"No Stranger Would It Be..."

OFF: This is my challenge post

ON:

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It was dark as ink and teeming with freezing rain as a team of exhausted horses and their sodden carriage drew through the forest and out onto the slush covered hill of Salisbury Plain. The carriage’s wheels bit into the soft mud as Michael maneuvered it among the last of the trees and random boulders.

Warm and fat, Tulde sat impatient as ever. He was wringing his stubby hands together as he peered out at the odd verdant horizon. Upon it, he could see the aurora, or a version of it, dancing through the clouds with a grace and altitude he never could quite recall seeing, not even during his times in Iceland. It wasn’t until he noticed that the borealis shed forth an eerie green mist, that he began to become excited. "STOP!" He finally bellowed, nearly slamming his snout into the front wall of his posh growler when stop indeed happened on a pence, "We're here. Make haste, Michael! Make haste and gather the Countess up, the rat Bolak spoke of got it right!”

Though his heart was in his throat, Michael did as Lord Vatterott instructed and leaped from his seat into the mucky slush below. At first he slipped, nearly going beneath the carriage. The horses, made uneasy by forces unknown, spooked nearly crushing him as they tugged forward but a hair. “Woah, I said woah, beasts!” He called to them, doing his best to both gather his soiled self and steady the creatures in kind. Lord Vatterott was already free, marching through the slop about as fast as he could possibly go, leaving Michael to tend to the still unconscious Lady draped across the velvet seat he’d one occupied.

Something felt so very wrong, but still he cradled the tiny woman to his chest and set out across the field. There was nothing he could do to protect her from the biting chill and driving sleet, but pray that whatever the Lord hoped to find would be found quickly and they could all be on their way back to the manor sooner rather than later. He’d never mention it out loud, especially not when the Lord was delusional and manic such as he was, but he suspected the woman in his arms to be with child and the last thing she’d need would be to catch fever on the whim of a madman.

“YES!” Tulde cried to the howling wind, his arms being thrown into the air as lightning split the undulating heavens with incredible mirth. Each stone hummed with life all around him, singing as if to entice him closer with their harmony of life and light. Each was blessed with the glowing of an emerald stone - the largest of which, his Nebula, sat soaking on the ground in the middle. He was quick to grab it, to hold and stroke it. “Bring her here, you fool! Quickly! We haven’t all night!” Be barked, much to Michael’s chagrin.

Against his greater senses, Michael brought the Countess to the center of the massive Faery ring and shivered as he spun a slow circle to take in the harrowing sight around him. As soon as Vaanaras grew near, the stones sang louder yet, their light growing brighter by the second. He wasn’t the only one who noticed. Tulde’s eyes were wide and filled with the light of the Nebula stone. His mouth was agape in a crudely bold expression of sheer rapture, “Strip her and lay her here. Hurry now!”

“My Lord?” Michael asked, aghast. His fingers tightened against the sodden gown covered body of his precious cargo.

“I SAID STRIP HER, YOU FOOL!” Tulde bellowed, hopping in place. Mud and slush spewed forth, splashing from beneath the impact of his weight against the field and Michael swallowed the knot growing in his throat.

“I canno---” The sound of gunfire sent the horses rearing against their harnesses, shuddering against the unexpected sharpness of it all. The last Tulde Vatterott would hear of them was the sound of eight hooves thundering against the waterlogged l plain and the unbearably horrific sound of the carriage crashing, a horse screaming in panic and pain… And then… Nothing.

Before him Michael stood shaking, watching the smoke rise from his Lord’s pistol. “But you will if you wish to survive this night.” The hoggish man said, gesturing toward Vaanaras with the nod of the gun’s muzzle in her direction. “Do you not hear the stories about the white witch? La Dame Blanche?! It is she, I tell you, she! So many times I have heard tale of her dancing nude in the moonlight in the forest during heathen holidays and now I know, for certain, that it is her power that will grant me what I need! FREEDOM!”

The butler’s fingers shook as he worked against his mistress’s clothes. Of course he’d heard the tales of La Dame Blanche. Of course he’d heard the milkmaids whispering about how just such a witch was none other than his beloved Lady Vatterott, but he’d never chosen to be believe that she could be anything near as omnipotent. She was but a woman, wise and filled with opinionated fire, but a woman none-the-less. By the time he’d freed her of her bodice and her skirtings, he was near tears. “I think you are mistaken, Lord.” He fought, though in vain, slowly undoing the laces of the Lady’s corset.

