Actions

Work Header

The Opposite of Hate

Chapter Text

 

 

“You’re joking.”

Philippa looks up from the PADD at Leland and hopes her disbelief shines through.

“Yeah, ‘cause I do that all the time at this job,” Leland deadpans. “Exactly what about this assignment is so difficult to believe?”

“Does that really bear a response?” Philippa rolls her eyes before tossing the PADD back onto Leland’s terminal. She strides two steps towards the guardrail that separates the upper level of their covert-ops vessel from the control deck. “I am your best agent on Qo’Nos, I built a spy network out of nothing, my work was critical to the war effort…”

Her lips work for a brief moment, before she whirls back towards Leland.

“Why, in the name of all Gods and hells below, am I being reassigned to the Discovery?”

Leland snorts at her scandalized tone, and Philippa glares at him.

“Well now you must be joking,” Leland collapses the PADD and pockets it. “You’ve got the clearance, surely you’ve skimmed their dossier. The thing reads like a holo-show collapsing under it’s own weight.”

Philippa smirks at that. She starts to walk around the curved second level of the starship, adding a slight swagger for effect, and Leland falls into step next to her. “An evil universe, a mushroom-powered teleporter …”

“…a transfigured Klingon spy and a nefarious doppelganger of their captain,” Leland finishes. Philippa shoots him a piercing look, but Leland only shrugs.

“The parallels are uncanny, Captain, you have to admit.”

“Don’t call me that,” Philippa snaps. “Do I look like a Starfleet captain to you?”

She gestures plainly at her tight black leathers, the only clothing she had found on Qo’Nos that had fit her intensely slim frame.

Leland, to his credit, doesn’t answer that. Instead, he takes a long, deep breath, clearly centering himself. Philippa waits for whatever her former classmate, now handler, has to say about this inexplicable assignment.

“Look, Agent Georgiou,” Leland finally responds, over-enunciating Philippa’s title as he does so, “The USS Discovery has access to some of the most powerful experimental technology in the galaxy, and they were caught flat-footed, twice, because none of those squeaky-clean idiot Starfleet scientists knew how to stay vigilant and watch for hostiles in their midst.”

Leland takes a step closer.

“We nearly had the war won, until Discovery’s traitor captain pulled them out of the known universe for nine months. How many millions died because not a damn person on that ship noticed their own captain was a barbarian?”

He and Philippa stare at each other for a long, tense moment.

That is your assignment, Agent Georgiou.

Leland’s voice is light once more, even as he exaggerates Philippa’s title. “Keep an eye on the Discovery’s personnel, investigate anyone acting strange, watch for nefarious intentions…perhaps not so cloak and dagger as your work on Qo’Nos, but I’m sure you’ll survive.”

Leland attempts to walk away as Philippa digests this, but she stops him with a hand to his upper arm.

“Why me?”

Silence hangs between them, weighting the stark emptiness of the catwalk scaffolding.

“Anyone in Section 31 could do this assignment,” Philippa continues. “And they would all be a damn sight less recognizable than former Captain Philippa Georgiou.”

It’s a good point, Philippa knows it, which is why this assignment is completely, utterly baffling to her.

“Little use in being a secret agent if everyone knows who you are, eh, Leland?” She gestures slightly with her chin. Leland smirks, and Philippa immediately regrets needling him.

He looks better when he scowls.

“Oh come now, Agent Georgiou, surely you can see how your identity would prove of service when it comes to gaining the Discovery’s trust?”

Philippa’s lip twists sideways. Something about that idea rubs her the wrong way, but she doesn’t feel much like analyzing the feeling at the moment.

“Hidden in plain sight, as one of the finest, most upstanding captains in Starfleet?” Leland continues in a jaunty tone. “This might be the best idea anyone has ever had.”

“Not possibly good enough to justify pulling me from Qo’Nos like this,” Philippa fires back. “I do good work there and you know it, so why in the hell would you—“

“Will you quit being so angry and use your damn brain for half a second?” Leland snaps, and Philippa pauses at the anger in his tone. “If it were my decision, I’d keep you on Qo’Nos, you’re far more useful there. No, these orders came from well above me, nothing I can do about it.”

The admission is enough to give Philippa pause. Warning bells go off in the back of her mind.

“Who—“

“I don’t know, Philippa—“ Philippa glowers at the rankling familiarity, but Leland, to his credit, doesn’t flinch. “But whoever it was had incredibly high clearance, just look at the sign-off number on your reassignment sheet.”

Philippa takes the proffered PADD from Leland, unfolding it and bringing up her assignment document. This time, she gives more attention to the digits at the bottom. A low whistle escapes her at the clearance number.

“I know, right?” Leland agrees. “No clue who at command gives that much of a shit about you, but good luck getting out of this one.”

Philippa only stares at the orders, and unpleasant emotion begins to crawl up the back of her throat.

Bewilderment, apprehension, and growing sense of outright fear…rather unpleasant feelings, ones she has not felt since waking up in that murky hospital room on Qo’Nos, hands tied to the bed, chest cavity on fire…

Leland takes the PADD from her, and Philippa realizes that her hands are trembling.

“Come on now, Georgiou…” Leland’s voice might even be gentle. “You survived for well over a year on Qo’Nos with half a heart and somehow built a thriving intelligence network in the process…this assignment should be like a vacation.”

Philippa manages a weak huff at that, even while taking a shaky step away from Leland. Some vacation, she thought. Undercover aboard a ship of decorated heroes, brave, courageous, clear-eyed scientists…

A ship containing the one person in the Federation who refused to be corrupted, who took the high ground even during the depths of a brutal, bloody war, finding a way to peace against all odds and all orders…

How could I possibly look her in the eye after what I have become?

So caught up is Philippa in these dark thoughts that she doesn’t realize that Leland has walked away, not until he is almost through the door at the aft side of the control deck.

“Leland!” She calls after him, and he turns around just before clearing the threshold.

Philippa opens her mouth, but quickly remembers where they are, who they are, and thinks better of it. Instead, she gestures broadly at her dark, leather-clad form.

“Did those orders come with any advice as to what the hell role I am supposed to have aboard the Fleet’s “finest science vessel?””

And to Philippa’s immense dismay, Leland smiles, a slow, wicked grin of indescribable amusement.

“You were a field medic for nearly a decade before enlisting in Starfleet, weren’t you?”

Silence.

“No.”

Discovery’s down a doctor—“

“Nope. No. Absolutely not.”

“You’re telling me that you can’t at least pull a passing grade on a nursing exam?”

“I won’t do it, and that’s final!”

 

* *

 

Philippa glares at Leland from her place atop the transporter pad, Fleet-issue duffel at her feet. The man is clearly trying not to laugh, and Philippa glares harder, hoping her intense, burning hatred might burn a hole through his stupid bald head and drop him to the deck.

“The uniform suits you,” Leland manages, biting his lip hard.

Philippa rolls her eyes to the heavens, wondering if they might leave her skull altogether. She shifts where she stands, feeling eminently uncomfortable in her newly replicated white Starfleet medical uniform.

Stupid sickbay whites

Philippa has always hated them…well, perhaps not hated, but as a former field medic, it always struck Philippa as patently ridiculous to put doctors and nurses in all-white clothing, as they would invariably get stained with some bodily fluid or other.

“We’ll beam you over to the Enterprise,” Leland continues as he walks around the transporter pad to the controls. “It’s been disabled by a stellar anomaly. The plan, as it stands now, is for Captain Chris Pike and few other officers to board the Discovery and use the vessel for further investigation of some type of signal patterns.”

“What will I be telling Pike, then?”

Leland punches several commands into the transporter room terminal, not bothering to look at Philippa as he does. “Pike has a falsified transfer order for you, but if he asks, just tell him you’ve come out of retirement to better serve the Federation. I know Pike, and if he’s at all familiar with the former you, he’ll fall for it, hook line and sinker.”

Philippa sighs heavily at this. She is familiar with Captain Christopher Pike as well, and knows that he certainly the type of man who would immediately believe the best of her, in spite of the inconsistencies with her cover story.

Despite her earlier misgivings, Philippa has to admit that she is beginning to see the sense in placing a Section 31 operative aboard the Discovery, if she can be so blasé about a cover and actually expect to be believed.

An overhead comm signal chirps.

Bridge to transporter room, we are within 500 kilometers of the USS Enterprise and closing.

“Acknowledged,” Leland barks without looking up.

It’s go time.

Within the hour, she will be aboard the USS Discovery.

Within the day, she might be crossing paths with one Commander Michael Burnham…

Philippa’s breath hitches. Her brutally repaired heart stumbles in her chest, and she wonders vaguely if she’d remembered to take her meds this morning. She clenches her teeth behind closed lips and slows her breath rate; nevertheless, the storm of black, whirling anxiety continues without mercy.

But before Philippa can even begin to voice her protests, to insist that this is a terrible, wrong-footed idea, Leland pushes the transporter controls to their maximum.

Philippa dissolves into golden energy upon the transporter pad, not missing Leland’s sardonic salute as her atoms decouple.

Once this mission is over, she will have him assassinated.

 

*

 

Leland stands still for several minutes after Georgiou’s matter transport. The engines of his ship hum around him, and the buzz of the ground beneath his feet indicates that they have jumped to warp.

On to the next assignment.

Many years of undercover work, of spying and assassination, of tugging strings and manipulating the rise and fall of nations, have given him a strange type of sixth sense. A special indicator of sorts, of what small actions might lead to a comparably huge counter-reaction, of which flap of a butterfly’s wing might cause a hurricane on the other side of the universe.

Something about this new mission involving his best agent is tugging at that sense, right now, at this very moment.

Still, despite the utter randomness of these orders, of Fleet Command forcing Georgiou to reveal her survival and assigning her to a ship that does not specifically require her expertise, Leland understands that oftentimes one must work with what they are given.

And planting a Section 31 agent in close proximity to the adopted sister of that half-Vulcan murderer certainly counts as such.

Command gets what they want, Section 31 gets what they want.

Leland cannot help a smirk at the comforting thought. Even after all of these years in the game, he still gets a special kick out of clever maneuvers such as these.

With a slight nod to himself, Leland turns on a heel and leaves the transporter room.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

As soon as they hit the transporter pad of the USS Discovery, Michael rolls out of Pike’s grip, slams her helmet open, and vomits across the warm metal surface.

She’s nearly incoherent with pain, it’s vibrating up her spine, across her pelvis, scattering her thoughts and scrambling her Vulcan controls into a dim mess, and perhaps two years ago, she could have fought through it, but now, after prison, after the war, after the Terran universe, after that…that red specter…

With her right hand, she grasps at the rock sample she’d collected on the super-massive asteroid, but feels nothing, nothing at all, how is that possible---

Michael’s thigh gives a particularly vicious throb, biles rise in her throat again, and she claps a hand over her mouth, taking a deep, shaking breath to force it back down. Pike is somewhere above her ordering a site-to-site transport, and Michael clenches his arm, gripping it tight as her molecules turn to energy once more.

She reappears in sickbay, materializing upon the bio-bed situated for the exact purpose of receiving transported personnel. The softness of the bed seems to help with the pain, just a little, but Michael still can’t manage to speak, still can’t get single word out through her clenched teeth, her rapid, high-pitched, shuddering breaths.

Sarek would likely not be pleased at this.

But Sarek has a Vulcan nervous system, and has never quite understood the Human concept of pain.

She feels the whir of a scanner, the hiss of a hypospray at her throat.

“Huh…femur fracture.” That’s Doctor Pollard’s voice. “Damn Burnham, we all had bets on when you’d come in with one of these, but none of us put any credits on a foreign body removal.”

Michael hears her voice, but it’s getting farther and farther away. The pain medicine kicking in, she reasons. She feels her leg being elevated, the hiss of curtains being drawn around her.

—metal must have been hot going in, tissue’s completely cauterized---

“—already out of it, we can get away with a spinal—“

An uncertain amount of time passes. There’s a pinch just above her sacrum, and Michael’s eyes flutter shut. She hears the grind of a machine, smells the characteristic scent of burning metal, she feels a hand squeeze her own, the furtive murmur of voices, one of which bears an uniquely familiar accent…

…one that she has not heard since that last, horrible day in the Terran Empire…

And perhaps it’s the chaos of the day, combined with the heavy drugs which are surely lowering Michael’s usually iron-strong walls, but Michael does not have the strength to fight against an emotional response, not now, not now.

Medical devices beep and whirl in the distance, lights flash and flicker, voices echo, and it’s easy enough, in this altered state of reality, to imagine her captain sitting in a chair next to the bio-bed, as she had done so many times in the years they had known each other.

Michael wishes fervently that she had been granted the chance to give Captain Georgiou the same consideration, but Philippa, a long-time occupant of the captain’s chair, had so rarely gotten injured during their seven years together, and the one time that she had—

--No--

Something tubular, and metallic slides around her foot, up her calf, coming to rest over Michael’s injured thigh. There’s a metallic click and the tube begins to apply pressure, but in a way that is comfortable instead of painful. The familiar voice murmurs, “Somehow I’ve never had the occasion to use one of these.

And you said you were a paramedic?” Pollard’s voice is dry and dubious, even through Michael’s drug-induced haze.

Yes, thirty years ago…

Perhaps this is all a dreamMichael has had many dreams of this nature before, where she would hear that wonderful voice and see dark waves of tumbling hair, and sometimes strong arms would wrap around her and she would disappear into an intoxicating, perfect scent, the one that she would give anything in the universe to experience just one more time…

But she was too late, both times…too late too late too late…

Tears bubble up behind closed eyes, one escaping to slide unbidden down Michael’s cheek.

She hates waking up from those dreams.

 

 

But eventually, the drugs wear off, the agony in her leg dulled somewhat by the bone repair cuff around her thigh.

Michael blinks her eyes open into the white light of sickbay. She casts a glimpse at the chrono set above Pollard’s office. Her voice is rasping, an acidic taste burning her mouth. “How long was I out?”

“Just forty-five minutes.”

Michael freezes in the bio-bed. She turns her head slowly, slowly, towards the voice uttering those words.

For a brief, crazy moment, Michael wonders if she died on that asteroid, if she was cast into parallel universe, a kinder one this time, because there, right next to her, stands Captain Philippa Georgiou, utterly resplendent in medical whites, her dark hair pressed into a braid and flipped across her right shoulder. She’s backlit by the white light of sickbay, which glows around her body and silhouettes her slim, stunning figure.

Like a halo, Michael thinks sluggishly, and fragments come to her suddenly, of that…that figure she’d seen on the asteroid, bathed in dazzling red light and surrounded by fire…

How many specters would she see today?

Philippa must notice the thunderstruck expression on Michael’s face, because she continues hurriedly, reading off a datascreen in her hands.

“You were collected from the unknown asteroid by Captain Pike and beamed aboard fifty-three minutes ago. You sustained a right femur fracture as well as a rather spectacular foreign body invasion to the surrounding tissue. We issued typical painkillers and spinal anesthesia before removing the object and applying the cuff...”

Michael touches the metal surface of the bone cuff, but her eyes are entirely locked on Philippa, her jaw slack, body numb, mind sluggishly working through the apparent data as the captain rattles off Michael’s condition…

“…still under mild sedation…”

It’s not possible…she died on T’Kuvma’s ship, she died in the throne room, I was too late both times, both times I failed…

“…treated the burns from the metal shard…”

…I was too late…

"…we expect no scarring…”

It’s not…possible…

The combination of joy and terror burns in her chest, hot and unbearable, and Michael wonders if that red being had taken her, if she is well and truly dead, her string of impossibly lucky survivals having finally run out….

Somehow, through all of this muted agony, Philippa is still speaking. “…and there’s more medication in that cuff on your wrist, so if you feel any pain, just press the button and it will administer—“

Philippa cuts off as Michael frantically jabs the button on the device at her wrist.

This is a sound plan, a logical plan, if she goes to sleep she can wake up with her brain reset, and then the world will make sense and this ghost will be gone—

“Stop it, Michael, stop!

Hands grab desperately at her wrist, pulling Michael’s fingertips away from the device, but it’s too late, Michael’s eyes are all but rolling back into her head as darkness presses upon her, as sleep consumes her wholly.

Dammit, Michael…”

It’s only in the half-moment straddling the line between sleep and wakefulness that Michael realizes that the hands grabbing at her own were warm and solid, and that the exasperation in that throaty voice is unmistakably, indelibly Philippa.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

“You really nailed that one, Captain.”

Doctor Tracy Pollard’s voice is dry as a bone as she walks away to check on one of the injured patients from the Hiawatha, and Philippa cannot even muster the will to fire back.

Pollard’s take was so scathing that she had won the argument instantly.

Instead, Philippa spends several long moments staring at the limp figure in the bio bed.

To say that it could have gone better would be an understatement of biblical proportions.

What the hell had Pike told her?

But the look on Michael’s face had been unmistakable. Utterly drained of color, her eyes wide and dark, her body frozen still as a stone on the bio bed.

Like she had just seen a ghost, and it had prescribed rest and a position of comfort for her femur fracture.

Pike hadn’t told her.

Son of a bitch.

Philippa shakes her head as she checks the readouts on the screen above Michael’s head. She had dosed herself with one hell of a payload; it would be astonishing if she were to wake up within the next six hours.

“Still a flare for the dramatic, I see,” Philippa mumbles.

“--Excuse me! Coming through sorry!--”

A string of feminine yells grows louder from down the corridor, and in the next moment a red-headed young woman bursts into sickbay. From the pink tint to her skin and the quickness of her respirations, Philippa judges that she’s ran there. She recognizes the woman immediately, both from her pre-mission research and from the awards ceremony that she had watched from the Section 31 outpost on Qo’Nos.

Ensign Sylvia Tilly.

Scientific genius, spore drive engineer, and Michael Burnham’s roommate and presumed friend.

Certainly a good person with whom Agent Philippa Georgiou should acquaint herself.

Philippa straightens and plasters on a smile that is only half false.

“Good day, Ensign. Did you need something?”

“Oh! Um!…“

Tilly’s voice is slightly too loud for sickbay, and Philippa wants to flinch. She recalls the diagnosis of social anxiety she had seen in the ensign’s file.

“Yes. That’s um, that’s my roommate, I’m here to check on her.”

Tilly grins nervously and points at Michael in the bio bed. In the next moment, she does a truly comical double-take to look back at Philippa. Comprehension dawns in her youthful face like a burst of sunlight.

“Oh…oh my God, you—you’re—“

To her own surprise, Philippa finds that the smile playing at her lips is true and genuine. She nods along with the young woman expectantly, as if willing her along to the conclusion.

Captain Georgiou.

Tilly’s face is as bright as a star as she breathes the words, and she takes a step closer to Philippa as if she simply cannot stop herself.

“Oh my…—wait, but how are you alive? You died over a year ago, Michael saw it happen. Michael!”

Tilly whirls towards the asleep figure in the bio bed.

“Michael, wake up!” The words come out in a frantic yell as Tilly jostles Michael’s shoulders, but Michael’s eyes remain closed.

“Ahhh!” Tilly claps her hands to her face in distress. “Oh no, she’ll be so upset to have missed you.” She stares pleadingly at Michael’s smooth, unbothered face. “How could you be sleeping at a time like this?”

She whirls back to Philippa. “Is she okay? Please tell me she’s okay, Captain-- Uh…” Tilly looks down at Philippa’s medical whites. “…Doctor?”

Philippa snorts, unable to stop her amusement from finally bubbling over.

“’Captain’ is fine, Ensign, at least until I pass my nursing exam. And she’s fine.”

Philippa cannot help a fond look towards her former commander.

“She might sleep for a few hours, but no lasting damage.”

Physically, at least.

“Oh! Oh good.” Tilly slumps in relief. “It’s just, um…”

The ensign’s fingers play at the front of her body nervously. “Did she, um…happen to come in with anything? Like maybe a small rock or a…a big rock …or dust! Dust is good too!”

“I am afraid she was quite empty-handed when we received her,” Philippa answers, and Tilly slumps in disappointment.

Philippa cocks her head, wondering at the ensign’s reaction, at the relevance of the small rock or big rock or dust…a sample of the impossible asteroid they had encountered.

The part of Philippa that is a Section 31 agent senses the importance of this topic, and her next words come out as if scripted.

“Was the rock important, Ensign?” she asks, her tone a mixture of soft and curious.

“Yes! Yes it was, it’s just…” Tilly cuts off her babbling and looks at Philippa for a long moment, as if sizing Philippa up. “Are you, um…are you like, stationed on this ship now? Which like, if you are that’s great, although pretty crazy considering you’re presumed dead, which I would ask you about except I don’t want to be rude…”

Despite these assurances, Tilly looks like she’s practically salivating to know the answer. Philippa decides that it’s only fair trade, considering she is seeking information as well.

“I was presumed dead, Ensign.”

Tilly’s eyes are wide as Philippa speaks. She decides to edit the answer slightly, as this woman looks young enough to be bunking at the Academy. “But in truth, I was held on Qo’Nos for a very long time after the Binary Stars. And when the war ended I…got to come home.”

The story is short and sweet to the point of ridiculous, but Tilly beams so brightly at the end of it that Philippa wants to squint at what must surely be star-level lumens.

“That’s amazing, Captain! And now you’re here, on the Discovery? As a…nurse?”

“And now I am here, on the Discovery,” Philippa agrees with a smile. “As a medic and soon-to-be nurse.”

“Okay! But um…” Tilly’s face scrunches, and she puts her hands on her hips as she studies Philippa.

“Why?”

And for the first time in this extremely frenetic conversation, Philippa feels quite stumped. Whatever she tells this young woman must be sincere enough to be believable, but must sound like an answer her old self might have given, an answer poignant and generous and wise. As her mind darts from one possibility to the next, her eyes amble aimlessly from Tilly’s full figure to Michael’s sleeping form in the bio bed next to her--

“---Ohhhhh!” Tilly breathes. “Oh okay, that makes sense.”

Philippa’s teeth clack together as her jaw drops shut. Ensign Tilly is nodding as if Philippa had given her a fully coherent explanation with bullet points and a concise conclusion.

What the hell just happened?

But Tilly seems to be moving on, striding out from Michael’s bedside to stand before Philippa.

“Well then, since you’re here…can I tell you something really cool, Captain?”

“I would be rather upset if you did not, Ensign.”

In spite of her calculating intentions going into this conversation, Philippa finds herself warming to this bubbly young woman.

“Okay.” Tilly lowers her voice as if sharing a secret. “Well, before Michael left to go down the asteroid, I discovered that it was giving off intense mycelial readings—“

“—like your spore drive, yes?” Philippa clarifies.

“Yes!” Tilly beams. “Just like that! Which, I mean, is crazy, we haven’t seen any sign of those since, well…months and months ago, and then here it is, on this massive asteroid where that red signal was coming from, so I asked Michael to grab a sample, but I guess the sample didn’t make it…”

The ensign trails off and looks at Michael’s immobile form in the bio-bed.

Didn’t make it, didn’t make it…

“When she was first beamed to sickbay…” Philippa starts slowly. “Her right hand was clenching and unclenching, almost as if she were grasping at something…and only her right hand, not her left, so I doubt it was from pain.”

She turns back to Tilly. “Is there a chance that perhaps, she did get the sample?”

“But it didn’t make it through the particle transport…” Tilly breathes. “Which would mean that it isn’t…”

“…entirely composed of regular matter,” Philippa completes in a low voice, awed in spite of herself. “Which implies…dark matter?“

“Oh it implies a lot of things,” Tilly exclaims. “Dark matter, or dark energy, or even really intense regular energy, matter and energy are one and the same after all, according to Einstein, that’s the basic theory behind transporters…” Tilly is babbling once more. “An impossible asteroid…that-- that would explain the intense gravitational fields, even-- even the signal flare itself, if enough energy were released as radiation—“

Tilly’s eyes are wide as she conjectures, and Philippa imagines that her own are wide as well at the ideas she is spouting.

Gods, it’s been a time and half since she’s been exposed to science at this level.

“But why the red…?” Tilly continues in a low murmur. “And why here…and why in those other six locations too, specifically…and why was this the only signal that didn’t dissipate…”

Sickbay is silent for a moment as the questions hang.

“And—and y’know, the other weird thing is that the mycelial energy readings dropped by over seventy-five percent nearly an hour ago, and it was a seriously precipitous drop, Captain, here look—“

Tilly holds up her PADD, bringing up a quick holo with a flick of her fingers. Philippa studies the trend-line of mycelial energy readings picked up by the Discovery’s sensors.

Indeed, the energy levels seems to drop like a rock somewhere to the far right of the chart…Philippa’s eyes dart to the x-axis, time.

“Wait—that’s…” Philippa shakes her head. “That is…within ten minutes of Michael’s transport off of the asteroid.”

“What— Oh my god, really?” Tilly studies the graph harder, all but squinting at it. “Shit, you’re right! But did that happen before they got her, or after…Oh, I’ll have to take a look at the transporter logs, but either way, that’s effing crazy.”

Tilly’s face slides sideways to Philippa. From the slight widening of her eyes, she seems to consider what she’s said.

“Erm…sorry, Captain. They just—slip out, y’know?”

Tilly sounds utterly mortified, and Philippa offers her a comforting smile.

“Don’t worry, Ensign.” She leans in slightly. “I could not give less of a damn.”

Tilly stares at Philippa. Her eyes grow huge, and a slow smile spreads across her face. She looks star-struck.

Philippa wonders if she’s earned herself a groupie.

In the next moment, Tilly shakes her head, a near-manic smile twitching across her lips.

“God, what a day, huh? A super-dense mycelial asteroid filled with Starfleet personnel…” She starts to walk as she talks, all but pacing before Philippa, bouncing as her hands wave in the air.

“An impossible asteroid made of non-baryonic matter— explosive mycelial readings—a red energy signal appearing from—from nowhere, and disappearing to nowhere...“

Tilly stops her pacing. She looks towards Philippa.

We really need a sample of that asteroid.”

Philippa looks at Tilly. She shakes herself as an idea occurs to her.

“We’re in a crumbling asteroid field. Surely there are plenty of chunks being thrown around…if we’re quick, the Discovery might be able to capture one of them.”

Tilly’s jaw drops.

“Oh my God Captain, you’re a genius!”

And in the next moment, Tilly steps away self-consciously, her hands flitting at the hem of her jacket. “I mean like, of course you are, you’re a legend, I—I’ve read all about you, your story is really inspiring and you’ve done all these incredible things…y’know what, I think I’m just gonna shut up now.”

Tilly clamps her mouth shut, and Philippa smiles once more. Oh, to see innocence in the flesh like this.

“Well, Ensign?” Philippa prods. “Don’t you have asteroids to chase down?”

“Oh!” Tilly startles. “You are so right!” With that, she turns on a heel and runs out of sickbay, communicator already out.

“Tell Engineering to start mapping trajectories of rock fragments from the asteroid and meet me in the shuttlebay with a Gravity Capture Device…” Her voice fades as she speeds down the corridor, and Philippa spends several moments listening to her go.

And in the next second, she slumps in place, the exhaustion from the intense conversation catching up to her.

“Yeah, that’s Tilly.” Pollard’s voice emanates from a far corner of sickbay where she operates on the brain-damaged Tellurian from the Hiawatha. “I’d tell you you’ll get used to her, but I’m starting to believe that’s not possible.”

Philippa startles at the voice. In all of the excitement, she had forgotten the doctor was there.

And she’s been here the whole time, Philippa marvels, listening to us. Gods, the secrets these doctors and nurses must collect, just by keeping their heads down and working.

Perhaps going undercover as a Fleet medic was actually a good idea.

Philippa strides to Michael’s bedside to check her vitals once more, and makes a mental note to cancel Leland’s assassination.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Pink blossoms drift in the wind as Michael trudges through the courtyard at the side of Ambassador Sarek…her new father. Pain lances her chest at each step, but Michael forces it down, somewhere deep and fathomless. She can weep later, quietly, in whatever might be her bedroom here at this new house.

Red sunlight flickers through the leaves on the gnarled trees overhead, latticing the pavement before her in shadow. This quiet suburb is nice, Michael reflects. Soft, peaceful…unlike the chaotic, raucous Child Services outpost on Starbase Twenty-Two.

Michael imagines the possibility of a good life for herself, here on Vulcan. Where she might be taught to manage her emotions, which at all times threaten to overflow from her eyes, from her mouth. Vulcans have always been friends to her, at least back on Doctari Alpha…

Michael follows Sarek up the stairs as she remembers the life now lost to her. She misses her teachers, the subtle affection in the raises of their eyebrows, the gentle admonishments in slight shifts of their vocality…the mellow demeanors of her Vulcan friends, they way they would restrain their smiles and laughter, but nevertheless play soccer and Kadis-kot with Michael and the other Human children.

Michael knows Vulcans.

She can do this.

A beautiful woman appears from a side-room. Her Vulcan robe flows around her legs, her hair is long and dark, and her ears are rounded.

Ambassador Sarek’s Human wife.

“Hello, Michael. My name is Amanda. Welcome to our home.”

Oh no. Amanda’s voice is so sweet, so kind, as is her face, Michael remembers her mother, her mom, her mother’s beautiful face, her screams—

No, no no no. All of the preparation she had done leading up to this meeting, dashed at first sight of Human kindness, and in front of Ambassador Sarek no less—

Amanda reaches for her, but Michael withdraws, wrapping her arms around herself. The moment she brushes against kindness, she will break down, and that cannot happen now.

Not on her first day at this new home.

“What’s your name?” Amanda asks softly. She already knows, she has seen Michael’s file from Child Services, but this is an introduction, after all.

“Michael,” Michael mumbles, her gaze firmly fixated on Amanda’s neck. Amanda ducks down slightly to meet her eyes. And her gaze is kind, Michael notes, despite Michael’s obvious missteps in this interaction.

“I bless you, Michael… All my life.”

Amanda murmurs the Vulcan greeting, yet she puts forth so much love and affection in the words, anointing them in a thoroughly Human manner. Michael is both confused and awed at the inflection.

“Would you like to meet our son?” Amanda continues, and Michael nods quickly at this, allowing slight eagerness to overlay the shattering grief in her chest.

All of the years she had begged her parents for a baby brother, she recalls them now as she follows Amanda and Sarek up the stairs. A brother that she could play with, that she could teach important things to. A built-in friend that she could have for her whole life…

Michael is somewhat excited for Vulcan, but she is more excited at the prospect of a little brother. After losing everything…perhaps this might be a new start for her.

Sarek pushes open the unlocked door on the second floor. “Spock?”

Michael takes in the outline of a small boy at a desk on the far side of the room.

Her new brother.

“Spock. This is Michael Burnham. She will be staying with us. You will be teaching her the ways of Vulcan.”

Spock does not move, nor turn around.

“I expect you to be friends.” Michael picks up on the slight threat in Sarek’s voice. She feels strangely comforted at the change in tone; Sarek might be Vulcan, but he is still recognizably a father.

Spock’s hands move across his desk; with clever motions, he pulls an image from his terminal up and into the air.

A massive, roaring, howling dragon, rendered flawlessly in three-dimensional space. The holo-drawing writhes in the air, white and glowing, approaching Michael, Sarek, and Amanda where they stand in the doorway.

Michael cannot help but be awed, her jaw unhinging slightly. For a seven-year old boy to not only draw this creature, but to animate it as well?

This little boy, Spock, must be brilliant, Michael concludes. She wonders what she could possibly teach him, maybe soccer, maybe star mapping like Mom had taught her, maybe Spock liked Star Wars too, he is half-Human after all—

Spock walks through the dancing dragon, which disappears the moment he contacts it. He approaches Michael and Sarek where they cluster in the doorway, Amanda standing only a pace behind him, and Michael takes in the figure of her new little brother.

His ears are pointed like a Vulcan and he wears Vulcan school robes, but Michael picks up on the small tells that allude to his Human heritage…skin more pink than green, softer hair texture, though it is molded into the classic Vulcan bowl cut. He is quite little, Michael notes, by both Human and Vulcan standards. Michael wonders if he possesses Vulcan strength and resilience; she does not want to hurt him by accident.

She reaches out a hand, as her father had taught her to always do when meeting new people. Spock might be half-Vulcan, but he is just a child, his touch-triggered telepathy nescient and undeveloped. This is a safe action.

But Spock does not reach out to her.

Instead, he shuts his door in her face.

 

**

 

Michael knows it would be logical to remain on guard around Captain Pike…a strange captain who had shown up unannounced and took over the Discovery almost immediately.

Yet bonds forged in the line of duty are powerful indeed.

She had risked life and limb to save Captain Pike in the asteroid field, and he, in turn, had risked his own life to save her, coming back for her on that asteroid via questionable transport and straight into an imploding starship wreck.

Michael reflects on this as she strides through Corridor Three towards the turbolift.

These very bonds are a significant reason why Michael deeply cherishes her place as an officer in Starfleet. As a Vulcan foundling and the sole survivor of a terrifying racially motivated attack, Michael has always found it difficult to talk about herself with any type of depth. Privacy is a revered tenet of Vulcan society, and is the laws of Vulcan by which Michael was raised.

Still, this had certainly not assisted her in the process of making friends the natural way.

Michael rounds the corner, dodging a cluster of crewman carrying a large toolbox between them. She considers the social aspect of being a Starfleet officer, the idea of shared burdens, of risks taken for relative strangers, of the indelible connections she has made in the line of duty.

Such bonds are important, Michael concludes, to the well-being of a Human mind.

Michael presses the button to summon the turbolift, and wonders absently if she would have enjoyed bonds such as these as a member of the Vulcan Expeditionary Group.

But the point is moot; she will never experience life aboard a Vulcan-run starship, and to wonder about such things would only bring pain.

The turbolift compartment hums as it zigzags through the ship, and Michael’s thoughts wander to the ghost she had seen in sickbay…to Captain Georgiou, to Philippa

Michael quickly crosses her arms behind her back, allowing her hands to grip at the sleeves of her uniform. With eyes firmly closed, she reaches for her Vulcan controls. She breathes, recites the Fibonacci sequence to ten places, and by the eighth figure, she is relatively calm once more.

It should not have been possible…but then again…

So much of what happened today should not have been possible.

The doors to the bridge hiss open, and Michael takes in the view of her crewmates, now her subordinates, and beyond them, the infinite, glowing blackness of space. The stars, the planets, the vast, infinite universe itself, all separated from the crew of the Discovery by a mere two feet of transparasteel.

Michael sighs at the view, and considers today.

The dead coming back to life, matter and energy somehow interchanging, the mycelial network bursting open, seven mysterious energy signals, and an impossible vision of an unknown being…

Something important is happening.

Michael can sense it, just as she sensed it aboard the Shenzhou as they probed for an invisible enemy in the light of the binary stars. She strides to the left of the captain’s chair, passing ops and comms as she does, and squares her shoulders as she chimes the ready room door.

It was time to get to know the man that her brother had spoken so highly of.

 

* *

 

Lorca’s ready room is not designed for extended meetings, both Pike and Michael realize rather quickly.

“Walk with me, Burnham.”

They cross the bridge and re-enter the turbolift.

“Doctor Pollard seems to have done a good job,” Pike remarks with a significant glance towards Michael’s leg. “No trace of a limp.”

“Well, it wasn’t merely Pollard’s work, sir.”

Michael’s response is tight, her gaze cold and firmly ahead.

Pike sighs and shakes his head. “I am so sorry Burnham, it was my duty to tell you—“

Michael jerks her head to stare at him.

What—“

“She didn’t want any of her former crewmembers to get a nasty shock, believe it or not,” Pike interjects. “I was supposed to give you advanced warning, but then we hit the asteroid field and things escalated, we came up with that rather daring rescue plan, and it seemed unwise to risk emotionally comprising a member of my away team.”

Pike states his explanation in a way that is so matter-of-fact, so logical, that Michael finds herself mollified, despite her previous desire to start shouting.

She takes a breath and centers her thoughts. There will be time for emotional response later, and perhaps towards the responsible party herself.

Michael cannot help but acknowledge that she has been compartmentalizing in this way for a long time. She wonders at what point “later” might finally catch up with her.

“Why didn’t she come aboard with you and…and the others?”

Michael trips slightly at the memory of Connelly, and Pike seems to understand.

“She spoke to me before we beamed over, told me she didn’t want to make a potential scene, asked to be sent aboard separately. It seemed a tactful move, so I agreed.”

Pike looks at Michael as the turbolift opens.

“According to her file, she’s retired, and she gave no contra-indications when we spoke aboard the Enterprise, but…”

Pike stops Michael with a hand in front of her, and Michael turns to face him, schooling her expression into one of absolute neutrality.

“The news cycle records are public domain, and I’ve done my research on the Binary Stars.”

Pike looks at Michael for a long, intense moment, and Michael looks back at him, her face smooth and unbothered.

“You can trust me to be professional, sir.”

Pike merely raises a silent eyebrow.

“Noted,” he states, but from the tone of his voice, the concern in his brow, Michael gets the sense that the question she answered was not the one that Pike was asking.

Michael opens her mouth to clarify, but before she can say anything, Pike is walking once more, and Michael lengthens her strides to keep up. They seem to be heading towards the Deck 1 viewing bay, and she wonders how ridiculous it might be for her to steer them somewhere else.

Lieutenant Georgiou will be working sickbay until further notice, and despite her background as a paramedic, she is not cleared for away missions.”

Pike throws her an amused look.

“And I’m telling you this so you aren’t hit with any more unpleasant surprises.”

Michael gives him a clipped nod as she walks, ignoring his obvious amusement.

“Appreciated, sir.”

It was strange for a highly experienced and decorated former captain to not be cleared for away missions. Michael adds this to her mental list of questionable circumstances surrounding her former captain’s resurrection, as well as her current status as “retired.”

“Retired” doesn’t equate with a knife to the chest.

She considers asking Pike how he could reconcile Philippa’s apparent death at the Binary Stars with her obvious state of alive-ness at the present time, but she understands that the man has only just returned from a five-year mission and missed the entirety of the war.

What in the hell could he possibly know about it?

Moving on.

“Sir, I would like to go aboard the Enterprise, to see Spock.”

Pike stops once more, just before they reach the bulkhead before Deck Three’s starboard viewing bay. Michael anticipates the response before he says it.

“I’m sorry, Burnham, but…Spock’s not there.”

Michael closes her eyes and shakes her head slowly, a pained sigh leaving her chest.

“I suspected as much.”

Pike raises a curious eyebrow at that, and Michael clarifies. “He hasn’t answered my messages in months…I thought perhaps something happened to the comms systems on the ship, but since the Enterprise has returned from its five year mission…that is no longer a logical assumption.”

Pike nods softly. He gestures for Michael to proceed before him into the viewing bay.

Michael remembers her weighty conversation with Ash Tyler, here at this very place over three months ago. She hesitates for only moment before proceeding inside, and Pike follows her in. He walks slowly towards the viewport, speaking as he does.

“You know Burnham, Spock never spoke much about his family, but he did mention you quite often.”

Michael raises her eyebrow, and Pike quickly amends. “Not…as a sister. The way he spoke about you, I assumed you were an esteemed colleague of his from Vulcan.”

Michael’s lips twitch at that. She folds her arms behind her back as she reaches the viewport. “That sounds like Spock.”

“It does.”

Pike looks like he wants to smile. His silver hair glows in the light of the cosmos, his handsome face illuminated in the soft orange haze, and Michael remembers the bits and pieces that Spock had told her about his captain in the preceding years. She had often wondered what it was about Christopher Pike that had inspired such devotion from her prickly brother, but after their shared experience in the asteroid field, Michael finds that she is beginning to understand.

Pike takes his place next to her, and the light of the cosmos reflects off of the gold piping of his uniform. “I looked into your file, after we got news of the war.” He shifts somewhat uncomfortably. “After the news of, well…”

“My betrayal,” Michael states evenly, putting Pike out of his misery. “After an attempt on my life when I was eleven, it seemed logical to distance myself from my Vulcan family. You won’t find any records of my connection with House Sarek in the Starfleet database.”

Michael sighs and looks down at her hands. “But Spock is my brother nonetheless.”

“Wait, an attempt on your life?” Pike looks stunned as he shakes his head. “What—“

“Vulcan extremists,” Michael clarifies in a clipped tone. “They didn’t want a Human presence to contaminate their logic, so they took rather drastic measures.”

From his wide eyes and deeply furrowed brow, Michael calculates that approximately zero percent of this sentence makes sense to Captain Pike.

“Spock…told me a thing or two about that attack, over the years,” Pike finally murmurs, his expression downright nauseated. “That was you?"

"That was me."

From the complex emotions flickering across Pike's face, Michael would say that he is quickly reforming his initial size-up of her.

She wonders if perhaps she should not have told him this.

"They...they never found the culprits, did they?” Pike manages.

Michael’s lip twists. “They never looked for the culprits.”

Pike shakes his head at that. He looks out of the viewport, and Michael follows his gaze to the USS Enterprise.

“All of the Vulcans I have ever known value life in all forms,” Pike states, still sounding intensely shaken. “How could any Vulcan find it logical and just to take the life of an innocent child?”

He looks sickened beyond belief, and Michael finds that she feels almost touched at his concern. She looks out of the window towards the stars, remembering smoke and screams and blood, the explosion that had ruptured her eardrums, the black, endless void---

“I wish I knew,” she finally whispers.

But in the next moment, Michael remembers herself. With a deep, steadying breath, she controls her emotional response and continues in a steady voice.

“After the attack, I pulled away. I withdrew from everything, tried to become the best Vulcan I could be…but Spock never let me withdraw from him. In the following months, he would come into my room every night with a sleeping bag and sleep at the foot of my bed. He walked to the Vulcan Learning Center with me every day, when before, he wanted nothing to do with me…” Michael’s lips twitch at a particular memory. “I am uncertain, but I think he may have started learning martial arts so he could protect me.”

Pike smiles at that, revealing dimples that shave ten years off of his apparent age. “For all of his logic, Lieutenant Spock was an intensely loyal man…I was lucky to count him as a friend.”

“As was I…” Michael realizes that they have both reverted to the English past tense, and tears prick at her eyes. “Captain, do you know anything of where he might be?”

“I do.”

Michael jerks her head to look at him, and the urgency in her expression presses Pike to continue.

“Several months ago, Spock requested leave and I gave it to him.”

Michael cannot help her intensely dubious eyebrow.

Spock…requested leave?”

Pike gives a sardonic nod in acknowledgement of the point. “I know, quite out of character, but that’s just it, Burnham, he’d been acting out of character for weeks prior…withdrawn, distracted…like he’d encountered a problem he couldn’t solve…”

Michael follows his gaze out towards the cosmos, towards the USS Enterprise, now all but swarming with repair drones.

“And he never gave any indication as to what it might be?”

Pike shook his head. “He didn’t want to talk about it, not with me, not with anyone. He’s one of my bridge officers, I trust him implicitly. He asked for time and I gave it to him.”

“How long will he be gone?”

“I don’t know…he had months of leave accumulated…”

Michael closes her eyes at that, and a spike of cold fear twists in her stomach. She looks out the window towards the USS Enterprise, her brother’s home, where he, like her, had found a place in the stars, where he had grown into a man that Michael had been so proud of…

Memories rise unbidden, of the weekly letters Spock had written to her during her imprisonment, of the character witness he had provided during her trial, of the recording he had somehow managed to acquire of Captain Georgiou’s funeral, despite the Enterprise’s vast distance from Federation space at the time…”

The words spring to her lips almost of their own accord.

“Spock has always had my back, even when the world turned theirs. Especially when the world turned theirs.”

Michael turns to Pike, firm resolve in her voice. “I would like to go aboard the Enterprise before we leave. I don’t know what I expect to find, but…I have to.”

Pike merely looks at her, a strange expression on his face.

“Sir?”

Silence hangs between them, weighted as the depths of a neutron star.

“You’ve really not had an easy time of it, have you, Burnham?” Pike finally asks.

Michael opens and closes her mouth several times, for once at an utter loss at to what to say.

“You should go,” he declares, and Michael is saved from having to respond. 

 

**

 

Aboard the USS Enterprise, Michael does not know whether to be happy or terrified that her search has proven fruitful.

The seven signals float above her head like tiny stars, pulled from Spock’s drawing program that he has used since they were children. The red pulsing lights glow brightly in the darkness of Spock’s quarters, and Michael wonders what her brother might have been thinking when he drew these.

The words of his personal log ring in her brain as she stares.

The nightmares have returned. The same vision, again and again. In the event of my death, I have encoded it within this audio file...

In the event of my death…

“Why didn’t you talk to me, Spock?” Michael whispers as she gazes at the signals, the ones that exactly parallel those that Captain Pike has been ordered to decode.

It seemed that Spock had put himself on the same mission that Pike is currently on. How logical it would have been, for them to be on the same ship and working together.

Why didn’t he just talk to Captain Pike…why didn’t he talk to anyone?

And speaking of talking to captains…

In several quick motions, Michael has the data from Spock’s log downloaded and stored in an information chip. She strides from his room with purpose as she flips open her communicator.

“Burnham to Discovery, one to beam up.”

Time for more answers.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Philippa has been waiting for hours, but when the knock on her door finally comes, she finds that she is still not ready.

But when has anyone ever been ready?

With a long sigh, she unfolds her legs and rises from her meditation mat to open the door.

And in a mere moment, Michael Burnham stands before her, less than a foot away.

The former captain and commander look at each other, a long look that echoes like distant thunder in the scant space between them. Philippa traces Michael’s smooth face with her eyes, taking in features she’d thought for a very long time that she would never see again…

Dark eyes, full lips, once-straight hair now styled into short, tight curls on top of her head…

She looks different. But wonderful all the same.

“Did someone die?” Michael finally asks, gesturing with her chin at Philippa’s all-black ensemble, which Philippa feels quite a bit more comfortable wearing in the privacy of her quarters than the bright sickbay whites.

Philippa only gives Michael a weary look, and Michael seems to take this as a rebuttal in itself.

“I’m sorry, that was out of line. It’s been a…very long day.”

Despite the smoothness of her face, Michael stumbles on the word “day.” Philippa can practically feel the rawness coming off of her in waves, and almost instinctively, she stands away from the doorway and gestures for Michael to come inside.

Michael walks through the doorway and all but collapses in the chair next to Philippa’s desk. She looks quite like a puppet with its strings cut, and Philippa wonders what on Earth could have happened in the two hours since she left sickbay.

She considers turning the lights on as she meanders towards her bed, but the murky darkness and vague illumination from the stars outside the window seem to fit the mood. The silence continues as Philippa sinks onto the bed opposite Michael’s chair. She takes in the woman once more…the woman she had been so afraid of meeting in the flesh, and yet...

After first seeing her as a groaning patient in a bio bed, and now, as this hunched form on her chair, Philippa has to admit that perhaps she psyched herself out a little too heavily.

“I am sorry for the surprise, back in sickbay,” Philippa finally states, breaking the long and heavy silence. “I assumed Pike had told you…the plan was for him to notify my former crew before anyone saw me.”

She pauses and rolls her eyes. “I don’t know why I bother making plans.”

Michael huffs at that, but in the next moment the huff turns to a gasp, barely contained by a hand clapped over her mouth, and her eyes fill with tears.

Philippa blanches internally.

Gods, was it something she said?

“How are you alive?” Michael manages, her mellow voice shaking through the fingers over her mouth.

Philippa mulls over the long, torturous answer to that question. She looks away from Michael’s form, bathed in starlight and shadows where she sits in the chair across from the bed.

“You were right,” Philippa finally whispers, and Michael looks to her in confusion.

“Or perhaps it would be better to say, the Klingons were right, in their concept of martyrdom versus…symbols of defeat.”

Philippa stares down at her hands.

“The Klingon leaders, they gave T’Kuvma a pyre almost immediately…but they worked tirelessly to ensure that I would live. I am told that they came up with medical procedures that had never been conceived of before…rebuilt my heart from scratch. But they wanted me resurrected, so that they could humiliate me, and through me…Starfleet.”

The part of Philippa is a Starfleet medic is intensely curious to know how they did it, but the part of her that is a former Klingon prisoner, well…that part of her would rather it remain a mystery.

Michael is shaking her head on the chair. “But…they didn’t—“

Philippa cuts her off. “Leadership fragmented once the war had gone on several months. T’Kuvma meant to unite the Klingon houses but…” She closes her eyes. “…it’s hard to remain united without a clear leader.”

She looks down at her hands, unable to face whatever emotion might be pooling in Michael’s eyes, and continues.

“After I got my strength back, it became clear that there was in-fighting concerning my fate…what use I would be. I played them off each other for weeks, just to get myself an opening…and I escaped.”

Michael is looking at her once more, and Philippa senses her admiration, but it only sours in her stomach.

“It wasn’t impressive, Michael, I promise you…” She can still feel the squelch of the guard’s innards as she drove the shiv into his stomach, the rattle of breath from the attending physician as he struggled to breath through his collapsed windpipe.

“It was… not impressive.”

With a quick shake of her head, Philippa continues. “And then I was alone on Qo’Nos, with a destroyed heart, no connections, no grasp of the language. Things were…very difficult, then.”

A shadow falls over her, and Philippa realizes that Michael has moved her chair closer.

“I can’t imagine how hard it must have been.”

Philippa blinks, but doesn’t look anywhere above Michael’s chin. She doesn’t know if she has the strength to handle the sympathy in those brilliant brown eyes.

“Nor would I want you to.”

Philippa says the words and wonders where they came from. She, who hasn’t had a kind word to give to anyone in nearly a year.

Her lips work slightly as she considers the next part of her explanation.

“I managed to get my hands on a comm array, a good one, and I got a signal out to the Federation…they helped me in little ways, with the handful of contacts and caches they had on Qo’Nos… and I—“

Philippa cuts herself off. Michael Burnham is a brilliant woman, a clever woman, if she were to follow Philippa’s information to its logical end, there was a chance she could uncover everything.

“I…survived,” Philippa finishes lamely.

Michael only shakes her head. It looks like she wants to ask more questions, naturally. Philippa drops her gaze to her hands, hunching her shoulders slightly to appear small, fragile.

The questions do not come.

“But…” Michael finally shakes out a breath, and Philippa senses what’s coming. “But then the war ended, why didn’t you—“

She cuts off, pain apparent in her voice, and Philippa hears the words as if Michael had screamed them at her.

Why didn’t you come back?

Philippa sighs, and a wave of exhaustion presses down upon her.

Seems that this was what she had been afraid of, back on Leland’s ship when she had received the orders for this mission. So easy it was to threaten, to flirt, to joke, to swear, but Gods above, this relentless emotional honesty---

“I

I didn’t want you to see me like this.

She startles as fingers wrap around her own. With a quick look up, she realizes that Michael is crying.

“I’m sorry, Captain…Philippa, I am so sorry

Philippa’s mouth opens and closes, and she looks in shock from Michael’s tear-filled eyes to the hand gripping her own so tightly.

“I’ve wanted to say this to you for so long…so long…” Michael sniffles, rubbing her face with her unoccupied hand. “I am so sorry…I’m sorry I attacked you, I’m sorry I went against your orders…you were right—“

“Stop it Michael, stop, enough.” Philippa feels her hand move of its own accord, and before she knows it, she is brushing Michael’s tears away with her thumb. “You…you think I stayed away because I was angry with you?” Philippa huffs her disbelief. “Gods, of all the many things I had to be angry about—“

She cuts herself off, and can’t quite stop her fingertips from tracing at Michael’s hairline. Michael looks at her curiously, even through her tears, and Philippa quickly pulls away.

“I thought you were dead, Michael, for nine months I thought you were dead.”

Michael shakes out an exhale, rubbing at her running nose with a sleeve.

“Oh …forgot about that.”

“How nice it must be, to be able to forget.”

Philippa’s reply is more caustic than she intends, and she immediately regrets her tone when she spots Michael flinch.

“I’d just started communicating with the Federation,” she continues quickly. “…in Morse code, so as not to trip any Klingon sensors…they told me you were presumed killed in action…your whole ship gone, after a battle with the Sarcophagus…

Philippa remembers punching through the windows of the abandoned-building-turned-hideout at the news, she remembers screaming herself raw until her heart had twisted inside her chest and she’d dropped to the floor and waited for death to take her…

“…only three days before, Michael…”

Michael’s eyes are huge and swimming with tears, and this is enough to force Philippa to continue.

“And then…nine months I stayed on Qo’Nos…surviving…recovering…“

--Don’t ask don’t ask don’t ask—

“I knew we were losing the war,” Philippa continues quickly. “I knew we were losing…”

Philippa pauses. Then she smiles, a real, genuine smile. It’s small, weak, utterly foreign on her face, and Philippa wonders at the fact that she remembers how.

“But then you came back …you and this ship…” --this miracle ship-- “You came back from the dead, and you ended the war…Michael, I was so proud of you.”

Michael gasps out another cry at this, and her tears bubble over. Philippa takes her face in both hands, and tries to remember when last it was that she had offered comfort to another Human being like this.

“It’s alright…it’s alright…”

Michael only cries harder at this, and despite how strange this all feels, Philippa knows that situations only plummet out of control when they are allowed to do so.

Thus, it only makes sense to wrap arms over Michael’s back, to hold her close until she stops crying.

Philippa seems to recall some scientific studies, some articles somewhere testifying as to the healing power of contact, of the necessity of touch and tactility to the physical and emotional health of Humans.

But these thoughts are dim in comparison to the wonderful warmth of Michael’s body pressed into her chest, of the smell of Michael’s hair and how comfortably she seems to fit in the space between Philippa’s arms.

“I missed you…” Michael whispers into Philippa’s chest. “Every day I missed you…prison was hell, and this ship was hell, at least for a little while…but I think maybe could have withstood that, if only I’d managed to save you…”

Philippa sways a little at the admission.

“I’m sorry…” Michael whispers. “I’m sorry I was too late…I tried so hard to get to you, both times I tried…”

Both times?

Michael hugs her harder, and Philippa winces reflexively. She anticipates a sharp pain in her chest, and is confused when it doesn’t come.

“Sorry, sorry.” Michael pulls away immediately. Her eyes are wet and puffy, her nose running. She wipes it on her sleeve once more.

It surprises Philippa to feel dampness on her own cheeks, and she brings her hand to her face to verify.

Her fingers come away wet, and she stares at them in bewilderment.

“You know, all my life,” Michael murmurs in her lovely mellow voice. “Seems like I’ve only ever lost things…the universe just taking, and taking, everything…

Her voice is casting a spell over the room, dark and bathed in starlight, and Philippa finds herself enthralled, unable to break away.

“But this is the first time it has ever given me something back…”

Philippa wants to drown her voice, she wants to bury herself in Michael Burnham’s contralto and become one with starlight it contains…

But she remembers, in the next moment, just why it is that she cannot.

“I…I’m tired…”

Michael nods quickly at this. She takes a deep breath, shaking out her shoulders as she gathers herself.

“Of course, of course…I’m sorry, Captain, I’ll go—“

“I’m not your captain anymore, Michael,” Philippa denies in a soft voice.

Michael looks like she wants to say something, but closes her mouth before she can.

“What should I call you, then?” She finally asks.

Philippa considers the question. Lieutenant was merely her operational rank aboard the Discovery, she didn’t remotely feel like a lieutenant. Nurse? No, she’d not even passed the nursing exam yet.

Agent?

Absolutely not.

“Just “Philippa” is fine,” Philippa decides.

“Okay…” Michael whispers. “Okay, Philippa.

Her name sounds nice coming from Michael’s lips. This was a good decision.

“It’s late, I suppose,” Michael continues. “I’ll let you be.”

And she’s looking at Philippa again, with that raw gaze that makes Philippa feel so utterly seen…

Gods, who on Earth was this woman? This Michael Burnham, who was so different from the Michael that Philippa had once known? Her commander had been confident to the point of arrogant, bold to the point of reckless, had never spoken of her past with any sort of gravity, had never, not once, looked at her like that…with soft brown eyes spun from starlight, with wisdom in the alto notes of her voice…

“Goodnight,” Michael completes softly, before getting up and shuffling to the door. It hisses shut behind her, and it takes Philippa several moments to realize that the polite thing to do would have been to get up and see her out.

She shakes her head.

I’ve lived among wolves for too long.

Nevertheless, Philippa falls asleep easily that night. Her dreams are filled with the memory of Michael’s warm skin and soft voice, the first warmth and softness Philippa has experienced since being ripped away from her, all those many months ago aboard T’Kuvma’s flagship.

Perhaps this assignment was not so terrible after all.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Human beings can get used to just about any circumstance.

At least, that is what Michael Burnham is beginning to think.

The first morning, waking up in her bed the day after they had rescued Jett Reno and her crew from the impossible asteroid…a morning just like any other, except on that particular morning, Philippa Georgiou was alive.

Alive, and a mere one deck away.

Michael had felt a smile creep over her face until her cheeks hurt from it. She had curled up on herself beneath the blankets, as if that would somehow keep the unbearable joy from bursting from her body.

Impossibly, inconceivably, Philippa was alive.

 

The first evening, when Philippa had approached the table where she sat with Tilly and Detmer and asked if she might beg for a seat. Dinner had lasted two hours that night, and although no one had consumed any alcohol, Michael had felt almost intoxicated with her smiles and uncontrollable giggling with Keyla at Tilly’s obvious hero worship of the former captain turned medic.

(“There’s just too many amazing captains on this ship, Michael,” Tilly whined later that night as they were getting ready for bed. “How am I supposed to handle this situation?”

“Pick one to focus on,” Michael deadpanned. “And it might help you to know that in 2254, Captain Georgiou fell off the top of a shuttlecraft because she’d been infected with a spatial processing virus that made her believe that she was inside, piloting the shuttle.”

