The Lerteiran Chronicles
Daniel stepped off the escalating down-ramp carefully, looking closely at the crowd as he moved along the edge of the main promenade. The back of his neck itched, always a sure sign of trouble coming. Unfortunately, the subdued colors of his quarry’s hooded robe blended into the crowd and disappeared. Daniel kept his eyes flickering back and forth, trying to catch a glimpse with his peripheral vision, but no luck.
He had spotted the guy shortly after leaving the Lerteiran and for some reason alarm bells went off. There was just no “logical” reason for a Vulcan to be wandering around on a trading station this deep inside Syndicate territory, especially a Vulcan who was so obviously trying to conceal his species. Only his walk betrayed him. And only then to someone who was familiar with the distance-eating stride of a Vulcan with somewhere to go.
Jenrali had told him to relax. “Vulcans buy things too,” the grizzled Andorian had told him. It was hard to tell for sure over the communicator, but Daniel thought he’d sounded a touch amused. “Even those self-righteous priests of theirs have been known to flavor their tea with a pinch of kotara petals on occasion.”
“What about that D’Kyr we spotted on the other side of the Horn nebula?” Daniel had demanded. “It was just sitting there. You telling me that you believe the Vulcans sent a heavy cruiser out here for a load of spices?”
“I think they were scanning for Intel on the greenskins,” his captain had told him. “Or maybe they were looking for the one you spotted. Either way it’s none of our business, boy. We need to finish getting rid of this ale and load up on those grav plates. It’s a seventeen day run to Alembra and we only have twenty days until our contract runs out. One blown injector and we are frozen. Get moving!”
Daniel had snorted and closed the communicator. Jenrali seldom took Daniel’s hunches seriously. Not until he had been proven right, anyway. He was even more sure when the Vulcan noticed that he was under observation almost instantly and started taking evasive action like a professional. Daniel whispered a curse and concentrated on staying within eyesight without being blatant about it. He held on until they got to the main promenade.
Daniel’s gut tightened. Jenrali was right about one thing. They needed to get loaded and get out of here. Cold chills were running up his back and a sense of looming disaster hung over his head. Daniel shook off his foreboding and turned his feet in the direction of Grigor-Tel’s apartments.
The grotesquely fat Orion was in his usual expansive mood. “Welcome! Welcome, my young friend! Please come in and make yourself comfortable!” he boomed, and gestured broadly at the thick cushions that covered the floor of his greeting area. The Naussican guards that stood with their backs to the outer wall, spaced around the perimeter of the circular room at regular intervals, glowered at Daniel with generic dissatisfaction. They hated everyone equally.
Daniel suppressed a grimace. There was no help for it. Orion custom demanded that they go through the ritual of eating, drinking, and at least the offering of entertainment before business could be discussed. It was difficult enough getting a reasonable deal out of an Orion, especially when both of your partners were Andorian, without deliberately insulting their customs on top of it.
Daniel edged into the room and found a cushion as close to the doorway as courtesy allowed. He sat himself down at an angle that let him keep an eye on both the door and the Naussicans. The phase pistol in the small of his back was cold comfort against the five of them. Or six, if you counted Grigor-Tel. Daniel figured it might be a mistake to underestimate the Orion, potbelly or no potbelly. The kukri knife that Daniel carried strapped to his hip was more of a fashion accessory than anything else. Every adult male on the station carried a blade of some type as a matter of course. But in a serious fight, Daniel doubted that he would have time to draw it, much less get in a cut.
The meal was up to typical Orion standards - too big, too rich, too spicy, and mostly indigestible. Drinks included everything from Terran champagne to Andorian ale to Klingon blood wine. Grigor-Tel kept up an amusing litany of jokes and stories about recent events in the Orion Syndicate, along with a smattering of gossip about recent events outside. Daniel was mildly interested to learn that Earth was trying to broker a four way alliance between Humans, Vulcans, Andorians, and Tellarites.
“What would you think of such an arrangement, my young friend?” Grigor-Tel asked him. The tone was carefully casual, but a tight gleam in his eye informed Daniel that the question carried more weight than the Orion wanted to acknowledge.
Daniel shrugged. “I wish them good luck, but I can’t say that I expect much. Vulcans and Andorians have been at each other’s throats for too long. Not to speak of Andorians and Tellarites. We Humans can get along with just about anyone,” he forced a reasonably sincere looking grin and took another sip of Dom Perignon. “But that’s because we haven’t been out here long enough to make any real enemies. I wouldn’t look for this new alliance anytime in the near future.”
Grigor-Tel relaxed almost imperceptibly and nodded. His smile looked happier and more relaxed as he replied, “I am afraid I must agree, my young friend. It is unlikely that your shipmates will be welcomed with open arms on Vulcan within any of our lifetimes.”
“Well,” Daniel said, before draining his glass, “that’s just the way life is sometimes. And as much as it pains me to depart your superb hospitality, another reality of life is that our schedule is pretty tight on this run. If we can finish up our contract I will be on my way.”
“But Daniel, my boy, you wound me.” Grigor-Tel held up his hand. “You have not even sampled the evening’s entertainment.”
Daniel growled internally. He had nursed fond hopes of escaping this time. He absolutely did not feel like sitting through another two to three hour marathon of whatever the Orion considered high art. Last time it had been jugglers and tumblers. The time before that, it was beast fighting - with the big event being a match between a Denebian Slime Devil and a Naussican Rock Creeper. The time before that it was a singer from Therak with a voice like a howling coyote suffering from terminal laryngitis.
At least there wouldn’t be any Orion women. That issue had been settled between Jenrali and Grigor-Tel over weapon points many years before Daniel ever saw the station.
“Your entertainers are always unique and memorable,” Daniel told him truthfully. “But if I don’t tend to business soon, my partners may decide that I am more of a liability than an asset.” He left the implications unspoken. In the Syndicate, some things did not need to be spelled out.
Actually Daniel wasn’t worried that Jenrali would shoot him or even kick him off the ship, much less Sehlra, although she might growl at him for dawdling and smack him upside the head. But Grigor-Tel didn’t need to know that.
The big Orion sighed melodramatically. “Ah, the impatience of youth.” He smiled broadly. “I do understand, my young friend. I was lean and hungry once myself, if you can believe it. But you should not be so fervently trapped in the effort to garner the good things of life that you forget to enjoy them as you go along.” He laughed and clapped his hands twice, loudly. “I have something to show you. I think it will teach you that some things deserve to be savored.”
A hidden doorway at the back of the room slid aside, and a tall woman with olive skin stepped into the room. She wore dancer’s sandals, cross-strapped above the ankle, a brief thong, and a semi-translucent scarf-type wrap that covered her breasts. The trailing end of the wrap then rose up to form a hooded veil over her features. Her hair was coarse and dark black, short enough to be almost hidden by the head wrapping. The woman’s figure was slim, without a trace of body fat, but in no way could she be called gaunt. Tight, hard muscle covered her delicate bones from head to foot.
She stepped through the doorway and paused while the door whispered shut behind her. Grigor-Tel gestured and she began to walk toward them, moving effortlessly in the slightly higher than Earth normal gravity. Daniel stared, transfixed. Her artless movements were painfully familiar. Only one race that he knew of habitually walked with that graceful combination of speed, balance, and precision. Bile rose up in his throat.
“No! Holy fraking shit! Please, no!”
“Come here my dear,” Grigor-Tel told her. “Come stand by me and let my young friend satisfy his hungry eyes with your beauty.” She obediently walked over to stand beside the Orion, who put his meaty hand on her thigh and turned her to face Daniel.
“Is she not exquisite?” Grigor-Tel crooned. He ran his hand along the woman’s leg from the top of her thigh to mid-calf and back again, while she stood immobile. “I fear you would lose consciousness from pure shock if I told you what she cost me.”
Daniel was rather in danger of losing consciousness from pure fear. He hoped that his saucer-eyed stare would be interpreted as lustful admiration. Daniel licked his lips twice and managed to croak out, “She certainly is. May I see her face?”
“A rare privilege, my young friend.” Grigor-Tel’s copious belly shook with silent laughter. “Few indeed are the ones who have been permitted to gaze upon the loveliness that graces my sleeping chamber at night. But you remind me of myself at your age. I think for you I will make an exception.”
The Orion turned his head slightly and snapped a quick order in guttural Naussican. His guides put on identical expressions of longsuffering irritation and turned to face the wall. Grigor-Tel looked up and purred, “Now my dear, drop your veil and dazzle my young friend with your loveliness. But only for a brief moment. We don’t want to blind him.” He smiled.
The dancing girl slowly lifted one hand and unhooked the side of her face covering, lowering it carefully. Daniel felt his heart lurch and start hammering its way out of his chest while his mouth became parched. Above her delicately pointed chin the woman’s jaw line swept up to frame boldly defined cheekbones. Her full lips thrust proudly below the flaring nostrils of her straight nose. Coal black eyes watched him with laser intensity. Above them, long straight eyebrows swept outward and upward diagonally toward her hairline. Just above the slave collar, with its two glowing controller units at the sides of her throat, a pair of elfin ears rose to pronounced peaks through the tangle of her hair.
Daniel could see her nose quiver and realized that fear stink must be pouring off him in waves. “We are dead. We are all dog meat. They won’t even bother to interrogate us - just fry us where we stand. Everyone on this station and anywhere near it is dog meat.” He forcefully cleared his throat and spoke aloud, “Vulcan?” It came out weaker than he had intended, almost a whisper.
Grigor-Tel chuckled and motioned to the woman to replace her veil. “Indeed, my young friend. She was a young Vulcan crew member from one of their colony ships that ventured into the fringes of our territory. She was in training actually, on her first deep space voyage.” He glanced up with proprietary fondness. “Since arriving here she has been receiving training of a far more useful nature.”
Daniel’s heart stopped. His brain stopped. His breathing stopped. All time and existence froze around him for a timeless interval. Then the precious relief shattered and he heard himself blurt out in a high pitched voice, “Colony ship? You have more of them?”
Grigor-Tel threw back his head and laughed in delight at the look on Daniel’s face. “But of course, my young friend. Not all of them here on this station, naturally. But yes, we kept all of the women, and all of the children that were young enough to be trainable.” He didn’t bother to mention what had happened to the Vulcan men, and the children that were nearly grown. The answer was self-evident.
Daniel felt a tic on the side of his face begin to twitch. “I confess to being surprised, Grigor-Tel,” he said, still struggling to regain a semblance of calm. “She certainly is beautiful. But I would have expected you to prefer someone more... excitable? I have never tried one personally, you understand. But the rumors I hear in the taverns report that sex with a Vulcan is much like riding a dead fish.”
The Orion snorted in contempt. “Ignorant amateurs. They simply do not understand how to ignite the fire that smolders within such lovely creatures. Look at her,” he commanded. “Can you not see the hot coals glowing in her eyes? The heat is there, ready to be fanned into flame. One simply requires the proper tinder.”
“What tinder would that be?” Daniel asked him, confused. Grigor-Tel’s eye’s gleamed. He reached into his vest pocket and drew out an ampoule, appropriate for affixing onto the end of a hypospray.
“This, my young friend. This is the tinder that will fan those smoldering coals into blazing life,” the Orion told him. The woman stiffened slightly but made no sound. Daniel noticed her eyes following the ampoule. She ignored Grigor-Tel’s groping hand on her leg, the staring eyes of the Naussican’s guards, and her master’s Human guest. But the sight of the ampoule started her shivering slightly.
Daniel spoke carefully. “A drug?”
“Not precisely,” Grigor-Tel told him smugly. “A microbe. Ironically, it was the Vulcans themselves who gave us the key to unlock their secret. It was in the medical database aboard the colony ship. Did you know that Vulcans go into a mating season every seven of their years?”
“Yes, I knew that,” Daniel told him evenly. “They call it the Pon Farr.” The woman’s head jerked back to stare at him. Daniel thought he detected angry surprise, quickly masked.
Grigor-Tel nodded. “It seems that a Denobulan physician recently discovered a marsupial on some obscure planet that carries a certain microbe. Vulcans who are infected with this microbe are triggered into Pon Farr. And best of all, my young friend,” Grigor-Tel paused triumphantly, “Once the microbe is purged from their system they will fully recover in a single day. Since Pon Farr is a natural process for Vulcans, there is no long term damage to the slave and hence, no limit to the number and frequency of the applications. Natolya’s brothel is currently offering the services of two Vulcans -by special appointment only of course, and triple fees - and she cannot keep up with the demand.”
Daniel locked his jaws. He couldn’t, he absolutely could not puke all over Grigor-Tel’s shoes. He would be dead before he got halfway to the door. The young Human closed his eyes and took several deep breaths through his nose. Once he got his stomach settled a bit he opened his eyes to find his host watching him with interest.
“Are you all right?” Grigor-Tel asked him with a slight edge to his voice.
“Sure,” Daniel told him with false heartiness. “I am just intrigued. I don’t suppose you would consider letting me borrow her for a few hours?” He mentally crossed his fingers. If they could smuggle one of the girls out of here and make it past the perimeter pickets, it might buy them back their lives.
The Orion broke out in helpless laughter. He fell back against his cushions and held his gut as he laughed himself breathless. Finally he managed to gasp out, “Bold and opportunistic, like all your people. Small wonder that your race has come so far so fast. You truly do remind me of myself when I was your age, my young friend. But no, I must regretfully refuse your request. No one touches my new pet but myself. Yet I respect your unmitigated gall in asking!” He continued to chuckle and wiped tears of mirth from his eyes.
His words gave Daniel the opening he needed. “Well, in that case,” Daniel stood up, “since you mentioned my race, I suppose you are aware that when it comes to mating we are ...”
“Somewhat enthusiastic yourselves. Yes, I have heard of your reputation.” The Orion grinned. “The Vulcan database was full of references to Human sexual obsession, some of them actually rather amazing. If half of it is true, I must salute you.”
