Malice in the Mirror

By Eireann

Rating: PG-13

Genres: dark

Keywords: Mirror Universe

This story has been read by 603 people.
This story has been read 1286 times.


Disclaimer: Star Trek (plus all its intellectual property) is owned by Paramount.  No infringement intended. 

Summary: MU.  Chief Engineer has had a serious accident.  But was it an accident?

A/N: Beta’d by VesperRegina, to whom many thanks as always.

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With a shuddering gasp, Tucker regained consciousness.

The next moment, he wished he hadn’t.

Expletives broke from as much of his mouth as he could bear to move.  The pain...

“This should help you, Commander.”  The hiss of a hypospray, and the agony retreated a little, became almost bearable.  “Now let’s get you to Sickbay.”

They lifted him onto a gurney; he couldn’t have walked, couldn’t have withdrawn enough of his concentration from whatever had happened to the side of his face.  He saw the shocked faces of his team, yelled at them to quit staring and make sure the breach was fixed, and then wished he hadn’t as the movement of his facial muscles aggravated the burns.  He already knew his flesh had melted, if not the bone beneath it.  It was damn lucky the blast hadn’t killed him outright, but right now he wasn’t in any mood to be thankful for anything that had left him in such unspeakable suffering.

The doors opened with a pneumatic hiss.  Through the tears of pain he refused to let fall he saw a dark-clad figure waiting outside.  Dark hair, pale skin, glittering gray eyes took in the extent of the damage.  He imagined, rather than saw, the fleeting smirk.

Twisted little bastard.  The words jangled through his head, getting all tangled up with the pain.  It was the only expression that ever came to mind when he saw the MACO major.

“How is he?” A tall figure with short-cropped brown hair scowled down at him.  “Will he live?”

“I’d certainly imagine so, Commander.  Though the damage...”

“I don’t give a damn about his looks… just as long as he can keep on looking after the warp drive.”

“That shouldn’t be a problem.”

“Fine.  Keep me posted.”  And Archer strode away, presumably to find something else to bully the crew about.  Or maybe he had to report to Captain Forrest, who wouldn’t be pleased to hear that the best engineer in the Fleet was probably going to be confined to Sickbay for a while, leaving the always-temperamental engines to the tender care of his subordinates.

Tucker tried to put up a hand to assess the damage, but Phlox intervened.  “None of that, Commander, unless you want the radioactive material on your fingers too.  As soon as I have you in Sickbay we can begin cleaning you up.”

Delta radiation.  Damn, this was serious.  Through the swimming haze of pain Tucker tried to think through what had gone wrong.

Roberts had been rostered to check the section which included that bypass valve, a scared youngster, but with the makings of a good engineer if he’d lived.  Thorough, knew his stuff.  A bit slow, but speed comes with experience as well as being yelled at often enough; he’d have gotten better.  He’d have been more at home in R&D, but with the casualty rate out on the front line, the Empire was long past considering people’s comfort zones.  An engineer was an engineer, and a press-gang was a press-gang; it was just that this particular press-gang came with the imperial emblem on their sleeves, and there was only one alternative to compliance.

The maintenance had been done.  Roberts’ thumbprint had been on the PADD, and the computer verified its DNA as a matter of course, just as every piece of routine maintenance was verified.  In the Empire, nobody’s word was taken as gospel.  If there was found to be a problem, the culprit was immediately identifiable.

Trouble was, the culprit was no longer available for interrogation.

Three days ago, he’d shot himself in the head during the course of an investigation for treason against the Empire. 

Just as this highly inconvenient realization came to him, the lights beyond Tucker’s closed eyelids told him that he was back in Sickbay and the next few minutes were going to be seriously uncomfortable.  He’d been on one of Phlox’s bio-beds before, and never left without the shuddering feeling of having had a narrow escape.  Now the slimy Denobulan was going to be in charge of salvaging whatever was left of the right side of his face, and word around the ship said he and Reed were far too ... well, ‘chummy’ was never going to be the word where Reed was concerned, but ‘alike’ didn’t exactly cut it.  The two of them were currently collaborating in the construction of a mechanical device solely intended to inflict unendurable pain on anyone inside it, and between the MACO’s technological expertise and the doctor’s medical know-how, it was only a matter of time before it was installed and ready for testing.  The bitter jest around the ship was that even when it was up and running Captain Forrest would never put Reed in it because he wouldn’t give him that much pleasure.

