Author's Note: Thanks to JustTripn for meaty beta (although we ended up disagreeing about this chapter), kindly supplemented by Escriba. And many thanks for your continued involvement, reviewers.
Taking the bridge was easier than Kendra expected. The young crewman on duty never even saw them before Vehlen's beam caught him and he crumpled to the deck. Before she could even check for his life signs, Vehlen crushed his neck and stashed his body in a compartment. Kendra felt a little sick, but swallowed her objections.
Vehlen called up internal sensors and found Tucker in a small room, fastened to a chair, his face bloody. He looked furious and scared and determined all at once. Another Romulan paced slowly in front of him, talking. "Still in the preliminaries, I see," Vehlen said. "I must say, your Mr. Tucker handles adversity fairly well."
"He's had a hell of a lot of it lately," Kendra said, wincing as the Romulan on the screen suddenly turned and delivered a hard slap across Tucker's face. "We have to stop this."
"Let me just see if they've transmitted anything official about all this yet," he said, and pulled up a screen. He listened to a few messages that apparently appeared routine. "Looks like we got lucky," he said, and went back to internal sensors, flipping through all the other views. Three crewmen were gathered in the mess hall, intently playing some kind of game. Another was in the engine room. "That's all seven. Let's go."
x x x
In the corridor outside the room where Tucker was being interrogated, Vehlen told Kendra to stand against the wall and buzzed the door.
"Why are you interrupting me?" the man inside said impatiently, using the comm.
"The captain says the Vulcan has important information about the other two fugitives," Vehlen said.
The door slid open. "What-?" the man began to say, but Vehlen shot him before he could get more out.
Gesturing for Kendra to follow, he quickly dragged the man into the room.
Tucker stared wildly at them. An eyebrow had split and his lip was cut and bleeding too. "Where's T'Pol? This guy said-"
"She's okay, Trip, she just got stunned, nothing else. She's in her quarters." Kendra dug out the scanner and quickly ran it over him. The last thing this man needed was more head trauma, but thankfully she saw no sign of anything serious.
"Put that thing away and cut me loose!"
Vehlen gave the Romulan's weapon to Kendra, who used it to carefully burn through Tucker's restraints. He leapt up, stretching and loosening his arms, and she handed him the weapon. "You're sure T'Pol's okay?" he said. "I know something happened, I could feel it." His voice rose. "Don't try to protect me!"
"Trip, she's fine," Kendra assured him. "It was ... a little scary for a moment, that's all."
Vehlen had the unconscious Romulan's mouth open and had his scanner running carefully, then his fingers probing. "There it is," he said, but didn't stop. He grimaced and said, "And there's another." He sat back on frowned. "But does it have a kill switch?" He sighed and looked up at Kendra. "We'd better shoot this one full of sedative until I figure out what he's got on him. Doctor?"
She obliged with her hypospray. It was nice to feel at least slightly useful.
Vehlen patted the man down and discovered another device in his shoe. He also found a handful of the same ties that had been used to bind Tucker to the chair. He bound the man's hands behind him, tied his feet, then balled up his handkerchief and stuck it in the man's mouth so that it was effectively locked open, with a couple of ties around his head and lower jaw to keep everything in place.
"If he has any nasal congestion, that could kill him," Kendra warned.
Tucker said, "I'll be glad to do the honors if it doesn't."
"Did he say whether war has broken out yet?" Vehlen asked.
"He said they've already destroyed Coridan Prime. And Columbia and half a dozen other ships." He swallowed. "Do you think he might have been lying?"
Vehlen shook his head and tried and failed to choke back a cough. "I doubt it." He turned to Kendra. "He could quite possibly blow a hole in this ship just by biting down the right way. I don't intend to let that happen." He double-checked the man's bindings, then stood up and checked Tucker's weapon. "This is set on kill," he told Tucker, before handing it back. "Do you have any problems with that?"
"None at all," Tucker said.
"You've already got your Tal-Shiar agent," Kendra reminded Vehlen - and Tucker. "The others are just crew. They're not military!"
Vehlen gave her an assessing look. "We don't know that. You should return to the cabin."
"I can still be useful," she said stubbornly.
"I won't ask you again if you can do what I say," Vehlen warned her. "I'll just stun you and let you wake up when it's all over." He turned to Tucker. "Unless they've moved in the last ten minutes, we've got three in the mess hall, one in the engine room. Let's take the larger group first."
Tucker nodded and soon they were working their way down the corridor.
