"The Lerteiran Chronicles"
"Selim. You must come out. I will explain things to Commander T'Lar. If you delay it will only worsen the situation." Centurian Samel's voice sounded muffled, primarily because Selim was curled in a ball with his body stuffed as far into the ventilation shaft as he could go and still be able to see his hand in front of his face. "I know that you are in here. Shipboard sensors can detect your presence," continued Samel in a strained voice. Selim bit his lip to keep from smiling. Samel was often amusing. "It is nearly time for the evening meal," wheedled Samel. "There will be sweets..."
Selim debated his options while licking his sticky fingers. A pile of melon rinds lay beside him in the shaft. His sister was probably going to confine him to their cabin for skipping tutoring this afternoon to sneak into hydroponics and take the melon he'd eaten, but he'd been watching the melon grow as part of his xenobiology studies ever since he came aboard. It was perfectly ripe and scheduled to be delivered to the kitchen in the morning. The injustice inherent in allowing someone to eat the melon who had not spent a quarter of an hour per day watering, fertilizing and recording the growth rate of said specimen of cucumis melo for the past several weeks had overcome his sense of propriety. The Terran fruit had literally been impossible to resist.
On the one hand, missing the evening meal and its associated sweets wasn't really an issue. His belly was so full he wasn't sure how he was going to get back out of the shaft. On the other hand, Samel was correct about T'Lar's probable response to any delay in responding to her summons. She really didn't like being kept waiting. He might end up confined to quarters for a week or more.
With a put-upon sigh, Selim began to scoot along on his bottom toward the grate, pushing the heap of gooey melon rinds in front of him and incidentally sopping up a puddle of melon juice with his trousers on his way out.
The entry buzzer sounded. Damin rose from the bunk in his small guest cabin on Sehlat to answer it. After checking his hair in the hall mirror and adjusting his multicolored pastel silk trousers and jacket, he paused before opening the door to prepare himself. He could sense Sehlra's discomfort through the door. Within her mind her concern for him battled with a conviction that her desire for him was obscene-akin to pedophilia. Her self-disgust made his stomach turn in sympathetic distress. He wanted to reassure her that her feelings were welcome and that he returned them, but he had bad news to deliver first. He closed his eyes and focused on removing every trace of worry from his features. There had to be a way to do this that wouldn't make her hate him.
I am hers. I live to please her. Her happiness is my chief concern. He opened his eyes, put on his most seductive smile, and opened the door.
Selhra's eyes widened and her pupils dilated in response to his appearance. Damin felt as if the temperature of the hallway rose by five degrees just looking at her. Her reflected desire took his breath away. She half-smiled, looking uncomfortable and radiating embarrassment. Her strong and expressive features, easy to read even without telepathy, showed relief at finding him basically whole and healthy. Her eyes searched his face, making note of every scrape and bruise, he was certain, because he suddenly felt the flare of her anger. Her smile vanished.
"You look pretty good for a Romulan reject. What happened? You too pretty for them to keep?" she told him with harsh humor. He continued to smile at her, looking deeply into her eyes.
"Thank you for coming," he told her softly, ignoring her tone. "Please come in." He stepped aside to allow her into the small cabin behind him, forcing her to approach within inches of him to do so. Damin closed his eyes as she passed, inhaling the familiar and unaccountably pleasing odor of machine oil and degreasers that always seemed to cling to her hair and clothes. There was something else today-a richly bitter aroma. Chocolate. He had to force himself to keep his hands by his side.
Damin opened his eyes to find Sehlra standing in the center of the cabin with her arms crossed over her chest and a no-nonsense expression on her face.
"Look, Damin. I'm happy that you're not hurt, but I'm here for business, not pleasure. Don't get any ideas." As if the sexual heat she was radiating wasn't giving him ideas enough. Damin couldn't help himself.
"I'd love to do some business with you," he teased suggestively in a husky voice. Selhra humphed in reluctant amusement and shook her head.
"You called me. You said you had a business proposition for Lerteiran, but that you'd only talk to me. So talk."
So that was the way she wanted to play it. He sighed and walked over to the bed, sitting on the edge rather than lounging seductively as he would have done otherwise. He waited for her to join him, but she made no move to do so. So he began talking.
"First of all, there are some things I need to tell you about myself. I hope you will forgive me when I say that I have not been completely forthright about my past." Damin took a deep breath and watched her expression.
Sehlra hooded her eyes. "What did you lie about?" She didn't sound happy.
"Nothing," he told her honestly. "I didn't actually lie about anything. I just didn't tell you the full truth about who I am and where I come from."
Sehlra's face cleared. "Is that all? Don't worry about it, Damin. You have a right to your privacy."
"Perhaps so," he said with a half smile. "But there are some things that I want you to know. The first thing I need to tell you is that although I have sold my services to the highest bidder since I came of age, I am not a sex worker." Damin met Sehlra's eyes squarely. She didn't look surprised. "You know that I was a fugitive from the Romulans. What you don't know is that I wasn't just Romulan bait during the mission to rescue the hostages. They want me because of what I can do... and because no operative leaves the Tal Shiar alive." Sehlra's jaw tightened.
"I'm half Romulan," he admitted reluctantly, finally. Sehlra's nostrils flared. "And half Betazoid," he pointed out. "I inherited my father's people's telepathic skills. Since I defected from the Tal Shiar I've used them to good effect in the employ of dozens of governments and private individuals." That caused Sehlra's antennae to straighten in surprise, and she sank down on the edge of the mattress beside him to take it all in.
"So you're an intelligence operative, then," she said, accepting his statement at face value. Her eyes narrowed. "Who are you working for now?"
"For the moment...the Vulcan Security Directorate," he told her honestly. Sehlra spat a curse in Andorian, her antennae twisting in anger. "But when I was aboard Lertieran I was working for the Humans, and in three weeks I'll be working for the Betazoids. I'm definitely an equal opportunity telepath."
"And no doubt you were working for the Orions on the station," growled Sehlra.
"I have worked for employers with less respect for sentient life than the Orions in my career. There are worse things," Damin countered mildly. Sehlra sighed.
"Why tell me this now?" she asked with forced tolerance. "You could have continued the charade."
"My current employers need assistance from Lerteiran. They're willing to pay handsomely. I thought it best to be completely honest with you, considering the situation." His gaze met Sehlra's openly, and he waited. He could sense her perplexity regarding his sudden honesty-and her apprehension.
"What do they need?" she asked finally.
"They're requesting the transport of three agents of the Vulcan Security Directorate from this station to Risa, one way, no questions asked. In return, you've been offered favored trading status at every Vulcan-owned port in known space. No out-system fees. No import taxes. First choice on available contracts with Vulcan export companies before any other non-Vulcan vessel." Sehlra blinked at that.
"Why so much?" she asked incredulously. "What do they expect us to do? Fight off a Romulan armada on the way there?"
Damin smiled wryly. "Not quite," he said.
The beep of his alarm brought Daniel out of a restless sleep. The deep ache in his lower back was much worse without pain meds in his system. It was over a minute before he mustered the courage to roll over and turn the alarm off. A second after he'd done so there was a knock on the door of his quarters.
"Do you require assistance?" T'Riss's voice sounded concerned and very repentant. Daniel cursed under his breath.
"No, I don't. You've done enough, thank you," he called out sarcastically in a voice hoarse from lack of sleep. Then he rolled with excruciating care out of bed and crawled to the head.
After pulling himself to semi-standing by the towel rack on the wall, Daniel started a hot shower going and retrieved four non-narcotic pain relievers from a bottle he kept in the cabinet over the sink. They probably weren't going to help much, but he'd never reported to duty stoned and he wasn't about to start now. Chewing the bitter pills, he stepped into the shower and spent fifteen minutes there before he was able to stand upright. It took ten more minutes for him to shave and change, leaving only five minutes left for breakfast, coffee, and travel time to the bridge. He wasn't going to make it.
Resigned to skipping breakfast, Daniel opened the door of his cabin to find T'Riss standing there with a cup of steaming coffee in one hand and a large muffin in the other. She handed them to him without meeting his eyes and then stepped aside to allow him to precede her. He just looked at her for a second before taking a bite of the muffin. It was still warm.
"You made this?" he asked incredulously with his mouth full. He'd had real blueberry muffins perhaps twice in his lifetime, but the small purplish chunks within the tender muffin sure tasted like blueberries to him. T'Riss nodded.
"I have purchased several types of baking mix from Enterprise. Sehlra informed me that you enjoy freshly baked items. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so it is only logical that I..."
"That you would make me muffins for breakfast," he finished, completely floored by the image of T'Riss in the kitchen with an apron on playing Susie Homemaker. "Right." He shook his head and took another huge bite, continuing to walk-very slowly and carefully-toward the access ladder to the bridge. At the foot of the ladder, he took a sip of the coffee and eyed the steps above his head dubiously.
T'Riss took his coffee and the remains of his muffin out of his hands without being asked. She balanced the muffin precariously atop the coffee cup and proceeded to climb the ladder using one hand. Daniel watched her disappear up the companionway with reluctant admiration. "Showoff," he muttered. Then he gritted his teeth, grasped the ladder in both hands and followed her up. After the first step, it really wasn't so bad. The hard part was hauling himself up to the bridge from the last rung in full gravity. He stopped to rest, breathing hard where T'Riss couldn't see him. And then a slender hand appeared in front of his face.
"The captain is in the galley. Take my hand. I will help you," said T'Riss quietly. Daniel debated refusing, but decided that pride could wait until he was sitting down. He grasped her offered hand and she hauled him up in one smooth motion. The skin contact lasted only a second, but Daniel was conscious of a sudden burst of shame and remorse that definitely wasn't his. He eyed T'Riss cautiously, rubbing the palm of the hand she'd gripped with his other hand, and slowly lowered himself into his chair. The pain wasn't bad unless he leaned back, which was sort of odd. After his first injury, which he now knew to be a vertebral fracture, sitting had made the pain worse. Maybe there was something else wrong this time. When his shift was over if the pain wasn't better, he promised himself, he'd go and see Phlox. Again.
T'Riss placed his coffee and his muffin on the console in front of him without a word and then took her station. Daniel took another bite and washed it down with coffee. There was total silence on the bridge. He sighed, starting up the maintenance and diagnostic programs for the weapons systems. It was going to be a very long duty shift.
Selim bit his lip and held his breath as he reached with a tiny magnetic screwdriver into the bowels of the ancient sensor baffle and replaced the last carefully refurbished component. He inspected the device, deciding that Centurion Samel would approve. Indeed, the old relic was so clean and shiny that it seemed a shame that modern power cells were useless in it. Of course, the fact that it was impossible to get the sensor baffle working again without a power cell was probably one of the reasons that Samel had considered it safe to give it to Selim for his sensor technology project in the first place. Selim sighed wistfully at the thought of what he could do with a functioning sensor baffle.
Selim closed the access panel and buckled the woven fiber belt around his waist. Then he walked into T'Lar's bedroom to look at himself in the full length mirror. He raised a cool and daring brow, standing with feet spread wide and his hands on his hips. Slung low, the belt made him look like a cross between a Sundering age secret agent and a Human gunslinger from the bootleg Earth westerns his sister disliked. He did a quick-draw of an imaginary revolver, dry fired at his reflection with a silently mouthed "bang", then holstered it. Then he crossed his arms over his chest and scowled, dissatisfied with pretense.
Behind him, his sister's collection of antique devices, all functional, of course, since she was grown and in charge here, sat in a carefully dusted row on a shelf above her bed. Selim studied it in the mirror, the beginnings of an idea taking shape in his mind. Time of Sundering artifacts often had a similar appearance, an aesthetically primitive yet more streamlined silhouette which clearly differentiated them from more modern devices. The curved metallic "buckle" of the belt around his waist was one such artifact. The ancient data recording device on the shelf behind him was another. And it worked. He'd seen his sister operate it. He wasn't even supposed to be here in her room, much less touching her collection, but once the idea occurred to him it was impossible to dispel. Fifteen minutes later T'Lar's precious two-thousand-plus-year-old data recorder was back on the shelf minus its power cell and Selim was the proud owner of a fully operational sensor baffle.
Now for the cabin door. T'Lar had set it so that it could not be unlocked from the inside as long as ship's sensors detected that he was the only occupant of the cabin. Selim wasn't sure if she'd set it to allow easier egress when he wasn't in the cabin, but he suspected that she had. And he had an eidetic memory. The code that T'Lar used each morning to exit the cabin worked admirably, and soon Selim was free. He headed straight for Raijiin's cabin to show her his project, narrowly missing discovery twice before reaching the access shaft that ran to the deck below him. His heart pounding with the excitement of two close calls, he keyed in the code that Centurion Samel had used the last time he'd brought Selim with him on a maintenance run and opened the hatch.
The access hatch was well-oiled and silent. He'd made sure of it his first week on board. He closed it behind him and climbed the ladder down one level in the dark. For a second he wondered why the lights hadn't brightened automatically when he entered as they usually did, and then he remembered. The ship's sensors couldn't "see" him now. He tried to remember whether there were twenty-five or thirty rungs between levels, and at a count of twenty-five he began stopping at every rung to feel along the wall of the tunnel for the access hatch, deliberately not thinking about the expanse of access shaft extending several decks below him in the pitch black darkness and what would happen if he missed his footing. To his relief, the hatch was just past the thirtieth rung.
Selim cracked the hatch open a few millimeters. He could see two people walking, approaching from far down the corridor which dead ended at the access hatch he was hiding behind. He squinted. One of them looked a little familiar. The other one looked Andorian and more than just a little frightening. She was gesturing dramatically, probably miming some brutal act of violence.
"I'll speak to Jenrali about it, but I swear by the Mother, Damin, if that Raijiin bitch so much as looks at Daniel I'll rip her head off with my bare hands and space the remnants."
Selim's blood ran cold. She's going to hurt Raijiin!
Her companion wasn't just a handsome man. He was beautiful in a way that a piece of art or a woman could be beautiful. Selim remembered him from his time in captivity at Natolya's. He was behaving much as he had then, smiling and placating the angry Andorian.
"There won't be any need for violence, Sehlra. I've told you. Senek has her completely under his control." The two of them turned into a cross corridor and Selim lost sight of them.
I knew it. I hate Senek. He's mean.
Selim had come to that conclusion only a few days previously, after Agent Senek had roundly scolded Raijiin for spending time with Selim against his sister's wishes. The old Vulcan was a tyrant. He was worse than T'Lar. The little boy gritted his teeth, climbed out of the hatch, and headed down the corridor at a brisk walk. He needed to warn Raijiin, but first he had to get some help, just in case. Llahir had been an agent on Romulus. He was tougher than old sourpuss Senek any day, and he liked Raijiin. Selim could tell. Llahir would be able to help Raijiin break free from Senek. But first Selim had to reach him.
He felt proudly confident that a Time of Sundering agent could not have shown more resourcefulness in evading the attention of passing crewpersons than he did on his way to Llahir's quarters. Selim took advantage of his size to duck beneath consoles and slither behind access panels whenever he heard footsteps approaching. Finally he reached the door to Llahir's quarters and stretched up to activate the announcement button. The hatch slid aside to reveal the battle scarred agent looking down at him with a puzzled expression.
"Agent Llahir," Selim spoke quickly. "Let me in. I must not be seen, and it is imperative that I speak with you." Quirking an eyebrow, the older man stepped to one side and Selim slipped gratefully through the doorway.
Daniel finished the last bite of muffin and washed it down with another sip of coffee. He looked at T'Riss, hunched intently over the piloting console with her eyes glued to the readouts. Of course, since they were docked and the drive was powered down, there was absolutely nothing to see on the piloting readouts.
"That was the best muffin I've had in years. Thanks." Her head moved slightly.
"It is agreeable that you enjoyed it," she said softly. Silence followed.
All right. I guess it's up to me to start the ball rolling.
Daniel sighed. "After what happened last night, I've been thinking that maybe we should reconsider things."
T'Riss turned in her chair and looked at him with desolation in her eyes. "I understand," she told him in a hoarse whisper. "You do not wish to make a commitment to someone as damaged as I am." Daniel sighed again.
"T'Riss, I have no way of predicting what you might do or why you might do it. I have no idea why you behaved the way you did last night, none whatsoever. I don't know what I said or did to trigger your attack." He stopped when she flinched and hunched her shoulders. He went on more gently, "I have no way of knowing how to avoid doing it again. I believe you when you say that you regret it, but that won't help me if you break my neck next time, will it?"
She squeezed her eyes shut and clenched her interlaced fingers together until both hands turned pale. "You frightened me."
