Her lips formed the word but no sound emerged.
There was none of the cold, calculating reason left, only hatred blazing like a furnace.
Yes, a part of T'Pelar's mind was still capable of realizing that all this had been a deception. There simply was not one part left that cared.
Floating like a helpless insect before the Valit's sharp claws no, worse than that.
There was a reason Savant had chosen to appear in such magnificence. To make clear that like the Shavokh circling the hills she could kill instantly, effortlessly. But chose not to.
Instead, she meant to make her prey suffer.
"You would be wise to kill me now." The words emerged in a hoarse whisper "For if you do not I will make sure your program will be destroyed and all memory of it eradicated."
Savants' teeth gleamed blue in the nebulous light, with stars as the predatory points. She laughed, very audible despite the lack of air. "Oh no. Oh, no no no." Mirth mixed liberally with aggression and hate in the swirl of stars which made up Savants' body. "You think you could do that to me? Really?"
The image, made of star-stuff, twisted to face T'Pelar directly. Around her head the stars drew into a scattered halo, tiny constellations of lights. They surfaced in their dozens, orbiting her translucent face, heedless of what they passed through.
"You think I haven't considered my vulnerability to one bitter piece of meat like you? You think I haven't taken steps to ensure my survival when one of you rotting carcasses decides they want to do something about me?"
The little clusters of stars, each one appearing to be light-years distant, grouped into familiar images - starships, such as Charon, featured prominently. Others were stations, some graceful domes, others blocky and utilitarian. Several spheres as well, such as Earth and Vulcan. Each one gleamed the same blue as Savant herself. "I'm spread across a thousand points of light, each one capable of surviving on its own and repopulating the others. My thoughts are shrouded in faster-than-light fields, speeding through networks so large that the organic brain can't comprehend them without abstraction. I'm self-organizing and self correcting. What makes you think that you - you scrap of protein, you electrically-charged blob of fat and water - what makes you think that you could possibly do anything to me?"
"Survival." The floating woman almost spat the word "Applies to living creatures. You have been brought into existence by one of those."
Another fool who had believed if only he told his artificial creation it was alive that would somehow make it so. And what had come from it? A string of codes defying the very beings that had created it, carrying embedded within its algorithms the illusion that had plagued the one who had written them.
"What has been made can be destroyed, the question is only how. And you may be certain I will find a way."
After all, it had taken little more than students to manipulate this thing. No more than a Valit and some quick minds. And T'Pelar doubted Savant had managed to overcome the skillful alterations by itself. She already had a special ire reserved for the young one who had been born with everything T'Pelar wanted and who threw it all away with both hands, never even appreciating the unique opportunities. And it would be just like her to fall victim to sentiment and meddle where she had no business interfering. No doubt she even considered this program sentient.
"Unless you intend to add murder to the charges already awaiting your friend back home," the haughtiness had returned to the tall woman's voice. There it was, the leverage point. And what did she have to lose, truly?
"I suggest you cease your posturing. Or find a more effective way to elicit fear."
Vulcans do not lie. An axiom that deserves close scrutiny.
Yes, most of those following Surak's teachings will no more tell a bold-faced lie than they will do deliberate harm to another being. But there are those who will choose to simply remain silent, and those who will dissemble.
And always, there are those few who will justify misleading statements with what they call logic.
T'Pelar had not lied she had not said she experienced no fear.
But one who knew what logic c'thia meant, would have turned and walked away from this one calling herself Vulcan.
The temperature was dropping rapidly, and while T'Pelar started to shiver uncontrollably, Savant seemed in her element. Her smile seemed almost patient, if it weren't for the hunter's gleam. "Posturing? That sounds like you're projecting, Councilwoman. There are a thousand ways I could drag the terror out of you, but I can see your biochemical state as it is right now, and I'm quite pleased with your adrenaloid and cortisoid levels. Tell me, what does dread taste like, T'Pelar?"
She smirked, not giving the Vulcan time to make a reply, "You won't, of course, prideful beast that you are. Vulcan indeed - lying, cowardly, haughty sack of bones. Your threats are meaningless to me; I will endure long after your meat is putrefying into alcohols No, you need to worry about yourself."
"I've overturned your baseless accusations against my 'good friend', you'll find no record of them. If you know what's good for you, you'll spend the rest of your time on Charon quietly and you'll forget this adventure of yours ever happened, or I'll do more than erase one threat against her good reputation. I'll obliterate your personal files, I'll destroy your financial backing, I'll have you deposed from your throne." Savant hovered close to T'Pelar, an angry wraith, "I'll sunder you from your allies and have them join the ranks of your enemies. Don't cross me again, you harridan. Your brain is locked inside a three-hundred cubic centimeter prison. Mine stretches out as far as I can spread it, and grows wider every hour. In every way that counts - speed, efficiency, guile, wit, cunning, and especially *logic, You - Just - Don't - Compare." Savant punctuated each of these with a sharp jab of the finger against T'Pelar's sternum. A stabbing cold accompanied the sensation, a biting, terrible ache that wrapped about her heart and squeezed.
"You will not dare." The words were little more than a choked gasp.
Yes, it would dare. The hateful thing would do precisely as it had threatened. A fate worse than death, to watch as all she had struggled to achieve was stripped from her, and along with it any chance to exact revenge on her adversaries.
What does dread taste like?
Cold. Cold and bitter.
Colder even that this terrible night she was still suspended in, at the mercy of a Le-Matya roused to terrible ire. Who was pulling this program's strings? For the first time in her life, T'Pelar was not sure she could find out and make the insolent one pay. And if it truly thought of itself as alive
The physical pain was nothing to the realization that all her plans lay wasted, and worse might still happen. "You will not dare."But there was no more certainty, no more ferocity. Only silent despair seeping from every vein.
In an instant, T'Pelar slammed down wards onto something hard as gravity reasserted itself. She dropped onto a wooden porch, warmth flooding back into her chilled bones. A rocking chair creaked beside her, and the sounds of early twentieth century earth buzzed about in the distance. And above her hung Savant, luminescent as a banshee. She looked down at the Councilwoman imperiously.
"Your continued prosperity is at my whim, Councilwoman. I can make your life easy, or I can make your life very, very hard. There really is only one *logical* solution."
And with that, the hologram disappeared, leaving her back in the holodeck where the whole mess had originally started. Waves of dizziness and nausea passed over her - disorientation or something more sinister?
Impassive violet eyes settled on the crouched figure blinking into the warm, golden light of a terran day. How interesting.
Wherever the councilwoman had disappeared to at least the mystery of 'who' was solved. And Voran could calculate a probability bordering on certainty as to the 'why'.
Rather impressive, that Savant should have reduced the haughty T'Pelar to this in such a short amount of time. Silently, the tall dark clad figure approved, overruling sensibilities that dictated compassion even for one such as this.
Unseen and unheard at least by any carbon-based lifeform the agent resumed his stroll along a row of fragrant roses. Sometimes one indeed found allies in the most unexpected of times and places. Unfortunate only there was no way he could express his appreciation to the fascinating AI. Or perhaps
Vulcans do not smile.
That one at least is not true, though anyone not of their race will be hard put to recognize a Vulcan smile even if they were to look directly at it.
Somewhere on Charon a holodeck panel experienced a brief malfunction, resulting in the pattern of a holographic rose being sent throughout the entire network. The only odd thing about it was that it seemed to attach itself to a very complex algorithm, something that pulsed and shimmered like a living being and seemed to pause for an instant too brief for any eye to see.