Immediately following No More Pretend
Soundtrack: Apologize by OneRepublic
-=Tryst Residence, Betazed=-
[Alchemy to Zanh.]
Liis fumbled once again for her combadge and moved away from the crowd to answer the call.
[Captain, you have been ordered to beam aboard the USS Gauntlet, which has just arrived in orbit.]
Liis' complexion turned ashen. She didn't have to ask, she knew exactly who had issued the order.
"I will as soon as I'm back in uniform. Ask the Admiral to stand by. Zanh out."
TC Blane observed the look on Liis' face from across the yard and quickly approached her position.
"Vox is here." Liis replied. "He's ordered me to beam aboard the Gauntlet."
"You can't go alone," TC reached out and put a protective hand on her shoulder. "Zanh Liis,"
"Thomas," her eyes filled with tears, a sight he had very rarely seen. "I have to go alone." She nodded to him, and prepared to make her exit from the crowd as quietly as possible.
"Captain," he protested again, but she was insistent.
"Tell them," Liis pleaded, taking his hand from its position and shaking it firmly once, "that I expect the best of them, as always. Tell them that I know they will not let me, or The Alchemy Project down."
The tears in her eyes seemed to evaporate without falling, and resolve overtook her features.
"Tell them that I am so proud of each and every one of them. That I will never forget them."
Blane's heart sped up. She couldn't be saying what he thought she was saying.
"Tell them, Thomas, to strive, to seek, to find, and never yield."
Quoting Tennyson's words in parting Zanh Liis hurried into the house, donned her overcoat and ran all the way back to the Inn.
She retrieved her suitcase, put on her uniform, and she slowly unpinned each of the four shining gold pips from her collar. She knew in her heart that they no longer had any weight of meaning.
As soon as she was dressed, she instructed the Alchemy to contact the Gauntlet, and within moments she was standing before Jonas Vox in his ready room.
"What's the matter, Jonas? You couldn't wait for me to come back to Earth?"
"No." Vox said simply, rising. "I see you had the foresight to remove your rank insignia. Psychic, Zanh Liis?"
"No, but I'm not stupid either." Liis replied. She reached up to twist the chain of her earring, then remembered that she had stopped wearing it the moment that Jariel had left Betazed. Empty, her fingers slowly fell down and came to a rest against her combadge.
Slowly, she withdrew it from her chest, and held it out toward him. "You'll be wanting that too, I imagine."
"You won't be needing it, that's for certain." Vox' manner was pure ice, one would never know that he and Liis had once actually considered each other a friend. "You brought this on yourself. You should have told me the truth."
"Why? So that you could send me back and have them try that last-ditch procedure that failed Keiran so miserably?" Liis choked back her emotions, determined not to give him anything to relish as proof of having gotten to her. "Tell me, did you figure it out on your own? Or did the little boy you coerced into doing your bidding send you a message before he came back to pretend he wanted my forgiveness?"
"Dane found proof you lied to me?" Vox seemed surprised by this. "I didn't think he'd follow through. I realized that I couldn't trust him and I figured that by now, your conscience would be troubling you, Zanh Liis. It always was the thing that kicked you in the ass in the end."
"At least I have one." Liis replied with a tone of disgust in her voice which equaled the one in his. "Who is your set point, Jonas?"
"What?" Vox' mouth fell open.
"Your set point. Every TI agent former and current has one. Jariel was mine, I'm Keiran's, and I want to know who the hell yours is."
"Only the weaker agents need those." Vox replied dismissively, cold as stone. "Those of us who are true professionals don't have one."
Zanh Liis uttered two very profane words in response to his statement before saying anything else.
"You can call me what you want, but don't you ever call him weak. You'll never be half the man that he is." She shifted her weight from foot to foot. "Speaking of O'Sullivan, do what you want to me, Jonas. But you should know that he had no control over any of this. Don't punish him because of my,"
Before she could finish, Vox held up his hand. "None of it matters now." Vox reached into the top drawer of his desk, pulled out an envelope, and tossed it across the desk in Zanh's general direction. "Open it."
Liis clasped her arms behind her back, holding her head up high in silent refusal.
"Open it. That is an order."
"You don't get to give me orders anymore."
Vox sighed with great frustration and turned the envelope over to show her the front. He pointed to it, where her name had been hand-written in very familiar script.
Liis felt dizzy, the wind knocked out of her as she realized what this meant. "No." She took a step back and wrapped her arms around her shoulders.
Vox violently ripped the envelope open, and then dumped the contents out onto the top of his desk.
Time seemed to stand still as Liis watched the items fall out and tumble onto the shining black surface. She took inventory of them in her mind as each finally came to rest.
A folded piece of paper.
An envelope sealed with crimson wax.
A large gold ring.
"No," she repeated, her voice warning Vox off as she stared at the ring in disbelief. "Don't say it."
"Keiran O'Sullivan is dead, Zanh Liis."
Liis shook her head from side to side, denying his words in silence.
