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Posted on Thu Feb 11th, 2021 @ 4:23pm by Cailus Griffin & Lieutenant Kalin Brennan-Griffin PhD & Admiral Audra Milne

Mission: The Gauntlet
Location: Unknown Ship

It had been a half hour or so since Cailus had regained consciousness, and he almost wished that he had stayed asleep. The prison cell was small, cramped and uncomfortable, the light just a little too bright, reflecting uncomfortably off the gleaming white surfaces at every angle. Even the forcefield was more unpleasant than usual, set at such a high frequency that Cailus's skin tingled at the static feedback. He made for a miserable sight, sat on the floor with his back to the wall, clad in his uniform sans combadge. Nobody had come by to check on Cailus, to interrogate him, or even to gloat.

Of course, they didn't care about him. He knew that. Shae and Eva were the ones they cared about, the whole point of the entire abduction. Eoin might well be valuable too. The thought of them ran through Cailus's mind like a sickness. Shae had never told him much about her life prior to their meeting on the Tornado, but he had gleaned enough. He knew what fate awaited her, Eva and Eoin. Years of indoctrination. Corruption. Manipulation. Exploitation for their biology. Turned into merciless killers, monsters in "service" of the Federation. It was enough to drive Cailus to blind fury, but this time, he had no weapons. No phasers, no swords. He had nobody to fight, nothing to do but sit there. Thus the fury turned into a soul-crushing fear, one that Cailus couldn't shake.

He knew from the gentle thrumming of the deck plates that they were on a ship, likely speeding far away from Carnwennan. Starfleet would look for them. Captain Temple might even try it himself with the Pandora, but it hardly mattered. They wouldn't find anything. Time would pass. Days. Weeks. Months. The entire family would eventually become forgotten. The kids faced a horrific future. Shae, who Cailus knew would never turn, would probably be used as a test subject.

And Cailus himself was destined to die very, very soon. He knew it. He was actually surprised that it hadn't happened yet. The inevitability of it all burned a hole in a gut, and he simply sat there, full of impotent fury and fear in equal measure.

Shae wasn't doing much better, knowing full well what awaited her and her family if they weren't rescued, but she seemed calm despite their circumstances; she sat cross-legged with her back against the bulkhead, her eyes closed with her ears standing tall as she tried to glean any information from the crew that had taken them.

"Eva is okay," Shae said ever so softly to her mate sitting across from her. "She's still sleeping off the gas, but she's coming around just fine. But Eoin... I don't know, they're being very hush-hush about him."

"You can hear that from here?" Cailus said, frowning. The high-powered forcefields blue flickered between him and Shae, but he could see her well enough. "Through the forcefield? The bulkheads?"

"Not through the bulkheads, there's a faint echo from a hatch, that way," Shae said as she nodded her head to the end of their little prison cells. "The forcefield is distracting, but I'm doing my best to hear through it. It sounds like Eoin was unexpected, no surprise there, and while they would love the extra data, they- Oh stars, he's an acceptable loss?!" Shae's eyes shot open and briefly darted about in search of her husband. "Does that mean there's something wrong with our baby?!"

Cailus mouth dropped open. "No, there's no way," he said frantically, shooting to his feet and walking up to the forcefield. "There's no way, there's no damned way. He's healthy, he's perfectly healthy, they should be able to treat him, there's no way...he's valuable to them. He has to be, if you are, if Eva is, he is too. They won't let him..." Cailus curled his fists in frustration, pacing from one end of his tiny cell to the other.

With her heart hammering in her ears, Shae could no longer hear what was going on in the rest of the ship, so gaining further details could not happen until she calmed down a little. "But, he was born prematurely, his lungs were underdeveloped! What if he couldn't handle enough gas meant for two grown adults?!" she countered, the fear and panic raging in her voice.

"Like hell," Cailus insisted, looking straight at Shae. "He's our son, Shae. He's strong, like his sisters, I don't care about the rest. He just...just needs time, that's all. Babies are like that sometimes, but they're tough, tougher than you'd think. He'll pull through, just like before." He didn't say the rest; even if Eoin did pull through, it might not be to a life worth living. Nevertheless, Cailus couldn't bear the thought of losing Eoin, so he clung to hope, slim though it was.