Daniel coughed into his hand in a self-deprecating manner. “Anyway. For some reason I find myself feeling stimulated.” Grigor-Tel chuckled. Daniel went on, “... and I’m hoping that if I can finish up with business in time I might be able to squeeze in a quick visit to Natolya’s myself. Not the Vulcans, of course, I don’t have time or money for that. But her usual girls are plenty good enough for me.”
“I understand,” Grigor-Tel waved a hand dismissively. “Forgive me, Daniel. I did not intend to frustrate you. I can only imagine how dangling such a tidbit in front of a starving man and then snatching it back from him must have felt. By all means, go. Your loading authorizations will be waiting for you at the docking port.”
Daniel glanced at the Vulcan one more time and caught her eye. He deliberately closed one eye for a moment, and then opened it again. Then he turned and walked out without looking back. Would she recognize a Human wink? Would she understand the significance of it? Never mind, he had other things to worry about.
Daniel managed to keep a poker face until he reached the promenade. Then he picked up his pace and broke into a trot. Snatching out his communicator, he barked, “Lock down! Lock down and light the fire! We have to get out of here!”
“What’s going on boy? What’s got you shivering so bad?”
“I’ll tell you when I get there,” Daniel said. “Just do it. We have to get out of here. Now.”
“Did you get the loading authorization?”
“Shit on the cargo! Money is useless to a corpse,” Daniel snapped. “Have Sehlra get us ready to go to warp as soon as we clear the system. Away from the Horn Nebula. Just do it. I will tell you everything as soon as I get there. Out.”
Daniel ran up the rising escalator ramp at full speed, ducked around the decorative statuary that cluttered the station’s observation deck, and pelted down the main passageway to docking port number 17.
Jenrali was waiting impatiently by the airlock when Daniel finished cycling through. “All right boy, talk.”
Daniel launched himself toward the control room in the 0.4 gee that they customarily maintained on the ship to save fuel. “Are we ready to leave?” he asked anxiously.
“We’re ready, but we’re not going anywhere until you tell me what this is about,” Jenrali snapped, out of patience. Sehlra stuck her head up through the access hatch leading down into engineering.
“He’s right, child. Calm down and tell us what’s going on.” Her wrinkled face, framed by snow-white hair, had always brought back vague memories of Daniel’s great-grandmother, especially in cases like this, where she was trying to be patient with him and failing.
Daniel turned to face both of them. “I know why that D’Kyr cruiser is out here, and why that Vulcan spy is on the station. The Orions captured a Vulcan colony ship. They are trading the women as concubines and prostitutes. Grigor-Tel showed me one that he bought for his personal use,” he told them breathlessly.
“REKLOQ!” Jenrali spat out a curse with a disgusted expression on his face, dove for the helm and started initiating the docking separation sequence. Sehlra simply let go of the rungs of the access ladder and let the 0.4 gee carry her back down two levels to the engineering room. Daniel got busy on navigation.
The ship shuddered and bumped; then they were free. Jenrali turned the bow away from the station and applied the thrusters at full force. As the Lerteiran pulled clear of the station’s deflector shields Daniel activated the long range scanners.
“Uh-oh,” he said ominously. Jenrali turned his head.
“What does that mean, boy? You only make that noise when there’s bad news.”
“Incoming,” Daniel intoned in a dull monotone. “From the direction of the Horn Nebula. Closing on the station at warp 6.6. ETA 14 minutes.”
“Too far to tell yet. But what else out here can do 6.6?”
“Sehlra!” Jenrali turned to yell down the hatch. “Prepare for warp 4!”
“In that case,” the answer came echoing back up the ladder, “prepare for core breach. I keep telling you Jenrali, you are not in the Guard anymore, and this is not an iceworm-begotten battleship. Warp 3.5 is the best we can do unless you want to risk becoming a new star!”
“Would you rather face Vulcan justice?” Jenrali snarled back with his eyes on the controls again.
A pause. “Good point. I will see what I can do.”
“We didn’t actually break any Vulcan laws,” Daniel pointed out hopefully. “Maybe we could talk our way out of this.”
“Maybe you could,” Jenrali grunted. “They might just ship you back home and let your own people deal with you. But Sehlra and I are finished if they catch us. Doesn’t matter what we did or didn’t do. We are Andorian. For the Vulcans, that’s enough crime to warrant summary execution without trial.”
Daniel’s face tightened and he turned back to the navigation console. A moment later Sehlra’s voice came echoing up the stairwell, “Ready down here.” Jenrali glanced over to Daniel and nodded. Both men grabbed their consoles and braced themselves, and then Jenrali activated the warp drive. The battered old ship split the fabric of space-time and fell into subspace like a dropped rock. She hit bottom hard. She always did.
Daniel picked himself up off the deck and crawled back into his seat. “Still closing at warp 6.6. Adjusted ETA to the station now six minutes.” He listened to the earphone he wore. “The station is demanding identification. They are not getting a response.”
“How astonishing,” Jenrali muttered. “Warp 1.5. Warp 2. Now warp 2.3, warp 2.6, warp 2.8, warp 3.” The ship continued to accelerate and the howl from the engine continued to sound more and more erratic. The deck plates were vibrating hard enough to shake Daniel’s teeth together.
An alarm started flashing on Daniel’s board. “Oh shit! A second contact. Bearing 189 mark 3x by 36 mark 4.7y. Closing at warp 5. On us.”
“Secure for evasive maneuvering,” Jenrali snapped. Daniel locked his legs around the pedestal of his chair and grabbed the console with one hand. With the other hand he continued to operate his controls as best he could.
Jenrali threw the ship into a series of spiraling turns that overpowered the inertial dampers. Daniel felt a giant hand reach down and yank him upwards, then twist him in two directions at once, then slam him back down in the chair. Hard. “Oof!” He breathed hard for a moment and then reported, “Still right on our tail. Closing fast.”
Jenrali was steadily growling something under his breath. Daniel did not bother to ask what it was. He was pretty sure that he didn’t want to know, anyway. An odd reading on his board caught Daniel’s attention and he leaned forward for a closer look.
“I think they may be charging weapons.”
Daniel transferred the data feed to the main viewscreen, where a diagram of the local star field was replaced by a composite picture of the scanning data. In the center of the screen, a computer generated real time reproduction of the pursuing ship took form. The ring shaped nacelle was distinctively Vulcan. A quick flicker of light formed and flashed at the front of the image.
A war god’s hammer smashed into the side of Lerteiran, throwing Jenrali across the bridge and slamming Daniel’s face down onto the console. He painfully pushed himself back up to a sitting position. His nose was pounded completely flat, and both lips were split open and pouring blood.
“Yeah,” he said, breathing strictly through his mouth, “I’m pretty sure they were charging weapons.”
With a gut churning lurch, Lerteiran twisted herself and everyone aboard her inside out and popped back into normal space. Or at least that was what it felt like to Daniel.
“Starboard nacelle is dead,” Sehlra announced up the access hatch. “We are leaking plasma and half the control circuits are shot.”
“How long can we continue on impulse?” Jenrali pushed himself painfully back to his feet.
“Until we melt down. About five minutes. We are also leaking coolant. I’m sorry boys. We are dead in the pack ice.” Her voice sounded weary and defeated.
Daniel sat up straight. “Ready weapons?” he asked nasally, sniffing as he tried to staunch his nosebleed with his sleeve.
Jenrali snorted and looked at him. “You would, wouldn’t you boy? You really would load weapons and go out fighting.” A shadow passed over his face. “There was a day when I would have, too.” He shook his head tiredly. “There is no point in it. No need for you to die. Even if they execute us, you can probably live.”
“If they kill you two and leave me alive, they will regret it,” Daniel vowed, his bloody teeth bared in a grimace. Jenrali looked at him and slowly began to smile.
The ship jerked suddenly, and then settled into a steady trembling as a tractor beam took hold. A harsh crackle of static came through the communication system, then a flat voice ordered, “Attention occupants of the Andorian vessel. You are being taken into custody by the Vulcan government. If you do not resist, you will not be harmed. If you resist, you will be killed without mercy. Stand by to be boarded.”
The intoxicating strains of Orion dance music played within the dim and fragrant antechamber. On a stage against one wall, barely dressed emerald-skinned females writhed to the beat, adding to the ambience of the popular establishment known only by the name of the madam who’d founded it over a hundred standard years before... Natolya’s. Although its namesake was long deceased, the victim of an over zealous creditor, the station’s famous tourist attraction was still a popular destination in Syndicate space for weary space travelers desiring the most enjoyable evening money could buy. The middle-aged Orion female whose word was law within the establishment’s hallowed halls had once borne another name, but for the past 30 years she’d been Natolya in every way that mattered.
Business was brisk that evening, and her eyes roamed the reception hall. For a modest cover charge, prospective clients were allowed into the hall and treated to the very best in drink and finger food delicacies from throughout the quadrant. Further services, of course, incurred further charges.
Her girls and boys, some with control collars and some trustworthy enough to go without, stood on display, interacting politely with the guests. Physical contact was forbidden in the reception hall, but guests would inevitably break this rule. Natolya was more lenient with some than with others. There were impassive Naussican guards stationed against the walls who were charged with the task of stepping in if things got out of hand.
A few of the slaves on display wore elaborately designed gowns cut to display their assets, or well-tailored dress coats with ruffled shirts and form-fitting trousers—all with cleverly designed seams for easy removal. Others wore leather harnesses and spiked collars or filmy negligees that left very little to the imagination. Still others wore nothing at all. Natolya prided herself on providing something for almost every taste, which was the main reason why the noisy altercation occurring in the entrance hall came as a surprise. She walked toward it briskly, putting a professionally polite smile on her face.
“I want my money back!” the grizzled, scarred and very inebriated Andorian insisted loudly. “There’s no naked Vulcan here, and that’s what I came to see!” He wove on his feet and nearly fell. One of the Naussican bouncers stepped forward and grabbed him by the neck of his coverall.
“You had your fun, Andorian...but it’s time to go now,” he growled softly. The Andorian swung at him, but the Naussican just held him out at arm’s length, looking bored. Natolya sighed. The old drunk was a regular whenever business took him in-system. He usually paid the cover, drank a lot, ate a little, copped a feel, and left. She’d assumed he was either lacking sufficient funds or too miserly to pay for more. She’d left him alone until now because she knew he’d make a scene if asked to leave, and he was harmless enough. His mouth was about to get them all into serious trouble, though. How had he heard about the Vulcans?
“Kethat,” Natolya purred, smiling indulgently and slipping her arm around the Andorian’s waist, half embracing and half supporting him, “Come with me, my dear!” she said, leading him toward the door to her office in the rear of the room.
The Andorian blinked blearily up at her, and then smiled, his eyes glassing over even more as her pheromones began to do their work on his higher cortical functions. Fortunately, he was drunk enough not to mind the fact that she was easily thirty years older than the slaves on display.
“Mistress Natolya!” he slurred happily. “You’re here!” His head bobbled a bit as he turned a disapproving glance toward the impassive Naussican behind them. “Tell this spoiler of deserved rewards that I should get my money back unless I get to see a naked Vmmmphum...” Natolya placed long emerald fingers over his lips, muffling the rest of his drunken demands.
“I’m certain we can work something out, Kethat,” she hastily interrupted, turning him away from the Naussican’s glower toward her destination. They were only a meter from the door when a quiet voice spoke from behind her.
“Are you Natolya, the property under Orion law of one Grigor-Tel?”
Natolya clenched her teeth. She detested being reminded of her legal status as a slave. “Who wants to know?” she growled, turning abruptly with the hapless Andorian hanging on her shoulder for dear life. The sight that met her eyes made her jaw drop and her heart skip a beat.
A slim male figure stood before her wearing a hooded cape over a nondescript grey coverall. He was physically unimpressive. His back was to the room, and he lifted both hands to raise the hood slightly from his face. Beneath the edges of the garment she could see straight brows angling upward and a set of pointed ears.
The Andorian’s eyes widened. “You’re a...!” he managed to exclaim before a lean, muscular hand gripped his shoulder at the base of his neck and he fell suddenly silent, collapsing limply into Natolya’s arms.
The Vulcan reached out and caught the drunken Andorian with ease while Natolya stood gaping at him. “Inside,” he ordered briskly, jerking his chin to indicate the office behind her. She looked over his shoulder at the reception hall. No one had taken notice of him, or if they had they evidently believed him to be a generous minded customer offering help with the Andorian who’d finally passed out from too much drink. The Vulcan shifted the Andorian to one arm with little apparent effort and pulled out a small phase pistol, pointing it at her while shielding it from prying eyes with his body.
“Inside,” he repeated flatly. His expression remained unchanged, but she didn’t let his mild manner fool her. She knew he’d shoot if she gave him away. There was no logical reason not to.
She backed up into the office, retreating to the back wall as he shut the door behind him and deposited the Andorian on the plush settee set opposite her desk. She inched her way toward the desk, trying to reach the alarm installed beneath it. The Vulcan turned to face her and matter-of-factly holstered his weapon.
“Before you set off any alarms, I suggest that you listen to what I have to say,” he began reasonably. “My name is Senek. I am an officer within the Vulcan Ministry of Intelligence.”
Natolya froze. This was considerably more serious than she’d originally thought. When Grigor-Tel had insisted she train his new slaves in the arts of pleasure, he’d told her that there was no way the slaves could be traced to her through official Vulcan channels. He was obviously as stupid as he looked. She’d always suspected that to be the case.
“There are two Vulcan battle cruisers scheduled to arrive in this system within the hour,” continued Senek. “Your master has committed crimes against Vulcan for which he and this entire outpost must answer. You should know that as the property of an enemy of the Vulcan people, you will not be held responsible for past actions. These are legally the responsibility of your owner.”
