((Cell 223a, Skarbek Territory, Cardassian Prison, early morning))
Tan: ::Whispering,:: We gotta be careful, you know. Half the people in this place are crazy.
It was a risk talking like this. Always a risk, even in the mornings. Whatever morning was anymore.
A subtle breeze ruffled the sheets draped over the bars, the barest hint of moving air that Serren drank in. The cooling effect was a welcome if brief relief, but also a sobering reminder of their predicament.
Air. Air was not their saviour. Air was killing them.
Barely any food. Bad air. No guards. What a weird prison this was. Doors that locked on the inside were the only saving grace of the place. With the sheets covering the walls, it was as close to privacy as anyone could find, the best time to talk to his new friend. The latest friend he'd made since...
Since the thing with Safine. Her voice screamed in his mind, hurling abuse at him and cursing his bones, every word a blistering invective filled with hate. It came and it went, most of the time just bitter and angry, but right now it was here. An unwanted distraction coming from his pouch. She wanted out. Again.
But her memories were part of him now. Her love. Her rage. Her pain. It was the background chatter of his life, mental tinnitus, a constant ringing in his mind. So, accordingly, he wanted out of himself. Out of his own skin.
Concealing the mental strain of the effort it had taken to subdue the symbiont hadn't been easy, but he'd managed to stay sane fair enough by his reckoning. The stress of the failing air system didn't help, though. Safine cheered for his death, working against him always, and when dangers arose she grew stronger.
In these trying times talking to the various Buddies helped, Buddy 3 being the latest (and sadly, not greatest) of the lot. They kept the dead Trill's voice muted, quiet, dull as his edge was sharp.
Buddy 3: ~ Yeah. No kidding. ~
He kept the thin, improvised knife — really nothing more than a thin scrap of metal with cloth wound around the lower bit to serve as a hilt — close to his lips, whispering fearfully, more than aware that every sound travelled far. Sweat dripped down onto the metal mesh below. He'd been sweating since he got here. It must be forty degrees, more. Day. Night. Didn't matter. It was always hot.
Tan: ::Murmuring,:: Could really use some food. Hope we finally caught something. That would make today a good day.
Sweaty. Hungry. Thirsty. Beyond exhausted. But unbelievably, things were about to get worse. Without air, they were all dead. No matter the faction.
Buddy 3: ~ I know, buddy. Just try to focus on getting out of here. You'll be okay. You'll be back on the Skarbek soon enough. ~
Buddy 3 was always thinking about stuff like that. Always so positive. Helped keep his chin up.
That was why he needed to protect Buddy 3. If he lost the tool, he'd lose his mind for sure, and there were the practical considerations. Even a crude blade was a valuable tool in this place; it was his insurance, his backup, and his best friend. The only thing keeping him safe and sane.
Buddy 3: ~ Aren't you glad I'm not a big eater, huh? ~
Serren stroked the knife's long blunt edge lovingly, daring to look at it for just a moment, then back to the door.
Tan: ::Still whispering,:: Still haven't seen any sign of the guards. Even if there are any. Nobody has.
The knife considered, dull rusted metal glinting slightly in the dim light, his soft, soothing voice echoing in Tan's mind.
Buddy 3: ~ I'm beginning to think there aren't any. Maybe they're watching us with some kind of remote sensor, but... it's equally likely they left or died long ago. ~
Tan: Mmm. Either way, we gotta find some way to clean the air around here, or we won't last long.
Buddy 3's voice echoed in his mind, bright and chirpy.
Buddy 3: ~ Hey, I'm a shiv. I don't breathe. I'll be fine. ~
Serren couldn't help a fitful, joyful little giggle at that joke, shutting his mouth a little too late. Exactly why he and Buddy 3 were buddies. The shiv's wit was as sharp as his painstakingly filed tip. Humour was always a relief in troubling times like this. Since long before they came to prison.
It was important to stay sane. Just, you know, giggling to himself probably wasn't the best way to encourage that.
Going mad, though, would be a short trip. He'd seen enough, done enough, to make anyone's sanity crack.
He stroked along the blade's edge disapprovingly, his fingers coming away with flecks of oxidization.
Tan: Damn, the rust is spreading. I can't keep you clean in this place.
Buddy 3: ~ Just don't get me wet again. I'll be fine. I'm tough. So are you. ~
Footsteps outside the door. Could be gangers. Could be the crew. Couldn't take the chance either way.
