"The Lerteiran Chronicles"
This really is starting to sound like a soap opera, isn’t it?
A/N: As requested, here’s a listing of original characters introduced in previous installments who appear or are mentioned in this story, with a bit of bio to jog your memory:
Daniel Johansen – Human boomer male, age 25, an orphan who spent his childhood in foster care after the death of his parents, after reaching majority worked on various ships as crew until he found Lerteiran and made it his home, recently treated for complications following a telepathic assault by Raijiin (aided and abetted by T’Riss), now the target of another female, tends to get into trouble through no fault of his own
She stood naked in the center of the circular chamber, the focal point of every eye in the room. She knew she was dreaming, but the lucidity of the dream did nothing to dim the horror of what she was experiencing. She felt utter shame standing there exposed and vulnerable, an intense humiliation that drastically exceeded the physical reality of her nakedness.
In the circle of disapproving faces which surrounded her, she recognized Commander T’Lar, her most recent accuser; her father, dead now these past five years; her mother, who she’d left back on Vulcan but who most certainly by now had been informed of her disgrace; and all of her teachers from the Science Academy. Both her first commanding officer and her intended mate Simen, dead for nearly a year at the hands of the Nausican pirates who’d taken The Plains of Gol, had also been resurrected by her subconscious mind, vivid emerald blood stains and all. Ironically enough, they stood shoulder-to-shoulder with what remained of Grigor-Tel, his bulk covered in gruesome plasma burns but still inexplicably upright and conscious. The entire roomful of her accusers stared at her in silent condemnation, but she could offer no explanation.
“You’ll be all right. I’ll show you the way out of here,” said a pleasant male voice from behind her. She turned and came face to face with Daniel Johansen. He had a worried look on his face, but seemed oblivious both to the others in the room and to her nakedness. He held out his hand. His eyes met hers, and he smiled at her—a wide, honest sincere smile that despite her lack of experience with such things made her feel accepted and wanted. She allowed herself, here in her imagination, a luxury she’d refused to permit herself while awake, and admired his vividly green eyes, an eye color unheard of among Vulcans. Their alien hue contrasted favorably with the red-brown of his hair, so similar in color to Vulcan sand, as it fell shaggily across his forehead. She tried to reach out to take his hand, but she was rooted in place, unable to speak. Trapped as if she were paralyzed by some unknown external agent, all she could move were her eyes. They searched his face and then roamed the room, looking desperately for help among the frightening apparitions there, but no one stepped forward.
Seeming disappointed by her complete lack of response, Daniel dropped his hand. His smile faded to a look of hurt bewilderment. Finally, he turned away.
Don’t leave me! Please! Wait! her thoughts screamed while her body remained frozen. Her heart pounded in terror as she watched him walk away...
And T’Riss woke, covered in perspiration, from yet another vision of horror concocted by her subconscious mind. She lay in bed for several moments, trying to slow her breathing and her pounding heart. It was little wonder that she’d been fatigued since her return to duty. The dreams were getting worse, not better as the healer had said they would. Meditation helped marginally, but the smallest waking events had the potential to trigger horrific nightmares if they sent the right signals to her subconscious, and she had no way of predicting what those nightmares might entail. It was most disconcerting.
She was on the verge of leaving her bed to meditate when she realized that something was wrong. There was an odd odor in the air, a slightly musky smell. She inhaled deeply, trying to place the vaguely familiar scent, and then she heard something—or rather, multiple somethings—which put the odor in context for her. Both the noises and the smell were coming through the ventilation duct that connected her quarters to the cabin next door, currently occupied by Daniel Johansen. She rose from the bed and walked toward the duct, listening intently. The gasping and moaning coming from the vent were disgustingly familiar.
Her initial response to the realization was an intensely illogical one. There was no reason at all for her to feel betrayed. She had no claim upon the Human or any reason to believe that he felt anything for her. It should therefore have been of no concern to her whatsoever that he had obviously chosen to avail himself of the professional services of one of their passengers during his off duty hours. Upon further reflection, his lack of discipline and his disregard for his health in potentially exposing himself to disease did give her a quite logical sense of mild disappointment. She’d expected more intelligent behavior from him, that was certain, but her first reaction had no doubt been a holdover from the extremely vivid dream she’d just experienced.
And so, because she found it impossible to sleep for some reason, even though the noises were barely audible, she decided to ignore the events transpiring in the neighboring cabin and resumed her attempts to meditate—with only marginal success. She’d have to speak with him in the morning, she decided. He would certainly wish to be informed that his off duty activities were interfering with her sleep. He was her superior officer, if only marginally, as a Crewman First Class. It was her duty to report events to him which might affect ship’s efficiency.
The alien telepath drew startled glances when she stepped onto the bridge of the Sehlat wearing nothing but a few layers of translucent silk and a g-string. She stood at the threshold, looking a bit uncertain, and waited to be acknowledged.
T’Lar sighed. At least the young woman knew the proper protocol, but she and Senek had already had this discussion. No matter how many documents he produced to prove that Raijiin was now employed by the Security Directorate, her basic nature had not changed. T’Lar had made it absolutely clear to him that his charge was not to be allowed to roam the ship freely. And she most definitely had no business being on the bridge dressed like—well, like that.
T’Lar rose from the command chair and met Raijiin at the door. She said nothing at first, but eyed the girl from head to foot and raised a brow. Raijiin colored slightly, but held her ground.
“I apologize for my state of undress, Commander, but there was no time for me to change,” she asserted. “I have an important matter that I need to discuss with you.”
“Where is Agent Senek?” T’Lar asked her, maintaining her composure with some effort. “I assigned a guard to him when he told me he intended to go to Enterprise, but he left without explaining himself.”
“That’s what I need to talk to you about,” replied the girl, glancing warily over T’Lar’s shoulder at the faces of the bridge crew, all of whom by this time, T’Lar was sure, were busily going about their duties while trying not to give the impression that they were listening intently to every word of the conversation between their commanding officer and the exotically dressed stranger. T’Lar closed her eyes briefly in stoic agony. Then she turned around and began walking.
“Follow me,” she said in a resigned tone, without looking back to see if the girl obeyed her. Her gaze shifted to her second in command as she strode toward her ready room. “Verlen. Conference,” she said tersely. Subcommander Verlen stepped back from the tactical station and gave the centurion at helm a meaningful look. The dark haired, dark skinned young woman gave a nod of comprehension and took command of the bridge without a word.
Once inside her sanctuary with the door closed, T’Lar sat down and gazed expectantly at Raijiin. Verlen, accustomed to his captain’s meaningful silences after two years as her second-in-command, took a seat beside her, turned his grizzled head toward Raijiin and waited. Neither of them offered the telepath a seat. As was socially appropriate for a junior officer making a report, Raijiin remained standing. She was obviously making an effort. Unfortunately, her near-nudity effectively negated her attempts to be socially correct.
“Explain,” T’Lar said. Raijiin took a deep breath, an action which, T’Lar noticed, caused Verlen’s eyes to widen slightly, squared her shoulders, and began. T’Lar shot her older subordinate a look of subdued annoyance.
“There is a cloaked Romulan ship in our immediate vicinity,” said Raijiin. “On that ship is an undercover agent of the Vulcan Security Directorate who is requesting retrieval. The agent has informed us that his ship’s mission is to gain custody of one of the passengers aboard Lerteiran. Agent Senek believes that the best option is to lure the Romulans close enough to our vessel to transport the agent aboard, but the Romulans must be induced to decloak in order for that plan to work. Senek also believes that using the passenger as bait by bringing him aboard our vessel will convince the Romulan command¬er to decloak in order to retrieve him.”
T’Lar nodded, contemplating the girl thoughtfully. Her reporting style was surprisingly concise and pertinent.
“I contacted the passenger to request his cooperation,” Raijiin continued. ”He refused and then sought refuge with the Humans. Agent Senek has gone aboard Enterprise to request Captain Archer’s assistance in convincing the passenger to cooperate.”
“What makes Agent Senek believe that the Romulans will not simply decloak without warning and destroy our ship rather than attempt to retrieve the passenger alive?” asked Verlen.
“The Romulans assisted Lerteiran against the Nausicans rather than destroying her. That would imply that they want the passenger alive, “ said the girl succinctly. T’Lar nodded in agreement. Then it occurred to her that Agent Senek had just gone over her head to deal directly with the Humans himself. She’d barely had enough time to acknowledge her disgruntlement over the event when the comm attention tone sounded.
“Bridge to Commander T’Lar,” said the comm officer, “I have an incoming coded message intended for Agent Senek, but he is not aboard. It is marked urgent.”
T’Lar rose to the comm and answered. “Send it in here, Centurion.” She turned to Raijiin. “Do you have the necessary recognition codes, Subcenturion?” The telepath blinked at the rank title for a second, and then nodded. “Open the message, then,” T’Lar ordered. Raijiin swallowed. T’Lar stared her down.
“Yes, ma’am,” answered the ex-slave submissively. Then she stepped to the console set into the wall, input a series of codes, and stepped back. The three of them read the message in silence.
In approximately five Earth minutes, we will decloak in the vicinity of the Human ship. I will be a member of the boarding party which will beam aboard. If I survive arrival, the Humans will doubtless place me in a transport-safe area shortly after I beam on board. I would prefer to be in Vulcan custody, but if left in Human hands I plan to cooperate fully with our allies. My final disposition is up to you.
T’Lar exchanged a look with Verlen. Then she rushed to the bridge with him close at her heels like a faithful sehlat, leaving the under-dressed agent-in-training to stare after them.
Hoshi Sato looked up from her console and gave the captain a nod. At her signal, Archer began to speak.
“This is the captain. All hands to battle stations. Prepare for boarding. Protect yourselves but use non-lethal force if ¬at all possible. Starfleet wants these boarders alive. Set phase pistols to stun,” he announced. Hoshi nodded approvingly and cut the comm. Archer shot her a half-smile.
“How much time do we have left?” he asked tensely. Hoshi could feel the pressure building on the bridge. They’d never before been forewarned to the minute that a hostile boarding party was on its way. The wait was interminable, especially since they had no idea exactly where on the ship the Romulans would appear, or even what they would look like. She assumed that they would resemble Vulcans after what she’d recently learned, and be armed to the teeth. Everything else was anyone’s guess.
“Thirty seven seconds remain before the deadline,” said T’Pol calmly.
Leave it to a Vulcan to do a second-by-second countdown, Hoshi thought wryly. Their first officer didn’t even look nervous, even though she was the only person on the bridge besides Hoshi to understand what was at stake. Hoshi found herself wishing that she could somehow prevent what was about to occur. Although she had no intention of concealing her findings about the Romulan transmission from Starfleet, she had not yet made an official report, and the impending arrival of this agent aboard Enterprise had pushed up the timetable for the revelation of the Vulcan/Romulan connection dramatically. It occurred to her then that she probably should have warned the captain, or at least alerted Malcolm as chief of security, to the fact that the newcomers would very likely be as strong as Vulcans but without the Vulcan reluctance to kill. It was too late to do that now, though. She could only hope that the phase pistols and a five minute warning would be enough.
Malcolm Reed came rushing onto the bridge, back in the nick of time after escorting the Betazoid to the brig. He replaced the nervous-looking young ensign at tactical. “Don’t fire upon the Romulans unless they fire first, Lieutenant Reed,” Archer reminded him. “We don’t want to kill the informant before he has the chance to get aboard.”
