Black Swan: Epilogue

by Cheryl Petterson

(Standard Year 2252)

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Noel DelMonde stepped onto the bridge of the Drake, but instead of turning to the Engineering station, he went directly to the con. Captain Takeda Sulu had glanced up at the sound of the lift door, and smiled in warm surprise as Del approached him.

“The base hospital let you out early,” he asked, “or did you just have enough of their post-recovery tests?”

“I need t’ talk to you,” the Cajun replied grimly. “In private.”

Something in the dark eyes made Sulu more than wary, and he stood. “Jerel,” he said to his First Officer, Jerel Courtland, “I’ll be in my office. You have the con.”

“Aye, sir,” the Equian replied.

As soon as the turbolift door had closed behind him, Sulu said to DelMonde, “You just walked out, didn’t you.”

“Yeah, but that not what I need t’ talk to you ‘bout,” Del replied, then frowned. “An’ stop starin’ at me. I fine.” He held up his clearly no longer injured hands, his unerring navigation of the bridge having already proved he could see as well as he ever had.

“All right,” Sulu agreed. “I’ll do what I can to head off Lian’s inevitable fit. What’s this all about?”

Del glanced over his shoulder – an action so uncharacteristic that it altered Sulu’s wariness to full-blown worry – and whispered “Not here.”

Sulu blinked. “Do you really think the lift is…” he began, and in his head, Del’s voice hushed him.

Okay, he really does think the lift is bugged, he thought.

Damn straight I do, came the unexpected answer.

Sulu grimaced, and tried a tenuous question. And my office isn’t?

Prob’ly, came the response. But I figure it better fo’ the crew not to see us standin’ ‘round starin’ at each other wit’out makin’ an audible sound, non?

Sulu couldn’t argue with that. Can you keep telepathic contact with me? he asked instead. After all, I’m not telepathic.

Del made a sound that was half disgust, half amusement. You not worry ‘bout that fo’ now, mon capitaine.

The captain made a determined decision to do just that.

They walked the short distance from the lift to Sulu’s office, and Sulu sat at his desk, motioning Del to take a seat as well.

Non, I gonna pace, Del told him, and Sulu shrugged.

“Coffee?” he said aloud, turning to the replicator.

“Not th’ brown water you drink,” the Cajun replied.

Sulu grinned and ordered a large mug for himself, and an over-sized espresso for Del, pushing the cup across the desk. As he took a large gulp from his own mug, he thought, So, what’s up?

Our resident agent, Del returned, taking a swig from his own cup.

The Paine? What’s he done now?

It what he been doin’ Sulu, was the grim response.

Which is?

He a monitor fo’ Intelligence, Del said.

Monitor? What does that mean?

It mean he was trained to look after those wit’ “potential.” The tone of DelMonde’s mental voice gave the word quotation marks.

Sulu let that sink in. But, he said at last, he was on the Drake when I took command.

An’ you not t’ink Intelligence not have a hand in your assignment here?

That made the captain bristle. I earned this, Del, he objected.

The engineer paced away from him. I not sayin’ you not, he agreed. But they had to’ve been watchin’ Kirk’s progress, non? They had to know th’ Brass’d want Captain Bastard wit’ him, an’ they had to know Raw-eth an’ your li’l one be sent to SanFran fo’ th’ Nests. Anybody ever tell you why Von Hels needed replacin’?

Sulu frowned. No, he admitted. And I never asked.

‘Cause you a good officer, Del said. They know you not gonna. How long Paine been assigned here ‘fore you came?

About six months, Sulu replied, his frown deepening. Which was when Jade’s reports from Jude started to look promising.

An’ did he pull th’ ‘ooh, you a Clavist! You LeRoi!’ bit wit’ his wide puppy-dog eyes on you?

Sulu frowned. Now that you mention it…

Del nodded, coming back to the desk for more coffee. He stared at Sulu, silent, expectant, his black eyes staring meaningfully into the captain’s own, until the light began to dawn.

Dylan was put here for me? Sulu said, his voice a tremulous sound of dismay.

That what I t’inkin’, son, Del returned.

But… but…!

Yeah, yeah, you only got a li’l bitty bit o’ latent empathy, the Cajun snorted. That why the damn loonie juice have no effect on you whatsoever. That why th’ Divine Wind never a problem fo’ you at all. An’ the master sick-fuck only interested in you fo’ your good looks…

At the furious, horror-filled mental shudder, Del stopped.

Je suis désolé, he murmured sincerely. But you gotta face it, mon ami.

No, I don’t. It was clear from the tone of Sulu’s thought that he hadn’t meant Del to hear it.

Anyway, Del forged on, I t’ink that assignment got changed when I show up.

I knew there was a reason I let you come aboard, Sulu interrupted, and his black humor – the usual reaction to threatening emotional realities – was somehow reassuring.

Del scowled obligingly. Th’ point is that th’ chiot latched on to me. But he more than a monitor. He a catalyst. It his job to try an’ get me to do somet’ing that give Intelligence reason to swoop down on me an’ snatch me up for they own purposes.

