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Fearful Symmetry

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Summary: Willow/Tara Trek uber-fic, sequel to Equilibration. The crew of the starship Hannibal face a dangerous enemy... and find an unlikely ally - a figure out of Willow's past, who may be even more dangerous...

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Star Trek > Other/GeneralCaptMurdockFR15745,581175,41924 Jun 056 Sep 10No

Chapter Six

Chapter Six

Agarashima, Japan
The past

He had left the ancient house as a boy. He returned as a man.

As trite a cliché as it sounded, the Disciple of Onada had to acknowledge the truth of it, coming back after ten years of attending and graduating Starfleet Academy with high honors and a posting on a starship as junior helmsman. His almost- forgotten dream of traveling the galaxy as a starship pilot was now a reality. He had rank and responsibility, friends, opportunities to learn new languages (a hobby from his earliest polyglot days) and experiences far beyond those of most of his kinsmen in the House of Onada.

He had also learned the depths of despair, as he had watched one friend die at the hands of Orion pirates. Even his consummate martial wisdom, diligently practiced and honed in the years since he had left his grandmother’s tutelage, had been unable to save Solvar, his Vulcan roommate, who had taught him Old High Vulcan so he could read Surak in the original tongue. Solvar’s death had scarred him, deeply enough where his captain had recommended a leave of absence, which coincided nicely with a happy occasion…

He had returned for Obuchan’s century day, the occasion of her one hundredth birthday. Beaming down from Spacedock to the Miyako platform, he had elected to walk several kilometers home, eventually encountering his cousins and the House Elders as he made his way into the ancient stronghold. He found his grandmother, the Master of Onada, in the room where his training had begun so many years ago, seemingly as if he had never left it.

And yet…though most people would have been unable to discern any illness and would in fact had been amazed at how hearty Shikiku seemed, the one living person who knew her better than any other could tell that she was not the woman he had said goodbye to years before. The inner light that had once blazed from within was subdued, shadowed by time, drawing closer inevitably to the instant it would be extinguished forever.

At dinner that night, the two of them talked on a number of subjects: his new assignment as a records officer when he returned from leave, news of his parents’ various jobs around the Federation, and even a few letters from his younger brother who the young man had not met but was rather interested in. Only his grandmother’s prodding has brought out the painful subject of the Orion pirate affair, the death of Solvar…and the life he had taken with his own hands.

“You protected not only your life, but that of your shipmates,” Obuchan intoned sharply. “As a disciple of Onada, you would consider them under your protection, even as the Master of Onada protects those of the household. What shame is there in protecting your captain and fellow officers?”

She was about to declaim further, when she stopped in mid-sentence. The young man knew instinctively that her enhanced senses had spotted trouble. Instants later, tasting the tang of ozone on the air – A transporter beam! – he knew the intruders were there, seconds before they crashed through the paper shoji of Shikiku’s sanctum.

Unfortunately for them, the intruders, clad in an exotic chromomimetic cloth that enabled them to blend in with the shadows, had not reckoned with the inhuman skill of the Master of Onada and her Disciple. Frail and ancient as she seemed, she dodged fists and feet and phaser beams with equal facility, seeming to touch her attackers to send them flying backward. Her grandson, meanwhile, was handling himself fairly well. Even as he blocked and countered, he mused inwardly about how well he anticipated their attacks, almost before they knew themselves what they were going to do…

Within a minute, the donnybrook was over, the remaining members of the raiding party having activated some recall beacon to transport themselves and their incapacitated comrades back to their origin point in a whisper of light and air. The rest of the household had rushed in to inquire as to the disturbance. The young man had been about to demur as the identity of the intruders when his grandmother’s voice brought him up sharp:

“Your body recognized them, Anjin-san, even if your mind did not.”

He was about to protest further when it snapped into place, the fighting style used by the intruders, one he had known almost as well as that taught to him by his grandmother years before: standard hand-to-hand combat training given to all cadets…

Dios mio…they’re Starfleet!”

*****

Adigeon Prime
The present

”Mission Log, Stardate 50278.6 -- Lt. Willow Rosenberg recording. Following some of the leads we acquired the previous evening, Lt. Maclay, Chief Petty Officer Gunn and I have traveled to the warehouse district east of the capital city.”


“Mmm-hmmm,” Willow muttered for the fourth time in as many minutes, causing Tara and Gunn to (again) glance at one another and roll their eyes in exasperation. As much as she loved to see her friend and lover sink her mental teeth in a scientific mystery, she was getting tired of being left out of the loop while Willow played Junior Scientist. Gunn, while keeping an eye out for any potential threats, was nevertheless losing his patience as well.

They were in a walkway between two industrial warehouses, the kind that could easily be reconfigured into office space, temporary housing or small manufacturing complexes. Willow surmised that whomever was conducting genetic augmentation could very well be using some of these warehouses, possibly on a rotating schedule to preclude interruptions by outside agencies. Given the scarcity of casual foot traffic or even ground vehicles in the general area, the warehouse district was the ideal place for all manner of illicit enterprises.

Willow had also theorized that any chemical substances used for altering the genotype might not have been properly disposed of (“One thing you can always count on with your garden-variety Bad Guys: they’re consummate slobs!”) and would leave traces that would be readily detectable. To that end, she had been examining seemingly random spots with her tricorder, muttering to herself and making cryptic notes on the instrument.

Dressed again in her synthleather trousers, turtleneck and frock coat, Willow knelt down on the plasticrete near the outer wall of a warehouse, staring at a slightly discolored patch along one corner. Playing her tricorder over the spot, she nodded, tapping a couple of controls on the device and watching the results of the sensor analysis. The flickering lights of the tricorder gave her face a fairy-like aspect as dusk approached.

Tara was back in her “street clothes” as well, standing beside Gunn in his long duster and “do-rag” bandanna, who kept one hand near easy access to the phaser in the hidden holster beneath his coat. The chief petty officer had been keeping a weather eye out for trouble all day, giving several potential molesters his best “Back Off, Or Bleed” expression. Wisely, none of these would-be troublemakers had elected to test his ability to carry out that tacit threat.