Natolya smiled wryly despite herself. At least there was one benefit to being property. The Vulcan raised a brow.
“Once the Security Directorate takes possession of this outpost, however, Vulcan law takes precedence and you will no longer be a slave,” he went on. “At that time, any and all actions which you undertake in opposition to a recognized agent of the Vulcan High Council will be considered crimes worthy of prosecution and appropriate punishment. Do you intend to cooperate, or must I restrain you to prevent such actions?” He regarded her dispassionately, as if her answer made little difference to him in the greater scheme of things.
Natolya eyed him speculatively. She’d never been so close to a Vulcan male. Rumor had it that they were immune to the pheromones she’d used to manipulate the males around her for so many years. It might be interesting to see if the rumors were true. She smiled.
“Please have a seat...,” she offered, indicating an overstuffed velvet covered chair beside the settee where the Andorian lay snoring. Her eyes widened in mock innocence as she batted her lashes, “...Officer Senek, is it?” The Vulcan just gave her a tolerant look and remained standing. She continued to smile invitingly. “It’s obvious that you have the upper hand here, and I yield to you gladly,” she told him soothingly. “Grigor-Tel has been so cruel to me. I’m nothing but a humble slave... yours to command.” She began walking around the edge of the desk, and was mildly disappointed when the Vulcan seemed indifferent to her approach. She insinuated herself into his personal space, running a hand slowly along his arm and moving forward until her still lush body was only centimeters from his, maintaining smoldering eye contact the entire time.
“I see,” he responded ironically, ignoring her hand on his arm. “In that case, lead me to where the Vulcan captives are being held. I have orders to transport them to my ship as soon as it arrives.”
She stroked his arm briefly, looking longingly into his eyes. He stared her down impassively until she finally gave up, sighing in resignation as she led the way toward the back of her office.
Oh, well. It was worth a try, she thought wryly as she laid her hand against a section of wall that appeared no different than any other.
An invisible seam split open and revealed a doorway sized panel, which sank back a few centimeters before sliding aside. Natolya led the way into a metal walled alcove where the bottom of a spiraling utilitarian staircase was anchored.
Senek made a small gesture for her to go ahead. Natolya inclined her head as graciously as if she were being handed onto a yacht, and began climbing the metal steps. Despite her soft soled slippers, the Orion woman's footsteps echoed up and down the stairwell. Senek prepared himself for the near certainty of attack at some point during the ascent. But to his surprise, they arrived at the second level corridor unscathed.
Natolya offered, “This is my observation run. From here I can keep an eye on things, and make sure that my boys and girls are not being mistreated.” She gave him a look obviously intended to convey sincerity. “I have to take care of them, you know. We are all the helpless property of Grigor-Tel. But since I am responsible for them, I must make sure that no one abuses them.”
“Indeed,” Senek said frostily. “Helpless property? Hardly, Madam. Property by the letter of the law perhaps. But far from helpless. And you do not consider life as a slave to be abuse?” He could not control a tiny, almost imperceptible jerk of his chin. Natolya jumped. “No matter, lead me to the Vulcan women.”
She eyed him warily and moved ahead down the hallway, past several closed observation ports, until she finally stopped in front of an access hatch that appeared to be unusually well secured. “This is V'Sille's room. The other girl, T'Mara, is in the next room.”
Senek's face tightened. “Is anyone in there with them?”
“I don't know.”
“Open the observation port,” he ordered.
Natolya reached for it hesitantly, glancing over at Senek with a worried expression. “Now,” he said flatly. She swallowed and slid the cover aside, peeking through the one way mirror.
Her expression told Senek the answer before she even spoke. “She is entertaining a client.” She flinched at the expression on his face.
“Speak plainly,” he instructed her through his teeth. “You mean that she is in the process of being raped.”
Natolya stood paralyzed, obviously unable to come up with a response to his statement.
“Has the microbe been administered to her yet?” Senek asked urgently. Natolya's eyes widened in realization. Senek could see the fear in them. She had evidently not comprehended the extent of his knowledge until that moment.
“I don't think so. Not yet. He was holding the hypo when I looked,” she confessed.
Senek moved like a panther. His hand flashed across the distance between them and squeezed her shoulder, not bothering to catch her as she fell. The lock securing the access hatch was primitive and easily broken by a Vulcan kick. He yanked the hatch aside and lunged into the room just as the client, a leering young Andorian, finished disrobing and turned toward V'Sille with the hypospray in his hand.
Had the rapist been any race but Andorian, Senek might have let him live. The Vulcan operative would have denied it with his last breath, but fifty years of clandestine warfare – fifty years of watching his closest friends and comrades die, either in battle or under slow torture at the hands of the blueskins - had seriously damaged Senek's ability to maintain a dispassionate viewpoint about some things.
As it was, he did not hesitate. A fraction of a second was required to flick his thumb over the selector switch on his sidearm. A quick squeeze of the trigger and it was done. He turned to V'Sille and lowered the weapon. Keeping his eyes on her face, Senek raised his left hand in greeting and carefully said, “Peace and long life to you, Lady V'Sille. I am Senek, Son of K'Ton, an operative of the Intelligence Directorate. I have come to take you home.”
Her face rippled for several seconds. Then a final wave of emotions seemed to flow over it, leaving glacial calm behind. She raised her hand and returned, “Live long and prosper, Senek. It is agreeable to see you. May I suggest that we proceed to the adjacent room and recover my colleague, T'Mara?”
“A logical suggestion, Lady V'Sille. If I may make a suggestion, I note that the Andorian was approximately of the same size as yourself. Perhaps his clothing might be more appropriate than the costume provided by this establishment?” V’Sille nodded in agreement, as outwardly unperturbed now as if she’d been fully dressed. He kept his eyes on hers as he continued. “I left Natolya unconscious in the corridor. If you are willing to stand guard over her it would be helpful.”
V'Sille's face retained its immobility, but her eyes began to glow. “I will be most willing to do so, Agent Senek. I will find that task most agreeable indeed.”
Senek ducked back through the hatch to give V'Sille a chance to dress with a trace of dignity. Natolya was still out cold, to his satisfaction. As he straightened from checking the Orion, Senek saw to his surprise that V'Sille had merely slid into the Andorian's coveralls and grabbed the rest, heading through the hatch without bothering to fasten anything.
“It would be illogical to delay proceeding to T'Mara's room in a belated attempt to preserve my modesty,” she explained dryly. Senek nodded in matter-of-fact approval and moved off down the hallway as she slid the hatch closed.
Senek reached the next observation port and glanced back at the two women. Natolya lay where she had fallen. V'Sille had taken a position facing her, squatting near her head and holding the knife that Senek provided. He noted that V'Sille was running the blade thoughtfully back and forth between her fingers.
Senek slid the port aside, secretly dreading what he might see. He had already come to terms with the possibility that he might be forced to allow a rape in progress to proceed to completion. Given the realities of Vulcan biology, if one of the women had already been injected and gone into plak tau then he would have no choice. She would have to mate or die. Senek might find himself forced to leave one of the women where she was. Given the time constraints he was working under, he simply was not in a position to wait helplessly until her “client” had finished with her before he could move in. The thought sickened him.
Senek looked through the port and a thousand years of peaceful conditioning fell away. His lips curled in a snarl.
The Vulcan warrior backed off and swung his leg around in a powerful kick that tore the latch off its mounting and sent it ringing down the hallway. He yanked the hatch back hard enough that it bounced in its track, but by the time the hatch had slid back to the half closed point, he was already through.
The sound of the opening hatch distracted T’Mara’s attacker. The Orion twisted his head to gape at a hooded figure diving into the room, leaving T'Mara free to launch a series of side kicks to his shin. The sudden pain, combined with the appearance of an enemy, loosened his grip enough for her to jam an elbow back into his gut and twist free.
“Guards!” the Orion bellowed and lunged at the new arrival with his big hands outstretched to grab and tear. The intruder slid aside with contemptuous ease, grabbing one wrist in passing and twisting it neatly around. He held the Orion's wrist as the fat man lumbered past, pivoting smoothly on one heel in the process. A meticulously precise chop with his free hand left the huge Orion screaming with a shattered elbow.
T'Mara fell back with wide eyes, watching both men in shock until the falling hood revealed a Vulcan’s features. That's when a bolt of something akin to ecstasy shot though her entire body.
When Natolya had informed T'Mara that morning that she would be required to entertain one of Grigor-Tel's most important allies, Haland-Kor, who was also known among the slaves as one of the most brutally perverted of all Natolya's customers, she had seriously considered suicide. Of the last five slaves used by Haland-Kor, two had later died from his abuse, and one had fallen into madness and eventually been put down like a sick animal. The remaining two were sold as mine workers, since they were ruined as pleasure slaves. Natolya had told her that Grigor-Tel had charged Haland-Kor the price of a small moon for a night with one of his prize Vulcans. For some reason, T’Mara had not found the news particularly comforting.
As the Vulcan and Haland-Kor circled each other, the Orion evidently having belatedly realized that this enemy wasn't intimidated by his size, T'Mara slid around behind the would-be rapist and grabbed for the hilt of his jewel encumbered belt knife. The blade was wrought from gold pressed latinum, useless for cutting, but the triangular shape would still serve for a stab if she could manage to hit a soft spot. T'Mara let her gaze rake over the Orion's back, digging through unpleasant memories to come up with the most vulnerable point.
The Orion suddenly swirled and dashed for the doorway. T’Mara’s Vulcan rescuer leaped in pursuit, apparently trying to stop him from summoning the guards outside. T'Mara, temporarily forgotten by both men, lunged across the room. Haland-Kor swung his good arm to smack her aside like an annoying bug. T'Mara, determined to sting anyway, ducked under his arm and came up hard, burying the Orion's own dagger to the hilt in his belly and twisting it in a wide circle before ripping it back out again. It was a very satisfying experience.
Haland-Kor's running stride faltered and broke into a stagger. He fell against the door and managed to pound his fist one time before sagging to the floor, dying.
Once had been enough. The door opened almost instantly, revealing the inquiring face of a Naussican guard. Senek let out his breath. There was no avoiding it now. The Andorian and the Orion had both deserved death by Vulcan law. Rape was a capital crime under the laws of his people, and execution was the prescribed penalty from time immemorial. Being caught in the attack of attempting rape was just as bad as far as Vulcan law was concerned. If he and T'Mara had not killed them, a Vulcan executioner would have.
The Naussican guards were a different matter. Unfortunately, he could not afford to leave any witnesses. The needs of the many outweighed the needs of the few. If this guard was allowed to survive and give warning, it would ultimately cause the unnecessary deaths of many others, both on this station and perhaps even aboard the two Vulcan ships approaching. Regrettably, this guard would have to die also. This was the part of his job that he found the most distasteful.
The entire line of reasoning flickered through Senek's mind with the speed of a static electric spark. Before the Naussican's hand could do more than grab the hilt of his sword, Senek had him by the throat and was dragging him inside. Before the door finished closing, T'Mara had delivered an enthusiastically lethal blow with the edge of her hand to the back of the guard's neck.
“There is a second guard,” she informed Senek. “He will have seen.” Senek nodded, with a resigned expression. He drew his sidearm and moved to the doorway in a low crouch. As the door opened, Senek leaned around, just in time to see the guard running toward him with sword drawn. He fired a quick burst into the Naussican's skull and dropped him like a rock. It seemed that probability had decided to favor them for once, and the corridor was otherwise empty. The pair of them carried the second guard quickly into T'Mara's room.
The Vulcan woman swiftly set about stripping the bodies of weapons and useable clothing. “I am T'Mara, daughter of N'Sarel,” she said briskly, shooting Senek a look.
“I am Senek, Son of K'Ton,” he replied, striving to regain his aplomb while admiring her ability to do the same. “V'Sille is waiting in the observation hallway and guarding Natolya, who is unconscious.”
“Excellent,” T'Mara said with satisfaction. “I deduce that you are an operative of some type?”
“Yes,” Senek lifted an eyebrow. “Intelligence. I am the advance agent for a rescue task force that is en route to this station.”
A cloud passed over T'Mara's face. “Many of our people have already been shipped deeper into the Syndicate. There are only three of us left here at Natolya's, V'Sille and I, and one young boy who is used for menial maintenance work. I do not know how many others remain on the station elsewhere.”
Senek's jaw tightened. “That is unfortunate. However, we can at least recover the individuals who are here and question the Orions regarding the fate of the others. Do you believe that the boy you mentioned is in any immediate danger?”
T'Mara considered. “Doubtful. He is considered too young to be useful as a...” she paused, then continued with her teeth locked, “pleasure slave. I believe he merely works doing laundry, mopping, and other such tasks. It is unlikely that he will be molested.”
Senek nodded. “In that case, I suggest that we proceed to Natolya's office. I have some things to finish before the attack begins.”
T'Mara stood up and handed him one of the Naussican swords, belting the other one on herself. Naussicans who acted as personal bodyguards on the station carried heavy armaments of great sophistication. Guards who came into direct contact with slaves, however, did not carry guns, for the same reason that prison guards did not carry guns. Even with the pain collars it was barely possible that a rogue slave might be able to obtain a gun and do some random damage before he or she was taken down, but it was unlikely to the point of impossibilty that any slave, shaking with agony, would be able to accomplish much with a heavy sword.
Senek led the way into the back hallway, motioning to T'Mara to join the other two while he closed the hatch. “Before we do anything else,” he said, “allow me to deactivate those collars.” They stood with poorly concealed eagerness as he applied his scanner to the left side of each collar and punched in the pre-prepared code to activate the virus. This virus, carefully prepared by the best programmers in the Vulcan Security Directorate, was designed to penetrate the root operating system of the collars and destroy it beyond any possibility of repair. When it completed its work, the micro-fibers would still be embedded in the women's nervous systems, but they would simply be dead weight, completely inert and harmless.