It had helped Tilly, to know that.)

 

The second morning, when Michael had woken up with a smile on her lips. The stars seemed brighter outside of her window, and there was new, sparking energy in each step she took. Philippa had not been at breakfast that morning, nor had she been anywhere that Michael looked that day.

This was strange, but Michael reasoned that the former captain had business of her own to conduct, and let it be.

 

That evening, when she and Philippa had talked late into the night about Michael’s time aboard the Discovery. Michael had been careful to edit certain parts, not going into the brief incursion in the Terran universe, nor the Shrine of Molor…she cannot even bring herself to talk about Ash.

It’s just too soon, too fresh. The mere act of looking at Philippa sometimes brings tears to Michael’s eyes; how could she possibly go about vocalizing the rest of it?

Nevertheless, Michael had found herself stone-faced and shaking by the end of the tale, her heart full of hot shards of glass at the memory of those horrible days, of Ripper’s agonized screams and Ash’s hands around her throat. Philippa had looked…shaken, would probably be a good word for it, a look that Michael was not used to seeing on her captain.

Michael did not realize until quite a bit later that Philippa had not offered up any memories of her own.

 

The third evening, when Michael had gone to Philippa’s quarters and discovered Philippa Georgiou and Jett Reno, both drunk as skunks on the floor beside the bed. Michael had stammered out a few apologies, but both Georgiou and Reno insisted (with varying levels of coherence) that she join them.

The next several hours are a blur, but Michael remembers several toasts, a roasting contest that Philippa had won easily, and Reno weeping quietly on Michael’s shoulder, thanking her over and over again for rescuing her and her patients from the asteroid.

 

And here Michael and Philippa are today, on the fourth morning after they had rescued Jett Reno and her crew from the impossible asteroid. Doing an early morning workout together, as they had done thrice weekly for nearly two years before the Battle of the Binary Stars.

Philippa sinks slowly into her stance, shifting her weight over her bent left leg. Her arms are held long and still in their outward positions, and she curls them in a slow graceful circle until they are perpendicular to the ground.

Tai Chi resembles the lowest forms of Suus Mahna in some ways, Michael has to admit as she follows the movement a step behind Philippa.

The very lowest forms.

She remembers the training they used to do together, before the war…suicide sprints across the Shenzhou’s shuttlebay, heavy lifts and squats while draped across each others shoulders, sparring until bruised and near-bloody, and Michael would fall into bed sore and aching, with a smile across her face…

What changed?

She is certainly not complaining, however. Her head is still pounding from whatever the hell they had consumed last night.

Michael sweeps her foot across the floor, mirroring Philippa’s steady, flowing movements. It is rather like meditation, in a way, and Michael is determined to get whatever good she can from it. She watches Philippa’s long arms, the twitch of her muscles beneath her shirt, the confidence in the motion of her legs and the balance of her limbs.

The past four days have felt like the loveliest sort of dream. Day by day, hour by hour, Michael feels herself falling back into Philippa’s orbit, just as she had been, back on the Shenzhou. She isn’t the same, Michael knows that, and she does wonder…

Despite the wonder of the past several days, there are times when Michael wants desperately for Philippa to talk to her about things that matter. Things that she and her captain now have in common, namely, their life-altering trauma at the hands of the Klingons. Michael very much wants Philippa to open up to her, to tell her about what hell and horror she experienced on Qo’Nos during the war.

Michael desperately wants to be the one Philippa trusts with her secrets, with her pain.

After all…wouldn’t Michael, of all people, be the one to understand?

Michael breathes in, breathes out, correcting the turn-out of her right foot to better reflect Philippa’s positioning. It has only been four days, she reminds herself. Perhaps Philippa simply…needs more time to get comfortable.

And that is alright.

They are back together once more. Michael is content to wait.

“I meant to tell you last night; I spoke to Commander Saru yesterday.”

Philippa breaks the companionable silence.

“Oh? And what did he have to say?” Michael asks. She brings her hands to her center to copy Philippa’s motions.

“Oh, a good many things,” Philippa sighs. “Though I owe him more apologies, I believe. I think I neglected him somewhat, during our time on the Shenzhou.”

Michael considers this for a few moments.

“Perhaps.” Her voice is even when she speaks. “He expressed as much to me, in the weeks after my…my conscription.”

“What did he tell you?”

Philippa’s voice is slightly sharper now, and Michael starts at it. She draws herself up to a standing position, and Philippa turns to face her.

“That he was envious of our closeness… In how I got to learn so much from you while he had to wait for his chance that…never came.”

Michael’s voice is even, measured, logical, all of her emotions concerning those difficult early days having been tucked away deep down, somewhere stone-walled and safe. She remains still as Philippa processes her words. Her captain’s eyes are narrow, her face stony.

She’s different now, Michael reminds herself. Harder, more remote, prone to snapping… At times, it is almost terrifyingly easy to see flashes of the emperor behind her captain’s eyes. Whatever horrors Philippa had experienced on Qo’Nos, well…

War could change anybody.

But Michael remembers the soft vulnerability in her expression that night, three days ago after the asteroid. She remembers the wetness on Philippa’s cheeks, the tightness of her grip as she held Michael close.

Her captain is still there.

“We talked in his quarters, you know,” Philippa begins almost casually. She raises an eyebrow. “I could not help but notice a very distinctive decoration he had, next to his port-side window.”

Michael slowly, slowly closes her eyes.

Fuck, of course she would notice that.

“So I will ask again, Michael.”

Philippa takes a step closer, her feet making no sound on the pad.

“What did he tell you?”

Michael shakes her head. She takes a step backwards on the mat and hates herself for such a display of cowardice.

“Nothing that wasn’t true.”

“Bullshit,” Philippa bites out, and Michael flinches. “Many untruths were said during this war, I was not so isolated that I am unaware. Many believed them… I am sure Saru was even happy to believe such things about you.”

Michael shakes her head once more, and feels Philippa in front of her, though her eyes are closed.

“I left that telescope to you, Michael.” Philippa’s voice is softer now, and Michael looks up once more, into her captain’s wonderful, familiar face. “It’s a family heirloom, and I wanted you to have it, upon my death. You, who do not have the merest trace of your own family left to you…”

In a flash, Michael remembers fire and blood, death and destruction, Doctori Alpha burned apart, crumpled to ruins in space along with all traces of her mother and father.

“Legacy is an important thing.” Philippa’s voice is even now, perhaps even sympathetic. “Why would you give up such a vital connection to the dead?”

Michael catches a glimpse of herself in the mirrors surrounding the gym mats, shrinking and ashamed and pathetic

“It was logical.”

Philippa raises one eyebrow.

“It was,” Michael insists, though she cannot look Philippa in the face, not after betraying her wishes like this, why on Earth could she not stop betraying her--

“Oh, do tell.”

Michael wonders if this is a good idea, or if sharing her Vulcan reasoning and thought processes with her thoroughly Human captain will disappoint her, as it occasionally had over their seven years on the Shenzhou.

But she did ask.

Michael stares straight ahead as she speaks.

“I was the lowest of the low on this ship, when I first arrived. No one would look at me, no one would talk to me, and there was nothing I could do about it. I saw a chance to change my circumstances, by extending an olive branch to Commander Saru, who was the third highest in rank on this ship at the time. I saw a way to ingratiate myself to the rest of the Discovery, by pacifying and pleasing him.”

Michael shakes her head, her eyes closed. Her heart cries out at the memory of Philippa’s legacy, her final words, her farewell, leaving her quarters in her crewmate’s large Kelpien hands.

“And it worked. By getting Saru on my side, the rest of Discovery fell into line.”

Saru and Tilly, that was all it took for Michael to get her foot in the door. Saru and Tilly. One of the highest-ranking people on the ship, and one of the lowest.

Her mother had always encouraged her to approach problems from both sides.

Philippa is silent for a long moment, taking this in.

“Alright. That’s your Vulcan explanation.” Philippa’s voice, when it finally comes, is slightly softer than it had been. “What’s your Human explanation?”

Of course her captain would see right through her. They had spent seven years in each others’ pockets after all. No one knew Michael better than Philippa did, it seemed, even after all this time.

Her Human explanation is far more simple at least.

“I didn’t deserve it.”

Philippa is silent for several moments after that.

“There is…so much to be argued on that point alone, but I’m tired this morning, so I’ll save it for another time.”

Philippa’s clipped voice hits Michael in the heart, and she knows that, no matter how angry Philippa might be at her, at least she gets to have that voice in her life once more.

“Those were my wishes, Michael…” Philippa continues, low and sharp. “Mine…did you and Saru have such little respect for a dead woman’s final wish?”

Michael scowls at that. She stalks to the corner of the mat and picks up her towel water bottle, and sweatshirt. Maybe it’s the pounding in her head from last night, maybe it’s the thought of Reno pouring her full shot glass onto the floor for all of her lost crewmates, maybe it’s the memories of those early days on the Discovery, when the universe had been dark and lonely, all of the light extinguished, gone forever and left for dead in the graveyard of the Binary Stars…

…but Michael has no patience for lectures or guilt trips. Not today.

“The dead have no wishes, Philippa. They are dead.”

She turns on a heel and leaves the gym.

 

**

 

Michael is still shaken from her brief spat with Philippa, three hours later after a shower, breakfast, and thirty minutes of her shift on the bridge. The science terminal chimes, breaking her out of her swirling thoughts.

Her scheduled meeting with Captain Pike is upon her at last.

As she strides to the ready room, Michael comforts herself with the thought that talking with Captain Pike will, at the very least, be far less emotionally taxing than talking with Captain Georgiou.

Or so she had thought, before the meeting began.

This may be my last entry aboard the USS Enterprise…

Spock’s voice fades as his personal log ends.

Pike is quiet for several moments. His ready room seems far more livable than Lorca’s had been, Michael notes as she waits for him to speak. Couches and chairs in a nut-brown and cream color scheme, a long conference table on the left side of the room, and warm yellow overhead lighting.

A softer ready room, for a presumably softer captain.

“Thank you for sharing this with me, Burnham,” Pike finally states. “I’ve listened to it a good many times in the past few days—“

“Then...” Michael shakes her head, distressed confusion overwhelming conversational politeness. “Why wait until now—“

“I figured you might need time,” Pike states, cutting Michael’s question off. She raises an eyebrow, and Pike continues with an amused curl of his lip. “I did get word of how you overdosed on pain meds upon realizing your former captain was alive.”

Michael stiffens, looking away from Pike. Embarrassment threatens to stain her cheeks, and she quickly tamps down on the emotion.

Pike was the captain now. Of course he would have been notified of that.

“Burnham.”

Michael looks back to him.

“A great deal happened in just one singular day. Your brother’s disappearance, your captain’s resurrection, the laws of physics suddenly becoming moot…” Pike’s voice is soft, yet firm. “You should not feel any type of shame in reacting the way you did. And there is nothing weak about needing time to process these things.”

Michael takes his words with a grain of salt. She had nearly vaporized Qo’Nos a mere two months ago, and the admiralty certainly had not granted her time to process things, to sort through her feelings, not that she would have taken it, had they done so. Besides which, her Vulcan training was meant to streamline emotional reactions, proceeding down logical pathways to a conclusion untainted by ridiculous feelings, effectively cutting processing time down to nothing.

Her controls have eroded, that much is certain.

Michael makes a mental note to allot more time to her evening meditations, and to attend one of T’Pau’s notoriously brutal meditation retreats during her next shore leave.

“Yes, sir.”

Her agreement is bland and impassive. Pike raises an eyebrow at it, but says nothing. Michael remembers that he has been her brother’s captain for many years; he is probably used to the Vulcan way of humoring Humans.

And speaking of her brother…

Michael enters several commands onto the table before them, and pulls up the drawing she had found on his tablet.

The seven red energy signals, exactly matching those that had appeared four days ago.

“Sir, my brother drew these signals two months before they appeared to us, and now he’s…God knows where.”

In the event of my death…

A spike of urgency drives Michael to continue. “Though I do appreciate you giving me and the crew time to recover from the events of four days ago, time is of the essence, Captain, surely you can understand that—“

She stops when Pike holds up a hand.

“Burnham…I know where Spock is.”

He gestures towards the right corner of the ready room, where a couch and two Eames chairs are clustered around a low coffee table. “Have a seat.”

Michael knows that tone of voice, just as well as she knows that “Have a seat” is Human code for, “What I am about to tell you will change your life.”

But she follows Pike anyway, lowering herself into one of the caramel-brown Eames chairs. Pike seats himself on the couch, pushing aside a patterned decoration as he does so.

“Your brother…is in a psychiatric facility on Starbase Five.”

The floor drops from beneath Michael’s feet.

“Since about a week after he took leave.” Pike’s voice is soft, gentle, but the words seem to be coming from very far away, somewhere on the other side of a long tunnel down which Michael seems to have fallen.

“Committed to the facility of his own request.”

No…no…

And all of a sudden, Michael is a teenager once more, hearing the subtle whisperings of her classmates on Vulcan.

He does not possess sufficient command of his emotions---Human weakness will drive him mad—he is dangerous to us, Michael, surely you can understand that--He should be committed to a psychiatric facility, at the very least—“

…Committed committed committed…

“No…” Michael whispers, shaking her head slowly.

Her worst fears are coming to pass, it seems.

“Why would you keep this from me?” Michael demands of Pike, her voice only a little bit raw.

“Well, several reasons,” Pike shoots back, his voice slightly sharper now. “Patient confidentiality, your brother’s right to privacy, not to mention the fact that you’d already had a great deal stacked on you as of four days ago.”

Michael’s lips work silently. She looks down at the coffee table with an irked shake of her head.

“Burnham…” Pike leans in towards her, his voice gentle. “He’s in a psychiatric facility. It’s not like he’s going anywhere.”

Michael sighs through her teeth. As frustrated as she might be, it’s a good point, and anger towards the wrong party will only waste time and energy.

“Why were my parents and I not informed?” Michael finally manages. “It is Starfleet protocol to reach out to the families—“

“Unless the patient doesn’t want that, and Spock said no. Emphatically.”

Michael recoils as if slapped.

She can understand, of course, why Spock would not want Sarek to know, or even Amanda, but how on Earth could her brother push her away like that?

“Why wouldn’t he tell me…?” Michael whispers. “Surely he understood that I would not judge…”

“Families can be…difficult.” Pike’s voice is soft and understanding. “My father was a science teacher, and when he wasn’t doing that, he taught comparative religion. It was a confusing household, and we didn’t agree on much.”

Michael nods slowly at that.

“I can relate,” she finally offers. “I understand the confusion, when one grows up in house with highly contrasting philosophies.”

And she certainly does, at that. It had seemed, throughout her childhood, that whenever Amanda would explain something about Humanity and emotions that made a great deal of sense, Sarek would counter her point with some type of Vulcan logic, thus undoing all of Amanda’s work.

And vice versa.

“Spock and I, we understood each other on that point, at least.” Pike smiles slightly. “We enjoyed our debates on paradoxical philosophies, whether cultural or…spiritual. Your brother had a sharp mind, Burnham.”

“Then why would he do this?” Michael whispers, blinking back the tears that threaten her eyes. Her chest feels like sharp glass fragments as she speaks. “How could he let it get this far…committing oneself to a facility, that is a last resort, Captain, and he used it as his opening move—“

“Michael.”

Pike’s voice stops Michael in her tracks. She looks at the captain once more…her brother’s captain, who had taught him so much. His blue eyes are clear and comforting, and Michael allows herself just a moment of solace in them.

“Whatever is troubling Spock…we will get to the bottom of it. I would suggest you send a message to him on Starbase 5, though it will be up to him whether or not he wants to respond…whether or not he will want to see you.”

Michael shakes her head in despair, knowing full well how that would go. By committing himself, Spock had already made his choice on whether or not to accept her help.

How on Earth could messaging him possibly change that?

“I’ve told you everything I know, now. Everything I have, concerning this situation,” Pike continues. “I hope, in turn, that you trust you can be open with me. If there is ever anything, that you feel you need to tell me…”

Michael closes her eyes--

--Gasping agony fire blood pain—

A dark figure floats before her in the Hiawatha’s wreckage, backed by red-orange light and surrounded by odd, twig-like wings. Its every movement sends out pressure ripples in the vacuum of space, lancing Michael’s body like shockwaves …

--Red—

--Red—

--Red—

 

“Sir…” Michael breathes. “On that asteroid…”

“Yes?” Pike prompts.

And maybe it’s the sheer, utter lunacy of what she saw, or the fact that she was concussed and possibly delusional when she saw it…

Michael remembers vividly what had happened the last time she had been in such a state and had nevertheless told her captain all of what she saw, all of what she knew…

She doubts that she will ever forget the consequences of that choice.

“--I…“

In a mere second, Michael seals off that part of her mind.

“I never properly thanked you…for coming back to get me.”

Michael completes her revised sentence, and even manages to inject some manner of warmth into it.

Pike smiles, revealing truly boyish dimples.

“You’re welcome.”

She won’t lose another captain.

Not again.

The overhead comm crackles.

Captain Pike, to the bridge.

Saru’s smooth voice rings out across the room.

Pike and Burnham look at each other, before rising from the low furniture. Michael casts a backwards glance at the red signals floating above the desk as she follows Pike out of the ready room. The seven signals her brother had drawn two months ago, perfectly matching the seven signals that had appeared from nowhere at all, three days previously.

And now her brother is in a psychiatric facility.

Just as his detractors on Vulcan had always wanted.

The ambient air on the bridge is filled with an invisible narcotic haze as Michael proceeds to her station. Saru is filling Pike in on the situation. Another red signal has appeared, quell surprise.

Michael wonders if Spock has seen the signal as well, alone in his ward on Starbase 5.

As Pike and Saru make plans to track the signal, Michael finds herself quietly formulating plans for the leave she will take, calculating how long it will take to get to Starbase 5, what shuttle to take, what to pack, what she will say when she gets there…

He would not be alone for long.

I’m coming, Spock. 

 

**

 

Soft red sunlight floods the dusty cobblestone streets of Old Shi’Khar. Amber shadows flicker in the alleyways between low, clay buildings, broad canvas awnings providing shade to the two children walking side by side on their way into the city.

It is illogical for you to walk to school with me every day.”

“It is highly logical,” Michael counters as she walks easily next to her brother. “You know where the Learning Center is and the fastest way there, while avoiding the other kids.”

“The other children do not shun you as they do me. Why do you not simply walk with them?”

Michael turns away from Spock as they walk down the cobblestone streets of South Shi’Kahr. She recalls the digs and jeers that the other Vulcans had pointed towards her new foster-brother as Michael had walked with them, seemingly unaware that Michael shared these very Human traits that they were so derisive of.

“I do not want to walk with them,” Michael finally answers. “Most are…” Her lips work as she summons a Vulcan answer. “…Unpleasant in their words and demeanor. Perhaps they accept me now, as an interesting anomaly, but I doubt that will be the case for long.”

Michael had learned within a single day at the Learning Center that these Shi’Kahr Vulcans are all but a different species from the Vulcans she had known on Doctari Alpha.

Rigid, logical, traditional…close-minded.

She does not have high hopes for the rest of the school year.

“You will get used to it,” Spock resolves, not looking at her as he walks. “I will be more blunt in my words. I do not want you to walk with me, nor interact with me while we are at the Learning Center. You make my life more difficult with your Human presence.”

His statement falls like a heavy blow upon Michael’s ears. She cannot help but stagger slightly as she strides next to Spock.

“But, you are…my brother…?”

The words come out as almost a question, barely expelled from Michael’s chest.

"Not by blood.”

Spock turns away from her, darting down a side alley between two brick buildings. Michael stops dead in the middle of the cobblestoned walkway, torn between running after him and running away into the depths of Shi’Kahr, missing first-period Alpha Quadrant Astronomy and perhaps second-period Logical Theory.

But it has only been one month, and brother-and-sister relationships could be strange indeed. Michael remembers bits and pieces that Amanda had told her in the last several weeks, how Spock has difficulties at school, and with other children. Michael can certainly understand why, if he insists on being so thoroughly stand-offish and rude…

But maybe she just needs to try harder.

With a steadying breath, Michael strangles her hurt feelings and runs down the alley after Spock.

But after several twists and turns between low, red-walled houses and sheds, she reaches a dead end, walled off by a shingled panel with several rubbish bins in front of it.

Spock is gone.

Chapter Text

 

Ensign Sylvia Tilly hums to herself as she examines the spore canisters during her typical Alpha shift check-up of engineering.

Each and every morning, bright and early, Tilly runs software checks on each terminal, checks the connections and hook-ups between the reaction cube and the spore inputs, and pulls every spore canister out of the pods set into the back wall of the lab to measure the radiation levels and growth percentages. She tries to whisper a few words of encouragement to the dancing spores as she does so, not that she would admit this in a review. In a soft voice, Sylvia Tilly is sure to tell the glowing mycelia how good and strong they look, and how amazing they are for being so bright and blue and beautiful.

There have been many studies that attest to the power of encouragement when it comes to growing plants, and although mushrooms certainly do not fall into that category, Tilly likes to imagine that fungi, too, appreciate the kindness.

She pulls canister 6b from the wall and spins to the terminal to plug it into the port for check-up. With eyes wide and pupils comfortably dilated from her morning espressos, Tilly dutifully logs the readouts in the database.

“Good job, 6b, nearly a two point five percent growth in just one week.” Tilly beams at the container of glowing spores. “I’ll have to put a star on your personal achievement chart. Your dad will be so proud!”

Tilly casts a happy glance over at Lieutenant Commander Stamets. He stands behind his terminal, seemingly staring at nothing. But Tilly sees the virtual reality projectors affixed to his temples, and imagines that he is lost somewhere in his private world, as he tends to be these days.

Grieving.

Tilly wilts as she turns back to the container of spores.

She misses Hugh Culber. She misses his soft voice and his kind face, his stories of medical school and serving on one of Starfleet’s notorious problem ships, and every kind of issue he had encountered while aboard.

But she knows that her pain is nothing compared to what Stamets must be going through.

Tilly sighs as she replaces canister 6b in its storage pod. Despite the terrifying intensity of the away mission three days ago, the one that lanced her roommate’s leg open and placed an impossibly massive chunk of asteroid in a gravity containment field in the shuttlebay, she has to admit that is glad that these strange signals are happening, that Captain Pike and Commander Nhan are aboard for an unspecified amount of time…that their mission is sufficiently mysterious and intriguing enough to hold Stamets’ interest and keep him from leaving Discovery for the teaching post on Vulcan.

Few people have been kind to Sylvia Tilly in her life, and she knows that this is mostly her fault. But Paul Stamets has always been kind to her, in his own sarcastic, prickly way.

And Tilly does not have enough friends to be able to withstand losing one of them.

Speaking of friends…

Tilly removes canister 6c from its storage pod and docks it in the port atop the terminal, clicking it into place with a firm twist. Her thoughts wander to Michael, who has spent the last three nights in her bed crying quietly, her eyes swollen and puffy upon her return from wherever she spends her post-dinner hours.

Well… Tilly sighs as she enters yet more data into the terminal. She knows damn well where Michael has been spending her post-dinner hours.

Captain Georgiou’s miraculous return was nothing short of…miraculous, and Tilly is always certain to give thanks to the universe before she falls asleep, for giving her good friend such a gift.

Poor Michael, who has been through so unbelievably much … prison for six months, Lorca turning out to be a Terran fugitive, Ash turning out to be a Klingon spy…

Not to mention, whatever Michael had seen aboard the ISS Charon, the emperor’s flagship back in the Terran universe.

Michael had been all but distraught after they had transported her out in conjunction with the huge wave of mycelial energy…Tilly remembers that awful scene, watching Michael on her hands and knees on the transporter pad, a guttural sob ripping from her friend’s chest before she could catch it and swallow it back. She ran to Michael and dropped to her knees beside her, she had held Michael tightly, half-expecting to be rebuffed but so very relieved when Michael only collapsed into her, shaking.

Tilly had looked to Commander Saru for help, but he only turned away, walking from the transporter room without a backwards glance.

As if he had understood something of that moment, something that had gone completely over Tilly’s head.

The memories continue to swirl as Tilly presses her fingers to the glass of the spore container upon the terminal. The mycelia glow brightly, dancing in the sealed vacuum of the canister…the miracle of creation, the key to riding the invisible veins and muscles of the universe, right here in front of her, nearly in the palm of her hands.

Tilly wonders why Michael should be the one to suffer so much during that awful war, when so little of it was her fault.

She wonders why Hugh Culber should be the one to die, when he had only ever tried to help.

Across the lab, Stamets removes his VR projectors and replaces them in his desk. He looks to be about a thousand miles away, and Tilly feels struck across the face at his display of barely-contained emotion.

So many consecutive days of this, so very many times she has seen Stamets zone out into his virtual world and return as someone else, someone that Tilly does not fully recognize…

So many days, weeks, months of living in the shadows of a galactic war, in the remnants of violence, betrayal, and death, of pasting on a smile and pressing onwards, and wondering if that was what coping was.

Tilly blurts before she can stop herself.

“So what, um…what were you watching?”

Stamets twitches. He jerks his head towards her as if startled, and Tilly winces internally at her own lack of filter. She prepares herself for a vehement “Not your business, Tilly…

…but to her immense surprise, Stamets only gives her a long, pensive look. He seems wounded behind the eyes, and Tilly wishes that he would just tell her what he might be thinking.

Perhaps she could help to cheer him up.

Still, whatever Stamets might be looking for in her, he seems to find, because in the next moment, he begins to speak.

“It’s a recording that Hugh’s family sent to me, just last night.”

Stamets seems to mull over his next words, gazing down at the VR projectors in his hands.

“He came from a pretty big family you know, not like me…four brothers, three sisters, a mother and two fathers—“

He catches Tilly’s confused look, and smiles slightly. “Oh come now, Ensign, surely you’ve heard of polyamory?”

Tilly gives a silent, awkward Oh with her mouth.

Despite appearances, she has in fact heard of polyamory.

“Anyway, they’ve been messaging a lot, after…everything. They insisted I stay with them while we were on Earth for the awards ceremony, they keep sending me all these care packages…”

Stamets opens and closes his mouth several times, searching for the words. Tilly slowly, slowly steps around her terminal, as if approaching an animal that might startle at a sudden movement.

“They took such good care of him, y’know?”

Stamets almost chokes on the sentence, but he keeps going regardless.

“They loved him so much…pictures all over their house, they saved all of his childhood drawings, report cards, baby teeth…I mean, who even saves baby teeth?”

He shakes his head, fingers toying at the VR projectors he holds. “And I look at them, look at Hugh’s brothers and sisters, and it’s like…like seeing Hugh, alive in them.” He smiles weakly. “I mean, it’s hell of course, having to look at that, but…I suppose there’s some manner of hope in it as well.”

Tilly wonders at the statement, at Stamets’ beautiful, moving statement. She wonders at the fact that he had chosen to share this with her.

She wonders whether he considers her a friend, as she does him.

But now Stamets is shaking his head, ducking away as he stands behind his terminal. “I’m sorry, Tilly, I’m just…rambling—“

“No! No no no, please don’t be sorry.” Tilly scrambles for the words, not wanting this moment of connection to end. Whatever had happened in the universe that had made her prickly boss want to share something of himself, Tilly prays for it to give her more time.

“I…Thank you, for sharing that with me. I guess it makes sense, I mean, Hugh was always so loving and generous, he just had that-- that spirit about him…it must have been really nice, being surrounded by so many people who love you.”

Tilly feels a just a tiny spike of remorse as she speaks. She wonders if whatever had been damaged inside of her brain during her childhood might not have had the chance to take root, had she grown up in a loving and caring place like Hugh Culber had.

“It made him nearly unstoppable,” Paul agrees. He comes out from behind his terminal, walking towards Tilly’s station as he toys with the projectors in hands. “You wouldn’t guess it about him, but Hugh was…brave, he was so brave, and not just in the regular way, but in the hard ways…he was emotionally brave. He wasn’t afraid of being hurt, not like that.”

Tilly nods along with Stamets’ words, which make so much sense to her as she hears them.

“He was a great man,” she offers, and misses Hugh Culber just a little more.

Stamets smiles softly at the words.

“Nah…but he was a very good man.”

Tilly nods. Paul Stamets would know, after all.

Stamets reaches Tilly’s terminal and places his hands against the edge, looking down at them quietly.

A moment passes.

“He shouldn’t have died.”

Another moment.

“You’re right.”

Tilly’s agreement is soft and true. If there were anyone aboard this ship who deserved to make it through the war, it was Hugh Culber.

She wishes to high heaven that she could do more than offer weak condolences.

But before she can so much as try, she feels a slight pop in her ear canals, the slight pressure change that accompanies a leap to warp.

Across the terminal, Stamets looks up, and his pale face creases in confusion. He and Tilly look at each other, but the sensation ends as soon as it begins.

“What was—“

Tilly’s question is cut off by the buzzing of the overhead intercom.

Bridge to Engineering, we have a new heading. Prepare the spore drive for immediate jump, stand by for further information.

Lieutenant Commander Airiam’s voice rings across the dimly lit spore lab, and Tilly practically jumps into motion at her station. She pulls up the screen at the station, and Airiam’s robotic face comes into view.

Discovery has detected another signal. We leapt to warp for a brief moment to pinpoint the location via gravitational redshift—“

“—Nice,” Tilly mutters. Michael must have thought of that one.

“The signal is approximately fifty-one thousand, four hundred and five lightyears away, in the Beta Quadrant.”

“Of course it is.”

Stamets’ voice is deadpan, but Tilly detects the slight weariness beneath.

“Commander Stamets?” Airiam questions. She can’t see him, as he stands behind the feed on the opposite side of the terminal, so Stamets takes several long steps to place himself in her field of vision.

“Send the coordinates, Commander, I’ll be ready to jump within fifteen minutes.”

“Acknowledged. Airiam out.”

The feed winks out, leaving a blank, transparent screen, and behind it, the dark and empty reaction cube.

The spore drive lies before them, its standing table empty, drive needles still, but poised for use.

“Are you, um…are you gonna be okay?”

Tilly’s voice is soft as she asks. She remembers what Paul had said about sensing Hugh in the network, as they rode the mycelial wave out of the Terran universe.

Stamets is quiet for several moments. Then he turns towards the gray metallic wall behind them, studded with the containment vessels which hold the sum total of his life’s work.

“There’s a funny thing about fungi,” he states quietly. “Mushrooms, they’re not particularly alive, nor are they dead. That’s what makes them so scientifically fascinating. They straddle the line between creation and decay…between this world and the next. The mycelial network, it’s the same way, I think. Not quite here, and not quite there…”

Stamets’ hand brushes against the wall of spore containers.

“He’s not gone, Tilly. Not entirely.”

The silence holds between them, weighted yet companionable in its own way. For once, Tilly manages to keep her mouth shut, and she pats herself on the back for her restraint.

The moment ends abruptly when her terminal dings, no doubt the signal coordinates messaged from the bridge.

Stamets starts to roll up his sleeves, revealing the plastic interfaces that Culber had designed for him to integrate with the drive.

“I can do this,” he mumbles to himself as he turns to open the message.

Tilly spins to the wall, kneeling to the floor to fetch canister 8h, which is showing the most vibrant growth of all of the spores in the lab. She pulls the container out of the wall and turns to push it into the drive chamber, where it will be energized and pumped into the reaction cube—

And stops dead in her tracks upon seeing the container’s contents.

Bright, glowing red spores.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

A pre-warp society of Humans, on a planet nearly sixty thousand lightyears from Earth.

A looped distress call from over 200 years ago, during the catastrophic World War III, somehow emanating from one of the settlements.

Discovery’s first jump since the day the war ended had unveiled far more questions than answers concerning that red signal.

Clarke’s Third Law.

Michael remembers Captain Pike’s words from their pre-mission meeting in his ready-room.

Any sufficiently advanced science is indistinguishable from the divine.

From God.

There is something vastly intriguing about such an explanation, but Michael thinks that she would much rather be acquainted with the science behind it, rather than throwing all of her faith behind an unknowable divinity.

A fresh wind blows throw the low grass as she, Pike, and Joanne Owosekun stride towards the white building in the center of the small town. Judging by the spire, it’s a church, Michael knows that much, though she had not grown up practicing any type of Human religion.

“Set phasers to stun,” Pike states, “And keep them out of sight. General Order One still applies.”

Pike presses at the door, and it opens.

There were few reasons to lock a church, to be fair.

The wood creaks beneath her feet as Michael makes her way inside the building. The air within is cold, almost damp, the only available light stemming through the stained glass windows set into the walls every six feet or so. Michael allows her hands to trace over benches made from real wood. She observes the soaring, cavernous interior, the craftsmanship of the pews, no doubt handmade, if they are truly so old as her tricorder is to be believed…

It’s an old building, one of the oldest Michael has been in that is still in use today. Remarkably well-preserved, she notes, and the smell of old wood and trodden carpets is comforting in its own way.

She aims the tricorder at the stained glass window before her. The symbol she recognizes quite well; the Magen David, the symbol of one of Earth’s most ancient religions.

“This glass is over two centuries old.” She looks around the church. “Yet they depict vastly contrasting faiths…Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Christianity, Wicca, Hinduism, Shinto...” Michael trails off.

It made no sense.

No church of old Earth would have been built with glass such as this set into its walls, with depictions of seven wildly different religions, all under the roof of a singular house of worship.

That meant that at least part of these stained glass images must have been reworked, at some point after the church had gotten to this planet.

Owo’s voice. “The distress call is coming from below us…I’ll look for a basement.”

Michael walks further inside, passing the colorful windows imprinted with swirling iconography. Pike is up at the dais, leafing through a thick book of some kind.

For those who live the old way burn,” he reads. “Those who sin against us shall be cut down by our Gods. Well, that’s friendly.”

Michael has to agree with Pike’s dubious tone. She listens absently to his words as she proceeds up the church, gazing at the glowing glass panels and the vivid scenes they hold.

When those who believe in our signs come to thee, say ‘Peace be upon you.

Pike concludes his reading with a nod of understanding.

An interesting text, Michael considers. Firm and familiar, in both words and doctrine. Though the stained glass images on the wall depict many different Earth faiths, this holy book does not seem to be formed in quite the same way.

Michael looks to the stained glass of the massive window behind Pike at the alter…

And stops dead.

There, stamped indelibly into the reworked glass, is a glowing Humanoid, swirling and otherworldly, with wings of red fire stemming from its back. Human figures kneel beneath it, several of them soldiers, if their helmets and fatigues are to be believed.

Prostrate in the light of a divine being…

--The red figure walks towards her through the burning wreckage, untouched by fire nor vacuum, thin and skeletal, with creaking wings protruding from each of its sides, backlit by unbearably bright red energy—

Beneath the stained glass, Michael’s eyes widen, widen, and widen further.

“I have no idea how these people got here…”

Pike’s voice echoes in her mind, his words from their pre-mission meeting.

“…But I highly doubt it was by accident.

Somehow, inconceivably, that red being from the asteroid has been here as well.

But why?

Why…Why…Why--

“Why aren’t you in the fields?”

Michael and Pike whirl towards the doors, where a dark-skinned man stands silhouetted by the outside sunlight. His shoulders are broad, his voice mellow. He wears an oiled leather jacket, and his hands are thick and rough, indicating habitual manual labor.

“We’re…not from here.” Pike strides slowly, slowly, away from the altar, the dias, whatever the people of this church might call it. Michael puts her hands out in front of her, palms down, to indicate peace.

“My name is Christopher,” Pike continues. “This is Michael, and Joanne.”

The man looks confused, but less angry than he had before. “Is this your first time in New Eden?”

“Yes,” Pike confirms. “We come from the north.”

The man nods at that, his dark eyes now curious and appraising.

“My name is Jacob,” he finally states. “The All-Mother will want to see you.”

 

**

 

The greeting ceremony is illuminating, at least.

“We welcome our new friends from the northern territory, and pledge gratitude to our Creators for their love and deliverance to New Eden on our planet Terralysium.”

The combined voices of the entire New Eden community ring out across the dancing flames of the bonfire. Night is upon them now, and Michael feels comforted by the warmth of the fire in front of her, keeping the shadows and darkness at bay.

Amesha, the white-haired All Mother, waves a smoke-creating device where she stands behind a high table. Other citizens of New Eden stand at the far edges of the fire. Jacob and his daughter stand adjacent to the small group from the Discovery; Michael wonders if this has something to do with their role in this community, or if it is merely because Jacob was the one who discovered them.

How bizarre it is, to meet Humans this far from Earth, but at the very least, this service should be illuminating. Surely these people know something of how they got here, and what or who that red being was.

“Tonight, on the harvest moon, we remember that over 200 years ago, in 2053, the First Saved, soldiers and civilians among them, took cover in the white church from the devastation of World War III.” Amesha’s voice rings across the fire, painting a vivid picture. “Jets overhead dropped nuclear bombs. Our ancestors knew death was coming, but just before the explosions, an angel appeared to them, surrounded by pillars of fire, and delivered our church and those taking shelter in it here to Terralysium.”

Michael takes the information in with a slow nod.

An angel…

Not quite how she would have described the figure that appeared to her on the asteroid.

Any sufficiently advanced science is indistinguishable from the divine…

Pike’s words ring in her ears, and she keeps listening. Jacob stands to her left, and Rose stands next to him. Michael is reminded of her birth father somewhat, in Jacob’s smooth voice and the way he had insisted his daughter stand with the adults.

Michael’s own father had insisted the same of her.

“They awoke here and founded New Eden,” continues Amesha. “But who should they thank for this salvation? Which God? There were so many faiths among them, how would they solve such a quandary?”

Michael already knows the answer before Pike can say it.

“By combining all religions into one.”

Michael sighs inwardly. It made so little sense. Why should the First Saved instantly turn to a religious explanation for what had happened, instead of a scientific one?

A teleporting angel…

She has to know, she has to.

“Say my religion is…science,” Michael posits across the fire, with little regard to the warning look that Pike is throwing her way, or the curious look from Jacob. “Has anyone used it to find an alternate answer as to how…our… ancestors got here?”

She trips slightly on “our.” Michael does not know much about the First Saved, but she is quite certain that none of them were ancestors of hers.

Jacob speaks up. “How, without the proper technology? All we’ve got are decaying relics from the First Saved.” From his slightly bitter tone, Michael judges that this is a mystery that has irked him for a long while.

“For many years, Jacob and Rose have tried to get the church lights back on.” Amesha’s voice rings out once more. “Since the battery units died and the church went dark, pilgrimages to the shrine have dwindled.”

“There must be some rational theories,” Michael pushes, almost desperate now. “Some explanation as to how the church got here.”

Or who, or what, that red being is.

“A camera attached to one of the soldier’s helmets exists from that time,” Jacob chimes in with his smooth voice. “But it’s broken now.”

“We have no need for proof,” Amesha states, practically cutting Jacob off. “We are guided by the existence of something greater than ourselves: our faith.”

Jacob turns away at her words. Michael senses him darkening slightly. His daughter reaches out a hand to his arm while casting a curious glance towards Michael, her eyes dancing in the firelight.

Pike is negotiating the away-team’s overnight stay in the sanctuary of the church, but Michael barely listens. Instead, she finds herself wandering closer and closer to Jacob, who is whispering in a low voice to his daughter. The girl keeps throwing glances at Michael, and Michael offers her a small smile in return.

Jacob looks towards her as well, his eyes dark, his gaze watchful and appraising.

“You are...dissatisfied, by the All-Mother’s testimony,” Michael observes softly, so that no one else around the fire will hear them.

Jacob only sighs, shrugging his shoulders with an air of long-suffering weariness. “Somewhat. Her words are beautiful, and the art and music inspired by our faith is stunning and inspiring, and yet…”

He looks towards Amesha’s white-haired form, and Pike, who speaks with her in low words. Something sad swims beneath Jacob’s dark eyes.

“So much of who we are has stagnated, because the others will not tolerate inquiry of any kind towards our circumstances.” Jacob shakes his head. “They claim that old Earth was corrupt, and perhaps it was, at that time…but to ask questions, to build things, to press forward with new knowledge…”

Jacob looks to Michael, and Rose looks to her as well.

“How on Earth could such desires be wrong?”

Michael wonders at this man, this doubtful, rational man living in a community of the faithful. She wonders how he can reconcile two highly contrasting philosophies within himself.

She thinks of Sarek and Amanda, of Spock and herself, and wonders if anyone can.

“We hold an interesting faith,” Michael finally allows, as she gazes into the fire. “A combination of all Earth religions, yet from what I know of these religions, none were strictly opposed to science and investigation…not in this way.”

Jacob huffs a little.

“And what do you know of people?”

Michael raises an eyebrow at that, a silent question.

In lieu of response, Jacob only turns from the bonfire, taking several steps away from his community and towards the edges of the red, flickering light. Michael follows his intelligent gaze out into the night, into darkened fields and distant forests rendered murky by the firelight.

Darkness holds fast in the plains of New Eden. Heavy as the blackness of space, with only the fire keeping the night at bay, only the miniscule orange-red glow staving off the yawning void.

The unknown, and whatever terrors it may hold.

Michael shivers.

“People?” She finally prompts.

Jacob looks to her again. His gaze is sharper than most, and Michael wonders what conclusions he might be reaching as he sizes her up.

Her Starfleet badge burns beneath her roughspun tunic, serving as proof of her identity…proof of everything that this community considers sacrilege.

“Do you truly consider your religion to be science?”

Jacob’s question comes from out of the blue. Michael blinks as she adjusts to the query, struggling for an answer.

What had she meant by that, anyway?

“Science is a way that I interpret my world,” Michael finally decides. “That is religion, so—“

“No, no…” Jacob shakes his head, his lips twitching slightly. “I mean, that’s part of it, but not all. To me, to us, religion is…a system that you are devoted to. Whose rules and demands bring you comfort, and whose mission you agree with…”

Michael is silent and still as she absorbs the words.

“A system…an organization… that inspires you,” Jacob continues. “Whose laws you follow above all others…”

Something deep and unfathomable shifts inside Michael’s chest, somewhere well beneath her tunic, her grey shirt...and the insignia affixed above her heart.

Jacob seems to take Michael’s protracted silence as a rebuttal in itself.

“We all need something. I understand that.”

With his head, he gestures towards the bonfire, and the rest of the citizens of New Eden.

“They hold fast to what little they know. Our Red Angel, who saved us. Our traditions, our prayers and our beliefs, which give us comfort in a world that is strange and unknowable.”

Jacob pauses, looking up at the stars.

“Our faith in a power stronger and wiser than we are. Righteous above all, telling us how we should live…“

“…Protecting us from our baser instincts.”

Michael completes the statement in a whisper, her mouth moving of its own accord.

Jacob jerks to look at her, curious.

“That is a rational thing,” Michael continues quickly, shaking off her sudden trance. “The psychological urge to assign rhyme and reason to events that are difficult, or frightening.”

“Is it rational? To devote one’s life to a system like this?” Jacob queries, gesturing with an absent hand towards Amesha, towards Pike, towards the bonfire. “To continue to commit to such beliefs, even when the foundations are chipped away and proven false?”

Michael is silent at the words. She looks down towards the grass between her booted feet, and moments pass as her gaze tracks forward.

Away from the warm glow of the fire, across the grass, through the fields, and into the vast, dark unknown.

“I am fortunate,” Michael finally states, “that I would not know.”

Silence holds for several long moments. The stars twinkle in the clear sky, the community murmurs softly behind them. The night air is crisp and fresh as Michael breathes, grounding herself in the present.

At Michael’s side, Jacob considers her statement quietly. His dark eyes flicker with intelligence, with doubt…with compassion.

Finally, Jacob looks to her.

“For your sake...I hope that remains true.”

 

 

Chapter Text

 

“You are so gonna love this, Captain!” Tilly bounces ahead of Philippa on their way to the shuttlebay. “I mean, it’s totally amazing, this asteroid is so supremely dense it should be impossible, it even has its own gravity field…”

“Is it the asteroid itself that is dense?” Philippa responds in a slightly mischievous tone. “Or is it merely warping space-time around it, to make us believe that it is dense?”

“Ah,” Tilly spins around with a grin, waggling a finger in her direction, “The old chicken-and-the-egg conundrum, gravity versus space-time. Well, there’s really no way of knowing, until we get a sample for study.”

Philippa smiles back at Tilly as she walks. She’s missing lunch for this little side trip, but the young ensign had looked so excited, and Philippa has to admit that she herself is quite curious as well. Michael has confided in her of Sylvia Tilly’s goal to become a captain, and though she does not fit the profile, Philippa cannot help but want to help this sweet young woman get as far as she can, at the very least.

One can help others and still be a productive agent, she convinces herself. She had spent most of her second day aboard placing bugs on the bridge, in engineering, in Pike’s ready room, and other places of interest, she’s introduced herself to every member of the crew and already has tabs on which of those personnel seem in possible danger of slipping.

Philippa Georgiou is good at her job.

Which, she figures, is the reason why she can divide her focus like this and still excel.

Tilly bounces as they proceed down the corridor, still chattering away. She wants to show off to her, Philippa knows this, but is quite happy to play along. One catches more flies with honey, after all, and this asteroid might become incredibly relevant further down the line.

She feels yet another spike of remorse at what had happened between her and Michael, this morning in the gym. So difficult it was, at times, to tamp down on behaviors cultivated on the streets of Qo’Nos and hardened by the demands of war. Philippa should not have come down so hard on her friend; still, it had been somewhat upsetting, seeing her family’s prize possession in the hands of a person she had not bequeathed it to.

But there would be time later, to rectify this issue. Philippa banishes these thoughts as they reach the shuttlebay doors. Tilly is still happily chatting in front of her, and Philippa hopes that the young woman does not notice her own preoccupation.

The shuttlebay doors hiss open, revealing the massive asteroid hovering in place atop the gravity simulator device. It dwarfs the shuttlecrafts in its size, and the shadow it casts across the bay is vast indeed. Philippa gapes in spite of herself.

“Pretty awesome, huh?” Tilly smiles brightly at her side. “Stamets and I calculated the trajectory ourselves. We caught it right through the shuttlebay doors, like a golf ball in a hole.”

Philippa can practically feel Tilly’s proud grin, and her lips twitch despite her best efforts.How had this girl fought a war and still managed to be like this?

Tilly gives Philippa some background as she strides to the pop-up drawers next to the gravity containment unit.

“So the deal is, this asteroid was part of the cluster that was giving off the huge energy readings that formed one of Pike’s seven signals. We don’t know where the energy came from, since the signal dissipated almost as soon as it arrived, but there were really intense mycelial readings on this rock as well. That, plus its unlikely density, makes it a curious enough specimen for further study.”

She rummages noisily in the drawers, even as she chatters.

“Whatever gives this asteroid its mycelial presence…well, it could help us build a new, non-Human interface with the spore drive…”

Philippa’s eyes wander across the asteroid’s surface. It is surprisingly plain-looking, slate gray and pock-marked, as all asteroids are, but—

What was that?

Philippa’s eyes sharpen as she catches the merest flicker of red in one of the caverns on the asteroid’s surface. Almost like the burst of a lightning bug.

“Did you see that?” she asks sharply, while focusing on the spot where the light had been.

“See what?”

Tilly’s voice is distant and distracted. Judging from her tone, she’s at least ten feet away with her back turned, digging around in one of the metal cabinets surrounding the gravity simulator.

“…Nothing.” Philippa states slowly, and pulls her gaze away from the spot where she had seen the light flash.

How bizarre.

Tilly returns to her side, a laser core sampler in her hands and goggles on her face. She hands Philippa a pair of goggles as well, which Philippa straps down over her eyes. The core sampler looks quite like an empty canister with handles: this, plus the darkened goggles allows Philippa to catch on immediately.

“You’re going to perform surgery on this rock?”

Tilly nods quickly. “Its mycelial readings are undeniable, not to mention the possibility that it could help us in building a new interface for the spore drive…”

She trails off, mouth working quietly for a moment.

“Commander Stamets…he’s…he’s been having a lot of personal difficulties.”

Philippa nods slowly. “From the loss of his partner?”

“Yeah…” Tilly’s voice is low and sad. “He…it—it just seems like it might be too much for him, being the drive navigator, so if there’s any way we could relieve him—“

“—we should.” Philippa completes softly.

Gods, this Sylvia Tilly was such a good person. Philippa wonders what on Earth she is doing with this girl, someone as cracked and as broken as herself… she wonders if perhaps she should extract herself from the situation right now, before anyone gets hurt, or worse, corrupted

Your personal shielding is phase-locked with the gravity simulator.”

The computerized voice from the gravity simulator chimes in, and Philippa realizes that it’s far too late.

“This is safe, Ensign?”

“Yep.” Tilly confirms with a proud grin. She leans in towards Philippa almost conspiratorially. “Discovery has the new personal phase-lock systems, so I'll be able to maintain the zero-grav bubble around the sample!"

Philippa's eyebrows lift in appreciation, and no little envy.

"Of course it does."

She adds this "personal phase-lock system" to her long list of upgrades that she would have begged Fleet Command for, had she known of its existence back in her Shenzhou days. By the stars, the number of times she had had to clear her ship's entire shuttlebay to alter the gravity fields in order to safely dissect samples a mere fraction of this size had aged her far faster than battles or command ever had.

The Discovery had all of the latest toys, that was for sure. Once again, Philippa feels a stab of jealousy towards Christopher Pike and the man's ungodly luck for getting command of all of Fleet's newest, shiniest vessels.

"The shielding will protect us from any sudden gravity failures," Tilly continues as Philippa ruminates, "And the rock itself is inert. We’ll be fine.”

Her voice is confident and assured, and Philippa feels mollified. Tilly pulls her goggles down, and both turn towards the rock. Tilly lifts the laser core sampler and flicks it on.

A bright beam of pure light impacts the underside of the asteroid. It glows with hot white energy, and Philippa smells ozone as it cuts. A grating grinding sound emanates from the laser sampler, smoke rises from the rock’s surface—

A sudden red light winks once more on the asteroid’s surface, just past the slicing laser beam.

“Tilly…did you see that?” Philippa raises her voice over the whine of the laser.

“See…what?” Tilly responds through gritted teeth, and Philippa realizes that it is taking all of the young woman’s concentration to keep the beam steady. She clamps her mouth closed, and clamps down on the feeling that something is off.

Energy fluctuation detected,” chimes a voice from the hulking gravity capture device.

“Almost got it,” Tilly mutters. Sweat beads at the side of her forehead, and in the next moment, a small chunk of rock floats down the beam of the laser, right into the clear chamber of the sampler.

Sample secure.”

The laser deactivates, revealing a small gray pebble floating within the sampler.

“Phew.” Tilly sighs and shakes her head. She pulls up her goggles, panting, and Philippa does the same. Her chest unclenches, her heart giving a slightly nauseating flutter.

Philippa had not realized just how nervous she had been about the whole ordeal.

“You didn’t see anything?” she checks with Tilly once more, even while she peers into the core sampler at the floating asteroid pebble.

“Nothing but…super-bright light…” Tilly replies between exhales. Her cheeks are flushed; she must have been focusing quite hard. She lifts the sampler up to face-level, and grins at the rock floating in the containment chamber. “Why, what did you see, Captain?”

Philippa studies the small, innocent looking pebble behind the reinforced walls of the container. “It was…” she murmurs. “Like a firefly…the barest wink of red light…are you sure—“

Several things happen at once.

The pebble in the containment chamber sparks, a split second burst of red appearing somewhere on its surface.

Months, years, decades of combat experience cut down Philippa’s rational thought, her logical mind, and she leaps sideways—

And an explosion bursts through the containment field. It blows across the shuttlebay and knocks Philippa backwards. The roar of energy overwhelms her ears, blasts through her body, and she lands hard her back, her head cracking against the floor.

Pain lances up her spine. Her muscles clench, her mouth opens and closes, fighting desperately for breath that won’t come…

Alarms blare in the distance, Philippa hears them echoing from somewhere very far away…Finally, finally, her diaphragm responds, and she sucks in a heaving, thankful breath. With all of her strength, Philippa wills her arm to move, to fucking move, and with effort, she rolls herself onto her side.

She gapes at the sight in front her.

Twenty feet ahead, just below the asteroid, stands Sylvia Tilly and another figure, slim and slender, long hair in a braid, wearing medical whites.”

It’s…

It’s me, Philippa realizes, her eyes going wide. Tilly’s arms are up, the laser is cutting, Philippa’s doppelganger turns to Tilly, says something urgently…

The pebble proceeds down the laser beam, just as it had mere seconds ago, until it disappears from view, obscured by the Tilly-figure’s body---

Hot red light bursts in the place where the figures stand, obliterating them almost entirely. Philippa gasps, squeezes her eyes shut at the searing flare, but this time she manages to catch the direction in which Sylvia Tilly flies before her figure disappears into the explosion.

And in the next moment, the red light dissipates once more.

With the explosion gone, there is nothing but the empty shuttlebay, a massive floating asteroid, and a mechanical voice on repeat:

“--Energy discharge of unknown origin detected in main shuttlebay, energy discharge of unknown origin detected in main shuttlebay--

With all of the strength left to her, Philippa turns her neck, groaning at the pain that lances down her arms at the action. Out of the corner of her eye, she sees Tilly’s body slumped against one of the metal pop-up drawers that surround the gravity containment field. Her eyes are closed, her pale face raw and covered in pink burns. Blood trickles from her ear.

No…no…

Philippa drags herself towards Tilly’s immobile form. Flashes of agony shoot down the nerves of her shoulders, but Philippa grits her teeth and keeps crawling across the deck.

She won’t lose a soldier, she won’t, not one as young as Tilly.

A long string of swears rip from her lips as she moves. This would have been nothing to her two years ago, this scant three meters of distance on a concussion and a spinal injury, but now, with her cobbled-together heart that won’t fucking fire

With the last of her strength, Philippa reaches a hand towards Tilly’s left foot and grabs the toe of her boot.

Computer…” she rasps. “Initiate site-to-site transport…main shuttlebay…to sickbay…

She loses consciousness as her molecules dissolve into glowing golden energy.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Michael and Pike clatter after Owosekun, down the rickety wooden stairs of the church and into the basement. This planet has no moons, the blackness is pervasive, and they take a quick look around before activating their torches.

“I isolated that distress beacon, it’s coming from somewhere down here.”

Owosekun strides into the black, tricorder extended. Michael takes a studious glance at their surroundings. An intensely small basement room with a dusty window set into the upper right wall. Workbench, shelves cluttered with tech, and old tech at that.

“Well, let’s turn it off, so that no one else disturbs this place, then we’ll beam out,” Pike states, rustling around at the tech on the shelves. “Maybe we can find that helmet cam while we’re at it.”

Michael turns to stare at Pike.

“Sir, are you seriously suggesting we leave these people here?”

“Find that beacon, please, Owo,” Pike throws over his shoulder, before turning to face Michael. “Look, Burnham, no one down here needs rescuing. Now, I don’t know why that signal appeared, but it’s clear to me that this place really is a new Eden.”

“Jacob and the others are kin to us,” Michael insists. She thinks of Jacob and his obvious need for answers, for rationality. “They’re Human beings like us, they deserve to be reintegrated into modern society.”

“By their own account, they left Earth in 2053,” Pike argues. “They did not use a starship, that makes them pre-warp, subject to General Order One.”

“But they believe Earth was destroyed, Captain,” Michael shoots back. “They believe themselves the only survivors of an extinction-level disaster—“

Such a state of existence is hell, Michael knows, having suffered through a similar event herself.

Hell, it is utter hell.

“We cannot allow them to exist in such a state,” she completes almost desperately. “The faith they cling to is a lie—“

“You can prove that?” Pike raises an eyebrow.

“What I will prove is that none of this happened because of some miracle.”

Two data points, Michael only has only two data points, herself on the asteroid four days prior, and this church on Earth two hundred years ago. Two data points is hardly enough for a hypothesis, and certainly not enough for any type of proof, but Michael will keep trying, she will keep searching, if these signals keep happening then she will have a body of data to work with, and then, perhaps, a logical conclusion will reveal itself--

“Got it!” Owosekun exclaims from behind them. “The battery’s dead, but this is strange…someone jury-rigged it to keep transmitting the distress call…”

“And you answered.”

Michael and Pike whirl around to see Jacob standing at the base of the stairs. His eyes are wide and bright as he stares at them, like he’s just seen a miracle, Michael realizes dimly.

“There were scientists among the First Saved, you know,” he continues in a rasping voice. “My ancestors…my family. For years, we tended to that beacon. No one else knew it was here and you found it, with that incredible device…”

Jacob’s face fills with joy. “And they were right, weren’t they? The Earth wasn’t destroyed, mankind evolved!”

Michael is quiet as she stares at Jacob, who is proceeding down veins of logic at a truly admirable pace. At her side, Pike attempts an explanation for the tricorder. “This…this device, it’s always been in my family, it’s for navigation—“

“Since the other day, when the red burst appeared in the sky, I knew you were coming,” Jacob continues, utterly unbothered by Pike’s grasping. “That was the light from your ship, right?”

Not quite, Michael thinks, but a fairly logical conclusion to make with the data he has.

“Your hands, your skin, unravaged by the labor we do here!" Jacob whirls to Michael. "And you, your questions at the greeting ceremony, a well-known taboo across Terralysium! But...you’re not from Terralysium, are you?”

Jacob looks like he’s seeing something wonderful, his face utterly dazzled. Michael knows she should be helping Pike with explanations, but…

But

If Jacob figures this out on his own, then perhaps we can circumvent General Order One.

Pike shakes his head slowly. “Jacob…listen to me.” He takes a step forward. “You are mistaken.”