“Mmmm-hmmm…well, well…that’s interesting, and what might you be…” The science officer raised her auburn eyebrows as she ran a molecular scan and perused the results. “Mmmm—“

“If you say ‘Mmm-hmmm’ one more time, Willow,” said Tara, “I’m –“ Cutting off sex for a month was what she was about to threaten Willow with, but Gunn’s presence caused her to censor herself. Now, with both Willow and Gunn giving her expectant looks, the best she was able to come up with was “—gonna get testy!”

Gunn did a bad job of covering his smirk, while Willow, damn her eyes, had the audacity to giggle until Tara put hands on hips and gave her a pretty good imitation of Captain Murdock’s Not-Getting-On-My-Good-Side expression. “Sorry, sorry, I’m sorry,” she muttered contritely, getting up from her crouch and dusting off her trousers. “But seriously, I think we’ve found the Infamous Smoking Gun. No, not you, Chief,” she added hastily at his perplexed expression.

“You’ve found evidence of genetic engineering? Here?” Tara added doubtfully.

Willow nodded sagely. “My hunch that we might find traces of substances used for altering or augmenting DNA seems to have paid off. That spot there –“ she indicated the discolored patch she had been investigating a minute ago “—has traces of cytophenylotrizine and beta-metorapan, which are by-products formed when bio-mimetic gel breaks down.”

“Bio-mimetic gel…that’s a substance the Federation keeps strict controls on,” Tara muttered.

“Not something you just leave lying around to ‘break down’,” Gunn added.

“But it can be used for the recombination of ribocyatic sequences and it’s immunosuppressive,” Willow finished. “We definitely on the right track.”

“Should we inform the captain?” Tara asked

“Not yet. We were already pretty sure that genetic engineering was happening here…we need to narrow it down as where. This stuff I found here is at least a month old. They’ve already moved their operations somewhere else…although if my hunch is right, probably not that far away.”

“Why d’ya say that?” inquired Gunn

“I may be wrong, but I think they’re just doing the old three-monte shuffle around here to keep the occasional Nosy Parker, or maybe a rival criminal outfit, from crashing their party,” Willow explained. “They wouldn’t have any reason to be afraid of Starfleet, given that this planet isn’t a Federation member.”

Gunn and Tara shrugged. It was mostly guesswork, but it had a certain logic, and Willow had been right so far. And it did fit in with the information that they garnered the night before in the bar…assuming, of course, that the fellows volunteering this knowledge knew what they were talking about and not simply trying to impress Tara and Willow…

****

The Master of Onada, meanwhile, had also entered the warehouse district, keeping himself a discreet distance from the trio he had tracked to this location. From his own inquiries, he had learned that they had been asking some of the local and transient population rather probing questions, confirming his initial suspicions that these “cargo haulers” were far more than they seemed.

He had been mildly surprised that there were two seductresses in one of the bars, pumping (so to speak) the semi-reputable patrons for similar information, before he realized, belatedly (You’re getting slow on the uptake in your old age, he chastised himself) that they were the two young women in the company of the dark-skinned man. The erstwhile “floozies” had apparently been successful in finding out where the illegal genetic manipulation might have taken place; the old man had to give them props for using methods that, quite naturally, were not in his repertoire.

He decided to use them as stalking horses, for now, letting them lead him to the genetic-engineering site...and hopefully, to Kaiser Muldoon. He considered drafting them as allies. While fear was an almost-forgotten feeling (At my age, what do I have left to fear?), there was no denying that he was alone in potentially hostile territory, and regardless of his century-honed skill he was neither immortal or indestructible. He almost regretted not contacting Cassius; despite his irreverance and his slapdash methodology, the man was quite resourceful and a staunch ally.

The old man saw that the slimmer of the two women has stopped again, using her scanning device. Even as he took measures to shield himself, he once again mused at the redhead’s seeming familiarity...

“Ah, Willow,” he breathed, “If only you were here...”

****

Willow began scanning again with her tricorder, not seeing or pretending not to see the exasperated expressions of her companions. She tuned the instrument to look for both large concentrations of lifeforms and certain substances like biomimetic gel in close proximity...

Something else, however, presented itself. “Hold on there a sec...”

“Whatcha got?” Gunn rapped out, forgetting for a moment his subordinate status. Training and habit prompted him to amend his remark, but Willow silenced him with a raised hand.

She began to swing the tricorder around in short arcs, in an attempt to triangulate the odd reading she had gotten. “Some kind of sensor bounceback,” she muttered, started off in the direction indicated on the tiny visual display. “Looks like a subspace transceiver array, really small one, too. Must be out of power, though, or I would have picked it up before now. Got it!” She made minute adjustment to the tricorder. “Okay, it’s got a surrounding matrix of beryllium, carbon-70 and gold...”

“A combadge,” muttered Gunn.

“One of ours?” inquired Tara. “I mean, from the ship? But who would be down here, besides us?”

“I don’t think it’s anybody from the Hannibal, swee-- Uh, Tara,” Willow said, backpedaling on the endearments since they were all “on the clock.” “If this combadge came here with the ship, it would have a charge. Don’t those charges last over a week?”

“More like three weeks,” answered Gunn. “You’re right. If that’s a Starfleet combadge, it belongs to somebody who the captain didn’t know was here.”

The three young people were silent as they mulled the implications of this. Then Tara, ever pragmatic, shrugged. “One way to find out.” Indicating to Willow to lead the way, she turned towards the row of warehouses.

****

“Can you do it?” Muldoon inquired, looking over the young brunette’s shoulder as she tapped commands into a communications console. Although his tone was casual, few of his henchmen missed the air of menace in his voice.

The girl, however, seemed oblivious to this, as she seemed somewhat detached from the normal universe. She treated the infiltration of the starship’s defenses as an intellectual exercise. “Oh, yeah,” she drawled in her quaint accent, favoring Muldoon with a smile. “Y’see, though most Starfleet people don’t know it, there are hidden access points in a starship’s main computer system, what they used to call ‘backdoors’ at the turn of the millennium. Now, I can’t access the command systems or internal security—“

“Oh, I don’t need those,” the genetic augment countered smoothly. “I’ve already got the perfect method of rendering them helpless. All I need is the internal communications systems.” He turned to face Seraph and Blood William, who were standing nearby, looking, respectively, eager and bored. “Ready your strike teams.”

