"The Lerteiran Chronicles"
“Captain Jenrali Dor Liuk Sefroth?”
The Vulcan woman who stood facing Jenrali had materialized on the bridge of the Lerteiran flanked by two uniformed Human Starfleet officers. She was in civilian clothes with Starfleet pips on one shoulder, but she looked like she was the one in charge, or at least she spoke up without any objection by the Humans. Suddenly it clicked for Daniel and he knew who she must be.
“Yes. And who are you, Vulcan?” Jenrali didn’t sound like he was in any mood to be accommodating to anyone, much less a Vulcan.
“I'm guessing this would be Commander T'Pol,” Daniel said, standing up and offering the ta'al. “Daniel Johansen, ma'am. This is Captain Sefroth. Sehlra, our Engineer, is trying to patch our power plant back together. Raijiin is in sickbay, drugged and strapped down. Help yourself,” he added with a bitter smile. “Please.”
Broad smiles broke over the faces of the two Humans at his final words. The Vulcan told Daniel, “You are correct. I am Commander T'Pol. This is our Chief of Security Lieutenant Reed, and our Communications Chief Lieutenant Sato.” She indicated first the serious faced dark-haired man and then the lovely oriental woman who stood on either side of her. He smiled at them and nodded, acknowledging the introduction.
“You said Raijiin is in sickbay?” Lieutenant Reed asked, without even bothering to conceal his eagerness. “Where might that be?”
“I'll show you,” Daniel said, turning toward the ladder.
“Hold a second, Lad,” Jenrali told him. Daniel pulled up short and waited obediently. Jenrali addressed the three Starfleet officers. “I have no problem with giving her to you. The Great Mother knows, after what she and this Vulcan girl did to Daniel we almost killed them both ourselves, but we went to a lot of trouble and expense to track down Grigor-Tel because this girl,” he pointed at T'Riss, “promised us a reward of fifty bars of latinum for killing him. Well, we did our job. But now she’s out cold and who knows how long it might be until she can confirm the deal? Where does that leave us?”
“Right as rain, I would say,” Reed retorted. “The Vulcans have openly acknowledged to us that they offered a reward for Grigor-Tel, dead or alive. We saw you kill him ourselves, and we have the records to prove it if you need them. So you should have no worries on that score.” Jenrali and Daniel both relaxed.
“In addition,” T'Pol mentioned, kneeling beside T'Riss and checking her vital signs, “Earthgov has offered a standing reward of five bars of latinum for information leading to the arrest of Raijiin. You have indisputably earned that reward as well.”
“Whoa,” Daniel looked at Jenrali with a grin. “Maybe we should switch to bounty hunting.”
“Not likely, Lad. I just want to get my ship repaired and get back to trading.” The old man looked tired. “I’ve had enough excitement for a while.”
“How is she?” Daniel asked T'Pol, who was taking scans of T'Riss.
“I believe that she has entered into a Vulcan healing trance,” T'Pol answered. “It would be advisable for her to receive medical attention without undue delay. We should transfer her to Enterprise for immediate treatment. She can then be moved to the Sehlat once her condition stabilizes. Can you give me any information about what caused her condition?”
Jenrali and Daniel looked at each other and shrugged. Jenrali said, “When Daniel blew up Grigor-Tel's ship, she screamed, went crazy, and started having some sort of seizure. Sehlra gave her a tranquilizer and she passed out. That's all we know.”
T'Pol's brows drew together and she pulled out her communicator. “T'Pol to Phlox, medical emergency.” She started conferring with someone and the two Humans walked over to talk to Daniel and Jenrali.
The attractive young communications chief asked, “Mr. Johansen, something was said earlier about Raijiin doing something to you. Did she touch you or molest you in any way?”
Daniel's face tightened, and he hesitated. The woman put a sympathetic hand on his arm. “Yeah,” he replied curtly.
“They both did,” Jenrali growled. “Ice-burned reloqvori melders.”
“Excuse me,” T'Pol stepped up. “Did I understand you to say that both Raijiin and T'Riss assaulted Mr. Johansen telepathically?” Reed had turned and was looking speculatively at T'Riss.
Daniel hesitated, then sighed. “What happened was, T'Riss came to my cabin and brought Raijiin so she could probe me.” He paused, swallowing. The memory still made him sick to his stomach. The Vulcan commander nodded encouragingly. Her expression was unusually sympathetic for a Vulcan. “Then after Raijiin was done, T'Riss nerve pinched me and shot me full of some dope to make me... compliant,” he spat. “Then they brought me over here to talk Jenrali and Sehlra into helping them kill Grigor-Tel.”
T'Pol turned away for a moment. Her voice sounded slightly forced when she said, “Lieutenant Reed, you will take both Subcenturion T'Riss and Raijiin into custody. Inform Doctor Phlox that T'Riss is to be kept under secure watch. I will notify Captain Archer that T'Riss should be held as an accomplice to telepathic assault, as well as assault and battery and kidnapping. Transfer the prisoners as soon as Enterprise docks.” She turned to the ruined bridge console and raised a brow thoughtfully. “Lieutenant Sato,” she added, “inform Commander Tucker that we’ll need an engineering team assembled to assist with repairs on the Lertieran. The sooner this ship is operational and we’re out of this system, the less likely we are to attract the attention of the rest of the Nausicans.”
The two Nausican fighters exploded silently but spectacularly a mere half kilometer from the Sehlat’s hull, targeted by precise twin disruptor blasts seconds prior to their projected suicidal impacts with the Vulcan vessel. Commander T’Lar exhaled heavily, with thinly disguised frustration.
“Their refusal to surrender was highly illogical.” Subcommander Verlen pointed out the obvious. “We had no choice.”
She acknowledged his statement with a brief inclination of her head. “Locate and rendezvous with Enterprise,” she told him, putting the incident aside now that it was over. Dwelling on the past served no useful purpose. “We should get the Lerteiran’s engines operational and leave this system immediately.”
Verlen studied the information the sensors had acquired while Sehlat had been occupied with the Nausicans. His eyes widened almost imperceptibly. “Enterprise has docked with Lerteiran,” he said. There was a pause as he studied the readings in more detail. T’Lar gave him an expectant look. “Biosigns indicate that neither Subcenturion T’Riss nor the alien Raijiin are aboard the Lerteiran. It appears that they have been transported to Enterprise,” he finished in a mildly surprised tone.
T’Lar raised a brow. Both of them? What an unexpected development, she thought. Agent Senek, who’d been silently standing on the bridge watching the battle, unable to contribute much as a mere observer and advisor, seemed amused.
“Apparently, the rumors are true,” he commented. “What Jonathan Archer wants, Jonathan Archer gets.”
T’Lar shot him a quelling look, and then pursed her lips thoughtfully. She’d thought that the High Council had made Vulcan’s claim on the alien telepath quite clear to Starfleet, and T’Riss certainly had no business aboard the Human vessel. In other circumstances she might have admired Captain Archer’s initiative in gaining custody of his quarry, but he was gravely mistaken if he thought that she would stand for the abduction of persons under her authority.
“Open a channel to Enterprise,” T’Lar said brusquely to the comm officer. He complied with alacrity, evidently sensing her mood. Jonathan Archer’s head and shoulders appeared, larger than life on the view screen. He was baring his teeth again. T’Lar was unfamiliar with Human mannerisms, but it seemed to her that the man spent an inordinate amount of time sporting the facial grimace which Humans called a smile. One would think that his muscles would become fatigued eventually.
“I see you’ve finished off the Nausicans, Commander,” he told her affably. “I hope your ship wasn’t damaged in the process.”
T’Lar ignored his inane statement. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Agent Senek step to her side, as if to offer support, but she didn’t ask for any. There were only two possible explanations for Archer’s actions that she could think of. She opted for the more politically correct of the two, not because she thought it was actually the truth, but because armed conflict with a supposed ally wasn’t on her list of things to do today.
“I see that you’ve brought my crew member and her companion aboard your ship, Captain. I assume that you’re treating them for injuries sustained in the battle,” T’Lar said flatly. “We’re ready now to have them transferred to our sickbay for continued treatment. Please do so at once. Both of them pose a potential danger to your crew. Subcenturion T’Riss is not well, and Raijiin is...” She paused to find suitable words, raising a thoughtful brow, “...difficult to handle at times,” she finished diplomatically.
Archer’s smile appeared strained as he replied. “You’re correct, Commander. Both of them are in Sickbay,” he confirmed, “but they’re stable, and neither of them pose a danger to anyone at the present time. I’ll have our physician contact your healer regarding the treatment of your crew member.” He paused for a moment, and then his smile vanished. “I’ll also be sending a transcript of an interview Commander T’Pol conducted with Daniel Johansen. Mr. Johansen confirms the complicity of your crew member and her companion in an assault upon his person and subsequent kidnapping, actions which are grounds for prosecution under the laws of both Earth and Vulcan... so we’ll be holding both the subcenturion and Raijiin in custody for the time being... until Starfleet and the Vulcan High Council come to an agreement about how this incident should be handled.”
T’Lar blinked. The sheer gall of the man was daunting. “Captain Archer, if the two women you have removed from my custody without authorization were indeed involved in the commission of such a crime while on board my vessel, then they will be tried and punished under Vulcan law. You have no right to hold them if the alleged crime was committed in Vulcan’s jurisdiction,” she asserted.
“Any assault on a citizen of Earth falls under Earth’s jurisdiction, Commander... and the suspects were not in your custody at the time of their arrest. They were taken into custody in neutral territory with the complete cooperation of the captain and crew of Lerteiran,” replied Archer. “They will remain in my custody until I receive orders to the contrary.” His tone brooked no argument, and T’Lar could think of none to offer. The Human’s strategy was impeccable.
“I’ve sent an engineering team to Lerteiran to get her operational, but it might be faster if you send someone as well, since our team is unfamiliar with Andorian warp engines. Do you have an experienced engineer available?” Archer went on innocently, as if the issue were completely resolved. T’Lar cleared her throat.
“I’ll see what I can do, Captain. We’ll discuss this matter further once we’re out of Nausican territory.” She inclined her head politely and gestured to her comm officer, who cut the connection before Archer could reply. Then she sat looking at the viewscreen before her, upon which an aesthetically pleasing view of the cloud-covered world they now orbited was displayed, and fumed silently for several minutes, sitting forward in her command chair with her elbows resting on her knees and her fingers steepled before her lips. Subcommander Verlen, always tactful, said nothing.
How is this possible? she mused. Either the Human has been a step ahead of me the entire time, or the man is the luckiest being in the known universe. Being Vulcan, T’Lar had no faith in fortunate coincidences, and so she was forced to admit the obvious. She’d been outsmarted by a Human. It was a humbling experience.
Agent Senek finally broke the silence.
“If you’ll excuse me, Commander,” he said quietly. She raised her head hopefully, eager for any suggestion which might remedy her situation. Unfortunately, Senek had none to offer. “My superiors will want to be informed of this latest development. I should call in a report,” he told her gravely. T’Lar exhaled heavily and nodded. He left the bridge. She turned to the ship’s comm in the arm of her chair.
“Bridge to Engineering.”
“Assemble a repair team familiar with Andorian technology and report to Shuttle bay One immediately. You are to rendezvous with Enterprise and assist with repairs on the Lerteiran,” she said in a resigned voice.
Soon, every citizen of Vulcan with sufficient security clearance to be granted access to such information would be making his or her own assumptions about her intelligence. Now was one of those times when she regretted her vivid imagination. She could actually hear the sound of her career being flushed down the waste disposal unit.
Jonathan Archer allowed himself a brief smile of triumph before rising from the command chair to join three quarters of Enterprise’s bridge crew in his ready room for a conference. He tried to prepare himself for anything, but knew that in all likelihood he was about to be lied to very convincingly. The prospect actually didn’t disturb him as much as it should have, since the results were proving to be so satisfactory. As a matter of fact, as long as the story he was about to be told was convincing enough for Starfleet Command, he was prepared to accept it at face value.
“Mr. Mayweather, you have the con,” he said, passing through the door in the wake of the helmsman’s broad smile of acknowledgment. Commander T’Pol, Lieutenant Reed, and Lieutenant Sato waited for him, standing in a row beside the table with subdued expressions. Archer still did an inward double take when he heard his Communication Officer’s new rank, the result of a belated but well-earned gesture of appreciation from Starfleet for her extensive work with the still experimental Universal Translator.
He took a seat and started with his second in command. T’Pol’s eyes met his with a level gaze. There was no trace of either remorse or trepidation on her face. Whatever she’d done, she at least seemed to have no regrets.
“When you left the bridge so abruptly after we took care of the Nausicans, I was under the impression that you were planning to contact the commander of the Sehlat privately to discuss plans for the Lerteiran and her passengers,” he told T’Pol with an expectant expression. Then he waited. Her chin came up.
“I discovered certain details of Lieutenant Reed’s plan, and I saw the value of it. I knew that you were under direct orders not to interfere with the High Command’s claim on Raijiin,” she said stoically. “Those orders, in my opinion, no longer applied, as Raijiin was no longer in Vulcan custody, but I could see that you had no plans to take advantage of that fact. I saw an opportunity to gain custody of a dangerous criminal, so I took it.”
Archer contemplated her statement for a moment, nodding thoughtfully. Then he turned to Malcolm Reed. “I should have known you were up to something when you left the bridge practically while the phase cannons were still firing at that last Nausican ship for a ‘damage inspection’... and my Communications Chief followed you out,” he commented wryly. “I have no doubt that all this was your idea, Lieutenant. What do you have to say for yourself?” At this question, the Security Chief’s face became a very convincing picture of affronted innocence.
“My intent was to rescue Daniel Johansen from a dangerous situation, as per your orders, sir. You were occupied with the Nausicans, so I chose to act on my own initiative,” Malcolm claimed. Archer chuckled dryly. Malcolm ignored him and continued matter-of-factly. “I requested Commander T’Pol’s assistance because the last communiqué from the Sehlat indicated that Subcenturion T’Riss had commandeered the Lerteiran. I thought that our boarding party had a better chance of reasoning with an irrational Vulcan if we had a Vulcan in command.”
Archer raised a brow, and nodded begrudgingly. Then his eyes cut to Hoshi, who was gazing at Malcolm with eyes shining in admiration. Where did that come from? Archer thought, puzzled. Had he missed something?
Evidently, Malcolm considered his bewildered glance a request for information. “I also asked for Lieutenant Sato’s help because, in the event that the Andorian captain had managed to regain control of his vessel, I felt it advisable to have someone along who spoke fluent Andorian,” added Malcolm.
Archer exhaled heavily in relief. All very reasonable, he thought to himself, but would Starfleet buy it? They might, he decided, if no one pointed out the fact that the three of them had acted without orders--and with premeditation, if Archer interpreted the repair orders he’d signed for the communications grid correctly.
It could work, he thought optimistically. He turned to Hoshi with a hopeful look. Her face was so open and honest. The brass were sure to believe her. “Is that what happened, Lieutenant?” he asked.
“Oh, yes, sir,” she confirmed with emphatic sincerity. “And then, when we boarded Lerteiran to rescue Mr. Johansen, Captain Sefroth and his crew asked us to take custody of Raijiin and Subcenturion T’Riss for safety reasons. The Sehlat was occupied at the time, and Mr. Johansen was afraid he’d be attacked again... so, you see, we really had no choice but to bring them aboard,” she told him, wide-eyed and almost childishly earnest. Her partners in crime nodded their agreement straight-faced.
Archer smiled. Yes. This was definitely going to work. They had Raijiin. Now all he had to do was to convince both Starfleet Command and the Vulcan High Council to let them keep her.
T’Lar felt her teeth aching and realized that her jaws were clenched dangerously tightly. She closed her eyes and concentrated on relaxation breathing exercises. Eventually sufficient control returned to allow her to open her mouth and take a sip of soothing tea. The taste washed over her tongue and helped settle the turmoil in her mind, if only briefly.
The words on the screen were damning. Commander T’Pol’s report was concise to the point of being terse, but it was dismally complete. Daniel Johansen had formally accused Subcenturion T’Riss of assisting Raijiin in a telepathic attack, as well as deliberately injecting him with a mind altering drug in order to expedite his kidnapping. To make matters worse, the Andorian captain was on record as stating that he and his engineer were considering executing the subcenturion in retaliation for her actions. Which, as the captain of an independent ship, he would have the authority to do under Andorian law if he were willing to accept the inevitable repercussions. At least the Andorian government would not consider him guilty of any crime.
Considering their conditions and circumstance, transferring T’Riss and Raijiin to Enterprise had been the only logical course of action available to T’Pol. Her tentative plan to accuse Captain Archer of abduction was untenable. Not even the old High Command would have been able to argue that taking the two women into custody was unjustified-for their own health and safety if nothing else. Once they were in Human custody, Earth law took precedence under the treaty. The rules were quite clear.
T’Lar sat back in absolute frustration and heard a snap. She felt something prick her palm and looked down to see the end of her broken stylus protruding from the heel of her clenched fist. That settled the matter beyond any doubt. She would be spending an extra half hour in meditation every evening until this situation was dealt with, but for the present, blood loss was a more pressing issue.
She walked into Sickbay holding a napkin against the puncture. Tyvek looked up from his scanner and scowled. He always scowled when someone came in with a minor accidental injury. He regarded them as evidence of inexcusable inattention. Serious injuries might be regarded as unavoidable consequences of circumstances beyond one’s control, but minor cuts, bruises, and pokes were, to Tyvek, merely proof that the patient had not been paying attention. He had little sympathy for such.
“Over here,” he ordered, walking to the first aid cabinet. T’Lar obediently followed and stood quietly while Tyvek disinfected and sealed the wound. He did not bother to inquire how she had come by the minor injury. She was confident that he really didn’t care how she had done it. He was just irritated that she had done it at all.
“Do you have a preliminary report on Subcenturion T’Riss?” T’Lar asked, hoping to divert his attention and avoid a lecture.
“There is very little to report at this time,” Tyvek said. “She is deep in healing trance. Her vital signs are stable. There are no physical reasons for her condition.”
“So she will require the assistance of the healing meld?” T’Lar waited while Tyvek brusquely turned away and disposed of his tools.
“There is nothing I can do for her,” he admitted. Turning around, he added, “and very little that I can do for anyone else on this ship, if they continue to persist in playing with sharp and/or heated objects as if they were children’s toys.”
“Understood, and noted, Healer.” T’Lar turned and made as dignified an exit as possible, trying to maximize speed without actually breaking into a run.
The sound of boots on the access ladder pulled Sehlra out from under the console and had her watching warily when yet another strange Human descended into her domain. “Another untrained pup,” she snorted, “just exactly what I need underfoot.”
At least the Vulcans were all outside, rebuilding her poor abused nacelles again. Sehlra had seen the friction between the two groups as soon as they set foot on board. Since the greenbloods had better suits, and because she didn’t like them anyway, Sehlra soon decided that it would be better if the Vulcans did all the outside work and the Humans concentrated on helping her with the interior repairs, which turned out to be a waste of time-hers and theirs.
The Human, this time it was a young male not much older than Daniel, tilted his head and pursed his lips. “Good afternoon, ma’am. I’m Charles Tucker, but my friends call me Trip.” He smiled dazzlingly, showing off his youthful good looks to excellent effect, and extended his hand in Human fashion. “I’m Chief Engineer on Enterprise,” Sehlra eyed him up and down, grasped his fingers and squeezed. He only winced a little, and continued to explain himself. “I heard the people we sent weren’t quite up to speed on your equipment and thought maybe I could help out. I’ve worked with Andorian stuff before, when we were in the Expanse. Not much, but enough to read most of the basic symbols, anyway.”
Sehlra barked a derisive laugh. “At least you admit you don’t know anything. That’s a refreshing change. If you can just get me the parts I need, I will do my own repairs. I have had enough of half grown whelps fumbling around with my engines to do me a lifetime.”
“Sure thing,” Tucker said agreeably. “You got a list?” She handed him her PADD.
“That’s not all of it,” she made sure to tell him. “Just enough to get started.”
“Thanks for translating it,” he told her and started scanning it. “Uh-huh. We can do that... injector - we can give you one of our extras and retrofit it I think...”
“No,” Sehlra shook her head. “Better get a stock injector from the Vulcans. I don’t need some cobbled together makeshift.”