Senek explained the process as the program ran and then picked up Natolya. “Let us proceed to Natolya's office,” he said. “I believe her personal terminal might provide some useful data. And I left something unfinished on her couch.”
Raijiin stood at the head of the reception line, tastefully resplendent in a metallic sky-blue ball gown with a neckline plunging down so far fore and aft that adhesives were an indispensable accessory. She wore no collar. That privilege had recently been granted to her in exchange for services rendered, a much more equitable arrangement than she had ever enjoyed under the thumbs of her previous controllers, the Reptillian Xindi. They’d never fully appreciated her usefulness, and had sold her to the highest bidder once her sympathy for the Human upstarts had made her loyalty suspect. Raijiin felt fortunate that she’d ended up here. The place had definite possibilities for someone of her talents. In her own way, she was as capable of manipulating the male mind as any Orion female, and Natolya wouldn’t be in charge forever.
Natolya had thus far been very appreciative of her skills. Fortunately, the Orion merchant whose pillow talk and surface thoughts had resulted in his financial ruin would never know the source of the information which had been provided to his competitor, Grigor-Tel. Natolya had of course claimed full credit with their master, and so Raijiin’s usefulness remained the sole property of her immediate supervisor, also a slave but certainly no fool.
She glanced again with a puzzled look at the door to Natolya’s office, still closed unexpectedly during their most busy hour of the day. It was unlike her employer to leave the reception area unattended. The two men who’d accompanied her into her office had appeared neither important enough nor attractive enough to consume this much of her time. On the other hand, there had been two of them, and Natolya was known for her exotic tastes.
Not one of the team of Naussican bouncers seemed the least concerned, and they were usually very protective of their employer since she controlled the credits which filled their pockets. Raijiin trusted Naussicans more than some other species because she understood them completely. They could always be relied upon to act with purely mercenary motivation. She had the Naussican who’d bought her from the Xindi to thank for her current opportunity. He’d had no clue about her capabilities, otherwise he probably would have tripled her price when he sold her with the other slaves he’d collected.
Business was booming, as was usual for this time of the evening, with a steady flow of customers paired with one or more slaves climbing up the staircase arm in arm, hand in hand, or connected by leashes and cords of various materials, and an equally steady flow of sleepy-eyed and smiling clients coming down with their slaves on the opposite stair to settle with the cashier. The slaves then took their places at the end of the reception line to start the process all over again. It was a well-honed system, and made millions of credits per year for Grigor-Tel and his corporation. The income trickled down to the rest of them only through Natolya and their so-called “spending allowances”—another good reason to stay in her good graces.
“How’d a scrawny thing like you end up a sex slave? I’d break you trying to ride you,” remarked a chubby but very well-dressed Tellurian who’d ambled up to inspect the lineup. He was grinning widely, and his eyes sparkled with interest in his piggish face as he leered. Raijiin’s attention was diverted back to work. She returned his leer with a speculative glance, inspecting him from head to foot, and then returned his typically Tellurian insult with one of her own.
“I don’t break that easily, you oversexed son of a Slime Devil,” she replied disdainfully. “You’re not nearly enough male to satisfy me, though. If I were you, I’d try someone else.”
His leer was transformed into a grin of pure delight, and he extended a hand, choosing her services with every evidence of pleased anticipation. Raijiin sighed, took his hand, and allowed herself to be towed up the staircase at a near-run. She really needed to learn not to insult the Tellurians so convincingly.
Commander T’Lar turned her head and asked, “Status, Sub-Commander?”
“Weapons charged, shields at full strength, hull plating at optimum.”
She pressed a button. “Engineering, report.”
“All systems ready for battle, Commander.”
Aside from her own voice and the Chief engineer’s response, the bridge was restfully quiet. No one spoke, because no one had anything to say. Everyone knew their jobs and stayed busy doing them. Had it not been illogical, T’Lar might have indulged in a brief burst of pride. The Sehlat continued to close on the station at full speed. “Helm, report ETA until weapon’s range.”
The Centurion checked his instruments. “We will be within torpedo range in 6.3 minutes. Disruptor range in 11.5 minutes.”
“Acknowledged,” T’Lar glanced over her shoulder. “Sub-Commander Verlen, do you have further scan data yet?”
“Affirmative, Commander. Long range sensors have detected the presence of archaic plasma cannons, and localized energy sources indicate a high probability of photon torpedo emplacements. Tactical maneuvering may be required.”
“Direct sensor data to helm control,” she ordered.
“Commander,” Sub-Centurion L’Mira at Communications spoke up. “Incoming from the Le'Matya. They report the Andorian trader has been apprehended. They were able to disable the ship without loss of life.” She paused, listening, and then added, “They also report the presence of a Human aboard.”
T’Lar responded sharply, “Confirm that. The presence of a Human is highly illogical in this situation.”
“Humans,” Sub-Commander Verlen murmured in the background, “have displayed a remarkably unsettling tendency of late to appear at the most inopportune moments.”
L’Mira finished speaking into her microphone and turned around. “Confirmed, Commander. The Le'Matya reports two Andorians and one Human. The Human is demanding his Right to Counsel as specified under the Treaty of Vulcan-Terran Alliance.”
“Tell them to provide him with every consideration to which he is entitled by law,” she ordered grimly, “and nothing more. Put the Andorians into the brig for later interrogation. Have Le'Matya move to the opposite side of the station and stand by for the attack order.”
“Acknowledged.” The Comm officer turned back to her station and got busy.
“Verlen,” she asked, dropping into informal mode without thinking, “any bio-signs yet?”
Her second-in-command forbore to point out his Commander’s breach of etiquette. They had served together for too many years for him to hold it against her. Besides, she had a personal stake in this mission. Her family had been aboard the Plains of Gol when it disappeared.
“No, Commander,” he answered. “At this range I cannot distinguish individual readings. As soon as we are able to determine the presence of Vulcan life signs, I will make it a priority to notify you.”
“Acknowledged.” She settled back and forced herself to concentrate on controlling her breathing and centering herself. For her crew’s sake, she must be fully in control. The next few minutes would be critical.
Grigor-Tel cursed and slapped an open hand against the wall. He stalked over to the view screen, glaring at the three glowing dots. Two of them were green, the third was blue. As he watched, the blue dot went dark.
“Lerteiran is hit,” Sirlea reported intently from the weapons console. “Engines crippled. They are dead.”
“Or worse,” Grigor-Tel muttered. He shook his head, honestly regretful for just an instant. He shoved it away. He had more important things to do than worry about someone else. “Pass the order to all fire control stations - ready target locks with the plasma cannons. As soon as the Vulcans come within range, commence firing at will. But hold the torpedoes in reserve. We are going to need them badly before this is over, and at long range those D’Kyr are too quick. They will have too much room to dodge.”
“Where did that second cruiser come from, anyway?” Sirlea muttered. “There was no sign of it. Then suddenly, there it was.”
“An old trick,” Grigor-Tel told her wearily. “I have used it myself, many times in my youth. This close, the nebula throws off a tangled snarl of radiation of all types. Anything--a rock, an asteroid, even a small cloud of dust--reflects and refracts it in random patterns. A careful engineer can manipulate his shields to emit random noise. It looks superficially like a reflection of cosmic rays and microwaves hitting an asteroid. Easy to spot if you know what you are looking for. But we were not looking. Fools!”
He fidgeted nervously. It had been far too long since he last stood to battle. He was not a coward by any means. No coward in the Syndicate survived to adulthood. But he had lost his taste for bloodshed long ago. Wine, women, good music, fine food—these were what he craved now, not the excitement of facing an enemy that lusted for his blood. Especially an enemy that was as cold and merciless as a machine. He shuddered, remembering some of the stories he had heard about Vulcan atrocities, examples they had made of other people who had dared to lay hands on their women and children. If those cruisers broke through the station’s defenses, it might be better to shoot himself before they had a chance to take him.
“I don’t care about your reason for being here!” Daniel stood up and pounded his fist on the table, playing the part of an out-of-control Human to the hilt, “You had no right to fire on my ship!”
The Vulcan officer across the table from him was imperturbable. “You have been taken into protective custody. This area is expected to become dangerous very soon.”
“Protective Custody!” Daniel screeched, hoping he wasn’t piling it on too thick. “The only thing we need protection from is you, our so called allies! Damned if I don’t think that with allies like you, a man has no possible use for an enemy. All we were doing was trying to leave.”
“Why were you leaving?” the Vulcan pounced, with an ‘aha’ gleam in his eyes. “Your cargo hold was empty. A freighter does not usually make a habit of traveling without a cargo, is this not correct?”
“Brilliant!” Daniel threw up his hands and spun around to address the ceiling. “Give the man a cookie. No wonder Vulcans have such a reputation for keen insight and clear logic.” He spun back around and put both fists on the table, leaning over to look his interrogator in the eye. The best defense was a strong offense, after all. He sure wasn’t likely to make things any worse than they already were.
“We left because we saw an unidentified craft closing on the station at high warp. This being the Orion Syndicate, an unidentified craft closing at high warp usually means murder, mayhem, and massive destruction. So we decided to run like hell to get out of the firing zone.” He straightened up and paced over to the far end of the meeting room.
“I must ask you again, why were you aboard an Andorian ship?”
Daniel punched the wall. It made a satisfying noise, but the pain in his knuckles was not worth it. He sagged and rested his head against the wall, shaking it back and forth slowly against the cool metal. It actually felt good against his poor bruised nose.
“I. Will. Say. It. Again.” he bit out the words one at a time with his forehead pressed to the wall. “I am part owner of the Lerteiran.
“And I will respond again,” the Vulcan officer said, “that there is no logical reason for a Human to own an interest in an Andorian ship operating inside the Orion Syndicate.”
“I thought you were supposed to have been assigned as my counsel,” Daniel growled at him, rounding on him in his anger. “Instead, you act like a prosecutor. If you are not interested in helping me, will you at least arrange for me to see my business associates so that I can confirm for myself that they are being treated well?”
“I am acting as your counsel,” the Vulcan officer, who had never bothered to introduce himself, replied, “But I can accomplish nothing unless you are honest with me-”
“DAMN YOU!” Daniel didn’t have to fake it this time. “And damn your sanctimonious hypocrisy!”
He stomped over with fire in his eye, looking pissed enough that the Vulcan stood up, just in case. Daniel got in his face and unloaded.
“You come here and open fire on my ship for no reason, attacking us without cause. You kidnap me and my business partners, hold us prisoner without trial and without charging us with any crime, not bothering to acknowledge that we are not even in Vulcan territory. Now you dare to act like I am the one doing something wrong! Oh, the news services back on Earth are going to LOVE this one! Considering that Xindi bullshit, when you bailed out on us while we were under attack, not to mention the way you Vulcans seem to enjoy bombing other race’s embassies. Something like this is just going to make the news media’s day!”
“Threats are illogical, Mr. Johansen. Neither are they constructive nor particularly safe,” the Vulcan warned him tightly.
Daniel snorted. “Surely you aren’t dumb enough to think that you can keep this secret? No doubt there are a dozen small ships surrounding this area, watching and monitoring what’s happening right now. This is the Syndicate , you idiot. Information is more valuable than latinum here. By tomorrow a full report on everything that happened here will be circulating. In ten days it will be in the Klingon council chambers, and the Romulans will have a copy in fifteen. It might take twenty for it to reach Andoria, but it will get there. And it will include names. Including ours.”
“So you admit that the Andorian High Command would recognize your name?”
Daniel closed his eyes in actual pain. “The only way to insert a new idea into a Vulcan is to use anti-matter. That’s a proven fact,” He heaved a deep sigh.
“For the last time,” he spoke with insultingly exaggerated patience. “I am part owner of the ship that you pirated. We are free traders, nothing more or less. We came here with a hold full of Andorian ale, and intended to take on a load of grav plates with a contract to deliver them to Alembra. When we discovered that your pirate ship,” Daniel noted with satisfaction the tiny flare of the Vulcan’s nostrils, “was approaching the station at attack speed, we decided that our hides were worth more to us than money. Unfortunately, we did not anticipate that you would have another ship to assist you in your criminal attacks. We were ambushed without warning, without cause, and without being given the option of surrender. That is the entire story, just as I plan to report it when I get back to Earth. And if either of my partners is harmed, I intend to report it to the Andorian embassy as well.”
His companion eyed him silently for a moment longer and then pressed a button on the wall. The door opened and two Vulcan crewmen wearing sidearms walked in. “If you decide to cooperate later, my name is Sub-Centurion Melek.”
“Your name is going to be Witness For The Defendant, once I file my lawsuit,” Daniel snarled and marched out between the guards.
Senek removed the data disk from the computer in Natolya’s office and pocketed it. The access codes on it would undoubtedly be very useful. He was satisfied thus far with his decision to use her as an information source. Despite the letter of Orion law, Vulcan xenoanthropologists had long been aware of the most unusual control Orion female “slaves” seemed to have over their masters. His assumption that Natolya would have Grigor-Tel’s personal access codes on hand had proved to be correct. He rose from the over-stuffed chair behind the desk, checked the bindings that held Natolya in her seat and nodded approvingly. The gag was efficient, preventing her from making a sound but doing nothing to restrict her breathing. She should be perfectly safe here until the station had been secured.
Especially with the two guards that would be standing over her.
Neither T’Mara nor V’Sille appeared to be physically in optimum condition. Senek had expressed concern, but both women assured him they were fully capable of caring for themselves. He remained dubious. Neither appeared to have received adequate nutrition for quite some time, and he detected the unmistakable symptoms of exhaustion. But there were things that he urgently needed to do prior to the attack. If they were capable of managing for themselves it would remove a heavy burden of responsibility from his shoulders.