***

”Captain’s Log, supplemental. After discussions with First Officer Faraday, Counselor Devereaux and Lt. Thelvran in regards to their meeting with the planetary governor, I have decided to beam down to meet with Tezlar-Yali myself.”

“Captain, please understand that I am trying to be helpful, especially as I am under no obligation to be helpful whatsoever...”

Captain Murdock struggled mightily not to let his eyes glaze over as the planetary governor went through this spiel yet again. It didn’t help that Commander Faraday had told him in his ready room the previous evening, practically chapter-and-verse, what he was going to say.

Murdock slid a PADD over to the Grazerite governor. “Take a look. I have a feeling you might recognize the man in that file.”

Tezlar-Yali activated the PADD and stared at the holoportrait shown on the screen. Murdock was no empath, but he could tell that the governor recognized Kaiser Muldoon and was trying, unsuccessfully, to mask his discomfort.

“Kaiser Muldoon? Um, I don’t know what you mean – I-I’ve never seen...”

“Cut the crap, Governor. We have pretty good intel he’s here—“ As a matter of fact, Starfleet did not have any inkling; all Murdock had to go on was the communique from Kiro Onada. However, he had not lived as long as he had without developing a Galaxy-class Poker Face. “—and up to No Good. Now, I realize that you run a pretty casual operation around these parts. Your business, your planet. But I find it hard to believe that Muldoon could be conducting this level of –“ Murdock paused, his celebrated glibness momentarily failing him in finding the right words.

“Shenanigans?” Thelvran supplied helpfully, from his post near the wall mural.

“Yes, thank you, Lieutenant. – this level of shenanigans, without at least your tacit knowledge.” Murdock leaned forward, fixing Tezlar-Yali with a piercing but not unsympathetic eye. “I think he’s probably got a hold on you to make sure you cover for him. Doesn’t he?”

****

“It’s somewhere in this building,” Willow announced, coming to a nondescript warehouse nestled amongst a dozen others like it in the district. “Less than fifteen meters away...”

“Might as well be fifteen light-years, Willow,” Tara replied, trying the access pad next to the pedestrian entrance. A chittering beep heralded the door’s refusal to open. “I don’t think we are going to get in this way.”

Gunn moved up from his usual “check-six” position, rummaging in his pockets. “Lemme try something here...” he muttered, sidling past Tara to the door. He placed a manual actuator pad, ostensibly Starfleet-issue for opening doors when the main power had gone offline but which closer inspection had undergone some subtle modification, on the metal surface of the door, where it adhered magnetically. Another tool, looking for all the world like a high-tech lockpick, came from Gunn’s capacious coat, was being deftly manipulated by the chief petty officer at the access panel. Willow and Tara exchanged bemused expressions, which quickly turned to surprised admiration as the door panels slid partially open.

Gunn’s dark face split into a satisfied smile, quickly smothered as he retrieved his actuator and stowed it away. “Yeah, well, uh, legacy of a mispent youth an’ all that,” he offered non-committally in response to his colleagues’ inquisitive eyebrows. Turning abruptly serious, he peered in through the gap in the door, one hand under his duster on the grip of his phaser.

Each taking one side, Tara and Willow pulled the door the rest of the way open as Gunn stood watch. The corridor beyond the entranceway was stacked with several crates and packing cases along each side but was empty of life. The trio moved inside, shutting the door behind them as Willow retrieved her tricorder from her pocket.

“Alrighty now...about ten meters, thataway,” Willow pointed down the dimly-lit corridor, leading Tara and Gunn towards the signal she picked up earlier. The corridor opened up into a large space subdivided into smaller rooms, partially filled with crates and equipment,.

The combadge was lying on the floor, next to a shipping crate covered with alien symbols. Gunn was about to reach down when Willow restrained him, playing her tricorder over the combadge and its immediate surroundings. “Given the lack of electrostatic differential,” she concluded after a few seconds’ scanning, “I’d say it’s been here a couple of months.”

“Whose is it?” wondered Tara aloud.

“How’d it get here?” Gunn added. “It’s not like Starfleet visits this place on a regular basis.”

“That I don’t know,” answered Willow as she picked up the combadge and affixed it to an auxility input on the tricorder. “But I can find out whose combadge this is,” she said, instructing the tricorder to establish a secure uplink to the ship and access the Starfleet personnel database, matching to the badge’s biosignature.

****

Muldoon turned from the data terminal where the young brunette worked, to see Glory enter the office in an agitated state. “Boss, we got problems.”

“Don’t we always?” Muldoon replied dryly.

“Someone’s broken into Site G.”

Muldoon frowned. “That’s not good. Gather a few of the boys, have them go see who’s there. Not you – you already know where to go. We are not delaying the timetable.”

****

In a matter of moments, Willow had downloaded the information into the tricorder’s memory core. She took a minute to dictate a quick report, then uploaded that and her sensor logs to the Hannibal, setting it to flag the captain’s attention.

“Now let’s see who we have here,” Willow muttered, bringing the personnel record matching the combadge’s biosignature up on the tricorder’s tiny data screen. “Y’know, these things are great for taking sensor readings, but not for reading the next Great Galactic Novel.”

Tara nodded, then brightened as she got an idea. “Here...use this!” she said, taking a small PADD out of her duster pocket. It was a generic model, common as dirt on a hundred planets in the quadrant.

“Where’d you get that?” Gunn asked as the counselor passed it over to Willow.

“Last night in the bar...a guy gave me his comcode on it.”

Willow was about to transfer the personnel record from the tricorder to the PADD – the larger screen on the latter would make reading easier – when she noticed there was more than one comcode stored there. In fact, there was quite the collection of comcodes, a fact that escaped none of the three. Gunn and Willow vied for having the most incredulous facial expression, as they gazed at the increasing-reddening Tara. “We just gotta do something about this country-girl shyness of yours,” was all Willow trusted herself to say. Tara, for her part, pretended to study the surrounding room.