”Aye, sir,” replied Malcolm briskly. His eyes scanned his console. “The Romulan ship just decloaked… a half kilometer to port!”
A high-pitched whine startled Hoshi, and she spun around in her seat. Three red EV suited figures materialized on the bridge directly in front of the turbolift. They each held two unfamiliar looking sidearms, one in each hand. The two on either side held their weapons wide, each covering a member of the bridge crew. As Hoshi pulled her hands cautiously away from her console and began to raise them, wondering why it hadn’t occurred to her that the boarding party might beam to the bridge, the central figure crossed his arms over his chest and fired two sustained bursts of intense energy. The boarders to either side of him arched their backs in agony and were completely and abruptly consumed in flame. A second later, nothing remained of them but a scattering of black ash. Malcolm had pulled a phase pistol out by then, but none of the bridge crew had had the opportunity to fire at the boarding party, now reduced in number to a single individual. The figure placed both weapons back into holsters at his waist and raised both hands to his own head level. His faceplate was still opaque. It was impossible to tell anything about his appearance except for the number and arrangement of his limbs. Hoshi guessed that the weapons were hand-held disruptors based on the damage they’d inflicted. She’d seen what the ship-mounted disruptors could do while analyzing the data sent from Lerteiran.
“Peace, and long life,” said the figure in unaccented Vulcan, as his right hand, still held at face level, split into a ta’al.
“Live long, and prosper,” responded Archer, in the same language but with a slightly more archaic intonation. Every head on the bridge swiveled to stare at him in shock. He blandly returned the ta’al, ignoring his crew’s general consternation. Hoshi stifled a smile. Apparently Jonathan Archer had picked up a few language pointers from Surak’s katra that he hadn’t bothered to tell anyone about. She studied him. His demeanor had changed subtly. It was hard to put a finger on the difference, but he seemed older somehow, more self assured and solemn.
“Thou art welcome aboard our vessel, Declared One,” Archer continued formally in High Vulcan. “We hope to share both thy wisdom and thy alliance.”
Declared One?, thought Hoshi. The term was vaguely familiar. She thought it might be an historical reference from something she’d read about the time of Surak. Maybe it was the faction that had rejected Surak’s teachings. Or was it what his closest followers were called? She couldn’t remember.
The EV suited alien was silent for several seconds. Although it was impossible to see his facial expression, Hoshi got the distinct impression that he was startled.
“I had not expected to encounter a student of Vulcan history aboard a Human starship, Captain,” replied the alien in a surprised tone. “I regret now that I am unable to accept your invitation, but in deference to your observance of our traditions, I will make every effort to convince my superiors to share my information with your people...” As he spoke, his outline began to shimmer, and the whine of a transporter once again filled the bridge. Hoshi’s eyes cut to Malcolm, who was frantically bringing up sensor readings. As the alien vanished, the captain turned to his Chief of Security.
“What happened? Did the Romulans take him back?” Archer asked urgently, suddenly losing his near-Vulcan façade.
“No, sir,” replied Malcolm, shaking his head in disgust. He looked up from his sensor screen. “It’s the Sehlat, sir. The Vulcans beamed him directly to their brig and activated their sensor baffle. We’ve lost him.”
The captain settled back into his chair. He exhaled heavily, his expression displaying a combination of irritation and puzzlement. “Malcolm, please go see how our two remaining guests are getting along, and ask them to report to my ready room at their earliest convenience.” Archer didn’t look back when he gave the order, but just stared at the front view screen with a preoccupied expression. Hoshi couldn’t figure out what he found so interesting. It still showed nothing but the barren, rocky planet they currently orbited and a long distance view of the Sehlat, with the Lerteiran clinging to her ringed silhouette like a lumpy oversized barnacle.
Malcolm cleared his throat, looking a bit uncomfortable. “Erm... Captain?” Archer looked back at him impatiently. “Agent Senek’s still in your ready room, sir... likely still unconscious on the floor. I had to stun him to convince him to cooperate.” He half-smiled apologetically. “And I wouldn’t move Damin out of the brig while the Romulan ship might still be in the vicinity. Doing that would just be an invitation to attack us, in my opinion. Next time they might decide not to bother about taking him alive.”
Archer’s brow went up. Then he nodded slowly while a hard and determined look came into his eyes. “Let’s go wake up Senek, then, Lieutenant.” He didn’t seem overly concerned about the Vulcan agent’s health. Neither did Malcolm. “Someone is going to tell me what the hell is going on here,” continued Archer with sudden harshness, “Even if I have to start breaking heads to get information.” Hoshi winced, but kept her attention on her console. She suddenly realized that she had never been tempted to feel pity for a Vulcan before, but she would not have traded places with Senek just then for all the latinum on Risa.
So much for my attempts to preserve Vulcan/Human relations, she thought, resigned. It looks like the shit has hit the fan.
The Aehallh passed between Enterprise and Sehlat, cloaked once again after a two second exposure which, oddly enough in Sienae’s opinion, had been completely ignored by all three vessels in firing range.
“Lock on to the Betazoid and bring him aboard,” she ordered. The young centurion who’d replaced Llahir at tactical worked his controls with slightly desperate urgency. He searched the screen with his eyes, and then reset the scanner controls. She could see perspiration break out on his forehead. Sienae gritted her teeth and resisted the urge to backhand the boy. What was his name? She studied him as he gradually became more frantic in his search.
That was it. Centurian Khaiell. A handsome young man, but somewhat high strung.
“I can’t find him, Commander.” The boy’s voice cracked a bit, and he swallowed, staring across the bridge to the wall beyond Siennae’s right shoulder. “I believe they’ve hidden him with a sensor baffle. There is an area of the ship I am unable to scan.”
Sienae exhaled forcefully. Damin would regret this. She’d had plans to kill him quickly and painlessly, but he deserved pain now—a great deal of pain.
“Locate the boarding party. Prepare to decloak and retrieve them. We’ll have to try again at a later time,” she said. Khaiell nodded and turned back to his scanners. Sienae settled herself into the command chair and waited for him to confirm his readiness. Seconds ticked by. Finally, she turned toward him inquiringly. He was perspiring again.
“I can’t find any of them, Commander,” he nearly squeaked. “Vulcan life signs are indistinguishable from ours, and there are two beings on the Human ship who could be either Romulan or Vulcan, but all three EV suits were fitted with homing beacons. None of the beacons are on Enterprise.” Sienae blinked at him in disbelief. Then she rose from her chair, stepped to the tactical console, and shouldered the boy aside. She repeated the search herself with identical results before stepping back to consider the ramifications. She forcefully suppressed the frustration welling within her and crossed her arms over her chest, absently staring at the scanning images as she mused.
The Humans knew in advance. There was no other reason for them to have placed Damin in a protected environment. They must have done the same with the boarding party, but how had they done it so quickly? Damin couldn’t have known about her plans. His telepathic range was only a kilometer or so at best, and from that distance he was merely an empath.
It was Llahir’s idea to lead the boarding party, she realized. He’d claimed to be trying to redeem himself. At the time, she’d considered it very atypical behavior for her generally over-cautious and emotionless second in command. He’d always been that way in the decade they’d served together aboard the Aehallh—bland and boringly unresponsive to anything, good or bad. Like a Vulcan.
”Fvadt!” she spat. She stepped back up to the sensor panel. Seconds later she found what she was looking for on the Sehlat. The signal from the single remaining homing beacon was strong for all of 1.5 seconds, and then it was swallowed up in another sensor baffle field.
The filthy sseikae had deceived her. For ten years he’d lied to her. She decided then that Damin would have a companion in her brig. And both of them would provide her with many hours of entertainment—very soon.
Damin locked his teeth together and clenched his fists. She couldn't reach him here. He must believe that. Her sensors couldn't find him, otherwise why would She be so angry and frustrated? That was the only possible explanation. Her rage was a good thing for once. It meant that he was safe. If She thought She had him, She would be happy, not angry. He kept telling himself that until the fear began to stabilize a bit.
The thought patterns were confused and confusing on this ship. Human minds were undisciplined and completely open, which meant that he was getting everything from everyone simultaneously. But in a strange contradiction, Archer's peculiar mind shield had allowed Damin to pick out his mind from the midst of the other Humans aboard. This, plus the presence of the Vulcan woman who was bonded to the young Mr. Tucker, a surprising situation he had certainly not expected to encounter, let him track progress enough to be aware of the boarding party’s arrival.
Damin felt the Romulan's death screams begin and clapped his shield into place by sheer reflex. When he carefully opened a partial probe again, all three intruders were gone. A gingerly applied touch against the Vulcan's mind informed him that the Vulcan spy had been transported to Sehlat, without bothering to tell anyone aboard Enterprise , of course. Damin snorted. Typical Vulcan behavior. Yes, he had chosen the proper refuge.
She was still within transporter range, though. He could feel Her emotions clearly. He was trapped in the brig now. It was the only safe place to be. In fact, there was no possibility of getting him out of this brig, except maybe with a photon torpedo, unless they offered him a portable sensor baffle. Since the only portable sensor baffle he’d ever seen was in the hands of the Vulcan High Command, Damin doubted that he would be going anywhere for a while.
No doubt Mr. Reed and Captain Archer would be down soon to talk to him, and probably the Vulcan woman as well. Meanwhile, all this tension had exhausted him. The bunk looked at least as comfortable as the shelf he was stuck with on Lerteiran, and the brig was toasty warm. Thank all the deities that Earth was a temperate planet, or at least that Humans obviously preferred a temperate climate. Damin settled himself on the bunk with a grateful sigh of relief. Perfect.
He was asleep in two minutes.
“There's something going on over there,” Sehlra told him thoughtfully, sipping her coffee as she reviewed the progress the Vulcans and Commander Tucker had made in her absence.
Jenrali nodded. Sehlra was right. The Vulcan repair team was tense. Naturally, being Vulcan, they did their best to hide it, but both Andorians had been trained long ago to detect abnormal variations in Vulcan body language, and these Vulcans were broadcasting stress like an alert siren. T'Riss did not deny that there seemed to be something wrong, but swore she had no idea what it might be.
The Human engineer had headed back to Enterprise in the middle of beta shift to get some well-deserved sleep, leaving the wrap-up to the Vulcans. Sehlra seemed to be in a much better mood after several hours of rest. They all should have been, but bunk time didn’t seem to have improved relations between the two younger members of the crew.
And that was another matter. The girl had appeared for duty this morning looking unusually preoccupied about something. She’d never been much of a talker, but this morning she was even quieter than usual, avoiding conversation, especially with Daniel. Jenrali wondered if sending her to Daniel had been a bad idea after all. Plus, the boy was wandering around in a daze, barely able to focus on his job. The old man growled softly to himself. This kind of plortkes was not acceptable. Not on his ship. To use Daniel's own saying against him, the boy needed to pull his head out of his ass.
“Keep a close eye on things and let me know if you spot anything else,” he told Sehlra. She indicated assent and he added, “I better get back up there before the lad dozes off and sends us crashing through both ships and straight into the nebula.” Jenrali stalked off toward the ladder, twisting his antenna in disgust. As he climbed he heard Sehlra barking unnecessary orders, venting her concern by micromanaging the torque application on every bolt head.