The two men ran into the mess hall first, firing. Two men fell immediately. A third ran for another exit, but Tucker ran after him and tackled him hard, apparently losing his weapon in the process, for he was soon whaling on the man with both fists. The Romulan never had much of a chance and was soon limp, but Tucker didn't let up.
"Trip!" Kendra said, trying to stop the mindless carnage.
"Leave him be," Vehlen said. He had already checked the other bodies.
"But what about -"
"He needs to beat up somebody. I'd rather it be that guy than me. Come on. We still have the engine room."
"You don't understand."
"No, you don't understand," Vehlen said. "They've threatened his mate, they've attacked his people. Leave him alone."
"We aren't like you. We don't believe in ..." She threw up her hands in frustration and pointed. "That!"
Vehlen scowled. "If this war lasts long enough, you'll see much worse than that. Now either shut up or go back to the cabin!"
So she shut up.
x x x
The young man who was manning the engine room looked up from a piece of equipment when the hatch opened and quickly raised his hands in surrender.
"Are you the engineer?" Vehlen asked.
"Do you have an auto-destruct function on this ship?"
His eyes widened even further. "I don't know, sir."
"Are you sure about that?" Vehlen put the weapon against his head.
"I never heard of one!" He was trembling.
"No equipment you were ever told to stay clear of?"
"Just the cloaking device, sir."
"You have a cloak?" Vehlen looked surprised - perhaps even distressed.
"I'm told it's only rarely used, sir."
"I see." Vehlen sighed.
"Are you going to kill me?" the boy asked, clearly terrified.
"I'm not going to hurt you," Vehlen said gently, and the boy began to relax. Which was when Vehlen shot him.
Kendra stared at him, appalled. She'd hoped he would change his tactics in the face of such youth.
"I told him I wouldn't hurt him," he said. "I never said I wouldn't kill him."
She turned away, feeling sick. "He was just a boy!"
"We already discussed this, Kendra."
She couldn't look at him.
"I started intelligence work when I was younger than him," Vehlen said. "Anyway, that should be it, though we should probably check crew quarters just in case. I think it's safe to assume Tucker's man has been taken care of. I want to ensure our prisoner is still secure, and then I need to go back to the bridge. You should get back to the cabin."
"I want to check on Trip first." It was hard to equate the Trip she thought she knew with the man they had left behind in the mess hall.
"Good, you can confirm that he finished the job. It should be safe enough. Just...keep an eye out."
"You might need this," she said, and handed the oxygen canister over to him.
He took it and left.
There was not a hint of romance in their parting. But given what she'd just watched him do, that was just as well.
x x x
Kendra hurried back to the mess hall. The man Trip had beaten lay crumpled and most definitely dead, but the engineer had disappeared, along with his weapon, so she headed back to the cabin.
There she found Tucker sitting on the bed, spattered with drying Romulan blood as well as his own. He was holding the unconscious Vulcan tightly in his arms. "I can't wake her," he said. "How do you know she's okay? I know something happened!"
Kendra scanned her. "Everything's normal, she just took a heavy stun. It's only been-" She checked her scanner and was shocked at how little time had passed. "Not very long at all. She had a good scare, that's all. We all did."
"Vulcans don't get scared," Trip said. His eyes had begun to glaze and he was rocking slightly, his bond mate clutched close. He didn't appear to have even noticed that his knuckles were bloody and raw.
Kendra took a quick, assessing look, double-checked the still-foreign settings on the hypospray, and pressed it firmly into his neck.
He flinched away too late. "What the hell?"
"Just a little something to take the edge off." His lids were already drooping, so she helped him lie down, still wrapped possessively around T'Pol, and watched him slip under. She scanned him, just to make sure she hadn't missed any important injuries. Then she dressed the wounds on his hands, relieved that he hadn't fractured any bones in what must have been a massive adrenaline rush. Technically, his physical injuries were minor.
As for mental injuries ... she wasn't so sure. She found another blanket from the closet and covered them both up. His training and experience should have prevented the kind of loss of control she'd witnessed, but for Trip this adventure had been one trauma piled on another, and she'd had no access to any of the pharmacopeia that might have helped him avoid the worst effects.
Hell, she wouldn't have minded a dose of something for herself, at this point. In Phlox's sickbay she would have had drugs designed to keep traumatic memories from becoming too destructive. Here ... well, the sedative would at least help lower his blood pressure. She didn't know what was available on this ship, but she was willing to bet that a culture this ruthless had little concern for post-traumatic stress.
She turned to the dead man in the corner. What were they to do with him now?
And what of the agent, the lone survivor? It was ironic that the one man who definitely wasn't a civilian had been the only crew member to survive the night.