A second’s work transferred the information. Willow brought up the personnel record on the PADD and read it aloud. “Burkle...Ensign...Winifred? And I thought I had a funny name... Assigned Starfleet Corps of Engineers, specialist in isolinear matrices and warp-field theory...”

Tara listened absently as she looked at the image of Ensign Burkle. The face of a slim brunette, dark eyes and cheeky grin, reposed on the PADD screen. Then she felt a surge of emotion through her empathic sense, coming from Gunn. The chief petty officer was staring at Burkle’s picture intently. Tara could not quite characterize what he was feeling; the best word she could come up with was “awestruck.”

“You okay?” she whispered at him.

He snapped back as if cattle-prodded, realizing that he had been staring at the ensign’s picture. Luckily, no drool seemed to be in evidence. “Uh...yeah, fine, Lieutenant. I’m good....so, uh, what happened to her?”

If Willow had noticed Gunn’s awestruck state, she gave no sign. “According to the latest addendum, she disappeared during a survey on Ventax II about six months ago.”

“That’s a few dozen light-years from here,” Tara mused. “How unlikely is it that her combadge just happened to end up here?”

****

Sitting in the captain’s chair on the Hannibal, Faraday was reviewing the information that Willow had sent up, when Kolrami spoke up from the Ops position. “Commander, we have a problem!”

Knowing how well Gelfa Kolrami could field almost any situation, Faraday felt mildly alarmed at the urgent tone in the Zakdorn’s face. “Report,” she ordered, crossing over to the operations manager worked at her console.

“Unauthorized access to command systems,” Kolrami muttered, her large fingers dancing with inhuman dexterity over the Ops console, “coming from outside the ship.”

“Security alert!” Faraday ordered, addressing the ensign at the Tactical station. She then turned back to Kolrami. “Is it coming from the planet? Or a ship in orbit?”

“Unknown. I’ve already isolated most of the command functions: propulsion, navigation, weapons...strange...it seems to be accessing the internal communications—“

Kolrami’s report was cut off by a strangled cry from the helm position. Xorek, the Vulcan ensign manning the post, suddenly stiffened and grabbed his head. He managed to gasp out, “Commander—“ before toppling to the deck.

Feeling as if problems were piling upon problems, Faraday called out, “Medical emergency on the bridge!” Then somebody seemingly took a phaser drill to her skull as blinding pain erupted without warning. Dimly, she was aware that Kolrami, too, was writhing in agony at her station. Faraday tried to call out to her, to anyone, but even the effort of speech seemed to worsen the pain and disorientation.

Ultrasonics, she realized as she sank to her knees, trying to keep a slippery hold on consciousness, through our own communications...Captain...must warn...trap...can’t...think...what to do...one last...

She had time to bark out a single command before darkness swallowed her.

****

The ultrasonic pulse raged through the ship, rendering every member of the Hannibal’s complement unconscious in a matter of seconds. As there were neither positronic androids nor sentient holograms amongst the crew, the ship was effectively helpless. The pulse cut off, having met no resistance.

A minute later, a transporter beam broke the silence on the bridge. Seraph looked around at the insensate officers and crew, a cruel smile (the only kind in his repetoire, to tell the truth) displaying his satisfaction. He nodded at the other members of his team, then activated the comm unit on his jacket lapel. “This is Seraph. We’re secure.”

****

In the governor’s office, Murdock was taking a perverse delight in watching Tezlar-Yali squirm. A sidelong glance at Thelvran confired that the even the ever-polite Andorian was getting his ya-yas at watching the Grazerite governor twist like a worm on a fishhook. Okay, we’ve let this cook long enough.... The captain stood up to leave, betting himself that Tezlar-Yali would throw himself on Murdock’s mercy before he left the office.

Behind Murdock, the door opened to admit the governor’s assistant, Glory. Murdock was bemused, sharing in his first officer’s opinion that this woman was a floozy. Still, not a bad package from a distance...which was rapidly shortening as she –

-- backhanded the captain across the face with incredible strength and speed. Caught off guard, Murdock stumbled blindly back across the office, backing into the free-standing divider shelves and crashing down to the floor.

Thelvran shook off his momentary paralysis, drawing his phaser and letting off a burst at Glory. The beam staggered her, but she stayed on her feet. Thelvran quickly adjusted his weapon to a higher setting and was preparing to fire again when Glory rushed forward and seized his wrist, immobilizing the hand holding his phaser in a duranium grip.

Changing tactics, Thelvran tossed the phaser, as much as he could given the powerful grip threatening to crush his wrist. As Glory’s eyes flicked involuntarily to the phaser, Thelvran used the split-second opening to smash his other elbow into Glory’s jaw. She staggered back, giving the Andorian the opening to deliver a snap-kick to her midsection.

Shaking off the blows, Glory sneered at him. “That the best you can muster, crap-knat?”

Thelvran answered with another kick, then followed up with a chopping strike at her throat. With incredible speed, Glory intercepted his blow; grabbing the front of his uniform tunic, she then bodily lifted him over her head and sent him crashing down onto the governor’s desk, the occupant of which had already taken the bold step of cowering on the floor.

Thelvran felt as if his insides were caving in; after Glory picked him up again and slammed him back down, he felt nothing else.

Glory was distracted from inflicting futher harm on Thelvran by the piece of shelving Murdock decided to use in lieu of a baseball bat on her head. The blonde augment was knocked to the floor, dazed but not unconscious. Murdock, for his part, felt as if a genuine Louisville Slugger had been used on his face. Gathering the unconscious Thelvran to him, he muttered “Not that I don’t love a good fight, but...”, tapped his combadge and shouted, “Hannibal: emergency beamout!”

Glory was getting up. The transporter beam Murdock was expecting to sweep them both out of harm’s way was taking its sweet time. He tapped again. “Murdock to Hannibal, respond!” Belatedly, he noticed that the combadge was chirping a negative tone...and that the door to the office was opening again...

