The Lerteiran Chronicles
Grigor-Tel rested his moist, fleshy hand casually in the small of her naked back as he applied the hypospray to the side of her neck. The guards were forbidden to enter his bedchamber, so he kept her chained to the table, ever mindful of his own safety after the first time she’d tried to kill him. The skin to skin contact made her flesh crawl as his surface thoughts, always of unspeakable things whenever he touched her, were transmitted clearly to her without her volition. She fought her bonds as the viral agent began stripping her control from her, the fear welling up first, and then, despite her utter disgust, the involuntary passion. She whimpered. He chuckled.
“Never fear, my lovely. I’m coming,” he told her, stepping back and giving her a moment of welcome respite from the filth in his mind. To her dismay, though, she could still sense his presence. T’Riss ground her teeth together and tried to block him out with all of her strength. It had to be the viral agent causing the mating bond-like effect. The alternative was unthinkable.
His pants of exertion as he struggled with his clothing, for he was too grossly obese even to bend and unfasten his boots without effort, heralded the beginning of the evening-an evening which would, as usual, end in pleasure for her captor and utter humiliation for his Vulcan slave.
Her gorge rose as she felt him approach, felt his depraved thoughts within her consciousness, and realized with dawning horror that he hadn’t even touched her yet...
“Subcenturion? Are you awake? Commander T’Lar is here, as you requested.”
The voice was a welcome intrusion. She had no desire to relive the memories which sleep had brought to the fore. She opened her eyes. The professionally concerned face of the physician who’d recently saved her life filled her field of vision. She schooled her features into a semblance of socially appropriate control. Inwardly, though, she was still in turmoil. It was impossible to ignore the fact that a part of her still sensed Grigor-Tel’s distant presence.
“Yes, Doctor.” Her gaze shifted beyond the solemn figure in healer’s robes to find a Vulcan female, in command of the vessel they were currently aboard judging from the insignia on her uniform. T’Riss straightened her posture, sitting bolt upright in bed despite her weakened condition.
“Subcenturion T’Riss, most recently of the Plains of Gol, reporting for duty, Commander.”
The commander eyed her with one brow raised. “Your dedication to duty is commendable, Subcenturion,” she said hesitantly. Her eyes cut to the physician at her side. “I would, however, prefer you to be fully recovered before returning to duty.” The doctor nodded his agreement.
T’Riss took a deep breath. She faced the two of them and opened her mouth, but the words wouldn’t come. She looked away, gathering her courage. She could see Commander T’Lar and the doctor exchanging wary looks. If she didn’t manage to say something soon, they’d assume she’d been mentally damaged. T’Riss wasn’t at all sure they’d be entirely wrong in making that assumption, but her condition was easily remedied. She faced them again.
“I would like permission to take a shuttle, Commander. I know where Grigor-Tel is. He must be brought to justice. I can find him. I can... sense him.” She paused, swallowing, trying to remain composed. “He must be executed for his crimes, and then I will be free,” she said stoutly. Then she waited, teeth clenched as she fought to remain upright in bed despite her exhaustion.
“Free?” inquired the doctor in a puzzled voice.
Commander T’Lar’s eyes widened. T’Riss locked gaze with her. The commander understood. There was sympathy in her eyes as she said, “Sedate her so that she is able to rest, Doctor. I’ll debrief her more thoroughly in the morning.”
T’Riss was too exhausted to protest further. She fell into a drugged slumber after the sedative, and to her profound relief there were no more dreams.
Commander T’Lar stood contemplating the unconscious young officer. It served no purpose for her to remain in Sickbay just watching the girl sleep, but the problem of what to do with the traumatized young woman was nagging at her.
Healer Tyvek, stolid and blandly polite as usual, approached the bed. “Is there something else I can do for you, Commander?” he asked pointedly.
His question brought the logic of her behavior into question. She pursed her lips in thought. He was probably correct. She relied on his absolute objectivity and his complete lack of imagination. He kept her focused on reality when “what if’s” pulled at her attention. Her tendency to extrapolate from known facts was an asset in trying to predict the behavior of her opponent in a combat situation, but the myriad possibilities paralyzed her at times. Seeing things in black and white through Tyvek’s eyes gave her a respite from uncertainty.
“Do you think she’s telling the truth, or has she been subverted?” she asked. “She could be attempting to lead us into a trap.”
“The stability of her brainwave scan during her statement reinforces her claim. She at least believes that she is telling the truth,” he replied.
“But...a mating bond with a non-Vulcan? An involuntary one at that....” persisted T’Lar. It was impossible for her to hide her disgust.
“The Science Directorate has determined that true mating bonds between Vulcans and non-Vulcans are impossible,” said Tyvek flatly. “The most logical explanation is that she is delusional.”
T’Lar wasn’t convinced, but she was willing to defer the decision to his medical expertise-for now. “Your recommendations?” she asked.
“Allow her to assist with the investigation, but do not allow her to return to full duty until she has been evaluated by a licensed mental healer capable of healing melds,” he replied with certainty.
T’Lar raised a brow, surprised. “You advocate a healing meld? It will be difficult to find a healer capable of such an antiquated procedure.”
“It is the only way to definitely prove that she is delusional,” he countered. “Faced with the incontrovertible proof of her mental instability, she will be forced to accept her condition. Improvement will follow.”
T’Lar’s brow wrinkled. “And what if she isn’t delusional? She might be able to help us locate the Orion primarily responsible for the brutal torture of at least three Vulcan citizens... and perhaps the murder of others.”
“Extremely unlikely... but a meld would shed light on that question as well,” replied the doctor reasonably.
T’Lar nodded reluctantly. It was a safer approach. Sending a potentially mentally unstable officer on a mission to capture the person responsible for her torture and sexual abuse did seem a plan which was fraught with the possibility of disaster.
“Very well. Please contact Vulcan and request a qualified individual. I will have the quartermaster issue her a uniform,” said T’Lar.
Daniel snorted in wry amusement and continued his ongoing campaign of harassment.
“You mean they’re mobilizing Enterprise to come all the way out here over this?” He chuckled. “That’s the most ridiculous thing I ever heard of. I thought you wanted to keep this quiet. So instead, now you have Earth's most advanced warship hauling ass all the way out here to dive into the middle of things.” He grinned nastily. “Logic, thy name is Vulcan.”
Jenrali squeezed his lips together tightly to force back the words, but his pale eyes were dancing. Sehlra had her face buried in one hand and was making muffled snickering noises. The darling boy had been applying the needle to their captors incessantly ever since the three of them were escorted from their cells into the briefing room. The two Andorians had never really expected to survive the first night after their capture. Both of them were veterans of the last war, and their Guard training had conditioned them to be ready for the worst.
Instead, the greenbloods had tossed them into adjacent cages and left them to rot and wonder. Sehlra, at least, had felt relieved to know that the wait was over. Even if it meant that they were going to their executions. But instead, here they were - sitting across from a pair of stone faced greenbloods and listening to Daniel give them a tongue lashing that would put a drill instructor to shame. And the Vulcans were taking it. Neither of them had so much as raised a hand to any of them. It was the most delightful thing the old woman had ever witnessed.
The older looking Vulcan, a skinny looking nondescript male with a bedraggled cloak, stirred himself and murmured, “The logic is actually quite straightforward, Mr. Johansen. We have no desire to allow this situation to escalate beyond the current area. Therefore, the High Council requested Starfleet's intervention in order to settle this matter here and now.”
Daniel pulled on his lower lip thoughtfully. “Settle this matter? Here and now? And you think you need Starfleet's help with that, do you? It simply never occurred to you to admit that you made a mistake?” He shook his head. “Of course not. What am I saying? You’re Vulcans. Vulcans don't make mistakes, by definition.” He sighed and leaned back with his eyes closed.”
Commander T’Lar's face tightened. After introducing herself as the leader of the Task Force, she had said very little during Daniel's spiel. Now she spoke between tightened lips, “We have been very patient, Mr. Johansen. If we were the unreasonable dictators that you imply, we would have already condemned the three of you. Instead, we are attempting to provide every benefit of the doubt, but even races as devout in their adherence to the principles of illogic as Humans and Andorians must be capable of perceiving how suspicious your situation appears to us.”
Daniel grinned back. “Touché, Madam. And I do recognize that the Vulcan government operates under the principle of guilty until proven innocent, and then only if the accused has the proper political connections. I suppose we really should be grateful that you haven't gotten around to shooting us yet.”
Senek winced. “I regret that your distrust has a basis in fact, young man. However, since the removal of the V'Las administration and the installation of the new High Council, we are attempting to renovate our government in order to achieve a system more in line with Surak's original teachings. The simple fact of the matter is this - under the old High Command you would in fact already have been shot.”
“Would we really?” Daniel mused ironically. “I wonder. I really do. Since you’re uncertain enough to call in Enterprise for this, you obviously have some concern about potential fallout. I’m not sure that even V'Las would have ordered us shot. As for your claims of turning over a new leaf, I’ll believe them when I see them. So far, I haven't seen them.” T’Lar’s lips pursed at that. She evidently disliked being compared to the likes of V’Las.
Sehlra’s delight over Daniel’s outrageous behavior vanished. She could see that the Vulcan commander was becoming very annoyed, and tried to catch Daniel’s eye to warn him. He seemed otherwise occupied, studying the woman with intensity. Sehlra sighed inwardly. The impetuousness of youth was likely to get them all into even more trouble, unless it resulted in the Vulcans getting so exasperated with Daniel that they freed them all simply to get rid of him.
“Enough,” announced T'Lar finally, and abruptly pushed a button. Daniel noted that she used a trifle more force than was strictly necessary. For a Vulcan, that spoke volumes. He smiled even wider. He kept smiling until the door slid aside, and he saw the woman walk into the briefing room. Then he lost all sense of amusement.
She was wearing a good deal more clothing than the last time he has seen her. Instead of a thong and a veil, the Vulcan girl had put on a subcenturion uniform. Her hair was neatly styled in typical Vulcan military fashion. Daniel had only seen her face in the brief glimpse that Grigor-Tel had allowed, but her features were burned into his memory - as was the expression of pain that had carved itself deep into her face.
This time, the young woman wore an expression much closer to the standard Vulcan mask of indifference. It was far from perfect, though. Echoes of what she had endured were plain to read for anyone who was accustomed to interpreting emotional cues. Still, she looked a lot better. She stood as straight as before, but not stiff with fear anymore. Instead, she held herself with relaxed pride. Daniel felt himself begin to relax just a little bit.
He stood up and bowed, not waiting for introductions. “Greetings, ma'am. It’s gratifying to see you again under much more pleasant circumstances.”
The young woman twitched one eyebrow and glanced at T'Lar, who inclined her head. The subcenturion raised one hand, palm forward, and divided her fingers. “Peace and long life to you. I am Subcenturion T'Riss, formerly of the Plains of Gol. I am told that you are the one who informed Agent Senek of my whereabouts on the station.”
Daniel fumbled awkwardly for words, conscious of the four sets of eyes watching him silently. “I... uh... yeah. But anyone would have. I mean, they would have found you anyway.” He added in a hurry, “I’m sorry I couldn't talk Grigor-Tel into letting you come with me. I was hoping maybe we could smuggle you off before he caught us. That's why I said what I did.” He held his breath and waited. Would she believe him? If not, they might all be royally screwed.
T'Riss sat down and considered briefly. “Logical. Unfortunately, Grigor-Tel was most... possessive.” She paused, swallowing and obviously maintaining her control only with great effort. The other Vulcans sat impassively, waiting for her to continue. Daniel smiled at her weakly, trying to encourage her—as if a Vulcan needed encouragement. Surprisingly, she nodded at him, seeming to acknowledge his support. “It was an honorable effort. As for anyone else finding me, that may be true. But it is doubtful that they would have found me in time to save my life had you not provided the necessary information. I thank you.”
Daniel flushed and looked down, trying to find something to say. While he groped for words, Senek broke in.
“Subcenturion,” the older Vulcan inquired carefully, “what exactly did Mr. Johansen do as an effort to remove you from Grigor-Tel's custody?” Daniel winced and eyed the door plaintively.
T'Riss turned toward the head of the table and took a deep breath. She did a fair job of maintaining her composure, although her voice did waver a bit in spots. “Mr. Johansen was meeting with Grigor-Tel to discuss trade matters. After their traditional meal, I was brought out and displayed as a trophy.” She paused to regain her equanimity. Daniel squeezed his eyes shut. He really did not want to know how the two Vulcans were reacting to this part.
After a few seconds T'Riss continued. “Mr. Johansen reacted to my entrance instantly. However, unlike previous guests of Grigor-Tel's, he did not react with sexual arousal.” She glanced over at Daniel, who was still looking down. “From his scent and body language, I deduced his reaction was a mixture of discomfort and fear.”
“Interesting,” Senek murmured. “Because you were a Vulcan?”
“I am not certain,” T'Riss admitted. “At the time, my face was covered.” Senek traded a look with T'Lar. “Continue.”
“Grigor-Tel took great pride...” Her face contorted. The other two politely averted their eyes while she regained control. “He took great pride in his acquisition of Vulcan pleasure slaves. He told Mr. Johansen about capturing our ship, and our people. At this point, Mr. Johansen's scent intensified significantly. I am not familiar with Humans, but it was very similar to the scent of other slaves I had encountered with iron based blood when they were terrified.”
“Damn straight I was scared!” Daniel broke in. “We had already spotted your ship out by the Horn nebula on our way into the station, and wondered what you were doing there. But we didn't say a word to anyone on the station, did we? If we had, you would never have been able to take them by surprise, would you?” He paused to catch his breath, while the three Vulcans watched him with interest. “Then, when that fat fool told me what he had done, I remembered seeing him,” he nodded at Senek, “... and knew that you were about to blast the station into dust. So we bailed out and started running like hell to get out of the way.” He stopped to breathe and ran a hand over his face.
