Fortune's Wheel

By Eireann

Rating: R

Genres: adventure au dark drama

Keywords: Mirror Universe

This story has been read by 630 people.
This story has been read 1135 times.


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

Rating: R (Warning for violence. - Indicated by Author)

Beta’d by Distracted, to whom I am indebted as always.

Summary: Follow-up to ‘Malice in the Mirror’.  Fortune has intervened aboard ISS Enterprise, and Chief Engineer Tucker suddenly finds the opportunity for revenge has fallen into his hands.


“I’ve ... failed you, Captain...”

 

Loser.

 

That was the only word that passed through Jonathan Archer’s mind as he stepped past the badly wounded Weapons Officer struggling vainly to rise from the floor.

 

It would all have been so much simpler if the fool had seen the trap and avoided it; god knew he’d had enough practice at sidestepping attempted assassinations down the years, so why had this one been different? Still, it saved the bother of having to arrange for him to be quietly disposed of at some future point, when his usefulness was at an end.  It would have been poetic for him to be used as a test to see how long a human body could endure in that hellish chamber he and Phlox had designed between them.

 

Still, there was still the little matter of the Gorn to deal with.  When that was done, and Defiant was safely back under his control, that would be the time to consider what might be done with Major Malcolm Reed.

 


“Well, well, lookee here!” 

 

The corridor was deserted.  With only Enterprise’s survivors at large in such an enormous ship, and the remaining slaves still safely caged, Reed could have been lying here for hours, drifting in and out of consciousness.  At a little distance lay the body of one of his MACO sergeants, his neck snapped when the detonation flung him against a bulkhead; but the major was still alive.  At the sound of the hated voice his eyelashes fluttered weakly.

 

A singularly unpleasant smile writhed across the misshapen features of Chief Engineer Tucker.  He’d been aware, of course, that the Gorn had been caught and killed, and that Reed had been badly injured in the process; but he’d thought that the casualty would have been taken to Sickbay and placed into Phlox’s tender care.  The fact that he’d been just left here with the rest of the debris was the clearest possible indication that Archer’s interest in him was over.

 

Four hours in the agony booth.  Four hours, enduring everything that this man had conceived in his twisted mind with its intimate knowledge of the many pathways of pain.

 

It was unlikely that nobody at all had passed that way.  It seemed that even in this extremity, Reed was capable of inspiring enough fear to ensure that nobody took the heaven-sent opportunity his helplessness offered.

 

Nobody up till now, at any rate.

 

Tucker squatted, and used a hard handful of the matted black hair to pull Reed’s head around.  The left side of the face was blistered and bloody; the eye was swollen shut, so it was impossible to tell if it could be salvaged – assuming anyone cared enough to try, and Phlox certainly wouldn’t without the captain’s direct order.

 

If Archer had intended to give any such thing, he’d have done it long ago.

 

It was an old, bitter jest that when fortune’s wheel turned in the Empire, you’d better have your funeral arrangements made.  A whole load of people had been waiting a long time for it to turn against Major Malcolm Reed.

 

The MACO wasn’t quite unconscious.  His tongue licked feebly at his cracked, bloody mouth; to judge by the dried pool underneath him, he’d bled some.  He certainly had to have sustained some internal injuries, or he’d have been up before now.  He had as little pity for his own humanity as he had for anyone else’s.

 

“Not smilin’ now, are ya, buddy?” crooned the engineer.  He lowered the head back to the deck plating with mocking tenderness.  During every minute of those four hours Reed had smiled, bright-eyed with cruel satisfaction as one setting after another was tested and found effective.  Well, he who laughs last, laughs longest.

 

His hands had been deft on the controls.  They were lax now, outspread on the metal.

 

Only one short step was necessary.

 

The boot came down, with all the weight of his body behind it.

 

That much agony would pierce anything short of coma.  With a high, animal scream Reed twisted over, trying to use his broken left arm to push away the foot that was grinding his shattered fingers into the plating.  Tucker kicked it away effortlessly, and shifted his weight, aiming to stamp down on the place where the sharp ends of bone protruded from the forearm and the black shirtsleeve was caked with blood, some of which was fresh.

