Rwiari Ibreten hated visiting Vulcan. All those emotions being deliberately repressed made her itch under her skin. She had successfully managed to avoid the place for eight years, thank goodness, but today… today she was back again. For some matter concerning the one she had last been here for, according to the person who had called her here, though considering her cousin was eight years dead and the Vulcan woman who had murdered him had passed away not long after, Rwiari had no idea what it could possibly be.
A dark-skinned Vulcan man entered the room Rwiari was waiting in and nodded stiffly at her. “Miss Ibreten.”
“Selek. Are you going to tell me what this is about?”
“I told you—”
“Nothing, Selek. You told me absolutely nothing of use. Simply that it was important, and that it was related to that whole nasty business with your sister and my cousin, and that I ought to come at once.” Rwiari raised an eyebrow at him and reached out mentally, letting her mind brush at the edges of his. “So what is it?”
There was a sudden, guilty roil of emotion that was tamped down in an instant, though Selek’s face showed nothing of this internal turmoil. Curious. “Perhaps… it would be best if I showed you,” he said.
That slight skip of hesitation gave Rwiari pause, but she followed Selek out of the room, down the hall, towards the back of his home.
As soon as he opened the door to a small room, Rwiari flinched backwards. She realized after a moment that it was a child’s room, that there, on the bed, was a small bundle that was the child herself, wrapped tightly into a ball, projecting anger and fear—no, terror—so strongly that Rwiari almost felt it like a physical presence in the room.
“We have been trying to teach her how to control her emotions, but as she has grown…” Selek trailed off, no doubt feeling Rwiari’s own surge of anger.
“When,” she began, her voice at it’s iciest, “were you planning to tell me that your sister had a child with my cousin?”
Selek shifted, visibly uncomfortable. “It was bad enough that her second pon farr went so drastically wrong after her original mate died. This…” He trailed off into silence under the force of Rwiari’s glare.
“What’s her name?”
“Isa.” Selek’s face was showing visible signs of anxiety now. Well. The man had good reason to be worried. Rwiari was furious.
“How long has she been like this?”
Selek avoided looking directly at Rwiari as he answered. “On and off throughout her childhood. We have been trying to teach her to regulate her emotions, but progress has been slow.”
“Of course it’s been slow! She’s half Betazoid, your methods wouldn’t make any sense to her!” Rwiari kept her voice as calm and even as possible, not wanting to scare the child further, but hadn’t been able to keep all of her anger out of her voice. There was a shiver from the child on the bed, and Rwiari took a deep breath and pulled her own emotions back into control.
“Can you help her?” Selek’s voice had gained a tinge of the anxiety that was showing on his face.
Rwiari sighed. “I can try. But you and I are going to have a serious discussion later.”
~Isa?~ A careful voice rang in Isa’s mind, breaking through the noise that always echoed in her head these days. There was a stab of pain… and then the noise was gone, washed away like dirt in the rain. ~Isa, dear, can you hear me?~
Isa didn’t dare open her eyes. She thought that this might be a dream. And if it was a dream, she didn’t want to wake up, because if she woke up the noise would be back again, and the noise hurt.
~I can hear you,~ she thought as loudly as possible, and the careful, gentle presence she felt in her mind responded with a rush of warmth.
~Who are you?~
There was a moment where the presence seemed to be considering the best answer. ~I’m your Auntie Ri.~
Isa frowned. Her uncle did not have any other sisters, and neither did his mate. Which meant… ~Did you come from my father? Are you going to take me away from here?~
~I’m here to help you.~ The touch of a gentle hand on Isa’s shoulder centered her in her body, and she realized suddenly that this couldn’t possibly be a dream.
Isa pried her eyes open. A fat, dark-skinned Betazoid woman, dressed in a brightly colored dress that glowed like a gem in the stark surroundings of Isa’s bedroom, was sitting on the edge of her bed. Her hand was rubbing Isa’s back gently, and for the first time in months, Isa couldn’t feel the constant mutter of thoughts, couldn’t feel the sharp sting each time the people around her wrenched their emotions under control. There was just a gentle, floating warmth that went with the smile on the woman’s face. “You match,” Isa said out loud, then winced. Her throat was dry and sore.
The woman—Auntie Ri, she had said—helped Isa sit up and handed her a cup of water, and Isa sipped it cautiously. “Yes, these Vulcans are a repressed lot, aren’t they? Their face never matches what they’re feeling, and what they’re feeling always gets ignored.” Auntie Ri’s voice was full of a quiet amusement.