Tucker waved it off, “The ones we use are based on Vulcan design, with some improvements I made. You can inspect it before it goes in and if you don’t like it, we’ll get you a Vulcan injector. But I’m pretty sure you’ll like it.” He shot another brilliant grin at her, and then went back to reading and making inarticulate Human noises.
“Improvements?” Sehlra looked closely at the young Human. Perhaps he was more than just a pretty face. “Are you a design engineer? What is a stylus pusher doing out here in the real universe?”
“I’m kind of a hybrid,” he told her with a self deprecating half-smile. “I helped cobble together that makeshift engine on Enterprise to begin with. So they sent me out here with it to keep an eye on things. I think Starfleet Command figured if it was gonna blow up it would only be fair that it should take me with it.”
A slight glint of respect began to shine in the old woman’s eyes. “Maybe you aren’t as helpless as I thought, youngster,” she considered. Out loud she asked him, “Ever see one of these Vulcan reactors before?”
Trip walked over and said, “Lorik class. Been standard in Vulcan cargo ships for the last fifty years or so. A fairly solid design, but it uses the Xantel crossover alignment. That configuration is self-limiting, especially when you don’t use a ring nacelle. We use two parallel nacelles, same as your people do, so the Xantel crossover just doesn’t work for us.”
Sehlra blinked. “By the green scum on the southern ice floes,” she declared with a broad smile. “Get over here, boy, and look at something. I had the thought that if I re-routed the flow through my original dilithium matrix, then split the energy stream just before it reaches the Xantel bridge and tie the power grid...”
Captain Jonathan Archer strolled cheerfully into Sickbay, whistling tunelessly under his breath. Everything was dead quiet. The Vulcan subcenturion lay utterly still on a biobed, appearing unchanged since he’d last checked her status on arrival. His gaze switched to the darkened screen of the video feed from the isolation chamber. Phlox had deactivated the camera within the isolation chamber where Raijiin was being housed on Archer’s recommendation, and was monitoring her via biosign sensors and brainwave scans. The alien telepath was tremendously dangerous, capable of taking control of another being’s mind with a glance, and he’d had direct experience with her powers. They weren’t taking any chances.
He caught sight of Phlox poring with great concentration over his work station and walked over to peer over his shoulder. “How are our guests doing? Any change?” he inquired. Phlox, who’d evidently been so absorbed in what he was reading that he hadn’t heard Archer come in, jumped in his seat and looked up. He didn’t look happy.
“Hello, Captain,” he said with a rueful half-smile. “I assume you’ve come for an update on the prisoners.”
Archer’s smile was knocked down a notch by Phlox’s demeanor, but he was still determined to remain in good spirits. After all, how often does a man get to out-connive a Vulcan, even with help? “Why so glum, man?” he asked the Denobulan, grinning. “Cheer up! We’ve got her... and a renegade Vulcan to boot!” The injured Vulcan was a lucky break. Now he had a bargaining chip for negotiation. He could grant the Vulcans a diplomatic concession by giving them back their rebellious subcenturion and hopefully still keep Raijiin. It was a win-win situation, but Phlox apparently didn’t see it that way. The Denobulan doctor shook his head and sighed, gesturing at the screen he’d been reading.
“The Sehlat’s healer sent over the information I requested. Healer Tyvek was of the opinion that the subcenturion’s symptoms were entirely psychological until I sent him the results of the brain scan I just completed. Now he says she may die unless we get her to the hospital ship orbiting the Orion space station within the next few days,” said Phlox, obviously frustrated. “He won’t tell me why, but he seems to think that only a Vulcan healer trained in healing melds can save her.”
Jonathan Archer’s smile vanished. This was a concerning development. It wouldn’t do at all for the woman to die on his watch. “T’Pol said she was in a Vulcan healing trance. Doesn’t that mean she’s getting better?” he asked, puzzled.
“She’s in a healing trance, all right, but some Vulcans never come out of them, especially if the damage is mental rather than physical,” Phlox explained.
“So... what do you think is wrong with her?” demanded Archer. “Is she really dying or are the Vulcans just trying to pull a fast one and convince us to give her to them without a fight?”
Phlox grimaced, and then pulled up what looked like two multicolored artist’s renderings of brains-obviously some sort of scans-and proceeded to compare the two images, gesturing at the screen.
“You can see here that the changes in the limbic regions are virtually identical. The changes on the right are much more severe, of course, but the damage appears to have been caused by the same type of insult. This one on the right is the scan I made today of Subcenturion T’Riss,” he explained. He hesitated a moment, and then added reluctantly, “The second scan is the one I did of Commander T’Pol after the... incident... with Tolaris.”
Archer blinked, absorbing this new information. The scans were just technicolor special effects as far as he was concerned, but he understood the concept-he thought. “So what you’re saying is that this is brain trauma from a telepathic assault?” His eyes strayed to the isolation chamber where Raijiin was being kept. “Did Raijiin...?”
Phlox shook his head. “According to Healer Tyvek, T’Riss and Raijiin were allies when they left the Sehlat, and Captain Sefroth of the Lerteiran confirms that Raijiin had no contact with T’Riss during her time aboard his ship. He’s convinced, strangely enough, that the damage occurred when Grigor-Tel’s ship was destroyed.” Phlox appeared truly puzzled, staring at the scans. “The sudden violent rupture of a close telepathic connection could theoretically do this sort of damage... but it makes no sense unless the two of them were mentally joined at the time of his death,” he mused.
“But I thought Vulcans were touch telepaths,” Archer objected. “Even if she were a melder, wouldn’t T’Riss have had to touch him? They were kilometers apart.”
Phlox nodded. “Ordinarily so, Captain... unless...” He paused, and his expression changed suddenly, as if a light had just been activated in his head. He turned back to his console, feverishly typing. In seconds, he’d called up an article from the Vulcan database and begun to read, leaving Archer frustrated and unenlightened.
“Phlox! What? What is it?” Archer demanded.
Phlox’s mouth twisted in wry amusement as he quoted, “The Vulcan Science Directorate has determined that mating bonds between Vulcans and non-Vulcans do not occur.” He looked up at Archer and commented obscurely, “Well, this is hardly the first time they’ve been proven wrong.” Then he kept reading. Archer exhaled heavily.
“Mating bond? What’s a mating bond?” he asked plaintively.
Trip dragged his weary butt through the airlock and pointed it toward the mess hall, hoping that Chef had fixed something easy to chew. He didn’t have enough energy to fight his way through anything tough.
One of those hunches that were becoming more common and more dependable with each passing day told him that he would find T’Pol waiting for him there. Trip smiled, but a touch of worry kept it from spreading too widely. He could get used to this real easy. But did he dare?
Trip had spent a lot of time lately reading up on Vulcan mating. Problem was, the database was almost empty on the subject. Modern Vulcans were worse than Victorian England when it came to discussing sex. Phlox was willing to give him technical information on the subject, but he insisted that his knowledge of Vulcan custom and tradition was too limited to be dependable.
“You really need to be talking about this with T’Pol, Commander,” the doctor had insisted, and refused to discuss the matter any further.
And there was the rub. Getting T’Pol to talk about anything intimate was like pulling teeth. Ever since they had confirmed the existence of their mating bond, she seemed to be as eager as he was to resume physical intimacy, but any other kind of intimacy was a different story. It was ironic, he mused, that he had a permanent telepathic connection to the woman and still could not get inside her head.
Maybe one of those Vulcan healers would be willing to talk to him about it. Of course, he would have to explain why he wanted to know. Trip winced at the thought of explaining to T’Pol that he had revealed the existence of their bond to another Vulcan.
That was something else that bothered him. She was ashamed to acknowledge him. Not officially, of course, but she didn’t even want to admit their relationship to their friends. She told him it was private, and she wanted to keep it that way.
“Private. Right.” He sighed. The mess hall was just ahead. Maybe his mood would improve if he put some food in his stomach. He hadn’t eaten since breakfast-and come to think of it, he’d skipped breakfast again. So that meant he hadn’t eaten since dinner last night. But then again, he’d been busy double checking the new redundancy circuits for the targeting sensors last night, so he’d skipped dinner too -but surely he’d eaten lunch yesterday, hadn’t he? Trip couldn’t remember.
He was right. T’Pol was waiting for him at one of their favorite tables next to the viewports. Trip raised his hand in greeting with a smile and went to collect some food. He missed the look of concern on his mate’s face. A moment later she was at his elbow with her cup in hand. “I need a refill,” she explained in answer to his questioning glance. He nodded tiredly. The beef stew looked good, especially with some of Chef’s homemade bread to go with it. A cup of strong coffee finished him off. He glanced at the dessert rack, but decided he just couldn’t stomach the thought of anything sweet for some reason.
Even the tray seemed heavy. T’Pol kept pace at his elbow while he walked back to the table she had picked out. Trip managed to set the tray down without spilling anything and fell into the chair with a grunt. T’Pol slid into her seat opposite him, pressing her lips together in disapproval.
“You have been overworking again.” Trip raised both eyebrows at her and took a sip of coffee to avoid answering. The bitter concoction hit his stomach like sulfuric acid, causing him to shudder and look suspiciously at the mug.
“What did Chef put in that? Oven cleaner?”
“Trip, you are evading the issue,” T’Pol scolded him. “Since we docked with Lerteiran yesterday you have not slept. You have not joined me for a meal since breakfast yesterday.”
He smiled dreamily at her. “I like the way my name sounds when you say it.”
She sighed and looked at him. Abruptly changing tactics, she asked him, “Charles, do you not care about my well-being?”
“What?” He was rattled. “Of course I care! What kind of question is that? You know I care.” Suddenly irritated, he protested, “Of all people, you have no reason to ask me that question.”
“Then why do you insist on hurting me in this way?” T’Pol fixed him with a wide-eyed gaze. “Do you not understand that I feel what you feel? When you are exhausted, I feel your fatigue. When you are sore, and hungry, I feel your pain. When you suffer, I suffer. This is what it means to be bonded. The longer we are together, the more closely we are bound and the more deeply I sense your needs.”
Trip slumped. “I didn’t know that. I knew that it was getting stronger. I could feel that much. But I didn’t know that you could feel how tired I was, or anything like that. Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I-” she hesitated. “I thought you knew. I suppose that the connection is more powerful on my end because I am Vulcan. We should have discussed this.”
“There’s just a whole lot of things that we need to discuss, lady,” Trip grumbled. “One way or the other, they are going to get discussed. Count on it.” T’Pol looked alarmed and opened her mouth, but before she could respond an interruption appeared.
“Is this seat taken?” A jovial voice inserted itself between them, along with a new tray. Dr. Phlox sat down without waiting for an answer and greeted both of them with a broad smile. “Ah, it is good to get out of Sickbay for a few moments,” he said, tucking his napkin into place. “I must say that this bread smells delicious. I have developed quite a refined palate for the breads of various worlds. For example, did you know commanders, that the Brillians actually make bread out of the spent egg casings of arboreal arthropods? The stuff is rather crunchy, but surprisingly good.”
“Uh. You can have my share, Doc.” Trip told him. He dug into his stew, avoiding eye contact with both of his table mates.
T’Pol squared her shoulders. “Is there anything new to report, Doctor?”
“Raijiin is making satisfactory progress,” Phlox said around a bulging mouthful of bread. He took a swig of pumpkin juice and continued, “I do wish Lieutenant Reed was slightly less paranoid, however. She is confined within Sickbay’s isolation chamber, and still sedated with pain medication. I am sure that under the circumstances one armed guard would be sufficient.”
“The second guard was on my order, Doctor,” T’Pol told him coldly. “Raijiin is not the only potentially dangerous criminal in custody. Since we do not know the precise nature of the trauma which caused Subcenturion T’Riss to enter the healing trance, we cannot be certain if or when she might emerge from it. When that happens, a single Human guard might easily be overwhelmed. I have no intention of permitting a dangerous Vulcan criminal to run loose aboard this ship.” Her nostrils were flared, and the deep groove between her eyebrows warned Phlox to back off from the subject, pronto.
“As you wish, Commander,” Phlox said, taking a bite of fresh bread with an agreeable expression, “Although I’m of the opinion that the subcenturion is more a victim than a dangerous criminal in these circumstances,” he added, eyeing T’Pol questioningly. She seemed unconvinced. Trip thought that the doctor seemed to be about to say something else to T’Pol, but evidently thought better of it.
Phlox turned quickly to Trip. “But that reminds me of another subject. Commander Tucker, I believe that you are working aboard the Andorian vessel?”
“Yeah,” Trip scooped up a mouthful of stew and said nothing more while he chewed.
Phlox blinked. “Well, then. Have you spoken to young Mr. Johansen by any chance?”
Trip shook his head, still chewing. He finally swallowed a mouthful, managed a quick, “Not really. Been working with the Andorian woman mainly,” and scooped up another generous spoonful of stew. Once he had started eating, Trip realized that he was ravenous.
“Do you have some particular interest in Mr. Johansen?” T’Pol asked, obviously hoping to divert Phlox’s inexorable persistence long enough for Trip get some food down. Trip smiled at her gratefully between bites.
“Actually, I do.” Phlox looked vexed. “As you are well aware, Commander, that young man suffered the same type of telepathic attack that was inflicted by Raijiin on several of the officers here while we were in the Expanse. For a non-telepathic species like a Human, an invasion of this type is quite traumatic. My records following the attacks in the Expanse are quite clear. I do not believe that I would be compromising anyone’s privacy when I tell you that every Human aboard who was attacked suffered neurological damage to some degree. Mr. Johansen needs to be scanned and treated. ”
Trip grimaced. “You mean those damn shots you gave me, Doc?” T’Pol’s appalled expression reminded Trip of how much he’d detested the series of hypospray injections. The bond must be more sensitive then he thought.
“Exactly,” Phlox told him with almost bloodthirsty zeal, “The same ‘damn shots’ are precisely what he needs, Commander Tucker, and the sooner the better. I have tried to contact him, but he refuses to talk to me. In fact, the entire crew of that ship is remarkably unwelcoming.”
Trip paused to rub his eyes. “You gotta remember what they’ve been through, Doc. I’ll talk to him for you, tell him what he needs to do. I think I can get his attention all right.”
“Not tonight,” T’Pol said firmly. “I am sorry, Doctor. Commander Tucker has not eaten since breakfast yesterday, and has not slept in 39.4 hours. He needs to finish his meal and report to his bunk before he does anything else.”
“Again?” Phlox exclaimed. He looked reproachfully at Trip. “Commander...”
Trip let out a tired excuse for a laugh. “I surrender. I’ll eat and sleep before I fall over. I promise. Then I’ll tell Danny boy to haul his stubborn butt over here to get treated. Are you two satisfied now?” He looked back and forth between them and noted the smug expressions. He sighed again.
In the interest of getting back to the rest of the task force as quickly as possible, the decision was made that Sehlat would tow Lerteiran via tractor beam at sublight velocity while repairs were being made. This meant that personnel had to transfer between ships by shuttlepod or transporter, but at least they were moving away from Nausican space. Nobody complained. Not even one particularly discomfited Vulcan healer who had better things to do than to ride a transport shuttle back and forth making personal visits to an alien ship’s Sickbay all day long.
Healer Tyvek examined T'Riss in Enterprise’s Sickbay, conferring with Dr. Phlox in a low voice. A moment later, he noted Commander T’Pol, who was walking over to assist the Chief of Security with his check of security measures and to receive updates from the two guards on duty. Tyvek advanced toward her, determined to remedy her obvious error in judgment . She straightened. The Security Chief stepped back slightly, as was fitting, to give the two of them some privacy.
“Commander T'Pol,” the older man said reprovingly. “Dr. Phlox informs me that it was by your express order that Subcenturion T'Riss has been restrained.” He paused to allow her to explain herself. She raised a quizzical brow at him, seeming undaunted by his tone. Her lack of respect displeased him, but he was certain that she would cooperate once the situation was properly explained. “The subcenturion is deep in trance,” he continued patiently, “Such restraints are redundant and, in the event of an additional seizure, potentially damaging. Authorize their removal at once.”
“No.” Her refusal was flat and unequivocal.
Tyvek stared, flabbergasted. For the first time in many years he found himself at a loss. Finally he gathered himself together and asked, “Commander T'Pol, did you hear what I said? The restraints are completely....”
To Tyvek's incredulity, he was interrupted. No one had interrupted him since he was an apprentice Healer-In-Training on his first internship assignment.
“You are well aware, Healer Tyvek, that in order for the subcenturion to enter into another seizure she would first have to rouse from her healing trance,” replied T’Pol pedantically. “In the event of that occurrence, we will adapt our control measures as required to fit the changing circumstances. Otherwise, the restraints will remain in place. I refuse to risk the safety of this crew by any preventable degree, no matter how slight. This matter is non-negotiable.” T'Pol's face and voice were as cold as any of the mind masters at their retreat in Gol.
Tyvek made one more try. He decided to soften his approach. Perhaps he had inadvertently antagonized the young woman. After all, this was not his ship and he had no real authority to issue demands here.
“Commander T'Pol,” Tyvek offered quietly, “I understand your concern for your shipmates’ safety. However, the subcenturion is merely a young girl who is suffering from delusional instability brought on by abuse. Even if she were to awaken, the degree of damage that she could accomplish would be minimal. After all, there are two armed guards standing right over there.” He pointed at the door.
T'Pol heard him out with a face that might have been carved out of a glacier. When she was certain that he had finished, she replied. “Thank you for your input, Healer. If you have finished your examination, I believe that our superior officers are waiting for us in the briefing room.”
Tyvek stared in disbelief. “As you wish, Commander.” Upon reflection, he recalled that this woman had disobeyed direct orders from the High Command itself and resigned her commission to follow her own opinion. Staring at her stony expression, he came to the conclusion that he was unlikely to change her mind in the time he had available. Further attempts at doing so would serve no purpose. So he said nothing else as they made their way to the briefing room.
The three of them made the walk to the briefing room in silence. Malcolm was not in the habit of making small talk with his superior officers unless invited to do so, and Vulcans did not make small talk, period. T'Pol spent the time worrying about Trip.
Things were, as the Human saying expressed it, coming to a head. She had sensed impatience and irritation during their talk in the mess hall last night. “One way or the other, they are going to get discussed. Count on it,” he had said. Given her mate's stubbornness, she felt certain that the subject was not closed. It was time to prepare herself for what to tell him. How much could she reveal? And how could she go about revealing it?
This was not going to be pleasant. If he left her again, T'Pol felt quite certain that she would not be able to endure it. She half closed her eyes and reached through the bond very briefly. He was still asleep. Excellent. That was another matter that needed to be discussed. His established habit of abusing himself must end. T'Pol had researched the matter, and confirmed with Phlox, that such behavior was virtually certain to shorten Trip's lifespan by a significant percentage. It was absolutely unacceptable. In fact, it had probably already inflicted some irreparable damage. He was going to start taking better care of himself, whether he wanted to or not.
“I lost my father when I was only a child, Ashayam,” she thought fiercely. “I lost our son before I ever knew him. I lost my mother. I lost our precious daughter. You are all I have left now. I am not going to lose you, Husband.” She locked her jaws and raised her chin. Whatever was required would be done. She would cast out fear.
Captain Archer propped his elbow on one arm of his chair. He rested his chin on his hand and listened politely as T'Lar spoke, nodding at appropriate intervals and trying hard not to yawn. Finally T'Lar left an opening and he sprung for it.
“I certainly understand your position, Commander,” he told her sympathetically. “But I sincerely hope you can understand mine. Your priority is the retrieval of your kidnapped people. Completely understandable. But we Humans need to question Raijiin concerning the data that she delivered to the Xindi. Specifically, we need to discover what happened to that data. The Xindi may have agreed to a truce, but please remember that they consist of multiple species. Both Xindi Reptilians and Insectoids are warlike in the extreme, and many of them were far from pleased with the outcome of our conflict. If members of either of those species possess the information necessary to construct that bioweapon, my people might still be in deadly danger. To me, the survival of my species takes precedence over the recovery of a small number of kidnapped Vulcans. No offense intended.”