“Prepare the patient for surgery, Crewman.”  Phlox moved away to get ready himself as the corpsmen gently transferred the engineer onto the bio-bed.

Tucker heard footsteps approaching him, and opened his eyes a crack to see who the doctor had called in to help him.  He saw Cutler, and couldn’t control the involuntary shrinking backwards away from her.  He didn’t know what had happened to her and didn’t want to know.  Externally she was fine, but the eyes ... he’d heard there were substances that could do things to the brain that made you want more even though you knew it was killing you.  Maybe fear and pain could do that in the same way to certain people, because she was hooked and hadn’t been sane for a long time.  Not since the day she’d come aboard and lived through the interrogation routinely carried out by the ship’s Head of Security.

Still, she knew what she was doing.  Her hands were competent enough as she quickly applied protective dressings to the undamaged parts of his face and began gently hosing down his ruined flesh with a fine mist of clean water.

Gentle as she was, even the contents of the hypospray couldn’t help him cope.  For all of his struggle to stay silent, the pain was too great.  As the spray hit his burned eyelid, he let out a scream.

“Now, now, that’s not going to help matters.”  Phlox was behind him.  “I think we’ll all do much better if you’re not with us for a little while and I can get on with the salvage operation.”

Cold metal touched his neck.

The last thing he thought was, My eye.  For God’s sake save my eye.

*               *              *

They kept him sedated for a while so that he didn’t attempt to paw at his bandaged face.  This wasn’t so much for his benefit as to keep him from being added to the casualty list, as Enterprise had been in a fire-fight with a rebel ship and some of the crew had been injured; Phlox had enough to do stitching up the results without having to re-do his handiwork.

When he finally floated back up into the land of the living, he had no idea where he was.  He blinked in confusion at the sterile lights overhead, trying to imagine why he wasn’t in his cabin and why no alarm had gone off summoning him to duty.  After a couple of moments it dawned on him that he was only seeing the lights with his left eye.  The right was prevented from opening by something soft taped across it, and when he tried to force it all that he could perceive was a diffuse pearly brightness.

“You’re in Sickbay, Commander.”  Cutler was sitting beside him.  She looked tired, and just for a moment she seemed almost normal.  “I’ll start taking the bandages off in a minute.  Tell me if your eye hurts at all.  If you get pain and ignore it, it could damage your eyesight.”

“Shouldn’t Phlox be doin’ this?”  His voice surprised him, because it was hoarse; he guessed he’d probably been intubated for a while.

“He’s ... working.  With ... the major.”  Darkness fell across her face like a curtain.  “I know what to do.  They need you in Engineering.”

More memories went off in his brain.  The sudden blink of pressure warning in a bypass that had no business being in use at all.  He was nearest to it, and he’d known that he only had seconds before this became something that could blow the whole goddamn ship to Kingdom Come; and it had come closer to doing so than he ever wanted to experience again, because his fingers had been on the shutoff button as the pipe seal blew out directly beside his face.  His coverall protected his body, but his head was directly opposite the rupture point.  His whole attention had been focused on the control panel.  If he’d lost his head and looked at the pipe instead, the explosion would have taken both his eyes out.

His eyes...

What use would the Empire have for a one-eyed engineer?

Cutler was unwrapping the bandages.  She was leaning over him.  He’d never noticed she was pretty; not in T’Pol’s league, of course, but sort of kind-looking.  He doubted the Vulcan bitch’s face had the necessary muscles to achieve a smile, but Cutler’s had known how to once. 

At least before she was posted here.  Before Reed’s shadow fell across her path.

“Can’t Phlox help you?” he asked suddenly.

“Nobody can help me, Commander.”  Her voice was wooden.  She went on unwrapping bandages without a tremor until he felt the last of them slip away.  “Now, I’m going to loosen the top dressing and take the lower one from underneath it.  That should let you open your eye just a little.  Tell me at once if it hurts.  It’s important.”