“And you attempted to take Subcenturion T'Riss with you?” Senek asked mildly.
“Yeah,” Daniel answered, for once not feeling cocky. “I pretended to Grigor-Tel that I wanted to borrow her. I hoped that if we could get her off the station it might prove our good will to you, and maybe keep you from killing us.”
“As the subcenturion noted, a logical plan,” Senek nodded approvingly.
“It didn't work,” Daniel muttered.
“That does not detract from the fact that you made the effort,” Senek pointed out. He glanced at T'Lar, who was gazing at Daniel thoughtfully.
“It does begin to appear that you and your associates might not have had prior knowledge of the attack on the Plains of Gol, ” she admitted. Jenrali let his hand drop to the table with a thump.
“By the Great Mother herself! We have been trying to get that through your heads from the first moment you captured us,” he growled. “Now what about my ship? You ruined our engines, and there is no way that we can make our run to Alembra now. Even if you towed us there, we couldn't make it in time to meet deadline.”
“This matter is not completely settled,” T'Lar proclaimed with an edge. “I said that it begins to appear that you might not have had prior knowledge. A final determination has not yet been made.” Jenrali's face started turning violet and he clenched both fists. Sehlra reached over and grabbed one of his hands, whispering something into his ear.
“And what exactly are you going to require before you’re willing to acknowledge that fire is hot and water flows downhill?” Daniel asked wearily.
“In your case,” Senek took up the slack, “the High Council and Starfleet have agreed that, as a citizen of Earth, your situation falls under Starfleet jurisdiction. Therefore you will remain here until Enterprise arrives.”
“Bullshit!” Daniel exploded. “I’m a Boomer. I am not under Starfleet jurisdiction!” He failed to notice T'Lar's jaw tighten at this comment. “The fact that I’m listed as a citizen of Earth is merely a bureaucratic formality because I was an orphan. Space orphans are always listed as citizens of the homeworld. It's irrelevant. Besides, this is the Syndicate. It’s not under Human OR Vulcan jurisdiction.”
“This ship is Vulcan,” T'Lar said firmly. “It is most definitely under Vulcan jurisdiction. As long as you are aboard this ship, you are subject to Vulcan law.”
“If you hadn't pirated our ship and kidnapped us, we wouldn't BE aboard this ship!” Sehlra finally blew her top. “Do you have any idea how long it's going to take me to rebuild the damage you inflicted on my engines?!”
T'Lar kept her composure. “That raises a valid issue. On review of the incident report...”
“Incident?” Jenrali interjected bitingly.
“...incident report,” T'Lar resumed smoothly as if no one had spoken, “I find that the commander of the Le'Matya violated standard procedure in that he failed to offer you the option of surrender prior to opening fire. He has been reprimanded for this. Since it seems likely that you would have surrendered if given the chance to do so, we must accept responsibility for the damage done to your vessel. Our repair teams have already begun work on restoring your systems.”
“I don't suppose you could see fit to upgrade us while you’re at it?” Daniel asked flippantly, by sheer reflex.
T'Lar gave him a dirty look, but Senek's lips quirked. “Since your ship is rather aged, it is likely that some of the components we will be forced to use may in fact be more advanced than the originals. However, we will attempt to restore your ship to a condition as close to its original specifications as possible.”
Sehlra blinked and opened her mouth, then shut it firmly. She looked at Jenrali, who squirmed for a minute in discomfort. Finally he sighed and said, “It wasn't up to original spec when you hit us. Lerteiran is still a good, solid ship but... showing its age. I can't honorably claim otherwise.”
“As we have no way of estimating the degree to which age has compromised your ship's functions,” T'Lar said, “we will make no attempt to allow for this. We will simply make the repairs. If your honor is offended at having your ship returned to you in better condition than it was, feel free to damage it afterward at your leisure.”
Daniel coughed to distract the Vulcans while Sehlra made a valiant effort to hold Jenrali back. “Thank you,” he said. “I believe Lerteiran's original top cruising speed was warp 4.5 or thereabouts. That should help us gain a competitive edge.” He shot Jenrali a glare, which assisted in settling him down. Not that Sehlra was having any real difficulty, Daniel noticed. It was amazing what a sharp pinch between two fingernails at the base of the antenna would do for an Andorian's attitude.
“Meanwhile,” Daniel shifted into a placating tone, “since our ship isn't going anywhere, how about letting us move back aboard her? Unless you’ve disabled life support?”
T'Lar's eyes narrowed. “No. Not you at any rate. My orders are quite clear with respect to your case, Mr. Johansen. You are to remain in protective custody until Enterprise arrives.” She turned to the Andorians. “However, I have no objections if your shipmates wish to return to their quarters aboard their ship.”
“Yes!” the simultaneous chorus left no room for doubt. Jenrali went on, “But we are not going anywhere until Daniel is freed.” His expression was not in any way friendly.
“This matter is no longer your concern,” T'Lar told him imperiously. “It is between Vulcan and Earth.”
“No way!” Daniel stood up again. “I have violated no laws of any kind. Vulcan has no right to hold me, since as you insist on pointing out I am a citizen of Earth. Starfleet has no right to hold me, since I have done nothing wrong. And neither of you has any right to prevent me from conducting my lawful business, unless Starfleet wants to start claiming the right to regulate every Boomer ship. I don't think they want to try that!”
T'Lar's face froze. “That is not a matter for Vulcan to address. I have my orders. However, since no evidence has yet been found to indicate that you were involved in the attack on the Plains of Gol, I am willing to offer you standard quarters aboard this ship - on the condition that you provide your word that you will abide by all rules and regulations of this ship and obey all orders.”
Daniel sighed and sat down. “What choice do I have? Maximum security prison or minimum security prison? I’ll take minimum security prison. You have my word.” He was tired.
Jenrali's antennae drew back and pointed toward each other. All three Vulcans tensed, and Sehlra started watching warily. The captain of the Lerteiran spoke slowly and carefully. “Daniel Johansen is a member of my crew.” He stopped for a moment to let the words hang in the air. “If you know anything about my people, you know what that means. You said that it was none of our concern.” He looked intently at both T'Lar and Senek. “Neither of you are stupid enough to believe that.” Jenrali stood up. “Until the Oath of Partnership is dissolved, Daniel is one of us. Dead or alive, he is one of us. Here, on Vulcan, or on Earth. It doesn't matter that he is a pinkskin. It wouldn't even matter if he was a greenblood. What matters is the oath we took together. Daniel has kept his oath. We will keep ours while warmth remains in us. Remember that.”
He looked at Sehlra, who stood up. The two of them nodded to Daniel and walked out, accompanied by their guards. A moment of silence followed. “It's good to have family,” Daniel thought fondly, looking at the door.
T'Lar told the remaining guard, “Escort Mr. Johansen to the guest quarters on deck six.” Daniel came back to himself and obediently followed the armed Vulcan crewman into the corridor.
“Your impressions, Agent Senek?” T'Lar said abruptly, in a distracted voice.
Senek did not answer quickly. He was careful with his response, for he could tell that the commander disliked the Human. He himself found the young man’s flamboyantly oppositional negotiation tactics rather amusing.
“I do not believe that Mr. Johansen bears personal hostility toward Vulcans generally. Nor did I gain the impression that his mission, whatever it may have been, was directly contrary to Vulcan's interest.”
“I disagree,” T'Lar argued. “I fail to see how you could not have perceived his blatant hostility.”
Senek's lips twitched. “He was not exhibiting hostility by his remarks,” the operative explained. “He was attempting to provoke us. It is a standard Human gambit, used in an attempt to interfere with a debating opponent's reasoning ability.”
T'Lar blinked and raised an eyebrow. “You are telling me that his anger was simulated?”
“Not entirely, no,” Senek explained. “But he deliberately exaggerated the severity of his emotional upset. He was attempting to make us underestimate him, and at the same time trying to irritate us into letting some potentially valuable information slip.”
“Fascinating,” T'Riss murmured.
Senek looked at the young woman thoughtfully. Healer Tyvek had privately reported to him that the physical damage to Subcenturion T'Riss would heal quickly. The psychological damage was a different matter. Fortunately, a mental health professional capable of healing melds had been located and was on her way.
Particularly telling was the fact that the other two ex-pleasure slaves did not seem to be experiencing any lasting sense of connection to their rapists. The two ships’ physicians could not agree about the cause of this discrepancy. The healer on board the Le’Matya hypothesized that repeated use of the viral agent between the same two partners might have functioned physiologically as the equivalent of multiple Pon farrs together, resulting in a mating bond by virtue of repetition. Tyvek, of course, being Tyvek, disagreed. The woman Natolya was in custody aboard the Le’Matya for want of space on the Sehlat. After being confronted with the charges facing her should she fail to cooperate, the Orion female had proven to be a veritable wellspring of information. She swore that T'Mara and V'Sille had been assaulted many times, but never by the same partner twice. More importantly, the medical scanners confirmed she was telling the truth.
In any case, the abuse that the pleasure slaves had suffered went far beyond the physical and emotional anguish that members of another race would have endured. As touch telepaths, with each attack the finely tuned minds of the Vulcans were further brutalized by the animalistic thoughts and emotions of their attackers. Brain scans on all three of the women showed the neurological damage all too clearly.
T'Mara was a bonded wife whose husband and children were still on Vulcan. They had originally planned to join her on the colony in a few months, once her husband had completed the process of divesting the family of its property. Instead, she was returning to Vulcan for extensive therapy. Neither Tyvek nor the Le'Matya's healer dared to speculate what her ordeal might have done to her marriage bond. Only time would tell. V'Sille, like T'Riss, was currently unmarried. Her betrothed had survived the attack and been shipped deeper into the Syndicate. According to Grigor-Tel's records, V'Sille's betrothed was sold to a mining consortium for use in a dilithium mine on some airless moon. It was barely possible that he might eventually be retrieved alive. T'Riss had seen her betrothed killed in the fighting aboard the Plains of Gol . Had her betrothed survived, honor would have compelled him to follow through with the marriage. To do otherwise would have been equivalent to blaming her for being the victim of a crime, an intensely illogical act. But now, unless the healer they had located could help her, her chances of finding another husband were slim indeed.
Healer Tyvek had recommended that for the present, the best therapy for Subcenturion T'Riss was work, preferably some absorbing project that would engage her full attention for as long as possible and distract her from her delusional state. This looked like a perfect opportunity.
“Subcenturion,” Senek said carefully. “You are well aware of the delicacy of this situation. It is imperative that we gather as much information as possible concerning our Human guest, and we must accomplish this before the Earth ship arrives. Plainly Mr. Johansen is unwilling to cooperate with the members of this task force. He did, however, seem to display an entirely different attitude toward you.”
“I don't understand,” T'Riss said in confusion.
“I believe that Mr. Johansen assigns no blame to you for his current troubles,” Senek explained. “He obviously regards the crews of these two ships, along with myself, as captors and adversaries. But you, to the contrary, are perceived as a fellow victim of circumstance.” He paused thoughtfully. “Based on my past experience with Humans, it would be entirely logical for him to form a friendly relationship with you.” “Precisely,” T'Lar agreed emphatically. “Once you establish a connection, you will be able to extract the information we need.”
T'Riss looked uncomfortable. “I am not trained for interrogation, Commander.”
“That is not my suggestion, Subcenturion,” T'Lar told her pleasantly. “Interrogation has been singularly non-productive with Mr. Johansen. By the treaty of alliance, we are barred from using any forceful techniques to extract information. But he might be willing to speak freely with someone that he regards as a friend.”
T'Riss started looking even more uncomfortable. “Commander... I... this man saved my life. You are aware of my condition when Agent Senek found me...”
T'Lar raised one hand. “I am not asking you to perform any treachery, Subcenturion. Consider. Based on the information that we now possess, it does seem that Mr. Johansen and his Andorian associates are probably innocent of any involvement in the attack on your ship. If this can be confirmed beyond any doubt, we can release him. Is this not what he desires?”
The younger woman's face started to clear. “Would that be the extent of my assignment?”
T'Lar kept her face bland and her tone neutral. “That will be the primary focus of your mission. Any additional information that you obtain will be evaluated on a case by case basis. I am certain that your training and your ethical code will be sufficient to ensure that you will take the proper course of action. Remember that the Humans are sending a ship to adjudicate this matter regarding Mr. Johansen. It will also be to his benefit if any information concerning his activities involving Human law is brought into the open before they arrive.”
“I agree,” Senek said dryly. “Human authorities are notoriously short tempered when it comes to being lied to.”
“He claims that he has violated no law,” T'Riss pointed out.
“In which case,” Senek returned reasonably, “your prior confirmation of that will simplify his interaction with the Human authorities immensely.”
T'Riss seemed mollified. “I understand, Commander. I will attempt to make contact with Mr. Johansen as you order. But I am uncertain as to the proper approach. Agent Senek, do you have suggestions?”
Senek raised an eyebrow and considered. “In this case, I recommend forthright honesty.”
T'Riss looked shocked. “You think I should declare my intentions openly?” T'Lar actually blinked in surprise and opened her mouth to speak.
“I would not suggest going quite that far,” Senek said in amusement, forestalling T'Lar's objection. “But there is no reason that you need to lie. Tell him the truth, as far as it goes. You are curious about Humans, are you not? Tell him that. He will certainly understand such a motive. Humans are obsessively curious as a species. Also, you are currently unassigned, and therefore do not have regularly scheduled duties. Is this not correct? Therefore you are provided with large amounts of unfilled time. If you were not talking to him, you would in effect be sitting in your quarters with nothing to do, would you not? Tell him this also.”
T'Riss pondered. “It seems a logical approach. But why would he be interested in associating with me?”
Senek looked carefully at her. He decided to avoid mentioning the obvious. Daniel had struck him as a reasonably honorable and sane young man, and unlikely to make advances on the subcenturion, considering her recent ordeal. There was no reason to complicate her mission by bringing up the subject.