T'Lar evidently decided to fall back and regroup for the moment. She nodded solemnly but otherwise made no response to his statement, instead choosing to bring up the second matter on the table. “Regarding Subcenturion T’Riss,” she began. Archer sat up and took notice at the change in topic. “While I mean no disrespect to your Dr. Phlox, I submit that it would be more logical for her to be treated by Vulcan Healers since they are available. If you do not trust our motives in this matter, I would even be willing to permit one of your security guards to accompany the subcenturion as a gesture of courtesy between our governments.”
Archer smiled wryly. “I agree with you.” T’Lar’s mouth dropped open a centimeter for an instant, then snapped shut again. “Unfortunately my hands are tied by Starfleet regulations in this case. If it were up to me I would hand her over to you immediately...”
The briefing room door slid open and T’Pol stepped through, followed by Healer Tyvek and Lieutenant Reed. Archer waited for the newcomers to be seated before picking up the thread of the conversation again.
“Welcome, Commander, Lieutenant, Healer Tyvek. I was just telling our guests that if the choice were up to me I would gladly turn the subcenturion over to Commander T’Lar right now. I am quite willing to trust the Vulcan legal system to handle this matter. In fact, I think the Vulcan legal system might be better equipped to handle it than ours. Our courts are still struggling to establish a workable set of rules for dealing with telepathy.”
“Indeed.” T’Pol inclined her head. “The circumstances defining a forced meld and the punishments for such a crime have been well established on Vulcan for centuries. The punishments assigned to acting as an accessory to such a crime are also quite specific.”
“Whereas under our law,” Malcolm noted with disgust, “The worst that they would face is assault and battery, along with intentional infliction of emotional and psychological distress, or something like that.”
“Indeed,” Senek’s lips quirked. “It might be difficult to prove assault and battery, since no real damage was done.”
“You are mistaken,” T’Pol snapped. “According to Dr. Phlox, the type of mental probing that Raijiin uses will invariably inflict neurological damage on a Human. When she attacked various members of the Enterprise crew in the Expanse, every Human crew member exhibited such damage without exception. Unquestionably, Mr. Johansen is also suffering from such injuries and should be brought to our Sickbay for treatment as soon as possible.”
T’Lar’s face tightened. “We were not aware of this. None of us were aware of this. I am quite certain that the subcenturion was not aware of it either.”
“Would it have mattered to her?” T’Pol fixed her with a laser stare.
“Commander,” Tyvek broke in with his voice dripping exasperation. “The child was distraught. She is mentally ill...her judgment was impaired.”
“Irrelevant,” T’Pol snapped. Both Malcolm and Jonathan blinked in surprise. There was an unmistakable note of real anger in her voice. “By Earth law only two issues apply. Was the subcenturion capable of understanding that she was breaking the law? And if so, was she capable of comprehending the probable consequences of her behavior? If the answers to those two questions are yes, then she is guilty under Human law and she will face punishment.”
“State of mind is often considered as a mitigating factor in sentencing under Human law,” Captain Archer hastened to add, trying to smooth things over. “I’m sure that any Human court would take into consideration the abuse that Subcenturion T’Riss had recently suffered.” He exchanged a warning look with T’Pol. She didn’t seem very receptive. “We understand emotional motivations,” he added carefully. “But by the same token, if we permitted being distraught to provide an excuse for criminal behavior, no one would ever be convicted of anything.”
“Understood,” T’Lar acknowledged grimly. “Your report, Healer?”
Tyvek glanced across the table at the Enterprise personnel. “The Denobulan physician, Phlox, is competent. As noted in his record, his studies with the Interspecies Medical Exchange on Vulcan as well as his experience treating Commander T’Pol provide him with sufficient skills to oversee basic care for the subcenturion while she is in trance. Beyond this I will not speculate. Treating Raijiin is more problematic, as her species is unknown in this part of space.”
“Doctor Phlox’s competence meets or exceeds the standards of most Vulcan Healers,” T’Pol stated coldly. “Based on my personal experience over the last four years, I would prefer his ministrations over that of any member of the medical profession on staff at the Academy hospital in Shi’Kahr.” Senek raised both eyebrows and rubbed his nose, looking at T’Pol intently. “Further, Dr. Phlox already has more personal experience treating Raijiin than any other healer in known space, since he was responsible for her care while she was our prisoner in the Expanse.”
“T’Pol.” Senek did not raise his voice, nor was his tone particularly forceful. Yet something in it drew all the eyes at the table to him. “I perceive evidence of emotional involvement. Could it be possible that your extended association with Humans has affected your logic, and perhaps biased your own judgment?”
“Agent Senek,” said Archer coldly. Orders to cooperate or no orders, nobody was going to march onto his ship and insult his senior officers in front of his face. “Commander T’Pol is entirely too devoted to the principles of Surak to take offense at your remark. I, however, am not.” T’Lar, Reed, Tyvek and T’Pol tensed. Senek sat relaxed and listened with mild interest.
“Captain,” T’Pol looked uneasy. “I believe I mentioned...”
“Yes, I know that you and Agent Senek were acquainted in the past.” Archer turned to T’Lar. “Commander. I recognize that T’Pol is a fellow Vulcan. However, when a member of my crew puts on their rank insignia, no matter what their planet of origin, they put their personal lives aside for the duration of their duty hours to represent the people of Earth. If you or any person under your command has an issue with the way that a member of my crew has been doing their job, you bring it to me. Bypassing my chain of command is not appropriate, nor will it be tolerated.”
“Understood, Captain Archer.” T’Lar’s nostrils flared, and she,exchanged an unreadable look with Agent Senek before continuing. “I will therefore repeat Agent Senek’s inquiry, because I have also observed evidence of emotional reactions on the part of Commander T’Pol concerning this matter. I question her ability to remain unbiased.”
“May I respond, Captain?” T’Pol asked. Archer nodded. T’Pol took a deep breath. To Archer, she appeared to be struggling with some inner emotion. He couldn’t tell if it was embarrassment or anger. “You are correct, Commander and Agent Senek,” she admitted frankly. “This situation has in fact provoked an emotional response.” Malcolm’s jaw dropped open and he stared in shock, a fact that was not lost on the other Vulcans. “I was also probed by Raijiin while we were in the Expanse. Apparently the Xindi decided to obtain data on Vulcan physiology in addition to Human, for reasons of their own.”
Tyvek stiffened. “You were also probed? Did you receive proper treatment? Did this Phlox scan you for damage?”
“Yes, yes, and yes,” she told him with forced tolerance. “I was fortunate in that I had a meeting scheduled, and Raijiin was interrupted when Commander Tucker attacked her. Commander Tucker was less fortunate, since after dropping me she turned on him instead. As I belong to a telepathic species my natural defenses protected me somewhat. I was injured only slightly. My rescuer however, suffered significant damage.”
“With all due respect,” Lieutenant Reed burst out, “Considering what that woman did to us, and what else she tried to do, I think we deserve a lot of credit for not booting her out the shuttle bay in her skivvies.”
“Emotional reaction or not,” Archer hastily interrupted, “I have complete faith in T’Pol’s professionalism. Both of you, Commander T’Lar and Agent Senek, seem to be convinced that we Humans are not capable of dealing with these prisoners in a fair and unbiased manner. I urge you to... cast out fear.” His mouth quirked in ironic acknowledgment of the quotation. “T’Pol is completely worthy of your trust. She will make certain that neither of them are abused or denied their rights under the terms of the Treaty of Alliance.” The four Vulcans in the room stared each other down for several seconds. It was T’Lar who finally dropped her gaze in the face of T’Pol’s rigidly composed expression.
“It appears we have no choice,” said the Sehlat’s commander in a resigned tone. T’Lar stood up and her escort followed suit. “For the present,” she added.
Archer stood as well, saying to Malcolm, “Lieutenant Reed, will you show our guests to their shuttle?”
“Certainly, sir.” The always proper and polite security officer gave no sign of his earlier emotional outburst as he gestured to their Vulcan visitors. “Right this way please.” The entourage shuffled out, leaving the two senior officers together in the briefing room. Archer was exhausted, and even T’Pol was looking tired.
“Sit back down a minute, T’Pol,” the captain gestured. “Let’s cover another base or two while we’re here. How are repairs coming with the Andorian ship?”
“Commander Tucker reports that external repairs are nearly complete,” T’Pol told him. “He has been assisting the Andorian engineer with rebuilding the dilithium matrix and re-routing the power conduits...something to do with a modification of the Vulcan reactor in order to make it more compatible with the original Andorian configuration. He did not provide details.”
“I won’t ask,” Archer smiled and rubbed his eyes. “I hope Trip is taking time to eat and sleep this time around.”
“He is now, after being ordered to do so,” T’Pol said testily. Archer snorted in amusement. It was always funny to see T’Pol in protective maternal mode. Sometimes he wondered whether she considered herself responsible for Trip’s wellbeing because she was old enough, in Human terms at least, to be his mother. Other times he was pretty sure it was something else. Neither option bore thinking about too closely.
“Has the bounty been paid?”
“Confirmed,” T’Pol nodded. “Authorization to draw on Starfleet accounts for value equivalent to five bars of gold pressed latinum. Payable at any Human world or trading post, collectible in cash, universal trading credits or any combination thereof.”
“They will probably have to take most of it in trading credits,” Archer remarked, “Unless they want to haul themselves all the way back to Earth or one of the older colonies. I doubt most Human worlds could scrounge up that much latinum on short notice.”
“A Vulcan colony would honor a Starfleet account voucher,” T’Pol pointed out. “They will be receiving the reward from the High Council as well.”
“They will have enough to retrofit that old tub into a racer,” Archer said with a touch of envy. He sighed and visibly shook it off. “I meant to ask about those torpedoes they used. That energy signature looked suspiciously familiar.”
“They were obsolete Starfleet issue,” T’Pol confirmed. “Part of the surplus that was earmarked for distribution to the Boomer fleet.”
“Hm,” Captain Archer rubbed his chin. “Johansen’s a Boomer. I think the least we can do is replace their torpedoes. Have Malcolm see what he can do.”
T’Pol hesitated. “Are you quite sure, Captain? They are...”
“I know they’re Andorians, T’Pol,” he said, sighing. Then he smiled. “They gave us Raijiin. Give them back their torpedoes. On my authority. And while we’re at it, have Malcolm look over their phase cannon. See if it needs any tweaking or upgrading.”
Trip always closed his eyes when transporting. It didn’t help much; nothing did. But it sure didn’t hurt anything. The cold air bit his hands and face, telling him that they were on Lerteiran.
“Brr,” Malcolm hissed, rubbing his arms. “Let’s get out of here while we can still move.” They raced for the cargo bay hatch and practically jumped through. The access way on the other side wasn’t exactly warm either, but it was a serious improvement over the storage area. Insulated winter uniforms helped a lot, everywhere except fingers and ears. And cheeks of course. And noses. And lips and chin. And teeth if you breathed too fast.
“This way,” Trip chattered, pointing with a shaking finger. They shivered their way along the corridor toward the engine room and he added, “She keeps it colder down here because it's more efficient for the engines and the main computer. You’ll start to adjust in a few minutes.”
“Adjust.” Malcolm gave him a look that called him a liar. “Really.”
Their footsteps echoed as usual, and Trip was not surprised to find Sehlra watching expectantly when they emerged into the engine room. “Welcome back, boy,” she boomed across the metal lined mini-cavern. “This your sharp-shooter?”
“Yep,” Trip turned and said, “Lieutenant Malcolm Reed, this is Sehlra. She doesn’t like titles.”
“In that case, ma’am, the name is Malcolm.” Reed gave his most winsome smile and offered his hand.
“Malcolm?” Sehlra took his hand in a vise grip and crunched it, grinning widely. “Means “deep crack in the ice” in my language. But who cares? I heard you took out those two Nausican’s slick and fast, and that’s what counts. Welcome aboard, boy.”
“Thank you, ma’am,” Malcolm replied in a voice perhaps half an octave higher than before. He surreptitiously tried to work some feeling back into his hand while Sehlra turned to Trip.
“So why do you need to muck around with the targeting array anyway?” she wanted to know.
Trip explained, “We don’t have any duplicates of the torpedoes you were carrying. They’re too old. What we’re going to do is give you some of the new ones we have, with standard warheads retrofitted onto them. That’s Malcolm’s job,” he tilted his head toward Reed, who straightened to attention and flashed a bright smile. “They have a more sophisticated guidance system and faster drives. So you need better sensors to control them. Plus the cap’n told us to look at your phase cannon and see if there was anything that we could offer you in the way of upgrades.”
“I’m starting to like that captain of yours,” Sehlra grinned.
“We owe ya,” Trip sobered. “I owe ya, personally. Raijiin nailed me too, just like she did Daniel. She did the same thing to a lot of us on Enterprise. Getting her back was personal for us. Anything we can do to help you folks out, name it. You got it.”
Sehlra’s grin became a snarl. “It was our pleasure, boy. Believe it.”
“Speaking of which,” Trip said, “I need to talk to Daniel about something. Is he handy?”
“He’s in the control room,” Sehlra told them. “Why? What do you need him for?”
Trip just kept walking in the direction of the control room. Sehlra’s arm shot out, strong arming him to a stop.
Trip didn’t meet her eyes. “I just need- acgk!”
She’d grabbed the nearest convenient handhold to keep him there. It was interfering with his breathing just a bit. Trip’s heels lightened but did not quite leave the floor as Sehlra’s fingers tightened around his neck. Malcolm started forward but halted before he completed the first step when Sehlra turned her head and glared. She caught Trip’s flailing right hand in her left and started bending his two smallest fingers backward. Trip’s left hand grabbed her fist and made a valiant but futile effort to pry it off his windpipe.
She said calmly. “I have been around Daniel enough to know when a Human is dodging a question. Now, you are going to tell me why you want to see Daniel, or I am going to break every finger on both hands. Deal?” Trip managed a tiny nod. Sehlra slowly let him back down on the floor and released his throat, looking at him expectantly.
Trip sucked in some deep breaths and rubbed his throat. Then he smiled hopefully at her. Maybe if he told her the right way she wouldn’t go ballistic on him.“I just didn’t want to upset you any more than you already were,” he told her sincerely. “He needs to see Phlox. Raijiin’s probing damages Human neural pathways. Doctor Phlox can give him some medicine to fix it.”
“Why in the name of the Great Mother didn’t you say so!” Sehlra exclaimed. Then she turned and sped for the ladder. Trip looked at Malcolm and shrugged. The two men followed at a cautious distance.
When they emerged from the access well Daniel was gesturing with both hands and making soothing noises. “All right, Sehlra. I promise. I swear. I will go to see that doctor on Enterprise as soon as my shift is done. I don’t like being sick, believe me.” Jenrali stood propped against the pilot’s console, watching the pair of them while Sehlra lectured Daniel with her hands on her hips.
“There’s no reason you can’t go now,” she insisted. “These repairs will keep.”
“It’s not that urgent,” Daniel insisted. “I feel all right. Just a headache. I’ll be fine until the end of my shift.”
“I didn’t get treated for a few days,” Trip offered. “It took that long for the symptoms to get bad enough for me to go to Phlox.” The three of them turned to notice the new arrivals. Trip flushed at the calculating gaze from the two Andorians. They made him feel like one of Chef’s chickens being evaluated for dumplings versus roasting.
Malcolm added helpfully, “Doctor Phlox told us that it would take several weeks before the damage becomes permanent. And it wouldn’t kill you even then, just continue progressively getting worse until you become a drooling cretin.”
Daniel grimaced. “I will definitely go see Dr. Phlox as soon as my shift is over. My word of honor. Okay?”
Sehlra glared at him. Finally she nodded grudgingly and turned back to the ladder. “It would have been so simple,” she muttered as she started back down. The sound of her footsteps echoed up the ladder well, along with the words, “...strapped down right there. Right in front of us. And the other one chained to a chair. So simple...”
The men looked at each other, shrugged, and went into a huddle. Jenrali decided to take Malcolm into the forward crawlspace for a hands-on look at the phase cannon mount and a visual inspection of the power couplings. Meanwhile, Trip and Daniel were assigned the task of upgrading the sensor array.
“If Trip offers to make any ‘improvements’ in the standard configuration,” Malcolm advised firmly, “refuse him permission. I made that mistake on our shakedown voyage and I am still regretting it.”
“Hey!” Trip protested. “The new targeting scanners are 30% more efficient than the stock equipment.”
“They are 30% more efficient,” Malcolm admitted, “during the 50% of the time that they’re working properly. The other 50% of the time I’m flat on my back under the console recalibrating and adjusting them. Trust me Daniel, this mad scientist will lead you astray. Stick with the tried and true.”
“Go hug your cannon and leave us alone,” Trip snorted in disgust and turned his back in a marked manner, prying the cover off the fire control console with an air of wounded dignity. Malcolm grinned and followed Jenrali down the ladder.
“Yeowch,” Trip was halfway under Daniel’s console, staring up at the remains. “That Orion did a number on you guys, didn’t he?”
“A case could be made for that statement,” Daniel told him with wry humor. He described how they had routed the remaining torpedo guidance system through the sensor controls and manually steered it into Grigor-Tel’s ship. “It was the only option we had left,” he finished. “We were just lucky that he was as crippled as we were.”
“I don’t think luck had much to do with it,” Trip said as he started peeling charred conduit out from under the panel. “Somebody once said that luck comes to those who are ready for it, or something like that. He was crippled because you caught him and nailed his ass.”
“Thanks,” Daniel grinned. “That makes me feel a little better about having to rebuild the entire array from scratch.”
“Speaking of which,” Trip said idly, scraping the fused chunks of a module off the side of the casing, “How did you locate the Orion? The way the cap’n was talking, the course you took seemed like almost a straight line right to him. Did you know where he was going all along?”
“No,” Daniel told him while sorting through the new modules and stacking them in sequential order. “T’Riss could feel him through their mating bond,” he replied casually.
“Say WHAT!?” Trip rose up convulsively to give Daniel a startled look, and rammed his head into the main board with a sickening thud. “Ow!” He flopped back down and grabbed his forehead. A trickle of blood leaked out between his fingers.
“Hold still a sec,” Daniel told him hastily. “Lemme get the first aid kit.” He rummaged through the pile of junk on the bridge while Trip tried to shake off his newly developing headache and his surprise at the Boomer’s revelation. Daniel soon found what he was looking for, quickly wiped off the scrape and slapped on a bandage. “There you go, good as new,” he said, grinning wryly.
“Thanks,” Trip told him sheepishly. “Now what were you saying about a mating bond? Did I hear you right?”
Daniel shrugged. “Yeah. It’s a telepathic bond that Vulcans form between mates.” He looked uncomfortable. “You see, Grigor-Tel had kept T’Riss for his personal concubine. Since it was just the two of them, after a while a bond formed. So she could track him.”
“Oh man...” Trip looked sick. “Oh, shit. Oh, that poor girl.”
“Well, yeah.” Daniel looked even less comfortable. “I hadn’t really taken time to think it through. But I guess it would’ve been pretty rough on her.”
“Rough? Rough? I don’t even wanna think about it,” Trip replied with a grimace. “But I can’t keep from thinking about it, and it makes my stomach churn. The guy rapes her, over and over and over and over...”
“Yeah, I get the idea,” Daniel interrupted queasily.
“And all the while she’s stuck inside his head,” Trip persisted, unable to shake the image. It was just too close to home. “Feeling what he feels, hearing his thoughts, listening to him while he laughs it up over what he’s doing to her...feeling him enjoying her pain and humiliation. Man, oh man...” Trip’s voice trailed off, but his expression was haunted.
Daniel grimaced and turned his head. “Could we please change the subject?”
Trip gave him a sickly half- smile. “No problem,” he said emphatically. They worked side by side for several seconds in silence before either of them could come up with another topic of conversation.
“Talking about Vulcans,” offered Trip, “It sounded like you’ve been around Vulcans before. You spoke of mating bonds like they were familiar to you.”
“Kind of familiar,” Daniel said casually. “I spent some time on Vulcan during secondary school as an exchange student. Went back after I graduated to work in the shipyards for a year until I got my first berth on a ship.”
Trip shot him a curious look but decided to mind his own business. He chose a neutral topic instead. “I didn’t know Vulcans hired off worlders to work in their shipyards.”