“It hurts when they do that,” Isa said, handing the glass of water back, two-handed because her hands were shaking.
“I know, darling.” Auntie Ri took the cup out of Isa’s hands and bent over to set it on the floor, and then carefully wrapped her arm around Isa and cuddled her close. Isa sank into the woman’s side with a sigh. No one she knew liked to touch other people, and Isa hadn’t even known that it was something she was missing in her life. “I don’t know if I can take you with me when I leave here, Isa, but if I can, I will, all right? I’ll bring you back to Betazed for a while.”
“Does everyone on Betazed match?”
Auntie Ri laughed. “Not everyone. But I think you’ll feel better there, at least for a little while.”
“If most people are like you on Betazed, I want to stay there forever,” Isa said stubbornly.
“Well, dear, I’m afraid you’re a Vulcan too, and I’m sure there will be a few things that only they can teach you,” Auntie Ri said, chucking Isa gently on the chin. “But I’ll make sure you’ve got the tools you need to survive here, one way or another.”
“Good.” Isa snuggled up against Auntie Ri’s side, as close as she could get, and shut her eyes… until her stomach rumbled. “Oh. I’m hungry.”
Auntie Ri laughed again, a warm chuckle that comforted Isa as much as the warm presence of her aunt in her mind. “Not eating for a day and a half will do that to you.” She went silent for a moment, though at the edges of her perception, Isa could feel the darting of… something. “There. Your uncle is going to bring you a meal.”
Selek appeared in the doorway of Isa’s room, holding a tray that must have already been prepared. He gave them both a startled look, and Isa wanted to laugh too. It was the most expression she had ever seen on her stoic uncle’s face.
“So quickly?” he asked Auntie Ri.
“She just needed someone to push back the noise,” Auntie Ri answered, rubbing Isa’s shoulder. “Someone who understands emotions, not someone who spends all their time repressing how they feel. And she needed touch, Selek. I know you Vulcans don’t go in for hugs, but physical contact is important for some of us lesser species.” Auntie Ri’s voice was playfully sarcastic, and Isa suppressed another laugh as her uncle blushed.
“I will keep that in mind,” he said stiffly, and crossed the room, setting the tray at Isa’s side on the bed and kneeling so that he could look Isa in the eye. And then, cautiously, he opened his arms and held them out to her.
Isa tried not to cry as she fell into her uncle’s arms and let him hug her close. This close to him, she could feel the careful thrum of his thoughts, like a constant itch beneath her skin, but whatever Auntie Ri had done kept it from hurting as it once had.
She was going to be all right.
Captain Isa of the USS Hephaestus woke in a cold sweat. It had been years since she had last spared a thought for the woman who had taught her about the Betazoid side of her heritage... Until now. Until she’d received an order from Starfleet Command to go into what had formerly been the demilitarized zone between the Federation and Cardassia and which was now… well, after the Dominion war, who even knew? But Starfleet Command had received a report of a Borg presence close to the Cardassian side of what had formerly been the demilitarized zone, and the USS Hephaestus was uniquely qualified to investigate.
But before they could, they had been ordered to Deep Space Nine to pick up some new crew members, along with a prisoner, a person from Isa’s past who she would have been glad to never see again.
Isa thought back over the conversation she’d had with Admiral Ngomo the day before.
“How do we even have passage that close to Cardassian space, ma’am?” she had asked, a question which had made the Admiral smile.
“Just as persistent with questioning orders that don’t make sense as you were in the Academy, Captain. And I’m sending a full briefing packet to you on a secure channel, but to answer your immediate concerns: you’re familiar with Rwiari Ibreten, are you not?”
Isa had frozen, remembering that day in the academy, when she’d been pulled out of classes and interrogated about her relationship to the Betazoid woman, who she had once called Auntie Ri. Remembering when she had been under investigation for months while trying to make her way through Starfleet Academy because it had become clear that Rwiari had been using her position as a diplomat to spy on other species and had been selling that information to the highest bidder. When she come under investigation again for her connection to Rwiari after the Betazoid had served her sentence and had immediately joined the Maquis, using her telepathy to spy for them, her empathic abilities to influence others. “I knew her. Long ago. But I haven’t had contact of any sort with her for more than fifteen years.”
