893: Mightier Than the Sword: One

by Rada Dengar and Zanh Liis
Following The Only Option
Soundtrack: My Last Request by David Cook


-=USS Serendipity=-

Her feet felt almost too heavy to lift from the deck as Liis shuffled, more than walked up to the threshold of Engineering.

Main Engineering was a vital part of any ship; in this case the ship she herself commanded and yet somehow, she never felt as if she belonged here. She always only felt in the way, no matter who it was who was assigned to oversee the workings of the department. Her place was on the bridge or, on the odd, frustrated day off, perhaps in Deuterium Control scrubbing exhaust ports with a toothbrush.

Not here. Never here.

It felt even more of a task than usual to force herself beyond the doors as the two security officers stationed at the entrance parted to allow her to pass. Each gave a nod, and a polite acknowledgment of her presence by speaking her rank aloud. She returned the nods to each, one at a time, but said nothing.

Her mind was far too busy trying to swim against the current of a sea of words that, even if she spoke every one of them with perfect timing and in the most sympathetic order, could never give full weight of meaning to the decision she had to ask Rada Dengar to make.

Her eyes were fixed on the end point of her destination, the closed doors to Dengar's office, as she strode through the room.

"Captain!" A familiar voice and face greeted her, as the man that both belonged to were suddenly directly before her; trying, a little too obviously, to impede her progress. "What can we do for you?"

"I need to speak with Chief Dengar immediately." Zanh replied. Normally, she would have taken more time to speak, and in greater detail, with someone she'd known as long as she'd known Lieutenant Barlow. These, however, were not normal circumstances.

"He's exceptionally busy at the moment, are you sure there isn't anything I can do?"

"Josiah Barlow," Zanh's lip almost, but not quite, curled at the edge. "I get the distinct impression that you don't want me to go in there."

Barlow glanced away, guiltily. One of the things she'd always liked best about him was that he was terrible at subterfuge.

She'd known him for years, more than a decade now of linear time. They'd first met when he was an engineer assigned to the flagship they'd previously served upon. He was on a leave of absence and considering an early retirement after the unexpected death of his wife when Zanh had been offered command of the Serendipity.

She'd asked him personally to join the Engineering department here, and, with his children and their children scattered around the quadrant now, he'd felt that his place, his home, was still with other Starfleet engineers.

He'd accepted her offer, and many late nights when he'd found himself too awake in empty quarters to sleep, Zanh would find him walking the halls of the ship alone.

Then she'd invite him to share an ill-advised but somehow decadent because of it late night pot of coffee and listen to him talk about the Old Days.

Days in which he'd been faster, bolder, more physically active to be certain but never smarter than he was now. The thing about Barlow that always astonished Liis was how much she had to learn from him. She felt, as long as she'd known him, that she'd barely scratched the surface of all he could teach her. About people, about Starfleet, and about life.

"Captain," Barlow hesitated and shifted his weight. "Commander Dengar is up to his neck in calculations at the moment. He's on a roll, I'd hate to," he stopped. "I mean, if I can help you instead, do you think that maybe you could-"

"I'm sorry, Jo, but you can't." Liis interrupted, with true regret. "I wish I was here about an engineering problem. I'm not." She said no more, but the look on Barlow's face told her that she didn't have to.

He leaned forward and whispered, years of knowing her giving him the right. "Oh no. Not young Wren."

"Not yet. But if something isn't done, it won't be long." Zanh rasped back.

"I'll say a prayer for her." Barlow promised. Liis felt a lump rise in her throat as she looked over his shoulder, through the windows of Rada's office.

He must be deeply engaged in whatever he was doing, Zanh observed, because though she couldn't see him, she noticed instantly that he'd neglected to close the blinds. "Say one for him too." She said, tilting her head toward Rada's door.

Barlow's eyes instantly reddened with emotion he could not keep at bay. "I'll...ask Caroline for her help. Maybe she can... put in a good word up there."

The knot in Liis' stomach grew exponentially at the sound of the woman's name. She knew that he meant he'd ask his wife for her help from the afterlife, if there was any she could provide.

"Tell her I said hello." She struggled to say the words, thinking of Keiran's vision of heaven as he described it to her so many times, and wondering again if any such place could really exist. "Thanks Jo."

"Anytime, Captain." Barlow said softly, finally stepping out of her way.

Liis took several paces forward and rang the chime, but there was no answer. She called his name, and got no reply. Truly getting worried, she overrode the security code on the door and stepped into Rada's office, nearly stepping on Rada in the process.

He was sitting on the floor, legs crossed, with piles of papers around him. His eyes held the look of genius possessed, his focus held captive by some overriding force of will.

It was the look of a man desperate to do something, anything, to save the one that he loved.