“They don’t, usually,” Daniel told him. “The family I stayed with as an exchange student owns a piece of a ship building company. They got me a job.” He smiled. “We still keep in touch. They’re good people.” He looked at Trip. “Anyway, that’s how I learned about mating bonds. Stern, the eldest son of the House, and I were talking one day and he told me that married couples aren’t really considered married until the mating bond is formed.”
“Do tell,” Trip said, suddenly coming to attention. “Are you saying that this T’Riss girl would have been married to that Orion because they had a mating bond?” he asked intently.
Daniel stopped with his mouth open, looking nonplussed by the question. “Honestly? I don’t really know.” He thought hard. “Ordinarily, according to what Stern told me, if a mating bond has formed then a couple is automatically considered married under Vulcan law, even if no ceremony has been conducted. But in a case of rape I don’t know. The law is so old... I know it predates the Reformation of Surak by thousands of years.” He raised his eyebrows. “But since he’s dead now it’s a moot point. Come on, how about we get these things sorted and then grab some lunch?”
“Sounds good to me,” Trip told him distractedly, with his mind on other things as he got back to work. “But I’m afraid I’ll need to head back to Enterprise for lunch. I have a lunch date that I really don’t want to miss.” Not today I don’t, he thought with determination. It was time to get some answers. Today, lunch is gonna be very interesting... since I’ll be having lunch with my wife.
Raijiin opened her eyes in the dimly lit chamber. The first thing she noticed was the silence, both mental and physical. Aboard Lertieran, there had been the almost undetectable hum of the active minds immediately surrounding her, and the constant thrum of the newly revamped warp engines vibrating deck plates and other structural members slightly past their prime. She was obvious no longer aboard the old freighter. Then she noticed that her ears, nose and fingertips were numb. She raised her hands to her face. Surprisingly, her fingers were coated in synthskin dressings. She’d seen the flexible pain relieving adhesive dressing material used before on wealthier clients at Natolya’s, the ones who enjoyed receiving pain the old fashioned way rather than by neurostim but preferred not to have the scars to remind them of it, but she’d never been the recipient of it before. In Natolya’s opinion it was much too expensive to be wasted on a slave.
Raijiin gazed down at herself. She was still dressed in the coverall from the Sehlat, and she was grimy beyond belief after her ordeal in the cargo bay. Despite that fact, she actually felt well-and hungry. She sat up in bed. It was a single military-style bunk with a twin on the opposite side of the chamber. On one end of the small room was an airlock. The opposite end led to another small chamber which, on further inspection, proved to be a fully functional bathroom with a genuine water shower. So...not an escape pod, she thought as she took full advantage of the facilities. The mirror in the bathroom revealed synthskin dressings on her nose and ears as well. Waterproof and impregnated with growth factors from cloned skin cells to enhance healing, they would remain for several days, only peeling off once the new skin beneath them was intact. She smiled. Maybe scarring wasn’t inevitable after all.
Exiting the bathroom with a towel wrapped around her hair and another around her body, feeling greatly relieved, she then searched the room for a food source. Wherever she was, she appeared to be aboard a ship or space station with significant resources. A more complete examination of her surroundings revealed a video pickup in the sleeping chamber. It looked non-functional, or at least it wasn’t panning the room. A microphone was installed next to a sealed window in the airlock door. She smiled triumphantly when she discovered a drawer within the airlock door which, when opened, discharged a mealpak which was self-heating. She didn’t recognize the food, but some of it was meat. It took her about five minutes to inhale the first solid food she’d had in three days, and about five minutes and five seconds to realize where she must be. The food was prepacked with meat in it, so she wasn’t on a Vulcan vessel. It was completely unfamiliar, so it wasn’t Orion. And the label on it, which said “Meal, Ready to Eat: Beef tips with carrots and potatoes”, was in English.
She was aboard a Human vessel-and the only one she knew of in Syndicate space was the Enterprise. Her smile vanished at this realization, and the food she’d just eaten settled in a lump in the center of her chest, threatening to come back up again. She jumped when the speaker next to the airlock crackled to life.
”This is Commander T’Pol. Your biosigns indicate that you are awake and medically stable. As you are probably aware by now, you are in custody aboard Enterprise. You will acknowledge your understanding of my statements aloud for the audio record, as the video pickups in your holding area have been deactivated for safety reasons,” stated a remotely familiar voice dispassionately. Raijiin’s heart sank. She’d hoped for a Vulcan to save her, but this one wouldn’t be of any help.
“I understand,” she replied in a defeated tone.
”You have rights under Earth law of which I will now inform you,” continued the voice. “You have the right to remain silent, meaning that you are not obligated to answer any questions or make any statements to which you do not freely consent. If you choose to give up that right, anything you say can and will be used against you. You also have the right to be represented by counsel. If you desire counsel but cannot arrange for counsel on your own behalf, someone will be appointed to act for you. Do you understand these rights as I have explained them to you?”
The cool, emotionless delivery of this information belied the traces of mental turmoil Raijiin was now able to detect through the walls of the chamber which confined her. Being a telepath, the Vulcan was more accessible to her skills than a Human would have been. Evidently, it had not occurred to her captors that this would be the case, otherwise they certainly would not have sent the only Vulcan on board to deal with her. The traces of mental contact were insufficient to be significantly useful to her, but they did give her a minute advantage, in that she could tell how close T’Pol was to an embarrassing lack of emotional control, and so she was able to respond appropriately.
“I understand,” said Raijiin again, very calmly. Her tone was soothing, as if she were trying to reassure a frightened child. It did very little to calm the Vulcan. Raijiin really couldn’t blame her. Being telepathically assaulted without warning was an unpleasant experience. She understood that, and sympathized even though she’d been the source of the Starfleet officer’s trauma.
”Do you desire counsel?” asked the Vulcan tersely.
The question surprised Raijiin. She’d assumed the recitation of “rights” was merely a formality. Perhaps she should put these so-called rights to the test.
“Yes,” she responded firmly. “I choose Commander T’Lar or her designated representative.”
There was silence from the Vulcan for several seconds. “Very well,” she responded finally. ”I will convey your request at the earliest opportunity.”
Dead silence followed. Despite the fact that she could still sense the Vulcan’s morbid curiosity through the wall of the chamber, after several minutes Raijiin began to fear that her chance to explain herself was gone, and that now that the formalities had been taken care of, the torture could begin. She could see only one way to prevent it, if only they would believe her.
“Commander? I think I’d like to make a statement,” she said hesitantly. Curiosity changed to surprise.
”You are waiving your rights?” asked T’Pol in a puzzled tone.
“I’d rather do this now, and get it over with,” Raijiin admitted truthfully. She desperately needed at least one person on board Enterprise to at least understand her position, if not sympathize. A Vulcan seemed the best choice for an ally, given her alternatives. All she needed was to be trusted, just for a moment.
”Very well,” responded the commander. ”You may begin.”
Raijiin closed her eyes, attempting to project the proper amount of sincerity. “I’ve never told anyone this because I didn’t think anyone would believe me,” she began in a pitiful voice. “My Xindi master didn’t sell me. I was slated to be executed, and the Xindi Insectoid assigned to the task decided he’d rather make some credits instead, so he sold me to a Nausican.” There was silence from the opposite side of the wall, and a begrudging sympathy as she related her plight. “My Xindi Reptilian master was going to dispose of me because I was no longer of any use to him. You see, I sabotaged my implanted bioscanner and convinced him that something had happened to it on your vessel. I told him that I was unable to give him any information regarding either Humans or Vulcans because I had none to give, and so he fabricated data and presented it to the Xindi council. The Xindi were never in possession of accurate bioscans.” A delay followed her declaration, and then, to her disappointment, T’Pol’s frank disbelief came through quite clearly.
”I don’t believe you,” replied T’Pol flatly. ”There was no logical reason for you to have done such a thing.”
“Is it so hard to believe that I could decide to die rather than assist with genocide?” pleaded Raijiin, but the Vulcan had closed her mind to the possibility.
”Yes,” retorted T’Pol. “You are completely self-centered and without remorse. The faint trace of sympathy was gone now, replaced by angry denial.
“If I could meld with you, you’d see that I’m telling the truth,” responded Raijiin sulkily.
The Starfleet commander obviously didn’t consider the notion even remotely worth considering. ”Your statement has been recorded, and I will convey your request for counsel to the Sehlat. You may use the internal comm link to contact the doctor should you require anything.” Raijiin could sense her consciousness retreating. She was really gone this time.
Tears welled, but Raijiin fought them. The total silence, both physical and mental, was like starvation. She felt thirsty for the thoughts and emotions of others. Being all alone in this holding cell was going to drive her insane. She needed contact with other beings. Alone, she died inside, as if lacking some essential nourishment of the spirit. She wallowed in self pity for about three seconds, and then started making plans to escape.
Trip strode into the mess hall like a man on a mission-a mission he’d been forced to undertake but wasn’t particularly looking forward to. His eyes found their usual table. T’Pol wasn’t there yet. He checked the clock on the wall.
Damn. I’m five minutes early.
He exhaled and closed his eyes in relief for a second before going to collect his food and a drink. It was strange how a five minute reprieve brought back his appetite.
He sat down at the table and took a bite of his roast beef sandwich, musing over what he was going to tell her, and over what he was going to demand that she tell him. T’Pol would probably expect him to be angry, and he was angry -and hurt, and afraid, and just downright confused.
If she knew we were married from the beginning, why did she do... well... everything? The marriage to Koss... allowing me to leave for Columbia... pushing me away at every possible opportunity? And even now... what’s she ashamed of? He swallowed and took another meditative bite. Then he stopped chewing, blinking in surprise. Maybe she’s just afraid. The idea occurred to him out of the blue, but it felt right somehow.
He sensed T’Pol’s presence, looked up, and caught her eye as she walked through the door with a businesslike near-scowl on her face. He could sense her disquiet from where he was sitting. She barely acknowledged his presence before she turned to collect a vegetarian plate and a mug of tea from the dispensers.
Ouch. Not a good morning.
He winced mentally over the idea of confronting her with their relationship in addition to her duties as principal liaison officer between the prisoners, Enterprise, and the Vulcans, but it couldn’t be helped. He was tired of beating around the bush.
She reached the table and sat down with her tray, gazing at him with a resigned expression. “You have injured yourself again,” she told him in mild disapproval, indicating his forehead with a gesture.
“What?” he asked, puzzled, and brought one hand to his head, only then remembering the bandage and the cut he’d forgotten about.
“Oh...that,” he shrugged nonchalantly. “That’s nothing. Just a scratch.” He gave her a reassuring smile. “Rough day at the office?” he quipped, quickly changing the subject. Might as well get her current issues out of the way so they could move on. She would, however, have none of it.
“You do not take adequate care of yourself,” she chided him. “It would be a tremendous loss if you should develop an overwhelming infection and die prematurely as the result of one of your neglected ‘scratches’,” she countered, spearing a celery stalk with her fork and taking a crisp bite in punctuation of her observation.
For some reason, her expression of concern just made him angry. “A loss to you... or just to Starfleet?” he retorted sharply.
She raised a brow at him, chewing. He waited, still upset. She swallowed. “Both, of course,” she answered calmly, raising her fork for another bite.
He blinked. She’d just admitted-in public and within earshot of anyone who happened to pass by-that she’d miss him if he were gone. That was more than she’d done since their relationship had begun, but it wasn’t enough. He opened his mouth to demand more, but she’d already moved on with the conversation.
“Did you speak with Mr. Johansen? If he’s anything like you we might have to arrest him in order to get him into Sickbay for treatment,” she said dryly.
Trip took another bite of his sandwich to prevent himself from just yelling at her right then and there. This was gonna have to be done delicately to prevent a public scene, he could tell that already. He managed to choke the bite down, chased it down with root beer, and then answered her.
“He plans to come over this evening at the end of his shift,” Trip began. Then it occurred to him that some of her troubles that day were probably due to a lack of information that he could now provide, and in the meantime introduce his main topic of conversation. “We had a long talk about T’Riss while we were makin’ repairs,” he continued innocently. “Did you know they found Grigor-Tel because T’Riss was bonded to him?”
T’Pol did an honest-to-goodness spit-take with her chamomile tea and stared at him in horror. “A mating bond?” she choked softly, her eyes scanning their surroundings for eavesdroppers. No one seemed to be paying any attention. He nodded wordlessly. He couldn’t tell whether the overwhelming feeling of disgust and nausea was coming from her or from him. Probably both. They both pushed their plates away, staring at each other in reflected revulsion.
He pushed hers back toward her. “Eat it. You eat little enough as it is,” he instructed her firmly. Obediently, she blindly stabbed with her fork and took a bite without looking at its contents. “The bond was the result of rape?” she murmured between bites.
“Multiple times,” replied Trip softly, “And no one believed her. Sehlat’s healer still doesn’t.”
T’Pol’s eyes met his, wide with realization, “And so she did what she had to do to end it, even if it meant the end of her career...or even of her life. There was no other way to free herself if the healer didn’t believe her.”
“So if he did believe her, she had another option?” Trip asked, puzzled.
T’Pol nodded, loading her fork with beans and rice. “A healer trained in healing melds can sever a bond which is the result of pathologic behavior. Tyvek knows this. All he had to do was to reassure her that she would receive care when the melder arrived.” She began to eat again in earnest. To Trip’s relief, her appetite seemed to be returning. He looked down at the remainder of his sandwich and picked it up. He wasn’t hungry after the news she’d just delivered about severing bonds, but his body needed fuel nonetheless.
“I guess she didn’t want to wait,” he said succinctly before shoving the rest of his sandwich into his mouth. He watched T’Pol eat as he chewed. There was a melder-healer on board the Vulcan medical vessel. Did she plan to sever their bond? It made sense. Maybe that’s why she didn’t want to tell anyone. Even if they were married, maybe they weren’t going to be for much longer. And maybe she’d never planned to tell him a thing about it. The idea just fueled his anger.
T’Pol finally finished her meal. He swallowed-and steeled himself.
“Guess I can’t really blame her,” he said harshly. “It must really suck to be married to someone without your consent.”
T’Pol’s eyes widened over her tea mug. Her expression was deliberately blank, but her chest heaved with the effort of taking a shaky breath.
Trip’s lips twisted wryly. “But I guess you know all about that already, don’t you... wife?” he continued softly and with deliberate cruelty. Emotion swelled suddenly within him, and it definitely wasn’t coming from him. T’Pol put her mug down carefully and, avoiding his gaze, rose from the table without a word-without a backward glance -and walked briskly from the dining hall. Her back was straight. She looked for all the world as if she had pressing ship’s business elsewhere, but the emotion he felt from her was fear-stark, mind-altering, gut-twisting, abject terror. He stared after her for a second or two, and then rose in pursuit of his mate.
He knows. HE KNOWS!
Her thoughts raced, filled with one thing only. She was about to lose him. And then she would die.
She walked as quickly as propriety would allow, as if there were a core breech imminent in Engineering, as if a tactical alert siren reverberated down the corridors. She could sense him following, but she made it to the turbolift before he did. This was not something they could discuss in public. It would mean the end of both of their careers. And she had no desire to fall apart in public when he refused her.
As soon as she exited the lift, she broke into a run, heedless of who might catch her at it, intent on the relative safety of her quarters. She’d lock herself in and not come out until the melder-healer came to free her of this... indiscretion. That was it. Once the bond was severed, these emotions would leave her. They had to. The fear, the overwhelming need, the vulnerability, all of it would be gone.
She reached her quarters, slapped the door open and locked it, resting, panting from exertion, with her back against the door. She closed her eyes, willing herself to become calm.
He knows. It’s all over now. I’ve lost him.
Despair almost gained the upper hand. It had been tempting, their time together, but humans were not meant to mate for life. It was a dream which had never been attainable.
But I CAN survive this. I MUST survive this. Starfleet depends on me. Enterprise depends on me. I CANNOT fall apart.
The entry tone sounded, making her jump. She was beginning to realize that no amount of meditation was going to calm her today, but she ignored the tone with forced serenity, proceeding to the center of the room to seat herself before the meditation candle on the floor, lighting it. She could sense his presence through the door. She knew it was Trip, and he was furious, she was certain. It must just be a quirk of distance and the bond that made his concern for her well-being paramount in the welter of emotions she could sense.
After a moment and several entry tones, his presence faded, leaving her distantly disappointed. He hadn’t even shouted at her, demanding to come in, the way she’d expected. In fact, he’d made no public display at all other than to stand at her door, repeatedly pressing the bell.
Five minutes later, the comm sounded. She rose to answer it, thinking that it was probably ship’s business. She was wrong.
”It’s me. I’m in my cabin, so we’re private.” Trip’s voice was subdued. ”Please don’t cut me off.”
She could sense very little from him; the distance was too great, but he didn’t sound angry.
”Listen, T’Pol... we really need to talk,” he pleaded. ”I’m sorry I ambushed you like that in public. I shouldn’t have. I won’t do it again. I promise,” he told her sincerely. ”Just let me in so we can talk, okay?”
He paused and waited, but she couldn’t find the words to answer him. She just wasn’t ready for it all to end yet. Panic overwhelmed her. Maybe if she didn’t talk to him, they could stay connected for just a little while longer.
“I’m not ready yet,” she whispered, mainly to herself. She felt the moisture building in her eyes, but she refused to cry. He ignored her.
“I’m coming back now, and I want you to let me in. If you don’t, I’m gonna go get Phlox, because I’m worried about you. This isn’t normal, what you’re doing. You’re not acting like yourself.”
’Not acting like myself’, she thought numbly. How should I be acting? She realized suddenly that she had no idea. She’d never been completely without Trip since the trellium had damaged her emotionally. She wasn’t the same. She’d never be the same, and only with his stabilizing influence could she hope to present even a facsimile of what she had been before. She needed him, and now she was losing him, and then she would die.
She stood leaning against the wall, listening to the silence on the other end of the comm until the entry bell sounded again.
“Commander! It’s Commander Tucker. I’ve got the reports on the repairs to the Lerteiran that you requested!” came Trip’s earnest voice from the other side of the door. He sounded tired.
So she turned and let him in.
She looked lost, like a whipped puppy. Her eyes were so wide they seemed luminous in the dimly lit room. He followed her in silently, now more curious than angry. What the hell was going on here? What could she possibly be so afraid of? He had no clue, so he did the only thing he could think of. He asked her.
“What’s goin’ on, T’Pol? You’re scared shitless over something, but I can’t for the life of me figure out what it is. Talk to me.” His voice was gentle. He followed her to the floor and sat opposite the meditation candle, facing her as she stared at him with a perplexed expression, as if he’d grown another head or something.
“You’re not angry?” she asked him.
He chuckled bitterly. “Angry? Hell, yeah... I’m angry!” he told her emphatically. “I’m also in love with you, T’Pol... and evidently your husband now for... what... at least a year? I think I deserve to be angry! Why the hell didn’t you tell me?! What the hell were you thinkin’, puttin’ us through all this shit?!” His accent grew heavier when he was upset. He normally tried to control it, but he wasn’t bothering with it now.
She winced, refusing to meet his eyes. “At first I didn’t know,” she admitted. “There were... complications that prevented me from discovering the true nature of our connection until after I had already married Koss.”
“Complications?” he repeated, puzzled.
“Medical complications,” she clarified, still staring at the candle in front of her.
“Explain,” he told her, sounding to his own ears almost Vulcan in his brevity. She looked up, finally. He waited.
“The Expanse challenged my preconceptions,” she began, rather evasively he thought. “I felt things I’d never felt before.” Her eyes strayed again, this time to the bulkhead behind him, and to her bunk, waiting neatly made but empty, a reminder of pleasures past. “Perhaps it was being estranged from my people... perhaps it was the company...” Her eyes darted to his again and then retreated. “But I found myself wanting... more...”
“More?” he repeated softly. His memories of the night when they’d first been intimate were clear, burned into his memory as if branded there.
“And then I found trellium-D,” she whispered, eyes averted.
“The poison? The stuff that transformed the crew of the Seleya?” he asked in a perplexed tone. She nodded, her eyes glistening.
“In small amounts, it helped me... feel...” Her gaze shifted. It was shame. He could feel it fill the room almost palpably. ”But it was addicting. It...damaged...me,” she admitted.
He sat across from her, trying to absorb what she was saying. The significance of it was like a punch in the gut. She still wouldn’t look at him.