“I do not pay you to think, Michael! She bewitched the Detective! She bewitched me, but yet she took him as her lover after rendering my manhood permanently flaccid! I know who and what she is, Michael! I knew it the moment I lay eyes on her!" He blathered, nearly foaming at the mouth as he watched the butler undress his estranged wife in a manner most mechanical, stopping to fold each item of clothing and laying it carefully beside her. "Denying me her body… I SAID HURRY!" He screamed. “THE TIME IS NOW!”

Indeed the singing of the stones had grown to a fever pitch so loud it drowned out the harrowing moaning of the wind. It beat against Michael’s temples like a drum, threatening to crush his skull with every violent reverberation and only seemed to grow louder with every new inch of porcelain skin his work revealed until, at last, she lay naked as the day she was born…

She glowed a silver light, like starshine, laying against the freezing mud still as a corpse. Had it not been for the rhythmic rise and fall of her diaphragm, Michael would have feared her dead. Still, he gazed upon her shining magnificence in awe while Tulde cackled madly.

"She's nature's soul and essence, its charm and wonders, its pure innocence, and its celestial beauty weaved into one... She's simplicity, she's sincerity, she's transparent as the innate truth. Tall of intellect and unbound talent, she holds in leash to serve in time but never allows it to usurp her trust in long voyages of love and life..." Michael’s voice was not his own as he watched his mistress rise, like flame, from the soggy loam. She hung suspended, shining bright as the north star, and floated towards Lord Vatterot.

Michael’s eyes flicked nervously from from Vaanaras to Tulde who smugly nodded and motioned her spectre forth to a point dead center within the standing stones. “Yes, Michael, speak the words of the Khinsa!” He hissed, but even rain’s incessant blathering couldn’t dim his all out rapture of receiving what it was he wanted most; freedom from this horrible and wretched world. The freedom the Nebula promised him.

“In horizons like daybreak sunshine, I see her smile while I look up. She brings confidence, brings hope that I walk a path of righteousness. If I trust God, she is my God. This life and soul a tribute to her..." The strange words continued to spill forth in a voice that could only be described as… Dectective Khinsharri’s?! In response, his mistress burned bright as a neutron star. So bright he had to shield his eyes to keep from being blinded by light so bright it positively burned his frightened flesh.

And then he saw it…

Tulde held in his grasp a knife cut of pure emerald. Its verdant blade glistened wetly, highlighted by the beauty of the astral woman floating before them. Before Michael could gather the strength necessary to rush the portly Lord, Tulde had the knife held high in both of his hands, “RELEASE ME AS I RELEASE HER! TO THE STARS!” He bellowed loudly, plunging the knife straight for Vaanaras’ naked and exposed chest.

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Beep.

Vaanaras ‘ hardly expected the electronic sound that greeted her barely conscious ears. The one closest to the source of the noise gave an involuntary twitch as it honed in on the general location it had come from; up and to the left of her head.

With the continuing rise of consciousness came the rise of memories and reminders of things that shouldn’t be.

Avakhon was gone.

Tulde was alive.

She groaned, forcing a hand that left heavy as lead to reach for the space between her breasts. Something there hurt, aching horribly as a reminder of something else - darker, more nefarious - begging to me remembered.

“Vaanaras…”

A voice called for her, but sounded as if it were warbling from thousands of fathoms beneath a foreign sea. She struggled to open her eyes and when, finally, she was able to open them to slivers, she was greeted by white hot lights that made her gasp.

“Vaanaras…”

The smell was what hit her next. Sterile and clean… Plastic. She recognized it as plastic but couldn’t define what exactly plastic was if her life depended on it. She wasn’t in London anymore.

“Vaanaras…”

“Yes?” She finally croaked, at least she thought that’s what it was she said. For all she knew the husky gravel of her voice could have been nothing more than a smoky whimper or something else unintelligible.

“Welcome back…” A female Romulan nurse smiled down at her, marking off the rate of her pulse on a chart attached to her biobed, “You’re going to want to take it very slowly, my dear.”