The idea of what Dylan might have done to Sulu to cause that effect – and how it might have manifested in the captain – was enough to make them both fall silent.

After a long while, Del said, So you see why this a problem, non?

I’ll transfer him, Sulu said decisively.

They jus’ send someone else, Del countered. An’ better th’ devil we know, I be t’inkin’.

Sulu considered that, then nodded. So what do you suggest?

Th’ boy got a good heart, Del replied slowly. If I can get him to see what he been programmed to do, an’ why…

You think he’ll defy his assignment?

He might, fo’ a time. An’ by then…

We may have thought of something else. Sulu sighed, and finished his coffee. Okay, Del.

It might not be pretty, the Cajun warned.

Sulu gave him a crooked grin. With you, is it ever? he asked.

Always, mon ami, Del replied with a half-grin of his own.

***** *** *****


Ensign Dylan Paine was so surprised by the unusually soft voice that he didn’t even think of continuing his original course of action, which was to snap at the person who had unceremoniously entered his cabin without so much as a signal. He turned, his annoyance immediately replaced by a welcoming if somewhat startled grin.

“Del, you’re out of the hospital?” he said

“’Less I some hallucination o’ your over-agitated mind,” Noel DelMonde replied. The familiar sarcasm of his words was belied by the near tonelessness of his voice. Then, quite uncharacteristically, he asked, “Can I come in?”

“Of course!” Dylan returned, nearly toppling over his chair in his eagerness to move toward the taller man. “You can see!” he continued in happy relief.

“Yeah, ever’t’ing healed up jus’ fine,” Del mumbled. His hand came up in its usual fending-off position. “But you still don’t get t’ touch me.”

The ensign stopped short, his expression falling. “Del, I’m sorry…”

“I know. You only said that ‘bout a million times. I not here for any apology, son.”

A hesitant smile again claimed Dylan’s features. “There must be a lot of pent-up frustration after the last few weeks…” he began.

“An’ I not here fo’ that, neither,” the Cajun continued firmly. He glanced around the cabin. “You gonna offer me a chair?”

Flustered, Dylan quickly pulled the chair from his deck. “Of course, I’m so…” he said, and Del made a sound that was clearly a signal for him NOT to apologize again. “Uh, can I get you anything?” the younger man asked, then quickly added, “That isn’t bourbon or sapphire?”

“The truth.” Del’s voice and manner were serious but not harsh.

Dylan blinked. “About what?”

“Why you here. Why you come on t’ me. Why you latch on t’ me like a gator onto a swamp rat.”

The ensign blinked again. “I – uh –“ he began, then swallowed. “I was assigned to the Drake before you or Captain Sulu came…”

“Don’ play wit’ me, boy,” Del broke in, but his voice was still soft. “I know what you are.”

“What I am?” His too-blue eyes were wide.

“Monitor,” Del replied, looking him straight in the eye. “Catalyst. What I wanna know is why they set you on me?”

Within Dylan’s mind, doors began shutting, knowledge being sealed away so quickly that he barely noticed that there was information - which had been available to him a micro-second before – that was no longer within any reachable part of his brain. “I don’t know what…” he stammered.

“You do, Dylan,” Del interrupted again.

“Del, I just – can I help it if I…?”

“If you what?” the Cajun continued relentlessly. “Jus’ happened to pick on th’ most gifted man on the ship to start a fucked-up affair wit’?”

“Maybe I picked the most beautiful man on the ship to…” Dylan countered.

Del snorted.

“Well, it’s true, you are!” the ensign retorted belligerently.

“That not th’ point,” the engineer said. “That not why you wanted t’ get close to me.” His dark eyes seemed to be trying to see into Dylan’s soul. Something in the younger man shied away from it, though he’d been wanting – praying – for Del to look at him like that for ages.

“I don’t know what you mean,” he returned. “How many times have I told you that I want to help you? I’ve seen how hell-bent you are on destroying yourself, your gift, your potential…”

“An’ why that matter to you?” Del asked with a gentle persistence. He was leaning forward, his gaze intense.

“Because I love you,” Dylan answered with blunt honesty.

“An’ why that?” the Cajun continued.

“How the hell do I know?” the ensign snapped out. He turned, desperate to get away from the piercing black eyes. “Do I look like an expert on psychology?”

“I not t’ink it have anyt’ing t’ do wit’ psychology,” Del murmured. “In fact, I not t’ink it have anyt’ing to’ do wit’ love.”

Dylan spun around, his anguish clear. “Del, how can you say that?” he pleaded.

“’Cause when I was blind,” the older man returned calmly, “I could see some t’ings a lot clearer. I see all them doors in your head, son. I see all the corridors an’ walls an’ locked places where you keep what your superiors done placed there…”

Alarms went off in Dylan’s mind, bringing with them a surge of anger and aggression. “I don’t know what you’re talking about!” he snarled.

“I be t’inkin’ you do,” Del said gently.

