"Serenity"

OFF: Challenge post. Takes place pre-death of Mok for sake of continuity.
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KUNZITE COLONY
Present Day - 01:00

Somewhere in the distance, something exploded… Or rather there were several explosions and behind it, gunfire sounded in rapid successful - lighting up the night sky, bright as day.There was no denying the fact that war raged all around, threatening to consume anything and everything living. It didn’t matter what was laid to waste that snowy night, it only mattered that an objective was met and a certain faction put to the grave.

And that faction had no intention of meeting their maker.

Mid-winter on that small moon, the night was cold enough that each exhalation of Vaanaras’ breaths were announced a fine puff of frost, but she could still feel the sweat trickling down beneath the umber hide of her long beat up duster. She shifted uncomfortably, trying to unstick the coat’s leather from where it had decided to join itself in an unholy union with the slick skin of her lower back. Her damned shirt had ridden up… Again… And come to think of it, everything was damnably uncomfortable - especially with the way the button at the front of her pants insisted on biting into the swell of her ever expanding belly. Being pregnant in the middle of a gunfight had never been high on Vaanaras’ bucket list, but that was just how the cookie had come to crumble in her ever persistent hunt of the Fessarius, Balok, and the truth behind Avakhon’s disappearance. They had a job to do now, a device to plant, and a signal to send. At no point was giving up, or dying, an option no matter how cold or uncomfortable things were.

The sound of heavy footfalls alerted the little Vorta to the fact she’d been holding her breath for at least the last thirty seconds. As she released it, her sensitive ears flicked and twitched, homing in on the direction and source of the sound. Shuffling. Loud. Erratic. They were beat an interesting tattoo against the frostbitten ground, sliding more than pounding, but promising that their master was of considerable heft and lacked in grace. “Idiot…” She muttered, shaking her head. No one moved like that during war if they had even a shred of tactical dignity… And this person… There simply wasn’t any chance the shuffler was a fighter. Still, tipping her stetson low, Vaanaras swallowed the knot in her throat and cocked back the hammer of her pistol, knowing it was better to be safe than sorry.

Peering up over the massive box she’d taken shelter behind, she hissed, “Tulde… You’re going to get us killed!”

The Tellarite snorted and ducked around a corner, “Please. If anyone’s getting us killed, it’s you and your stupidity, Vaanaras!” The whole idea was absurd, but still they’d blindly followed her lead into the fray. For what? The off chance of finding a ghost? He kicked the crate bitterly.

Bad idea.

Bullets sprayed their general location, some ricocheting off various bits and bobs hanging in the old shop they’d taken cover in. Tulde squealed in fright and shock while Vaanaras launched herself over the top of the box and tangled her fingers in his coat, dragging him back in her direction before he could find himself shot. The only problem with this plan was the fact that he was a heavy beast and she a tiny little woman. The result, while less than ideal, kept him alive long enough for her to finish her tinkering and he soon found himself falling face first into the damnable crate full of… Peanut butter? Maybe there was heaven to be found on that little moon he’d nicknamed Hell. While Vaanaras traded fire with those who would rather slaughter them than make finger sandwiches, Tulde saw it fit to tuck into a jar of the salty sweet nut spread.

Some say ignorance is bliss. Vaanaras certainly didn’t, “Are you insane?!” She yelped, pounding on the crate to catch her so-called partner’s attention.

He grunted in return, “If I’m going to die on this mission, I’m going to die happy.”

“We survived the Borg crap show, we’re not dying today!” She griped, reloading. Energy based weapons were so much easier to handle, but they simply weren’t dealt in the hand they’d received. Phasers didn’t exactly blend in on a world that partied like it was 1869, “You might, though! Those jars are expired. I already checked.”

“Oh?”

“Yes. Provisions are scarce, but I’m not exactly a fan of salmonella or botulism.” The Vorta continued to grumble, fishing in her pocket for the final piece of the signal device. What she found was a set of prayer beads instead. Shining in the light of the firefight, they sat exposed in her tiny palm, promising that her every wish had been conveyed to a deity neither she, nor anyone she’d ever known, had laid eyes upon.