Daniel blinked. "I what?" She opened her eyes and gave him an exasperated look.
"You frightened me. You ask what you did to trigger my 'attack'. I was afraid."
"But- but- but..." Daniel sputtered to a stop and stared at her. T'Riss continued, staring at the far wall as if she could not bring herself to meet his eyes.
"When you rolled atop me, I thought you intended to initiate copulation, and I reacted out of fear." She looked down.
Daniel sat silently for a moment while he struggled to decide where to begin. "You!" He paused and started over in a more normal tone. "You were holding me in your hand. Do you remember that? You had already issued an open invitation to mate with me whenever I wanted, and then," despite his best efforts, his voice rose slightly, "and then you grabbed me. Among Humans that equals 'Let's Do It'!"
T'Riss looked up at him dolefully. "Clearly the fault is mine for not researching Human mating protocols."
"Uh," Daniel wet his lips and smiled weakly. "I don't know if you could have found that in a reference. But we could have worked out the confusion by talking. You didn't have to toss me across the room. If you had just said 'stop' I would have stopped."
"You..." T'Riss seemed floored. "You would have been able to do that?"
"Of course," Daniel replied, disgruntled. "I'm not an animal." At her flinch he winced and hurriedly added, "I mean, I possess sufficient self-discipline to suppress my instinctive responses. And I'm not subject to anything like the Pon Farr which would overwhelm my control." He started to lean back again without thinking and quickly decided not to.
She regarded him with wondering respect. "I believe you. I have never encountered a male before who could maintain control under such circumstances. Or who would be willing to try."
"I told you what my people do to rapists." Daniel twisted his mouth. "Despite Vulcan propaganda, we are not at the mercy of our emotions. We can't help feeling and expressing them, but we can certainly control our actions. And if we don't control our actions, we suffer the consequences for it under Human law."
"Does this mean," she swallowed, "that you now desire to copulate with me?"
Daniel sat with his mouth open for a moment. Then he shut it and sighed. "No. Not until you can prove that you won't kill me for it." She winced. "How could you have been afraid of me? I would never hurt you. Besides, I couldn't hurt you even if I wanted to in the shape I'm in. I'm soft as a marshmallow from all this time in low grav.
"I am aware of this intellectually," T'Riss conceded. "But my surprise overrode intellect and my instinctive reactions took control."
"I always knew Vulcans reacted badly to surprises," Daniel muttered, half to himself, "but this is extreme even for a Vulcan." He looked at her. "So you're trying to tell me that you won't attack me as long as I don't scare you or catch you by surprise? I'm tired of being tactful, T'Riss. You're a great girl. You're beautiful and smart, and I like everything I've found out about you so far. But I really don't want to die."
She stared at him. "I would never deliberately cause you pain or distress."
Daniel told her, "Maybe so. But I'm still trying to understand what's going on inside your head. I need to know where I stand, and why. Does that make any sense?"
"Certainly." She continued to stare. "Do you mean that because you now realize I acted out of fear last night, you are willing to reconsider taking me as a mate?"
Daniel shrugged. "I understand fear. I also understand mis-communication. It's obvious now that I read too much into the situation. But you have to understand..." He hesitated for several seconds. "I know you've been hurt, badly hurt and abused by men before. I sympathize. I really do sympathize. But I have also seen firsthand what you're willing to do to men who hurt you. I'm... I hope you aren't offended. But I can't forget what how ruthless you were willing to be in order to get the chance to kill Grigor-Tel. I...," he searched for words.
Daniel watched T'Riss close her eyes and tighten the muscles around her mouth. "Understood. Given my past behavior, it is only logical that you would be cautious." She turned away. "I am unworthy."
"Crap. That wasn't what I meant." Daniel rubbed his brow and drained the coffee cup. "Look. Killing that lardass isn't a mark against you in my book. If you were Human, I would even call it a point in your favor. That might make me a barbarian, but so be it." T'Riss turned back to look at him in chagrin.
She said, "I have reflected at length on my behavior in that matter. I do not grieve Grigor-Tel's death. But nothing about my behavior during that period was praiseworthy."
"True," Daniel agreed, and watched her eyebrow rise. "But you had every right to demand payback by my standards. Like you said, it isn't killing him, it's how you went about it that worries me. That, plus your unpredictability, makes me wonder when I might accidentally say or do something to make you go off like a torpedo." She pressed her lips together.
"So you are no longer willing to consider me as a mate." She nodded, looking sad.
"I didn't say that," Daniel told her impatiently. "Quit putting words in my mouth. I'm still willing to consider it if you are. I'm just a little nervous."
T'Riss took a deep breath and nodded grimly. "There is also something else that you should know."
"What would that be?" he asked her, shifting uncomfortably. His back was starting to throb.
"I have discussed our situation with Commander T'Pol, aboard Enterprise," she told him.
"You have? Why?" But even as he asked the answer occurred to him. "I suppose she has been hanging out with Humans more than any other Vulcan in history. Did she have any advice?" Cripes, his back was really getting sore now.
"She is bonded to Commander Tucker, the Human Chief Engineer," T'Riss revealed.
"What?" Daniel straightened suddenly, and sincerely wished that he had not done that an instant later when his back shrieked like a banshee.
"You are in pain," said T'Riss. "Did you take the medication that Dr. Phlox prescribed?"
"I am not going to stand watch when I'm drugged or drunk," he informed her truculently. "I can deal wi..." He gasped and cut off in mid-word.
"You require additional medical attention," T'Riss decided. She activated the intercom and spoke, "Jenrali or Sehlra to the control room. Medical emergency."
"Oh shit, T'Riss," Daniel moaned. "That's going to bring both of them at a flat run. It isn't that bad."
"You let me be the judge of that, boy," Sehlra demanded as she came up the ladder in a flying rush. "What happened?"
"It's not that big a deal," Daniel protested. "T'Riss overreacted."
"Overreacted to what, lad?" Jenrali came up the ladder at a slightly more sedate pace, but only slightly. His sharp eyes took in the tableau in one sweeping scan as he moved to the pilot's seat automatically. T'Riss moved aside and let him have it.
"It's my back again," Daniel reluctantly explained. "It's nothing, really."
"That is factually inaccurate, Daniel." T'Riss stood stiffly, as she had when she faced Commander T'Lar for her hearing and demotion. "Daniel suffered additional injury last night, and this morning his pain is significantly increased. He requires another visit to the Human sickbay."
"It's. Not. That. Bad." Daniel insisted between clenched teeth.
"Really?" Sehlra asked mildly. "Then stand up, walk over here, and touch your toes."
Daniel's temples tightened, but he grabbed the console and levered himself to his feet. Carefully placing one foot in front of another he made it three steps before a shaft of agony made his right knee buckle. T'Riss and Sehlra caught him on the way down. "Sonuvabitch!" he seethed while they settled him back in his seat.
"What happened last night?" Jenrali wanted to know. "What did you do to yourself?"
"I... got careless," Daniel said, not looking at T'Riss.
T'Riss stepped back and folded her hands behind her back. She lifted her chin and said, "Once again, Daniel, your statement is not factually correct. The blame for your injury is entirely mine."
"Really." Sehlra looked at her. "And just what did you do then, girl?"
"I," T'Riss swallowed. "I...injured Daniel last night while we were together in his quarters."
"How?" Jenrali asked remorselessly.
T'Riss stiffened and the Vulcan mask fell into place with a nearly audible clang. "I lost control of my reflexes."
"You're dodging the question, girl," Sehlra said ominously.
"Oh crap," Daniel exploded. "If you must know, we were in bed together. Does that satisfy your curiosity? I rolled over on top of T'Riss, and she reacted, and we both forgot about how much stronger she is, and I hurt my back. All right?"
Perfect silence reigned for a few seconds, until Jenrali snorted in amusement followed almost instantly by a deep sigh of resignation from Sehlra. "Lad," the old man started lecturing, "I understand. Really, I do. I remember what it was like to be young and hot-blooded. And the Mother knows that you have done without long enough to have a lot of catching up to do. But you are going to have to wait until you heal up a little bit first. At least try to take it a bit easier, will you? Let her be on top next time."
"Excellent advice," Sehlra said briskly. "Girl," she turned to T'Riss, who stood nearby looking humiliated. "Get on the comm and tell the Humans that we are coming over with Daniel again. With his luck he will probably be there for a day or two, so you stick around and be ready to come back here for anything he might need, like fresh underwear," she grinned. "Assuming you think he needs any." T'Riss turned emerald.
The boy stood in the center of Llahir's small quarters with a determined look on his face. He wore a baggy ship's coverall at least two sizes big for him and had a ratty woven fiber belt around his waist which bore a strange looking buckle. Llahir had seen the like before, but the context escaped him. Being an only child and childless himself, Llahir had very little experience with children. Because of that he usually got along very well with them, for he tended to take their opinions seriously rather than dismiss them as he'd seen other adults do. But even Llahir recognized a game of dress-up when he saw one, and he had more important things to do than to humor the spoiled younger brother of this ship's commander.
"What may I do for you, Selim?" he asked in a patient tone. "Would you like for me to call Raijiin?" The three of them had begun a habit of taking tea and gingerbread in the afternoons. The boy was probably circumventing his sister's prohibition against contact with the telepath by coming here. Llahir saw no logic in forbidding him contact with the only other person in his young life capable of understanding what he'd been through during his captivity with the Orions. The boy hadn't volunteered the tale and Llahir hadn't asked, but he'd had enough experience with depravity during his time with the Romulans to suspect that he didn't want to know the details.
"Raijiin is in danger," the child blurted. At Llahir's raised brow, Selim took a deep breath and said in a rush, "I think Senek has Raijiin trapped and won't let her get away!" Despite his attempts at Vulcan control, the boy's voice cracked just slightly and his thick-lashed eyes grew moist, presenting a most heart-rending picture.
Selim was small for his age even for Vulcans, who tended to mature more slowly than Romulan children. His wide-eyed distress made him seem even younger and more helpless. Llahir felt an overwhelming urge to protect the boy despite knowing full well that Selim was not in danger. It was almost as if Selim instinctively knew the best way to incite such a reaction. At the same time, Llahir's more practical side was admiring the judgment of the slavers who'd chosen to save this particular child from the mines where the other captives from The Plains of Gol had supposedly been sent. With proper training, there was no limit to what this boy might accomplish.
"Agent Senek and Agent-in-Training Raijiin work together, Selim," replied Llahir. "It would be most illogical of him to harm her." Selim let out a frustrated breath.
"I know that. Raijiin explained to me that Agent Senek is training her to be an agent just like he is," replied Selim. "But I heard the Andorian woman say that she wanted to hurt Raijiin, and then the beautiful man said..."
"You mean Damin?" inquired Llahir with dry amusement. It was an accurate, if rather subjective description of the Betazoid.
"Yes. The one who was with us at Natolya's. He said that Senek has Raijiin under his control." The child's concern was obviously sincere.
"Control? Do you mean mental control?" asked Llahir. He considered the child's statement. It was a theoretical possibility, he supposed. Llahir had done an information search in the Sehlat's database on both Senek and Raijiin shortly after he'd met them--without success, as his security clearance had yet to be reinstated. All of his information about the two of them had therefore come from Raijiin. Llahir had known better than to take the information at face value, of course. Raijiin would never have survived so long had she not been an accomplished teller of half-truths. He respected her for the skill, one he'd been forced to develop as well during his years with the Romulans. But it had never occurred to him to consider the possibility that she was being forced to conceal her true circumstances.
Was she in fact an unwitting tool of Senek and the Security Directorate? She seemed content with her lot, but he was no judge of her state of mind unless she volunteered the information. Llahir had always been unusually insensible to both telepathic and empathic contact. His unprecedented inability to form a betrothal bond had made him an ideal candidate for an extended undercover mission to Romulan space. Even Damin, by his own report a very powerful telepath, had barely been able to force his way through the fortress of Llahir's insensitivity during their shared mission. Selim, on the other hand, was-once again according to Raijiin-an impressively talented empath. If anyone were able to sense her true feelings about her situation, he would be a likely candidate. Perhaps Selim was correct in his supposition that Raijiin was an unwilling captive. It seemed prudent to at least investigate the boy's suspicions.
"I thought maybe you could help me help her," said Selim wistfully.
"I will discover Senek's intentions. If he intends to harm Raijiin, I will protect her," Llahir promised, despite the fact that he had no idea how to accomplish such a feat. Selim took the offer at face value and nodded briskly, as if they were adult co-conspirators.
"Excellent," he said. "I will leave you to it, then. I'm going to check on Raijiin." Before Llahir was able to voice an objection, Selim left him standing alone in his cabin. A second later Llahir remembered where he'd seen the design of the boy's belt buckle.
A sensor baffle? It had to be. Nothing else was worn that way. The design was Pre-Sundering. It had to be a toy. The power cells for such a thing hadn't been manufactured in at least three hundred years. It wasn't operational, of course. It couldn't be.
The door signal went off and Commander T'Lar looked up from her report writing. "Come." The portal slid open to admit Agent Senek. She inclined her head in response to his nod, maintaining strict composure despite her unusual impatience at the interruption.
"Commander," Senek began. "I have come to advise you that our efforts to secure passage aboard the Andorian freighter have been successful. It was necessary to reveal Raijiin's identity since the Betazoid refused to operate clandestinely, but the Andorians have agreed to accept her presence under confinement as long as she remains under control."
"What of the Human?" T'Lar asked sharply. "He was the one she attacked. It would seem that the greatest potential source of conflict would originate with him."
"Both Andorians assure me that Daniel Johansen will obey orders regardless of his personal opinions," Senek told her. "Captain Jenrali in particular is confident that the Human's loyalty is absolute. He may resent Raijiin's presence, but he will not attack her unless ordered to do so by his superiors."
"It would be agreeable to believe that there are some logical Humans in the galaxy," T'Lar sighed. She sat back and glanced down at the report she was working on. An agreeable belief, but so far it fails to correspond with my experience, she thought, frustrated.
"May I inquire as to the status of the negotiations?" Senek asked delicately.
"You may certainly inquire," T'Lar told him in a dry tone. "At the moment the negotiations are stalled. Captain Archer is indisposed. Reportedly, he has contracted a mildly debilitating infection that requires bed rest and also requires him to remain in quarantine. Commander T'Pol is commanding the Human ship for now, and is under instructions from Starfleet to postpone diplomatic exchanges of information until Captain Archer is again fit for duty."
Senek raised one eyebrow. "The Human ecosystem is rife with microbial and viral agents in addition to a host of other more esoteric and less pleasant forms of life. The story is quite plausible."
"Also quite convenient," T'Lar told him. "I suspect that they are busily analyzing and cross-referencing the data provided by Llahir while simultaneously interrogating that Romulan Commander using every method known to science."
"It is what we would be doing," Senek agreed. T'Lar paused, then tilted her head ruefully in agreement.
"What is to be done with Agent Llahir?" T'Lar wanted to know. "Will he be charged with treason?"
"Unlikely," Senek told her. "After having spent so many years out of contact with our people while under deep cover, it is only to be expected that his logic would be distorted. Ultimately, all he did was to provide general information to a trusted ally - information that he knew they would probably be able to gain from other sources eventually in any case. He may be reprimanded, but I would be surprised if it went beyond that."
T'Lar relaxed a trifle. "Good. He has sacrificed much for Vulcan. He should receive rewards commensurate with his sacrifices." She reached for a padd. "The final approval for Most Favored Trading Status arrived a few moments ago." She handed him the padd. "The identification and authorization codes are keyed to you and Agent-in-Training Raijiin. You may transfer them to the crew of Lerteiran at your discretion." She eyed him. "Are you quite certain that this is wise, Agent Senek?"
"Wise?" Senek ruefully replied, slipping the padd into a pocket. "By no means." He tugged at the hem of his tunic and squared his shoulders. "But I am certain that it is unavoidable. Given the politico-military situation in the quadrant at present, we cannot afford to waste any time in returning Agent Llahir to Vulcan for debriefing. I fear that what he has already revealed will be enough to cause a second purge of the government and fleet personnel."
T'Lar shook her head. "It is difficult to comprehend how the Romulans could have infiltrated our institutions so thoroughly. Is it possible that the information Llahir carries could be inaccurate?"
"Unlikely," Senek told her soberly. "He served as second-in-command aboard a Romulan warship with a commanding officer that had close links to the Tal Shiar, the Romulan Military Intelligence agency. No. Unfortunately, I believe we must accept his data as dependable."
T'Lar closed her eyes in resignation. "I do not envy your task, Agent Senek. I much prefer open conflict, even if it does occasionally require diplomatic negotiations with Humans."
