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.
"Can you tell whether this device has a kill switch in it?" Vehlen demanded of Tucker, who stood swaying slightly in place. Kendra had dragged him from bed and helped him wash the blood off his face. She had hoped the cold water would help him throw off the remaining effects of her sedative. If nothing else, she was relieved not to have to look at that carnival of blood spatter on his face anymore.
"Where's T'Pol?" he'd demanded as soon as he was halfway conscious, so before taking him to sickbay she marched him to the bridge long enough to persuade him the Vulcan was fine. She'd hoped the walking would help, too, but he was obviously still struggling.
Tucker peered blearily into the prisoner's mouth, then insisted on trying a scan even though Kendra said it wouldn't work. "It's not showing me anything," he mumbled, and turned to Vehlen. "How the hell do you expect me to tell anything unless we can take it out and take it apart?"
"Okay, never mind," Vehlen said. "Can you rig up a device that will respond to various voice commands with various responses?"
Tucker blinked at him. "Yeah. Though that's really more Hoshi's kind of thing than mine."
"Hoshi?" Vehlen said, looking to Kendra.
Kendra just shook her head impatiently.
Tucker yawned. "Any chance of a cup of coffee? A shot of anything? I feel like I'm swimming underwater here."
"Sorry, Trip," Kendra said. "I've got nothing."
"Perhaps if you took a moment to contemplate your imminent capture, torture and death," Vehlen said. "I often find that helps to get the blood moving."
Tucker gave him a baleful glare. "Okay, got it. A device that responds to specific voice inputs with specific voice responses. You come up with the message options, I can do the rest."
Vehlen said, "It also has to be small enough to fit in his mouth. I will program the different options when you have the mechanics worked out."
"You got any tools?" Tucker asked. "Some transponders or control chips I could start with?"
"Check engineering," Vehlen said. "I'm sure they have some stores. If not, perhaps you could take apart one of those surveillance devices. But you need to do it quickly. They'll be checking in at least every couple of hours."
"Why are we doing this?" Kendra said.
"I want to launch this man into an escape pod with a device that will fool his handlers into thinking he's still interrogating the prisoners. It will follow our original course. With any luck it will also have a directional device in it, and, with even more luck, this ship won't. Then we take off in a different direction."
Tucker said, "That's not likely to fool them. An escape pod will only be capable of impulse, at most."
"I'll suggest that we're purposely delaying our arrival at Kalpurnia to buy more time for interrogation. All we need is enough time to get away before they come looking. That's the other thing we need you for. We need to get this ship up to maximum warp as soon as the escape pod is launched."
"What is this ship's maximum warp?" Tucker said.
"I don't know," Vehlen said. "But I suspect it may be much higher than you would expect in a freighter."
Tucker raised his eyebrows. "That might wake me up."
"Let us hope so," Vehlen said, and started coughing again. When Kendra had returned with Tucker he'd been wearing his oxygen mask and now he lifted it back in place again. He turned to Kendra. "Do you think, perhaps-?"
"Stop by the cabin and I'll give you a couple of hyposprays," she said.
x x x
Vehlen slumped down onto the bunk in the cabin, which was still rank with the smells of death. She scanned him, then administered the diuretic and the heart stimulant. "This will make you feel better, but you should probably try to get some rest soon."
"So should you," he said. "But not now and definitely not here." He wrinkled his nose.
"We need to do something with the bodies."
"They'll have a pretty big stasis unit for perishable cargo. We can put them in there. In the meantime, there's no reason we can't help ourselves to the crew quarters. Even at high warp, this voyage will take a few weeks." He got a gleam in his eye and stood up. "Come with me."
He moved down the narrow corridor to another door and punched in a fairly long code to get in the door. "This is the captain's cabin," he said. "If Tucker and T'Pol don't object, I'm sure we would find this room the most comfortable."
We? Kendra looked around, frowning. While large and relatively luxurious, the cabin's décor was split fairly evenly between spaceships and pornography. "How'd you know his passcode?"
"I didn't. I used the ship's master code. Handy, that." He carefully put down the oxygen mask and tank and turned to her, placing his hands on her hips. "So, will you be my roommate?"
She looked up at him. For most of the night she had been telling herself that she would never, ever want to be touched by this man ever again. But all he had to do was put his hands on her and she went weak in the knees. "I doubt my colleagues would approve."
"They of all people should understand. Besides, you can tell them you're keeping an eye on me."
"And I suspect you'll want to have sex. That could kill you."
"If I'm dying anyway, I might as well die happy."
"I can't say I find the idea of a man dying on me in the middle of sex all that appealing."