Senek had retrieved his knife, trading V'Sille the second Naussican sword in its place. He had originally thought of leaving the women his spare sidearm, but it turned out not to be necessary. Natolya’s office contained a hidden gun cabinet from which all three Vulcans were able to help themselves. Senek was gratified to discover a selection of sonic grenades in the cabinet, which would simplify his task enormously.
The drunken Andorian was still snoring peacefully on the settee, smiling and stinking. Senek firmly suppressed a sigh and swung him over one shoulder, freezing his facial muscles to prevent a grimace of disgust. He turned to deliver final instructions to his charges.
“When the cruisers arrive, they will of course be required to disable the station’s defenses before they can retrieve you. Remain here until the attack ceases. Then activate the beacon, even if I have not yet returned.”
He demonstrated how to activate the signal transmitter and handed it to V’Sille. “If necessary, do not hesitate to use the threat of harm to Natolya as a bargaining point in order to protect yourselves.” Natolya’s eyes widened above the gag.
V’Sille permitted the corners of her mouth to twitch. “Certainly, Agent Senek. That will present no difficulty. As soon as we begin removing portions of her anatomy, I am certain that she will use her pheromones to convince anyone attempting to invade the office to leave.” Natolya’s eyes began to show a rim of white around the iris. She made a muffled noise, which was ignored.
T’Mara walked around to stand in front of the bound Orion woman. “It should not be necessary to resort to crude mutilation,” she said. Her face betrayed not the faintest trace of expression. Natolya slumped in relief.
“Direct stimulation of the pain centers through the use of neuropressure techniques will be much more efficient, don’t you think V’Sille?” T’Mara asked in a conversational tone. “Not only will it avoid the mess involved with blood loss, but it permits the subject to remain alive indefinitely.”
Natolya stiffened and almost came up out of the chair. She started making the same noise again, while shaking her head back and forth rapidly. Senek decided to leave the ladies to deal with their former captor as they saw fit. He had work to do.
The Naussican guards showed only mild interest when he walked toward the door carrying the Andorian. Apparently this was not an uncommon sight in their experience. Senek kept his face pulled back as far as possible in his hood and muttered softly in Orion trade lingo, “Natolya asked me to take out the trash.” They laughed and waved him through.
The Vulcan walked rapidly down the main causeway toward the nearest piece of ornamental statuary, a remarkably unaesthetic rendering of a nude female Klingon in the act of spearing a targ, and dumped his burden unceremoniously at its base. He brushed at his shoulder, and then gave it up as futile. There would be no hope of removing the smell without laundering, if even that worked. Senek regretfully decided that this mission might end up costing him his favorite cloak. One more item to add to the tally he owed the Orions.
He took off down along the edge of the upper level, walking briskly. By his time sense, the attack was due to commence in 27 plus or minus 3 minutes. There was always a margin of error in these calculations when coordinating multiple objectives.
Agent Senek experienced a twinge of regret at being forced to leave the remaining Vulcan slaves in captivity for the present. A completely objective observer might even have gone so far as to suggest that rescuing V’Sille and T’Mara was an illogical waste of valuable time. Considering the crucial nature of his next mission objective, perhaps he should have left them where they were and proceeded directly to the control areas, but he had not been able to force himself to do it. Not after he learned what they were enduring. It was bad enough, what the other captives had been subjected to. But this... this was beyond intolerable.
Never would he have believed it possible that any provocation could drive him to willingly harm a female. Not for any reason. But when Natolya had taken him to those obscenely decorated cells, Senek had required every sliver of his self-discipline not to simply snap the Orion’s neck.
No. It had cost him some time but he did not begrudge it, regardless of what his superiors would say when they read his report.
He made it past the commercial area and well into the residential section before slowing down. This portion of the station was reserved for the Orions themselves and their few permanent guests. Few people were visible here. Most of the security systems were carefully hidden. Anyone caught dawdling was likely to be summarily intercepted and questioned if they were fortunate, disposed of if they were not.
Senek let his shoulders slump and started shuffling a bit, trying to look like a typical slave being sent on an errand. The effort reminded him of the earlier discomforting event involving that young Human. Logic informed him that the young man must have recognized him by his body movements. This conclusion opened more questions than it answered—the most important being, why was a Human here at all?
Senek considered the possibility that Starfleet might have launched a clandestine operation on the station without informing the new High Council. Considering the recent strain between the allies, it was quite possible. If the Orions were kidnapping Vulcans, it would not be incredible to discover that they were also dealing in Humans. If so, the young man he saw might be an agent for Starfleet, a private citizen bent on personal revenge, or a criminal in league with the Orions.
Or perhaps he was something else entirely. Humans were exasperatingly unpredictable. Senek’s nostrils flared. He had no time to waste on this, but he dared not ignore it either. His presence had been detected, and his attempt to lure his pursuer into a secluded area for ambush and interrogation had been unsuccessful. If the boy was working with the Orions he might be walking directly into an ambush right now. If not, the attack might result in killing an agent of an allied race, a race that had recently been of significant service to his people. Senek felt tired. Dealing with Humans often had that effect on him.
The map he had memorized was accurate. The hatch was at the end of the passage just where it was supposed to be. His standard issue scanner/translator made short work of the door code. Senek walked through with an air of being perfectly at ease, in compliance with standard procedure. One of the first principles of clandestine operation was the tendency of people to operate in accordance with ingrained habit and assumptions. If they saw someone in a familiar place, behaving in a familiar manner as if they belonged there, most people never bothered to investigate further. The new corridor was uncarpeted and lacked decoration, as befit a maintenance access. Senek called up a picture of the station layout from memory. He would need to penetrate five separate security points.
Senek considered himself fortunate that the station, like most Orion technology, was stolen. It had originated as a huge generational ship built by an unknown race centuries ago. Orions had discovered the relic and, using slave labor, had renovated it and installed a massive warp engine in an attempt to create a ‘dreadnought’ of sorts.
The effort was a failure. The improvised ship proved too unwieldy for actual battle. Although the oversized engine provided enough power to give it massive firepower and almost impenetrable screens, the ship itself wallowed awkwardly in flight. Originally designed for sublight velocities, the craft’s configuration caused its warp field to deform at even moderate speeds, and its sheer mass made it slow and clumsy in normal space. So the Orions came up with another use for it. Over the centuries the station had been expanded by the addition of new ships, welded on to provide additional living and working space. The result was an asymmetrical conglomeration of mismatched technology that needed constant tinkering to keep it running.
As a result, Senek could wander freely through the non-restricted areas of maintenance without anyone giving him a second glance. The place was far too crowded and too busy for anyone to notice a single extra figure. It was going to be different, of course, once he got past the first security station, but he was prepared, he hoped, for every eventuality.
He patted his breast pocket, touching the data disc he’d copied from Natolya’s office computer, complete with identifiers marking its origin and its supposed contents—confidential records from Natolya’s place of business too sensitive for open transmission and destined for Grigor-Tel’s eyes only. Then he pulled his hood closely over his ears and did his best slave shuffle directly toward the first checkpoint.
Leaving the Tellurian snoozing contentedly in the lavishly overdecorated bedchamber, Raijiin padded nude across the carpeted hallway into the break room reserved for staff It was a sanctuary where clients were not allowed. She lowered herself into the steaming water of the shared bathing pool with a sigh of relief.
Just for a few minutes.
She needed it after the Tellurian, who’d been just as rude and abrupt in his taking of pleasure as he was in his language. The water was fragrant and laced with non- irritating disinfectants, an additional luxury provided by Natolya to preserve the health of her “girls and boys”. It felt absolutely wonderful.
Raijiin couldn’t recall the last time she’d been treated so well by one of her owners. When she’d first arrived, she’d even suspected that Natolya might bear some affection for the young men and women she was charged with supervising. She’d assumed that it had something to do with the fact that, although Natolya had complete autonomy over her business, she was still technically just as much a slave as any one of her charges. After the arrival of the Vulcan women, though, Raijiin had come to doubt her assumptions and had decided that, like her Naussican guards, the Orion woman had purely mercenary motives.
Happy slaves were more productive, especially in a business in which feelings played such a large role. Raijiin herself was extremely adept at imitating feelings, but she’d long since stopped associating both the physical acts she performed at work and the interactions she had with her owners with any personal emotion. Not all of the younger slaves had made that transition, however. For them, being well treated, well-fed, and apparently cherished by someone made Natolya’s a home to them—the only place in their short and brutal lives where they actually felt loved. This, of course, was a wonderful thing for a youngster who’d been sold to the highest bidder. It was also very good for business. Natolya’s girls and boys would literally do anything for her.
Raijiin closed her eyes and reveled in the luxury of bathing alone. The bath was usually empty during peak hours when there was little time for soaking, but the Tellurian had paid for two hours of her time and had fallen asleep from exhaustion and too much drink after only thirty minutes. He was dead to the world, snoring so loudly she could still hear him through the closed door of the break room. Of course, he had good reason to be exhausted. None of Raijiin’s clients ever had cause to complain that they didn’t get their money’s worth. She, in turn, gleaned a great deal of useful information from them in unguarded moments, most of which she stored in her eidetic memory for future need.
The snoring reverberated down the hall, providing an oddly soothing backdrop to her soak. After a moment, though, she opened her eyes. Something was wrong. It was too quiet.
The two newest girls were confined to the reinforced bedchambers formerly used by Natolya’s Klingon contingent for their more athletically strenuous clientele. The chambers neighbored Raijiin’s assigned room, and she’d become accustomed since the Vulcans had arrived to the animalistic noises which came from the rooms after clients were escorted there. She held her breath and listened, but still heard nothing except the Tellurian.
The Vulcans weren’t allowed to leave their chambers unless escorted by two armed Naussicans each. Raijiin’s only experience with a Vulcan on the starship Enterprise had not impressed her with the need for such precautions, but, then, Vulcans were extremely strong and no one here was able to telepathically link with the women and control them the way Raijiin could. She’d kept that skill to herself thus far, not wanting to be assigned babysitting duty. Keeping rebellious Vulcans under control was not her job, and she wanted to avoid it if at all possible. Although she’d had no say in the decision to detain them, she still felt a strange sense of guilt regarding Natolya’s use of them. Some beings adapted well to a life devoted to pleasuring others, but Vulcans seemed ill-suited to the task.
The two Vulcan females had been somber and silent the few times Raijiin had seen them, almost as if they were in shock. Rumor had it that they were given something in the presence of clients which ripped their control from them completely, turning them into sex-starved animals. Raijiin had had personal experience with disinhibiting drugs early in her years with the Xindi. It had taken several months before she’d developed the acting skills to convince her captors that she could perform her duties better without them. She’d initially suffered horrible humiliation recalling the memories of what she’d done under the drugs’ influence, but degrading acts had since become second nature to her. Nothing really bothered her anymore—until now. The Vulcan girls were innocents where sex was concerned and would never emotionally resign themselves to living the lives of pleasure slaves. It was unthinkably cruel to force beings who prided themselves on their emotional control to become feral animals at the whim of a client. Just the idea made her burn with an emotion she hadn’t experienced in years—righteous anger.
Discarding her plans for a relaxing soak, Raijiin rose from the bath, grabbed the last fresh towel from a table by the pool, and wrapped it around her dripping body. She stepped into the lushly carpeted hallway, where the Tellurian’s snores still resounded, and strode down it toward the oddly silent rooms. The Naussican guards weren’t at their posts at the Vulcans’ chamber doors and the doors were locked.
Raijiin glanced briefly up and down the hallway, then whipped a pin from her hair and proceeded to pick the lock of the first chamber. She was in within seconds. Inside the room she found a hugely obese and very dead Orion male that she vaguely recognized from the local news broadcasts as a Syndicate kingpin and the corpses of the missing Naussicans, stripped of weapons and partially dressed. Raijiin froze for a moment before backing out of the room quickly, not forgetting to wipe the door handle thoroughly and reset the lock. She listened and looked up and down the corridor carefully before making a very swift inspection of the adjoining room. It was in a similar situation, this time involving a naked Andorian - Where were the girls?
Raijiin strode quickly back to her chamber, shed the towel, pulled a multicolored, pastel ankle length silk robe from the closet, and shrugged it on, tying it snugly about her waist. Then she left the room, double checking that her client was still snoring. The Vulcans were going to need help if they expected to get out of there alive. If they had left by the back stairway, they were either safely out by now or they had already been captured. That stairway led directly into Mistress Natolya's office. Either way, there was nothing she could do for them if they’d already been discovered, but if they were still at large she might be able to give them a fighting chance.
As she walked down the corridor searching for the girls’ likely route of escape, she caught sight of the new laundry boy with a stack of clean sheets and towels piled high on his cart, headed for the storage closets near the break room. She’d almost forgotten about him. The child was truly gorgeous—perhaps ten years old, with delicate features, porcelain skin, incredibly long, dark eyelashes and the unconsciously seductive mannerisms of an innocent with no inkling of his physical beauty. His pointed ears peeked out from his lustrous black hair, allowed to grow slightly longer than was customary among his people in the weeks since he’d been taken. Natolya’s future plans for the boy entailed a great deal more than laundry service, Raijiin was sure. Fortunately, Natolya didn’t deal with pedophiles, and Raijiin had heard rumors that the boy was too young yet for whatever disinhibitor was being used on the Vulcan women. She thought for a moment, and then she remembered. His name was Selim.
She smiled brilliantly at him as he passed, and despite his race he was still enough of a child to respond. He smiled back shyly, pushing the cart toward the storage closet. He was wearing a control collar.
Raijiin turned, followed him to the storage closet and proceeded to help him unload the linens. She leaned toward him and whispered, “Do you know how many other Vulcans are here, Selim?” The boys eyes widened, but he answered her softly, almost inaudibly beneath the Tellurian’s vibratory snoring.
“The others were all taken away and sold last week,” he replied sadly. “There are only me and T’Mara and V’Sille left.”