You got that right.  He couldn’t imagine what would happen to him if he was surplus to requirements on board the warship.  Maybe they’d ship him back to R&D; hell, even half-blind he had expertise that not many in the Empire could boast.  But it reduced his chances of survival dramatically.  In a world where a man needed both eyes in the front of his head and one in the middle of his back – because getting rid of the opposition was a recognized route to promotion – a one-eyed engineer was at a possibly fatal disadvantage.

“Go ahead.”

Her fingers were gentle.  He felt the dressing against his skin shift and move away.

For a moment he was too scared to lift his eyelid again.  But then, because not knowing was worse, he opened his eye slowly,

Light.  Swimming at first, because his cornea was awash, but as he blinked the water away his sight cleared gradually.

“No.  No pain.”  He almost whispered it, because it felt like tempting fate.  “You can take the top one off too.”

“It may be a little early for that.”

“No.  It’ll be fine.  Honest.”  He couldn’t have said whether it was because he believed that it would, or whether he was simply determined that it would, no matter what.  At any rate, he couldn’t face the thought of another hour wondering whether his career was toast and whether he’d be tossed all the way down from the top of his promotional ladder to the bottom of the scrapheap because of a faulty damn bypass valve.

When there was only a hesitating stillness he turned his head.  “If you don’t take it off, I will.”

She bit her lip, and reached for the second dressing.

Just before her hand touched it, he grabbed her wrist.  “You can make things different.” 

“It’s too late for that.”  Her head turned quickly, as though she thought she’d heard someone in the corridor; her face contorted with a terrible mingling of fear and desire.  “He’s coming...”

The Sickbay doors opened.  Cutler shrank.  “I’ve taken the inner dressing off, Doctor,” she whispered, but her gaze was fixed on the man who’d entered the room in the Denobulan’s wake.

“Excellent!” Phlox approved.  “And I take it the patient is impatient to have the second one removed as well.”

“Wouldn’t you be?” growled Tucker, fighting off a crazy, irrational desire to pull Cutler behind him and away from Reed.  Like he didn’t have enough problems already, without getting mixed up with whatever was going on between that pair of psychos.

Warily he watched the doctor walk closer.  The MACO remained beside the doorway, leaning casually against the wall with his arms folded, and watching with seemingly mild interest.

“Well, the scars are healing nicely.  And if you don’t seem to be experiencing any discomfort, perhaps we might see how you get on if we take the top dressing off.  Very slowly, of course.”  Phlox’s smile was possibly meant to be reassuring, but if so, it failed significantly; it was far too likely he was hoping that the patient’s impetuosity would end up giving him an opportunity to carry out a surgical investigation into a ruined eye.

“Yeah.  Really slowly, Doc, if you don’t mind.”  He was already aware from the changed limits of his field of vision that the side of his eye-socket was disfigured.  Briefly and desperately he wished for some kind of a weapon, but with the watch-dog at the door he’d never have gotten the chance to use one even if he had it.

“Very well.”  Brighter light insinuated itself under the rim of the soft pad across his eye, and he blinked instinctively, flinching away from it.  But after a moment, “That’s okay.  Keep goin’.”

Maybe Phlox realized that even weaponless, the patient had fists he was still perfectly capable of using.  The dressing was removed very, very slowly.  The eye beneath had time to adjust, and a minute or two later Tucker blinked around Sickbay with two functioning eyes, seeing the perception of distance and depth return to him with binocular vision.  The relief was utterly indescribable.

He stared across at Reed.  The major stared back at him impassively, but he could feel a secret gloating run through the man like a tide.

Roberts hadn’t been a traitor.  He was just a bright kid with a thing about engines.  He hadn’t given a damn about the Empire or who was in charge of it;  he’d likely have had trouble even identifying who was running the ship, though he’d been alert enough to give Archer a wide berth on the few occasions the commander had stalked through Engineering with his usual scowl.

But being a kid, he was vulnerable.  Hadn’t learned how to survive in an environment like this, hadn’t learned how to evade bastards like Reed.  And he’d had this dumb chivalrous streak that could all too easily have been drawn to hapless, hopeless Liz Cutler...