He grimaced. "Then just sleep with me. Just be with me. We are bond mates. We are supposed to be together, if we can be. Don't you feel that?"
She looked down. Yes, she felt that, but her head was telling her something quite different. "After what I saw today ... how am I supposed to be sure you won't just murder me in my sleep?"
His jaw clenched. Suddenly he pushed her up against the bulkhead and put both his hands firmly around her neck, though not tight enough to choke. "I could break your neck with one jerk of my hand right now, never mind when you're asleep. But I won't. I will never harm you. You're my bond mate. Do you understand?"
"Let me go!" She twisted, trying to get loose, but he just pushed up against her harder, trapping her in place.
"Do you understand?"
"No!" she yelled back at him, but already the electricity between them had changed from anger to something quite different.
"I think you do," he said, and pressed into her even more firmly.
"This is sick!" But she was conscious that her protest sounded weak. It was apparent that he was aroused, and her body was responding quite independently of any objective opinions she might have held on the matter.
Keeping her trapped, he dipped his head and started kissing her jaw line. One of the hands on her neck rose up to her hair and used it to tug her neck back, expose more of her it to his kisses. "You like this," he breathed into her neck.
Oh, God. She did like it. She was incredibly turned on. She was sick. Sick and crazy and ... also ... also incredibly irresponsible. "Vehlen," she muttered, even as he opened her robe and trailed kisses down between her breasts.
"Mmm?" he mumbled, nosing his way toward an extremely erect nipple.
"We don't have time for this."
"It won't take very long."
"It's not a good idea right now."
"It's an excellent idea. Shush." He pushed open her robe the rest of the way and took a breast in his mouth. Her knees nearly buckled. He switched breasts, then scooped her up and laid her on the bed.
Apparently those hyposprays were pretty damned effective. She wondered if heightened libido might be one of the side effects. "Vehlen..."
"Shush," he said, and then he was pushing up her robe from underneath and using his tongue to do very pleasant things indeed. She groaned and arched. He held her hands down with his and didn't let up, suckling her with expertise and persistence until she shattered into one of the most intense orgasms she'd ever experienced.
"I had a feeling you'd like that," he said, sounding extremely self-satisfied. He wiped his face and coughed a bit.
She was limp with sheer bliss. "You bastard," she said, utterly without rancor.
"Don't you...?" she said, reaching for him.
"No, darling. We really don't have time for that," he said. "Come on."
x x x
An hour and a half later they laid the unconscious interrogator in an escape pod that could normally hold the entire crew in case of a warp breach or some other disaster. Kendra set up an extremely slow sedative drip in the hope of keeping him unconscious but alive for as long as possible. Tucker had installed a transponder in his mouth, which had already activated once to respond to something as they were working, and Vehlen also replaced the device he'd found in the man's shoes, which he suspected was a locational beacon. He programmed the coordinates for Kalpurnia into the pod, and they launched it.
They then jumped into warp on a fairly labyrinthine course that would eventually lead them to Vulcan space while skirting any known trade routes.
Kendra followed Vehlen to engineering, where Trip was running around checking things out. He looked awake now. Indeed, he was practically bouncing on his toes. Kendra watched him and marveled. Trip was undoubtedly an unusually resilient man - that had been clear from reading his medical file - but now she began to wonder whether proximity to warp reactors could possibly have an effect on brain chemistry.
"How fast?" Vehlen asked.
"Warp four point six," Trip said. "Very perky. I could probably nudge a little more out of her, but I'm worried about handling any problems when I can't really read these screens. You want to stay down here and translate for me?"
"If it becomes necessary," Vehlen said. "Most birds of prey cruise at warp four point five. We'll soon know if they are pursuing us. You set up a dispersal pattern for the warp trail?"
Trip smirked "Yep." He patted a cylinder that sat off to the side of the engine. "And I'm delighted to see we got ourselves a working cloaking device in the bargain."
Vehlen said nothing, but Kendra could tell he was displeased.
"What's the matter?" Kendra said to him.
He grimaced. "That's a bit more help for humanity than I had bargained on."
Tucker and Kendra exchanged concerned glances. Trip said, "Is that why we made this crazy detour onto another ship? Because you didn't want us to get our hands on your cloaking device?"
"No, Mr. Tucker," Vehlen said. "We needed to do that anyway. But I admit, I didn't expect any freighter to have a cloak on it. This has the potential to change the balance of power between our two peoples a great deal more than I was hoping."
Kendra frowned. "You already said Earth is no threat."
"You're no threat as you are now. Don't you realize how much power cloaking technology places in the hands of the few? How do you think we got into this situation in the first place? This kind of technology could destroy your more enlightened political traditions - and those are precisely what keep the rest of the galaxy safe from human expansion. It's not as if your species is totally lacking the imperial instinct - your own history must tell you that."