Raijiin’s heart sank. The rest of them could be anywhere in Syndicate space by now. She smiled gently at the boy, trying to seem friendly. “I’ve been looking for T’Mara and V’Sille to help them get away from here,” she whispered, “...but they’re not in their rooms. Do you know where they are?” The boy shook his head solemnly, his large dark eyes gleaming liquidly. Raijiin felt a pang of sympathy for him. She’d been sold at about his age, and remembered the feeling of being all alone in a strange place.
“Come on,” she told him softly, extending a hand, “I’m Raijiin. Let’s go find them.”
Selim stared at her hand, and then up at her face uncertainly. After a moment, he gingerly grasped her fingers. The contact completed a link between the two of them, and she gasped, her eyes filling involuntarily as she sensed his intense fear and loneliness. He’d been telling the truth. He had no idea where the women were, but as Raijiin searched his memories she found something useful. He’d seen a hooded man talking to Natolya in the reception hall as he was cleaning up and placing new glasses. He’d seen the man grasp one of the Andorian clients by the shoulder, and the Andorian had slumped over like he was falling. Afterward, the man had carried the Andorian into Natolya's office. He could tell that Natolya was afraid of the hooded man. The boy had detected it, even from across the room. He had fled into the laundry room afterwards, nervous of a stranger who could frighten Mistress Natolya and put someone to sleep with a touch. Evidently, no one had taught this child anything about traditional Vulcan self defense. His empathic abilities were impressive, though.
If Natolya was involved in the girls’ escape, it wouldn’t have been voluntarily. She had to be either dead or confined somewhere. Either that or the hooded man had transported out and taken her with him. But if the hooded man was a Vulcan come to rescue the Vulcan slaves, why wouldn’t he have taken all of the Vulcans with him? Why leave the boy? He would have had to have a secondary objective, one that took precedence over a painstaking search of the premises.
Raijiin thought for a moment, and then she smiled. She knew what he’d been after. It had to be information. She wiped the tears from her cheeks with the back of one hand and tugged Selim down the corridor toward the staircase which led to Natolya’s office.
Senek pulled the loosely fitting uniform jacket over his head. Fortunately, the security guard he’d just abducted was a low ranking male without slaves, and so had no need to display his physical attributes in competition with other males in order to keep his women. His was a lowly position within Orion society, but at least he got to wear clothing that adequately covered him in the always slightly chilly environment of the station. He was wearing a rather shapeless orange tunic top and loose fitting trousers with a billed cap covering his bald green head, or at least he had been before Senek had relieved him of them.
The Orion male lying nearly naked at Senek’s feet in the storage locker was very young and still relatively slim. His uniform hung on Senek, but only to the extent that the Vulcan looked like he’d recently been ill. To keep the guard quiet and safely restrained when he awakened from his nerve-pinch induced slumber, Senek had fastened his hands behind his back with the polymer ties that the Orion guards all carried to subdue captured slaves and stuffed his mouth with a sock. The guard’s boots were too large for Senek to wear, but he removed and hid them anyway, just to give the fellow something else to occupy his time should he free himself.
He pocketed the Orion’s personal communicator, stepped casually out of the storage locker and strode down the corridor toward the last security checkpoint before reaching his goal—Grigor-Tel’s oft neglected post as director of security for the station and the warp core reactor room beyond. The weapons controls were there, usually manned by underlings while Grigor-Tel occupied himself with more profitable pursuits. Senek had hoped that once the news of the D’Kyr cruisers’ arrival in-system had reached Orion ears Grigor-Tel would be forced to man his battle station. Thus far, his instincts had proven correct, for at each checkpoint the eyes-only information he carried for Grigor-Tel had admitted him one step closer to his final destination. Slaves were not allowed in the tactical room or the reactor room, however, so he’d been forced to get up close and personal with the guard at the last checkpoint. He had to hurry now. The vid loop he’d set up in the security camera at the young Orion’s station wouldn’t fool them for long.
To his surprise, the final checkpoint was an antiquated swipe-card access system designed to scan the guard’s identification badge and open the door to the tactical room. Raising a brow at the unexpected gift of simplicity where he’d anticipated complexity, Senek pulled the small Vulcan phase pistol he’d been carrying all day from out of his belt, extracted the card from the holder clipped to his left breast pocket with the opposite hand, and passed it through the scanner...
Daniel paced within the confines of his holding cell on the Vulcan cruiser Le'Matya. He’d tried to communicate with his crewmates in the adjoining cell by shouting and pounding on the walls of his cell, but the bulkheads were effectively soundproof. All he’d gained was a scratchy throat, a sore hand, and an evil look from the Vulcan security officer standing in the corridor.
This is just frakin’ great! he thought in disgust. We’re about to be in the middle of a battle and all I can do is sit here and wait. He exhaled forcefully and sat down on the thinly padded bunk in the rear of the cell, flopping backwards onto the almost non-existent pillow with his arms behind his head. The impact with the pillow made him wince. His nose was probably broken, but he’d be damned if he was gonna beg for medical attention.
At least we’ll probably be on the winning side, he thought morosely. He wondered what would happen when it was all over. The Vulcan who’d questioned him had made it sound like the best he could hope for was to be separated from his ship and “escorted” back into human space “for his own safety” while the Andorian members of the Lertieran’s crew were prosecuted for piracy, or espionage, or whatever trumped up charge the Vulcans could come up with—to the full extent of Vulcan law.
He couldn’t really blame the Vulcans for being suspicious and seriously pissed. Although they would never admit it, the D’Kyr cruisers converging on the Orion station were after more than justice. They wanted revenge. According to the information he’d managed to glean from his interrogator, the Plains of Gol had been a ship full of agriculturalists headed for a colony world on the edge of Vulcan space. Vulcan relied heavily on its colonies to produce food for its population, and had done so for hundreds of years since the near-destruction of the planet’s ecosystem by decades of war. The ship’s passengers had been mostly young, unbonded Vulcan males and females in their physical prime. Along with a few older families with young children to act as examples and guides, they’d been destined for honorable service to the Vulcan people via the tilling of fields and the planting of crops. The young men and women had been Vulcan’s brightest and best. The pirates who’d taken them had by all evidence slaughtered those that had fought back without mercy, had kept the strongest males for heavy labor, and had gleaned the most beautiful and the youngest for less strenuous duties before destroying the ship.
Daniel winced as he remembered the expression in the eyes of the Vulcan girl in Grigor-Tel’s quarters. Had she been free of her collar, he had no doubt that she would have eviscerated the Orion with the nearest sharp object without thinking twice about it. The cold anger in her eyes had been unlike anything he’d ever seen in a Vulcan. He suddenly felt relieved that he wouldn’t be on the station when the Vulcans took control of it. It was probably going to be messy.
Grigor-Tel had his eyes fixed on the tactical display. “Wait until they’re within range...” he reminded Sirlea for the fifth time. She cut her eyes at him, biting her tongue and deliberately refraining from attempting to modify his irritating behavior. Her excellent control over the instinctual release of the compounds which fogged men’s brains was the only reason why she’d become a trusted member of his tactical team. Losing control now would set her career back years. Of course, given the fact that there were two fully armed Vulcan battle cruisers converging on their position at that moment, she probably didn’t have to worry about her career anymore.
Let him give the orders, she reminded herself. Then he’s the one responsible when the Vulcans get here.
“Fire!” ordered Grigor-Tel.
“Fire at will. All stations fire at will,” relayed Sirlea as she took the controls of her own station. Her lips tightened in a grim smile as she targeted the lead ship, but its shields held firm. The station shook with the impact of return fire.
“They’re targeting weapons placements and engines, sir,” commented Harl-Tel, Grigor’s nephew and the tech officer responsible for the operation of the infrequently used tactical display. Out of the corner of her eye, Sirlea could see the young man bring up a schematic of the station. Suddenly she heard the doors to the corridor swish open without warning. When the pulse of a phase weapon sounded behind her, she dove from her chair and reached for the sidearm at her belt. She had only a fraction of a second to see both Grigor and his nephew go down, and insufficient time to target her weapon at the junior officer in the oddly fitting uniform before the stun pulse caught her mid chest and everything went black.
Senek scanned the room quickly. Two control consoles, a viewscreen, and a lopsided pile of green flesh met his eyes. He threaded his way distastefully around the fallen Orions to the nearest console. Irregular vibrations through the floor informed him that the attack was continuing. He slipped into the seat and inserted the disk with Grigor-Tel's control codes, rapidly pulling up the command access interface.
Grigor-Tel blearily cracked open his eyes and tried to focus through the pain. It was impossible. Flesh and blood could not endure this. He closed his eyes again and tried to breathe. Sensation slowly began to return to his extremities, and he realized that at least one person was lying across his legs. That personal shielding armor he had purchased from Phlon the Ferengi wasn't worth a Cardassian's belch. If he ever got his hands on that lying thief, he would hang those flopping ears of his over the headboard of his bed, where he could admire them every night before he went to sleep.
Grigor-Tel gritted his teeth and tried to open his eyes again. Only one of them was in here so far, and he didn't even look like a soldier. Must be an advance scout, sent ahead to sabotage the station. From the look of things he was succeeding, too.
The Orion made a brutally frank assessment of his chances. Sirlea and Harl-Tel were both out, and likely to remain out until the fight was over. Despite his silent curses, the shield he wore had protected him from the worst of the Vulcan's weapon, and his bulk had also helped. But he was on his own now. There was no telling how many more Vulcan agents were on the station. With two state of the art cruisers attacking, crewed no doubt by the best Vulcan killers they had available, Grigor-Tel seriously doubted that his half-trained rabble of raiders and bandits would prevail. Especially given the antique plasma cannon they were using. And now, with a spy busily at work sabotaging the fire controls, defeat was pretty much a foregone conclusion.
Grigor-Tel did not even consider trying to jump the Vulcan while he was distracted. The aging Orion knew his limits. The last time he’d fought a Vulcan 23 years before he had barely escaped with his life and ended up spending a dismally long time recovering from his wounds. Trying it now, as old and fat as he was, would be not only stupid – it would be insane.
The Vulcan was activating the comm system. “Sehlat from Agent Senek. Confirm cannon disabled. Shield and torpedo controls cannot be disabled at this location. I will reposition and report progress. Also confirm at least three targets, with high probability of more.”
Senek from Sehlat. Acknowledged. Proceed.”
Senek closed the connection, reached to his belt and appeared to make a frequency adjustment to the personal communicator he’d stolen from the security guard whose uniform he wore, and then pulled a sonic grenade out of his pocket. Grigor-Tel winced and closed his eyes. He plaintively wished he could at least cover his ears. Surely the Vulcan would dash outside before the thing detonated. With his sensitive hearing, he would almost have to.
He did, just barely in time. The door slid closed, Grigor-Tel snatched his hands up and clamped them over his ears, and the top of the console went flying hard enough to knock loose several ceiling tiles. Even through his meaty hands, Grigor-Tel's abused ears rang with the deafening clangor. He shook his head a few times and painfully climbed to his feet. Sighing, he looked around at the mess, scooped up the nearest sidearm, and headed for the door. Nobody knew this station the way he did. Maybe, just maybe, he could make it to his hidden escape option. That over-powered Klingon recon ship had cost him half of everything he owned. But if it got him out of this alive, it was cheap at twice the price.
T'Lar sat back in her command chair and intoned, “Send to the Le'Matya. Maintain this distance and be ready for tactical maneuvering in case of torpedoes. Otherwise, maximum bombardment against their shields. All weapons, continuous fire.”
The Sehlat shook as she released her photon torpedoes. More sophisticated versions of the photonic torpedoes recently adopted by Starfleet, these weapons were faster, more precise, and several times more destructive. They smashed into the station's shields and sent visible ripples of energy waves flowing across the boundary limits of the defensive fields. Simultaneously, the Vulcan disruptors tore through space to rake across the surface of the shields, sparking and slicing their way and leaving darkened wounds behind in their wake – visible evidence of the weakness they had inflicted.
It would not be long now, T'Lar reflected. Whether Agent Senek succeeded or not, the shields would certainly not be able to take much more of this. She estimated 12.4 minimum, 15.3 minutes maximum until the station's defenses were completely inoperative.
And then she could find out the fate of her family.
T'Lar brought herself up harshly and dragged her discipline back to the front of her mind. “There is no time for this!” she thought emphatically.
She was far from the only person who had suffered loss on the Plains of Gol. It was disgracefully self-centered of her to think of her own needs when her crew, and the captives aboard that station, were depending on her. There would be opportunities to deal with her personal family responsibilities later. For now, the needs of the many outweighed the needs of the few. They were in the middle of a battle. Her personal concerns would wait.
Then Verlen gave them the word they had been waiting for.
“Commander, their shields have just collapsed.”
Even aboard a bridge full of Vulcans, the relief was palpable. “Cease fire. Pass the same order to Le'Matya.”
“Incoming from the station, Commander. From Agent Senek.”
“Put him through.”
“Sehlat from Agent Senek. Confirm shields disabled. Confirm torpedo launch control disabled. Estimate 39 remaining Naussican fighters, 21 Orion males, 13 Orion females, and an unknown number of various race visitors of unknown temperament. I do not have an estimate of the number of slaves.”
“Acknowledged Agent Senek,” T'Lar told him. “Our boarding parties will begin arriving in 9 minutes. Activate your homing beacon for pickup.”
“Unable to comply, Commander. I gave my homing beacon to two of the Vulcan captives. They are currently holding an Orion female prisoner. “ T'Lar raised a brow and had to fight hard to hold back a satisfied smirk. At least someone would have the opportunity for just retribution this day. ” I will attempt to return to that location, as there is a confirmed third Vulcan nearby that still requires retrieval, but if my homing beacon is activated you may proceed with the retrieval of all life forms at those coordinates whether I am present or not . I have appropriated an Orion communication device which I can use to contact you in the event of an emergency.”