Senek's mouth twitched. "I have taken the liberty of speaking to my former student on this matter," T'Lar's head came up and she gave him a sharp look. "Strictly in confidence and off the record, of course," he hastily added. T'Lar raised an interested brow. "She assures me, again off the record, that Starfleet will be eager to trade any information they manage to extract from their prisoner in return for full access to our Romulan database." He paused. "Commander Tucker even told me, and he was exquisitely careful to point out that this was merely speculation on his part, that if the information was offered in advance Vulcan observers might be invited to observe the interrogation."
T'Lar started absently tapping one fingernail on her desk. "That... would be most agreeable."
"Again," Senek emphasized, "he made particular mention of the fact that he is only third in command and that he does not have the authority to authorize this himself. T'Pol informs me, however, that her adun and Captain Archer have been close friends for many years. Also, Commander Tucker possesses considerable influence with Starfleet command in his own right. His suggestions will be heeded."
"I will make the offer," T'Lar decided. "If it is not accepted, there will be no harm done. If it is accepted, the High Council will at least be able to obtain the information unfiltered and with minimal delay."
"Well," Daniel stopped talking long enough to take a few breaths without interrupting the steady pace of their walk, "at least this is more dignified than being carried."
His left arm was draped casually around T'Riss and his right arm was wrapped around Sehlra. Between them, the two women had each slipped an arm around Daniel's waist and were holding him upright while he used them as live crutches. If the three of them maintained a sedate pace along the docking bay, a casual observer would probably conclude that they were simply out for a stroll, although the sight of a Vulcan and an Andorian affectionately sandwiching a Human between them would surely provoke comments in its own right.
"Don't worry about it, boy," Sehlra had chuckled when Daniel pointed this out. "With the reputation your people have, everyone will just assume it takes both of us to handle you." Daniel coughed and T'Riss, who had maintained a deep green complexion since the episode in the control room, looked ready to sink into the floor.
"You seem cheerful," Daniel smirked as he mustered enough air to force a pretense of conversation. "I take it that Damin is doing all right?" His eyes sparkled.
Sehlra's lips pressed together. "He's fine." She softened. "He brought us in some new business, too."
"Good," Daniel told her. "Starting to pull his weight already." He smiled impishly at her glower. "What kind of business? More passengers? Cargo?"
She relaxed her disapproving look. "The most profitable contract we have ever taken, boy. Jenrali and I had just finished up the details when T'Riss called us. Didn't have time to brief you about it, but you will doing a handspring, back or no back, once you hear it." She smiled broadly.
Daniel brightened. "Good news? Nice. What is it?"
Sehlra glanced around the docking bay. As large as it was, no one was in their near vicinity. "All right. Odds are it's no big secret anyway. But don't go blabbing it on that Human ship, either of you." Daniel and T'Riss both nodded. She pulled them close into a huddle and took a last glance around to make sure that no one would overhear. "We're hauling that Vulcan spy and a couple more of them to Risa with us, so they can catch a ship to Vulcan. The payoff is Most Favored trading status."
Daniel's jaw dropped open. "You can't be serious." T'Riss blinked and stared. Sehlra smiled broadly and nodded, obviously pleased with the response she had provoked.
"Yes, I am serious." She chuckled. "They are on a slicer's edge right now. They have to get him back, and all their ships are committed here. After the growling match they had with the Humans, they don't want to ask them for help, which leaves us as the only ones who can do the job. So Damin pinned them down and choked it out of them for us."
T'Riss looked back and forth from the Andorian to the Human. "This is almost unheard of. In fact, for an Andorian vessel to be granted this status is unheard of."
Daniel stared into distance, mentally calculating. "By the pickled liver of Zephram Cochrane," he whispered in awe. "Do you realize what this means, Sehlra? We're rich. I mean, really rich."
"Not yet, boy, but we will be soon enough." They started walking again. Daniel seemed to have fallen into a daze.
"But this..." he paused and brightened. "This means that we can afford to pay the duties and taxes on Terran goods, and still come out ahead. Sehlra!" He looked at her, excited. "Chocolate. With the reward money from Grigor-Tel we can fill the hold at Earth full of bitter dark chocolate and sell..."
"No!" T'Riss interrupted indignantly. She glared. "Chocolate is contraband on Vulcan, Daniel. You of all people are aware of this."
"Sure it is, T'Riss," he placated her, "but it's not contraband on Stavlas 5, now is it?" Daniel saw Sehlra's eyes brighten and shared a gleeful grin with the older woman.
"Stavlas... 5?" T'Riss asked uncertainly.
"You don't know it, girl?" Sehlra seemed surprised. "It's a small colony your people maintain at the edge of Vulcan space, not too far from Risa. The port is open to anyone who wants to stop there. Anyone at all..." She started gazing into distance the same way that Daniel was doing.
"How much could we get for an entire hold full of dark bitter chocolate?" Daniel wanted to know.
"Oh, by the Mother..." Sehlra almost whimpered. "I have no idea. There are entire colonies that could not afford a cargo like that. I have never seen a cargo that rich."
"Me neither," Daniel admitted. He almost stumbled over his own foot from not paying attention to where he was going. T'Riss hissed at him and he gave her a chagrined look. Then he immediately returned to daydreaming. "But I'm officially a citizen of Earth, so I can buy as much as I want. Legally, they can't place any limit on me as far as quantity. And once we sell it, we can turn and head for Andoria to stock up on ale. Last I heard, Andorian Ale was bringing 1578 credits a case on Earth."
"Fifteen hundred and..." Sehlra swallowed. "What are the taxes?"
Daniel figured rapidly. "Import fees are 3%. Income tax is a straight 10%. Then there's an excise tax and a few other forms of legal robbery. It all works out to about 19.4% altogether."
"And taxes are even less on Andoria," Sehlra said, "so we could easily clear over 1000 credits a case."
"Oh...shit..." Daniel breathed. "We can haul at least 2000 cases on each run..."
"By the Mother." Sehlra stopped and stared into infinity. "Then we load up on chocolate again and head back to Stav..."
"Enterprise is just ahead," T'Riss pointed out. The other two came back to themselves with a start. The trio started walking again. An Enterprise crewman was waiting at the airlock with a wheelchair for Daniel this time. He told Daniel, "Doctor Phlox should be ready to see you by the time we get there. He's prepping another patient for transfer."
"I'm not in any hurry," Daniel said, settling painfully into the chair. "I'm afraid of what he's going to tell me."
"I doubt it's that bad," the crewman told him, "not if you're still able to walk." He unlocked the brakes and backed the wheelchair up, spinning it with the skill of long practice.
"Girl," Sehlar told T'Riss, "I'll go with Daniel. I doubt that doctor needs both of us hanging over his shoulder while he's trying to work. You go talk to the Vulcans and see about getting the passenger's luggage transferred." She hesitated. "There's something else I didn't mention. It's not going to be a problem, because Jenrali and I aren't going to allow it to be a problem. But you and Daniel will need to know about it."
"What?" Daniel asked tiredly as he started his trip down the corridor.
Sehlra looked down at him with a concerned expression, then smiled indulgently. "It can wait. You get yourself repaired, boy. We'll finish the briefing later." She turned and followed the wheelchair as T'Riss stepped back through the airlock.
"Phlox to the bridge! We need..." Phlox stopped to leap for the arm that Sienae had just used to fling one of the two security guards across the room. The healer and melder Sorsen, who'd arrived to treat Captain Archer only to find himself in the midst of pandemonium, stood aside at Phlox's emphatic gesture. "We need additional security in sickbay!" Phlox shouted while wrestling with the still partially restrained Romulan. On the other side of the table, the remaining security guard had snatched an additional set of restraints off the adjacent bio-bed and was trying to jury-rig some way to reinforce her bonds.
"Kletas! Burosta m'rin le'nurtif karov!" The Romulan was screeching at the top of her lungs while lunging and snapping with her teeth. Phlox had no idea what she was saying, but he doubted that it was a polite request for a cup of water. He sincerely regretted the sympathetic impulse that had led him earlier into loosening her restraints when she started showing obvious signs of discomfort. Sorsen looked as distressed as Phlox had ever seen him look, which to be honest wasn't very much, but he obviously wanted to help.
"Stand clear, Healer Sorsen," called Phlox over one shoulder as he pinned a flailing arm against his chest, trying to shield his face from fingernails clawing at his eyes.
The prisoner worked her left knee loose and jammed it into Phlox's back, wrenching a gasp from him and knocking him forward, which gave her room to grab his collar and start choking him. The Human guard, fed up, landed a hammer fist straight into the pit of her belly. It shortened her breath long enough for Phlox to break loose, and the second guard stumbled back into the fray.
The entrance to sickbay whooshed open and Malcolm Reed led a pair of security officers with drawn phase pistols through the door. Instantly grasping the situation, he barked, "Mathews, Ling, pin her legs. Ortega and Ludd, take her arms. Just hold her until the doctor can give her something. And don't let her bite you."
With two more guards added to the mix, it didn't take long to pin the Romulan commander spread-eagled. Phlox frantically sorted through his cabinet to find a mild sedative that was safe for Vulcans and filled a hypo in record time. When the prisoner saw him approaching her with the hypo in his hand her expression, for the first time, turned from rage to fear. She tried to lunge backward, to no avail with four stout men holding her down. Then she threw back her head and screamed an earsplitting howl of abject terror. The humans in the room winced to a man. Phlox gritted his teeth, determined to get the job done. Out of the corner of one eye he saw Sorsen standing rigidly to one side of the confrontation with a pained expression on his face.
Phlox's poor bat, which was already on the verge of a nervous breakdown from all the commotion, started flapping desperately back and forth in its cage until it ran headfirst into a divider and dropped like a rock, out cold.
Phlox lunged like a fencer and applied the hypo to the prisoner's neck. Blessed silence fell. Gingerly the much abused guards let go and backed away, eyeing their quarry warily. "Now what?" one of them muttered.
"Now," Malcolm stated, "we move her to the brig. That is," glancing at Phlox, "if there is no medical reason not to?"
"None at all," Phlox sighed with relief. "Take her. Please. With my compliments. Since she's unconscious, you're welcome to use one of my gurneys."
Malcolm nodded briskly and they got busy. As they exited with the Romulan on the gurney in their midst, Phlox overheard Malcolm muttering to himself, "Something tells me that this is going to be one of the more interesting interrogations of my career." Phlox didn't envy the man his task. He could only hope that the security officer's interrogation methods wouldn't land the prisoner back in sickbay. If he never saw a Romulan again it would be too soon.
Phlox took a deep breath, closed his eyes briefly in non-specific supplication, and then turned to Sorsen, smiling wryly.
"So, now that we've gotten that task out of the way, let's check on the captain, shall we?"
Sorsen tipped his head in relieved agreement. "How did he pass the past eight hours?" he asked as they walked to the curtained cubicle where Jonathan Archer lay, still sedated.
"Unconscious. I made sure of it. I took no chances," replied Phlox. Sorsen raised a brow.
"Wasn't that extreme? When I warned you of his potential for suicide I expected simple observation. I would think that sickbay would be the safest place for him. How could he injure himself while under your care?"
"The captain is a very resourceful individual, and you left him without defenses, Healer. I've seen the result of stripping patients of their mental defenses with standard therapy. It isn't pretty. I can only imagine how much more intense his pain was after your telepathic treatment," explained Phlox. "As I said, I was taking no chances." It was difficult to keep the disapproval out of his voice. In his career he'd rarely seen the sort of agony that he'd witnessed on Jonathan Archer's face following Sorsen's so-called diagnostic meld.
Sorsen cleared his throat. They paused at the curtained cubicle and the Vulcan healer made sober eye contact with Phlox. "You of all people should understand the need to discover the extent of an injury prior to treating it, Doctor. Did you prefer that your captain remain unfit for duty until your usual methods could uncover the problem and treat it?"
The healer had a point, reflected Phlox. The diagnostic meld had laid the problem bare better than any therapist could hope to do even with years of intensive standard psychotherapy. He tipped his head. "No. Of course not. I understand the need to inflict necessary pain, Healer Sorsen. I am simply concerned. I doubt that I would ever be able to render the captain fit for command again in his current condition using the methods at my disposal. I sincerely hope that your techniques will be more successful."
"As do I, Doctor Phlox," agreed Sorsen, to Phlox's dismay. "As do I."
Selim reached out to press the door buzzer beside Raijiin's cabin door a second time. He straightened his shoulders and did his best to look like he was where he was supposed to be as a crewman approached. The man gave him a curious look anyway. Selim acknowledged the look with a cool nod. To his relief, the crewman passed him and continued down the corridor without saying anything. The event was worrisome, though. His sister had made it clear that Raijiin's quarters were off limits. He needed to get out of the hallway before too many people saw him, but Raijiin wasn't answering the door.
Better that than if Senek had answered the door, Selim thought. He was convinced now that if Senek found out he'd discovered the truth then something very bad was going to happen. He reached for the buzzer again with sweaty palms, his heart pounding, and then changed his mind. Maybe Raijiin was asleep-or possibly Senek was in his bedroom meditating and didn't want to be disturbed. Either way, the safest place for him was inside the cabin for now, and he needed to get inside as silently as possible. Entering without permission was impolite, he knew that, but the circumstances made it necessary. Fortunately, he'd accompanied Raijiin to her quarters several times since they'd come aboard Sehlat. The entry code sprang to mind when he closed his eyes and visualized the last time he'd stood in the doorway with Raijiin. He pressed it into the keypad by the door and it swished open obligingly. Selim heard voices down the corridor. Without a backward glance he slipped inside the darkened foyer and slapped the manual door control. The door swished closed again. Selim stood motionless in the silent room, holding his breath. A slow count to five calmed him. There was no one home.
Two open doors led out of the chamber through the wall facing the door he'd entered, one leading to a bathroom, the other to a small bedroom. In the center of the room was a table with four chairs surrounding it. A bunk was against the wall to his right. Against the wall to his left was a desk with an inactive computer console on top of it. Next to the desk was a small cabinet. The cabinet, he knew, contained the tea set and dishes that he and Llahir shared with Raijiin during their tea times, among other things. Beside the cabinet on the floor sat a large travel trunk. The lid was open. It looked to be full of multicolored silks.
She's packing, Selim realized with alarm. Senek's going to force her to go on that ship with the crazy Andorian.
In the quiet the noise of footsteps just outside the door was loud enough to startle him. A frantic glance around the room revealed only one likely hiding place. He dove for the travel trunk and buried himself beneath layers of silk to the swish of the opening door. Through a veil of translucent fabric he saw Agent Senek escort Raijiin into her bedroom. Alarmingly, Raijiin's head was covered in a turban of gauze bandages from her earlobes to the crown of her head. She looked a little unsteady on her feet. A few seconds later Senek came out again. He paused at the door.
"Would you care for tea?" His voice was cool, but showed a concern Selim hadn't expected.
"No, thank you. I think I'll just sleep for a while. Wake me a quarter of an hour before our meeting with Llahir." Raijiin's speech was slurred a little. Senek just nodded and then closed the door behind him. He stood contemplating the closed door for several seconds before turning toward Selim's side of the room. The boy held his breath, but the grizzled agent just passed the trunk by without noticing him and took a seat at the desk. A muffled tapping ensued as Senek activated the computer console.
Selim remained motionless. He was good at it, having had lots of practice remaining unnoticed during his captivity on the Orion station, but soon boredom overtook him. In the silence, buried in soft silk, he slept.
Sorsen drew the curtain behind him and stepped to the bedside of his patient. Unconscious, the once self-assured carrier of Surak's katra looked more like a slumbering child, his face innocent and lax in sleep. He was secured in five point restraints. Doctor Phlox had indeed decided to take no chances. The Vulcan healer squared his shoulders and then reached down to lay three fingers lightly on Jonathan Archer's left temple.
Archer's eyes snapped open, at first bewildered and then filled with pain. Sorsen withdrew his hand, crossing both forearms to tuck his hands into the sleeves of his green healer's robe.
"I am Healer Sorsen, Captain. Do you remember me?" he asked. Archer's lips twisted bitterly.
"Too damn well," he rasped. His lips were cracked, his voice hoarse. Sorsen stepped to the bedside table, poured a glass of water, and offered it to the Human.
"You look thirsty. Would you like something to drink before we begin?" Archer eyed the glass as if it were filled with poison.
"Begin? Begin what? Haven't you already done enough?"
Sorsen exhaled heavily and placed the full glass back on the bedside table. "I see that I must review my treatment plan with you. When we last met I requested and you granted consent for a diagnostic meld. Do you remember that?"