"Yeah, well," Tucker said. "Being conquered by the Romulan Empire could do some pretty bad things to our political traditions, too."
"Does this affect your willingness to help us?" Kendra asked Vehlen.
"I said that I'd help you get back home and I will still do that," Vehlen said, looking very seriously at her. "You have my word on that."
She glanced at Tucker. Vehlen's sincere dark eyes aside, somehow that answer had seemed a bit ... legalistic.
x x x
The next day passed without incident. They took turns sleeping, stowing dead bodies, and manning the bridge and the engine room. T'Pol had readily agreed that she wanted nothing to do with the captain's quarters. They would smell like the man, she said, exchanging a look with Tucker that made Kendra wonder if she had actually kept her resolution.
Kendra had been relieved to see that they had stayed together in the passenger cabin they'd started with, though she supposed they might have simply been too tired to move.
"Did T'Pol ask you not to tell Trip what happened with the captain?" Kendra asked Vehlen, when they finally had some time together again. They were in the captain's quarters, trying to remove as many traces of the man they could.
He stopped what he was doing to look at her in puzzlement. "Is that a joke?"
"I didn't think Vulcans believed in lying ... certainly not enough to ask someone else to help them lie."
"She didn't want Trip to get any more upset than he already was."
"He doesn't look particularly upset to me."
Kendra smiled. It was true, that morning Trip had possessed an unmistakably cheerful ... glow.
"It's amazing, the recuperative effects that getting laid can have on a man," Vehlen said. He lifted his head in a mock dramatic pose. "Gosh, I do so wish someone would do that for me."
"Even if it kills you?"
"We already had this discussion," Vehlen said. "I'm sorry, Kendra, but cribbage just doesn't cut it. Even if did, we left it on my ship."
"Look. You want to have sex, we can have sex. Just don't blame me if you drop dead."
"Yeah, really." She stared at him, her hands on her hips, suddenly feeling supremely awkward and wondering just how to proceed.
But she needn't have worried. He pretty much took it from there.
x x x
Days passed. No Romulan war birds appeared. Trip and T'Pol seemed content to stay together. And Kendra - although she had made a token pretense of adopting the other passenger quarters - shared the captain's quarters with Vehlen. They didn't actually get much time together, thanks to the rotations they had to cover, but when they did meet there they usually had sex - cautiously at first, and eventually with more confidence.
Sex outside of ponvau was considerably less stressful for Vehlen than she had feared. Romulan men barely ejaculated outside of their mating cycle, and they did contained no sperm - Vehlen said they sought medical intervention if they wished for children between cycles. Nor did they have the same staying power, but this merely brought him closer to the human norm. He certainly still appeared to enjoy himself.
As she did. Vehlen seemed to know what would turn her on better than she knew herself. It wasn't always submissive sex on Kendra's part, but it often was, or at least it often started out that way. It bothered her that she enjoyed that aspect of their coupling so much, but not enough to stop her from craving more.
One night after a particularly stimulating experience with one of the dead captain's faintly appalling fastening devices, she said, "I wish I knew why I enjoy the whole being-ravished thing so much. Is it something to do with the bond? Is it the caveman/cavewoman thing?"
He looked at her with a superior little smile. "I suspected from the beginning that your tastes would run this way."
She wasn't sure whether she was more puzzled or offended. "What the hell would make you think that?"
"You married a tall, handsome, highly successful man from another country, who spoke another language, from quite a different culture and class, and you went there to live as he lived and do what he did. In other words, my dear, you formed a classic submissive union with an alpha male."
She sat up, offended. "That's ridiculous! Cuba just happened to have the best research facility for tropical diseases on the planet. And everyone on the planet speaks English, in conducting science and medicine anyway, so that hardly matters. And of course we lived there. Jamaica would have been a ridiculously long commute."
"Did you ever ask him to even consider living in your home country?"
She frowned. "No. He was really into the whole being-Cuban thing."
"I rest my case."
"Just because I was attracted to his passion doesn't mean I don't have a will of my own!"
"Believe me, darling, I know you have a will of your own." He smiled. "You just really enjoy putting it away for awhile in exchange for incredibly hot sex."
She sighed. "Well, you're right about that. I think you may have spoiled me for anybody else." She put a hand on his thigh. "So we'll just have to find a way to keep you healthy."
His return smile was pained. "I wouldn't count on that."