“Understood,” replied T’Lar. “I have information which indicates that yet another Vulcan captive may be held prisoner in the private quarters of an Orion by the name of Grigor-Tel. I would suggest you investigate this as well,” addded T’Lar.
”Acknowleged, Commander. I will do so,” Senek replied.
T'Lar let the corners of her mouth tighten upward the tiniest bit. She said, “Well done, Agent Senek. You have accomplished your mission with exemplary efficiency. My report will reflect this.”
“Not entirely I fear, Commander. There is a potential loose end that needs further investigation.”
“Explain,” T'Lar demanded.
“Immediately prior to your attack, my presence was detected by a young Human male.” T'Lar stiffened in her seat. “I believe our encounter was accidental. I certainly had no prior knowledge of any Humans on the station, and his expression indicated surprise, even shock, when he detected my presence.”
“Did you speak with him?” T'Lar asked carefully.
“Negative, Commander. We did not come into direct contact. We saw each other from a distance. When I realized he was Human, I turned to walk away. I looked back and saw him watching me with recognition and astonishment on his face. I can only conclude that he must have identified me by my movements, which would mean that he is either quite familiar with our people, or he has been professionally trained. Or both. ”
“How can you be certain that your interpretation of his reaction is accurate?” T'Lar asked, with a hint of frustration in her voice.
“Commander,” a nearby voice interrupted her.
“Just a moment, Agent Senek,” she said with resignation, and then rounded on the unexpected interruption with unusual vehemence. “What is it?” she snapped. The unexpectedly sharp reply provoked a blink from the centurion standing nearby, as well as a sharp look from Sub-Commander Verlen. T'Lar got hold of herself. “Yes, Centurion Latora? What do you need?”
The Centurion handed her a PADD without a word. T'Lar glanced at it, and then did a double take. On the PADD was a report from the captain of the Le’Matya concerning the very topic currently under discussion—the Human prisoner, now in a holding cell on his ship. She skimmed the transcript of the prisoner’s interrogation briefly, with growing dismay. At least the Human had been willing to provide information regarding the location of one of the Vulcans held captive on the station. Nevertheless, this was a diplomatic incident in the making if she’d ever seen one. She sighed, keyed in the proper authorizations to keep the Human in confinement for his own safety, and handed it back. Contacting the High Council would be the next step, of course—but not now. At the moment there were other priorities. Latora left in silent caution. T'Lar turned back to the comm.
“Continue Senek,” she said tiredly.
“During my early career I spent a number of years on Earth, Commander. I was also involved in multiple operations involving Human ships and colonies. I have confidence in my ability to interpret Human expressions and body language. That young Human did not expect to see a Vulcan here. I attempted to lure him into a private location for interrogation, but I was unsuccessful. I cannot be certain whether he detected my efforts and evaded me, or whether he became nervous and fled. In any case, I recommend that your boarding parties exercise caution. It would be perhaps unwise to kill or injure someone who might potentially be an operative of an ally.”
“Set your concerns at rest, Agent Senek,” T'Lar told him. “We have the young Human in custody aboard the Le'Matya .”
“Custody?” The curiosity in his voice came through clearly.
“Yes. Immediately prior to the attack he attempted to escape the station aboard an Andorian freighter, along with two Andorians that he claims are his business partners. His story is that they are simple traders who were fleeing in terror at the sight of our approach. The Andorians tell the same story. None of them are willing to budge from this position. The Human is demanding contact with his government and threatening diplomatic reprisals.”
“And the Andorians?”
“After identifying themselves, and confirming the Humans' story, they are standing mute,” T'Lar said. Just for an instant, she caught herself wistfully wondering why the Humans could not have had the decency to finish the job of blowing themselves up during their last world war. They had come so close after all. If only... She silently chastised herself and got back to business.
“Perhaps I can be of some assistance with this matter once the station is secured.”
“You aid will be appreciated,” T'Lar told him gratefully. “Continue regular progress reports as scheduled. Sehlat out.”
The corridor shook, nearly knocking Selim off of his feet. It sounded and felt like when he’d been aboard the Plains of Gol during the pirate attack. Behind him, frightened slaves and clients in all manner of dress and undress exited the rooms along the hallway, running toward the main staircase in a panic. The station was under fire.
Selim was frightened but, although small for his age, he was eight years past his Kas-wan—much too old for him to allow fear to control his behavior. He kept his eyes on the back of the woman who held his hand and walked determinedly down the corridor in the opposite direction from the fleeing crowd. What species was she? She looked like pictures he’d seen of human females, but when she touched his hand he felt the touch in his mind. It was familiar. It felt like what his mother did when she was especially concerned about his well-being—like the contact she’d made before the pirates had...
His mind shied away from the thought, and he focused instead on the floor in front of his feet as the woman—she’d called herself Raijiin—led him through a door and down a spiral staircase. The metal steps vibrated as they descended with a rhythmic clanging sound. Dust and fine debris rained down on them from the ceiling.
It was so unfair. Just because his father was old and weak and his mother was no longer young and beautiful, the ugly Orion had shot them—just like that—and had thrown their bodies out an airlock. Selim had been taught that revenge was the refuge of beasts, and that intelligent beings refrained from wasting resources seeking vengeance for offenses that could not be undone. He’d still wanted very badly to rip the Orion’s head off with his bare hands. He’d only required one demonstration of the slave collar, however, to realize that revenge was no longer an option. Eight years past his Kas-wan was also too old to allow himself the luxury of tears. His parents were dead. He’d seen the pirate kill them himself. What was done was done .
Raijiin stopped at the base of the stairs, hesitating with her hand on the door. She turned to him. He could see that she was reluctant. She studied him seriously for a moment, and then smiled.
“Can you be brave for me?” she murmured coaxingly.
Selim sighed inwardly. Women were always doing that. Just because he looked so much younger than others his age, they always treated him like a baby.
“I know...Mistress Natolya’s office is on the other side of the door,” he whispered back tolerantly. “You want me to go in and see if anyone’s there?”
Raijiin looked startled, as if she hadn’t expected him to understand what was going on.
“Ah...yes,” she replied softly, with a slightly shamefaced expression. “I think there’s a Vulcan here trying to rescue you. If I go in he might shoot, but if you go in...”
Selim nodded briskly. “I understand,” he replied quietly. “Stand back.”
Raijiin stepped to one side as requested, with an annoyingly amused look on her face. Selim, on the other hand, was all business. He stood to the other side of the door, the way he’d seen in the vids, and tried the handle. It was locked. Exchanging a glance with Raijiin, who nodded encouragingly, he then rapped sharply on the door with his knuckles, calling out in Vulcan, “Is anyone in there? It is Selim! I have brought help!”
Grigor-Tel dragged himself through the airlock of the two-man Klingon reconnaissance vessel and dogged the hatch behind him, wheezing from exertion. His ears were still ringing from the seven-times-cursed sonic grenade. He slipped into the specially modified acceleration couch which he’d had installed to replace the two chairs that had originally been there and sighed in relief. Its contours fit his body like a glove.
The Orion strapped himself securely into the couch, then reached out and pulled the pilot’s interface out from the console in front of him. He activated the cloaking device, began the launch sequence and then brought the security cameras online as the docking clamps detached with a palpable thud. It was a very small ship, virtually a life pod attached to a tiny impulse engine, with a single ring-style warp nacelle, pirated from the same place that the cloaking device had originated, added almost as an afterthought. Although it was theoretically capable of warp 5, the Klingon engineers who’d designed it had been less than particular about the comfort of its occupants. Grigor-Tel had yet to get it much past warp two without blacking out, but he’d just installed more powerful inertial dampeners. It was time to test them.
As the impulse engines powered up, Grigor-Tel watched the sensor feed of a six-man Vulcan landing party armed with phase rifles jog in formation down the corridor he’d just vacated. Fortunately, none of them took note of what appeared to be a maintenance hatch leading to the loading docks. He’d missed them by less than a minute.
He switched to external sensors. Both D’Kyr cruisers had taken positions within firing range of the station’s weapons systems, but the station’s cannons were silent. Disruptor beams had traced the weapon placements, destroying them before moving on to the warp nacelles. The Vulcan ships had kept firing long after they’d completely destroyed both the engines and the phase cannons, ceasing only after the total failure of the station’s shields became evident. Linking into the station’s internal sensors one last time, Grigor-Tel assessed the damage. The warp core remained stable, but with only a single bulkhead between the core and vacuum the station was uninhabitable now. Less than a meter of trilithium, a fragile barrier, protected the station and everyone aboard from complete annihilation. It would have to be evacuated unless major repairs could be made—and quickly—but that was no longer his problem.
It was almost as if the Vulcans were exacting revenge rather than simply disabling the station. He’d expected that, after all the horror stories he’d heard about Vulcan justice, but how had they known about the Vulcan pleasure slaves? All of the Vulcans save the four in his possession were long gone, and he’d told only those he absolutely trusted about his new purchases. The presence of not one but two D’Kyr cruisers implied planning and foresight. The Vulcans had been waiting for something before attacking. That something had to be the objective confirmation of the presence of Vulcan slaves onstation.
Grigor-Tel caught sight of the Lertieran then, the ship that he’d thought destroyed by the Vulcans in their initial attack. It was immobile, but far from destroyed. The timing of the attack was suspicious, and the obvious answer to his question suddenly occurred to him. It had to have been the Human. He’d contacted the Vulcans somehow and convinced them to spare his ship in return for information.
Grigor-Tel cursed softly under his breath. Gritting his teeth, he activated his maneuvering thrusters and pushed the tiny ship free of the station, heading toward the nebula at full impulse. There would be time later for revenge, once he’d gathered his remaining resources. The Human would pay for his betrayal—eventually. He would pay very dearly indeed.
Senek pulled the brim of his cap more firmly over his brow as he walked briskly through the station’s most exclusive residential area looking for Grigor-Tel’s private apartments. He hoped it wasn’t already too late. He held the confiscated Orion communication device he’d adjusted to the Sehlat’s comm frequency. The need for a rapid beam-out was highly likely.
The internal sensors he’d accessed in the main control room were outdated, but it should have been easy to identify the fourth Vulcan—unless her vital signs no longer fell within publicized Vulcan norms. He had his suspicions about why he’d had difficulty locating her. They didn’t bear scrutinizing too closely.
Orion females and their house staff were the only occupants of the hallways. They streamed in hastily constructed but well-loaded caravans from each apartment toward the docking bays, ignoring him in their haste. The males were manning their work stations, leaving the females to do the loading and evacuating, which they appeared to be accomplishing with remarkable efficiency. It was unfortunate for them that the first order of business for the Vulcan battle cruisers after disabling the station’s shields would be to gain control of the docking bays. No one would be getting into or out of the station unless cleared through Vulcan security personnel. There would no doubt be many arrests that day, for few Orion Syndicate businesses were completely innocent of violations of Vulcan’s strict smuggling laws. The fact that the station hadn’t been Vulcan territory until a few moments ago would not deter the more zealous among those who had lost family aboard the Plains of Gol. Senek had no doubt that before the day was out more blood would be shed.
He turned the corner and found the door he was looking for. The access codes from Natolya’s computer once again demonstrated their usefulness, and he entered without attracting attention. Locking the door behind him to avoid unpleasant surprises, he turned to face the entrance hall. The apartment was spacious and luxurious, with plush pile carpeting and wall hangings in patterns of bright colors. The light fixtures were made to resemble lighted torches in sconces, with oddly shaped bulbs rather than open flames. The main living space was round, with the look of a primitive nomadic tent, and had cushions scattered about the floor. He half expected a wild green slave girl to jump at him from behind the wall hangings, but the place seemed empty. He lifted his phase pistol and began a systematic search of the premises. Deep growls and gasps, barely audible through the closed door of the bedchamber, led him to her.
She was slightly built and perhaps thirty years of age—just out of girlhood and much too young to be in natural Pon Farr. She wore only a minimal thong and a virtually transparent veil, and was cuffed face down onto a metal table which was bolted to the floor in the center of what appeared to be the Orion’s bedchamber. Bent at the waist and draped over the table with her ankles cuffed to the table legs and her wrist cuffs connected by a chain threaded under the table through a ring welded there, she had to strain to lift her head. Her body was drenched in perspiration, and when she saw him she whined like an animal and began to fight the metal cuffs about her wrists, trying to reach for him. Emerald blood spattered as she worked her wrists frantically against the cuffs, her expression begging him to give her what her body craved. She had a look of such pitiable desire on her face that he was forced to avert his eyes to compose himself. He began to assess her restraints without looking at her.
“Try to calm yourself. I will attempt to free you,” he told her gruffly.
“Please...” she whispered almost inaudibly. He looked up in surprise. Those in plak tau rarely spoke. Her eyes weren’t on his face anymore. They were locked on the phase pistol on his belt. Her jaw tightened in determination as she attempted to coherently communicate her wishes.
“Shoot...kill me...,” she demanded through clenched teeth, struggling now to reach the weapon.
“That won’t be necessary. I’m getting you out of here,” he replied flatly. He reached for one of her wrist cuffs. She struggled, trying to free her arm from his grip.
“Danger...go,” she panted. “Not finished... coming back...”
Senek understood, then, the enormity of the obscenity that Grigor-Tel had committed. He’d been interrupted in his pleasures by the call to battle stations, and rather than administering the antidote to his newest concubine and releasing her bonds, he’d left her this way, slowing dying the most humiliating death possible for a Vulcan to suffer in order that he might not be inconvenienced in the event that the battle stations klaxon had been a false alarm. The contemptible beast deserved a slow and agonizing death. Senek wished now that he had ensured Grigor-Tel’s death during his attack on the weapons station. Shooting him twice would have been wise, given his bulk.
