"The Lerteiran Chronicles"
Episode Three: A-Hunting We Will Go
By Blacknblue and Distracted
Genre: Action Adventure and just a tad of romance (eventually)
Daniel’s palms were sweaty and his legs shook, but he took a deep breath and bowed to his opponent. Then he stepped back into fighting stance and clenched his fists. The fighter who faced him was smaller and slighter than he was-and she was a girl. He’d let those facts make him overconfident before, and he had the bruises to prove it. Kaoru was Sensei’s daughter, after all.
“Ippon shobu... Hajime!”
He launched himself forward at the command to begin the one-point match, determined to make use of the element of surprise, but when he got there she was gone.
It was impossible. No one could be that fast, but there she was, a half-meter to his left. Her instep made contact with his solar plexus before he had the chance to react, knocking the breath out of him in a whoosh. He remained standing, though, and shot her a grateful look. Her control was impressive. Anyone else in the dojo would have had him on the floor gasping for breath with a mawashi geri. Instead, she’d used only enough force to make the point. She grimaced apologetically, smiling.
She likes me! he realized. He grinned back.
“Shiro no kachi!” announced Sensei, also known outside the dojo as Captain Takeo Sulu, declaring his daughter’s victory. He wasn’t smiling. Oops.
Kaoru left the floor after a reproving look from her father, and Gichin stepped up. He was Kaoru’s older brother. Daniel swallowed. What was it the Amerindians of the Great Plains used to say? Oh yeah... “Today is a good day to die”.
The rest of the Sulu clan, from little Mariko, age four, all the way up the stair steps of their dark heads to Sensei’s younger brother Takayushi-san, stood in a solemn row along the dojo wall. They weren’t smiling either. For the crew of the Shokaku Maru, karate was a very serious matter.
Kaoru sobered quickly as she took her place in the line up. She actually looked frightened for him. That couldn’t be good. Apparently, it was time to teach the gaijin a lesson for flirting with his betters. Daniel gave the bigger boy a sickly smile. Six months on board working his tail off while on duty, and then training karate in this converted cargo bay while off duty until he nearly collapsed, evidently wasn’t long enough to be considered one of the family. Daniel strongly suspected that six years wouldn’t be long enough. He took a ready stance.
“Ippon shobu... Hajime!”
Daniel was more cautious this time. Gichin didn’t have his sister’s control, or perhaps he simply chose not to use it, and a broken nose was no fun. Daniel had learned that lesson the hard way. He circled the larger boy warily, trying his best to anticipate his attack.
It didn’t help. Although Gichin wasn’t as fast as his sister, he was plenty fast enough. At Gichin’s attack, Daniel’s hands came up reflexively to protect his face. He went down this time, curled in a ball and gasping for air after a single reverse punch to his unprotected abdomen. No pulled punches there. He waited for the reprimand for excessive force in a training exercise. It never came.
“Get up. You try again. More speed. Keep hands in position,” announced Sensei sternly in his heavily accented English. Daniel squinted up at him in disbelief and wheezed, finally able to inhale. The injustice of it all hit him all at once, and tears sprang to his eyes. What did these maniacs want from him? He was fourteen years old, for cryin’ out loud! He was a kid, not some half-assed ninja warrior!
<>I refuse to cry! Won’t do it! Won’t give ‘em the satisfaction! he told himself stubbornly, but the tears came anyway. He gritted his teeth and tried to stand. The room went grey...
And he woke up gasping for air at the memory of his humiliation. For a second, he didn’t recognize his surroundings, and then the familiarity of his quarters aboard Lerteiran comforted him like a well-worn blanket. He was home.
He rolled over in his bunk, head pounding, stomach queasy, nose still tender from breaking it several days before during their encounter with the Le’Matya. Maybe the nose was what had triggered the nightmare, but the rest of him felt like he’d been recently and intimately acquainted with several glasses of Andorian ale.
Great. Home with a hangover.
Funny thing was, he couldn’t remember having any fun getting that way. He sat up in bed, holding his head, which felt as if it were about to split in half and roll off either shoulder at any minute. Hazy memories of a drug induced fog and a voluptuous blond surfaced then, closely followed by the sensation of being supremely pissed off.
He gritted his teeth and stood up with a grim expression on his face. That was the blonde’s name. She’d done something to him and somehow convinced T’Riss to go along with it, and now Jenrali and Sehlra were in danger. He staggered to the head, grabbed the bottle of aspirin, and threw a handful in his mouth, chewing as he unlocked his footlocker and retrieved the shockrod he’d picked up on Rigil for self protection. He wasn’t sure how effective it would be on someone of Raijiin’s species, but at least he’d get her attention without blowing a hole in the hull. Then he planned to demand an explanation before putting her into an airlock for safekeeping.
T’Riss fought to remain impassive as the old Andorian freighter captain checked her restraints. The cuffs on her wrists and ankles, anchored to each other by chains which passed through eye bolts welded to the navigator’s chair, bolts which had been welded by the Andorian woman only hours before, reminded her entirely too much of her time with Grigor-Tel. Although the cuffs were not uncomfortable, being made of leather lined with soft white fur, just the experience of being bound in that fashion again threatened her sanity.
“You may release me now. I have no desire to harm you,” she attempted, without much expectation of success. Jenrali sighed and shook his head.
“Even if I believed you, greenblood, Sehlra would skin me alive if I freed you,” he said with dry humor, “and I’m a lot more afraid of her than I am of you.” He took his seat again in the pilot’s chair. “At least I convinced her that I need you on the bridge. Would you rather be in the cargo bay with your little blond friend?”
T’Riss raised a brow at him. Given the fact that the cargo bay was kept at average Andorian winter temperature for the purpose of preserving perishable cargo, she didn’t envy Raijiin her relative freedom. Vulcans and cold temperatures didn’t mix well. And so she said nothing until her unwanted mating bond with their quarry forced her to do so. Her gut twisted as she sensed a change and deliberately reached to find him in the vastness of space.
“Grigor-Tel is on the move again. He’s changed headings... and from the rate of change in distance I’m sensing, he’s traveling at high warp,” she offered, managing to ignore her restraints once the more pressing issue came to her attention.
“Can you give me a probable destination?” inquired Jenrali, turning in his seat.
T’Riss studied the navigational console display. The Andorian nav computer’s points of reference differed from Vulcan standard, but the mathematics were the same, and eventually she managed to identify Grigor-Tel’s objective.
“He’s headed to the Nausican homeworld,” she answered, somewhat surprised. The planet Nausica was uninhabitable, made so by a series of violently destructive civil wars early in its people’s space faring career. It had been a tropical world with warm seas and steaming jungles, rich in game and perfectly suited to a species which thrived on the hunt. Now it was a mud ball with a poisonous atmosphere. The remnants of its original inhabitants lived in orbital stations and in the multitude of vessels which traversed the shipping lanes of the quadrant, raiding and extorting tolls from unsuspecting travelers to the system and its surrounds.
T’Riss’ fingers flew over the console as she spoke. “I am sending you the coordinates. I would recommend an immediate change of heading at maximal warp if we are to catch Grigor-Tel before he manages to gather his Nausican allies.”
Jenrali studied her, for a moment looking as if he would object to her recommendation simply because it came from her. Then he shook his head, sighed heavily, and bellowed, “I need warp four, Sehlra. Our hound has caught the scent!”
Daniel went first to the engine room, reasoning that if Raijiin had taken control of the ship she’d be on the bridge and he’d need Sehlra’s help to regain the helm. There was also a small part of him that just needed to see if the old woman was all right, although he’d never admit it to her.
He stepped around the doorway, flattened himself against the bulkhead with his shockrod at the ready, and found the object of his search safe and sound, standing at the control console and growling imprecations in Andorian at a bright and shiny new plasma reactor with the factory labels still attached. They were all in Vulcan.
“’Warp four,’ he says,” she muttered. Daniel had heard that she’d been displeased when the Vulcans had decided that, since replacement parts for the Lerteiran’s fifty year old plasma reactor were virtually impossible to find, they’d just replace the entire thing with a newer model without even asking her opinion first. Displeased was obviously a grave understatement, but at least she was alive and well. He grinned in relief.
“There’s no, ‘Have you completed your calibrations of the new reactor, Sehlra?’ or even, ‘Is the new reactor compatible with the old systems, Sehlra?’” she groused under her breath. “Of course not! He just wants warp four!”
“Sehlra!” hissed Daniel. Loud voices could be heard all the way up the access tube to the bridge, and he didn’t want anyone else on board to know he was awake. The beleaguered engineer looked up from her console in surprise.
“Daniel, my lad!” she exclaimed. “What are you doing skulking in the shadows?”
He put a finger to his lips, shushing her and wincing, glancing meaningfully down the corridor. She eyed him up and down, assessing his condition as if she were inspecting a malfunctioning warp coil. “Headache, eh?” she commented sympathetically in a slightly quieter tone. He grimaced at her in frustration and, after craning his neck to make certain there was no one else in the room, ran to the reactor which filled the center of the room and hid behind it so that he couldn’t be seen by someone entering the engine room. Then he turned to Sehlra, who was standing right beside him at her console looking at him as if he’d gone completely insane.
“Where’s Jenrali? Is he okay?” he whispered hoarsely.
Sehlra rolled her eyes and sighed. “So that’s it!” she chuckled. “I thought that slut had permanently addled your brain, boy!” She smiled at him reassuringly. “Jenrali’s on the bridge with the Vulcan, well on his way to getting us fifty bars of gold-pressed latinum. The telepath’s in the cargo bay. We’ve got the situation well in hand, don’t you worry. Just go to the galley and get some breakfast. You look like you need it.”
He grimaced, and nausea welled at the thought. “No thanks. I’ll pass,” he told her. And then the significance of what he’d heard registered. He had a vague recollection of his partners’ decision to pursue Grigor-Tel. He had no problem with that despite the danger. Fifty bars of latinum was a hell of a lot of currency. But-the cargo bay?
“The cargo bay? Hell, Sehlra, how long’s she been in there? She’ll freeze to death!” he exclaimed.
Sehlra seemed taken aback. “And I should care about this why?” she inquired ironically.
Daniel rolled his eyes. She seemed more pissed than he was, and that was saying a lot. “I’ve got some questions I want to ask that bitch,” he said angrily. “When I’m done, you can turn her into a grape-flavored bimbo-sicle for all I care, but if she’s dead she can’t answer my questions!”
“Ah, I see,” she told him, nodding thoughtfully. She let her breath out in a whoosh, and turned away from the console, whose display showed engine function within normal parameters and a steady speed of warp four. “I suppose we should go and see if she’s still breathing, then,” she said casually over her shoulder as she walked toward the exit.
T’Pol woke of her own accord at 0500, a full thirty minutes before her alarm and only five hours after falling asleep. Fortunately, she’d had sufficient meditation the previous evening, and so felt rested. She didn’t, however, exit the bedclothes with her usual alacrity, for the primary reason for her early arousal still lay tangled in the sheets beside her, deeply asleep, lightly snoring. His bare skin was appealingly warm and smooth to the touch, and instead of rising she availed herself of the opportunity for skin to skin contact.
“Mmmmph”, followed by a satisfied sigh, was Trip’s incoherent response as she insinuated herself into the circle of his arms, wrapped her arms around his middle, entwined her bare legs with his, and laid her head on his chest. She could tell he was beginning to wake up when his hands began to roam. She paused with eyes closed to appreciate the sensation of his calloused palms brushing lightly over her skin from her shoulder, over her back and downward to mid thigh. It soon became clear, though, that she needed to say something to prevent them from being very late for breakfast.
“It’s 0500, Commander. You need to get up and go back to your quarters to change,” she told him softly. There was no indication in her voice of the unusual method she’d chosen to wake him.
“Lord, darlin’... It’s just not fair to wake me up like this an’ then just kick me outta bed!” he grumbled sleepily.
“Would you prefer that I wake you in another way?” she inquired innocently with her head still resting comfortably on his chest. “I have heard that a cold wet towel to the face can be very invigorating.”
Trip chuckled, and his arms tightened around her. “Don’t you dare! I like this alarm clock just fine,” he said good-humoredly. He squeezed her ribs until she had difficulty breathing and kissed the top of her head. Then he released her and rolled out of bed with a groan.
“I really oughta keep a change of uniform in your closet and a toothbrush and razor in your bathroom. I’d get more sleep that way,” he told her in a resigned voice as he headed for the head. T’Pol watched his retreating bare silhouette appreciatively in the dim light of her quarters, and then lay gazing at the open door of the bathroom while he made his morning ablutions, considering his statement.
It seemed that physical relations between them followed neuropressure now with considerable regularity. It was logical, therefore, for him to have a change of clothes and toiletries available for use in her quarters. Logic, though, had nothing to do with the emotions the idea of sharing a closet with him invoked. She had avoided discussing the full import of their mating bond, thinking that its intensity would wane with time once the novelty of the relationship wore off and Trip lost interest. He was, after all, human, and she’d been certain that his feelings for her were transient, in the manner of many other humans she’d observed.
It wasn’t working out the way she’d expected. He was acting more and more like a spouse every day, despite the fact that he was completely unaware of their status as a married couple under Vulcan law. All the relationship lacked was official recognition by clergy, and her emotions were urging her to tell him so.
“So, I’ll see ya at breakfast, right?” he said with emphasis as he exited the bathroom, fully dressed in his coverall from the evening before, unshaven but otherwise presentable.
“Agreed,” she responded, and rose from the bed unselfconsciously nude, reaching for her robe. He paused before leaving, watching her with that particular sparkle in his eye which was an indication that he was enjoying himself. She ignored it, as usual, wrapping the silken garment around her snugly and tying her belt, but his reaction pleased her.
“And you’re gonna have somethin’ you have ta chew instead of that watery green stuff, right?” he persisted. She gazed back at him tolerantly. His desire to preserve her health was commendable, but it was getting a bit annoying.
“You may ask Chef to prepare me three pancakes... with syrup,” she conceded. He grinned, stepped forward to give her a kiss on the forehead, and then stepped out, looking both ways down the deserted corridor. The door whooshed closed behind him, and the room suddenly felt empty.
T’Pol stepped to the closet and pulled a uniform out at random, preoccupied. As she stepped into it she continued to ponder her current predicament. What would his reaction be if he discovered that he’d been “married” for months now without his knowledge? She could foresee no possible outcome in which he took the news without anger. He would see it as a deliberate deception on her part and be furious with her for marrying Koss when she was already “married” to him, and she wasn’t certain whether she was capable of explaining that she’d been unable to tell the difference between the effects of their bond and the effects of her trellium D use at the time of her marriage to Koss.
And that was the other thing. Her trellium D addiction was still a well-kept secret, known only to her and to Dr. Phlox. If it became public her career in Starfleet was over. Phlox had kept it to himself for reasons known only to Phlox, but Trip was a Starfleet officer. How could she tell him? He would lose all respect for her. He might even report her for the good of the ship. Even though it had been months since she’d last used, she knew that a single moment of weakness would put her right back where she’d started. Enterprise had no trellium D aboard now, but there were numerous testing programs on Earth and elsewhere attempting to determine its potential usefulness now that the Delphic Expanse was open for exploration. It would take a single subspace call for her to get enough to supply her needs for months, but each day she chose not to make that call. Would he trust her to continue to make that choice?
When she was with Trip, she could feel their once fragile connection growing stronger, but it could still be broken, and she realized suddenly that she didn’t want to risk it. Not yet.
I will say nothing, she decided. Not until I am sure that he won’t leave me when he finds out.