"Right, he's a tough little guy, he just needs time," Shae echoed, but it was clear that she was thoroughly unnerved and no amount of wishful thinking would help her relax until she was able to ascertain her baby's condition herself. "How are we going to get ourselves out of this one, Dearheart?" she asked, trying not to cry.

Cailus ran his hands through his hair, exasperated as he looked around his cell. It was hopeless, and he knew it, but at Shae's prompting, he forced himself to try anyway, unable to bear the despair he saw in her eyes. "I don't know, but we'll find a way." Cailus leaned against a wall, crossing his arms. "We've both been in worse spots than this. You were trapped by these bastards for half your life, I was trapped in that damned escape pod for ninety years. We both got out. We survived. We'll get out of this."

He sighed. "They'll slip up. Somewhere, somehow. If one of us gets a shot, we take it, and we don't stop until it's done. Nothing gets in our way. Just like before. If we get weapons, we can take on a whole damned army if we're smart about it."

"Nothing... gets in our way," Shae repeated, taking it in like a mantra; he was right, they had survived this far, they would find a way to survive! Just then, her ear twitched and she turned her head to try to get a glimpse of who was coming through the hatch.

There was a set of single footsteps approaching - the sounds of a person with a wide gait and heavy boots striking against cold steel. A shuffle of fabric, something dense like a padded kevlar vest, could be heard as the footsteps ceased. If there was a linger of a scent, it wasn't much of anything. No cologne, no deodorant, no remnants of an identifiable soap. Clean and inconspicuous. Whoever it is was didn't speak at all. They just stood there outside of the couple's cell, knowing completely that the changeling could sense his presence and deliberately saying and doing nothing. He just stood, purposefully silent but obviously there.

"If our son dies, there will be nowhere you can hide that we won't find you and kill you," Shae said in a weary tone, not bothering to look up at the figure.

The voice was barely a whisper, though knowing the changeling could hear it. "The male subject is defective. Impure. It has no value.... At least, not a value that we can place. What value does he have for you?"

"You son of a bitch!" Shae yelled as she rose to her pass and growled as she slammed her fist against the forcefield, heedless of the pain it caused her. "He has value and you know it! There's no telling if my changeling genes are active in him or not!" Then she gave him just a hint of the submission he wanted from her by lowering her gaze,then uttered a softly spoken, "Please".

The officer standing in front of them was surprisingly young, couldn't have been more than 30. He had dark blonde hair, combed to the right with green eyes. He wore the typical nondescript Section 31 black uniform and stood before them with his arms held behind his back. There was an officious sneer on his lips, a condescension that was entirely unearned given his young age. He was not the commander of the operation; that much was clear.

"How many credits could I get for it?" He asked simply. "The Ferengi's may pay highly, for entertainment value."

Entertainment?! Oh, she would show him entertainment! Roaring with rage, she threw her shoulder into the forcefield, again and again. Each time, she attacked the forcefield, she became less and less Shae and more bestial as her rage built, so much so that the seams of her clothing began to burst. Soon, she was clawing and even biting at the forcefield with savage fury. Finally, her transformation threw her forward onto all fours and she stood before him and her mate a feral canid covered in silvery fur with only a fizzing forcefield between them to protect him. The beast made a snickering sound after another attack when she saw the forcefield flicker.

"Is this enough entertainment for you?" the beast somehow spoke, though it was more guttural and completely unrecognizable as Shae's voice. Then she slammed into the forcefield again and yet again, relentless in her assault; nothing would get in her way!

Every flash of blue energy reflected in the young man's eyes, as his eyelids twitched with every hit against the force field. He was fascinated and afraid in equal measures - happy to see the changeling in her true form; scared and excited at the same time. He shifted slightly, trying to hide his enjoyment.

"Almost." He answered, breath heavy. "Is this the beast that killed the Director?" He asked.

The beast sneered at the mere mention of the Director, but hearing that name was all the fuel she needed to finally break through forcefield. Finally, with nothing between them, she lunged!

Furious blasts of a successive phaser rifles shot out from the darkness as guards standing at either side of the cage opened fire. They had appeared as Shae had been distracted, standing ready in position in case the force field failed. The young officer took a stumbling step backwards but ended up tripping over his own feet and falling to the ground; his boots only inches away from changeling. He gave an embarrassed and overwhelmed laugh, "Beautiful." He exclaimed.