The business with the bypass hadn’t been an accident.  Tucker was suddenly absolutely sure of it; as sure as he was that Roberts had paid with his life for being young and impulsive and dumb.

The maintenance must have been faulty – that would be the conclusion that went down in the ship’s log when the incident was reported.  The fact that the young engineer had always been meticulous to a fault would count for nothing.  And who’d dare speak up for a proclaimed traitor?  Mud sticks.  Next thing you knew, your own loyalty would be called into question, and in the Empire that was a ticket to a death sentence.  Especially with a crazy bastard like Reed controlling the investigation. 

Tucker was first and foremost a realist.  Whatever he knew, or thought he knew, about Roberts’ fate, he definitely knew better than to level accusations for which he could have no possible proof.  But why the attack on himself?  He’d done nothing, said nothing. It was unlikely in the extreme that Reed didn’t know exactly in what esteem the chief engineer held him, their passionate hatred being mutual, although undeclared, but even the MACO had to produce some kind of evidence if he wanted to bring charges against a valuable officer.  On a personal level, Captain Forrest couldn’t have cared less if he’d cut Tucker’s throat; on a professional level, anyone who wanted to get rid of the ship’s chief engineer had better have a watertight case.

But suppose – just suppose – the MACO had been presented not with a case, but with an opportunity?

The chief engineer went on staring at Reed, trying to fit things together.

He still thought Roberts might have made the first move.  Drawn the major’s malevolent attention to him; maybe even been crazy enough to have made a move on Cutler in open view.  Accusations of treason against so relatively insignificant a crew-member would have been child’s play for Reed to bring; hell, he’d probably even enjoyed carefully insinuating the existence of proof.  The interrogation to follow would have been an exercise in the man’s specialty – deploying every one of his atrocious skills to invade and destroy, tearing the youngster apart from the inside like some vicious invading virus.  Maybe the weapon that Roberts had gotten hold of had been conveniently left within reach; maybe he’d been brought to the stage where he’d actually believed that there was proof.  Maybe the swift mercy of a phase pistol had seemed infinitely preferable to the promised alternative.

But with Roberts dead, a self-confessed traitor, who would know that anyone had tampered with the work he’d signed off as complete days before?  Reed had ample technical know-how for sabotage.  He knew where the head of Engineering was likely to be at any given time.  Above all, he was an unparalleled opportunist.  Presented with a clean shot at a target, he wouldn’t hesitate for a moment.

Tucker swung his legs off the bio-bed and stood up.  His knees weren’t as strong as he’d have liked them to be, given that he’d only just regained consciousness, but rage helped.

He pushed Phlox aside and walked over to confront the major.  Reed’s eyes traveled over his face, mapping the damage; by the small, spiteful smirk, it was considerable.

“If I were you, Commander, I’d get myself smashed before I looked in a mirror.”

“If you were me, our momma would have drowned you at birth and done humanity a favor.”

There was no noticeable reaction other than his pupils contracting infinitesimally.  But both men knew that a hitherto silent and stealthy war had now been declared openly and publicly. 

Now, it was a fight to the death.

And sooner or later, the reckoning would come.


Comments:

panyasan

This is a great MU story that gives a great insight in MU Tucker. I can only say you did a wonderful job with this story. 

Linda

Intense.  The details are great.  This story is a very chilling description of a world I think I would not survive long in.

Lt. Zoe Jebkanto

Bravo! In his book "On Writing", Stephen King said "never insult your readers".  You never do!  This is a wonderful, intelligent, subtle story- I had to read it twice to put all the pieces together and will, I'm sure, read it again.  Your MU is cold, terrifying and (with its instances of instinctive humanity- both experienced and suppressed  (Tucker's brief urge to get between Cutler & Reed) sad and fascinating! 

Cogito

One day, I like to think that this MU Reed is going to regret his failed assassination attempt on the Chief Engineer.

Reanok


Eirann It's nice to see a story about Trip's backstory and how he had to deal with what happened to him being injured in engineering and being a realist was a nice touch.Nice to see his Inner thoughts about what happened and his thoughts about Phlox and Elizabeth Cutler and Malcolm.

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