That issue decided, she moved to the bathroom to brush her teeth. On the way, she picked up the padd she’d left on her desk the night before, reviewing the material she planned to present at that morning’s staff meeting. The situation with Raijiin was what she needed to concern herself with this morning. Her personal life would have to wait.
Having gotten nowhere with his long distance extradition negotiations with the Vulcans, Jonathan Archer had decided to contact Starfleet Command before the command staff meeting to see how things were coming from their end. It didn’t look promising.
“But Admiral, our treaty of alliance spells out extradition procedures. We shouldn’t have to jump through all these hoops to gain custody of a known criminal!” he protested, his fists clenched in frustration on the conference table in his ready room.
On the vid screen in front of him, Admiral Gardner sighed and shook his head. “If she were an escaped felon with a known criminal record that would be true, Jon...but she’s never been convicted of anything. As far as the Vulcans are concerned she’s merely a suspect, not a convicted felon,” he told Archer. At the captain’s offended expression he added, “And I know you were there and you know she’s guilty... but they don’t.”
Archer sat back in his chair and regarded the admiral in disbelief. “So what you’re saying is that the Vulcans think we’re all lying?”
Gardner gave him a reproving look. “Of course not, Jon... but to them the benefits of keeping her in their custody outweigh the risks. Look at it from their point of view. The espionage she’s accused of is old news. The information she gathered was never used, the enemy she was working for has been soundly defeated, and she claims that she was coerced into working for them to begin with. At the same time, the Vulcans are claiming that she’s of vital importance to an investigation immediately pertinent to the situation in Syndicate space, and that she’s no use to anyone confined in a cell somewhere. So they’ve granted her immunity from extradition in return for her help, they won’t release her, and we’re stuck. Our treaty with the Vulcans clearly states that if this woman was apprehended in their jurisdiction, they have final say over whether to release her to us or not.”
Archer crossed both arms over his chest and exhaled forcefully. “So that’s it, then. It’s a done deal,” he said morosely.
“Unless she’s apprehended in Earth’s jurisdiction, in which case the reverse would be true,” replied Gardner blandly. “And the only area currently under Earth’s jurisdiction in Syndicate space is your ship.” At Archer’s speculative expression, he added, “Not that I’m suggesting anything, mind you. If the Vulcans were to discover that she’d been forcibly removed from their custody by a Starfleet officer there’d be hell to pay.”
Archer nodded slowly, eying his superior officer with a quizzical expression. Was the man actually implying what it sounded like he was implying? “I understand, Admiral. Thanks for the advice, sir,” he said in a distracted voice. Gardner nodded briskly in return and cut the connection. Jonathan Archer blinked, staring at the blank screen for several seconds.
So... if we can’t just take her, we’ll have to convince her to come aboard voluntarily, he mused. He raised a brow, smiling wryly. It could happen. He’d just send Trip to invite her. The man had a way with alien females.
She’d stopped shivering. Raijiin knew enough about hypothermia to know that was a bad thing. She didn’t feel as cold now, burrowed within the foam packing material she’d discovered inside an empty crate, and at least she was wearing the insignia-less soft grey ship’s coverall and non-skid booties she’d been given on the Sehlat instead of the whisper-thin silk bathrobe which was the only article of clothing she’d salvaged from the station, but she couldn’t feel her hands and feet. Her ears and the tip of her nose were completely numb as well.
Frostbite, she thought fatalistically. It was ironic that after all she’d been through that this would spell the end of all her plans. Even if she survived, who’d pay for the services of a pleasure worker without a nose and ears?
Even so, try as she might, she couldn’t find it within her to hate the ones who’d done this to her. They hadn’t spaced her outright, which is what she was certain the Andorian female had wanted to do, and the memories of the layout of Lerteiran that she’d gleaned from the Human's mind revealed no other secure place to house her on board.
They could have at least given me warmer clothes, a part of her whined pitifully, but she knew it to be an unreasonable expectation. Her guilt over what she’d done to the innocent Human boy-and he was still just that, only a boy in his naiveté despite his age in years-was unusual. Very little made her feel guilty these days; she did what was necessary. But his eagerness to please, and then the touch of his mind with the drug in his system, had reminded her of her early captivity and the drugs she’d been given to make her compliant. The comparison nauseated her.
The crate seemed even warmer now. Her eyes fluttered shut. It was such an effort to keep them open, and why should she? The human had her. He’d likely deliver her to Archer.
Even that once terrifying thought no longer had the power to rouse her. Maybe it’s better this way, she thought muzzily. This isn’t so bad. It actually feels sort of nice...
A rough hand shook her by the shoulder, disturbing her cozy nap. A harsh voice shouted in her ear, “Get up! Get on your feet!” Raijiin opened her eyes a crack and stared up into a wrinkled face with a distinctly blue complexion. The old woman didn’t look pleased. Raijiin felt herself being hauled up by one arm, but despite her best efforts, her legs refused to support her weight.
“Damn slut’s heavier than she looks!” griped the Andorian. Abruptly, Raijiin felt herself hoisted in the air over a strong shoulder. It wasn’t the Andorian’s shoulder, because the woman was following behind with a phase pistol held against Raijiin’s temple. Although the surface thoughts of her rescuer seemed familiar, she knew better than to try a probe. There was only one person it could be, though. Despite all she’d done to him, the Human had come to save her. He likely had other motives beside her wellbeing, of course, but that didn’t stop her from being pitifully grateful.
“You try anything and you’re dead,” growled the old Andorian female. And she meant it, too. Raijiin could tell just by looking at her, no telepathy required. She grimaced apologetically at the Human's ferocious protector, briefly wishing that somewhere in the universe, someday, there might be someone who cared for her enough to protect her like that. It was a very brief wish, because she didn’t stay conscious for long.
“Hakar-Jan!” he protested. “We have been associates for more than 70 years! You can’t be serious!”
“Grigor-Tel, you are an utter fool.” The face in the viewscreen was impassive.
“How could I have known?” Grigor-Tel wheedled ingratiatingly. “With the spike ears obsessing over this new philosophy of pacifism, who could have known that they would react this way? They even staged a revolution and overthrew their planetary government! All for the sake of turning toward this... Surak’s... teachings of peace and non-violence. How could I have known that they would revert back to vengeance so quickly?”
Hakar-Jan did not seem impressed. “You have brought destruction down upon yourself and your hirelings, but you will not bring it down upon me as well. The Council of Five has agreed. You are not worth going to war against Vulcan. You are meat. Begone from this system. Because of our old association I will give you a quarter of an hour before I open fire.” The screen went black.
Grigor-Tel sagged back against his acceleration padding. Hakar-Jan was the richest and most powerful friend he had. Used to have, he corrected himself with a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. If Hakar-Jan was afraid to help him, there was no chance that anyone else would dare to touch him. What now?
The sound of a proximity alarm and sensor readings that showed five patrol craft closing on his position galvanized Grigor-Tel into action. For now, getting out of this system was top priority. Hakar-Jan was a man of his word. Grigor-Tel had never known him to fail in killing someone after he had promised to do so. He could ponder his ill fortune later. Right now he had to escape those fighters.
Daniel entered the bridge and stopped in his tracks. The scene before him was not at all what he’d expected. Jenrali was sitting in the pilot’s chair with his feet propped up on the console calmly reading from a padd in his lap while T’Riss manned the navigation station. Compared to the rush to wrap Sehlra’s newest patient in warming blankets before she went into cardiac arrest, and the insistent beeping of medical devices that he’d just left behind in the ship’s tiny sickbay, the atmosphere on the bridge was positively tranquil.
Jenrali looked up from his reading and smiled when Daniel came in. “Hey, boy. You look better this morning,” he said cheerfully. Daniel gave him a half-smile in return.
“I think the aspirin’s kicking in,” he replied, giving T’Riss a sidelong glance. She was staring with intense concentration at her console, which seemed to have nothing but a star map on it at that moment. “Sehlra sent me to ask if you need a break now that I’m up. She says you stayed up last night tracking the Orion,” Daniel continued.
Jenrali stood up and stretched, indicating that Daniel should take his seat. “I’m going to get something to eat. Want anything?” asked the Andorian. Daniel’s stomach growled. Evidently it was recovering.
“A cup of coffee and some toast would be good,” Daniel replied prudently. Jenrali nodded and turned to go. Then Daniel noticed T’Riss’ restraints. The eye bolts were obviously recent work, but the cuffs weren’t a rush job. Two sets of icebear-fur lined leather cuffs with tritanium chains attaching them weren’t items most people had just lying around.
“Where’d you get the cuffs?” he asked Jenrali curiously. Jenrali stopped at the doorway, grimaced uncomfortably and looked away.
“Ummm... Sehlra had them,” he admitted, and then turned to head toward the galley.
Daniel cocked his head and thought about it for a second, and then decided he wouldn’t pursue it. There were some things he just didn’t want to know.
He turned his head to find T’Riss looking at him with a wide-eyed, solemn gaze. He raised a brow and waited.
“I am... pleased... that you are well,” she began hesitantly.
“Well, that’s nice to know,” he replied caustically, “considering the fact that you didn’t give a rat’s ass about my well-being last night.”
She jerked at his vehemence, turning her head away. Her eyes closed, and her Vulcan emotional control seemed in shreds, for he could see the pain on her face. Her fists opened and closed as she worked her wrists in the cuffs. He wondered if they were hurting her, but stopped himself from asking. He watched as she took several deliberate breaths, calming herself. Her hands came to rest in her lap, and she faced him again.
“I want you to know that I deeply regret my actions, and if I had been given any other option I would not have permitted her to...violate...you in that fashion.” Her voice was shaking. Her eyes filled with moisture but no tears flowed. Even as his gut reacted to her choice of words with a sudden twist of anger, a part of him studied her with detached fascination. Vulcans didn’t cry-or did they?
He sighed and shook his head. “Why did you do it, then?” he pleaded in a weary voice. The memory of Raijiin’s presence inside his head, twisting his thoughts, affecting his desires, made him queasy again. “You of all people should know how it feels to be controlled...invaded...” His voice trailed off, choked by hurt and bewilderment. He’d thought that they were becoming friends, or at least allies.
T’Riss’ expression, which had been the picture of guilt, was abruptly transformed into a mask of rage. “How it feels?!” she hissed between clenched teeth. “I live with the memory of how it feels every waking moment of every day!” She began to hyperventilate, obviously trying to get her fury under control, but it was a losing battle. Her hands came up sharply to the ends of the chains that restrained them, clawed as if she were throttling someone between them. Her eyes were fixed on the air between her hands as if she could see the face of her tormentor there before her. She no longer seemed aware of Daniel’s presence. Her fingers worked, and then she clenched them tightly together. Pulling her joined hands with effort back into her lap, she closed her eyes and breathed deeply for several seconds while Daniel watched wide-eyed. He’d been considering an offer to release her from her restraints, but realized now that it was probably a bad idea. Finally, her eyes opened. Her calm was strained to the breaking point, but for the moment she’d regained it. Her eyes met his.
“I did it because Grigor-Tel has to die, and I’m the only one who can find him,” she said matter-of-factly. Daniel just looked back at her. This woman was obviously closer to the edge than he had realized.
“And of course, the end justifies the means?” Daniels asked her quietly. He turned away and slipped into the pilot’s seat. For several minutes neither of them spoke, and Daniel kept his attention fixed on the controls while he checked their course and system’s status.
“I truly regret the necessity of what was done to you,” he heard her say. Daniel’s hand paused in mid-reach over the panel for a moment. Then he drew it back and turned to look at her.
“Necessity.” He tried very hard to keep his voice completely flat, while his anger flared dangerously close to the surface. “You considered it necessary to invade my mind, nerve pinch me, drug me, and kidnap me, all the while knowing that I had never done anything to you.” He shook his head, exhaling in frustration. “I've said it before, but it bears repeating. If this is how Vulcans treat allies, I can only shudder in horror at the thought of what you must do to your enemies.”
Her color darkened at the tips of her ears and upper cheeks, while her lips pressed tightly together. “If Grigor-Tel is not apprehended, there is no question that he will continue to victimize others in the future. I understand that you are upset, but no permanent harm has been done. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one.”
Daniel looked at her. “For is it not expedient that one man should die for the people, rather than that all should perish?” he said.
Her eyebrows drew together, puzzled. “I... do not understand.”
Daniel grunted. “It’s a quote from one of our sacred documents. That’s what one particularly corrupt judge is reported to have said just before framing an innocent man for crimes that he didn’t commit.”
“The two situations are not equivalent,” T’Riss maintained indignantly.
“No?” Daniel retorted. “Do you have any idea how many millions of people on my world have been butchered in the name of the greater good? Throughout the course of our history tyrants have used the excuse that their political rivals represented a threat to the greater good, and therefore needed to be exterminated like vermin.” He paused, and then added snidely, “Or maybe you think that Vulcans would never sink low enough to twist the rules for their own benefit?” He returned her glare with one of his own, just as hot.
“I know that I would be willing to give my life for the good of my people. Would you not be willing to do the same for yours?” T’Riss challenged angrily.
“But you’re missing the key idea here,” Daniel retorted with controlled civility. “Freedom of choice.” T’Riss stared at him blankly. “I might be willing, or I might not,” he persisted. “The point is that I need to be given the choice. Otherwise, I’m nothing but a slave.” He returned to the controls, and silence. A sidelong glance revealed T’Riss with a very un-Vulcan expression of horrified revelation on her face. Maybe my point is finally sinking in, thought Daniel ruefully.
In a few more moments, he spoke again in a near whisper, taking advantage of T’Riss’ moment of receptivity to administer the coup de grace. “When Vulcan made First Contact with Earth, your population outnumbered us by almost three to one. We were isolated on a single planet and we’d just finished a major war. But remember, we breed a lot faster than you do. At present, our population is about 80% as large as yours. Within your lifetime, barring catastrophe, our population will surpass yours. Within two Vulcan lifetimes, our population will surely outnumber yours by a significant margin.”
He paused to let her consider this for a short time. “When that happens, we will be the many, and you will be the few... or at least, the relatively fewer. What happens if we start getting crowded on our colony worlds, and decide that we need the room worse than you do? When our descendants come and tell you that we want your colonies, and that we have every right to take them because the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, how will you respond?” He kept his eyes fixed on the sensor readout. There was no answer.
T’Lar sat down at the conference table and glanced from Agent Senek to Subcommander Verlen to Healer Tyvek. “You both heard the message from Commander Tormak,” she began without preamble. “Given the circumstances, I cannot find fault with Captain Archer’s position on this matter. If harm does come to Daniel Johansen while he is in the custody of Subcenturion T’Riss, the responsibility will be ours.” She folded her hands in front of her on the table and took a deep calming breath. If the advisors she’d assembled in this room could not discover a solution to the current situation, then her career was over. That was an indisputable fact, and no amount of emotional distress could change it. So she chose not to experience emotional distress. She tipped her head to her second in command, indicating that he should begin. Verlen consulted the padd before him and cleared his throat.
“Healer Tyvek,” Verlen asked, “what do you estimate to be the probability that the subcenturion is being controlled?”
“Less than 6%,” Tyvek responded promptly, and sourly. “Her actions are entirely in keeping with her delusional fixation that she has formed a mating bond with Grigor-Tel, and that only his death will free her from him. I accept full responsibility for not diagnosing the severity of her instability and confining her before this event occurred.”
“If I may, Healer,” Senek offered smoothly. “My medical expertise is minimal, but I have an extensive background in behavioral analysis. Nothing in my experience warned me that she was about to attempt this. She was obviously distraught, but I saw nothing to indicate that she had become irrational.”