The beast yelped in pain from the phaser bolts and fell to the deck plating in a heap, whimpering softly. Stars above, that was live phaser fire, not stun fire! Breathing hard through the pain, Shae swore to herself silently that this would not be the end of the fight, but she had to be quick. Ignoring the pain blooming within her body, she lept up to claw at the control panel for the other unit to short out the forcefield and release the Butcher!

"One more step and they both died!" The man cried out urgently, his face no longer showing any amusement.

It took a second too long for anyone to realise what Shae had done before going down, a second too long to realise that they all had weapons focused on Shae, a second too long to realise that their backs were to their other prisoner. A second was all Cailus needed. In a flash he was behind of the goons, a black-clad Asian woman, his left hand jamming her phaser into the back of her neck while his prosthetic hand reached round to grip her throat. The woman was a body shield between him and the others, Cailus glaring over shoulder.

"You have five seconds to drop your weapons before I kill you all," he said coldly. His voice was utterly emotionless, as if he was commenting on the inevitability of rain. "Five." With that, he began squeezing the woman's throat. "Four." He squeezed even more, the woman choking, dropping her rifle to claw at the iron grip. "Three."

The officer raised his phaser and shot Ensign Tamika square between the eyes, her body going limp against Cailus. "We knew the risks when we took this mission. The question is, did you? Now I’m just here to have a conversation, and y’all are being mighty rude." He cocked his head slightly, calling out behind him. "If he doesn't return to the cell in five, kill the boy."

Cailus's cold facade cracked at the threat. His eyes darted to Shae, whimpering in pain on the floor, to the other goons, calculating rapidly, but there was no chance. No way he could neutralise them and get to the kids in time. With bitter anger, Cailus released the woman, her body dropping the floor, and stepped back into his cell, phaser still in hand.

"So talk," Cailus said, his voice dripping with hate.

The officer smiled a little in relief and gave a nod to his subordinates. Two more guards stepped forward with phasers raised while two dragged the downed Ensign away. Meanwhile, the young man pulled out a clean white cloth from his pocket and delicately dabbed at his forehead, picking up the beads of sweat that had formed in all the commotion. When he was done, he held it out to an assistant who took the cloth with gloved hands. "Burn that." He instructed.

Turning back to Cailus and Shae, he dipped his head. "Now that we've had a moment to relax, we can talk. In all the excitement, I didn't get to introduce myself. Of course I could tell you my real name, but that would be pointless. Even they don't know it." He gave a casual head jerk to the guards around him, "They call me the Cleaner, an agent of Section 31 utilised to erase any mistakes made during an operation. I clean up their messes and boy - " He whistled, "- Did you guys make quite a mess of that facility. It was... breathtaking."

Cailus didn’t say a word. He just glared with murderous intensity.

"Normally I would be sent to recapture or destroy you in line with my position." The Agent explained, "But there have been some complications recently that has necessitated a change in my operational parameters." He gave a short sigh, pretending to be conflicted by this. "And so I'm coming to you with a proposition." He looked to them and smiled, "A really fucking good one."

“Get on with it,” Cailus said quietly, his eyes locked on the Cleaner, his body unnaturally still as he waited.

He laughed, nodding. "Sure. Unfortunately - depending on your point of view, I guess - Section 31 has suffered numerous set backs of late. We've lost a couple of facilities and high-ranking personnel." He nodded to Shae, "Some... quite permanently. I know we like to seem as if 31 has infinite resources and people but the truth is, your actions on our Special Projects base was significantly detrimental to that whole department. There's going to have to be changes made in our focus and our choices. But right now, they need a new Director." He gave a short little shrug, "A position I find myself interested in. There's only so many times you can incinerate bodies and bury evidence, am I right?" He said with a chuckle.

In between her pained wheezing, Shae managed to produce a snort; this man talked too much but actual said very little!

Sensing no reciprocal laugh, the Agent continued, "If successful, I will have to present a blueprint for a new way of operating and I'm not going to repeat the mistakes of the previous Director. My current position afforded me the clarity to see where others have failed. Clearly, keeping your family apart is a waste of resources; you'll just keep trying to rescue each other and we'll keep chasing you. How boring. How uneconomical. So, we're not going to do that. In fact, I don't think there's any point in keeping the Changeling here caged up either." He smiled at Shae, cocking is head to the side. "She is far too remarkable to be a test subject. You cannot be contained and - once again - it simply seems to end up in dead officers and facilities going kaboom. That doesn't work for me. So instead, I'd like to offer you your freedom."