“No,” Jacob shakes his head fervently. “No I am not. I have been waiting for this day for a long time. For our true salvation—“

“Let’s go,” Pike states with a flick of his head. Michael and Owosekun follow him past Jacob. They tramp up the old wooden staircase to leave the basement, Michael tries to think of a way she can stop this, anything at all, but before she can, Jacob is shouting—

“No wait, please, wait!”

Jacob reaches for something on the self, throws it towards them. A metallic clatter echoes beneath the stairs, Michael hears the whine of a device—

And the world goes black as an explosion blasts her body backwards.

  

* *

 

Red sunlight glows through the tree leaves in the backyard. It is hot, but not overly so, and Michael’s Vulcan tunic is made to be moisture-wicking and cooling.

Michael misses t-shirts and tank tops and shorts, but she has to admit she does like how the tunic makes her look like a monk training in martial arts, or a Jedi padawan. Michael imagines herself wielding a purple lightsaber as she whirls the wooden stick over her head. She recalls the videos she had viewed last night of Vulcan bow-staff experts, and takes the stick by the midsection, flicking the ends side to side at an imaginary enemy.

Sarek has told Michael that she is too young and too weak, as a Human child, to participate in any martial arts instruction this year. But Michael decides that she will be ready, when the time comes.

She grows bored with waving the stick around, and trots to the corner of the garden where an inflatable soccer ball lies beneath some vine clippings. Michael had enjoyed pick-up soccer back on Doctari Alpha, though she had never played on a team. She tugs the ball free with a flick of her toe, and kicks in absently in front of her as she trots towards the wall of the house.

Spock’s window is just above the stretch of wall; Michael catches a glimpse of him inside the window. He’s hunched over his desk, either drawing or working on some type of program, no doubt.

Also alone.

Michael sighs. She had had many Vulcan friends on Doctori Alpha, but this place is very different from her outpost hometown. Far and away more fundamentalist and traditional than the Vulcan children she had known on Doctori Alpha, the Shi’Kahr Vulcans at school all seem afraid of her or derisive of her; there is no in-between.

Michael looks through the window towards her cold Vulcan foster-brother. He does not like her, he never has; this will probably not go well, but it is worth a try.

She just wants someone to play with, that’s all.

“Spock!”

Spock looks up from his desk. He comes towards the window, his face growing larger as he approaches to look down at her.

Michael kicks at the ball in front of her to demonstrate the act of the game. “Want to play soccer?”

“What is the objective of soccer?” Spock queries in his childish voice. Michael only shrugs.

“To run around and have fun, get better at kicking the ball maybe. This wall could be the goal, we could bounce it off the wall at each other. Then whoever lets the ball get past them gets a point. Whoever has the lowest amount of points, wins!”

It would be considerably less exciting than Doctori Alpha pick-up games played in deliberately low-grav, where both the ball and the players would ricochet off walls and ceilings, making for a three-dimensional playing field.

But the higher gravity of Vulcan would add to the difficulty level, Michael feasons.

“That is a formless objective, Michael,” Spock lectures from his window above her. “Victory with no tangible reward, a game with no practical, real-world applications…you should not bring such illogic into our house.”

Black fury bursts behind Michael’s eyes, and her fists clench at her sides. She receives enough lectures from her teachers and other children, she does not need one from her own kid brother.

Foster-brother.

“You can just say no, Spock.”

“If I were to just say no, you would not learn anything.”

“I’ll teach you a lesson, you little creep,” Michael mutters under her breath. She has to be outwardly nice to Spock, or else her family might send her back to Child Services, but that does mean that she can do nothing at all.

Michael kicks the ball into the wall of the house, and it makes a satisfying thump where it hits the bricks and bounces off. With a twist of her shin, she catches the rebound, and kicks the ball again.

Thump!

Thump!

Thump!

The sound echoes around Amanda’s garden, the amber wood and dark brick of the house casting the light into a deeper red glow. A quick look up towards Spock’s window reveals him flinching at the sounds where he sits over his desk, even though the window has been closed and locked. His face is creased with irritation.

Good.

Michael kicks viciously at the ball, wondering why this should be her lot in life. Why Doctori Alpha had to burn, why she had to see that stupid supernova, why her parents had to hide her in that cabinet, why no one on this planet would talk to her or be kind to her or play with her…why she could not just be a normal kid, on a Human-majority world where the Vulcans were nicer…

Red beams dance across the walls of Sarek’s house as Michael plays soccer alone in the garden, glowing in the amber heat of the hot Vulcan sun. Red sand, red house, red planet, red light…

 

Red---

Red---

Red---

 

--Amidst screaming flames and groaning wreckage, the angelic figure towers over Michael, power echoing from each tremble of its twig-like wings--

 

With a heaving gasp, Michael jerks to consciousness.

Pike is on his back, groaning, but Owosekun is already up the darkened stairs and trying the door.

“It’s locked,” she calls out. “But if it’s just a cable lock, I think I can get us out.”

She clambers down the stairs and starts scanning the shelves. Michael rubs at her eyes, rising painfully to her feet, feeling strangely unencumbered. She feels at her hips for her bags—

Nothing.

“Jacob took all of our tech!”

Pike shakes his head as he pulls himself to a stand. “To prove his case to the others, no doubt.”

Michael looks up through the ceiling, at this point not entirely sure whether she is rooting for Jacob or furious with him. There’s a strange light emanating through the church’s floorboards; she wonders what might be happening on the other side of all of that wood.

“Got it!” Owosekun exclaims from beneath the cellar door. She withdraws her tool –a wire hanger—Michael notes, from the crack in the wood, and shoves the door open with a firm thud.

Pike nods briskly. “Well done, Lieutenant. Let’s go!”

 

 

Jacob’s voice is ringing through the night before they even reach the bonfire.

“—they brought tech! Scientific data collectors, communication devices, just look inside, you’ll believe!

Pike rounds the corner first.

“What ever happened to “Thou shalt not steal?”” he demands.

Michael rounds the corner second, in time to see Jacob’s dark frantic eyes, his wild gesticulations, and his daughter, Rose, who clutches one of Michael’s bags to her chest.

Oh no…not that one…

“I just wanted her to see the truth,” Jacob insists, gesturing at the All-Mother, illuminated by the still-crackling fire. Michael keeps her eyes on Rose, who has picked up the worst bag of any for a child to pick up.

“The truth is that he attacked us,” Pike bites out as he stalks towards the altar, his form flickering in the light of the fire. “He stole from us. He violated everything the faith holds dear.”

Michael follows her captain around the bonfire, still with half of her gaze Jacob’s daughter, but ready to pull out her fists, should anything go wrong.

“You give us back everything you took, and we’ll leave,” Pike completes. Michael’s eyes dart to the altar table, upon which her side-pouch with her communicator lies. If they can’t comm the Discovery, they might be stuck here for a very long time…

She won’t get to apologize to Philippa…

“Listen to me!” Jacob’s voice is desperate as he whirls towards Amesha. “They came on a starship! They can take us back home. We can return to the real Earth—“

“This is your home, Jacob,” Amesha insists softly, and Jacob’s mouth moves in a silent plea towards her. Michael’s heart goes out to the man. “You are living by the corrupt ways of the old Earth—“

Jacob whirls around. “You’re the scientist!” He fixates on Michael, who jerks her head towards him in surprise. “Tell her I’m right, please—“

Michael’s ears pick up on the whine of a phaser, somewhere behind them.

She spins around to see Rose, satchel at her feet and a live phaser in her hands.

No…

Michael recognizes that very specific sound, the one indicating set-to-kill—

Shit--

Her feet move of their own accord, Michael’s running before she can think, she grabs the phaser from Rose and curls around it, throwing her body around the energy discharge--

Her chest rips open, agony searing through her body like hot lightning, and the world goes black once more.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

The away team is in danger.

The away team is in danger.

This is enough to rouse Philippa into painful consciousness. She groans softly on the bio bed, her body aching all over. Still, she can move every one of her fingers and toes, and does not feel at all headache-y, irritable or combative, meaning her spinal injuries and concussion have been treated.

There’s been a disruption of the planet’s outermost ring, ionized radioactive particles are on their way to the planet’s surface…”

Philippa’s stomach turns over as she listens to the report on sickbay’s overhead feed.

“In sixty-four minutes, the radiation will reach the upper atmosphere, causing an extinction level event--”

An extinction level event…

Michael is down there.

“--can’t signal the away-team--”

Michael is down there.

—we won’t be able to transport—

Michael is down there.

“Tilly…” Philippa whispers. “Tilly…Sylvia!”

Philippa finally manages a weak yell across sickbay at the unconscious ensign, but she remains inert in her bed, the heart monitor over her head pulsing steadily.

She is alive, at least.

Can we collect them by shuttlecraft?

Negative, Rhys--- Shuttlecraft exhaust trail through the atmosphere will trigger a runaway reaction that will hasten the radiation particles’ arrival--”

That’s Saru’s voice over the feed, he must be standing in as both captain and science officer at this point.

Philipa’s eyes flicker to the monitor over the doorway. The feed has been on repeat for nearly forty minutes.

Oh, damn it all…

Philippa rolls painfully out of bed, her bare feet impacting the ground. Her knees quickly follow, and Philippa curses aloud as her hands hit the floor. They’d left her in her uniform at the very least, though the same could not be said for Ensign Tilly. The poor girl must have been severely injured if Pollard had felt the need to disrobe her entirely.

Gods, this whole radioactive ring situation feels so unbearably familiar, it’s on the tip of Philippa’s tongue, the edge of her mind, perhaps the concussion is affecting her neural processes.

"…the clock is ticking...” Saru’s voice echoes around sickbay. “…let us get to work.

Philippa struggles into her boots, willing her brain to respond. So many years of missions and adventures, successes and failures, surely something must hiding somewhere in her consciousness…

“…shuttlecraft exhaust in the upper atmosphere…

Rising to her feet, Philippa turns to the door and walks out of sickbay, past Tilly’s unconscious form.

“…shuttlecraft…

Shuttlecraft…

And then Philippa is running, running for the turbolift, an idea now firm in her mind.

 

 

**

 

 

Philippa’s arms seem detached from her body, her heart is spasming in her chest. Sweat beads at her temples, despite how cold she feels. Her fingertips are numb.

It might have been a mistake to run.

Nevertheless, Philippa manages to lean a forearm against the door of the open turbolift, which helps to keep her upright as she staggers onto the bridge.

“Had an idea…“ Philippa attempts to project her voice, but it only comes out a weak whisper.

Saru turns to her from his place in the captain’s chair.

“Captain?” His throat pouches click sharply, and he rises to his feet in a quick motion. “Are you alright?”

Philippa opens her mouth respond, but the floor tilts before she can.

She fights with all of her might, willing her muscles to respond, her nervous system to fire, Gods, anything but to be humiliated like this on her third day on board—

But it’s no use, Philippa sways and falls sideways before she can even reach the first officer’s terminal. The only thing that stops her from hitting the deck full-force are the sudden arms that slip beneath her torso to catch her mere inches from the floor.

“Captain!”

That’s a feminine voice, Philippa recognizes, no doubt Keyla Detmer from her helm post. There’s the sound of feet running across the deck in her direction. Saru deposits her gently on the floor and tugs her towards the base of the nearby terminal so that she can prop herself against it.

Damn it all, this is becoming embarrassing.

“I’m alright.” Philippa shakes out a breath, feeling her entire body trembling. Detmer’s fingers are at her wrist, no doubt checking her pulse. “I’m alright, just…the new heart—“ She gestures vaguely at her chest. “… doesn’t take well to…intense exercise…”

“This is why you have not been cleared for away missions?”

Saru’s question is tactless in the extreme, and for the first time since getting to Discovery, Philippa catches a glimpse of the awkward science officer who had once served under her aboard the Shenzhou. She rankles at her privacy being so thoroughly breached, here in front of the entire bridge crew, and doesn’t bother to answer, opting for a redirect of the conversation.

“You know where the defibrillator is?”

What?!” Detmer sounds absolutely terrified, and Philippa can’t help her soft snort, even as she closes her eyes.

“I’m only kidding, Detmer…calm down.”

She opens her eyes.

“You know where it is though, right?”

“Under the science officer’s terminal, where it always is, Captain,” Saru promises in his smooth tone.

“Not on all ships,” Philippa murmurs, thinking of Section 31’s fleet of stealth vessels. Her hands are still shaking, her skin clammy, and there is no doubt in her mind that she is as white as a ghost, but she feels her heart beginning to settle in her chest.

“I ran here…because…I’ve done this before…” She attempts. “2240…one of Velnar’s moons, Ge…dusted to fragments by a…stray proton torpedo, in decaying orbit with the planet… collision…threatened an extinction level event…”

Saru’s eyes are wide and attentive as Philippa narrates the old story of daring maneuvers and cutting-edge science, and she feels the rest of the bridge’s focus upon her.

“We...piloted a shuttlecraft to the center of the rings…my engineer modified our tractor beam…bounced it off of the Archimedes’ tractor beam and…a few other…strategically placed shuttles…we synced the waves to amplify the signal… used the beams to…pull the fragments away…”

“…like a big net.” Saru looks stunned at the idea, and Philippa nods quickly.

“Running simulations now,” comes Rhys’ voice from tactical. “Do you remember how they modified the tractor beams?”

“Captain, I’m not sure if this ring is navigable, even by shuttlecraft.” Detmer’s voice is dubious. “How did you guys run Velnar with those older models?”

“Well, by “we” I meant me, of course.”

Philippa manages a weak chuckle from her place on the ground. Now that had been a white-knuckle flight if there ever was one.

“It won’t work.” Airiam’s voice is steady from ops. “Assuming we could run the ring, we would need six shuttlecrafts to amplify the beams to a high enough frequency to even begin to catch these fragments, and Discovery only has four.”

There’s a palpable slump on the bridge.

“Damn.” Philippa mutters, her mind already working once more, even as her heart stutters and stumbles in her chest. She breathes, squeezes her eyes shut, and attempts to settle her heartbeat to a pace more conducive to brainstorming.

Michael is down there, she’s down there, and Philippa will be damned if she loses her so soon after getting her back.

Another memory hits her, and Philippa tries again.

“What if we use something else to capture the fragments?”

“Such as?” Saru prompts.

“A bigger gravity well…” Philippa mumbles, the bridge growing hazy once more. “Bigger than the one this planet has…”

“You are positing we find… what, another planet, bigger than this one? In the next five minutes?” Saru’s mellow voice is comically disbelieving, and Philippa resists the impulse to snort.

“I’ve done this before too,” she murmurs. “2244, the Nyambi system. We don’t need a bigger gravity well, just a closer one…and we have one, right here.”

Philippa looks at her former first officer, and a weak smile plays at her lips.

“It’s four decks down in the shuttlebay.”

Silence.

“The dark matter asteroid…” Detmer breathes.

“Of course!” Saru exclaims, rising to his feet and striding to his console. “If we can get the asteroid into a favorable position, we can capture the fragments—“

“---and if we set it in motion away from the planet, its gravity will pull the fragments away as well!” Airiam completes.

“To launch the asteroid at the correct angle, I would have to perform a sustained circular drift...” Detmer is obviously thinking out loud as she returns to the helm.

Philippa grins, even though it pains her to do so. “A donut, Lieutenant.”

Detmer looks back to her, and Philippa raises a challenging eyebrow. “A donut…in a starship…”

Gods, was Philippa ever jealous right now.

“Is that possible?” Saru inquires from the captain’s chair.

“Yes!” Detmer exclaims. “Well…except no. We’d have to launch the asteroid from within the debris field, and there’s no way I could pilot us in there.”

In the next moment, she spins her seat around to look at Philippa, a clear question in her eyes.

Philippa casts an obvious glance down her body, slumped like a sack of potatoes against the first officer’s console, and hopes that answers Keyla’s question.

“But Stamets could!”

Tilly’s voice echoes from the outside corridor, and in the next moment, she runs onto the bridge, still in her medical gown.

“Ensign Tilly, you are still severely injured, what on Earth are you doing—“

“No, no no no, please, hear me out!” Tilly begs, cutting Saru off. Philippa cannot help but find the situation oddly reminiscent of another one from nearly a year and half prior. “Look, it seems like you guys got to the same plan that I did, but here’s where it gets awesome.”

Tilly grins up towards Saru’s disbelieving face. “We could jump to the center of the ring, so Detmer can spin the ship and launch the asteroid.”

Amazement trickles down Philippa’s spine as she nods slowly, slowly, at the reveal of this final piece of the puzzle. Saru’s throat pouches click as he comes to a decision.

“We have exactly two minutes, eleven seconds before the debris reaches the point of no return.”

Silence.

“Well, Airiam?!”

Saru whirls towards the spore drive lieutenant, and Airiam swivels in her chair at Ops.

“Bridge to Engineering, we have a new heading, requesting immediate response.”

The ship is in red alert, there was no way Stamets would be anywhere but Engineering, or fail to answer the comm.

A moment passes.

Another moment.

Acknowledged, Bridge, standing by to jump.”

Paul Stamets’ voice echoes over the intercom, and the bridge as a whole relaxes in relief.

Philippa smiles from her place beneath the first officers’ console. They weren’t out of the woods, not yet, but she can practically taste the victory on her tongue.

She startles at the sudden whisper of air near her left ear, and at the feel of a warm body next to her own. A quick sideways glance confirms that Sylvia Tilly has plopped herself down at Philippa’s left side. She slumps heavily against Philippa, who nearly recoils in surprise.

In the next moment, she merely shrugs and leans into Tilly’s immobile body. Not much else to be done about the situation.

Philippa closes her eyes as Stamets confirms his preparedness, as Saru commands Black Alert. Her ears go fuzzy as the ship disappears from real space for split second and reappears within the debris field.

In the next moment, her arm flashes up to grip the side of the console as Detmer spins Discovery into a tight curve. Her other arm wraps around Ensign Tilly to keep her from sliding across the floor, and Tilly grabs Philippa’s midsection in response.

This resulting centrifugal force will launch the asteroid into an extra-orbital trajectory, Philippa pictures it in her mind’s eye, the impossible asteroid flying off into space and pulling the radioactive debris along with it.

Saving the planet.

Saving the away-team.

Come on, come on, come on…

The bridge is holding its breath, even as they fight the centrifugal force threatening to bowl everyone over. Tilly’s arms are tight and firm around her, and Philippa squeezes her eyes shut and grips the ensign’s body with whatever strength she has, keeping her held firmly in place as the Discovery performs a hard spin maneuver within the radioactive debris field.

Seconds slide by, and the asteroid is away, Airiam throws up a tracking program to map its trajectory out of the system. Philippa watches it go, trailed by massive radioactive rocks. Her ears go fuzzy again as Stamets launches Discovery into another jump to escape the asteroid’s pull, and they reappear twelve hundred kilometers away, safely out of the planetary ring.

A second goes by.

Then another.

“Transport confirms: all are on board,” comes Bryce’s announcement, and Philippa relaxes where she sits beneath the console. She nearly misses the second announcement in her relief.

“The asteroid successfully diverted all debris from the planet’s atmosphere!”

Cheers and yells erupt from the bridge crew. Philippa smiles weakly at the shared elation. She has to admit, she’s missed this just a little bit, this feeling of crazy maneuvers and lateral thinking, of winning the day and celebrating with her comrades.

There’s a pressing into the left side of her torso. Philippa feels the unmistakable texture of curly hair on the skin of her neck.

“You’re a genius, Captain,” Ensign Tilly mumbles as she leans heavily into Philippa’s body. Philippa is too tired to do anything but lean her own head against Tilly’s for support. “Told you so…” Tilly continues. “We’re so smart…right?”

Philippa opens her mouth to answer, but Tilly is look off to the left, to something or someone that Philippa cannot see.

“Damn right,” Tilly nods tiredly, and reaches out her left hand in a high-five gesture.

There’s nothing but open air to meet it.

“Ensign…” Philippa murmurs. “I think perhaps we should get back to sickbay.”

“You have great ideas, Captain,” Tilly responds in a weary voice. “Hey ma’am, can you maybe help us up?”

Philippa follows the ensign’s gaze somewhere up and to their left. Though Tilly’s arm is extended, her eyes definitely tracking something…

There is no one there.

Had the asteroid explosion damaged the girl’s brain more than we thought?

“Tilly…” Philippa begins slowly, but a long shadow appears over them both, cutting Philippa off.

“Can you both make it back to sickbay?” Saru queries in his mellow tone.

Philippa considers the idea, but rejects it in a mere microsecond. Her heart is still trembling, she’s pushed herself too far to risk any further activity in the next hour at least.

A spike of frustration lances Philippa’s chest at her own helplessness. Were she not on a bridge full of young Fleet crewmembers and propped up in front of a former subordinate, there is no doubt in her mind that she would be whispering strings of profanities beneath her breath and through an infuriated mask of irritation.

How she hates being reminded of what she has lost.

At the very least, Saru seems to take her dark silence as an answer, and glosses over the moment smoothly. “Very well. Computer, initiate site-to-site transport to sickbay for Captain Philippa Georgiou and Ensign Sylvia Tilly—“

“Wait!” Tilly cries, looking towards something off to the left. “I never caught your name!”

Philippa watches with concern as the ensign reaches towards something, towards nothing, looking for all the world like she is extending her hand to a person who will help her regain her footing

But then the shimmering haze of transport wraps around them, and the bridge disappears into golden light.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

“We lied.”

Michael stands in the corner of the church basement, the dusty workshop casting shadows across the floor. Her posture is tall and unafraid, though her chest still burns from the phaser discharge. At least the Discovery had managed to beam them up before the damage became irreversible.

Jacob stands at the foot of the stairs staring at her, his mouth agape.

“To protect your community from the truth,” Michael continues. “It is a part of our laws, that we may not reveal higher technology to communities that have not discovered it for ourselves.”

She closes her eyes. “But I know what it is like, to live a life of contrasting philosophies, at war with oneself constantly. I didn’t want that for you.”

Finally, Jacob strides forward, eagerness in his expression. “How did you get here? Beam of light?”

“Yes, actually.” Michael smiles in amusement. “It’s called a transporter. It converts a person or object into an energy pattern, then “beams” it to a target, where it is reconstituted into regular matter.”

Jacob gasps at that. He looks positively thrilled, and Michael cannot help but smile wider.

“Do you have a ship?" Jacob's eyes are swimming in wonder. "Do you fly amongst the stars?”

“Yes.”

“And— And Earth, what’s become of it?”

“Well…” Michael begins. “We are part of a galactic Federation now…dedicated to peace, exploration, and protecting places such as your planet.”

In the next moment, Michael remembers the war, Qo’Nos, the Shrine of Molor---

“We are not perfect, Jacob,” she clarifies quickly, walking stiffly out from her corner. “Not yet…but we strive to be the best we can be. We are…evolving.”

Jacob’s dark eyes swim at her words. He looks utterly dazzled, and Michael remembers that this man has believed for most of his life that Earth had been corrupt, smote from the galaxy for their sinful ways.

She is so very grateful that Pike gave her this chance to tell Jacob everything.

“Jacob,” Michael murmurs to get his attention once more. “We cannot intervene. Your society has to evolve in its own way.”

The weight of the words she does not say is heavy indeed.

We cannot take you with us.

At that, Jacob turns away. He ambles slowly through the workshop, running strong fingers over the shelf at his right side, tracing old tech lost to the ravages of time. The darkness of the basement shrouds him in shadow.

He seems to come to a decision. Squaring his shoulders, Jacob strides to the beacon where it lies concealed beneath some shelving.

“My entire family spent their lives hoping to get a confirmation of what we believe is true,” he states while hefting the beacon across the room. He sets it down on the workbench beneath the darkened windows. “And you gave me that answer. Something that many of them never got.”

He punches several commands into the glowing beacon. The transmitter makes several beeps before it deactivates fully, retracting into the metal body of the casing.

Jacob turns around, and his face is smooth with acceptance.

“That is enough for me.”

Michael smiles a small smile. She feels an odd kinship with this man in a way that she cannot quite explain. Both of them guided by science, both striving via logic and rationality to make sense of the universe’s unsolved mysteries...

“Thank you, Michael.” Jacob sighs. He tucks the deactivated distress beacon beneath the workbench. “Because of you, we are not lost anymore.”

What must it feel like, Michael wonders, to not be lost?

To know one’s place in the galaxy, to understand how and why things come to pass?

She envies Jacob slightly, for how easily he has come by these answers.

Jacob turns sideways, reaching up to a shelf over the workbench for a dusty object.

A helmet… Michael realizes.

“Here.” Jacob takes several steps towards her, the old helmet held almost reverently in his large hands. “This is what you wanted, wasn’t it? Knowledge of how our people got here?”

Michael raises an eyebrow. “Don’t you want such knowledge as well?”

Jacob lowers his head to look down at the dusty brown helmet, thumbs tracing the smooth surface. His eyes grow pensive as he considers his answer.

“This helmet belonged to my great great-grandmother. She was a soldier in World War III.”

Michael raises a confused eyebrow. “I thought you said your ancestors were scientists,”

“She was that as well. It is possible to be both…as I suspect you understand.”

Jacob casts a significant glance at Michael’s uniform jacket, beneath which her torso is bandaged tightly. Michael nods once in acknowledgement of the point.

Jacob continues. “Great-grandma, she told the story of what she saw, as did the other First Saved. I know it like I know the alphabet by now.” He looks down at the helmet. “I don’t need to see any type of footage. But I am sure that you do. You crave answers, like me.”

He extends the helmet in Michael’s direction. “Here. Take it, and get your answers.”

Michael stares down at the family heirloom he holds in his hands. The power-cell she had brought for trade does not seem nearly as valuable to her now, in light of this priceless gift. She reaches out with both hands to touch the helmet’s smooth metal surface.

Heirlooms…legacy…

“But…but it is your family’s possession.”

Jacob smiles. “And a valued one indeed. But my family has many possessions. You need it more than I do, Michael.”

Michael considers this for a moment. She studies the antique before her, the one that might contain the answers she seeks.

Could she, in good conscience, take such a valuable object from this man?

Michael looks at Jacob’s face, rough and lined from a lifetime of labor. There is no trace of guilt or longing in his eyes as he holds out his great-great grandmother’s helmet to her.

His family has many possessions.

His family

She rustles in her side pouch, removing the forearm-sized battery she had taken from Engineering.

“Here, in trade,” Michael offers. “A battery, with a…truly unbelievable lifespan.”

Jacob’s dark eyes widen to saucers at the sight of the battery.

Wow…” He passes Michael the helmet almost absently and takes the battery in his hands. They shake only a little bit as he traces the metal casing. “Rose will love this.”

A phantom pain lances Michael’s ribs at the memory of the young girl holding the live phaser. “How is she, by the way?”

“She’s fine,” Jacob answers with rueful shake of his head. “Shaken, of course, but I doubt that will stop her from taking this battery apart.”

He gives Michael a sudden sharp look. “How child-proof is this?”

“Extremely,” Michael assures. “I toyed with many of them as a kid, and I am no worse for wear.”

Jacob sighs in relief. “Thank heavens for that.”

Michael gazes at Jacob for several long moments, weighing her options.

This might be a chance that she won’t get again.

“Jacob…I may need more answers than the ones in this helmet-cam.”

“Of course,” he nods.

“It’s about your deity…the angel.”

 

 

Several minutes later, Jacob and Michael stand beneath the stained glass behind the dias. The church is illuminated like a star with the battery that Michael provided, and they bask together in the warm yellow light.

The figure in the stained glass hovers above them, red-winged and unknowable.

“I saw the angel as well,” Michael begins as she stares up at the glass. She feels Jacob’s astonished stare at her right side. “It appeared to me four days ago, when I was heavily injured, alone in a…collapsing spaceship.” She edits the story somewhat so that her friend will understand.

Jacob looks to her in astonishment. “Did the angel save you?”

“No…no, it didn’t.” Michael shakes her head, her voice soft and low. “It hovered above me, for approximately five seconds, and it dispersed when Captain Pike…Christopher… came to get me.”

Jacob’s eyes dart back up to the glass as he takes in Michael’s testimony.

“All I know of the Red Angel is what the First Saved told us. That it appeared to them in a warzone, and carried this church across the galaxy to this new world.” Jacob shakes his head as he gazes at the stained glass. “Great-grandmother was a scientist…I am certain that she told the truth in what she saw. But…”

Jacob shakes his head. “It is difficult to understand why the angel would appear, if you had no need of salvation.”

“I didn’t…but there were people trapped in the ship, who did.”

“Yet the angel appeared to you, and not them,” Jacob points out, and Michael nods slowly.

She remembers the crumbling asteroid, the massive energy readings coming from nowhere, the explosive instability of the rock that had nevertheless held together until she was safely off of it.

Miraculously…the asteroid had held together.

In a flash, Michael thinks of the decaying radiation particles that had nearly wiped out this planet, an event that she had had zero knowledge of until returning to Discovery.

An event that the people of Terralysium would never know about, until they developed the technology to study extra-atmospheric activity.

“Perhaps…” Michael posits in a low, stunned voice. “It saved me from…a catastrophe that I have no conception of.”

Jacob nods. “That sounds highly probable.”

He gazes up at the stained glass, at the fiery winged being that glows in the bright light of the church.

“Sometimes, Michael, I feel as if things are occurring just outside of my perception. Big, astronomical things…and I have no context by which to understand them.” He shakes his head. “But that does not mean that there is not a rational explanation.”

“Your community might disagree,” Michael points out evenly, and Jacob smiles.

“They certainly would. It’s understandable, I think, to want to assign a divine explanation to miraculous occurrences.” He casts her a sideways look. “They think that your transporter was a type of apotheosis, you know. Amesha was overjoyed at such a confirmation of her faith.”

Somehow, Jacob does not seem upset by the fact.

“As I am,” he completes with a peaceful smile. “At the confirmation of mine.”

Michael and Jacob gaze back up at the image in the stained glass, hovering over them where they stand beneath the dais.

Michael smiles slowly, slowly.

If Jacob could reconcile two contrasting philosophies like this…perhaps there was hope for her yet.

Her communicator chirps at her side, signaling impending beam-up.

“You should stand back,” she suggests to Jacob, who does so quickly. He looks thrilled beyond measure at the prospect of watching particle dissociation for a second time in one day.

“I hope we’ll meet again,” Michael murmurs. She doesn’t quite understand what prompts her to do it, but in a quick motion, Michael tucks the helmet under her left arm, and with her right hand, raises a Vulcan salute.

“I am sure we will.”

Jacob’s voice echoes through the particle dissociation. He holds up his right hand in the same manner, parting his middle and ring finger awkwardly.

In this way, Michael departs the church of New Eden.

As she exits the transporter room on the Discovery, she worries for a brief moment on the possible issues of teaching a pre-Warp society the greeting of an advanced alien species.

But in the next moment, a smile twitches at her lips.

The Vulcans would be in for one hell of a shock hundreds of years from now, at the notion of a society of barely-warp capable Humans performing their ancient greeting as if it were their own.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Leland’s holographic form flickers in the privacy of Philippa’s lieutenant quarters. Philippa finishes giving her report, and her handler is quiet for several moments as he takes it in.

“What the hell.

Leland states the words flatly, and Philippa shrugs.

“All sorts of insanity has happened to these people, they seem to take it in stride at this point. It’s very strange. That being said…” Philippa shakes her head as she paces in front of Leland. “I am not seeing any causes for concern thus far. At least half of personnel need a psych consult, to be certain, but that is hardly Section 31’s problem.”

Leland shakes his head. “Three days, Agent, and already you’ve teleported to the Beta Quadrant and discovered a super-massive asteroid filled with stranded soldiers. In only three days. Who’s to say what might happen within a month.

Philippa nods in acknowledgment of that fact.

Leland continues. “There’s been stirrings on Qo’Nos

“What a surprise,” Philippa deadpans.

“--Rumblings of a potential attempt on the Chancellor’s leadership.

“Have you dispatched any watchers?”

“Five. But we also have Lieutenant Ash Tyler to contend with.

Philippa rolls her eyes, by now quite tired of this nonsense.

“We have been through this, countless times,” she states with annoyed slowness. “For all of his good intentions, Tyler is only dragging L’Rell down. He is a male of Human appearance, and nothing good will come of his presence near the Chancellor.”

“Maybe you should tell him that.

“I would, if I were there,” Philippa bites out, and feels a flash of angry frustration at the situation. “But I am stuck on this goddamn ship on a pointless mission—“

“It isn’t pointless,” Leland cuts in. “Not yet. Those bugs that you placed…they are

Leland shifts, and Philippa knows that he is weighing how much or little to reveal to her.

“…providing leads on another case we are pursuing,” Leland finally completes. Philippa nods slowly at this.

“How can I help?”

Leland sizes her up once more. Philippa wonders they might be investigating, and how the random conversations aboard this ship are possibly contributing. She makes a mental note to infiltrate the feeds tomorrow and do some eavesdropping, perhaps with that tiny earpiece she had tucked into her duffel just in case…

“We received more evidence a few hours ago,” Leland states, apparently reaching a decision. “The analysts are still sorting through it. I’ll send you the details within a few hours.

If the information required analysts for its interpretation, that meant it was likely encrypted.

A file of some kind?

Philippa pushes the mystery to the back of her mind, her debrief not yet complete.

“As for the Qo’Nos situation…” she begins. “I have mentioned this before, but there were whispers that Chancellor L’Rell had a secret child, hidden away somewhere—“

Leland snorts at that, and Philippa cannot help her own lips from twitching slightly.

“Reads like a silly conspiracy theory, I know, but…” She shakes her head. “My sources are trustworthy, and should that child be discovered, L’Rell’s position will quickly become untenable.”

Philippa folds her arms behind her back, straightening her spine.

“My recommendation for the situation is two-fold. If the child exists, get rid of it, in whatever way must happen…and extract Tyler. The hidden support that we give the Chancellor is far better than anything that man is doing.”

Leland looks at her, both eyebrows raised.

“You’re suggesting we recruit Ash Tyler.”

“I am not suggesting. I am urging. Now that I am here,” Philippa gestures to her quarters on the Discovery, “Section 31 has a vacancy for a Qo’Nos specialist. Tyler would fill such a role quite well.”

“And if he refuses?”

“He won’t,” Philippa states, her voice hard and firm.

Leland huffs, amusement painting his scruffy face, visible even through the waviness of the holo-projection. “You sound like you know him.

“A former Starfleet officer with memories of a life on Qo’Nos, who lied and killed to keep from being discovered…”

Philippa’s mouth flattens.

“You’re damn right I know him.”

 

 

 

Barely a moment after Leland’s form finally dissipates, Philippa hears her door chime.

Is it that time already?

She sighs long and low, rubbing hands over her face and through her hair. The person standing on the other side of those doors would likely never imagine just what Philippa had been doing mere minutes ago.

Discussing possibly illegal surveillance and espionage of a Starfleet science vessel.

Advocating the separation of a child from its mother, in order to keep a nation stable.

Philippa buries her face in her hands. It had felt so easy five minutes ago, five days ago, five months ago, to plan such maneuvers, to perform such reprehensible acts, but now…

Here, on the fleet’s finest science vessel, surrounded by fine minds and good, upstanding hearts…Reno’s selflessness, Tilly’s deep, obvious admiration, Michael’s berry brown eyes so trusting, filled with such utter belief in her…

Philippa feels like nothing but scum.

Nevertheless, she squares her shoulders and turns to answer the door.

She does have a cover to maintain, after all.

Michael stands on the other side, still in uniform, but with her jacket zipped up only halfway. She looks quite the opposite of how she had looked three nights ago after her rescue from that asteroid. Her spine is straight, her dark eyes clear, her face smooth and even.

Philippa waves her in and wonders what might have happened during her brief final visit to Terralysium.

Michael sits primly in the chair by Philippa’s desk, and Philippa lowers herself onto the bed as per usual. She is in her black off-duty ensemble, naturally, but it is quite bit softer than it was four days prior; a black long-sleeve shirt and black Fleet-issue pants.

It had not taken Philippa much time to realize that wearing black leathers out and about on the Discovery would be a recipe for blowing her cover.

“Are you going to tell me why you look as if you’ve just solved an impossibly high physics equation?” Philippa finally inquires. She attempts to inject levity into her voice, but is uncertain of how successful she is.

“Maybe I did,” Michael counters with a smile.

“Ah,” Philippa nods once. “Naturally. Care to tell me the answer?”

“Which answer would you like? I came by many answers today, as well as several new questions.”

“Mm. Let me get comfortable, then.” Philippa makes a great show of shifting on her bed while not actually changing positions, and Michael smiles.

“Well,” Michael begins. “First…I should say that I’m sorry, for giving away your telescope.”

Philippa blinks. That is not quite what she expected Michael to start with.

“There was a man I met, down on Terralysium,” Michael expands. “He gave me one of his family’s artifacts from old Earth…gave it to me like it was nothing at all.”

“Oh? Should I feel threatened?”

Michael’s lips twitch. “Not at all. He gave it to me for the recording inside the broken helmet camera, of the being that transported the church to this system.”

“Ah, of course.” Philippa nods, as if that was a thing that happened regularly. “And what of that being?”

“The recording isn’t very good.” Michael shakes her head. “Guns and explosions, before a quick image of a huge …something, in the doorway of the church. Backlit by red fire…”

Michael murmurs the last words as if she’s heard them before. Her dark eyes are wide, staring straight ahead of her.

Philippa wonders what she might be seeing, but says nothing.

A day full of mysteries, indeed.

“…And this…relates to my family’s telescope, somehow?”

Michael sighs. She looks out over Philippa’s shoulder, out of the viewport towards the stars.

“I was uncertain if it was my place to take such a precious relic from the man down there, but he told me his family has plenty like it… that I needed it more than he did. Yet all I could think was that this helmet belonged to his great-great grandmother…how could he ever consider relinquishing it?”

She shakes her head, her dark eyes growing soft and pensive.

“You and I…we don’t have many remnants of our families left to us, do we?”

Philippa shakes her head slowly at that bitter truth.

Michael, for her part, only sighs softly, looking down at her hands. “My own family’s personal effects…I couldn’t keep them, either. It-- It hurt too much, after what happened…”

Philippa stares at Michael, who so rarely shares any facts or feelings concerning her birth family. Her heart goes out to her former commander even as she tucks this precious knowledge away, into some special part of her mind where it will never be forgotten.

“It broke my heart, you know,” Michael continues softly, her deep brown eyes swirling as she gazes downwards. “To give up that piece of you. The only thing I had left of you. But— It was breaking my heart to keep it, as well...”

“Hey…” Philippa’s hand moves of its own accord, reaching out into the space between them, and Michael hesitates only a moment before taking it. “You don’t have to apologize anymore, Michael. It’s alright.”

And it was alright. Michael had only done what she felt she had to, in order keep her head afloat during treacherous, terrible times.

Philippa can certainly relate.

“It’s not alright, Philippa,” Michael insists in a low, agitated voice. She withdraws her hand, and Philippa immediately misses its warmth. “I gave up something vitally important, to someone with no connections to it—“

“And I trust that it will come back to you, or me, in some way or another,” Philippa completes. She recalls the look of abject, utter shame on Saru’s face when he had seen her eyeing the telescope during their talk in his quarters, and knows with certainty that this prediction will come to pass.

“The next choice is Mr. Saru’s to make, of course, but…” Philippa offers Michael a small, comforting smile. “He has grown a great deal from the man he was on the Shenzhou. I am sure that he will do the right thing.”

Michael smiles softly at that, her small, charming Vulcan smile, and Philippa wonders at the miracle that has brought them back together. She wonders at the four strange, wonderful days she has spent aboard this ship, seeing Michael every day, helping a young ensign earn her wings, getting drunk off her ass with a half-crazed engineer, doing high caliber science and saving lives…

Four days without manipulations, threats, hacking mainframes, planting bombs, speaking Klingon, or planning assassination attempts.

Well…almost.

At that dark thought, Philippa’s mood sours somewhat.

She is still a Section 31 operative. Leland still awaits her reports. She still has blood on her hands, a truly ungodly amount of it, and the idea of staining Michael with any of her vicious acts makes Philippa recoil.

Michael seems to recognize the change that has come over her.

“What’s wrong?”

Philippa twitches, and manages to paste on a false smile.

Seems her every action aboard this ship is a lie.

“Nothing. I’m just…” Philippa searches for a truth in which to base her lie.

“I am glad…that it’s like this now.”

Yet even this partial truth is untrue as well, because Philippa knows that this mission cannot last forever. One day she will be reassigned, back to Qo’Nos in all likelihood, and she cannot tell whether she hungers for such a thing or dreads it.

She supposes she will know, when the time finally comes.

Michael smiles. “Me too.” She holds Philippa’s gaze, her dark eyes warm and happy, and somehow, Philippa feels peace fall over her once more.

“I heard you really saved our lives today,” Michael continues cheerfully. Philippa is grateful that she makes no mention of the entire incident; namely, Philippa collapsing in a cold faint in front of the entire alpha-shift bridge complement.

No doubt the embarrassing debacle is public knowledge by now, as news tends to travel quickly on a starship.

“Oh, that? That was nothing.” Philippa waves a hand dismissively, pushing these thoughts to the side. “Besides, your friend Tilly helped a great deal. She ran all the way from sickbay…burst onto the bridge in her medical gown.”

Philippa raises an amused eyebrow. “Thought I was having a flashback.”

Michael’s smile widens. “Well, it has been said that Sylvia and I have an almost uncanny likeness.”

“Yes.” Philippa deadpans with a nod. “Your mutual resemblance to Anne of Green Gables is nothing short of astounding.”

Michael finally laughs, but in the next moment she winces rather spectacularly.

“Ugh…damn it...” She wraps her arms around her bandaged chest, her face contorting in pain.

Oh hells.

Philippa jerks in place, reaching towards Michael instinctively. She’s not quite certain what to do with her hands.

“Er…sorry…"

"It’s alright,” Michael wheezes, rubbing at a point just under her left arm. “This happens…every day.” She smiles weakly, even through her obvious pain.

This is ridiculous.

Philippa lips twitch, before working themselves into a helpless smile. Her chest feels warm, strangely warm, and it doesn’t make any sense, because she already took her meds, her heart should be fine

Commander Burnham to Engineering.”

The overhead intercom crackles with what sounds like Sylvia Tilly’s youthful voice. Michael casts a confused look up at it.

“Aren’t you off-duty?” Philippa questions.

“Yeah,” Michael sighs as she rises gingerly to her feet. “But Tilly loves when she gets to use the ship-wide comm system. Once, she summoned me to our quarters so she could show me a funny holo of a Tellurian mountain cat.”

Philippa smiles. Her amusement at this very young ensign grows stronger every day.

“Well, I’m sure this equally serious in nature,” she remarks, even as her heart gives a pang at the thought of their time together being cut short. “You should proceed to Engineering at once.”

At that, Michael only raises a slow, Vulcan-like eyebrow towards Philippa, as if sizing her up.

“Have you seen the spore lab yet, Cap— Philippa?”

Philippa smirks at the near-miss, even as she understands that Michael would merely be teasing her with such use of her rank.

“Not yet…Commander.”

Michael shakes her head, even as her eyes dance with mirth. “Okay, that is not fair.”

“What, that you are not allowed to call me “Captain,” or that I have not seen the spore lab yet?”

“Yes.”

Philippa can’t help her grin. “Well…it does lay within your power to rectify one of those things, right about now.”

Michael smiles warmly, crossing her arms where she stands by Philippa’s door. “How about a trade?”

“A tour of engineering, in exchange for the privilege of calling me “Captain?””

“Everyone else gets to do it.” Michael shrugs, her eyes sparkling.

“I got tired of correcting people.”

“Must I file a complaint concerning unequal treatment?”

“No no, don’t waste your energy,” Philippa waves off the suggestion. “Pike’s terrified of me, he would never enforce any punishment.”

“Is he now?” Michael raises an eyebrow. “Hm.”

Michael’s “hm” is short and ever so slightly calculating. Philippa feels a spike of warm pride. Seems her commander is finally learning the subtle art of manipulation.

“Well,” Michael continues, dark eyes dancing. “Since it seems I can’t file an official complaint, I am pursuing the only avenue left to me, which is a civil agreement.”

The claim is stated archly, and Philippa’s lips curl into smile one more.

“Do we have an accord…Philippa?”

Michael’s full lips pop as she accentuates Philippa’s name. Philippa rises from her bed in a smooth motion, passing close to Michael as she pretends to consider the offer.

“I’ll think about it,” she finally tosses over her shoulder, and proceeds out of her quarters towards engineering.

 

 


 

 

 

“Michael! Oh my God, you are not gonna believe the day I had!”

Tilly bounces from where she stands in front of her terminal. She’s prodding at several holo-equations, but quickly closes out the program when Philippa reveals herself from behind Michael.

“Captain Georgiou!” Tilly’s face becomes as bright as a star as Philippa follows Michael down the stairs leading to the spore lab. “Did you tell Michael about our adventure in the shuttlebay yet?”

“I would never rob you of that experience, Ensign,” Philippa tosses back with a smile, and Tilly grins.

As Tilly fills Michael in on the strange explosion from the chunk of the impossible asteroid, Philippa walks slowly around the spore lab. She takes in the reaction cube, noting its crisp dimensions, as well as the Human-sized standing table inside of it. With a finger tracing absently at the glass, Philippa marvels at the singular machine that had nearly won them the war, and somehow, just today, allowed the Discovery to teleport across the universe in a mere second.

“…And according to the sensors in the shuttlebay,” Tilly continues from over Philippa’s shoulder, “The asteroid explosion left traces of tachyon particles, which would imply—“

Time travel.”

Michael and Philippa state the words at the same moment.

In a flash, Philippa recalls the strange vision she had seen, mere moments after the red explosion knocked her flat. She slowly, slowly turns to face the two scientists, and imagines her face carries some of the stunned awe that she feels.

“What is it, Captain?” Tilly asks.

“You know…” Philippa begins slowly. “I thought perhaps I was delusional from my head-injury but…” With a quick shake her head, she is within her memories of the event once more.

“Right after that asteroid fragment exploded, I looked towards where we had stood and I saw…us.”

Tilly and Michael are nodding slowly. Michael’s eyes are widening. Philippa strides towards their shared console, gesticulating with her hands as she moves.

“I saw ourselves, like we were shadows, or perhaps projections…performing the same motions that we had, capturing the core sample. I even saw myself, ask you—“ She throws a look at Tilly. “—If you had seen the red spark on the asteroid’s surface.”

“A time bubble,” Michael murmurs slowly. “As theorized by Solak and his team, of the V.E.G. A sufficient burst of tachyon energy, accompanied by a disruption of space-time, could result in a localized loop of time—“

“—so faint that it doesn’t even transport objects, or—or people,” Tilly exclaims, “Not like when Mudd had that time-watch—“

Philippa raises a curious eyebrow at that, but Tilly is continuing. “Which, I mean, would make sense, if you were seeing just those tiny little sparks, Captain—“

“Sparks?” Michael cuts in curiously.

Philippa nods quickly. “Brief, red bursts of light on the surface of the asteroid, easy to miss.” She strides forward to the terminal behind which Tilly and Michael are standing. “One of them went off inside the containment sphere—“

“And blew us the hell backwards,” Tilly adds, and Philippa throws her an amused look.

Maybe she did fit the profile of a captain.

“But if those sparks…were part of the same energy that the asteroid was giving off in waves…” Michael shakes her head. She spins to Tilly. “Do you still have the sample?”

Tilly opens her mouth and closes it several times. “I mean—not that exact sample ‘cause it exploded. We got a few other shards, but…” Tilly shakes her head, confused. “But they’re completely inert. No activity whatsoever, no sparks…nothing...”

Tilly droops where she stands. “And-- and we ejected the asteroid to save you guys…”

The young ensign looks quite crushed, and Philippa shakes her head, placing an arm on Tilly’s shoulder.

“It was the right call, and we would do it again,” she assures, and Tilly manages a smile at that.

Michael’s hands twitch and gesture as she thinks through the problem, pacing ever so slightly. “If the rest of the samples are inert, then perhaps those sparks…and the tachyons…are not a property of the asteroid, but something else entirely.”

Philippa watches as Michael’s dark eyes dart back and forth, as they tend to when her brilliant mind activates.

“But…where would the tachyons even come from…” Michael murmurs. “And the energy? And why would there be an explosion?”

“Maybe it was those sparks that you saw, Captain?” Tilly suggests.

Philippa shakes her head. “That would be the what, Ensign, but the why…”

“And the how…” Michael murmurs. Her deep brown eyes stare straight ahead, right into the face of a new mystery. “Just as many questions as answers.”

Silence holds in the lab like a crack of distant thunder.

Philippa startles when the door to Engineering hisses open, and Paul Stamets enters.

“Well, Ensign? That time already?”

He proceeds down the stairs, and Tilly shakes herself.

“Yes! Yes, it is!” She looks towards Michael and Philippa with wide, excited eyes. “Okay, so we got a little derailed, but somehow, I have even more big news right now.”

“Really?” Michael deadpans. “Fancy that.”

Philippa’s lips twitch, even as she wonders once more what might have happened on the surface of Terralysium.

Tilly spins to the studded wall behind the terminal and bends low, as if to find something. “So Michael, this morning when I was checking the spores? Before the jump?” Tilly’s voice muffles as she fumbles around the lower section of the wall. “Something very…”

“Strange,” Stamets completes, “happened. To put it mildly.” To Philippa’s surprise, his voice doesn’t hold even a hint of sarcasm.

Tilly rises to her feet, a clear containment vessel of glowing, bright red…something, in her hands.

Philippa supposes that she does not quite have the context to grasp this moment, because Michael’s jaw is dropping to the floor where she stands at Philippa’s left side, and Stamets looks like he’s been clubbed over the head.

“I know, right?” Tilly exclaims, then casts a quick look at Philippa, who imagines that she is not demonstrating the correct reaction right now. “Oh, I am so sorry, Captain, let me just—“

She hands the canister off to Michael, who still looks like she’s just seen the universe turn inside out. Tilly spins to the wall and withdraws another canister of glowing particles, blue-ish white this time.

These are mycelia,” Tilly announces, and Philippa nods. “They power the spore drive and allow us to integrate with the mycelial network—“

“They give us the ability ride the universe’s…invisible nervous system,” Stamets completes. He takes the container from Tilly, gazing into its depths with wonder in his eyes. “These little guys are my life’s work…”

Philippa stares at the dancing particles within the walls of the containment vessel. “Mycelia…so, mushrooms?”

“Yes,” Tilly and Stamets confirm at the same time.

Philippa makes a silent “Ah” with her mouth. The idea is patently ridiculous, but considering the practical demonstration she had experienced today in their fifty-one thousand, four hundred and fifty lightyear jump, she knows that it is far too late to dismiss this science, and these…mycologists.

“What happened to this one?”

Michael finally speaks. She’s still staring down at the glowing red spores she holds.

“Well that’s just it, Burnham, we have no idea.” Stamets takes the containment vessel from her. “That’s why we’re all here. We are going to test these “red spores”…by releasing them into reaction cube—“

Michael looks up sharply, and Stamets puts out a pacifying hand. “I’m not going to be inside it, don’t worry.” He shakes his head as he turns away. “I haven’t cracked yet.”

Tilly seems to flinch at his muttered words, and Philippa wonders at the reaction.

“Well,” Stamets looks up expectantly. “Let’s fire it up, shall we?”

Tilly, Stamets, and Michael all spring into action, and Philippa presses herself to the wall to keep from getting in the way. She watches closely as Michael brings up a data-gathering program, as Stamets calibrates the sensors, as Tilly thrusts the tube of red spores into some type of interfacing nozzle.

She finds herself thinking back to what had happened earlier, in the shuttlebay.

“How strong are the walls of the reaction cube?” Philippa asks, and Stamets looks up from his screen across the lab.

“About as strong as a starship’s hull, plus they’re shielded in case of internal explosions.” He offers her a small smile. “We were very concerned about sudden energy bursts, back when we first started the project.”

Philippa nods at that, feeling somewhat comforted.

“Containment vessel secure, interface is off-line,” Tilly announces.

Michael throws Philippa a look, as if anticipating her question.

“We’re not actually jumping,” she clarifies. “We’re just allowing the spores to contact open air for the first time.”

Philippa nods. She instinctively moves behind Tilly’s terminal, placing a firm barrier between herself and the reaction cube. With only a moment of hesitation, she squeezes close to Michael in order to be completely behind the metal stand. Tilly watches her do this with wide eyes, and in the next moment, she does the same on Michael’s other side.

This ensign was adorable, Philippa notes with some amusement. It was like having a shadow.

Stamets throws the group a slightly condescending look, but Philippa notes that this does not stop him from leaving his own terminal to join their cluster.

Tilly looks sideways at Michael, who nods once.

“Releasing the spores in three, two, one…”

Tilly presses a button on the console, and the group watches as the glowing red spores hiss out from the ceiling of the drive chamber…

They float through the open air of the reaction cube, otherworldly and ethereal, sparkling beneath the low blue light set into the cube’s ceiling.

Philippa sees a sudden spark of light—

“Detecting energy surge!”

Tilly’s voice is high and panicked. The reaction cube lights up like a red star---

And in the next moment, a thunderous roar echoes across the lab like the hand of God.

Philippa drops to her knees behind the terminal on instinct, dragging Michael and Tilly down with her. Red light sears at her eyes, and she throws her hands over her head, preparing for the complete collapse of the lab itself. Tilly is next to her screaming, hands over her ears, but Michael is already struggling in Philippa’s grip.

And Stamets…

Michael finally breaks her grip. She crawls out from behind the terminal stand, right into the red light.

“No!” Philippa yells after her, but the sound is lost in the deep, screaming howl tearing through the lab. She takes several crawling steps, looks around the corner of the terminal—

Stamets is directly in front of the glass, framed in hot red light. And it’s actually him, Philippa notes, not one of the strange specters that she had seen inside the shuttlebay. She squints her eyes, looking past Stamets’ form into the reaction cube.

No.

No, that’s not a trick of the light.

There’s a man, inside the cube itself, backlit by the red light. His hair is long and scrubby, his face marked by a beard, and from what little Philippa can see, he is wearing terribly worn-out Starfleet uniform, covered in what appears to be black soot.

Stamets bangs desperately on the glass of the reaction cube.

Hugh!” He screams. “Hugh!”

He whirls towards the door of the cube, but a curly-haired figure rises from the deck and tackles him.

“No!” Michael’s contralto rings out. The two forms struggle on the ground for a brief moment. “You’ll kill all of us!”

Philippa draws her eyes away from the scuffle and back towards the man inside the reaction cube. His figure is shaky, almost translucent, he looks like he might non-corporeal.

With a shaking arm, the man swipes a hand at his uniform. He brings his blackened fist up and presses it into the glass, drawing in huge, sweeping motions across the surface.

The red light intensifies, and Philippa has to look away, her eyes now in unbearable agony. She looks over at Ensign Tilly, who is curled up into a ball moaning, her hands clapped over her ears.

Shut up shut up shut up shut up,” she mumbles while rocking herself.

But before Philippa can even process that, the red light dissipates, sucking back into the reaction cube just as suddenly as it arrived.

Engineering is dark and silent once more.

Philippa slowly, slowly peers around the corner of the terminal, towards the low, blue-ish light of the spore drive.

Michael and Stamets are starting to sit up, a mere meter away from the reaction cube. Both are scrubbing at their eyes, and Philippa knows that they will all likely need some sort of treatment after exposure to that intense light. Tilly is weeping quietly behind the desk, hands still over her ears, and Philippa rubs her back sympathetically.

“It’s alright, Ensign, it’s over now, it’s over—“

“No it’s not,” Tilly mumbles through her tears. “She’s still here, she’s still here, she won’t leave…”

What?

“Oh my God…”

Michael’s whisper somehow carries across the lab, and Philippa jerks her head towards it. She rises painfully to her feet, and immediately sees what Michael is talking about.

As if on autopilot, Philippa walks slowly, slowly forward to stand next to Michael and Stamets in front of the clear glass of the spore drive.

What is left of the standing table lies in blackened, charred rubble on the floor of the drive chamber.

And written in huge, black, backwards letters, on the inside of the reaction cube…

HELP

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

Tilly’s fingers tap at the surface of her desk as she sits in darkness. Her morning alarm has not even gone off yet. The room is silent, and the void of space is vast and cold outside of the window over Michael’s bed.

Matching the imagined chill of Sylvia Tilly and Michael Burnham’s shared quarters.

 

 

White sickbay lights whirl around Tilly as she paces, bare feet slapping at the smooth deck. The away team is in danger, Owo is in danger, Michael is in danger, and holy frick, Tilly’s head is throbbing, her ears ringing from that explosion in the shuttlebay.

That damn asteroid…it should’ve been fine, nothing should’ve happened, and why the hell did Captain Georgiou have to be there when it all went wrong, of all people?

The hospital gown whips at Tilly’s knees as she moves, but the away team is in danger, as in extinction-level event danger, as Saru has said on the overhead feed, she has to focus on that, not the irritating gown—

“Can I help you with something?”

Tilly whips around at the strange, accented voice.

Somehow, a young woman is standing next to her bio-bed. Her curly black hair is pulled back into a ponytail, exposing a round, almost innocent face. The bronze paneling of her Starfleet ops uniform matches the gold-bronze tone of her skin.

Tilly wonders how she hadn’t noticed this ensign come in, or seen the girl in all of her rigorous pacing and brainstorming.

How very strange.