Daniel was desultorily playing with the sensor board when Jenrali emerged from the ladder well. The young Human wore a dreamy smile and a faraway look in his eyes. Jenrali gave him a sharp glance as he headed for the pilot's seat and settled in front of the controls. As he absently began to run a standard checklist, a small indicator caught Jenrali's eye. His eyebrows pulled together and he keyed in a series of commands to begin a superficial diagnostic.
“By the life-giving teats of the Great Mother herself, lad! Are you trying to kill us all?” Jenrali leaped from his pilot's seat and dove for the console where Daniel sat. He backhanded the young man away and frantically stabbed at the controls.
Daniel sat on the floor and rubbed the side of his head, looking offended. “I was just running through some simulations on the targeting scanners, Boss. There was no reason to go crazy on me.”
“No reason... crazy...!” Jenrali sputtered. “You powered up the phase cannon and the torpedoes! While we were docked! And what's even worse, you didn't unlock the clamps for the torpedo launcher. Even if you’d fired it, the torpedo wouldn't have launched. You know that, fool! It would’ve just sat there and detonated against our belly. What's wrong with you, lad?” Jenrali demanded in disbelief.
Daniel blinked. “Oh.”
“Oh? That's what you have to say for yourself? Oh?” Jenrali stood over Daniel and stared at him, outraged.
“I'm sorry, all right?” Daniel said defensively. “Nothing happened. It's no big deal. Let's just get back to work.” Daniel shifted his weight and started to stand up, then froze in obvious alarm at Jenrali’s next words and sat back down again with his eyes fixed on his captain.
“No. Big. Deal.” Jenrali whispered in a rasp sharp enough to slice tritanium. “You came within a Slime Devil's track of blowing up the ship and you think it is No Big Deal. You almost fired a phase cannon through the side of a Vulcan battle cruiser and you think it is No Big Deal.” He stopped to seethe quietly for a few breaths. “You are relieved of duty and confined to quarters until further notice. Get out of here before I break your neck.” Daniel looked up and started to open his mouth. “MOVE!” Daniel moved.
“He what?” Sehlra demanded, nonplussed. Jenrali repeated his brief description of the scene between himself and Daniel. The Andorian woman groped behind her and eventually found the co-pilot's seat. She sank into it, looking clubbed.
“Daniel hasn't made that kind of mistake since he came aboard,” Jenrali continued in frank bewilderment. “Rekloq. The boy has never made that kind of mistake. He just isn't that stupid or careless. Something is wrong with him.” He started pacing across the limited area of the control room.
“That mind slut.” Sehlra's antennae drew back into attack mode. “She damaged him,” the old woman declared between shining teeth.
Jenrali considered this. “Seems possible,” he allowed. “But why did it take so long to show up? And why didn't that doctor on Enterprise catch it?”
“He’s Denobulan,” Sehlra pointed out. “Maybe he doesn't know as much about Humans as he likes to claim.” Her eyes were hooded. “And who knows what that bitch did to him, or how long it takes for her poison to work through the system? Whatever she did could still be in him, still working its way through him. I say we go get the whore and wring it out of her. And no rekloqvori inler plortkes netvitkec about mercy this time.”
Jenrali stopped and thought deeply for a few minutes. “First things first. It's obvious something is not right with Daniel. I think you're right. That doctor on Enterprise might not be up to standard with Humans, but Vulcans have been allies with Humans for a hundred years. A Vulcan healer ought to at least know the basics, shouldn't he? And a Vulcan battle cruiser carries a healer plus two assistant healers-in training. There are two cruisers in this end of space plus a medical transport at the Orion station, so that would give Daniel six medics plus an entire shipful of healers from a race that has been working on his people for a century... compared to one Denobulan that might or might not know what he’s doing.”
“And we’re already docked with Sehlat,” Sehlra announced decisively. She slapped her knees and stood up; looking a bit heartened by the prospect of something concrete to do but still sufficiently worried to be brisk about it. “Let's get the boy over there and have him checked out.”
“You go back down to the engine room and make sure that repair crew doesn’t turn the reactor upside down,” Jenrali told her jokingly, trying to lighten her mood. “I’ll take the lad over there and give you a full report. I swear it on my honor.” Sehlra hesitated with her jaw clenched, but then grunted in agreement and turned to climb down the ladder. Jenrali keyed the intercom, “Crewman T'Riss, report to the control room immediately.”
The Vulcan girl emerged, looking mildly curious. “I need you to take the watch while I escort Daniel over to Sehlat ,” Jenrali told her briskly. “I don't know how long it will take. Sehlra is in the engine room if you need her.”
T'Riss blinked. “With respect, Captain. Why does Mr. Johansen require an escort? I could certainly provide one and save you the time and trouble.”
Jenrali sighed. “I hoped to avoid discussing this with you—at least until we were sure what the problem was. But you have a right to know, since it affects ship's operations.” He stopped and made an unhappy face. “Daniel was behaving erratically earlier. Sehlra and I suspect that the damage Raijiin inflicted may have resurfaced.”
The girl managed to keep all expression off her face, quite a feat for such a youngster, Jenrali admitted to himself, but she flinched and even gave back a half step. He went on, “I’m taking him over to Sehlat so their Healer can have a look at him. We figured a Vulcan medic might have more information available about Humans than a Denobulan.”
T'Riss stiffened. “I am not qualified to judge the relative merits of medical personnel, but, if there is any way that I can be of assistance do not hesitate to call upon me.”
“You might at that,” Jenrali had a sudden thought. “You could call ahead and let them know we’re coming. Make sure that there won't be any problems with regulations. You know what I mean.”
“Certainly.” T'Riss immediately moved to the communications console and began operating the controls. “Sehlat, this is Crewman T'Riss aboard Lerteiran requesting medical assistance.” Only a few seconds of silence passed before the answer came.
“Crewman T'Riss. This is Healer Tyvek aboard Sehlat. State the nature of your request.
“Healer Tyvek,” T'Riss replied. “We have a Human crewman who requires immediate assistance. Request permission to bring him to Sehlat for treatment.”
“Human? You refer to Mr. Johansen? Why did you not contact the Human ship for assistance?”
“With respect, Healer Tyvek,” T'Riss told him firmly, “Mr. Johansen's commanding officer believes the medical facilities available aboard Sehlat to be superior to those available aboard Enterprise. ”
“Indisputably.” The note of smugness in Tyvek's voice came through clearly. “Authorization approved. I will notify Security to escort your Human directly to sickbay upon arrival.”
“Acknowledged. Lerteiran out.” T'Riss turned to look at Jenrali, who gave her an encouraging smile and headed for the ladder. He stepped off onto the quarters deck with a hopeful spring. Whatever else anyone said about Vulcans, their medicine was second to none. If anyone could help Daniel it would be a Vulcan Healer.
Daniel's door was surprisingly quiet when Jenrali hit the announcer button. “Lad, it's me. Open up.” He waited a few seconds before striking the portal with his fist. Nothing. Jenrali leaned forward and touched his antennae to the door. He held a steady breath long enough to confirm a clear tlasp. The flow was smooth and uninterrupted. Just to make sure, Jenrali overrode the lock code and took a quick glance inside. The room was empty.
Daniel had disobeyed orders. A flash of irritation passed swiftly. The lad wasn't to blame, not if he was suffering brain damage. So where was he?
There were only two likely spots. Either he was pestering Sehlra or he’d gone down to visit the passengers. Jenrali's mouth quirked up as he ambled toward the ladder. If he was with Sehlra then she would scoot him back up the ladder quickly enough. And if Daniel had snuck down to steal a snuggle he would keep until Jenrali got there. Unless...
Unless he wasn't either place. Unless the lad had gone completely crazy and decided to go outside for some reason.
Jenrali leaped for the ladder and slid down the side rails without bothering with the rungs. He hit the deck plates and spun to see Sehlra staring at him, along with several startled Vulcans. No Human in sight. Jenrali spat a silent curse and strode out of engineering, headed for the cargo hold at top speed.
Natolya stretched and wriggled deeper into the silks on her bunk. She yawned and smiled in lazy pleasure, feeling satisfied for the first time since the Vulcans had attacked the station. If she had known that a Human boy would be this much fun, she would certainly have cajoled Grigor-Tel into capturing one for her as a pet years ago. Few males of any race were capable of mating three times in a single night. And that tongue... Why hadn’t anyone ever told her Human tongues were prehensile? She shivered in anticipation of the night to come.
As if summoned by her thoughts, the hatch popped open and Daniel slipped through. Natolya sighed. She could not have him wandering in here openly like this. Those Andorians would never tolerate it, much less that Vulcan harridan. But still, it might be amusing to see how long it took him to figure out which one of them had visited him last night. The boy stopped and looked around eagerly, searching every face. Natolya hid beneath her bedcover. A flash of frustrated irritation showed in Daniel's eyes. He started walking down the aisle, looking from side to side and breathing deeply through his nose in an instinctive effort to catch her scent. The other girls watched with attitudes that ranged from amused to sympathetic.
The Human reached the far end and started back. He was beginning to look desperate. Natolya could barely suppress a giggle. She really shouldn't let this continue, she told herself. But he was so cute like this. The other women were so absorbed in watching Daniel that the loud clank of the door latch releasing made several of them jump. Natolya stiffened in nervous anticipation and hastily turned her face toward the wall, pulling a blanket over her shoulders. If that Vulcan came in she would recognize her instantly, but it was the Andorian man, the captain, who stalked in looking disturbed.
“Oh dear,” she suddenly realized, “He’s been in Orion space before, many times.” This was a potential problem. If Jenerli... Jenrali? If Jenrali recognized the symptoms that Daniel was displaying he might resent it, either from jealousy or because Daniel might not be quite as effective at his job as he used to be. Natolya chewed her lip unhappily. Perhaps a change of quarry was in order.
No, if she seduced the captain he might crash the ship, and his mate would surely come hunting for whoever had touched her man. Natolya clenched her teeth and wondered if it might have been prudent to have thought things through a bit more before she indulged herself.
“Daniel,” the captain barked. Then more gently, “Come along, lad. We don't have time for this.”
Natolya watched the Human bristle and winced, but she dared not get up and calm him. Daniel shook his head violently and declared, “No! She's here. I know she's here. I have to find her.”
Jenrali's face darkened. “We have no time for fun and games, lad. You're coming with me. Now.”
Daniel stuck his jaw out and declared, “No,” he glared defiantly.
Natolya froze in shock. At no point did she actually witness any of the Andorian's movements. There was only a confused impression of the old man lunging forward, seeing the Human crouch and bring up his arms to block, hearing the dull meaty slap of flesh impacting flesh, and watching the younger man being twisted and forced to his knees accompanied by a dull popping sound from his shoulder joints. Daniel gasped in pain and howled, “All right! You win!”
“Stand up,” Jenrali said calmly, standing behind him with a firm grip on both of the Human's crossed arms. Daniel struggled to his feet with a moan. Even Natolya could not keep from feeling a touch of sympathy. She had seen Andorian warriors before, but not often. The Andorians who came into Orion space were generally renegades or civilian traders. She understood now why Grigor-Tel had labeled this ship off-limits to his raiders.
The two men went through the hatch without further incident, leaving the ladies free to burst into chatter about all the excitement.
Jenrali was disgusted, despite his concern for the lad. Open mutiny was too much. Had it not been for Daniel's years of loyal service and his own conviction that the Human was not responsible for his actions; the aged veteran would surely have thrown the fool out the airlock. Partner or no partner, no one challenged him on his own ship.