“Mr. Johansen will accept your approach out of boredom and loneliness,” he told her. “Humans are a social species. They crave interaction. Given a choice between your company and no company, he will eagerly agree to spend time with you.” Senek spoke with authority. “He will also attempt to use you as a means to escape. Failing that, he will attempt to manipulate you to into obtaining special privileges that he can use for escape.”
“Why?” T'Riss asked, confused. “If he is innocent as he claims, logic dictates that he would be better served by remaining and clearing his name.”
“Unfortunately,” Senek said unhappily, “neither Human Boomers nor Andorians hold a high opinion of Vulcan standards of justice. He probably believes, and his partners certainly believe, that their best option remains escape.”
T'Lar looked irritated. “Such irrational fear is the source of most interspecies difficulty.”
“In this case,” Senek replied, “the fear is not entirely irrational.” He was not pleased to admit it. T'Riss and T'Lar gave him questioning looks.
Commander T'Lar said stiffly, “I can assure you, Agent Senek. Personnel under my command are expected to scrupulously observe proper procedure.”
“I do not doubt you,” Senek assured them. “But it does not require a majority to engage in misbehavior to taint the reputation of all. If I may borrow a Human analogy, one rotten apple - a type of fruit - can cause an entire container full of apples to rot. The distressing truth of the matter is that under the previous administration, actions were sometimes undertaken which did not strictly adhere to the letter of the law.”
“Such as?” T'Lar challenged him. “I find these imputations of yours most disturbing, Agent Senek. If Fleet personnel were involved in illegal activities, why were they not censured for it? I have heard nothing of such matters. At least, not to such a degree that it would cause widespread distrust of our people among other races.”
Senek actually winced. “You did not hear about them because they were clandestine, Commander. You did not hear about them because the High Command did not want you to hear about them.”
“I have not previously been involved in any clandestine operations,” Commander T'Lar admitted. “Recent reorganization in the Fleet has left several vacancies in the upper ranks, resulting in my assignment to this mission. I was not aware that such atrocities had been permitted.”
“V'Las and his supporters were very careful to regulate the information that they allowed to trickle through to the Vulcan people,” Senek acknowledged. “Even Fleet officers were restricted in their access to general information. It is ironic indeed that many alien races are better informed about Fleet activities than the average Vulcan citizen.”
“Are you suggesting that includes Mr. Johansen?” T'Lar asked him quietly.
“Quite possibly,” Senek told her soberly.
She paused. “Does Earthgov know of these events?”
“Officially, no,” Senek said. “Unofficially, I would be surprised if they are not aware of them. You must understand that our alliance with Earth has been steadily weakening for the last twenty years. Due to the previous administration's actions following the Xindi attack on Earth - or more specifically their lack of action - followed by the conspiracy to bomb the Human embassy on Vulcan, there is a real possibility that we will lose them as allies...possibly because they prefer the Andorians, or perhaps merely because they no longer perceive a net benefit to associating with us.”
Both women looked shocked. “But...” T'Riss floundered a moment before regaining her composure. Her two elders kindly overlooked the lapse, remembering her weakened condition. She took several deep breaths and began again. “But we have been allies for a century! If I recall correctly, that equates to five Human generations. Surely a few unfortunate incidents would not be sufficient to destroy such a stable alliance.” The young woman sounded truly upset.
T'Lar put her hands together, with her fingertips matching carefully. “I suspect from what Agent Senek has told us that there is more to it than that.”
“Yes.” Senek fell silent for several moments. “Not only did the High Command make a policy of distorting the information regarding other races, it also deliberately distorted the reports of its own activities on other worlds and the reactions of our allies to those activities. Earth, for example, was consistently presented as a backward planet. Humans were described to our people by the High Command as culturally and philosophically bereft, slaves to their baser emotions and physical appetites, whose only real talent lay in the technical arts of war. Would you say that I have offered an accurate summation?”
“Reasonably accurate,” T'Lar said grimly.
“After having been in space long enough to actually encounter some Humans, do you consider that description accurate?” Senek asked her.
“Not strictly, no.” T'Lar looked even grimmer. “I had hoped that the discrepancies were due to misunderstanding and miscommunication.”
“By no means,” Senek sighed. “The High Command spent significant resources studying every race with which we have contact. They were well aware of Human characteristics, positive as well as negative. Their propaganda campaign was carefully designed to emphasize Human flaws, while minimizing their good points as much as possible.”
“To what purpose?” T'Riss broke in, seriously unhappy. “What have we been doing on Earth for the past century?”
“Preventing them from becoming a threat to the High Command,” Senek said bluntly. “...by slowing their advance into space as much as possible, diverting them from making contact with the Andorians, exploiting their natural resources through extortionate trade agreements, carefully blocking them from contact with other advanced races that might provide them with potentially dangerous technology, and above all by keeping them from having unrestricted access to the Vulcan people.”
“If the Humans knew of this, why did they tolerate it?” T'Riss asked.
“Lack of alternative options,” Senek told her. “And we did not entirely fail to provide them with benefits. Or at least, we managed to convince the Humans that we were providing them with some benefits. Foremost among the assumed benefits was the promise of protectorate status. As a protected ally of Vulcan, Earth was supposedly assured of physical and military support in the event of attack by a third party.” He stopped briefly to watch T'Lar wincing. “Now you see why the Humans are questioning the value of what they have been paying for.”
“In retrospect, failing to support Earth in their conflict with the Xindi seems short-sighted,” T'Riss offered hesitantly.
“V'Las never intended to support Earth,” Senek said. “I am quite certain that he hoped the Xindi would destroy Earth, or at least cripple it beyond the point of star traveling capability. I have personally read several strategic analyses estimating that within 150 years, Earth could potentially present an even larger threat to Vulcan than Andoria.”
“In that case,” T'Lar exploded, “The entire approach from the beginning was massively illogical!” She stopped abruptly and began deep breathing exercises to re-establish her control.
“I cannot disagree,” Senek replied soothingly. “I suspect that the High Command's policies were formulated on the basis of fear, rather than logic. Early reports, immediately post-First Contact, present feasibility studies for a preemptive strike to eliminate the Human's space-faring ability permanently. At the time, however, the High Command was not politically powerful enough to carry out such a strike and get away with it. By the time they had established themselves as the de facto Vulcan government, Earth had become too powerful to attack with impunity.”
“First, cast out fear,” T'Riss quoted softly. “Nothing can be done until one has cast out fear.”
“Truth indeed,” Senek agreed with equal softness. “As my years increase, so increases my respect for the truth of Surak's teachings.”
“And now,” T'Lar said in resignation, “the new High Council must act to repair the damage...before we end up facing threats on two fronts, with one of them only sixteen light years from our homeworld.”
Trip glanced automatically up and down the corridor by sheer reflex. Not that he really cared one way or the other if anyone saw him. It wasn’t as if anyone on board didn't already know about his relationship with T'Pol, and he had reached the point where, if they got turned in and the brass started causing problems, it wouldn't take much at all to provoke him into resigning his commission anyway.
He pushed the button without bothering to announce himself and walked in. Her quarters were dimly lit by the meditation candles again. It was all too common these days for her to need extra meditation time over and above her usual schedule. Trip stood while the door closed, letting his eyes adjust to the dimness. He saw T'Pol on her cushions, eyes closed and apparently in deep trance. Her breathing was steady and deep, he was relieved to see. Maybe she wasn't having the usual difficulty tonight.
He tip-toed over to the desk and eased into her chair as quietly as he possibly could. Determined to wait as long as it took for her to finish on her own, if it took all night, Trip folded his hands and bowed his head. Since their baby died he had begun to envy T'Pol's ability to find temporary relief in meditation, but he just didn't seem to have the right focus for it, or something.
Then one of the Starfleet grief counselors that Jon had ordered him to see mentioned that for Humans, prayer and meditation produced very similar physiological results. Trip had never been a dedicated churchgoer, but the memories of his Baptist upbringing were strong. Despite lingering questions, he found that an hour every night before sleep spent praying helped him settle his mind and heart more than counseling. He still wasn't totally confident that there was anyone out there listening. But just the act of formulating his thoughts and feelings and sending them out to someone who might care helped purge the pain.
It was more than an hour before Trip heard stirring from across the room. He smiled wryly at T’Pol, who raised a brow at him in surprise.
“How long have you been waiting?” she asked. Her expression was calm, but somehow he could sense her concern for his well being. It was probably that bond thing again, because she sure didn’t look concerned. Instead, she looked serene. It usually lasted at least a few minutes now after each meditation session.
“Not long,’ he shrugged. He slipped down from the chair and joined her on the floor opposite her meditation candle. “Want me to go get you something to eat?” he coaxed. She was already dressed for bed in those silk pajamas of hers, but he hadn’t seen her in the mess hall all day. She wasn’t eating enough. It worried him.
“Perhaps later,” she replied with indifference. In an obvious attempt to change the subject, she asked, “So... when are we scheduled to rendezvous with the Kau T’Surak?”
He regarded her suspiciously. She knew their ETA better than he did after all of her communicating back and forth with the Vulcan High Council regarding the composition of their Vulcan “escort detail”.
“Just exactly when did you eat last, anyway?” he demanded.
She paused thoughtfully. “I believe that I had some plomeek broth this morning...” she replied. Her tone was uncertain. He sighed heavily, shaking his head.
“T’Pol! You’re gonna make yourself sick!” She opened her mouth as if to protest, but he cut her off. “...and I don’t wanna hear a word about how Vulcans can go days without food! You’re nothin’ but skin and bones!”
T’Pol shut her mouth and gave him a look. Then she said mildly, “All I was going to say is that the preparation for our current mission has kept me otherwise occupied.”
Trip stuck his tongue in one cheek and looked at her. She did have a point. After much haggling, she’d managed to reduce the size of the Vulcan contribution to their convoy to a single mobile hospital vessel, appropriately named “The Wisdom of Surak”, and a personnel transport ship full of trained “observers”, Vulcan Ministry of Security officers destined to be assigned in pairs to each ship recruited by the Vulcans to bring the inhabitants of the irretrievably damaged Orion space station to a safer location. It was an impressive achievement, considering the Vulcan hardheadedness factor.
“Yeah, well, I guess I can see that,” he conceded, “but if you haven’t eaten all day, that doesn’t explain why you’re not hungry now.” He crossed his arms triumphantly over his chest, pleased to have made a logical and indisputable observation. He wasn’t prepared for the pang of grief that assailed him. T’Pol sat there rigidly in her meditation posture, her face immobile, but he knew the pain was coming from her.
Damn! he thought. He searched her face for an outward sign of the turmoil within her. Under his gaze, finally, her eyes widened, shining wetly in the reflected candlelight.
“It is true,” she conceded softly. “My appetite is not what it once was.” Her eyes darted to the side, as if she couldn’t bear to hold his gaze. “Doctor Phlox has informed me that reduced appetite can be part of the grief response, and that I should force myself to eat sufficient calories to maintain normal body function regardless of appetite,” she admitted. “It is difficult.”
Trip sat studying her for a moment, momentarily at a loss over the best way to help. Then he smiled.
“Tell ya what... I heard a rumor that chef was makin’ pecan pie. How about I go get us some dinner with pie for dessert, and then we’ll top it off with a little neuropressure, just to relax. How’s that sound?”
T’Pol’s lips twisted up at one corner - just a trifle. Trip sensed amused anticipation. His grin broadened. This bond thing was handy sometimes.
“That would be agreeable,” said T’Pol.
“Greetings, Crewman Falhan. I bring the evening meal for Raijiin.” The Vulcan boy’s high pitched voice carried from the corridor into the cell where Raijiin lay on her uncomfortable bunk, contemplating her predicament.
“Acknowledged, Selim,” her guard responded in an affable voice. The doorway from the corridor opened, and Raijiin watched him lead the way into the circular foyer around which the Sehlat's three confinement units were arrayed. Stopping in front of the center cell, Falhan paused to announce, “Selim has brought food for you, Lady Raijiin.” His voice held a note of friendliness, which gave her hope that perhaps not all Vulcan adults were as impermeable to emotional persuasion as the ones she had encountered thus far. Selim certainly seemed to like her - but then, Selim liked everyone.
He’d swiftly become a favorite among the ship's crew, and would have been even if he were not the commander's brother. Since he’d made a point of emphasizing how Raijiin had gone out of her way to help him escape, her confinement was strictly a matter of precaution. Had she not demonstrated her power on V'Sille, she would have been allowed to roam freely, a fact that she belatedly had come to realize and curse with fervent intensity.
“I brought you some mollusks,” Selim offered bashfully. “I know you were craving animal protein, and this is the only type that we have available.” He waited while Falhan deactivated the force field, then sidled shyly into the cell with the tray carefully balanced across his small arms.
“Thank you, Selim,” Raijiin flashed the boy an honest smile. The child was really sweet. Whatever else might come, it was a good thing to have gotten this boy out of Natolya's clutches. She grimly reflected that with Natolya's experience, once Selim reached sexual maturity she probably would have required only a few months to corrupt him. Raijiin suppressed a grimace and took the tray gratefully.
“Will you sit with me for a while?” she asked hopefully. “It’s lonely here with no one to talk to. I have no idea what's happening.” Selim was fortunately much too young and naive to see that he was being shamelessly probed for information. Besides, she really did want someone to talk to.
“Certainly,” the boy said eagerly, plopping himself down at the other end of the bunk with childish enthusiasm. “I have also been having difficulty finding companionship. There are no other children aboard, and all of the adults are busy.”