“So, that night in the Expanse when we...you were...high on trellium-D?” he ventured, with a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. No wonder she didn’t want to tell anyone. It was all a mistake--an awful, humiliating error in judgment.
She began shaking her head, and finally met his eyes. There was sincerity there amidst the fear. “No...oh, no.” she told him earnestly. “It had been days since my last dose. When I was with you, I didn’t need it. You’re better than...” Her eyes cut away again. She took a steadying breath and closed them. “But I have no doubt that had I not been using, I would have been able to control my feelings with meditation, and not...acted on them.”
“I'm better than a poisonous drug,” he said flatly, still numb from what she had just told him. “How flattering.” He blew out a heavy breath, studying her with as much dispassion as he could manage. For the moment, his emotions took a back seat to figuring out the mystery of her odd behavior.
“How long did you use? Were you on it at Azati Prime?” he asked, point blank and disapproving. Her pained expression was his answer. It was the last straw.
“How the HELL could you have remained in command? Didn’t you realize how much damage you could have done getting high on duty?!!” he demanded, springing to his feet. Her eyes shone with unshed tears.
“I tried to stop. I went to Doctor Phlox,” she told him. “He was helping me...but you were rebuilding the ship, and the captain was gone...and there was no one else.” Her tone was deadpan despite the pleading nature of her words. She sounded as if she’d gone over the justification for her actions so many times in her head that they were rote by now, and she still didn’t believe them. Neither did Trip.
“Bullshit! You had no business in that command chair. Both you and Phlox knew that! What the hell was he thinking?!!” he demanded. She met his eyes again. The fear was overwhelming. He turned and stalked over to stare out the viewport.
“He said I was the only option. He said he’d keep it quiet for everyone’s sake as long as I never use again...and I haven’t,” she whispered, and Trip suddenly realized what she’d been afraid of.
“You were afraid to tell me,” he said grimly. He turned to look back and her, and she looked away again. It made him angrier. “You thought I’d report it and ruin your precious career, didn’t you?” He tried to follow her gaze, to get her to meet his eyes. “Look at me, dammit!!” Now, the anger that he fought to control was starting to build in his voice.
T’Pol flinched, and then she looked at him. The whipped puppy eyes were back.
“You couldn’t trust me to believe that you’d never use again, so you decided not to tell me, and you couldn’t explain why you married Koss despite our bond without telling me about the trellium.” His voice caught suddenly as he looked into her hopeless face. Unshed tears were on the verge of spilling from her eyes. He sighed and shook his head. “How long has it been since you last used?” he asked in a gentler tone.
She blinked, as if she were startled by his mildness. “About two weeks before we... lost Elizabeth,” she admitted.
“And do you plan to use again?” he persisted.
Her expression became overtly perplexed. “Of course not,” she replied, as if the answer were self-evident. “When I am with you I have no need of it. I...feel.”
Her statement hit him like a ton of bricks. So he was a substitute for this drug? He went over her statements about her feelings in the Expanse in his mind.
Or maybe, if he could believe her-the drug was her unsuccessful attempt to find something she’d managed to find only with him.
Trip ran a hand through his hair and shook his head. “You didn't trust me. That really hurts, T'Pol.” He heard his own voice catch and coughed to disguise it.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered hopelessly, and bowed her head. She looked as if she’d given up. He studied her for several seconds..
“If I promise, like Phlox did, not to tell anyone as long as you don’t use again, will you stop all these lies and crazy behavior?” he asked. She closed her eyes in obvious relief, nodding wordlessly.
They said nothing for a time. He let her recover. She seemed to be doing well, meditating with her eyes fixed on the candle between them. He studied her expression. She was calm. No tears were in evidence. But she was still terrified. It made no sense. He’d promised not to tell.
“What do you feel, T’Pol, when you’re with me? Tell me,” he said finally.
Her eyes widened, and she met his gaze with a guilty expression. Ah. There’s something else, he thought. It figured. Nothing could be simple with this woman. She was staring at the bulkhead again.
“Belonging...,” she began quietly. That she would place this feeling first surprised him. “Protectiveness.” She looked at him then. “Pride and possessiveness.” Her pupils were dilated. “Desire.” Her voice shook just a fraction. He could feel the corresponding emotions welling in the space between them, and his body responded almost painfully.
Down, boy! he reminded himself, and kept his attention focused on the task at hand.
“Need,” T’Pol continued. She licked her lips, hesitated, then whispered, “Fear...”
He interrupted her. “Why fear? What are you afraid of?” he asked, feeling as if he’d finally gotten to the root of the problem. She looked away again. It was so frustrating. Why couldn’t the woman just look him in the eye and say what she meant?
“I have done extensive research in Human mating patterns,” she told him. He grinned wryly. Now this was the T’Pol he knew. “Humans do not mate for life as Vulcans do,” she continued, a bit shakily. “I have therefore been expecting...trying to prepare myself...” her voice actually broke at that. And then the realization hit him.
She’d been expecting him to leave.
She’d given herself over to alien emotion, separated herself from her own people, divorced the only Vulcan male willing to wed her, and all along she’d been certain that her relationship with him was a temporary thing, that he would eventually leave her. Her words over the comm just before he’d entered her room to have this talk took on a new meaning then.
”I’m not ready yet,” she’d said.
She was afraid to lose him.
He blinked at her as she attempted to express herself in words, and realized that words were not enough. There was no way to reassure her in a way that she would believe, and as long as she had such a deathly fear of his imminent departure, there could be no trust between them.
“You see, it’s entirely logical to assume that any relationship between us would by necessity be temporary, considering the usual Human cultural patterns...,” she continued in a reasonable tone, obviously attempting to rationalize the behavior she expected of him.
Trip stood up and extended a hand to her where she sat on the floor. “Get up,” he said abruptly. She stopped her spiel and stared up at him with a startled expression. Then she grasped his hand and rose with smooth grace from the floor. He led her to the desk chair. “Sit,” he said. Once again, she obeyed without a word. He kept his expression stern, but inwardly he was amused. She must still be in a state of shock after their heart to heart discussion, or maybe just too frazzled to argue. That was three times today, if he counted their meal in the mess hall. She’d never obeyed him without question before in all their time together.
He activated the console and brought up Earth’s cultural database, talking as he did so. “I want you to read this. Study it well. If I say it, I’m gonna mean it, and I’ll expect you to mean it, too.” He did a brief search while she watched in perplexed silence. “When you’re ready, we can do it privately, just for the two of us, or publicly if you’d rather. Or we can call the melder-healer and take care of it the other way. It’s up to you. I’m tired of dealing with this shit. It’s time to take care of business. Call me when you decide.”
He turned, mentally crossing his fingers and desperately hoping that this cold-blooded, unromantic approach was the correct one to take with a logical but completely panicked Vulcan, and left the room, leaving her staring with a stunned expression at a document on the screen entitled “Christian Wedding Vows - Traditional”.
Senek stood silently and solemnly before the entrance to the isolation chamber while Enterprise’s Chief of Security examined his credentials. Although hastily assembled, they were nonetheless quite legal and constituted verifiable proof of his status as a Security Directorate advocate for the accused. He felt inadequately dressed without his hooded cape, but the Vulcan uniform that he wore, courtesy of Subcommander Verlen, was more appropriate to the occasion.
The dark haired Human nodded and handed him back his padd. “It all seems in order, Agent Senek,” he said briskly, then eyed Senek with concern. “But are you certain you want to go in there, sir?”
The question was actually foremost in Senek’s mind at that moment. Even though he considered himself immune to female blandishments, there was always a first time for everything. His doubts, however, were not for public consumption.
“Every suspect is entitled to a face to face meeting with counsel, Lieutenant Reed,” replied Senek evenly. “Are you suggesting that I deprive my client of her rights under the law?”
The Human smiled thinly. “Of course not, sir. Perish the thought,” he replied. Senek recalled this security officer's remarks about Raijiin during the recent briefing. He couldn’t be blamed, of course. Being Human, a certain amount of emotionalism was to be expected from him. His behavior was actually very commendable in the face of what this woman had reportedly done to his crewmates.
As Reed began the unlocking sequence to open the isolation chamber, Senek tried to prepare himself for the upcoming encounter. Although he’d seen the prisoner before, he hadn’t yet been the full focus of her attention. That experience, if the ex-Orion sex slave V’Sille was to be believed, could prove to be his undoing unless he was fully prepared for the onslaught of images and emotions the alien was capable of projecting. V’Sille was female. Even in the midst of pon farr she had no interest in other females, and yet she had succumbed. Raijiin’s power was more than simple sexual appeal. She projected an overwhelming attraction independent of sex, more powerful than physical desire, and he was about to walk into a room with her, by all outward appearances unprotected, and deliberately expose himself. No wonder the Human was concerned. It didn’t seem like a rational thing to do.
Fortunately, the Human was not in possession of all of the facts.
Fact one was Senek’s sheer cold-bloodedness. His wife T’Mar, dead now for nearly half a century as the result of an inept poisoning attempt by one of Senek’s many enemies, wouldn’t recognize him now as the man she’d married. During his emotional struggles in the months following her death, Senek had found the strength within himself to go on, and had very nearly attained Kolinahr. He’d been prevented from doing so not by his grief, but by the desire for revenge which he couldn’t seem to overcome. Senek had eventually found his wife’s murderer and disposed of him, but the tendency toward violent emotion remained. There was nothing else left. Even the pon farrs since his wife’s death had been brief businesslike affairs, dealt with like any other biological necessity by a convenient appointment with a priestess at Gol. If the alien Raijiin had any success in breaking down his emotional control he’d be much more likely to kill her than to have sex with her.
And so he had no personal attachments. His parents were dead. He had no siblings. His wife had not given him any children. Even the unexpected offspring of two pon farrs ago - a son he would never have known about had the Security Directorate not had agents placed even within the hierarchy of the temple at Gol - was not his responsibility. Dedicated to the temple at birth as all such children were, the boy was apparently highly intelligent, and fortunately favored his mother in temperament. Senek received periodic reports about him, not for sentimental reasons, but because the directorate considered the relationship potentially useful. They had never met, and Senek had no interest in doing so. He did find it interesting that the boy had inherited his unusually strong melding skills.
And that brought him to fact two. He was, in all honesty and without false humility, a melder of unusual skill. Those skills had been honed over the years to serve a specific purpose, and that purpose was most emphatically not healing. He had every confidence that should the alien attempt to take control of his mind by telepathy he would be capable of defending himself. The challenge, once again, would be to do it without killing her. The Security Directorate wanted her alive and biddable. That was his mission, and he wasn’t at all sure if the task was even possible.
The Human stepped aside and waved him forward. He held a phase pistol pointed into the open door but avoided eye contact with its occupant. “I’ll be right out here if you need help, sir,” he told Senek sympathetically. Senek nodded in acknowledgment and then stepped without hesitation into the chamber. The door clanged shut behind him as he inspected the interior of the cell. Surprisingly, it seemed quite comfortable, certainly more so than the holding cells on the Sehlat.
Raijiin sat on the leftward bunk. She had, to his eye, the wide-eyed and wet-lipped expression of a woman desperate for companionship. She was dressed in the same disposable garments provided to patients in every medical facility he’d ever had the misfortune to enter. They didn’t flatter her, but she was still a very aesthetically appealing woman. It was only after the thought occurred to him that he realized how unusual it was for him to even notice such a thing,
“I am Senek, your assigned advocate. Are you sufficiently comfortable? Have you been fed?” he asked with bland concern, getting into character with a bit of difficulty.
With a delicate quiver of her lip and a sigh, Raijiin smiled at him. Despite all of his preparations, it had considerable impact. “Oh! Mister Senek! I’m so glad you’re here!” she exclaimed. She rose to her feet and-undulated was the first word that came to mind-toward him, nearly in tears. “No one will talk to me! I’ve been so lonely in here. You have no idea! It’s cruel!”
He watched in morbid fascination as she reached his side and proceeded to wrap herself around him like some strange species of blonde ivy. He found her ability to remain just at the verge of tears quite impressive. It made perfect sense. A woman who was just about to cry needed comforting. One who was already crying, on the other hand, was much less attractive. Few beings of any species found a running nose and swollen eyelids appealing.
“I’m afraid that the Treaty of Alliance does not provide a guarantee of pleasant company during incarceration,” he told her for the benefit of the microphones in the chamber. He searched the room visually while absentmindedly stroking her shoulder, but found no illicit video equipment, so without saying another word he lifted his hands to her temples and immediately forced a meld before she had the chance to protest. She struggled briefly, but he was much stronger. There was no question of resistance. To his surprise, behind her empty-headed facade she was intelligent, dispassionate, and keenly aware of her situation. She was also furiously angry.
”Get out of my mind this instant! You cannot do this! It is a clear violation of my rights!” While in his arms and under his influence, she was unable to speak or move. That didn’t prevent her from objecting to his actions telepathically in the strongest possible terms. He replied in the same manner.
“As far as the Vulcan Security Directorate is concerned, you gave up your rights when you chose to leave the custody of the Sehlat and to participate in an unauthorized attack on a member of a species allied to Vulcan,” he replied in grim silence. Her eyes widened, and she tried again to free herself without success.
“I am in control. You cannot break free,” he told her without a sound. ”You now have two choices. You may choose to voluntarily cooperate with me, or I can force you to cooperate.”
”What do you want from me?” she demanded, seeming rather less intimidated than he would have expected. Unfortunately, the wording of her question brought to mind several embarrassing scenarios. It was probably the incident with T’Riss that was making him so suggestible. His pon farr was over a year away.
“I want nothing from you,” he claimed without speaking. ”The Security Directorate has need of your services.”
Abruptly, she stopped struggling. Her eyes met his. For a moment she looked intrigued, and then she startled him by deliberately deepening their connection, pushing beyond the superficial meld to a deep probe. She was past his barriers before he had the chance to fortify them, and he could sense that what she found there frightened her more than anything he’d done to her thus far. She began fighting him desperately again, and before he could regain control of the meld he found the reason for her sudden panic. She’d been a slave her entire life, and had only recently come to realize that it might be possible for her to become a free woman. Being a virtual slave of the Security Directorate was not at all what she’d had in mind for what remained of her life. This was unfortunate, because she wasn’t being given a choice.
“Let me go! I won’t be a slave any more! I won’t...” Her silent mental cry was snuffed out mid-thought. Senek ended her struggles the only way he was capable of ending them, by using his unique talents. When he was done she lay limply in his arms. He lifted her dead weight easily and stepped to the bunk to lay her down. He checked a pulse.
She was alive. She was breathing. She was even conscious after a fashion, but locked in behind mental shielding so strong that not even a melder-healer could break it. The only person capable of freeing Raijiin was Senek himself, and he would do that only if ordered to do so, under the proper circumstances. Until then, the woman was effectively in a vegetative state, aware of her surroundings but completely unable to respond to them. It was an unpleasant condition to be in, but she really hadn’t given him a choice. He felt slightly guilty nonetheless.
He rapped on the airlock door. “Ah... Lieutenant? There is something wrong with the prisoner!”
Malcolm Reed kept his phase pistol leveled and stepped back to allow Marcus, one of the two guards assigned to Sickbay security, to shut the airlock door. Only then did he lower his weapon. The first half of his official role as Security Chief-to confirm the credentials of the prisoner’s advocate-was done. He stood in front of the isolation chamber waiting for the second half-escorting the advocate back where he came from-and puzzling over his gut reaction of suspicion toward Agent Senek.
The fellow was in law enforcement, after a fashion. It probably made perfect sense to the Vulcans to appoint him as advocate. Malcolm just couldn’t see the man as a barrister, though. Despite his admitted affiliation with the Security Directorate, he just didn’t seem the type. Just not smarmy enough, Malcolm decided with the trace of a smile. And then there was the fact that Raijiin would undoubtedly be so useful to the Security Directorate. Why would one of their agents be involved in attempting to help her gain her freedom? Was it mercy?
Vulcans were never merciful. Mercy wasn’t logical.
Suddenly a rhythmic beeping sounding behind him. He turned to discover Doctor Phlox rushing to the isolation chamber’s monitoring station with a concerned expression on his face. Before he could ask what the problem was, a muffled thumping sounded from inside the isolation chamber. Agent Senek’s hesitant voice could be heard through the door.
“Ah... Lieutenant? There is something wrong with the prisoner!”
Malcolm’s trouble sensor hit critical with that one. He strode forward and reached for the airlock door.
“Don't even think about opening that door, Mr. Reed!” Dr. Phlox roared. Malcolm snatched his hand back as if the door latch was a live conduit. He gazed at Phlox in fascination, never having been aware that the Denobulan was even able to roar.
Phlox hit a switch and a red light started flashing above the door to the isolation chamber. A pre-recorded woman's voice recited, “Warning. Isolation chamber is now in full quarantine mode. All life support systems have been routed into self-sustaining recyclers. This area is off-limits to anyone but authorized personnel.”
Malcolm backed away and looked at the doorway guard, who returned a nod of understanding and took a slightly more alert stance. Phlox hit the intercom switch with a disgusted expression.
“Phlox to bridge. Medical and Security emergency.”
“Doctor? This is the captain. What's going on?”
Phlox sighed. “I’m not precisely certain yet, Captain. What I can tell you is this. Up to this point Raijiin's biosigns have been perfectly normal in every respect. Agent Senek reported as her advocate and walked into isolation to meet with her. Exactly eleven seconds later by the chronometer, Raijiin's neural readings spiked and her respiration became significantly depressed. Thirty-two seconds after that, just as I was reaching to activate the monitor, Agent Senek called to report that something was the matter with the prisoner. The monitor now shows Raijiin lying unconscious on her bunk with Agent Senek standing over her.”
There was a long pause. “It sounds like Raijiin tried to overpower Senek and bit off more than she could chew.”
“Perhaps,” Phlox told him. “Or perhaps not. Captain, Raijiin's biosigns are now very, very disturbing. Her entire body has almost shut down completely. It’s almost as if she has gone into hibernation... all in the matter of a few seconds... with one exception. Her conscious thought processes are still fully active. She is awake and alert, but she is totally paralyzed. I have never seen anything like this before. Never.”
“Is Malcolm still there?”
“Yes, sir,” Lieutenant Reed spoke up. “I’m standing right here, sir.”
“Tie the comm from inside the isolation chamber into this conversation, will you Malcolm? Let’s get Senek’s input on this.”
“Aye, sir.” Reed got busy at the isolation chamber’s control board and shortly thereafter Senek’s voice came online.
“I really have no idea what happened,” the Vulcan’s disembodied voice declared. “We had barely begun to speak about her case when the young woman suddenly clutched at her temples and collapsed.”
“Quite frankly, Agent Senek,” Phlox retorted with a bite in his voice, “I find that statement improbable to the point of incredible. You are asking me to believe that an otherwise healthy young woman suddenly, for no apparent reason and without warning, decides to collapse within seconds of your arrival. And yet you deny having any connection with this event? Please,” he snorted.
“I am not a Healer,” Senek protested. “I cannot be held responsible for the unexpected reactions of a hitherto unknown species.”
“You are, however,” Phlox shot back, “the agent of a political power with a long history of prevarication and misdirection.”
Malcolm propped against the wall and listened with deep interest. This was getting good. Almost never did Phlox get what Commander Tucker called “really riled up”, but when he did, he became a force of nature than none aboard Enterprise dared oppose.
Malcolm could almost feel the captain’s hesitation through the comm system. “Doctor. Is there any possibility that you could have overlooked something? I’m not trying to dispute your opinion...” He let his voice trail off delicately.
Phlox made a sound that Malcolm classified as halfway between a growl and a hiss. “Possible? Yes, Captain. Of course it’s possible that I may have overlooked something. I gave Raijiin a complete blood work up. I scanned every system in her body - twice. I have been monitoring her brain waves, respiration, heartbeat, temperature, blood pressure, electrolytes, environmental conditions, diet, caloric intake, hydration, and every other factor that I am equipped to monitor unceasingly since she arrived. I have checked for microbes, viruses, chemical contamination, and radiation exposure.”
He took a deep breath. “But yes, of course. It is certainly within the realm of possibility that I might have overlooked something. I am only mortal and fallible, Captain. Like anyone else. But if I did overlook something that might have caused this I have no idea what it could possibly be.”