Vox stepped forward, snatching up Keiran's signet ring and thrusting it out toward her. "His last Jump was one way and he knew it. He left these with me, to see to it that you received them. I am carrying out his last wish."
Liis knees went weak and she stumbled backward, retreating as Vox kept coming at her.
She closed her eyes, refusing to look at the ring now. "No."
"Hail Mary, full of grace, Our Lord is with thee," Liis began to intone softly, wringing her hands as she pressed her back up against the wall for support. Slowly she slid down to the deck. "Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of they womb, Jesus,"
She didn't even know what she was saying as she clenched her eyes more tightly shut, praying to wake from this nightmare.
"Zanh Liis," Vox shook her by the shoulders, trying to bring her back to the moment. "Open your eyes."
"Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners," she continued on, in a trance. "...now and at the hour of our death. Amen."
"Liis!" Vox raised his voice, and finally she looked up at him again. He glared at her, grasping her by the arms and pulling her back up into a standing position. He moved her roughly over toward the couch and tossed her toward it. She sank down into it, holding her head in her hands.
Moments passed, and as she began to regain her senses she had only one question.
"Variant of Sylph first contact," Vox explained. "I can't tell you any more."
She nodded. Vox held the ring out to her again, but Liis shook her head.
"Mary Clare." She whispered, and Vox was puzzled.
She pointed toward the desk, indicating the things Keiran had left for her. "Those belong to his family. They should be sent to the youngest, Sister Mary Clare. In care of The Church of Christ the King at-"
"He intended them for you, Zanh Liis," Vox insisted, "And I'm not sending them to anyone else. If you want to, you'll have to do it yourself." He reached out, grabbed her hand and forced her clenched palm open, placing the ring into it and folding it closed again. Liis lowered her eyes as she waited for him to tell her what he planned to do with her now.
"You will be confined to quarters aboard this ship for the duration of our trip back to Earth. Once we are there, you will be put before a review board, and as punishment for withholding vital information from the Agency, you will be stripped of your rank and commission. For the sake of appearances, you will be discharged on a 'medical retirement' and then you will be free to go."
"Appearances are all that matter, after all. Not what really goes on." She whispered hoarsely. Her sharp sarcasm betrayed her utter disillusionment. "You're not going to put me in prison? Must be an empty victory for you. You'd have enjoyed getting to do that at last."
"You have known me for years, Zanh Liis, but still you know nothing about me." Vox retorted, "If you think I get any pleasure from any of this, you are sadly mistaken."
Liis laughed bitterly. "If you say so, Sir."
"You will be required to write a report on your Sylph experience."
"An accurate report detailing that you have retained your memories." Vox clarified.
As she listened, Zanh decided that she had no intention of revealing that she had retained Keiran's as well.
The Admiral looked at her sideways now. "There is one chance for you to save your career and your life in Starfleet, Zanh Liis. You can go in for one more attempt at resequencing."
"You can go to Hell." Liis' bloodshot eyes locked on his. "And rot there."
"I'll be sure to prepare a place for you if I get there first." Vox rumbled, tapping his badge. "Security to the ready room."
A moment later, two burly security officers flanked Zanh.
Vox returned to his desk, picking up the scattered items from the envelope and returning them to it. He handed it to Zanh.
"I believe that one of the items he left for you is the deed to a large parcel of land in rural Ireland." Upon hearing the words, Liis realized that the folded piece of paper she'd seen earlier did have the markings one would expect to find on such a document.
*After this is over, I'm going home,* she thought.
She did not mean the world of her birth.
She slowly rose from the couch at last and placed the ring back into the envelope with the other items.
"See to it that Zanh Liis remains in guest quarters until we reach orbit of Earth. She is to speak to no one except myself during that time, clear?" Vox commanded.
Liis fell in step between the two men, not looking back as Vox called her name again.
She was intent on ignoring him and leaving, but one of the guards stepped in front of her and blocked her path. Vox moved between Zanh and the guard, and he grabbed her by both arms.
"Carrick was his set point. Not you."
"But Keiran thought,"
"I know what Keiran thought." Vox leaned forward, whispering in her ear. "But it was never you. He simply loved you, Zanh Liis. Entirely on his own."
Liis could not prevent tears from filling her eyes upon hearing this. She closed them and the drops fell silently down her face.
For reasons she could not have explained, she believed him.
Vox remembered then that she had never given him the one last thing he needed to have back from her. "Your compass, Zanh Liis."
She unclipped it from its hiding place and before handing it over, she could not resist the urge to open it and look, one last time.
It was dark.
She sighed softly and relinquished it.
"You now have what you've wanted for so long," Vox remarked, taking the device and tucking it into his pocket. "You're free."
"I will never be free." Liis declared sadly. She cast her eyes toward the door. "Can I go now?"
Vox lowered his eyes, granting approval.
The doors parted, and Zanh Liis held tightly to the envelope in her hands as the security detail silently led her away.
-=/\=- Zanh Liis