The youngster kept twisting and whining about wanting to go back to the cargo hold. Jenrali impatiently gave Daniel's arms an upward wrench. “Shut up.”
“You want her for yourself,” the lad babbled and started trying to pull free again. “You can't have her! She's mine!” Jenrali freed one hand long enough to cuff Daniel behind the ear. He staggered sideways and finally subsided into sub-vocal grumbling. Jenrali growled in relief when the airlock came into view. He rammed Daniel face first into the bulkhead, silencing the young fool briefly, and held him in place with a knee in the small of his back while he activated the door control. When it opened Jenrali dragged his quarry through the portal behind him backwards. The two Vulcans standing guard on the far side of Sehlat's portal gave the pair of them odd looks but made no snide remarks.
“This way,” one of them told Jenrali, and then he took off down the corridor. Jenrali drew in another deep breath and aimed Daniel like a pushcart at the Vulcan's back. It was not a pleasant trip. By the time they made it to sickbay the Andorian was seriously reconsidering the option of kicking the lad through the airlock, or at least dumping him off with the Vulcans and leaving. Unfortunately, Sehlra would have his antennae if he tried it.
The Vulcan healer came out of the treatment area looking distracted. He turned his head toward the new arrivals with a blank gaze for a moment, and then the light of remembrance came into his eyes. “Captain Jenrali, Crewman Johansen. I am Healer Tyvek. What do you need?” His words were brusque, which suited Jenrali fine. He was in no mood for chit chat.
In a series of equally chopped off sentences he gave Tyvek a concise description of Daniel's recent behavior, ending with, “We wanted you to take a look at him. I don't know anything about that Denobulan, but I do know that you Vulcans have been working on Humans for a century. If that doctor on Enterprise screwed up you should be able to tell, shouldn't you?”
Tyvek looked grim. “Certainly. But let us not jump to conclusions. All of the information available to me indicates that Dr. Phlox is well qualified.” He approached Daniel, who had taken a seat where Jenrali dumped him and waited with hanging head. “Mr. Johansen? Can you hear me?”
Daniel raised his head and snarled, “Of course I can hear you. I'm not deaf.” Tyvek did not react visibly.
“Will you come with me into the examination area?”
“Do I have a choice?” Daniel complained.
“Certainly,” Tyvek told him. “I cannot and will not treat you against your will.”
“Good.” Daniel snapped to his feet and turned to leave, running directly into Jenrali and bouncing backward.
“Lad,” the Andorian told him pleasantly, “Either you go with him and let him take care of you, or I tell Sehlra that you refused...and then you can answer to her. Either way, you are not setting foot back on the ship until you get treated.”
Daniel flushed and tightened his fists. He spun around and stomped toward the exam area like a child having a temper tantrum. Tyvek and Jenrali traded a glance. “I have heard that Humans are prone to emotional outbursts,” Tyvek noted. “Is this type of behavior typical?”
“No,” Jenrali told him in a worried tone. “Not even close.” Tyvek nodded and followed Daniel, with Jenrali tagging along unremarked in the rear. He watched Tyvek direct Daniel to stretch out on the nearest biobed and start scanning. The Vulcan's eyebrows rose into his hairline, and he turned to access a data terminal. After checking some references briefly, he turned back to the biobed and made several adjustments on his scanner. Tyvek repeated the scans twice. Then he stepped back.
“Are you currently taking any medication, Mr. Johansen?” the Vulcan asked. “Did Dr. Phlox inject you with any long acting drugs?”
For the first time Daniel seemed to give some real attention to what was going on. His brow wrinkled. “No, not really. He said the stuff he shot in my eyes would stop the damage from getting worse. But after that all he did was stick in some stem cells.”
Tyvek nodded. “I believe it would be logical to consult with Dr. Phlox about the scans I have just taken. Please remain on the biobed. You will be able to see and hear everything from your current location.” Jenrali moved up to stand next to Daniel, with his antennae tightening.
The Denobulan's face filled the small view screen to overflowing. He smiled broadly and greeted Tyvek with, “Good afternoon, Healer Tyvek. Always pleasant to converse with a fellow medical professional. What can I do for you?”
“I have the young Human from Lerteiran in my sickbay,” Tyvek informed him. “He presented, reluctantly, with his captain after displaying behavioral abnormalities. I would like you to review my scan data.” He plugged the scanner into the data jack of the terminal and pressed a switch. Phlox put on an interested expression, obviously looking at the numbers as they streamed over.
“This is disquieting,” Phlox noted, with an appreciable reduction in his good humor. “His respiratory rate and blood pressure are significantly elevated, as well as his heart rate. I recommend a mild sedative immediately unless other symptoms contraindicate such treatment.”
“NO!” Daniel sat up and swung his legs off the table in obvious panic. “You're not doping me up! You’re all trying to keep me away from her! No!” He jumped down and ran for the door. Jenrali smoothly turned and delivered a forearm smash across the small of his back. Daniel screamed and buckled to the floor.
“Captain Jenrali!” protested Tyvek, rather loudly for a Vulcan. “There will be no violence in my sickbay...especially not against one of my patients. Any further such outbursts and I will order security to escort you back to your ship.”
Jenrali picked up Daniel in his arms and put him back on the biobed. “Understood.” He stepped back puffing. “But once that boy got moving neither of us were going to catch him. You’ve never seen him run.”
“Perhaps not, but...” Tyvek gave up and started scanning Daniel again. “Would you submit to medication now?” Daniel nodded weakly and the Vulcan applied a hypo. Phlox watched from the monitor looking unhappily thoughtful.
“Captain Jenrali?” Phlox asked. “Do you know the 'she' that Mr. Johansen was referring to?”
Jenrali snorted. “I suppose it's one of those Orion whores we’re carrying. I had to drag him out of there to bring him here.” The Andorian looked irritated. Phlox jerked upright.
“Orion?” A new tone came into Phlox's voice. “You have Orion females aboard the same ship with a Human male?”
Jenrali looked sharply at the monitor. “Yes, we do. Is that a problem?” Tyvek turned from the biobed to glance between the two, listening intently.
“Potentially, yes,” Phlox told them. “It might potentially be a very serious problem, depending on the circumstances and the intentions of the Orion females in question. Several months ago our ship was infiltrated by Orion spies who were operating under the guise of opening trading negotiations.”
“That's one of their standard tactics,” Jenrali agreed.
“I won't waste time with the details,” Phlox told them, “but the relevant information here is that Humans are unusually susceptible to Orion pheromones. I discovered that the hormones in the Human emergency response system, what they call their 'fight or flight mechanism', interact with Orion pheromones. The resultant combination multiplies the pheromones’ effect to many times the usual intensity seen with other humanoid species. All of the Human females aboard Enterprise were virtually disabled by headaches triggered by the pheromones of only three Orion females. The Human males aboard were putty in their hands. They had no defense at all. Their own endocrine systems betrayed them.”
“Then perhaps this is the issue at hand,” Tyvek suggested. “What are the characteristic signs and symptoms? Are there confirmatory laboratory tests?”
“I would run serum analyses for elevated levels of cortisone, testosterone, and epinephrine. Especially testosterone,” Phlox suggested. “The mental status exam should also reveal substantial increases in impulsivity and suggestibility and reductions in alertness and task perseverance.”
“A logical approach,” Tyvek agreed. He pulled an ampoule of blood from Daniel's wrist and walked over to his lab bench. A few buttons pressed later he announced, “The laboratory results, combined with my observation of the patient’s mental status and the report of his commanding officer, confirm your diagnosis, Dr. Phlox.”
Jenrali started feeling hot. “Are you trying to tell me that my crewman committed insubordination and mutiny because he was horny?” He whirled to glare at the unconscious figure on the biobed.
“Stop.” Phlox didn't raise his voice, but somehow it caught Jenrali's attention. “Insubordination? Mutiny? Has he ever exhibited this kind of behavior before?”
Jenrali felt tired and sick. “No, never. The lad has always been a fine crewman. But I can't let this pass. This Orion plortkes is no excuse. He’s been with Orion whores before and never acted like this.”
“What were the circumstances?” Phlox asked. “When was he with Orion women before?” Tyvek grimaced in the background but made no comment. Jenrali looked puzzled.
“Why... at the brothels on the stations where we docked...or at the Selusian colony once when we had a special run. Why?”
“Please bear with me, Captain Jenrali,” Phlox told him. “Can you describe in detail what Mr. Johansen did, and most particularly what he said?” Jenrali let his eyes unfocus and concentrated. A trained Andorian soldier learns the importance of noticing details and reporting them accurately and completely. He started with the incident on the bridge, noting with passing amusement how Tyvek jumped when he learned how close Daniel had come to blowing a hole in the Vulcan ship. Then he moved on through Daniel ignoring his orders, and finally being forced to subdue him in the cargo hold and march him to the Sehlat .
“The behavior you describe,” Dr. Phlox told him gravely, “is, as you yourself said, by no means typical of a Human male who merely desires to mate. However, it is nearly identical to the behavior exhibited by members of the Enterprise crew who had been suborned by Orion females in their effort to take over our ship. Before you pass judgment on your crewman, Captain, I suggest treating him and letting him give you his side of the story.”
“Your hypothesis then, Doctor, is that one of the Orion females aboard Lerteiran has decided to claim Mr. Johansen as her personal concubine?” Tyvek stepped into the conversation.
“It seems at least possible,” Phlox replied. “Especially if the Orion girl didn’t realize how potent her pheromones would be when used on a Human. A Klingon for example, or an Andorian, would merely become fixated on her to the exclusion of other females. She might have had no way of knowing that a Human would literally be driven insane.”
“What is the treatment?” Tyvek wanted to know.
“The administration of an olfactory receptor blocker followed by two hours of isolation from further pheromone exposure. After two hours the patient should be recovered from the mental effects, but there will probably be difficulties with equilibrium and coordination for several days afterward, and a reduction in appetite related to side effects from the medication.” Phlox grimaced and shrugged. “Humans tend to eat very little when they’re unable to smell or taste their food. Light duty is recommended, and I would not suggest allowing the patient anywhere near critical systems.” Phlox went on. “I have not been able to confirm this, but I suspect that periodic re-treatment with the olfactory blocking agent at twenty-four hour intervals would maintain immunity as long as there is continued risk of pheromone exposure, but as I said, that is only my theory.”
“I'll be back in two hours to see what the lad has to say for himself,” Jenrali snapped. He had heard all he could take. The old man whirled and stalked toward the door, seething. Deliberate or not, there was going to be some green hide flying when he got back to Lerteiran .
Sehlra was right after all, he thought, she just targeted the wrong whore. He felt a tiny smile pull at the corners of his mouth. It might be more fun at that to tell Sehlra, and then stand back and watch.
A stinging slap to his right cheek brought Senek to muzzy awareness of his surroundings. He was lying on a thinly carpeted floor. His chest ached. A slap to his left cheek woke him completely, and he raised a hand, blocking a third incoming blow. He opened his eyes to find Commander T’Pol’s wrist in his grip. She had a blandly efficient air about her. Over her shoulder, the Human captain and his security officer looked on with dismayed expressions.
“Thank you, Commander,” he told T’Pol dryly. “That will be sufficient.” She nodded, without apology, and stepped back to allow him the space to lever himself painfully off the floor and into the nearest chair.
“Do you require medical assistance?” T’Pol offered. “I can ask Dr. Phlox to...”