“Romulan…” The amethyst slits of the Vorta’s eyes grew twenty fold as she recognized the species smiling at her. They were devils! Hobgoblins! She could remember the snarling face of a sub-commander glaring back at her as she stood on the bridge of a ship in an attempt to buy time. She could remember the way her heart galloped wildly in her chest, just as it did now, and the joy it felt when her plan came to fruition and saved them all from such insidious and insipid creatures! “ROMULAN!” She screamed as loud as her lungs would let her, “ROMULAN! ROMULAN!”

A tray of instruments crashed to the floor as Vaanaras swung her lungs around and flailed wildly in a miserable attempt to find her feet. Her legs refused to bear her weight and swiftly sent her to the cold, sterile floor below, “ROMULAN!” She screamed again, this time choking on her own adrenaline as it set her entire body shaking.

“Vaana!” Tulde squealed, dropping from his bedside perch to be at her side, “No, Vaana! No! It’s alright!” His hoof-like fingers gripped at her shoulders, gently shaking her, “They saved us! They’re the good… guys… I swear it!”

“What?!” She yelped, turning wide eyed to stare at Tulde. A knife… High… The pain in her chest, “You son of a bitch! YOU KILLED ME!” Her screech was shrill, filled with a heady mix of both panic and outright anger. Recoiling away from the creature that held her, Vaanaras managed to strike him with a surprising flourish of strength and dexterity and the slap she delivered to the Tellarite’s cheek made even the Romulan woman cringe as it reverberated through the air.

“I DID NOT KILL ANYONE! YOU’RE ALIVE!” Tulde squealed sharply, immediately bringing a hand to his smarting pink cheek. Any second now the Vorta would snap completely. The vast majority of them - the crew - had as they steadily gained more of their faculties and began to realize that everything they’d experienced down on that Godforsaken planet had been for nothing.

“It is to be expected,” The Romulan interjected, quickly pressing a hypodevice to the Vorta’s neck. It hissed as it deposited its payload directly into her bloodstream, “You were not unlike her when you first arrived, Mr. Tulde.”

He nodded in understanding, holding his partner close as she began to wilt, “Will it hurt her baby?” He asked, his beady eyes glossy with concern.

“No, of course not.” The Romulan nodded, folding her hands and waiting for Vaanaras to be calm enough that moving her back to her bed wouldn’t cause more harm than good. “We are not in the business of buttering you people up and wasting resources healing you only to injure you worse. Had we wanted to accomplish that, you would all be well on your way to the Rhiannsu slave markets.”

Tulde blanched at the very thought, “Oh. How lovely.”

Through her drowsy haze of panic and drug induced weightlessness, the Vorta did her damnedest to lift her head. Her fan-like ears struggled to move, flicking towards the sound of the conversation transpiring all around her until one word truly stood out as paramount among the rest, “Baby?” She asked, her glassy eyes fighting to focus on one face or another.

The Romulan looked to Tulde with a gentle nod. It was news best served by a friend, not one perceived as an enemy - especially one that lacked in the field of tact and finesse; two things Romulans certainly weren’t well known for. Tulde licked his lips, wetting them as he struggled with words. “Yes…” Christ it was so much easier when they were bantering and he was stealing snacks off her desk while she was distracted by work. He wasn’t a doctor, not even remotely close, and such things were downright out of his wheelhouse as much by choice as by the general nature of his chosen profession… Frankly, if he was being honest, he wasn’t all that terrific as a Security Officer either.

“Vaanaras, well you see… When a man and a woman…” He snorted sharply, cross with himself and the sound of the pathetic overture to his pathetic explanation, “For love of the Gods, woman, you are with child. Pregnant. Your turkey is stuffed. There’s a bun in your oven. You swallowed a pumpkin seed and it’s growing.” He huffed, folding his arms across his broad chest. They barely reached and instead crossed at the wrists in a manner most feeble, “And I’m not the father. Trust me.”

Of all the things that burned Tulde the most, his lack of virility singed him the worst. “Damn Nebula… Vaanaras, it threw us all into some new dimension. Some alternate reality where Earth is stuck spinning in the Victorian era and we’d been thrown to the wolves in London.” He snorted, looking up to meet the woman’s saucer wide eyes. Was it surprise or was it the drugs that had them so large? He didn’t care and he didn’t dare look over at the Romulan. Her eyes bore into him with a rather massive amount of disbelief that he could be so crude. Crude, he was good at. “Anyway, that particular honor goes to Avakhon, of all males. A Klingon… Type… Thing, Vaanaras? Really?”