Raijiin smiled sympathetically. “Then let's talk while I eat, I don't mind.” She uncovered the tray. “Ooh. These mollusks look delicious,” she exclaimed, and popped a bite into her mouth. “Mmm,” she managed, trying her best to maintain her enthusiasm while chewing - and chewing - and chewing. “They taste as good as they look,” Raijiin proclaimed a bit indistinctly, lying through her teeth. Actually, the invertebrates had been prepared following standard Vulcan culinary practices - which meant that all the attention had been focused on preserving nutritional value and taste was a non-issue. The flavor and texture were remarkably similar to that of an airlock vacuum seal.
“I am pleased that you find them acceptable,” Selim said solemnly. “We do not utilize animal products, except for those animals that lack a central nervous system. Some of my people do not even eat those.”
Raijiin managed to swallow the tough little shellfish tidbit. “I understand. I respect your philosophy. Everyone has their own particular ways, don't they?” She grinned brightly at him, quickly stabbed a chunk of raw purple vegetable and started crunching. At least it carried some flavor.
“Indeed. Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations. That is what Surak teaches us.” The little boy intoned. Then he relaxed and told her, “All of the slaves are free now, and my people are trying to make arrangements for them to go home. My sister, Commander T'Lar, informs me that Grigor-Tel's records show where the others have been sent. As soon as we finish here, we will be going after them.”
Raijiin nodded thoughtfully. “The Orions are in serious trouble this time, aren't they?” Having grown up in the Expanse, she had never heard of Vulcans until her encounter with one on board the human ship Enterprise, but everything that she had learned since coming into this part of space told her that Vulcans were an old race, well established, technically advanced, with a long reputation for merciless retribution against anyone who harmed their civilians. This was likely to get very ugly before it was over.
Selim looked unhappy. “Our people once fought a war with the Orion Syndicate,” he told her. Raijiin looked up sharply. “They were the first race that our people had contact with. That was many, many years ago, before the Reformation of Surak. We hurt them very badly. Many of their people were killed. Since then, they have not caused us any significant trouble. This is the first time since that war that we have had a problem with them.”
“Oh my,” she breathed. “Grigor-Tel is likely to be an outlaw among his own people now, isn't he?” Her mind raced with the implications. Grigor-Tel had obviously not been too worried about Vulcan retribution. Had all of the major players in the Orion Syndicate forgotten what Vulcans were capable of doing, or was Grigor-Tel a member of a small minority? How many other Orions felt as he did?
“I do not know,” Selim admitted. “This is not something that the adults will discuss with me.”
“Well,” Raijiin smiled at him, “let's discuss something happier. You said that your people are working to find a way for everyone to go home. What kind of arrangements are they making?”
Selim let a tiny smile slip in answer to hers, then he hurriedly covered it up. With a newly solemn face he started, “There are several vessels here that were engaged in trading activities with the Orions. My sister is negotiating with the captains of these vessels. She intends to arrange for them to transport the freed slaves to their home worlds in return for avoiding prosecution.”
Raijiin pursed her lips in amusement. “Given the discrepancy in the size of their guns and your sister's guns, I imagine that she will prevail in those negotiations,” she grinned. “How does she intend to make sure that they live up to the deal?”
“Each ship will have two armed Vulcan observers aboard,” Selim told her. “They will have the only weapons on the ship. Also, each ship's computer system will be retro-fitted with override controls that will permit the observers to take control of the ship if necessary. Finally, in the event of open mutiny, each ship will be fitted with a bomb attached to the warp core that will disable the engines, along with a subspace beacon to signal for pickup by another Vulcan cruiser. With these precautions in place, my sister does not believe that the alien captains will attempt to renege on the arrangement.”
“Does your law permit her to do that?” Raijiin asked with interest.
Selim squirmed. “T'Lar says that we are in the Syndicate. And Syndicate law permits such actions.” He looked uncomfortable. “In any case, she maintains that all of them are guilty of complicity in the sale and transport of slaves, or smuggling. Therefore, they are in fact criminals. By offering them this option, she is giving them an opportunity to atone for their crimes without facing trial on Vulcan, where the punishment would be far more severe.”
“What about the Orions? The ones working with Grigor-Tel?” Raijiin asked curiously.
Selim looked away. “The free associates of Grigor-Tel who were involved in the attack on our ship have already been interrogated and executed,” he told her. He looked back. “But the Orions who were slaves will be left as they are, unharmed, along with all of the non-Orion employees.”
She considered his words for a brief time while munching veggies. “It still seems like a lot of people to crowd into a very few ships. Won't they be standing on top of each other?” She eyed the lumpy little shellfish again, then carefully carved off a chunk to spear along with a piece of yellowish looking fruit. Maybe it would be juicy enough to help the leathery nugget slide down without choking her.
Selim's elusive smile flickered again. “Not all of them will be going home that way. Once all of the cargo ships are full, the rest of the freed slaves will be going home aboard Enterprise, along with you and I, V'Sille, T'Mara, and T'Riss.”
A cold wind began to howl through her mind. No. It’s impossible, she thought numbly. Her expression must have revealed her shock, for Selim suddenly looked very concerned, and he reached out to touch her arm.
Raijiin swallowed hard. “Enterprise?” she forced out a shaky whisper.
“Yes,” Selim said, looking at her strangely. She recalled his empathic gift and tried her best to get her abject terror under control. She was unsuccessful. Her mollusk dinner felt like it was trying to come back up again. “They are coming because of the Human that was found on the station. Didn't anyone tell you about him?”
A Human in Syndicate space. It was too unbelievable not to be the truth. Raijiin took a deep breath and let it out slowly, swallowing. She searched frantically for the best course of action, and realized that she had to move quickly. She needed to tell the Vulcans her side of the story before Enterprise arrived. If the Vulcans were on her side, then the Humans couldn’t take her. Her nausea subsided - just a little. “Selim, I need your help,” she told the boy seriously. “I know this is a major request, but I need to speak with your sister immediately.”
“Of course,” Selim responded enthusiastically. “I am certain that T'Lar will be willing to speak with you. You helped me. Our family owes you a debt of honor. I will go and ask her now.”
“Thank you,” Raijiin told him gratefully. She slumped in relief as Selim signaled the guard and left. As soon as she was alone however, Raijiin leaped to her feet and started pacing.
“Spirits of Light. I knew that they would never forgive me, but I did not expect them to track me this far. There was already one of them on the station, and I never knew it! He could have walked into Natolya's at any time and bought an hour with me, and there would have been nothing I could have done to stop it!” The thought made her gut clench. Even if she had told Natolya everything, it would not have saved her - not if the Human had flashed enough latinum. More than one pleasure slave had been sold to a client for killing pleasure in that place.
Or even worse. She stopped cold. He might have bought her and taken her back to give her to Archer. A muffled whimper broke out at the thought. “No!” She raked her fingernails through her hair.
It could not have been nearly as long as it felt before Selim returned with his sister. Raijiin heard the foyer door open and took a few breaths to compose her expression before she turned around. To her dismay she saw that a third person was present. The man looked vaguely familiar for a moment. Then something clicked, and she knew him as the man that Selim had seen in Natolya's, just before the attack, the Vulcan agent. Upon reflection, she decided that maybe it was just as well that he was here too. He might see her as useful.
T'Lar walked over to the force field and stopped. When Selim reached out a hand to disable the barrier, she intercepted him. “Not just yet, Brother. There are aspects of this situation that you are not aware of. The barrier will not inhibit conversation.” He gave her a look but settled back obediently. The agent took a position to the right rear and started observing everything with evidence of deep interest.
“Thank you for coming to see me,” Raijiin began pleasantly. “I know you must be busy.”
“You are correct,” T'Lar told her briskly. “I am busy. Far too busy to waste time on empty speech. My brother informs me that when you learned of the Human starship's scheduled arrival, you became upset. Why do you fear Humans so much?” She stood grimly waiting.
Raijiin clenched and unclenched her hands for a moment. She blurted, “Selim tells me that your family owes me a debt of honor. Is this true?”
T'Lar raised an eyebrow, glanced at her brother, then back at Raijiin. “You attempted to assist my brother, at some risk to yourself. Yes, there is a debt of sorts. It does not, however, supersede my duty as an officer of the Vulcan Fleet. Answer my question. Why do you fear Humans?”
Raijiin regarded T’Lar with the softly pleading expression she’d used to such good effect on so many others. This time, though, her desperation was not feigned. “Please,” her voice shook. “Don't tell them I’m here. I’m not asking you to lie. Just don't mention my name. Please! Let me leave on one of the other ships. I’ve done nothing to you. I’ve harmed none of your people. Let me go, and don't tell the Humans I was ever here. I beg you! If they get their hands on me they will kill me!” Real tears started flowing down her cheeks. Selim stiffened and looked at his sister in distress.
T'Lar said flatly, “Selim, go to our quarters. Wait for me there. Go now.” He opened his mouth and she cut him off, “No questions. Go.” The boy sighed, gave Raijiin a final look of support, and left. T'Lar turned back to Raijiin and waited for the door to close behind her brother.
“Explain. In complete detail. Do not lie. Do not omit relevant information. If you expect my help you will cooperate fully. Otherwise I will deliver you to our allies as soon as they come within transporter range.” The Vulcan woman's voice could have frozen the blood of an Andorian.
Raijiin looked hopelessly at the two aliens who stood in judgment upon her. Then she hung her head and told them. “I was a slave to the Xindi. The Xindi Reptilians. When the Enterprise penetrated the Delphic Expanse, I was assigned to sneak aboard and gather information for the Xindi bio-weapon. The Humans caught me, but my masters broke me out of their brig and obtained the information that I had gathered. Afterward, I was sold to a Nausican, who sold me to Grigor-Tel.”
She looked up at them bleakly. “Archer interrogated me when I was a prisoner. I have never met such a ruthless man. There is no mercy in him. Later, I heard stories about some of the things he and his crew did while they were fighting the Xindi. They attacked a mining colony and slaughtered people just to get information about the Xindi homeworld. They tortured prisoners. They hijacked and gutted a civilian ship to repair their own...” She stopped and clenched her fists, looking away and trembling.
“Humans,” the Vulcan male said quietly, “are not prone to restraint when fighting to defend their homes.”
“I didn’t think they would find me in the Syndicate,” Raijiin croaked out. “But you said there was a Human on the station. Was there any other reason for him to be there?” Her voice held a plaintive hint of hope.
T'Lar dashed it to the deck. “Not so far as we have been able to determine,” she told her. The two Vulcans exchanged significant looks. “In fact, we have been attempting, without success, to answer that very question. It appears that you have provided us with a logical explanation for our mystery.”
“I am happy to have been of service,” Raijiin told her bitterly. “It will comfort me while Archer applies the knife.”
“You will not be subjected to torture,” T'Lar told her emphatically. “That much I will personally guarantee. If necessary, I will keep you aboard my ship until we return to Vulcan and permit you to appeal to the High Council directly.”
Raijiin's knees buckled. “Thank you!” She started choking back tears. With a massive effort, she managed to keep from breaking down in front of two Vulcans. “Thank you,” she managed more calmly. “I am grateful. You have saved my life. I will not forget this. Now, the debt is in the other direction.”
“There is no debt,” T'Lar told her. “I will leave so that you can finish your meal. Set your fears at rest. You are safe here. Eat, and replenish your strength.” She gestured for Senek to follow her, and the two of them headed out of the confinement area. They maintained silence until reaching an unoccupied section of corridor.
Senek mused, “It appears that the subcenturion's assignment has become redundant.”
“Possibly, but there is no harm in gathering additional information,” T'Lar maintained.
“Of course not,” Senek agreed. “One can never have too much information. Particularly when dealing with Humans. They are capable of raising bewilderment to an art form.”
T'Lar blinked and glared at him suspiciously, but his face was as placid and smooth as glass.
“It's sixteen point three microns,” Sehlra stated in a deadly monotone, “not sixteen point two.”
The Vulcan technician pulled his head out from under the console and look at her. Then he sighed, “As you wish,” and crawled back under. “Sixteen point three microns, as specified,” came the muffled acknowledgment.
Jenrali lowered himself hand over hand down the ladder in the zero gee that currently prevailed aboard Lerteiran. “How is it coming?” he asked Sehlra quietly in deliberately distorted Andorian.
She snorted. “Be better if I had real help,” she snarled under her breath. “These children had never seen anything that didn't use the Xantel crossover alignment before. I had to give them a lecture on basic warp theory before we could get started. Frozen Pissicles! Even Daniel knew that much when he came aboard.”
Jenrali chuckled. “Remember how big the boy’s eyes got when he saw the reactor?” She smiled fondly.
“All he had ever known were those rusty old Human tubs,” Sehlra agreed. “Warp one, or warp two at most. Even this old box must have looked like a racer to him.”
Jenrali grinned, “For a moment at first, I thought the lad was going to leap on top of the reactor and start mating with it.” Sehlra laughed and punched him, hard, in the pit of the stomach. He fell back in mock distress. The cheerful mood faded quickly for both of them though, with typical Andorian volatility.
“Do you think his people will believe him?” Sehlra asked soberly.
“Why shouldn't they?” Jenrali said truculently. “We haven't done anything to violate any Human laws.”
She looked at him with a trace of worry. “There was that...”
Jenrali cut her off with a quick gesture and a glance at the Vulcan, who was still half under the console. “That was nowhere near Human space.” He went on more softly. “Besides, we had no way of knowing the chocolate was stolen. Daniel said himself that his people produce tons of the stuff every year. How were we to know?”
Sehlra sighed in remembrance. “It was good.”
Jenrali snorted. “You and Daniel ate enough of it to have kept us in deuterium for 150 light years.”
“What's the point of profit,” she asked him, “if you can't spend it on pleasure sometimes? When you give up your ale, I will give up my chocolate.”
“At least the lad doesn't get drunk on it,” Jenrali pointed out.
“I do not get drunk,” she huffed. “It just helps me relax.”
“Uh-huh,” he said, turning back to the ladder to hide his face.
“Just as you say,” he agreed, pulling himself back up toward the bridge.