“Yes!” Tilly shakes off the thought, and offers her confirmation in a too-chipper voice. “Yes, thank you! I’m um, I’m supposed to be on bed-rest but that’s like an affront to my very existence ‘cause the ship’s on high alert and-- and Captain Georgiou’s gone!” Tilly’s arm gestures frantically at the now empty bio-bed across sickbay. “Even though she’s pretty frickin’ injured too, I saw her chart—“

The curly haired ops ensign cocks her head, looking a strange combination of amused and knowing.

Tilly squints at the girl, trying hard to parse through what is going on through her confusion and head injury.

“You’re…you’re May, right?”

This realization comes from nowhere.

But Tilly won’t realize this until later.

 

 

From her desk chair, Sylvia Tilly scans the room, each and every corner. Her eyes rove over Michael’s bed, her organized shelves, the door, the small locker at the foot of her own bed. Heart in her throat, she picks up the small hand mirror that she has taken out of her top drawer. Slowly, slowly, she aims the reflective surface over her shoulder, peering shakily into it as she does.

Half-expecting to see someone.

Only half-relieved when she does not.

 

 

Tilly slumps onto Captain Georgiou’s shoulder as cheers and whoops ring out across the Discovery’s bridge. It’s actually really uncomfortable, the woman is obviously made from sticks and sinews, but Tilly doesn’t feel capable of lifting her throbbing head right now.

“You’re a genius, captain…” She murmurs tiredly.

A razor-sharp voice rings out somewhere above her. “We did it, Stilly!”

With some effort, Tilly manages to turn to her left, looking up into dark brown eyes, light bronze skin …damn, what was her name? That helpful ops ensign with the curly black hair, seems she followed Tilly in her run up here, how sweet of her.

“Your mind is amazing…” The girl, whoever she is, all but croons, her lips curling into a strange half-smile. “The asteroid plan worked!”

“Told you so…” Tilly tells the wobbly outline of the other ensign. She immediately regrets the display of cockiness, considering how the girl had helped her. “We’re so smart…” she quickly amends. “Right?”

She holds up her hand for a weak high-five.

The girl only stares at it.

People around her murmur, throwing chatter across the bridge, Captain Georgiou is saying something, Tilly should listen harder, she knows, but she’s so very tired…

“You have great ideas, Captain…” she mumbles, her eyes losing focus. “Hey ma’am, could you maybe help us up?”

Tilly reaches for the strange ensign’s arm—

But somehow, her fingers pass right through the young woman’s form.

As if it were not there at all.

 

 

 

Tilly sits in darkness, the air of her quarters still and silent. She listens with ears pricked, ready to pick up the slightest sound.

A whisper.

A murmur.

Perhaps a strange, barbed-wire voice, or the glint of a Fleet uniform’s bronze paneling, lost somewhere in the depths of the dark, quiet room.

Or perhaps even right next to her, too close to be seen.

At that thought, Tilly flinches, curling in on herself, half-expecting to be touched, brushed against by something invisible—

But a quick look around reveals nothing.

 

 

Tilly hits the ground hard, the guttural shriek piercing her eardrums like knives. Red light sears her eyes, even through eyelids squeezed shut, and the roar of the explosion is only barely louder than the voice in her ears.

“STILLY!!!!!”

Tilly opens her eyes—

And swallows a scream at the sight of a familiar, tan face and brown eyes inches from her own, on the ground beneath the terminal.

“You see that?! It’s happening here, it’s here too, Stilly! LOOK AT IT! IT’S THE MONSTER, STILLY, LOOK!!!!

May’s voice reaches an unbearable pitch. Her hands whip up to Tilly’s face, as if to forcibly turn her head towards the reaction cube, towards the explosion that will surely kill all of them, and the strange figure standing in the middle of it—

Tilly flinches instinctively, one of her arms lashing out towards May to push her off, but it passes right through the May’s screaming, incorporeal form.

Unholy terror claws its way into Tilly’s chest, from the depths of her bones all the way to the surface of her skin. The explosion, the light, the ghost, what the fuck was all this--

There’s other shouts at her back, Tilly barely hears them as she curls into a ball, hands over her ears to drown out May’s screams.

“IT’S HERE TOO, THE RED POISON! THE MONSTER! STILLY! LOOK, STILLY, LOOK—“

 

 

Tilly stares at her fingertips as they tap at her desk, the only sound in the dimly lit quarters.

She has not slept a wink; yet her eyes are wide open, her body all but thrumming with energy where she sits at her desk, at oh-six-fifteen in the morning. Michael has long since left for her workout, giving Tilly free reign to trace wide eyes over their shared space, taking in her snow-globe collection, the soft throw that an ex-boyfriend had given her, the starry viewport set into the wall over Michael’s sternly made bed, Tilly’s hanging tapestry of the Seven Wonders of Earth, Michael’s bare desk top…

She places the hand mirror back on the surface of her desk.

“Computer…” Tilly whispers into the dark. “Run life-signs check…personal quarters of Ensign Sylvia Tilly and Commander Michael Burnham.”

She knows the answer before she hears it.

Registering one life sign. Ensign Sylvia Tilly.

And yet…

Tilly is not alone.

First in sickbay after the asteroid had exploded, and then on the bridge when they were saving Terralysium, then last night in the spore lab, when those weird red spores had gone supernova…

Sylvia Tilly is seeing a ghost.

A ghost, a specter, a vision, of someone who is not actually there.

The ghost…the woman…had helped her, in sickbay, and on the bridge. But then, then—

Tilly shakes her head, confused.

In the spore lab, the young woman had only screamed in Tilly’s ears, a scream of unimaginable terror, and Tilly had curled up into a ball and cried in front of Captain freaking Georgiou, God, so embarrassing

“Ughhhh…” Tilly rubs at her eyes, the mystery prodding at her like an irritating thorn.

Who was this vision?

Still…somehow, Tilly has a feeling that she already knows.

She knows this woman…ghost…whatever she is. Her face is unbearably familiar, as is her dark, curly ponytail and her pluckily accented voice.

“May…May…May…Computer?” Tilly tries again, in a slightly stronger voice. “Life signs?”

Only when the scan comes back negative does Tilly slowly rise to her feet. She mutters to herself as she paces behind her desk. One would think she would be tired, after her injuries from the day before and the sleepless night, but her limbs are all but thrumming with energy, prompting the intense need to be burned off with movement and activity.

You’re…you’re May, right?

Yesterday, in sickbay after the asteroid explosion, it had seemed obvious…May, in her ops uniform, was merely another crewmember that Tilly knew of, but was not close to. And May had encouraged her along to her conclusion, and Tilly had ran out of sickbay and left her behind, though she had reappeared on the bridge after they had saved the away-team on Terralysium.

Reappeared out of thin air, with a vicious, fox-like grin and dark, dancing eyes.

In retrospect, Tilly had been concussed and badly injured. Perhaps now that she is hale and whole, the connections her brain had so easily made twelve hours ago are lost forever.

“I know her…I know her. Knew her? … Ughhhhh!”

Tilly rubs the heels of her hands into her eyes, pacing her shared quarters impatiently. She has a Command Training Program half-marathon to run in an hour, in which she is most certainly not going to do well, and she still hasn’t solved this god-forsaken mystery.

But maybe someone else could solve it for her.

“Computer, um…bring up Musk Junior High yearbooks signature pages, cross-reference with May…something…”

The computer whirs for a moment, before bringing up the yearbook of… –Tilly checks the book— …Class of 2247. A hologram pops up over the terminal, a young girl with light brown skin and curly hair pulled into a high ponytail.

Stilly, what the heck! You’re moving again? It’s only been six months! You’re the nicest person I’ve met at this awful school.”

Tilly is starting to feel like she recognizes that accent, that voice.

"I am going to miss our lunches. They were like little earthquakes. Bounce bounce bounce!

At that, Tilly manages to crack a smile, even through her lingering fear. She definitely remembers her now.

May, little Sylvia Tilly’s friend, one of her first friends, even.

“Please stay in touch. Love, May Ahearn. “

“Ahearn…Ahearn, yeah…yeah, I knew it!” Tilly whirls around. She could figure this out. “Computer, locate quarters for Ahearn, May.”

Even as she gives the order, Tilly already knows that there is no such crewmember. But it would be beneficial to check, regardless.

Ship’s manifest has no such name.

Tilly shrugs, having expected that answer.

“Computer, search Federation database for whereabouts of “Ahearn, May,” originally from San Francisco, California, Earth.”

Working...

Tilly smiles with no little relief.

Finally, some answers.

Ahearn, May Theresa. Born April 30th, 2236. Deceased, June 9th, 2252.”

Tilly’s smile slides off of her face.

“De—deceased?” She stumbles over the word, her stomach dropping like a stone.

2252…

May had only been sixteen years old when she died.

“Comp…uh, computer…” Tilly chokes, swallowing down whatever strange emotion is manifesting. “Search Federation database for obituaries for “Ahearn, May Theresa,” between um…d—dates June 10th, and uh…July 10th…”

Working…

As the computer searches, Tilly sinks slowly, slowly, into her chair. The starlight outside of the window over Michael’s bed seems dimmer, and so very far away right now.

May had died…

Memories come back to Sylvia Tilly slowly, slowly, of being eleven years old and on the fast track towards a career in diplomacy, attending only the best of charter schools around the system while her mother had done important government work…

Eleven years old and unable to form clear sentences, unable to talk to anyone her age or older without pure, unbearable terror, wanting only to sit with her computers and build programs, and to read books about other galaxies and universes, stories of young girls who went on adventures and were brave and bold, and had friends.

And Tilly remembers May Ahearn.

May Theresa Ahearn, age 16, passed away on June 10th, 2252, after a long battle with hereditary Park-Jung leukemia…

May sitting with her every day at lunch, chattering about everything and nothing in her chipper, accented voice, never forcing Tilly to talk. May inviting Tilly over to her house to play her father’s old videogames.

Her father…her father had died when May was very young, Tilly remembers. Died of the same disease that May had died from—

She enjoyed reading, mathematics, and playing vintage videogames…

Of course she had, just as Tilly had.

She is survived by her mother and two younger brothers…

Oh stars, were they carriers of the disease as well? Tilly wants to look them up, but is terrified of what she might find.

May had a kind and understanding heart. She will be sorely missed. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to the Park-Jung leukemia Research Fund.

In a daze, Tilly clicks on the picture at the top of the obituary.

Curly hair, light bronze skin, plump cheeks and dark eyes…

May Ahearn.

The mysterious young woman in the ops uniform.

“I…” Tilly begins, her voice trembling. “May?”

“Yes?”

Tilly freezes. She turns around slowly.

May is there, standing right behind her in her bronze-paneled Starfleet uniform. Older than the girl in the photo, but most definitely the same person.

“Y—You…” Tilly swallows. “You’re dead.”

May smiles, the expression almost innocent, if not for the predatory glint in her dark eyes. “Is that why you’re upset, Stilly?”

Tilly realizes that her eyes are filled with tears.

“I…I didn’t know you died…I didn’t— Didn’t know you were sick.”

“Don’t be sad, I’m right here!” May insists, her white teeth flashing, her barbed-wire voice cheerful and upbeat where she stands in the dead space between Tilly’s desk and Michael’s. “And I have a plan for us! We are going to have fun!”

Tilly swallows hard. Her heart pounds below her breastbone.

“Too soon?” May chirps. “That’s alright. I will try again later.”

She shrugs and walks away towards the bathroom at the back of Tilly’s quarters. In a moment, May is gone completely.

Through a door that is most certainly closed.

The room spins as Tilly sits stock still in her chair. Her body feels nonexistent, like space dust held together by the barest whisper of gravity. She worries that she might be astral-projecting, but a quick look at her hands, which are gripping the sides of the chair with unholy force, negates that hypothesis.

Is she being haunted?

Is this…punishment?

Some type of divine retribution?

She hadn’t even known May was sick…

Tilly shakes her head, feeling like the lowest person in the galaxy. May, who had been the only one at that school who had talked to Tilly like she was a real person, May, who had thought she was someone special, someone important…

Tilly looks towards the hologram of May Ahearn, dead at only sixteen. Her hair is still curly, she smiles for the camera, but her eyes…

Leaning in, Tilly takes in the eyes on sixteen-year old May Ahearn’s face.

She knows those eyes quite well.

Loneliness.

May had been shy, Tilly remembers, but silly after Tilly had gotten to know her, and to eleven-year old Tilly, who barely had a voice at all, May seemed gregarious indeed. May had helped her so much, and Tilly had left, she had moved, she hadn’t kept in touch…

May must have been so lonely.

“Am I a bad friend?” Tilly whispers, half expecting the ghost of May Ahearn to answer…

But a quick look around reveals no one.

Tilly is uncertain whether to feel pleased or disappointed at the lack of response. She looks back towards the hologram of sixteen-year old May.

“I’m sorry I took you for granted,” she whispers. She considers reaching out a hand to the hologram, but knows full well how that would end for her.

Was she a bad friend?

Tilly gets up and starts to pace. She thinks about the people in her life, as it stands now, Stamets and Saru and Keyla and Joanne and Gen and Airiam and Michael, of course…

Stamets was the one who had pulled all of those strings to get Tilly here on the Discovery in the first place. Commander Saru had taken it upon himself to sponsor Tilly in the Command Training Program. And Michael took Tilly under her considerably badass wing, pushing her to try harder in all areas, teaching her, training her, mentoring her…

Her, Sylvia Tilly, Starfleet’s most ridiculous cadet.

She doesn’t—didn’t… think it true, but…

Tilly nods slowly to herself as she works to find some type of meaning behind this specter, some purpose for this vision.

Perhaps… Hmm. Tilly twitches as a vague possibility occurs to her.

Perhaps this is some kind of signal. A sign, a vicious shake to Tilly’s shoulders, telling her to change her ways and become a better person. Just like that old Earth book, with the miserly boss and his employee and all of those spirits and the poor little crippled boy…

Perhaps this is the twenty-third century equivalent of the Ghost of Christmas Past, coming to warn Sylvia Tilly that her misdeeds will one day be her downfall.

Tilly can’t help a laugh at the thought, which echoes across her quarters, driving home how truly, utterly alone she is.

It is a crazy theory.

But it is the only workable one that Tilly has right now, in order to make sense of the nonsensical.

With a long, slow exhale, Tilly gazes at sixteen-year-old May’s holographic face pulled from her obituary, floating in the air above her desk.

Tilly’s friend, that she had taken so thoroughly for granted.

How could she have done that?

Behind the hologram, Tilly catches a glimpse of the treasured photo, the one of herself and Michael smiling together, perched atop the high shelf of her desk.

…Michael, Saru, Gen, Keyla, Joann, Airiam…

A tear slides from Tilly’s eye as she thinks of her friends, the ones that are still with her, here in the world of the living.

Has Tilly been taking all of these kind people for granted as well?

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

The house is finally, finally quiet.

With breath held, Michael opens the door to her room.

The red walls of the hallway have darkened to burnt amber in the scant light from Michael’s flashlight. Her footfalls are quiet as she descends the stairs from her bedroom. Her school rucksack is packed, she’s filled it with food, her PADD, and the medications the doctors had provided with her release form.

Michael’s eyes still have trouble focusing. Her head throbs, and there’s a dull pain in her chest. The doctors have told her that her convalescence will take time, that she may have lingering pains and difficulties with certain tasks, she had been caught in a deadly explosion, after all…

But she can’t stay here, she can’t, she is still alive, which means the Extremists will try again, and they might target the rest of her family as well.

She will miss Amanda, that much is certain. Sarek as well, though perhaps in a different way. She will miss this red house, the smell of rain in the morning, the awnings over the cobblestone streets, even some of her classmates, the nicer ones…

But Michael knows that there are certain things that she won’t miss at all, that’s for sure, including--

“Michael?”

The voice is high-pitched and childish, coming from behind her.

Michael closes her eyes slowly, her hand still extended towards the front door. Frustration spikes in her chest.

Caught already, and she hasn’t even left the stupid house.

She turns to face her foster-brother.

“Go back to bed, Spock. It’s alright.”

Spock’s dark eyes take in her figure where he stands at the midpoint of the stairs in his pajamas. He sees the backpack, the travel cloak, and logic guides him to the obvious conclusion.

“You are…leaving?”

“Yeah. It’s what you wanted, isn’t it?” Michael turns her back to her foster-brother, who had been cold and distant for the entire seven months she has lived with him.

“No.”

Michael stops walking. There’s a soft thudding sound behind her as Spock descends the stairs on uncoordinated, childish feet. “I…I did want it, Michael, but I don’t want you to leave anymore.”

Michael can’t help it, she lets out a frustrated sound and whirls back to him.

“Oh, now you want me to stay? Our school was bombed! People died! I’m putting everyone in danger, I have to go!”

Spock stands nearly a foot shorter than her, but he does not seem remotely cowed by Michael’s words. He strides up to her, his pudgy face set like stone.

“No, you don’t! We will protect you, Michael! They have arrested those responsible, and the Learning Center is putting in new security measures!” Spock’s voice is insistent. “This will not happen again! We will do better! I will do better!”

“Shh! Shut up!” Michael presses an urgent finger to her lips. If Spock wakes up Sarek and Amanda, the game will be up. She takes several steps towards Spock, lowering her voice.

“You…” Michael’s face twists bitterly. She is not going to be on Vulcan much longer; who cares about control? “You will do better? You are seven years old, Spock. You’re a kid, you can’t do anything—“

“You are also a kid!” Spock insists. “Yet you are going off alone, off-world—“

“There’s nothing for me here.” Michael’s lips flatten. “There never has been. Nothing but danger and death. You’ve never even wanted me here!”

Spock seems to flinch at that, but Michael continues. The words pour from her chest where they have been straining for so long, loneliness and anger finally, finally allowed voice and emotion, and it feels so good.

“You asked Amanda and Sarek to send me to another home! You ignored me, no matter how hard I tried to befriend you. You tell everyone who will listen how meaningless I am to you!”

For the first time in so many months, Michael allows herself to feel the crushing agony of such rejection, from the person she had truly thought might be her new beginning.

“You have never wanted me here,” she finishes, her whisper now at a near-yell. “Never. So why are you protesting now?”

“Because…I do want you here.”

Michael stares at him, her surprise plain.

Spock only looks down at his feet, seemingly pondering something.

“You…were hurt really badly today. They said you could have died. And I…I am confused.” He shakes his head, bangs swishing. “Emotions are so confusing. I do not fully understand why the events at the Learning Center have changed my thoughts on this matter. Yet they have!”

Spock looks up to her, determined now.

“Please don’t leave, Michael! I will be a better brother to you! I will protect you!”

Michael snorts at that, shaking her head despite the pain it causes. This is ridiculous, after seven months of loneliness, now her foster brother decides to pull himself together?

“No.” She waves her hands in front of her, as if physically nixing the whole thing. “No, no no no, this? This is dumb, this too little, too late. Way too late. Just leave me alone, you—“

Her teeth clatter shut.

She can’t say it. She’s heard enough of it from her classmates, from her teachers, from random people in the streets. Today has been terrible enough, Michael will not stoop that far.

There is a better way to keep her brother from telling on her.

“I am going to Central Station, and I am catching a shuttle to the Rishi system. You cannot stop me, it’s already done.” Michael’s voice is firm and set. Her lie is terrible, the Rishi system isn’t even real, but Spock is only seven, he won’t know. “Now, get away from me!”

Spock lunges at her, but Michael, though Human, is bigger and stronger. With little effort, she shoves his body backwards. He hits the staircase with a thump, and slumps in place, stunned by the impact.

Michael whirls away from Spock’s crumpled form and runs, runs out the door, through the gate, beneath the swirling pink trees that she had thought so beautiful when she had arrived…

Away from this place, where she will no longer be a danger to everyone around her.

Out of this Vulcan house, out of this Vulcan life, permanently and forever.

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

Michael checks her duffel once more.

One replicated Vulcan tunic and pants, all-terrain boots, toothbrush and toothpaste, PADD, extra socks and underwear, a warm jacket, her copy of Alice in Wonderland…

There was no telling what state Spock would be in when she arrived on Starbase 5, but reading aloud had been soothing to the both of them during childhood, when events often occurred that would overwhelm both of their abilities to process…

Michael remembers the flames and destruction at the Learning Center, the collapsed ceiling, the explosions…

With a shake of her head, she zips the duffel up and tucks it under her bed.

Her leave has been granted. After completing her shift, Michael has permission to head for Starbase 5 and see whatever there is to see. Hopefully, she will be able to assist her brother in whatever way she can.

Still, that request had gone through hours before the events of last night.

Michael stares at the duffel in front of her. Her heart is at war with itself, her logical mind split down the middle.

On one hand, her brother Spock suffering in the confines of a psychiatric ward, like all of his detractors on Vulcan had wanted.

On the other hand…Hugh Culber, and the possibility that he might, somewhere, be alive. Alive, and in dire need of rescue.

Michael remembers Hugh’s emaciated visage on the other side of the glass. A man long dead, standing inside of the reaction cube. Hugh Culber, his body cremated and ashes scattered, yet somehow with enough presence in this universe to be able to leave a solid imprint upon it, utterly negating any theories of ghosts or illusions.

One word, four letters… 

HELP

Stamets hasn’t slept, Michael knows that much. He likely hasn’t left the spore lab since the red spore explosion, running tests and searching desperately for whatever theories might prove plausible. Tilly had been up late chattering and throwing out possible ideas until Michael had finally told her that she had a half-marathon tomorrow and really ought to go to bed.

And Philippa…

Michael has no good read on what her former captain might think. She is elusive these days, unknowable at times. Nevertheless, her eyes still crinkle warmly when Michael goes to see her in the evenings, and she still tosses out jokes and banter like she was born moving her mouth.

Perhaps Philippa will have some advice as to what Michael should choose to do.

Michael sighs, rubbing a hand across her face at the conundrum. She proceeds to hers and Tilly’s bathroom to fill a flask with water in anticipation of the Command Training Program’s half marathon completion.

She and Tilly haven’t had much opportunity to run together as of late, but Michael knows that the ensign will try her best, regardless. Still, she doubts Tilly will manage to beat any of the other trainees, all of whom show far higher levels of physical aptitude.

These logical expectations are dashed, however, upon her arrival at the finish line in the aft corridor hub of Deck 4.

“The Command Training Program half-marathon has a victor!” Saru announces, looking up from his PADD. The four trainees are in various states of exhaustion, all of them sweaty and panting. “A lovely show of endurance and fortitude, Tilly!”

Michael casts her gasping roommate an astonished glance, and looks towards Saru’s PADD to check the half-marathon results.

Good God.

Michael approaches her friend, who is tripod-ing near the corridor wall, her skin pink and flushed. She seems to be mumbling to herself, which is nothing new.

“Tilly.” Tilly turns around and gratefully accepts Michael’s offered flask of water. “According to the stats, you not only won, but you beat your personal best.”

She cocks her head at Tilly, who is still panting. “Training in secret?”

“What?” Tilly seems genuinely confused, her eyes looking off in different directions. “Training? After all that’s…been happening…”

Michael raises an eyebrow. Tilly is possibly lying to her; after all, it isn’t like Michael has been supremely available recently.

“Yes!” Tilly exclaims suddenly. “Yes, yes, it’s all that training you put me through. Thank you, Michael.” She accentuates Michael’s name, which is slightly strange, but not disturbingly so. Michael knows that her friend has difficulties with volume at times.

“Well…” she gives Tilly a quick once-over. Not only had she beat her personal best, but she had beat it significantly…so significantly that such a feat would require an almost Olympic-level burst of improvement.

“…congratulations,” Michael finally decides. She offers Tilly a smile. “You’re amazing.”

She will investigate this further after her shift, and adds her roommate’s sudden, inexplicable athletic ability to her now-long list of mysteries to solve.

 

 

Michael’s shift on the bridge begins with a yellow alert.

“Undeclared craft on intercept course,” Rhys calls.

Detmer looks up from her console where she sits at the helm. “Bearing three-five-eight mark zero, closing fast.”

“Hailing on all frequencies,” Bryce announces. “They aren’t responding.”

“Tell them if they get any closer without telling us who they are, we will activate tactical systems,” Pike orders from the captain’s chair, and Bryce acknowledges with an “Aye.”

Michael pulls up her screen and looks at the combined feeds from every console, attempting to pick up something that anyone might have missed.

“Owo, scans?”

“Detecting a small ship, two life forms.” 

“Captain, they’re opening up a channel.” Bryce states. “It’s a private vessel with a diplomatic registry number, they aren’t required to tell us more than that. The captain’s asking me to beam one aboard.”

“In range for a visual now,” Owosekun announces.

“Good, on-screen.” Pike gives the order, and in the next moment, a ship appears on the viewscreen.

A highly familiar ship.

“That ship is Vulcan,” Saru exclaims.

Michael raises both eyebrows. “That ship is Sarek’s.”

What is he doing out here?

“He assembled a Federation task force to investigate the seven signals, he might have some news for us,” Michael continues, but something niggles at the back of her mind.

Why would Sarek feel the need to warp to the Discovery’s location personally, rather than merely sending them a message from wherever he was?

Pike looks over his shoulder, and from the doubt in his eyes, Michael believes that he has reached the same conclusion. In a smooth motion, Pike gets up from the captain’s chair and approaches Michael.

“Something about this doesn’t add up,” he murmurs.

“There would be no logical reason for Sarek to come here personally rather than just comm-ing us,” Michael agrees, her mind racing. “Whatever information he has must be highly critical—“

“Or highly personal,” Pike interjects, one of his eyebrows raised. Michael looks at him.

“I passed word of Spock’s connection with the signals to Command. Since the ambassador assembled a task force to investigate them, he likely knows of that connection by now…”

“…as well as the news that Spock admitted himself into a psychiatric hospital…” Michael completes in a whisper. A pang of fear grips her heart. Such information could be catastrophic, in the hands of their father. Sarek and Spock have been estranged for years, and there is no telling what Sarek might do with the knowledge that his half-Human son might be—

“Report to the transporter room, Commander,” Pike orders, interrupting Michael’s thoughts. “Welcome the Vulcan ambassador aboard.”

 

 

When Amanda Grayson steps off of the transporter pad, Michael does not know whether to be relieved or more worried. Still, Michael cannot help the slight warmth in her heart at the sight of her adoptive mother, looking soft and maternal in her traditional hooded Vulcan dress. Amanda pulls her into a hug, and whispers into her ear:

Please don’t react. Spock needs our help. I could only turn to you.

More worried, it is.

 

 

The walls of the corridors seem an endless distance away as Michael leads Amanda into the belly of the Discovery en route to the captain’s ready room.

Amanda’s voice is furtive and low as they walk. “Sarek informed me of the seven signals and of Spock’s connection to them, so I went to Starbase Five, Michael, as soon as I could—“

“And?” Michael demands, but Amanda only shakes her head, looking close to distraught.

“They wouldn’t tell me where he was!” Amanda nearly shouts the whisper. Michael tugs Amanda off into a sideway, and leans in closer to hear her. “They wouldn’t let me see him, they wouldn’t say what was wrong with him, they wouldn’t give me his personal affects—“

“You’re his next of kin,” Michael cuts in, shock cutting her to the core. “And a diplomat’s wife!”

Something dark and menacing rises up in Michael’s chest, utter, terrifying foreboding. There is some type of foul play going on here, there must be, Michael knows this like she knows her own serial number—

What are they doing to him on Starbase 5?

Her thoughts flicker to her packed duffel, a phaser powered down and hidden in a folded nightshirt, its presence masked by a large charging battery in the next pocket…

But Michael’s grand plans of storming the psychiatric unit are cut short when Amanda casts a furtive glance around, before leaning in.

“I did the only logical thing, Michael.” Her hand reaches into a pocket to withdraw a small, flat square of electronics. 

Oh no.

“I stole his medical file.”

Michael’s heart drops into her feet, even as she turns her eyes up to the heavens. She now knows why Amanda is here.

Can you please open it for me?”

 

**

 

Amanda and Captain Pike are exchanging pleasantries across Pike’s desk in his ready room, but Michael’s thoughts are a thousand miles away.

Starfleet Command knows of Spock’s admittance to the psych facility, and now Sarek knows as well. Michael closes her eyes and shakes her head. Spock will be so utterly humiliated by it all, not to mention his career could very well be ruined by all of this. Michael understands full well how that feels.

Could she violate her brother’s right to medical privacy like this? Particularly if it was so horrifically illegal?

Entering a medical facility to spirit her possibly captive brother away was one thing.

Violating his privacy in this way, and breaking multiple Starfleet and Federation laws was quite another.

Michael’s chest grows cold at the notion of prison…of being stripped of rank, forced into servitude, and thrown away to the furthest reaches of the galaxy like a piece of garbage…

Please not again.

Amanda is completing her request, and she slides the medical file across the desk towards Pike.

Tell her no, Michael pleads silently.

“Ma’am…I am flattered by yours and your son’s faith in me,” Pike finally states, gazing down at the medical file in front of him. “And it severely pains me to tell you that I can’t open this. It would be a blatant violation of a great many laws--”

“There is precedent,” Amanda insists, “In Starfleet case law, for a captain to invoke right to power of medical attorney, if reasonable proof exists that the member of his crew in question is being detained or held unethically in a place of treatment.”

Michael gives Amanda a stunned look, and Pike’s eyebrows are migrating to his hairline.

“2233, Captain Kojo Annan versus New Uppsala Memorial Hospital on Venus,” Amanda continues. “Should it go to court, you would have an ironclad defense.”

Silence.

“Did you guys really think I would show up here unprepared?” Amanda demands.

Pike finally cracks a smile, a small one.

“Well-argued, ma’am. Now I know where she gets it from.” He gestures with his head towards Michael, who cannot quite manage to smile in return.

“Sir…Amanda…” Michael begins in a halting voice. “I do want to get to the bottom of this; however, I am…deeply uncertain…that this is the manner in which to do it.” She eyes the medical file in Pike’s hand, the one that would get them all arrested, should it be discovered.

“Surely there is some other way,” she questions almost desperately. “Short of violating my brother’s privacy in such a manner, whether or not we can defend ourselves in court?”

“Michael!” Amanda sounds just short of scandalized.

“You are one of Starfleet’s most well-respected captains,” Michael continues in a quick, low voice, casting a glance towards Pike, “and you are the wife of a powerful Vulcan diplomat,” she looks at Amanda. “But less than three months ago, I was a convicted felon, sentenced to life imprisonment. Who do you think might get the blame, if we do this?”

Amanda opens her mouth, and closes it again. She looks slightly horrified now, as if this possibility had not occurred to her.

“Michael…” she murmurs, leaning in close. “Listen to me… You are a hero now, your record is expunged, there is nothing for you to fear…”

“There is everything for me to fear,” Michael shakes her head. Her hands shake, and cold terror rises in her chest. “You don’t even know…”

Qo’Nos, the Shrine of Molor, the detonator in Michael’s hands, Cornwell’s words in her ear…

…You are the only one I trust, to be capable of doing this…

Pike’s door chimes, startling all of them.

Michael and Amanda both look towards Pike, who looks an equal mixture of shaken and awkward.

“They can come back later.” He waves his hand. “This is…more important…”

He trails off as door chimes again. And again.

The chiming increases in frequency until it finally morphs into one long, drawn-out moan. The sound echoes around the silent ready room in a way that Michael thinks would have been comical, had it not been for the stakes of their discussion.

Pike’s face morphs into one of deep annoyance.

“Sit tight, ladies.”

He rises to his feet and storms towards the door, jabbing it open to reveal—

“Philippa?”

Michael utters the name almost accidentally, staring at the unexpected sight of her captain in the doorway. Philippa looks resplendent as usual, her waves of dark hair gathered into a French braid down her back, medical whites glowing upon her slender frame, but a second glance reveals hard eyes, flattened mouth.

Michael knows that look.

“Captain, this is highly out-of-line,” Pike finally manages. “I’m going to have to ask you to leave.” He squares his shoulders in a rather obvious manner, and Michael wonders if perhaps Philippa was not joking in her claim that Pike was afraid of her.

“I apologize,” Philippa states evenly in response. “However, I do think that you will want to hear what I have to say.”

Philippa reaches into the pocket of her uniform and withdraws a small item, too far away for Michael to see.

Pike turns and steps out of doorway. His face is white as a ghost, Michael notes with some apprehension. Philippa brushes past him to approach the desk, and Michael looks up towards her as she does so.

Her captain hesitates only a moment, before placing the item on the desk so that Michael and Amanda can see it.

Michael shakes her head slowly, slowly. The world goes mute as the universe crashes down around her ears.

A Section 31 badge lies in front of her.

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Leland is going to kill her.

Leland is going to kill her.

Leland is going murder her, and then dispose of the body so thoroughly and completely that no one will ever know she had been alive in the first place.

But that was alright. Far preferable than the alternative.

The chatter Philippa had been hearing from the bug under Pike’s desk had grown too heated and severe for her to stay in sickbay marking time, one micro-earbud in. Michael’s distress at being forced to break the law again, of going to prison again, all valid concerns, Philippa understands this better than anyone, just as she understands how such a fate would be inconceivable to the upstanding Christopher Pike and the wholly innocent Amanda Grayson…

She had to do something.

But this split-second decision will cost her greatly, that much is certain.

“Section 31…”

Michael’s murmur is low and shocked. She looks like she’s been hit the face with something heavy and covered in spikes, and Philippa forces down the emotion in her chest.

This is business, serious business, better to get it done quickly.

“Like I said,” she throws over Michael’s shoulder towards Pike. “I do apologize, Captain. My words to you were false. In truth, I was dispatched to this ship to keep an eye on its personnel, after the unpleasant business with Gabriel Lorca and Ash Tyler.”

Michael flinches at the name, but Philippa continues.

“I got wind of your dispute, and I thought it best if I cut in…before anyone gets hurt.”

Philippa produces a chip from her pocket, the one with all of the information that Leland had sent to her in the wee hours of last night.

“You want your lieutenant’s decrypted medical file. Well, I have it. No one need be accused or punished for illegal doings.”

She keeps her gaze studiously away from Michael as she says the words.

“Wait a minute…we were just having that conversation.” Pike strides forward, his eyes narrowing.

“You bugged my office.”

Philippa nods. 

“I bugged your office.” 

Pike only stares at her, crossing his arms slowly over his chest.

Philippa finally huffs. She kneels and reaches beneath the desk. With two twists of her fingers, the listening device is deactivated and unstuck from the wood surface. She holds it up for Pike to see.

“There, now I have unbugged your office.”

Philippa flips the listening device onto the desk pointedly, and it clatters when it hits surface. Pike looks slightly mollified by that. He approaches the desk in several long strides, and with a flick of hand, he pockets the device. Philippa decides not to say anything about the ones she had hidden beneath the Eames chair and on the leg of the drink cart.

“May we speak freely now?” She prompts, holding the file up for all to see. “Yesterday, a colleague passed along this information to me so that I might better assist them in their search for someone.”

“For Spock?” Pike asks, his voice filled with confusion. “What could Section 31 possibly want with him?”

Philippa sighs. She looks at Michael, at Amanda, at Pike, practically Spock’s entire family, and knows that what she is about to say will hit them like a blow and likely shatter what faith any of the three of them have in her.

One problem solved, another eight created.

“He is wanted for murder. He killed three of his doctors and fled Starbase 5.”

Silence echoes like distant thunder in the ready room.

“That…” Amanda begins, her voice shaking. “That cannot be true…my son is gentle, and kind… “

“I agree,” Pike murmurs, walking closer. “If this were true, why isn’t word out about his escape, so every starship could be on the hunt?”

“Details of the case have gotten complicated,” Philippa explains quickly. “Some of the files have disappeared, rest assured there are people on it.”

Her words are technically true.

“No…no, this isn’t possible.” Amanda is shaking her head quickly, distress in her voice. “Spock would never kill anybody…he got upset whenever he accidentally crushed insects in our house, he—he wouldn’t—“

“I’m afraid he has, ma’am,” Philippa states in a kinder voice. In this ready room, she can almost pretend that she is a captain again, delivering hard news to the families of her crew. “There is recorded evidence, not to mention the victims’ remains—“

“Stop.”

Michael’s mellow tone cuts Philippa off.

Michael rises slowly, slowly to her feet. Her dark eyes are set like stone, her face is hard flint, and Philippa feels cold intent coming off of her in waves.

Michael’s voice, when it comes, is as low as the tide before a tsunami.

“My brother…is a good man, who has spent most of his life overcoming accusations and prejudice. He committed himself to a psych ward, for treatment, where God only knows what they did to him—“

Michael’s body is shaking, her low voice rising. Amanda’s eyes are wide, and even Pike seems to be cowering. Philippa feels frozen in place, unable to move as those eyes hold her in a vice grip.

“And you have the goddamn nerve to come in here, with your Section 31 badge, bathed in the blood of entire nations, and tell me, that my brother is wanted for murder.”

Michael takes a step forward. Her face is a darkened mask; a hurricane rages behind her mellow voice.

“Are your snakes after him now? You gonna throw him in a cell while you pick his brain apart—“

“Burnham, that’s enough.” Pike finally cuts in, his voice hard and firm.

Michael throws Philippa one last, venomous look, before turning on a heel and leaving the ready room.

She doesn’t even ask Pike’s permission before she goes.

A long, silent moment passes. Philippa realizes she’s forgotten to breathe, and manages a shaky exhale, reaching a hand out to the desk to steady herself. Neither Pike nor Amanda inquire as to whether she is okay, which Philippa considers par for the course.

“Is…Section 31…after Lieutenant Spock?” Pike finally asks, still looking stunned.

“We are…” Philippa swallows, steadying the rasp of her voice. “Working on the case, yes. I only got word last night, I do not have many details.”

“And if Section 31 finds him…” Amanda states slowly. “What would be the logical next steps, Captain?”

Philippa shakes out a breath as she considers the question. “He would be arrested and put on trial, most likely.”

Amanda closes her eyes slowly. Pike shakes his head.

Unless you find him first…

Philippa stares at Pike, willing him to reach the conclusion without her having to say it aloud. She doesn’t think that her back-up listeners are on-line yet, in fact she doubts it very much, but she has to be smart about this, if Leland doubts her loyalty even for a moment---

“I suppose we’ll just have to find him before they do,” Pike decides, and Philippa barely manages to keep from slumping in relief. “Whatever happened, he’ll need a fair shake.”

He fixes Philippa with a hard look. “You and I are going to have a talk later, in a different location.”

Smart man.

“And in the meantime, Burnham and Ms. Grayson will research the contents of that file.” Pike gestures with his eyes towards Amanda, and Philippa slides the chip across the desk at her.

“Thank you, Captain,” Amanda mumbles, before picking up the file and getting up from her chair. Philippa imagines that this is far too much information for her to adequately process at once.

“And you too, Captain.” Amanda nods once at Pike, before walking out of the ready room doors, clearly in a daze.

Philippa turns to Pike, but has nothing prepared, nothing at all ready. She has never, ever blown cover like this, and to do it now, only five days in…

“Dismissed, Georgiou.”

Philippa schools her face into a complete blank and strides away from him. The ready room doors hiss open, and Philippa proceeds quietly across the bridge, the beeps and chatter of countless consoles and scanning systems hundreds of miles away at the moment.

She doubts she will forget the look on Michael’s face, as long as she lives.

Of course she had not expected Michael to be happy with her, but the look in her eyes, the tone of her tirade…

Oh. Of course.

It had been personal.

Philippa's stomach plummets into her feet at the realization. She nearly stumbles sideways into the first officer's console, but rights herself just in time. Black dread pools in her chest as Philippa considers just what might have happened to Michael that would cause her to hold such a vicious grudge against Section 31, and she has to acknowledge that without this information, her split second decision back in sickbay might have been a poor one.

But at the very least, Michael will not have to break the law. She will not have to risk her career in order to save her brother, she will not be sent to prison while Pike and Amanda Grayson walk free…she will not put her head a chopping block so that others might escape with their lives.

And that, Philippa hopes, will make it all worth it in the end.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Lieutenant Spock’s intellectual abilities and capacity for reason are intact. Instead, his dissociation appears acutely emotional. EQ tests and his current disaffected state suggest extreme empathy recurves.”

The video of the Fleet doctor speaks in a monotone, clinical voice. Her voice rings around the Discovery’s media lab, where every screen contains a piece of Spock’s medical file.

“Recurves,” Michael repeats where she stands in front of the feed, arms crossed. “So he was…ricocheting between a state of high emotion and a state of zero emotion.”

“How strange,” Amanda murmurs from her place at Michael’s left side. She throws a look in Michael’s direction. “I can already feel your wheels turning. Thoughts?”

“Logic dictates a few theories.”

And it is logic that Michael clings to now, cool, safe logic, to keep from coming completely undone when her brother needs her.

“Spock didn’t do it and he’s wrongfully accused. Or he did murder those doctors, in a…mentally compromised state. Or in what he thought was self-defense.”

“Or he did it because he is emotionally compromised,” Amanda completes softly.

“Extreme empathy recurves,” Michael murmurs. “But…why would that happen spontaneously, in a healthy Vulcan…”

“Vulcan-Human hybrid,” Amanda corrects. “And as far as Spock’s emotional health is concerned…” She shakes her head. “Who could really be certain? He is one of very few of his kind, Sarek and I never had any real guesses as to what milestones to expect…whether or not we should encourage the rejection of emotion, or… the embrace of it.”

Michael’s lips twitch, slightly bitter. “I know which of those options Sarek chose.”

Amanda gazes towards Michael, her eyes huge and sad.

“Sarek wanted the both of you raised in a traditional Vulcan manner. He did discourage emotional expression in the two of you, I know that…”

She smiles softly now. “But I also know that you circumvented him when necessary. I know that you encouraged Spock to treat his Human side with kindness, to understand that sometimes different approaches can be good.”

Michael only raises a skeptical eyebrow. “How could that possibly be true?”

She remembers how she strove to be the finest Vulcan student in Shi’Kahr, burying the memories of her Human family in the back of her mind, the massive lengths she went to in order to fit in…

How could she possibly have encouraged her brother to kindle his humanity?

“Oh Michael,” Amanda reaches for her hand to squeeze it. “It can be hard, to see the truth of a situation when you are standing so close to it. But from an adequate distance…”

Amanda’s blue eyes crinkle warmly. “It was very clear to me that I made a good decision. Maybe I should have told you this more often, but…you were a very good older sister.”

“Wait…” Confusion tugs Michael’s eyebrows inwards. “You…made a good decision?”

Michael shakes her head, that information not quite adding up.

“Sarek…before he left the Discovery, he told me that he adopted me so that Spock could learn empathy. A Human trait that Sarek could not teach.”

“Did he say that? Oh, Sarek…”

Amanda rubs a hand over her mouth, looking quite like she wants to laugh. “Back then, it was easier to get him to do what I wanted, if I made him think it was his idea, but I had no idea he took it that far.”

Amanda shakes her head, rolling her eyes with an air of long-suffering patience. But in the next moment, she gives a quick sigh, as if to shake off the annoyance.

“Well, Michael, allow me to tell you why I took you in.”

Amanda takes Michael’s hands in hers.

“Because I wanted a daughter, sweetheart.”

Awed wonder breaks over Michael’s consciousness like the warmest of tides. Somewhere beneath her sternum, her heart fills to the brim with tender warmth. She gazes at Amanda’s kind face, the laugh lines by her eyes, the softness of her mouth…

Her mother, who had chosen her.

Amanda smiles, and Michael imagines that some her thoughts are showing on her face. Her mother pulls her into a gentle hug, and Michael hugs her back, mouth twitching at the corners until it finally tugs itself into a small smile.

So much has happened in the past year, in the past week, so many terrible things, betrayals at seemingly every turn…but there is something so utterly comforting about being held by one’s mother. It made no logical sense…or perhaps it is the only thing in the universe that made logical sense, and all other facts were pure gibberish.

Who could say?

Michael looks up from Amanda’s shoulder—

And stops dead at the sight of the screen ahead of her.

Holographic scribblings of a red figure, glowing, winged, swirling with light…the pictures dance across the screen, a different one showing each second.

“What-- What is that?”

Amanda releases her and turns around.

“Oh…” She murmurs. “Your brother must have drawn those while he was in treatment. I thought he’d left it behind, but it’s back.”

“What is?”

“The Red Angel.”

A clap of thunder echoes in Michael’s ears.

“It first appeared to him the night you ran away from home…” Amanda continues. “After the Vulcan extremists bombed the Learning Center and nearly killed you.” She takes a step forward to stand at Michael’s left shoulder, leaning into her slightly. “I don’t blame you, for wanting to escape from Vulcan to Earth.”

Michael shakes her head at the memory of that terrifying night, jostling herself out of her stunned stupor.

“I didn’t even make it past the outskirts of the city,” she remembers. For all of her intelligence in school, she had still been a panicked eleven-year-old child, and children are not particularly known for their cleverness under pressure. “I still don’t know how Sarek found me.”

“He didn’t. That was Spock.”

Michael turns to throw an astonished stare at Amanda.

“H—how? I deliberately misled him…”

“Oh, we know,” Amanda smiles. “Isn’t the Rishi system from Star Wars?”

“The Rishi Maze, yes...” Michael corrects absently, her gaze wandering to the red figure on the screen, wings protruding from its back. It floats in the center of the screens, mysterious and unknowable from each angle presented.

Front. Side. Back. Side. Bright, glowing red, utterly otherworldly.

“But…how could Spock have possibly have known the truth?”

Amanda shakes her head, her eyes following Michael’s to take in the Red Angel.

“I wish I knew. That night…we were about to alert High Command to begin a search effort, and Spock walked into the room, still in his pajamas. He said that the Red Angel had visited him and told him where you were. That’s where Sarek looked, and there you were.”

Amanda shrugs, looking just as bewildered as Michael feels.

“We always figured he’d used logic to pinpoint where you were. He might have known what time you left, how fast you were walking, what direction you were going in, but Spock never wavered. He said that the Red Angel was real.”

“He…” Michael swallows. “He never told me…”

“Because you were his big sister, Michael,” Amanda explains gently. “He didn’t want you to think any less of him, for having nightmares and illogical visions.”

“I—“

I wouldn’t have, Michael wants to say, but doesn’t bother. Spock had always tried to act tough and mature around her, so she can understand why he would want to keep what he likely considered silly weaknesses such as these to himself.

“I’ve seen this angel too,” Michael murmurs instead. “It appeared to me, on our mission to the first signal.”

Amanda turns to look at her, eyes wide. “Were you the only one?"

“Yes,” Michael confirms, still staring at the flickering red images her brother had drawn. “I wrote it off as a trick of the mind. And…” Michael squints, considering this new information, the fact that this being had appeared to her brother as well. “You know, I didn’t get the sense that it was nefarious.”

In the next moment, she scoffs, shaking her head dismissively. “I can’t believe I’m talking like this. I’m not even sure it was real—“

“It has to be,” Amanda insists. “You and Spock, you are cut from the same cloth. You doubt anything that cannot be proven, you write off all types of…whimsy, of flights of fancy, as illogical, and incorrect. If both of you have seen this being…”

Amanda trails off.

“It has to be real, Michael. I don’t know why, or how, but…” Amanda looks back at the screen, at the strange red figure. “If Spock is related to these signals, and to the Red Angel…”

“The angel has something to do with the signals,” Michael murmurs. “It does. I know. It was present at both places that the signals appeared, though not at both times…”

Times…

Something stirs in the back of Michael’s brain, something big, something astronomical…

But it slips away the second she tries to catch it, like water through clenched fingers.

“No…” Amanda shakes her head, interrupting Michael’s thoughts. “I mean yes, but I was going to say…you are related to Spock, Michael. That means that you are connected to the Angel as well.”

Michael considers her words. The media room is as quiet as the void while her brother’s medical history flickers across every available screen.

“That’s multiple degrees of separation.” She finally shakes her head. “Too many, to make that a conclusion worth pursuing.”

“Do you honestly believe that, sweetheart?” Amanda asks gently. “Or is that something you’re telling yourself, so that you don’t have become a variable in this equation?”

Michael sighs, her head growing quite heavy all of a sudden.

“Logic can solve all types of problems, Michael.” She feels the warmth of Amanda Grayson at her side once more. “But do not forget that it can create problems as well.”

This is all too much. Section 31, the Red Angel, Spock wanted for murder, Culber’s mysterious resurrection… Michael wants to collapse against a console, she wants to fall asleep for three days, she wants to go to Philippa’s quarters and talk to her about every single thing she and Amanda have touched on, and then some more things beyond that…

But this thought is crushing as well, and Michael swallows harshly, heavily to push it back.

Amanda gazes at her, face soft and understanding. She takes a step in and takes Michael’s forearms in a gentle grip.

“Michael,” Amanda murmurs. “Your reaction, when Captain Georgiou revealed that she was part of Section 31…”

Michael stiffens, but Amanda only holds her gently. “Now I don’t know much about Section 31, only that it’s covert ops, spying…”

Michael shakes her head in distress. Amanda continues quickly.

“Is there something I’m not aware of?”

--Qo’Nos, the hydro-bomb, the detonator, Michael standing alone at the Shrine of Molor, her heart filled with despair, the chosen hand of a monstrous plan--

“They…” Michael swallows. “They are…reprehensible. Responsible for so much more, than… anyone could imagine…”

Amanda takes this in with intelligent blue eyes.

“You know something, don’t you?” Her voice is soft, yet shrewd. “Something…incredibly classified…”

“Mother, please.”

Michael cannot, cannot reveal such secrets under pain of life imprisonment, a fate almost worse than death.

“I’m sorry sweetheart, I am sorry. I won’t push.” Amanda’s hands slide down Michael’s shoulders, her arms, and finally grasp both of her hands.

“I remember yours and Captain Georgiou’s relationship from your Shenzhou days. The two of you were thick as thieves, she was your…well, either your closest friend or your hero, depending on your mood.

Michael nods slowly. She had not been very good at subtlety of emotions, back then. If Amanda had guessed the true scope of Michael’s feelings for her captain, well…that was to be expected, in all honesty.

“And after she died,” Amanda continues softly. “It was like all of the light had gone out of your life. And now she’s back…”

Michael knows that tone of voice. Amanda is prompting her. Michael takes a moment to gather her thoughts, her emotions, to produce something coherent out of them.

“I…” Michael finally murmurs. “I don’t know what to do. She is so different now, after all that must have happened to her, and yet…I see who she was. Who she still is, really. But now, this…”

She gestures with an arm, referring to the devastating reveal in Pike’s ready room, and takes several agitated steps away from Amanda. The weight of such knowledge is heavy indeed; Michael slumps under the pain of it, rubbing weary hands across her face.

Amanda, for her part, seems to think on this for several moments.

“Remember when you and Spock found that abandoned sehlat, when you were running around the old hovels in the Southeast district?”

Michael nods slowly, looking up from her hands.

“It was such an ordeal.” Amanda shakes her head with a small smile. “Spock left food out for it every night for a week, and you read all the books you could find on sehlats and feral animals. But the moment you reached out to pet it, to show it affection and care…it attacked you both and ran off.”

Michael remembers that night. Spock had cried for about twenty seconds before pulling himself together admirably, and Michael had cleaned their bleeding scratches as best she could before they had presented themselves to their parents.

“Be careful, sweetheart, be so, so careful,” Amanda pleads, her blue eyes trembling with emotion. “Wounded creatures, they tend to lash out, and they hurt without meaning to…I want happiness for the two of you, of course I do, but understand, Michael…you are my priority. Do not get yourself hurt, trying to save a creature that does not want to be saved.”

Michael’s heart splinters at Amanda’s words, another set of cracks to add to her collection.

Amanda steps in close once more, pulling Michael into a hug. In spite of her inner turmoil, in spite of her ribcage filling with ashes, Michael relaxes into her mother’s embrace, fortifying herself in Amanda’s warmth, her love. For a brief moment, Michael feels like child again, with no knowledge of the pain that accompanies a loved one’s hands around your throat, or their allegiance to an evil sect…

Michael thinks she must know heartbreak like she knows the layout of her own home by now.

“Take care of yourself, Michael. I know how you enjoy taking on the world’s problems, but…promise me that you will care for yourself.”

“Mother—“

Promise.” Amanda’s voice is sharper now, urgent.

Michael slumps into the embrace, at this point too wrung out to protest further. She allows twin tears to drip onto Amanda’s shoulder, before strangling the reaction at its source.

“I promise.”

“Good,” Amanda whispers. “Good.”

Michael sees her safely to the transporter room, and watches her form dissipate into golden energy. Her heart feels like it’s been dropped down a mining shaft, her mind a veritable solar storm of thoughts. It occurs to her, briefly, that she might not be an optimal state for a heavy conversation with her former captain. Nevertheless, Michael manages to leave the transporter room and move in a slow stagger, towards Deck 4.

Towards Philippa’s quarters.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Philippa is sitting on her bed, still in her medical whites. She doubts that sickbay will miss her today, and doubts further that it will matter, in the end. Pike cannot kick her off of the ship even if he wants to, and really, what was a few hours in sickbay, in light of all that is happening?

She knows what is coming. She feels it like the impending doom of a great battle, like the doom that she should have seen coming, should have anticipated, back at the Binary Stars…

Philippa rubs at the starburst scar beneath her jacket and undershirt. A permanent reminder of just where lapses in judgment will get you, of the necessity of vigilance, of mistrust, of meeting violence at its source and stifling it completely before it has a chance to live—

The door chimes.

And chimes again.

The chimes continue, growing further together in frequency until they make one long, ringing sound that echoes through her quarters. Philippa mentally tips her hat to the woman on the other side of the doors, even as she gets up to open them.

She has prepared nothing at all for this confrontation.

It is unclear whether this is because she feels confident in her words, in her arguments, or because she trusts her own ability to improvise.

The door hisses open, revealing Michael standing on the other side. Her face is haggard, her eyes raw; it looks like she’s been to the opposite side of the universe and back in the mere hour since they separated, and Philippa wonders what on Earth was in that medical file. 

“News of your brother?”

Michael fixes her with a hard look. “Why, so you can send it back to your spy network?”

“I am concerned, Michael, genuinely—“

“I don’t know what about you could possibly be genuine.”

Michael takes several steps around Philippa into her quarters, but does not sit down in the chair by the desk. Not this time.

“Why, Philippa?” She asks, her dark eyes swimming with pain. “Why are you working with them?”

Philippa considers the long, painful answer to that question. An answer that would not help her even remotely, and would likely only get her into deeper trouble.

“It’s where I belong now, Michael—“

“No.” Michael shakes her head firmly, “No, no you do not, how could you even say that?”

How could I—“ A spike of angry frustration hits Philippa between the shoulder blades. “How could I not? After all that has happened, all that I have had to do, Michael, you have no idea—“

“Then tell me!” Michael demands, her arms waving behind her. “Tell me what you had to do! I-- I come to your quarters every night, and we talk about everything under the stars but the year and half that you experienced during the war. You do not get to throw that in my face like it is my fault. Talk to me, Philippa!”

Philippa opens her mouth to shout back, then closes it in the next moment.

She can’t.

She can’t, she can’t, she can’t.

At this, Michael only works her mouth, her hands falling to her hips. Her full lips twitch, proving a rather fetching tell of her rage.

“Section 31…” she breathes in a low voice. “Is nothing but a snake pit of those who are too bloodthirsty and prejudiced to serve aboard a Starfleet ship—“

“—quite the declaration, my dear,” Philippa interrupts in a biting tone. “Do you have any evidence to uphold this, or do you just enjoy making sweeping claims of your own moral high ground—“

“I know more about Section 31 than you could possibly imagine—“

“Then you know that we do the dirty work that Starfleet does not want to touch, in order for the Federation to continue its peaceful existence—“

Michael actually laughs at that. She laughs, the sound echoing off of the walls of these small lieutenant quarters. There is audible pain beneath the sound, and enough bitterness to poison pure sugar.

You…” Michael shakes her head, chuckles still erupting from her chest. “You…you think that you do the universe’s dirty work? You—“

She snorts, putting a hand over her mouth to stifle the sound. It is slightly terrifying, and Philippa wonders if her former commander is cracking.

“You have no idea, do you?” Michael asks, black mirth dancing in her eyes. “Have you done any real research into your own organization? Do you have any idea what they do, what they have done?”

“No, I entered on blind faith and the hope that, wherever they sent me, I would get to have fun and make friends!” Philippa’s voice is sarcastic in the extreme. She takes a step closer to her former commander. “I know damn well what I have gotten into, Michael. Do not presume to think I am so unbearably innocent, so naïve after what I have been through.”

“I’m not—“

“Save it!” Philippa snaps almost without meaning to, and Michael’s mouth snaps shut. “You have the audacity to judge me, Michael Burnham, after all that you have done? Attacking your own captain, attempting to destroy a vessel that showed no aggression whatsoever—“

“A move that has cost me greatly, in dividends that I will be paying the rest of my life.” Michael’s voice is low and intense. She takes a step closer to Philippa. “You are attempting to distract me, to turn this discussion back at me, as you have done every time—“

“And there is damn good reason for that!” Philippa exclaims. “How can I make you understand? I am not the captain you knew!”

Michael falls silent at Philippa’s shout.

“What I have seen…what I have done…” Philippa feels herself shaking, her heart pounding rapidly beneath her breastbone. “The blood on my hands…some things are irreversible, some acts can never be blacked out…Section 31 is the last place left for the broken shards of a tool like me—“

“You’re wrong.” Michael shakes her head vigorously. “Have you not experienced the same four days that I did? Because I saw you, Philippa, I saw you helping Ensign Tilly, I saw you on the floor over there with Reno, laughing, I know you saved our lives on Terralysium, you’re in sickbay every day, helping people…”

“It’s an act,” Philippa whispers, though she does not know how truthful her words are. “It’s a thing called “keeping cover,” I would not expect you to understand—“

She is cut off when Michael steps fully and thoroughly into her personal space. The warmth of her body is so terribly close, and it takes everything Philippa has to stand her ground.