“That’s all I need to hear.” Captain Archer spoke with sudden decision. “Lieutenant Reed, take Agent Senek into custody for questioning.”
“I protest, Captain.” Senek managed to inject a note of carefully moderated indignation into his voice.
“Restrain yourself, Mr. Reed,” Phlox told him. Malcolm paused in mid stride at the halfway point between the comm and the isolation chamber door. He turned to look quizzically at the doctor.
“What is it, Dr. Phlox?” he asked politely.
“I am afraid,” Phlox answered him, speaking partly to the comm and partly to the room at large, “that I cannot allow the quarantine to be compromised. Since Agent Senek continues to maintain that he had nothing to do with Raijiin’s collapse, there remains a very slight possibility that she may actually be sick. Until I have confirmed the real reason for her condition I cannot permit the quarantine to be lifted. Question Agent Senek, by all means, but you will have to do it by comm link. No one is going in or out of that isolation chamber until I find out for certain why she collapsed.”
“I warn you, Commander T’Pol, that I am seriously contemplating enforcement action.”
T’Pol raised her eyebrow and regarded T’Lar thoughtfully. The young Task Force commander was obviously stretched to the breaking point. T’Pol estimated her to be approximately nine years younger than T’Pol was herself. For someone so young to be entrusted with a responsibility this onerous spoke volumes of how thinly the resources of the new Vulcan government were stretched.
She suppressed a sigh. Captain Archer’s logic was unassailable. Sending her to deal with T’Lar was plainly the best option available, and a face-to-face meeting was more efficient. But she had her own issues to deal with. Why did everything have to descend at once?
T’Pol immediately chided herself. More meditation time tonight, she decided. As much as she cherished her bond with Trip, her connection with a Human was causing her to experience occasional bursts of illogical frustration. She would need to focus her attention and bring these firmly under control if they were to maintain a long term relationship. Time to put her personal problems aside and concentrate on her job.
“Commander T’Lar, your concerns are logical and justified. Captain Archer intends to address them immediately.”
“That is most welcome news,” T’Lar told her suspiciously. “In that case, why has Agent Senek not been released? And why has Subcenturion T’Riss not been transferred to our Sickbay?”
“Despite your apparent conviction that Captain Archer is engaging in deliberate obfuscation,” T’Pol kept her tone even and level, “it is a fact that he is relatively helpless to overrule his Chief Medical Officer.”
T’Lar’s lips tightened. “Enough! You say that Captain Archer intends to address my concerns, and then with the next breath you state that he is helpless to do so. Which is truth?”
This time T’Pol did sigh. “Both. Since the most urgent source of concern deals with medical issues, particularly the condition of Subcenturion T’Riss, Captain Archer proposes that Enterprise go to warp and proceed at best speed to rejoin the task force. As soon as we arrive, the healer-melder can begin treatment of Subcenturion T’Riss. Meanwhile, Dr. Phlox and the other healers can continue to analyze the situation inside our isolation chamber in order to determine the reason for Raijiin’s condition. If it is determined that she collapsed for some cause that is not communicable, Agent Senek will be released immediately thereafter.”
T’Lar actually relaxed a trifle. “That is... an acceptable beginning,” she said grudgingly. “While Enterprise proceeds toward the station, Sehlat can continue repairing Lerteiran. It is probable that the medical situation for both T’Riss and Raijiin will be resolved by the time we arrive.”
“That is Captain Archer’s hope,” T’Pol told her. “Also, Captain Archer suggests that Mr. Johansen accompany Enterprise so that he may begin treatment for the damage inflicted by Raijiin’s probe. We can leave an armory technician to finish the sensor upgrades for their new torpedoes.”
T’Lar’s face tightened again. “That is another issue that requires discussion.”
“No, it does not,” T’Pol replied serenely. “Daniel Johansen is a citizen of Earth. It is within the authority of Earth to arm its own citizens in any manner that it chooses. Do you dispute this?”
“Lerteiran is not a Human ship!” T'Lar snapped. “It is Andorian. Despite our current peace treaty, we are far from being on friendly terms with the Andorians. Earth is supposed to be our ally. I do not consider it to be the act of an ally to provide state of the art weapons to an unfriendly power.”
“Lerteiran is in fact a Human ship,” T’Pol shot back. “It is a Human ship just as much as it is Andorian. Daniel Johansen owns a 12.5% share of the ship as well as a share of all associated cargo and accoutrements. In any case the distinction is irrelevant. We are not giving the torpedoes to Lerteiran. We are giving them to Mr. Johansen. What he does with them, or where he chooses to install them, is entirely his own business. Once he takes possession of the torpedoes they become his own private property and Starfleet has no further authority over them.”
“A ridiculously transparent ruse.” T’Lar nearly seethed.
T’Pol abruptly turned cold. “Commander T’Lar,” she said, turning the full weight of her nine years and several thousand light years of seniority on her. “It is hardly the place of the Vulcan government, or its designated representative, to dictate to Starfleet what the duties and responsibilities of an ally might be. Whenever Vulcan has needed any type of assistance from Earth, it has always been provided—without exception. Vulcan has neither the legal nor the moral authority to oversee Earth’s internal dealings with one of its own citizens.”
T’Lar actually winced. T’Pol bored onward, drilling deep and going for blood once she got started. “Furthermore, the technology in question was developed by Humans without any assistance from the Vulcan government. It is based in part on intelligence obtained from examination of alien salvage obtained during Enterprise’s initial deep space voyage, with additional recent upgrades based on intelligence obtained during our mission into the Delphic Expanse. Some of the technology is actually derived from scans that were obtained with the assistance of the Andorian ship Kumari. ” She sat back and looked T’Lar straight in the eye until T’Lar looked away. It was undoubtedly Trip Tucker’s corrupting influence that cause T’Pol’s subsequent sudden and unexpected urge to smile in triumph. It required a great deal of effort, but she managed to refrain from doing so.
“Whoa!” Trip grabbed his arm and steadied him. Daniel shook his head and said with a smile, “That was wild.”
“Wasn’t it though?” Trip grinned. “First time through a transporter?”
“Yeah,” Daniel replied sheepishly. Then he looked around with interest. They stood on a small platform in some kind of alcove. In front of them was a console where Commander T’Pol was operating the controls. “Welcome back, Commander. Welcome aboard, Mr. Johansen,” she told them civilly.
“Thank you, Commander,” Trip replied with what sounded to Daniel like an affectionate tone. “Please advise the captain that we’re ready to get underway at his convenience.”
The corner of T’Pol’s mouth twitched in that shadow of a smile that some Vulcans occasionally permitted themselves with family and extremely close friends. “I will do so, Commander.”
“Come on, Daniel. Let’s get you settled into your quarters and then have Phlox look you over.” Trip headed off down the corridor, leaving Daniel no choice but to heft his duffel and follow thoughtfully.
T’Pol stepped onto the bridge to find Lieutenant Sato sitting in the command chair. “Commander T’Pol,” Hoshi informed her, “the captain requests that you report to his ready room upon your arrival.” T’Pol acknowledged the order and stepped across to knock on the door. Hearing an invitation to enter, she walked in to find the captain and Lieutenant Reed facing the communications console.
“Captain,” Agent Senek’s voice issued from the comm. “I am certainly willing to cooperate, but I fail to see what more I can do. I have already reported the events precisely as they occurred.”
Captain Archer’s jaw muscles bunched in a manner that T’Pol found all too familiar. He let his breath hiss out through his nostrils and shook his head. He looked at Reed, who pursed his lips and returned the head shake, and then gestured at T’Pol to approach.
“Quite frankly Agent Senek, I think you’re lying,” Archer told him bluntly. “Let me speak plainly for once. Doctor Phlox informs me that it isn’t possible for the situation to have happened the way you describe it. Given a choice between believing Dr. Phlox or believing a member of the Vulcan Security Directorate, my decision isn’t a difficult one.”
“Then we seem to be at an impasse,” Senek said.
“Perhaps not,” T’Pol offered. “Captain, with your permission I would like to speak with Agent Senek in private. Would that be acceptable?”
Archer snorted in disgust. “It can’t hurt.” He stood up. “Come on Malcolm. Maybe T’Pol can accomplish something. We’re just spinning our wheels here.” The two of them exited the room, but not before Jonathan Archer caught her eye and smiled crookedly, silently mouthing the words, Have fun!. T’Pol raised a brow at him in tolerant amusement before turning toward the comm screen. It was dark. She would evidently be limited to verbal communication during her negotiations. The situation had its advantages, but it would be difficult to judge Senek’s responses.
“Greetings, Commander,” Senek said in a wry tone. “It is always agreeable to converse with an old friend.”
“Indeed,” T’Pol replied ironically, seating herself. She interlaced her fingers on the desktop, exhaled heavily, and said, “We are unmonitored now. You may speak freely. But first, I must say that your obstinate refusal to acknowledge the reality of your situation is both illogical and unfitting for an agent of your experience. I confess to surprise.”
“Are you convinced of the accuracy of your assessment, Commander?” Senek challenged. “Is there no room in your thoughts for the possibility that I might be speaking the truth?”
“None whatsoever,” T’Pol told him bluntly.
“In that case,” Senek came back, “I am open to suggestions.”
“The truth is often useful,” T’Pol suggested.
“In carefully measured doses, perhaps,” Senek admitted.
“Did she attack you? Or did you instigate the meld?”
There was a long pause. “Does it matter?”
“To me? Personally? No, not greatly,” T’Pol told him. “I make no pretense of a lack of bias regarding Raijiin. It is fortunate, both for her and for my own honor, that I am in no way responsible for her judgment. However it might make a difference to the Humans, depending on your motivation.”
“In this, to you, I speak with sincere honesty when I say that I truly regret my inability to tell you my motivation. If I could tell you, T’Pol, I would. I mean that.”
T’Pol raised her interlaced hands until the tips of her index fingers touched her lips. “So you were given a classified assignment by the Directorate to acquire Raijiin. I see.” There was no response from the comm, so she continued. “I speculate that the Directorate wishes to investigate the possibility of using her abilities, and perhaps even learning to duplicate them. She resisted, and you were forced to subdue her. Am I correct?”
Silence was her only response. T’Pol closed her eyes in exasperation. “Senek. You hold in your hands a priceless opportunity. If you are willing to release your convulsive grip on your conditioned paranoia you can simultaneously accomplish your mission and improve relations between Earth and Vulcan. But you cannot do it if you continue to treat Vulcan’s closest ally as an enemy in time of war.”
“My orders are quite clear, Commander. I violate them at my peril.”
“Your orders are flexible enough to permit you to modify them if required in order to accomplish your mission objectives,” T’Pol retorted. “I know that as well as you do. The plain facts are these - you will not leave this ship until Captain Archer is satisfied with your explanation. Under Earth law he has the right to place you in the brig and hold you there without trial until this ship returns to Earth. At which point you will be handed over to Starfleet authorities and placed in a Human holding facility while more paperwork is processed. Finally a hearing will be held. It may be months before you ever breathe the air of freedom again. Meanwhile, Raijiin will be tried, found guilty, and placed permanently in a Human hospital for the criminally insane. You will return to Vulcan in disgrace with your mission a failure. Is this your desire?”
After a few moments, “Your reports were always richly descriptive,” Senek said. The sound of a sigh came through the comm. “Your assessment was not inaccurate,” he admitted. “Raijiin was not pleased with the concept of spending her life in service to the Security Directorate. She attempted to use her abilities to immobilize me, forcing me to induce a fugue state. She is quite undamaged, but she will remain in her current condition until I retrieve her.”
“Understood.” Since she was alone and unseen, T’Pol permitted herself the shameful luxury of a small, triumphant smile. “I believe that a compromise may be possible. Allow me to recall the captain.
Daniel turned his head to look across the room. “Please be still, Mr. Johansen,” the alien doctor requested. He flushed.
“Sorry, Dr. Phlox,” he muttered. There was nothing to see anyway, a curtain hung between the exam table and the bed where T’Riss slept. None of his business, he told himself.
“That’s quite all right, Mr. Johansen,” Phlox told him. The Denobulan hummed under his breath as he made some adjustments to his instruments. Daniel looked up at the overhead plates and counted rivets as the scans continued, and tried to ignore the itching from the sensors that were stuck to his scalp. Finally Phlox told him, “We’re all done here. You can sit up now.”
“What’s the verdict, Doctor?” he asked, a little nervously, while Phlox popped the self attaching neural probes loose from his head. When the last one came free Daniel turned to glance at the display monitor mounted at the end of the biobed, but it had been turned off already.
“The damage was not as bad as I had feared,” Phlox told him encouragingly. “Unfortunately, it was slightly worse than I had hoped. You will need to undergo a series of two initial injections of neurotransmitters today, followed by one more tomorrow morning in order to halt the progression of the deterioration. After that, once I am certain that the damage has been halted, I will begin injecting you with cultured stem cells to replace the missing areas. The total treatment should last approximately a week if all goes well.”
“OK, whatever you say,” Daniel agreed affably. “What would happen if you just stopped the damage and didn’t try to regrow the nerve tissue?”
“You would never get rid of the headaches, for one thing,” Phlox told him.
“Shoot me up, then, Doc,” Daniel promptly responded, holding out his arm with a grin. His smile vanished, though, as the doctor extended a small hypospray injector toward one of his eyes instead, and he instinctively dodged before it made contact. Phlox hesitated, grimacing apologetically. “Ah... did I forget to tell you that the neurotransmitters must go directly into the central nervous system via the vessels surrounding the optic nerve?” he asked. Daniel just stared back at him, and then gulped. So that’s what that look of pity on Trip’s face had been all about.
“So what you are telling me,” Captain Archer said thoughtfully, “is that you want Raijiin to spend the rest of her life as a kind of indentured servant to the Vulcan Security Directorate?”
“Essentially correct, Captain,” Senek admitted. “Although the Security Directorate does not, and would not, force Raijiin to act in a manner that contradicted her innate moral code, if our government were to take action to rescue her from facing trial and retribution at the hands of Starfleet it seems only equitable that she make restitution in some manner.”
Lieutenant Reed flashed a nasty grin. “Certainly. Entirely logical, I must say.”
“I am gratified that you concur, Lieutenant Reed,” Senek replied.
Archer smothered a snort and looked across at T’Pol and Malcolm with ironic amusement in his eyes. “You understand, Agent Senek, that I do not have the authority to approve such an arrangement on my own. I will contact my superiors and present this proposal to them, in strict confidence of course, and let you know their response.”
“I will await your notification then, Captain. I hope that we can resolve this situation amicably.”
“As do I, Agent Senek.” Archer glanced across at Malcolm, who was looking positively gleeful. “Somehow, I am beginning to suspect that we might. Archer out.” He switched off the comm and leaned back. “Opinions?”
“Bloody brilliant,” Malcolm said with enthusiasm, “If you will excuse my language, sir. This is better than a prison sentence. A lifetime at hard labor without parole, and no chance of escape either. Raijiin might have a shot at getting away from our guards, but I doubt she would be able to give her Vulcan handlers the slip for very long.”
“It does seem an appropriate form of recompense for her crime, Captain,” T’Pol offered. “If we accept her excuse that she was conditioned into obedience by a lifetime of slavery, then this option provides a modicum of mercy compared to lifetime confinement in Earth’s prison system. At the same time, it permits Raijiin to offer restitution for her actions and thereby demonstrate the sincerity of her oft expressed remorse.”
Archer grinned. “She does keep going on and on and on about how sorry she is doesn’t she? You’re right; this would be the perfect chance to prove it.” He sat thoughtfully for a brief moment. “T’Pol, please take the bridge and ask Hoshi to see if she can punch through to Admiral Gardner for me. I realize this nebula may make it impossible, but have her give it a shot anyway. I have to mop up a couple of details with Malcolm about security arrangements during all of this prisoner shuffling we’re about to be doing. I’ll be out after I talk to the admiral, or after I finish up the latest log entries, whichever comes last.” T’Pol inclined her head and headed for the bridge, leaving the two men alone.
“Lieutenant Reed,” Archer began soberly. Malcolm straightened in his chair and stiffened. “I am not going to ask for any specifics. But I find it impossible to believe that Section 31 has kept their nose completely out of this situation.”
Reed looked intensely uncomfortable. He squirmed and sighed, nodding shamefacedly. “Yes, sir. I have heard from Harris.” Archer looked resigned.
“I expected as much. I don’t need, or want, to know what he wanted... unless it was in direct conflict with our mission. In which case you would have warned me, wouldn’t you?” The look he sent across the room stabbed.
“Yes, sir!” Malcolm stood up and snapped to attention. “I gave you my word, sir!” Archer waved him back to his seat.
“I believe you, Lieutenant. Take it easy. Sit.” Reed reluctantly resumed his chair. “The reason I bring this up is no doubt obvious to you. If we do manage to get Starfleet to agree to Senek’s proposal, and frankly I love the idea, you know as well as I do that the brass is still going to want their pound of flesh in some form. So I want you to contact Harris. We need to talk to him, both of us together, and find out what his price is. If we can get his approval, and get Admiral Gardner’s approval, I’m confident that everything else will fall into place, especially if the admiral can recruit the ambassador to our side.”
Malcolm nodded. “I agree, sir. When would you like me to call Harris?”
“Tonight, during Gamma shift,” Archer told him. “Cloak and dagger should be done at midnight, don’t you think?” He grinned. “It’ll be easier to avoid comments that way. Just drop in around 1130 hours. We both keep odd hours anyway, so no one will be surprised to see either of us show up in the middle of the night to make a spot check.”
“Acknowledged,” Reed replied with just the trace of a smile in response. Then he stood up. “Permission to return to duty, sir?” he asked, facing Archer at attention in full military manner. Archer chuckled. “Permission granted,” he replied. Malcolm nodded crisply and turned to leave..
“And, Malcolm?” The lieutenant stopped and looked over his shoulder inquiringly. “Good work.”
“Thank you, sir.” Reed smiled broadly and stepped through the door with his shoulders squared.
Trip sipped his coffee and stubbornly refused to turn his head toward the doorway, where his wife...Will I ever get used to thinking that word?... had just entered the mess hall. Instead he watched through hooded eyes as she scanned the room until she spotted him. She paused a moment, then walked over to the drinks dispenser to get her usual cup of tea before heading his way. He tried to brace himself. Here we go.
“Good evening, Commander,” she offered. “Is this seat taken?” Trip chewed the inside of his cheek and glanced up at her.
“Is it ever? Has it ever been?” he gibed in a gentle voice. “Sit down. Talk to me.” He saw her fingers tighten, but she sat down.
“You have been out of touch since our last conversation,” T’Pol mentioned evenly. “We have not spoken since you returned from Lerteiran, and only briefly then.” They were in public, so Trip was not surprised that she failed to mention his lack of appearance in her quarters the night before.
Trip did not reply. He took a sip of coffee and watched her over the rim of the cup without a word, holding her eyes steadily. It was her move now.
After four minutes and 13 seconds, she continued, “Are you still angry with me?”
“Not really.” The response came with gratifying speed. His tone left no room for doubt about the matter. The smile that accompanied his answer was also reassuring. “Disappointed. Hurt. But not really angry.”
“Then...” Her brows drew together. “Why have you avoided me?”
“I didn’t. I just stopped making the first move.”
The answer was shockingly simple. T’Pol blinked and sat back, realizing that it was true. She had become so accustomed to their meetings in the mess hall, and their regular evening rendezvous, that when they stopped she was at a loss to respond. It suddenly struck her that the concept of actively pursuing him had never occurred to her. Always before in their relationship, it was Trip who initiated contact. It was Trip who opened discussions of emotional matters. It was always Trip who began things between them. She had never been forced into an active role before. The thought made her profoundly nervous.
“I am sorry,” she said softly.
“I know.” He shrugged. “Water under the bridge.” Trip took another sip of coffee, and then stared with disgust into his cup. “I have absolutely got to fabricate a new coffeepot for Chef. This stuff would strip the finish off the reactor core. Can’t really complain I guess, considering that it’s been with us all the way from Earth to the Expanse, to the Syndicate, back to Earth, and now back to the Syndicate. I suppose you could say it’s lived up to its warranty.”
“You cannot be serious.” T’Pol eyed the mug. “Chef is actually still using the original coffee urn that was issued to the galley when Enterprise was launched?”