“Nice view,” Daniel commented. He seemed to have difficulty tearing his gaze away from the wraparound view port in the dining hall. T’Riss’ eyes followed his and discovered the Andorian ship on its tether a half-kilometer or so off their port bow. A small runabout circled the ship, while several of the Sehlat’s maintenance crew were engaged in EVA repairs.
Her eyes narrowed. The repairs seemed nearly finished. Perhaps she could take advantage of the Human’s presumed desire to escape. Grigor-Tel would not remain within the distortion effect of the nebula for much longer, she was certain. He had neither sufficient patience nor intelligence to hide for long.
As she contemplated the possibility of pursuing her tormentor on her own terms, Daniel turned from the view port and took the chair she’d indicated upon his arrival. T'Riss sat with her hands folded on the table in front of her and two steaming cups already poured, studying him. As soon as Daniel sat down, he inhaled deeply, and his eyes widened. He stared at the cup for a second, then carefully reached out and lifted it to his nose, breathing in the odor emanating from it as if it were a precious elixir.
“Coffee,” he said reverently. “You got me some coffee.” He looked across the table, a smile breaking across his face. “Thank you, ma'am,” he said fervently. He took his first sip of coffee in three days and swallowed in apparent ecstasy.
“Your shipmates informed us that you customarily drink coffee, especially in the morning,” T'Riss explained, “and they sent over a supply.” She had considerable difficulty keeping the amusement out of her voice. This Human was behaving like a child at a Kahs-wan feast - all for a rather bitter tasting stimulant beverage derived from ground beans.
“Bless them,” Daniel moaned blissfully. “Not only am I naming my firstborn after them, I’m naming all of my children after them. I don't care if I have fifty.”
T'Riss hoisted an eyebrow quizzically. “Would that not result in multiple duplications?”
“I will mix and match,” he told her with a straight face. “Jenrali, Sehlra, Senrali, Jehlra, Sehlri, Jenhra, you get the drift.” He took another happy sip.
T'Riss tilted her head and examined this Human. She had never encountered anyone who exemplified such a complex of web of inconsistencies. At present, his superficial appearance of calm would do credit to a Vulcan, yet he was behaving in an unabashedly humorous fashion. During their last meeting, he had behaved as if he were on the verge of violence, yet Senek assured her afterward that he had been in complete control. The contradictions were fascinating.
“I am pleased that you agreed to speak with me,” she tentatively began. “I am currently not assigned normal duties aboard this ship, and my time has been quite empty. I am accustomed to a regular work schedule.” There, she thought. That sounded straightforward enough.
“Believe me, I know the feeling,” Daniel responded affably. “I’ve been slowly going insane staring at the walls in my quarters.” He raised the cup and poured the rest of it down his throat in one long swallow. “Oh, that was so good,” he sighed.
“Would you like more?” T'Riss inquired. “I prepared an entire pot. If you prefer, I can bring it to the table.”
Daniel grinned. “Keep this up and I may name one of my daughters T'Riss,” he told her. Her eyebrow remained elevated all the way to the galley and back with the pot.
“So what would you like to know?” Daniel asked her. “I presume your senior officers are frothing at the mouth to have you pump me for information? Go ahead and ask your questions, Ma'am. I have nothing to hide.” He smiled and poured a second cup.
T'Riss froze. “Why do you conclude,” she asked gingerly, “that my superiors wish me to obtain information?”
Daniel shrugged. “It's as obvious as a Tellarite's nose. They think I’m hiding something. If they found out that you were planning to talk to me, it defies logic that they would pass up the chance to have you grill me. No doubt as soon as we are done talking they will drag you into the nearest briefing room for a full report.” He took another sip, rolling it over his tongue in satisfaction.
T'Riss grabbed her cup and took a sip of her tea to buy time for thought. This was not going the way she had planned. Not even close.
She put the cup down and said, “You do not seem particularly upset at the thought. If your assumption were true, I would expect you to display resentment.”
“Why?” Daniel looked back at her. He raised an eyebrow in her direction, apparently just to show her that Vulcans weren't the only ones who could do it. “It's not your fault that the High Command judges everyone else by their own devious standards. Anyway, I still have too much time on my hands. I might as well spend it talking to you as twiddling my thumbs.”
“The High Command is no longer in power,” she corrected him. “The High Council has been installed. Our people's policies have changed.”
“Oh, right. Sorry about that. My mistake,” Daniel told her ironically. “The great discovery of Surak's original scripture has completely revised and renovated your entire government and culture.”
“That is correct,” she agreed, carefully ignoring his tone.
“How long ago was that, anyway?” Daniel asked her, peeking over the rim of his cup.
T'Riss told him, “The Kir'Shara was discovered less than a Vulcan year ago.”
“I see,” he nodded. “In less than a year you have completely transformed your entire way of life. After doing things the same way for centuries. Amazing. Truly amazing.” His eyes twinkled.
She shifted position uncomfortably. “Of course, there is a certain amount of inertia in any established system. But the new policies are in place.”
“And of course,” Daniel said, with laughter dancing underneath his tone, “once the policies are established everyone automatically falls into line without any argument. Yes?” He grinned.
T'Riss felt the beginnings of irritation stir. Suddenly she remembered Senek's briefing about Human debating tactics and pulled up short. Plainly, the Human was deliberately baiting her. And he was succeeding. This man was obviously more dangerous than she had realized. Increased caution was called for.
“It appears that you do not believe my people are sincere in our efforts,” she said warily.
Daniel put his cup down and gave her a rueful smile. “I apologize,” he told her, provoking a tiny jolt of surprise in T'Riss. “I had no right to imply anything of the sort. My people have a proverb that says ‘people who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones’. Certainly no Human has room to criticize anyone else's efforts at self-improvement. I wish you good luck with your efforts.” He looked out through the viewport and thoughtfully ran a finger around the rim of his cup.
T'Riss digested this silently for a few moments while Daniel stared at the old Andorian ship hanging in the blackness of space with the nebula as a backdrop. She wondered how to bring up the subject of Grigor-Tel’s pursuit, and decided that it was premature to do so. He had no logical reason to trust her and would assume it was a trap. “I hope my curiosity does not offend you,” she started. He interrupted her with a chuckle.
“You want to know how a crazy Human ended up shipping with two Andorians. Right?”
She carefully picked her words. “I do not wish to seem as if I am interrogating you.” Which was nothing more than the truth. She certainly did not wish for him to become certain of her motives.
Daniel warmed his cup. “Not a problem. It's simple enough. I'm a Boomer, but I lost my family when I was seven. When I grew up I signed on as crew with another Boomer ship, but...” he sighed and paused. T'Riss waited and looked interested. “Boomer crews are tight,” he told her. “Really tight. Most everyone is family one way or another. It's not like they deliberately tried to freeze me out,” he hurried to add. “But I just wasn't one of them, and there was no getting around it. It would have taken years for me to really fit in aboard that ship. So when I had the chance to buy into Lerteiran I took it.”
T'Riss looked perplexed. “Moving from a ship of your own people to one crewed by another species in an effort to fit in seems illogical. Would such a relocation not compound your discomfort?”
Daniel broke into soft laughter. “You would think so, wouldn't you?” He leaned back looking into the distance of memory. “I ran into Jenrali at a watering hole on Rigel,” he began.
“I am sorry,” T'Riss interrupted. “Watering hole?”
“Uh... a tavern near the space port,” he told her. “He had just finished delivering a shipment of Andorian ale, which I had never tried before.” His expression became distant.
T'Riss waited for 3.5 minutes before speaking. “Daniel?”
Daniel blinked and came back to the present. “They were looking for a third crewman. Lerteiran was designed for two crew, but as old as she’s getting, the maintenance load is starting to get pretty heavy. I took all my back pay and bought in as junior partner.” He topped off his coffee cup yet again. “And here I am.”
T'Riss regarded him with a crinkled brow. None of this made sense. The story was almost plausible. Yet the briefing she had just received made it obvious that Daniel Johansen was in pursuit of the woman Raijiin. He claimed that he had left a ship of his own kind to join with Andorians. Why? Because he felt disconnected. An unlikely explanation at best. She concluded unhappily that he was probably lying. For some reason this disappointed her. Time to broaden the field of inquiry.
“How were you able to integrate with the Andorians?” she wanted to know. “As you no doubt are aware, my people have found difficulty in our relations with them.”
“Vulcans do have a genius for understatement,” he responded wryly. “Two wars and only the Creator knows how many skirmishes would certainly qualify as difficulty, I suppose.”
She ignored the dig. “You are to be respected for your ability to achieve a constructive association with them. Andorians are notoriously insular and difficult to work with.”
Daniel regarded her thoughtfully. “No, they aren’t.” He spoke emphatically. “The problems that Andorians and Vulcans have getting along with each other are due to the fact that you’re so much alike.”
T'Riss stiffened and sat back. His comment struck entirely too close to home. She had begun to suspect, since her discussion with the commander and Agent Senek earlier that day, that her own people still possessed all of the potential for violence and vindictiveness that they so deplored in others. The concept had unsettled her and challenged everything that she’d always believed about the nature of her people and her civilization. This Human could not be allowed to discover her doubt.
“If I have offended you, I apologize. I don’t, however, see the need to resort to insults,” she told him coldly.
His lips twisted. “I was not offering an insult. I was stating my considered opinion. If you disagree with it, fine. But please refrain from allowing your emotions to reject my assertion out of hand without at least attempting to examine the logical merits of my argument.”
Her face froze. “I believe that this conversation is in danger of becoming provocative. Perhaps we can continue at a later time. Please excuse me.” T'Riss stood up and turned to go. His assertion had no merit, of course - at least not since Surak’s reformation. Before the reformation was another matter, one which she was entirely too conflicted at the moment to discuss. The turmoil within her suddenly made her very fatigued. She felt the need to meditate.
“I'm sorry. I didn’t mean to make you angry,” said Daniel in a regretful tone as she rose from the table.
She did not turn around. “I am not angry,” she replied tightly. “I am becoming fatigued. The ship's Healer has ordered me to avoid overexertion and prescribed additional rest and meditation. I look forward to speaking with you again, Mr. Johansen.” She marched out with her back stiff, and with much to consider. Allying herself with this Human was going to require more time and effort than she’d anticipated. It was evidently time for her to consider other options.
It was supposed to be a cakewalk mission, a chance for the ship and crew to regain their equilibrium after four long, stressful years. The cruise to the Orion Syndicate station and back was long enough to require several weeks round trip. Enterprise was accompanied by a Vulcan personnel transport ship and an unarmed mobile hospital vessel. Although no hostilities were anticipated, the transport was still armed and armored at least as well as Enterprise herself. Captain Archer was confident that between the two of them they could easily send an Orion Marauder, or even a trio of Klingon Birds of Prey, off howling with their tails between their legs.
They were three days along on the mission when the priority message came through from Starfleet Command. Suddenly the mission wasn't a cakewalk anymore.
“Are they quite certain, sir?” Reed asked coldly. His eyes were like twin laser points. Archer looked around the briefing room table where his entire command staff was gathered. Even Phlox had been called in for this one.
“I don't have to take their word for it, Malcolm,” the captain told him. “They included pictures with the report. It's Raijiin. No question about it.”
“DAMMIT!” Trip's fist hit the table hard enough to make everyone's coffee cup bounce. His face was crimson with fury. T'Pol caught his eye and held it. Slowly his breathing steadied and his color faded.
Archer decided not to make an issue of the outburst, considering that he had done something very similar when Admiral Gardner told him the news in his ready room. “Ordinarily we would simply collect her when we arrive. But there is a complication.”
“What complication, Captain?” T'Pol inquired calmly.
He looked disgusted. “Apparently Raijiin, opportunistic as ever, snatched the chance to make herself useful to the Vulcans somehow during the attack. Now she is asking for political sanctuary on the grounds that we would abuse her.”
“We might have expected something like this,” Malcolm responded with equal disgust. “Has Starfleet filed for extradition yet?”
“Yes,” Archer said, “but it's going to take some time for the paperwork to go through. Then there is the hearing, and so on and so forth. You know the drill.” Everyone nodded. “Meanwhile, Raijiin is sitting safe and snug aboard one of the D'Kyr cruisers and laughing at us,” he added, beginning to feel his wrath rising again.
“Is there any way we could just go get her?” Trip asked hopefully. T'Pol looked scandalized as he pointed out, “Once she is over here in our brig, possession is nine tenths of the law isn't it?”
“That idea has possibilities, Commander,” Lieutenant Reed perked up immediately. “We might be able to...”
“No.” Archer told them flatly. “Not going to happen.”
“But, Cap'n ...” Trip started to protest.
“I said no, Trip,” Captain Archer told him firmly. “That's final. You and Malcolm are not staging a commando raid on a Vulcan ship. Give up the idea right now. If you even think about trying it, you two are the ones who will end up in the brig. Understand?”
They mumbled grudging acknowledgment. “Commander,” the captain addressed T'Pol, “I want you to stay in close contact with both of the Vulcan ships here, and also get in touch with both the Sehlat and the Le'Matya as soon as we reach communications range. Find out as much as you possibly can about the entire situation, with a special emphasis on Raijiin.”
“Understood, Captain,” she replied. “But was our original mission not intended to be focused on Mr. Johansen?”
“Maybe it was,” Archer growled. “But frankly, I consider that whole thing a joke. Most likely he’s some youngster who decided to head out for adventure by signing on with Andorians, then found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. If I were a gambler, I would give three to one odds that there is nothing there to investigate. What I want is Raijiin. Find out what she has on the Vulcans and what we can do to loosen her grip. Top priority.”
“Acknowledged,” she agreed.
T’Riss approached the brig at 2200 hours carrying a food tray. The odor emanating from the covered tray was offensive, but it couldn’t be helped. There was no way to make Andorian icebear stew palatable to Vulcans. She’d been told, however, that the dish was Daniel’s favorite, and so presumed that another meat eater would find the taste pleasant. Fortunately, the Lertieran’s engineer had sent over such a large volume of the gelatinous mixture that this portion would never be missed.