“What I have been forced to do…in the name of keeping cover…”

Michael’s voice is low again, with all of the power of a thunderstorm behind it. Something dark and terrible flickers behind her eyes.

Philippa knows that look.

“Whatever you have done, cannot possibly be worse, Philippa. I understand,” Michael insists, her voice raw and deep with pain. “I swear that I do!”

Philippa shakes her head, and keeps shaking it.

“You could not possibly.”

“Try me.” Michael challenges. She squares her chest, raising her chin high, daring Philippa to make her move, to show her hand.

Philippa gathers every scrap of her strength to look into Michael’s eyes… Her dark, wonderful eyes that have been to hell and back while telling the devil himself to screw off…

Michael, who found the way to peace against all odds, who redeemed herself with her choices, who corrected the mistakes of an entire nation, in spite of all that she suffered…

She puts Philippa to complete, utter shame.

“I—I can’t…

And Philippa folds. She gathers up every scrap of her emotions, the ones swirling in a tight ball beneath her stomach, and hides them away, each and every scrap of pain and agony.

Michael seems to feel Philippa slipping away from her, for she begins to scramble now, the words leaving her lips desperately.

“Philippa, you have a place here on the Discovery, as a medic, as a healer, how can you not see that? You don’t have to serve with them, you don’t—“

But Philippa is cold and remote once more, a glowing, unknowable moon high in orbit above a planet that will never reach her.

“You do not know me anymore, Michael. You only see what you want to see…please leave. Please.”

Philippa imagines that she can see the very moment that Michael’s heart crumples, when the light dims in her dark eyes.

Michael goes silently, exiting Philippa’s quarters without so much a glance. Philippa watches the doors hiss shut once more, and collapses into her bed. She imagines the brightest light on this ship proceeding down the corridor, farther and farther from her quarters until she is gone from sight, forever.

It  was for the best.

It occurs to her that perhaps she had prepared nothing for this confrontation, not because she was confident of her victory, but because in truth, she had wanted to lose.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Tilly is beginning to wonder if putting her mouth over the business end of a phaser might be preferable to suffering through even one more minute of today.

The marathon had been manageable. Her morning spore lab checks had been…acceptable.

But the ensuing seven hours of her shift had quickly devolved into interminable hell.

She is not crazy, Tilly manages to remind herself as she strides out of engineering and down the corridor towards the lift. She passes Lieutenant Adrees, Nurse Ohanesian, Ensigns Jones and Orubi as she goes, and barely hears their polite acknowledgments.

Not crazy, not insane...not crazy.

A feminine, barbed wire voice grates just behind her back, making an utter mockery of her self-diagnosis.

Nevertheless, five laps of the ship, a quick re-do of the entirety of her academy exams (she aced every one of them) and a brief, thorough recitation of every one of her birthdays had told Sylvia Tilly that no, she was not crazy, not clinically.

She was not spouting conspiracy theories, or wearing foil on her head, or convinced that some type of shadow-y government sect had infiltrated the Discovery and was spying on all of them.

No, she just had a ghost—a memory, or whatever the hell May Ahearn was. Short, with dark curly hair and a truly memorable accent, inexplicably clothed in a Starfleet ops uniform…

May was like a parasite, Tilly thought. A particularly annoying one.

Her grief and self-hatred from earlier that morning is practically gone now, after seven irritating hours of May chattering away in her ear.

Tilly wonders if this is what she herself is like to other people.

I hope the hell not.

“Are we going to see the captain now?”

May’s barbed wire voice is insistent in Tilly’s ear as she strides down the corridor.

After seven hours of protracted silence, Tilly’s resolve finally bends.

Why,” she mumbles out of the corner of her mouth in a low, irritated voice. “Would you possibly want to see the captain?”

May does a comical double take as she walks next to Tilly, as if surprised at the notion of Tilly answering her. She seems to recover quickly enough.

“Because!” She insists. “He is evil! He flies around in this weird ship, cuts my home to threads!”

“You’re crazy,” Tilly grates, shaking her head as if May is merely an irksome fly. “You are nuts, and this is notreal!“ Her hand flashes out, dispersing May’s incorporeal form. 

“I am not crazy!”

…Crazy…Crazy…Crazy…

May’s disembodied voice echoes around the empty corridor, ghosting around the piping and exposed Jeffries Tube curves crossing the ceiling. Tilly’s head tilts, her eyes darting around the cavernous empty space of the ship’s Deck Five hallway. She attempts to follow the sound, her gaze chasing the whispers as they ricochet through the recycled air.

“I have a plan!”

Tilly blinks, and May is in front her once more.

“I need you, Stilly! I chose you!”

Tilly takes a single, pissed-off step towards May Ahearn, the unbearably annoying ghost.

“Chose me…”

Oh fuck, is she shaking?

Yeah, she’s definitely shaking.

For what?!” Tilly all but shouts. In the next moment, she snaps her jaw shut and whirls back to stride down the corridor.

“She’s not real,” Tilly whispers to herself as she walks.She’s not real, she’s not real, people are gonna think you’re crazy, Sylvia, calm down—“

“Tilly!”

“Nope.”

“Tilly!”

“Mm-mm.”

“We are wasting time,” May insists as Tilly strides down Deck 4. “I have told you I am helping you—“

“You are not helping me,” Tilly snaps out of the corner of her mouth.

“I am!” May insists, her curly ponytail bouncing. “Did you see how fast you were earlier! That’s me, Stilly, I am a helper—“

“What you are, is a massive pain in my— Good afternoon, Commander!”

Tilly chirps the greeting and draws herself into a lightning-quick salute at Commander Nhan, who strides past her. Nhan offers her a quick nod and a smile as she walks down the corridor, her long hair bouncing behind her.

Tilly whirls on May the second Nhan is out of sight. “See, that is not helping me, you’re making me look like a nut-job in front of these very important people, like last night—“

“You are not a…nut…job.” May fumbles at the words. “Your mind is amazing, that is why I chose you, Stilly.”

Tilly only sticks her lower lip out in what she knows is a childish display of stubbornness. She whirls back around, striding towards the turbolift with intent.

Shadow Exercises for the command trainees will start in five minutes, and Tilly will be damned if she is late, even if she is seeing visions of a dead girl from her past.

“And last night was not my fault! Last night was scary!” May insists as Tilly presses the button with intent. “Those red things, they are like big nightmares!”

Tilly stops dead at that. She turns to stare at May as the turbolift doors open.

“Wait…red things?”

“Yes!” May insists. “They have lived alongside us since the beginning, but they became bad when your captain started flying his ship through my home! They are unstoppable, like us but not!”

“Wait, they? Us?”

Tilly enters the turbolift and presses the button for the bridge, even as she stares at May next to her.

“What--…what are you talking about? What do you know about the red spores?”

“They are not a ‘spores’!” May insists as the turbolift whirs around them. “They are bad.

“Ughhhh!” Tilly throws her hands up in pure frustration, taking a step towards May. “So what are they then?”

God, Tilly just wants to throttle this girl sometimes, how difficult could it possibly be to be clear and concise?

“They are bad, Stilly, that is why I must find the captain!”

“Which. One?” Tilly’s voice sounds unbearably shrill in the confined space of the turbolift. “Cause we’ve got quite a few of those these days! Three, in fact! Which one do you want, May?”

And shit, she’s losing control now, but it’s far too much to pull back.

“Do want the uh, the-- the silver haired fox, or the dark-haired vixen, or the—the, the beige…toothpick?!” Tilly’s hands cut sharply in front of her as she lashes out at the ghost. “Which! Captain! May?”

May opens her mouth, but before she can say anything, the lift opens onto the bridge of the USS Discovery.

“Ah, Ensign Tilly!” Commander Saru turns from where he stands beside the captain’s chair and greets her with his mellow voice. “Do step forth, join your crewmates.”

Tilly’s jaw snaps shut. She swallows, nodding quickly, as if she had not been yelling into empty air mere seconds before. Though her throat might as well be closing up, Tilly trots out of the turbolift to join Ensign Mendoza and Ensign De Luca, who stand at attention between the ops and helm consoles.

She pleads with the cosmic forces of the universe that May Ahearn, her ghost, will take the hint and shut the hell up, just for the next few hours.

 

“Greetings, everyone,” Saru continues in his mellow voice, addressing the three ensigns and various lieutenants standing respectfully by their consoles. “And welcome to Shadow Exercises. As Starfleet's future chiefs and captains, this is your opportunity to build rapport with a senior officer, and see firsthand what their duties entail.” 

May is silent at Tilly’s left side. 

“So let us begin,” Saru completes. He gestures across the bridge towards the various officers at their consoles, and Tilly swallows down her fear before proceeding towards the captain’s chair. 

“Look sharp, people!” Captain Pike calls across the bridge in jest from where he stands behind the captain’s chair. “This is our future competition!” 

“Is that your captain?!” 

May’s barbed wire voice echoes in Tilly’s ear, ringing across the bridge as if on a loudspeaker. Pike raises an eyebrow, and Tilly draws herself upright before him. 

“Uh…Ensign Sylvia Tilly, sir!” Tilly chirps, hoping she sounds natural. “Fully present and focused on this very important exercise, for which I am all ears, Captain!” 

Tilly refuses to pull her eyes away from Pike’s face, even though May is crowding her right shoulder. 

Pike, for his part, smiles wryly, the expression shaving ten years off of his appearance.  

“Your dedication is noted, Ensign. So, what should we do?” He leans against the captain’s chair, the very embodiment of ease. “How ‘bout we marry some folks, even if they’re not that into each other, hm?” 

Tilly manages a warbling laugh, torn between terror and genuine amusement. “Very good, sir,” she supplies easily, unclenching just a little bit.  

The scary thing about this is, Tilly likes Captain Pike, strange circumstances behind his presence or not. She likes their new captain, and all she really wants is to make a good impression on him during these Shadow Exercises. Having Pike in her corner would certainly help her in her desire for advancement, and Sylvia Tilly is fully aware that, as Starfleet’s most ridiculous ensign, she would need as many people in her corner as she could get. 

Lieutenant Rhys approaches the captain’s chair, stylus in hand. 

“Captain, I just need your authorization on this…” 

“I don’t understand,” comes May’s accented voice in Tilly’s ear. “That was funny. The captain of this ship is not funny, he is terrifying!” 

Tilly refuses to look, well aware of everyone around them on this very full and bustling starship bridge. Instead, she mumbles out of the side of her mouth, “You may be thinking of an old captain, Captain Lorca.” 

The mumble sounds ridiculous, practically incoherent, but May can’t be more than a foot away from her. 

“Is he shorter?” May insists, heedless of her own volume. “And blonder? And much, much whiter? Because that’s who I’m looking for!” 

The final two words crackle in Tilly’s ears, and she nearly misses Captain Pike’s statement in the ringing. 

“Ready if you are.” Pike raises an expectant eyebrow. 

“He’s not the man I need to talk to!” May exclaims, taking step in front of Tilly to block Pike from view. She’s clearly becoming distressed, her dark eyes flashing, her gestures becoming sharper. 

“Hop in the chair, Ensign.” 

“Y-yes, Sir!” Tilly sidesteps May, trying with all of her might to ignore what she knows to be an apparition, albeit an angry one. 

“Let’s run a systems test—“ 

“Where is the other captain?” May demands, whirling on Tilly. 

“A uh, systems test, right.” Tilly repeats, the words ringing in her brain. 

Other captain, other captain…  

“…uh, where?” Tilly queries. 

Pike’s brow furrows where he stands. He raises a confused eyebrow. “In…the chair, Ensign?”

He gestures expectantly towards the captain’s chair. 

“Oh! Uh, right, of course, yes,” Tilly babbles, feeling quite ridiculous. She trots forward and steps onto the dias, sitting quickly in the chair. 

The captain’s chair. 

Tilly struggles not to shake, tries not to spontaneously combust as she studies the armrest controls. By all accounts, this should be a momentous occasion for her. Her, Sylvia Tilly, sitting in the captain’s chair, about to perform captain’s duties for the first time…not that it’s her first time in the chair, of course, there was the time in the Terran universe when she’d been forced to play-act as Captain Killy, but this is different, this is…well, this is all of her dreams and ambitions coming true, finally--  

“Acknowledged,” Tilly chokes, feeling like a raw, overstimulated nerve. “Um, run checklist protocol, step one—“ 

“Tilly, this is not right!” May Ahearn appears to Tilly’s left once more. Her barbed wire voice is about twenty decibels too loud for her body, and Tilly flinches. “My plan is falling apart! Where is the captain, Tilly?!” 

Tilly finally snaps, whirling towards May.  

“Calm. Down,” she hisses, her anxiety turning to rage in a split second. 

“Ensign, I’m hearing considerably fewer syllables out of you than normal.” Pike chimes in from Tilly’s right, his voice sounding a mixture of amused and irritated. “I know the chair can be intimidating, but are you okay?” 

Tilly wonders if this is what it is like to have an angel and a devil on each shoulder. 

“No!” May exclaims angrily, taking several steps across the bridge to block Pike from Tilly’s sight. “No, we are not okay! I want the captain!” She sounds quite like a child having a temper tantrum. “I want the captain—“ 

“This is the captain!” Tilly snaps, gesturing at Pike. 

“Ensign, what is going on?” 

That’s Pike’s voice, Tilly realizes.  

She blinks and May is gone, leaving only Captain Pike’s bewildered stare, and behind him, Lieutenants Bryce and Airiam, both looking at her with wide eyes. 

“Tilly, answer Captain Pike,” Commander Saru orders from somewhere behind her, sounding downright testy. 

The entire bridge is silent now, Tilly realizes. Silent, and staring at her in the captain’s chair.  

Fuck, fuck fuck fuck fuck-- 

With a steadying swallow, Tilly looks down at the armrest and attempts to gather herself-- 

She looks up, and May is back. 

Something inside Tilly breaks. 

“Tilly, I—“ 

“No!” Tilly snarls, whirling at the apparition. “No, I’m not listening to you anymore! You tricked me, and you lied to me!” 

“I didn’t lie!” May insists, her voice high and angry. She points behind her, towards Pike. “He’s lying, he is an imposter—“ 

“SHUT UP!” Tilly screams--  

Ensign Sylvia Tilly!” 

Saru’s exclamation is loud and disturbed enough to make Tilly flinch.

When her eyes reopen, May is gone. 

Instead, Tilly finds that her gaze is pointed right at Captain Pike. The captain’s face is white, his blue eyes wide and shocked, and in the next moment, Tilly realizes what the entire bridge surely saw. 

“No! No, I didn’t—uh…”  

Tilly unfolds herself from the captain’s chair, still babbling.  

“I didn’t mean…she drove me to it!”  

But May is gone, so gone in fact that Tilly has to wonder if she was ever even there in the first place.  “Oh God, that doesn’t make any sense.”

Her hands come up to her forehead, her fingers wanting to pull at her hair, though Tilly stops them just in time.

“I’m not—I’m not—“ 

Not crazy…not crazy…  

The words only die in her throat.  

Detmer is staring. Owosekun looks concerned. Rhys is looking between Pike and Saru, and Tilly can feel the embarrassment emanating from him. 

No…no no no no…  

The enormity of Tilly's actions begin to crash down upon her. 

She yelled at a captain.  

She yelled at a captain, and not just any captain, but at Captain Pike, the pride of Starfleet and the Federation proper, and in front of a bridge full of his subordinates, her superiors

“I…” 

In the blink of an eye, Tilly sees her bright future crumbling to ruin around her. She sees herself demoted, booted from Starfleet, diagnosed with insanity and committed to a psychiatric unit forever, her dreams plucked from her hands and extinguished entirely. 

“I…”  

There was only one way out of this, one way to avoid being reprimanded, demoted, committed.  

“I quit.” 

The words leave Tilly’s chest, and her heart breaks with them. 

On silent feet, Tilly walks to the turbolift, the stares of the entire bridge complement burning hot at her back. She ignores May Ahearn’s sympathetic gaze at her right shoulder as the doors hiss shut, blocking the bridge from view. 

Tilly’s face, like her dreams, crumple the second the doors are closed. 

Her goals, ambitions, her future, out of view, out of sight, out of reach, permanently and forever.

Chapter Text

 

 

Michael Burnham has not felt this destroyed since their brief visit to the Terran Empire.

Her heart feels like it’s been stepped on. She does not know where to go from here.

Philippa is so close, a mere deck above her, but she might as well be a thousand lightyears away. That awful distance in her voice, her warm, familiar face shutting down like a deactivating terminal…

Michael’s tears drip onto her pillow, soaking the right side of her face as she curls tightly upon herself. It hurt so much, so unbearably much…she thinks of Ash, of Voq, his cruel words and his hands squeezing the life from her…

How could it be happening again?

Michael remembers Philippa holding her in her arms that first night she came aboard, the wonderful fantasy that Michael had lived on and dreamed about for months and months after that horrible day at the Binary Stars, somehow coming to pass, here in reality…

It’s a thing called “keeping cover…

All an act…

Had Philippa been right?

Did Michael even know her anymore?

Michael catches a low sob in the fabric of the pillow. Crying feels good at times, and Michael hopes that this will exorcise the emotions that she does not have the strength to meditate away, the pain that she cannot coax into submission.

Perhaps the real problem is that Michael wants to know Philippa, whoever she may be now.

She wants to know her so badly.

She wants to be the person that Philippa Georgiou shares her secrets with, she wants to be trusted with Philippa’s past, she wants to take all of the sharp, painful edges that her captain hides away, and run gentle hands over them until they do not pain her any longer.

Despite the clear and obvious danger, Michael would still walk through fire for Philippa, she would still risk heartbreak and agony if it meant getting to be in Philippa’s presence, in her life…she would throw all of herself away if that was what it took to bring Philippa back…

Michael wipes the tears from her cheeks. She was a fool, a goddamn fool. Amanda had warned her, and Michael had gone and done it anyway. She had approached a wounded creature, and the creature had lashed out and ran. She was a xenoanthropologist, for stars’ sake, what on Earth had she expected?

Stupid, reckless, emotional idiot…

When would she ever learn?

The doors to her quarters hiss open, and Michael quickly rubs her face with a sleeve before sitting up.

Sylvia Tilly walks through the door, her face an interesting combination of embarrassment and pure terror.

“Michael?”

“What’s wrong?” Michael manages, her inner turmoil shunting away at the very idea of her young roommate becoming aware of it.

“Have you been crying?” Tilly asks, sounding completely shocked.

Michael’s voice barely trembles. “…I asked first.”

Tilly slowly sinks into the chair placed by the doors. She’s still staring at Michael, as if she had never seen her before.

“What…what happened?” Tilly asks, her blue eyes wide and swimming.

She is so terribly young, her cheeks still plump, her smiles still quick and unburdened. The last thing Michael wants is to force her friend to become more like her, filled with pain and baggage…

She closes her mouth, looks away, and begins the process of compartmentalizing, tucking her emotions away--

But Tilly leans forward, her face becoming determined.

“Look, I—I know that I’m like, the youngest person on this ship or whatever, and that I come off as scattered and silly, but like…I went through the same shit that you did, Michael…well, maybe not the exact same shit, but I was here, on this ship, with Ripper and the Terran Empire and Qo’Nos, and—and Ash…and you know what, I never asked if you were alright, during those things…”

Tilly’s eyes slide sideways as she speaks, like she’s looking at someone else for a brief second.

“I never…never really followed up with you, or checked in with you, and maybe it’s because you’re a little intimidating, or you seem to have everything together at all times, but like…I’m starting to think that maybe that was a mistake. I don’t think I’ve been the friend you needed.”

Tilly swallows. Her eyes dart from a place just to Michael’s left and back.

“You’ve been so nice to me, training me and helping me, just-- Me,” Tilly gestures at herself, “Like, who does that? And I haven’t…reciprocated, I feel like—“

“Tilly.” Michael cuts her off. “Sylvia.”

Tilly looks towards her now, still looking quite distressed.

“You have been more than enough of a friend, I promise.” Michael’s voice is soft and low. She wonders what might be going on with her ensign roommate, where all of this might be coming from.

“You showed me kindness before anyone did, back in the beginning, when I first arrived,” Michael continues, “And not because it would be favorable for you to do so…but because you are a good person, Tilly.”

Tilly nods shakily at that. She sniffles, rubbing at her nose with a sleeve. Michael takes her in, with her intense red hair and chubby cheeks, so young to be serving on a starship like this…but every word of what Michael had said to her had been true.

Michael wonders if her ensign roommate is mature or aware enough to help her with this problem, or if she herself even feels comfortable unbending in this way…it is so deeply personal, after all.

But Amanda’s words ring in Michael’s ear…

Promise me, that you will care for yourself…

She blinks, takes a deep breath, and decides to take a chance.

“I…had an argument, with Captain Georgiou,” Michael finds herself saying. “She is…not who I thought she was…”

To her intense shame, tears well in Michael’s eyes once more, triggered by merely saying the words out loud. Tilly gets up from the chair and plops herself down on the bed, throwing an arm around Michael’s shoulders. Michael slumps into her, the tears tracking down her cheeks. It isn’t the comfort she truly wants, the person she truly wants…but it is good, nonetheless.

“I’m sorry, Michael. I know how much you cared about her.”

“I still do,” Michael whispers, raw agony seeping into her voice. “But with what I know now…I don’t know if I should. But I don’t know how to stop…”

Tilly is quiet for several moments.

“This sounds kind of like…what happened with Ash—“

“It’s not,” Michael interrupts. “Ash was a victim of circumstance, he never asked for any of what happened to him, but Captain Georgiou—“

She is a willing participant.

Michael swallows harshly. The last thing she wants is to drag her friend into a situation like this…like the situation on Qo’Nos, three months prior. Michael had only very narrowly kept her out of that, and she won’t sully Sylvia Tilly’s innocence with this type of knowledge.

Philippa Georgiou was her roommate’s hero, and it should remain that way.

Tilly remains silent, until it becomes clear that Michael will not complete her thought.

“I think…well… Honestly, I think it’s pretty shitty that this keeps happening to you.”

Michael blinks.

A strange sound bubbles up in her chest, straying too close to the vicinity of a sob to be any type of laugh.

“But, um…” Tilly continues, tightening her grip around Michael’s shoulders. “Y’know, it’s pretty miraculous that Captain Georgiou is even alive.” Her voice becomes a forced kind of chipper. “Back from the dead, and all that! It’s just that, um…maybe…”

Tilly hesitates. Her head rustles as she turns slightly, and Michael follows her gaze to the middle of room, between their beds.

There is no doubt in her mind that Tilly’s eyes are tracking something, but there is nothing in their quarters for them to follow.

“Maybe…” Tilly continues, her voice going weak. “…expecting her to come back just the way she was…as the person she was…”

Her warbling voice staggers and trails off.

The moment stands silent now; dark and heavy, ominous, like an abandoned world-ship floating soundlessly through the void of deep space.

“Was I being naïve?”

Michael whispers the question as she gazes in the same direction that Tilly seems to be. She knows the answer before the thought leaves her lips.

“I…” A bitter chuckle leaves Michael’s chest. “I didn’t ask any questions. How she survived, what she did, for a year and a half on Qo’Nos… What she…she must have—“

The words die in Michael’s throat, viciously strangled before they could gain any type of traction in her brain.

Qo’Nos, Qo’Nos, Qo’Nos

The hell-planet that had taken Ash, that had taken Philippa, that had almost, almost taken Michael, and with her, Starfleet, the Federation, and the pillars on which their entire civilization had been built.

Michael gazes down at her fingers, which, many months earlier, in a dark time and a far darker place, had once held all of the destructive power that had smote Sodom and Gomorrah from the face of planet Earth.

--Shadows dart across the cold stone walls, they whisper in Michael’s ear as she stands alone over the Shrine of Molor…

The well upon which she will end the war and bring peace to the galaxy.

The Klingon home-world will be destroyed in fire and flame, with Michael dealing the final blow to this warlike race, to billions and billions of sentient lives—

“Michael?”

Michael twitches almost violently. “Hm?”

Tilly’s face is out of her line of sight, but Michael imagines the look of concern she must be wearing.

“Nothing!” Michael swallows. “It’s nothing. I mean…”

Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale.

Focus.

“Ph—“ Michael staggers on the name. “She…she didn’t tell me she survived. For a year and half. She didn’t tell anyone. If not for--"

--her reassignment, courtesy of Section 31--

Michael clamps her mouth shut before the bitter truth can escape. She shakes her head jerkily, swallowing down that horrible notion.

“Would she have let me live out the rest of my life, without knowing?”

Michael's voice drops to an agonized whisper, the words rub her raw.

How could Philippa ever consider doing such a thing to her? Did she have no knowledge of the purgatory that in which Michael had dwelt for months, the agony that Michael would have carried with her, for all of her days? Losing Philippa had been like losing half of her heart. Being complicit in her death, well…

That had been like losing the other half.

Hadn't she given even half of a damn?

Hot tears bubble up in Michael’s eyes once more. Tilly’s arm grips her tighter, and Michael is torn between embarrassment and gratitude at the action.

At all of this, really.

“I don’t know, Michael…” Tilly finally speaks up, her voice thready. “I…you’re right. She shouldn’t have. It…it really doesn’t make sense.”

Michael shakes her head, barely hearing Tilly’s words. She dislodges a few more lingering tears.

Both are quiet for several long moments.

Tilly turns her head, a weak smile crossing her lips.

“It’s okay if you don’t want to tell me everything, y’know.”

Michael blinks in surprise.

“I get that you’re like, all circumspect and Vulcan-y, all of that,” Tilly continues with a slight laugh. “But I mean…I’m around if you want to tell me just a little bit more, at any point, ever. It-- it just feels like…maybe I don’t have the whole story here. As usual.”

Tilly rushes the bit at the end, and Michael snorts wetly.

Neither do I, she tries to respond, but the words catch in her throat.

Michael is quite uncertain as to whether she even wants the whole story.

“But anyway…” Tilly’s voice gets just a bit stronger. “I just don’t want you to feel like you’re totally alone, even if you can’t say all of it. Like…yeah, okay, Captain Georgiou is really great and inspiring and a total badass and all, but if whatever she did, makes you feel like this…”

Tilly trails off.

“Maybe you need some time to process? Like, some time…apart.”

The suggestion comes out tentatively. Michael considers rejecting it out of hand, but stops herself as realization strikes.

She hasn’t actually stopped to process it.

Any of it.

She hadn’t given any real thought to the situation, because…well, she hadn’t wanted to.

So caught up in the euphoria of having her beloved captain back at her side, Michael had not once stopped to consider the implications of Philippa’s survival. The physics and the mechanics behind her resurrection, the motivations behind her reappearance…the logic underlying every aspect of what Michael had all too happy to write off as a minor miracle.

All of it, Michael had been content to ignore…

Until now.

Michael wonders if this is what it feels like to come down off of a chemically induced high, if this bleak despair and emptiness is how addicts feel when they finally crash back down to Earth.

She supposes that one cannot live in a fantasy forever. This reckoning has been a long time coming.

My own fault, Michael acknowledges wearily. No one else’s.

Just mine.

“…Yeah.”

The word grates from Michael’s chest as she forces it into being. She halfway expects the room to come crashing down around her as it does so, but nothing happens.

In fact…

The tight knot in her chest seems to be loosening, just a little bit.

“I think you’re right, Sylvia,” Michael continues, stronger now. “That…might be a good idea.”

The pain and heartbreak seems to ease with every passing second that Michael gives thought to her roommate’s advice. Somehow, the agony between her shoulder blades seems to be lessening with each weary agreement.

A bizarre medicine, but not an unwelcome one.

“It is?” Tilly asks. She sounds surprised. “You think so?”

“Yes.” A laugh bubbles up in Michael’s chest, taking her by surprise. She takes a sniffling breath, and the hurt dissipates even more. “You’re right about something. Have a little confidence. Captains need to be certain of their judgment.”

“I mean, yeah! Yeah, of course they do, but…but—“

Tilly’s voice breaks. Her shoulders start shaking. Michael pulls herself up, alarmed.

“Hey! Hey hey hey, it’s okay, I wasn’t being serious—“

“I know!” Tilly exclaims, her hands waving in front of her. “I know, and I love you for that! Oh God it’s not you, I promise…”

Tilly’s voice is warbling, slightly hysterical. Her tear-filled eyes dart around the room once more.

“It’s—it’s not anyone, but I don’t know what it is…maybe it’s something, I don’t know—I, I don’t—“

Tilly cuts herself off, her teeth clattering shut audibly.

Michael stares at her for a long beat of silence.

Finally:

“Tell me what’s happening with you, Sylvia.”

Tilly flinches, collapsing inwards ever so slightly. Michael lowers her head to look at her roommate’s face.

“What is going on? You’ve been jumpy, withdrawn…you ran that half-marathon like you’d been training since childhood, and we both know that’s not true…”

Tilly chokes out a laugh, even as her eyes fill with tears.

“This isn’t about me,” she manages, her voice shaking. “It’s about you—“

“It can be both,” Michael counters. “You’ve helped me, let me return the favor.”

Come on…distract me, Tilly.

Give me a problem I can solve.

“I— “

Tilly hesitates just a brief moment, before it all leaves her in a rush.

“Michael, I think I might be losing it, I really do. After the asteroid exploded in the shuttlebay, I started to see a…ghost.”

She flinches again, her eyes closing.

Michael wonders if she is also hearing a ghost.

“She’s a girl I knew when I was a teenager. Her name is May, but she’s dead now. And the May I knew was meek, kinda goofy when you got to know her…but this one…”

Tilly’s eyes slide sideways towards something that Michael cannot see. “She’s, um…insistent. She’s grooming me for something, I think.”

“For what?” Michael finds herself asking. The thought of not believing her ensign friend does not even cross her mind. Tilly is an emotional person, but she is never, ever hysterical, not like this.

“I don’t know!” Tilly flinches again, shying away towards the left, further into Michael’s bed. “She—she won’t stop yelling, she says she has some sort of plan, she wants to see the captain, but she doesn’t mean Pike—“

Tilly shakes her head, tears dripping down her cheeks. “She’s wearing me down. I’ve been avoiding sickbay, but at this point, I don’t know what to do. I’m desperate! And after today, I’m never gonna make captain—“

Tilly groans, whirling towards her right, towards the middle of their quarters, where there is nothing at all.

“Yeah, ‘cause I’m crying, you stupid—“ Tilly cuts herself off. Michael stares at her.

“She doesn’t know what tears are…”

Once more, Tilly’s eyes are tracking something, which from the looks of it, seems to be moving further into their quarters. Michael follows her eyes until they reach their shared bathroom.

“She…she’s gone now. She said she’s gonna think of a new plan…” Tilly looks faintly nauseated at the idea.

Michael stays still for several long moments. She thinks of the available data…her roommate running a half-marathon like it was nothing at all, seeing the ghost of girl she once knew, a ghost that had appeared after the impossible asteroid exploded randomly, spontaneously…

…Spontaneously…

“Just because we have no context to understand something…” Michael murmurs. “Does not mean…that there is not a rational explanation...”

Sylvia Tilly might be an expert on the vast spectrum of Human emotion and its associated blind spots, but Michael Burnham is a being of logic and reason.

This is her area of expertise.

This is a problem she can solve.

She considers the data set, running through possible conclusions given the parameters implied by the available facts. In the next moment, a logical probability appears, not quite clear enough to be called a hypothesis, but it does intimate a subsequent course of action, which will either eliminate or confirm what Michael currently suspects, and this will add to their pool of available information.

Context.

“You said that May didn’t know what crying was. How is that possible?” Michael shakes her head. “Show me a teenage girl who’s never cried…you can’t.”

She manages a smile, which cracks at the dried tear-tracks on her cheeks.

“I know, I’m a xenoanthropologist.”

Michael allows her voice to become comically raw, and they both laugh a little at it, like Michael hadn’t been crying on Tilly’s shoulder a mere minute before.

“If May were merely a projection of your subconscious, she would know what tears are…because you know what tears are.” A bit of reach, considering Michael has little experience with hallucinations, but no matter. “And the asteroid…the red sparks that were dancing on its surface, but only reacted when they came close to you…”

Michael leans forward, her eyes widening as she follows logic to the ensuing realization.

“I held a piece in my hand and nothing happened. The dark matter, dark energy, whatever that red was…it seems to react in proximity to just one thing…”

Tilly’s eyes light up as she follows Michael’s train of thought to its logical conclusion.

“Spores…” she murmurs.

“You don’t need sickbay,” Michael reassures her, and hopes to the heavens that she’s right about this. “You need Stamets.”

 

 

**

 

 

“Just as I suspected,” Stamets announces as he whirs the scanner over Tilly’s chest. “You are hosting a eukaryotic organism.”

“A fungus?” Tilly sounds equal parts scared and fascinated.

“Obviously multi-cellular, since it has…opinions.”

Tilly flinches where she lies on the hastily assembled bio-bed in front of the reaction cube. “She um…she really doesn’t like being called a “fungus.””

“Strange, considering that is what she is, just as we are mammals,” Michael murmurs. She looks off in the direction her terrified roommate is staring, wondering what Tilly might be seeing.

“Anyone who works around the spore drive is inoculated, how did she contract it?” Commander Saru queries in his mellow tone where he stands at Tilly’s other side.

“It’s possible that the spore developed a resistance, like bacteria,” Stamets muses as he wheels a portable CAT scanner into position. “Or it’s a different spore altogether than the ones we harvest here.”

Saru takes this in with interest. “When Discovery escaped the Terran universe, their spores rained down on Engineering. If one of them attached itself to you—“ 

“Great!” Tilly chokes, her hands flopping beside her. “I have a Terran spore in my brain—“

“In your cardiovascular and respiratory system, actually,” Stamets corrects as he gazes at the CAT display screen over Tilly’s head. “And considering that all spores are originally from the mycelial network, which lies between all universes…she isn’t Terran.”

“Oh thank God.” Tilly’s exclamation manages to be both dry and hysterical at the same time.

Stamets ignores her in favor of toggling with the controls of the scanner. Michael leans in to look at the image on the screen above Tilly’s head.

“Wow…” she murmurs in spite of herself.

Stamets smiles softly beside her as he too, takes in the CAT scan. “Hey, May.”

The image itself is a delight, a veritable rainbow of structures and complex micro-scaffolds built upon Sylvia Tilly’s existing organ systems. Michael is no doctor, but even she can see how certain structures would increase blood flow and heart function, and how others might speed the efficiency of gas exchange in the semi-permeable capillaries of the lungs.

What a fascinating creature this spore is turning out to be.

“There’s our hitchhiker,” Stamets concludes. “A multi-dimension, fungal parasite.”

Tilly flinches. “She’s—she’s saying she’s not a parasite… Ughhhh—“ Her eyes screw shut, and Michael’s heart goes out to her friend. “Why does she look like someone I knew when I was a teenager?”

“Brain manipulation, perhaps?” Michael posits, and Tilly flinches again. “Why, what does she say?”

“She—ah, she says,” Tilly is wincing rather admirably. “—That… that she recognized May’s face—“

Michael raises an eyebrow at that, but Tilly continues. “ She says I’m her only chance--”

Tilly loses the battle with her hands, which finally rise to cover her ears. “How do we get rid of her?”

Stamets is off in a corner next to the reaction cube, fumbling with several large instruments. “We,” he announces as he rises to his feet, “Use the attraction between the mycelial asteroid and the fungal spores to suck her right out of you.”

He strides forth with what appears to be a transparent laser scalpel tool in his hands, complete with a clear containment unit. No doubt the scalpel function has been repurposed by the engineering mycologists for uses such as these, but Michael’s eyes widen nevertheless.

“This…may hurt a little.”

And in the next moment, Stamets levels the device at Tilly’s chest and activates it.

Michael jumps as a strange vortex blasts between the metal extractor and Tilly’s chest. Power hums in the disturbed air between the two, and reality turns wavy, reducing Tilly’s features to a vague blur.

Tilly’s spine bends double as she moans in utter agony, audible even over the metallic howl issuing from Stamets’ device. Her high voice echoes and repeats, no doubt to the soundwave distortions produced by the machine. Michael’s mind goes on high alert, her muscles clenching in anticipation of disaster.

To her astonishment and disgust, a strange grey matter starts to appear directly between the extractor and Tilly’s chest. Lumpy, speckled, clearly alive in some way…Michael reaches for her phaser without thinking, and Saru does the same beside her.

Finally, the extractor clicks, apparently satisfied. Stamets whirls sideways to throw the gray matter as far from Tilly as he can, and Tilly slumps on the bio-bed, clearly unconscious. Michael casts her a single, worried glance, but whips her phaser towards the now-floating gray blob.

She can worry for her friend later.

“Security breach by unknown alien species in Engineering!” She thumbs her phaser to a higher setting.

“Initiate quarantine protocol Alpha-Omega!” Saru orders. A circular shielding bubble appears over the lumpy grey blob, which squeals and bounces against the surfaces as it attempts to escape. It hangs over the spore lab like the strangest sort of decoration, and Michael studies it with all of her scientific prowess.

“That is the most interesting-looking fungus I have ever seen.” Stamets’ voice is fascinated as he walks slowly, slowly towards the mid-air circular shielding.

Michael and Saru lower their phasers. Michael admits that she has to agree with her mycologist friend; the once-tiny spore has somehow grown into a gelatinous blob, a sentient one, if Tilly’s hallucinations are to be believed.

Tilly…

Michael whirls back towards her friend, who is unconscious, but alive, Michael notes from the scanners. She places a hand on Tilly’s shoulder as she studies the screen above her head. Her vitals are normal; she will no doubt be alright.

“It is lucky we were able to extract that fungus at all,” Saru states from over Michael’s shoulder. “After it bonded itself to Tilly’s system like that.”

“Especially if it had been doing so for months,” Michael murmurs, shaking her head. “She could have died…”

She nearly jumps at the feeling of Saru’s hand on her shoulder.

“But she didn’t, Michael,” he offers gently, and Michael closes her eyes and nods.

She didn’t.

“And now, we can study this being,” Saru continues, “And with any luck, return it to its home without a fight.”

Michael gazes up at the gray blob that floats over Engineering, and her hand brushes over the phaser strapped to her thigh.

Some part of her very much doubts that it will be so easy.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Philippa’s console beeps, rousing her from her light slumber. She pulls herself into a seated position, rubbing the sleep and the crust of old tears from her eyes, and gets up to answer it.

Leland’s code blinks up towards her. Philippa drops to the floor, reaching beneath her bunk for her bundle of black leathers.

Twenty seconds, and she is presentable once more, cloaked in the uniform of Section 31. In a long, full breath, Philippa armors herself in the darkness of her actions, in the full heft of her sins.

It is who she is now.

Her handler’s hologram springs up from the floor, arms crossed over his chest. His stubbled face does not look happy, but then again, that is nothing new.

“You blew cover, Agent.

“To a mere two personnel and one civilian; I would hardly call that catastrophic.”

“You gave up valuable intel—“

“Which they would have discovered anyway,” Philippa dismisses. “Pike would have told them to break into that file, if it meant saving his beloved lieutenant.”

“They now know that you are watching them, Georgiou, are you not familiar with basic Academy Quantum Theory?” Leland’s smooth tone barely contains his anger. “The very act of observation affects the results; all of your data will be tainted now, we cannot trust the intel you gather—“

“Oh Leland, you can be so dramatic at times,” Philippa chuckles. “Like we don’t walk around in black clothing, like half of our personnel don’t wear our badges openly—“

“Which they do, so that the half that do not can slip under the radar,” Leland cuts in. “You know that damn well, Agent. This is an inadmissible error.

“Error? Please.” Philippa rolls her eyes. “So Christopher Pike knows that I am Section 31. What’s he going to do?”

Leland remains silent.

“What?” Philippa asks lightly, expectantly. “He cannot remove me from his ship. I am in sickbay, nowhere near the bridge, so he will not have to look at me and be reminded. He is aware of the bugs, but I have back-ups in place.”

Philippa shakes her head. “This changes nothing, Leland. Nothing at all.”

“And Michael Burnham?” Leland’s voice is cold.

“What about her?”

She knows who you are.”

Leland’s dark, venomous eyes pin Philippa in place, weighted with burden of terrible knowledge.

“Does she know everything?”

Philippa scoffs. She nearly utters a vehement denial, but pauses before she does.

Any information that Leland has is information that he will use.

“What’s it to you?” She finally asks.

Leland folds his arms over his chest. “We are pursuing a wanted murderer, who is also Burnham’s brother. If she becomes unwilling to openly share what strides she makes in the case, because she no longer trusts her surroundings…”

He trails off.

“That is on you, Agent.”

The holographic Leland narrows his eyes.

“I can’t help but consider the idea that this was all an act of self-sabotage.”

Philippa raises an eyebrow at that, but says nothing.

“Blowing cover so spectacularly, in the middle of an assignment that you don’t want be on…giving up valuable intel for zero reward, in a location where you know we are listening…”

Leland trails off once more.

Philippa almost cannot believe her luck, that Leland would assume that she had done what she did as an act of selfishness, rather than the exact opposite.

“I applaud you for going to such lengths, Agent,” Leland continues. “Before today, I would have told you that such actions are pointless and stupid; however, circumstances have changed.”

Leland seems to lean in, slightly.

“There was an attempt made on Chancellor L’Rell’s leadership, just this morning.”

Philippa’s eyes widen, and Leland continues. “You were right about the child. It was hidden away for months, but Lord Sha of House Kol found it and abducted it. He tried to force L’Rell to abdicate. Luckily, our team was in place and intervened in time.”

Philippa takes all of that in, both what happened and what will happen, and tries to make sense of how this will change the power dynamic of Section 31, so she will not be caught unaware.

“We have the child,” Leland continues, “As well as Ash Tyler. L’Rell made her choice; she will fake both of their deaths and use them to consolidate her power.”

Philippa nods in approval. She does not know the Klingon chancellor personally, but from everything she has heard, she knows that the woman is shrewd and politically savvy. This will be a good move for her.

Leland gestures towards her with his chin. “I have a task for you.”

Philippa knows what is coming, and she rolls her eyes in a dramatic show of weariness.

“Why do you always make me do these things?”

“Because you’re good at it. No one ever says no to “Captain Georgiou” now, do they?”

Leland smirks, and Philippa glowers.

She was not “Captain Georgiou.” Not anymore.

“I’ll put him on. Be aware, his…son…is with him now.”

Leland leaves the feed, and Philippa closes her eyes. She takes a steadying breath, recalling all she knows of Ash Tyler…once Voq, son of None, tortured, brainwashed, brutally reconfigured as a Human to serve as a sleeper agent aboard the USS Discovery, and now…

Ash Tyler. Not quite Human, not quite Klingon. L’Rell’s torchbearer, and part of the fight for lasting peace.

This was going to be interesting.

In the next moment, a tall man enters the holo-feed. His skin is the color of sand, his beard long and dark, hair pulled into a short ponytail. He holds a small bundle in his arms.

“Ash Tyler,” Philippa states warmly. “I am pleased to finally put a face to the name.”

“Captain Georgiou,” Tyler replies. “I’ve heard a lot about you.”

“Oh? Good things?”

“Entirely.” Tyler smiles. “I am happy to see that you’re alive.”

“I am quite happy to be alive,” Philippa states, only lying a little. “And who is this?”

She gestures with her chin at the bundle in Tyler’s arms.

Tyler’s face flickers. He takes a sharp, unsteady breath.

“L’Rell’s son… My—my son.”

He bends slightly, and Philippa rises onto her toes to peer into the bundle. A small Klingon baby lies swaddled in the dark brown blankets, fast asleep, with no knowledge of what nearly happened to him.

His skin is pure white.

“Ah,” Philippa finally remarks. “You have the same dorsal ridges.”

Tyler stares at her for a moment, before a smile tugs across his face. He huffs out a short laugh, and from the awkward sound of it, Philippa is willing to bet that is the first time he has found anything funny in months.

She knows the feeling.

“I saw what you did for us…” Tyler manages. “The false bodies you provided for L’Rell. Synthesized down to the neural mapping, the genetic codes. This isn’t everyday Federation espionage.”

Tyler was Head of Security aboard this ship for several months, of course he would catch that.

“What kind of organization could pull that off?”

Philippa is quite certain Tyler already knows the answer; nevertheless, she produces her black and silver badge from her pocket.

“This kind.”

“Section 31…” Tyler stares at the badge in her hands. “I’ve heard of them, but I’ve never seen a black badge before.”

Philippa hears a beeping sound from Tyler’s end, as well as muffled voices. Tyler looks over his shoulder, says a few words, then turns back.

“We’re in orbit over Boreth,” he tells Philippa. “I’m going to leave him with the monks, it’s the safest place he could be.”

The Monastery of Boreth. Philippa knows of this place, where the most devout followers of Kahless conduct their worship and study the ancient texts of the Klingon prophet.

“You really want him to become a monk?” She finds herself asking, her head cocked in confusion.

“It’s what L’Rell wants.”

“And what do you want?”

Tyler gazes down at the baby in his arms. The child looks even smaller when compared to the relative height of Ash Tyler, but the tenderness on the man’s face is undeniable. Tenderness towards a child he had not asked for, nor been involved in procreating.

Lieutenant Ash Tyler was a good man. A good man, with a shit hand dealt to him.

Philippa feels confidence in her objective.

“I want to know where I belong,” Tyler finally murmurs. “And who belongs to me…and to whom I belong.”

He stares down at the face of this baby… Not his son in the truest sense, Philippa understands, but a being who bears an indelible connection to him, all the same.

“He will never struggle on that point,” Tyler continues. “The monks will raise him in their ways, they will care for him and show him equal treatment, despite how he is different. And that is no small thing.”

“Yet you will never see him again.” Philippa’s voice is soft. She marvels at this man’s choice, at L’Rell’s choice. “Nor will his mother.”

“He’ll never know me,” Tyler agrees. “Nor L’Rell. But he’ll be safe.”

His tall, holographic form turns around, handing the child off to someone out of the feed.

“It’s almost time,” Tyler states. His voice is steady, though his eyes are positively swirling. Philippa wonders what this move might be costing him, and how.

Tyler looks Philippa up and down, his face going thoughtful.

“Captain…can I ask why you’ve joined Section 31? Surely it was within your rights to retire to Earth, to leave it all behind… Why do this?”

Gods, he was really going to make this easy for her.

“We are none of us set in stone,” Philippa begins. “People are changeable…and the ways that I was changed on Qo’Nos, during the war…”

She looks up at Lieutenant Ash Tyler, at Voq…at whoever this man might be now.

“That path is closed to me, permanently. But that does not mean that there are not still ways for me to make good.”

Philippa looks down at the black badge in her hands, rubbing a thumb over it.

The only place left for the broken shards of a tool like me…

“We do not have much in the way of a reputation,” Philippa continues. “But we make use of our pasts…the things that make us unsuited for Fleet life; in Section 31, these are our strengths. It’s a place where we can belong…where we can contribute, in what ways we can.”

She looks up at Tyler once more, and switches to a lighter tone.

“I do hope you will consider sticking around, Tyler. Command believes that misfits like us have merit, so…we keep busy.”

Tyler’s lips twitch. “I’m surprised you call yourself a misfit, Captain.”

Philippa cracks a smile. “Always have been, despite what posthumous praises of me you might have read. It’s amazing, really, the things people will say about you once you are gone.”

Tyler shakes his head, a smile tugging across his lips.

“She sure was right about you,” he murmurs. Philippa opens her mouth to ask for clarification, but before she can, Tyler casts a look over his shoulder.

“I have to go,” he states, and Philippa knows that the time is upon him, finally. Tyler squares his shoulders, clearly steeling himself for the next several minutes. “But I’ll consider your offer. Thank you, Captain.”

Agent,” Philippa corrects. “And good luck to you, Ash. Qapla’,” she barks, and Tyler raises an appreciative eyebrow before ending the feed.

Philippa sighs long and low, sagging where she stands, utterly exhausted by what her life seems to have become. She drops onto her bed, casting a weary glance towards the stars outside of her window.

It is barely even shift-change, and it feels like eight days have passed.

Such is the burden of nation-building.

Philippa takes her black badge out of her pocket once more, rolling it over and over in her fingertips. With a long sigh, she turns around to look out of the window, out into the blackness of space, speckled with the brilliant pinpricks of distant stars and planets.

She considers Lieutenant Ash Tyler, at the choice available to him now, and what he will decide to do. She considers what she has done in the service of Section 31, what she has done in the service of the Federation.

What had happened on Qo’Nos…what had almost happened on Qo’Nos…

The black badge turns over in her hands, its tiny inset controls easily detectable to the sensitive pads of her fingertips.

Philippa’s left hand brushes absently across the silver badge over her heart, allotted to her for her position in sickbay. She thinks of this ship, and all of the people she has met, all of the people who look at her with stars in their eyes, with admiration in their faces, who greet her with smiles, who try so hard to be good, and kind, and decent…

These people who make her feel lower than dirt for mere espionage, when just last week, Philippa had tugged the threads into place that had resulted in a Klingon dignitary’s mysterious death, and drank tea and put her feet up while the man was no doubt being dismembered.

Michael’s betrayed face, the fury in the set of her shoulders, the heartbreak in her soft brown eyes at Philippa’s true allegiance…

She does not even know the half of it.

Resolve hardens around Philippa's heart.

And she never will.

Philippa grips the black badge in a vice. She presses the tiny comm switch on its surface, in a specific, unique pattern known only to her handler.

Then she stretches out in her bunk, pushing the badge deep into her pocket once more.

And waits.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

Michael’s chest rises and falls as she gazes listlessly towards the wall of her bedroom. Her head aches too much to roll over and look out the window; something about the searing red light of the twin Vulcan suns aggravates this post-attack pain.

“Migraines,” Amanda had told her with no little sympathy, rubbing Michael’s back as she knelt in front of the toilet, head throbbing, stomach roiling.

The doctors had told her upon her release from the hospital that these headaches will dissipate with the passage of time.

Clearly not enough time has passed.

Another tear rolls down Michael’s face as she shakes beneath the light top-sheet of her bed. It had been another terrible day in a string of quite terrible days. The detectives investigating the Learning Center bombing had dropped the case, citing unsubstantial evidence.

Or at least, that was what Amanda had told her.

But Michael knows better. Sarek and Amanda’s earlier shouting match in their bedroom continues to ring in her ears. Michael had listened at the door, with Spock at her side, whispering to her the parts that she had been unable to hear with her Human auditory processes.

--“clearly paid them off”—

--“Political favors”—

--“House Barik is legendary for their bigotry”—

--“you are being irrational, wife”—

--“horrific, blatant corruption”—

And Amanda’s final, echoing shout:

What are you going to do about this, Sarek?!

Michael closes her eyes. Another several tears shake loose.

The memory of Shi’Kahr’s most notorious Vulcan supremacists striding placidly from police headquarters will likely never leave her. Lord Navok’s cold eyes, T’Nal’s frosty expression, her utter disdain and self-righteous pride mirrored in the expression of her grown son, Talnik, as they boarded their speeder and left the premises without so much as a police escort.

She remembers the sight of Amanda Grayson later that night; standing hunched over the kitchen sink in the dark, far after everyone else had gone to bed.

Somehow, Amanda’s violent, shaking sobs had frightened Michael far more than anything else that day had.

Michael’s eyes squeeze tightly shut, and she curls up into a ball in her bed.

“Mommy…Daddy…” she whispers. In the darkness behind her eyelids, Michael imagines her mother wrapping her up tightly and taking her away from this awful place, somewhere where she and Daddy are alive and together. They survived the Doctori Alpha massacre, they’ve been laying low, waiting for a safe time to come and get their baby, and that time is now, they heard about the bombing and they’ve finally come to rescue her, to bring her home with them, somewhere safe and happy—

Michael barely registers the click of her doorknob turning, her door opening and shutting. For a single, ludicrous moment, Michael wonders if her fantasies have somehow come to life.

But this mad hope is quickly dispelled. Spock’s footsteps are easily discernable in their lightness.

“Michael.” His voice is almost comically hushed, barely above a whisper. Perhaps Amanda told him about the migraines. “We have brought you a present. You do not have to get up, I will bring it to you.”

There is a soft rustle as Spock deposits something onto her bed.

“Mother says that you do not have to come down to dinner, but she does want you to eat something. She will come up and visit you soon, if you would like.”

The door clicks open and shut again, and Spock’s footsteps retreat down the hall. Michael sighs, relieved that her foster brother had decided to not be overbearing today.

Spock has been strangely nice to her after her second near-death experience in the woods of Shi’Kahr’s Forge, the night she had run away. Looking back on it, Michael feels quite stupid for choosing to go through the forest, notorious for its beasts and dangerous wildlife. She is grateful that Sarek had found her before that terrifying giant scorpion could snatch her up, although she has no real idea how he did so.

Actually, her entire foster family has been incredibly compassionate to her in the wake of that horrible night, even though Michael had assumed that she would be grounded until the end of time. Sarek makes time each day to meditate with her, which is helping somewhat with the night terrors. Amanda is homeschooling her for the time being, until the Learning Center is rebuilt and Michael feels well enough to go back to school. And Spock has taken to sleeping in her room, in a tiny sleeping bag next to her bed. He chatters on about everything and nothing as Michael lies in her bed gazing at the stars, whether she deigns to respond or not.

It is extremely irritating.

Michael would never admit aloud that is easier to fall asleep with the knowledge that someone else is in the room with her.

Michael’s mattress flexes and unflexes as she lies listless beneath the sheets. The top sheet rustles, the sounds and movements growing closer to her head. Michael stiffens at the disturbances, and goes entirely rigid at the sensation of a warm, heavy something crawling atop her exposed side and staying there.

The moments turn to a full minute, long enough for Michael to recognize the strange sensation vibrating from the deadweight draped across her upper arm.

Purring.

Michael pokes her head out from the blanket. The movement disrupts whatever has taken up residence on her left side, and it gives an indignant yowl as it rolls onto the bed.

Michael finds herself staring into the large amber eyes of a very strange-looking cat.

She looks at the cat. The cat looks at her.

Mrowwww.”

Michael jumps. The cat emits a sound that is far too deep and booming in its intensity to be a normal Earth cat. Not to mention the darker brown patterns on its tan fur, its massive ears, and its massive form in general. It is nearly the size of an Earth terrier.

Some sort of native Vulcan animal, perhaps?

Michael stares at it for several long moments. The cat stares back at her, before lowering its head to lick primly at one of its paws.

“Okay…”

It seems Spock has given her a panther. An in-character move for her foster brother, who is close friends with a giant sehlat that comes and goes as it pleases.

Michael scoots an inch closer to the cat, which looks up sharply, before returning to its task. Michael scoots again. And again. And again, until she is close enough to curl ever so gently around the animal’s furry body.

Mrowwww.”

Michael winces at the deep, grating meow. The sound hurts her head, but the soothing frequency of the cat’s vibrating body helps, just a little.

The cat’s cold nose prods curiously at Michael’s chin, her cheek, her jawline. Apparently reaching a decision, it presses its large, furry head beneath Michael’s face, rubbing firmly. Michael’s lips crack painfully as she smiles. She realizes that she has not made this particular expression in quite a long time.

“Are you a boy cat, or a girl cat?”

The cat does not answer. The purring continues.

Later on, Amanda will confide in her that this strain of wild Northern Sand Cat has been vigorously bred, traits selected and behaviors trained for across thousands of generations to create a breed that is protective, affectionate, and most importantly, domesticated.

Much later on, Michael’s xenoanthropology curriculum will make her aware of just how tightly controlled the distribution of these animals is, and how ludicrously difficult they are to obtain for an ordinary household.

But for now, Michael’s eyes flutter shut as she cuddles the soft animal in her bed. The pain in her head is dissipating, finally, and sleep comes to her at last.

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

The staff meeting concerning the new information regarding the Red Angel is less than productive.

The images that Spock had drawn in his psych ward are all but seared into Michael’s mind, she sees its red visage in her troubled attempts to sleep, and just over her shoulder as she goes about her day. Yet somehow, all of Discovery’s combined powers of deduction have yielded no results as to what the being might be.

No indications as to the Angel’s possible species, nor its intent, nor its identity.

Aside from Saru’s anomalous bad cold, Michael would have quickly folded the memory of the meeting away to make room for other things.

Despite his illness, Saru casts her worried looks through the entirety of the briefing, which Michael does not miss, even in her compromised state. And in truth, his concern is justified. She has not been sleeping well since Philippa’s bombshell three days prior. Her thoughts are black, stormy and preoccupied, and she cannot stop herself from zoning out at times. Her chest is hollow, her heart reduced to splinters at the very notion of her former captain’s allegiance to this blood-soaked sect, of Philippa’s deception, after all that Michael has shared with her, after how thoroughly Michael had trusted her.

Michael has not felt herself slipping like this in a long time, not since the ordeal with Ash, and even then, she had been apart from him for the majority of the time until Voq’s removal by L’Rell.

She and Philippa share a ship. There is no avoiding her former captain, although Michael is certainly trying her best. No more sharing workouts or meals, no more going to Philippa’s quarters after their shifts to just talk, yet Michael still has to see Philippa in the mess hall, hear her lilting voice in the corridors, though the easy smiles and eye contact are no more.

The very sound of Philippa’s voice makes Michael’s hands shake. The merest sight of her dark hair and slender frame make Michael’s heart beat out of her chest, and not in the good way, like it used to.