“I’m afraid your crew is rather busy being unconscious at the moment,” Kaiser Muldoon said as he strolled in, backed up by a couple of humanoid flunkies and brandishing a hand weapon. “But I’ll be happy to pass along a message, as soon as I’ve finished taking your ship.” Without further adieu, he pulled the trigger.

“Ah, heck,” Murdock muttered as he sank to the floor.

Muldoon turned to his underlings. “Secure them both in the holding cell. Glory, go find out what’s happening at Site G.” He then turned to Governor Tezlar-Yali, who was timidly peeking over the edge of his desk. “Sorry for the mess.”

****

At the door of the warehouse where he had observed the young trio gain egress, the Master of Onada paused to examine the entry panel. He had seen the dark-skinned man defeat the door mechanism; however, the old man’s practiced eye noted the subtle security system Gunn had missed. The owner of the warehouse – most likely, Kaiser Muldoon – would no doubt be alerted to their presence.

Sighing in exasperation about impatient youth, the old man employed his own methods, similar to Gunn’s but refined by decades of experience, to open the door. Slipping inside, he stood still near the entrance. He could sense the presence of several other beings having recently transported into the warehouse, the ionization of the tranporter beam reminding the old man of spring rains in Japan.

Those kids attract trouble, the old man thought, making his way quickly but stealthily into the warehouse proper. I knew there was something I liked about them!

****

Tara suddenly stiffened, prompting Willow and Gunn to a state of higher alertness. “What...?” Willow asked, knowing her girlfriend’s empathic sense had been tripped.

“We’ve got company!” Tara hissed.

Eight meters ahead of them, two men, one a Bolian, burst out of the shadows and charged pell-mell towards the trio. Yelling “G’down!” he drew his phaser from under his coat in a swift motion, snapping off two shots with practiced speed. Both beams hit their targets and their would-be attackers collapsed in mid-sprint.

Willow barely had time to register this when someone grabbed her shoulder from behind in a crushing grip, startling her enough to drop her tricorder. Reacting instinctively, she kicked behind her, hitting her unseen opponent’s lower abdomen more by luck than design. Spinning around, she grabbed her attacker’s arm in a wristlock and hit him hard in the throat with the edge of her hand.

Meanwhile, Tara and Gunn both had been jumped by other henchmen of various species. Gunn dealt with his opponents with swift lefts and rights, as they were too close to stun with his phaser. Not being as adept in hand-to-hand combat as her colleagues, Tara was having a bit more trouble with the Boslic who was trying to strangle her into submission.

Willow finished off her adversary with a left hook to the chin, taking a couple of seconds to shake out her aching knuckles. She noticed Tara struggling with the Boslic and was moving to help her, when she was grabbed again from behind. Before she could mount a defense, she was shoved bodily into a stack of crates. Fortunately, most of them were empty and light-weight, cushioning the blow. Nevertheless, Willow was too stunned to stop the Nausicaan from picking her up and hurling her again, this time into a solid partition. The young redhead impacted with bone-jarring force, then slid down to the floor.

Gunn had dealt with his first two thugs and was now trying to keep a Tiburon from taking his head off with lightning-fast snap kicks. Unlike the other bargain-basement henchmen, this one had had training and knew what he was doing. Gunn would have admired his form better if one of the kicks hadn’t connected to his head and sent him sprawling. Okay, it’s time we got serious here, he thought woozily, scrambling at his right boot.

The Nausicaan beckoned one of his cohorts, a Cardassian, over. Pointing to Willow, he gave quick instructions and watched as the Cardassian picked Willow up and spirited her away.

Tara unsuccessfully tried to pry the hands pressing against her windpipe away from her throat. Her vision wavered, the Boslic inexplicably turning into her brother Donny, who had cornered her behind the barn again where Dad couldn’t see and he was trying to—

Long-buried rage boiled to the surface as Tara smashed her fists upward against the Boslic’s elbows, breaking his grip on her throat. Before he could recover, she delivered a snap-kick to his groin, hoping that like most humanoids Boslics carried their genitalia in the usual place. Thankfully, they did. As her opponent doubled over, Tara clasped both hands together and, with all the strength she could muster, hit the Boslic in the neck near the right shoulder. The impact juddered back along her arms, but the Boslic dropped like a bag of stembolts. Taking in deep gulps of air, Tara clawed for her phaser.

The Tiburon had knocked Gunn down and was moving in to press his advantage when something shattered his knee. Sinking down, he only had time to utter a short, strangled shrief before Gunn’s collapsible wand hit him upside the head and knocked him cold. Gunn rolled out of the way as the Tiburon hit the floor, scrambling to his feet as he heard a gutteral roar coming from the Nausicaan. The petty officer braced himself for the onslaught of an alien juggernaut seemingly half-again his size as it charged towards him...

...only to get pole-axed by a phaser beam coming off from the side, cutting the Nausicaan’s charge in mid-stride. Gunn would later swear the floor shook when the big oaf did a face-plant. He looked over to see Tara, holding her little phaser at arm’s length, breathing deeply and a little unsteadily. He glanced at her handiwork, then back. “Nice zapping,” he opined.

The counselor’s deadly-serious expression was suddenly softened by a lopsided grin. “My first.” She nodded toward the spring-loaded wand Gunn was now collapsing back down. “That’s, um, interesting...”

“Family heirloom,” he snapped, unable to keep a grin off his face. “I keep it for close—“

“Willow!” Tara shouted, looking around and not seeing the redhead. “O-One of them must have taken her!”

“There’s her tricorder.” Gunn pointed to the instrument lying on the floor. Tara picked it up and tapped in a sequence.

“I’m picking up her combadge!”

Gunn nodded, retrieving his phaser from the floor. “Let’s go.” The pair moved off deeper into the warren of rooms in the warehouse.

****

Blood William stepped off the turbolift onto the bridge, his girlfriend Cilla trailing along languidly behind him, carrying an antique doll. Seraph turned with a tired expression barely concealing the contempt he felt for the younger, more impetuous man. “Well?”

“She’s not here,” the blonde augment reported crisply. His allegiance to Muldoon had less to do with loyalty than with having opportunities to satify his sadistic traits. Being used as a flunky was not what he considered a perk. “We’ve had people scouring the entire bloody ship. She’s not on board.”