"It wasn't as if I had a choice," Archer told him in a surly voice. He raised both hands to the limits of his restraining cuffs-about six inches from the surface of the bed. "Look at me. Do I look like someone who's here voluntarily?" Sorsen cocked his head at the Human. He did have a point. So he stepped back to Archer's bedside and removed his wrist, ankle and waist restraints, dropping the tangle of cuffs and straps to the floor. Archer sat up, rubbing his wrists. His eyes went to the bedside table. He immediately reached for the cup of water and drained it.
"I regret that you feel as if you had no choice, Captain," Sorsen told Archer. "I am obviously at fault in that I failed to make myself clear. You have always had the option to refuse treatment. You may leave now if you wish, but Doctor Phlox informs me that he is unable to offer you any treatment which will have you fit for duty any time soon. Now that I have discovered the cause of your difficulty, there is a strong possibility that I can prepare you to pass a Starfleet psychological examination within the week and thus retain command of Enterprise despite your recent near-disastrous confrontation with an ally. I cannot do this without your cooperation and consent. Do you want me to proceed or not?" Archer poured himself a second glass of water with shaky hands and settled back to sip it, gazing at Sorsen with haunted eyes.
"Before yesterday I would have sworn that I was doing pretty well keeping it all together. That's obviously not the case judging from my reaction to the meld, but why do you think you can do something about it? Isn't all this just me having some kind of nervous breakdown?" he asked. The fear in the Human's voice was blatant, but he was rational. It was an impressive feat. At this stage of treatment, lacking all self-deception, a Vulcan was generally made non-verbal by terror and self-loathing. That this Human was capable of a reasoned exchange of ideas was a hopeful sign.
"Although the term 'nervous breakdown' is a non-scientific term, it is commonly used by Humans to mean a chemical imbalance within the brain which renders the victim emotionally and psychologically non-functional. It can occur spontaneously or as the result of an external trigger. In your case, the external trigger seems to be the presence of Surak's katra within your consciousness, most particularly the residual memories left by Surak's katra," explained Sorsen.
"So you'll have to erase my memory to cure me, like the Security Directorate does to its operatives that can't deal with having to kill?" asked Archer, sounding increasingly agitated. Sorsen paused at that in surprise. The man knew more than he should, but it was a useful comparison.
"Not entirely. A complete erasure would produce complete amnesia for the time period involved-not a reasonable solution. Instead, think of your emotional landscape as a canvas painted by your life experiences and memories. Surak's emotional responses to his life experiences have been applied over the true portrait, altering it and overwhelming your brain's adaptive ability. The Human brain simply cannot deal with the intensity of Vulcan emotions. What I propose to do is to attempt to remove these sensory memories, leaving the raw data intact. You will be left with information which feels as if it were acquired indirectly through observation rather than through direct experience. The objective distance will hopefully improve your ability to process the consequences of your decisions and learn from them, making it possible for you to remain in command while you and Doctor Phlox work on your issues with personal relationships."
Archer seemed mollified, almost cooperative. "What's the down side?" he asked.
"If I remove too much sensory memory you could be left with no emotional attachments at all. A Vulcan would not generally find this outcome distressing, but my research would suggest that this would render you insane by Human standards. I believe the Human term is 'sociopath'." Archer's eyes widened. He took a shaky breath. Sorsen continued.
"If too little sensory memory is removed you will continue to be prone to unprovoked emotional outbursts. Meditation and medication will only delay the inevitable. You will not pass the Starfleet psychological examination in that state either, but you would have a better chance of recovery...after several years of therapy, perhaps."
"Sounds like I might just want to take my chances the way I am," said Archer. Sorsen shook his head.
"If I do nothing, Doctor Phlox has told me that he seriously doubts standard therapy would ever be able to prevent you from experiencing frequent episodes of emotional instability. My goal with treatment will be, as you Humans say, to 'walk a fine line'. If you consent to treatment I will focus on sensory memories which I can definitely identify as related to decisions which you have made while under the influence of Surak's memories. If you wish, I can include pre-Surak traumatic sensory memories as well, but removing those may change your baseline personality." Archer chuckled bitterly.
"I guess I'll let you use your judgment, since no one but Porthos seems to like my 'baseline personality'." He tossed back the rest of his water, set the empty glass on the table, and lay back on the bed.
"Go for it, Healer Sorsen," said Archer from between clenched jaws. "Let's get this over with."
A brisk tap on her bedroom door woke Raijiin from sleep. She blinked, her thoughts still drug-fogged, her bones aching deep within their marrow as they adjusted to the gene therapy induced transition from hemocyte to cupricyte production. There was another tap, a bit louder this time.
"I am awake," she called. Then she rolled wearily out of her bunk and checked the chronometer. It had only been two hours, not remotely long enough. Her ears and forehead throbbed. The local anesthetic had worn off already, but drugs that would dull the pain would also dull her telepathic sensitivity, and the upcoming ill-timed meeting with Llahir was going to tax her abilities even without them. The man's thoughts were unassailable without skin to skin contact, he was so telepathically insensitive, and one simply did not touch a Vulcan in the course of casual social interactions. Nevertheless, Senek had assigned her the unenviable task of ascertaining Llahir's state of mind.
While she was still at Natolya's, or even back during her time as a slave of the Reptilian Xindi, Raijiin would have taken the direct route to knowledge and aggressively pursued physical contact with Llahir. He might be Vulcan, but he was still a man, and no doubt a lonely one at that. But now that she was an agent of the Security Directorate her options were more limited. Senek had forbidden her the use of more physical means of persuasion without his permission. Privately she'd found his scruples nonsensical at first. Why not use her talents to the fullest? Somewhat reluctantly she had eventually come to understand the need for restraint. Now that she was at least superficially more Vulcan than not, she would need to learn to behave as a Vulcan would behave or risk breaking their cover once they'd reached their destination.
Be honest with yourself. You want the man. Senek's rules are... frustrating.
Raijiin had to admit that the idea of seducing Llahir had a great deal of appeal, and not only for professional reasons. They had much in common, she and the pseudo-Romulan, and he was the type of man to whom she'd always been attracted-one with a tough exterior who possessed unexpected inner gentleness. His interactions with Selim had told her that much. Although under Vulcan military law the deep undercover agent would be free to leave the service of the Security Directorate after being debriefed, her new superiors quite understandably didn't like that idea very much. They would much prefer that he be recruited once again to the cause. If she was going to have to do that by appealing to him on a personal level, at least it was what she wanted as well.
Raijiin approached the full length mirror on the door of her closet, a necessary addition she'd made in her first week on board. The impact she made on others was made first by the way she looked. Assessing her appearance before she left her room each morning helped her to feel more in control of her situation. Her current assessment: she looked like an unmade bed. Sliding open her closet, she reached in, retrieved and changed into a fresh, un-rumpled uniform, then eyed the gauze turban wrapped around her head. Steeling herself, she began unwrapping.
Three layers later a stranger looked back at her in the mirror, one with elegantly upswept brows and finely pointed ears. The result was surprisingly attractive, especially so soon after surgery. The surgical sites were a bit swollen, but her incisions were virtually invisible thanks to Tyvek's use of tissue adhesive rather than sutures to close the skin. The Vulcan physician had warned her to keep them covered for a couple of days to prevent infection, but the potential impact of her transformation on Llahir was worth the risk. She applied a bit of makeup to cover the post-op bruising rapidly developing on her temples, arranged her hair so that just the tips of her remodeled ears peeked tantalizingly from the curls, glossed her lips, and settled her features and her mind into Vulcan serenity. There was another tap on the door.
"Raijiin?" called Senek. "He is here."
"Ah, Mr. Johansen. Welcome back," Phlox greeted him cheerfully as Daniel and his convoy made their entrance to Enterprise's sickbay.
"Hi, Doc," Daniel replied glumly. "Great to be home again. Love what you've done with the place." Phlox chuckled and walked over.
"So tell me, young man. What brings you back so soon? The luxurious accommodations? Chef's cooking? Did you miss my animals?" Phlox and the crewman, assisted by Sehlra, lifted Daniel to a biobed and Phlox started scanning and probing.
Daniel tried to smile. "Actually that little lizard guy over there is kinda cute if he would just quit baring his fangs at me. But the truth is I, uh, fell and hurt my back again." Sehlra gave him a look but kept her mouth shut for once.
"I see," the doctor murmured. "Hm... Oh dear. You have hurt yourself, haven't you. Tsk." Phlox shook his head and touched Daniel's back with feather light fingers. "I won't try to bore you with the technical description, but what's happened is that you have cracked one of the small appendages that stick up on the back of your spinal column. I would imagine that the pain is rather intense."
"You could put it that way," Daniel admitted. "Can you fix it?" he asked hopefully. "I mean quick, so I can leave right away?"
"I can certainly apply the repair easily enough," Phlox told him. The Denobulan turned away for some instruments and a hypo. "But it will take another day or two for the sealer to completely finish bonding the bone back together."
"Great," Daniel sighed and rolled his eyes.
"That will teach you the virtue of patience, boy," Sehlra scolded him. "Next time, don't be so eager."
Daniel gaped at the injustice. "Look who's talking! Who was it that practically threw us into a sack together and tied it off? You..." Suddenly realizing where they were, he glanced at Phlox's interested expression and closed his mouth.
Sehlra chuckled. "I didn't tell you to start doing handstands on the bunk with her, boy." Daniel locked his teeth together. Sehlra eyed him critically. "While you're here, maybe he can give you some advice on how to keep from hurting yourself again." Daniel's eyes widened and he started to struggle up onto his elbows. Ignoring him, Sehlra turned to Phlox and bluntly asked, "Doctor, after working with Humans this long, no doubt you know all about their mating techniques. Any suggestions on how Daniel and that T'Riss girl can get things done without breaking him again?"
"Oh." Phlox blinked several times. Daniel sank back and closed his eyes, silently begging for death. "Is that how the injury occurred?"
Sehlra told him, "Yes. Daniel said they got too frisky and forgot about how strong she was."
"Well," Phlox told them, warming up to the subject as he continued gathering his tools and hypos. "There is no doubt that Vulcans are quite strong. If I had known that the two of you had progressed in your relationship to the point of actual mating, I would have offered to sit down with you and provide some counseling on these matters. I still suggest that it would be a good idea." He started to gently roll Daniel over onto his side.
"Uh," Daniel groped for a reply.
"In fact, if you can possibly endure it, I strongly recommend that you refrain from sexual intercourse entirely for the next three days. Of course, there are alternative methods of providing physical relief if the pressure of seminal fluid becomes intolerable, for example..."
"I know about those, Doc," Daniel interrupted him frantically. "It's ok. I can stand it for a few days." He paused while something sank in. "Wait a minute. You knew about us?"
"Yes. Crewman T'Riss asked for my advice when you were here last time," Phlox told him, adjusting an instrument slightly before applying it to Daniel's back. He watched the readout. "Hmmm," he said unhelpfully.
"Smart girl," Sehlra approved. "Better to get this sort of thing out of the way up front."
"Oh my yes, definitely," Phlox agreed, reaching for a hypo. "This will numb the area, and it should relieve the pain. It will also make it temporarily impossible for you to walk. But the effect is completely temporary, I assure you." The hypo spray hissed and blessed relief began to flow down Daniel's spine.
"Oh yeah. That's great." Daniel slumped in relief. "That. Really. Helps."
"Excellent," Phlox sounded pleased. "Now. To return to your question about mating techniques." Daniel winced. "While it is true that Vulcans are stronger than Humans, it would ordinarily not be a problem in your case. The average Human male is almost as strong, or in some cases even slightly stronger, than the average Vulcan female. If it were a case of you being female and T'Riss being male, you would have a greater challenge on your hands, because she would have to take extraordinary precautions to avoid damaging you. But in your case..."
"But I heard that Vulcans are three times as strong as Humans," Sehlra objected.
"Not... strictly," Phlox told her. "That's actually something of a myth, what Humans refer to as an 'old wive's tale'. It's based on something that occurred during First Contact between the two races. At that time, Human physicians of the dominant planetary subculture had a standard for determining normal strength. They decided that a Human male, to qualify as having normal strength, should be able to pick up a mass equal to his own weight from the floor and raise it over his head.
"They asked the Vulcan crew members to pick up various weights so that they could evaluate their strength, and noted that the Vulcan officers were capable of lifting three times their own mass against Earth gravity. From that, the myth was born. I am certain you can see the flaws in the testing methodology instantly, the most immediate of which is the fact that the Vulcans had spent their lives under Vulcan gravity."
"Their own weight. Is that all?" Sehlra looked taken aback. She glanced protectively down at Daniel and smoothed his hair. "I didn't realize that they were so frail."
"Well, they aren't really," Phlox explained. "The standard was meant to apply to city dwelling civilians. Generally speaking, these were people who spent their lives pushing buttons and drinking beverages. Quite frankly, very few Humans ever bother to put in the time and effort necessary to develop their full potential strength." He looked her. "Some Humans, however, compete with each other in contests of strength. I believe that the official record to date is a Human male who lifted 567 kilograms."
"Ouch." Daniel said. They both immediately turned to him.
"Are you still in pain, Mr. Johansen?" Phlox asked him worriedly.
"Not from my back," Daniel assured him. "The pain is from the thought of lifting 567 kilograms."
Phlox chuckled. "I quite understand. It's not something that I would care to attempt myself. In any case, your difficulty with Crewman T'Riss is going to be compounded for some time because of your extended period under reduced gravity."
Daniel caught Sehlra twisting her antennae in guilt and told her firmly, "Stop that. We all agreed that it was the right thing to do. It was either that or take a loan from the Orions, and we all know where that would have ended up. I may be youthful and winsome, but I really don't think slave silks would look good on me."
"There has been no permanent damage that I can detect," Phlox hastened to interject. "You simply need to exercise and make sure to include plenty of protein and calcium in your diet for a while." He picked up an instrument. "Meanwhile, let's get this fracture sealed. Afterward, I think I may be able to provide you with some useful assistance with your questions." He applied the laser scalpel and the scent of burning flesh and hair filled the air. Daniel held his breath. Past Sehlra he caught sight of Commander Tucker entering sickbay.
"Hey, Doc! Any news?" called the engineer.
"I'll be right with you, Commander," replied Phlox, sounding preoccupied. Daniel couldn't feel anything below his lower chest, but the scraping sounds were a little unnerving. Sehlra's face blanched to a paler blue.
"Umm...Sehlra? Can you go to the mess and get me some plomeek broth?" Daniel asked her quickly. She smiled queasily in gratitude and released his hand.
"I'll go do that then, shall I?" she announced to the room in general. "I'll be back in a few minutes," she called over her shoulder. Daniel watched her brush by Tucker with a hasty nod. Enterprise's engineer looked after her with a puzzled expression. He walked up to Daniel's bedside.
"Sehlra's in a hurry today. Where's the fire?" he asked Daniel.
"I think the smell was getting to her," Daniel replied. "Either that or the noises." Tucker's eyes widened a bit as he looked over Daniel's shoulder at what Phlox was doing. Daniel didn't ask.
"There. All done," announced Phlox a moment later. The rustle of bandages followed. Daniel closed his eyes and sighed. The numbness was sheer bliss. He hadn't been pain free in a long time.
"Just take a nap now, Mr. Johansen. When the anesthetic begins to wear off, you let me know."
"Sure thing, Doc," replied Daniel sleepily.
"He okay?" Daniel heard Trip Tucker ask Phlox softly.
"He'll be fine," replied Phlox in a cheerfully quiet voice. "You should talk to him when he wakes, though. He needs some safety advice so he doesn't fracture anything else while indulging in off-duty recreation."
"Safety? From what?" questioned Tucker.
"T'Riss," answered Phlox succinctly.
"Really?" whispered Tucker, sounding unaccountably delighted. Daniel felt his face grow warm.
Don't mind me. I'm asleep.
"T'Pol told me she'd had a talk with the girl, but I wasn't sure anything would come of it. She wasn't very encouraging, apparently," murmured Tucker.
"Caution is the logical approach to such a situation," Phlox told him.
"Caution never got me anywhere. I say he should go for it if that's what he wants," said Tucker. Phlox chuckled, a quiet belly laugh.
"Well, you'd be the best person to teach him how to do that without killing himself, Commander."
Daniel recalled T'Riss' unbelievable claim just that morning that the Enterprise's ebullient and enthusiastic chief engineer was bonded to her ice-cold first officer. He really hadn't believed it until now..
"How's the captain? T'Pol sent me to check," said Tucker, sounding as if he were walking away.
