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Stardate 0905.01

Tandaris Admiran



“One day each of you will come face to face with the horror of your own existence. One day you will cry out for help. One day each of you will find yourselves alone.” —Alia, Children of Dune


The laughter was everywhere. In the bulkheads, in the deck plating, even in the console that dimly reflected his face. It clung to his clothing, like a stench that refused to be washed away. It permeated his food, wafted up into his nostrils, a sickening sweet smell that threatened to suffocate him. And there was no escape, no hope of reprieve from the laughter: he was the one laughing.


Occasionally they would press upon him en masse, all the voices speaking in a single harmonious discord, pushing their thoughts and feelings into his head, which felt like it would explode from the sheer quantity. They yammered inconsequentially, each struggling to be heard over the other, talking for the sheer fact that they could. They were free now, and he was the prisoner.


Most of the time, however, the press of voices receded, and a single mind would emerge. It was usually one of the more recent hosts—Admiran's earlier hosts, the ones before the Romulans came and seized control of the Symbiosis Commission, had never experienced Admiran's trauma, were not as thirsty for a few more seconds of pure consciousness. The hosts immediately prior to Tandaris were another story. Passed from host to host like a rare commodity, the symbionts had been damaged. Some had died from the trauma, others receded into catatonia—taking their hosts with them, regardless of the treatments their doctors and Guardians tried. Tandaris was spared that fate, accorded a different doom.


Now, in a host with a weak mind, Admiran's previous hosts found a way to regain life, if only for a brief instant. In a twisted version of the Rite of Emergence, they manifested as voices, then as full hallucinations. Tandaris began to have trouble distinguishing between the reality of the Excalibur and the memory-figments of his hosts. He had tried to suppress the voices at first, with meditation and medication, but nothing worked for long. They grew stronger. He grew weaker.


Just as he was losing hope, the voices had stopped. The laughter—the laughter was still there, but muted. He was aware of its presence but couldn't hear it. He sensed a single presence and knew that one of the hosts had asserted themselves over the other voices. But this time, something was different. The presence was stronger. More real. It had sealed the other personalities behind a thick wall, claiming Tandaris' consciousness for itself.


Then Aviale said, “Do you like that? It took me a while to figure it out, back when I was alive of course. How else do you think I managed to stay sane? Well, less insane than the average joined Trill, shall we say?”


Less insane was apt. This was Aviale, who had risen faithfully in the ranks in service to their Romulan overlords. Aviale, who had supervised the extermination of an entire world without so much as a guilty conscience. Aviale, struck down in her prime by a stray disruptor shot in a firefight. Ironically one of the least traumatic hosts, for all her amoral qualities. She was more stable in comparison to Admiran's prior hosts, who received symbionts because of their loyalty, not their competence.


Tandaris continued to stare at his console. “Go away.”


“Come now, Tandaris! It's not all bad,” said Aviale, her voice smooth and inviting. “You get to talk to me, after all.”


“I don't want to talk to you. I was you. You're dead,” Tandaris said through gritted teeth. He shut his eyes, counted down from ten, and opened them again.


Aviale perched on his desk, leaning toward him provocatively, pouting. “Is it because I'm not green? Is that it? Because I can be green.”


Hands on his shoulders, massaging him. Green hands. But her voice was unchanged. “I can be anything you want—that's the beauty of being mad, Tandaris. You aren't limited by reality like those 'comrades' of yours, forced to live single lives. I can be anything you want,” she repeated, her mouth up next to his ear now, her voice merely a whisper. “And so can you.”


Unhealthily aware of his heartbeat now, his palms sweaty, his fists clenched. Tandaris' breathing became shallow. Now, beneath Aviale, he became vaguely aware of the others, crowding near the door behind which she had sealed them, clamouring to be let into his mind. It was an itch that needed to be scratched. But if he let them in, he would be lost amid the voices.


“Let me help you, Tandaris. Alone, you're vulnerable—to them and to the others. How long until Marius gets it into his head that he should be chief engineer? It's only a matter of time before Corizon realizes you're more of a liability than your mechanical skills are worth.”


Tandaris swallowed nervously. “What are you proposing?”


“Just a little taste, once and a while. Let me experience the world again; let me feel what it's like to be alive.”


“No!” Tandaris slammed his fist on the console. “Go away. Go away!


Aviale shrugged. Her voice's silkiness disappeared, replaced by a hard, unyielding edge. “If that's what you want. But you'll crack soon, Tandaris—much sooner than you think. And when you do, we'll all be there, waiting. And you'll have wished you'd taken me up on my offer.”


“No.” No.


As you wish. Until then, Tandaris. More voices, stronger now.


No. Muran, loud and obnoxious. Enzeri, profane and flighty. Coraz, so full of anger from what the Romulans did to him and his family. All of them, all of his hosts now, pushing against the temporary barriers that Aviale had erected, tendrils extending through the spreading cracks.


No. And now, their minds brushing against his. Tandaris gripped the edge of the console with his all his strength, mouth twisted into an uncomfortable grimace. No. No—yes, please. Please, Aviale, come back. Make them stop. I'll make a deal. Please.


Silence. Heartbeat.


“A wise decision,” Tandaris said. It was his body, and it was his voice, but the smile on his face and the tone were all Aviale. “We're going to have so much fun together.”

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