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Shadow Of The Day

Posted on Sat Jan 13th, 2024 @ 11:46pm by Commander Arianna Frost & Captain Mrazak & Captain Akiva ben-Avram & Qurban
Edited on on Sun Jan 14th, 2024 @ 12:32am

Mission: S1E6: Where Skies End
Location: Overwatch Station
Timeline: MD 2

Something was going on under Mrazak's nose. He was sure of it. First an Admiral Night shows up. Only then did Admiral Tau make his appearance after making them wait for days on end. Every instinct in Mrazak's withered soul sounded an alarm. If people wanted to play shadow games, then he would play shadow games. First of all, he would run a diagnostic on the station's datasphere which would bypass Ferrofax and directly scan all root directories. Technically it would only give him access to metadata—which files were accessed, which authorizations were used to access them, and the like. But it would be a start.

No one reached into his station without asking his permission first. It didn't matter what their rank was. It didn't matter that Captain ben-Avram was the administrator. Trifles were for inferior minds. Mrazak was Memory Theta and he would make that abundantly clear to whoever was pulling a fast one. Just as soon as he found out who it was.

Wires upon wires upon wires. The ever evolving spy game. Ari was not very technically minded as an officer, except in one area - data tracing, electronic tracing, tapping and the technical aspects of the tradecraft. So when Mrazak started digging, Ari's personal wrist com made a sound. What Ari was expecting was one of Taskmaster's eyes to start whispering back to their master. Not Mrazak poking his nose where he shouldn't.

So she quickly traced back his breach point and set off to find him. Before that, she sent a message to Akiva. "Journeyman night-tripping on the late fantasic." The message said - meaning that someone was digging into the watched system and that she was going to investigate.

"Now what are you up to, Mrazak?" Ari muttered to herself as she headed towards his assumed location, the Arboretum. Why the arboretum of all places?

"None of your business, Commander," Mrazak said dismissively at first, but then he paused. Or was it her business? He slowly turned his head and cast a pointed brow at her. "Unless you have something to confess to me? I will accept groveling for mercy from a guilty party."

Arianna sighed. Mrazak was too self-centered to work for Taskmaster. She'd analyzed him and analyzed and analyzed and none of her projections lead up to the v'tosh ka'tur vulcan turning. It was a rare event that someone passed all loyalty projections. Which in a way spoke more about Mrazak than previously thought.

In his narcissistic, ego-centricity, he was still one of them. The good guys.

"Fuck it. We needed an in to bring the rest of the team in" Ari thought to herself as she crossed her arms on her chest. "Ferrofax, can you please erect a cone of silence?" She said finally, raising a finger at Mrazak to attempt to stop an inevitable protest.

"I cannot overstate how much it delights me that I have trained you biologicals in the use of good manners," Ferrofax purred. "You may speak your tawdry secrets without fear of being overheard."

"What is the meaning of this?" Mrazak demanded to know. "I am in the middle of an important investigation and have no time for your nonsense."

"I'm trying to make it easier for you," Arianna sighed, horrified at the realization that, in fact, Mrazak was a good guy. Sort of. "You're looking into Operation Whytesand. Which is a counterintelligence operation against Project Castermer." She said to him. "Now do you want to know or are we going to argue about it for the next hour before you realize I'm here to answer your questions?"

"Aha! I knew it!" Mrazak thrust a haughty finger at her. His face twisted in gloating sneer of victory. "Nobody works against me on my own station. I may be lenient if you tell me who your fellow traitors are and what you are planning."

"We're not working against you. We're working against my boss. He's known as Taskmaster, runs Project Castermer, a counter intelligence operation against Black Nagus incursions. Of late he's decided to work for a different group, we are trying to identify their goal and who they are. You know of the butlers? They aren't Borg disconnected from the collective. They are former Castermer targets that we had detained or eliminated. They were assimilated by Federation nanites, by Taskmaster." Arianna continued on explaining Castermer and Whytesand and who was involved.

The more she talked, the more his eyes narrowed. "You mean to tell me that half my agency is working against a conspiracy that became the very thing it hunted? Commander, you are so transparent that I would walk into you like a pane of glass if I were not observant. But I am observant. The target of this Whytesand is none other than myself and you are here to save your own skin. Admit it and I will spare you being disappeared along with the others."

"Wow, you lasted longer than I gave you credit for." Ari thought to herself amusedly. Hardly the first threat of this kind in her career, hardly the last. Ari took pride in having contingencies for everything, especially for loose cannons, such as this one.