“How?”

“You didn’t keep your damn thighs shut, that’s how!”

“I meant how did we get back!” Vaanaras barely made sense to herself, with thanks to the drunks infiltrating her system, but she tried her damnedest to communicate the litany of questions swirling around within her head. How had this all happened?! How had it been anything but a nightmare?! Stars alive… She could hear herself groan as she lay against the biobed, curling up in a ball.

Tulde just gaped at her like a fish in the freezer.

“Stonehenge…” She hissed, the memory flashing back to her in a violent blaze of emotion.

“Ah…” Tulde looked to the Romulan, begging for some sort of guidance.

With luck, at least for him, it came. “Do not interrupt me if you want answers, Vorta.” The Romulan hissed with impatience and irritation easily plucked from her voice. Valeese offered no resistance.

“We have known of the trap for a long, long time. Many of our own has it lured in and we believe it to be a sort of genetic experimentation conducted by an entity that lives solely within the particulates of the nebula itself.” She continued, shaking her head, “Why the Victorian era of Terran times and why London remains a mystery. Near as we can decipher its because humans were still barely tapping into the resource of combustible engines and heavily reliant on beasts of burden, no chance of escape.” She shrugged.

Valeese nodded, “But I have memories of a childhood in the Highlands of Scotland… I can even smell the heather and the sea.”

“All of it is nothing more than an illusion to guarantee your compliance, no doubt. Two of you have returned carrying fetuses. One we believe to be a true genetic anomaly with the potential to be half human and half Andorian… Unless your friend ran into other Andorians trapped on the surface.” The Romulan mused.

“How did we get back?” Vaanaras knew, deep in her heart, that the child she carried would be the last thing Avakhon left within their universe. He was gone. Lost to her. The best she could hope for was that he’d been spirited away to some other plain of existence and not simply slaughtered and rotting on the world they’d just been taken from.

“We lured you to the stones. They’re a portal on that world as much as they are on Earth.” The Romulan answered with pride, “Some of you were easier to push in that direction, but it was difficult to say the least. You should be thanking the dwarf and the… Squirrel? You’d be dead without them.”

“Tamarian.” Vaanaras corrected with a yawn, “Her name is Aji.” And Aji was notoriously resourceful. Saying as much would prove to be impossible in that moment, though she wanted to boast and crow loudly of the brilliant mind that was Aji D’Moonh. The little Vorta lay almost paralyzed by the effects of the sedative the Romulan had given her, and the battle to remain awake was lost in spite of her most valiant efforts. The Romulan may have apologized for calling Aji a Squirrel, Tulde may have even stated the petite creature more closely resembled a Terran chipmunk, but all of it was lost in a swirling quagmire of emotions and words that quickly faded to black.

“She’ll be alright?” Tulde asked. His hand rested on her hip, hopeful that it would lend her the support and strength necessary to rebound from the shock of it all.

The Romulan nodded, “Give her time. She was the hardest to revive because of the incident in the circle,” Her hands drew up in a stabbing motion to emphasize her point and she couldn’t help but smile at Tulde’s look of absolute horror and shame, “Just be grateful that Aji was smart enough and your Captain strong enough to see it through.”

“And to you for choosing to risk yourselves for a bunch of Starfleet officers.” Tulde snorted, “I still don’t see why you did.”

“Isn’t it obvious? We’ve lost our own to the Nebula. Being able to salvage your crew means that we can gather the data necessary to save our own.” She deadpanned, “Maybe next time your people will listen.”

“Maybe next time your people won’t talk in riddles. Brevity is an important thing.”

With a scoff, the Romulan turned her attention to the twin set of vitals looming over the Vorta’s bio-bed, “Go. Bring news to your Captain that she has woken and will live…” She paused, stroking her chin, “The child too. I’m sure they will be interested to know that some part of their Executive Officer remains yet.”

Hesitantly sliding from his protective roost beside his friend, Tulde nodded and sulked, “I will… Thank you.”

“I have done nothing of significance. Thank that Aji creature.” She didn’t bother to look at him, “Now go before you vex me, Tellarite.”

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