“Then perhaps she is not irrational.” T’Lar let her words sink in. “What if her assertion is true? Hypothetically, what if she actually does have a bond with Grigor-Tel? And if so, what if she actually can feel him - nearby, but in the process of escaping? How would you assess her actions then?”
“Impossible,” Tyvek snorted.
“I do not wish to hear the word impossible, Healer Tyvek,” T’Lar reproved him gently. “Refusal to consider alternate possibilities is as illogical as ignoring the laws of nature altogether.”
Senek rubbed one finger over his jawline. “In the hypothetical scenario you propose, I would have to assess her actions as desperate, rather than irrational.”
“Yes,” Verlen considered carefully. “If she truly believes that Lerteiran is capable of catching and apprehending him, then her actions are not entirely illogical. And of course, the reward money would provide the necessary incentive for the crew of the Andorian vessel.”
Tyvek broke in as if he couldn’t stand any more. “Such hypothetical deliberations belong in the classroom... or perhaps in a faculty lounge over tea. Out here we must deal with facts. The fact of the matter is this - the Science Directorate has determined that the formation of a mating bond with a non-Vulcan is impossible.”
T’Lar ignored him, fixing Senek with a direct gaze. “Do you believe, Agent Senek, that it is possible for a Vulcan to form a mating bond with a member of another species?”
Senek returned her look. “In my lifetime, I have witnessed marriages between Vulcans and members of other species. All I can state is that the Vulcans in such marriages seemed satisfied with the arrangements. I decline to speculate whether it would be possible for a Vulcan to be satisfied in a marriage that lacked a mating bond. I do know, from my own experience, that a Vulcan is capable of making telepathic contact with almost any carbon based life form.”
“You are a melder?” T’Lar looked interested.
“I am,” Senek said. Not proudly, but not as if he were ashamed either. “It is still not a matter that I am comfortable discussing openly, as you might be able to understand.”
“It would have been useful had you made us aware of this earlier,” Tyvek complained. “You could have melded with the subcenturion and helped her realize her delusion.”
“Unfortunately, no,” Senek admitted. “The type of meld you are suggesting is beyond my skill, Healer Tyvek. Only a very small percentage of melders today are capable of the delicate control necessary for such an operation. If I attempted it, I would almost certainly do more harm than good, much like a general Healer who suddenly decided to perform deep spinal surgery.”
“Understood,” Tyvek looked disappointed. “It is disgraceful, how much knowledge has been wasted by our people through fear. When I consider how many lives were lost through the generations, for no better reason than blind adherence to custom, I am tempted...” He let his voice fade away, shaking his head tiredly.
“This has all been remarkably fascinating,” T’Lar dragged them back to business. “But we need a decision. Since it is impossible for one of our shuttles to catch Lerteiran, any pursuit would have to be conducted by either Sehlat or Le’Matya. The question at hand is this, would it be logical to pursue them? Or should we wait for the arrival of reinforcements before attempting to retrieve our errant crew member?”
“I recommend pursuit, Commander,” Verlen offered. “Not only is the subcenturion alone aboard a ship with two Andorians, which is bad enough in itself, but we are by no means certain of the Human’s intentions. At minimum, we can be certain that his loyalties lie with the Andorians. He admits that much, and the other alien is a complete enigma. She might be capable of anything.”
“ Healer Tyvek?” T’Lar asked.
Tyvek closed his eyes and shook his head impatiently. “Of course we need to retrieve her. The child belongs here, in sickbay, where she can be treated and looked after.”
Senek scratched his nose. “I am less concerned with her shipmates than I am with her surroundings. This is the Orion Syndicate after all. Granted, only a fool or a lunatic would attack an Andorian unless they possessed greatly superior fire power, but the Syndicate is full of fools and lunatics. The Lerteiran has weapons and hull plating, true, but a swarm of smaller ships or a much larger vessel could still overwhelm her. Also, we have no idea what kind of ship Grigor-Tel is flying, nor what kind of armament he has. I think we need to catch them. Quickly.”
“Then we are agreed,” T’Lar concluded. “Subcommander Verlen, have you confirmed our previous discussion about tracking the Lerteiran’s wake through the nebula?”
“Affirmative, Commander,” Verlen told her. “The reactor that our technicians installed is a Vulcan standard model. Its specifications are well documented, and its output emissions are easily distinguishable. In addition, the disturbance wake caused by the Andorian ship’s passage through the cloud provides a clear trail. We will have no difficulty tracking them.”
“Instruct the helm to lock our course to that trail,” she ordered. “Pursuit speed ahead.”
Kraktilini turned to jab the comm button with an irritated expression. “What is it?” he barked impatiently. “My meal has almost stopped kicking. Speak quickly.”
Corolo hissed resignedly. “It's that fat greenskin that you like to trade with, Fight Leader. He wants to talk to you, and he won't tell me why. Says it's your chance to make more money than you have ever seen before in your life.”
The Nausican looked back the small animal, still quivering faintly in its final death throes as the last of its blood pooled appetizingly on the plate, then back at the screen, then back at his dinner. He roared in frustration, swept the platter off the table with a furious backhand, and told his henchman, “Put him through! If this isn't worth my time, I will have your hide!”
Grigor-Tel's oily smile was a poor replacement for a fat snorlu as far as Kraktilini was concerned. “What do you want, Orion?” he snapped. “I am hungry. Make it fast or you will be the replacement for the fresh meal you cost me.”
The greenskin did not flinch, for which Kraktilini gave him grudging credit. Grigor-Tel had some courage, at least. He started talking, and the Nausican got interested despite himself.
“So you’re in the middle of a blood feud with your rivals,” he said after Grigor-Tel had finished, “and they’ve hired some Vulcan mercenaries to hunt you?” Kraktilini looked skeptical. “That's the biggest lie you have ever told greenskin, in a long life that has been spent avoiding the truth like it was a pestilence.”
“I didn’t say that they hired the Vulcans as mercenaries,” Grigor-Tel repeated patiently. “I said that they have given them false information to make it appear that I attacked the Vulcans. It is a standard tactic among my people. When you have an enemy that is too powerful to attack directly yourself, you arrange to have another enemy that is more powerful do it for you.”
The Nausican snorted and nodded. It made sense. The Orions were as twisted and devious as Humans. It would be completely in keeping with the way they thought to come up with such a method. And since honor never entered into their calculations, they would not hesitate to use it.
“But how did you expect to pay me?” Kraktilini growled. “If your Orion enemies have blocked your access to the Syndicate network, you have no funding.” He rubbed the grip of his sword unconsciously.
Grigor-Tel kept his eyes fixed on the Nausican's face. “I have resources cached all over the quadrant. Surely you didn’t expect me to store all of my wealth in one place?” He chuckled, but his amusement sounded forced.
“Prove it,” the Nausican demanded flatly.
Grigor-Tel hesitated a half second. Kraktilini's brow ridges darkened and his hand tightened on his sword. Before the Nausican's mouth could finish opening Grigor-Tel said heartily, “Of course, my friend. Of course. I will be happy to offer payment in advance.... provided we have an agreement?” He looked tense.
Kraktilini considered. “One thousand bars. In advance.” Grigor-Tel flinched and opened his mouth. “Or you replace my dinner that you interrupted.” The Orion blanched. Kraktilini continued. “IF you pay it, we protect you against anyone who comes looking - to the death. Choose. Now.”
Grigor-Tel squeezed his eyes shut in agony. He gritted his teeth and forced out. “Agreed.”
“Pay” Kraktilini was remorseless.
Grigor-Tel looked away and recited a long alpha-numeric string. “The money is in multiple accounts. That code will open a vault in the central deposit on Tellar that gives access to the others. I will trust you not to take more than the one thousand that we agreed to,” he said bitterly. “Since I have no choice,” he added.
Kraktilini grinned and input the string, then forwarded it to his second-in-command with orders to pass along the information. “Tellar is not a safe place,” The Nausican War Leader smiled at him. “We will take care of the rest of it for you, and keep it safe so that your enemies cannot get their hands on it.” Grigor-Tel turned to glare fire at him. Kraktilini let his grin widen into showing all of his fine-pointed conical teeth. “After all, we are your true friends that you trust with your life, are we not?”
Through pale lips Grigor-Tel managed with a weak smile, “Of course. Have we not always helped each other?”
“And now,” The Nausican laughed heartily, “we will each help ourselves.”
Daniel entered Lerteiran’s tiny sickbay reluctantly. He didn’t want to see the woman who’d mind-raped him lying helpless on a stretcher. Just looking at Raijiin made him furious. He would have preferred to wait until she was healthy, that way he could do whatever he needed to do to get the information he wanted without the guilt that her vulnerability triggered, but there was no time for that.
As he stood at her bedside with the steady beep of the cardiac monitor in the background, Sehlra bustled in with a hypospray in each hand and his inactivated shockrod tucked into her belt. She eyed him up and down.
“You ready?” she asked him briskly.
“Is she?” he inquired, jerking his chin at the unconscious woman. Raijiin’s hands were swathed in bandages. She was secured to the bed with five point restraints, and her nose and ears were covered in burn ointment. He could see dark purple blisters forming already under the ointment, and her skin was so pale she seemed almost ghostly. Sehlra had bound the woman’s blonde hair tightly behind her head, to get it out of the way in order to treat her injuries, he imagined. The result was hardly recognizable as the same woman who’d attacked him the day before.
“Ready as she’ll ever be, I suppose. Her heartbeat’s stable, her body temp’s back up by five degrees, and I’ve got her cold burns dressed,” replied Sehlra matter-of-factly.
“What are those?” Daniel asked, indicating the hyposprays in her hands with a vague gesture as he eyed the sleeping woman. She looked too fragile for his peace of mind. How the hell was he supposed to interrogate her?
“This one’s a stimulant,” Sehlra told him, holding up the hypo in her right hand, “And this one’s a little present I got from a dealer in exotic drugs on Rigil.” She smiled rather unpleasantly, holding up the hypo in her left hand for his inspection. “It’s a Human drug, but it works on Vulcans and Andorians, too... called ketamine.” It wasn’t something Daniel had ever heard of. He took the device from her.
“What’s it do?” he asked curiously as he examined the innocuous appearing colorless fluid within the hypospray’s ampule.
“I’m not sure if it’ll work on her, but for you or me it would be a dissociative anesthetic,” Sehlra replied. At Daniel’s clueless expression, she clarified her definition. “It’ll help relieve her pain, but at the same time make her extremely suggestible. She should be quite cooperative.”
Daniel winced inwardly. So now they were going to do the same thing to her that she and T’Riss had done to him? He gave Sehlra an uncertain look.
“I could use this instead,” she told him with bloodthirsty enthusiasm, pulling the shockrod from her belt and activating it. The rod telescoped out to three times its prior length. Ripples of blue electricity crawled up and down the shaft like a tangled mass of hissing worms. They both studied the effect for several seconds. Daniel hated to admit it, but for a fraction of a second he was sorely tempted.
“I’m not sure, though, “ admitted Sehlra reluctantly. “The way her heartbeat is jumping around, a sudden shock from this might be enough to stop it. Right now she looks pretty weak to me. Puny little bitch, isn’t she?”
Daniel’s eyes widened. “We’ll keep the shockrod as backup and use the medicine, then,” he told her, eyeing the meter long rod cautiously in the small space as Sehlra nodded her agreement, deactivated it, and shoved it back into her belt.
“Agreed,” the old woman replied coolly. “She’s no good to us dead.” Then she turned toward her “patient” with stimulant in hand.
Daniel eyed both women with a wary expression. He’d always known that Sehlra had a typically Andorian attitude toward the use of coercion to obtain information, but he hadn’t thought that she would be so... enthusiastic. I guess the best friends are those you’d never want to have as enemies, he thought ruefully.
The hiss of the hypospray was closely followed by a soft moan from the deceptively helpless looking occupant of the stretcher. Raijiin’s eyes opened. She blinked, turned her head to scan her surroundings, then immediately whimpered and brought her head back to neutral when her blistered ear came in contact with the pillow. Daniel gritted his teeth and stepped up to the bed. Raijiin’s eyes focused on his, cloudy with sleep and pain.
“Stay clear of her, boy,” Sehlra warned him worriedly. “You don't know for sure how close she has to be. I don't want to have to stun you.”
“I won't try anything,” Raijiin whispered, eyeing Daniel cautiously. “I’m not that stupid.” She closed her eyes again, clenching her teeth and breathing heavily, obviously in considerable pain. Daniel remembered reading somewhere that second degree frostbite was just as painful as burns, and she’d had nothing for pain as yet.
“Maybe,” Sehlra looked dubious. “Start offering some evidence. Like answering questions without needing persuasion.” She lifted the shockrod. “Know what this is?”
Raijiin opened her eyes, and then tried to draw back fearfully at the sight, but her bonds kept her securely in place. She swallowed, her eyes fixed on the shockrod. “Yes,” she admitted shakily. “My Nausican owner used one on me before I was sold to Grigor-Tel. I know what it can do.”
“Good,” Sehlra looked pleased. “Then I won't need to demonstrate it. First question. What are you? Where are you from?”
Daniel decided to let Sehlra have first crack, and he crossed his arms over his chest, still holding the ketamine hypo in one hand, saying nothing. Righteous anger seethed within him, but the alien woman’s helpless state inhibited him. Sehlra didn’t seem to be having that problem.
Raijiin swallowed and glanced at Daniel, then back at the old Andorian. She hesitated and Sehlra casually pressed the activation switch, telescoping the rod out to its full length and all of its coruscating glory. A whimper broke out of Raijiin's throat.
“My world is called Oran'taku,” she cried. Then she stopped, still staring wide-eyed at the shockrod as if its presence rendered her mindless, hyperventilating and wincing in pain as she worked her wrists within her restraints. Sehlra sighed.
“I can see that you are going to force me to be persuasive.” Abruptly, the Andorian swung the shockrod around, but Daniel caught her by the forearm and stepped to one side, facing the small Andorian and turning his back to Raijiin to hide their conversation. “I thought we’d decided to use the drug...” he murmured reprovingly. Sehlra grinned evilly. “Just go with it, lad. Now you get to be the rescuer. Offer it to her. She’ll take it gladly,” she whispered back. Daniel blinked for a moment, and then managed to take her direction. With his back still turned to the prisoner, he came to Raijiin’s defense.
“Put down the shockrod, Sehlra. The woman almost died today. Have a little mercy here!” he said.
“Why?” Sehlra asked, in the most reasonable tone of voice possible. “Did she show you any mercy?”
Daniel had to stop a moment on that one, smiling wryly at Sehlra’s vicious protectiveness from an angle invisible to the prisoner, but he shook his head and continued. “Doesn't give us any excuse to sink to her level, does it? Besides, I don't think she's tough enough to take very much of that. Like I said before, if she's out of commission, she can't answer my questions.”
Sehlra snorted derisively. “Doesn’t look like her brain’s working well enough to answer any questions at all right now,” she complained. “I have never seen such a pathetic excuse for a woman. She wouldn’t survive a day on Andoria.”
Daniel turned and saw Raijiin’s eyes narrow at that despite her pain. Maybe the woman still had some pride left, he thought. If he stroked it a little it might gain him some cooperation. And Sehlra had already given him an opening.
“I think she’s doing her best, Sehlra,” he told the Andorian seriously. The old woman’s sour expression remained, but she stayed silent as he turned to Raijiin. “Maybe it’ll help you think more clearly if we give you something for the pain... something to help you relax...” He held up the hypospray in his hand, looking inquiringly at Raijiin and trying to look as benign as possible. Her eyes met his in cool assessment, and then she looked back at the hypo suspiciously.
