Author's Note: Thanks to JustTripn for beta.
They were gone.
Kendra stood up, aghast. Take me too, she thought desperately, even though she had no idea where. She only knew she didn’t want to be left behind.
The room in front of her faded and reformed into a small, dark alcove. In front of her Tucker and T’Pol stood uncertainly.
Across the small room Vehlen stood looking at them all with his head cocked.
“Did you get them?” the Orion male’s voice said.
“Yes. And you?”
“They look quite convincing.”
“They won’t stand up to a thorough investigation. I suggest you come up with a plausible scenario and stick to it. Stand by for a moment, please.” He fiddled with a switch. He looked at T’Pol. “You made me an offer. Are you prepared to fulfill it?”
T’Pol turned white but nodded.
He gestured at the door. “After you.”
She looked quickly at Tucker, then headed resolutely for the door, her head down. Tucker stood with his hands balled in fists but made no move to interfere.
Vehlen smiled crookedly. He toggled a switch on his board and said, “We’re all set over here. It’s been a pleasure doing business with you.”
T’Pol turned to wait for him at the door, her face set.
He turned to address her. “Actually, I won’t need you tonight after all. I just wanted to make sure your offer was sincere, because I’m afraid I will have need of you sooner or later. Until then, you and your crewmates will just have to come in useful. Do you think your mate might be able to rig a way to disperse our warp plasma trail?”
T’Pol, clearly taken aback, looked at Trip, whose mouth had settled into a grim line. “Why would he be willing to do that?” she asked.
Vehlen looked pained. “One, he’s my slave, so it’s either that or something much less interesting. Two, if the Empire figures out what I’ve just done, they’re going to track us down. And I can assure you the results of that would not be pleasant for any of us.”
“Mr. Tucker requires food and rest,” T’Pol said. “So does Dr. Gonzalez.”
“Oh, I’m sure you all require food,” Vehlen said. “Zantira is notoriously cheap. But once you’ve eaten, I strongly suggest you do your best to help me. Also, if you prove cooperative, I might be willing to remove those neural controllers. I generally prefer a more benevolent style of ownership, but I’m afraid you have me outnumbered at the moment.”
“You’re alone on this ship?” T’Pol said.
Vehlen gave her a feral grin. “Plotting your escape already?” He lifted one of the controllers and gestured at the door. “If you would all kindly move into the corridor, I will direct you to my guest quarters. Though we should perhaps call them slave quarters for the duration. You are my property, not my guests. Remember that.”
Vehlen’s guest quarters, even if he wanted to call them slave quarters, were far more luxurious than their own quarters on Enterprise. There was a large bed surrounded by hangings, a living area with two lounges set on either side of a long, low table, and a small kitchen. Thick draperies hid the bulkheads. He gestured for them to have a seat on the lounges and went up to what was apparently a replicator to order a series of dishes.
“This is vegetarian,” he said, and put it in front of T’Pol.
She traded glances with a scowling Tucker.
“Of course, if you ask me, Vulcans are in deep denial about their place in the food chain,” he said to the humans, and placed two additional platters on the table. It struck Kendra that for a slave owner he was doing a lot of serving. “This is a meat and vegetable dish that is very characteristic of my people. And this is a fowl generally served to those who need to regain their strength. I will leave you long enough for a meal and a nap. After that, I trust you will agree it would be best to avoid being caught.”
He paused at the door and looked back at Tucker. “You truly cannot speak?” he said.
Tucker stared coldly back at him.
“We think one of their neural devices malfunctioned,” Kendra said. “Could you allow me the use of a medical scanner? It’s possible I could help him.”
“I have a scanner that could serve the purpose,” Vehlen said. “You may use it – under my supervision, of course.” He turned to T’Pol. “Are you sure you want him to talk? My poor wife would have been delighted if I’d lost the power of speech.”
“Then you already have a mate,” T’Pol said, with obvious disapproval.
“Alas, not anymore. She was murdered for having extremely poor taste in husbands.”
They stared at him. He raised his eyebrows. “I’ll give you a couple of hours to rest. Then I shall have to – how do you put it? – ah, yes. Crack the whip.” He smiled and left.
They ate. The food was delicious – the meat and vegetable dish rather spicy and the fowl comfortingly soft, similar in flavor to chicken soup.