 

“This one’s for Roberts,” he hissed. 

 

A hand seized his arm, and his head jerked around.  He’d had no idea anyone was within earshot, but it seemed somebody had been.  At best he’d get a reprimand for assault on a fellow officer; at worst, he’d be shot out of an airlock.

 

But it wasn’t one of the officers, or even one of the MACOs.  It was Liz Cutler, her face contorted under streaming tears.

 

Nobody who mattered, after all.  Just kind, scared, stupid Liz Cutler, who survived life in the Empire by being too useful to get rid of and too weak to acquire enemies.  Even Hoshi regarded her with little more than amused contempt, and Sato weighed everyone in the merciless scales of her suspicion.

 

By the state of her tear-swollen eyes, she’d been here for some time.  Hiding somewhere just out of sight, listening to Reed’s suffering.  Maybe wishing she had the nerve to help him, maybe wishing he’d just die.  Maybe wishing she had the nerve to kill him herself and put both of them out of their misery.  Who knew?  It was a long time since she’d been normal.

 

Staring down at her, his own heart thudding with the scare he’d had, Tucker felt the familiar mingling of disgust and incomprehension, with the equally familiar and unwelcome sting of pity.  She meant nothing to him, she was just one of life’s born losers; the sort of easy meat that would draw a vulture like Reed, who’d feasted on her mind even more brutally than he’d feasted on her body.  Sooner or later she’d get sucked into something foolhardy and end up dead, just another of the collateral casualties whom nobody remembers.  The history of the Empire was scattered with millions of nameless victims.  Chances were, she’d die with hardly a whimper.

 

“Trip, don’t, stop it,” she said in a sobbing whisper.  “Please ... I’m begging you...”

 

What the fuck was it with her?  It wasn’t as though the Brit had ever spared her a moment’s kindness.  On the contrary.  Even on a warship people talk, even if they shrug afterwards.  Some days she looked simply ghastly, as though something not quite human was looking out from inside her, and those were usually the days when someone whom many regarded as not being quite human either had summoned her for his pleasure the night before.

 

He glared at her.  “You know what this sonofabitch did to young Roberts,” he hissed.  He lowered his foot briefly, but noticed the left hand fumbling towards a pocket in the black utility jacket and kicked it away, hard.  The impact flung the arm wide, and the fracture site slammed into the plating.  In addition, the violent movement ground his boot still harder into the broken hand beneath it.

 

Transfixed between the two sources of unspeakable pain, Reed writhed again, sucking in air in little harsh gasps.  The English voice managed to spit out a few syllables of hate, at least until another turn of the boot-heel drove the curses into a cracked crescendo that echoed along the corridor.

 

“TRIP!”  Cutler threw her arms around his chest in desperation, wailing.  “Leave him alone, please, you’ll kill him!  Can’t you see he’s hurt enough?”

 

Enough? Wait till the news spread round the ship that the Brit bastard was down.  They’d be lining up around the corridors for the chance to take a turn at him.  Then they’d throw him in the Booth, weld the locks shut and film it for posterity.  He’d endured eight hours in it recently; his neurological pathways would still be ultra-sensitive, his muscles hardly recovered from the shock and exhaustion.  It’d be a miracle if there was enough of him left to throw in the airlock afterwards.

 

Her griping was exasperating.  Tucker grabbed her by the chin, forcing her head up.  “Why the hell do you give a damn?” he snarled. 

 

She’d been pretty once, with a shy, hesitant prettiness; sort of girl-next-door looks (though the girl next door to the Tuckers’ place had been picked up for espionage and ended up serving her sentence on her back in the local Section representative’s office – a position she’d terminated abruptly by throwing herself out a window on the tenth floor, after which any prettiness she might originally have laid claim to was no longer relevant.)  She wasn’t a patch on that bitch T’Pol’s icy beauty, the memories of which still haunted the chief engineer’s fantasies; he liked strong women, and sharing a bed with a Vulcan in the grip of pon farr had been the experience of a lifetime, which he was living in the hope of repeating.  Still, he wasn’t in a position to be too choosy in the meantime...