“What is it?” she asked.
“Exactly what I said. It’ll make this easier for all of us,” he told her with complete honesty.
She nodded, obviously understanding what remained unspoken, and closed her eyes with a heavy sigh. “Go ahead. I’ve got no need for secrets anymore anyway, now that Enterprise is coming for me. The Vulcans can’t protect me out here.”
Her statement left Daniel wondering what secrets she was referring to as he handed the hypo to Sehlra and she administered the drug. Whatever they were, he’d soon find out.
Every survival instinct he had left protested loudly as he disengaged his engines and allowed the Nausican cruiser’s tractor beam to pull his tiny ship inside the snug cargo bay, but Grigor-Tel was left with no choice in the matter. Kraktilini had insisted that the best defense was a good offense, and was bringing him aboard to track the Vulcan who was pursuing him. As he was being pulled in, he transmitted the coordinates of her probable location, as best as he had been able to calculate with the limited equipment he had aboard his little ship.
The idea that the Vulcan bitch had somehow gotten inside his head made him sick to his stomach, but when he’d admitted to his new ally that he could tell she was approaching the Nausican system-and from which direction-the hideous creature had been pleased. He’d said something about a hunt being the most rewarding of all pastimes. Grigor-Tel could appreciate that sentiment, of course, but not when he was the designated prey.
The cargo bay had barely begun to repressurize when his ship’s sensors detected the ship which had just swallowed him going to warp. An incoming transmission activated his vid screen, and Kraktilini’s ugly face suddenly appeared in front of him. The alien was chewing. Grigor-Tel shuddered to speculate about what he was chewing, but he’d at least be in a better mood after a meal.
“Ah! Grigor-Tel! Welcome aboard,” exclaimed Kraktilini ironically with his mouth full. He gestured with what appeared to be one limb of a small animal in his fingers, complete with fur and claws. He was in a much more expansive mood now that his funds - Grigor-Tel’s funds no longer - had been confirmed and transferred. It was hard to tell, but he seemed to have the Nausican equivalent of a smile on his face. The Orion smiled back wanly.
“I’m grateful for the hospitality, my friend,” he said with a valiant attempt at sincerity. Disregarding all the rules of polite social intercourse, he pressed on. “Have your scouts recently reported any ships where I said the Vulcan would be?”
Kraktilini swallowed, stuffed the last bit of his dinner into his mouth, crunching noisily, and reached forward to transfer a file. “I’d do this in person, but I don’t think we have time. You’ll need to launch again in less than an hour if this is the ship you mean. It’s not Vulcan...far from it... but it’s the only ship approaching the coordinates you specified. Do you know it?”
Grigor-Tel opened his mouth to demand an explanation for being so rudely rushed - after all, he’d only just come aboard, and he hadn’t eaten anything but dehydrated concentrates in nearly a week. After what he’d been paid, the least the Nausican could do was to provide a beverage and a hot meal. Then the Nausican scout’s recording began playing back on his viewscreen.
The ship was familiar, of course. He’d seen it attacked and captured by one of the D’Kyr cruisers during the Vulcans’ assault on the station. Had the Vulcans commandeered it? If that were the case, it wasn’t good news. Andorian freighters were notoriously tough. He studied the ship closely for several seconds. It was an old model. Who had they found to pilot the thing? The Vulcans would surely have killed Jenrali and his hag of an engineer. Even if the Human boy was still alive, Grigor-Tel doubted that he could handle the ship. The pilot was probably a Vulcan with no previous experience flying Andorian spacecraft. That could be to his advantage. With a ship that size, maneuverability had a great deal to do with the skill of its pilot.
“I know it well. It’s the Lerteiran, and probably being flown by an inexperienced Vulcan crew,” he reported to Kraktilini confidently. “If you’ll give me a chance to get aboard your vessel we can discuss strategy. I believe even an Andorian freighter should be relatively easy to overcome with a ship such as yours.” The Nausican cruiser wasn’t any bigger than the Andorian vessel, but it positively bristled with armaments of all shapes and sizes.
The Nausican reappeared on the screen, still showing his gut churning, pointy teeth-baring almost-smile. “I agree that we will be victorious, Grigor-Tel... but I have no need of a strategy session. We will arrive at our ambush location in three quarters of a standard hour. Make ready to launch your vessel when we arrive.”
“Launch?” repeated Grigor-Tel in a bewildered voice. The Nausicans were supposed to protect him. Why would they force him to leave the relative safety of their vessel after bringing him even closer to his pursuer?
“Of course,” replied the Nausican in a patient voice, the sort one reserves for explaining the actions of adults to a child. “We’re not just leaving you there. We’ll be hiding within the asteroid belt at the outskirts of the system, waiting for the Vulcans,” he told the Orion.
“And what will I be doing?” asked Grigor-Tel. He suspected that he knew the answer to his question already, but asked it anyway, hoping that perhaps he might be wrong. He wasn’t.
“Doing?” replied Kraktilini with anticipatory relish. “Why, my friend... you’re the bait.”
Security Chief Lieutenant Malcolm Reed sat at the table in the briefing room and studied the faces around him unobtrusively, trying to decide what his next move should be. It was quite obvious that Starfleet had the captain’s hands tied regarding the situation with Raijiin. It was equally obvious that someone had to see that justice was done. The orders he’d received from Section 31 the previous evening had therefore come as no surprise.
In the months since his revelation to the captain about his dual allegiance, both he and Jonathan Archer had followed a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy regarding his contacts with Section 31. Reed had made it clear to the Section that his allegiance was to Enterprise first and foremost, and to Harris’ credit, this assignment was the first mission of any significance since. Unfortunately, Reed knew that if he were to be apprehended by the Vulcans in the pursuit of his current assignment, it would mean the end not only of his own public Starfleet career, but probably also that of his commanding officer, not to mention any other Starfleet officers foolish enough to involve themselves. He was, however, fresh out of potential helpers who weren’t Starfleet officers, and accomplishing the task alone would be a virtually impossible feat.
So... he mused, Who can I ask for help? The captain was out, of course. So was Commander T’Pol, by virtue of both her race and her status as second in command. He’d come to trust her, but not enough to expect her to violate both her oath as a Starfleet officer and the wishes of the government of her home world. That Commander Tucker was completely trustworthy was a given. He was even more likely to bend the rules in the cause of justice than Malcolm was himself, but Reed wondered whether the brash southerner wasn’t too emotionally close to the problem. Reed wanted Raijiin in custody because of the potential for future danger and because he’d been ordered to bring her in. He was a realist. To him, revenge was neither a useful pastime nor a reasonable excuse to risk his career. Trip, on the other hand...
Commander Tucker breezed into the room with a cup of coffee in hand and a smile on his face, closely followed by their serene appearing First Officer. The engineer put his coffee cup down on the table, turned, and pulled out a chair for the Vulcan. She sat, blithely ignoring the courtesy, but not complaining about it either. It was obvious that Tucker had done this many times before; it had the smoothness of habit about it. No one in the room paid the two of them the slightest notice, but it had been obvious to Malcolm for some time that they were a couple.
It wasn’t overt. A stranger would probably not even notice unless said stranger happened to be looking at one of them when they made eye contact with each other, but it was those non-verbal exchanges that forced Reed to eliminate Trip Tucker from his pool of potential co-conspirators. He was certain that should Trip Tucker ever encounter Raijiin with a weapon in his hands and no witnesses, the alien woman who had assaulted T’Pol would no longer be of use to anyone-except possibly as fertilizer-and Section 31 wanted Raijiin alive.
Then Lieutenant Sato entered the room. Reed allowed himself the brief luxury of admiring her lithe figure before his cognitive functions kicked in. She’d been assaulted by Raijiin herself, and would probably be just as likely as Trip to blow the woman away given the right set of circumstances, but...
Reed suddenly realized that he wouldn’t need anyone to come in direct contact with the alien before taking the woman into custody, provided he could use Hoshi’s skills to recruit a little further afield.
Captain Archer entered the room, looking as if he were determined to make the best of a bad situation. He took his seat at the head of the table, and the room hushed expectantly.
“I’ve called this briefing to update all of you,” he told them matter-of-factly. “We’ve had a change in our mission parameters.”
Malcolm’s brow wrinkled in puzzlement. He hadn’t heard of any changes.
“I’ve just been notified that the Vulcan cruiser Sehlat has left the vicinity of the captured Orion Station to pursue a ship full of fugitives. Raijiin is aboard the escaped ship. So is the Boomer Daniel Johansen. Since our orders were to rendezvous with the Sehlat to discuss the fates of Mr. Johansen and Raijiin, I have decided to pursue. As of 0700 ship’s time today, with the permission of the Orion Syndicate’s Council of Five and the cooperation of the Vulcan High Council, the Enterprise entered Syndicate space on a pursuit course through the Horn Nebula, following the Sehlat toward the Nausican system. Our Vulcan escorts will proceed to the station to begin offering medical services and to assist with the evacuation of station inhabitants.”
Malcolm’s grin got wider. The captain’s going Raijiin hunting! he thought with delight. It was about time the man grew a spine. He’d noticed,though, that the captain hadn’t mentioned getting an authorization from Starfleet Command. Malcolm wasn’t surprised. Starfleet Command wasn’t going to like this plan unless someone high up the command chain was willing to risk open conflict with the Vulcans, and that wasn’t likely. Not bloody likely at all.
The Human actually told the truth, marveled Raijiin muzzily. Her frostbitten hands, ears, and nose hardly hurt at all. The drug was a pain reliever. It was also quite obviously something else as well, judging from the way she was feeling now. Here she was, probably scarred for life, strapped down in five point restraints waiting to be interrogated by a shockrod-happy Andorian, with an entire ship full of Humans coming for her to hand her over to Archer, and she felt positively wonderful.
“Is it working yet, do you think?” The Human’s question registered distantly. She opened her eyes and smiled benignly at him. The Andorian woman peeked around the Human and regarded her sourly.
“Seems like it to me,” she told him. “She looks like she wants to bear your children.”
The Human snorted at that, and then studied Raijiin’s face more closely. She was having trouble focusing. First there were two of him, and then one. She split the difference and smiled gratefully at a point somewhere in between. “Than’ you for the pain med’cine,” she managed, only slurring a little bit. “I feel mush better now.”
“I think we gave her too much,” the Human complained.
Raijiin felt another sting in the side of her neck as she heard the hiss of a hypospray. Her vision cleared somewhat, and she instantly felt more alert.
“There,” said the Andorian. “That’s all the stim I can give her for a while, but it should help.”
Raijiin blinked and tried to concentrate. The pain was still gone, and she felt no fear or anxiety at all. That alone should have awakened her self-protective instincts. In her current situation, calmness was definitely an abnormal state of affairs, but she couldn’t even rouse enough interest in her surroundings to wonder why she was so serene. She knew where she was and what was happening in a distant “watching from the outside” sort of way, but it didn’t seem real to her.
“Raijiin, can you hear me? It’s Daniel, the guy you attacked yesterday,” said the Human. His face was grim and angry. She felt guilt over her actions, but only remotely. Like her fear, it had little power to affect her now. She still felt compelled to say something.
“Yes. I’m sorry I had to do that. I didn’t know you weren’t after me...” Her voice trailed off, and her eyes began to close. She was so warm and sleepy.
“Wake up!” shouted the Andorian. Raijiin’s eyes snapped open at the sound of the shockrod being activated. It snapped and crackled like a living thing.
“I mean what I say, girl, and I won’t hold still for any games,” threatened the old woman. Raijiin looked to Daniel for help, but he stood there impassively with his arms crossed over his chest.
“You’ll stay alert now, and answer Daniel’s questions. Keep talking. Tell us everything you know about the question until we tell you to stop, got it? Or do you want to remember what this thing feels like first hand?” added Sehlra, holding the rod with its pulsating web of electricity a handspan from Raijiin’s face.
The drug prevented the terror, but it didn’t prevent Raijiin from remembering exactly how much her previous owner had enjoyed using his shockrod on her in an inventive variety of ways, and how much agony the relatively innocuous, non-lethal device could inflict. It was a powerful incentive to stay alert.
“I’m sorry,” she said sincerely, if a bit drowsily. “I’m awake.”
“Good,” retorted Daniel brusquely. “Now. Tell me who you are and where you’re from.”
As she began to speak, the words seemed to flow without her volition. She held nothing back. It was impossible to do so anyway. Daniel stopped her when she’d reached the tenth year of her captivity and her fifth owner, who’d enjoyed sharing her with his friends and business associates while he watched.
“Okay... stop there. I think I know enough about who you are,” he told her with a look of vague disgust. “You say you’re a telepath. Tell me more about that.”
“All of my people have telepathic abilities to a greater or lesser extent,” she told him sleepily. “We can affect emotions from a short distance and share thoughts with a touch. My Xindi owners in particular found my information gathering skills more useful than my other talents. They used me to gather information for their war effort.” Raijiin volunteered this information without hesitation, aware of regret and sadness over what she’d been forced to do, but at that moment unable to experience them because of the drug. It didn’t occur to her to be fearful of his reaction, floating as she was in a sea of chemical tranquility.
“Xindi! You work for the Xindi? Is that why you attacked me? Were you working for them when they fried every friend I ever had on Earth?!” pressed the Human furiously. Raijiin could see that he was getting very distressed, even in her drugged state and without the use of any telepathic skill at all. The Andorian woman put a hand on his arm but he shrugged it off, staring daggers at Raijiin. Raijiin instinctively tried to reach him to make telepathic contact, to make him understand, but the drug dulled her abilities. She considered trying to use eye contact to calm him down, but an attempt at pacification from a distance was too risky. The Andorian might kill her.
“Yes... I mean... no, they don’t own me anymore and my bargain with T’Riss has got nothing to do with them, but yes... they did still own me during the war, and they used me for gathering intelligence about Humans and Vulcans.” She could see that her statements were just making him angrier. “But I had nothing to do with the weapon they used to attack Earth!” she protested weakly. “I was property to them. I never worked for them voluntarily. I had no choice.”
Daniel held his fists clenched at his sides as he stared at her. She could sense his surface thoughts-he was practically projecting them-uncontrolled thoughts of violence and revenge. Although the drug prevented it, she was certain that some part of her was afraid to die. As it was, she simply closed her eyes and waited. She’d sensed similar rage from other captors in the past. Each time, after the beating which usually followed, she’d been surprised to wake up again. Maybe this time she wouldn’t. Considering her current situation, perhaps that wasn’t such a bad thing.
“Is that why Starfleet wants you? Because you spied for the Xindi?” asked Daniel coldly. She opened her eyes, remotely surprised despite the drug. The Human had calmed himself. The potential for violence remained, but he’d harnessed it, transforming it into something hard and heartless and useful.
“Partly,” she told him hesitantly, “and partly, I think, because I dared to embarrass the great Jonathan Archer. He’ll want revenge.” Her thought processes remained foggy, but she was certain of it. The tales she’d heard of the Human captain had left no doubt in her mind. Daniel seemed unconcerned.
“And what about this ‘bargain’ with T’Riss? What’s the truth in that?” he persisted. “What have you done to her?”
“I’ve done nothing to her,” Raijiin replied honestly. “She came to me.” At Daniel’s skeptical look, she said, “Until I probed your mind we were both convinced that you were an undercover Starfleet agent sent to capture me. Even her superiors believed it. When we discovered the truth we decided that we’d gone too far to let the matter drop, and we came on board to enlist the help of your crew mates in locating and eliminating Grigor-Tel.” She closed her eyes again despite the shockrod, and yawned. All the talking was just so tiring....
The Human jumped on her admission, “So you had no intention of bringing him back alive?” he challenged.