Trip nodded in irritation. “He put in the order for a new one two years ago. Six months later the cap’n personally initialed a request to speed it up. Once a month since then the cap’n sends in a new request. Nothing. I repaired and patched and tuned it until there is nothing left to fix anymore. Time to make a new one from scratch I guess.”
“I am confident that your product will be equal or superior to the best available from the quartermaster’s stores,” T’Pol told him. Trip flashed a quick smile. Silence fell. They stared at each other. T’Pol idly wondered what other nonsensical subject they would come up with to avoid discussing the inevitable.
“Mr. Johansen seems to be settling in well, according to Ensign Mayweather,” she finally blurted out. “Apparently bunking with the MACOs is quite agreeable to him.”
“Like Travis said,” Trip nodded idly, “Boomers are used to living in cramped circumstances. Daniel probably spent most of his life in one kind of barracks or another.” He turned his head to gaze out of the viewport, obviously not attempting to force the conversation in any particular direction. T’Pol took a deep breath. It was up to her to make the next move.
“Wereyousincerewhenyoushowedmethatfile?” It came without warning, in a sudden gush unlike anything that Trip had ever heard from T’Pol before. He yanked his gaze from the port to see her holding her mug in a white knuckled grip and staring at him with eyes like a wounded doe. It was all he could do to keep from grabbing her right then and there in a bear hug and whispering reassurances in her ear.
Instead, he slid a hand over inconspicuously and closed in on her wrist. “Yes,” he told her firmly. He put all the intensity he could into his voice, and tried as best he could figure out how to project sincerity through the bond. Something must have worked, because she suddenly slumped back against the chair like a puppet whose strings had been cut.
“I...” she swallowed. “I did not...” Again she tried to talk. “When you showed me the...” It wasn’t working. Trip squeezed her wrist and smiled.
“Shhh. Just breathe. Drink your tea. We have all night to talk.” He drained his coffee with a grimace and shuddered. “I can’t handle any more of this. I’m gonna see if Chef has any cocoa made. Or maybe some of that Darjeeling that Malcolm has been after me to try. Anything has to be better than this bat guano.” Trip could feel her eyes on his back while he made his way to the counter.
“Captain Archer, what a pleasant surprise,” Harris said, shooting Malcolm a look that was less than thrilled. “You’re looking well. I’m certain that Malcolm has an excellent reason for making this call.”
“Odd you should say that, Harris,” Archer bit back. “I was just thinking that your face has not improved with age. I was sincerely hoping that we would never have to speak again, but unfortunately we have a situation that must be resolved. So I ordered Malcolm to contact you. Not by preference, I assure you.”
Harris settled back and his eyes narrowed. “You need something, I take it?” A slight smile crossed his lips. “I’m always willing to do business.”
Captain Archer looked at Malcolm, who winced. He turned back to the monitor and said, “No, Harris. I don’t need one thing you have. In fact, this time I hold all the cards. I am making a courtesy call in the interest of keeping things functioning smoothly between Earth and Vulcan. However, if you would prefer to play your little mind games, I can deal strictly with Admiral Gardner and leave you out of the loop altogether.”
Harris’s nostrils flared. “Malcolm, I suggest that you brief your captain on the consequences of...”
“Can it, Harris,” Archer interrupted him. “I’m not interested in hearing your threats or your bluffs. We have Raijiin. The Vulcan Security Directorate wants her for their own use. We have the Security Directorate over a barrel. I have their local agent in confinement, right along with Raijiin. We have leverage in the person of my first officer that will get us anything we want, within reason, if in return we give them Raijiin. Interested?”
Harris sat speechless, Archer noted with intense satisfaction. “Well?” the captain demanded. “I haven’t been able to reach Admiral Gardner yet, apparently he’s out on some kind of inspection tour. But as soon as he returns I am dumping this in his lap. Make up your mind.”
Harris leaned forward slowly. “This is excellent news, Captain,” he said evenly. “Despite your opinion of me, the fact remains that we’re on the same side, even if it galls you to admit it. Don’t worry about Admiral Gardner. I will contact him immediately and pass this along to him. I am sure that he will interrupt his tour for something like this.”
“You have a link to the admiral?” Archer asked, feeling a touch defeated.
“Of course,” For once Harris seemed a bit surprised. “We are part of Starfleet, after all. Did you forget that? The flag officers of Starfleet Command are well aware of the existence of Section 31, as are the President and leaders of the legislature. Anyone with a need to know is informed as part of the briefing for the duties of their position. It would be impossible for a flag officer to function without knowing about such a critical department within Starfleet intelligence.”
“All right then,” Archer replied. “Find out what I have to ask for from Senek. He is willing to deal, but only to a point. Remember, don't push it too far or we might be stuck with a Security agent that I can’t keep but I can’t turn loose either.”
“Understood, Captain,” Harris looked amused. “Heaven forbid that we should set such a precedent as that. I am confident that we can come to mutually agreeable terms. Admiral Gardner will be in touch with you soon. Harris out.” The screen went blank.
Archer and Reed let out identical sighs of relief. Then looked at each other and chuckled. The captain shook his head. “Well, I suppose that since Harris seems confident in a happy ending, we might as well build some goodwill by letting Senek out of confinement. He must be getting hungry and eager to stretch his legs by now, don’t you think, Malcolm?”
“Certainly, sir. I know I would be,” Lieutenant Reed told him.
“Go on down then,” Archer ordered. “I’ll call ahead and clear it with Phlox. He’s not going to be happy, but at least we know there isn’t any new danger loose on the ship... for a change.”
Raijiin felt numbness all over her body. Then the prickle of returning circulation began, annoying at first and then increasingly painful. Memory started to emerge. A face. A man’s face. Vulcan. Who? An older man. He wore... What did he wear? A uniform. A Vulcan uniform. An older man in a Vulcan uniform. He was touching her. A Vulcan client? No. Not a client. He was...
She shot upward to a sitting position and swung her arm around to slap the hands away from her face. Senek stepped back calmly and watched while she regained control of herself. Raijiin sat on the bunk and looked up at him, trembling.
“Are you capable of speaking?” he asked her indifferently. She nodded. The Vulcan raised an eyebrow in that infuriating manner they had.
“What. Did. You. Do?” She forced out the words one at a time through chattering teeth. He shrugged.
Senek told her, “That is not relevant. However, I am now about to leave this containment area. It is more convenient for you to be awake so that you may attend to your own physical needs. We will speak again soon.” He turned to walk to the door and pressed the comm button. “I am ready to leave, Lieutenant.”
A disembodied voice that Raijiin vaguely recognized as the security officer, Reed, replied, “Acknowledged.” A series of lights began to glow and the door seal started to hiss.
Raijiin’s mind raced, flashing through her most recent memories. Senek wanted to enslave her for the Vulcans. T’Lar and T’Riss had both promised that the Vulcans would help her, save her from the Humans, she remembered bitterly. Hah! What a fool she had been to believe them. She could depend on no one but herself, just as it had always been. But she had to escape now. The Vulcans had powers that she had never realized. That weakling T’Pol was nothing compared to Senek. If he was an example of the people the Vulcan Security Directorate used, she would never be able to break free once they finished conditioning her. The time to move was now.
Frantically, while the airlock cycled, Raijiin ran through her options. The answer came to her from the most unlikely of sources. During her melds with both T’Riss and Senek, she had absorbed much of their peripheral knowledge without even noticing. It was a typical byproduct of her talent. One skill that both of them possessed might save her now. Senek did have his back to her...
Raijiin moved as soon as the thought cleared, before Senek would have time to detect her intention and move to deflect the attack. She sprang from the bed in one fluid movement and leaped for his back. Her hand grabbed for the joining of his neck and shoulder, squeezing and twisting... just... so...
The Vulcan’s eyes rolled up and he collapsed in her arms. A surge of triumph rolled through her. Raijiin stepped back out of the way and let him fall to the floor, enjoying the sound he made when his head hit the deck plates. Now, to deal with the Humans outside. And that Denobulan. But Denobulans were no problem; she had handled Denobulans before. Their sex drives were among the strongest of all.
“Rekloq! Dorfalni ren igh ernt kalinde!” Daniel cursed, using language that would have earned him a box on the ears from Sehlra. He stood up from the unconscious form of Dr. Phlox and ran over to check out Malcolm, then the other guard. The wide open door of the isolation chamber showed Senek flat on his back and no sign of Raijiin. Daniel clenched his fists. Then he took a deep breath and deliberately unlocked every muscle. Sensei’s words came back to him, “Rage harms your enemy not at all, and destroys your ability to adapt.”
First things first. He hit the comm. “Emergency. Sickbay to bridge. Emergency. Raijiin has escaped.”
Raijiin fell against the bulkhead gulping for air. Her vision was blurring. Taking down that last search party had almost rendered her as unconscious as the Humans. She looked at the weapon again and shuddered. Presumably one setting was stun and one was kill, but she had no idea which was which. It didn’t really matter. The very thought of deliberately turning a weapon on a sentient being made her stomach churn. Using her power to defend herself was one thing. But deliberately shooting someone? No.
She carefully did not explore the contradiction between her thoughts and the reality of helping to construct a weapon designed to kill billions.
Raijiin shook her head rapidly and tried to think. From what she could remember of the briefing the Xindi gave her, the Enterprise shuttle bay was at the bottom of the ship. Surely it could not be much farther. With a shuttle she could duck into the nebula and perhaps find another ship. Whoever picked her up would probably be vulnerable to her power. From now own she would never again hesitate to use her power over other minds to advance her own interest. Trusting anyone else was the act of a fool. She had finally gotten that much through her head. She pushed off the wall and lurched forward.
She found the shuttle bay one level farther down. Raijiin couldn’t suppress a whine of eagerness. She lunged for the door and turned the handle. Locked. Of course. Impatiently she stepped back and pointed the weapon at the lock.
Nothing happened. She switched settings. Still nothing. She screamed in frustration and threw the sidearm at the door. Before the clattering echo finished dying away, a voice came from behind her. “Commander Tucker has saturated this portion of the corridor with a combination of focused electromagnetic radiation. The programming on the chips in your phase pistol is scrambled.”
She turned to see Commander T’Pol step around the corner. The Vulcan was wearing a sidearm but had not drawn it. Suddenly Raijiin realized that if her gun was disabled, the Vulcan’s weapon must be disabled as well. She smiled.
“Well then,” she let her shoulders slump. “You have me.” She put a note of weary defeat into her voice. “It was worth trying. You know what your people plan to do to me, don’t you? They are going to enslave me again.”
“They are going to do nothing of the sort,” T’Pol retorted sharply.
Raijiin jerked her head up angrily. “What do you call it then? When you force someone to do your bidding without giving them a choice in the matter? If that isn’t slavery, what is it?”
“Punishment,” T’Pol told her flatly. “Well deserved punishment.” The Vulcan walked closer and tossed over a pair of handcuffs. “Put these on.”
Raijiin bent down and picked up the shackles. She looked up at T’Pol with calculation. “And if I refuse?”
“Then I will subdue you by force,” T’Pol told her.
“Really?” Raijiin asked. She looked T’Pol in the eye and attacked with everything she had left. For an instant the Vulcan woman’s defenses held firm, then they cracked and fell. She was inside. Exultation.
Something was wrong. She felt resistance that had not been there the last time. Raijiin drew upon her final reserves and drove in harder. The new resistance pushed back with equal force, then with even greater force. She was being thrust back. Impossible...but it was happening. How? The woman was not this strong, was she?
Her external senses dimly registered footsteps approaching. A Human came into view, the engineer named Tucker. The same one as the last time she’d tried to control this particular Vulcan.
Irritation, humor, irony. Was she cursed? Every time she dealt with this Vulcan was this same Human going to appear? What was between them? What... No. It could not be...
The pressure increased again. His presence strengthened T’Pol. This close to him, she could tell. These two were connected somehow. They were reinforcing each other. NO. It wasn’t fair. She couldn’t fight both of them together.
Raijiin wrenched herself free of the mental clinch and backed up against the door. “You. Two. How?”
“Put on the handcuffs,” T’Pol ordered her. The Vulcan’s face was wet with sweat and her eyes glittered dangerously. Raijiin grabbed the cuffs and stretched the chain out between her hands.
The Human told Raijiin, “I wouldn’t if I were you. She’s lightning fast and strong as a python. She’d whup your ass.” His smile was evil.
Raijiin’s mind slammed against the cage of her desperation, seeking a solution. There was no way out. No way. No.
She threw her power at the Human. He staggered and fell to his knees as the Vulcan moved in. It was her only chance. If she could do to the Human what Senek had done to her, she could force the Vulcan to free her in order to get her mate back. The first blow was a shaft of agony through her lungs. Raijiin clenched her eyes shut and concentrated all her effort on maintaining the link with Tucker. The second blow made breathing almost impossible. She felt something in her leg splinter and the floor came up hard. The individual impacts faded into a continuous barrage of pain.
A faint voice called out, “Commander!” Then another voice, “T’Pol! Kroy-kyah!”
“You know, Doc, when you said injections I was envisioning more hypos,” Daniel muttered as best he could within the head brace.
“I only wish it could be that simple,” Phlox told him sympathetically. He made a final adjustment to the restraints and asked, “How’s that? Comfortable enough?”
“Sure,” Daniel told him resignedly. “If I have to be strapped down for this, it’s as comfortable as it’s gonna get. I just wish it didn’t feel like my head was in a vise.”
“I am sorry, Mr. Johansen,” Phlox told him, “But we dare not take the chance of any reflex movements, or accidentally jarring. Brain surgery, even relatively minor procedures like this, is not something to take lightly.”
“I understand,” he sighed. “I’m ready when you are.”
“All right then.” Phlox activated the sterile field and began shaving patches of Daniel’s scalp above the relevant areas of his skull. “If you would like to watch, I can activate a monitor for you,” he offered.
“No thanks,” Daniel told him hastily. “I’ll just let you talk me through it.”
“Fine then,” the doctor said cheerfully. “First of all, I will complete the process of shaving your scalp above the portions of your cerebrum that were damaged by the probing. Now,” he put down the razor and picked up a new tool.
“What I have here is a tiny laser drill. This will allow me to make a microscopic bore hole through your skull directly down to the damaged area. Once we have the bore hole, I will insert a probe and inject the cultured stem cells at the proper location. Then I withdraw the probe like this...” he deftly pulled out the instrument, “and once I place the dressing over the bore hole we will have one side finished.”
“That didn’t take long,” Daniel said in relief.
“Not long at all,” Phlox comforted him. “The other side should go just as quickly. Then two more days of injections with neurogenic growth factors to encourage the stem cells to develop properly. After that, you should be good as new,” he finished brightly.
“I’m starting to wish I had left Raijiin in that cargo hold to freeze,” Daniel growled.
The sickbay door swooshed open. “On this ship,” Phlox told him, “I’m afraid you’re not alone in that sentiment.”
“Doctor Phlox?” An unfamiliar voice spoke in a conversational tone from behind the curtain screening the cubicle which Daniel and Phlox were occupying. “I am Healer Sorsen. I was sent to attend Subcenturion T’Riss.”
“I will be with you momentarily,” Phlox answered. He looked down at Daniel with an apologetic smile. “If you will excuse me for just a brief moment. It won’t be long.”
“No problem, doc.” Daniel tried to grin. “I’m not going anywhere.” He heard the two talking for a minute, then they both came back around the curtain. A young Vulcan male, looking barely old enough to leave his parents for independent employment, stood at Phlox’s side dressed in floor length healer’s robes. Daniel wasn’t surprised by the guy’s youth. Only the most recent healer trainees, the ones who’d graduated since the discovery of the Kir’Shara, were even willing to openly admit to melder’s skills, much less undergo the training to refine them. Stern’s last family news update had been full of references to the changes at the Healer’s Academy curriculum in Shir’Khar where he was a junior level instructor.
“Mr. Johansen, Healer Sorsen has requested permission to observe the remainder of the surgery,” said Phlox earnestly. “With more and more Humans traveling into deep space it’s entirely possible that he may be called upon to treat one of your people someday, and he has never even met a Human before. Would you object?”
“The more the merrier,” Daniel sighed. “I just want to get this done.”
The two medical men huddled together over Daniel’s cranium. Where Phlox’s previous explanations had been simple and folksy, he now slipped into Ancient Sanskrit with intermittent bouts of Latin. Daniel made no effort to follow what they were talking about.
Finally. “There you go,” Phlox told him cheerfully. “We need you to remain in the restraints for a few more minutes just to give your system time to settle down. I recommend a brief nap if you can manage it. Then I’ll call someone to help you back to your bunk. I want you to rest this evening and tonight. Tomorrow you should be able to resume normal activity, but don’t over do it. All right?”
“Sure thing,” Daniel agreed. Anything to get out of there. He watched the two of them walk away and closed his eyes. He really did feel tired for some reason. Evidently having your head drilled was wearing on a person, even if you didn’t feel anything.
Voices came faintly. “I will not require a bed, Doctor. A stool will suffice.”
Muffled noises indicated that a stool was being moved. “Is there anything that you require? Can I be of assistance?”
“No, Dr. Phlox. This matter is fairly routine. The difficulty lies not in any complication, but rather in the extended period of time that the subcenturion has remained in trance. I note that you have been meticulous about sustaining her hydration and nutrition, thus my only challenge will be in establishing contact. It is plain that the subcenturion has withdrawn quite deeply in an effort to escape her pain. It may take quite some time. Please do not interrupt for at least two hours.”
“Very well, Healer. Two hours. As you say.”
Daniel drifted off into blissful rest.
His eyes flew open and every muscle he had locked up tight. The wailing scream was still vibrating through sickbay, cutting through Daniel’s bones and driving Phlox’s menagerie into madness. Daniel tried to turn his head, but it was no go. The clamp still had his skull in its grip. It was a woman’s voice. Had to be T’Riss. But he had never heard, never imagined or suspected that a Vulcan could or would make a sound like that.
The steady screaming shifted to a series of grunting howls. The two medics were shouting over the sound by Daniel couldn’t make out a single word they said. It went on and on and on and on. He tightened his fists and wished he could close his ears.
She started to run down and her noise became slurred words. “Kroy-kyah! Nash-veh eit'jae! Riyeht-staya. Nash-veh riyeht-staya eshak! Nash-veh tishau ma’toi! Nash-veh eit'jae ma’toi!”
Daniel winced as he mentally translated. “Stop. I am begging. Killing. You are killing me with your mind. I want to die. I am begging you to let me die.”
“Here,” she held the cup and tenderly propped his bare shoulders while he drank it.
Trip sighed and looked at her. “How long are you going to treat me like spun glass? I’m fine, T’Pol. I can get up and get my own water. Not that I don’t appreciate it. I really do, and thank you. But there’s no reason for you to keep waiting on me like this.”
She put a finger on his lips to silence him until she could lean over and kiss him. “Yes there is,” she purred. “I want to do it. That’s the reason.” She stood up, still without a stitch of clothes on after his enthusiastic attempts the night before to reassure her of his health, and walked back to the head with the glass, treating him to a view that he never tired of. Trip settled back on the pillow with a sigh. He flinched the tiniest bit when he shifted position on the pillow, but it was enough to give him away when she came back out.
“The analgesics are not working?” she demanded.
“They’re helping,” he evaded. “Still some twinges though,” he admitted. T’Pol’s expression did not change, but he felt her rage rekindle through the bond. He grabbed her, pulling her atop him, and then rolled so she lay beside him and buried his face in her neck. “This always helps more than a pill anyway,” he whispered.
It helped her too. He could sense it. “We should dress. We are scheduled to dock with Sehlat in 23 minutes. The captain wishes to meet with Commander T’Lar immediately,” murmured T’Pol.
“You’re right.” Trip rolled out of bed with a groan. “Up and at ‘em.” He headed for her closet and pulled out the spare uniform he now kept there, then dug into his designated drawer for clean underwear and socks. He laid them out on the chair next to her desk and then turned to her, grinning. “Shower time?”
Daniel thanked the crewman and sat down at the briefing room table. The coffee cup steamed, but that was all you could say for it. He would be joyfully glad to get back home to Lerteiran, where he could at least get a cup of drinkable coffee. He had never encountered swill like they served on this ship before in his life. Daniel took a tiny sip and shuddered.