"Healer Sorsen left about an hour ago. The captain seems well enough, but fatigued," answered Phlox's voice, growing gradually more distant. "I'm preparing a preliminary evaluation report. I'll have something for Commander T'Pol's review by 1800 hours..."
Their voices faded to a murmur. Daniel wasn't even curious about their last topic of conversation. It felt too good to finally be pain free for him to bother to think that hard. He slept.
"Raijin? He is here."
A muffled acknowledgment followed Senek's announcement through Raijiin's bedroom door, but, as was generally typical for a woman, it seemed that Raijiin was not yet ready. Llahir took a seat at the familiar table in the center of the room and waited as Senek stepped away from the bedroom door and went to the sideboard to pour three cups of Earl Grey. The addition of Earth-grown tea to the planning meetings the three of them had been having since they'd received orders to divert to Risa had been Raijiin's idea, he was sure-an attempt to put him at ease after his positive response to their little tea parties with Selim. The woman was enticing, but a little transparent at times. It amused Llahir to see her work so hard to gain his favor. Now she even had Senek doing it.
"Sugar?" Senek offered. The Vulcan took his unsweetened, of course. His tone of voice implied that any right-thinking Vulcan would do the same. His eyes met Llahir's without expression, the spoon in his right hand poised above a bowl filled with genuine Earth-made refined cane sugar.
"Yes, please. Two spoonfuls. And creamer," Llahir replied. His chin came up. Accept it.. I am no longer what you would consider purely Vulcan, neither in my preferences nor in my behavior.
Senek's right brow went up a trifle as he spooned both sugar and non-dairy creamer into the steaming cup. Llahir preferred the taste of real milk, but he had found it to be unfortunately indigestible.
The sound of a door swooshing open drew Llahir's attention away from Senek and tea. For a second Llahir thought a stranger was entering the room from Raijiin's bedroom. Then he recognized her. The changes were minor. His instinctive response wasn't. Heat rushed to his groin and memories of his last Pon Farr with Sienae rushed into his head. He stifled them. This girl was nothing like Sienae in personality, which was one of the main reasons he found her so attractive. Her transformation made her look more Romulan than Vulcan. Vulcan women rarely wore their hair down in loose curls. But Raijiin's manner was accommodating rather than domineering, a refreshing change.
"Shall we begin, gentlemen?" Raijiin's request was made with cool authority and without her usual placating smile. Senek joined them at the table and handed out cups of tea. Raijiin took hers with a small nod of acknowledgment and sipped its contents unsweetened without seeming to notice the lack. Llahir studied her face, puzzled. Had the doctor done something to her that was more than cosmetic? His eyes cut to Senek. Had Senek done something to her?
Maybe the boy is right. Maybe he's got her under some sort of mental compulsion.
"Our passage on the Lerteiran has been arranged," she told Llahir. "We'll be boarding in less than an hour, so you need to collect your personal effects. Our luggage has already been transported to the exit airlock. I have taken the liberty of packing several unmarked ship's coveralls in the correct size for your use."
Llahir raised a brow at her, amused by her thoroughness. "I am... grateful. I am, however, perfectly capable of providing my own clothing."
Raijiin's lips quirked suspiciously but she didn't actually smile. "Yes. I am aware of that," she told him, "but time is of the essence. The quartermaster has informed me that you have not requisitioned sufficient clothing for a trip of this duration. You may purchase more suitable attire on Risa if you like, but I assumed that you would prefer to be dressed for the next three weeks rather than nude, however entertaining the prospect might be for the rest of us."
"A reasonable assumption," Llahir acknowledged in a dry voice. No, she's not completely Vulcan yet. "It's very short notice. "
"Commander T'Lar is aware of our departure," Raijiin replied.
But not too pleased with it, I'd wager, thought Llahir.
"Bring a keyboard-equipped device for your debriefing reports," Senek put in. "We will be sharing quarters with individuals who are not authorized to overhear classified information." He paused. "And you may wish to visit sickbay before we leave."
"Why would I need to visit sickbay?" asked Llahir, nonplussed.
Senek cleared his throat, glanced at Raijiin, who was regarding them both with a puzzled expression, and then said simply, "Skin contact allows me access to your thoughts."
Llahir blinked. Senek had handed him a teacup just as Raijiin was entering the room. The finger contact had been casual and fleeting. He'd thought nothing of it. "Ah," he replied with some discomfort. He cleared his throat in an unconscious echo of the older man. "There is no cause for concern," he reassured Senek. "I was...taken by surprise."
"Control will be essential in such close quarters," Senek persisted. "If you are potentially compromised you should seek suppressive treatment." Llahir gritted his teeth. The man thought he was entering Pon Farr.
"I assure you that there is no cause for concern," repeated Llahir flatly. His time was years away, but addressing the subject directly in Raijiin's presence was, of course, completely out of the question. Senek's lack of confidence in his capacity for civilized behavior was beginning to grate on his nerves. His eyes met Raijiin's. Her expression was sympathetic, amused, and obviously intrigued.
Interesting. She's more like a Romulan every moment. He couldn't decide whether that was a good thing or not.
T'Riss had no difficulty arranging for the transfer of luggage and incidental belongings for their new Vulcan passengers. The Sehlat's quartermaster, with typical Vulcan efficiency, already had the transfer paperwork completed. All that remained after T'Riss reviewed and approved the itemized list was the actual physical transport.
With plenty of time left on her hands, T'Riss debated returning to Enterprise. Logic informed her that Sehlra had been correct, that there was nothing constructive she could contribute there, but she had been specifically ordered by Jenrali to accompany Daniel to the station, and she doubted that the old man would appreciate it if she returned without him--or without at least an up-to-date report on his condition.
T'Riss finally admitted to herself that she was searching for an excuse to avoid visiting the healer on her own behalf. This was neither logical nor acceptable. She took a deep breath and recited the Disciplines to herself. Then she headed to Sehlat's sickbay to see Healer Tyvek.
The unadorned grey corridors of the Vulcan vessel, once so familiar to her, now seemed overly spacious and bland, lacking in character compared to the cramped, haphazard and much repaired companionways of the Lerteiran. As T'Riss walked briskly to her destination she couldn't help but wonder what was going to happen to her once she'd served her disciplinary assignment. She was hardly officer material anymore by any space force's standards. Her initial tour would be up in less than a year. She'd always thought she'd make a career of the Vulcan military, but now things were different-confusing.
Entering sickbay, she found a dozen individuals representing practically every species in the sector lined up before a curtained cubicle in the rear. Tyvek stepped forward with an unusually sour expression on his face.
"May I assist you, Crewman?" T'Riss blinked, taken aback by the crowd.
"I came for a consultation before the Lertieran's departure to Risa, but perhaps I should return later."
A green-robed female healer stepped out from behind the curtain. She was escorting an Orion woman with a chubby green infant in her arms. The woman smiled gratefully and then began walking toward the exit. "Next," announced the healer, and a male Tellarite stepped forward.
"It will not be necessary for you to leave. I am available," said Tyvek to T'Riss. "Two members of the medical staff of the Kau T'Surak are here to assist me with clearing the refugees for re-entry onto the station."
It was then that T'Riss noted the second cubicle. An emotionally traumatized looking Betazoid female exited. She was closely followed by a healer. He was Sorsen, the melder who'd forced T'Riss out of her self-imposed healing trance after the death of Grigor-Tel, the one who'd offered only recently to provide couple's counseling to her and to Daniel. She was grateful to the man but the sight of his face brought back unpleasant memories. Sorsen handed the girl over to a young Vulcan female in the white robe and green sash of a healer-in-training who took the Betazoid by the arm and led her, unprotesting and staring at her toes, toward the exit and presumably to the hospital ship for further treatment.
"Next," called the melder. The refugee at the head of the line, a huge and muscular Orion male, stepped forward and joined the slender Vulcan behind the curtain. If the melder was concerned for his personal safety he gave no sign of it.
"Come this way," said Tyvek. He led T'Riss toward a third makeshift examination area and drew the curtain behind them. "Is there a problem?" he asked in a tired voice.
T'Riss eyed his face, looking for something she could trust. Associating with Humans and Andorians must be changing my perceptions, she thought. Despite their common origins she felt absolutely no inclination to confide in the man. And yet, he was a healer and presumably could be trusted.
"I am concerned that my medication may no longer be effective," T'Riss said finally. "I am having difficulties with emotional control in relation to..." She paused, "...certain stimuli." Tyvek raised a brow. He pulled the portable scanner from his belt and passed it slowly over her head several times before inspecting the display.
"Your neurotransmitter levels are within normal limits, Crewman. I see nothing that a change in medication would remedy," he told her. "Post-traumatic stress therapy with a skilled melder would be the next logical step."
T'Riss took a shaky breath. Her last encounter with melding had been a horrific invasion, but necessary to pull her from her comatose state. Although she understood on an intellectual level that such painfully drastic measures were no longer needed, her instincts were telling her to run-as quickly and as far away as possible.
"Sorsen is available," continued Tyvek. "I would suggest that you take advantage of the opportunity before your departure."
The prospect was both attractive and terrifying. Traditional Vulcan post-traumatic stress therapy usually involved the total suppression of the involved memories. As painful as those memories were, they were part of her now. Who would she be if they were gone? Would Daniel even be attracted to that person? The prospect of his indifference distressed her in a way she had not expected. The melder might consider intimate interactions with a Human to be aberrant and recommend suppressing all memory of them as well. Would she even care afterwards?
On the other hand, Sorsen had seemed perfectly comfortable with the idea of counseling Daniel and T'Riss when they'd last met, almost as if the two of them were a bonded Vulcan couple. It made her wonder whether it might be possible for Sorsen to heal her without suppressing her memories. With a sense of urgency T'Riss made as if to get down from the table, intending to join the line of refugees waiting in line to see the melder, but Tyvek stopped her with a strangely concerned expression on his face. His reaction shamed her. Her distress was too evident.
"Wait here," he said, and left her alone without explanation. To her surprise, Sorsen stepped into the cubicle only seconds later.
"Healer Tyvek informs me that you have an urgent need for my services," he said in a matter-of-fact voice. T'Riss felt her face flush. She found herself unable to meet the healer's eyes.
"It is not as urgent a matter as Healer Tyvek believes," she told him, looking down at her hands gripped together in her lap, white-knuckled. "I don't want to take you away from your patients."
"Tyvek has taken my station with the refugees. You are my concern at present," replied Sorsen. "You and I both know that your current condition is not a safe one...neither for you nor for Daniel Johansen." T'Riss looked up at the healer in surprise. There was no censure in Sorsen's tone, but she had said nothing about Daniel to Tyvek. How did this healer know of her difficulty? "Embarking on a voyage aboard a ship the size of Lerteiran without first addressing this problem would be very unwise. I do not believe that you would intentionally endanger the Human, but the risk of unintentional harm exists, and you will not be able to avoid interacting with him in such close quarters." At T'Riss' puzzled look, he explained in a patient voice, "Your interest in the Human would be obvious to anyone with even rudimentary empathic ability who sees the two of you together. Why do you think I offered to see both of you when we last met in sickbay on Enterprise? A resolution must be found to this situation. You are conflicted. Your judgment is impaired."
"And how would you 'resolve this situation', Healer? By suppressing all memory of it?" asked T'Riss bleakly. "I don't want that." Sorsen raised a surprised brow.
"You would preserve these memories even though the suppression of them may allow you to live a conventional life on Vulcan and eventually take a Vulcan mate?" T'Riss blinked at that. She'd never even considered the possibility.
"You can do that? Heal me completely? Put me back the way I was?" she asked. The prospect was overwhelming. She'd given up on the idea of ever regaining what she'd lost.
"Not entirely," Sorsen admitted. "You will have a gap in memory. It will be obvious to others close to you. The basic facts about your time on The Plains of Gol and in Orion space will of necessity have to be retained, but you will no longer experience it as if you lived it. It will be a story told second-hand, and thus theoretically less distressing psychologically."
"How much memory would you have to suppress?" The idea of erasing the shame and degradation of her time with Grigor-Tel was very tempting. She had no desire to remember the horror of having his perverted thoughts and emotions in her head. And if that were not enough, she would also be forced to remember her own sick pleasure at his hideously painful death for the rest of her life unless she agreed to the treatment. It was that more than anything that frightened her. Had she always been capable of relishing another sentient being's agony, or had his abuse done something irreparable to her?
"The traditional approach would havee suppress memories from the onset of the traumatic event until the day of treatment," replied Sorsen. "The difficulties you have experienced with control would be a non-issue then, for you would no longer remember them. I could supply you with an outline of events which would enable you to function in your current position as crew of Lerteiran, and in time you would become re-acquainted with your crewmates. Freed of traumatic memories, you would be able to complete your time on Lerteiran and then return to Vulcan to live a useful life."
"Everything? You would suppress everything?" T'Riss replied, dismayed. She'd lose it all - her first sight of Daniel in Grigor-Tel's quarters, so innocent looking and terrified yet obviously concerned for her welfare; his earnest attempts to communicate; his unreasonable attachment to that bitter beverage made from ground beans; the feel of his smooth muscular back beneath her hands... and his tongue. She would lose that, too.
"I must not only suppress the memories of the traumatic experiences but also your subsequent recollections of them. To do anything else would be ineffective," explained Sorsen. "If you were able to process trauma in the Human manner I would have other options." He brightened, warming to his subject. "In fact, I have recently had some success doing just that with a profoundly affected Human victim of post-traumatic stress. It was quite fascinating to see how differently Humans..."
"Could you do that for me? Use this 'other option'?" T'Riss interrupted. Sorsen paused. He considered her question for several seconds.
"I'm not certain," he admitted, "To my knowledge the method has never been attempted on a Vulcan. In effect, it requires de-sensitizing the emotional impact of the trauma while leaving the data intact. Vulcan emotions are significantly more powerful than Human emotions, and are also more tightly integrated into our thought processes." He thought hard for several moments. "I would have to do a diagnostic meld first to discover the extent of the damage. It... might... be possible..."
T'Riss swallowed. The prospect of a meld - of knowing the worst - terrified her, but the prospect of staying the way she was terrified her even more.
"Very well." She steeled herself. Sorsen nodded in acknowledgment of her consent and reached out a hand. "But don't suppress anything..." As the words left her mouth Sorsen's fingertips touched her temple. She felt his presence in her mind and heard the murmur of the traditional words of melding without comprehending them. Her heart pounded and her breath grew short. It was all she could do to remain still.
Be at ease. I will not harm you, said Sorsen's calming voice in her head. This is only an assessment.
T'Riss clenched her jaws as Sorsen accessed memory after degrading memory. She closed her eyes and began repeating the Disciplines as a distraction to combat her self-loathing. It was the only thing she'd found which helped. In the weeks since her rescue she'd become proficient at not thinking about how degenerate she'd allowed herself to become. The memories leaked through in pieces, triggering a familiar refrain.
I should be dead. If I had any honor at all I'd be dead like the others.
The ones like her betrothed who had fought their captors and died were the fortunate ones. They didn't have to live with the realization that they were, in fact, nothing but animals. Civilization itself was a myth. Honor was a fantasy. It all came down to survival. And she had survived.
Yes. And this is an achievement, not a fault. You are strong. You are intelligent. You are of use to society. What purpose would your death have served? Sorsen's challenge broke into her litany, breaking her concentration, and the next set of memories hit her with full force.
...She was smothering, her face buried in the bedclothes. The Orion's greasy flesh pressed against her, to all sides of her at once. She was buried in it, shoved deep into the mattress with each grunting stroke. Her body burned, craving physical stimulation even as her gorge rose and emerald blood ran from the wounds her violator had inflicted...
It had been a Pon Farr inducing microbe, she knew that now. But the first few times, she had only known that her body was betraying her.
You had no choice, Sorsen's voice told her. It is most illogical for you to continue to believe that you were in any way responsible for what happened. Now show me the memories you want to keep.
She shivered. Illogical. The temperature was maintained at Vulcan optimum.
...She shivered, watching Grigor-Tel's fat fingers caress the ampoule. A young Human male watched them both, looking uncomfortable. His scent was heavy with pheromones and fear...
...Daniel sat across the table from her, sipping coffee and smiling at her...
...She looked down at Daniel's unconscious body on the bunk. Raijiin told her, "We have gone too far to back out now,"...
...She listened in disbelief as Daniel sat across the table and firmly announced that he was dropping all charges against her...
...She saw the pain on his face when he tried to move and knew that she was the cause. Fear...