 

It should have been easy.  She might have been stupid, but she wasn’t slow.   She didn’t resist as his hand began straying over her body, just stood there staring up at him with the tears sliding down her face, until the terrible suspicion that she was actually crying over him killed his incipient lust as though he’d been doused in antimatter coolant.

 

Life in the engineering section of an Imperial warship taught you more expletives than anywhere else in the universe.  He began using all of them as he bent and seized Reed’s wrist – the one below the compound fracture – and started dragging him along the corridor by it.

 

She tried to help at first, until she realized that her efforts were making matters worse.  She tried to keep the major’s head off the floor, but could hardly get any grip on it that didn’t dig into blistered flesh; finally she settled for cradling the smashed right hand, crooning a broken, senseless litany of comfort that was counterpointed by the low, sibilant stream of moans and curses from Reed.  On the decking behind them the long, smeared trail gleamed red in the lighting.

 

There were two crewmen in the turbo-lift when it arrived.  They got out of it in a hurry when they saw what was going on, their eyes wide with fear.  Maybe they thought Cutler wasn’t the only one on the ship who was crazy.  Maybe they weren’t far wrong, at that.

 

The lift stopped at the floor below the one they wanted.  The doors opened to reveal Lieutenant Sato, sinuous and momentarily startled.  Her gaze took in the scene, and then her perfect, pearly teeth were revealed in a small, secret smile.

 

“I’ll wait,” she said, stepping backwards.  After all, it’d probably be wise to get a maintenance team in to clean the floor up first.  Clear fluid was leaking from one of Reed’s ears, suggesting a skull fracture, and it was causing a bit of a mess, as if the blood wasn’t enough.

 

The doors closed and opened again.  The jerk that was necessary to get the casualty moving again was enough to elicit a strangled shriek, but their destination wasn’t far away.

 

Phlox was bending over his latest vivisection project.  The animal on the bench was emitting a high, steady scream, which seemed to produce no reaction in the good doctor except a frown of mild exasperation, probably at its ear-splitting pitch.  The intrusion into his realm startled him so much that as he straightened up his scalpel slipped and gave his victim a swift and entirely unintended early release.  The silence that followed was almost as deafening as the screaming had been.

 

His expression was a picture.  “The captain...”

 

Tucker stepped up to him, thrusting his face close against the Denobulan’s suddenly apprehensive features.  “The cap’n hasn’t said anything,” he growled.  “What I’m sayin’ is that you’re gonna patch up this sonofabitch here.  An’ if I think you haven’t done a good enough job, I’ll get real angry.  You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.”

 

He cut through the doctor’s bluster.  “If I were you, I’d co-operate with me, Phlox.  You see, I know how to work that damned machine too.  Even Reed here screamed eventually.  I get the feelin’ you wouldn’t last a quarter that long.”

 

The other man’s high color drained away.

 

He and a hastily-summoned orderly got the major onto a bio-bed.  Reed had lost consciousness in the last couple of meters, but his chest still rose and fell.  Phlox administered a sedative and turned away to get prepared for surgery, rattling off commands to the orderly to prepare the patient.

 

Tucker stared down at the inert MACO without a shred of pity, hopelessly lost in his own bewilderment and rage.  What the heck had possessed him to give up the best chance he’d ever have to take revenge for Martin Roberts, dead because of this man’s vicious scheming?  He should have ignored Cutler’s sniveling; he should have pounded the bastard into the deck and danced on the remains.  Once he’d made the first strike he should have finished the job – because if Reed survived now….

 

And yet, it was in a confused way because of Roberts that he’d stopped.  Because the kid had been young and stupid, like Cutler was young and stupid; because although he’d never be able to prove it, it had almost certainly been some fool attempt by Roberts to play Sir Galahad and rescue the fair maiden from the dragon’s clutches that had set the entire tragedy in motion.  Reed was a vindictive, sadistic bastard, but he rarely struck without any provocation at all.