Stars, every time she so much as looks at Philippa, all she can see is that black badge, all she can is remember is darkness, death, subterfuge, the mysterious forces that had placed Michael at the Shrine of Molor on the last day of the war, the cruel hands that manipulated her into doing their evil work…

Had she not found another way to peace, Michael cannot even begin to imagine the horrors that she would have met that day, and every day thereafter.

Once more, Philippa Georgiou is a ghost to her.

It is the only way that Michael can remain functional.

And speaking of ghosts…

“In addition to the mystery of the Red Angel, there is also the strange occurrence of three days ago.”

Michael taps her PADD, entering several commands. She flicks the image onto the screen above the conference table.

Everyone seated at the table seems to straighten, though there is no doubt in Michael’s mind that they have all seen it before.

The captured image of the burned spore drive, the destroyed standing table, and the backwards message written in an unknown black substance, on the inside of the reaction cube.

HELP

Commander Nhan takes a step closer to the table, squinting her large, Barzan eyes at the image.

“This message was written by…Doctor Hugh Culber, I am told? Who died…”

“Two months ago, yes.” Michael confirms. “During our first observation run of the red spores that Ensign Tilly found, a…” Michael’s lips work as she struggles for an appropriate term. “Specter, of Doctor Culber appeared in the reaction cube. The specter wrote this message before the explosion dissipated and he disappeared.”

“Go back to the ‘red spores.’” Linus waves a reptilian finger in the air. “Do we have any notion of what they are, or where they came from?”

“No.” Michael shakes her head. “They appeared in one of the containment cubes spontaneously, the same morning we jumped to Terralysium.”

With a few more flicks of her fingers, Michael brings up the observation feed Tilly had taken of the canister of red spores, plugged into the adaptor on the main terminal in the spore lab.

The conference table seems to lean forward in their seats at the image, and Michael cannot help but do the same.

The red spores glow just as warmly as the normal white-blue mycelia that Stamets grows in the lab. They swirl within the container like captured stardust, red and bright.

“Wow…” Nhan murmurs, her head tilting. Michael wonders if she has seen any anomalies such as these on the Enterprise, but remembers that Nhan is security, not science. Still, considering the scientific nature of most of the threats they encounter here in Starfleet, Michael wonders if the two should even be considered separate branches of Fleet.

She takes a breath, before summarizing what they know.

“Their appearance within the containment canister triggered no alerts of any kind. This implies that, while within mycelial link-up stasis, these red spores are identical in every measurable way to the p. stellaviatori grown by Commander Stamets. However, upon removal from the vacuum field, these spores became…explosive, somehow.”

Michael flicks back to the image of the reaction cube, post-red spore detonation. The marred transparasteel walls of the drive, the blackened floor, and the burnt rubble of the standing table that supports Commander Stamets during jump sequences.

“We don’t know what could have triggered this explosion, or what the red spores might have reacted to. However, NMR spectroscopy data revealed the presence of tachyon radiation in the wake of the explosion, as well as traces of mycelial residue.”

The entire table looks stunned at that revelation.

“Tachyons…” Saru murmurs. “Similar to the explosion of the dark matter asteroid in the shuttle bay.”

Michael’s brain activates almost sluggishly, picking through the available data, scant though it may be. Two similar events, explosions of mycelial origin, strange red particles…and some type of time component.

Was it all connected?

Was any of it connected?

Saru blinks at the viewscreen image. “And what of the…black substance used to write the letters? Has it been studied?”

“It dissipated within ten minutes of the occurrence,” Michael clarifies. “Even the sample that Ensign Tilly managed to take vanished inside its collection tube.”

“How odd…”

Saru continues to gaze at the image, but says nothing further.

Silence hangs over the conference table for a moment.

“I may not be the most qualified to speak on this topic,” Commander Nhan begins tentatively. “But it seems to me a very…strange coincidence, that the red spores appeared almost at the same time as this Red Angel.”

Heads around the conference table all bob in agreement; Nhan had merely stated aloud what everyone had been thinking, Michael herself included.

“The color certainly would imply a connection,” the commander adds almost awkwardly.

Michael gives her a kind smile.

“For the two to be unrelated does seem to me a bit of a stretch,” she acknowledges. “Still, we have so little data on either one of these anomalies. To study them as if they are one and the same could yield just as much confusion as it could answers.”

Nhan nods once at this, and the occupants of conference table shift as they ponder.

“Then we treat them as separate mysteries until proven otherwise,” Linus finally announces in his deep, booming tone. “Let the mycologists investigate the red spores. Have any more appeared in the containment canisters?”

“Yes, two more of the canisters have been corrupted,” Michael confirms. “Ensign Tilly and Commander Stamets are designing a few tests that might give us more information as to what they are and what they do.”

“Very well. And the Red Angel…” Linus cocks his head, his throat emitting several reptilian clicks as he does so. “By all indications, it appears to be one of a kind. Not a species…”

“Vaguely humanoid,” Michael adds, remembering the dark blur hovering within the scalding light back in the Hiawatha’s wreckage.

“Connected to the seven signals,” Owesekun completes.

The seven signals…

The Red Angel…

--times—

Michael twitches. Vague premonition prickles at the corner of her mind. She leaps for it, attempts to pin it down—

…but it slips from her weary grasp, alluding her once more.

Clearly, Philippa’s bombshell is affecting her logical processes. Michael wonders if deeper meditation might be the answer, or if she just needs a chemical sleep aid from sickbay, or perhaps a sufficiently pounding workout. Stars, how she wishes Spock were here, or at least within comm-ing distance, discussing science and strange anomalies with him had always settled her mind in a most soothing way--

“Commander?”

Michael jerks at Saru’s expectant voice. Her eyes rove from her direct superior down the table, where everyone is staring at her with varying levels of confusion and concern.

This is clearly not Saru’s first try in getting her attention.

“I-- I apologize.” Michael straightens in her chair, forcing herself to focus. “What were you saying, Saru?”

“Merely…that your brother is the only one to have seen this being, aside from yourself—“

“And all of the people in that church on Terralysium two hundred years ago,” Detmer adds.

Michael gives her surprised look. She had nearly forgotten about the church in New Eden.

So has the rest of the table, if their creased brows and confused expressions are anything to go on.

Saru nods jerkily. “Yes, well…that is certainly an…outlier in the angel’s known appearances…”

Silence holds for a long moment.

“What could be driving this being?” Nhan finally murmurs. “Is all of this some type of design, or is it just…random?”

Michael’s logical mind revolts at that possibility. If this mysterious being’s course is random and not logical, nor within some type of conceivable pattern, then…

Then how on Earth would they be able to figure out who or what it might be?

How would she find her brother?

How would she help him?

Nhan, for her part, only cocks her head at the image of the Red Angel, now on the lower left corner of the screen.

“If only we knew what it wanted…”

The table is silent as they gaze at the rendered images of the Red Angel…winged, humanoid, otherworldly…utterly unknowable.

Was it a person? A creature? A product of some unfathomably advanced scientific achievement?

Or…

A messenger of the divine?

The moment is cut short by a low cough from Saru. The entire table seems to jerk out of its near-captivated stupor, exchanging self-conscious smiles.

Michael finds herself grateful for the intervention.

She turns her focus to the Kelpien first officer, who is sprinkling salt into his tea. He looks truly pathetic, and Michael’s heart goes out to him.

“Saru…could you shed some light?” Michael gestures with concern towards his mug.

“My apologies,” Saru sniffles, hunching over his tea. “I woke up this morning fighting an acute rhinovirus.”

“So, you have cold.” Owosekun’s voice is only mildly entertained.

“I had a cold last week, which sucked.” Linus’ deep voice echoes over the table, and Michael offers him a querying look, echoed by Rhys and Detmer.

“Sorry,” Linus amends, his double-lidded reptilian eyes blinking once. “Six nasal canals?”

Michael’s lips manage to twitch. The entire room seems to be attempting to defuse this hefty meeting with levity.

Whistling in the dark, as Humans would say.

“Happens to the best of us, Linus,” Saru sighs. His words are cut off by the hiss of the ready room door.

Captain Pike strides in looking serious in the extreme, a PADD tucked beneath his arm.

“Everyone to your stations.”

His brusqueness serves to dispel the air of cosmic mystery that had held court for much of the discussion. An abrupt end to the staff meeting, Michael has to admit, but not an unwelcome one.

The officers seated at the conference room table all rise to their feet while Pike continues. “Detmer, set a course for one oh eight, mark four, maximum warp.”

Detmer nods as she leaves the ready room, Owosekun and Rhys on her heels. Pike shoots Saru an appraising look.

“Saru, you look like hell. Go get some rest, you’ve been burning the candle at both ends lately.”

Michael raises an eyebrow at that, but Saru only mumbles, “As you wish, Sir,” before staggering to his feet and following Nhan and Linus out of the ready room.

“Burnham. A word?”

Pike sounds preoccupied. Michael follows him to his desk as the doors finally hiss shut.

Looking pensive in the extreme, Pike extends the data screen in Michael’s direction.

“I had a very interesting chat this morning, with Captain Georgiou.”

Michael’s heart stutters at the mere mention of her name, but Pike continues.

“As you know, Section 31 is closely monitoring your brother’s case. Apparently they came by some new information on Starbase Five.”

Pike prods the screen, which lights up to show a charted course of a ship of some kind. Michael’s eyes take in the dotted yellow line, bouncing from star to star in an utterly random trajectory across the galaxy.

“Starbase Five,” she breathes, noting the ship’s start point.

“The warp signature of the shuttle Spock stole,” Pike confirms. “Georgiou passed it along to me. I’ve put us on an intercept course, we should reach his position within a few hours hours.”

Michael’s mouth opens and closes as she works through that significant chunk of new information.

“Why would she do that?” Michael finally bites out, suspicions lighting up her brain like a flare. “Why would Section 31 just…give this intel to us?”

Pike gives her a look that is half-puzzled, half-admonishing.

“Burnham, whether we like it or not, Section 31 is a part of Starfleet, and they are working to find your brother, same as we are.”

“But not to the same end,” Michael denies. “You have said it yourself, Captain, this case does not add up—“

“Which is why we need to use every avenue of information at our disposal,” Pike completes in an even voice. “I know you don’t like Section 31, but they have ways of getting information that we do not, and despite Georgiou’s allegiance, you have to admit, she has done nothing but help us.”

Silence.

Michael takes in the yellow dotted line on the screen. The course is random, utterly and entirely, so very unlike her logical brother.

Was it his disturbed mental state prompting this odd, aimless course?

Or was it…something else entirely…

“Has she?” Michael finally murmurs.

Pike raises an eyebrow, prompting Michael to continue.

“Captain, how can we be certain that this information is true? If Section 31 discovered it, why are they not following Spock’s shuttle themselves? Why leave that to us?”

Pike remains silent as he considers the question.

“I don’t know, Burnham. I genuinely don’t.” He shakes his head. “There is a great deal about this entire affair that does not make sense.”

Michael sighs, closing her eyes in utter weariness. There is so goddamn much that doesn’t make sense. Spock’s disappearance, Philippa’s reappearance, Section 31, the Red Angel…and the strange red spores.

Big, astronomical things…” Jacob whispers in her ear.

Slowly, slowly, Michael ambles around the desk to the window it, her eyes unblinking as she gazes into the flickering blue light of warp. Pike takes up a silent position next her, crossing his arms over his chest.

“There is a rational explanation,” Michael finally states. “For all of this. Every bit of it. There has to be. We are merely lacking information… context.”

Pike nods slowly. “Right now, the only one who might be able to give us more answers is your brother.” Michael flinches, but Pike continues. “Spock saw the Angel before we did, and he saw the signals before anyone. If context is what we’re looking for, that’s where we’ll find it.”

“And yet…” Michael blinks, and blinks again. “You know, it’s strange, Captain. Spock killed innocent three people, according to Section 31. He disappeared from Starbase Five, on this completely random, illogical course...”

With a jerk of her chin, Michael gestures towards the data screen on the desk.

“…According to Section 31.”

Michael turns back to look Pike in the eye.

“Convenient, isn’t it?”

Pike cocks his head, his eyes narrowing. “You think we’re being distracted? Led away from something?”

“I don’t know,” Michael whispers. “Section 31 is a part of Starfleet, as you said…what reason could they possibly have to do this to us?”

Context…context…context…

“This may sound naïve of me, but…we could ask.” Pike shrugs. “We do have a Section 31 agent aboard our ship.”

But even that made no goddamn sense.

“Why is she here?” Michael grates the words. “Why would they put her here, if not to spy on our investigation?”

“The reason she gave was logical.”

“The reason she gave could be a complete lie,” Michael bites out.

“I know Georgiou from the academy.” Pike’s voice is firm. “She’s always been a bit of a wild card, but she is honorable. She does what’s right.”

“Captain, I know Georgiou from seven years of serving with her…”

Michael takes a shaky breath, eyes closing in distress.

“And I barely recognize who she is now.”

As she has done countless times over the past several days, Michael closes her eyes and pictures of her former captain. She imagines Philippa Georgiou as she is now, as what she has become. Her dark braid and closed-off face, her cold eyes, her pale complexion made even paler by the wholesome medical whites she is now obligated to wear.

Working sickbay quietly and unobtrusively, even as she watches them all with calculating eyes.

A wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Pike, for his part, merely mulls over her words in silence. Michael understands that there is nothing at all for him to say to this, nothing he could say, considering all that he had missed during his five-year mission.

What on Earth had happened to Philippa during the course of the war? What had driven her down this path? Once, Michael had trusted her former captain with her life, with her heart, with her complete and utter devotion.

And now, she cannot even trust Philippa with this meager amount of information.

What has happened to us?

“The way I see it,” Pike finally states, “We have two options. Either we use this information Georgiou gave us and follow it to wherever it might lead. Or we don’t use it, and have nothing at all to go on.”

Michael weighs the pros and cons in her mind, using her now-sluggish logical processes to pick through multiple paths, multiple possibilities.

“Is bad intel better than no intel?”

“Depends on what you mean by “bad intel.”” Pike shrugs. “Even a red herring eliminates a possibility. If this does turn out to be a wild goose chase, well…at least we’ll know where not to look.”

Pause.

“And we’ll know how far we can trust the information our friend in sickbay gives us.”

With a weary sigh, Michael nods. Pike does have a good point, and Michael has to admit, she is desperate to do something.

“Burnham…” Pike’s voice is hesitant. He turns to her, his blue eyes swimming in concern. “Can I ask why you seem to have such a grudge against Section 31?”

If she were less exhausted and emotionally pummeled, perhaps Michael might find it in her to be more circumspect.

But Philippa has betrayed her trust, her brother has disappeared, the mycelial network might be decaying, and a brutal, bloody galactic war has just ended, with Michael Burnham at the epicenter of it, whether she wanted to be or not.

She is so tired of carrying so goddamn much, alone.

“They are…war criminals...”

Michael whispers the words out into the impossibly blue light of warp. She looks down at her trembling hands and imagines the impossibly small device they had once held, and the small, singular switch…and the smaller, singular motion that would have wiped out an entire civilization.

The Shrine of Molor, the hydrobomb detonator in Michael’s hands, Admiral Cornwell’s whispered directives…

And the shadowy third source from which they came.

Pike’s strong hand grips her shoulder, and Michael realizes that she is shaking.

“Easy, Burnham…”

Michael suddenly remembers that fateful moment on the Shenzhou, in Captain Georgiou’s ready room, when Philippa had said the exact same words to her but used her first name…

Because they had been friends.

Back before everything had gone to complete and utter hell.

“Commander,” Pike begins, his brows creased in worry. “I really think you should consider—“

But before Pike can continue, the ship gives an almighty shudder, its infrastructure groaning under the strain. Michael barely maintains her balance as the deck bucks beneath her, and Pike grabs the window frame to keep from being thrown off his feet.

They look at each other, before whirling around and striding from the ready room onto the bridge.

“Detmer, status!” Pike barks across the bridge as Michael activates her station.

“Something has grabbed us out of warp, Sir! Speed dropping to sub-light!” The back of Detmer’s head shakes, even as her hands fly desperately across her console. “Helm going unresponsive!”

“Shields up, red alert!”

Pike gives the order, and the blaring klaxons and swirling red lights of Starfleet’s highest security protocol come online. Michael flinches away from the red, dropping her gaze to her terminal screen.

“Owosekun, are we talking tractor beam?”

“More powerful than that, sir!” The ops officer’s smooth accent rounds the answer. “I’m unable to raise shields.

“Preliminary analysis indicates a multiphasic stasis field!” Michael shakes her head as she gives her report, projecting her voice over the blaring alert. “It’s disrupting our shield harmonics!”

Michael’s hands fly across the science console to confirm as the red alert siren howls across the bridge. Her Vulcan controls rise up to suppress her instinctive emotions, fear and trepidation. It shouldn’t be possible, there is no known tech in the universe that can emit stasis fields on a multiphasic level.

“We’re at full-stop, Captain!” Detmer calls. “Whatever has us, we’re locked into place!”

“Like a damn fly in a web,” Pike murmurs as he strides towards Detmer’s station.

Michael’s fingers toggle at her datascreen until she finds what she is looking for. With a whip of her hand, the terrifying image is plastered across the bridge’s viewscreen.

“And there…is the spider.”

The bridge falls silent as awe and horror take them all.

A massive, writhing sphere looms over the Discovery. Its dimensions are barely detectable to the eye, so huge it is, taking up the entire viewscreen in its enormity. Hot orange light floods the bridge, emanating from rips and chasms in the sphere’s shifting surface. The dizzying amount of energy the object is emitting is enough to make the deck shudder. A low rumble emanates through the ship itself, vibrating through Michael’s very bones.

The giant, glowing sphere has them locked in place. Even without scans, it clearly possesses more than enough power to destroy the Discovery, and possibly the entire system.

A fly in a web…a fish in a net.

They’re trapped.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

“C’monnnn.”

“No.”

“It could be fun.”

“How?”

“It’s a mushroom lab!”

“It’s not that interesting.”

“Look, I just think you might feel a bit better if you get out of your own head for a bit.”

“I feel fine.”

“You’ve been depressed and monosyllabic for two days.”

“But I feel fine.”

Philippa’s tone is bathed in irritation. Gods, why this woman would not simply go away and leave her in peace like the others had—

Com-man-der,” she adds, pointedly breaking up her single syllables with a three-syllable noun.

Reno only nods placidly at this.

“Mm-hm, sure.” She pokes at the remainder of her chips with an absent finger, the sounds of the mess hall muffled in the background. “You know, you’re lucky I’m mentally and emotionally shell-shocked from ten months on that asteroid, or I might have run off with my tail tucked like everyone else.”

From the commander’s detached tone, she might be making a comment on the power couplings linking Jeffries Tube Eight-Six to the ensign living quarters on Deck Five.

“Seriously.” Reno leans in, and her expression becomes tinged with concern. “Seems like just yesterday we were singing space shanties on the floor of your quarters, and now you’re just…frozen over completely. What the hell happened?”

At that, Philippa finally looks up from her barely-touched curry and rice. With all of the might of her focused rage, she strikes Jett Reno with a glare cold enough to render Vulcan a glacier, icy enough to freeze a yellow star, and so unbearably murderous that it had prompted three Section 31 probationary officers to quit on the spot.

Reno looks back blandly. She takes another bite of her sandwich.

“Alright, so it’s private. You could just say that, instead of trying to murder me with your eyes and your…” She waves a vague hand in Philippa’s direction. “…cheekbones.”

Philippa blinks. She looks back into her curry.

Damn, that usually worked.

“You know I am here, if you want to talk about…whatever it is.” Reno focuses on stirring her pile of potato chips while she says the words; nevertheless, her tone is sincere. “Don’t know how much help I’ll be though. Like I said,” She shrugs. “Shell-shocked. But hey, I bet nothing you say could freak me out.”

Philippa takes in these purposefully light words, and tries not to reveal how deeply they trouble her. She does appreciate Jett Reno’s commitment to levity; nevertheless, her heart squeezes painfully inside her chest.

Talking would only be more of the same, the same being her own utter, desperate foolishness.

Because it had been foolish, to let her guard down like she had. To let herself feel such things for Michael, and in a lesser way, for Tilly and Reno and Saru and the others. To feel was to invite this type of pain in. Philippa had understood this back on Qo’Nos, back in Section 31, but apparently being on this ship has made her soft once more.

The funny thing was, she had truly thought that she was being circumspect and strong, her emotions hidden safely behind a thick wall and buried deep with the rest of her ripped up heart.

But Michael Burnham had slipped right through the entirety of Philippa’s fortifications, subtle as a whisper and silent as the void, in the perfect position to destroy her should she feel so inclined.

And she had.

Michael hates who Philippa has become. She is disgusted, repulsed, as Philippa had known she would be, yet was somehow caught unaware when it finally happened.

Michael hates her.

And she…she barely knows the half of it.

“Just leave it, Reno,” Philippa finally whispers. 

Reno, for her part, only gazes at Philippa, her expression inscrutable.

In the next moment, she reaches out with a fork to snag the edge of Philippa’s full bowl of curry, tugging it towards herself across the table.

“If you say so.” Reno sounds almost compassionate. “But let the record show that I tried.”

Philippa raises a cautioning hand just as Reno takes a bite of the curry. She lowers the hand back to her side.

“Maybe we could finish that bottle of whiskey tonight, would that cheer you up?”

“I really shouldn’t drink,” Philippa denies in a low voice. “Not with my heart condition.”

“Didn’t stop you five nights ago,” Reno counters. She smacks her mouth a few times, before throwing a betrayed look at the bowl of curry in front of her.

“Also, you might have warned me that you put lighter fluid and Risan ghost peppers in this.”

Reno grimaces, her lips twisting comically as she recoils. Somehow, Philippa feels the corners of her mouth twitch at her friend’s dilemma.

“Jesus, woman, what kind of sabotage is that? Drinking is dangerous for you, but you willingly ingest this bowl of gamma radiation?”

“Here.” Philippa slides her glass of water across the table. She does her best not to chuckle at the strange faces Reno is pulling. “Calm down.”

“Is this glass laced with cyanide?”

“Do you smell almonds?”

“I can’t smell anything, my nasal cavity’s covered in third degree burns.”

“Oh, stop whining, it wasn’t that bad.”

Reno polishes off the glass of water in an uninterrupted five seconds. She comes up for air with a gasp, her eyes watering, her face flushed.

“Hope to God there was cyanide in that.”

“Well, you are out of luck.”

“Okay. Alright.” Reno shakes her head, as if shaking off the heat of the curry. “You owe me, just for that attempted poisoning.”

“If I had wanted to poison you, you would be dead already,” Philippa counters, reluctantly warming to the banter.

“Awesome. I’ll keep that in mind if I ever need a quick way out. Now come on.” Reno’s voice becomes insistent. “I still haven’t seen the spore lab. I bet it’s weird.”

At the mention of the spore lab, Philippa retreats once more.

“No.”

Reno prods at Philippa’s shin with a foot under the table. “It’ll be fun. You’ve got another, what, half an hour of lunch break? Let’s go visit the kid, she likes you, y’know.”

“Mm.”

She shouldn’t.

“And Commander Uptight, heard he’s good for a laugh.”

Philippa can’t help a surprised snort of amusement at that. Reno seems to take it as an encouraging sign. She rises from the table, sweeping an inviting arm towards the mess hall doors.

With only a moment of hesitation, Philippa gets up and follows her.

 

 

**

 

 

The red alert siren starts to blare as they stride through Deck Eight en route to the spore lab.

“The hell?” Reno stops dead in the corridor junction where Corridors One, Four, Eight, and Twelve intersect. Philippa stops with her, immediately stiffening into a ready stance at the screaming siren and the flashing lights.

In the next moment, Reno’s comm buzzes, and she answers it with a flourish.

“Uh huh. Uh huh. Oh wow…”

Philippa steps away from her to read the datascreen inlaid in the corner of the corridor junction, briefing herself on the situation as Reno talks to whoever may be on the other side of the call.

“Yeah, I’m on Eight. Critical propulsion systems? In the…spore lab?” Reno sounds dubious. “Yeah, I can do that. I’m at the hub now, actually, I’ll just grab some tools and be on my way.”

After more back and forth, Reno finally snaps her comm shut.

“Welp, looks like we have a mission.”

Philippa steps back. “I need to get back to sickbay—“

With a piercing screech, the inset corridor lights above their heads overload and burst, spraying Reno and Philippa with hot glass. Philippa throws an arm up over head and grabs Reno with the other, pulling her to the side of the corridor.

“Like I said!” Reno shouts. She struggles out of Philippa’s grip to drop to the panel under the data screen, pulling it out of the wall. Philippa stands behind her, shielding Reno with her body from whatever explosions and shrapnel might come as the engineer pulls the toolbox out of the storage cupboard.

As soon as the panel is closed, Philippa pulls Reno roughly to her feet. With a sideways flick of her head, Reno shouts, “Spore lab’s twenty yards aft, let’s go!

What?

Philippa and Reno blink at each other in shock.

In the middle of this exploding corridor, shards of plexi-glass and transparent steel flying everywhere, Jett Reno had somehow managed to speak absolute garbage Terenganu Malay, sounding for all the world like a northern farmer from the wild Malaysian forests.

And Philippa has no earthly idea what language had just sprung from her lips.

Both snap out of it in the next moment, and Philippa grabs Reno’s forearm to tug her down the now-emergency lit corridor. They finally make the entrance to the spore lab, and Reno strides through the doorway like nothing at all had happened.

Commander Paul Stamets and Ensign Sylvia Tilly are in front of the reaction cube, jerked from whatever conversation they’d been having. Both scientist gaze up at their procession with confusion.

Reno hums a tune as she descends the stairs, Philippa in tow. Without missing a beat, she proceeds directly to the terminal to the right of the stairs, enters a few lines of code, and hits enter.

“The universal translator for this section is no más,” Reno declares as she locks the terminal once more. She tosses a placid look in Philippa’s direction. “Apparently the bridge is all garbled, too. Giant space inferno lobbed a virus at us, it’s interfering with communications. That was pretty weird, wasn’t it?”

“Entirely.” Philippa shakes her head at those bizarre several seconds. In the next moment she manages to recover. “For a non-native speaker, you garbled Malay like you were born to it.”

“Aw, thanks,” Reno offers. She rounds the terminal to the main power diverter set into the rear wall of the lab. “Your Soyousan isn’t bad, either.”

“You speak Soyousan?”

“My—wife—“ Reno grunts a little as she finagles the small, glowing antimatter cell from its nest of wires in the wall cavity “Taught me bits and pieces. Too many clicks and— trills for me to—get it totally down.”

Philippa can’t help but raise an eyebrow. Of course, she had learned that Reno was married during their evening of drinking on the floor of her quarters, but her attempts at gaining further information had not yielded results. She had not even known that Reno’s union was to a non-Human.

An interesting fact to keep in one’s back pocket.

“Soyousan, hm?” Philippa begins casually. “From the homeworld, or—“

“Excuse me, can I help you?”

Stamets’ perturbed voice cuts in. He offers Philippa a cursory nod before looking back at Reno, who is elbow-deep in the guts of the lab’s main electrical link-ups.

“Uh,” Reno drawls. “Unless you can reroute the plasma regulator to silo off the relay junction, then…no.”

Tilly finally chimes in from her console, albeit nervously. “You’re, um…”

“Jett Reno, from the Hiawatha. Chief Engineer sent me to firewall off the critical propulsion systems. Didn’t realize a greenhouse could be critical, or propulsive, but hey.” Reno shrugs. “What do I know? I’m a gear-head, not a farmer.”

She looks around the lab.

“So where do you guys keep the mushrooms?”

Philippa presses her lips flat to keep from chuckling. Tilly, as well, looks down towards her console, mouth twitching.

“A farmer?” Stamets bristles. “Oh please, let us know what you think, because…we care.”

His sarcasm is palpable. Were this her own ship and her own crew, perhaps Philippa might consider intervening. As it is, she merely sidesteps Stamets as he lays into Reno.

She can take care of herself.

Philippa’s feet take her to the reaction cube, now occupied by Sylvia Tilly’s curious ride-along. The entirety of the ship knows about the incident at this point; still, Philippa has steered clear of the spore lab since the day of the Reveal.

The mysterious, inter-dimensional fungus is pooled on the floor of the spore drive. Its body is a sickly grayish color, and it seems to ooze and pulsate in place.

“Pretty weird, huh.”

On Philippa’s left, Tilly’s voice is quiet and surprisingly not-shrill.

“Yeah,” Philippa offers. There isn’t much else to put forth on the matter. She waits for Tilly to fill the silence with chatter.

The seconds pass.

Reno and Stamets’ bickering echoes behind them.

…antimatter and dilithium might be old-school, but they don’t let you down—“

“…how many planets were ruined because of dilithium mining?...”

Despite the ridiculousness of the conversation behind them, tension prickles at Philippa’s spine as she stands next to Tilly. Ensign Sylvia Tilly, the Discovery’s chattiest personnel member, who is remarkably, inconceivably mute right now.

Then again…

Michael has no doubt told her ensign roommate most of what had happened. Why on Earth would Sylvia Tilly have anything to say to her, after how Michael must be hurting?

The seconds pass heavily, crawling by like chilled molasses. Philippa feels the bizarre urge to fidget, which she suppresses.

Tilly, however, seems to have no such compunction. She sways slightly where she stands her fingers working nervously in front of her, Philippa sees them twitching out of the corner of her eye.

Stars and Gods, how she misses being a captain sometimes. Uninvolved in ridiculous dramas, above all of this mortal silliness and all of the pain, hurt, and sheer awkwardness associated with it.

Somehow, she had forgotten just how difficult working the lower decks could be.

“Um…hey!” Tilly finally blurts, cutting through the thick atmosphere with all the finesse of a flying brick. “Captain, you…you know what’s going on out there, right? With the space sphere, and—and the ship’s systems getting fried and all.”

Philippa nods once, incredibly grateful for the interruption.

“Do you think…maybe May had anything to do with the sphere?”

An interesting hypothetical. Philippa considers it for a moment, but only a moment.

“I don’t see how, Ensign. They don’t seem to have much in common.”

Tilly wilts at Philippa’s side. Philippa recalls that the strange, fairly repulsive being trapped inside the spore drive had been living inside Tilly’s body for months, and had spent the last several days all but torturing her.

Of course she would be looking for any possible leads on what it could be.

“But,” Philippa offers, and Tilly perks up. “We don’t know much about the sphere yet. Or about that,” she offers, gesturing into the drive with her chin.

Tilly’s strained look recedes somewhat.

…I’m uninsultable, Doc. Especially by a guy who thinks he can power a ship on the mushrooms I pick off my pizza....

Reno’s unbothered drawl rings from somewhere behind Philippa and Tilly. Philippa cannot help a slight smile.

“I don’t think she’s thinking big enough.”

“Oh, it’s not quite a question of scale, more of…dimension.” Tilly offers almost absently, still staring at the blob behind the glass. “It’s lateral thinking, y’know? Less about the physical form of a fungus, more about its ecological niche. What role it occupies in nature.”

Philippa turns towards Tilly slightly as she speaks.

“Fungi are a vital component of any ecosystem. They recycle old, dead matter and release it back into the environment, but in usable forms. So it’s not really that our mycelia are mushrooms in the way we think about them, it’s that they fill the role of a fungus, just in a more macrocosmic environment.”

“…it was only a couple centuries ago that Earth nearly choked to death on pollution…yesterday’s solar panels are today’s fungi…”

“Y’know, Stamets has all these theories about the mycelial network and what role it plays in the universe’s astrophysical ecosystem…how it could be turning matter over to energy and vice versa, in processes we can’t even begin to conceptualize. And—and it’s crazy, we still don’t know anything about dark matter or dark energy or what in the heck they are or how they came to be, but they take up a vast amount of space in the universe and exert significant gravitational effects, we just can’t detect them… Stamets thinks that the mycelial network must be involved somehow…“

Tilly trails off.

Philippa blinks at the staggering amount of coherent information she has finally been given on this senseless excuse for a science vessel.

Inside the spore drive, the grayish blob twitches, croaking slightly. It manages to startle both Philippa and Tilly out of their brief reverie.

“And…and that’s the other thing.”

Tilly continues in a softer voice, watching the blob.

“This creature, May, it’s from the mycelial plane. And it’s obviously sentient, since y’know…it played me like a fiddle or whatever, but just imagine what it might know. All of the questions we’ve been asking since—since practically the dawn of time, ones even the Vulcan Science Academy can’t answer…”

Tilly’s hands wring in front of her, frustrated.

“If only we could talk to it,” Philippa offers, completing Tilly’s thought.

“If we could just understand why it’s here,” Tilly agrees with no little urgency. She shakes her head at the incomprehensible fungal blob, barely able to maintain its form in this universe. “I mean, it’s unprecedented, so much of all of this is…unprecedented, and then there’s those weird red spores…”

Tilly gestures over her shoulder, towards the back wall of the lab, studded with spore canisters, two of which glow an eerie, otherworldly red.

Silence hangs for a long moment.

Tilly breaks the quiet with a low whisper.

“What if it’s all connected somehow?”

“…You’re wasting my time, buddy. I gotta section off this lab or else the Chief’s gonna be on my ass about it, and the ship’s kind of exploding out there—“

Tilly shakes out an exhale. “I’m sorry, Captain, I’m just totally ranting at you—“

“No, don’t be.” Philippa shakes her head, still reeling. “This the most substantial explanation I have been given for all of this.”

“Well come on,” Tilly laughs, “Surely Michael must have—“

Tilly’s teeth clatter shut.

Any ambient warmth of the previous conversation immediately vanishes.

Philippa looks at Tilly, who is now studiously avoiding her gaze. And in truth, Philippa, too, is lost for words.

A moment passes.

“She’s a xenoanthropologist,” Philippa finally manages. “Not a theoretical engineer.”

Her mouth closes upon the words that are crowding her throat.

And that’s not exactly what we spent our time talking about.

This shouldn’t be so awkward.

Why is this so awkward?

Philippa remembers better days. Once, she could cut through awkwardness with a cleverly raised eyebrow, bring a conversation back from the dead in the blink of an eye, mediate peace between two nations with centuries of bloody conflict between them, so how in the star-raising hells is this particular situation taking her down like this?

“So out-of-practice,” she mutters aloud.

“Huh?” Tilly asks.

Philippa opens her mouth to explain, but before she can so much as make a sound, the lab’s warning klaxon blares.

The overhead lights flash red, bathing the spore lab in sickly amber light.

Tilly leaps where she stands, and Philippa whirls into a ready stance. Her ears ring at the scream of the alarms. Reno looks up from her work at the terminal, Stamets as well. As they do so, a low thrumming sound vibrates through the lab, shaking the very floor they stand on.

“The virus must be spreading!” Reno shouts. Her fingers fly across the keyboard, Philippa catches a flash of hot white light in the corner of her eye—

Get down!

Philippa’s firm tackle takes Tilly to the floor. From the reciprocal thump across the room, Philippa assumes that Stamets has done the same to Reno, but her thoughts are scrambled by the literal bolt of lightning that crackles from the hub of the spore drive, flaring across the lab like the hand of God.

The energy is so intense that Philippa has to cover her eyes. She hears screeching metal and the groans of the Discovery’s super-structure struggling to compensate for the surge. The recognizable ting-ting of sparks hitting the deck echoes in her ear as the electrical bursts strikes gears and motors. Acrid ozone pricks at the back of her throat, sticking in her nostrils.

And in the next second, the light dissipates.

The spore lab is dark and silent once more.

Philippa staggers to her feet, and Tilly does the same next to her. The overhead lights flicker weakly, adding an eerie, vaguely threatening air to the lab.

Reno is already at the computer terminal, which is sputtering after the almighty power surge.

“What the hell happened?” Philippa demands.

“The sphere virus must’ve overloaded the power from the central reactor.”

Reno sizes up the situation quickly and calmly, though the display is clearly malfunctioning. The screen stutters and shakes, disproportionately bright in the now-murky spore lab.

“And there’ll be more where that came from. We’ve got a hundred giga-electron volts surging through the local relays.” Reno spins a hand towards the ceiling as she walks out from behind the terminal. “Computer’s isolated the compartment to contain the damage.”

Philippa, Stamets, and Tilly look up the stairs, towards the door to the corridor, which, sure enough, has sealed itself shut. A quick glance behind Philippa and to the right confirms that the auxiliary door is sealed as well.

They’re trapped.

Stamets begins hesitantly, “We…still have our life-support, right?”

“Yeah, but—“

“It could kill us,” Philippa completes, her heart growing cold. “Safeties are off because of the surge, if we are hit by another electrical wave, our oxygen will ignite—“

“Cook us like French fries,” Reno completes. “No automatic shutdowns.”

A beat of palpable fear hangs in the murky lab.

The room seems suddenly claustrophobic, the ceiling absurdly low, the walls unbearably close. Philippa imagines that they are stuck in the dark belly of some great beast, cavernous and inescapable, soon to be digested by forces entirely outside of their control.

“We—we could divert the power to act as a lightning arrestor?”

Ensign Tilly stumbles through the sentence, her hands twitching in front of her. Reno and Stamets nod slowly at the idea, and Philippa takes comfort in their acceptance of the idea. She takes a quick breath, thanking her lucky stars that she is trapped in this combustion oven with two brilliant scientists and one crazed engineer.

“We could use the door…as a ground,” Reno thinks out loud, pacing the deck slowly. She points up the metal staircase to the sealed bulkhead door of the spore lab. “The bulkheads are basically spring loaded, no real electrical input. That’ll dissipate the surge through the frame of the ship....”

Philippa nods along at the idea. She recalls a similar situation on the Archimedes nearly twenty years ago, involving an ion storm, a precariously shielded shuttlebay, several repurposed fire hoses, and copious amounts of flame-retardant foam.

“Still, the real question is,” Philippa continues along this train of thought. “How would we conduct the surge from there,” she gestures to the transparent steel walls of the spore drive, the main energy hub of the lab, “ To there?” Her gaze moves five meters across the slate gray deck and three meters up, following the rickety metal staircase to the sealed bulkhead door.

Unlike a shuttlebay, this science lab has no fire hoses, nor any real moving metal parts, nor enough insulating materials to protect their fleshy, water-filled bodies from one hundred giga-electron volts.

“A gas could!”

Stamets cuts in, raising a quick hand to interject. Reno and Philippa turn to look at him.

“I mean, once it ionizes,” he quickly elaborates. He gestures towards the back wall, dotted with spore canisters. “I infuse the spores with an argon-xenon mixture, to slow decay. We could link up the canisters to contain the gas…our version of a lightning rod.”

Reno is nodding slowly at Philippa’s side, the side of her mouth quirking upwards. “That’s actually not a stupid idea.”

With that, Tilly all but springs into action. She proceeds around the terminal towards the spore canisters, and Philippa follows her, ready to help wherever she might be needed.

“It’s…my version of the house dressing,” Stamets offers somewhere behind them, “only it saves your life.”

Philippa cringes as she starts pulling canisters out of the wall, and imagines Reno is doing the same. She gives Stamets partial credit for trying, but Gods, that was awful.

Still, she puts her head down and goes right to work alongside Tilly, evacuating spores and pulling canisters. Reno has gone straight for her toolbox, and Stamets is opening a panel in the wall, behind which is no doubt a gas storage unit.

The clock is ticking, and every moment is precious.

 

 


 

 

“Gas her up!” Reno shouts.

A low hiss emanates across the cold metal deck, across which snakes a long, segmented tube. Empty spore canisters dot the length of the tube, and between each canister is a length of clear, one-meter plastic hosing that Philippa had managed to rustle up from the supply closet in the far corner of the compartment. The back wall of the spore lab, once studded with spore canisters, is now empty, save for two slots which glow red, canisters still in place.

Unusable, Stamets had explained.

Explosive and deadly, Tilly had elaborated.

Reno had said nothing, entirely focused on the task at hand as she welded the flexible tubing to the docking ports of each spore canister with a hand-sized welding torch.

“Gas transference at one-hundred percent!” Stamets announces, darting behind the terminal near the canister wall to check readouts.

Philippa is on hands-and-knees, checking the integrity of the link-ups with a well-aimed tricorder. As she begins check number eight, the tubing begins to glow a warm blue beneath Philippa’s hand. She shakes her head, horror rising in her chest.

No…it’s too soon…

“The surge is coming,” she announces, staggering to her feet to back away from the now-hot-white tubing. “But we’re a meter and a half short!”

The critical meter and a half meant that their makeshift lightning rod would not reach the bulkhead door. The oncoming surge would sear through the deck itself and electrocute their fleshy bodies to absolute cinders. Not to mention, it would also ignite the compressed oxygen of the sealed spore lab and turn the room into a cavern-sized bomb, resulting in an explosion powerful enough to possibly destroy the Discovery.

Reno’s head whips up from where she crouches at the terminal canister of their makeshift lightning rod. Her eyes meet Philippa’s, and somehow, there’s no trace of panic in them.

“Phil, there’s a crawl-space underneath the back-up terminal, check there for me, will you?”

Philippa is already darting across the deck, as fast as she can with her poor cardiac function. She reaches the rear-most terminal, all but forgotten in the murky far corner of the spore lab. There’s no telling what Reno might be thinking, but Philippa is a spy, not an engineer, and more importantly, she’s a captain, and she knows when to off-load command of a task to those best suited to meet its demands—

“You’re gonna do that manually?”

Tilly’s voice carries across the lab, sounding alarmed.

“Yeah, ‘cause obviously you’re not.”

Reno responds in her perfectly deadpan snark. There’s the metallic clatter of boots on the rickety ladder, and Philippa whirls around in time to see the back of Reno’s wiry body at the top of the stairs, holding the business end of the glowing canister tube like it’s a phaser cannon, too short by a scant meter and a half to reach the door—

At least, not without assistance.

Philippa’s jaw clenches where she stands at the far corner of the spore lab.

The furthest possible point from the compartment’s bulkhead door.

She’d been had.

Son of a—“

The glass walls of the spore drive flare, its interior lighting up like a star—

Hot lightning bursts from the terminus of the tubing.

Reno’s body illuminates, cast in the unbearable white light of a one-hundred giga-electron volt surge of electricity. With a thunderous screech, the lightning hits the thick metal surface of the door, an unstoppable force meeting an unmovable object—

The resulting pressure wave takes the lab in its entirety, a supernova condensed into a meter-and-a-half circumference.

Philippa loses consciousness before her body hits the deck.

 

 

**

 

 

“…captain…”

--ptain Georgiou…

Captain!...

Philippa’s eyes flutter open. She registers the fact that her body is being shaken by a pair of hands on her shoulders, and that there is an absurdly hard surface beneath her.

She blinks at the sight of a concerned, pale face with short blond hair, hovering somewhere above her.

“Captain, are you okay?”

“Mmm?” She manages, her body not quite responding at the moment. “Mm…fine…”

Her left hand comes up weakly, twitching and trembling, and she shoves Paul Stamets jostling arms away. Her body feels like a hot livewire, not quite under her control. Gritting her chattering teeth, Philippa forces herself to sit up, noting the flickering overhead lights of the spore lab struggling to ignite, as well as the deep whir of the back-up systems coming online.

“Did it…work?”

“Uh…yeah, yeah I think so.”

Stamets nods his confirmation somewhat weakly. His blue eyes are wide; he looks comically shell-shocked. Nevertheless, he helps Philippa to her feet, and the room spins nauseatingly as she manages to stand. She catches sight of the bulkhead door at the top of the metal stairs, and remembers--

“Where’s Reno?”

They both look to the base of the stairwell, where Ensign Tilly is crouched over a collapsed body in a Fleet uniform. The ensign’s curly red hair has taken on a truly impressive mushroom shape, no doubt a result of the electricity, and she jostles at the still form with urgent hands. “Reno! Reno?”

Philippa staggers across the floor, aided in her journey by Commander Stamets.

“Reno, I swear to God—“

She drops to her knees by her friend’s body, laying a firm hand on her shoulder. If her twitching is any indicator, the engineer seems to be coming around.

“Reno, are you alright?” Tilly stumbles through the sentence, sounding frazzling beyond words, matching the current state of her hair.

“Had the…strangest dream…”

With a grimace, Jett Reno screws her eyes even more tightly shut.

“Was…playing the drums for Prince…there were doves and a…parade…”

Unable to stop herself, Philippa presses her knuckles into Reno’s sternum, hard. Reno’s body spasms, her eyes flying open.

“Aghh!” She all but chokes, shoving Philippa’s arm away. “What the—“

“You are an idiot. A goddamn idiot.”

Philippa wants to slap Reno awake, but settles for gripping the front of her uniform tightly with one fist. Were she stronger, she would be yanking the engineer to a seated position.

“What the hell is wrong with you?!”

“I’m okay.”

"Oh, are you? Don't get used to it!"

"Calm down--"

“You don’t fire one hundred giga-eV’s at a metal bulkhead, point blank! What in the hell did they teach you on the Hiawatha?”

Reno looks askance at Philippa.

“Well…not that. That was an original.”

Philippa levels a furious glare at her. Reno merely shrugs as she struggles to a seated position. She looks as infuriatingly placid as she had a mere hour ago in the mess hall, eating her chips and ignoring Philippa’s acerbic comments.

Was it only an hour ago?

“Hey, look at that.” Reno flicks her chin up the stairs towards the now-blackened bulkhead door. “It worked.”

Stamets exhales his disbelief next to Philippa, but Tilly only does a double-take as she catches something over her shoulder.

“Uh, guys?”

Philippa follows her gaze towards the spore drive, May’s makeshift cage.

The door is wide open.

“Aw, fu—“

Reno’s voice is cut off by an otherworldly chittering sound. The noise echoes across the lab, everywhere and nowhere all at once. Animalistic. Threatening.

Stamets and Philippa haul Reno to her feet, and Philippa whirls into a defensive stance.

“Everyone, back-to-back!”

The group does as they are told, forming a makeshift phalanx in the middle of the spore lab. Philippa’s eyes dart into corners and crevices as the clacking and screeching grows louder. They’re being hunted.

No, that isn’t quite right.

They’re being stalked.

“Stamets, is there a weapons compartment?”

“We, uh—“

Agh!

Tilly yelps, leaping into the air and away from their small unit. Philippa whirls towards her, only to automatically, instinctively flinch away.

Latched onto Ensign Tilly’s right arm is a grotesque, grayish blob. It pulsates angrily as Tilly does her best to shake it off, waving her arm frantically through the air. Her efforts are fruitless; the fungus merely pulsates harder as it engulfs the circumference of Tilly’s forearm, chittering and screeching.

“She—she won’t let go! She won’t let go!”

Philippa can only shake her head at Tilly’s flailing, taking a half of a split second to adjust to this new threat.

A mysterious, dangerous multi-dimensional fungal parasite, now loose in the spore lab and bound to Ensign Tilly once more. The compartment is sealed off from the rest of the Discovery. No escape, no weapons, no way to comm for help.

Philippa and Reno’s eyes meet, and Philippa imagines that they are thinking much the same thing.

Out of the ion storm, into the vortex.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

The overhead lights flicker on and off as Michael types frantically at the computer mainframe. The central hub of Deck Five is the centermost point of the Discovery, the safest place from any and all extra-vehicular threats that the universe could throw at them; thus, it is the logical place for the ship’s computer mainframe to be situated.

Various personnel hustle across the hub’s intersection into adjacent corridors. The chatter of dozens of Fleet characters is loud and demanding in Michael’s ears, reports and orders and statuses called out over the bustle of heavy, running footsteps.

The urgency in the air is palpable.

The giant, fiery space inferno is certainly worth the extra hustle. Five hundred sixty-five kilometers in diameter, six point three nine times ten to the twentieth power, the sphere is the size of a large moon, melding organic and non-living matter somewhere within its flaming maw. Not to mention, initial scans showed the writhing monolith to be at least one hundred thousand years old.

Ancient, on a Humanoid scale.

Starfleet has never encountered anything like it. If the ship were not currently under attack by this virus, Michael would be salivating at the chance to take an away mission to the sphere’s surface in a bid for further information.

By the stars, the things that sphere could tell them…

As it is, she focuses on the task at hand, repairing the universal translator, the first casualty of the sphere’s mysterious virus. The computer mainframe hums beneath her hands, and the core-direct power link-up glows a warm blue where it has been pulled from the overhead fuse box. The top-left corner of the screen shows the entirety of the ship’s systems separated neatly into hexagonal bubbles. All are green except for the one marked “Comms.”

That one is marked with a sickly red.

Sectioning off the UT from the ship’s digital network. Almost there, Saru.

Michael makes the verbal notation for Commander Saru’s benefit. He is on hands-and-knees below the terminal, building a program that will allow the UT to shake off the mysterious virus that the massive, writhing space sphere has thrown at them.

Acknowledged, Burnham. Do not forget the…imbedded Gates firewall…

Rolling her eyes, Michael bites down on the impulse to say something to the tune of “Yes Commander, and don’t forget to straighten your legs when you stand up.

Saru had come a long way from their antagonistic beginnings, but by the stars, he could still be so incredibly condescending.

Michael focuses her irritation on locking the UT out from various ship’s systems. The programming is far-reaching and intermingled with nearly every system Michael has encountered in this task. She imagines that this work in isolating the UT’s central program is akin to uprooting a old-growth tree whose root system has spread throughout the underground pipes and plumbing of a small neighborhood, and doing so without killing the tree or damaging the surrounding pipework.

Saru coughs painfully beneath her, and guilt stabs Michael in the chest for dragging him from his quarters. She needs him to translate the spasming UT in order to restore some semblance of order to the ship, but the man can barely stand up, and Michael is certain she strained something in her back from dragging his limp body down from the bridge.

Nearly there…

That’s Saru’s painful tone, rasping out syllables in a language Michael somehow understands, but has no hope of identifying. She leans back and over the pull-out keyboard to check on her sick Kelpien crewmate.

Saru’s head is dotted with beads of cold sweat, and he seems even more pale than usual. His body shakes slightly, either with cold or with pain, Michael does not know.

Running simulation of…reinitialization sequence.

Saru peers up at Michael, his blue eyes squinting. He reads the question in her face with no words necessary.

Ramikar Tellish, Burnham.

One of the three main Tellarite dialects. Michael nods in acknowledgement.

The PADD in Saru’s hands is connected via Ethernet cable to the computer mainframe. It emits several beeps, and the loading bar on the display turns a soothing green.

Success,” Saru sniffles.

The UT is isolated.” With several flicks of her fingers, Michael retreats from the depths of the code meant to control the warp core electrical relays. “Let’s run it.

Saru tugs one of the glass relay chips from the base of the fuse box, unplugging it from the PADD. He passes it to Michael, who inserts it into the interface. The mainframe screen flashes, the tiny numbers, letters, and symbols of the newly prepared code running up the display like water in a riverbed.

It is—in large part—an insertion sequence…” Saru mumbles as they watch. “It will—change the format of the UT coding in a—critical place. Like…

Like swapping a base pair in a DNA sequence, changing a protein’s tertiary structure,” Michael posits, and Saru nods. “The virus will be unable to anchor itself to the new code. Brilliant.

She is trying harder with Saru these days. Has been since she first came aboard the Discovery, really. Her assertion to Philippa had not been an exaggeration; mollifying Saru was a bid to ingratiate herself with the rest of the ship’s crew. Still, doing so had proven surprisingly fruitful from a strictly interpersonal standpoint. Commander Saru could be stuck-up and irritating, and stars knew he was incredibly fussy, but in her attempts to make amends for past unfairness, Michael has found him to be a deeply thoughtful man, as well as loyal and perceptive.

She has no regrets in their burying the hatchet.

Still, she knows that there are certain insults and affronts from the past that she will never be able to forget.

In quieter moments, it is easy enough for Michael to bring forth memory of those dark, early days aboard the Discovery, when backs were turned to her and the stars were cold outside of her window, and Michael’s thoughts were fuzzy with grief and she could not manage to feel anything, other than bleak despair and emptiness.

Funnily enough, Saru’s barbs and cruel words had not truly landed until months after Michael’s onboarding, after Michael’s numbness had given way like a breaking fever and she began to experience normal Human emotions once more.

I intend to do a better job protecting my captain than you did protecting yours—

—Dangerous—Horrific threat—Proven predator—

—Exactly the kind of behavior that killed Captain Georgiou!—

Unimportant.

Michael had told herself this then, and she tells herself the same thing now. Unimportant. Insignificant. Old wounds, past hurts, silly aches and pains entirely irrelevant to the present relationship she is attempting to build.

Reinitializing…

Saru staggers up to his feet. Together, he and Michael lean over the terminal, watching the mainframe screen as it reboots. The bustle of crewmembers fades into the background as the display loads.

Finally, the homescreen pops up once more, showing the hexagonal system bubbles.

Every single one is green, including comms.

Michael smiles triumphantly. Next to her, Saru nods in satisfaction. With a quick sidestep, Michael presses the “speak” key of the vox recorder inset within the corridor wall.

“Burnham to bridge. The universal translator is back up and running ship-wide, on all …systems…”

Her voice trails off as Commander Saru slowly, slowly sinks to the ground next to the pull-out terminal. He folds to his knees, coughing painfully as he does so. Michael has never seen him in such a state, not once in nearly eight years.

“Saru!”

Michael drops to a crouch beside him. She grasps his right arm, keeping his shaking body upright via sheer strength.

“What is going on? This is not just a cold!”

Saru shakes his head weakly. He looks up to her, and his blue eyes are wide and filled with fear, as well as unflinching certainty.

“No…it is not.”

But before Michael can so much as ask for clarification, Saru’s threat ganglia flare, prompting a pained groan—

And in the next moment, the ship bucks beneath them.

Michael is thrown off her feet as the deck recoils. Klaxons blare, the overhead lighting fails in a cascade of hot orange sparks, and an ops engineer on the other side of the hub is thrown from his access ladder, landing in a heap on the ground.

A quick glance at the mainframe display from Michael’s crumpled position on the deck shows at least five hexagonal system bubbles now in red. Even while she watches, several more make the split-second transition, resulting in an angry readout filled with far more red than green.

“Multiple system failure,” Michael mutters. She rises to her feet to the inset vox once more.

“Bridge, what happened? Did the sphere fire on us?”

Negative,” comes Owosekun’s accented voice. “EPS conduits are overloading. Systems are going haywire. The virus is spreading!

“What is happening to the ship?” Saru gasps from his place on the deck. He looks to be struggling to stand up. “We…we have to get back to the bridge—“

“No, no no no.” Michael drops back to him, pressing his shoulders back towards the floor. “Right now, we need to get you to sickbay.”

“There’s no time—“

“It’s down the corridor, Saru!”

Michael thanks the ship’s designers, engineers, and architects for placing sickbay, as well as the computer mainframe, in the most protected area of the ship. She hauls Saru to his feet, laying an arm across her shoulders.

Somehow, despite the high stakes of the situation, Michael’s heart still gives a nervous pang as she staggers down Corridor Four, Saru in tow.

Philippa is working sickbay.

Avoiding the woman will no longer be possible.

 

 

**

 

 

“Traige plasma burns on Level One! Non-critical to Sickbay Two!”

“Doctor!”

Michael calls for Tracy Pollard’s attention, all but dragging Saru’s barely-cooperating body through the doorway. White-uniformed personnel swarm around sickbay, the room filled to bursting with the casualties of the space sphere’s unconventional attacks.

Pollard gestures to an unoccupied bio-bed. “Bring him here!”

Saru pants as Michael gently lowers him onto the blue cushioned surface. Scanner in hand, Pollard is calm and focused as she takes Saru’s vitals and various accessory readings.

Michael takes the opportunity to subtly scan sickbay, unable to shake the crawling feeling in her spine, nor her fluttering heartbeat.

“Elevated heart-rate, spiking adrenal levels, increased neural activity.” Pollard’s voice shakes Michael out of her distraction. “The pain would render the average humanoid unconscious.”

Emphasis is placed on the last word, as if Pollard cannot quite comprehend just how Saru is still upright.

In the next moment, Saru’s threat ganglia flare, prompting another pained groan from her Kelpien crewmate. Michael jumps at their sudden appearance.

“What do we do about those?”

Pollard sounds apprehensive, but Saru waves her off.

“Nothing! Nothing…it is an effect of my condition.”

The Kelpien man flinches, blinking painfully as he does so. Pollard picks up on this and reaches for his face, scanning one of his large blue eyes as she directs his gaze towards her.

“Ocular discomfort?”

“No…” Saru sniffles. “Kelpiens can—see far deeper into the light spectrum than Humans. I am seeing flashes of—ultraviolet light, invisible to you but quite the opposite to me…”

“Are these symptoms common among Kelpiens—“

“Ghh, this is pointless!”

Saru’s vehement exclamation tugs Michael out of her perusal of the sickbay staff.

“And the ship is being further immobilized as we waste time!” Saru continues in an impassioned tone. “There is no reason to believe the sphere is benevolent—“

The rant is cut off when Saru flinches once more, his large hands coming up to press into his face. Michael seizes the opportunity.

“Saru. Doctor Pollard is trying to help you.”

Michael’s mellow voice is calm, but an undercurrent of steel runs beneath it. It is the tone that comforts frightened ensigns, cajoles nervous civilians, and subtly coerces those who are being ornery into following Michael’s orders.

The “command tone,” as it were.

Michael raises an admonishing eyebrow. Saru’s eyes drop to his hands.

“Yes.”

He provides the answer helplessly, in response to Pollard’s earlier question.

“It is unique to my people…and it is terminal.”

The noises of sickbay go mute.