T'Pol was blinking. "Everything's fine," Kendra said. "We took the ship."
"Trip appears to be both injured and unconscious."
"They're minor injuries. He's just sleeping - I sedated him."
T'Pol examined Trip again, as if to confirm what Kendra had told her. Then she turned her head back. "What is that smell?"
"The captain's body... we have some cleaning up to do."
"Probably on the bridge by now."
"Alone?" T'Pol said, sitting up abruptly. "In control of the ship?"
Kendra blinked. "You gave him a weapon," she said. "I assumed he had your trust."
"We had little choice but to trust him. That doesn't mean we should allow him to take control of this ship, without any of us there to monitor him."
Kendra felt a rush of irritation. "I don't know the first thing about how to control a ship, so I don't know what good I could do up there even if he is up there betraying us."
"Kendra, you're the only positive reason he's helping us. His other motivations amount to rage and disgust with the Romulan leadership. In him, I fear those impulses could dissipate." T'Pol looked down at her robes in apparent confusion.
"We dressed you," Kendra explained.
"He didn't ... touch me?" She looked at the captain's corpse with distaste.
"No. Apparently you kicked him, and he shot you. That's what Vehlen said, anyway. I didn't see it for myself."
T'Pol looked over at the bed where Tucker lay gently snoring. "I think it would be best if you did not share the full details of that encounter with Commander Tucker."
Kendra took an extra blanket and draped it over the corpse. "He said he can't hold anything back in a mind meld. Wouldn't it come out eventually?"
"Now that he can talk, he may no longer welcome a mind meld. Trip hasn't yet developed the ability to partition off his memories. I have somewhat better technique, although I still have much to learn."
Kendra grimaced. "That gives you quite an advantage."
"At the moment I believe it to be a useful one. Commander Tucker has been having great difficulty in controlling his emotional reactions to certain ... recent events." T'Pol averted her eyes.
"Any man in his situation would be, T'Pol. And he knows something happened. Lying about it could be a very bad idea."
"I won't lie," T'Pol said. "I simply won't include unnecessary detail."
Kendra sighed, giving up the argument. For all she knew, T'Pol might be right. "Okay, I guess I'll go."
"How many prisoners do we have?" T'Pol said.
"Just one." Her eyes went involuntarily to Tucker and she felt a twinge of misgiving. If T'Pol knew what he had done, how would she react? Would she be appalled? Would she feel she had to report him for conduct unbecoming?"
For that matter, how would Kendra's own weak acquiescence to the night's activities stand up to investigation?
"Maybe you should just be glad you were unconscious," she said, and left.
x x x
The shoes Vehlen had bought from the tradesman for her before they got into that container were very soft and comfortable. They were also completely silent as she padded quietly up the narrow corridor to the bridge.
Perhaps he'd planned ahead, knowing their plan required stealth. If so, now it was being used against him.
She crept to the doorway and looked in to catch him slumped over his oxygen mask, his forehead resting in both hands. But then he turned quite deliberately and looked at her, as if he knew she was there. Which perhaps he did, with this bond - which either meant Romulans were more telepathic than they thought they were, or more telepathic than he had cared to admit.
He quickly removed the mask. "Are you spying on me?"
"Of course," she said, glad that the flush she could feel rising on her face probably wasn't visible. She lifted the scanner. Perhaps he would assume she meant just medically.
He snorted. "I have to admit, sitting here, the controls at my fingertips, a weapon in my hand...it occurred to me I could probably take you all down quite easily. But then what would I do with you?"
"You could kill us. You're pretty good at that."
His face darkened. "I did what had to be done."
She sighed. "Have we changed course?"
"Yes, we're now cloaked and heading toward an unpopulated corner of the Empire. I haven't seen any sign of pursuit yet, which is good. But someone needs to keep an eye on this console while I further examine our prisoner. Can you do that?"
She stared blankly at the alien console. "I don't think I could do that even on an Earth ship."
He frowned. "Where are your colleagues?"
"In the cabin. T'Pol just awoke. I sedated Tucker."
He grimaced. "Please consult with me before you do something like that again. We only have four people, and you are apparently of little use to ship operations. Don't they cross-train you ship's doctors at all?"
Kendra flushed. "Tucker needed rest."
"He can rest when we're safe," Vehlen said. "Until then, rest is a luxury." He reached for the comm and asked T'Pol to come to the bridge.
T'Pol quickly appeared and Vehlen gave her a full report. The Vulcan looked grim as he detailed the death toll, but she apparently saw little point in discussing it further.