“The kitten’s found a wainscotting,” Cilla purred, addressing not the two men but the doll she held. “She’s very naughty. We will have to punish her!”

Seraph rolled his eyes. “I suppose she could be down on the planet – but the only ones that transported down the last time were the captain and the security chief. Everyone else is here –“ Seraph took a breath “—almost.”

“’Almost’? Whaddaya mean, ‘almost’? Who else is missing?”

“The first officer, Faraday,” Seraph shook his head and looked around the bridge, littered with unconscious Starfleet officers. “She’s gone. And the computer insists that she hasn’t left the ship. So where is she?”

****

The Cardassian, whose name was Melok, carried Willow through various corridors until he reached a staging area of sorts, which had once been the site of gene resequencing but had since been cleared out. Other some bare tables, stripped consoles and the odd discarded piece of furniture, virtually nothing remained of Muldoon’s operations.

Melok let Willow drop to the floor, then turned as he heard footsteps behind him. Glory strode in, looking hell-bent on kicking someone’s ass ... which was normal for her, Melok reflected. He noticed that one side of her face looked slightly swollen as if from an almost-healed injury; deciding the discretion was the better part of curiousity, he forebore querying her about it.

“She’s one of the intruders we caught,” he told Glory, indicated the unconscious woman. “I don’t know what’s going on with others; Grngnak told me to bring her here and report to you. You know her?”

Glory peered at her a second. “No,” she answered a second later. “I thought that might be the one Muldoon’s looking for, although why she’d be down here-- Wait a minute.”

“Wha—“ was all Melok got out before Glory shushed him with a curt gesture. The blonde augment stepped out into the accessway. Other than a couple of crates, there was nothing to see in the feeble illumination.

“Thought I heard something,” Glory muttered. Shrugging, she turned back to Melok. “Get rid of her, then head back to the office. I gotta check in and see what’s going on with the ship.” Without further ado, she walked out the accessway and out of sight.

Melok shrugged. The redhead was disgustingly smooth-faced by Cardassian standards, but she had a nice figure on her. Oh, well. Drawing a small energy weapon from a rear holster, he extended his arm, took careful aim...

...heard a slight whooshing sound overhead and was seized by the neck and arm by a grip of duranium. Melok felt himself swung around with incredible force, unable to get a look at his attacker as he flew headlong into a wall.

The Master of Onada completed his pivot, his left hand effortless catching his walking stick that he has tossed into the air before grabbing the Cardassian. His right hand pulled at the handle, drawing out the blade partially, ready to use against Melok as needed. As it turned out, there was no need: Melok had impacted headfirst against the wall and died instantly.

Disgusted with himself, the old man knelt over the body, double-checking for signs of life and absently pocketing Melok’s weapon. “Question first, then kill,” he admonished himself. “Doesn’t work very well the other way around.”

He had lost track of the trio that had preceded him into the warehouse; he had then come across the Cardassian carrying the young redhead. The old man was still astonished that the blonde woman had nearly spotted him crouched in the shadows, no doubt due to the enhanced senses of a genetic augment. Besides that, he truly did not like the vibe he got from her, even from a distance. If all of Muldoon’s flunkies are like her, this could get truly serious.

He turned towards the unconscious girl whom he had saved moments before. He chuckled to himself; up close, the resemblence of this girl to Willow Rosenberg was...

Crouching down next to the girl, he turned her completely face-up. The ancient countenance of the Master of Onada softened, blooming into childlike wonder at his discovery. It was several seconds before he found his voice, such was his surprise and his joy. “Oh, mi hija, how can you be here?”

****

In another part of the warehouse, Gunn and Tara were tracking Willow by the signal from her combadge, registering on the tricorder Tara carried. Both had their phasers out and were alert for trouble, moving from one piece of cover to another.

Tara had already tried contacting the Hannibal, figuring that being attacked by goons meant their cover was blown. However, there was no response to her signal, nor to Gunn’s when he tried his combadge. Ominous thoughts passed unspoken between the two, and Tara’s anxiety level ratcheted several notches upward.

Gunn split his attention between the shadows ahead and Tara, watching her work the tricorder’s display. He saw her shoot up a hand palm-first and halted. She checked the display, tapped on the screen to bring up a higher-resolution scan, then whispered to Gunn, “Ten meters ahead. She’s in that room. One person with her.”

Gunn nodded as Tara closed the tricorder and stowed it in her duster pocket. Moving as silently as they could, the two crept towards the open doorway of the room Tara had indicated. Slipping inside, Tara and Gunn scanned the room quickly, looking for Willow and any possible attacker...

...and found Willow lying on the floor in the middle of the mostly-empty room...with an old humanoid man kneeling next to her.

Professional instincts triggered Gunn to point his phaser at the old man and say “Don’t move!” Personal impulses, on the other hand, prompted Tara to step to one side, brandish her phaser and shout “Get away from her!

The old man, dressed in an tan tunic, brown slacks, black shoes and cream-colored duster, looked back at them with the air of a kindly uncle at a children’s birthday party. His lined face, framed by white hair tied in the back, betrayed no fear at the weapons pointed at him. “Well, either I ‘don’t move’ or I ‘get away from her’ – make up your minds,” he added with a slight chuckle.

Damn. Good point. Tara grimaced at Gunn, who gave an exasperated exhale. “Stand up, slowly, and walk towards us.”

The old man complied, rising from the floor like smoke, moving with the ease of a much younger man. Stepping around the unconscious Willow, he stepped towards the two of them with almost liquid grace, the walking stick in his right hand hardly more than an affectation...

...which didn’t sit well with Gunn, regardless. “Hey, gramps,” he ordered, gesturing with his phaser, “leave the shillelegh behind.”

Tara watched as the old man’s features hardened slightly. She could see that his skin tone, ostensibly fair like hers, had a tannish undertone; she wondered if he had any Asian ancestry. She found it difficult for her empathic senses to take any impressions from him; his mental discipline was nothing short of incredible.