The night shift guard wrinkled his nose at her approach, staring pointedly at the tray.
“I have animal protein for the prisoner,” T’Riss told him. He opened the door with alacrity, but remained outside. It was gratifying to see that her choice of peace offering was useful in other ways. She entered the foyer and stepped to the woman’s cell. Raijiin sat up on the bunk with a surprised expression on her face. Her eyes were reddened and her blond hair was tousled about her head. She appeared emotionally distraught, her blue eyes wide in her perfect, pale face.
“I have obtained additional protein from the Andorian vessel. You must eat to keep up your strength,” said T’Riss. Then she deactivated the force field and stepped into the cell, reactivating it behind her.
Raijiin stood up and walked the few steps from her bunk to the entrance of her cell. They studied each other without speaking for several seconds, and then she smiled wanly. “Thanks. It smells good,” she said, and took the tray, returning to the bunk to sit down. T’Riss remained standing with her hand on the phase pistol at her belt, watching in silence as the woman ate with every evidence of pleasure at the taste.
Despite her circumstances, the pleasure slave ate daintily, as if she were incapable of doing otherwise. Her facial features, her body, her meek and subservient manner - all seemed specifically designed to attract and please a male. For a moment, T’Riss envied her. She would never lack for any mate she desired. T’Riss, on the other hand, well - that part of her life was over. She would never again know the touch of a male without associating it with degradation and disgust, and once her history was made known to any mate who might possibly be interested in her, his disgust would no doubt be greater than hers. Her only hope for the semblance of a normal life was to find her tormentor and bring him to justice, a feat which was not possible without violating her oath as a Vulcan military officer.
T’Riss briefly considered leaving the prisoner’s cell right then, before any laws had been broken. She should wait for the healer to arrive. Once her condition was confirmed, they’d have to believe her - but Grigor-Tel was on the move. She could sense him now, traveling deeper into Syndicate space and away from the protection of the nebula. Her sense of him was weakening by the hour, and there was no time to lose.
“You can sit down, you know. I won’t hurt you,” said Raijiin softly, smiling in the dimly lit cell and patting the bed beside her. Her plate was clean. T’Riss paused for a moment, puzzled. Then it occurred to her that in Raijiin’s line of work, males would likely not be the only gender she had experience pleasing. T’Riss felt her face heat up, and imagined that it was turning several shades darker. She ignored the implied offer, however, and remained standing.
“My superiors inform me that you wish to avoid being taken by the Humans,” began T’Riss without preamble, facing Raijiin squarely and looking her directly in the eye. “I am here to discuss a way to do that which will convince the High Council of your indisputable value.” So far, everything she’d said was the absolute truth. If the rumors about this woman’s skills were to be believed, it was best to keep falsehoods to a minimum.
Raijiin’s eyes widened, and then her expression changed. In a coolly calculating voice, she said, “Go on.”
“The agreement recently made between Vulcan and the Orion Syndicate limits Vulcan authority to this station and the immediate surrounding area. I have reason to believe, however, that Grigor-Tel, the Orion responsible for the abuse of several Vulcan citizens, is now at large in Syndicate space. I can track him, but I cannot use a Vulcan ship to pursue him.” All true, after a fashion. The Orions had agreed to allow some investigation, and several small Vulcan security vessels would soon be dispatched to investigate leads, but Raijiin didn’t know that, and it was a plausible explanation to justify T’Riss’ next request.
“The Andorian ship which has just been repaired would be ideal for my purposes. Unfortunately, the ship can only be operated by a pilot familiar with its systems. Since the Andorians are unlikely to volunteer their services, I need your assistance with convincing them. Once we have captured Grigor-Tel, I will inform my superiors of your invaluable service to the Vulcan people, and they will be more than willing to protect you from the Humans.”
Raijiin’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. “And this mission is sanctioned by your superiors? It will do us little good to liberate the Andorian vessel only to be destroyed by the Sehlat’s disruptors before we’re even out of the system.”
T’Riss tried valiantly to maintain forthright eye contact, but couldn’t help a small flicker in her gaze as she said, “My superiors are aware of the need to pursue Grigor-Tel, and will no doubt be pleased by my initiative.”
Raijiin nodded thoughtfully, rising from the bed. T’Riss backed off a single step and placed her hand on her weapon warningly. Raijiin smiled reassuringly.
“No need for that, now, dear. Come on... let’s see what’s really going on,” she said soothingly. T’Riss’ eyes locked with hers, and she felt a sudden warmth within her—a pleasant, safe lassitude. There’s no need for violence. I’m only trying to help you, said a calm and quiet voice inside her head.
Her fingers released the weapon without her volition as Raijiin’s hands reached out to stroke her hair. The blond woman’s eyes closed as if in pain, and reopened filled with moisture. “Oh, you poor thing!” she said sadly, and pulled T’Riss into her arms in a warm and sisterly embrace. T’Riss stiffened, her instinct to fight triggered by the touch, and then she felt a presence in her mind. The presence shared her pain - understood it in a way she’d never thought possible. And when all of her thoughts and emotions were laid bare, she realized that in Raijiin she truly had an ally. Their goals were the same. They were sisters in every way save blood. She felt Raijiin come to share in her hatred of the Orion Grigor-Tel as she experienced T’Riss’ pain first hand. Her desperate need to destroy the hideous monster became Raijiin’s need, and Raijiin’s desire to escape from the Humans became her own. The feelings persisted even after Raijiin had severed the link. T’Riss wavered on her feet, and Raijiin assisted her to the bunk. They sat side by side, staring at each other warily.
“What just happened?” asked T’Riss shakily.
Raijiin, for her part looking equally dazed, replied hesitantly, “I think we just came to an agreement.” Her eyes met T’Riss’, and she took a deep breath to recover her equilibrium. Her expression became businesslike again, and she paused as T’Riss regained her composure as well. Then Raijiin spoke.
“You lied to me...” she said reprovingly, “...but no matter now. I think I know how we can do this.”
Daniel snorted and scrolled the PADD back to the beginning again. For lack of anything else to occupy his time, he had requested, and been grudgingly given, an English translation of the newly discovered Kirshara. He was about to start his third read through, and so far most of what he had read seemed either self-evident or hopelessly obscure. Maybe the trouble was in the translation. But really, the Vulcan to English translation matrix was over 150 years old. The Vulcans had been monitoring Humans before the Wright brothers made their flying leap into history. The matrix ought to be pretty accurate by now.
“...'Nothing can be done until one has first cast out fear,' the man says,” Daniel muttered under his breath. “Well, no shit. You can't accomplish much if you are too scared to think straight. That can't be what he was talking about.” He scrolled back and started from the beginning of the passage again, just as the door buzzer sounded.
Daniel sat up and swung his legs off the bunk. Anything that broke the tedium was welcome. He headed for the doorway with something close to eagerness. When he hit the button and saw T'Riss, he felt even more pleased. He had been afraid that she would be too ticked off to want to talk to him anymore. Evidently not.
“Welcome,” Daniel smiled. “Please, come in.” T'Riss stepped across the doorway and pressed forward unexpectedly, pushing Daniel backward a step. He grunted in surprise and saw a blond haired woman step quickly through the doorway behind T'Riss, stabbing the door button with panicked haste.
Daniel continued to back up until half the length of the cabin separated him from his guests. “Good afternoon, ladies,” he said cautiously, looking at T'Riss with an inquiring expression. When her deadpan face told him nothing, he switched over to check out the blond. At which point he discovered the blond woman glaring at him with something close to maniacal intensity. Daniel felt a scalding flash of adrenaline explode in his gut. Something about that skinny blond made him very nervous.
T'Riss flatly pronounced, “This is Daniel. Do you recognize him?” The blond move up to stand beside T’Riss and raked him up and down with an examination that left him feeling stripped to the bone.
“No,” was the verdict. Daniel started feeling woozy for some reason - disassociated from everything that was happening in the room. He stood fixed in place, swaying slightly while the two women discussed him like some science specimen.
“What is his precise mission?” T’Riss demanded.
The blond eyed him narrowly. Then her face relaxed and she smiled. “Hello, Daniel. My name is Raijiin.” She had a nice smile.
Daniel felt his face stretch into a foolish grin. “Hello, Raijiin. Nice to meetcha.”
“It is nice to meet you also, Daniel,” she cooed at him. “I would like to be your friend. Will you be my friend, Daniel?”
“Sure!” He nodded eagerly, so eagerly that he almost overbalanced. T’Riss put out a hand and stabilized him. She gave him a concerned look and shot Raijiin a glance. “Always glad to meet a new friend,” said Daniel cheerfully.
Raijiin gestured reassuringly at T’Riss and stepped up to touch Daniel’s face. “You know, Daniel,” she told him softly, “friends don’t keep secrets from each other. Do they?”
“No,” he agreed. Her fingers were stroking the sides of his face and doing strange things to his blood flow.
“Tell me, Daniel,” Raijiin asked. She leaned forward and whispered in his ear, “What are you doing here?”
“Standing,” he said promptly.
She scowled and replied, “I mean, what are you doing here in the Syndicate? Why did you come here?”
“To trade,” he told her happily.
“What else?” Raijiin insisted.
Daniel’s forehead wrinkled. Had they come for anything else? They must have, or Raijiin would not have asked him. But what could it have been? Suddenly he remembered. He smiled, pleased to have remembered for her.
“To buy spare parts.”
Raijiin stepped back, looking puzzled. “I can’t get anything else,” she told T’Riss. “He doesn’t show any sign of recognizing me. This makes no sense at all. You know more about Humans than I do. Can they be conditioned to resist persuasion?”
“Yes,” T’Riss told her tensely. “But only the most thoroughly trained operatives receive such training.”
Raijiin sighed. ‘Then I will have to probe. I dislike probing Humans intensely. Their minds are... difficult. But I can see no alternative.”
T’Riss looked troubled. “Can you ensure that he will not be damaged?”
“Of course,” she soothed. “I have done this before, more than once. Besides, Humans are quite resilient. Have you ever tried to probe a non-telepath? I will suffer more discomfort than he will.”
“In that case, I advise caution,” T’Riss told her.
“Of course.” Raijiin stepped up and put her arms around Daniel. It felt good. She was nice and soft. “I like you, Daniel. Do you like me?”
“Mmm,” he said incoherently. For some reason, he couldn’t find any words. Raijiin pulled the back of his shirt out of his belt. He felt her run her hands up his back. Ripples of ecstasy flowed up and down his spine. Daniel’s knees buckled, but Raijiin’s strong arms would not let him fall.
Pictures began to form in his mind. Memories, old and new...
He was in the life pod, crying. He was crying for Mom and Dad. But they didn’t come. They were never going to come again...
Raijiin whispered, “It is all right, Daniel. Shh. That was long ago. Tell me of things that happened later.” She rubbed her cheek against his. The weakness spread, like a dark wave that rose up and covered him.
“Again.” The sticks clacked together. “Once more. Strike. Deflect. Counter-strike. Halt.”
Daniel stepped back, dripping sweat and panting for breath. He bowed to the teacher, along with the rest of the class.
A voice came from somewhere. A woman’s voice. The picture wavered and darkened. “Not quite yet, Daniel. You are getting closer. But you are not where we want to be yet. Will you keep going? For me? Please?” For some reason, refusing that voice was impossible. He let the dojo fade into darkness.
“That stuff any good?” Daniel was sitting at the bar, nursing a shot of extremely bad whiskey and feeling disenchanted with existence.
The scarred Andorian straightened up from stacking the last case and turned to look at him. Daniel saw something in his expression that made him straighten and brace himself. He had been in more than one bar fight on Rigel, and from the look in that blueskin's eyes he might be on the way to another one if he didn't watch his step.
The Andorian looked him up and down carefully. “Never tried Andorian ale, lad?” Daniel drained the last few drops of the vile mixture in his shot glass and shuddered. “Nope. But it can't possibly be any worse than this cat piss they try to claim as whiskey.”
The Andorian barked a laugh. “If that's supposed to be a Human drink, there’s no telling what's in it. Qormil can't possibly afford genuine Earth drinks, not with the shipping and handling fees that the Vulcans charge.” He tore open the top of a case and pulled out a bottle.
“Tell Qormil his shipment is short one bottle. He can deduct it off the invoice.” the old guy informed the bartender, who waved in distracted acknowledgement. The Andorian sat down at the bar beside Daniel and uncapped the blue looking brew. “Slide your glass over here, lad. Find out what ale is supposed to taste like.”
Daniel took a slow sip and smiled. Then he looked over at the Andorian and gulped down the rest in one swallow. “How about some more of that?” he requested with a grin. “By the way, my name's Daniel.” He offered his hand.
The old guy looked puzzled for a second, then his face cleared. “Name's Jenrali.” He took the hand and immediately let go. “My partner and I run the Lerteiran.”
“So...” The woman’s voice was almost purring now. “We are much closer now. Tell me more about your friend.”
Daniel reached back...
“Oh man...” His mouth dried up. Daniel dropped his duffle bag where he stood and walked over to the reactor, ignoring the two Andorians and everything else in the room. He stroked his hands over the main control panel lovingly. “What’s her top speed?” he asked hungrily.
“Originally, 4.5,” the old woman told him with open amusement in her voice. “But now we are lucky to get four out of her on a good day.”
Daniel felt his face split open in a huge grin. Warp four. This ship could cruise at WARP FOUR.
He sensed growing impatience, and somehow he could tell that the woman was starting to become tired. “Daniel. You are not being helpful to me. I thought you wanted to be my friend?”
“I do!” he protested sincerely. “I don’t know what you want.”
“That show me what I want to know, Daniel. Why won’t you tell me why you are really here in the Syndicate? What did you really come here for?”