It was a look she'd seen before. At times in others' faces; at times in the glaring stare of her own reflection.

He was muttering to himself and seemed completely unaware of her presence even as she tripped over him and then righted herself again.

"There must have been a sudden surge of tachyons at the exact same time as a Baryon surge. Varion particles breaking up could have caused that, that must be how their technology works." He'd been repeating the same statement to himself for some time now, but found he was no closer to confirming the theory it contained.


He continued mumbling, his eyes never leaving his work.

"Rada." Liis repeated, growing truly concerned that she was too late; he'd already broken down and would be unable to make the choice that lay ahead.

She took a moment and closed the blinds so that others nearby couldn't see if he grew as upset as she feared he might upon hearing what she had to say. Then she slowly got down on one knee beside him and put her hand upon his shoulder, shaking him once. "Lt. Commander Dengar!"

There was a moment that passed where she could have sworn he’d not even noticed her shaking him, yet then slowly his head began to turn to her. His painful bloodshot eyes, held open solely by the sheer force of will, never moved. It was as if they’d been painted on his face as they never changed the direction they were looking in, just stared into the distance that was in front of him even when there was something there.

It appeared he was looking at her but he was really looking through her. The expression on his face was unchanged from the sort of sadness of a body only partially inhabited.

Looking at him now Liis knew this wasn’t Rada; the light in him had gone out. Her heart sank lower than it should ever have had to go as she already began to plan what would need to be done and she brought her hand back from his shoulder; when a light so dim that it would be invisible from any distance suddenly emerged in his eyes.

With an unnerving lack of speed his lips began to curl as a gentle smile crept onto his face.

“Captain?” He said, in a tone which Liis couldn’t be sure whether it was intended to convey his surprise at her being here of whether he genuinely wasn’t sure it was her. “What brings you down here to the land of the Warp Core?”

Under ordinary circumstances she’d have done this sitting at his desk, yet Rada clearly didn’t wish to be moved. She lowered herself until she was sitting across from him looking him in the eye; doing her best to avoid any of the papers which littered the floor.

If this was where he was comfortable right now then she wasn’t about to take that away from him. She was doing almost exactly what one would if they were speaking to a child, yet this wasn’t meant as any sort of specific judgment about Rada. The experience that he was going through now was not unlike being a child; there were so many unknowns, so many things larger than yourself to be frightened of and too many moments when you wanted nothing more than to do something you just weren’t capable of.

Though countless many words could have come to her now, she could only find a few and she spoke them each with simple authority.

“Rada, I need to talk with you.”

His face was a study of confusion as if he couldn’t possibly imagine why she’d want to speak with him.

“Well, I’m a little busy right now Captain. Could it possibly wait until my shift is over?”

Liis sighed a sad sigh, saying slowly and softly. “Your shift already is over Rada. It has been for a long time.”

At first he didn’t even absorb what she’d said, the words seemed to pass through him and continue off into the distance.

Then finally his features were enveloped by dismay. He’d clearly had no idea how much time has passed. Yet just as quickly the bewilderment was gone and that same unnerving smile returned.

“What a shame, it looks like we’ve missed our chance. Still, I’m sure I can schedule you in for…” he began with saddened cheer, before he suddenly stopped in mid-sentence. An idea crossed his mind and his eyes were back down on his work.

“If I just differentiate the transitive states I'll get…” She heard him mutter before his words became once more incomprehensible.

He’d forgotten she was there. It would have been all too easy at that moment for her to slink away; to tell herself that Rada couldn’t make this decision right now and that she should just trust the doctor’s judgment. However that would be the coward’s way out and Zanh Liis was no coward.

“Rada!” She said sharply, temporarily breaking him back to reality.

“Captain?” He asked with genuine surprise. “When did you come back?”

She felt her heart drop again. It was clear that whatever it was, that this world of paper and symbols that he’d constructed around himself was just as real to him if not more than the one the rest of them lived in.

"Rada...what the hell is all of this?" She picked up a sheet of paper and tried to make sense of what it contained, but all she saw were letters and numbers in patterns which she didn't have the necessary knowledge and understanding to decipher. "No, wait you know what? It doesn't matter right now. Rada, I need you to listen to me. We have to talk about Wren."

For the first time she knew she truly had his attention. The pen that he’d so tightly gripped fell to the floor as his heart and eyes seared to life and all the rest of him seemed to go limp.

His words were quick yet quiet and with powerful disbelief balanced only by the feeling that he’d really known this all along.

“She’s dead.”

“No, she’s not,” Liis quickly and commandingly assured him, once again taking him by the arm to make sure he knew she was serious. "She's still alive."

He gasped with her words and his face seemed to light up with relief. Yet halfway through the emotion he stopped, his face returning to the lost state as it had been since she’d entered.