Michael exchanges a shocked glance with Doctor Pollard, whose dark eyes are wide at the revelation.

“Are—“ Michael stumbles. “Are you certain?”

“I have never been more certain of anything in my life.”

Saru’s tone is even, and accepting. His hands come up to press at his flared ganglia, a lame attempt to tame the strange, writhing tendrils into submission. With a shake of his head, he gives the attempt up for naught.

“When I awoke in discomfort this morning, I hoped it was just a passing cold. But now…I have to face the truth. I do not understand why, but—I am beginning to think that the sphere’s—affectations on the local environment are—triggering a Kelpien biological process known as…vahar’ai.”

Michael wraps her lips around the word, mouthing the foreign syllables silently. She thinks of their collapsing ship, its systems crumbling in the iron grip of this vast, mysterious sphere…and her very ill crewmate, who is crumbling as well.

Saru continues. “Vahar’ai…is the event that signals when—Kelpiens are ready to be culled for slaughter—by the Ba’ul…the predator species on my homeworld, Kaminar.”

“But there are no Ba’ul here…”

Pollard puts forth the interjection hesitantly. Her face is uncomprehending, an unusual sight for the Discovery’s seen-it-all CMO.

“It does not matter,” Saru mumbles. His hands come up to his flared threat ganglia once more. “Kelpien ganglia only inflame in this manner as we near our end. There is…nothing to be done. I am—a slave to my biology.”

Michael’s hackles raise at her crewmate’s classic Kelpien fatalism. These attitudes of his were far more common back on the Shenzhou, when every situation and crisis would invariably result in some manner of the idea of “we let it run its course,” or “it is nature’s way.

It has been so many months since Saru’s outlook of benign resignation had reared its ugly head. Somehow Michael had forgotten just how infuriating it was.

“We are not going to let you die.”

Michael’s voice is hard as flint. Saru stares at her with no little surprise.

“There has to be something that we can do!”

Michael throws a significant look to Pollard, who gives several quick nods, her gaze dropping back to her scanner, her fingertips darting across the screen. Michael thinks of humanoid metabolism, of second-messengers and kinase cascades and brain chemistry and—

“There is not.” Saru shakes his head in denial. “Kelpiens undergoing vahar’ai either die in the culling, or…are driven to madness by the effects of the condition. Either way…”

He blinks in Michael’s direction, a little sadly.

“Death is inevitable.”

Michael opens her mouth, uncertain of what words she could possibly to say that would solve this state of affairs—

“Thirty-eight year old male, open laceration to the abdomen, LOR dropping!”

Both she and Tracy Pollard jump at the announcement, shouted across sickbay from the threshold. Michael turns to see two ops officers carrying a limp crewman between them, his head lolling on his shoulders. The stomach of his uniform is covered in blood, bubbling up from a long scratch from ribcage to navel.

“Burnham, glove up!” Pollard barks, putting down her scanner. “Saru, sit tight. This isn’t over.”

Michael nods briskly, darting to the supply cabinet near the doorway. Her thoughts are a veritable inferno as she digs in the drawer marked “Human”.

Vahar’ai…terminal…inevitable

She slams the drawer closed a little harder than she should.

How in the stars could Saru keep the possibility of sudden, irreversible death a secret? The man had known of this condition, this terminal, incurable condition, for damn near two decades, with much of that time spent in Starfleet, the home of the most cutting edge technology and discoveries in the galaxy! All of this time, they could have been working on a cure, a vaccine, a preventative vitamin, something.

The gloves snap onto Michael’s wrists. Her jaw is clenched with rage.

Twenty years they had had to prevent this, if Saru could have only been bothered to speak up, to make the situation known—to fight.

Michael cannot even look at the Kelpien man as she stomps across across sickbay to help Pollard.

“We need gauze and towels, stat! Fenri, half a mil of TXA! Burnham, pressure. Where the hell is Georgiou?”

It is a struggle not to look up at the mention of her name, but Michael manages, devoting all of her focus towards applying direct pressure on Crewman N’Kalvarin’s bleeding laceration.

Then again, judging by Pollard’s expression when Michael finally does look up, it is likely that non-reaction may have been the more conspicuous choice.

“Doctor—“

“Nope. Not talking about it.” Pollard shakes her head. A sickbay ensign offers a syringe, which she quickly accepts. “Get a central line in place.”

She throws the order in the ensign’s direction. They nod quickly, reptilian eyes fluttering as they bustle off to collect the materials. Michael catches a glimpse of Saru on the other side of sickbay. He looks to be in terrible pain.

Her comrade. And as of fairly recently, her friend.

She begins brainstorming almost without conscious thought.

“If Saru thinks that somehow the sphere activated the vahar’ai, then maybe escaping its grip would stop what’s happening to him.”

“Logical,” Pollard confirms. In the next moment, her gaze moves over Michael’s shoulder. “Nope, sickbay two!” She waves an arm at a limping science officer, and the woman does an immediate about-face.

“The real issue is getting free of this—“ Pollard grits her teeth, pressing hard on the towels. “Sphere at all, before it destroys us. Jung, I need a cauterizer!”

“If it wanted to destroy us, why the slow attack?”

Michael shakes her head at the illogic of it all. Launching a virus that took out the universal translator but left critical functions unscathed, taking out systems one-by-one when it could easily reach out with its superior mass and strength and destroy them in an instant…

“…It’s inefficient, right? It must need something!”

“It’s taking what it needs,” Pollard denies. She reaches over her shoulder, and a cauterizer appears in her hand. “Without the computer, primary systems begin to fail, including the—warp core.” Her tool dips into the unconscious man’s abdominal cavity, and the scent of charred flesh hits Michael’s nostrils as the doctor burns closed the severed arteries and veins. “You heard the captain, EPS grid’s unstable, cutting off whole sections. Engineering’s down— Life support’s down to sixty percent, but who’s counting?”

The eye-roll is apparent in Pollard’s voice, though she does not look up from her work.

“Watch your hands.”

Michael does, busying herself with clearing saturated gauze pads out of Pollard’s workspace.

“It is not logical for a virus to kill its host.” Michael’s voice is smooth, flat with certainty.

“I’m flattered, Burnham, but you’re attaching a medical diagnosis to an unknown entity.”

“A medical metaphor,” Michael counters, and Pollard raises a disbelieving eyebrow.

“One which may have some substance!”

Pollard and Michael startle at Saru’s mellow voice, calling from across the room.

Of course, Michael had known about Kelpien auditory capabilities, but this fact had fallen to the wayside in light of the general turmoil around them.

“Like our…reprogramming of the UT, borrowing from—molecular biology. If we can—analyze the virus, perhaps we can—develop some kind of—digital antibody—“

“A computer antibody to fight a computer virus,” Michael completes. Her eyes are wide as she processes the idea, somewhat radical but not outside the realm of possibility. “That could give us enough control to break the ship free!”

“In theory, but—it will be a slow process, like—army ants eating a water buffalo.”

“It’ll buy us time at least, and we could use some of that.” Michael withdraws her hands from the supine crewman’s abdominal cavity. “Are you alright here, Doctor?”

Pollard huffs. “’Course not, but this is basic triage. Your mission is Priority One. Go, Burnham.”

Michael steps back from the bio-bed and strips off her gloves. “Saru, I’m heading to the digital media lab.”

“I’ll come with you—“

“No! No I can handle this.” Three long strides take Michael to Saru’s bedside, where is struggling to stand up. “There is no reason to risk your health further!”

She presses down on her crewmate’s shoulders a little more firmly than necessary. Saru’s large Kelpien hands come up to Michael’s wrists, but he does not attempt to throw her off. Somehow, the gentleness in his grip gives Michael pause. She looks at Saru, raising a questioning eyebrow.

Saru’s face is covered in beads of cold sweat, pain clear in his every micro-expression. Yet somehow, his eyes are filled with understanding, and deep, infinite compassion.

Michael’s heart gives a pang within her chest.

“I know that I am dying, Michael. In light of this fact—there is no further risk to my health.”

Saru’s glazed eyes blink once. He squares his shoulders beneath Michael’s hands.

“I am coming with you.”

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

Michael Burnham’s life has been marked by loss.

The violent deaths of her parents at the age of ten. Her classmates, several friends, dead in the bombing of Shi’Kahr’s Learning Center. Multiple friends and colleagues, victims of their dazzling, dangerous life exploring the cosmos. And of course, her captain…

Her friend.

The ensuing war, and all of the many losses that Michael had borne with it.

Sudden, jagged supernovas of pain and devastation punctuating Michael’s entire existence, loved ones winking out quickly, violently, suddenly, and without any sort of warning. It is at the point where Michael figures she ought to expect it, to be inured to it in some way.

And yet…

Michael is slowly realizing, as she writes line after line of code assisted by the Discovery’s capable auto-correctors, that what is happening now is something that she has never before experienced.

Somehow, somehow, Michael realizes, here in this screen-filled media room, that all of the losses she has ever borne have been abrupt ones. Stars winking out without notice, violent terror attacks, accidents on away missions, Klingons and their wicked instruments of death…

Her experience with loss has always, always been acute.

Acute death was injury, lightning swift, hot red-white, agonizing. A massive explosion, a sudden attack, a shuttle crash, a blade through the chest.

But chronic death, it seems to Michael, is illness. Slow, creeping, grotesque. A silent shadow, a hungry void, churning like the maw of the moon-sized inferno right outside the ship’s hull…patient above all else, for what rush was there?

Vahar’ai was inescapable.

Michael wonders, as she alters her portion of the digital antibody, at how differently she would have experienced her parents’ passing had they succumbed slowly, to some inescapable illness such as vahar’ai. If she had been given months warning, instead of mere seconds…would she have been more prepared when the moment finally came?

Would Mom have used the time given to her to tell Michael about what would happen to her body once she turned thirteen? Would Daddy have taken her to his frontier homeworld, like he had promised her for years?

Would Michael’s parents have used the dwindling days left to them to draft a will? To give Michael their final wishes and blessings, as they had not had time to do before the massacre? Would Mom and Daddy have spent their last hours in this universe holding her close? Whispering hopes for their only daughter, dreams for her future, advice for when they were gone, some last words of love for their baby?

All of that she could have had, instead of Daddy’s hasty instructions to put her PADD down and set the table for dinner, and Mom’s terrified “I love you, baby girl,” as she bundled Michael into the cabinet beneath the sink.

Still, Michael has to wonder if maybe losing her family quickly had been better, for the idea of watching her parents suffer in the throes of what her crewmate is enduring seems to her unbearably cruel.

In the past hour, Saru’s keystrokes per minute have decreased by nearly fifteen percent. His breathing is growing louder, more labored. Michael remembers each minute what Doctor Pollard had said about the pain level. She wonders if it is possible for such a pain to grow even worse, or if Saru’s physical decline is due to other factors.

She wonders if this is better or worse than the sudden, yet violent deaths of everyone else she has ever lost.

And, like Saru’s vahar’ai, Michael finds that her grief, as well, has snuck up on her. Like her friend’s laboring breathing and sluggish fingers, with every passing minute the anguish has grown. And every passing minute, with breath counts, with images of serenity in her mind’s eye, with techniques borrowed from the ancient practice of tok’mar, Michael beats it back.

She clings to logic now, as she has done in all times of strain. Clear, impersonal logic. Her ship needs her, her crew needs her; becoming emotional over what is objectively a side-issue will only detract from her ability to deal with the problem at hand.

“The antibodies are slowing the virus’s progression. Life support at forty-seven percent.”

Michael’s voice is impassive as she announces the readout from the media lab’s main terminal.

Deep breaths.

Cool head.

Still heart.

Michael’s efforts are as stalwart and as measured as any Vulcan, yet somehow, her results have always varied.

“You are…wondering why I kept this from you.”

Saru’s rasping voice comes from over her shoulder and above.

Finally.

Michael closes her eyes, slowly turning to face him. The painful past pulses deep in her chest, but it is the painful present that she must focus on.

“I know things have not always been…cordial…between us. But I thought we had made progress.” She lifts her head, manages to look her colleague, her friend, in the eyes. “You didn’t have to bear this alone, Saru.”

Saru, for his part, only clicks low in his throat. A pained swallow follows the clicking sound; Michael winces at it.

With a quick breath, Saru stumbles from his wall-mounted readout to stand beside her.

“How…do I explain to the woman—who has fought over and over—for the right to take her next breath—that I come from a race that submits?”

Michael’s lips part slightly, stunned at Saru’s admission.

In the next moment, she feels a trickle of shame for her earlier thoughts, back in sickbay. Of course, she could not presume understand what it was like living under the yoke of an ever-present predator species, ready to face inevitable death from the moment one woke up, every morning of every day, for one’s entire life.

How such an upbringing must have shaped Saru’s character, indeed, every aspect of his being. For all that the Kelpien man claims to be a slave to his biology, surely it had to be nurture, as well as nature, that made him the man he is now, just as surely as Michael spends each morning performing Suus Mahna, each evening meditating, and every minute in between seeking out the logic behind her own emotions.

“There will not be judgment between us, Saru. No longer.”

Michael says the words, and they are as binding as any promise she has ever made.

“You are…kind…to say such a thing.” Saru blinks his large blue eyes, and Michael imagines a type of mourning in them. “After how I…treated you…”

“I gave as good as I got. More, even.”

Michael diffuses the statement automatically. She remembers their acerbic days aboard the Shenzhou, when their animosity was at an all-time high. Saru had had every right to detest her back in those days.

“Well…” Saru blinks. He seems somewhat surprised. “Yes. I suppose there is…that…”

His mouth opens and shuts, and his gaze drops to somewhere at Michael’s left shoulder. Michael wonders what he might be attempting to say.

But Saru only huffs, sniffling slightly.

“Hiding…truly is a part of my nature…” he murmurs, shaking his head almost ruefully.

“What—“

“Ninety-seven languages I have learned…” Saru muses, now staring down at the surface of Michael’s terminal. “Yet I have never shared my own…fearful of revealing my own…alien-ness.”

Michael nods at that, understanding quite well. She had refused to speak in her early months at the Learning Center after the other children had laughed, albeit innocently, at the Standard English she had attempted with them. Only after she had gained proficiency in Shi’Kahr Vulcan had her lips parted once more.

“May I ask a favor of you?” Saru continues, hesitating on the question.

“Of course,” Michael assures, reaching for his forearm to offer comfort.

“I have kept detailed personal logs since joining Starfleet. I would ask that you—officially catalogue them, so that—when General Order One no longer applies to the Kelpiens—they will know—a journey like mine is possible.”

Michael blinks, feeling the sting of tears prick at her eyes.

“It would be my privilege.”

Of course, the need to be remembered is all but universal across sentient species. Still, Michael imagines Saru’s desire to be more fervent than most, having left his people behind so long ago. Michael can certainly empathize. She, too, had been cut off from all she had known at a young age, and had been forced to adapt to circumstances far outside of anything she could have expected.

What she would have given, back then, for the merest trace of the people that she had left behind.

The community that had been taken from her.

“Did you record your life before Starfleet?” Michael finds herself asking. She wonders how Saru might feel about his early life on Kaminar, his home, his species, people, and how he can keep such memories alive when none are present to carry the torch with him.

“In many ways,” Saru begins. “My life began when I was granted refugee status by the Federation. While being processed at—Starbase Seven, I saw…for the first time, life-forms from across the universe…some with less than I had, yet—with a dream of…something better…

“I understand…” Michael states softly. She recalls her brief stay at Child Services on Starbase Twenty-Two all those many years ago, the bustle of dozens of species, the chatter of hundreds of languages, the aroma of thousands of foreign aromas. Grief had clawed at her chest every moment of every day, a pain she would never truly surmount, but Michael has never, ever looked back on that experience of such a vast nexus of people with anything but wonder.

Wonder at where those hundreds of species were going, what they were doing, what they might have in common, what might separate them, and of course…

Wonder at what her father, the xenoanthropologist, might have had to say on the matter.

Saru holds her gaze, and Michael sees these thoughts reflected in his eyes.

Michael wonders if they might have been friends, had they been on Starbase Seven or Starbase Twenty-Two together, back in those days.

Saru shudders, continuing in a rasp. “There was only one painful caveat to…my starting a new life…”

“You could never return home.”

Saru’s head jerks to the side to stare at Michael, who had finished his thought almost without meaning to.

Michael merely offers him a compassionate nod. Her mind is still moored to the past, to the fateful day that had split her life into two parts, and the strange liminal space that Starbase Twenty-Two had occupied in the weeks in between…the closing of one door, and the opening of another.

The tragic past, set in stone, and the future, hers to be written.

“It’s so very lonely,” Michael finally murmurs. “Starting your new life with…nothing of your past…no one, from your past…”

Saru is staring at Michael. He looks stunned at her words.

“You long for community…” Michael continues, the words coming from somewhere deep and fathomless within her. “You see it everywhere, and yet…you have no one…with whom to make your own…”

The Earth-Human bloc of Doctari Alpha, the Tau Cetian neighborhood on Starbase Twenty-Two, the Southern Islander sector of Shi’Kahr…

“We were immigrants,” Saru puts forth, into the heavy silence of the media room. “Refugees, fleeing violence, yet—with nothing of our past, to hold on to. No one…to hold on to…”

“How did you bear it?”

The words burst from Michael’s chest before she can stop them. She looks up at Saru, at his bright blue Kelpien eyes, his pale skin, his domed head…the only Kelpien to make it out.

She realizes that she has never needed an answer so fervently as she does now.

“How do you carry that life inside of you?” Michael continues, her voice raw. “How can you…have all of those memories of an entire world, and—have no one, who understands?”

Saru is staring at her once more. Michael wonders what he must be seeing, what emotions her words are stirring within him.

“With exceptional pain,” Saru finally answers, and Michael flinches at the answer.

“But…” Saru continues. “I believe that you are wrong about…the last part. It is alright. I was…wrong, as well.”

Saru shakes his head, twitching slightly at the pain such an action must be causing.

“I am—such a fool. Eighteen years spent in the stars, bearing—so much pain, and loss and…hope, all at once. So certain that I was—the only creature in the universe carrying such experience.”

He looks down at her.

“I was wrong, Michael.”

A beat of silence hangs.

Realization bursts in Michael’s chest, the feeling warm and ocean-smooth against her sternum. Heat pricks at her eyes, bathes her body in glowing warmth…

Saru smiles down at her. Not with his mouth, Kelpiens are incapable of such movement, but with his eyes.

“We have wasted so much time, haven’t we?”

Michael chokes out a laugh, even as the tears finally overflow from her eyes.

“How are we just now getting to this?”

She shakes her head as she wipes her cheeks with a sleeve. More tears bubble up, and she sniffles in a lame attempt to push them back.

“Why’d we hate each other so much, when we could’ve had something good, like this?”

“Perhaps—we did not have…sufficient understanding of…ourselves.” Saru offers. He hunches slightly, wincing as he does so. “It is…common…to detest that which…we do not understand.”

Michael blinks.

She thinks of jagged teeth, ridged foreheads, black badges, caves, darkness, gold chestplates, a vicious killer wearing the face of a loved one…

Of their own accord, Michael’s forearms come up to rest on the surface of the terminal. The weight of a veritable lifetime of pain and fear descends between her shoulders, and she slumps at it, leaning heavily over the metal surface. She shakes out a long breath, attempting to re-center her mind, to steel her heart for what is to come.

Saru’s large hand comes to rest on her back.

But in the next moment, he shudders. A pained groan rips from his chest, and he curls in on himself. Michael jolts from her repose, reaching to steady him.

“More flashes of—ultraviolet light.” Saru screws his eyes tightly shut. “They are growing in—intensity…”

“Is that normal for va’harai?” Michael demands, cold fear gnawing at her chest.

“I do not know,” Saru mumbles. “There is…no one I can ask…”

“Here, let me get you something from sickbay—“

“No!” Saru denies immediately, grabbing at Michael’s forearm before she can turn on a heel to leave the media room. “You are needed on the bridge. You must return—as soon as possible. I can continue the work here.”

Michael shakes her head; Saru picks up on her vehemence, and his grip softens.

“My condition is unalterable. The Discovery’s is not.”

Saru holds her gaze for a long moment. Some of the desperation he must be feeling becomes evident in his eyes.

“We must help them first, Michael.”

 

 

 

**

 

 

In hers and Saru’s absence, the Discovery’s bridge has descended into controlled chaos. Announcements and alerts of all kinds fly back and forth across the ten-meter space, and red lights flash at the edges of the wall, indicating red alert and multi-system failure. The harshness tugs at the edge of Michael’s vision, drawing a dull ache from her temples. Nevertheless, Michael flattens her lips against the pain. She focuses on her readouts, her holographic screens, the sensation of the cool metal terminal beneath her fingertips and the deck beneath her feet.

Unless Pollard and her team can produce a miracle in these already-demanding circumstances, Saru’s condition is presently unalterable. There is nothing she can do, right now at this moment, but help free the Discovery from the sphere’s iron grip.

“Spock’s shuttle is still at maximum warp, Captain! If we remain here, we are going to lose him!”

Owosekun’s accented tones ring across the bridge as Michael scans her readouts. Her face jerks up at the mention of her brother’s name.

“Reallocate power from the transporters to long-range sensors,” Pike barks. “I don’t want to lose contact with his shuttle.”

Michael shakes her head, even as Owosekun restates Michael’s thoughts aloud.

“Even with sensors at max, we won’t be able to track him for much longer."

“Contact engineering, see if they can reroute impulse power to the deflectors. If we can raise shields, we may be able to interrup the stasis field just enough to break free.”

Michael shakes her head once more at Pike’s suggestion, quite unable to comprehend that the bridge had somehow not already tried something so very simple. She glances towards Saru’s console, imagining the long-suffering look they would have exchanged under ordinary circumstances.

But Saru is still in the media lab, and Commander Airiam has taken his post in his absence.

Pike strides to Airiam’s console as he finishes his suggestion.

“If we do that, could we jump away?”

“Negative, sir.” Airiam’s synthetic voice is impassive. “We don’t have the power to create the necessary hull cavitation.”

“Comms are still down in Engineering, Sir!” Bryce provides from his post at the comms console.

“Security programs are also malfunctioning!” Commander Nhan’s voice issues from the internal tactical systems hub. “They’re locking off parts of the ship.”

“How are doing, Commander?”

Pike strides to Michael, whose gaze darts down to her left-most readout, a feed directly from the digital media lab.

“The digital antibodies are doing their job, but progress is sluggish.” Michael shakes her head somewhat wearily.

The captain leans in, his voice lowering. “I’m running out of options here. If we lose Spock, we lose any chance of protecting him.”

“I understand,” Michael states shortly, her mind running through possibly work-arounds. Once more, she feels quite touched at Captain Pike’s single-minded devotion to her prickly brother. Still, she cannot help but wonder how he can possibly focus on such a distant goal when Saru is dying and the ship is collapsing around them.

Perhaps such long-ranged focus was possible when one was a captain, with underlings and various personnel to handle the minutia of ship-wide disasters such as this.

“Commander?”

Pike’s voice jostles Michael from her thoughts. With a firm shake of her head, Michael banishes her unhelpful speculations.

This was not the time to crumble. Not yet.

“Permission to go to engineering.”

Michael says the words before her brain can catch up, and she wonders what her logical mind has come up with while her illogical mind had been running rampant.

“We can’t talk to them here, but maybe I can help them get power to shields,” she finds herself elaborating.

Pike, for his part, nods once at this.

“Permission granted.”

Michael all but sighs in relief.

With a wave of her hand, she powers down her console as she turns to leave. The howl of another alert blares somewhere behind her and to her right as she trots the turbolift. The ship shakes, no doubt compensating for yet another onslaught from the mysterious space inferno.

The Discovery is under brutal attack, that much is certain, but try as Michael might to focus on the greater problem, the bigger picture, the many, all she can really think is…

If they break free of the sphere, perhaps it will cure Saru.

And if they break free soon, then perhaps, perhaps…they will finally catch up to her brother.

She is not being much of a Vulcan right now, Michael knows. Sarek would admonish her for such emotional motivations; hell, even Spock would likely raise an eyebrow at such Human behavior. Still…

Michael resolves that if it is her Human heart that is providing her with ideas that could work, if it is her emotions that are making her fingers dart faster across the turbolift controls, …if this single-minded, illogical drive to save the few will help her to save the many…

Then it would be worth it, in the end.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

“It’s just for now, Ensign. Only until we find a way to remove it.”

Paul Stamets’ voice is soothing as he comforts Ensign Tilly. The young woman is shaking where she stands in the hot white light of the the reaction cube. The lumpy gray blob pulsates threateningly around her right forearm.

Quarantine, for all of their safeties.

All theories, postulates, and wild ideas on how to remove the fungal parasite attached to her right arm have come up with nothing. At least, nothing that might work under current circumstances.

Cut off from the rest of the Discovery, power coming and going, life support failing…

They certainly do not have much to work with.

Philippa shakes her head behind the terminal next to the sealed auxiliary access door. Her tactical background is not of much use in this situation, nor is her nursing curriculum providing much assistance. On the other side of the staircase, Jett Reno is digging around in her toolbox and muttering to herself, and Paul Stamets has planted himself next to the reaction cube, comforting Tilly with soft words.

The room still reeks of ozone from the surge, the screens and consoles giving off static in massive waves. Philippa’s fingers twitch as she searches for ways to make contact with the rest of the ship with her failing console. She resists the urge the give in to the spasms traveling up and down her spine. Her heart trembles nauseatingly in her chest; if not for the fact that there is almost certainly pacemaker installed somewhere inside the organ, Philippa doubts she would even be upright at the moment.

The screens flicker uselessly in front of her face. Her hands shake on the keyboard.

Her knowledge, her experience, her body, all failing her.

Why was she even here?

The question that has plagued her since her bitter fight with Michael, since her onboarding to the Discovery, since waking up in agony in that too-large hospital bed in the murky room on Qo’Nos…

Why am I here?

Why is she part of this ridiculous situation, EPS overloading and electricity surging, when her heart could be a mere doorknob-shock away from shutting down permanently?

Why is she in this spore lab when she has no real knowledge of high-level science or engineering after the past year of nothing but spying, plotting, and killing?

And just why, why in the seven hells is Philippa here, on this ship, with these good people, when she no longer has any business being in Starfleet?

Her hands shake on the keyboard, useless.

Useless, pathetic, decrepit; and with this comes familiar, helpless fury.

Somewhere off to the right, Reno shuffles as she picks up her toolbox. She strides in Philippa’s direction, skirting the metal staircase, and her footfalls sound uneven on the durasteel deck.

Philippa keeps her gaze forward.

“Y’know, I could just cut it off.” Jett Reno’s voice is loud in Philippa’s right ear. “She wouldn’t even lose a freckle.”

“No, bad idea!” Stamets chimes in from his place in front of the spore drive. “If it’s a symbiote, removing it could kill her!”

“Damn. I’m pretty good with a plasma knife, too.” Reno tosses the tool back into the toolbox, and it audibly sparks as it collides with the other metal items. “Jeez, this static is insane. You ever seen anything like this?”

Philippa remains silent.

“Captain?”

Nothing.

“Phil—“

“Don’t.”

“Look, I’m sorry.”

“Save it—“

“I had to. You know that I did.”

You have been taking a rather spectacular amount of liberties lately—“

“What, concern is a liberty now?”

“I am not an invalid, Commander—“

“Oh, can it!”

Reno practically snaps the words.

Philippa’s jaw clatters shut. She stares at Reno, a mixture of furious and shocked.

“You think I don’t know what your issues are?” Reno gestures with her chin at Philippa’s zipped white uniform jacket, beneath which lies a barely functioning heart. She gives Paul Stamets a cursory glance, and takes a step in, lowering her voice so that only Philippa can hear.

“You know, I kept a guy with zero heart-function alive for ten months, patched his goddamn heart with a hydrazine pump submerged in an evacuated fuel canister filled with saline. And every time we’d get hit with an ion storm, I’d have to take the machine off-line and put him in the airlock, cool his body to negative eighteen degrees Celsius to preserve brain function ‘cause the one time I didn’t, the electrical bursts shorted out the pump and he was dead for four minutes.”

The words ring in the air between them.

“You’re telling me you would’ve survived that surge if you’d been standing anywhere but the rubber-lined friction carpet that all of these Crossfield-class lab terminals come equipped with?”

Jett Reno’s face is harder than usual as she ends her rant. For the first time since they met nearly two weeks ago, she looks to be something other than unbothered.

Philippa can only stare at her. The words ring in her ears, bits and pieces of the ten-month long backstory that Reno has all but refused to share with anyone.

After a long, silent moment, Reno turns away, rooting around in the toolbox once more.

Philippa closes her eyes, her mouth working. Her attempt to tamp down on her pride is difficult; she is significantly out of practice. Still…

She is not so far gone that she has forgotten when and how to give thanks where thanks is due.

“I—I appreciate it, Reno.”

Philippa finally manages to grate out the words. She feels quite like an angry child cajoled by a parental figure to apologize.

To say that she is not still pissed as hell about the situation would be a lie; still, she is finding that Reno’s irritated explanation is cutting through some of the anger she had (perhaps unfairly) directed towards the engineer.

“Thank you for doing that.”

Reno continues her rooting in the toolbox.

Philippa rolls her eyes with a huff. “Really? What else do you want me to say?”

Nothing.

“Hey!”

Reno doesn’t even twitch. A sudden thought occurs to Philippa, and she reaches towards the side of Reno’s face, snapping her fingers next to her left ear.

Reno gives no sign of noticing.

Philippa grasps the engineer’s shoulder, and Reno jumps at the touch.

“Your eardrums are ruptured.”

“Nah, just the one.” Reno shakes her head to the side, as if attempting to clear her ear of water. “Feels kinda weird.”

“Are you dizzy?”

“Well yeah, I did get struck by lightning.”

“You have to get that checked out.”

“Mm-hm.”

“I’m serious!”

“Would you say you’re concerned?”

Philippa shoots her an irritated look. Reno raises her hands innocently.

“It just feels like you’re taking a lot of liberties right now—

“Go to hell.”

“Already been, they kicked me back.”

“I can hardly blame them—“

“Guys!”

Stamets’ voice cuts right through the lab.

Philippa and Reno turn to him, jolted from their brief reverie.

Where he stands in front of the reaction cube, Stamets looks quite perturbed, and more than a little bit irritated.

“How are we coming on ideas?” He prods somewhat sarcastically.

Philippa and Reno look at each other, and back at him.

“Could ask you the same question,” Reno drawls.

Stamets steps forward, anger lining his expression, but a high-pitched voice cuts in before.

“Please don’t fight.”

The group turns towards the young woman inside the spore cube.

Sylvia Tilly looks exhausted beyond belief where she stands illuminated in the white light of the spore drive. Her right arm is wrapped in the gray fungal parasite; it pulsates ominously beneath the harsh lighting.

“I know you’re all stressed ‘cause of what’s happening… And ’cause you had to put me in quarantine.” Tilly shrugs a little, jostling the ugly gray blob wrapped around her arm. “Or us, I guess.”

Stamets’ face collapses as he listens to Tilly’s quavering voice. Reno slowly unstiffens where she stands at Philippa’s right side.

Philippa, too, finds herself relenting. Her earlier frustration and hostility drains from her body, replaced by something a little too close to shame.

A Starfleet ensign, fresh from her promotion and wrapped in a potentially malignant fungal parasite, jolting a roomful of commanders and captains from their petty, unproductive bickering…

They should all feel ashamed.

“I feel a little weird…” Tilly mumbles. She leans heavily against the glass walls of the drive chamber. “I mean…I should be terrified, but I’m not. Not anymore…”

Philippa squares her shoulder, pretending she is still a captain. She rounds the terminal, crossing the brief stretch of deck to the reaction cube.

“Tilly…stay with us.” Tilly’s gaze slides towards Philippa, her eyes trusting beyond belief. “We are going to figure this out. You are going to be alright.”

“I know, Captain. I know you will.”

Tilly sighs the words. There is no hint of doubt in her high voice. Philippa wonders how she can be so trusting, how the ensign can have such utter faith in her after all that has happened…

Then again…Michael most likely did not tell her the entire truth.

Once again, Philippa marvels at how a woman raised in a culture based upon stark, often brutal honesty can navigate such secrets. How carefully Michael is able to straddle the murky lines between privacy, secrecy, and straight-up deceit, how she can perfectly understand just how much or how little to say so as to not technically lie, but to keep incriminating truths hidden.

Section 31 has several Vulcans in its ranks, Philippa knows. She is beginning to understand why.

Tilly twitches slightly in the confines of the drive, but doesn’t look up.

“Ensign?”

No response.

Philippa narrows her eyes. “Ensign…can you tell us about what just happened? How did you end up in there?”

“Um…”

Tilly mumbles once more, her eyes glassy. Stamets gives Philippa a querying look.

“Testing level of responsiveness?”

“Obviously. Look at her.” Philippa gestures with her chin at Ensign Tilly, who looks to be falling asleep on her feet. “Fungi secrete chemicals, right?”

“What, you think she’s being dosed?”

Stamets looks somewhat sickened at the possibility.

“Don’t worry…” Tilly pipes up once more, almost sleepily. “May means me no harm.”

“Can you see her, Ensign?”

Philippa goes into high alert. Her voice is sharp, but Tilly doesn’t seem to notice.

“Y’know, May was…scary, and clingy, and she never shut up, but…” Tilly shakes her head as she continues. Her eyes are glassy. “She never hurt me. She said—said she…had a plan for me.”

With a long exhale, the ensign slumps against the glass of the reaction cube.

“She said the pale captain, blonder…” Tilly mumbles. “With the…bad ship…”

“Ensign?” Philippa says the word loudly, and Tilly’s head finally jerks up, looking at her. “Did you ever think that perhaps May was…manipulating you?”

The tactician and war-time spy in Philippa cannot nix the possibility. It is what she would do, what she has done in order to stay alive and stay ahead in a hostile alien culture.

She has no hopes whatsoever that the creature that has bound itself to Ensign Sylvia Tilly is benign in any way.

“That’s what she said you were doing,” comes Tilly’s warbling response. “She said you were…poisoning me, against her.”

“Okay, if that thing wasn’t freaking me out, she sure is.”

Reno calls out from her place at the right-most terminal. She’s facing the auxiliary door next to the reaction cube, cocking her head in an odd way; no doubt favoring her good ear. Despite the awkward stance, Philippa has a good view of Jett Reno’s expression.

If she didn’t know better, she would say that the engineer looks downright spooked.

“Well, we’ll know why in a second.”

Stamets’ high baritone echoes behind Philippa, she looks over her shoulder to see the mycologist heading back towards the spore cube, tricorder held aloft in his hand. He waves it over Tilly’s slumped form, raising an eyebrow at the readings.

“Huh. The fungus is secreting a psilocybin hallucinogen to influence her emotions.”

“So you’re saying she’s on a bad trip?” Reno sounds dubious.

“Or a good one,” Stamets offered. “It might be trying to calm her down, so she won’t be scared.”

“Or so she won’t fight back,” Philippa denies grimly. Her scientist mind is rusty, but her tactical brain is quite sharp.

A fungal entity that had grown itself inside of this young woman, psychologically tortured her, fought free of captivity to reattach itself to her…

“I think it wants you, Ensign, specifically.” Philippa finds herself saying.

“She did say I was her only chance.” Tilly mumbles. “But…what could she want…from me, of all people?”

Philippa considers the question. She takes in Ensign Sylvia Tilly, Starfleet’s youngest and chattiest command hopeful, and has to admit herself stumped.

Lost in thought, she meanders back behind the right-most terminal, tucked between the access doorway and the metal staircase.

“What the hell do you think that means?” Reno murmurs to her once she rounds the console.

“I’m not sure,” Philippa replies in an equally low voice. “What does Tilly have that none of the rest of us do?”

“Some kind of skill, or…knowledge?” Reno tries, but Philippa shakes her head.

“Can’t be. She’s a child, the youngest on the ship.” Philippa takes in the fungus on Tilly’s arm, pumping her full of hallucinogens and trapping her in the spore drive. “It went after her because she is the most vulnerable of all of us, nothing more.”

“You think it’s just straight-up predation?”

“I am at a loss to imagine what else it could be.”

“Then why the slow attack?”

Philippa looks at Reno in surprise.

“Why take the time to grow inside her, to project itself into her mind?” Reno’s voice is urgent as she sizes up the girl and the fungus quarantined inside the reaction cube. “Why bother with all of that if it’s just gonna eat her?”

“Could be how it hunts.”

Reno shakes her head. “Seems like a lot of extra work to me. How would a fungus hunt, anyway?”

Stamets gives her an irritated look from his place at Tilly’s side. Reno rolls her eyes at it, and continues in a quieter voice.

“She said May wanted to see the captain, the pale one, blonder.”

“Was she going after him, then?”

Reno only twitches slightly at that. She sighs long and low, closing her eyes and rubbing her hands over them.

“Look, here’s an engineering proverb for you. If your only tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

With a long sigh, Reno lowers her hands once more.

“And if your only tool is a phaser…everything looks like a hostile.”

Philippa takes this in silently.

“See, you’re thinking like a tactical officer, Captain. And I’m just a gearhead, and they’re farmers…” She gestures to Tilly and Stamets, who glares at Reno once more.

“And the problem we have is this…unknown mushroom entity. It’s probably sentient, but we don’t know what it is or what it wants, or how it works, or…how to figure any of those things out.”

The engineer completes the sentence somewhat stumblingly. She and Philippa are silent for a long moment, staring at the gray blob pulsating around Tilly’s forearm.

Reno speaks first.

“What do you think Burnham would do?”

Philippa stiffens.

Reno looks to her, noting the reaction. “Something up with that?”

“Leave it, Reno.”

“Did something happen?”

“I said leave it.”

Reno opens her mouth to respond, but the sound of urgent, running footsteps in the adjacent lab space startles them both—

And in the next moment, Michael Burnham herself skids to a hard stop outside of the auxiliary access door. Shoulders heaving, sweat glistening on her forehead, distress in her eyes, she clearly ran here.

Somehow, Philippa dimly notes, even in the murky cast of the emergency back-up lighting, Michael’s berry brown eyes are glowing, her full lips painted a dark shade, her complexion bright and youthful.

She looks nothing short of heaven-sent.

Wonderful warmth bursts over Philippa’s head, running down her spine and flooding her extremities. 

Three interminable days since laying eyes upon Michael.

How on Earth had she survived?

Michael, for her part, gives Philippa a quick, bewildered once-over. This is understandable; Philippa, in her wholesome medical whites, has no utter business being sequestered in the spore lab with the trio of engineers.

But then Michael’s curious expression slams closed, guarded once more, and Philippa’s heart crumples in her chest.

“Speak of the devil.”

Reno’s drawl nearly makes Philippa leap out of her skin, returning her to the present moment once more.

Michael presses her face to the transparent surface of the door, taking in Tilly inside the reaction cube, fungal parasite attached to forearm.

“What happened?”

“The doors won’t open!” Stamets exclaims, striding forward a few steps. “And that—thing reattached itself to Tilly!” He gestures towards Tilly’s arm, around which the inter-dimensional fungus is pulsating.

“Michael…” Tilly slurs inside the reaction cube. Michael shakes her head at the sight, horror rising in her expression.

Philippa takes an unwitting step towards her at the sight, wanting to soothe away the distress. Indeed, a strange surge of intent seems to be rising in her chest.

She wants to fix all of this. She wants to come up with a daring plan, a clever maneuver, some bold, ingenious way to save Ensign Sylvia Tilly if such a thing would please Michael, if it would insulate her from yet more pain and suffering…

And certainly if it would balance the scales, which have sunk so very low in the wake of the past several days. Of the past year, really.

“Can you cut it off?” Michael demands.

“Nah—“ Reno begins.

“It’s demonstrated symbiotic tendencies in the past,” Stamets finishes for her. “If we cut it off, there’s a chance it’ll kill her.”

“I—“ Michael closes her eyes and shakes her head, her full lips pursing as she centers herself. “I came to see if we could find a way to boost power to shields—“

“No,” Stamets denies. “With the systems fluctuating, this section is partitioned off, we can’t get to the warp core!”

“Michael…” Ensign Tilly mumbles the word once more, louder this time. “I feel really tired…”

Michael’s dark eyes widen as she takes this in. “What’s happening to her?”

“That blob is sending her in and out of consciousness!” Stamets exclaims.

“Why is doing that to her?”

“It’s not like we can ask it,” Reno deadpans over Philippa’s shoulder.

Silence.

Michael and Stamets exchange a startled look.

Stamets speaks first. “Actually…maybe we can!”

He strides towards an access panel set into the side of the reaction cube, pulling out a strangely-shaped mass of intricate, woven wiring. The entire structure glows a warm blue, insinuating its mycelial nature.

With some difficulty, Philippa manages to pull her gaze from Michael to take in the device.

“This is a harmonic interface!” Stamets explains quickly. “It links my neural activity to the mycelial network. If we modify it, we could conceivably link May to Tilly’s central nervous system…get her to talk using Tilly’s voice!”

Once more, silence.

“Wait— Wait, what did you say?”

Michael’s mellow voice sounds stunned; stupefied, even. Philippa is struck mute by the openness in her former commander’s face, her dark, swirling eyes.

She knows that expression all too well.

“We’re gonna talk to it!” Stamets’ voice is just a hair short of excited. “We need it to tell us what it wants!”

On the other side of the sealed door, Michael looks like she’s been clubbed.

“…So do we!” she finally exclaims. Her eyes peel away from Stamets, wide and darting as thoughts cascade through her brilliant mind. She’s had an epiphany, Philippa knows, she has seen many such epiphanies over their seven years together; but somehow, none of those were nearly as potent as this one seems to be.

Her former commander’s expression, open and vulnerable, excited and exhilarated all at once…

Philippa feels gut-punched. She wonders if she might be visibly swaying.

“The sphere!” Michael continues. She has the same dazzled expression that she wears while watching a star’s birth, or a species’ first, stumbling excursion into space. “The virus…the ultraviolet light pulses! It’s been trying to tell us something, but we haven’t been listening!”

“Well damn, woman, go!”

Jett Reno’s deadpan drawl issues from over Philippa’s shoulder, startling her out of her daze. At that, Michael nods once, firmly. Her feet twist on the deck, about to carry her away, no doubt up to the bridge where she can put her plan into the motion and save them all…

Yet just before she turns away, Michael’s gaze flicks to Philippa once more. Only for a moment, but time stops its ceaseless forward motion as their eyes meet.

Philippa thinks that if it were possible for a Human to be caught in a tractor beam, or tugged past the event horizon of a black hole, surely it would feel like this.

Falling, falling with terminal velocity, yet…rising at the same time.

And then Philippa’s heart is in her throat, adrenaline pounding through her veins, the urgency unbearable. She wants to reach out to Michael, she wants desperately wants to reach for her hand, to pull her close and tell her how very sorry she is, so very sorry for her allegiance, for all that she has done in the past year, for hurting Michael so terribly much and sullying all that they have worked towards…she wants to drop to her knees and beg forgiveness, she wants to jettison her black badge into the nearest sun and burn Section 31 to the ground if that’s what it would take to remove the pain from Michael’s beautiful, berry-brown eyes…

If that’s what it would take to have Michael at her side once more.

Philippa’s hand reaches forward despite herself, reaching out to her—

But between them, a twenty centimeter-thick layer of decompression-proof transparasteel stands, immobile and insurmountable.

That, and a veritable lifetime of experience, of time and space, death and war, of age...

Michael’s eyes go shuttered.

She turns away, tearing her gaze from Philippa—

And she runs. Through the adjacent lab, out of the bulkhead door, towards the turbolift, where she will no doubt carry her epiphany up to the bridge and put a plan into action that will save them all.

Michael Burnham’s brilliant mind, her clear-eyed courage, and her unfathomably good heart. The pride of Starfleet, the hero who ended the Klingon War in the face of all odds, the woman who led the Federation out of darkness…

The shame Philippa feels is like a knife to the chest.

She shouldn't be here.

She shouldn't be here.

Her heart in ashes, Philippa squares her shoulders and turns away from the auxiliary access door.

Back towards the spore lab and the problem at hand.

Stamets is already at the far corner of the lab, making metallic rumbling noises as he digs around in one of the storage closets. The harmonic interface lies on the terminal in front of the studded spore canister wall, already hooked up to the monitor.

Tilly is still in her psilocybin-induced stupor, swaying slightly in the spore drive.

And Reno…

Reno is staring at Philippa with wide, stunned eyes, like she’s just found the overloaded circuit in the EPS conduit relay, the one that is preventing the warp core from firing up and keeping the starship from taking flight.

Philippa does not even have the strength to glare at her.

“Oh, what?” she snaps, though she cannot manage to inject any real hardness into her voice.

Jett Reno, to her credit and to Philippa’s intense irritation, gives no indication of being intimidated.

Indeed, she looks downright sympathetic.

“Nothing, Captain.”

She tugs her gaze away, hands fluttering absently over the tools in front of her, mouth working. She seems to be thinking very quickly about something.

Philippa wonders what Jett Reno saw in her brief altercation with Michael, when Reno could not even see Philippa’s face at the time. She wonders at why Reno would risk her own life to save her, when she has no idea who or what Philippa really is. She wonders how Tilly still has such trust in her, how the entirety of the Discovery could have taken her on faith, welcoming her into their ranks with such grace…

And how things could have fallen apart so very quickly.

Finally, Jett Reno looks up from her tools and back towards Philippa. Her expression is neutral, as always, but the compassion in her eyes is breathtaking.

“I’m sorry, Phil. Really, I am.”

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

“Saru!”

Michael’s feet barely touch the deck as she flies into the media room.

Saru looks up from the tabletop terminal, and the sight hits Michael like a punch to the sternum.

Saru’s beige skin is pale and clammy, his blue eyes glassy to the point of reflective. Sweat beads at his temples, and his body is so hunched that they are nearly the same height.

The Kelpien man had informed her and Pollard of his impending doom back in sickbay, but this is the first time today that Michael finds that she believes him.

“Michael...are you alright?”

With a jolt, Michael realizes that the aforementioned punch to the sternum has all but blasted a hole in the barrier, behind which she had cordoned off the emotions from her trip to the spore lab.

The triple back-blow of seeing Tilly in quarantine, the mycelial creature entrapping her once more, and Philippa…

Philippa, and whatever had been lurking behind her dark eyes and carefully blank features, the ones that Michael had so very much missed over the past several days, though she had tried hard not to.

Michael’s expression might as well be wearing her, for all the control she presently has over it.

“Trouble in engineering,” she manages, just barely. “Don’t worry about it.”

If only that were an option for her.

Michael rushes forth to grab Saru’s large Kelpien hand across the data table, a necessary reminder that he is still here. 

“Are you alright?”

“No.” 

Michael knows he is being honest on this point. 

“But I am...functional.” Saru looks Michael up and down. “You are out of breath.”

Michael quickly remembers just why that is. 

“Saru, could the sphere be trying to talk to us?” She leans forward, positing the idea urgently. “Using the virus as a way to make first contact?”

Silence.

“Yes…” Saru’s large eyes dart as he digests the idea. “Yes... yes of course, I’ve been so blind.

He stumbles away from the table. Gait unsteady, he ambles towards the viewport set into the back wall, which displays the giant, fiery space sphere in all of its glory. Michael proceeds carefully behind him, ready to catch her friend should his legs finally give out.

“The ultraviolet wavelengths I have been seeing...They are... repeating , like...like letters would, in a sentence!”

Saru’s head lolls as he veers sharply away from the window. He staggers as he proceeds in a shambling circuit around the room, seemingly caught in a tractor beam of his own realizations.

“Saru!” Michael rushes forth to attempt to halt his progress, concerned at his labored breathing and glassy eyes. She grips him firmly by the forearms. “Saru, stop it--”

“No-”

“Stop, you’re hurting yourself!”

Saru shrugs off her concern, though he does not quite manage to free himself from her grip.

A worrying sign.

“No, no-” He cuts off, coughing harshly, painfully. Michael resists the urge to flinch at the sound.

She had been gone less than half an hour, and already Saru’s condition has deteriorated alarmingly.

“You…” He swallows. “I had said that...I once considered myself the only soul in the galaxy with experience, such as mine. Unique, and alone. And I was wrong...”

Saru manages the words through labored panting. Michael’s eyes widen in bewilderment as she gives him a quick once over. 

“And...I am still...wrong.”

“Wait, what are you

Vahar’ai, Burnham.” Saru raises his gaze to look her in the eye. His expression is urgent. “My death process. Perhaps...it is not truly unique to my species, as I thought!”

Saru’s eyes are wide and darting as he proceeds down this path of logical deduction, with Michael tumbling in his wake.

“The ultraviolet light, the massive energy release… It cannot be a coincidence that—I started feeling sick, just before the sphere engaged us!”

Cold realization washes over Michael.

Saru continues quickly. “I know what the sphere is trying to say! It is what I have been trying to say

“What—”

“Not first contact. Last contact.”

Saru’s large Kelpien eyes are still with certainty as he holds Michael’s gaze.

“I think it came to us to die.”

 

 

**

 

 

The ambient lighting of the corridor flickers as crashes and shouts echo through the halls of the ship. Michael sets a quick pace for them both, even with a good portion of Saru’s weight pressing into her back.

The bridge is not far, but every second counts, and time is against them if what Saru believes is true.

Michael grits her teeth as the round a sharp corner. “What did you mean?”

“What?”

Saru gasps from above Michael, his arm slung across her shoulder once more. 

“You said—” The deck rocks beneath their feet, slamming Michael and Saru into the wall of the corridor. The backup lighting flickers ominously. An explosion echoes somewhere in the bowels of the ship.

Michael pries Saru off of the wall. “Back in the lab, you said...you have been trying to say something.” She hoists him back across her shoulders, biting out the words as she does so. “What was it?”

“I—well…”

Saru breaks off into yet more coughing, which seems somewhat convenient to Michael.

She stops for a moment at the point where the corridor turns a hard left, allowing her friend to lean heavily into the wall to get his breath back.

“Saru?” 

“You are correct. It is...something of utmost importance…” The Kelpien man mumbles. “Yet perhaps this is not a good time—”

Michael shakes her head, her jaw setting in irritation. “The ship is approaching collapse, Saru! How could this possibly be a bad time?”

Saru merely looks down at her. He shows no response to her impassioned statement. Indeed, from the set of his gaze and clarity of his blue eyes, Michael has the distinct impression that his thoughts are far away indeed.

The corridor around them is cast in shadow from the lack of overhead lighting. The emergency tracking lights flicker weakly, and the dim gray of the metal deck plating and walls furthers the general atmosphere of murkiness. Saru’s pale skin stands out in the darkness, cold sweat visibly beading atop his head.

Michael wonders what might be on her Kelpien crewmate’s mind...just what might be causing him such trepidation to simply say aloud.

“Have you ever been...so consumed with shame, that it is paralyzing?”

Saru finally speaks, and Michael stares at him. She wonders if perhaps vahar’ai is affecting his grasp on reality.

“Saru, what--”

“You know that I—I think you a capable officer.” He lowers his gaze. “A stellar officer, in fact.”

Michael shakes her head. 

“Saru… You’re scaring me...”

“And a good friend as well,” Saru mumbles, his eyes roving across the deck, the corridor, everywhere except for her. “I should have said that first. You are a good friend...curious of my past, tolerant of my—eccentricities. Even back on the Shenzhou , you...never targeted my... alienness , as others did—”

“I would never —” Michael grips his forearms where he leans against the bulkhead, shaking her head with no little confusion. “I would never punch low like that, Saru, where is all this coming from—”

“We’re running out of time,” he whispers, seemingly without hearing her. He shakes his head, stumbling away the bulkhead, away from Michael. He tugs himself along the wall of the corridor, in the vague direction of the bridge. “Out of time...why, why am I so afraid?”

“Saru, easy, easy.” Michael darts next him, wrapping an arm around his waist to steady his trembling body. “Hey, I’ve got you, I’ve got you…”

Saru slumps heavily into Michael, and some of his earlier agitation seems to leave his body. Michael takes solace in the weight of Saru’s long, thin form, warm and alive and next to her. 

He is still here.

There is still hope.

But in the next moment, Saru twitches. His head jerks, throat pouches clicking sharply.

“The sphere…” he mumbles. “Something is happening.”

Michael feels a sudden thrumming beneath her feet. 

The telltale vibration of Discovery’ s weapons powering up.

 

 

**

 

 

...I’m reading an energy buildup from inside the sphere…”

“... managed to raise shields, but we’re still being held by the stasis field…”

“... no identifiable weapons, but its internal temperature is twenty thousand degrees Kelvin, rising fast…”

The voices of the bridge crew echo down the corridor. Michael takes the distance at as near to a run as she can manage with Saru’s body weight across her shoulders.

Pike’s authoritative voice issues forth as they finally round the corner to Discovery ’s bridge.

“Divert all non-essential power to weapons. Lock onto that thing’s radial axis and prepare to fire photon torpedoes on my order!”

“Aye, sir!” Lieutenant Rhys responds quickly from the tactical console, his fingers flying across the screen. “Arming torpedoes—”

“Hold your fire!” 

Saru barely manages to project his voice. Perhaps struck by a sudden surge of adrenaline, he breaks from Michael’s grip to stumble across the bridge towards the captain’s chair.

“I do not believe that the sphere means us any harm!” 

Pike turns from where he stands between the helm and ops consoles.

“All evidence to the contrary,” he denies sharply. “That thing’s about to destroy us!”

Michael takes in the huge, burning sphere projected on the bridge’s floor to ceiling viewscreen. Its surface writhes nauseatingly like a ball of desert snakes, hot red flames issue from every rip and opening.

If hell had an exterior, it would surely look like this.

“It’s not destroying us, Captain!” Michael’s words run counter to the evidence of her eyes and her readouts, but she believes them nonetheless. “It’s trying to send us a message!”

“We received its message, now I’m about to send our reply!”

“Captain!” Saru interjects urgently. “What if vahar’ai, my death process, was triggered because the sphere is also dying?”

Silence across the bridge.

Lieutenant Detmer’s blue eyes are wide. She casts a stunned glance towards Michael, who merely gives her a sad nod.

“You want to run that by me again?” Pike finally asks. They have his attention, Michael knows. His tone has changed from harsh and resolute to something far more inquisitive.

“We Kelpiens have a...defining characteristic, hardwired into our biology. Empathy. As prey species, we are able to pick up on...shifts in our environment, so subtle that...even scanners can miss them.” 

Saru takes several shuffling steps forward, towards the viewscreen and the writhing space inferno.

“I can feel the sphere reaching out...it is trying to share something before it expires!”

Michael has to wonder if Saru is talking solely about the sphere at this point.

Pike still looks skeptical. Michael cuts in. 

“Sir, I trust Saru’s feelings implicitly.” 

As a Vulcan foundling raised to reject emotion in favor of logic, Michael is fully aware of the credence her backing will give to Saru’s claim.

“That sphere didn’t come to attack us!” she insists.

Saru cuts back in, breathless. “Captain, I believe I have discerned its means of communication.” 

“Detmer, status on Spock’s shuttle?” Pike demands, casting a quick look over his shoulder..

“Exits our sensor range in six minutes. Once we lose his warp signature, we won’t be able to reacquire it.”

Michael feels cold apprehension at this.

“Set an intercept course. I want us hauling ass the second we break free.”

As soon as Pike finishes giving the order, he takes several long strides towards Saru. “Keep talking and make it fast.”

“What if the sphere was not attacking our universal translator, but...attempting to teach us its language because...it wants to be remembered?” Saru trails off weakly, coughing. Michael picks up the slack.

“It wants to preserve its history using the Discovery ! But it can’t, unless we power down and let it in!”

Pike points sharply at the sphere. “That thing snatched us out of warp and nearly gutted the ship. What if we lower shields and that’s exactly what it needs to end us?”

Saru raises a finger to interject. Pike and Michael watch quietly as he shuffles to his console, leaning heavily onto the surface for support.

“Computer...adjust viewscreen display to ultraviolet.”

The computer complies, and the floor-to-ceiling screen displaying the writhing sphere flickers out, replaced by something...quite odd indeed.

The bridge collectively leans forward, taking in the shifting patterns and waves darting across the screen. Purples and golds, shimmering and repeating. Michael can make neither head nor tail of it. 

But then again, how on Earth could she if what they suspect is true?

“That is the light pattern I have been seeing everywhere, repeating again and again, generated by the sphere’s virus!” Saru’s voice is strong with certainty. “Computer, run the light pattern through the universal translator!”

At his command, the viewscreen changes once more. Glyphs and symbols dance across the screen, too miniscule to be understood and too blurry to read. Michael knows this particular readout, as does every personnel member who received basic training in UT programming.

The translator’s processors are overloading.

It is accepting the data, but lacks the memory to fully translate it.

Saru speaks once more, his tone impassioned. “Captain, I believe we are looking at a multitude of languages so advanced, and knowledge so vast that it simply...overloaded our system.”

“This sphere is one hundred thousand years old,” Michael puts forth, allowing Saru’s passion to fuel her own. “Just imagine what it’s seen, what it knows.

And for one moment, Michael is not the victim of Philippa’s betrayal, nor is she the sister of a man wanted for murder. She is not the instigator of a galactic war, nor the murderer of a beloved captain.

For this one, glorious moment, Michael Burnham is once again a science officer of Starfleet, making groundbreaking discoveries and first contacts that will deepen their knowledge of the universe.

“Captain, this falls under the Discovery’ s original mission statement as a science vessel.”

Michael’s tone is iron. She feels like the woman she once was.

Confident and certain.

Powerful beyond measure.