"You have my attention," the beast answered with some reluctance, but he did make a point, so perhaps he was serious.

"There are caveats, of course." The Cleaner added with a shrug, "But I know you expected that. We are aware that Audra Milne is doing something on Carnwennan Station. Our spies tell us she has been having several private meetings with personnel from the Expanse. We don't know if it's related to the Pandora or the Alrakis Pact. But we do know that you met with her for some time. So that we may negotiate in good faith, I was hoping you'd tell me what you know about Project Lighthouse?"

"To be honest, we know very little," the beast answered, laying down her head as her breath grew heavier; she was really in a lot of pain and just wished this looney fop would just get to the point already. "We suspect it has something to do with a facility experimenting on a planetary core comprised of Dark Matter."

"No, no, no. That was... well, a disaster." He laughed. "So she really didn't tell you anything? Hmph. I don't know if that's being cunning or just conceited. Every now and then, members of Starfleet command get these lofty ideas about making a difference and that almost always requires us to step in. It would be helpful if we knew whether the Project was something we could support or if it required... discouraging." He looked to them both, eyebrow raised, "For everyone's benefit."

By now, particularly in response to Shae’s obvious pain, Cailus’s patience was at the breaking point. “We don’t know anything about this project,” he said with forced control. “We haven’t been briefed. Now get to the damned point.”

The Agent frowned, "I thought the implication was clear. Forgive me, we don't always use complete sentences around here. You are to find out everything you can about the Project and report it back to us. We have a contact on Carnwennan that will act as your intermediary, so you're not technically leaking information."

Already, Shae's mind was abuzz with ideas about how to get him the information, but before she could give him an answer, her lung collapsed, causing her to wheeze as she struggled to take a full breath.

Cailus automatically took a step towards Shae, only to be stopped by the warning look from the Cleaner. “Damn it, help her!” he shouted furiously. “We’re no use to you dead!”

An officer moved forward and placed a medkit on the ground, the Ensign opened it up and started treating Shae. Her hands were gloved and every time she used an instrument, it went into a seperate box to be disposed of. As this was happening, another officer appeared and spoke to the Cleaner.

"Sir, your craft is thirty seconds from docking." She said, her tone low.

Nodding, the Cleaner asked, "And Starfleet?"

"On the trail, five minutes until they're in sensor range." She replied.

"Proceed with phase two." He said with a calm tone. "And give them their children back. I've decided I can't do noir film villain anymore. Too messy."

At the command, more Section 31 officers appeared. Grey body bags were dragged into the corridor; they were lumpy and heavy, evidently already occupied. There were hushed discussions as the officers looked around them and surveyed the scene. Heads shaken side to side - it wasn't convincing enough. Weapons were discharged against the floor and ceiling, methodically and with purpose, before the phasers were dropped next to each of the body bags. It was done with relative silence and agreement, a pre-determined plan.

From behind them, two medical officers appeared, each one carrying a child wrapped up in a silver foil blanket. The Cleaner stepped well to the side against the wall as they passed by. He carefully inspected his uniform to see if any hairs were accidentally transferred onto him. Immediately he was being treated with a sonic spray over his clothing, which he received with quiet impatience. The children were dropped off in front of Cailus carefully and the officers quickly backed away.

As soon as she could breathe again and her phaser burns treated with pain medication, Shae began to slowly shift back to her normal form. It was painful to shift even with the meds in her system, but she wanted to inspect her children, hold them and make everything right. As her fur began to recede, Cailus could see plainly the phaser burns down one side, and deep mottled bruising on the other side from ramming through the forcefield. The medic put another foil blanket over her for modesty, and as soon as Shae was normal enough, she picked up Eoin; he was perfect, breathing peacefully, so if there had been any troubles following the gassing, then it had already been taken care of.