Raijiin blinked back at him placidly. “Killing him wasn’t in my original plan,” she told him through her veil of chemically induced calm, “but T’Riss insisted.”
The Human and the Andorian exchanged startled glances at that.
”Daniel, lad... you’d best get up here,” came Jenrali’s voice over the comm from the bridge. The Human shot her an angry look, as if to say he wasn’t quite finished with her yet, and then stepped to the comm to answer. Raijiin relaxed finally, watching him through half-closed lids.
“What is it, Jenrali? We’re kinda busy with Raijiin right now,” he growled.
”She isn’t going anywhere, boy,” responded Jenrali reprovingly. “We’re entering Nausican space, and the Vulcan says Grigor-Tel’s turned ‘round and is headed back toward us. I need you at the weapons console. Right now!”
The Human exhaled heavily. “I’m on my way.” He turned to the Andorian, who still held the activated shockrod in one hand. She smiled wryly and made a shooing motion with her free hand.
“Go on, Daniel... and don’t worry, boy,” put in the fierce old Andorian woman, “I’ll keep an eye on the bitch. Don’t you concern yourself about that.” Her eyes gleamed as she brandished the shockrod.
Daniel shook his head, and then looked back at Raijiin with an unreadable expression. He was across the room now, and his thoughts were inaccessible. Raijiin could only hope she’d made him understand.
As she was finally allowed to go to sleep under the watchful eye of her eager Andorian guard, Raijiin pondered the Human’s unexpected restraint. Judging from the way the Andorian kept glaring at her, the Human seemed the most reasonable of her captors, and certainly the least bloodthirsty. Perhaps Archer wasn’t typical of the species.
Grigor-Tel felt cold sweat trickle down the center of his back. He watched the sensor readings that marked the position of Lerteiran with the all horrified fascination of a Nausican snorlu watching the approach of a Terran bobcat. For once, Grigor-Tel cursed his obsession with beast fighting entertainments. He had seen far too many kill scenes, and he could envision any of them at will. There were so many different ways for a living creature to die.
The comm screen lit up and Kraktilini's visage filled the space. Ordinarily hideous, right then he looked like the loveliest being in the galaxy to Grigor-Tel. “Hold your position in orbit around the fifth planet,” the Nausican ordered. “Pretend that you have not detected them. Make no response until they move into attack position. When I give the signal, dive for the planet's surface and skim low through the atmosphere until you reach the far side. Break out of orbit and head directly for the eleventh planet at full impulse. Two of my fighters will be waiting to escort you. Understood?”
“Understood,” Grigor-Tel told him, surreptitiously wiping his palm off on his pudgy thigh. “Don't wait too long. Those Vulcans have fast reflexes, and I’m not as young as I once was.”
The Nausican roared with laughter. “What is your problem, Grigor-Tel? Surely you do not wish to die in bed? What more could any warrior ask than a fair death in open combat like this?” But he covered his teeth and more soberly added, “I remember our bargain. We will keep you alive. Just do what I say and you will leave this system to cheat again. Stand by for my signal.” The screen went blank.
Captain Archer looked oddly at the padd, then glanced up at Malcolm and tilted his head. “Any particular reason for this, Lieutenant? Communications isn't usually your bailiwick.”
Reed held himself at attention and replied, “Merely a security precaution, sir. I considered the possibility that we might need to contact Mr. Johanson confidentially, without the Vulcans eavesdropping. With the data that Lieutenant Sato was able to obtain from analyzing the wreckage of the Kumari, it seems likely that these protocols would permit us to access the Andorian comm linkages without the Vulcans being aware of it.”
Archer absently tapped the corner of the padd against the surface of his desk, looking blankly into the distance. “You aren’t planning anything that would endanger the health or safety of any member of my crew, are you Malcolm?”
“Perish the thought, sir!” Lieutenant Reed responded in a scandalized voice.
“You’re not going to start a war, or endanger our alliance with Vulcan?”
“Most definitely not, sir.” Malcolm looked wounded. “I would never consider doing anything of the sort.”
“You won't force us to shoot any innocent bystanders?”
“Not if I can possibly help it, sir.”
“In that case,” Archer pressed a few buttons, and scribbled something across the padd with his stylus. “I have no desire to know anything whatsoever concerning what you are doing or why. I am blissfully satisfied with my ignorance of this subject, and I sincerely hope to keep it intact until my final breath. Is that understood, Lieutenant?”
“Absolutely, sir. You can depend on me, sir,” Malcolm said with deep satisfaction as he took the padd and left. Now all he had to do was talk Hoshi into going along with it.
Daniel swung himself up off the ladder and headed for the sensors/weapons/life support/cargo status/everything else console with automatic gracefulness. Since the new reactor offered them power to waste, Sehlra had cranked up the grav plating from their usual 0.4 all the way up to Andorian standard, 0.91 Earth normal. Daniel found it oddly refreshing for a change to let his instinctive reflexes take the lead. It also meant that he wouldn't have to spend so many hours on the exercise equipment just to keep from dying of heart failure or breaking something major at their next planetary port of call. Now, if he could just persuade her to raise the temperature a bit. Instead of late spring in the Andorian temperate zone, maybe high noon in midsummer at the equator? Insulated underwear was all well and good, but...
“What's your reading, Lad?” Jenrali asked.
Daniel realized that while his conscious mind had been entertaining dreams of short sleeved t-shirts and cotton boxers, his eyes and hands were doing their jobs without direct supervision. “We have one clear hit, a small scout sized ship in geosynchronous orbit around the fifth planet. But I’m also picking up some anomalies in the asteroid belt that look suspicious to me.”
“Everything looks suspicious to you, Lad,” Jenrali said tolerantly. “You Humans evolved as ambush hunters, so naturally you see traps everywhere.” Despite his words, the old man's hands worked the controls to drop them out of warp well short of the system. “Slowing to one half impulse,” Jenrali told them. “Lass,” he turned his head. “Getting anything that might help us?”
“He is there,” her voice shook, and so did her hands. “He is there.” T'Riss kept her eyes fixed on the screen in front of her, watching the nav display like she expected something to leap out of it. She seemed only vaguely aware of the others in the room.
“Well, that helps,” Daniel remarked. “At least we know we have the right system. Now what, Boss?”
Jenrali stood up and came over to look at the sensor display. “Show me those anomalous readings.”
Daniel pulled up the data. “See? Here, and here. These energy spikes don't quite match the background radiation. Almost, but not quite. And here, this looks almost like a reflection from an asteroid, but it doesn't quite match up with the profile of the rest of the belt.”
“It could be a derelict,” Jenrali muttered.
“Why would Grigor-Tel run his ass off all the way out here, then suddenly stop?” Daniel asked. “Why spend all this time and energy trying to get away, then all of a sudden he takes up an open position and just sits there, waiting for us? I know you think I’m paranoid, Jenrali, but come on.”
Jenrali's antenna writhed as he concentrated. He walked back to the pilot's seat and keyed the intercom. “Engineering, condition blue. Enemy in visual range. Possible additional hostiles concealed. Stand by for battle maneuvering.”
The answer came back crisp and sharp. “Affirm, Bridge. Condition orange. All systems optimum. Phase cannon ready. Torpedo tube is clear.”
“Should I go down and un-ship the torpedoes?” Daniel asked nervously. Jenrali considered for a moment, then nodded.
“Better do it, Lad. Hopefully we won't need them. But we had better have them, just in case.”
Daniel jumped out of his seat and dove for the ladder, swinging himself around and down in a single motion. His boots echoed on the rungs all the way up and down the shaft and he hurried past the engine room on his way to the airlock.
T'Lar turned her head. “Acknowledged. Put him on the main screen.” The vid cleared to reveal a cramped, dimly lit bridge that faintly reminded T'Lar of a Klingon ship. It had the same air of brutal efficiency, of function over form. The central chair was occupied by a Human that almost any Vulcan would recognize - his face had been broadcast over every news outlet on the planet for an extended period of time following the discovery of the Kir’shara.
“Commander T'Lar.” The man raised his hand and offered the ta'al. “Peace and long life to you.”
T'Lar inclined her head and returned the gesture. “Live long and prosper, Captain Archer. I am honored to greet one of the discoverers of the Kir’shara.”
Archer's mouth twisted in a peculiar Human expression. T'Lar idly wondered what it signified. “I can hardly claim credit for following instructions, Commander. I went where Surak's katra directed me, and I did what he told me to do. My first officer, Commander T'Pol,” the Human turned and gestured over his shoulder, “and Chief Minister T'Pau deserve more credit than I do.” He added somberly, “As well as Syrann and the rest of his followers, particularly those who gave their lives in the search.”
T'Lar opened her mouth but nothing came out. This was emphatically not what she had been expecting. Not from any Human, and most especially not from this Human. Not after what Raijiin had reported concerning Archer's activities in the Expanse. A re-evaluation was in order, but first things first.
“We have received instructions that you are to join us in pursuit of Lerteiran, she said cautiously.
“Yes,” Archer confirmed. “We have been cleared by the Council of Five, and by Chief Minister T'Pau herself on her personal authority.” T'Lar ironically considered that even in the reformed government, it harmed nothing to have friends in high places. “Our scans indicate that you are proceeding at warp 4.3. Is this correct?”
“Affirmative,” T'Lar told him grudgingly. “The nebula constrains our navigational sensors, and the high level of debris makes greater speed inadvisable.”
Archer nodded. “In which case, we anticipate that we will overtake you in,” he paused to look off screen. “What is our revised ETA, Commander?”
Eight seconds later a slim Vulcan woman stepped down to stand beside the command chair. “I calculate that we will overtake the Sehlat in approximately 2 hours and 11 minutes, barring unanticipated difficulties.”
Commander T'Lar,” Archer said, “this is my first officer, Commander T'Pol. I suggest that she is the logical person to handle most of our routine contacts in order to avoid miscommunication or misunderstandings.”
A wave of faint relief loosened T'Lar's neck muscles. “Indeed.” She offered the salute. “I look forward to working with you, Commander.”
“And I with you, Commander,” T'Pol replied, returning the gesture. “If I can be of service, do not hesitate to contact me at any time.”
“Until your arrival then,” T'Lar said. “ Sehlat out.”
The commander allowed her breath to trail out of her nose in a long exhalation and slumped back against her command chair. “Assessment? Subcommander Verlen? Agent Senek?”
Verlen spoke first, as dictated by protocol. Of course. “They seem considerably calmer than Raijiin’s story would lead one to believe. Of course, I am not familiar with Human emotional exhibitions. But I saw no overt signs of vengeful rage.”
“Nor would you,” Senek remarked with faint amusement. “They are not Klingons, after all. Humans are quite capable of controlling their emotional displays for extended periods if they perceive a benefit in doing so.”
“Indeed.” T’Lar considered. “What is your evaluation then?”
Senek answered carefully. “Captain Archer is the most experienced deep space commander that the Humans have. He has conducted more First Contact missions than any other member of their species, living or dead. He also grew up watching his father associate with Vulcans. In addition, he has been living and working in close proximity with a Vulcan second in command for the past four years. Finally, he is said to have carried the very essence of Surak himself for a time.” He hesitated and rubbed his chin. Finally he looked directly at T’Lar.
“Evaluating this man is going to be quite challenging, Commander. He is as well acquainted with our people as any Human in the galaxy. He knows that we are watching him closely. Conversely, he is observing us with equal intensity.” He stopped and held up both empty hands - signifying a loss for words.
T’Lar accepted this without reaction. “What about Commander T’Pol? Have we been able to obtain access to her High Command records?”
“Not as of yet, Commander,” Verlen told her apologetically. “The records were sealed when she resigned her commission to join the Humans in the Expanse. The previous administration, for reasons of its own, chose to classify all information related to Commander T’Pol as Top Secret. We have sent the request and are still awaiting a response.”
“I believe I may know at least some of the reasons for that classification,” Senek sighed. T’Lar looked at him and raised an eyebrow.
“You are familiar with her past record?” T’Lar asked him.
“Partially and intermittently,” Senek admitted. “Prior to joining the diplomatic service, T’Pol worked for the Security Directorate.” He hesitated briefly, and looked pained. “I helped train her.”
T’Lar straightened in her seat. “I see.” She said softly. “Am I correct in deducing that this was the primary reason for her posting on Enterprise?”
“Not necessarily,” Senek said. “Although I am certain that it was considered a fortunate coincidence, T’Pol left the Security Directorate several years prior to the launch of Captain Archer’s ship.” Noting her direct look, he added bluntly, “There was no dishonor involved. Her departure was voluntary. T’Pol came to the logical conclusion that her talents could more effectively be applied in the field of diplomacy. Ambassador Soval agreed, and offered her a position on his personal staff. That is all.”
T’Lar lifted her chin. “Of course.” No more would be said. By his choice of phrasing, Senek had just informed them all that whatever had happened was a matter of T’Pol’s personal privacy. Any further inquiry would be an unforgivable breach of propriety.
“Did she recognize you?” T’Lar changed the subject.
“Of course,” Senek assured her. “I will offer one further opinion. I consider it unlikely in the extreme that T’Pol would willingly serve with, much less resign her commission in order to accompany, a captain who made a habit of behaving in the manner described by Raijiin.”
“I really appreciate the help,” Hoshi told T’Pol sincerely. The two of them were crammed like a pair of sardines into a drinking straw sized access tube immediately below the bridge. Hoshi stood at the top of ladder replacing and realigning several of the frequency crystal modules for the main communications subsystem. T’Pol took position lower down, adjusting the voltage levels and double checking the overall system balance before reconnecting the power supply. It wouldn’t do to blow out the entire intra-ship communications grid, as well as corridor lighting and Chef’s main freezer unit. Chef was very territorial about his food storage units.
“I was the only logical candidate,” T’Pol pointed out reasonably. “No one else available was small enough to fit into the required space.”
“True,” Hoshi stifled a giggle. “I can just see Trip trying to wedge himself in here. I wonder what he does when something needs fixed in one of these places? Send in Hess? Rostov would never fit either.”
“The structural design engineers who worked on Enterprise were woefully inexperienced at real world operations,” T’Pol agreed, replacing a cover plate and twisting with difficulty to peel off another one. “That much is painfully obvious.”
“Trip told me he gave them an earful while he was...” Hoshi silently cursed herself, biting her lip. “Way to go, big mouth,” she scolded herself. “You just had to remind her, didn’t you?”
“While he was back at Earth preparing Columbia for launch,” T’Pol finished for her, with no sign of emotion in her voice, her attention focused on the panel in front of her. “Yes, he told me that he submitted an extensive list of recommendations for design improvements. Hopefully Starfleet R&D will evaluate them with the consideration that they deserve.”
“Since they came from Trip,” Hoshi said, grateful that she seemed not to have shot herself in the foot, “they probably will. Admiral Gardner at least, seems pretty sure that Trip can fix a rainy day.”
“Commander Tucker is indisputably the most qualified warp engineer in Starfleet,” T’Pol said. Hoshi turned her face up so she wouldn’t have to suppress the smile. There was pride in that Vulcan woman’s voice. She might deny it under torture, but it was there anyway.
Hoshi casually tossed out, “He’s a remarkable man in many ways.”
A moment of silence followed. Then T’Pol asked her flatly, without looking at her. “Indeed he is. Are you interested in him sexually?”
Hoshi’s eyes popped. “Good lord, no!” Her shoulders started shaking silently. “I’m sorry, T’Pol,” she gasped while fighting to choke back laughter. “But even if I was, which I’m not, everyone on the ship...” She hesitated, and then decided what the heck. “Everyone on the ship knows Trip is taken. He hasn’t so much as glanced at anyone but you since he returned from Columbia.”