For this one, there was a dead drop full of files, statements and evidence that could seal, lock and key, Mrazak's fate in Starfleet and get him dismissed, potentially even imprisoned. Should she not put in a reset code would get sent to IA directly.

"Go on then." She said with a smirk spreading her arms to her sides.

"I am losing my patience," Mrazak said through gritted teeth. "Now you had—zaipossu? What are you doing here?"

Beyond the cone of silence, Qurban's mouth moved without any sound to accompany it.

Arianna jumped slightly at the unexpected presence, but recovered quickly and beckoned Qurban closer with an index finger.

"What are my two best disciples doing in an argument in the middle of the arboretum?" The Q Exile looked between them and sipped from a teacup he had been carrying on a saucer.

"Your what?!" Mrazak look shocked and betrayed. He looked from Qurban to Ari in horror and back to Qurban. "She isn't your disciple! I am your caretaker! The brotherhood recognizes me as High Keeper!"

There was no response from Qurban except for a faint snicker while he continued to sip from his cup.

Ari shook her head and sighed. "He doesn't believe me about Castermer and Whytesand." She said, not quite sure if Qurban would be of help, or if he would derail the conversation further. It would definitely depend on where he was on his reality and reset scale, Ari concluded.

"Castermer, Whytesand..." Qurban repeated carefully as he studied them. "So this isn't the timeline where either of you are part of the Black Nagus, the Myriad Plot, or the Resistance against the Terran Empire. That narrows things down."

"Zaipossu," said Mrazak meekly, using the V'tosh Ka'tur name for the Q whom they held in the highest esteem. "You know who I am. If you have something to say, then speak and I will listen."

"You should probably listen to her," Qurban said with a nod at Ari while he took another sip of tea. "I'm not rightly sure what's going on."

"I'm the Ari who still sees, who has not joined the Nagus, who is investigating Omri Shaw among others, where Castermer has fallen and the Taskmaster has been turned to another group. The reality where the Borg butlers are former Castermer targets." She said to Qurban, hoping this information would narrow down the reality whilst raising a finger to stop Mrazak from interrupting.

Qurban nodded in thought, then gave Mrazak a sly grin. "Since you're still in that uniform, I take it you haven't taken a bride then. I think I'm caught up enough for now."

"I, uh, no!" Mrazak was flabbergasted. Did Qurban know about T'Sen?

"Did you take my advice from before?" Qurban asked Ari. "About Risa?"

Now Mrazak turned indignant. "You offered her sage advice regarding Risa!" Realizing he had snapped at his oldest friend and quasi-mentor, Mrazak bowed his head. "Forgive me, zaipossu. I only wonder that you did not offer the same to me."

"Because if I had, then you would be off gallivanting with a lunatic instead here where I need you." Qurban was solemn about the admission. He did, in fact, need Mrazak, but for what remained unspoken between them.

"Yes, zaipossu..." Mrazak bowed his head once more.

It was too funny watching Mrazak be this meek around Qurban. Something to ponder upon later. "yes, I followed it religiously...Zaipossu." She said with a small smirk. "Much to my hormonal chagrin, you were absolutely right." Ari admitted. "There was an outbreak of Psolium Septicus. Luckily we managed to synthesize a cure out of Mrazak's blood." She slapped Mrazak's shoulder with a grin, thoroughly enjoying the man's discomfort.

"Indeed?" Qurban grinned at Mrazak and even chuckled at his expense. "Evidently it was not only your fate which was altered through withholding a warning."

"I yield to your superior wisdom," Mrazak groused.

Turning back to Ari, Qurban then asked, "Did your nuptials proceed without obstacles?"

Frost had to chuckle at what seemed to be an in-jibe now. "Nope, still the not married Ari." She said with a shrug.

"For shame," Qurban said, slightly confused.

"Nuptials?" Mrazak asked with a gloating smirk. "Tell us more, zaipposu."

"You will have to ask young Arianna here," Qurban said.

Frost shrugged, "nothing to tell." As much as she was beginning to think that Qurban had a wicked sense of humor and was just fucking with her when it came to this, there was that hidden part of her that wanted to know more. "Qurban keeps asking me to bring my husband, or depending which reality he thinks we're wife. Yet I've got neither of either gender nor partners to that effect."

"My eyes, Commander, are up here," Mrazak said imperiously.

"I don't answer to you, Captain." Ari countered. "So, do you want details or are we going to argue for another hour?" She said with another sigh.

"Get on with it," Mrazak said. "I don't have all day."

Arianna continued explaining the situation to Mrazak and the need to check the rest of the field team before they brought them into the fold.