“We lower our shields.” Michael fortifies the words with steel, command tone ringing through her voice like a pressure wave. “We divert all power to comms. We let the sphere speak to us...we hear what it is trying to say, before time runs out!”

Detmer is nodding slowly at her console, as is Rhys behind his readouts. Michael can feel the resolve of the crew shifting towards her, and it is a heady feeling indeed.

“The sphere’s internal temperature is approaching ten-to-the-sixth power and rising!” Owosekun announces from ops.

“Our weapons will just disintegrate in that heat!” Rhys puts forth.

“Solar temperatures,” Michael interjects. “A sign of core collapse.”

An hour ago she would have chalked this up to an act of aggression, but now she knows better. 

“It isn’t threatening us. It’s decaying.

Like a raging fever in a dying Humanoid, or a heart beating itself to death in the throes of compensatory shock, the sphere’s sudden burst of heat is not a sign of strength, but of weakness.

It is running out of time.

“Captain, if we are correct, once the transmission is complete, the sphere can die knowing that it will live on after it is gone!” Saru’s voice is filled with passion once more, and understandably so. 

This was a deeply personal matter to him at this point.

“We can choose to fulfill our part in its destiny, or simply...let it fade away, unremembered.”

From her place next to the science console, Michael sizes up Saru. She takes in his clammy skin, his hunched form, his wild eyes, his palpable desperation…

This is personal to him, more so than she can understand.

Owosekun’s console beeps.  “Spock’s shuttle is almost out of sensor range, Sir!” 

Michael stares at her Kelpien friend behind his terminal. She thinks back to the strange interaction in the hallway, their discussion in the media lab, her crewmate’s urgency, his stumbling, his preoccupation…

What has he been trying to communicate?

What was Saru attempting to tell her?

“Prepare to lower shields.”

Pike’s soft announcement jolts Michael from her thoughts. She exhales with no little relief, though does not stop her from hearing Pike’s soft orders to Lieutenant Detmer at the helm.

“If this goes south, overload the warp core and eject it at the sphere on my command. Even at half the distance, the blast will decimate it. When it lets go, we divert all power to shields and try to ride the shock wave to a safe distance.”

“Assuming it doesn’t vaporize us first.” Commander Nhan finally chimes in from the security section behind Michael’s left shoulder. To her credit, her voice is even; an observation, not an objection.

“If there’s even half a chance you’re correct, I’m bound by my oath and conscience not to let it vanish forever.” Pike’s calm tone diffuses the ominous nature of Nhan’s statement with ease. “Commanders, take your stations. I’ll follow your lead.”

Michael rounds her terminal, steeling herself for what is to come. The risk they are taking is undeniable, and it is a high risk indeed.

But what great discoveries were ever made by playing it safe?

The ship's deck hums warm and solid beneath Michael's feet. Red-orange light surrounds her. The faith of the crew is behind her, the strength of her conviction is within her, and before her, cleaving the vast emptiness of space, floats a life-form that is truly, staggeringly unique. 

This vast sphere is the first and last of its kind, desperate to be known, to be discovered, to be remembered

Michael turns to Saru, giving him a single, solitary nod.

Do it.

“Lieutenant Bryce, all channels open. Owosekun, divert all computing power to communications.”

“Yes, Commander.”

Across the bridge, screens and displays go dark. Consoles stop their vibrating, terminals stop their humming, and the ambient illumination of the wall and floor lighting dims to nothing as the computer siphons off every scrap of available power to communications. The ship itself goes silent in anticipation for what is to come.

Shrouded in darkness, the bridge waits for Saru’s next command.

“Lieutenant Detmer...lower shields.”

 

 

Chapter Text

 

“Alright. Power...up!”

Commander Stamets turns the dial all the way. The delicate, swooping arms of the harmonic interface glow hot white, and it hums softly where it lies plugged into the power linkup on the outside of the spore drive. Ensign Tilly slumps heavily against the transparent glass, her plump face illuminated by the white light of the device.

Jett Reno and Philippa watch with no little trepidation from behind the terminal.

“...May?”

Stamets queries softly.

The ensign shakes her head. “Still me.”

Philippa curses softly, imagining her disappointment is reflected by Reno on her right side.

“Signal must be piss poor.” Reno eyes the harmonic interface on the outside of the drive. “Makes sense. Don’t you have to plugged into that thing to make it work?”

Stamets makes a face of slight disgust. “Well, if you put it crudely, yes.”

He rolls up his sleeves to reveal two white, plastic...somethings, implanted into his forearms. Philippa’s eyebrows meet in the middle as she stares at them.

“When I pilot our jumps, the harmonic interface connects to my neurons via these adaptors.”

Something strange hides in Stamets in tone as he explains. Philippa looks from his face to the frankly ingenious medical implants in his arms.

She wonders where they came from, and which brilliant biomedical scientist on this ship must have crafted them.

“The interface can get to your neurons through your arms?” Reno deadpans.

“I also have a microscopic cortical implant,” Stamets shoots back, irritated. He taps his temple lightly. “It amplifies my brain waves while I’m in the spore drive, just enough so they can interact with the adaptors.” He gestures to his forearms.

Philippa straightens at Stamets’ words.

“That’s it, then.”

Stamets looks at her. In the next moment, his eyes go wide.

“Wait. No— No, you’re saying…”

“Cortical implant.” Philippa rounds the terminal to stand next to the harmonic interface. “If we cannot amplify the signal from the harmonic interface, then what’s left?”

“We amplify the signal from Tilly,” Reno completes, sounding stunned.

“You— You’re talking about trepanation?”

Stamets stumbles on the word.

“Not ideal, but yes.” Philippa confirms. 

The mycologist looks at them both like they’ve lost their minds.

“Drilling a hole in her skull? What, with all of the high-tech medical equipment we have?!” Paul Stamets’ voice is filled with biting sarcasm, his face a very obvious display of “ Hell no. ” 

Philippa strides up to him, drawing herself to her full height to look Stamets in the eye. 

“We are trapped inside this lab, and Ensign Tilly’s level of response is dropping rapidly. If we do not act now, she could very well become comatose. What might the fungus do then?”

She allows the question to hang in the air. Stamets casts a nervous glance towards Tilly’s right arm, around which the fungal blob is wrapped. In the past twenty minutes it has expanded from her elbow to her shoulder.

Time is not on their side.

“But—” Stamets tries weakly, but Philippa cuts him off.

“Between the three of us, we have an engineer, a life scientist, and a paramedic. A workable team for a quick bioengineering project.” 

With a firm step forward, she raises her chin to deliver the clincher. 

“Do you have a better plan, Mr. Stamets?”

Silence.

“I think she’s right.”

Both Philippa and Stamets startle, turning to the ensign on the inside of the cube.

Ensign Tilly looks exhausted. Her pupils are huge, a worrying sign considering the brightness of the spore cube. Once again, concern and dismay strike Philippa between the shoulder blades.

“And I think you know that,” Tilly continues, directing her quavering voice towards Paul Stamets.

With a low sigh, Stamets takes a step towards Sylvia Tilly inside the cube. His face softens as he takes her in. Philippa reminds herself that the two served in the war together, working in close conditions and under a great deal of stress. 

Of course they must be close. 

Finally, Stamets squares his shoulders, coming to a decision.

“Alright. Alright.”

Philippa is already moving. She heads towards Reno’s terminal, across which tools and tech are scattered. 

“This was all I could find laying around.” Reno gestures to the box of tools and the smattering of devices across the terminal. Philippa takes it in with no little dismay.

“Do you at least have a laser scalpel?” She asks Stamets.

“No.” He shakes his head. “No, we have to do this old-school.”

Philippa closes her eyes slowly, slowly. 

God dammit.

No wonder he’d protested so much.

“Then we need to sterilize that drill bit.” Philippa gestures with her chin at the cordless drill in Reno’s hand. “I’ll do that. Could you get the cortical implant ready?”

“Sure. You want me to build an artificial kidney while I’m at it?”

“I can get you the schematics of the one I have,” Stamets cuts in, already typing away at the second terminal. “And I still have the prototype, it’s around here somewhere.”

“Aw. Was really looking forward to a challenge.”

Philippa rolls her eyes. “Is living the plot of a medical holo-drama not sufficient for you?” 

She takes the drill from Reno, rounding the terminal to the first aid kit. She’ll need to sharpen the drill-bit, and they’ll need tape to hold the ensign’s head still for the procedure, as well as something on which to affix her. A bench perhaps, or a long table, as Philippa doubts that there is a bed in this science lab. The fungal psilocybin will have to double as an anesthetic, as they do not have anything stronger than single-dose NSAIDs on hand. 

Philippa lists these necessities in her mind as she rips into the first aid kit, Reno murmuring softly under her breath somewhere behind her. Stamets is digging in one of the corners, hopefully making himself useful.

An engineer, a life scientist, and a one-time paramedic. 

Not the best of odds , Philippa has to note. 

But certainly not the worst .




**



A scant fifteen minutes later, Philippa considers them as ready as they’ll ever be.

In the center of the lab, Ensign Tilly stands affixed via wrist restraints to a standing table, a replacement for the one that got blown up in the red spore explosion, Stamets explained as he wheeled it out from a closet. The ensign’s head is bound to the table with a one-centimeter wide length of duct tape, to prevent her from flinching during the operation.

On her right arm, the fungal blob continues to pulsate. 

Behind the rightmost terminal, Jett Reno puts the last touches on their hastily-assembled cortical node project. With a micro-torch, she welds a tiny air compressor to the thin length of piping that will serve as the injector, and the white light of the torch casts shadows across her face as she works.

Philippa stands at Tilly’s right side, boosted on an upturned metal crate, marker in hand. She carefully marks the ensign’s right temple with a small ‘X’, just a hair below the line of duct tape.

It would be a tragedy to drill at the wrong spot and have to start again.

As Philippa draws the X, she has to note the inherent comedy in the fact that of the four of them trapped inside of this lab, she is the only one wearing medical whites. 

Typically, a medical uniform such as this would imply a body of knowledge sufficient to confidently take charge of this entire operation. Anyone watching would naturally assume that she is the doctor in this situation, and has a firm grasp of what to do and how to do it.

Philippa shakes her head, even as she prevents her hands from doing the same.

The uniform is a ruse. 

As is her position in sickbay, as is her entire posting on the Discovery.

She is only a pretender, a fraud, a spy, play-acting at a role she has no business performing.

But to reveal this truth now would plant doubt in the minds of all of these people who are depending on her. It would destroy their faith in her plan, killing it before it starts.

And the plan has to start in order to have any chance of working.

Philippa takes a step away from the standing table, her work complete. 

“Well I’ll be.” Stamets’ voice carries from Reno’s terminal. “A modified cortical amplifier.”

Philippa looks on as he picks up the piece of tech, about the size of her pinky fingernail and attached to one end of the silver injector tube. He turns around to face Philippa and Tilly.

It’s time.

A quick sideways glance at Ensign Tilly reveals to Philippa that she is trembling, shaking violently in her restraints. Her eyes are filled with a sheen of tears, and Philippa can practically feel how stiffly she is holding herself.

The girl is terrified.

But beyond that, if she continues to tremble, Philippa will not be able to keep the drill-bit steady for the incision. 

And this could have dire consequences for Sylvia Tilly’s continued brain function.

Stamets meets her gaze, a question in her eyes. Philippa shakes her head.

They can’t operate like this.

With a long sigh, Stamets looks down at the deck. His brow is furrowed, perhaps he is working through their options. 

After several moments of silence, Philippa opens her mouth, but before she can utter a word, Stamets looks back up and walks forward once more. He takes several steps until he stands less than a foot from Tilly. 

His eyes are soft, his face even softer.

“Hey, kiddo…” The man begins in a gentle voice, as if speaking to a child. “What’s your favorite song?”

“Wh-What?” Tilly’s voice is unsteady.

“Your favorite song?” Stamets prompts once more. His face is calm, smooth, his voice kind. He sounds quite different than the unfriendly, sarcastic scientist who greeted Philippa and Reno upon their arrival in the spore lab. 

“Sing it for me.”

Stamets prods with infinite gentleness, close enough to Tilly’s boosted form to touch her. The expression on Tilly’s face is collapsing, her fear trickling away as she considers the proposal.

Philippa stands at Tilly’s right side; yet somehow, despite being about a foot from Stamets and practically touching Tilly, she feels quite far away from whatever is happening between the two of them.

Though I’m past one hundred thousand miles… ” 

Tilly’s voice quivers as she sings a slow melody. She sounds neither trained nor polished, but the notes are on-key and earnest. 

“... I’m feeling very still... ” Stamets joins with her in a surprisingly capable tenor.

Philippa looks on, surprised and more than a little impressed. This is a smart idea on Stamets’ part; the singing will force the ensign to breathe, and keeping her voice steady will reduce her trembling. It makes a great deal of logical sense, and yet…

And I think my spaceship knows which way to go…

The way their voices intermingle to carry the descending melody, Stamets the steady guide and Tilly doing her best to match his notes, makes Philippa feel very warm in her chest. She has to remind herself to keep a steady grip on the drill as the earnest duet wraps around her. 

Philippa presses her left hand to Tilly’s head, bracing for what she is about to do.

Tilly's voice trails off, and Stamets picks up the slack. He looks to be smiling ever so slightly as he sings the words.

Tell my wife I love her very much…

The ensign is no longer trembling. Philippa raises the drill.

She knows …” Tilly completes in a thready warble. Her body stiffens in anticipation.

Philippa holds the drill-bit to the X and activates it.

She pushes hard.

Tilly’s cries ring across the spore lab. 

Philippa flattens her lips into a tight line as she drills through skin and bone. The drill breaks through the skull, and Philippa withdraws quickly. 

Tilly’s chest rises and falls in huge motions. Her breathing is gasping and labored; she may be hyperventilating. In a smooth motion, Stamets passes Philippa the silver injection tube. Philippa raises it to the incision site and presses the business end inside.

The tube hisses as the compressed air drives the cortical node through the hole in Sylvia Tilly’s skull and into her brain.

Her work done, Philippa steps down from the upturned crate. She retreats to Reno’s terminal, and Reno pats her shoulder as Philippa takes up a position next to her. 

Philippa barely feels it.

She puts down the injector and the bloody gauze, doing her best to put them out of her mind. Lips pressed firmly shut, she grits her teeth and clenches her jaw, trying hard to keep from shaking. Even as she does this, Philippa is well aware of how ridiculous she is being.

After nine gruesome months on Qo’Nos, she really should not be so nauseated by this whole ordeal. 

After all, it was only brain surgery.

Heart in her throat, Philippa watches Tilly as she shifts on the platform. Her body twitches, adjusting to whatever the implant is doing to her brain. 

The seconds crawl by. Upon the standing table, Ensign Sylvia Tilly’s expression slowly, slowly morphs into something decidedly...different.

“May?”

Stamets queries softly, hesitantly.

With a strange laziness, Tilly’s gaze slides over to meet his. 

“You wanted to talk to me? Here I am.”

Philippa’s spine stiffens at the tone, the accent, the barbed-wire voice leaving Tilly’s mouth. The predatory look on her face seems unnatural in the extreme on the young woman’s plump, open features. 

With barely a flicker of thought, Philippa snatches up the hand-sized welding torch from the pile of tools. Earlier distress forgotten, she strides out from behind the console, holding the device by her side like a loaded phaser.

“Who are you?” Stamets begins.

“And what do you want from us?” Philippa demands, her voice hard flint.

Tilly’s gray-blue eyes sidle over to Philippa. There is no hint of recognition in them.

Only calculation.

“I am of a species called Jah Sepp, ” Tilly – no, May — finally begins. The ice in her voice is unmistakable, as is the vague threat. 

Philippa has to note that she seems remarkably relaxed for someone who is all but imprisoned in a universe that is not her own, inside a person that is not herself.

She grips her hand-welder more tightly.

“We lived peacefully until an alien intruder began to appear at random intervals,” May continues. “It has damaged our ecosystem, irreparably.”

“So…” Stamets shakes his head, trying to catch up. “You came for help to rid your species of a destructive alien presence?”

May snarls. “ You are the destructive alien presence!”

Her voice rings across the spore lab.

“You and your— Your weird ship! You burst into our home, polluted us, contaminated us! My world is dying because of what you have done!”

The restraints around May’s wrist creak threateningly as she struggles atop the standing table. Her fury is evident in her voice and in her eyes, but for the first time in this very strange encounter, Philippa detects a note of fear as well.

“The…the jumps?” Stamets looks from the reaction cube and back to May. He looks slightly nauseous. “ Discovery ’s jumps?” 

Wearing Ensign Tilly’s face, the creature seems to have pushed back the brief burst of emotion, returning to its previous state of unbothered, slightly arrogant threat.

“I broke through the barrier between our realms at great risk—“

“Risk? You infected my friend!”

“Why?” Philippa cuts Stamets off, hit by a sudden thought. “Why infect another being? Can you not maintain a form here?”

May’s gaze flashes to her. Once more, the creature’s veneer of ease and arrogance falters, just for a moment.

“I needed a disguise,” May covers smoothly. “A person he might listen to.” With her chin, she points at Stamets. “May Ahearn was familiar to me, and to her. A person Tilly knew and would be sympathetic to, if given the chance.”

“What do you mean familiar ?”

Reno chimes in from behind them, her voice dubious in the extreme.

“I have seen her,” May states simply. 

Philippa exchanges a glance with Stamets, who looks as bewildered as she feels.

“...You’ve seen her?”

Stamets prods nervously.

May does not answer. Her features fall once more into vague, arrogant indifference.

Reveling in our ignorance , Philippa hypothesizes with a flare of frustration. There is far too much about this situation that they do not understand, not to mention the fungus’ general lack of concern is making her nervous.

“And once Tilly trusted May, I planned to have her deliver my message to you,” May continues.

This is the message?” Philippa clarifies, thumbing the activation on her welder. “To cease-and-desist?”

“We will,” Stamets cuts in front of her. “I knew better. I know better.”

Philippa resists the urge to simply stand in front of Stamets and prevent him from saying anything else. As it is, she merely side-eyes the man, noting the sweat beading at his temples, the way his fingers work nervously at his side.

Stamets seems to be aware, at least on some level, that this is not a discussion.

It is a hostage negotiation.

Wait

“All we ask, is that you let Tilly go!” Stamets continues, desperation cracking his voice.

“I can’t.” May’s voice is threatening once more. “I have other plans for her.”

Other plans?

Philippa works through the data in a split second. May’s arrogance, her threatening tone, her lack of fear—

They don’t have her, she has them—

With an echoing crack , May’s arms snap the wrist restraints at their axis. Her neck spasms sideways, ripping the duct tape like tissue paper, her left arm coming up towards the cortical implant—

Philippa steps forward with her welding torch. With little fanfare, she burns a hot line across May’s gray, bulging form on Tilly’s right arm.

A hideous screech grates across the lab, and the fungal blob on Tilly’s wrist writhes and expands upwards. It bubbles angrily up and over Tilly’s arm, her shoulder, her neck, seemingly unbothered by the heat of Philippa’s welding torch.

“Shit!” Reno curses from behind Philippa. “I’m getting more firepower!” Her feet echo on the deck.

“Deactivating the implant!” Stamets shouts at the cranial node interface.

Philippa remains silent, her lips a firm line as she scores cut after cut across the chittering creature.

“Help! Help! ” Tilly’s screams are cut off as the gray fungus engulfs her face, her other arm. Gaining speed, the mass bubbles down Tilly’s torso, her waist, engulfing her legs, turning the ensign into one large, writhing gray blob. 

Philippa gives up on her slicing. Instead, she holds the flame fast to a singular section of the angry gray being, turning the area yellow, then red, and then somehow, a hot, glowing blue.

Philippa stares at the color in bewilderment.

And in the next moment, the standing table groans. With a sickening snap, the joints affixing it to the stand break, and the now-nearly escape pod size-blob falls backwards, hitting the deck with a strangely organic thump.

“The torch isn’t enough!” Philippa shouts over her shoulder. “Reno, what do you have?”

“Plasma spanner!” Reno yells from the storage closet behind the stairs. “Getting it warmed up!”

Stamets’ voice is muffled in one of the lab’s far corners. “I’m grabbing some anti-fungals!” 

“Are you serious?!”

“Well, the torch didn’t work, did it?!”

Philippa tunes out Stamets’ and Reno’s bickering to watch the gelatinous gray mass on the floor. Horror and fascination fill her chest as the surface of the blob, of the strange Jah Sepp parasite, hardens before her eyes, turning from a gooey texture to firm, supple leather. 

No sooner has the surface of the blob solidified than thin, writhing tendrils begin to creep out of it. Wood-like in their appearance, the dark brown tendrils hiss and shriek as they crawl across the surface of the couch-sized cocoon. They appear to be knitting themselves together in some type of pattern— perhaps a reinforcement of the soft shell of this life form, Philippa calculates and the now-quite solid blob chitters and hums as they do so.

The thing looks like a moist, moss-covered mound of soil and tree roots, if that mound of soil and tree roots were breathing heavily after having eaten a large meal.

Cautiously, Philippa waves a hand over the brown, tendril-coated surface of the cocoon. 

She feels the warmth of it from nearly an arm-span away. 

“Any minute now, Commanders!” 

Philippa barks her urgency across the lab. Building this monolith in less than two minutes breaks every law of entropy known to Humanoids, therefore the energy required must have been immense. The idea that at this moment, May could very likely be digesting Tilly, if not killing her straight-up via heat transfer, makes Philippa more than a little bit nauseous—

“I got it!” 

Reno shouts, hauling a phaser cannon-sized metal spanner across the deck. Cables and wires trail from the spanner’s core to the antimatter cell in the rear wall panel, making Reno’s gait awkward and stumbling.

“It was on the charging stand, the surge— melted the circuits, had to make a work-around!” 

Reno grates the words through gritted teeth as she finally reaches Philippa’s side. Philippa reaches for the spanner, intending to take half of its crushingly heavy weight.

“Should still work,” Reno completes as she adjusts her grip. She pulls a screwdriver from her pocket and puts it between her teeth. “Gimme that.”

Philippa follows Reno’s chin gesture and hands over the welding torch. She watches as Reno puts down the torch, spits out the screwdriver, and uses the flat head to pry open the drive chamber. With no hesitation, Reno rips out the safety trip and tosses it behind her.

Philippa’s jaw drops.

“Are you going to blow it up?”

“I’m gonna spark it!” Reno’s voice is irritated. “Circuitry’s fried, it’s not like I have an on-switch! Watch your hands!” In a smooth motion, Reno picks up the welding torch, presses it into the drive chamber, and activates it. 

The spanner recoils, bucking as the concentrated flame scalpel issues out with a long, booming fwoosh. The fire is hot against Philippa’s skin, licking at the surface of the cocoon hungrily.

“Now let’s—just—“ In a quick motion, Reno pulls back the hand-welder and whips the cover of the drive chamber back on.

Philippa toggles with the flame control, to no avail. She remembers the fried circuitry. 

“You need to get a hold of the power input!” She shouts. “The anti-matter cell—“

“I know!” Reno yells over the roar of the flame. “You got this?”

It’s less of a question, more of a statement. In the next second, the engineer is up and darting back to the main power diverter, into which the spanner is plugged. 

Philippa drops to a knee, transferring the weight of the drill to her thigh. It’s hot in her hands, the blue-orange flame raging across the surface of the cocoon. But its efforts are moot; in this uncontrolled state, the spanner is a glorified flamethrower, the plasma fire not concentrated enough to cut or slice anything. 

“Heads up!”

Reno’s voice fires across the lab, and in the next moment, the machine bucks in Philippa’s hands. The large, diffuse ball of fire tightens from the business end of the spanner, forming a thin, hot-white blade of pure plasma energy. Philippa’s mouth flattens, and she begins to cut.

At the first slice of the spanner, the cocoon screeches in agony, its strange, organic wailing louder than the roar of the spanner. But somehow, the hole Philippa slices closes almost as she passes the hot blade across the leathery surface.

She shakes her head slowly, unable to believe that this organic entity is somehow repairing itself, shaking off the effects of nearly twenty-thousand degree plasma.

“Try these!”

Stamets’ voice is close to her ear, but Philippa barely hears it over the spanner’s racket. A pale hand appears in her murky, hot-white vision, affixing a palm-sized metal disk to the fungal cocoon’s surface. Philippa feels the texture of the fungus surface change beneath her knife. She drags the blade across the cocoon, left to right. 

Its leathery skin crumbles beneath the blade, and the cut in its surface remains.

“It’s—it’s working!” Philippa grates out.

Stamets gestures with a finger. “Let’s move that way!”

Still on one knee, Philippa scoots right, cutting through the cocoon’s outer layer with the spanner knife. Stamets inches along in her wake, placing his anti-fungal disks on the pulsating surface about a forearm-span apart from each other.

Half a meter…

One meter…

One-and-a-half meters…

To Philippa’s intense relief, a pale hand bursts from the rip in the cocoon’s side, followed by a navy blue-clad arm. The hand waves and thrashes desperately, clawing for purchase on the floor.

“Tilly!”

Stamets hurriedly presses the last anti-fungal disk into the cocoon’s surface. He grabs Tilly’s arm, and with more strength than Philippa would have thought him capable of, hauls the whimpering ensign out of the sticky, wet insides of the cocoon. The fungus’ innards emit a repugnant squelching sound as Tilly slides from its depths, pawing her way out in utter desperation. A foul smell issues from the rip in the cocoon, and Philippa recoils at it. 

She shuts down the spanner, and the lab goes quiet, save for Tilly’s terrified sobbing.

“It’s okay, you’re okay...breathe…” Stamets gently pulls Tilly to her feet. He wraps her soaked body in a tight embrace and Tilly shakes in his arms, hyperventilating. “Breathe…I’ve got you…I’ve got you.”

Tilly gasps and whimpers, covered head-to-toe in whatever secretions the cocoon is emitting. The poor ensign looks scared half to death, and Philippa can’t blame her.

“You’re alright…you’re alright…”

The spanner clatters to the deck as Philippa stumbles to her feet, her every muscle gone limp, heart spasming painfully. At the rear wall of the lab, Jett Reno pulls her hands away from the antimatter cell inside of the inset compartment. The engineer slumps as she does so, blowing out a long exhale as she pats the complex bundle of wires and cordage.

The relief in the air is akin to a muscle relaxant.

Ensign Tilly is alive and safe.

The fungal cocoon hisses softly on the deck, reminding Philippa of their present circumstances. Grimly, she notes that the rip she cut in its side is actively resealing itself, and the anti-fungal disks have fallen to the floor, spent.

“That thing’s gonna be a bitch to remove.”

Reno’s calm drawl issues from Philippa’s left. Side by side, they gaze down at the dark brown fungal cocoon, still huge and, if its miraculous regrowth is any indicator, still alive.

Philippa casts a look in Reno’s direction, and imagines some of her own grim resolve is reflected back at her. 

This isn’t over yet.

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Darkness holds on the bridge of the USS Discovery. 

The crew is silent. Terminals are still, screens blank and powered down. The only source of illumination is the fiery space inferno before them, clutched in the inky blackness of space like a sparkling pearl inside a midnight oyster.

Shadows flicker across Michael’s face. She holds fast at her post, hands steady over her terminal, shoulders squared, feet forward. Holding...watching...waiting for vindication, or for instant and intractable death.

A beat passes.

...

And the terminal screen sputters, roaring to life beneath Michael’s hands.

“Transmission is downloading!” 

Michael nearly stumbles on the words; her screen flashing words and numbers faster than her eyes can process. All across the bridge, displays and computers have gone live in blazing glory. The universal translator is eating up the sphere’s information hungrily, ravenously, breaking it down and remaking it at near-light speed. 

“All library computers are working at twenty percent above maximum. Whatever the sphere is saying…” Michael shakes her head, unable to comprehend. “We’re getting all of it.”

At the forefront consoles, Detmer and Owosekun exchange stupefied glances, and Rhys’ jaw is hanging low where he sits at Tactical. A sideways glance towards Saru reveals wide blue eyes and an expression that is cleaved open.

Wonder , like Michael has never seen before.

On the forward viewscreen, the sphere’s fiery color falls from hot orange to a dark, sickly red.

“How long until it blows?” Pike demands.

“Seconds!” Owosekun ejects. “Power and energy levels are off the charts.”

“Detmer, can you put enough distance between us in time?”

“Negative, sir! We’re still being locked by the stasis field!”

Michael’s screen flashes green, a confirmation.

“Transmission complete!”

“Detmer, eject the warp core!”

“Computer controls not responding, sir!”

Detmer’s terrified response sweeps across the bridge; eyes are widening, shoulders are stiffening, hands are clenching hard around controls and terminal corners. 

Destruction is coming for all of them, and it’s coming in hot.

“Detonation confirmed!” Michael chokes. 

“Hard astern, full impulse now!”

Pike barks the order, but is overpowered by the rippling pressure wave that rolls through the viewscreen, across the deck, through the bodies of each and every crew member--

And the sphere explodes.

Its exterior surges outwards, ripped to shreds by flames and plasma screaming forth from the depths. There is no sound in space, but the ship’s sensors provide an adequate approximation, producing a deafening roar that tears across the bridge. At her console, Michael flinches, only barely managing to keep her eyes open, determined to meet her death with full cognizance… 

And then it’s over.

Michael unfolds herself from her defensive posture, drawing herself back up to full height.

Across the bridge, the crew is doing the same. Bewildered looks and confused eyebrows seem to be the common factor on the faces of all present.

Upon the viewscreen, bright purples and vibrant oranges dance across the blackness of space. Colors curl around each other, swooping over and under the ripped remains of sphere matter which glow amid the smoky lights like burnished bits of silver. 

A newly born nebula. 

Awe fills her chest as Michael takes in the bright colors painting the abyss. She thinks of the raw matter and pure heat from the exploded sphere, critical astronomical ingredients which will fuel the birth of stars for millions of years to come. And with new stars will come new planets, new solar systems…

New civilizations.

“It is so beautiful, the light is like...music...”

Saru sighs from behind his console. His blue eyes swim with joy.

“Yes, it is,” Pike breathes from the captain’s chair. He looks moved almost beyond words. “Though I’m at a loss as to how we’re alive to see it.”

Michael casts a glance at her readouts, the data concerning the sphere’s condition in the moments before it exploded.

Her breath leaves her lungs.

“The sphere’s stasis field reversed polarity a nanosecond before detonation...and pushed us clear.”

Tears prick at Michael’s eyes as she works through the revelation.

“It’s final act was to save us...so that we could tell its story.”

Grief and respect tear at Michael’s chest equally. She gazes at the newly born star nursery, painted gold and violet with great swoops of hot gases and sphere matter.

They would never have the chance to speak back to the sphere, to know its thoughts, its intentions, whether it was alone in the black for those one-hundred thousand years, or if it had any kind of connection with any beings, ever. The xenoanthropologist in Michael cries out at the loss.

But the nebula before them is warm and vast, swirling with matter and energy within the endless void of space. It holds within its depths the embers of life, kindling that will one day ignite a new sun.

Life on the heels of death. Birth on the heels of tragedy.

Eyes swimming, Michael looks across the bridge toward Saru, intending to share this incredible moment with him--

And does a double-take upon catching sight of her Kelpien friend at the first officer’s console.

Saru’s eyes are pooled with emotion, gazing at the nebula hanging in the vastness of the deep black. He looks to be filled with awe even as he hunches low over his console, no doubt consumed with the pain that Doctor Pollard had delineated earlier. His breath is shallow now, Michael notes, his shoulders barely moving.

The sphere had died, they had freed themselves, and yet--

Nothing changed.

The overhead speaker crackles.

Stamets to Burnham. We’ve got Tilly. She’s okay. ” 

Michael releases a breath at Paul Stamets’ even voice, ringing out across the bridge from the overhead speakers. The scene she had burst in on in the spore lab replays in her brain with vibrant clarity, the fungus clamped around Tilly’s arm hungrily--

But Tilly was alright. She was alright.

And so was the Discovery.

However…

At the first officer’s console, Saru coughs painfully. His pale Kelpien skin is nearly white now, and his eyes have turned from blue to a sickly pale green. Back hunched, he staggers out from behind his terminal, heading toward Michael at the science station. 

Robotically, Michael shuts down her station. She crosses the two meters of deck-space behind the captain’s chair, moving towards the first officer’s console, toward her friend.

They meet somewhere in the middle. 

Saru all but collapses into her, wheezing slightly. 

“Now...it is my turn.”

Michael nods slowly. Her own eyes prickle with tears as she tugs Saru’s arm across her shoulders.

“Take me to my quarters, please,” he husks, his voice barely above a whisper.

All around them, crewmen are standing up at their stations. Owosekun unfolds herself from the helm. Rhys’ gaze is steady as he rises to his full height behind ops. Lieutenant Bryce looks solemn indeed at comms, Linus’ huge, double-lidded eyes blink slowly, and Airiam’s head cocks in a mechanical fashion as she stands behind the spore hub console. 

At the helm, Keyla Detmer’s bright blue eyes are filled with tears.

Spines straight, gazes steady, the bridge crew salutes Commander Saru in the way of Starfleet.

Moving as one, Michael and Saru limp for the turbolift. As they do, Michael glimpses the flashing readouts plastered across the rear-wall screens of the bridge. The sum total of the sphere’s entire life, passed along to the Discovery in the throes of its death. 

A veritable Rosetta Stone of information, Kir’Shara rediscovered, the ancient Library of Alexandria one thousand times over. Language so complex, knowledge so vast, discovery beyond what sentients could possibly comprehend…

This could be the start of a new age.

This could change the very universe as they know it.

And Michael’s earlier thoughts are put to rest.

What they did today did have meaning, whether or not they’d managed to save Saru.

What they did mattered.

None of it had been in vain.




**

 



Saru’s quarters are lush and warm, humid to the point of tropical. The floor is covered in soft, spongy grass, which gives slightly when Michael walks across it with Saru in tow. Every wall is traced by leafy vines, and Saru’s thin bed surface is blanketed by a thick layer of moss.

Michael has seen these quarters many times before. She is stunned nevertheless at their beauty.

She lowers Saru onto the bed. Together, they remove his uniform jacket and undershirt -- the skin sensitivity , Saru had explained, becoming unbearable -- as well as his boots. Sometime during this process, Saru’s threat ganglia had emerged. Not shooting out, as they typically do, but slowly, slowly lowering themselves from their nestings, as if no longer possessing the strength to hold themselves in place.

Michael’s stomach churns. She does her best not to look at them.

Now fully unencumbered, Saru leans shakily against the risen back support of his bed. Absently, he plucks a bright red flower from one of the vines growing up the bedside. The vibrant red of the blossom pricks at Michael’s already-stinging eyes.

“I left Kaminar with a handful of seeds…”

Saru begins finally. His gaze roves across his green-covered room, blanketed with leaves and vines. Over their many years in space, the seeds have thrived, blooming in full, stunning intensity in their new home in space.

Saru does not seem to be seeing this. His eyes are dull as they traverse the quarters, making no connection with their surroundings whatsoever. Eventually, his gaze returns to the flower in his hand, and he prods it gently with a finger.

“Is that from your homeworld?” Michael manages to press out, gesturing at the flower.

“It is the...blossom that marks the passing of seasons on Kaminar.”

Michael nods at this. This plant is no doubt how Saru keeps track of the equivalent years that pass on his home planet. 

She would do the same with Vulcan perennials, but she has never been much of a gardener.

“Somewhere along the way, I...lost who I was,” Saru murmurs, not looking away from the red flower. “So focused on...being the best Kelpien in Starfleet.

The soft mockery is obvious in his inflection. Michael’s heart gives a pang at it.

“Defined by my...rank, and my uniform until...that is all I became.”

Michael shakes her head at this, hard and firm.

“No. No, Saru, you could never… ” She steps forward and perches on the side of his bed, leaning forward with urgency. “You were ambitious, yes. And of course you grew, you evolved...but that does not mean that you stopped being you.

Even as she speaks, Michael has to wonder where the words are coming from, issuing from her chest as if they’d been there always.

“Just look at what you’ve achieved . You found yourself among the stars. Your bravery, your strength...” 

Emotion bubbles up from Michael’s stomach as she speaks. These soothing words, their healing balm to all of the fears facing a person caught between two worlds, all of this feels so familiar, so very familiar, she just can’t quite-- 

“You have saved so many lives...including mine.”

Oh. Of course.

She had said something similar to Spock around four years prior, after her younger brother had been ejected from their house yet again. 

Sarek’s sharp words echoing behind her, Michael had chased Spock down, running until the lights of the sprawling house had dimmed to pinpricks and disappeared into the darkness. Beneath the midnight-black, star spangled skies above the shifting Vulcan desert, Michael had aussaged her beloved younger brother’s fears that he was insufficient, that all he had done at Starfleet Academy had changed him fundamentally, that he was a bad Vulcan, a poor son, a failure , and she had said all of those things to him because—

Because ...

Because it had been what she wished someone had said to her.

Michael’s eyes fill with tears at the thought of Spock, lost somewhere in the depths of space. At the thought of Saru, and the last conversation she will ever get to have with him.

“Bravery…” Saru  puts forth the word in a slightly mocking tone. “What courage can I possibly boast? I have manipulated...diminished others to feel powerful...such a coward I am—”

“Stop!”

Michael barks the words, and Saru falls silent.

“Why do you keep saying these things?!” Michael’s chest rips apart as she speaks. “ Why, Saru? What could you have possibly done that causes you such shame?”

Saru opens his mouth, but recoils in the next moment, flinching hard. He coughs painfully, sliding a bit lower on the bed.

Michael’s eyes fill with tears, terrified of what she is watching. 

“Okay easy, easy…” She grabs both of Saru’s hands in her own, as if that will somehow prevent the inevitable. 

“No…” Saru whispers, his eyes spinning wildly. “No-- I need...more time, only a little... please…

“Shhh…shhh...” Michael comforts. “I’m here...I’m here…”

“I know...I know you are. Michael...”

Saru rasps her name weakly. She looks up in time to see the Kelpien man take a deep, steadying breath. Laid upon the bed, he squares his body slightly, drawing himself up as if preparing for some difficult, daunting task.

Michael wonders what it is that could be so shameful, so significant, so suffocating that Saru is staving off his own death process just to exorcise it.

Finally, finally, Saru speaks.

“I am...so sorry .”

Michael shakes her head, twin tears escaping her eyes. 

“No--No, no it isn’t your fault—”

“Not…this…” Saru breathes, his eyes blue and heavy. His jaw works several times, perhaps summoning the energy to speak.

“I am sorry for…never writing to you, while you were in prison.”

Michael’s lips part in utter shock.

“For saying such terrible things to you, when you first came aboard…” Saru continues in a whisper. “I am so ashamed… My behavior was…unfit of a Starfleet officer…of—of anyone…”

Michael sways on the spot. Her heart staggers, her ears ring, and somewhere inside of her, a deep, bone pain that she had grown so accustomed to repressing, to ignoring, to living alongside, splinters and dissipates into nothingness. 

The soft, stellar warmth it leaves in its wake is like pure sunlight. Tears bubble in Michael’s eyes, threatening to spill over and stain her cheeks at how wonderful it feels. 

Forgiveness … And not even remotely in the way she had imagined it.

From her very childhood, Vulcan and onwards, Michael had only ever hoped for absolution from others. It had never occurred to her that she might be in a position to give it.

Saru watches her with a sad blink of his eyes. “I have wanted to apologize for...so long, but...my shame…I could never begin to find the words—“

“Shhh…” Michael shakes her head once more, finally dislodging the tears as she does so. “Stop…stop, it’s alright. You don’t have to apologize to me, not while you are—“

Michael clamps down on the words, her lips trembling, but Saru only smiles a little sadly. He grips her hand tighter.

Dying, ” he offers, no hint of bitterness. “That is…precisely why I must. Michael…” 

Saru’s eyes travel over Michael’s shoulder. Michael follows his gaze to Philippa’s telescope, its gray body battered and rusted, though it stands ready to sight the stars.

“I want you to have that. Not…as my will, nor dying wish… But, because…it is…rightfully yours.”

Michael shakes her head again. Her tears are uncontrollable now. Her friend is dying, her brother is gone, and Philippa… Philippa …  

She cannot do this—

“I am sorry…about Captain Georgiou.” Saru clicks slightly, deep in his throat. “Whatever happened…between you…I hope…that you can reconcile. You love her...”

It is the first time her feelings for her captain have ever been verbalized, the first time they have ever made contact with the open air… Michael pauses, expecting to feel some kind of emotional response to Saru’s statement, defense or denial, or even violation.

But nothing of the sort happens.

After so long, it seems her love for Philippa is a part of her at this point. A universal constant, a scientific law, neither shameful nor weak, not even good or bad.

It just…is.

Saru smiles softly, more with his eyes than with his lips. He is Kelpien, after all. 

“She is alive…a miracle, Michael.” Michael’s lips shake as she smiles back. “I hope…that whatever happened between you…will not supplant…your bond. 

Saru gazes into Michael’s eyes. His large Kelpien eyes are clear, and quite beautiful, Michael notes.

“And I am sorry, that…I will not be here…to help you…”

A soft sob rips from Michael’s chest. She tucks her head forward, resting her forehead on Saru’s collarbone. She wants to scream, to beg him not to leave her, like she had twenty years ago over the bodies of her parents, like she had at the graves of her friends, T’Kor and Vipu, after the attack on the Learning Center, like she had on the transporter pads of the Shenzhou when she had returned and Philippa had not…

Saru’s arm comes to wrap around her.

“It is time, Michael…I am…so sorry to ask this of you.”

Michael looks up towards his face.

“In my first drawer…there is a Kelpien knife…a keepsake, that I use to prune my flowers…”

She knows where he is going with this, and shakes her head firmly.

“No…no, please…

“If you do not…I will be driven mad, and die in…abject agony.” Saru’s voice takes on a note of terror, for the first time this day. “It must be done… On Kaminar…it was an honor…a testament to…a powerful bond, between two people.”

Saru’s throat pouches click. “I can think of no one else I would trust…no one else, to see me to the end of my life.”

Michael sways slightly at that. 

“A quick slice, to sever my ganglia…” Saru continues. “I will feel no pain… It will be…a mercy.”

Michael’s lips tremble, but she leaves Saru’s embrace to approach his dresser. Mechanically, she withdraws the bone-knife from the chest of drawers.

“That knife…it was my younger sister’s...” Saru murmurs from his place upon his bed. He gazes at the blade in Michael’s hands. “Siranna…”

His expression grows mournful. “I left her…without so much as a goodbye.” 

Saru shakes his head. He reaches out a weak hand and traces over the knife in Michael’s hands. 

“I have tried to live an upstanding life…compassion, courage… love …pillars of Starfleet. Yet, somehow…through my actions… I feel I have betrayed both of my sisters…”

Michael whimpers at that, closing her eyes once more.

How much it meant, to be called sister by someone whom she respected a great deal. 

Indeed, Michael she feels closer to Saru right now than she has felt to anyone in a very long time. Did the man not realize that with his heartfelt, true apology to her, he may has well have bound her to him for good? Does Saru have any idea the connection that he has forged with kindness, the unshakeable bond that they now have?

Why did he have to wait so long to say this to her?

They could have had so much more time...

“No...” she whispers, taking Saru’s hand in hers once more. “You could never…”

She swallows, schooling her thoughts. 

“Families…” She manages. “We…we hurt each other. No one is ever unscathed. But…we care about each other, deeply. Regardless. And we try, always, to be better.”

And Spock’s voice comes to her once more.

Please don’t leave, Michael! We will do better! I will do better!

Michael manages a weak snort. “Brothers…they can be the worst.” 

Saru’s Kelpien lips turn upwards slightly at that. Michael squeezes his hand. “But that’s just part of the deal, isn’t it? Having a family…”

“You must take the bad with the good,” Saru completes in a whisper. “As with…every type of…bond.” 

Michael nods slowly at this assertion, one that Saru seems to have only just reached himself if the dim surprise on his face is any indicator.

You are…a good sister, Michael. To me…and to him. You will find him. I know you will. And…”

Saru hesitates. “You will find her, as well. I am sure of it.”

Michael huffs softly at that, but does not argue.

Saru reaches for her hand, loosely holding the bone-knife. He pulls it up, so weakly, to his ganglia.

“It will be alright, Michael…” Saru whispers. 

Michael steadies her grip on the knife, preparing herself mentally, emotionally, physically. She reaches for her controls, for logic , but knows even as she does that there is no use. Her controls are cinders after her fight with Philippa, they are dust, completely and entirely; she never did learn how to adequately compartmentalize concerning her loved ones. 

Her greatest weakness in logic, as Sarek told her quite often.

Michael catches her sob before it hits her throat, and her face twists into a grimace as she tries, in vain, to contain the agony. Her knife hand drops to her side.

“Is it truly inevitable?”

Saru gazes up to her, mournfully. 

“I am sorry, that you must be the one to do this…How many... that you have already lost…”

Michael sniffles, because it was true. Her life and all of its difficulties, all of those taken from her, her love always, always coming back to cause pain. 

The universe beating her raw and bloody, again and again and again.

One would think that she would no longer ache and weep at such losses.

But perhaps she is not so good a Vulcan as she had pretended to be for so long.

“…This will be a mercy, to me.” Saru whispers. “The greatest…you could give me. Michael… please …”

Michael swallows harshly. In a final, last ditch-effort, she reaches, not for her logic training, but for her xenoanthropology curriculum, particularly the concept of cultural relativism; the idea that what might be sinful in one culture is customary in another. 

What might be considered awful and twisted on Vulcan and on Earth is, on Kaminar…a tradition. A fact of life.

An honor.

Michael gazes at Saru, her treasured friend, one of the very, very few still with her after her seven years aboard the Shenzhou . She takes in his pale, smooth face, the patterns crawling across his skin, his deep blue eyes and firm mouth…and Michael imagines, for a moment, that she is Kelpien as well.

She pictures the ceremony for vahar’ai , with drums and fires and bowing, and imagines her hands, now large and pale, gripping the hilt of the bone-knife.

She is participating in this vital tradition to honor her bond with a friend, a brother.

To see Saru out of this life and into the next…

It is an honor.

And for just a moment, Michael’s howling grief is overpowered by fierce pride and firm, unshakeable respect. 

Riding the wave of focused intent, Michael lifts her chin, takes a breath of resolve, and in a smooth motion, she brings the knife to Saru’s flared ganglia, baring the blade beneath the nesting point in her friend’s skull—

But before she can so much as cut, the gnarled ganglia withers, turning grey and lifeless right before Michael’s eyes.

And in the next moment it turns to dust, disintegrating to nothing before it hits Saru’s bare shoulder.

The knife is mounted upon nothing but air.

“Wh—What…” 

Michael shakes her head, quite unable to process.

Saru shifts slightly. “Michael…what’s wrong, what…” His fingers come up to trace at his now-empty ganglia cavity.

“I—“ Michael imagines her eyes are all but bulging out of her skull. “I…I barely touched it. Saru?”

“I don’t understand…” Saru is feeling at both sides of his head now, his blue eyes wide and confused. “I—I should be…”

Michael shakes her head again, her mouth working even as the shock dissipates to utter joy. A smile breaks across her face like the strike of a lightning bolt. Her heart unclenches in her chest, and the rush of endorphins is akin to a clinical high.

Saru looks overjoyed as well, though baffled as well. He slowly, slowly sits up on the bed, still prodding at the sides of his head.

“There is…there is no more pain… What--- What ?”

Michael only laughs at Saru’s bewildered tone, and her cheeks are hot as tears spill down them. 

Saru is alive.

Saru is alive.

She reaches for her friend and pulls him in tightly. Kelpiens do not hug as a rule, showing affection with forehead touches and hand-clasps, but Michael cannot help herself. She squeezes Saru as hard she can, thankful that she will not hurt him, his partial exoskeleton offering considerable protection from pressure and impact.

After a long moment of palpable confusion from her friend, Saru hugs her back, wrapping powerful arms around Michael’s back.

Michael breathes, sighs, sniffles into Saru’s chest. The agony and strain of the past several minutes trickle from her body, leaving nothing but peace, and a great deal of exhaustion. 

Michael knows that, once again, she lacks context. There is, no doubt, a rational, scientific explanation for Saru surviving his vahar’ai. But until they study it and detangle this mystery, Michael is content and happy to consider this occurrence as nothing less than a blessing, nothing short of a miracle. 

The angel of death had been present aboard the Discovery and nevertheless had passed over, sparing Saru from certain death.

The universe has finally sated itself upon her grief, and for the first time in an entire lifetime it pulled its punches, diverting this one, singular blow, this once and only time.

Saru is safe. Tilly is safe.

Somehow, somehow , in spite of all that has happened, Michael did not lose any loved ones today.

Not today.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Philippa watches with wary eyes as Reno and Stamets make adjustments and calculations at the main terminal for the spore drive. Tilly stands several feet behind her, trembling slightly, still wet and sticky from the fungal cocoon’s secretions. She is subconsciously (or perhaps consciously) putting Philippa between herself and the massive, pulsing fungal cocoon on the floor.

Philippa doesn’t blame her. 

“We need to close the door to the network, forever.”

Stamets’ voice is firm, and Reno seems to be in agreement from her slight nod.

“Just making final calculations…”

“How will you do this?” Philippa cannot help but ask. “Is it really so simple as closing a door?”

“Nah,” Reno denies as her fingers fly across the terminal. “It’s more like… destroying a door and then triggering a landslide on top of it.”

Philippa’s eyes widen at Reno’s casual delivery. The part of her that is a Section 31 agent and a crucial component of the covert war effort against the Klingons screams in protest.

“Wait, wait .“ 

She takes several quick strides towards the scientists behind the console. Both Reno and Stamets look at her, bewildered.

“This tech, the spore drive,” Philippa gestures towards the spore drive with sharp hands. “It was critical to Federation security during the Klingon War. We all would have perished without it! We cannot just destroy it like this!”

Stamets’ mouth opens and closes like a fish, but Reno puts a calm hand in front of him to cut it off.

“Look Phil, I get what you’re saying, I really do. But this tech , is also destroying the uh…” She gives Stamets’ chest a light tap. “What do you call it? Mycelial network?”

Stamets throws her an irritated look, coupled with a sharp nod to confirm.

“Yeah.” Reno shakes her head, and manages to look almost serious. “And if I’m understanding things right, that’s an entire universe. The Jah Sepp, plus whatever else might live there. Could be quite a lot, considering the damn near infinite diversity in our own universe.”

“Uh…guys?” Tilly’s voice quavers from the corner of the spore lab. “Did—did you see that?”

Philippa, Stamets, and Reno all turn to her. Philippa sweeps her gaze across the reaction cube, the pulsating fungal cocoon, and Tilly’s cowering form.

Nothing.

“Nothin’ there, Ensign.” Reno drawls. “Anyway, infinite diversity…infinite combinations…maybe even more…infinite-er, over there…”

With an unusually loose voice, Reno trails off, her eyes slipping from Philippa towards the cocoon.

“…Reno?” Philippa ducks her head to try to meet her friend’s gaze. Suspicion prickles at the back of her neck.

“Seriously!” Tilly exclaims. “Something’s not right!”

Philippa whirls towards Tilly, but Stamets is already holding out his hands as if to calm her down.

“Easy, Ensign, you’re still coming off your hallucinogen. It’s natural to be a bit paranoid in your condition.” 

Stamets’ elongates the syllables in a truly strange way, and he seems to be swaying slightly.

“No, no I swear , it’s May, I-- I saw her!” 

Tilly’s head whips between Stamets and the fungal cocoon, and in that moment, a familiar, acrid taste hits the back of Philippa’s throat.

Oh, fuck.

Philippa takes several quick steps away from Stamets to take up a protective stance in front of Tilly.

“It’s psilocybin!” With an extended arm, Philippa backs herself and Tilly away from the cocoon slowly, slowly, until they hit the wall of the lab just next to the access stairway.

“Wh—We’re being dosed?” Tilly’s voice trembles; she sounds terrified.

“No, just them.” Philippa gestures with her chin at Stamets and Reno, who are prodding at each other’s faces with wide eyes. “Seems May isn’t done with you yet, Ensign.”

As if hearing her words, the cocoon begins to shake in its spot on the floor. Philippa can almost see the blue psilocybin spores rising from its surface, a veritable storm cloud of swirling hallucinogens.

“It’s…” Tilly stumbles, no doubt seeing the same from over Philippa’s shoulder. “I— I think it’s going after you too, Captain.”

“Most likely.”

“How are you not—“

“Had a lot of exposure on Qo’Nos,” Philippa bites out. “The Klingons use it to—” With a quick swallow, Philippa throws a sleeve over her nose and mouth. “…speed their minds, slow down time…reach solutions…more quickly.”

“I…I can hear May’s voice—she’s…she’s saying something…” Tilly gasps. “Captain, you really need to get out of here—“

Before either of them can react, the fungal cocoon lashes out with one of its brown filaments. It wraps around Philippa’s ankle and yanks her to the floor, hard. Tilly’s panicked shout is cut off by another tendril, which whips over Philippa’s crumpled form to wrap around the ensign’s torso. Tilly screams as she flies over Philippa. She catches a foot on her body and hits the deck hard.

Philippa manages to grab one of Tilly’s boots as the tendril pulls Tilly in, towards its pulsating form.

“No, nononono,” Tilly whimpers. Her nails scratch pointlessly at the durasteel deck plates as she slides towards the cocoon, her free leg flailing in her struggle. 

With a brutal flex of her quads and her abs, Philippa manages to push herself forward, up Tilly’s body to grab the brown filament wrapped around her torso. Her left hand reaches for the knife in her boot, the only place on her medical whites that she’d been able to conceal a decent weapon. With a sharp cry, Philippa slashes at the filament.

The cocoon emits a razor-like screech, nearly metallic in its timbre. Philippa slashes again and again, making more headway each time. 

“You—won’t—take—her—“

Philippa grunts with each stab of the knife, her ears ring with the cocoon’s buzzing shrieks. One final, powerful slice, and she severs the filament completely. With a yelp, Tilly rolls onto all fours and crawls backwards, away from her attacker.

Philippa staggers to her knees. Her eyes widen as the cocoon splits off more tendrils, well over a dozen. They whip through the air towards her, screaming and howling their intent. Philippa raises her knife, knowing damn well she’s done for—

Yah !”

Philippa starts as Commander Jett Reno bursts from the side of the main terminal to plunge a hot laser spanner into the cocoon’s gnarled surface. The cocoon shrinks sideways as the spanner makes devastating contact with its side. Its outstretched tendrils whip and slash across the air, in obvious agony. 

Reno scores hot orange lines across the cocoon’s surface, striking again and again. Her movements are uncoordinated, no doubt she is still fighting the psychedelic, but the hot end of the spanner does its job, burning into the cocoon’s side and sending acrid smoke into the air.

“You guys—should run!” Reno grates above the cocoon’s shrieking and the spanner’s whirring. “Think I’m just—pissing it off—“

A tendril lashes out across the floor, whipping powerfully at Reno’s ankles and sweeping her off her feet. She goes down with a yelp, and the spanner clatters to the ground.

“Tilly!” 

Stamets shouts the word. Philippa whips her head towards the ensign, who is scooting backwards, away from the cocoon and towards the glass of the reaction cube. 

In the next moment, Philippa understands why.

The side of the cocoon nearest to Tilly is glowing , pale blue like the healthy mycelia in their canisters. The deck vibrates, and Philippa’s teeth clatter from the sheer power coming off of the gnarled surface. The air is hot now, growing hotter by the second, an obvious indicator of energy transfer.

The cocoon is powering up.

Philippa begins to crawl towards Tilly, driven by some premonition, some instinct of what it might want.

--I chose Tilly—

--I’m not done with her yet—

A phaser bolt strikes the surface of the cocoon, hot red and set to kill. And another, and another, Philippa casts a wide-eyed look over her shoulder to see Paul Stamets, his mouth set in a firm line as he takes shot after shot, steadying his shaking aim on the terminal’s flat surface.

About damn time.

Philippa crawls faster now, emboldened by the phaser blasts. Still, grateful as she is to Stamets, his intervention is clearly not working. The cocoon continues to shake, the glowing rip in its side growing wider and wider, brighter and brighter, even as the cocoon itself begins to extend in Tilly’s direction—

With a muffled thump, Ensign Tilly hits the glass wall of the spore drive in her backwards retreat. A dead end. Her eyes are wide with terror, her legs kick uselessly as the sidewall of the cocoon creeps towards her. The blue glow from its surface intensifies, turning Tilly’s pale skin luminescent, her irises a bright cyan. 

Seconds pass. Philippa creeps closer to Tilly, to the expanding cocoon and the strange blue light. She lifts her knife in reverse grip, clenching it hard in full knowledge that it will do no good against the massive fungal creature. 

Yet in some ways, this thought is freeing.

Tilly’s terrified face become slack and still, blue light from the cocoon glowing bright. Her pupils are gone, her eyes are phosphorescent, perhaps reflecting the light of the cocoon…

Perhaps emitting it. 

Silent now, Tilly stares into the vibrant blue of the cocoon, her expression calm and almost curious, irises glowing. She leans forward, forward, forward, her hand outstretched—

Philippa launches from her position, shoving Tilly sideways just as the cocoon reaches out from the rip in its side, this time with blue, glowing filaments. Before Philippa can so much as turn, the fibers are around her waist, her chest, her neck. 

They tug once, hard.

Philippa imagines that she hears a familiar, razor-blade voice in her ears, screeching in utter, bitter fury, before the world she knows vanishes in a flash of hot blue light.