“An’ I be t’inkin’ you a mother-fuckin’ jackass!” Dylan snapped, his voice a harsh, malignant imitation of Del’s accent. A kind of rage rose in his thoughts, cruel and determined, and he advanced on his guest. “What more, I be t’inkin’ I jus’ take your goddamned temperature an’ see how you deal wit’ what I find out ‘bout you!”

Before his outstretched hand could touch the Cajun’s hair, Del was out of the chair, holding it in front of him like some kind of lion-tamer with a suddenly feral animal.

“You not wanna be doin’ this, son,” he said, his voice still calm.

“You don’t tell me what to do, Cajun,” Dylan growled.

“But we both know who does, Peregrin, non?”

At the use of his Clavist handle, Dylan hesitated. Pictures and emotions were swirling within him, a part of him horrified at what he was doing, another part just as determined to shut the tel-empath before him down hard. The hesitation was enough for the shields he wasn’t consciously aware he had to falter.

They playin’ you, son, Del’s voice murmured in his mind. They makin’ you do t’ings you not wanna. I know you never intend t’ hurt me, an’ I know you’d stop if you could. I know they not gonna let you. But Dylan, I not gonna let you go on.

“This fo’ both our own good,” the Cajun continued out loud. “I not gonna see you no more. They not gonna be no more teachin’, no more flirtin’. No more me comin’ to your cabin, an’ you comin’ to mine. It over, Dylan. An’ if you wanna stay cordial wit’ me, you accept it.” He grinned, an expression at odds with the serious, decisive tone of his voice. “Or it gonna get damn nasty up in here, an’ not th’ kind you like. Comprenez, chiot?

Dylan’s expression altered from the angry, mocking disdain that had claimed him to true shock and despair.

“Del, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean…” he began.

“I not gonna argue wit’ you, son,” the Cajun returned. “We done. I not wanna hurt you, but I can’t let you go on doin’ what you been doin’. ‘Specially since you not able t’ see what that is.”

“I’ve told you, I only want to help…”

“You look deep inside, Dylan,” Del countered softly. “You try an’ see th’ truth. You try an’ fight it. But I not gonna be wit’ you no more, regardless.” He stared into Dylan’s eyes. “I can’t. It too dangerous, fo’ me an’ fo’ you.”

He turned, and Dylan rushed forward. “Del, no, please, please…

“I won’t change my mind.”

“God, you can’t mean that, I know what you need, I can’t let you just…!”

“That exactly what you gonna do, son,” the Cajun said without stopping. ” It done. Au revoir.”

The cabin door hissed open and closed, and the engineer was gone.

Dylan stared at the door for a moment, then collapsed where he stood, his head dropping to his hands as the tears began.

***** *** *****

After what felt like a very long time, Dylan rose and moved to his bunk. He sat there numbly, his brain racing, going over and over all that Del had said. His reactions were a tangled jumble of contradictions and grief and fear and he trembled unable to sort them out.

Stop, a voice that didn’t quite sound like his own said in the confines of his brain. Calm. Evaluate.

Which was unquestionably good advice. He had to regain some semblance of control or he’d never be able to function on duty. He took several deep breaths, then used the meditative techniques he’d been taught – and just who had taught him? – to calm the storm in his mind, and gradually the doors that had been slammed shut opened, giving him all the answers to Del’s questions.

Monitor. Catalyst. It was what he was, trained by a special branch of Starfleet Intelligence. He had confessed that much to Del already. Why had the words – ones he hadn’t used – caused such an immediate shut-down?

Maybe because you haven’t used them, came the reply in his thoughts. Where did Del hear them? How does he know what they mean?

And why, for that matter, does what they mean suddenly give me such a sick feeling? I’ve been trained, yes, but only to help Fleet identify those with potential, those whose abilities could benefit the Federation. It is coincidence that Del came here. I just happened to be the one who caught…

His mind froze as he realized the words he’d almost thought: the assignment. Assignment? Was that, could that possibly be accurate? Had there been an actual assignment to…

Activation protocols detected. Safety procedure commencing. A small reservoir within Dylan Paine’s lymphatic system released a flood of xenoneurophene, instantly heightening the pre-set commands and safeguards that had been implanted in his brain. With it, much of his conscious knowledge of his own training was sealed behind the cerulean blue wall that contact with Noel DelMonde had begun to thin.

A sharp flash of pain seared through him, then was gone, taking all memory of it before he could question it.

No, he reassured himself. I’m simply aware of what to look for, and, of course, once I found it, I would consider it my duty to try and help him. Maybe after the information reached Intelligence they could have asked me to monitor him, but my meeting him, my wanting to help him… that was my own idea.

“But that’s all gone now,” he murmured sadly. “Del won’t see me again, he made that clear. What am I going to do now?”

Put aside your emotions, again came the voice that wasn’t quite his own. Report. Receive new instructions. Let it go. Just let it go.

“Any advice on just how I’m supposed to do that?” he asked himself.

But to that, there was no answer.


Black Swan by Thom Yorke

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