T’Pol paused in her work and raised a brow. “I knew that it was likely we were suspected, but I did not realize that it was general knowledge.”
“Oh, T’Pol,” Hoshi sighed. “None of us would ever say one word to anyone off the ship. This is family business.”
T’Pol nodded silently at that, then bit her lip, obviously conflicted over whether she should ask the question that followed. “Did...” she hesitated, and then sighed. “Did Trip tell you?”
“No,” Hoshi shook her head. “As far as I know, Trip hasn’t told anyone.” Then she paused. “Well,” she reflected, “He might have told Malcolm. But certainly he wouldn’t have told anyone else, and I know Malcolm would never betray a secret. That’s not it,” Hoshi assured her. “But it’s so obvious. We’re Human, T’Pol. Maybe Vulcans don’t watch for emotional cues, but we do. And we can certainly read each other. Even if you managed to hide it, which you didn’t, there is no way Trip could. He broadcasts his feelings every time he looks at you.”
“Is this... typical?” T’Pol asked.
“Of Trip? Or of Human men in general?”
T’Pol stopped working again. “I have been spending a considerable amount of time reflecting on our relationship. The Vulcan database does not list any prior Human-Vulcan matings. Dr. Phlox has told me that he personally is aware of several inter-species matings involving Vulcans, and that he has heard reports of at least two that involved Humans. But he cannot provide specifics.”
“Oh, I see.” Hoshi nodded. ‘You’re wondering what to expect.”
“Precisely,” T’Pol replied. She sounded relieved to be understood. “I have observed that Humans often mate transiently. Even your formal marriages often seem to be merely arrangements of convenience... disposable, and of minor importance.”
“Uh... no.” Hoshi paused in her own work and looked down. “Hold on there. If you’re worried that Trip will get tired of you and wander off, I think you’re worried over nothing. Trip Tucker is not that kind of man.”
“How can I know?” T’Pol’s voice held a note that Hoshi had never heard from her before. The younger woman felt an answering twinge and a flash of realization.
“Poor thing. We’ve all been focusing on how alien she is to us. But we’re just as alien to her. And so is Trip. She’s alone on a ship full of aliens, and she’s in love with an alien man, and she has no idea what’s going to happen to her. She’s SCARED.”
Hoshi concentrated on keeping her voice as gentle as possible. “The natural state for an adult Human is to live with a mate. That much is instinctive for us. Exactly how we go about doing that is a matter of cultural conditioning.”
“And your culture encourages transient mating,” T’Pol said.
“Not necessarily,” Hoshi said. “Human culture is not monolithic. Not even now. The dominant pseudo-culture, the one that most Vulcans come into contact with, is a polyglot mishmash of all the Human cultures that were left on Earth at the time of First Contact. Trying to put the pieces back together after the war forced us to make do with what we had.” She had T’Pol’s full attention now. The Vulcan was looking up at her with a rapt expression, no longer making any pretense of working, focused on the mystery of the Human race as it applied to her personal circumstances.
“Learning that there were other people out here drove us to hurry up and cobble together some kind of arrangement so that we could present a united racial front,” Hoshi continued. “But the original, older, cultures are still there in the background. It’s only been a hundred years you know. Even by Human standards, that’s not a real long time.”
“I don’t completely understand what you’re trying to say,” T’Pol admitted in a puzzled tone.
“What I’m getting at,” Hoshi went on, “is that eventually, in another century or two, this stew pot will simmer itself down into something uniform, and we really will start to develop a generic Human culture. But for now, every Human needs to be evaluated on the basis of their own particular subculture, as well as the planetary pseudo-culture. For example, I come from Japan. A large part of my world view has been shaped by that, including my attitudes about marriage. Trip comes from Southeastern North America. His religious roots are Christian, particularly the Southern Baptist variety, a group which greatly values marital fidelity and family solidarity. That fact defines a lot about who he is. Each geographic area on Earth has its own history, and this affects the local culture a lot.”
They both started working again in silence for a while. Finally T’Pol said, “Thank you Lieutenant. I believe that this information will prove beneficial.”
Hoshi smiled. She replied in Vulcan, “I am here to serve, Commander. If I can ever be of assistance, do not hesitate to call upon me.”
Another fifteen minutes or so was enough to complete the modifications. As Hoshi was closing the access panel T’Pol remarked, “I will be interested in learning whether these upgrades do in fact allow us to eavesdrop on the Andorian internal communications.”
“You and me both,” Hoshi agreed, mentally crossing her fingers. So far, T’Pol had shown no indication of suspecting the real reason for the modifications. Keeping her busy with girl talk had turned out to be a good idea after all, even if the subject matter turned out to be a bit heavier than Hoshi had planned.
Now she had to let Malcolm know that everything was ready. They still had to figure out a way to target the engine room aboard Lerteiran. It wouldn’t do to just broadcast their offer over the general comm throughout the whole ship. The last thing they wanted was to warn Raijiin and that T’Riss woman up front. The engineer seemed their best bet based on the information Malcolm had obtained.
As they headed back to the turbolift, Hoshi idly wondered how Malcolm had managed to get hold of the Andorian woman’s military record.
Daniel double checked his suit for the third time while the airlock cycled. Everything on the checklist was green. Orange, rather. He tsk’ed at himself. When would he get used to using Andorian conventions? The indicator light changed to show that pressure was nil. He keyed in his personal code and twisted the manual latch. The outer door slid open. The fifth planet in the Nausican system hung far “below” him. He lifted his head and squinted. Grigor-Tel’s ship was only a few hundred thousand kilometers away, in orbit around the planet. He should be able to find it if he upped the resolution on his faceplate. He raised one hand to do so....
There it was, just where the sensors said it would be. Somehow, seeing the tiny silhouette with his own eyes made it less threatening. It was too bad that the small ship wasn’t the only one they had to worry about. Daniel maneuvered himself out the doorway and around on the hand holds with the ease of someone who had been working in free fall off and on since birth. The safety tether floated behind him at the edge of the airlock like an umbilical cord floating in amniotic fluid. Turning casually so that he was facing head down, like an insect crawling down a wall, Daniel made his way around the underbelly of Lerteiran and headed for the torpedo racks. This shouldn’t take long. It had better not. His back hair was bristling like a hedgehog. They were flying straight into a trap, he could smell it.
“Torpedo one loaded and ready,” Daniel’s voice was flat and metallic over the external comm. “Torpedo two is inserted into the launcher and armed.”
“Good enough, Lad,” Jenrali told him. “Get back in here. It’s time to finish this.” Daniel gave an uncouth grunt for acknowledgment and clicked off. The old man shook his head. That boy would surely benefit from five years discipline in the Guard. If they didn’t kill him before he got out. He chuckled.
He saw T’Riss giving him a strange look. “Something wrong, Lass?”
“I was not aware that a ship of this class carried torpedoes,” she said uncertainly.
Jenrali grinned. “Ordinarily, we wouldn’t. But it helps to have friends in the right places.”
“Military contraband is subject to immediate seizure,” she said primly. “I presume it was not Vulcan contraband, or our technicians would have removed them. But sooner or later you will surely be apprehended.”
Jenrali snorted. “Typical Vulcan reasoning. Make an unwarranted assumption, then proceed as if your assumption were proven fact. Those torpedoes aren’t contraband. We bought them legally.”
“That statement is inherently illogical,” T’Riss said, looking irritated. “I am inexperienced, but not totally ignorant. Andorian law does not permit sale of military hardware to civilian craft.”
“True enough, child,” Jenrali lectured her. “You are inexperienced. You also lack imagination. You have a brain. Use it. Think. If we bought them legally, and they are not Vulcan, and they are not Andorian, where did we get them?” He grinned and turned back to his console. From the corner of his eye he could see T’Riss wrinkle her forehead.
After a short interval she said, “Humans?” Her voice held disbelief. “They would not be so foolish as to sell military hardware to...”
“To Andorians? Why not? We’re not their enemies.” She looked horrified. “Relax. They didn’t sell them to us. They sold them to Daniel. Obsolete models.”
Jenrali mused that he had never seen a Vulcan look stunned before. “It’s simple enough. When the Humans developed antimatter warheads, they were left with a surplus stockpile of conventional torpedoes. Instead of destroying them, they decided to give them away to their merchant fleet for self-defense against pirates,” Jenrali said approvingly. “Makes perfect sense to me. Starfleet set up distribution points at Earth and at each of their colonies. Any Boomer ship that qualified was free to collect as many torpedoes as they could put to practical use. Naturally, we didn’t qualify,” he added, “but Daniel has a lot of friends and acquaintances among the Boomers. He got in touch with his old ship, and they put us in contact with some people who were willing to part with a couple for the right price.”
“And what will happen if Starfleet discovers this?” T’Riss wondered.
“Nothing,” Jenrali said. “Those torpedoes were private property. Besides, what does Starfleet care? We’re never going to use them against a Human ship. Anyway, Daniel is a Boomer. They were distributed in the first place for Boomers to use. No problem.”
The sound of thumping boots echoing up the ladder behind him interrupted their talk. Daniel emerged from the hatch looking sweaty and excited. He was breathing hard.
“Sit down, Lad,” Jenrali ordered. “Put that Human adrenaline to use and tell me what’s happening now.”
“Still sitting there,” Daniel reported. “He’s a decoy. He has to be. He might as well be waving a flag and yelling ‘Yoo hoo, over here. Come and get me’. What kind of fools do they think we are?”
Jenrali shook his head. “Not everyone is as suspicious as Humans. Are you confident that Grigor-Tel knows that you’re here, T’Riss?” He turned to the Vulcan. Jenrali was starting to worry about the girl’s stability. She seemed ready to claw through the bulkhead to get to their quarry.
T’Riss nodded jerkily. “He must. I am certain of it. As we grew closer I felt him become more nervous. When we arrived I felt his fear. Since we arrived he has been growing increasingly tense. Daniel is correct. He is waiting for something to happen.”
“Well then,” Jenrali settled back in satisfaction. “Let’s join him in waiting. I have sat beside a drill hole all day and all night, waiting for my one chance at a spear strike on a vrilin. I can certainly out wait a greenskin.”
Sehlra’s disgruntled voice came through the comm. “You mean we rushed through all of that, only to end up sitting here while fatso takes a nap?” She did not sound anywhere near pleased.
“Better than strolling right into the jaws of the waiting beast,” Daniel muttered.
“Boy, you’re still jumpy from what happened, responded Sehlra. ”It’s perfectly understandable, but-”
“I am NOT still jumpy!” Daniel smacked his thigh in exasperation. His outburst drew a reproving look from Jenrali, and he settled back down immediately. “I’m sorry, Sehlra. I apologize. That was uncalled for, and I ask pardon. But I really do wish that you would start taking my hunches seriously. Wasn’t I correct about something being wrong on the station?”
“A fair point, Sehlra,” Jenrali felt impelled to offer, strictly in the interest of fairness. “As soon as he saw that Vulcan agent, the lad started warning us that something was wrong. You have to admit that.”
“That was most likely indigestion. There was no way that you could have known.”
“Just because we don’t understand it, doesn’t mean it’s not there, Sehlra,” Jenrali reminded her. “You’ve seen Daniel be right about things like this before, same as I have. Not always of course, but more often than chance would allow for. I don’t know how he does it, but I don’t know how a juggler keeps from dropping everything either. As long as it works, I don’t care.”
T’Riss looked oddly at Daniel. “Have you been tested for latent telepathic abilities, Mr. Johansen?”
Daniel snorted. “No. Why should I? Humans aren’t telepathic.”
“Not generally, no,” she said. “But my training included the information that a small minority of Humans possess rudimentary telepathic potential. Perhaps you are a member of that minority. Without training, you might be using that ability in a crude manner, without actually understanding what you are doing.”
Jenrali’s eyes narrowed. “Not likely,” Daniel snapped, making a slicing motion with his hand as if to cut off the discussion. He turned back to the console abruptly and announced, “That anomalous reflection is back. It’s shifted position, too. It’s 5 light minutes closer to Grigor-Tel.”
“Interesting,” Jenrali murmured in satisfaction. “Sehlra isn’t the only one getting impatient.”
“What are those cud chewing Vulcans waiting for!” Kraktilini roared in frustration. He pounded his fists on the console. “Grigor-Tel is sitting right there! In plain view! Can it be that they have not detected him yet?”
Corolo shot him a glance out of the corner of his eye, avoiding the appearance of a direct stare. “They have certainly detected him, Fight Leader. Their scans passed directly across him. Then their scan beams swept back over him again and again. They know he is there.”
Kraktilini glowered at the screen. “I hate Vulcans. I have always hated Vulcans.”
Privately, Corolo mused that Kraktilini hated everyone. But he forebore to say anything that might make his commander's mood worse. Instead he offered, “I have something that might make the waiting a little more pleasant, Fight Leader. A new snack animal that was recently picked up by one of our raiders.”
Kraktilini snorted in disgust. Then he sat back and growled, “I might as well. We are all likely to starve to death waiting for those cowardly leaf munchers to make up their minds to do something.”
Corolo walked over to the sealed storage bin and popped the cover. He scooped out what looked somewhat like the hairball a morn might spit up. There were no visible legs, eyes, or any other features on the creature. But the animal was obviously alive, since it was making a purring warble sound and trying to caress Corolo's hand as he carried it over.
Kraktilini eyed at it dubiously. “It looks like a hairy turd.”
“True,” Corolo admitted, “but they taste good. No bones either, so you can scarf them down in two bites. Try one, Fight Leader. Everyone likes them.”
Kraktilini's nostrils flared and he drew in the animals scent. The tiny beast, somehow sensing the danger, began to shiver and its purr became a shrill whine. A faint whiff of fear entered its scent, which was enough to overcome Kraktilini's hesitation. He grabbed the fur ball and bit it in half. The creature gave a final tiny scream and fell silent.
“It is good,” he told his second in command. “What are they called?”
Corolo said, “The Rigellian called them tribbles. He offered to provide information on the location of their home world in return for his life.” Both Nausicans grinned knowingly. “They breed like crazy. We have to keep them in a sealed vault or they would overrun the ship. But they sure are cheap to feed.”
“Commander,” Verlen looked up from his readout. “We have sensor contact with Lerteiran . They have assumed a stationary position at the edge of a system 7.62 light years ahead.”
“Notify Enterprise,” she ordered the Communications officer. “Summon Agent Senek to the bridge.” Turning back to Verlen, T’Lar asked, “Subcommander, can you obtain any details via long range scan?”
“Indeterminate, Commander,” Verlen told her, with his eyes glued to the readouts. “However, it does appear possible that another ship may be present. At least one more ship at minimum.”
“Green alert,” T’Lar ordered. A soft chime sounded, accompanied by a discreet flashing light on every console and adjacent to every doorway. All over the ship, crew members halted all non-critical activities immediately and proceeded to their battle stations with maximum efficiency.
The Communications officer reported, “Incoming hail from Enterprise, Commander.”
“On screen,” T’Lar replied. Instantly, the face of Commander T’Pol formed on the main viewer.
“Commander T’Lar,” T’Pol said briskly. “I am instructed to request access to your sensor data, as your sensors are more sophisticated than ours.”
“Agreed.” T’Lar turned her head. “Subcommander?”
Verlen said, “Transferring now.” T’Pol acknowledged and confirmed the connection. Verlen spoke again. “You will note, Commander T’Pol, the presence of readings that might indicated the presence of another ship. However there are no matches with anything in our database.” He asked, not hopefully, “Have you encountered similar readings before?”