“I’m not used to taking orders from children,” the old man muttered, stepping forward while leaving his stick balanced on its end, “and I don’t like being called ‘gramps’!” He strode forward, leaving the walking stick pointing straight up, seemingly defying the law of gravity. Tara felt herself blinking, certain that her eyes were playing a trick on her, feeling a cold place in her stomach and one in Gunn’s, too.

Professional that he was, Gunn was not about to let himself get rattled by an old man’s parlour trick. “That’s close enough. Put your hands away from your sides and step next to the wall.”

An annoying smile creased the ancient face. “And what if I don’t happen to feel like it?”

Gunn was in no mood for this dried-up dingleberry and his attitude. “You see this?” he barked, gesturing again with the weapon in his hand. “It’s called a phaser. That stands for ... P utting! your Hands! Away! from your Sides! Is! Required!”

The old man blinked, seemingly in confusion. “I don’t think that spells ‘phaser’.”

“He’s right,” Tara added, “you need something for ‘E’ to, y’know, stand...” She trailed off as she noticed Gunn giving her a don’t-help-me look. She was feeling more apprehensive than ever; in spite of having him outweaponed, Tara was getting the nagging feeling that the old man had the upper hand. There was a sense of contained, channeled energy coming from him, like the power eminating from a warp core. The miniature Antartica in her mid-section reached up her spine as the horrible thought came unbidden: He’s an Augment!

If Gunn had noticed this, he gave no outward sign. “I’m not playing around, gramps. Don’t try anything funny.”

Again the amused, rather condescending twinkle. “You mean like this?” the old man quipped as he quickly slid a hand under his coat, as if going for a weapon.

Taking no chances, Gunn fired his phaser at the old man at more-or-less point-blank range. Then he blinked in incredulity: his target failed to fall down. He fired again. This time, he saw the old man twist out of the way of the beam.

Tara watched Gunn, for the third time, fired at the old man, only to have him dodge by mere millimeters. She could feel intense concentration and heightened perception from this seemingly-magical adversary. Shaking off her paralysis, Tara aimed and fired her own phaser. Incredibly, the old man seemed to anticipate this, avoiding the phaser beam by milliseconds and millimeters. Even when the two fired together, trying to catch the old man in a crossfire, he managed to twist his body in mid-air, over, under their phaser beams.

Tara was adjusting her aim for another shot when the old man glided towards her with preternatural grace. She fired again, gritting her teeth as he again avoided being hit. Gunn held his fire, wary of hitting the counselor accidently. A finger suddenly flicked out towards her wrist...

“Aaagh!” Tara’s phaser flew out of fingers suddenly rendered numb, as had most of her lower arm. The old man gave her a second’s disapproving glance and a wagging no-no finger, before turning back towards Gunn. The chief petty officer bided his time, waiting for a clear shot. The Master of Onada moved towards his second adversary, his focus never entirely leaving the young blonde woman while he absorbed every facet of her companion, the minute shifts of balance, the flickering of the eyes, the involuntary flutter of metacarpals, all part of a lexicon of body language that enabled the ancient, through skills honed over a century, to anticipate his opponent’s moves.

When the old man had moved far enough, Gunn fired again, twice more, missing the old man by millimeters even as he crept close enough to grasp Gunn’s wrist, twisting it so fast and hard that his phaser flew out of his hand...to drop right into the old man’s other hand. Helpless in the steely grip that immobilized his hand and arm, Gunn could only watch as the old man’s fingers moved like spiders over his weapon, deftly, minutely...

Tara gasped as Gunn’s phaser fell to the floor in pieces. Oh my God, he crushed it! was her initial thought... Then, after she reflexively blinked and looked again, she saw the components of the phaser -- pre-fire chamber, actuator, power cell and so on – were intact; the weapon had been expertly disassembled... with one hand.

The extraordinary task completed, the old man released Gunn’s wrist and stepped back, looking for all the world like a host at a garden party. “Now then,” he said, convivially but with the merest trace of condescension, “maybe we can continue this in a more –“

Pushed beyond his endurance, Gunn threw a right haymaker at the old man’s chin. Not unexpectedly, he didn’t connect, feeling his half-completed blow deflected and he himself propelled towards the wall. Instinctively, certain that his opponent would attack him from behind, he kicked backwards where the old man should have been. However, the Master of Onada has already noted the younger man shifting his balance to accomodate his defensive kick, and had already moved out of the way.

Meanwhile, Tara, moving as unobtrusively as she could, had put herself in the old man’s blind spot opposite Gunn. She knew she had virtually no chance in taking this guy out, but maybe she could distract him long enough for Gunn to get an edge...

Now. His back was turned to her as he dodged a series of punches from Gunn. Clasping her hands into a doubled fist, Tara launched a blow towards the old man’s neck...

...which he blocked at the last possible instant, his forearm stopping her strike like a steel beam. Gunn, hoping to seize the instant advantage, set his balance and threw a snap-kick to the mid-section. The old man managed to block it, but it was clear he was having to work at dealing with two opponents at once. Still, neither of them seemed to really lay a finger on the old man. He dodged, deflected and blocked their blows and kicks with relatively little effort. Granted, he didn’t seem inclined to counterattack...

Changing tactics, Tara tried bodily tackling the old man, trying to throw her arms around him in an effort to slow him down and enable Gunn to hit him at least once. The old man pivoted in place, somehow managed to propel Tara right into Gunn and knocking them both to the ground. The counselor grimaced slightly at Gunn by way of apology as she scrambled back to her feet. Gunn used the momentary cover of her body to retrieve his collapsable wand from his boot. Tara noted this and raised an eyebrow, rolled her eyes towards the old man to indicate her intentions to Gunn, who gave a barely perceptible nod in return.

Charging the old man with she hoped would be an intimidating series of yells and blows, Tara hoped to distract him long enough for Gunn, still holding his weapon close to his body, to nail this geezer. The old man easily sidestepped her, as she had planned, enabling her to get to the far side of him, to presumably draw attention away from the chief petty officer now swinging his wand in a wide arc...

...only to miss as, at the last possible instant, the old man bent backwards at the waist with the grace of a limbo dancer. Before either Gunn or Tara could take advantage of his position, he twisted and scrambled upright.

