Author's Note: Thanks to JustTripn for beta.
Hours later they dumped Tucker back into the cell. He still had a device on his neck but perhaps it was a different one, for this time his eyes were open and he was clearly conscious. However, he looked upset and was making odd grunting noises.
T’Pol caught on first. “He can’t talk,” she said, looking anxiously to the doctor.
“Can you understand me?” Kendra asked him, and he nodded.
“How many fingers am I holding up?” she asked.
He blinked. His mouth opened, then closed. He held up three fingers of his own. With his left hand, she noticed. “Is he left-handed?” she asked T’Pol.
“Show me four,” she said to Tucker, without raising her fingers.
He promptly held up four left fingers.
“Okay. Now say ‘four’.”
Again he opened his mouth, but couldn’t come up with it. He shut his eyes in frustration.
“It’s called aphasia, Commander,” Kendra said. “Difficulty forming words. Probably just temporary. It’s a very good sign that you understand. I’m going to check your reflexes, okay?”
He nodded and swallowed, and cooperated as she ran through the usual assessment. There was a lag on the right, and noticeable weakness, though it was much improved from before.
“What happened to him?” T’Pol demanded.
Kendra shook her head. “I don’t know. Did you sustain a blow to the head, Commander?”
He stared at her for a moment, as if he were trying to remember, then shook his head no.
She frowned. “Perhaps energy discharge from the device caused a lesion in Broca’s area. I’m not seeing other deficits, but it’s hard to tell. We can’t check his reading or writing in this cell.”
At this, Tucker shook her arm and gestured impatiently at the floor. With his left hand he carefully spelled out “I-C-A-N-W-R-I-T-E” with his finger.
“That’s good, Commander,” Kendra said. That’s very good.”
He started spelling on the floor again. Kendra watched carefully. “H-O-W-L-O-N-G?” Then he looked up at her, clearly desperate for reassurance of some kind.
“I don’t know. Normally I’d start with brain scans to pinpoint the problem and determine the correct intervention. We can try some things here. Others…” She put her hands on his arms. “Look. You’re going to get frustrated. That’s inescapable. But right now that could get you killed. Do you understand?”
He grimaced and nodded and almost blindly reached a hand out to T’Pol, who grasped it firmly.
“Perhaps we should try to get some rest,” T’Pol murmured. She glanced at Kendra.
Kendra got the hint and moved away to lay down with her back to them. The monkey creatures were still asleep in their corner in a communal heap. She was the only one sleeping alone.
This also meant she had less to lose. But it still felt lonely.
Sometime later they awoke when a guard came in and, ignoring them, systematically chased down and shot each of the remaining primates, then lumbered off with the lot of them. Kendra stood to one side, breathing fast and trembling at the cold-blooded efficiency of it.
Immediately afterwards, another guard came in and took off with the buckets.
“Something’s going on,” Kendra said nervously.
Two guards came in and pointed a weapon at them. “Come.”
They did. Tucker’s gait was noticeably off and T’Pol kept a steadying hand under his right elbow. The guards took them to a fairly large, stainless-steel room with drains in the floor and showerheads in the ceiling.
“I guess it’s obvious what this is,” Kendra said, trying hard not to think about the Holocaust. If they’d wanted to kill them, this group surely had no need to employ such subtlety.
“All clothing off!” one guard said, and they both stood back to watch with amused leers.
T’Pol exchanged a look with Kendra but set to work stripping. Tucker glared murderously at the guards and made no attempt to disrobe.
“I said strip,” the first guard said, and raised his controller menacingly.
“You really don’t need any more current,” Kendra warned him.
T’Pol stepped out of her cat suit and went over to Tucker. She grabbed his face and forced him to look at her for a moment, then started unzipping his uniform.
His face turned red, but he took over from her, though he ended up needing her help anyway because his balance was so poor. In the process of undressing he revealed extensive bruising and a trail of dried blood down the back of his leg.
Suddenly the indignity of stripping down seemed fairly minor. Kendra walked over to Tucker and gently turned him toward her so she could assess damage on the other side. “Trip,” she said, in pure commiseration.
He pulled away from her and shuffled to the far corner of the room.
T’Pol, now stark naked, stared coldly at the first guard. “I believe the Orions may be the single most disagreeable sentient species in our galaxy.”
The guards chuckled in amusement and stepped out of the room. The shower heads erupted. Kendra shrieked and tried to find shelter from the cold water, but there was none.
After a couple of minutes the water cut off as abruptly as it had started and warm air began to blast out of one of the walls, so they took advantage of the opportunity to dry off and warm up at the same time.“Guess they decided to clean the merchandise,” Kendra said into the sudden quiet when the dryer cut off too.
“This is a more sophisticated sales effort than I encountered the last time,” T’Pol said. Kendra noticed that she was staying close to Tucker, and when the guards returned she placed herself protectively between him and them.
The second guard threw a shapeless brown tunic at each of them. No underwear. They didn’t need instructions to put them on.
When Kendra bent to pick up her sodden uniform, the first guard snarled, “Leave it!”
They were led back to their cell, which was newly spotless and now reeked of disinfectant. Two fresh buckets sat in the corner.
“Can we have some food?” Kendra asked.
“Whoever buys you can feed you,” the guard said. “Our first customer is already here. Hope the negotiations go quickly.” He leered at them one last time and left.
Tucker turned anguished eyes on T’Pol, who stepped up to him and put her hands on either side of his face again.
A moment later the door slid open and a tall Orion male they didn’t recognize stalked in, followed by the Orion woman they’d been dealing with up to now, and a tall Vulcan who managed to look regal and vaguely disgusted at the same time.