T’Pol’s eyes narrowed. She turned around and said something rapidly to someone behind her. Then she faced them again. Faintly, at the limits of the microphone’s sensitivity, T’Lar heard someone calling for a ‘tactical alert’. “Yes, I have seen similar readings before. I believe they are Klingon.”
“Perfection,” Senek offered dryly, stepping out of the lift just in time to catch the end of the conversation. “The situation has reached the pinnacle of complication.”
T’Pol hoisted a brow. “I perceive that you have retained your tendency for exaggeration, Agent Senek. There are potentially a large number of additional factors that could increase the complexity of this situation.”
“Only in degree, not in kind,” Senek gently chided her. “The interference of a third party in this situation was the one problem that we had not been forced to deal with. Yet. Are you quite certain that the readings are those of a Klingon craft?”
“Probability is 79.4% plus,” T’Pol said calmly. Senek grimaced.
“From you, that means certainty.” He glanced at T’Lar before continuing. “Is Enterprise currently prepared for battle with Klingons?”
“Certainly,” T’Pol answered primly. “Is Sehlat?”
“Of course,” T’Lar answered, obviously disgruntled. “Please put your captain on. He and I need to confer on tactics.” T’Pol worked a control and her face disappeared, to be replaced by Archer.
“Well, Commander,” The man said, lounging in his chair with typical Human looseness. “It appears that our truant youngsters have leaped from the frying pan straight into the fire.” T’Lar suppressed a wince at the casual brutality of the metaphor. “How do you want to handle this?”
“Enterprise should hold position here until Sehlat has stabilized the situation,” T’Lar instructed.
Archer propped his chin on one hand. “If what you mean is that Sehlat should move swiftly to retrieve the occupants of the Lertieran before we have a chance to discuss the matter with them I must respectfully disagree.”
T’Lar hung onto her temper. “That was not my meaning.” Although it had been one of her intentions. “Even a small Klingon ship routinely carries heavy armaments. Sehlat is much better prepared to deal with any attack. It is only logical that we should enter the area first.”
Archer looked unimpressed. “We’ve defeated Klingon opponents before, more than once,” he told her, provoking a small twitch of surprise from both T’Lar and Verlen. “But if your conscience demands it, I will agree to have Sehlat take point position.”
T'Lar said tightly, “If you insist. Maintain sufficient distance to allow for evasive maneuvering. Operating under the assumption that the Klingon ship contains Grigor-Tel, or is hostile for other reasons, I propose that we engage it while Enterprise moves to protect Lerteiran.”
“Agreed,” Archer replied. “We’re ready whenever you are, Commander.”
“Then let us proceed,” T'Lar stated. “Helm, ahead warp four. Subcommander Verlen, confirm status of all weapon and defensive systems.”
“Right behind you, Commander,” Captain Archer bared his teeth. T'Lar noticed in passing that Humans were indeed equipped with fangs. Short ones, to be sure, but distinctive and indisputable.
Sehlra paced and grumbled. “Superstitious foolishness.” She stopped to press a series of buttons, watching the readouts change intently. Satisfied for the moment, she resumed her patrol around the engine room. “Telepathy. Bah. About as useful as a pissicle against a migration of ice worms.” She sighed. Then she tightened her lips stubbornly and shook her head. “Even if the boy is a latent telepath, it's not his fault. It's not like he deliberately tried to be one. It's not right to blame him. Besides, it's probably nothing but another Vulcan lie.” She snorted and went back to the main panel, scanning for anything at all that might be out of place.
The comm light blinked. Sehlra grunted and punched the button with her thumb impatiently. “What now?” she snapped.
A flat machine voice recited, in perfect Andorian, “This is a message for the attention of Lieutenant Sehlra Rivlanhe Pelsef U'len, I.D. T34D92. Please confirm.”
Sehlra froze in place, with her hand poised above the comm switch. She had not heard that I.D. Code since she left the Guard, more years ago than she wanted to count. “Confirmed,” she said, in a voice that was not as steady she would have wished.
“Lieutenant U'len, the people of Earth request the aid of Andoria in the capture of the fugitive criminal, Raijiin. The Andorian High Command has provided your I.D. information in order to confirm their approval of your assistance to us in this matter. Raijiin stands indicted on Earth of the following crimes – espionage in time of war, attempted assassination of Starfleet personnel, conspiracy to commit assassination, telepathic attack on Starfleet personnel, willful destruction of Starfleet property, and conspiracy to collect information for the purpose of constructing a bioweapon to be used toward the extermination of the Human species. We request your assistance in transporting Raijiin to Enterprise so that she can be extradited to Earth for trial. Please reply yes if you agree to assist us, no if you do not agree to assist us.” .
“Yes!” Sehlra grinned broadly. She started chuckling. That would teach the slut to attack her boy. Did the Great Mother not promise that justice would fall upon those who dared to touch the ones beloved of her followers? More proof of her holy truth.
Sehlra was really going to enjoy the look on that pampered face when the transporter whine started up.
Jenrali concentrated on the feel of his chair. The back was well worn from many years of use, and it cradled his spine like the warm arms of a lover. The arm rests supported his elbows in cushioned comfort while he propped his chin on his interlaced fingers. Without opening his eyes, Captain Jenrali spoke.
Daniel obediently started reading off, “Grigor-Tel is maintaining orbit as before, no change. That echo ghost is drifting closer. Now 4.1 light minutes away from Grigor-Tel's position. The anomalous energy readings are still there. I have run every check I can... uh-oh.”
Jenrali winced. “Lad. I am getting very, very tired of hearing you make that noise. What is it this time?”
“New energy readings. Scanning to localize the source now.” Jenrali turned around to watch Daniel as he ran through the scanning protocols. He noticed T'Riss was barely keeping track of what happened around her. Being this close to the Orion seemed to have stunned her, or something. She was sitting with her fists clenched and her head down, breathing hard.
“Oh, holy crap,” Daniel muttered. “Two ships, dead astern, closing at warp four. Big ones, both of them. Scanning for identification codes now.”
Jenrali stood up quickly and strode over to Daniel's station. “The Vulcans?”
“Dunno yet,” Daniel said, “But most lik-” He stopped and made an adjustment. “Confirm. One of them is the Sehlat. But the other one... Ah.” He sat back and looked up at Jenrali with a rueful grimace. “Enterprise. They finally got here.”
“Sehlra!” Jenrali bellowed down the access ladder, not bothering with the comm. “Condition Blue! Battle stations! We are going in Right Now!”
T'Riss looked up with haunted eyes. “That is not logical. Sehlat, or even Enterprise would be better equipped to deal with Grigor-Tel. Especially if there is a trap in place.”
Jenrali growled. “Maybe so, but I didn't come all this way to lose out on those fifty bars of latinum. Daniel, polarize the hull and ready weapons. Is that overcharge circuit on the phase cannon operating properly?”
“Everything orange, Captain,” Daniel replied sharply. “Re-routing power directly from the impulse drive. The secondary reinforcement circuits are holding. So far.”
“Good.” Jenrali held in his misgivings. Daniel swore that his old shipmates were honorable people, and they in turn swore that they had used the same configuration in battle against Nausicans and blown the raiders out of space.
It worked when they tested it. Sehlra had actually squealed with delight when she saw the difference it made in the power output of the homemade phase cannon. The destruction was half again what Lerteiran's original disruptor could put out. But the only real way to test any weapon was against a live enemy. And if nothing else, they knew that the torpedoes were battle worthy.
The comm crackled suddenly. “Lerteiran. This is Commander T'Lar aboard the Sehlat. Stand down and prepare to dock.”
Jenrali hit the comm switch. “Ready, Engineering?”
“Setting course for Grigor-Tel's ship,” Jenrali announced. “All hands brace for battle maneuvering. Our objective is rapid destruction. Weapons control, fire at will.” He hit the controls and Lerteiran leaped forward, slamming everyone back in their seats.
Jenrali sent his ship veering through one of the standard Andorian attack patterns that had been drilled into him so thoroughly many years ago. Meanwhile, behind him he heard a young Human voice gasping, “I don't know but what I preferred the old engines. At least then I could breathe.” Jenrali let a smile break over his face. With the acceleration overcoming the inertial dampers, it was easy enough. A surge of exhilaration burned through him. She hadn't responded to the helm like this since he bought her.
T'Riss snapped upright. “It IS a trap!” she shouted. “He was waiting for this!”
“Good,” Jenrali approved. “Then he won't be expecting the two battle cruisers that are right on our tail, will he?” He called over his shoulder, “Daniel, could that greenskin have detected them yet?”
Daniel croaked feebly, hanging onto his console with both hands, “I don't think so. I barely picked them up, and we were outside of the heliopause. He was inside the system, with all that solar and background radiation to flood sensors, so I doubt it.”
“Then he is about to get a surprise,” Jenrali said in satisfaction.
“So are we,” Daniel said unhappily. “You know that echo? It just started moving toward us at full impulse. And it sprouted three siblings.”
“Captain,” T'Pol announced. “ Lerteiran has just powered weapons and entered the system.”
Archer rubbed his temples. Smiling politely at the Vulcan captain for so long had given him a headache. “Now why does that not astonish me?” he wearily asked the universe at large. “Travis, take us to warp five. Malcolm, remember this is the Syndicate, so get ready for anything.”
“Captain,” Hoshi said, “Incoming from Commander T'Lar.”
“I thought we agreed that Sehlat would take point, Captain Archer,” T'Lar said icily.
“Then take it, by all means Commander,” Archer snapped back. “In case you overlooked it somehow, that trader is about to engage a Klingon ship in open combat. Not a fair fight in my opinion. I would like to get there while some pieces still remain to scoop up.”
T'Lar opened her mouth briefly, then closed it firmly and cut the transmission. Archer sighed and told Mayweather, “Travis, when we get there try to stay between Lerteiran and anyone that happens to be shooting at them... if possible, of course. If there's more than one, then...” He shrugged. “Do the best you can.” Archer turned to his Armory officer. “Malcolm, disable if you can. But our primary responsibility is to protect Daniel Johansen, who is a citizen of Earth. Our secondary responsibility is to apprehend Raijiin. Those two objectives come first. Do whatever needs to be done to accomplish them.”
“Understood, sir,” Lieutenant Reed answered. He turned back to his controls with a gleam in his eye.
“Nau-si-cans.” Daniel hacked out the word in a spitting snarl. “One Gurut class raider and three small fighters, all closing on us at full impulse.”
“Hold your fire, Lad,” Jenrali told him calmly. “Wait until you can smell them.”
“I can smell them from here,” Daniel muttered. But he kept his fingers off the firing buttons. “Grigor-Tel is diving into atmosphere.”
“Idiot,” Jenrali's antennae straightened. “We will pace him from the high ground up here. If he stays down, we will crush him from above. If he comes back up, we will be waiting. Either way, he is our meat.”
T'Riss had her fingers digging into the arm rests of her seat hard enough to rip holes in the fabric covers. She leaned forward, pressing her face into the navigational display, silently trembling.
“Sehlat is closing fast, warp five and accelerating,” Daniel reported. “Enterprise is right behind her.”
“Good, they can have the Nausicans when they get here,” Jenrali said, banking Lerteiran into a steep curve that became a looping dive. He swung the ship around and finished the maneuver with the bow pointed directly at Grigor-Tel's ship. Daniel jumped on the phase cannon and sent a spear of sunblasting energy ripping its way through the dim clouds of the Venus-like planet below. Grigor-Tel made a last second attempt to dodge, with only partial success.
“Scraped him, but no serious damage,” Daniel reported in disgust. Jenrali brought the nose up and spun into a barrel roll, evading the incoming Nausican raider and pulling away from the dragging wisps of the upper atmosphere. Daniel routed the sensor feed to the main viewscreen for a real time overview of the battle zone.
“Forget the Orion for now, Lad,” Jenrali ordered. “We have bigger prey to hunt.”
Daniel's eyes narrowed and his hands danced over the fire control targeting system, seeking the Nausican ship's profile. He saw something and his hand flashed to stab a control. “Incoming missile! Dropping flak decoys.”
Jenrali acknowledged and made a quick twist directly toward the Nausican, spiraling around in a barrel roll and coming up beneath the enemy ship. Both the Nausican missile and Daniel's answering shot missed widely.
“Here comes one of the fighters,” Daniel warned, “bearing 014X by 239Y by 66Z.”
“Just keep shooting anything that gets in range, Lad,” Jenrali advised. “I’ll keep trying to find you some targets.”
“Works for me,” Daniel said with a grim smile. “I’ll never turn down a chance to shoot at a Nausican.” Jenrali risked a swift look over his shoulder. Daniel was holding it together well enough, he decided. Angry, but not about to lose control. The lad had grown up a lot in just the last couple of years, the old man realized with a flash of paternal pride.
T'Riss raised her head and look uncertainly across the bridge at Daniel. She glanced questioningly at Jenrali, than back at Daniel. The Andorian ignored her. Daniel's personal history was none of her business, unless he felt like telling her himself. Besides, they were both busy.
The deck slammed upward, jarring everyone's backside up into their spine. For a few seconds the helm lost power, but before Jenrali could yell for Sehlra she had it back on. He instantly changed course and hit the thrusters for flank speed ahead. A second missile just barely missed, detonating within meters of the hull and sending a second, weaker, shockwave through the ship.
“All right, you son of a dog,” Daniel said with quiet murder in his voice, “that tears it.” He shifted his attention to the torpedo targeting system and started scanning for the raider's engine output. “Get me as close as you can, Captain. I have a present to deliver.”
“By all means, Lad,” Jenrali grinned and spun Lerteiran in a curve that caused groaning complaints from structural supports all over the ship. A blue light started to flash on his console and a machine coded voice recited Warning! Hull stress fracture imminent!
“May I point out,” T'Riss said, “that it will provide no benefit for us to destroy ourselves before the Nausicans have the chance to do so.”
“Shut up and sit back, girl,” Jenrali snapped. “I know what my ship can handle, and I was flying before you were a gleam in your grandmother's eye. Now be quiet.” He keyed in a rapid series of commands and hit the manual override. Deceleration threw everyone forward against their safety harness, then sideways as Lerteiran twisted her way through a skew flip maneuver – finishing up by flying backwards with her bow pointed straight down the Nausican raider's throat.
Daniel jumped on the firing button. A pulsating vibration signaled the launch of the first torpedo, which displayed as a blinking dot on the viewscreen moving from Lerteiran toward the Nausican. “Kiss my hairy Human ass!” Daniel snarled with savage satisfaction as the two lights merged into one. “Direct hit!”
“Now for that fighter,” Jenrali said.
“Hold off a second,” Daniel told him. “I think we have company.” He manipulated the sensor feed once more and the viewscreen rippled. The overview disappeared, to be replaced by a visual composite of the star field – a computer reproduction of what they would see if they looked out the window. If Lerteiran had a window on the bridge, which it didn't—and if they could see the other ships across 3,000,000 kilometers, which they couldn't.
The raider was venting atmosphere and bodies from a serious wound in its flank. Jenrali heard a quiet, “Yes!” of satisfaction behind him. Its fighter/bodyguard had its own problem to deal with. Another ship had arrived. Size was impossible to judge accurately, but compared to the Nausicans the new arrival looked huge. The main saucer section was easily twice as wide as the entire raider ship, and three times as big as the fighter.
The raider turned and headed for the Human cruiser while the fighter spun and came at Lerteiran . Jenrali stared in disbelief. “They can't be serious.”
“They are,” Daniel said grimly. “Nausicans are dumb as a bucket of rocks.”