“How do you suppose this Romulan knows English figures of speech?” Kendra asked. “Crack the whip?”
Tucker and T’Pol looked at each other, obviously intrigued. T’Pol said, “Perhaps it is simply a coincidence across two slave-owning cultures.”
Tucker shared a brief grimace with Kendra, who thought of pointing out that slavery no longer existed on Earth. But of course, it had existed only as recently as the Eugenics Wars. Indeed, pockets of black market human trafficking had existed all over the planet for decades afterwards.
Kendra awoke and stared up at yet another strange ceiling. How long had it been? She had fallen asleep on the lounge after eating. She become conscious of an odd, intense murmuring nearby. She turned and realized that Tucker and T’Pol were arguing.
He was using his finger to write something in the gravy that coated his plate. T’Pol murmured, “We don’t know that.”
Again, he wrote, then stared at her.
“He still controls the devices,” she said.
T’Pol’s back was to Kendra, but she could see Tucker’s face and it was clear he was getting frustrated because he stopped writing and just stared angrily.
“Acting hastily without more knowledge of our situation could leave us in an even more untenable position,” T’Pol said.
Tucker scowled and wrote something in the plate that made T’Pol frown.
The door slid open. “I require your services now, engineer,” Vehlen said. “I think it best to leave you two ladies here, but you will be monitored, of course. This device works at quite some distance, so I would encourage you to behave.” He stepped forward and peered at the plate, then smirked. “Indeed.” He raised the controller threateningly. “After you,” he said to Tucker, who rose and, with a last frustrated look at T’Pol, headed out the door. His gait was still uneven but he was moving better than before.
Kendra peered down at the plate where Trip and T’Pol had centered their dispute. “We’re SLAVES!” was clearly written across it.
“He read that,” she said.
T’Pol looked over from the cabinets she was examining. “What?”
“Vehlen read that. I could swear he did. Even if he has an amazing universal translator, how would he understand written English?”
“Perhaps Romulans are more familiar with Earth than we thought.”
“Then they have us at quite the advantage, don’t they?”
T’Pol looked uncomfortable. “You should assume we are under surveillance.”
Kendra frowned. “Does it really matter, if he already knows so much more about us than we know about him?”
“It is possible that this is a highly sophisticated intelligence operation designed to lull us into providing information.”
Kendra frowned. “Seems like a stretch.”
“I agree. But we cannot rule it out. We must be cautious.” She began to prowl the room, systematically searching.
“Are you looking for something in particular?”
“I believe Commander Tucker would say I’ll know it when I see it.”
T’Pol didn’t find anything useful, other than a few boxes of cracker-like foodstuffs and some devices they decided must be for cleaning teeth. They took advantage of those immediately and gratefully. At one point in their search T’Pol stiffened and turned toward the door.
“What’s the matter?” Kendra asked.
T’Pol didn’t answer immediately, just stared blankly for another moment. “Trip.”
“Is he okay?”
T’Pol looked pensive. “I believe so.”
Tucker was returned by Vehlen a few hours later. He looked pale and didn’t resist when T’Pol led him straight to the bed.
Vehlen stood watching the two of them, at least until Kendra turned and started watching him. “I brought that scanner,” he said, handing it over. “But if you think I’m leaving it with you, you’re nuts.”
Another colloquialism. “You’ve spent time on Earth,” Kendra said.
He smiled. “Why would you think that?”
“Your English is better than my husband’s.”
“Why is it that every woman I buy has entanglements?” he complained. “Where is this husband of yours?”
“Nowhere you’d need to worry about. May I?”
He handed it over. She stared blankly down at it; Starfleet Medical training did not include lessons in how to use utterly alien scanning devices. “Perhaps I should assist you?” he said.
“That would be helpful. I’d like to scan his brain.”
Vehlen squinted down at the device and adjusted some settings. “Try this,” he said, and handed it over. “I’m afraid I have no idea how to interpret Romulan or human brain scans, assuming this thing will even penetrate your colleague’s thick skull.”
T’Pol looked over.
“Oh yes, he made the obligatory attempt to overpower me,” Vehlen said cheerfully, while Tucker reddened. “A foolhardy notion at the best of times. I explained to him that any further punishment that should become necessary will be inflicted on his mate rather than on him. Hopefully that will help him remember to behave in a manner more appropriate to his current station in life.”
