much, Doctor."
"What can I say? I enjoy my work." She smiled up at him, turning and striding off.
Parker glanced at the unconscious young woman, frowning. She was a fighter, that much was certain whatever else might have been true of her. She had fought the drugs, fought the men restraining her, fought the very idea of being captive. And when the tranquilizers had overwhelmed to the point where she could not even fight any more, she had screamed. Most of it had not been intelligible. What had been was just disturbing, obviously half dream or memory, unrelated to what had been happening to her at the time.
Not tonight. Please... I hurt! I still hurt!.
Not tonight. Not tonight.
Zin! Help me, sir. Help... Help me...
He touched the glass, shaking his head. Harmless-looking she may have been, but she was by no means harmless. Yet she looked to another for protection, called his name in her moment of extremity...
"Zin," he repeated quietly, nodding to himself.
"This is a bad idea on so many levels," Vic muttered to Mel as Cole and Zin whispered together nearby. "How do we know it's not a trick?"
"We don't." Mel shrugged and shook her head. "But we can't risk exposure, either. Lana's going to have a harder time passing for human than the fugitives do. She's not in a human body. She's like Cole; the body's just a façade."
"So on the inside..."
"Two hearts, to start with," Zin informed him, rising and approaching. He sighed softly when Mel took a judicious step backwards, but did not comment. "And a brain divided into four discrete spheres instead of two. But that's not the worst of it." He shook his head. "If she's too weak or in too much pain, she may not be able to hold it together..."
"Hold it together?" Vic repeated.
"He means that she may revert to her Vardian form," Cole clarified, joining them and looping a comforting arm around Mel's waist. "She was not subject to molecular resequencing?"
Zin rolled his eyes. "How could she have been? Those facilities are all controlled by the High Council. It's why so many of our Vardians opted to take human hosts at all," he explained with a shrug, walking to the bar.
"I don't get it," Vic said quietly, shaking his head.
"A resequencer allows a member of one species to take on the physical characteristics of another," Cole explained.
He frowned. "I thought you could just... do that."
"Cirronians and Vardians can, but no other," he explained. "It takes effort for a Vardian to maintain a human form, a constant telekinetic output to maintain the appropriate conformation. A resequencer allows the transformation to occur and endure without effort."
"It's also substantially less painful," Zin added from the bar.
They ignored him.
"So she could turn into a Vardian in front of a bunch of government scientists?" Mel asked quietly.
Cole nodded faintly. "We must move quickly to prevent this. According to Zin, she was heavily drugged before they took her. They will already have learned that it is necessary to keep her sedated for their own safety."
"Bastards picked the wrong kid to mess with," Zin contributed. "We may end up rescuing them from her."
"Will she display her powers in their presence?" Cole asked.
"She doesn't like being trapped. She'll do everything in her power to try to escape. She won't cooperate, she won't talk, but she will fight."
Cole nodded faintly. The assessment jibed with the girl he remembered.
"How are we going to get her out?" Vic asked after a moment's silence.
"Zin and I will go."
"Not alone you won't!" Vic protested.
Mel nodded agreement. "Cole, he's right. You can't go off with Zin without backup."
"Miss Porter," Zin said softly, approaching her. When she backed away, he moved forward again until she ran into the bar and could not retreat further. "I know what you think of me and I can't, in all honestly, blame you for it or even really argue with your assessment... But I can assure you that, this once, it is in my best interest not to make any attempts against Daggon. I need him." He shrugged unrepentantly, leaning around her to retrieve his drink.
Vic glared at Zin and Cole stepped forward, gently pulling Mel away from him. "Mel, please go upstairs for a few minutes," Cole requested. "Vic, please go and stay with her."
"Wait a second!" Vic protested.
"She does not like being alone, Vic. Please go."
"Stay safe," Mel murmured, touching her hand to his heart before turning and starting towards the apartment stairs. "Come on, Vic."
Cole watched them go in silence, then turned his attention to the Vardian. "Do not do that again, Zin," he growled. "You will not try to intimidate her! I won't allow it!"
"You really do love her, don't you?" Zin asked quietly, regarding him thoughtfully. He nodded sharply. "Good. You deserve to be happy."
"Zin..." Cole began.
"Let's not do this." The Vardian shook his head. "I could say I'm sorry for what I've done, boy, but it would be a lie and we both know it. I am sorry that you had to get hurt, but that's neither here nor there, is it?" He shrugged. "I'll give you this much, though: you make life even more interesting as an adversary than you did as a friend."