"Now," she squeezed her hands together, "as much as it pains me to say this, believe me I am in agony, I trust that you are one of the good guys. We need your help." Whilst it did physically hurt her to say these words, she also knew they would cater to his ego and sense of superiority. Stroke a narcissist's ego to get a favorable result was sadly the best tactic in situations like these.

Rogue Intelligence operatives. Check. Mrazak already knew how worthless that entire department was.

Rogue flag officers. That was concerning. Especially since Mrazak existed at the sheer pleasure of more than one. That was most upsetting.

"I see," Mrazak said at length. "And you didn't think to tell me this before the briefing with the Admiral whose office you tried to investigate?" His tone turned guttural with anger. "Before you sent my adjutant with my proxy command authorizations into the belly of the beast without backup." He scowled with fiery contempt. "I should throw in with the other side on general principle."

Ari raised a finger, "a) we needed him not to suspect you for any reason, and b) she volunteered. She is the least visible of any of us. I didn't like sending her, but it was her choice to go. But, I understand your concern. I would do the same if I were in your shoes."

"Put your finger down," Mrazak barked. "Don't compromise me or anyone with my authorization again."

"Who do you think we can talk to first of the field team? Or do you want to vet them first before we do?" Ari ignored his words visibly at least.

"We talk to them all," Mrazak said, "and detain anyone with a suspect reaction." His face turned vicious. "Permanently."

"Omri Shaw exists in this reality too." Ari said to Qurban, all of a sudden. "An alias for Omri Updike."

Qurban shrugged. "One alias is as good as another as far as I know. At heart he is a man with no name for his soul was seared of one."

"What in Fusion does that mean?" Mrazak asked with a hard sidelong stare.

"Project Lazarus." Ari's heart sank. All that Leah had said yesterday was making even more sense now. "A project to bring the dead back to life. We think he may have been the one successful candidate."

"You mean to tell me that a human man was brought back to life?" Mrazak was all sorts of incredulous. "How could that be possible? Humans lack katras, like all inferior lifeforms. Only Vulcanoids have been successfully returned from death."

Frost nodded in agreement, "that's what we're aiming to find out. Leah was meant to be part of it but she refused on account of her profession." Ari nodded, "we know Taskmaster was involved with it, just not exactly how, we think he was the experiment, we came across data that suggests that an experiment was successful before it started consistently failing."

It was probably Mrazak's impatience showing, but he didn't see the connection. "What difference would that make with this conspiracy you've concocted?" he asked with thinly veiled annoyance.

Arianna sighed, "I can give you the entire file-set to rifle through. I can do it now, or I can do it when you come back from the Gamma Quadrant, either way, we'll need to bring everyone in, your call as to when." Frost said, "I wish it 'was' a concoction of my own." Then she turned to Qurban, "do we identify him in this reality?"

If not for Qurban, Mrazak would have dismissed all of this out of hand. He looked at the man as well.

"It sounds as if you have already identified him," Qurban pointed out. "He is a ghost in your machine."

Arianna did not want to believe those words. He couldn't be confirming her theory. No.

"And if the DNA ends up a match? Get real, Frost. Facts are facts. He's given me solid intel before." Arianna nodded, "I know you're more than likely right, but in this case, a little part of me really hopes you're not." She said to Qurban, completely ignoring the fact that Mrazak was there.

"What are you talking about now?!" Mrazak was getting irate, even more than usual. "I still don't see how an undead human is the biggest problem in everything you've related to me."

"If we identify him, we can actually charge him and throw the book at him and his ilk. And then we can actually look into identifying the rest of them. If we go of the books, this never stops and he may end up winning. None of us want that." Ari countered. "We can't afford a shadow war if we don't know who we're up against."

Mrazak looked at Ari for a long moment before his scowl turned into mocking laughter. "You... you think to charge him? Actually charge him? A man such as that?" He throw his head back and howled with laughter. "Oh, you are more foolish than I had thought possible. Men such as him do not care about charges. Ask ben-Avram how his charges worked against me and I do not even utilize aliases." Once the laughter finally burned out, Mrazak's face gave way to his typical sneer. "I see the stars have brought me into your crusade before it becomes doomed to the inevitable snares of those who are eminently your betters. Fear not, little spook. I will deliver you from even yourself."

"Mrazak, you will be our ace in the sleeve." Frost said, crossing her arms on her chest. "You will take the team into the Gamma Quadrant and finish the mission, while the rest of us gather more intel. And we will continue to gather more intel until we have brought all of our allies in. Then we will force his hand and take that head off of the Hydra. You will be our cavalry. We are the scouting party. The only way we are going to take the shadow down is to bring it out to the light. And you will be that light."