“That will not be necessary,” he interrupted, “I will recover fully in a few hours.” He glanced past her at the Humans, who were taking their seats opposite him at the table. There was no sign of the Betazoid. “I assume the crisis is over?” he ventured.
“ If by that you mean the Romulans didn’t destroy us...yes. The crisis is over,” replied Archer coldly, “but the situation is far from resolved.” He spoke quietly, but with a rumbling undercurrent that reminded Senek forcibly of Earth's active plate tectonics. “I have a boy in my brig who can’t budge without bringing the Romulans back down on us. Meanwhile my ally has beamed a Romulan defector possessing tactical information which could prove crucial to Earth’s defense directly from my bridge without so much as a by-your-leave. Before I call her and perhaps say something that both our worlds will deeply regret, I decided to give you the opportunity to offer me an explanation.” He smiled, but unless Senek was seriously mistaken the teeth baring rictus was not intended to represent happiness. “What the hell is going on here?”
“Romulan defector? Did you see this defector?” Senek asked, concerned. If the Humans had already made the connection...
“ He beamed aboard in an EV suit, and was transported out within moments of his arrival,” T’Pol answered quickly. “He spoke Vulcan.” Archer gave her a quelling look. She sat back, folding her hands in her lap.
Senek exhaled in relief, nodding. “I wasn’t party to the decision to take our agent from you without discussion, Captain,” he said in a conciliatory tone, “but I assume that Commander T’Lar believed there was insufficient time for debate. She saw an opportunity to protect our agent from recapture by the Romulans and she took it.”
“ The man beamed aboard my ship and placed himself in my custody, Agent Senek.” Archer stated in a flat monotone. “Your commander had no right...”
“The man on your bridge was a Vulcan, Captain, not a Romulan. He was therefore Commander T’Lar’s responsibility,” Senek countered, studying Archer’s face. The captain was impressively controlled—for a Human. To Senek’s surprise, Archer stopped arguing at that point and sat back in his chair, contemplating Senek with a calculating expression.
“Mister Reed,” said Archer in a disturbingly quiet tone, “escort Agent Senek to sickbay while I have a discussion with Commander T’Lar about the exchange of tactical information among allies.” He bared his teeth again, this time showing only enough to reveal the points of his lower teeth, to Senek's discomfiture.
T’Riss sat at Lerteiran’s helm, doing nothing vital except contemplating her guilt. The front view screen was inactive, leaving her with only a blank wall to focus on while her mind sifted through various painful possibilities.
What if I am responsible for doing permanent harm to an innocent man? was her primary thought. I convinced Raijiin to use her influence on Daniel.
If he was now irrevocably damaged, how could she possibly make amends? What would he do if Captain Jenrali found him too unreliable to continue as crew? In the short time that she’d known Daniel Johansen, she’d come to realize that he considered Lerteiran his home; the scarred old Andorian couple were his family. She had no idea if the Andorians felt the same way. They were too fierce, too difficult to understand, and always talking about latinum. What if they turned him out? He’d be alone then, and unable to care for himself due to mental incapacity—an incapacity for which she was responsible. An apology was insufficient, she decided, and she had no money with which to make any financial provision for his care.
After some thought, it occurred to her that the pre-Surak literary works she’d been so fond of as a child provided her with a solution to her dilemma. She’d stolen such works from her father’s library for years before leaving home for the academy, and hidden them beneath her bedclothes with an illuminated padd to read late at night. Before the reformation it had been commonplace for a Vulcan who’d wronged another to attempt to right that wrong by placing himself in service to the one who was wronged, thereby providing concrete recompense for the misdeed. The institution of a uniform penal code after the reformation had caused the practice to go out of favor, but she had vivid recollections of tales in which a penitent wrongdoer swore to uphold the honor of another with his life in repayment for his shameful actions.
After all she’d endured in the past several months, she was surprised that she was still idealistic enough to be attracted to the prospect, but she resolved that if Daniel Johansen’s injury was found to be permanent she would place herself under his authority to serve him as he saw fit, whether he liked it or not. The obvious analogy to slavery inherent in the idea made her pause for a moment, and her fearful memories of captivity reasserted themselves, but she wrestled them down firmly.
There is nothing to fear. He will be a kind and generous employer. It is more than I deserve. She was repeating this to herself in a calming, meditative fashion when Captain Jenrali’s roar echoed up the ladder well.
“SEHLRA!” he bellowed. He sounded distressed. It could only be over Daniel’s condition. Perhaps she’d misjudged his feelings for the Human. A review of sensor readings revealed no activity at all. She set proximity alarms and left the bridge, taking the ladder down two rungs at a time.
T’Riss found the captain in quiet conversation with Sehlra at the entrance to the cargo bay, obviously trying to convince her of something. Her face was grim.
“Absolutely not!” Sehlra growled under her breath. “My boys are wrapping things up, and they’ll be here any minute to help me. You’re not going in there!” Jenrali just rolled his eyes, leaving T’Riss to wonder momentarily about which “boys” Sehlra was referring to—until the three young Vulcan technicians from the Sehlat that had been helping Sehlra with repairs appeared. They flanked her on all sides, standing impassively with their arms crossed waiting for orders. T’Riss stared at Sehlra, taken aback. There was obviously more to the old Andorian woman than T’Riss had realized if she was able to inspire such loyalty—in Vulcans, no less, and after only a few days of working together. The lean young man standing at Sehlra’s right addressed Jenrali softly.
“Our commander has authorized us to assist, Captain Jenrali. There is no reason for you to risk yourself. We are immune, as is your engineer.” He nodded respectfully toward Sehlra.
“Hurting Daniel may have been unintentional, Sehlra,” Jenrali pointed out. “If you’re going to restrain them instead of stunning or killing them, one guard apiece would be the easiest way until we sort this out. The last time I checked, there were five Orions in the bunch.”
T’Riss looked from one face to the other, sorting out the puzzle. They were speaking of the passengers. Of the thirteen aboard, five were Orion females, and one of them had apparently assaulted Daniel. The realization sickened her. She had sat idly last night and listened while her crewmate was sexually assaulted, and done nothing at all to assist him. The fact that she had no way of know that the mating was non-consensual did nothing to decrease her sense of guilt. Her newly discovered duty to protect the Human asserted itself, and she stepped forward. “I will handle the fifth suspect,” she volunteered. “Where are we taking them?” All heads turned in her direction. The Andorians looked surprised. The Vulcans didn’t.
“To Sehlat’s sickbay for a positive identification by the victim,” the Vulcan spokesman told her. Sehlra smiled a rather bloodthirsty smile.
“Then we’ll know which one to kill,” she said with enthusiasm. Jenrali sighed and rolled his eyes.
“All right. You win. I’ve got no desire to lose my wits over some green whore,” he replied. He turned to the Vulcan engineer at Sehlra’s side. “But I’m relying on you boys to keep the bloodshed to a minimum,” he said, in all seriousness. The young man’s eyes widened slightly in alarm, and Jenrali began to smile as he turned to head up the ladder to the bridge.
Sehlra slapped her hands together. “All right, then!” she announced, settling her hand on the pommel of the shock stick at her belt. She turned to the door and nodded to the leader of her team of Vulcan volunteers. “Centurian... after you,” she said. The young man stepped to the door and knocked twice, firmly. There was silence initially, and then a hesitant female voice.
“Who is it?”
“My name is Samel,” replied the Vulcan in a confident baritone. “I wish to speak with you. Daniel Johansen sent me.” Sehlra shot him a warning look and shook her head, but the woman behind the door giggled.
“He told you about us, did he?” There was a hiss as the portal began to open. “Well, any friend of Daniel’s...”
From the interior of the cargo bay, a woman’s voice shouted, “No, Arialee! Don’t open the door!” But it was already too late.
As soon as the portal was open enough to admit his hand, Samel inserted it into the gap and shoved it the rest of the way, eliciting a shriek from the girl at the door. She was Orion. He grasped her firmly by both upper arms and moved her bodily out of the way, allowing the rest of the party to enter the room. She struggled against his grip, to no avail. T’Riss followed the progress of the others with her eyes as they searched the room, rooting Orion women from beneath silken bedclothes and from under bunks. Her eyes narrowed. The room was in bedlam. Screams filled the air—and scents. T’Riss inhaled deeply. There was the smell of fear, certainly, and the perfumes with which she’d become familiar during her training at the brothel on the station, but there was something else. The musky aroma she remembered from the night before, when she’d believed Daniel to be indulging his carnal appetites, was also there. Regret pulsed briefly, but she stifled it.
Each of the group had found an Orion girl—everyone but herself. Sehlra seemed to be reveling in her role. The young woman in her grasp wasn’t fighting at all, but kept her eyes fixed on Selhra’s grimly satisfied expression like a sandhopper being stalked by a hungry sehlat. T’Riss inhaled again, and then looked down. A figure swathed in opaque silks crawled along the floor behind the bunks, trying to reach the exit behind her. It was moving with agonizing slowness, probably trying to mimic a pile of dirty laundry until the last possible second before making a run for it. Through the scent of fear, a familiar odor identified it as Daniel’s attacker. T’Riss gritted her teeth to suppress the growl building in her throat and strode to the pile of bed linens. She ripped through them until she found a green throat, and then lifted with both hands. She bared her teeth when she discovered Natolya herself dangling in mid air. The woman’s face began to turn from green to blue-green as she squeezed.
“T’Riss!” Sehlra barked. “Put her down, Crewman! That’s an order!” Natolya’s eyes rolled frantically in her head. T’Riss studied her face while she decided what to do. The desire for revenge welled within her, threatening to overcome all self control.
”Train her for me, Natolya. Do a good job because I’m keeping this one!” Grigor-Tel’s leering face presented itself to her mind’s eye with perfect clarity. Natolya’s response was equally clear.
”Don’t I always do a good job?” And then she’d laughed.
T’Riss tilted her head, inspecting the Orion’s grimace. Natolya clawed at the grip around her throat, but she was getting weaker. She wasn’t laughing now.
Sehlra sounded incensed by her refusal to obey orders, and Sehlra was her superior officer. Years of conditioning compelled her to follow the proper chain of command. She opened her fingers and Natolya fell the two feet to the floor in an unconscious heap. T’Riss stood over her with fists clenched, breathing deeply. The room was suddenly silent save for the terrified sobs of the ex-slaves. Out of the corner of her eye, T’Riss saw Sehlra hand off her suspect to one of her Vulcan minions and then stroll casually across the room to peer over T’Riss’ shoulder. The Andorian stretched out a booted foot and none-too-gently poked the lifeless looking heap on the floor with it, eliciting a low-pitched groan from the half-conscious Orion. She grunted noncommittally at the sound.
“Met this one before?” she asked T’Riss mildly.
“Yes,” T’Riss replied through clenched teeth. Sehlra nodded.
“The Mother knows you have the right to kill every Orion that was on that station, but,” she added with emphasis, “your orders are to take her to Daniel for a positive ID... alive. Think you can do that, Crewman?” T’Riss felt her face flush.
“Yes, ma’am,” she answered stoically. Sehlra sighed and shook her head. If T’Riss hadn’t known better, she would have thought the woman was amused—but, of course, the situation didn’t call for amusement. She’d disobeyed a direct order. T’Riss steeled herself for a reprimand, but it never came.