Faith. They spoke of unending and unyielding faith. The very same thing that Balok had tried his damnedest to exploit with his nanites and crystals. It was funny how things had a way of coming full circle, and even funnier how those circles tended to break off bits of her crumbling heart.

USS ENDEAVOR
Three weeks earlier…

“Happy birthdaaaay toooooo you!”

Applause and cheering went up from the small crowd of crew members as Vaanaras blew out an arrangement of candles scattered across the top of a rather elegant cake. Bolak had outdone himself, pulling strings to see to it that he’d procured the finest of ingredients necessary to create a confection he’d deemed worthy of celebrating her birth. After all, it had been his brother that had caused her - and the rest of them - so much heartache and misery.

“And maaaaany mooooore!” He sang in chorus with Mok and McCree, smiling brightly.

Tulde was practically foaming at the mouth by this point, but he did his part by slapping a party had on his boss, and plopped himself down in a chair beside her. “Aren’t you glad you decided to celebrate the way Terrans do?”

“You mean… Aren’t I happy that I conceded the point to allow you to benefit from the day I was born?” Vaanaras countered shrewdly, passing a knowing glance towards Bolak.

The Tellarite snorted sharply, “I have no idea what you mean by that, Vaanaras.”

“The cake, Tulde. Don’t even try to pretend that you’re not solely interested in the cake at this point.”

He grunted and grumbled something she readily tuned out in favor of paying attention to Mok. The man approached her almost solemnly with eyes far more gentle than she’d ever seen. “Listen… We haven’t been past a trading post or station in a long time…”

“I don’t do gifts, Mr. Mok.” She smiled, cutting him off before he could apologize.

“It’s not that.” He blinked, holding up a fine satchel in front of her, “We’ve been going back and forth fighting the Fessarius. The last time we did, we missed capturing Balok, yes, but we did obtain something you may find interesting. I kept it because we weren’t sure how to present it to you.”

By this time, Bolak had taken notice and turned over the honor of cake cutting to McCree in lieu of being able to take a stand beside Mok, “I promise you it’s not body parts… This time.” He joked.

“Oh good.” Vaanaras deadpanned and looked between the two of them, “Pretty sure I never want another package of severed parts ever again. Not even Balok’s.” She countered with a gentle chuckle, folding her hands over her belly. In just the last couple weeks, the evidence of her pregnancy had become irrefutable. To some, it made her more endearing. To others, like her, it was a constant reminder that Avakhon had been lost to them at the whim of a man so many were widely beginning to consider a monster.

Bolak felt it more than most, after all it had been his own brother’s stupidity that left the woman without a lover and a child to be born without a father - a fact that squeezed at his heart each and every time he thought about it. Now there was no ignoring it, not when she was sitting there, stroking her belly as if to soothe the child within her womb. “Promise.” He nodded.

“So just what did you steal from Balok?” She asked, tilting her head. Her eyes glittered brightly with wild amusement, “And why have you chosen to give me a satchel of ill gotten goods on my birthday?”

“It’s a Robin Hood sort of thing.” Mok answered, resting the satchel down on the table before them and motioned for Vaanaras to open it.

Inside the fine muslin bag lay several things of interest; a set of delicately carved onyx prayer beads, an old copy of ‘Gunfighters of the Outer Rim’ sporting at least one dog eared page, several slips of latinum - but chief among them was a map of a small moon. “Do you think…” She began, her breath catching in her throat as she tried to get the question out.

Her eyes were huge, larger than any of them had ever seen them before, and the unspoken question tugged at Bolak’s sensitivities. “We think he may be hiding the lost members of our crew on that moon, yes.”

“Then what are we waiting for?” She asked, carefully folding the old bit of parchment up. Leave it to Balok to love antiquities enough to lay his plans out on paper.

“We’re waiting for reinforcements, Vaanaras,” Tulde snuffled from around a mouthful of cake, “We cannot go off half cocked trying to raid some colony that thinks it belongs in an old wild west flick.”