Although Ari talked, Mrazak only half-listened. The shadow wasn't a real thing. It was the void cast by an obstructing force. Everyone knew that. While Ari kept jumping at her shadow, Mrazak would pursue the cause and origin of the actual problem. He sniffed at her talk of light. When you got down to it, the whole universe was light. But this matter required treachery, something Arianna Frost knew nothing about save as a victim of it. Mrazak chuckled to himself. "Mmmmm yes," he said, as if in reply to her speech.

Arianna canted her head a little at the end. Of course....

She looked over at Qurban, "help." Was all she said.

Arianna was ready to walk out of the cone and make plans to shut down Mrazak if he continued. Whilst she understood who he was and his level of genious, she had no time to go around in circles with him.

"Yes, Frost, you were shrewd to come to me for help and I shall give it!" Mrazak thrust a dramatic finger in the air. "I am not without my wiles! There are indubitably entire dimensions to this operation that have evaded the grasp of your primitive mind. I will ascertain them and become the salvation of us all!"

Qurban sighed and unfolded his arms. "Mrazak... for today... why don't you make use the profiler in front of you. If nothing else, she could point you in the right direction."

While skeptical, Mrazak found it hard to argue with Qurban. "Very well. I will not neglect data where it may be found."

Frost nodded her thanks to Qurban, then to Mrazak. "I will ask that you do not speak of this without the presence of a scrambler or one of these cones. There are trip wires in the system and going through each will take time and personnel we don't have."

"Yes, yes, this is not my first black op," Mrazak said dismissively. "Since you revealed to me what was going on, then I have other things to do. I'll let you know when I have found results." And with that, he walked outside the cone to leave the Arboretum.

"Would it be too much to ask for you not to conduct your business here?" Qurban asked. "There are only so many places I actually like around here."

Frost sighed, "I'm sorry about that. I'll keep this out of your sphere as much as I can." She rubbed her face with her hands.

"Are you not well, Ari?" Qurban sipped from the last of his tea and made a frown at the empty cup. "Perhaps it was presumptuous of me to have invited the station administrator."

The face rub stopped suddenly, her one uncovered eye opened. Of course it happen like this. After the rushed wake up which left many awkward thoughts in its wake...

Ari sighed and removed her hands from her face. "I'm just slept in an awkward position." She said and turned to face Qurban. "I didn't realize Mrazak venerated you so."

She was not going to ponder the fact that Akiva was on his way. She was not.

"All of his kind venerate me, namely who I was before... this." Qurban chuckled. "The Vulcans Without Logic view the Q as some sort of pinnacle of evolution. Such irony, that, with the way he—"

"Pardon..." Akiva said with his faintly stilted voice. "Am I interrupting? I was led to believe my presence was needed..."

Ari noticed his presence but didn't hear him at first, for the merest moment wondering why. "Ferrofax, could you please lower the cone?"

"There's that magic word again." Ferrofax purred with satisfaction. Nothing made him happier than watching biologicals dance.

As the veil of silence was lifted Ari spoke again. "Sorry I can only lip read so much. What were you saying? We had to talk some things over with Mrazak earlier," she made the sign with her palm.

"Oh no..." Akiva felt a flutter of panic at first, but then took comfort in the fact Ari had lifted the cone of silence. It couldn't be that bad if she was willing to talk without it. "I trust everything is good then? So, does that make this a social call?" He glanced at Qurban who had been the one to summon him.

"We should be fine, on guard, but fine, thanks to Qurban." She said with a nod. "I'm curious about that too..." Ari added as she looked over at Qurban.

Qurban's eyes clenched shut for a moment. When they opened, he looked momentarily confused. Then he looked on Ari and Akiva with a bright smile. "Oh! You brought your husband! How wonderful."

"Your... what?" Akiva blinked several times very slowly.

Ari blinked. Was this really happening? Was he really choosing this moment to crack a joke.

"He could be serious though." That quiet, yet ever niggling thought wormed its way back into conscious thought.

"I...I still don't know if you're fucking with me or not. I'll be honest." Ari said to Qurban finally, after looking like a fish without water for a good twenty seconds. Then she looked over at Akiva. "Our first QEC chat..."

Akiva was still stuck in the part where Qurban thought they were married. He had never had the benefit of a private conversation with the Q Exile. Perhaps it had been for the best.

"Oh dear," Qurban said. "Is this not the timeline where the two of you became intimate?"

Ari looked over at Akiva, then back at Qurban, then back at Akiva, blinking, mouth opening and closing for a few seconds as she tried to find the words.