T’Pol stared icily at him. “Do all Romulans embrace slavery, or just you?”
He smiled. “Unlike Earth’s, our tradition of slavery is quite benevolent and well-regulated. Most slaves can expect to be carefully taken care of their entire lives. To tell you the truth, I sometimes wish I had been born a slave. My life would be so much simpler now.”
Tucker glared at him.
Vehlen laughed. “Ah, Tucker,” he said. “It’s not my fault you’re here, or that you insist on courting trouble. Indeed, I’m doing you a rather expensive favor. I only required your mate, not you. You could easily become more trouble than you’re worth. Do keep that in mind.” He turned to Kendra, who had scanned Tucker and was now trying, without much success, to interpret her results. There were definitely areas of his brain exhibiting anomalous readings of some kind, and pretty much where she had expected to find them, but she had no idea precisely what the colors or figures meant. “Do you know what this color indicates?” she asked him, holding it out.
He said. “No, but I know where we could find out,” he said. “Come with me.”
Tucker and T’Pol both looked up with concern.
“It’s okay,” Kendra said. If there was a way to better understand what she was seeing, she would take it.
He took her through a short corridor to another room. He walked with an easy grace that she suspected must have arisen from privilege or rank. The room appeared to be a well-appointed study. “You received your medical training on Earth?” he said.
“Yes.” He must have significant wealth to draw on, she decided, looking around. The fabrics were heavy and lush and the furnishings solid, including a real wooden desk and chair and a comfortably upholstered arm chair.
He sat down at the desk chair and nodded at her to take the arm chair. “So you took the Hippocratic Oath.”
She sat down. If nothing else, this was definitely a step up from the Orion holding tank. “How would you know about that?”
His voice took on an edge of impatience. “Kindly answer my question.”
“Yes, I took it. Where did you live on Earth?”
“Do you feel that oath applies equally to all sentient beings, or just to humans?”
“You didn’t answer my question.”
He just stared blandly at her.
She scowled. “To all, of course,” she said, then wondered if she’d given away too much.
“So, for instance, if your alien slave master had a health issue…”
She folded her arms, oddly reminded of the questions she used to get from strangers at parties once they learned she was a doctor. “What seems to be the problem?”
“I was speaking hypothetically,” he said smoothly. He sat down at a computer terminal and spoke to it in what she assumed was Romulan. “Where’s the damned model number on this thing?”
Kendra swallowed a perverse desire to laugh. So even alien equipment had model numbers.
“You haven’t answered my question,” he said, after he read something off to his computer in a language that was presumably Romulan. “If your master required care, would you feel yourself bound by the same oath?”
She blinked. “I…technically, yes. But I might have to think twice about that if helping him enabled him to harm others.”
“Then I suppose the question is whether you consider simply keeping slaves to be causing sufficient harm that you would deprive him of care?”
She stared at him. He held her eyes with calm interest but she had the feeling the answer mattered a great deal. For all she knew her life hung on the answer. “I guess I haven’t really thought through this particular situation before.”
“Well, let me know when you decide.” His computer screen lit up with what appeared to be a key to reading the device. “I will translate for you as best I can,” he said, and began to read.
It was a fairly tedious process, but he was surprisingly patient, even looking up obscure medical terms so that he could better translate them, or searching for diagrams of the relevant Romulan brain anatomy.
“That looks just like a Vulcan brain,” she said.
“Appropriately enough. Our ancestors came from Vulcan. Apparently they couldn’t tolerate Surak’s endless scraping sanctimony. Though I would be willing to bet property or water rights had more to do with it.”
“But being annoyed at Surak is the official story?” Kendra asked.
He snorted. “No, no, of course not. Our daring ancestors were visionaries who refused to accept any constriction in their freedom to conquer others. That’s the official story. Here, this is supposedly one of two complementary speech centers in the Romulan brain. Is this helpful?”
“Not particularly. Commander Tucker has a human brain.”
“Yes, I’ve noticed. Excuse me a moment,” and toggled to another screen. Shots of various rooms and corridors of the ship flashed on the screen, and he paused when he came to what must have been their darkened quarters, because the screen lighting gradually compensated to reveal Tucker and T’Pol kissing each other passionately on the large bed in their quarters. “They are a most intriguing couple,” Vehlen said. “I’m curious how they came to be together.”