The door opened again. He looked up and saw T’Riss standing just inside. She froze and stared at him. Daniel smiled hesitantly and managed to come out with, “Hi. I was just trying to force down some of this stuff they call coffee. If you were thinking about trying some, I advise against it.”
She took a breath. “I had not anticipated exploring new beverage options at this time. But I thank you for the warning.” She sat down on the opposite side of the table. “I wish to apologize while I have the opportunity. I had no idea that Raijiin would inflict injury on you. Had I known, or even suspect, I would not have consented to her probe. I realize that you have no reason to believe me, but I wish to apologize regardless.”
Daniel looked at her. “Accepted.” She blinked. T’Riss opened her mouth, then closed it again. They sat in silence for a while until everyone else arrived.
Captain Archer stood at the head of the table. “Welcome, Commander T’Lar and Subcommander Verlen.” He sat down and motioned for everyone else to do the same. “Hopefully we can straighten out all of our outstanding issues today and everyone can go home happy.”
“Happy is not the term I would choose,” T’Lar said carefully. “However, any acceptable solution would be an agreeable change to the current set of conflicts.”
Captain Archer rubbed his eyes and nodded. “To begin with, I have received word from Admiral Gardner at Starfleet Command. My superiors have agreed with my recommendation that we turn Raijiin over to Agent Senek. With some conditions.”
“Naturally,” Senek relied with perfect equanimity, making a small motion to T’Lar to keep quiet. “It is entirely reasonable that Starfleet would expect cooperation in this matter. May I ask what price they require?”
Archer pursed his lips and looked amused. “You don’t mince words, do you Agent Senek? I don’t think you will find the price too exorbitant. First, Starfleet wants a complete report on everything that Raijiin can tell us about Xindi operations during the war. We want to know what they did with the information they obtained for the bioweapon, where the plans ended up, who had access to it, what other options they were exploring, and anything else she can tell us. I am sure you know more about the kind of information that my superiors want than I do.”
Senek nodded considering. “Personally, I find this request to be both reasonable and logical. It certainly can do no harm to the Xindi, and Earth has every right to know these things. Agreed. I will obtain this information and present a report to you as soon as possible.”
“Second,” Archer hesitated. “This one may or may not be a problem. My superiors want a commitment that Vulcan will be willing to utilize Raijiin’s talents on Earth’s behalf on occasion.”
“Specify,” Senek started to tense up.
“I can’t.” Archer spread his hands. “This one will have to be negotiated between your superiors and mine. All they want right now is an agreement in principle. In return, my superiors are willing to reciprocate on an equivalent basis. Can this be done?”
Senek sat back in deep thought. T’Pol spoke up. “Yes. It can be done.”
“You no longer speak for the Security Directorate, Commander,” Senek pointed out.
“Nor will you, if you fail to deliver Raijiin,” T'Pol riposted.
Senek’s lips trembled in what look suspiciously close to a smile. “Noted. I agree, Captain. An agreement in principle, with the details to be negotiated later between our superiors.”
“Done.” Archer reached across the table. Senek raised one eyebrow quizzically and took his handshake. “All right, that’s one problem down.”
“The issue remains of actually transferring Raijiin back to my ship,” T’Lar pointed out.
“Uh... yes.” Archer flushed. He poked the comm button. “Archer to Sickbay. Doctor Phlox. What is the status on Raijiin? When will she be ready to send back to the Sehlat?”
“A few broken ribs, a shattered kneecap, some teeth knocked out. Nothing I can’t handle, Captain. She will be able to travel within two days.”
“It sounds as if Raijiin’s foreboding regarding her treatment aboard Enterprise had a factual basis,” T'Lar said disapprovingly.
“Not strictly,” Senek pointed out. “The damage was inflicted by Commander T’Pol.” T’Lar blinked.
T’Pol looked slightly discomfited. “She resisted arrest.”
“Indeed,” Senek said. He glanced from T’Pol to Commander Tucker and back again. Then returned his eyes to Archer.
“Now, we come to the matter of Subcommander T’Riss,” T’Lar said. Her expression looked as if she had a bad taste in her mouth.
“No, you don’t.” Daniel suddenly interrupted. “I am dropping all charges.”
T’Riss jerked in her chair and turned her head to stare at him. Everyone else in the room looked at Daniel with varying degrees of surprise and speculation.
“Really? Why would you do that, Mr. Johansen?” Captain Archer asked him.
Daniel shrugged. “The more I thought about it, the more I started imagining how rough she must have had it. I can’t really hold her responsible for some of the things she did. Maybe she wasn’t crazy in the legal sense, but she wasn’t anywhere near normal either. I know that much, I talked to her myself. She wasn't acting or thinking like a normal Vulcan when she was with us chasing Grigor-Tel. Everything worked out all right in the end, so let it go.”
T’Lar glared across the table at him. “Mr. Johansen, did you fabricate any part of the story you told earlier regarding Subcenturion T’Riss’s actions?”
Daniel looked back. “No.”
“Did the subcenturion apply any form of coercion in order to persuade you to drop the charges, or offer any sort of bribe?”
“No. Of course not.”
“It is not a matter ‘of course’ Mr. Johansen,” Commander T’Lar told him. She did not look happy. “Captain Archer, what is your position on this matter?”
Archer shook his head. “This has caught me by surprise. Mr. Johansen, are you telling me that you are no longer willing to testify against Subcenturion T’Riss?”
“That’s correct,” Daniel said. “In fact, if you push it through anyway, I can make sure that there is plenty of reasonable doubt to go around. You will never get a conviction. Not gonna happen.”
Archer didn’t seem displeased. “Well then. I suppose that we’re two for two. Problems solved. This all went much smoother than I expected. I guess we’re done here.”
“Not quite. If I may impose, Captain,” T’Lar said grimly.
Archer settled back in his chair. “Of course Commander.”
“Subcenturion T’Riss!” T’Lar’s voice snapped like a whip. “Stand to attention.”
The young woman straightened like a spring and stood quivering. T’Lar sat back and watched her grimly. No one else in the room moved. Of them all, only Daniel had not stood at one time or another where T’Riss now stood. And even he was consumed with sympathy.
“Subcenturion T’Riss,” the commander’s voice was like a well honed stiletto, “are you a member of the Vulcan Space Fleet?”
“Yes, Commander.” T’Riss did not move. Neither her body nor her eyes budged one whit.
“Subcenturion T’Riss, do you hold officer rank in the Vulcan Space Fleet?”
A faint swallowing motion was visible. “Yes, Commander.”
“Subcenturion T’Riss. “How is it that you hold officer rank in the Vulcan Space Fleet without having passed through the officer training program?” T’Lar’s voice was as soft as melted butter.
T’Riss was so stiff that she was trembling faintly. “I did pass through the officer training program, Commander. After my required minimum service as a crew member, I applied for and was accepted into the officer training academy.”
T’Lar waited for quite some time. The silence hung in the air like a blanket of fog. “But plainly, Subcenturion T’Riss, even thought you were accepted into the academy you could not have completed the training program.”
“With respect, Commander. I did complete the program. I was 24th in a class of 605.”
T’Lar considered this. “Fascinating. Then tell me, Subcenturion T’Riss, has the academy made any major adjustments to the curriculum in the last twenty years? Has the program been drastically altered by removing some of the basic areas of study?”
“Not to my knowledge, Commander.” T’Riss was sweating heavily. Daniel glance around the table. Trip was wincing and looking down at the table, shaking his head slightly. Subcommander Verlen was watching the drama, stone faced. T’Pol and Senek each wore poker masks. Captain Archer looked sympathetic but dispassionate.
“Indeed?” T’Lar raised both eyebrows. “Then Subcenturion T’Riss, were you trained in survival techniques for prisoner situations?”
T’Riss flinched openly. It took her several seconds to respond. “I was, Commander.”
“Subcenturion T’Riss, were you informed as part of your training that since you were female, in the event of capture there was a high probability that you might be raped?”
T’Riss closed her eyes tightly. Her breathing deepened and quickened.
T’Lar raised her voice. “Subcenturion T’Riss! You are at attention! Answer the question! Were you warned that in the event of enemy capture, female prisoners could expect to be raped?”
T’Riss worked her jaw muscles. “Yes!” She forced it out between her teeth.
T’Lar returned to her previous tone. “Subcenturion T’Riss. When you completed the academy training program, were you required to take an oath?”
T’Riss slumped and looked ready to cry. “I was... Commander.”
T’Lar waited. Eventually T’Riss managed to regain her strength and straighten back up. Commander T’Lar went on. “You survived, Subcenturion. You withstood everything that your captors inflicted upon you, and you survived. But then, after you were rescued... after you had been returned to your people... after you had been given the opportunity to heal... it was only then that you dishonored yourself and the uniform that you wear.”
“I had no choice, Commander.” T’Riss was shaking. “YOU would not believe me. The HEALER would not believe me. NO ONE would believe me.”
“You had a choice, Subcenturion,” T’Lar told her evenly. “These are no longer the days of the High Command. The healer-melders can now dissolve a bonding openly. It is no longer a criminal offense to do so. In a case such as this, you knew that you could have been freed as soon as the convoy arrived.”
“Freed?” T’Riss asked bitterly. “I would never be truly free. You know it. Everyone knows it. Once two minds have touched so deeply, they can never be truly separated, no matter how many years and light years separate them. The bond can be weakened, but never truly parted. Everyone knows that.”
“I didn’t,” Daniel thought. But T’Lar was responding.
“Subcenturion T’Riss. Does a sworn officer of the Vulcan Space Fleet have the right to lie, attack the innocent, kidnap the innocent, commit mental rape, commit theft, and deliberately damage fleet property for their own personal ends?” She waited.
T’Riss stood as tall as she could. “I do not deny my guilt. But it is not logical to charge me with kidnapping when all I did was deliver Mr. Johansen to his ship, which is where he desired to be in the first place.”
T’Lar’s hand slapped down hard on the table. The boom echoed in the stunned room. She closed her eyes and concentrated on regaining control of her anger, while every Human in the room concentrated on regaining control of their bladder. She opened her eyes. “To invade someone’s quarters without warning, stun them, drug them, and then convey them to a new location without their prior knowledge or consent is kidnapping, Subcenturion T’Riss. Your threadbare excuses are beyond illogical.”
T’Lar stood up. “Subcenturion T’Riss. By your actions you have shown that you are unworthy to hold officer rank in the Vulcan Space Fleet. You are hereby stripped of officer rank and reduced in grade to Crewman, First Class. Further, merely being excused from punishment by your victim does not absolve you of guilt for the crimes that you have committed. You have brought dishonor upon yourself, your family, your clan, and upon the Fleet. The dishonor that you bear for yourself, your family, and your clan is a private matter and none of my concern. The dishonor that you have brought upon the Fleet by your actions is very much my concern. You will report to your quarters aboard Sehlat, and remain there until you receive further orders. Dismissed.”
“Friendship is never an imposition, Commander,” Senek told T’Pol seriously. “I am honored to serve.”
The airlock hatch between Enterprise and Sehlat opened, letting hot dry air sweep across their faces. T’Pol took a deep breath of home. It felt right somehow. Today of all days, she wanted to breathe the air of her home. Today, she would attempt to begin the process of making right one of her many mistakes. It was fitting that she do it in Vulcan air, feeling the weight of Vulcan gravity, in front of Vulcan witnesses.
The melders were waiting for them in the meditation chamber. It was the closest thing that the Sehlat offered to a religious gathering place. It was here that all ceremonial rituals were performed. When they appeared in the doorway Sorsen, the senior melder despite his youth, made a gesture. Commander T’Lar stepped forward and nodded.
Trip stood up and turned to face the doorway. In the dim light she could not make out his features clearly. Only the single fire pot illuminated the room. But the bond carried his dread. She tried to project calm to him, to give him strength to carry him through what they must do. When she had told him, the night before, what she desired for the two of them his reaction had been considerably stronger than she expected. Even now, it was very difficult for him to maintain control. But he was giving it all he had. T’Pol wished she could offer him an encouraging smile.
With Senek escorting her, she paced down the central walkway toward the melders. Only when they were almost to the end did she see that Malcolm had indeed agreed to accompany Trip. She felt glad. It was a great relief for him to have at least one of his Human friends with him in this alien place, in the midst of this alien undertaking.
T’Pol and Trip turned to face each other. T’Lar spoke in English, in deference to their Human guests. “We are here in strict confidence. All matters to be conducted here today must remain private, known only to the ones here present, and recorded only in the sealed official records. If there be any here who cannot comply with this requirement, let them depart now.” No one moved or spoke.
T’Lar inclined her head and stepped back. Sorsen reached out with two fingers of each hand and touched them to T’Pol and Trip’s temples. He held them in place very briefly and dropped his hands. Then he turned and nodded to his associate. V’Lin was her name, T’Pol had been informed.
V’Lin stepped forward and repeated the gesture. She held the position slightly longer than Sorsen, but she too dropped her hands and nodded. They both turned to face T’Lar, but Sorsen was the one who spoke. “There can be no doubt of the matter. These two share the bond of mates. Their katras are linked, and only death can ever truly separate them.” From the corner of her eye, T’Pol caught Malcolm flashing a massive Human grin.
Senek spoke up. “As this woman’s father has passed, I stand in his stead. I challenge this man. By what right do you claim to be a worthy mate for this woman? Will you provide for her and protect her? Give her all of your loyalty and never abandon her? Will you forever hold her honor as precious as your own?”
“Yes,” Trip’s voice broke. He coughed and continued. “I will do all of it, or die in the attempt.” Senek stared at him, and Trip glared right back at him. Finally Senek turned and told T’Lar, “I find this man acceptable.”
“Then it is well,” Commander T’Lar intoned. “By our most ancient laws, passed down from the time of the beginning, these two are wife and husband. Now and forevermore.”
“There is one thing more,” T’Pol told her. T’Lar raised an eyebrow. “We desire to exchange the vows of marriage for my husband’s people as well. I ask that all here stand witness to our oath.”
“Of course,” T’Lar told her. “Proceed.”
Trip took a deep breath. “I, Charles, take you, T’Pol, to be my lawfully wedded wife...”
Daniel stretched happily. “Oh man, it is good to be home.” He grinned at Jenrali and took another bite of Sehlra’s gromfruit tart. “Ummnph. I can’t get enough of these.”
“That’s why I only make them every third moon cycle,” Sehlra chided. She was in a good mood. The engines were in top shape and tuned like a sytha. The Vulcans had finally paid up on the bounty, which meant that Lerteiran now had no less than fifty-five bars worth of credit sitting ready to tap. The new torpedoes were 30% faster than the old ones, the new sensors worked perfectly, and the phase cannon had 10% greater range after Malcolm adjusted it. The hull plating was in top shape. And everyone was back aboard the ship in one piece. Life was good.
“So what’s next?” Daniel asked after he swallowed the last bite and looked wistfully at the empty pan.
Jenrali chuckled. “We have some people wanting to contract as passengers.”
“Passengers?” Sehlra made a face. “Always more trouble than they are worth. We have to clear out the hold, heat it, install bunks. Then we have to find a buyer for the bunks afterward. And that supplemental head never works right...”
“They are willing to pay ten slips each for passage to Risa,” Jenrali told her. She paused in mid grouch, calculating. Daniel whistled.
“So who are they?” Daniel asked. “Running from something or somebody?”
“I doubt it,” Jenrali told him. “It’s a bunch of those pleasure girls. They figure that now they’re free, they’re going to set up shop on Risa and make themselves rich.”
Sehlra made a face. “You want us to take on a cargo hold full of whores? What are you thinking old man? If they don’t stick a knife in all our backs while we sleep, they are likely to spread every disease in the quadrant all over the ship. We just got the boy healthy as it is, now you want to have him sick again with half a hundred different fevers?”
Daniel sighed. “Sehlra...”
“Give the lad some credit,” Jenrali protested.
“Credit? He won’t have any credit left, and neither will we by the time they finish skinning him,” Sehlra maintained. “You think a young man, a young HUMAN man is going to be able to resist a hold full of whores all the way from here to Risa?” She snorted loudly. “Don’t be an idiot.”
“Now hold on here,” Daniel started to protest. Only the divine could divulge what might have proceeded from that point, because the comm link pinged and announced, “Incoming message. Incoming message.”
“I’ll get it,” Daniel offered, and made his escape while the getting was good. He clambered up the ladder to the control room with pleasant ease, having gotten used to heavier gravity lately. The comm was still blinking when he sat down and keyed in the acceptance code.
He read the message with a growing sense of disbelief. “Oboy. If Sehlra was antsy about the whores, what will she say about this?” A mischievous look crossed his face. “But as long as I’m not in the line of fire, it sure will be fun to watch.”
He rapidly opened a channel. “Sehlat this is Johansen aboard Leirteran. We are open to discussion, or at least I am. However I believe that this requires a face to face meeting. If you wish to discuss the matter you are welcome to come aboard any time within the next two hours.” He listened carefully. “Affirmative. We will expect you within 32 minutes. Johansen out.”
He shut down the comm unit and put up the ear piece. For some reason he couldn’t stop grinning. Daniel stepped over to the stairwell and called down, “Jenrali! Sehlra! Put on a pot of Vulcan tea! Commander T’Lar is coming over in half an hour to talk business!”
The cup shattered against the bulkhead. Daniel leaped and grabbed Sehlra from behind in a bear hug. “Come on now, take it easy,” he pleaded.
“I knew this was not a feasible plan, Commander,” T’Riss pointed out. “The woman fired a pulse rifle at me the last time I came aboard. And then I was trying to offer her fifty bars of latinum.”
“You had just attacked Daniel,” Jenrali pointed out. “For which I am afraid Sehlra still holds a grudge.”
“Which is precisely the reason that I desire to have T’Riss serve her punishment aboard this vessel,” Commander T’Lar replied calmly. Sehlra suddenly froze.
“Punishment?” She said with a curious note in her voice. She shrugged Daniel off and stepped closer to the galley table.
“Punishment,” T’Lar replied firmly. She looked at Daniel, then glanced between Jenrali and Sehlra. T’Riss kept her eyes averted from everyone.
The commander continued. “As you are no doubt aware, Mr. Johansen dropped all of the charges against Crewman T’Riss.”
“He what?!” shouted Sehlra.
“He what?!” shouted Jenrali.
They turned to stare at Daniel simultaneously. “What were you thinking, Lad?” Jenrali demanded.
“Well. I.” Daniel floundered. “I just...” He backed up and raised his hands.
T’Lar continued. “Regardless of Mr. Johansen’s motives, I am left with the duty of responding to her actions. Since there will be no legal retribution, I must assign an appropriate administrative punishment. This is quite a challenge, since the regulations do not specify the proper administrative punishment for an offense of this severity.”
“So you want us to punish her for you instead,” Sehlra said with relish. She started to smile.
“In a sense,” T’Lar admitted, “but only in a sense. What I desire more than anything else is for Crewman T’Riss to gain a more extensive understanding of, and affinity for, non-Vulcan people. I believe a significant portion of her behavior is due to her complete lack of empathy for anyone who is not Vulcan. It is my sincere hope that by living and working with members of other species, she will learn tolerance and understanding.”
“And you’re willing to pay us for this?” Jenrali stayed focused on the important details, as always.
“Certainly,” T’Lar told him. “We have estimated the standard expense involved in food, water, air, and general maintenance for a Vulcan female aboard a ship of this class. We are offering to reimburse you five times this amount per diem for the duration of Crewman T’Riss’s stay... in addition of course, to her normal duties aboard. It is understood that she will be under your command and subject to the normal requirements of a crew member.”
“Where would we put her?” Daniel wondered.
The two Andorians looked at each other. “We could share quarters for a while,” Jenrali offered to Sehlra, “as long as you promise not to snore too loudly.”
“I get the top bunk,” Sehlra declared, in a tone that brooked no argument. Jenrali chuckled and twisted his antennae in submission.
“Then we are agreed?” T’Lar looked around the room and received a series of nods. “Crewman T’Riss will gather her things and report for duty at your convenience.”
Sehlra told her, “Be here by 1900 tonight. We have a lot of work to do getting that hold ready for our... passengers.” She snorted and looked from Jenrali to Daniel. “Between the two of you, and the situations you get me into, sometimes I think I should toss the pair of you into the hold and feed you with a stick.”
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