“You took her out, so you get to carry her, Crewman,” said Sehlra matter-of-factly. “Let’s go,” she said to the room at large, waving the others ahead of her. She took charge of the timid little Orion she’d handed off earlier and paused at the door, waiting for T’Riss to hoist her semi-conscious charge up onto her shoulders in a fireman’s carry.
“There’s no cause for alarm. We just need the Orions for a few questions,” Sehlra told the rest of the frightened women gruffly while waiting. “Stay here. You’re perfectly safe.” Then she walked out with her Orion in tow. T’Riss followed her, feeling like a beast of burden.
The room was filled with the sound of agitated femininity before the hatch was even shut behind them.
Llahir pulled his right leg out of the EV suit liner, tossed the garment into the recycler and sighed in relief. Romulan EV suits were not designed for comfort. Once completely unclothed, he stepped into the ultrasonic shower, the only personal hygiene facility available in the Sehlat’s brig, and closed his eyes while the vibrations cleansed his skin. Afterwards, as he applied disinfectant gel, he wondered at the immobility of the Vulcan military. It had been thirty years since he’d been aboard a ship of the Vulcan Space Fleet, three decades since he’d begun to call himself Llahir—so long ago that his old name would no longer serve. In all that time, despite the new government and its lip service to diversity, it seemed that nothing had changed. The interior of the Sehlat could have easily been the interior of any starship in service on the day he’d left, and despite the ready availability of water on virtually every planet besides Vulcan, it was apparently still unacceptable for Vulcan ship designers to “waste” wash water on prisoners.
Not that he was a prisoner, of course. His meeting with Commander T’Lar and her pet telepath had made the Vulcan Security Directorate's position quite clear. He was here for his own protection, and only until a portable sensor baffle could be obtained. The young commander, surprisingly young in his opinion, had been unfailingly courteous. She’d even volunteered the information that the Security Directorate had assigned a telepath to be his debriefing officer. Being near deaf to telepathy himself, he quite possibly would never have noticed had she not told him. Her forthrightness was either disturbingly naive or a cover for something more devious. He hadn’t decided which yet. There was always the possibility that living with Romulans for thirty years had made him paranoid.
The little telepath puzzled him. When she’d walked in behind the commander in her ill-fitting ship’s coverall with her face battered, bruised, and partially hidden behind a curtain of blonde curls he’d thought she was Human at first, though he knew that Humans weren’t telepathic. She’d had no padd for note-taking or insignia of rank on her uniform, and had a subservient manner about her, as if she were accustomed to taking orders, but the commander had pulled the girl aside to consult with her immediately following Llahir’s conversation, and seemed to be listening intently to what the girl had to say.
The girl Raijiin, he’d been told, was merely the trainee of the officer who was to be his interrogator. That officer was currently otherwise occupied, however, and so his debriefing was on hold for the time being. That would have been fine with him had he been able to at least get a shower and a decent meal. As it was, he was beginning to get a bit impatient.
He put on the undergarments and clean coverall with which he’d been provided and sat down on the bunk with his now room-temperature meal tray. The temperature of the food was irrelevant to him. He’d tasted it already, and no change in temperature could possibly make the meal any less palatable than it already was. He’d forced down only two bites when the door to the brig’s central chamber opened and the timid looking little telepath returned, alone this time. She approached the transparent wall to his cell with an apologetic smile on her face.
“I’m sorry to disturb you, sir, but the captain has asked me to see to your needs until Agent Senek returns, and I couldn’t help but...” she paused grimacing. “Well, I know you probably wouldn’t have complained, but I have a really hard time stomaching the stuff myself,” she said with a half-smile, indicating his dinner tray with one small, graceful hand.
Llahir cocked a brow at her. She could read his thoughts at such a distance and she was using that skill to determine his food preferences?
As soon as the thought crossed his mind she began shaking her head. “Oh, no sir,” she claimed. “I could just tell you didn’t like something. I assumed it was the food since...well...it is pretty disgusting.” She smiled prettily at him. “I’m not authorized to read any deeper than that.” Which conveniently begged the question of whether she was capable of doing so and deliberately chose not to reveal that fact to him. Interesting.
“I could bring you something else. I’ve got a stockpile of Human food in my cabin,” she offered.
“So, you are Human?” he inquired politely, making conversation while he tried to decide whether she was truly so innocent or merely excellent at faking it. Either possibility intrigued him. It generally took some doing for a woman to intrigue him, though it had happened occasionally in the previous thirty years. He had somewhat more frequently been the intriguing one. Romulan women were not known for their standoffishness. They had a tendency to aggressively pursue things that they thought were unattainable.
“ No, I’m not. My home planet is called Oran'taku. It's in the Delphic Expanse,” she told him, shrugging. “All I remember is being taken by raiders from my village...I think I was perhaps four or five years old. There is no way to know which village I was taken from, though.” Her smile had a touch of sadness now. “It’s just as well. From what little I remember of my childhood, my home was a place where everyone could read everyone else. I doubt my people would take me back after all I’ve done.” Her mouth twisted. “Much too disruptive to the community’s peace of mind.”
Llahir nodded. He could see the problem. It was much like his. He looked down at the unappetizingly bland vegetable mash congealing on his plate, and then looked back up again.
“ I would be very... pleased... to share a dish of your choosing, Agent-in-Training Raijiin,” he told her. “Preferably something spicy enough to bring a bit of heat to the tongue.”
Jonathan Archer took his seat in front of the comm console in his ready room. He had T’Pol and Hoshi sitting with him, more for moral support than anything else, and for advice after the fact. He wished he had Trip as well, but couldn’t justify waking his chief engineer after the man had just spent nearly all of beta shift doing engine repairs on Lerteiran, especially in the face of his first officer’s overt disapproval when he’d brought up the idea.
He took a deep breath, trying to summon the remnants of Surak's katra that he’d somehow dredged up from the depths of his subconscious at the sudden appearance on his bridge of the EV suited fugitive from the Romulans. At the time, it had seemed natural to respond to the man in Vulcan, and the look on Hoshi’s face had been priceless. He still wasn’t certain where the content of his greeting had come from, though, and something about the term “Declared One” made him uneasy.
Actually, these occasional reminders of his former guest always made him uneasy. He could never predict when they would occur, although it was most likely to happen during some kind of stress inducing situation involving Vulcans, which he supposed only made sense.
“What’s the significance of the term ‘Declared One’?” he asked Hoshi. She blinked at the apparent non-sequitur.
“I’m really not sure, sir,” she replied, “Don’t you know?” He smiled uneasily.
“ I think I may have, once...” he replied in an uncertain voice. “I feel like I should know before I negotiate with T’Lar, though.” He turned to his first officer. T’Pol was staring at him as if she didn’t recognize him. “T’Pol? Any ideas?”
T’Pol’s brow wrinkled, as if she were struggling inwardly with some mysterious Vulcan issue known only to her. Oddly, she exchanged a meaningful glance with Hoshi before she spoke.
“I believe the term refers to a subset of Vulcan society during the time of Surak,” T’Pol said calmly. “They chose not to follow his teachings. Some of them later became V’tosh Katur.”
Archer nodded slowly. Then his eyebrows drew together. The explanation felt incomplete somehow. Not false, just incomplete. But the greeting that had come to him made sense now. The Vulcan agent had spent years blending into a society which presumably was more emotionally expressive than the one he’d been born into. It would be logical to send a V’tosh Katur on a mission like that. A Vulcan firmly committed to the principles of Surak would have had much more difficulty fulfilling such a task. He exhaled, feeling much calmer and more prepared. A Vulcan who’d just spent years without the need to control his emotions might also find it harder to reintegrate into Vulcan society—perhaps even to the extent of such reintegration not being possible at all. It was a likely point of negotiation, at least.
“Open a comm channel to the Sehlat,” he said to Hoshi.
Commander T’Lar’s face appeared on the screen before him. It was probably just his imagination that she looked a bit more self-satisfied than usual. She nodded regally.
“Captain,” she said, an acknowledgment rather than a greeting.
“ Commander,” he returned with similar gravity. “I take it that our rescue went as planned?” Her brow wrinkled slightly. In his newly sensitive state, his awareness of subtle Vulcan mannerisms heightened by his connection to Surak, he could see that she was puzzled by his statement.
“Our rescue, Captain?” she replied. He smiled briefly.
“Agent Senek informed us of your request for assistance, Commander. We, of course, were only too happy to help you in any way we could.” Her eyes widened slightly as he continued. “I’ve informed Starfleet Intelligence of your offer to share the information obtained from the agent retrieved by our joint efforts, and they’re eagerly anticipating any useful intelligence. When can we expect to receive it?” Her lips parted, but no words came. He continued smiling. His statement about contacting Starfleet Intelligence was a blatant lie, of course, but she didn’t know that.
“Our agent must be given time to rest and recuperate, Captain,” she managed. “And I should inform you that Agent Senek did not have the authority to negotiate for...”
“I completely understand the need for rest before debriefing,” Archer told her, blithely ignoring the second part of her statement. “We’re doing the same with Agent Senek, who’s in our sickbay. I’m afraid he was injured during the Romulan boarding action. He’s stable, but our chief medical officer wants to observe him a little bit longer. I’ll let you know when he’s well enough to return.” His smile broadened. “Keep us posted about things on your end, all right? I’ve got some eager Intelligence types breathing down my neck waiting for information about Romulan military deployment. I won’t be able to keep them satisfied for long. I’d hate to see them raise a stink with the Vulcan High Council over such a minor thing.”
Commander T’Lar swallowed. There was a distinct lull in the conversation, during which the two of them studied each other, T’Lar with obvious suspicion on her face. Archer did his best to maintain an openly innocent expression.
“I will have to consult with a representative of the Security Directorate to determine which information to share, Captain,” she said sourly. “It may take a while.”
“Take your time, Commander,” Archer responded cheerily. “In the meantime, though, I think it would be best to finish up repairs on the Lerteiran and get out of this area of space before the Romulans attack again.”
T’Lar nodded, clenching her teeth in what, to Archer, looked like tightly controlled anger. “Agreed. I will check on the progress of repairs, and we will proceed to the station at our earliest opportunity. We will finish this discussion there.”
The screen went dark, without further social niceties. Archer sat back in his seat with a satisfied sigh. Hoshi began to chuckle. T’Pol shot her a look. She sobered rapidly, still looking amused. T’Pol raised a brow and turned back to Archer, giving him an impressed nod of acknowledgment.
“I don’t think I ever want to play poker with you, Captain,” Hoshi said, shaking her head and biting her lip. “Should I get Starfleet on the line for you, sir?”
“Not quite yet,” he told her. “Let's hold off until we see how Commander T'Lar responds. For that matter, we haven't really finished consulting with Mr. Damin yet. No reason for Starfleet Command to get their panties in a twist over this right now. Plenty of time for that later.” Hoshi snorted and suppressed a giggle.
Captain Archer stood up tiredly. “You are both dismissed. Since we are,” he stopped to check his chronometer, “three hours and twenty-nine minutes into gamma shift I think it's time we all called it a day. A hot shower and a few hours sleep will make a new man out of me.”
“That does sound good,” Hoshi admitted. “But I think a little time loosening up in the gym first will help me relax. Then I plan to sleep like a dead woman.”
“Captain, if you have no objection I would like to proceed to sickbay. I consider it possible that I may be able to persuade Agent Senek to be somewhat more forthcoming than he has so far. At least I would like to make the attempt,” T'Pol offered.