He filled the Vulcan in on their course, and added that they were cloaked. "It looks like a state-of-the-art cloak," he said. "Which is unusual in a cargo vessel, and that concerns me. But it means we should be relatively undetectable as long as you maintain silent running. No scans, no transmissions. Keep an eye out for the energy readings I told you about - I've programmed an alert in here. Call me if you see anything. It's possible they have a way to track us. We need to try to determine that before we lay in our final course."
T'Pol nodded and sat down.
"Come with me, doctor," Vehlen said.
x x x
Kendra followed. Why did he want her with him? So he could keep her from doing anything else he felt worthy of rebuke? He took her to a small room off the main corridor, which turned out, when illuminated, to be a tiny, dusty sickbay with one sickbed.
Perhaps he hoped she'd stay here and keep out of the way.
He said, "I need you to prepare this room for our prisoner. It will be easier to remove the devices from his mouth with proper lighting and equipment."
Oh. She set to work, noticing some supplies that could come in useful for Vehlen's condition as well, including more oxygen. For the most part, the equipment was only subtly different from what she would have had on Enterprise, though there was much less of it. They didn't have a medical imaging unit, but there was a scanner that looked as if it would perform more detailed scans than Vehlen's all-purpose model could.
"How do we get him here?" she said.
"Stretcher," Vehlen said, and lifted one he had found.
"I'm not sure you should be doing that much lifting."
Their prisoner was still out cold. They rolled him onto the stretcher and took him back to the sickbay, which wasn't far. Vehlen's face had turned serious. "I'm thinking this can't be the first time they've interrogated prisoners on this ship," he said. "There's more to this operation than smuggling. Fabian knew exactly what he was doing putting us here."
Kendra scanned the prisoner. "He'll be out for awhile yet." She folded her arms. "So what does that mean?"
"I'm not sure," Vehlen said. "It may mean they're keeping a closer eye on this ship, or less of one, because they'll assume their operative can handle the job." He cut through the man's bindings and secured him in the bed's restraints. "Here," he said, opening the man's mouth. He removed the wad of handkerchief he'd shoved in and showed her where a molar contained a false floor that could be puncture with just the right jaw motion. "Under that you are likely to find a fast-acting poison that will kill him instantly. It could conceivably kill you too, if it releases as a gas and you're too close to it."
"Great. What do you propose I do about it?"
"Pull the tooth. Make sure you're wearing a shield."
"Pulling a healthy tooth isn't as easy as you think. It could crack..."
"Cut it out, then. But before you go in, you should know about this other device..."
Kendra sighed and watched as Vehlen used a dental mirror to show her a spot up behind the last molar, high up on the gum, where a small device was attached.
"What is it?" she said.
"I'm not sure. Most likely a communication device. I need to know."
"You want me to remove it?"
"No. It could have a kill switch of some kind in it. I just want to know what it does, and whether it's transmitting anything."
"I don't know how to tell that. Maybe Trip or T'Pol could figure it out..." She tried to scan it more closely. "It doesn't even show up on this scan."
They were both silent for a moment, which might have been how they managed to hear the device buzz slightly.
"Fvadt," Vehlen said. "Do you have anything that amplifies sound?"
She fished an old-fashioned stethoscope out of a tray of medical tools and handed it to him. He put the ear buds in his ear and the end of it up into the man's mouth and listened. He looked like he was about to give up when he suddenly turned intent. Straining, Kendra could hear the slightest mosquito buzz coming from the man's mouth.
Vehlen frowned, then pulled the stethoscope out and put his mouth to the man's mouth, saying something the translator expressed as "Making progress, but I need more time."
Vehlen whipped the stethoscope back into place and waited, then removed it again and said, "Understood."
The much louder com on the wall buzzed and made Kendra jump. T'Pol's voice said, "T'Pol to Vehlen. I've detected coded transmissions to and from some point inside the ship."
"Yes, I know," Vehlen said, and sighed heavily, then coughed. "That would be the sickbay here. We have a problem. Come to a full stop, please."
Kendra stared at him. "Why?"
Vehlen coughed again. "Can you give him another dose of sedative without killing him?"
She checked the man's readings. "I think so."
"Then do it. And see if you can wake up Tucker. We need him."
"Do you see any drugs here that might be a safe stimulant for humans?"
"I'm not a doctor. I know how to kill humans, not how to treat them." He stalked to the other side of the room, coughing, and leaned against the other counter. "I don't know how I got myself into this."
Kendra stared at him, stricken.
He looked up, grey-faced, from his coughing and frowned at her. "I'm doing my best to help you, Kendra. I'm just not sure it will be good enough. Please, bring Tucker as quickly as you can."
To be continued...
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