Quickly, he’d picked up the dropped pen and turned back to his work. That was all he’d needed to know and Liis realised that she wasn’t really getting through to him at all.

"I know that you want to keep working. But you have to stop for a minute. You have to hear me." Liis reached out and physically wrestled the pen from his grasp now, a task much easier to complete than it would have been if he hadn't been so exhausted. His eyes weren’t focused at all on her face now; they longingly stared at the pen in her hand like he just couldn’t quite comprehend how it’d gotten there.

"Rada, I just came from Sickbay. Hartcort says that if something isn't done soon," she lowered her voice, attempting to disguise the shaking in it with a drop in volume as she tried to finish her sentence. "if something isn't done now, Wren won't live until you finish whatever it is that you're working on. Time is running out, and he feels there's only one option left.”

“Then take it,” Rada insisted without even taking a moment of consideration, his eyes never leaving the pen but his words filling with genuine life for the first time since she’d been here. “If there’s one option to save her then you have to take it. It’s not…” He softly scoffed, “it’s not hard.”

Few people could have gotten away with taking that tone with Zanh Liis under any circumstances; surely only a handful and even then, most of them would have been instantly advised that it would be wise to watch their step. But Dengar was one of those few people, and as worried as she was, she barely even noticed the disrespect in his voice as he spun the words at her insultingly.

She chose instead to take them as a warning sign of his deep distress, knowing that he was both less, and more himself in this moment than he'd ever been in his life.

Watching him, she also knew he was giving her a golden opportunity. She could have gotten up and walked away from here with his blessing to do whatever she wanted for Wren, but she couldn’t do that to him.

“Rada, it isn’t that simple. You have to understand the risks because you're the only one who can decide if this is what is best for Wren. It's your decision and it's your responsibility.”

Something in her tone must have told him just how serious she was as his eyes seemed to forget about the pen. He looked up until he’d met her visual line and his mouth began to open. No words came out but they didn’t need to, they both knew what he needed to know.

"He wants to put her into the transporter buffers and keep her there until we figure out how to disrupt whatever signal it is that's hurting her."

His face dropped down as he spoke quietly in absent disbelief “No…”

Zanh sighed, not envying him this choice.

”I understand that this has to be an incredibly hard decision for you to make, but…”

Suddenly that light in him that had been so dulled seemed to ignite.

“Do you? Do you really?” he asked, anger suddenly entering his words.

Before she knew it he was standing up, abandoning his papers and taking quick strides to behind his desk, He pulled out one drawer then slammed it back in and turned to another. As he rummaged viciously though it Zanh slowly stood up and approached him.

He clenched his teeth as she heard him knock something over in the drawer, then he pulled out a small device and pressed a button on the top, and slammed the drawer shut.

Quickly he turned back to her, ignoring the concern in her eyes, and spoke in bold tones, “Captain, please try to contact Commander O’Sullivan.”

Though her eyes did it anyway, she didn’t need to question why he wanted her to do this. She just tapped her combadge and spoke softly.

“Zanh to O’Sullivan.”

[O'…ll…an he…is ev…thi…ll ri…pta…] The response on the other end was too garbled to be understood.

He held the device up in the air for her inspection. “This creates interference and makes audio transmissions almost impossible to understand. Years ago this took me about an hour to make. That’s how easy it is to disrupt a signal like that to the degree it can never be recovered. And a signal like that is exactly the state you’re asking me to let you put Wren in.”

He switched it off, and instantly Keiran's voice became clear once again. [Liis? Are ya alright? Please respond.]

"Sorry, I, was just checking in." Liis replied softly, her eyes never leaving Rada's. "But something's come up. I've got to go."

Keiran's audible sigh conveyed that he knew more was going on then she could say, and he didn't press her for an explanation now. [Very well. Be safe. O'Sullivan out.]

Liis watched Rada and saw the expression on his face, which had a moment before seemed set as if carved in stone, changing again. He had been angry, but there was now much more than that. He was, if she had to put a definition to it, utterly terrified.

"The risks involved," he rasped, "if one molecule of her pattern were to be lost,"

"I know the risks, Rada. Why do you think I didn't give Hartcort the go ahead when he asked me? Why do you think I am standing here? I'm standing here because I know what he's asking you to do."

Liis stepped closer, and Rada instinctively took a step back as if the distance could somehow protect him from the reality of the words that she wouldn't stop saying.

He closed his eyes, wishing that she would just stop saying them.

"No, you don't know," he whispered. "Do you? Have you ever been expected to take the last unthinkable option and accept it as if it were actually a choice?"


Lt. Commander Rada Dengar
Chief Engineering Officer
USS Serendipity NCC-2012


-=/\=- Zanh Liis O’Sullivan
Commanding Officer
USS Serendipity NCC-2012