“By all means, Commander,” Archer said, waving a dismissive hand on his way through the door. “You can't accomplish less than I did.” He made his way toward his quarters, thanking his patron saints that the captain's quarters were located near his ready room. Once inside, Jonathan let the door hiss shut behind him and closed his eyes in relief. He sighed and his shoulders slumped in exhaustion. Shaking his head, he looked longingly toward the shower. But no. If he took a shower now he would be asleep before he made it back to his bunk, and he had something more urgent to take care of first.
Jonathan opened the recessed storage cabinet beneath his bunk and removed a cushion and a robe. He tossed the cushion on the floor next to his desk and smiled when Porthos instantly ran over and propped his head on the edge of it. The dog had become quite accustomed to this ritual and enjoyed the quiet time sitting with his master. Jonathan opened his desk drawer and withdrew a short candle with holder, and a lighter. He seated himself cross legged on the cushion, placed the candle on the floor in front of himself and lit it. The soothing scent began to help loosen tight muscles almost immediately.
Jonathan reached over and began to stroke Porthos. The beagle nuzzled his hand happily for a moment and then returned to resting on the cushion. Jonathan started deep breathing exercises and began sinking into meditation trance. He considered it to be the single most useful thing that Surak had taught him. Ever since discovering the Kir'shara, Jonathan had established a pattern of meditating at least a full hour every night whenever possible. The difference that it made in his thinking was remarkable. Hopefully, it would help him remember exactly what it was about the term 'Declared Ones' that roiled Surak's memories so much.
Hoshi kicked off her uniform boots with a moan of relief. For a minute she just worked her toes, seriously considering the idea of not going to the gym tonight. But her muscles had gotten used to the daily workout and if she didn't at least do some stretches and jog a little, she would certainly pay for it later. Might as well get it over with. No point in getting fancy tonight, though. Malcolm was no doubt already in his bunk, along with everyone else except the gamma shift. She slipped a band around her ponytail. Then she threw on a pair of loose shorts along with a worn t-shirt before sliding into her sneakers and heading out.
Hoshi was a few steps short of the gym door when she heard the clang of weights being lifted and dropped. She sighed. No doubt someone from beta shift was working off stress. Well, she wouldn't be there long. It didn't sound like the place was too busy anyway. Hoshi keyed the door and walked in to find Malcolm working out on the punching bag, while Trip was on his back doing bench presses.
Shit! Shit, shit shit! After all the time and trouble I’ve been going through to make sure I always look good, she grumbled to herself, he has to catch me like this. No makeup, hair a mess, wearing... Oh well. Hoshi shrugged smiled brightly.
“Good evening, gentlemen,” she sauntered over to the workout mats, careful to make sure that her hips were swaying just enough to look natural. “I wasn't expecting anyone else to be here at this hour.”
“Trip… I mean,” Malcolm stopped and cleared his throat uncomfortably. Hoshi stole a quick glance out of the corner of her eye and saw him inspecting her legs. “Commander Tucker and I were attempting to... I mean we’ve been discussing... we were trying...”
“We thought we might be able to figure out a way to pierce that Romulan cloak,” Trip interjected helpfully, with a sadistic grin. “Malcolm has really been putting all of his attention into it.”
“I'm not surprised,” Hoshi murmured in a throaty voice, “Lieutenant Reed is a consummate professional.” She was gratified to note that although he had not been sweating when she came in, he was now. Hoshi sat down on the mat nearest to the bag where Malcolm was working out and starting doing basic leg stretches.
Malcolm resolutely resumed punching. Hoshi considered her options and smiled. She glanced up and confirmed that Malcolm was still sneaking peeks whenever he thought she wasn't looking. Perfect. She positioned her rump flat on the floor and extended one foot in Malcolm's direction, with the other leg at right angles. Then she slowly, ever so slowly, bent forward toward Malcolm along the forward leg, reaching with her outstretched hands for her ankle. The movement caused her loose t-shirt to fall open at the neck, and also pulled the legs of her shorts into an intriguing position. She kept her eyes downcast and listened while the sound of fists hitting the bag slowed and stopped.
Hoshi took a deep breath and started to straighten back up. The punching hurriedly resumed and she bit her lip hard to keep from giggling. She didn't look toward Malcolm as she turned toward the other leg and repeated the motion. Standing toe touches produced very similar results, although he never - quite - stopped his workout again. An occasional snicker from the direction of the bench press was easily ignored.
Hoshi finally finished her stretching routine and moved over to the treadmill. To her delight, Malcolm decided that the punching bag was losing its appeal and perhaps the heavy bag would provide a better workout. Of course, it was pure coincidence that the heavy bag was three meters closer to the treadmills. She started at a slow walk and focused on deep breathing. She was starting to get warm, and sweat trickled down her chest, sticking the t-shirt to her breasts and nearly causing Malcolm to miss a side kick and take a header onto the gym floor.
“What are you planning for movie night this week?” Hoshi asked, hoping to cover Malcolm's slip and spare him the inevitable harassment at the hands of his friend.
Trip closed his mouth in mid-jibe and snorted. Then he shook his head and told her, “It's pot luck this week. With everything going on I haven't had time to look through the stack, so I’m just gonna go in tomorrow and grab one at random. What I grab is what we watch. Good, bad, or indifferent, we’re stuck with it.”
“Russian roulette, eh?” Malcolm shot her a grateful look, for once focused on her face. “Sounds feasible. It can't be any worse than some of those things you select.”
“You British barbarian,” Trip huffed. “You have no artistic sense, that's all.”
“ I have no artistic sense?” Malcolm demanded in disbelief.
“Now boys,” Hoshi chided humorously.
“Absolutely none,” Trip told him smugly. “You need to take Hoshi with you next time to explain the finer points of dramatic presentation. How about it, Hoshi? Think you could put up with this uncouth brute long enough to sit through a movie?”
“Me?” Hoshi was caught flatfooted. “Sure! I mean, I would enjoy that very much. If Lieutenant Reed wants to, of course.” She looked at him and ran her tongue over her lip.
Malcolm's mouth worked several times before he managed. “Certainly. I would be very glad of your company. Very glad indeed. In fact I,… um, I usually, … um, I generally eat, …um, in the, you know, in the mess hall before, …um, you know, the ...”
“The movie starts at 1900,” Hoshi suggested, putting him out of his misery. “How about we meet in the mess hall around 1730? Things are always crowded on movie night, and that should give us plenty of time to eat and still find a good seat.”
“Excellent.” Malcolm swallowed hard. “I will, …um, be looking forward to it. I mean, it sounds ....”
“Me too,” Hoshi turned off the treadmill and headed for the door with a bounce in her step. “See you in the morning!” She grinned all the way back to her cabin.
As soon as Hoshi was out of earshot, Trip pulled his lip thoughtfully and regarded his friend with a mischievous glint in his eye. "So when is the big announcement?"
Trip chuckled and reached for the weights again. "How long have you two had a thing for each other anyway?"
"We don't," Malcolm snapped. More calmly, "We’re just meeting for a meal in the mess hall."
"Dinner in the mess hall, followed by a movie," Trip pointed out. "That sounds like a date to me."
"It's not a date!" Malcolm flushed and delivered a series of kicks and punches to the heavy bag that left it swinging wildly. "YOU were the one who set this up. You practically ordered us to do this! In any case she's a junior officer. It would be completely inappropriate."
"Take it easy, Malcolm," Trip soothed. "She's not in your line of command. Nobody is going to court martial you for going out with her."
"Technically she may not be in my line of command," Malcolm admitted. "But as chief of security, I am responsible for the safety of everyone aboard. It would be irresponsible for me to become involved with a shipmate."
"Even if you weren't chief of security," Trip pointed out, "You would still feel responsible for everyone around you. That's just the way your mind works. Are you going to spend your life alone because of what 'might' happen? Admit it, you couldn't take your eyes off her a few minutes ago."
Malcolm paused his routine while his face worked. Finally he gave up the struggle. "She did look rather... snackful in that outfit,” he admitted with a half-smile.
Trip peeled a grin and chuckled.
T'Pol entered sickbay to find Phlox deep in conversation at his comm station. Since the face onscreen was that of Healer Tyvek, she concluded that a medical consultation was underway and forbore to interrupt them. Instead she went looking for Senek.
She found him reclining on a biobed, looking disgruntled. “Peace and long life, Senek,” T'Pol offered politely. Senek sat up, visibly fighting down his irritation. He ignored her greeting.
“Have you come to release me from captivity?” he asked tersely. “Failing that, would you consider assisting in my escape? For old time's sake if nothing else? I truly grow weary of being imprisoned every time I set foot on this vessel.”
“I regret that I have no authority to release you,” T'Pol told him. “That’s in the hands of Dr. Phlox and the captain. I just came down to talk.”
Senek rolled his eyes. “Feel free to interrogate me at will. Discussing the situation with you is at least more agreeable than being questioned by Captain Archer and Lieutenant Reed.”
“I didn’t come to interrogate…” T'Pol began.
“Commander?” Doctor Phlox called from across the room. “We have a situation here that involves Mr. Johansen. Are you currently the senior officer on duty?”
“Yes,” T'Pol admitted, walking over. “But I’m ill equipped to assist with most medical problems, considering that both you and Healer Tyvek are available.”
Phlox waved impatiently. “That's not what I meant.” From the corner of her eye, T'Pol caught Senek sliding off the biobed and ambling over to eavesdrop with a curious expression. “It seems that Mr. Johansen has been assaulted by one of the Orion women aboard Lerteiran. He is currently being treated aboard Sehlat while an investigation is underway. Commander T'Lar requests that an Enterprise officer monitor the situation.”
T'Pol tensed. “Certainly.” She stepped closer to the screen. “Have you briefed Healer Tyvek on the Human hyper-vulnerability to Orion pheromones?”
“Naturally,” Phlox huffed. “Just as soon as we realized what the situation was. There are five Orion passengers aboard Lerteiran. Engineer Sehlra is escorting them over so that Mr. Johansen can attempt to identify the woman who assaulted him.”
“Does Sehlat have security officers in place?” T'Pol asked instantly. Senek twinkled suspiciously and rubbed his chin.
“Yes, Commander,” Tyvek assured her over the comm. “Given Captain Jenrali's behavior when he was here earlier and extrapolating Sehlra's probable reaction to the situation, I decided that additional violence in my sickbay was not going to be tolerated.” T'Pol forcefully kept herself from asking for further details of said violence.
Instead, she said, “You may proceed at your convenience, Healer Tyvek.” The Vulcan physician turned away from the view screen and spoke to one of the guards standing beside the door, who turned and exited.
Daniel was humiliated beyond description. He was pissed off, ashamed of himself, and wanted to crawl off somewhere and die. He remembered all of it, and he felt about half a centimeter high. And now he had to sit on the edge of this biobed and watch these girls parade through while Sehlra stood there like his momma with a stern look on her face. And he couldn't even make a break for it because the door was guarded. Times like this made him remember that twenty day stretch in the slammer on Rigil with fond nostalgia.
To ice the cake, here came T'Riss with the first Orion girl's elbow in her grip. The poor kid looked terrified, meaning the Orion looked terrified, not T'Riss. To the contrary, his Vulcan shipmate looked like she had a bee in the bonnet that she wasn't wearing. In fact, looking more closely, Daniel noticed that the Vulcan security guard walking on the other side of the Orion was watching T'Riss more closely than he watched the supposed prisoner. Odd.