He struggled to form the memories. The meeting on Tenalor, the negotiations, the rendezvous with the Andorian transport to swap out the Tenalorian circuit modules for a hold full of Andorian ale. Then the long days of empty travel to the relay point where they sent the message to Grigor-Tel, announcing what they had and stating that they were prepared to negotiate.
Then more long days of waiting for the reply. Finally the clearance to proceed into Syndicate space, and the detour around the Horn Nebula. Spotting the D’Kyr and deciding to keep quiet about it. Haggling with Grigor-Tel over the ale, and finally taking the contract to deliver the grav plates. Then the running fight, the capture...
Daniel was shaking. No, he wasn’t shaking, it was Raijiin. She was still holding him but her arms were trembling and she was about to drop him. “Take him,” she whispered to T’Riss. The slim Vulcan woman caught him and steered Daniel back to his bunk.
He blinked his eyes. The fog that clouded his mind was starting to clear. Why were they here? What had they done to him? That blond woman... Raijiin?... she had done something to him. Drugs? Or something...oh shit. He remembered. She’d asked T’Riss about probing a non-telepath. That bitch had used her telepathy to invade his brain. Anger started burning along his nerves and he rolled over, swinging his legs to the floor.
“T’Riss!” Raijiin’s shout activated the Vulcan like a thrown switch. She swirled and reached out, just as Daniel came off the bunk. He tried to deflect her arm, but he was still too shaken from Raijiin’s manipulations to control his muscles effectively. T’Riss caught his shoulder in a perfect nerve pinch and everything went black.
T’Riss lowered Daniel’s unconscious body to a prone position and straightened his limbs. She stood up and regarded her partner in crime, who did not look much better off than their prisoner. “Are you well?”
“I will be all right,” Raijiin told her weakly. “He fought me every step of the way. But I got through, finally.” She took a deep breath and reluctantly looked T’Riss in the eye. “I was wrong. He wasn’t after me. He and his partners are just traders, as they claimed to be. They have no connection to Starfleet, or the Andorian High Command... or the Syndicate either, other than to trade with sometimes.”
T’Riss stiffened. “You are telling me that we have kidnapped and attacked an innocent man?” Raijiin nodded, looking less than proud of herself. The young Vulcan turned to regard Daniel uneasily, wondering how to deal with this situation. Suddenly she became much less sanguine about their plan.
“We have gone too far to back out now,” Raijiin insisted. “We have moved against a Human. Do you think your people will protect us from Archer now? Do you want Grigor-Tel to escape and go on with his life, raping and plundering other women at will - while you and I spend the rest of our brief lives in a Human prison?”
“Starfleet would not dare to abuse a Vulcan citizen,” T’Riss returned, uncertainly.
“Perhaps not,” Raijiin allowed. “But as for me, why wouldn’t they? My people are weak and far away. What would stop them? Ask the Illyrians what Humans are capable of. For that matter, ask the Nausicans. They can tell you what Humans have done to some of their people in battle.”
T’Riss felt her jaw muscles tighten and made a note to spend additional time in meditation that evening. “You are correct that we have committed ourselves to this course of action. Can you control Daniel long enough to make it to his ship?”
Raijiin hesitated. “Perhaps it would be better if you administered the drug. At least a small dose to assist me. My abilities are limited. Taking control of the skeletal muscles and simple persuasion are relatively straightforward matters, but attempting direct domination of a sapient mind that is resisting me... that is quite exhausting. There is a real chance that he might break free and turn on us before we reach his ship.”
T’Riss nodded and pulled out a hypo. She attached an ampoule and pressed it against Daniel’s neck. “This drug is listed in the medical database,” she explained to Raijiin,” as having been in common use for generations during Human interrogations. It is designed to leave the victim awake but compliant.”
Raijiin stepped closer to the bunk and put a hand on Daniel’s forehead. She made a moue of distaste and said, “Awake? I suppose you could call it that, if you want to be generous. Don’t expect anything requiring swift reactions out of him. He is almost a vegetable with that poison in him.” She shuddered.
T’Riss closed her eyes. There was no time for regrets. Every moment that passed, Grigor-Tel was gaining time and distance. If they were to capture him some sacrifices had to be made. The needs of the many outweighed the needs of the few, or the one, she reminded herself forcibly.
Raijiin continued to stroke Daniel’s forehead and murmur into his ear until his eyes opened. She coaxed him into sitting up, and then into a shaky standing position. T’Riss looked him over critically. “He seems suspiciously unstable.”
“Not a problem,” Raijiin smiled. She slipped an arm around Daniel’s waist and draped his arm over her shoulders. She stroked her fingers over his cheek and his eyes brightened. He looked down and his eyes focused lustfully on Raijiin. “You see?”
T’Riss suddenly started to feel ill.
Centurion Lorn was nearing the end of his shift, and looking forward to it. He was scheduled for a double off-shift rotation, since he had been pulling extra duty suppressing resistance aboard the Orion station. An extended period of meditation, followed by a long shower and an uninterrupted sleep period would be most agreeable.
Approaching footsteps caught his attention long before the trio came into view. The unusual nature of the group brought him to alert readiness. “Subcenturion T’Riss,” he greeted the only Vulcan in the clump. “How may I serve?” Lorn glanced at the other two and firmly suppressed his disgust. The Human male was clinging to the unfamiliar alien female as if he were deep in plak tau. Such a display would have been reprehensible, even in a Vulcan who was suffering the full ravages of Pon Farr. But a Human had no excuse for such excess. Granted that their mating urges were well known to be chronic and insatiable, but the least they could be expected to do was try to control themselves in public.
T’Riss glanced over her shoulder. She gave Lorn a commiserating look and stepped closer. Speaking so softly that only Vulcan hearing could pick it up, she told him, “The prisoner has been granted the privilege of a brief visit to see his friends aboard their ship. I have been assigned to supervise him. You may have heard of Raijiin’s abilities?”
Lorn flicked a glance at the pair, now locked in an embrace, with the woman apparently trying to prevent the Human from working his hand inside her clothing. He sniffed and replied, “Yes. I have heard.”
T’Riss responded, “Raijiin is coming along to ensure that Daniel Johansen does not entertain any desire to escape.” She tilted her head significantly, and Centurion Lorn’s eyes widened. So that was it. While the mating obsessed Human was fixated on Raijiin, he would have no interest in running.
“A most logical and creative solution,” Lorn said approvingly. “I commend your resourcefulness.” He reached for the controls in front of him. “If you and your companions will take position on the pads, I will transport you to the cargo hold aboard Lerteiran.”
Selim walked into the confinement area feeling pleased. His sister had informed him that she was considering allowing him to accompany her on the remainder of the mission, provided her superior officers were willing to grant clearance. As his only surviving relative of the first degree, she had applied for custody. She presented the request for him to remain with her to her superiors using the logical argument that a minor child, especially one who had recently undergone such a stressful ordeal, needed the comfort and support of close family nearby.
Selim was optimistic. His faith in his elder sister was absolute. It came to him that it would be agreeable to share this news with his friend Raijiin. Perhaps learning of his good fortune would assist her in overcoming her negative emotions.
Selim’s steps slowed in puzzlement as he approached the guard station outside the holding area. The station was powered up, but unattended. Selim was reasonably confident that this was a gross violation of regulations. He briefly considered reporting this anomaly to the bridge, but he considered that it was possible a justifiable emergency had called the guard away from his post briefly. Perhaps he should check inside the confinement area before reporting a problem, rather than escalate the situation without cause.
Selim opened the main access door and peered within. The light panels were set to night levels, but he could see well enough to tell that the guard was nowhere in evidence. This was ominous. T’Lar definitely needed to be informed. As a final check, he would ask Raijiin if she had seen the guard or knew anything of his whereabouts. Then he would contact the bridge immediately afterward.
When Selim reached Raijiin’s cell he stopped in dismay. She wasn’t there. Instead, the missing guard lay sprawled across her bunk, obviously unconscious. The force field was activated. The guard’s weapon and equipment were missing. Why would she do this? No matter. His duty was clear. Raijiin was his friend, but T’Lar was family.
Selim leaped for the nearby master alarm panel and smashed it with his fist, releasing it and setting the system to automatic transmit. ALERT! -PRISONER ESCAPE! - ALERT!
T’Riss slid carefully backward until she reached the wall. With some support behind her she managed to push herself up to one knee. The throbbing of her skull was starting to localize in the region of her right temple, at the spot where Jenrali had struck her with the ale bottle.
“Don’t try it, slut!” The voice rang from across the room. T’Riss saw Raijiin freeze and agreed with her decision. Sehlra’s voice did not offer the slightest hope of compromise. One did not lightly provoke an Andorian in full battle fury, and the old woman who stood holding the aged pulse rifle was close to shaking with rage.
Jenrali knelt beside Daniel and carefully pulled back his eyelids, one at a time. “I wish I knew more about his people’s biochemistry,” he muttered.
“Check his pulse,” Sehlra ordered. “You can find it on the inside of his wrist or the side of his neck. It should be somewhere between 70 and 90 beats a minute. Much more or less than that means trouble.” She added, “And it should be strong, too. You should feel it against your finger easily. If you have to press hard to feel it, that’s bad.”
“We did not...” T’Riss began. The Orion woman whipped around and snapped the weapon directly at her face.
“Did I give you permission to speak, greenblood?” she demanded. T’Riss settled back meekly against the wall.
“Seems strong enough,” Jenrali said after a moment of squeezing Daniel’s wrist. “For all I can tell,” he admitted. He laid the arm down and started patting Daniel’s face. The young man blinked and grunted. Then he moved his head to try and avoid the pats, finally lifting a hand to stop them. Jenrali smiled and helped him sit up.
“How do you feel, boy?” Sehlra asked, stealing worried glances between her primary mission of glaring the two prisoners into submission.
“Dun-, Dunno,” Daniel mumbled. “Kinna dwunk.” He swayed where he sat and would have tipped over if Jenrali had not caught him.
“What did they do to you, lad?” Jenrali’s voice was beginning to develop an undercurrent of anger now, although not anywhere close to what Sehlra was exhibiting.
Daniel licked his lips and tried to think. “Mind... woman... think...”
“What?” The two Andorians looked at each other in frustration.
T’Riss tried again. “I administered a small dose of...”
Sehlra tapped her trigger with a feather touch—just barely enough to make contact. A searing flash blasted out of the gun and scored the deck in front of T’Riss, carving a shallow scar in the metal approximately half a meter long and charcoal black. Sehlra looked straight at T’Riss and told her, “The next time you open your mouth without permission, greenblood, it goes in your eyes.”
T’Riss decided that discretion was called for. These two were obviously in no mood for negotiation. Success for the plan was looking less and less likely.
“It’s all right, lad,” Jenrali told Daniel. “They drugged you, did they?”
“Lader dey did,” he mumbled semi-coherently. “Firs’ de woman did it.”
Jenrali’s eyes narrowed. “The woman did what, lad?”
Two Andorian faces whipped around and pinned T’Riss to the wall as securely as if they had used nails. She saw the antennae on both of then pull tightly downward and turn inward. Sehlra raised the pulse weapon and took careful aim, while Jenrali stood up.
“Telepath.” His word hung in the still air. “You’re one of those melders. I should space you right now.”
“I did it,” Raijiin’s voice unexpectedly cut in. “It wasn’t her. I am the one who probed him.”
“Fine,” Sehlra snarled. “Let’s space both of them.”
“I offer compensation,” T’Riss said desperately. She waited. This would be the only chance they had. Whether it worked or not would depend on so many factors, most of them unpredictable.
“Compensation!?” T’Riss dove for the deck just as Jenrali’s arm flashed over to smack the pulse rifle upward. Raijiin screeched, the gun flashed, and a beam of blinding blue light hummed out of the weapon to slice deeply into the wall only millimeters above the cowering Vulcan’s back. She could feel the scorching heat and smell hair burning.
“Enough, Sehlra,” Jenrali told her. “We can’t afford to kill a Vulcan. Not here. Not now.”
T’Riss flinched. “Is this not proper Andorian protocol when one wishes to make amends? I now understand that all three of you are innocent bystanders in this circumstance, and you have suffered through no fault of your own.”
“And you were so overcome with guilt that you had to hurry over here to confess.” Jenrali sounded disgusted and disbelieving.
T’Riss was still flat on her belly, only her face turned up. “I was assigned to question Daniel. My superiors were convinced that he was a clandestine agent for Starfleet. When we confirmed that he, and both of you, were in fact innocent it came to me that perhaps we could help each other.”
“Help each other?” Sehlra’s voice dripped caustic bitterness and sarcasm. “Daniel helped you didn’t he? Look what it got him. Mind raped and doped. The word of a Vulcan rekloqvori isn’t worth a...”
“Fifty bars of latinum,” T’Riss interjected.
Sehlra’s ranting cut off sharply. Both Andorians stared at her for a moment. Then Jenrali said suspiciously, “What are you talking about, girl?”
T’Riss took a deep breath. “My people have authorized the payment of fifty bars of gold pressed latinum, or its equivalent in trading credits, for the capture and return of Grigor-Tel, alive or dead.”
“So?” Jenrali asked irritably. “What is that to us? We are not interested in the tub of grease.”
“My people have repaired the damage that our weapons did to your ship,” T’Riss was talking as fast as she ever had in her life, while her eyes never left the rifle in Sehlra’s hands. “But you still have lost valuable time, and you have lost the value of the cargo that you were carrying. Has Commander T’Lar offered to compensate you for the hold full of ale that you sold to Grigor-Tel?”
“No,” Jenrali’s mouth twisted. Sehlra’s eyes narrowed and her grip on the rifle tightened again.
“You are plotting something, greenblood,” Sehlra growled. “Out with it. What do you want?”