Admiral Ngomo had laughed. “Relax, Captain. We’re not planning to open up that investigation again. But she apparently knows quite a lot about the current Cardassian high command, at least enough to negotiate safe passage for you and your ship.”
“By which you mean she has blackmail material on some of them.”
The Admiral nodded. “Indeed.”
“And her conditions?”
“She’s coming with you.”
Those words had shattered Isa’s calm, and it had taken all of her mental training—so much of which had been influenced by Rwiari Ibreten over the years—to regain control over herself.
She had spent the rest of the briefing—and the rest of the day—in a daze.
But today… today she had put it off as long as possible. Today she needed to brief her command staff on the Admiral’s orders so that they would have some idea of the mess that was about to fall on their heads before they got to Deep Space Nine and were neck-deep in it.
Unsurprisingly, Lieutenant Ch’Laahrt was the most irritated. “You’re telling me that Starfleet Command expects us to integrate former members of the Maquis into our crew?”
“And the command staff.”
“We’ve been working with a crew a only two-thirds the size a ship of this class requires for far too long, Lieutenant. I know that former Maquis might not be your first choice, but they were Starfleet once and they have sworn to be Starfleet again, and right now we need them.”
Ch’Laahrt glared, but shut up, obviously putting his overactive brain to thinking through the security measures he’d need to put in place just in case the Maquis didn’t reintegrate as well as Command hoped they would, and Isa moved on to the subject of their soon-to-be prisoner.
Commander Fisjer took the knowledge that he had a day and a half to make necessary modifications to the brig to allow for long-term occupancy with his usual good humor. “No problem at all, Captain,” he’d said.
Ch’Laahrt, on the other hand, looked as if he were about to have a fit of apoplexy. “Captain,” he protested through gritted teeth, “I would have appreciated a little more warning.”
“Yeah, well.” Isa shifted uncomfortably. On that, he was right, but she had been too disconcerted the day before to put together a proper briefing for her command staff. “You’ve got enough time to get done what you need to.”
It had taken the rest of the time allotted for the briefing to calm Ch’Laahrt down, and the briefing had run over while Isa went over the part that the science division would be playing in their little jaunt into Cardassian space. Vior and Qhiws had taken their part in it well enough; the pair of them had already made the Hephaestus one of the fastest ships in the fleet. Dr. V’Ginn, on the other hand… well, there was no telling what Dr. V’Ginn thought of the situation, though Isa suspected that, if the report of a Borg incursion was accurate, he would appreciate the chance to test some of his theories. And then, everyone was dismissed, all of them scrambling to get back on duty.
Before returning to duty herself, though Isa knew that there was one more thing she ought to do. A confession of sorts, to someone she hated confessing weaknesses to. Dr. V’Ginn always seemed to regard Isa with a vague sort of disdain for her un-Vulcan displays of emotion, and she didn’t like giving the man any more ammunition than he already had, but this conversation was necessary. She pulled him aside before he could leave the briefing room.
“Dr. V’Ginn. A word in private.” The doctor glanced down at Isa’s hand on his shoulder, and she pulled her hand back as if she’d been burned, despite the fact that he hadn’t had any emotional response to the touch.
“Captain?” A slight twitch of his eyebrow indicated impatience, the mental echo of that impatience quashed in an instant.
“It’s about our soon-to-be prisoner.” Isa swallowed hard. “Rwiari.” There, her voice had only cracked a little. Somehow, it had been easy enough to say that name during the briefing, but one-on-one with someone else… no. There was nothing easy about that.
“Yes.” Isa swallowed nervously. “She’s the woman who taught me to control my telepathy.”
V’Ginn’s eyes widened for a moment, but his mind was calm. “I see.”
“I’m telling you this because I want you to know that I have personal experience with the woman. You have to be careful with her. Make sure, absolutely sure, that the regime of neural blockers is working on her.”
“May I ask why?”
“She’s the strongest damn telepath I’ve ever met. And on top of that, she’s a talented empath. She can talk anything out of anyone, and anyone into anything she wants them to do. I don’t want her doing that on my ship.”
A brief frown appeared between V’Ginn’s eyebrows and was wiped away in an instant. He gave Isa a small nod of acknowledgment. “I understand. Will that be all?”
“For now. Thank you.”
Another small nod, and V’Ginn was gone. Isa knew she should return to duty, but instead she stood there in the briefing room for several long minutes after V’Ginn’s departure, taking deep breaths to calm herself.
She would make it through this.