She hadn't thought that far ahead, she hadn't even considered that little ahead, save for occasional flights of fancy. Too many things were always going on.

Whatever she said, however, she didn't want it to change any trajectory that they might be on. She didn't want to lock them out of possibilities.

"I...don't know?" She said finally, looking a little lost, looking over at Akiva again.


"Timeline?" Akiva repeated. "Intimate?" He looked at Ari and Qurban, then Ari again and back to Qurban. "Does 'almost' count?" Then he covered his mouth, unable to believe what he had just said.

Ari's heart skipped a beat. "Wait, when?"

Then she realized what she asked.

"Oh fuck!"

Akiva stared her with widened eyes and mouth open. This...this was the most awkward conversation of his life and that was saying something. "Did... Is this why you called me down here?" Akiva said to Qurban.

"I didn't call anyone," Qurban said plainly. "You must be mistaken."

Arianna thought for a moment. "A version of you did, just minutes ago." To Akiva she added, "he could have reset in realities again."

"Oh dear," Qurban said. "I apologize. Linear existence can be so cumbersome. I honestly don't know how you humans do it."

"Some days, neither do I." Akiva pressed his hand against his forehead.

"It's alright. If it makes it any better, you were quite helpful, before." Ari added, feeling bad for him, yet again. She felt bad for herself and Akiva too.

As much as she tried, she couldn't help but think on the possibilities brought up mere moments ago.

Qurban shrugged and observed his empty teacup. "I need it refreshed," he said, walking away.

After watching him go, Akiva slowly panned his head back to Ari. "Is it always like that talking with him?"

Ari nodded, still looking after Qurban before turning to face Akiva. "This was the mild version of it, but yes. There are times I reset him a few times with the wrong question, but if we can identify a reality he can usually find his way back." She said, wanting to touch on the awkward subject the object of their conversation brought up...but she just didn't know how.

Another thought popped into her head. Qurban actually knew who they were from the start this time. Usually re-introductions were in order. A curious thought to follow up.

"So, you talked to Mrazak about things." Akiva held up the palm sign. "And then Qurban called for me. Were those related in some way?"

Arianna shrugged, motioning for them to keep moving. "I don't know. He's like a cryptic prophecy. I mean, I know prophecies are cryptic by default, but he's that next level up. But, he's also right, especially if we manage to unravel the words on time. He told me not to sleep with a native when I mentioned we were going to Risa. He said I'd know it when I see it. Psolium Septicus."

"Would that have been a problem without his warning?" Akiva asked before he could stop himself. Thinking better of it, he said, "Never mind. Not my business. Was he correct about anything else?"

Ari chuckled, "to be quite honest, at the start of Risa, maybe. After that night? No." She shook the amusement away. "Yeah, he was, in two different chats. Remember the other name I mentioned in that breakfast? I didn't think anything of it initially, until the old lady told me that story."

"Well, then..." Akiva was still avoiding direct eye contact with Ari, relying mostly on sidelong glances. "I suppose we should hear him out on anything else."

Arianna sighed, "we should, but I don't know how many heart attacks I can have in an hour." She said with a grimace which morphed into a resigned, helpless smile.

And a refusal to think on Qurban's latest doozy. No, no thinking about Akiva as her husband. No.

Akiva was keeping his feelings closer to his chest. Husband. He had thought of himself as one before and it ended poorly. The way Ari reacted to the proposition told him all he needed to know about pursuing that course of action. They were friends. Good friends. Close friends, even. But evidently that was where it remained.

"We'll let it lie in that case," he said at length. The look he gave her was quietly questioning, but he said nothing more.

Ari shrugged, "rest maybe, but I won't lie and say I won't think about what he said," she said as she motioned for them to follow after Qurban. "It wasn't unwelcome, don't get me wrong...I just didn't want to make you even more uncomfortable than that situation was, I'm a bit more used to his nuggets of information, as brick-to-the-head as they could be. I do you answer that anyway without making it even more weird?" She shrugged helplessly at him, hoping he could read what she was trying to say.

After looking at Ari for a long, hard moment, Akiva took her into an embrace. He held her for a moment before whispering into her ear, "I could think are far worse ways to die than being wed to you." He pulled away and straightened his collar.

She barely had time to return the embrace and process what he had said. As he pulled back though, she gave a casual shrug, one of new-found confidence. "True, there are far worse roles to play." Ari added with a smirk. "I think we need to leg it." She said as she looked after the Q then back at Akiva.

"Right." Akiva reoriented himself. Duty called. "It could go very badly if Mrazak beats us to the field team briefing."


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