...Rubbing the ointment into Daniel's muscles. Feeling the cool Human skin slide beneath her palms. Smelling his scent...
...Sleeping beside Daniel. Warmth. Comfort. Security...
...His tongue raked up the side of her neck. Every nerve in her body was burning...
...She reached down past his belly, taking him in her hands. Stroking him...
Sorsen abruptly broke the meld and stepped back. He eyed her carefully. "You did not tell me that you had engaged in sexual relations with Daniel Johansen. This is a very significant development."
"We- we have not." She swallowed. "I offered..." T'Riss stopped and closed her eyes tightly in shame. Yes, she had offered herself like an item of barter. Like the whore that she had been trained to become.
Sorsen placed a gentle finger on her shoulder. "Crewman T'Riss. Listen to me carefully. You have made intimate physical contact with Daniel Johansen repeatedly. The fact that you have not yet engaged in full coupling is irrelevant."
"I don't understand. I... on the station we..." T'Riss took a deep breath and steadied herself, still repeating the Disciplines in a silent mantra. "I am uncertain as to your meaning, Healer Sorsen."
Sorsen inclined his head. "The connection is impossible to mistake. A betrothal bond has formed."
T'Riss felt her blood freeze. "NO!" Blind terror threw her off the exam table and toward the curtain. Sorsen deftly intercepted her and grasped her at the junction of neck and shoulder. Instead of a standard nerve pinch he applied pressure in a more delicate and complex maneuver. Her knees buckled as she lost all control over her voluntary muscles while still retaining consciousness. Sorsen carefully picked her up and stretched her out on the examination table.
"Crewman T'Riss," Sorsen put his hands back on the contact points of her face. "You must cast out fear. Nothing can be done until you have first cast out fear."
"I cannot," she whispered. "I had no right. I did not realize... NO!"
"Focus on the Disciplines," Sorsen ordered her. "Breathe. Focus. Center yourself. Cast out fear."
T'Riss fought for control. "What have I done? I have committed against Daniel the same crime that was committed against me. I must die. He must be freed." Black despair smothered her.
"Illogical," Sorsen snapped. "A betrothal bond can be severed easily and without permanent aftereffects. If Daniel even wishes to sever it. Did he not agree to consider you as a mate freely? Did he not even this very morning tell you that he is still willing to consider you as a mate? You did not force this upon him."
"He had no way of knowing it would form," T'Riss said. Her voice sank into a rasping whisper. "How could this have happened? We did not mate. What caused this?" Involuntary quivers passed over her body. Sorsen carefully began to apply pressure at neural nodes along her neck and ribs. The shaking subsided as feeling returned to her extremities.
"You may not have engaged in actual coupling," Sorsen explained. "but your hands were in frequent and extended contact with the nerve clusters in his back in a manner quite similar to neuropressure. And unless I misunderstood your memories, you even permitted him to run his tongue, one of the most sensitive and nerve-rich portions of the Human body, directly over the telepathic contact points on your face. It is not surprising in the least that intermittent telepathic contact has occurred."
"But Daniel is not telepathic!" Incipient panic began to grow in her voice. Sorsen reached for the contact points on her cheek and forehead. Once again he murmured the soft words that signified the beginning of a meld.
Cast out fear, T'Riss. This is not catastrophic. A betrothal bond is reversible if you both wish it.
She closed her eyes and felt tears begin.
...I did this to him. Without his permission. Without his knowledge. I am no better than Grigor-Tel...
[Your words are without logic, T'Riss. You did not force him. Daniel entered the relationship freely. He knows our people. He knows of bonding. He understood that a bond might form.]
...Not without mating! He had no way of knowing this!...
[Nor did you. But you know now. Now you must tell him, and the two of you must decide on a logical course of action. But permit him the dignity of making his own choice. Do you still desire him?]
...He will never have me now, after I have injured him, and now this. He will never accept me. He should kill me. If not him, then his Andorian shipmates will...
[Again, T'Riss, you speak without logic. You must meditate and consider this matter carefully. Decide whether you still desire Daniel for a mate.]
...Of course I desire him. No Vulcan would have me now. Daniel is a superior option...
[Is that the only reason you desire Daniel? Because you believe that no Vulcan would have you? If you could find a Vulcan mate would you abandon him?]
...I... no... I mean... that is not what I meant... I...
[Consider this matter carefully, T'Riss. If you choose Daniel only because you believe that you cannot do better, then you are dishonoring yourself as well as him. Ultimately, he will come to understand this. You will not be able to keep it from him forever. You will feel his pain through the bond when he realizes this as if it were your own.]
...Daniel is superior in many ways. He is intelligent. He has experience with many races. He is a skilled pilot and navigator, and possesses many other useful abilities. His appearance is aesthetically agreeable. He is young and in good health...
[But he is not Vulcan.]
...It should make no difference. I have confirmed that our DNA is compatible. Daniel is an honorable man of good prospects. With the reward money and the payment for their new contract, the members of the Lerteiran partnership will be in a position to enrich themselves significantly. In addition, Daniel holds foster family contacts at the upper mid-level of Vulcan society. He also holds useful connections with Earth's merchant fleet, and potentially useful connections with Andoria. He has much to offer any woman...
[But it does make a difference, does it not?]
[Deceit is illogical, T'Riss. Self-deceit is the most illogical of all.]
...It does not matter...
[It will matter to Daniel. If it matters to your mate, it must matter to you. Else your bond will remain in constant turmoil and your joining will never know peace.]
...My family will never accept him. It is probable that they will not accept even me now. But they will surely never accept a Human...
[There is no logical reason for them to refuse either of you.]
...I have already shamed my family by my behavior. I failed to die honorably in resisting the Orions. I submitted, and allowed them to enslave me. For this I will never be forgiven. But they would have no publicly justifiable reason to disown me for this alone. However, now that I have committed offenses that have cost me my commission, they will logically be able to claim that I am unfit, and cast me out. Even if they chose not to do this because of my crime, if I bring home a Human mate there will be no hesitation in the matter. Shameful submission followed by vengeful murder they might forgive. Choosing a Human they will not forgive...
Sorsen withdrew from the meld and folded his hands. He stood watching while T'Riss opened her eyes and slowly sat up. She would not meet his gaze. "Crewman T'Riss." Sorsen's voice was as gentle as it was possible for a Vulcan's to logically become. "You have decisions to make. But I cannot undertake the therapy I spoke of while you are still linked to Daniel Johansen by a betrothal bond. Any work I performed on your mind would inevitably have an effect on his. You must decide. Do you wish to have the betrothal bond dissolved?"
"Can you do this? Here? Now?" Her eyes were hollow and her voice flat.
"Yes, I can," Sorsen told her. "Daniel is not even aware of it. He should suffer no ill effects of any kind."
T''Riss sat silently for several moments.
Sorsen added. "Afterward, I can undertake the therapy which might allow you to eventually find a Vulcan mate."
"Can you tell me," T'Riss stopped and swallowed. "Can you tell me how this could have happened? Humans are not naturally telepathic. Are they? How could a bond have formed without my being aware of it?"
"Actually," Sorsen told her, "most of the Vulcanoid races in the quadrant possess at least minimal telepathic ability, whether they use it or not. Humans are somewhat unusual in that the telepathic structures in their brains are rudimentary, but complete. While very few Humans are capable of initiating telepathic contact, I have discovered that they are remarkably sensitive to its reception."
She finally met his eyes. "So I am entirely responsible."
"Yes," he said bluntly. "Not deliberately, of course. Not any more than you deliberately bonded your Orion captor. It is a matter of instinct. Vulcan mating instinct is far, far older than civilization, far older even than intelligence. Our pre-sapient ancestors were forming instinctive bonds with each other for survival of the blood line long before any of them thought to pick up a rock and make a fist axe."
"Thus, once again, I have behaved like an animal," she said bitterly.
"You behaved like a Vulcan," Sorsen corrected her. "You behaved like a Vulcan who was engaged in intimate relations with her mate-to-be. You behaved as your heritage demanded that you behave. There is no cause for shame in this."
"Why is it then," she suddenly demanded indignantly, "that a bonding does not occur with every mating? What of the priests and priestesses who assist the unbonded in Pon Farr?"
Sorsen regarded her calmly. "The priests or priestesses in such cases are not themselves suffering the fever. They are in full control of themselves, and their mind shields are intact. For the one who suffers the fever, the urge to bond is secondary. The primary need is physical. As long as the physical need is satisfied, their undisciplined and flailing attempts to connect with their partner can easily be deflected by a Vulcan mind that is in full control and shielded."
T'Riss stared in sudden understanding. "But Daniel has no shields."
"Correct." He tilted his head in confirmation. "Without extensive training, no Human would possess the shielding necessary to prevent the formation of a bond. Nor would an Orion. Nor would most of the Vulcanoid races in the quadrant. A Betazoid would, of course, or any of the other naturally telepathic species, but a Vulcan who mates with a member of a species that is not naturally telepathic, who yet possesses some latent telepathic ability, will almost invariably form a bond. Humans, with their unusual brain configuration, are particularly receptive."
"But I did not intend this!"
"It was not necessary for you to deliberately attempt to make a connection with Daniel," Sorsen repeated patiently. "Your physical intimacy triggered an instinctive response. Your body reacted with arousal, and the animal portion of your brain reacted by reaching out to your partner. Neither response was conscious or deliberately chosen."
"The fact that a betrothal bond formed so readily implies that we would have no difficulty forming a strong mating bond," T'Riss said thoughtfully.
"I suspect not," he told her.
"That was why Commander T'Pol warned me not to mate until we were both certain," T'Riss whispered. "It must be because their bond is so strong that to break it would be dangerous."
"Lady T'Pol has advised you of these matters?" Sorsen asked her in surprise.
T'Riss gave a start. "I regret my lapse, Healer Sorsen. I was not specifically asked to maintain silence, but I do not believe that..."
Sorsen raised a hand. "Set your concerns aside. All is confidential between healer and patient. I am already aware of the relationship between the commanders. If Commander T'Pol has offered you advice, I suggest that you consider it carefully. She has gained much experience with Humans in general, and with her bondmate over several years." T'Riss looked down. Sorsen continued. "I need to know, Crewman T'Riss. Do you desire the dissolution of the betrothal bond? Or not?"
"You could return me to my previous condition? With the exception of a gap in my memories?" T'Riss appeared to be close to regaining normal control, which reassured Sorsen that she might be able to make an informed decision.
"Approximately, yes," he told her. T'Riss closed her eyes and thought briefly.
"No, Healer Sorsen," she finally told him. "I do not wish to dissolve the betrothal bond at this time. I will discuss this matter with Daniel during our trip to Risa. Based on the outcome of those conversations, we will make a joint decision as to the logical course of action."
"I believe you have chosen wisely," Sorsen told her, pleased. He helped her down from the examination table and watched her walk out with her back straight, appearing significantly more confident than when she arrived.
Daniel blearily opened his eyes and blinked several times. The impression of being submerged in a muddy pool gradually clarified into a picture of the Enterprise's sickbay. A few minutes of confused thought brought back disjointed memories of coming in to get his back repaired again. He shifted carefully and was grateful to realize that he could feel his legs once more. His back still throbbed, but it was a soft ache instead of a blazing spear.
"Ah, Mr. Johansen. Welcome back." Dr. Phlox's jovial voice entered his ears, followed a moment later by his huge grin circling the end of the bed. "How are we feeling?"
"Dunno how you're feeling, Doc," Daniel grumbled. "But I feel like warmed over crap. I gotta admit though, my back isn't hurting nearly as much."
"Wonderful!" Phlox circled behind Daniel and ran some scans. "Everything seems to be knitting together quite nicely. Always gratifying when a repair job fixes the problem without needing any follow-up tweaking, don't you think?"
Daniel couldn't help smiling. "Yeah, you're right. I always hate having to go back and tear the same panel open twice." He gingerly stretched. "Not too bad. When can I go home?"
"I think it would be best if you waited here for perhaps another two to three hours at least," Phlox told him. "I want to make sure that the bonding agent and the sealer are fully hardened before I turn you loose for any more activity." Daniel was certain he heard a reproving note in the Denobulan's voice. He winced. "Meanwhile, I was hoping you might be willing to talk to Commander Tucker while you were here. Would you consider it?"
Daniel glanced over his shoulder at Phlox and hesitated. "He... um. Are he and Commander T'Pol really...?"
"Yes, they are," Phlox assured him. "Although that information is confidential. It is an open secret aboard Enterprise of course. You can't keep something like that quiet aboard a ship this small. But they prefer not to let anyone else know about it unless it is someone that they personally decide to inform. Starfleet in particular might get a bit stuffy about permitting a bonded couple to serve aboard the same ship."
"Why?" Daniel was honestly puzzled. "Boomers always ship as family. And Vulcans have been serving with their mates for centuries. What's the problem?"
Phlox sighed. "Earth bureaucracy." Daniel grimaced and raised a hand.
"Say no more." He suppressed a shudder. "My lips are sealed." Phlox chuckled.
"In any case, if you don't mind I will call Commander Tucker up here for a few minutes. I am certain that he could provide you with some valuable advice," Phlox persisted.
"Sure," Daniel agreed glumly. "Cochrane knows I could use some help figuring that woman out."
Trip arrived just about the time Daniel was getting comfortable enough to doze again. "Commander. Welcome," Phlox greeted him happily. "Thank you for coming. I believe this young man could use the benefit of your experience."
"Well," Trip stuck his tongue into his cheek and looked at Daniel's supine form. "Point one. Vulcans are pretty strong. When they get excited they can hurt you if you aren't careful."
"Thanks, Trip," Daniel told him, deadpan. "I'll do my best to remember that."
Trip grinned. "Seriously though, there are some adjustments that you will need to make. For instance..." He hesitated, looking embarrassed, and Daniel interrupted.
"Things haven't gotten as far as you and Dr. Phlox seem to think," Daniel told him.
"Really?" Phlox asked. "Lady Sehlra said-"
"Yeah, I know," Daniel interrupted. "It was simpler to tell her and Jenrali that. It saved having to get into details that... well... never mind." He flushed.
Trip rubbed his jaw. "Hmm. So, are the two of you a couple or not?"
"Sorta," Daniel told him. "We're checking out the option. Talking... um. Mainly we've been talking about it."
Trip looked interested, while Phlox scratched his brow ridges. "Forgive me, Mr. Johansen," the Denobulan said carefully. "But Crewman T'Riss gave me the distinct impression when she was last here that the two of you either had, or intended to begin, engaging in sexual activity."
"Well," Daniel flushed an even deeper shade of crimson. "We... er... we have... you know, we... uh... she's given me back rubs. And I've kinda shown her a few things that Humans do. Like kissing." He faltered.
"What kinda kissin'?" Trip asked with an amused glint in his eye.
Daniel refused to look at either of them. "Just... you know... kissing. And a little... um... well... you know."
"'Fraid I don't," Trip refused to let him off the hook. "What besides regular kissin' are you talking about?"
"Well," Daniel's voice raised in pitch slightly. "You know... kissing and licking along the neck... and shoulders... and face... and... and...c'mon dammit! You know perfectly well what I'm talking about!"
"Ah," Phlox nodded. "I see. And the back rubs that you mentioned. How often and how extensively does she perform them?"
"You mean neuropressure?" Trip asked.
"Actually," Phlox spoke up, "I gave Crewman T'Riss a manual on Human massage therapy. She intended to study it so that she could apply the technique toward aiding Mr. Johansen's recovery."
"Oh, massage," Trip nodded. "Nice. Just the back?"
"Mostly," Daniel said, wishing he had never agreed to the meeting.
"You ever rub her?" Trip wanted to know.
"Not since-" Daniel interrupted himself. "No."
"Hmm." Trip stuck his tongue in his cheek thoughtfully. "What aren't you telling us, Daniel? Did T'Riss hurt you back by pressing too hard? But in that case, why would you say that it happened while you were having sex?"
Daniel writhed and looked up at the carefully innocent gazes of his two interrogators. "Oh, by the Mother. All right. Here it is. When we first started talking about getting together, T'Riss offered me sex. Ok? But I didn't want to take advantage of her when she was just getting over what happened on the station."
Trip nodded approvingly. "Good man. It's a big deal for a Vulcan, outside of Pon Farr. They don't go around jumping into bed with just anyone."
"I know," Daniel said. "But like I said, she made the offer, and she told me if I changed my mind the offer stood." He looked at them both. "Don't tell anyone I told you that."
"Of course not," Phlox assured him. "Doctor/patient confidentiality binds me. And I'm certain that Commander Tucker would never violate your privacy."