While Shae took Eoin, Cailus took Eva, although he remained wary the entire time, the phaser still in one hand. The whole situation seemed bizarre, so illogical and disorientating that it disrupted his focus. Eva was still unconscious, her ears and tail twitching slowly in a way that Cailus didn’t like. Eva and her brother were unconscious, not asleep, and he wanted them out of danger as soon as possible.

Cailus stepped close to Shae, looking at her with concern, before glancing around them; the bodies, the faked carnage, the practised movements of the agents. “What’s happening here?” he asked the Cleaner, frowning.

The body bags were zipped open, revealing a series of mutilated corpses. They were careful placed into positions to look like they fell in an attack. The discharged phasers were pressed into their hands - for those of them that still had hands.

"Some of your previous handiwork." He replied with a shrug. "I'm having to recycle, you see, from your last encounter. I didn't want to repeat the same carnage and destruction that happened at the Special Projects base, so it's going to look like you guys broke down the forcefield - " He nodded to Shae, "Thanks for that, by the way. And then you escaped, killed everyone and rescued your kids. Economical, right? And saves us a lot of time and bother."

"Very economical," Shae said coldly as she looked around. "And all of this is to facilitate us getting information on Project Lighthouse for you... Very economical indeed... But what if we can't, or won't, get that information for you? Then we become hunted again?"

"We wouldn't be here if I was concerned about your non-compliance." He replied casually, "If I'm not successful in receiving information on the Project, I will not be chosen for Director. Our little sweetheart deal disappears. I can't be responsible for what might happen to you or your children should I no longer have the capacity to control the situation. I'm already taking a risk, but I'm doing so to put the greater good first."

Shae shivered at the cold intent of this man; she didn't think he knew what the greater good was anymore, if he ever knew in the first place. "You've made your point quite succinctly. Now leave us," Shae said, holding Eoin closer to her chest.

There was another silent nod and the teams completed their work; they began to disappear in shrouds of transporter lights.

"I expect Milne will search the ship, and I hope she does." The Cleaner remarked, "It will reveal clues that will decrypt the data you downloaded from the base. Assuming Starfleet Intel is up to the task. I'd hate for you to end up in a Federation prison or worse, unemployed. The data will help clear your names. Of course, if you tell her about the set-up here, she'll start to doubt your honesty and the data as well, so it'll put a cloud over you which will be hard to shake and.... well, nothing good comes from that." He smiled, "This is a nice ship, too. Consider it a gift from me, a symbol of our appreciation."

Shae visibly paled as she considered how thoroughly he had set them up.

With almost every Section 31 officer now transported off the ship except for the Cleaner and his bodyguards, he stood up from his crouched position and placed his arms around his back. "This has been pleasant. I hope we will see each other again soon." After tapping his badge, the Cleaner disappeared, leaving the Brennan-Griffins alone.

Once alone, Shae broke down in tears. She had thought herself free with the death of the Director, but now it seemed she was never quite free of this world.

"I'm so sorry I got you entangled in all of this," Shae said as she sobbed.

“Hey,” Cailus said, touching Shae’s shoulder with his free hand, dropping the phaser on the deck. “Look at me, love. Look at me.” He waited then until he could look her straight in the eye. “None of this is your fault. Not a damned thing, you hear me? We’ll get through this just like we always do.”

Shae nodded though her eyes remained bleary, and she leaned forward to rest her head on his shoulder. "What are we going to tell them?" she then asked.

Cailus hesitated, glancing around them at the bodies. “We’ll deal with that later,” he said, a slight twinge of unease in his voice. He shifted Eva slightly in his arms. “Come on, let’s get to the Bridge of this thing and drop us out of warp so Starfleet can catch up. They’ll start shooting otherwise.”

Before he took two steps, however, the entire ship shook violently, Cailus staggering forward and only just managing to avoid falling. He looked upwards in irritation as the ship shook again, this time less severely. “Phaser fire,” he grumbled irritably.

Holding her blanket and her baby tight to her chest, Shae rose to her paws, and with great pain and effort made it through the hatch to find herself in the rear of a roomy runabout, then heading to the front of the ship she realized it was a Delta Flyer type; yeah, she'd have to agree with the cleaner's assessment, this was a pretty nice ship. Removing the dead body placed in the pilot's chair by the Cleaner's crew, Shae sat down and proceeded to drop out of warp, then lower the shields.

"Time to face the music," Shae said when she heard the boarding team beam in.


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