Ignoring the damaged raider for the moment, Enterprise moved toward Lerteiran with impressive speed. A quick spear of light flashed from beneath the forward edge of the saucer and the Nausican fighter literally fell apart, burned in half.
“Waah-hoo!” Daniel shook a triumphant fist in the air. “Now that's how it's done.”
T'Riss was staring, aghast, at Daniel. Jenrali told her. “Humans and Nausicans don't like each other. Never have. Not since First Contact. And Boomers care for Nausicans even less.” He got busy on the controls. The viewscreen shifted to one side as they got underway. “While Enterprise keeps the big one occupied, we will get back to business. Where did Grigor-Tel wander off to, Daniel?”
Daniel worked his board industriously. “No sign of him. He has to be on the opposite side of the planet.”
“Then around the planet we go,” Jenrali said. “Brace for close orbit at full impulse.”
“Uh... Boss?” Daniel started, “Is that really-” The rest of his words were choked off in his throat when Lerteiran screamed around the gravity well. The two conflicting force vectors, impulse acceleration and the planetary mass distortion field, caused everyone's stomach to spiral inward and then fold itself several times. The inertial dampers didn't stand the chance of a snowflake in a warp reactor.
They came up out of the stratosphere to see Grigor-Tel diving for the shelter of two waiting fighters. Sehlat was pushing hard to intercept. “Get ready on that phase cannon, Lad,” Jenrali warned. He took dead aim for the Klingon scout ship and suddenly snapped on the warp field.
Jenrali's eyes swam and his chest deflated. The star field on the viewscreen disappeared in a haze of chaotic colors. He yanked back as quickly as possible on the control switch, dropping Lerteiran back out of warp. His antennae were throbbing with pain, and the sound of Sehlra screaming curses echoed up the access ladder. “I will pay dearly for that one,” he realized ruefully.
“Next time you do that, Boss,” Daniel hissed faintly, “please shoot me first, okay?”
“Stop complaining and shoot the Orion instead,” Jenrali told him. He was surprised at how weak his own voice sounded. When he reached for the port thruster control he saw, to his amazement, that his hand was shaking slightly. That had never happened before. Was he sick?
No time to waste on that now. He keyed in the course corrections and stabbed the impulse drive actuator. With a humming growl that grew into a hungry roar, Lerteiran leaped after her prey.
Daniel moaned but reached painfully for the fire controls. His hands were shaking too, Jenrali saw, which made him feel a bit better. In any case, Grigor-Tel's ship was growing bigger in the viewscreen with each breath. Suddenly the targeting array appeared on screen, superimposed over the greenskin's ship.
“Range 5,000 kilometers and closing,” Daniel read off. “4,000. 3,000. 2,000 kilometers. Grigor-Tel is moving to evade.”
“I see it, Lad,” Jenrali said. “I’m on him.” The viewscreen showed a brief flare of exhaust as the Orion's ship turned her impulse engines toward Lerteiran, then corkscrewed away and headed off toward the outer system.
“What about the Vulcans?” Jenrali managed to snap out while his fingers danced over the controls, matching Grigor-Tel's course and velocity by conditioned reflex.
Daniel spared a quick look at the sensor readouts. “ Sehlat has engaged both fighters. Looks like they’re jumping around her, trying not to get fried. And... here comes Enterprise,” he said. “Guess that raider is toast.”
“We’re running out of time, Lad,” Jenrali said urgently. “Those fighters won't last long against the two of them. Let's finish this now.” He concentrated on keeping Grigor-Tel's ship as close as possible to the center of the targeting array on the viewscreen. “Fire as soon as you can get any kind of a lock. Even if you can graze him and slow him down, it will help.”
“Aye, Captain,” Suddenly Daniel's voice changed and Jenrali relaxed. When the edge met the ice, the boy always came through. Human or not, those Boomers raised their children properly. Daniel leaned forward intently. The targeting overlay shifted slightly back and forth, changing color from blue, to yellow, back to blue, then red, and finally to blinking pale orange. It held on blinking orange for a count of three and suddenly steadied and darkened. Daniel fired.
Ship lights and the sound of air circulation faded for a few seconds. Through the deck plates Jenrali could feel, and more to the point his antennae could clearly tlasp, the piercing whine of the phase cannon as it milked power straight from its mother reactor. On the screen, a replicated version of the beam (which would have blinded all of them if it had actually been shown) leapt away from the ship and impaled Grigor-Tel's nacelle mount. A flash temporarily overloaded the sensors. When the screen cleared again it was plain that the Orion would not be going anywhere at warp—not in his current ship. The ring shaped Vulcan nacelle, obviously a cobbled on modification to the original Klingon design, was offset and twisted, with one side of it smashed against the hull and a clear break visible. Plasma was pouring out of the break in waves.
Jenrali closed in for the kill. As Grigor-Tel's craft continued to grow on the screen, Daniel shifted the targeting overlay again - aiming this time for the cockpit. Suddenly thrusters fired and the scout ship spun on its axis, turning to face Lerteiran.
“Not good, Daniel,” Jenrali warned. T'Riss jerked upright and gasped. She tried to form words, but the stress of finding the Orion along with the shock of the battle had almost driven her into unconsciousness. The only sound she could force out was an inarticulate cry of warning while she pointed at the screen. Jenrali told her, “Don't worry, Lass. We see it.”
Twin weapon ports started glowing at the front of the Klingon craft. Daniel exhaled one long breath and moved the targeting array over a final time. The light once more became a blinking pale orange.
“No time for a better lock,” Jenrali ordered. “Do it.” Daniel hit the firing button, and twin flashes exploded at the front of Grigor-Tel's ship simultaneously.
T'Lar sat composed and crisply requested, “Open a channel once more.” She waited for the nod and spoke, “Nausican craft. You are clearly outmatched. There is no logic in continuing this struggle. If you agree to break off your attack and depart this system, you will not be harmed.” She waited.
An almost undetectable vibration sent ripples across the surface of her cup of tea, which sat in the arm of her command chair. Subcommander Verlen offered dryly, “It appears that they do not concur with your logic, Commander.”
“Incoming message from Enterprise, Commander,” the Communications officer reported.
“Onscreen,” T'Lar acknowledged. Archer appeared to be fully at ease. She could detect no superficial evidence of damage on the bridge around him. “Captain,” T'Lar greeted him. “I trust that you and your crew are safe?”
“Everything is fine here,” he replied, looking satisfied. “Both of the Nausicans we engaged refused to surrender and we were forced to destroy them. But that, unfortunately, is typical of Nausicans. Do you require assistance?”
T'Lar winced. “No,” she assured him hurriedly. “We have the situation well in hand. I still have hope of persuading the remaining fighters to abandon the battle, since they so obviously have no chance of winning.”
“That won't stop them,” Archer told her. “Either offer them a way out without looking like cowards, or they’ll die fighting even if they know they’re going to lose.”
“Do you have any suggestions?” T'Lar inquired grimly.
“I'm afraid not,” Archer told her with irritating cheerfulness. “However, since you’ve declined our offer of help, I guess the best thing for us to do is proceed as we agreed beforehand, and go help out Lerteiran. Good luck with your negotiations, Commander.” The screen went blank. T'Lar's nostrils widened and she glared at the viewer, shamelessly entertaining visions of feeding a certain Human captain to a pack of starving Le'Matya's, one limb at a time.
Daniel finished prying the cover off the front of his station and shot a quick dose from the fire extinguisher into the depths of the console. The smoldering fumes stopped. Jenrali hit the comm and got nothing. The viewscreen was dark, as was the nav display and Jenrali's control board. All sensor feeds were dead.
Daniel stepped over to the ladder and yelled down, “Sehlra! Status? Are you hurt?”
“No! But someone is going to be hurting real bad when I get my hands on them! I JUST GOT THESE ENGINES FIXED!”
“We have to finish him now, Lad, if we want to live long enough to see another ale.” Jenrali looked worried. “If we don't get those bars, Sehlra will take it out of our bone marrow.”
Daniel moved to his board and started pressing buttons and moving levers. “Active sensors – dead. Phase cannon targeting – dead. Passive sensors – dead. Torpedo control – dea... wait a second.” He adjusted a series of controls. “Maybe. Just maybe...,” he muttered. Then he jumped up and grabbed the emergency toolkit from its place against the bulkhead. He slid under the console and started ripping out charred modules, pitching them carelessly across the floor. “Here it is. And... is it... Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition! It's intact.” He slid out and gleefully showed Jenrali a small rectangular module.
“Backup controller for the active sensors. The power relays for the sensors are fried, but the torpedo circuits are still getting power. If this controller unit fits, we might be able to fire one more shot.”
Jenrali smiled. “And the torpedo has its own guidance system.”
Daniel watched as Jenrali stepped over to T'Riss and touched her cheek. “Lass.” She made no response. The Vulcan woman was semi-comatose. Her eyes were glazed, her facial muscles were slack, and she seemed indifferent to her surroundings. Jenrali shook his head and turned back as Daniel got to work.
It didn't take long to bring back a dim, grainy image to the viewscreen. Lerteiran was drifting slightly, and Grigor-Tel's ship was no longer directly ahead. Daniel said tightly, “Instead of firing at full power, I have the option of spring launching from the loading rack itself. Then I can use the torpedo's thrusters to maneuver it into position before I kick in the main booster. It won't hit anywhere near as hard that way, but it looks like the only chance I have to actually nail him.”
“Do it,” Jenrali ordered. Daniel nodded tightly and pressed the launch button. The camera angle changed wildly as the torpedo dropped away from the ship. Since the weapon was not perfectly center balanced, it started to wobble slightly, eventually bringing the front end around and pointing it in the general direction of the scout ship.
Jenrali hissed. The entire left rear of Grigor-Tel's ship was missing. The ring nacelle had been completely severed and drifted freely, slowly moving away from the area. A few remaining strands of vapor seemed to be all that remained of his warp plasma. Frozen lumps of coolant still adorned the remnants of what had once comprised the impulse drive – now a glowing radioactive lump of molten slag. No lights were showing.
“Is he still alive in that thing?” Daniel asked in a hushed voice.
“Yes.” It was a hollow rasp. Both men turned to look at T'Riss. She had not moved anything but her lips. “He lives. Still.” She fell silent again, staring vacantly at nothing in particular.
“All right then.” Daniel squared his shoulders. “Here we go.” He gingerly put his hands on the controls as if they were hot and started nudging them with micro-touches. The viewscreen shifted in tiny jerks, incrementally pulling itself around to bring Grigor-Tel's ship into the center of the target array. A final touch on the controls by Daniel's outspread fingers stabilized the torpedo and left it fixed in position. “Now. We move.” He tapped the main booster. The targeting array lit up and started blinking green. Daniel made a tiny course correction and the blinking stopped. A bright green dot appeared, superimposed over the center of Grigor-Tel's cockpit. The image started growing larger with agonizing slowness.
“I'll never get used to Human color codes,” Jenrali muttered. Daniel coughed a laugh and sat back. There was nothing else for him to do now but wait. Either it was going to work or it wasn't.
Grigor-Tel's ship grew larger on the screen. Finally only the front half showed, and even that much was almost covered by the bright green targeting dot. Suddenly T'Riss stiffened. “He sees it.” She was trembling. “He sees it. It is coming. He sees it.” She chanted as if drugged. “He sees it. It is coming and he sees it. It is death. He sees it coming for him. It is coming for him. He sees it...”
“Hush, girl,” Jenrali said firmly. T'Riss clamped her mouth shut. She sat rigid, staring at the screen. The two men looked at each other, then back at the Vulcan woman. The targeting dot filled the screen, and then the screen went black.
T'Riss screamed. She spasmed and straightened in her seat hard enough to break the backrest completely off. Both of the chains holding her wrists snapped like strings as her hands grabbed at her temples. Jenrali and Daniel jumped together to grab her. One of her flailing arms caught Jenrali in the belly and sent him staggering backwards. Daniel lunged across the broken back of the chair and caught her in a bear hug from behind. She twisted and fought her way free, smashing her head into his face and knocking several of his teeth loose in the process.
T'Riss fell to the floor with her back arched, foaming at the mouth and,jerking spasmodically. Jenrali staggered to the ladder and shouted down, somewhat breathlessly. “Sehlra, bring a trank. The Vulcan is out of control.”
Seconds later Sehlra came pounding up the ladder with a hypo in her teeth. She pulled the cap and watched for her chance, diving in with speed and precision to plant the injection against the side of T'Riss's neck in one smooth stab. Soon the convulsions settled down into occasional quivers. Daniel knelt by her side. “I think she’s breathing all right,” he reported with relief.
“From her reaction, I take it the job's done,” Sehlra said with grim satisfaction.
“Yes,” Jenrali confirmed. He gestured at Daniel. “The lad did well. Good shooting, Daniel.”
“Thanks,” Daniel replied. He sat back on his heels, suddenly exhausted. “How's the prisoner?” It hit him that he had not thought of Raijiin since they spotted Grigor-Tel.
“Right where you left her, boy,” Sehlra reported, looking smug. “Smiling and snoring.” She laughed unkindly. “She won't be smiling when the Human ship gets here, though. They sent me a coded message before this all started,” she told them.
“What?” Jenrali looked upset. “What kind of message? Why didn't they send it openly?”
“Think about it,” Sehlra glanced significantly at the unconscious Vulcan on the deckplates. Enlightenment suddenly broke over both of the male faces.
“What did they say?” Daniel wanted to know.
Sehlra reported with relish. “They knew my Guard I.D. The High Command gave it to them because they want us to cooperate with the Humans.”
“And give them Raijiin,” Daniel said in realization.
“That's it,” Sehlra nodded. She recited the list of charges that she had been sent.
“A bioweapon!” Daniel jumped up. “She helped them gather data for a bioweapon?” he demanded in disbelief. Selhra nodded in confirmation. The news was the last straw in the face of the hatred he’d felt battling the Nausicans. Intellectually, he knew that the ones he’d just killed weren’t the same individuals who’d killed his family, but his gut said otherwise. He stood fighting impotent anger for several seconds, shaking his head. “We can always give Enterprise her body and say she resisted,” he suggested, only partly joking, fighting his horror with a poor attempt at humor.
“Daniel,” Jenrali told him soberly, taking his suggestion completely seriously. “You have every right to revenge, but she is not ours to kill. She belongs to all of your people. The Humans on Enterprise lost friends and family to the Xindi too, didn't they? In fact, they were the ones who went into the Expanse. And there were others on Earth who knew grief from that cowardly attack. She belongs to all of your people, not just you.” Daniel considered telling Jenrali that he hadn’t been serious, and then realized that perhaps he had been.
“He's right, Daniel. You know he is.” Sehlra patted his shoulder. “Come now. Back to work. You have sensors to repair, I have engines to repair, Jenrali has a nav comp to repair. We all have work to do. I will go get a blanket and a cushion for our client here, and then let’s get busy.”
Daniel smiled wryly at his crewmates—his family—and nodded. Then he made his way wearily back to his ruined console to take stock of the damage. Sehlra returned with a pillow and a blanket, tucked T’Riss in cozily where she lay sleeping on the deckplates, still restrained by her ankle cuffs about the base of the nav chair, and then turned to head back to the engine room to make her own damage assessment. Jenrali retrieved a padd and started on a list of necessary repairs by priority.
They’d barely had time to get started before the transporter whine sounded.
Daniel slid out from under his console and found Jenrali facing two Humans and a Vulcan. Both Humans were wearing Starfleet uniforms and, oddly enough, the Vulcan was wearing what appeared to be Starfleet rank pips on civilian clothing.
“About time you people got here,” Jenrali griped. “We could certainly use some help.”
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