“You’d have to ask them,” Kendra said stiffly.
He turned and smiled at her. “I’d have to be a fool to leave these two unmonitored. Besides, I rather hope to receive many hours of entertainment from them.”
Kendra folded her arms and looked away from the screen, but the sound quality was good enough to pick up their moans and sighs, and she found herself looking back despite herself.
“No doubt you will think of warning them,” he said lightly, still watching the pair. “Of course, they must already suspect they are being monitored in some way.”
T’Pol did, but if she truly thought they she was being seen, Kendra was quite sure she wouldn’t have pulled off her tunic with such alacrity. Now fully naked, she straddled Tucker and lowered her upper body to him, which raised her rear to full view. Vehlen drew in a startled breath, then laughed a bit guiltily and said, “By the Praetor, I believe I have already gotten my money’s worth!” He switched the view back to the scanner instructions, his face flushed green, and said, “Shall we continue?”
Kendra had stood up, flushed and embarrassed and angry. “You have no right!” she said.
“Actually, I have every right.” He gave her an odd, slant-eyed look. “I would be completely within my rights to take you right now, if I wished it.”
Kendra felt her blood run cold and backed away.
“Oh, don’t worry,” he said, frowning. “I would consider it humiliating to have to force myself on a slave. Even your colleague there is safe from me until I require her.”
Kendra took a deep breath, and then another, trying to get her nerves back under control. “You are expecting the pon farr?”
He raised a brow. “We call it the ponvau. You know about it? I find that … surprising.”
“I have a Vulcan in my care.”
“The old seven-year itch,” Vehlen said, with a smirk. “Of course, we go about rutting with abandon any time we want, unlike your typical repressed Vulcan – or perhaps that’s just the official story, since your colleague there doesn’t look terribly repressed to me. But I know the Vulcans consider their mating cycle a deep dark secret. We, on the other hand, erect temples to the glory of it. It’s something to look forward to, really. You have no idea how your needs get catered to during ponvau when you’re from the right family.”
“Why don’t you avail yourself of a temple, then?” Kendra said acidly.
He gave an odd little snort. “My family has suffered a rather dramatic loss of status in recent years.” He stared appraisingly at her. “I’m afraid ponvau gives a whole new definition to what you humans would call rough sex. I’m not sure a human female would be up to the rigors involved. Still, I suppose it’s good to know I have a spare available, just in case.” He reached out and she flinched away from him.
He laughed. “You are quite appealing in your own way, you know. Such a rich skin tone. Judging from that accent you’re from one of the Caribbean islands? Let me guess… Barbados? Jamaica?”
He was toying with her. “You never told me where you lived on Earth.”
He grinned. “Such a beautiful planet. All that open water. Which island?”
She glared at him. She wasn’t giving him anything else if she had a choice.
He just looked amused. “Stubborn, are you? I can look you up on my database just as easily as I looked up the scanner. But suit yourself. So, dare I take you back to your quarters? Do you think they’re finished yet?” He turned back to his computer.
She said, “Don’t!”
But this time Tucker and T’Pol appeared to be sleeping, nestled together, both in their tunics again.
“Well, they certainly make fast work. I’ll have to run that file later and make sure I wasn’t hallucinating. Come along.”
In the corridor, he said, “I don’t like waste. It will be a pity if I have to kill Tucker.”
She stopped walking. “You’re the one in control here.”
He gave her another appraising look. “We’ll have to discuss that another time.” He ushered her through the door. “Good night.”
It slid shut behind her. She waited a minute, then checked, but it was locked, of course.
The bed was closed off by hanging drapes. Perhaps T’Pol had assumed that would protect them from prying eyes. Kendra sighed. Was it better to let them know, or to let them steal whatever moments they could find together?
She heard rustling and T’Pol stuck her head out of the draperies. “Are you all right, doctor?”
“I’m fine,” Kendra said softly.
“This an extremely large bed, if you...”
“I’m fine here,” Kendra said quickly, and smiled at the Vulcan. “Good night.”
She went into the small bathroom to pee and wondered if Vehlen was watching her do it on one of his screens. She gave the wall the finger just in case.
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