"You will leave Mel alone, won't you?"
"Have I ever broken a promise I made to you?" Zin shook his head. "I was sorry to have to involve her in the first place." Sighing, he added, "You should have killed Kaehto for what he did to her. I would have."
"I'm not like you."
"No, you aren't," he agreed. "You never have been. I think it's why we got along so well." He shrugged. "Never did have many friends. Just you and..." He shook his head, his shoulders slumping.
"We'll get her back," Cole promised.
"She's a good kid, Daggon. She really is. I know what people think about us, but..."
"I have never believed those rumors, Zin," Cole told him. "You always treated her like a daughter when I saw you together."
"Thanks," Zin murmured, meaning it. "Look, I need to get home for a few minutes. The others will be wondering where I am."
Zin arrived home about the time his wife and mistress were settling down to lunch. Meterand was standing against the dining room wall in a fair approximation of parade rest, observing the two as they ate. He sprang to attention the moment he saw Zin.
Zin rolled his eyes and made a dismissive gesture. "As you were, Meterand. No, Mara, don't get up," he added as his mistress became aware of his presence and started to rise.
Etala, predictably, did not even acknowledge him as she picked at her food. She still had not forgiven him for spending almost a year living with Lana on Earth without her knowledge. That she had been arrested for questioning when his plans became common knowledge had not bothered her at all, but she hated Lana with a vengeance. She could forgive Zin a lot of things, but not his friendship with the young scientist. He had long been convinced that her long-standing affair with Meterand was her way of retaliating against Zin for bringing the girl into his house at all.
"Where have you been?" Etala asked without looking up from her copy of Forbes.
"At a bar getting drunk, wife. What have you been doing all morning?" he inquired smoothly, raising an eyebrow.
He flicked Meterand a quick look, snorting softly in amusement as the bodyguard shifted uneasily against the wall. Mara suddenly seemed to find her own lap the most interesting thing in the room. Etala looked somewhere between livid and terrified.
"Where were you?" she demanded.
"At a bar getting drunk," he repeated casually, rising. "I'll be in my quarters if you require anything of me that one of my... other employees can not provide." He glanced at Meterand for a long moment before turning and retreating to his room.
He looked up at a tentative scratching on his door, relieved that it was only Mara. Meterand would not have bothered knocking, and Etala pounded on doors as though her primary purpose was knocking them off of their hinges rather than gaining entry. Trained in discretion, Mara never announced her presence too loudly or overtly.
"Enter," he called without looking up from the witness statements on Lana's abduction.
"Sir," she greeted him quietly, closing the door behind her as she entered.
"What's Etala up to?"
"Breaking things again, sir."
"Huh." Zin shook his head. "I really need to stop furnishing her room with crystal figurines, don't I?"
Mara did not answer. "Sir, if you were to... order me to help you recover Doctor Lana--"
Zin laughed, unable to help himself. "You are sharp, aren't you, dear? Neatly avoids the need to take sides in their little spat…" He shook his head. "And if I were to order you?" he prompted.
"I would be gratified by your faith in my talents and would do all in my power to live up to expectation."
"Do you like Lana, Mara?"
"Doctor Lana has been kinder to me than I could have hoped since I entered your service."
"The walls have ears now, do they?" Zin asked, amused by her attempt to remain completely, and safely, neutral. She knew when not to stick that lovely long neck of hers out too far. "You know where I've been all morning?"
"I believe so, sir." She nodded.
"And how do you feel about that?"
"Afraid," she admitted quietly. "Lana and Etala both say the Tracker is a fanatic."
"And if they agree on a point, it must be so, hmm?" Zin asked, smiling faintly. "How would you feel about working with him?"
"I…" She eyed him with momentary trepidation before biting her lower lip and lifting her chin defiantly. "He will not harm me with you there to protect me."
"Brave girl. Get your coat."
"It's not that cold."
"Get your coat," he repeated more firmly. "You're just getting over a head cold and I don't want you out in this wind without some buffer. Go," he ordered.
"Yes, sir." She nodded and left.
Zin sighed and stared down at the chip embedded in his palm, rubbing it absently. He had only gotten it at all at Lana's insistence and its possession alone could have earned him a life's term on Sar-Top. Of course, as Lana had blithely pointed out, he was already facing one of those.
"In for a penny in for the full balance," he sighed, rising and retrieving his jacket.