"No way," Trip promised, holding up his hand.
Daniel relaxed slightly. "Well, we were in my quarters and we were..." He stopped and sighed. "We were making out, all right? Like a pair of teenagers. We were on my bed kissing and making out. Then T'Riss -" he hesitated, "she... reached down and she...," Daniel closed his eyes and blurted, "she grabbed me. I don't mean grabbed, really. I mean she took me in her hand. She figured I was getting frustrated and she was going to help me out. But I misunderstood and thought it was an invitation. So I rolled over on top of her."
"I would suppose in a situation like that, any male might find himself drawing a similar conclusion," Phlox commiserated. "Although with my wives, it would be more likely for them to do the rolling atop."
Trip coughed hard. "Excuse me," he said in a strangled voice. "I gotta say that no Human male in the galaxy is gonna blame you. I don't."
"But this does not explain your injury," Phlox noted.
"She panicked," Daniel told them glumly. "When I rolled on top of her, T'Riss figured out what I was doing and it caught her by surprise. She just panicked and shoved me off. I hit the far wall like a torpedo and bounced. That's how my back got hurt."
"Ouch!" Trip winced. "That isn't good, Daniel. I thought my woman had issues. But, man..."
"Maybe the only kind of Vulcan woman that would look at one of us is the kind with issues," Daniel suggested tiredly.
"Could be," Trip admitted. "So what now? You still wanna try it?"
"I'd like to, if she'll let me help her," Daniel said. "T'Riss is a great girl. And I have to admit my options aren't real plentiful out here. I'm not likely to find anyone better, of any race. But I don't want to end up like her last bondmate either."
"Has she consulted a Vulcan Healer?" Phlox asked.
"Yeah," Daniel told him. "I know she is taking some kind of pills. I was hoping maybe she would talk to that melder guy while we're here, but that's up to her. But I'm afraid to mention it to her. I don't want to remind her about what happened." He thought for a moment. "On the other hand, if we're going to be mates, it's my responsibility to take care of her. I just don't know what to do. I don't know what I can do to fix this."
"Huh-uh! Whoa back there!" Trip jumped in. "You can't fix this. Throw that idea out the airlock right now. I know you want to. We all want to. But you can't. That's one of the first, and one of the hardest things you need to learn about women. Don't try to fix things."
"What are you talking about?" Daniel asked in irritation.
Trip sighed. "Here's the thing. The more I learn about women, the less I know. But I am comin' to the conclusion that females are females, whether they're Human, or Vulcan, or whoever."
"Quite correct, Commander," Phlox assured him emphatically. "Trust me on this. I have three wives, and I have spent years in the Inter-Species Medical Exchange working with humanoid races throughout the quadrant. The male/female dichotomy is a universal constant no matter what planet you are on. Women are women everywhere, and they live to bewilder us."
"You mean with three wives, you don't understand them either?" Daniel asked. "I don't feel quite so stupid now."
"Three wives, eleven sisters, and more daughters, step-daughters, cousins, and nieces than you might believe possible," Phlox assured him. "And I don't truly understand them any better now than I did as a young lad when I first began to notice that they smell nice."
"Lemme just tell you this," Trip said, "It doesn't matter if she's Human or Vulcan, when an intelligent woman is upset about somethin' the last thing she wants is for you to come up with some smart-ass idea about how to fix the problem. She knows what she's gonna have to do to fix the problem, and half the time that's what's got her so upset in the first place. What she wants is sympathy... for you to tell her how sorry you are that she's in such a tough spot and that you're there if she needs help. So when you're in doubt about what to do, don't try to fix things. It doesn't make sense, and it sure as hell isn't logical, but it works."
"But what if she doesn't know how to fix the problem?" Daniel asked. "I really don't think T'Riss knows."
"You might be surprised," Trip told him ironically. "But even if she doesn't, what can you do about it? Are you a Vulcan psychologist?"
"No," Daniel slumped. "You're right. There's nothing I can do except be there for her."
"The good thing is, that's probably enough," Trip told him. "Be there for her, and don't push her beyond what she can handle. As far as the sex, that comes along with the rest of it, in its own good time. Pushing it too early will mess things up for both of you."
"No joke," Daniel shifted position and winced.
"Besides," Trip hesitated. "You know about bonding, right?"
"Yeah," Daniel confirmed. "But I thought that just happened in Pon Farr?"
"Nope," Trip shook his head. "It can happen without it. At least between a Vulcan and a Human."
Daniel blinked. "Ok." He considered. "So... from what I heard in that hearing. I mean, from what T'Riss said, a bonding can be dissolved but there would still be some residual..." He paused at the sight of Trip shaking his head.
"No, not for one of us," Trip told him seriously. He looked at Phlox.
"We have investigated the matter rather intensively, as you might imagine," Phlox told Daniel. "When we learned that Commander Tucker and Commander T'Pol had in fact formed a full mating bond, there were many among the Vulcan scientific and medical establishment who refused to believe it."
"Not surprising," Daniel interjected dryly.
"Not surprising at all," Phlox agreed. "The commanders were both quite cooperative however, and agreed to submit to a thorough examination - including total brain scans. You see," the Denobulan dropped into what any member of the Enterprise crew would have recognized instantly as his 'lecture mode'. "While there have been pairings between Humans and Vulcans before, a bonding had not been previously confirmed because the previous matings have been... kept confidential."
"You mean hidden," Daniel said bluntly.
"Yeah," Trip said. "But the brain scans they took said that we are bonded pretty dang tight. Seems my brain scans have changed the most. I didn't even know Humans had a telepathic center. But I guess we do. Mine was dormant until the bond formed. Now it's wide awake, and somehow it's forming cross-connections to everywhere and everything, according to Phlox."
"Indeed," Phlox confirmed. "Commander Tucker's telepathic rating has increased by a full order of magnitude since bonding with Commander T'Pol. But that's not all. His overall brain scans are beginning to resemble hers in several areas, particularly in those portions of the brain that control autonomic functions. You have some experience with Vulcans, Mr. Johansen," Phlox went on. "I presume you are aware of their extraordinary abilities such as the healing trance, and the ability to apply conscious control to their bodily systems?"
"Yes," Daniel said warily.
"Well," Trip said, "it looks like T'Pol is instinctively doing that to my systems. She didn't even know she was doing it until Phlox spotted the changes in my brain waves. Then he gave me a physical. My heart muscle is a lot tougher now, my circulation is better, my lungs have more capacity. I'm just in better shape all over."
"Hey!" Daniel slid to a semi-sitting position. "That's great!" He looked at them and his smile faded. "Isn't it?"
"Yes and no," Phlox said with a sigh. "It is certainly desirable that Commander Tucker's overall health has improved, but the fact is, while in the process of applying the changes T'Pol inadvertently rendered his autonomic functions dependent on her mind for continued functioning. If the bond is broken now, he will die almost instantly."
"Yikes!" Daniel started to turn pale. "Can't you do something about it?"
"Theoretically perhaps," Phlox said. "If, for example, T'Pol were dying and we had enough advance warning, I might be able to place Commander Tucker in stasis on full life support and keep him there until his own mind re-learned how to-"
"No way, Doc," Trip interrupted. "Not gonna happen. If T'Pol goes, what the hell would I want to hang around for anyway?" The other two looked at him for a long moment, but said nothing while he flushed slightly.
"Anyway," Trip hurriedly changed the subject. "If T'Riss is scared, I'm betting she's more scared of the emotional part than she is of the physical part anyway. Most likely she made the offer before she really felt anything for you, am I right?" Daniel nodded. "Now, if she's gettin' spooked at the thought of taking things all the way, it sounds like she's startin' to get some real feelings for you. With Vulcans, it's the feelings that scare the hell out of them. With them, when it comes to dealing with emotions, you gotta move in slow. Like taming a wild animal."
T'Riss entered the Human sickbay with a resolute stride. Whatever course her life took from this point forward, she refused to permit fear to dictate her behavior. Whether it be fear of pain, or fear of her family's disapproval, or fear of being alone, she would go forward as Surak had advised, and cast it out. She might spend the rest of her life disowned by her family and shunned by any self-respecting mate, but so be it. She would follow her own path, and she would never again permit her honor to be compromised for the sake of expediency.
Daniel was deep in conversation with Commander Tucker when she walked in, and Dr. Phlox was nowhere to be seen - presumably behind a curtain tending to another patient. The two men looked up as the door opened, and T'Riss saw Daniel's eyes brighten at the sight of her. A smile touched his face and her step faltered almost imperceptibly. Her chest tightened and she swallowed hard.
After all I have done to him. And still...
"Hi," Commander Tucker greeted her. "We've just been havin' some guy talk."
"Trip has been describing all the possible ways that a Human can screw up in a relationship with a Vulcan woman," Daniel informed her. "He's intimidating the heck out of me."
"I'm just trying to warn you about some of the landmines that blew up in my face, that's all," Trip told him cheerfully, clapping him on the shoulder as T'Riss raised both eyebrows.
"You make it sound like Vulcan women are as hard to understand as Human women, plus being Vulcan on top of it," Daniel complained, with a furtive glance at T'Riss, who was listening with deep interest.
"Pretty much, yep," Trip told him with a grin. "I better get back to Engineering. Nice seeing both of you. Good luck!" The Human officer waved cheerily and walked out without looking back, leaving T'Riss and Daniel together in a slightly awkward silence.
"Are you ready to return to the ship?" T'Riss finally asked.
"I guess so," Daniel told her. "Phlox told me I was on light duty for two more days. And no more, as he put it, massive impacts on my spine for the next two weeks. After that I should be good as new." He rummaged around on the tray beside the bed and came out with a fistful of vials. "He gave me some vitamin supplements too. Iron... Calcium...," Daniel squinted, "and this looks like just a big dose of multi-vitamins. Said I needed to build my bone and muscle mass back up. And not engage in..." He paused.
"What?" T'Riss asked.
"Nothing," Daniel waved it off. He swung his legs carefully over the side of the bed. "Could you please hand me my coverall? It's hanging in that closet over there." Daniel pointed and T'Riss obligingly went to fetch it. While she was digging out the coverall and the rest of Daniel's garments along with it, Phlox re-appeared from his back office.
"Ah, Crewman T'Riss. I see you have come to take our errant acrobat home. Please try to avoid assisting him with backflips for the foreseeable future, hmm?"
T'Riss felt her face tighten and darken. Daniel broke in angrily, "Doctor! That was uncalled for."
Phlox held up his hand. "I apologize. No offense was intended, I assure you. Merely trying to inject a bit of humor into a potentially uncomfortable situation." He looked at T'Riss. "However, as Mr. Johansen' physician I am compelled to ask this. Have you taken steps to prevent such injuries from occurring in the future?"
T'Riss raised her chin and forced herself to meet the Denobulan's eyes. "I have, Doctor. I have just come from a consultation with Healer Sorsen. I believe that after the meld Sorsen performed and the medicine that Healer Tyvek has provided, I now possess the resources to deal with my issues in a logical and constructive manner."
"Most excellent," Phlox's expression softened. "That is very good news. I know that Mr. Johansen has been worried about you," T'Riss shot a furtive glance at Daniel, "and frankly, so have I. Perhaps on your voyage to Risa the two of you will have the opportunity to work things out."
"We can hope anyway," Daniel said with forced jocularity as he slowly and cautiously managed to work his toes into his right sock. T'Riss moved over and promptly started dressing him like a child. "Hold it." Daniel stopped her. "I know you want to help, but you need to let me do this for myself. At least as much as I can do. Ok?"
T'Riss reluctantly back off. "If you insist." She watched anxiously as he, obviously still in pain, eventually managed to clothe himself. He even managed to put his own footgear on somehow. Then Daniel slid off the bed, grunting loudly when his feet impacted the floor.
"Oof." He sighed and rubbed his back. "Lot better. Not good yet, but a lot better. I can walk."
"Good to hear, youngster," Sehlra came walking through the door with a cup of coffee in her hand. "They were out of plomeek soup, so I brought this."
"Lady, you are a vision of loveliness," Daniel proclaimed. He moved carefully across the floor and reached eagerly for the steaming mug. "At least when you're carrying coffee."
She snorted and looked at T'Riss. "Everything taken care of at the Vulcan ship?" When T'Riss nodded she said, "Let's go then. Jenrali will be chewing the arms off his pilot's seat. Thanks for the new repair job, Doctor." She waved at Phlox and got a cheerful wave and smile in return.
As the trio headed down the corridor, moving slowly to accommodate Daniel's shuffling gait, Sehlra told T'Riss, "I'm going to finish processing the paperwork for the new passengers and make sure that all of the old passengers that want a refund get straightened out before we leave. I will meet the two of you back home as soon as I'm done. Tell Jenrali that we are not leaving under any circumstances until that spare set of crystals and the two extra injectors that Trip was going to send over get there. If he doesn't like it, he can nurse his own iceworm begotten warp core."
"Yes, ma'am," Daniel snapped out crisply. "Acknowledged." Sehlra nodded in satisfaction and strode on ahead, leaving T'Riss in relative privacy with Daniel for the first time since they left the control room on Lerteiran.
"It is agreeable to see you feeling better, Daniel," T'Riss said awkwardly.
"Thanks." He gave her a smile. "How did things go with the healer? Feel better?"
T'Riss pressed her lips together and glanced behind. No one was visible in either direction. "I do." She kept her voice lowered, uncomfortable about discussing the matter at all, much less in a ship's corridor. "I have been able to clarify several issues in my mind that were causing discord."
"Good," Daniel told her carefully. "That's good to hear." They both fell silent for a while until the turbo lift doors closed behind them. As the car started moving T'Riss abruptly made a decision.
"Daniel, I wish to tell you something. Actually, it is a confession of sorts."
"Um, sure," Daniel looked curious. "What is it?"
She took a deep breath and opened her mouth - just as the turbolift doors opened. "It can wait for a more private moment."
"All right." He gave her an odd look as they moved out and headed for the airlock. The main entryway was full of Starfleet personnel heading in both directions, and the two of them focused exclusively on making it to the airlock without causing a collision. Once clear of Enterprise and back on the station T'Riss decided not to resume her interrupted line of thought.
The walk back to Lerteiran was noticeably quicker than coming in the other direction, but Daniel was apparently reminded of their last trip because he started once again musing on the details of their proposed trading route once the passengers had been delivered. He seemed fixated on the prospect of arranging an open auction at Stavlas 5 for their presumed hold full of Terran chocolate.
"No doubt it will be a lucrative cargo," T'Riss ventured diffidently, "but are you certain that you are not overestimating?"
"You don't understand," Daniel told her enthusiastically. "Chocolate is starting to be, in this quadrant, what spices used to be on Earth a thousand years ago. It's almost a medium of exchange in itself. Some people have exported the plants, but it isn't the same. You not only need Earth sunshine and atmosphere, you need the right soil conditions that can only be found on a few areas of Earth. Plus, once you have the plants they still have to be processed, and nobody has the skill to do that like my people. It's the most popular export my people have. Andorians alone will buy all we can sell. Not to mention the Tarkellions and the Rigellians." He grinned hugely.
"Then why do you not simply sell the chocolate on Andoria?" T'Riss wondered. "If you are intending to invest the profit from the chocolate on Andorian ale to be sold on Earth why expend the time and effort it would require to travel to Stavlas 5 ?"
"Competition, Hon," Daniel told her. T'Riss felt a tingle in her spine. Her research had revealed that Humans often addressed their mates using substitute names as an expression of affection. The database reference had included a list of some traditional 'nick' names of which 'Hon', or 'Honey' had been cited as two of the most common. Daniel however, continued speaking with no detectable change in tone or expression. Perhaps his use of the word had not been a conscious decision. A subconscious reflex would be added evidence that the betrothal bond was influencing him. She must certainly speak with him as soon as possible once they were underway. The unsettling thought occurred that if she spoke to him before they left and he wished to dissolve the betrothal bond, Sorsen was conveniently available... She swiftly shoved it to the back of her mind.
He continued, "If we just sold it on Andoria there would be a set limit to what we could expect to get for it. But when you put something up for auction, especially when the people bidding are business rivals, you provoke their natural aggression. Not only do they want it for themselves, they also want to stop their competition from getting it. Understand?"
T'Riss contemplated the explanation. "It seems inefficient. Would it not be more cost effective for the purchasers to make an agreement among themselves as to the maximum that they are willing to pay?"
"Sure." Daniel shrugged. "But you're forgetting that natural aggression thing. Plus you're talking about Vulcans, and Andorians, and Tellarites, and Nausicans, and Humans, and Orions, and Rigellians, and Tarkellians, and Denobulans, and Arkonians, and Betazoids, and Klingons, and..."