He eyed the young woman, who still hyperventilated as she strained her neck to keep a watch on the door. Then he knelt by the table eye-to-eye with her, collected himself, and reached out two fingers toward her bloodstained hand. As their fingertips met he projected calmness and control with all of his might. Despite his best efforts, her blood fever burned through him painfully, wrenching an involuntary gasp before he brought his reaction under control. Her eyes, wild and pleading, fixed themselves on his face as she panted and whimpered.
“I am Senek, son of K’Ton,” he told her calmly in a soothing monotone. “I am here to help you. I will not allow harm to come to you. Grigor-Tel is not coming. I shot him myself.” The girl’s projection of bloodthirsty joy caused his lips to twitch upward grimly. “Now... focus on my face and try to slow your breathing... slowly... that’s right,” he said soothingly. Her hand pressed against his relaxed minutely as she tried valiantly to do as he instructed. He projected approval. The intensity of the desire washing through him decreased a fraction.
“What should I call you?” he asked her softly. Her eyes closed as she struggled visibly for control.
“Subcenturian T’Riss, daughter of.... Solar...” she managed between whimpers. He nodded respectfully, and addressed her as if she were standing before him in full dress uniform.
“Subcenturian, report! Where does your captor store the viral agent?” The girl licked her lips, her eyes focused on their joined hands. She began to stroke his wrist with her fingertips.
“Under the bed...” she whispered indifferently, her attention entirely focused on the sensation of his skin gliding against hers. The contact was mesmerizing, and Senek found himself suddenly wanting to give in to the feeling of skin on skin...
He pulled away abruptly, wresting a cry of protest from the girl, and staggered toward the bed. Her plak tau was affecting him. He had to get them out of there. Getting down to hands and knees, he pulled a locked chest from beneath the bed and blasted it open with his phase pistol. The girl’s whimpers were growing louder in the absence of contact with him. He reached into the chest. None of the vials were marked. He had no way of knowing which were the antidotes and which were the virus, so he pocketed them all. To his disappointment, there was no key to the cuffs in the chest.
Then he turned toward the table. T’Riss was struggling again, bloodily abrading her wrists and ankles on the edges of her metal cuffs. He pulled out his phase pistol and proceeded to cut both the chain binding her wrist cuffs and the legs of the table above her ankle cuffs from across the room. She made swift work of the table remnants, throwing them against the wall with uncanny strength before launching herself at him. He activated the Orion communicator, twisting his head aside so that her hungry mouth found his neck instead of his lips. She wrapped both legs around his hips and both arms about his neck, sucking avidly at his skin and rubbing her body against his as he spoke urgently in a strangled voice.
“Senek to Sehlat. Two to beam up... directly to Sickbay.”
T’Mara exchanged a look of surprise with her counterpart. A childish voice speaking in Vulcan with the distinct accent of the Shir’Khar region was the last thing she expected to hear from the other side of the back door to Natolya’s office. Selim must have freed himself somehow—or perhaps it was a trap. V’Sille ceased her meditative contemplation of their captive and lowered the razor sharp knife with which she’d been paring her fingernails, picking up a phase pistol from the desktop.
“Let me in!” insisted the youngster through the door. “It is safe. Raijiin wants to help us.”
T’Mara said nothing, but she rose from her chair holding a phase pistol and motioned for V’Sille to do the same. They flanked the door, which opened into the stairwell, and then V’Sille unlocked it.
“Enter slowly. Keep your hands visible,” called T’Mara.
Selim led the way. He appeared uninjured. He was still wearing his slave collar and a simple white linen shift. The woman Raijiin, collarless and apparently weaponless as well, followed him in a silken bathrobe. She appeared perfectly harmless, but T’Mara knew that looks could be deceiving. She gestured with the phase pistol from the woman to the settee opposite the chair where Natolya was bound and gagged.
“Sit,” she commanded abruptly. To her credit, Raijiin made no protest, but did as she was bid. V’Sille held her weapon steadily on the woman while T’Mara turned to the boy. He appeared unafraid. Although he looked very young, T’Mara had met him and his parents previously on the Plains of Gol and knew that he was older and more mature than he seemed to be. His calmness in the current situation was nevertheless impressive.
“Are you well?” T”Mara inquired softly. “Did the woman coerce or injure you in any way?”
The boy looked surprised. “Raijiin?” he asked incredulously, “Why would she do that? She’s a slave. She wants to get out of here just as much as we do!”
T’Mara raised a brow and glanced at the pleasure slave sitting calmly under V’Sille’s watchful eye. T’Mara had seen her frequently during the weeks of their imprisonment. She didn’t look like she wanted to escape. As a matter of fact, her collarless state and the efficiency with which she customarily plied her trade seemed to suggest otherwise.
“You must not trust her, Selim,” replied T’Mara under her breath. “She is not like us. She enjoys what she does.” The boy shook his head vigorously.
“No she doesn’t!” he protested. “I can feel that she doesn’t!” T’Mara blinked a bit at that. Was the boy a melder?
“T’Mara?” V’Sille’s voice sounded odd. T’Mara turned, and was confronted by the muzzle of V’Sille’s phase pistol. V’Sille looked puzzled, as if she didn’t know how she’d managed to get herself into such a predicament. The woman Raijiin had her hand on V’Sille’s shoulder.
“It’s all right, V’Sille,” she murmured soothingly into the Vulcan’s ear from behind. V’Sille visibly relaxed, but her phase pistol remained leveled at T’Mara. Raijiin’s eyes met T’Mara’s coolly. She continued to speak softly to V’Sille. “As soon as T’Mara lays aside her phase pistol, we will all be safe, and you may lower yours,” she said.
“What have you done to her?” growled T’Mara through clenched teeth. She customarily possessed excellent emotional control, but this place was taking a toll on her reserves.
“Merely a demonstration,” replied Raijiin with a pleasant smile. She winked reassuringly at Selim. T’Mara glowered at her. V’Sille still looked vaguely surprised but her pistol never wavered. “Think about this logically for a moment,” Raijiin continued reasonably to T’Mara. “If I wanted you dead, you would be. If I wanted Natolya freed, it would be done. Obviously, I want neither of those things.”
T’Mara refrained from asking the obvious, and glared at the woman. She trained her weapon at Raijiin’s head, over V’Sille’s shoulder. “This weapon is set to kill,” she reminded Raijiin. The pleasure slave nodded and smiled.
“As is V’Sille’s. A pretty stand-off, don’t you think?” she commented casually. “But neither of us want to traumatize the boy any more than he’s already been traumatized, so let me get to my point,” she added. She stroked V’Sille’s shoulder softly and then stepped behind her. The Vulcan stood firm, topping her by a head and effectively shielding Raijiin from harm unless T’Mara was willing to kill V’Sille to get to her. Then Raijiin said, “This place is a dead end for me. Changes of command never go well for pleasure slaves, and if it’s your people attacking, business here just became very bad all around for anyone in my line of work. I can get us all out if you’ll cooperate with me. All I want in return is passage to Risa.”
T’Mara stared at the woman. She couldn’t know about the homing beacon, and seemed sincere in her offer to assist them in their escape. In a less life threatening situation, it might have been interesting to see how she intended to accomplish that task. The strangest idea began to take shape in her mind, prompted, no doubt, by her weakness for Human “spy novels”—but a loud banging on the outer door and guttural shouts in Naussican-accented Orion interrupted her train of thought.
“Open the door, Natolya! We are under attack! We need weapons!”
“It’s the armory cabinet they’re after,” commented Raijiin. “It’s over there.” She jerked her head, indicating the armoire in the back of the room from which Selek had already appropriated their phase pistols and a set of sonic grenades. Raijiin couldn’t know that, though, and her willingness to come forward with the information finally convinced T’Mara to trust her—within reason. She lowered her phase pistol. Raijiin smiled wryly and nodded. V’Sille blinked, and then lowered her pistol as well, turning to glare at the small blonde woman behind her. Raijiin gave her a regretful smile. “Sorry, dear. It was necessary,” she whispered in apology.
. In the midst of the sound of the outer door being beaten off its hinges by a mob of angry Naussicans, the tone of the homing beacon activating was barely audible. When the guards finally succeeded in entering the room, it was empty.
“Commander T’Lar, we find this news disturbing, “said Minister of Defense Kuvak seriously. “After a brief discussion with the Chief Minister and her cabinet, the High Council has deemed it necessary to involve Starfleet. Keep the Human in protective custody and await further instructions.” The old man faced T’Lar on the vid screen for a second longer with his lips pursed as if he meant to say something else, then he appeared to think better of it, shaking his head minutely and exhaling heavily as the console went dark. She raised a brow. That had been cryptic, even for a Vulcan.
She brought up progress reports on the console in her ready room as she waited for the Chief Medical Officer to contact her. It would not be appropriate for her to rush to Sickbay to see her brother. The medical evaluation of his physical condition came first. Once she was certain of his well-being, she would be less distracted. And so she focused on her work.
Less than one hour into the occupation of the Orion station by Vulcan forces, events were proceeding with surprising smoothness. Teams of Vulcan security officers were positioned at various locations throughout the station, processing the station’s occupants and classifying them as slave or free, prosecutable or not, and holding areas had been set up to aid in the expeditious evacuation of all living beings. An engineering team was working to reinforce the single bulkhead which kept the station’s warp core from exploding. The Orion Syndicate’s prize possession was now in fragile but stable condition—a description which also fit what T’Lar had now begun to privately think of as “The Human Situation.”
She’d been told very little, but she could imagine the discussions within the High Council chambers since she’d broken the news. The questions were too numerous to count. Who was this Human? Who was he working for? Why was he here—and with Andorians of all people? What did this mean for Human/Vulcan relations? This Human was evidently a Boomer. Were the Boomers allying themselves with Andoria and against Vulcan? What would Starfleet do if this were the case? Would they attempt suppression of the self-proclaimed rebels? The prospect of a Human civil war made her vaguely ill. Vulcan had been the test case. No good could possibly come of it.
”Sickbay to Commander T’Lar.”
The sudden sound made her jump. She gritted her teeth and reached to activate the comm. More meditation was definitely in order.
“Selim wishes to see you, Commander. Also, Subcenturion T’Riss is stable and is asking to speak with you.” The surprise in the doctor’s voice was evident even over the comm. T’Lar could understand his response. Hadn’t the woman been in near-fatal plak tau when she arrived on board?
“I’m on my way,” she responded.
“So...what you’re asking us to do is to enter Orion Syndicate space and publicly identify ourselves as the ally of a ship that’s just openly attacked one of their stations?” asked Jonathan Archer in disbelief. “Forgive me for saying so, Admiral...but that sounds pretty damned stupid to me.” He crossed his arms over his chest as he sat facing the viewscreen in his cabin dressed in sweatpants and a T-shirt. He wasn’t in a very good mood. Being awakened at 0400 ship’s time for some ridiculous diplomatic emergency tended to do that to him.
Admiral Green smiled wryly. “The Orion syndicate has denied all culpability for the abduction and murder of Vulcan citizens and has officially given the station over to Vulcan hands so that justice may be served. They don’t want war with Vulcan any more than the rest of us do. The Vulcans might be peaceful now, but they cut their baby teeth as a race finding new and better ways to kill each other. The Orions won’t bother you.”
Archer nodded, raising a hand to rub thoughtfully at his stubbled chin. “So...what exactly do you want us to do when we get there?”
“Just find out who this Boomer is and why he’s trying to start a war,” said Green matter-of-factly. “If you can get the Vulcans to agree to hand him over, that would be a bonus. Then we can find out what he knows.”
“And what if he’s as innocent as he claims to be?” asked Archer.
The admiral laughed dryly. “A Boomer working as crew on an Andorian freighter in Orion Syndicate space? How innocent could he possibly be?”
T’Lar entered Sickbay slightly out of breath. She justified her haste by reminding herself that debriefing the subcenturion was of paramount importance, and then forgot all about that unfortunate officer when she saw Selim. The weeks since his capture had not been kind to her youngest brother. Always a small and sickly child since his premature birth, Selim was now ethereally thin, as if a strong breeze might blow him away. His eyes, usually large in his small face, were huge and dark-ringed, as if he hadn’t slept well for weeks. He looked so young and fragile. And he was entirely her responsibility now, she’d discovered. The Orion who’d purchased the slaves gleaned from The Plains of Gol had kept meticulous records which had already been discovered by one of the boarding parties in their examination of the station’s computer files. Her parents had been discarded, declared “of no commercial value” and thrown away like refuse. The anger she’d forced herself to suppress since that discovery resurfaced when she saw what they’d done to her brother.
“The device is deactivated. The micro-fibers remain within your brain, though, so come to me if you experience headaches,” said the doctor softly to the boy as he pulled the slave collar from his neck. Selim nodded solemnly, wide-eyed, rubbing where the collar had been. T’Lar approached the examination table and cleared her throat.
Selim turned, and smiled briefly in honest joy before recovering his discipline. T’Lar forgave him readily. He’d obviously not been allowed time for sufficient meditation, and he was still very young. The doctor turned away and pulled the curtain to grant them privacy. She extended a hand to touch her brother’s smooth, warm cheek. The boy had always been unusually sensitive to emotions transmitted by touch. There was no need to express emotions outwardly when skin to skin contact allowed them to share both their sorrow at the loss of their parents and their joy at seeing each other again. Her lips quirked upward minutely in response to his childish pleasure and her eyes moistened in response to his pain. He placed his hand atop hers for a moment.
“I am pleased to see thee again, T’Lar. I grieve with thee over the loss of our parents,” he said in his most mature tones. T’Lar’s pride in him welled in her chest, threatening to overcome her.
“I grieve with thee also, my brother,” she said thickly. She tried to say more, but the words wouldn’t come. He reached out and took her other hand, holding it tightly, and tugged on it, convincing her with silently pleading dark eyes to climb up onto the table and sit beside him. Then he leaned his small head against her shoulder. She held him. It was better than meditation. He soothed her soul.
End of Episode One
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