 

Life on a warship didn’t encourage friendships.  You worked together because that was the way to get things done fast and keep your butt out of trouble, but you watched your back.  You might see a talented youngster come on board, but you knew he was ultimately after your job, so you trained him at your own risk, in an environment where the Empire wanted fast ships run on shoestring budgets and engineers were just part of the wear and tear.

 

The orderly was cutting Reed’s uniform off.  Cutler was standing at the other side of the bed.  Her tears were drying.  She stared down blankly at the lean body as its livid patterning of bruises was revealed.  There was massive internal bleeding on the left side.

 

… Roberts, though; Roberts had been different.  Made you wish, sometimes, that it was a different world, somewhere a kid like him could grow up without having his illusions shattered.  Not that you said anything.  Just that you waited for the train wreck, feeling vaguely sorry that it would happen.

 

And for Roberts, Cutler had been the train wreck.  A sad psycho, in thrall to a vicious one.  Just a trap waiting for the hopeless young romantic to fall straight into.  He’d have heard the talk, seen the shrugs.  Seen that nobody else was going to even try to interfere.

 

Nobody, ever, would claim that Reed felt anything for Cutler that approximated affection, let alone love, as an ordinary human being experienced it.  But whatever he felt, he wasn’t going to have any brash young puppy barge in and interfere with his ‘relationship’.

 

As for Cutler herself, she’d been past praying for long ago.  Who’d want her now?  Reed’s leavings.  She probably wasn’t capable of normality anymore.  All her security lay on the bio-bed, bleeding to death, with a left arm that would possibly have to come off and a right hand whose bones were an ugly mess of splinters.

 

If Roberts had been older and wiser, he’d have understood; but he was just a kid, doing what he’d thought was for the best.

 

He wouldn’t have wanted her to be left, lonely and grieving.  If Archer decided a crippled security officer was dead weight she wouldn’t have that long with him anyway, but hell…

 

Gettin’ soft in your old age, Tucker.

 

Phlox came back to the bed, gowned and ready.  He scowled at the bloody mess before him, but probably more because it represented hours of work that would keep him away from his next vivisection victim.

 

It didn’t need a doctor to see how badly injured Reed was.  Would he even survive surgery?  There was no telling.

 

Phlox glanced across.  His expression was truculent.  “Unless, of course, you wish to stay and supervise, Commander…”

 

“Time we were out of here, I guess,” said the engineer, quietly.

 

“No.”  Cutler’s gaze never moved.  “I can help.  I’ll stay.”

 

It didn’t sound like the world’s best idea to him.  He wouldn’t have wanted to stand and watch that slimy Denobulan slice into the body of someone he loved.  But then, who knew what passed for sanity anymore in the world Liz Cutler inhabited?

 

Without another word he turned on his heel.

 

Out in the corridor he hesitated for a moment.  He had nowhere to go, no-one who cared.  No-one who gave a damn whether he lived or died.  In that moment, he actually envied Reed, lying broken and possibly breathing his last on a bio-bed.

 

What must it be like, to live in a world that wasn’t so royally screwed?  To work on a ship where your colleagues were there to support you, where people were valued and secure?

 

People said – in whispers – that there had been places like that, once.  Then the Empire came.  Now everything was the same, everything was broken and nobody gave a damn.

 

Into his abyss came the thought of T'Pol.  She didn’t give a damn either, but he could handle that.  Once wishful thinking was out the window, all you were left with was reality.  And reality was a world in which heaven came around every seven years.  Maybe more often, if he played his cards right.

 

Tucker shrugged as he walked away from Sickbay.

 

Love.

 

Who needed it, anyway?

 

The End.


Comments:

Linda

Deliciously dark, like dark chocolate.  I wouldn't last an hour in this world, LOL.  So nicely done it gave me a stomach ache.  A world without hope.

Transwarp

Dark, yes.  Very dark.  But very well written.

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