She held up her hand. "I believe I understand. Achieving a consensus would be impossible."
"Yep," He smiled with satisfaction. "Which is why we are going to be filthy, stinking, rich."
Her brow wrinkled. "Where...?"
"Don't ask. I don't know where the saying comes from."
No one was visible when they boarded Lerteiran. "Oh, that's nice," Daniel relaxed as Lertieran's Andorian gravity field took a substantial load off his spine. He thumbed the comm panel beside the airlock and announced, "Crewmen Johansen and T'Riss request permission to come aboard."
Jenrali's voice snapped back, "About time you two layabouts got back. Where's Sehlra? This pre-flight checklist isn't getting any shorter while she goes shopping and sight-seeing."
Daniel grinned. "Last I saw she was admiring the artwork on Enterprise and said something about paying a visit to Damin's stateroom on Sehlat. Don't worry. She should be back by tomorrow morning. Probably." He snickered.
T'Riss looked at him, appalled. "Daniel! That is a complete fabrication!"
"Ignore him, lass," Jenrali's voice told her. "When he's feeling playful nothing that comes out of his mouth is fit to listen to. Besides, is he drugged?"
"Just a little bit," Daniel said. He held up his discharge bag. "But I got a whole big sackful of goodies here that Phlox gimme to take later."
"Did that Denobluan at least fix your back?" Jenrali wanted to know.
"Good as new, maybe better," Daniel reported giddily.
T'Riss eyed him. "I suspect that the lingering effects of the analgesics are influencing you, Daniel."
"Put the young fool to bed then, ass," Jenrali instructed. "And don't break him this time, please. We've spent more time patching that boy up than we have the ship on this run."
T'Riss tightened her lips but managed, barely, to refrain from commenting. "Yes, Captain." She turned Daniel toward the access ladder and hovered anxiously as he whistled his way to his living quarters. Once inside she briskly deposited his medication on his desk, stripped him to his underwear, slid him into his bunk, tucked him in, and brought him a drink of water.
"Gosh, Mom," Daniel looked up and smiled. "Thanks. All I need now is a goodnight kiss."
T'Riss paused and swallowed. "Have you eaten today?" He blinked.
"Come to think of it, no," Daniel admitted. "Not since that muffin you brought me for breakfast."
T'Riss sighed inwardly. "In that case, I believe that food should take precedence over sleeping. I will bring you something."
Daniel suddenly yawned. "I really doubt that I'll be awake when you get back." He stretched, carefully, and looked pleased. "That feels really good, to be able to do that."
T'Riss carried his desk chair to the side of the bunk and sat down. "Daniel... I need to talk to you."
Daniel replaced his arms at his sides and regarded her calmly. "Ok. I'm here. Shoot." She winced and he corrected, "I mean, go ahead. I'm listening."
She closed her eyes and focused on the Disciplines. Cast out fear. When T'Riss opened her eyes she was ready. She hoped. She met Daniel's eyes and began. "When I first approached you about the possibility of marriage, I confess that my motives were entirely selfish. I had concluded that due to my experiences with the Orions no Vulcan would accept me, and my only option would be to seek a non-Vulcan mate."
"I know," Daniel told her. "I knew then." T'Riss felt her belly tighten. "You really never made a secret of it. It wasn't as if you pretended that you had suddenly developed a passionate fondness for smelly, red-blooded Humans." There was no accusation in his voice, which did not make her feel any better.
"This is not..." T'Riss fumbled for words. "What I meant is that, had I been capable of ..." She looked at him.
"If you could find a Vulcan mate, you would," Daniel told her. "I know." There was something buried deep in his eyes that T'Riss most emphatically did not want to explore. "Neither of us started this on the basis of romantic love, after all. Vulcans don't have a monopoly on marriages of convenience, T'Riss. Humans have been doing the same thing for more centuries than anyone can count. I chose you for the same reason you chose me, because you are the best option I can get. I don't see anything wrong with that. It's... logical to me."
"If," For some reason, T'Riss was having difficulty with her breathing. No doubt it was due to the high humidity levels in Daniel's cabin. "Does this mean that if you could find a more appropriate Human mate, that you would sever our... association in favor of her?" It was definitely the humidity, which was even causing undue moisture to collect at the corners of her eyes.
Daniel looked at her silently for several breaths. "We don't really know a lot about each other, do we? Here we are discussing marriage, and I don't even know where you grew up, or if you have siblings. And all you know about me is the little I have told you in passing."
"I grew up in the city of Nal'hir," she told him steadily. "I have a brother and a sister. My father is assistant subdirector for the northwest region of the southern administrative district. My mother is a professor of history at the University of Shi'Kahr."
His smile widened. "Sounds like a nice family."
"I was fortunate in many ways." She looked at him. "You have evaded my question. It is not necessary to conceal the truth in order to spare my feelings, Daniel. I would prefer honesty in all things."
"Honesty." Daniel reached up and absently scratched his nose. "Honestly, after my family was killed I spent the next few years in a creche on Earth. When I was old enough I applied to be returned to my family's people, the Boomers. I found a ship willing to give me a chance, but it didn't work out as well as we had all hoped." He shifted his head on the pillow several times, as if burrowing into the pad. "When I reached the age of eighteen I decided to leave. We happened to be in orbit around Vulcan, and the K'Haril shipyards were looking for laborers. I got lucky."
"Eighteen..." T'Riss sat back. "You were quite young. I realize that Humans mature more quickly than we do, but..."
"Eighteen is legally an adult on Earth," Daniel told her. "But that didn't mean I was fully mature. I wasn't. Soon after that I met the Vulcan family I told you about. The one that took me in."
She considered this. "I am failing to perceive the connection between this information and the question I asked you."
"The happiest times in my life were spent on Vulcan," Daniel told her. "In fact, I never felt more at home anywhere than I did there." He raised a hand and she stopped what she had been about to say. "I realize that there are disadvantages. Mainly, it's hotter than hell's furnace room. And trying to breathe without air conditioning in that desiccated blast furnace at the strangling edge of vacuum that your people call an atmosphere is an ordeal that would wring pity out of a Klingon. But generally it's worth it. So, no. If all she had to offer was being Human, I would not dump you for her."
T'Riss tilted her head. "I have noted before the Human predilection for answering a simple question with a hundred words when one would have sufficed."
"Part of our winsome charm," he informed her with a wry grin. "Now what were you going to confess to me?"
T'Riss let a small sigh escape. "I will tell you after I bring back the food. It will give me time to settle my mind. If you are asleep I will leave it on your desk and we can continue our talk later." She left, shaking her head.
As she descended the access ladder the airlock cycled and Sehlra's voice echoed up the well. "You already know the way to the cargo hold, Damin." A note of suppressed affection was clearly detectable, although T'Riss was confident that the Andorian would have snarled at anyone impudent enough to point it out.
"Quite clearly," the Betazoid' voice replied. "As I'm sure Raijiin also does." T'Riss halted on the ladder, frozen in place with one hand poised over a rung. Suspicions raced through her mind.
What is happening here? Has Raijiin taken control of Sehlra? Is Damin assisting her? His telepathic abilities are very nearly her equal, perhaps even more. Is Agent Senek also under control? Impossible, he is a trained operative. He was able to subdue her when she was imprisoned on the Human ship.
"Have you dealt with the issue of Mr. Johansen yet?" Agent Senek's voice rose up the ladder.
"He's probably in his quarters, with T'Riss," Sehlra said.
"I am not looking forward to this," Raijiin spoke for the first time. T'Riss nodded. Confirmed. She was actually aboard, her voice was unmistakable. "Considering what happened last time, there is no doubt that he will resist this fiercely."
"Daniel will obey," Sehlra spoke flatly.
T'Riss felt her nostril's flare. She released her hold on the ladder and kicked her feet free of the rungs in a single smooth motion. As she dropped the two levels down to the cargo deck she focused inward on the Disciplines and set her muscles into attack mode.
"Raijiin! Run!" Damin's shout split the air as T'Riss felt her feet hit the deck plates. She charged through the hatchway, seeing Raijiin fleeing in the direction of the cargo hold with Damin following - apparently guarding her back. Powerful telepathic probes jabbed at her mind and were deflected by her shields, which were powered by the energy of battle frenzy.
She intends to hurt Daniel again. She has taken control of Sehlra, and now she wants to do it to Daniel. Again. I must stop her.
Agent Senek stepped between her and the two escaping telepaths. "Crewman T'Riss, you must stop. There is no need for strife. We..."
T'Riss dove for the deck plates in a shoulder roll and made it past Senek before he had time to react. By the time the older male got turned around and moving again, she was back on her feet and closing in on her prey. Damin looked back, and for the first time since she'd met him T'Riss saw what looked like a trace of real fear.
A stunning blow struck her shoulder and drove her sideways into the bulkhead. T'Riss whirled to face Senek, who was reaching for a nerve pinch. She moved at maximum speed, blocking his hand and counter-striking with knee and elbow to his belly and jaw. Then she ducked and spun to resume her pursuit.
Senek snatched and barely managed to grab her arm. T'Riss pulled almost free, but Senek hung onto her wrist. T'Riss turned and attempted to twist loose, unsuccessfully. Instead, a scarred-faced Vulcan unfamiliar to T'Riss stepped between Senek and herself and, using an exotic movement that T'Riss had never seen before, tripped and threw her onto her back. She felt her wrist bones snapping on the way down. As Senek and his accomplice pinned her to the deck, the sound of the cargo hatch slamming shut echoed down the corridor.
Daniel's eye flew open and he rolled his legs off the edge of the bed, tense and hard. What happened? T'Riss? What? Then it hit him, the image, the sound, the pain.
"I was going to tell both of you," the old Andorian female scolded, carefully splinting and wrapping the young woman's wrist. "You fool. This is what I was talking about when we first got to the Human ship," she said to the girl, who was hardly more than a child despite her impressive combat skills. Senek noted that the Andorian's tone was significantly less harsh than her words.
"Daniel." T'Riss kept her voice soft and calm. "It was an error. A mistake."
"Damn right. The stupidest mistake he ever made." The Human's eyes never left Senek, who started to feel rather like a k'bet under the gaze of a morloch. Over the Human's shoulder, Senek could see Llahir watching the confrontation with his arms crossed over his chest, looking mildly entertained and not the least inclined to assist.
"I am deeply sorry for the injury I caused," Senek told Daniel.
"Not yet you're not," Daniel hissed. "But you will be." His grip tightened.
"Daniel!" Sehlra snapped out the young man's name like the sergeant she had once been. "Stop. Now. That's an order. Stand down, Crewman."
Daniel froze and looked tortured. "But he... hurt... her." He shot a swift look at Sehlra, returning his attention to Senek before the agent had time to do more than twitch.
"Daniel." T'Riss carefully approached him and put her hands over his, covering the sword hilt. The splint on her injured wrist was in plain view and Daniel flinched at the sight of it. He pulled the sword back and gently took her forearm in his hand, suddenly ignoring Senek.
"How bad does it hurt?" Daniel shook his head and blinked sweat out of his eyes several times. "What just happened?"
"Sit down, Daniel," T'Riss said worriedly. "I had intended to tell you this as soon as we were underway, but it seems that I will not have the luxury of waiting." She glanced up and requested of the room in general, "May we please have some privacy?"
"No," Sehlra told her bluntly. "I have some words for this young man." Then she fixed her glare on Daniel. "Daniel Johansen. You DO NOT go around threatening paying passengers with weapons. Not without authorization you don't. Unless Jenrali or I give you a direct order, you kill no one on this ship. Is that understood?"
"Yes, ma'am," Daniel nodded, looking dazed. "I don't know what..."
"It was my fault," T'Riss interrupted. Senek suddenly elevated his eyebrows as clarity burst through his puzzlement. A single harsh bark came from Llahir's direction. Senek shot him an appalled look. Had the man just laughed? Llahir gazed back at him innocently.
"I see," Senek interjected, ignoring the outburst and returning his attention to the Human. "That certainly explains Mr. Johansen's reaction. An entirely understandable response to an attack on his bondmate. In fact," he nodded at Daniel. "I must salute your forbearance. I am fortunate to be alive."
"Bondmate?!" Sehlra alternated staring from T'Riss to Daniel. "When did this happen and why didn't you tell someone?"
"Because nobody told me," Daniel muttered, looking askance at T'Riss.
The young Vulcan woman sighed and held up a hand. "Please, if I may have one moment I will explain." She gave a rapid summation of what Sorsen had told her, along with her decision to sit down with Daniel after they were underway and have an extended discussion.
"So it's a betrothal bond. Yeah," Daniel rubbed his face. "Oh, yeah. Definitely. We need to talk." He looked up. "What happened down here anyway? How did your wrist get broken?"
T'Riss looked rueful and told him why her wrist got broken. Four seconds later she and Senek were pinning his arms while Sehlra appropriated his sword. Daniel continued to kick and swear with undiminished vigor until Sehlra slapped his cheek. He stopped in shock and stared at her.
"Enough." Sehlra's tone brooked no argument. "You swore to obey the chain of command as part of the partnership agreement. Do you want to sell out your share?"
Daniel wilted. "Sell out?" His eyes held the expression of a wounded puppy. "No. You want me to?"
"Of course not, fool." Sehlra softened. "But you must stop this foolishness. You grew up in space, Daniel. You know that discipline is the difference between life and death for everyone aboard ship. You can't defy orders this way. The contract is made. Our word is given. Either deal with having that mind raping whore aboard or leave the ship. We cannot renege on a contract, you know that."
"I cannot believe that you would do this." Daniel looked and sounded betrayed.
"You may rest assured, Mr Johansen," Senek told him. "Raijiin is under complete control."
"How?" Daniel wanted to know. "Leg irons? Drugs?"
Senek pursed his lips. "Her telepathic abilities are quite formidable, but she lacks experience in many areas. My own skills are sufficient to ensure that her behavior remains within acceptable parameters." Daniel looked doubtful.
"If he can't control her," Sehlra assured him, "we already told her that she's going out the airlock. No warning, no mercy."
"She will harm no one aboard this ship," T'Riss said firmly. "She will be monitored constantly, and any cause for suspicion will result in summary execution. She will not be given the benefit of the doubt, Agent Senek's assurances notwithstanding."
Daniel sighed and nodded. "All right." He gave T'Riss a long look. "Since I'm up anyway, I'm going up to the control room to help get Jenrali get us underway. Want to come?"
"No," Sehlra countermanded. "I need her to secure the passenger's luggage and do the final pre-flight checks down here. You put this away," she handed Daniel his sword hilt first. He took it, looking embarrassed. "Then go on up to the bridge. I'm going to the engine room and stow the parts Commander Tucker sent over." Sehlra shot T'Riss a direct look. "And I need to have a talk with you when I get back, Crewman."
"Lerteiran, you are cleared to un-dock."
"Acknowledged, station," Jenrali said.
"Detaching airlock seal, confirm separation," Daniel recited.
"Airlock separated, check. Activate magnetic buffer field. Commence detachment," Jenrali ordered.
"Buffer field on, aye. Confirm."
"Confirm buffer active, check."
"Detaching clamps, aye. Clamp one disengaged. Clamp two disengaged. Clamp three disengaged. Clamp four disengaged. Clamp five disengaged. Clamp six disengaged. Detachment complete, captain," Daniel reported, "We are floating free."
"Setting thrusters to .001 sublight standard, standby for impulse as soon as we clear the station," Jenrali announced into the intercom. He told Daniel, "Set course for Risa."
"Aye. Captain," Daniel replied. "Locking navcomp on Risa. Setting temporary relative coordinate 0,0,0, at destination."
Jenralis spoke into the intership microphone. "Departure vector 110x by 33y by 0.12z, 0.50 standard impulse, delta 0.0. "
"Engine status?" Jenrali wanted to know.
"Everything orange down here," Sehlra called up. "Nice and stable."
"Good enough." He hit the announcement button. "All hands, prepare for warp one."
Daniel closed his eyes and said a prayer while he wrapped his legs around the pedestal of his seat and grabbed his console with both hands. There was a relatively minor jerk, a coarse vibration that started small and ascended quickly to a bone shaking rattle, then stopped abruptly. Two seconds of silent stillness, then Lerteiran splashed into subspace. That's how it felt to Daniel at least. But he had no difficulty holding his chair and no bones got broken. "Beautiful."
Jenrali grinned back at him. "It is nice, isn't it? Smooth as a Vulcan's lies."
"I wouldn't go that far," Daniel chuckled.
Continued in Episode 11.
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