Technically, he was doing better with regular oxygen and medication. But Kendra was also getting better with the Romulan medical scanner, and she understood the essential problem now - at least one of Vehlen's heart valves was allowing a significant amount of oxygenated blood to leak back into the chamber instead of pumping it out into the body that needed it. And that was just what she could see. The configuration of the Romulan heart was more complex than the human heart, with more valves and more chambers, some in places she couldn't even scan. It didn't help that its normal rate was so much higher than a human's, or the pressure so high. It was no wonder surgery was more challenging than on humans. And because his heart was so much less efficient, his lungs were getting punky, his kidneys were dangerously overworked, and she was worried about his susceptibility to infection. Fundamentally, his prognosis hadn't changed.
"Have you ever heard of any Romulan doctors trying heart surgery using stasis fields?" she asked him.
"It's common in certain human heart procedures. Basically, you stop the heart, put it into stasis, do what you need to do, then start everything up again. It avoids excessive bleeding and gives you more time to get complex surgery done."
"Sounds interesting," he said, although he didn't, actually, sound very interested.
"On Earth, or on Vulcan, we could find a surgeon willing to try it for you. I know people..."
"I wouldn't survive two days on Vulcan," he said. "There are too many Romulan operatives in position there. And on Earth I'm sure Starfleet would have far more immediate priorities than my health." He grimaced.
She sat up. "If you're useful to them, they'll want to keep you alive."
"Kendra, my darling, I don't mind being useful to you," he said. "But don't assume that I extend that desire to Starfleet."
"But I am Starfleet. We all are."
"I realize that you are all Starfleet officers, and I realize that helping you helps Starfleet, but my focus is simply on getting you safely back home." He sighed, and coughed. "I have my limits."
"But once we're home..."
"Dear one." He lifted one of her hands and kissed it. "This has been a wonderful little interlude, but I have no future. I've made my peace with that. When the time comes, you're going to have to let me go. For now, let's not waste any of our remaining time together."
She swallowed. "You're my mate too, Vehlen. You can't just quit on me."
He smiled tiredly and pulled her into his arms. "Shush, darling," he said. "Believe me, right now I'm hanging on as hard as I can."
x x x
Kendra never could get the hang of the Romulan bridge consoles, but she made herself useful on the ship in other ways: she was the chief cook and bottle washer, and kept the place clean.
"How's the plomeek broth?" she asked T'Pol each morning. Tucker and T'Pol usually ate at least two meals together, while Vehlen manned the bridge. Kendra's first great success was the morning when T'Pol said, "It is satisfactory" instead of "It is a bit salty" or "Did you add pepper?"
Plomeek was a staple of Romulan food, although judging from what they had found in stasis, the Romulans also liked to pickle it in spicy-hot brine reminiscent of Korean kim chee, and were just as likely to use it as a condiment as they were to treat it as a staple. Tucker loved the hot stuff, declaring it the best use of plomeek he had ever tasted, but T'Pol wouldn't go near it. "The smell is disagreeable," she said. She frowned at Tucker. "It is beginning to affect your body odor."
Tucker stopped the spoon on its way to his mouth. "What?"
"You are much more pungent lately."
"Gee, thanks." He dropped the spoon on his plate and sighed. "So I guess you expect me to take it off the menu?"
"No. A hint of it in your body odor is tolerable. However, a spoonful of it near my nose is not. Should we ever have a private kitchen together, do not think that I will allow any of this substance into my stasis unit."
He looked amused. "Your stasis unit? What about garlic? Onions? Hot peppers? Those would all be important in any Tucker kitchen."
T'Pol lifted an eyebrow. "In their uncut state, I can tolerate those items. Once cut, they must be consumed expeditiously."
"Then you can tolerate those in my body odor too?" Tucker said, with a sidelong look at Kendra.
"Of course, as well as the inevitable traces of the copious meat and dairy products you consume - if I could not, we could never have begun a relationship in the first place."
Trip shook his head, smiling. He continued eating for awhile, darting amused and then more serious glances at T'Pol as she sedately sipped her soup. Eventually, he shook himself out of whatever reverie he was in and said, "So, Kendra, guess what happens today, God willin' and the crick don't rise?"
T'Pol raised her head in obvious puzzlement at the expression.
Kendra said, "What?"
"We leave known Romulan space."
"We do?" Instead of relief, her first thought was: Does Vehlen know? But he must.
"This far out, especially in war time, that mere fact alone provides minimal assurance of safety," T'Pol said.
"But it's still progress," Trip said, and grinned. "Only one week more and we'll be crossing Andorian territory. A few days beyond that and we'll be close to Vulcan. Practically home. I call that pretty exciting."
Kendra nodded and smiled stiffly.
"What's the matter?" Trip asked.
"Nothing," she said. "I guess I just can't believe this could all be over so soon."
To be continued...
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