“Like hell we can’t!” She all but shouted in response, causing the men to flinch, “Nableese ran off with a Romulan. She was gorram lucky for it, but the rest?! They’re gone and no one can account for them except for him!” Her hand came down hard upon the dusty old book as she emphasized her words, “You cannot tell me we can’t do this on our own. They may die if we wait any longer.” Blowing a shaky breath, Vaanaras found her feet and drug a hand through her hair - removing the party hat Tulde had put in place, “And you waited all this time to tell me… Jesus Christ…”

Bolak was the first to move towards her, “You’re pregnant, Vaana…” He started by stating the obvious, “The last thing we wanted to do was upset you or put you in a position where you lost more than you already have.”

“Don’t.” A hand came up, palm first, demanding that he stop in his tracks and not come any closer, “You don’t get to tell me what position I’m allowed to put myself in. I’m the only one that’s allowed to do that and as of right now, out of all of us, I’m going to be the one to say that we’re going to that gorram moon and finding our people before it’s too damn late and your troll of a brother causes anymore damage.”

“And what if it’s a trap?” Mok piped up, coming to Bolak’s defense. There was pain written across the dwarf’s face plain as day.

“Then we turn the tables and trap Balok.”

“And we’re back…” Bolak sighed heavily,

Mok crammed his hands in his pockets, “I’d almost forgotten that you’re the most Klingon Vorta that ever lived.” he nodded slowly, “This is madness… But it might just work.”

Tulde grunted in agreement from where he was kicked back and stuffing his face.

McCree on the other hand shook his head and palmed a pack of cigarettes, “This is where I cut out of this conversation.” He said, flatly, “Happy birthday, Vaana. I’m going to smoke. Don’t turn on the fire suppression this time.”

Smoking was a habit McCree hadn’t been able to shake from their ‘time’ in the Victorian era, and when his nerves became frayed the sultry taste of cloves had become his choice remedy. Watching him go, Bolak could only feel more guilt - yet another life was in ruins because of his brother and now they were all about to run headlong into hell to try and end the madness.

“This is excellent cake.” Tulde’s voice broke the sudden tension, and all eyes fell upon him. He blinked back in absolute befuddlement as he sucked the last remnants of icing from his fingers, “What?”

“Forget it. We’re doing this. We’re finding the damn moon and we’re doing this.”

KUNZITE COLONY
Present Day - 01:45

“I SAID MOVE, VAANARAS! IT’S TIME TO MOVE!” Tulde’s voice shattered Vaanaras’ thoughts. She startled sharply, nearly dropping the beads from her hand as the memories tucked themselves away. Safe in the confines of her mind, they’d reside until it was safe for them to come and play. That time, most certainly, wasn’t now.

Shoved roughly by the peanut butter covered Tellarite, the little Vorta scrambled to her feet and darted out the shop’s backdoor and into a narrow alley under his suddenly stalwart guidance. A hail of gunfire followed their every move, pinging and ringing as it nipped at their heels and by the grace of providence alone, they managed to stay just ahead of the fray.

Just up ahead a ways, the horses were tied and hidden behind what she was certain was an old bank and she knew they just had to reach them and life would be ok. From there it would be a mad dash over the sentinel upthrust of a craggy desert ridge and through the heart of the night to reach the shuttle and take flight back to the Endeavor. It seemed almost impossible, but there was the looming consolation prize of knowing that the operation would be done and their objective would be met.

If their loved ones were on that moon, they’d soon find them.

Back in that little mercantile shop, Vaanaras had purposely left behind a satchel of a whole different sort of ill gotten goods. The sort that made the right people appear to the right kind of sensor scans and made the wrong kind of people disappear under the right kind of circumstances. Balok would be but a passing, horrible memory so long as everything came succinctly together. She knew Tulde wouldn’t have chased her out of there if she hadn’t been successful in setting the device up and getting it running.

Beside her, the rotund Tellarite was panting and grunting with exertion, but refused to stop and catch his breath. She couldn’t help but notice the manic grin plastered across his porcine face, “What?! What is it?!”

“It’s just like that book!” Tulde cried out with an excited squeal, barely taking the time to look over in her direction.

Vaanaras just about faltered in her confusion, but did her damnedest to keep her head down and out of the line of fire, “What book?!”

“The gunfighter one!” He replied, “The one in that bag we stole from Balok!”