“I want Grigor-Tel.” T’Riss, despite her best efforts, despite long hours and days of deep meditation, could not stop the thirst from sliding into her voice. “I would think an Andorian of all people would understand this,” she added, in a voice growing increasingly hoarse. “It is a matter of personal honor.”
“Why is it that when I hear a Vulcan talk about honor,” Sehlra muttered, “I feel like chucking up my icebear stew?”
Jenrali looked down at Daniel, holding his bowed head between his hands. “Your need to redeem your honor is so great that you must resort to treachery to regain it? Typical Vulcan logic. I would have expected no less.”
T’Riss closed her eyes and drew back inside herself. She forced down all emotional distractions and returned to a state of equilibrium. “Regardless. I want Grigor-Tel and I know how to find him. But I lack a ship. I can lead you to him. If you capture him, not only will you gain fifty bars of latinum, but you will also establish your reputation with my people beyond question. You will certainly be granted trading privileges at any port in Vulcan space, even with Andorian registry.”
“Just how were you planning to track Grigor-Tel?” Jenrali asked. “Did he tell you something about his hideout?”
“No,” T’Riss swallowed hard. “While I was... his slave... a telepathic link was formed between us. A mating bond. As long as he lives I will be able to find him. I know that he is leaving the far side of the Horn Nebula at this moment.”
“Why didn’t you tell this to your own people then?” Sehlra pounced. “If there was any truth to this you would have had your own ships after him already.”
“I did tell them.” T’Riss gritted her teeth. “They did not believe me. There has never been a reported case of a mating bond with a non-Vulcan before. They will not believe me until the healer-melder arrives to confirm it. By that time Grigor-Tel will be long gone.”
Sehlra laughed sardonically. “You Vulcans don’t even trust each other. If this is not the true justice of the Mother I don’t know what is.”
“And what’s her part in this?” Jenrali gestured at Raijiin.
Raijiin spoke up for the first time since they were overwhelmed. “I wish to gain favor with the Vulcans. T’Riss told me that if I helped her with this, she will arrange for her people to set me up in business on Risa.”
The two Andorians looked at each other, then both of them examined Daniel. “Fifty bars,” Jenrali said softly, shaking his head uncertainly.
“I suppose that you got your Commander’s approval for this idea?” Sehlra sneered in disbelief.
“No,” T’Riss carefully and slowly sat up. “However, before we left I installed a viral bomb on the Sehlat’s main computer. When I activate this control,” she held it up, “the virus will detonate and temporarily disable their sensors and weapons. We will have approximately 36 minutes to reach the Nebula before they are able to mount a pursuit.”
“You’re insane,” Jenrali pointed out in the most reasonable tone imaginable. “Did it occur to you that there is another ship on the far side of the station?”
“The Le’Matya is currently assigned to station security,” T’Riss told him. “A significant portion of their crew is not on board. By the time they could retrieve their missing crew members and undock, we would be far beyond sensor range.”
“You’re still insane,” Sehlra stated unequivocally, “and we would be insane to consider it.” Jenrali touched her arm and pulled her back to the far said of the room. T’Riss settled back against the wall, forgetting for a second about the scorch mark until the hot metal started burning her back. She yanked free before her shirt caught fire and sat cross-legged, shamelessly eavesdropping on the whispered conversation.
“...can’t be serious!” Sehlra was berating Jenrali. “It’s a trap. They sent her over here with this tale. As soon as we start moving they will have an excuse to finish us off. They know that we are going to tell the truth, and they want to have us all dead before that Human ship gets here. They can’t hide what they did after Enterprise arrives, and they know the Humans are finally getting fed up with them.”
“But they would have one of their own on board,” Jenrali pointed out.
“She’s dishonored, like she said herself,” Sehlra retorted. “She’s a shame to them. Why wouldn’t they get rid of her, and get rid of us at the same time? The High Command does things like that all the time. You know they do.”
Jenrali glanced over at T’Riss and lowered his voice still more. She had to strain a little to hear it. “You know we talked about making a break for it anyway, but we couldn’t figure out a way to get Daniel loose. Well, now Daniel is loose. And the security monitors have been running ever since I detected their beam in, so they can’t claim kidnapping.”
T’Riss lifted a brow. The aged Andorian warrior was thorough. It was a promising sign that he considered possibilities in advance and prepared for them.
“It won’t matter if they shoot us out of space,” Sehlra insisted.
“You are paranoid,” Jenrali growled. “If they wanted us dead, we would already be dead. And so would Daniel. Why did they even bother notifying Earth that he was here, if they were going to kill any of us? You’ve heard the rumors, same as I have. The Vulcans are in trouble on all fronts. They can’t afford to lose any more friends. They don’t have many left as it is. After the way they abandoned the Humans when they were attacked, nobody trusts them now. Not even the Tellarites anymore.”
T’Riss felt a pang. It had not occurred to her, but he was probably correct. Not only had V’Las damaged relations with Earth by his actions following the Xindi attack, but by refusing to help a close ally who was in desperate need, he had seriously damaged Vulcan’s credibility with all of its neighbors. Indeed, her people could not afford to lose any more friends at the moment.
“I still say it’s some kind of trap,” Sehlra insisted. “If you want to try running for it, all right. But we should space these two first. You know they will charge us with kidnapping if they catch us with them on board, security records or not.”
“You just want to kill a Vulcan because they smashed your engines,” Jenrali reproved. “This girl didn’t do it. She was on the station at the time. Calm down and think about what fifty bars could mean to all of us. Especially Daniel, as young as he is. Properly invested, it will mean a lot to his future.”
Sehlra opened her mouth and stopped, looking frustrated. Jenrali turned and walked back toward the two prisoners.
“You two wait here with Sehlra while I take Daniel to his bunk,” he ordered. “Do. Not. Move. Do you understand me?”
“Understood,” T’Riss inclined her head. Raijiin bowed low to the floor, looking terrified.
Jenrali stooped and wrestled Daniel to a staggering prop. “Come with me, lad. Let’s get you to bed. A few hours of sleep and a good meal will take care of you I think.”
“It had better,” Sehlra intoned grimly, shifting her gaze from T’Riss to Raijiin and back again, while she clenched the rifle in a grip that seemed hard enough to wrench it in half. T’Riss maintained a tactful silence.
T’Lar was in her office, located adjacent to the bridge, when the alarm came through from the confinement area. She calmly placed her stylus into its secure holder and activated the comm. “Security, this is Commander T’Lar. Report.”
“Commander, this is Centurion T’Riok. The prisoner Raijiin has escaped. Crewman S’Ran was rendered unconscious, stripped of weapons, and placed in Raijiin’s cell. S’Ran is being transported to sickbay. Your brother, Selim, discovered the escape and activated the alarm immediately. The search for Raijiin is ongoing. I have assigned an armed guard to escort Selim to his quarters and remain there until relieved.”
“Satisfactory. Continue update reports as circumstances indicate. T’Lar out.” She turned and retrieved her stylus, going back to work on the crew rotation schedule. With so many tasks to complete in such a limited time frame, coordinating the limited manpower of only two ships was proving to be quite challenging. She sincerely hoped that the anticipated reinforcements did not suffer any undue delays.
She was deep in calculating the balance of engineering personnel available for transfer to station maintenance now that repairs on the Andorian ship were complete, when the comm buzzed again. She paused with her stylus poised, debating, and then decided to keep it in her hand this time. She reached over with her free hand and activated the comm.
“Commander T’Lar here.”
“Commander, this is Centurion T’Riok once more. We have just discovered that the Human, Daniel Johansen, seems to be missing. He is not in his quarters, nor can he be located within the non-restricted areas of the ship. I have ordered a class one search of the entire ship for both Raijiin and Johansen. I will report at once if either of them is found.”
“Acknowledged. T’Lar out.” She sat back and absently fingered the stylus. After a few seconds she activated the comm again. “Agent Senek to the bridge immediately.”
Senek arrived promptly as expected, looking strangely bereft without his cloak. He had informed T’Lar that logic compelled him to retire the garment before gravity overcame its ability to retain coherence in the middle of a mission. He still had not located a suitable replacement. T’Lar briefed him on the situation concisely but completely.
“I suspect Lerteiran is the logical place to look for them,” Senek offered.
“Agreed,” T’Lar told him. “That was also my thought. I suggest that you are the most logical person to lead the negotiations and, if necessary, the boarding party for this assignment. Do you concur?”
Senek looked thoughtful. “Naturally. I have the most experience with Humans. If, as now seems likely, Mr. Johansen has acted to take Raijiin into custody he is unlikely to release her without significant persuasion. Have you attempted scanning for their life signs?”
“Yes, but unfortunately the Andorians have been keeping their hull plating polarized ever since the repairs were completed. Most illogical. And we are unable to get an accurate reading through the interference.”
“Perhaps not so illogical after all,” Senek pointed out. “Not if this was planned in advance.”
T’Lar’s eyes were hooded to conceal her growing irritation. “Hail the Andorian ship,” she ordered the Communications officer.
“No response, Commander.”
“Continue trying. Are you certain that they are receiving us?” T’Lar asked.
“Yes, Commander,” the young officer told her promptly. “All equipment diagnostics report optimum. They are ignoring us.”
“Helm,” T’Lar snapped. “Move to dock with Lerteiran. Subcommander, ready tractor beam. Also stand by the forward port disruptor at lowest power, just in case.”
“Acknowl- Commander!” Subcommander Verlen straightened and turned urgently. “Weapons have just gone offline.”
As he spoke, the star field image main bridge view screen started rippling with waves of apparently random colors. Then it went blank. T’Lar’s nostrils flared, but she managed to hold on, somehow, to her discipline. “All stations, report.”
Verlen told her, “Sensors are offline. All weapons are offline. Stand by, checking additional systems.” She sat back and forced herself to wait. “Life support is fully operational, no signs of damage. Engines and main power, no damage. Tractor beam, no damage. Communications, no damage.” More waiting. Finally Verlen stepped down to stand beside her chair.
“I believe I have isolated the problem, Commander,” he told her. “A virus program has infected the control systems for weapons and sensors. Security protocols are in the process of purging it. We should return to full operational status in 21.4 minutes.”
“Satisfactory,” she said tightly. “As soon as we return to...” A shrill beeping interrupted her. T’Lar sprang out of her chair. She had put up with just about enough interruptions. The Communications officer hastily adjusted the feed on his board to match the non-standard frequency being used.
“Sehlat. This is Subcenturion T’Riss aboard Lerteiran. I have commandeered this ship for the purpose of apprehending the criminal Grigor-Tel. I have enlisted the assistance of Raijiin and the crew of Lerteiran in this effort. I will return and surrender myself for punishment as soon as he is captured. T’Riss out.”
T’Lar sat back down slowly, carefully reciting to herself the basic mantra of first stage meditation. It helped a little. Very little.
“Subcommander Verlen,” she said stiffly.
“Yes, Commander,” he replied at once.
“Estimate the pursuit response time for Le’Matya, if I ordered them to follow the Andorian ship.” T’Lar believed she already knew the answer, but it was always better to get confirmation of bad news from a second source.
“Forty-seven minutes, plus or minus, Commander,” Verlen told her. T’Lar nodded.
“Probability that we will be operational in time to catch them before they reach the nebula?” She wanted to hear it all, with a kind of ghoulish satisfaction, just to seal it off properly.
“I estimate 3.41%, Commander,” Verlen said, staring straight ahead at the blank screen.
“And once they reach the nebula, our chances of catching them?” The final grain of sand on the scales.
Verlen looked like he was trying not to wince. “With their greater maneuverability, and the sensor interference caused by the nebula, I estimate a less than 15.2% chance of catching them. Certainly not before the Human ship arrives.”
Senek said idly, looking very tired, “There have been times in my career, when I have actually envied other races for having the luxury of venting their frustrations through cursing.”
“Incoming hail from Commander Tormak, Captain,” Lieutenant Sato announced.
Archer glanced over. “Put him on the main screen, Lieutenant.”
Tormak’s image cleared to show a man who looked as if he had experienced more agreeable days. His Vulcan facade was still intact, but it was showing some evidence of structural damage . Archer reflected that one more good smack would probably crumble it. “This doesn’t look good. I hope they aren’t having major engine problems. We seriously do not need a delay right now.”
“Commander Tormak,” Captain Archer said. “What can I do for you?”
“Captain Archer,” Tormak actually hesitated. “I have just received unfortunate news from the Sehlat. It seems that the woman Raijiin has somehow escaped from confinement and fled aboard the Lerteiran.”
Both of Archer’s fists clenched. Indrawn breaths all over the bridge were expelled as growls and sub vocal mutters. He forced out between clenched teeth, “I believe that we were at some pains to inform both Commander T’Lar and the High Council of Raijiin’s abilities. We also pointed out that she was known to be quite resourceful and proven to be dangerous.”
“Acknowledged, Captain,” Tormak returned shortly. “Raijiin was being kept in confinement under close guard. Apparently she was permitted visitors, and she somehow persuaded one of the former Vulcan captives to assist her in disabling the guard and releasing Mr. Johansen. The three of them transported to the Lerteiran, which then left the area at maximum warp. They disappeared into the Horn Nebula and were lost to sensors before they could be apprehended.”
Archer closed his eyes and counted to fifty. He looked at Tormak and said, with all the calmness he could muster, “Thank you for the information, Commander Tormak. Please advise the High Council that since Mr. Johansen is a citizen of Earth, and since both Mr. Johansen and Raijiin were in Vulcan custody at the time of this incident, Starfleet will hold Commander T’Lar personally responsible for his safe return.”
“Noted. Tormak out.” The screen went black.
“T’Pol,” he turned toward the Science station.
“Yes, Captain,” she looked up from her viewer.
“Can that transport handle warp 5?”
“I would not advise it, Captain,” she told him calmly.
Archer pressed his lips together and slowly nodded. He settled back into his chair and started rubbing his chin thoughtfully.
End of Episode Two
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