Gunn shifted his balance to swing his wand again as Tara readied a high kick at the old man’s head, again more hoping to provide a Gunn an opening than thinking she was going to knock their opponent out. Unexpectedly, a steely hand caught her ankle at the apex of her kick, effectively immobilizing her. At the same instant, the old man, while holding Tara’s leg up in the air, shot his other hand towards the approaching Gunn.

Gunn only caught a blur heading towards his midsection as he came forward, wand raised, when the entire right side of his body cramped up like the mother, grandmother and great-aunt of all charlie-horses. What felt like a sledgehammer knocked him back against the wall; his legs could not seem to find the strength to hold him upright.

Spinning back around in the next split-second, the old man’s foot swept Tara’s other leg from underneath her, causing the counselor to fall to the ground as he let go of her leg. Caught completely off-balance, she failed to orient herself to fall correctly as taught in self-defense classes; she took most of the fall on her right buttock.

Gamely, Gunn tried to stand up, but he felt half his body was trapped in cement. The other half, by virtue of not being paralyzed by a precisely-delivered nerve-blow, just felt horrendous.

Wincing, Tara stood up, feeling the bruises already starting to form on her backside. And to think I was worried about teethmarks, the other day. Hope Willow likes purple, ‘cause my ass is gonna look like an eggplant pretty soon... She knew that renewing her attack on the old man was pointless, given that Gunn was effectively out of the match.

Curiously, the old man seemed to have no interest in further hostilies, regarding his erstwhile adversaries as a pair of eager, if somewhat backward, students. He retrieved his walking stick from where it had been balanced on point during the entire donnybrook, and turned back towards Tara with a bemused and not unkindly air. “I do hope we can continue this conversation more genially,” he said with hardly a trace of smugness.

“Um, I-I would like that,” Tara began, feeling somewhat foolish but unsure how otherwise to proceed. “We didn’t come here for a fight.”

The old man’s eyebrows arched. “You could have fooled me,” he muttered in a reprimanding tone. “After all, your greeting, not mine, lacked a certain bon ami.”

Tara conceded that he had a point. “I know. Y’see, we had already been attacked in this warehouse by a bunch of thugs, one of whom had t-taken Willow...” She pointed towards the unconscious girl a couple of meters away.

“Yes, I know, I wasn’t able to help you with them,” said the old man, displaying what seemed to be genuine regret, “I had lost track of you in this slap-dash maze of rooms and corridors. But I was able to get here before that fellow could shoot her.”

Tara’s eyes followed over to where the old man’s hand was pointing...and nearly bugged out as she saw the dead Cardassian against the wall near the far entrance to the room. “Ohhh...you did that? Um, thank you...”

Gunn had managed to get his legs underneath him and, using the wall to brace himself, force himself to stand upright. His sight wavered as he overcame excruciating pain...only to fall again as his overloaded nervous system failed him once again.

Tara and the old man glanced in his direction as Gunn involuntarily grunted in pain. “Ah. Well, perhaps I should sort your friend out,” the old man averred as he strode to where Gunn sat slumped against the wall, trying to find the energy to take a full breath. Kneeling down easily (once again, Tara was struck by how strong and limber he was, like a man of thirty instead of – in her estimation – a century or more) he stuck a thumb high into Gunn’s chest. Before either of the two could protest, the old man made a sharp, decisive movement. Tara would later swear she hear a mild cracking sound, like the popping of air bubbles. For now, she could sense the almost unbearable agony Gunn was feeling suddenly dim down to a dull ache. Gunn, for his part, felt an almost orgasmic relief as his body once again came under his command.

Crossing over to Gunn, as the old man stood and moved aside to make room for her, she knelt down to see to him. At the same time, an odd yet familiar light was starting to illuminate itself in her mind: Willow was regaining consciousness...

“How do you feel?” Tara asked, somewhat unnecessarily but mainly to give them all some time.

Grinning wearily, the chief petty officer sighed. “Feel like a million dollars. Too bad we don’t use money anymore.”

Tara chuckled, then turned her attention back to the old man as a thought struck her. “Wait a second...you said you knew we had been attacked. You followed us here?”

“Yes. I’ve actually been looking for evidence of genetic engineering on this planet; I ran across you and your friends a few days ago by coincidence. It seems that we’ve been working at more or less the same goals, judging by what I’ve learned about some of the inquiries you’ve made.”

Tara wasn’t sure how much she should reveal of their mission to this stranger. “What’s your interest in genetic engineering?”

The old man’s face hardened. Tara had a hard time getting a solid empathic impression from him, but she was pretty sure his emotional state fell far short of equinamity. “Let’s just say, for the moment, I’m looking for an old...aquaintance.” His lined face then quirked up in a smile. “Speaking of old acquaintances, there is the matter of the young lady behind me...”

“What’s your interest in her?” Tara queried, a bit more sharply than she had intended.

If the old man picked up on the depth and nature of Tara’s interest, he gave no outward sign. He merely affected an offhand expression and replied, “That’s a story for most casual surroundings than this place...which, now that she’s apparently woken up, judging by the way you are judiciously avoiding looking at her...” He trailed off as he saw Tara’s crestfallen expression.

Willow, for her part, wasn’t sure who this man was, or how she had gotten here, or why Tara and Gunn were so wary of him. However, she had her own phaser, and she pointed it now at his back. “Don’t move,” she said in her best commanding tone.

Very slowly, the old man turned towards her. “I never thought that so much time would pass,” he intoned evenly, “that you would ever point a phaser at me, Willow Rosenberg.”

With her empathic senses, and her clear view of Willow’s face, Tara could feel her lover’s confusion turn to recognition…and an almost palpable joy.

"Captain Cumberland?!?"

Francisco Cumberland, the last captain of the original starship Hannibal, Willow’s former commanding officer back in the twenty-third century, gazed with fond affection at his former junior science officer. “I always knew we’d meet again, mi hija…but you picked the damnedest place for a reunion!”

The End?

You have reached the end of "Fearful Symmetry" – so far. This story is incomplete and the last chapter was posted on 6 Sep 10.

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