“You’re insane! You know that Mandalorians aren’t real, right?!” She cried, leaping across a narrow bisecting alley and nearly fell on her ass when her boots met the slick surface of a frozen puddle. Grasping at the wooden side of the nearest building, she managed to right herself enough to find traction and that traction was all Vaanaras needed as encouragement to keep running like hell towards their target no matter what she’d managed to hurt in her near fall.

Having avoided the miniature ice rink, Tulde was far better for wear, “Someone out there may be reading a book about us saying the same thing, Vaanaras! Live a little!”

“I’D LIKE TO LIVE, PERIOD!” She shouted, hustling through the maelstrom. She knew that if they lived to tell the tale, there was a high chance that she’d kill the Tellarite herself for all of his idiocy.

“We are just too damn pretty for God to let us die!” Tulde practically crooned mid-winded snort, much to Vaanaras’ chagrin.

The rest of the banter between Tulde and Vaanaras became a garbled blur as they finally made it to the horses. What transpired during the process of them trying to mount up, could only be best described as a true, blue comedy of errors.

Tulde was a rather rotund Tellarite.

Vaanaras was a gravid and rather tiny little Vorta.

Gravity was friend to neither, and the horses certainly wanted nothing to do with standing still around the percussive serenade of explosions and gunfire heralding their impending departure. It was only with gratitude owed to whatever god had chosen to answer at least one of Vaanaras’ prayers, that the pair made it up into their respective saddles. Beneath them, there was no denial that their horses needed no further encouragement to run as far and fast as they could away from the insanity of the town Balok’s men had laid siege to.

With one final look back, Vaanaras spun her mount around and away they went. Off into the frosty night, across the cold desolation of a desert located somewhere on some godforsaken remote moon in the Beta quadrant.

The gunfire soon became nothing more than a distant memory quickly drowned out by the sound of shuttle engines screaming through the atmosphere.

USS ENDEAVOR
03:15

“You left the package?” Bolak asked, setting a cup of tea down beside the frost wet hat in front of a chilled little Vorta. The entire ordeal had left her sapped of energy and close to frostbitten, but she’d succeeded by and far. That success had certainly exceeded his expectations of her - though he couldn’t quite say that he was surprised. Vaanaras was tough as nails.

She nodded, wrapping her cold fingers around the hot cup, “I did. I packaged it in the same satchel you lot lifted from him.” Her smile told the rest of the tale as she lifted the warming beverage to her lips and took a sip.

Mok couldn’t help but chuckle and Bolak was quick to shoot him a look that quite simply said ‘don’t encourage her’. “Are you sure that was a wise idea?”

“I am.” Vaanaras replied, setting her cup down and wrapping her blanket tighter around herself, “I want him to know that we’re unafraid.” Her lips pursed then and her head shook, allowing her eyes to rest anywhere but on Bolak and his men. They settled on the stetson’s silver dotted band.

“What is it?”

The Vorta sighed, “Avakhon, before he left, once said that he’d always come back for any of the rest of us.” She murmured in response, allowing her fingers to trace the rim of her cup “He said that there was a lot of people that believed that he didn’t care, but that the opposite was true. Sometimes I think the only thing he truly believed in was the people he loved.”

Swallowing the knot in his throat, Bolak took the seat beside her, “We all knew he cared,” he began, “But you need to remember that getting yourself and your little one killed isn’t going to bring him back and will only hurt us worse.”

She nodded, “I understand that, but we have to bring him back. We have to bring them all back and Balok has to pay for his crimes.”

“And he will.” The imp offered her a small smile, “I promise you he will.”

“Don’t make promises you can’t keep,” Shifting in her seat, Vaanaras sighed heavily. The idea of another broken promise left the bitter taste of disappointment and despair painted cold and metallic across her entirety of her mouth. There was no escaping it or the expression it smeared across her delicate face.

Bolak noticed it right away.

“This is a promise I can keep. I won’t promise that we’ll get everyone back, but I’ll promise that Balok will pay for what he’s done to them.”

She brought her face about, finding his eyes with hers. There was sincerity there, written within his eyes, and she knew that he meant what he said as much as he meant what he didn’t say, “Then I’ll hold you to it.”

Bolak nodded, “I know you will.”

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