No more time for talking. Serren clutched Buddy 3 fearfully, dropping his voice even lower, fearing he'd been heard.
Tan: See you soon.
He touched the metal case of his right arm and it popped open, exposing the wires and motors below. A little dust had gotten into the mechanisms. He brushed it aside, concerned about the buildup. Despite doing his best to clean it, he needed proper tools to finish the job. But Federation technology endured. A little dirt hadn't killed either of his prosthetics. Yet.
Buddy 3: ~ See you soon, buddy! ~
Pushing the surface components aside, Serren dug into the "flesh" of his arm, down to the metal bone, where there was just enough room to hide the improvised knife flat against the metal bar that was his right wrist.
A crude sheath, made out of microfiber, woven directly into the synthetic muscles. A grandiose housing for a glorified shiv. Serren slid Buddy into his home, then popped the metal plate closed.
Too bad Arlo was gone. She was good company. Talking with her had helped keep Safine's rage-screaming out of his mind. Now he had to rely on Buddy 3 more and more.
Straightening his back, Serren hopped off the bunk, pulled on some pants and a grimy shirt, slipping cautiously over to the door of the cell, pulling back the bolt and cracking the door, ready to slam it shut in the face of any intruder.
Nothing. Nobody there. All he could hear was the faint noise of another fight drifting down from The Ring. Probably Red again. Wasn't it too early in the morning to get one's teeth punched in?
But no rival gangers. Good. Just the Skarbek crew waking up.
Muffled and dull, Buddy's voice echoed to him from within his own arm.
Buddy: ~ This is Skarbek territory. Nobody's going to jump you here. ~
Probably true. But why take the risk? Serren slipped out of his cell, moving to the next one, one eye over his shoulder. Arlo's old cell. One of the few cells with the door open.
Within was the trap he'd set up, cobbled together from a dusty faded plastic box, a sheet of metal that had once been a panel covering something, a metal tool (rusted beyond recognition) and salvaged electrical wiring. A meagre bait was set in the middle. Touch the bait, the box falls on the panel, sealing the prey in. Primitive but effective.
Caught within the upturned plastic box was a... rat thing. It had clearly wandered in here somehow (maybe through the open door, maybe through the grill in the floor, it had rusted through in several places making that more than likely), made a bee-line for the bait, and then in doing so brought the box down on it. The creature screeched quietly as Serren observed it.
Relief. The traps had been worth it. They had required the last of the food they'd been able to save from Arlo's stash. She was helping them from beyond the grave. Now they had... something.
If they were going to make a move soon, they would need all the energy they could get.
Tan: I have no idea what you are, my extremely ugly and horrible-looking friend with a passing resemblance to Ghant Xerix, but you are probably very delicious.
He put a rock on top of the box to make sure the "meal" wasn't going anywhere, closed the door just to make double sure, and headed out into the corridor proper.
The Skarbek crew were indeed waking up. Serren made his way toward a trio of familiar faces. He crouched beside them, waiting for a moment to speak up.
Talking. Talking to horrible rat people and witty, charming shivs was easy. Talking to actual people was hard. It always had been, ever since he'd been joined. Because... she would sometimes cause problems. It took a lot of mental energy to separate himself from his symbiont and its most dominant personality, erecting fences and barriers where there should not be any.
When the moment to contribute arrived, he jerked a scarred thumb over his shoulder.
Tan: Finally caught something. Fat rat-thing.
Serren rolled his shoulders. He knew it wouldn't be appealing, but protein was protein. Never the conversationalist with the rest of the crew (he preferred to talk to Buddy, Various Numbers), he communicated the bare minimum information using the fewest words possible.
Tan: Find some way to cook it? Everyone gets a bit?
A glance over his shoulder down the corridor, scanning with his lone eye, ever cautious. Everyone seemed more comfortable than he did in their "territory". He didn't trust it for a moment. An attack could come from any direction, at any time.
Returning his gaze to the others, lingering on Sim for a moment. The "walk" had obviously been hard on him and he was sympathetic. It couldn't have been easy for the guy with one leg in a Cardassian prison, and Serren had seen enough of the harsh realities of the world, to know that out of all of the interred crew, Wheels was probably suffering the most. Yet, to his ear, at least, complaining the least. That was admirable and should be rewarded. If only with a kind look every now and then. Not like they had anything else to give.
With the revelation that they might have some kind of meat soon out of the way, Serren moved on to other business. If the three others were out before dawn, they were probably planning something big.
Tan: ::Quietly,:: How'd it go?