Tucker and T’Pol looked at each other in surprise and poorly-concealed hope.
The Vulcan immediately zeroed in on T’Pol. He stepped forward and raised her chin appraisingly.
Tucker bristled and started forward but was dropped by a blast of pain from the neural device. “Trip!” T’Pol cried, wrenching herself from the man’s grasp and dropping to his side.
The Vulcan stared down at the couple, then turned angrily back to the Orion male who appeared to be in charge. “She’s mated!”
Kendra blinked. An angry Vulcan?
The Orion shrugged. “Females of this kind are not readily available in this region of space, as I’m sure you know. However, it’s of no matter to us. Your government arrives tomorrow. They have already made arrangements for the human male and I’m sure they would be happy to have the Vulcan. Perhaps you’d like the human female? I could give you a good deal on her.”
The Vulcan’s eyes shifted, assessing her with a frankly carnal interest that made her back up a step, but he soon scowled. “Humans are too fragile.”
T’Pol helped Tucker get to his feet and stood there, still holding on to him. “The Vulcan High Council has made arrangements to purchase Commander Tucker?” she said, not even attempting to hide her confusion.
The Orions laughed. The Vulcan looked more intently at Tucker. “Commander Charles Tucker from Enterprise?” he said.
T’Pol’s eyes narrowed.
He had rather unusual forehead ridges, Kendra thought. And he smiled ironically back at the Vulcan as she studied him.
“You are not Vulcan,” T’Pol said.
He turned to the Orion woman, ignoring the male who was ostensibly in command. “You have wasted my time, Zantira,” he said, and turned to leave.
T’Pol stepped forward. “I will serve your needs if you will take all of us.”
Tucker and Kendra stared at her. The man turned and stared at her, too. “You are already mated.”
“As I said, you must take all of us – my mate included.”
“You expect him to approve of this arrangement?”
“Excuse me…” Zantira said.
T’Pol ignored her and to Kendra’s surprise, Zantira let her get away with it. “I believe he would agree that staying together is more important than other consideration. You could make use of him. He is an engineer. My other colleague is a physician.”
The man threw a much more interested look Kendra’s way. “A physician?”
Zantira said, “Taking Tucker is not an option, Vehlen. Your government won’t be pleased if the Human engineer I’ve promised them is missing. You are welcome to either or both females, but not the male.”
T’Pol turned on the Orions. “Have you told them how badly you’ve damaged him? A man without the power of speech can be extremely difficult to interrogate.”
“The original request was simply to provide him dead or alive,” Zantira said, but Kendra thought she sounded a touch uncertain.
Vehlen chuckled. “And you actually expect them to let you go safely on your way after you provide them with such a high-profile prisoner?” He walked up to Tucker. “Are you willing to let your mate service my needs?” he said.
Tucker’s face clouded. He turned to T’Pol with a face that clearly said what the hell are you doing? Kendra couldn’t help wondering that, herself.
“He’s Romulan, Trip,” T’Pol said, and Tucker’s eyes widened.
Zantira had been watching the proceedings with an increasingly vexed look on her face. “I told you, Vehlen, we already have an arrangement.”
Vehlen snorted. “Yes, of course.” He smiled tightly. “I think I’ll be going, then, for I have no desire to run into your other customers. I do not think we will meet again in this life, my dear. Perhaps you could recommend another contact for me to use in the future?”
Zantira sounded just a tiny bit rattled as she said, “They won’t harm us. They rely on us.”
“Of course they do,” he said dryly. He headed for the door.
Zantira exchanged a look with the Orion male, who quickly raised his voice. “This crude negotiating tactic won’t work. We can hardly promise them merchandise and then tell them we sold it to you.”
Vehlen stopped and looked back at the man with a smirk. “No, that is true. I fear your fate is sealed. As I said, I will be on my way.” He turned back to T’Pol. “I regret that I cannot take you up on your offer, but it would be quite foolhardy of me even if it were an option.” He turned to Tucker, “If I were you I would enjoy her company while you can.” Kendra was surprised when he also turned and gave her a small bow before sweeping out of the room, followed closely by the Orions.
“What made you think he was Romulan?” Kendra said.
“It fits with certain theories that have circulated in Vulcan intelligence over the last decade,” T’Pol said, and looked uncomfortably at Tucker. “Highly classified theories.” He gave her an angry glare and turned away. Slowly, he shuffled to a far corner and sat down. He didn’t exactly turn his back, but he didn’t face them, either.
T’Pol stared after him, her expression bleak.
“You know,” Kendra murmured softly, “I’m guessing it’s not easy on a guy’s ego when his bond mate offers to ‘serve’ someone else.”
“It was not a decision I took lightly,” T’Pol said, and Kendra thought she detected the same despair she’d seen in sickbay over that cup of chamomile tea – was it just a night ago?
Kendra would give a lot for that cup of chamomile right now. She’d give a great deal more for something edible to go with it. She nodded her head in Tucker’s direction. “You could be separated forever any moment now,” she said softly, and then retreated to her own corner. She felt she needed to prepare herself for the next stage of this nightmare.
From her corner, she watched T’Pol walk up to Trip and drop to her knees next to him. The Vulcan put her hand on his arm and said something Kendra couldn’t quite hear. After a moment’s hesitation, Trip turned and gathered her in.
Kendra sighed with relief. Perhaps, in the end, that was all one could really hope for in this life. A few stolen moments with someone you love before, like a flash, it’s gone.
That was when her two crewmates disappeared in a haze of light.
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