They stopped in front of him and T'Riss greeted Daniel with a respectful nod. He squeezed his eyes shut and sighed miserably. Sehlra hissed and a faint squeak emerged from the green girl in front of him. “Is this the one?” She demanded in his ear. Daniel forced himself to look up. The girl started shaking her head while tears poured down her cheeks.
If he could just smell anything he would be able to tell them, but that goop that Tyvek had shot up his nose had killed every olfactory nerve he had. Daniel tried to think. The only light had been from the washroom night light, and he remembered touching her, of course. Daniel sighed again.
“Too small,” he told them. “She was taller, almost as tall as I am but not quite.” T'Riss and the guard took the girl over to the side of the room, looking weak kneed with relief, and returned quickly with another one. Daniel groaned inwardly. One by one Daniel waved them past. While the march continued, he shamefacedly answered Sehlra's questions about what had actually happened.
“It's still not clear in my mind, not really,” Daniel said glumly, waving away the third girl. “I was sound asleep. Then I started having this dream… or I thought it was a dream. I can't really say when I realized that I was awake and there really was a woman in bed with me. But I was just…” he stopped and locked his teeth together, unwilling to continue. How could he tell them? That he was insane with lust? That somehow she had stripped his mind away from him and turned him into a raging animal?
“I lost control,” he finished lamely. He finally forced himself to raise his head, to see the rage building on Sehlra's face, along with a look of shame and sympathy from T’Riss. He closed his eyes again while clenching both fists. Reluctantly, he opened them and shook his head at the fourth prospect.
Finally the fifth and last one was brought in. For some reason both T'Riss and Sehlra seemed tenser than usual with this one. Vaguely interested, Daniel sat up and regarded her. Something twinged at the back of his mind. She looked familiar. With the nasal numbing agent in place he had no way to be sure, but she was about the right size—and she was about the right shape too...
“Well?” Sehlra snapped impatiently. Daniel looked over and saw the Andorian matron leaning forward and cracking her knuckles. He looked to the other side and saw T'Riss glaring the way a family guard sehlat would glare at a corla that had managed to dig its way under the garden wall. Why would T'Riss...? It hit him.
“Natolya?” Daniel sat up in disbelief. “I didn't recognize you without your fancy evening robes.”
“Yes. This is Natolya.” T'Riss confirmed between her teeth. “Grigor-Tel's chief slave. Mistress of his brothel. The one whose scent I caught last night drifting through the ventilation duct between your quarters and mine.”
“Hah!” Sehlra lunged for the Orion’s throat. The Vulcan on duty and Daniel moved together to block her, giving Natolya just barely enough time to spring backwards. The slave mistress turned to run and learned that despite the Vulcan’s smaller size, trying to bowl T'Riss over was not a feasible option. A cry of pain echoed through sickbay.
“Crewman T'Riss.” Tyvek commanded firmly. “You will release that woman's arm immediately. That is an order.” T'Riss looked ready to explode with frustration but slowly allowed her grip on Natolya's twisted arm to relax. The Orion madam whimperingly eased the injured limb out from behind her back. Tyvek hurried over and began scanning for damage. T'Riss stepped back and watched, breathing deeply. The suddenly overworked Vulcan guards were forced to divide their attention between Sehlra and T'Riss.
“It's a lie,” Natolya wept, cradling her sore arm like a baby. “She’s making it up to get revenge for what happened on the station. It's all lies.”
“Why would Crewman T'Riss desire revenge against you?” T'Pol's virtual presence via the comm screen had been all but forgotten up to this point. “You operated the station brothel, where the other Vulcan captives were held,” T'Pol pointed out, “whereas she was kept in Grigor-tel's personal quarters.”
“Not at first,” T'Riss reported grimly. “When we were first captured, it was Natolya's responsibility to personally supervise our ‘breaking in’, the euphemism she used for a series of initial rapes to increase our compliance. The number varied according to the strength of will displayed by the prisoner. She used a combination of the Pon Farr microbe, pain conditioning, sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, starvation, and thirst to break our will to resist. Afterwards, she supervised our skills training in how to pleasure a client.”
The hypo in Tyvek's hand shattered. Everyone in the room looked at him but no one dared to say anything. Natolya shrilled desperately, “Remember, I was granted asylum along with the all the other slaves! Your people told me that none of the slaves would be punished for obeying our masters!”
Sehlra looked at T'Riss and nodded thoughtfully. “If the Vulcans granted you asylum, then the Vulcans can keep you. The Orion whores are not going back to Lerteiran.” A babble of outraged voices rose up in protest, demanding their money back. Sehlra grabbed the nearest Orion by the hair and lifted her off the deck. Her shriek silenced the others.
"Since we have no way of proving which one of you attacked our crewman, you are all found guilty under Andorian law. We are jettisoning you through the airlock, as is our right under the laws and customs of our people. It is just your blind luck that the airlock happens to be connected to another ship right now. If you want to wait until we’re underway, THEN leave by the airlock, fine with me."
They all shut up.
T'Riss stood stiffly waiting as Sehlra told Daniel, “Come on, it's time to go home.” The Andorian looked at her and twisted her antenna inquiringly.
“I request permission to remain for a moment,” T’Riss said avoiding Daniel’s dull gaze, gritting her teeth against the guilt that assailed her. “I wish to discuss something with Healer Tyvek.”
“Fine,” Sehlra agreed, “But hurry. There’s work to be done and we want to finish up as soon as possible.”
Once her shipmates had left and the Orions had been escorted to temporary quarters, T'Riss approached Tyvek. The older man actually looked tired, which she could not recall ever observing before. Commander T'Pol and Doctor Phlox from Enterprise were still visible on the view screen.
“What is Agent Senek's condition?” Tyvek inquired.
“He's…” Phlox stopped and jumped slightly. Then he turned his head to give T'Pol a disapproving glance before turning back to the screen. “I have found no evidence of serious damage. However, I am under orders to make a full report to Captain Archer before releasing him. Since the captain has retired for the evening with orders not to be disturbed...”
“In plain language, Healer,” Senek's voice came from behind the two, although his face was not visible, “I am undamaged but these dutiful officers have been instructed to keep me here by whatever ruse is necessary. I am in no danger, barring a slow death from terminal boredom.”
“Commander T'Lar will not be pleased to hear this,” Tyvek said tightly. “Does your captain intend to continue putting such strains on our alliance?”
Phlox winced, but T'Pol straightened. “Concerning the matter of straining the alliance, Healer Tyvek, if you intend to make a report to Commander T'Lar regarding this conversation I have some additional information for you to pass along. It might very well affect her attitude regarding the free exchange of data, as well as trigger a reconsideration of the consequences of 'straining' the alliance.”
“What information might that be?” Tyvek asked coldly. T'Riss thought she caught a trace of dislike in his tone. Impossible, of course. Normal Vulcans neither liked or disliked anyone—or at least they weren’t supposed to.
“Your recently recovered agent will confirm this,” T'Pol informed him. “When the Romulans transported to our bridge, after your agent had finished murdering his two comrades…” Tyvek flinched openly, “…Captain Archer greeted him spontaneously in archaic Vulcan, welcoming him as a member of the Declared Ones.” Tyvek and T'Riss froze in place. Phlox merely looked puzzled.
“Evidently this carries some special meaning for you,” the Denobulan said. “May I ask what it might be?”
“It relates to an episode in early Vulcan history, Doctor,” T'Pol told him. “Something that no one who is not of Vulcan blood would be expected to be familiar with.” “Ah,” Phlox nodded in understanding.
“Forgive me, Doctor Phlox,” A hand descended on Phlox's shoulder and gently but firmly moved him to one side. “T'Pol, are you quite seriously certain of this?” Senek looked grim.
“Yes.” She said nothing else.
T'Riss threw her memory back to those old stories. The “Declared Ones” were those who marched beneath the raptor's wings. The ones who refused the ways of peace and logic. The ones who had left. The ones... oh no. A freezing wind blew across her katra.
Senek hesitated. “T'Pol. You were with him… and T'Pau.” He stopped. “You three were together when the Kir'Shara was found. Do you believe that he actually carried Surak's katra?”
T'Pol did not answer quickly. The three Vulcans watched her consider her answer, while Phlox merely stood by and observed with a fascinated look on his face.. Finally, “We walked for a time along ancient, long abandoned catacombs. At one point we passed the mummy of a man. It was unremarkable in all respects, and completely unadorned. Captain Archer stopped and faced the mummy. He smiled and told us that it was the body of T'Klaas, a student of Surak, and the first Kolinahr master.” She paused. “We continued onward to a door that had been undisturbed for centuries. Captain Archer moved without hesitation to press a series of panels in the proper sequence on the first attempt. The door opened, revealing the Kir'Shara.”
T'Riss felt her breath catch. How could he have done that without directions from Surak himself? Evidently the others were holding similar thoughts. Senek asked, “Has he shown other evidence since then of retaining any memories of the meld?”
“On occasion,” T'Pol replied. “Usually of short duration.”
“This is not surprising,” T'Riss spoke without thinking, drawing the attention of her elders to her embarrassment. She reluctantly completed her thought, “I simply meant that no one, of any race, could touch a mind like Surak's and remain unchanged.”
“True, child,” Tyvek agreed soberly. “Quite true.” He looked up at the screen and said, “I will deliver your message, Commander. Tyvek out.” The healer turned to look at T'Riss. “Now, what can I do for you, Crewman T'Riss?”
T'Riss squared her shoulders. “I wish to make an inquiry regarding Mr. Johansen's condition.”
Tyvek raised an eyebrow. “The Orion pheromones have been purged from his system. Aftereffects will continue for some time, but no long term problems are expected.”
T'Riss took a deep breath. “That was not the direction of my question, Healer. I wish to inquire regarding the damage that he suffered during the assault by Raijiin… the assault that I instigated.”
“Ah.” Tyvek tilted his head in comprehension. “I am not at liberty to divulge private information.”
T'Riss persisted. “I merely wish to learn if Mr. Johansen will make a complete recovery, or if he will suffer permanent damage due to my actions.”
Tyvek looked at her thoughtfully. “Is there a specific purpose behind this inquiry, Crewman T'Riss?”
T'Riss raised her chin stubbornly. “I owe Mr. Johansen a debt of honor,” she explained. “The extent of that debt is dependent on the degree of damage that I have caused.” Tyvek gestured understanding and stood thinking for a moment.
“Brain damage is a very delicate matter,” he began. “The Human brain does not ordinarily grow new nerve tissue past maturity. It is, however, a remarkably adaptable organ. The new stem cells that Dr. Phlox injected are developing at a satisfactory rate. Meanwhile, the undamaged portion of Daniel Johansen's brain has begun to form new cross linkages between the existing neurons in order to re-route functions around the damaged area. Unfortunately, there will always be residual scar tissue.”
“So the damage is permanent?” T'Riss persisted.
Tyvek hesitated. “Technically, yes… but it should not prove to be a noticeable handicap.”
“Thank you, Healer.” T'Riss turned and walked out, fighting to maintain calm.
Sehlra stopped Daniel at the Sehlat side of the airlock. He looked disheartened and miserable. “Go on aboard and get to your bunk,” she told him. “I need to talk to someone about the repairs, but I’ll be along soon.” He nodded tiredly and obeyed.
Sehlra watched Daniel disappear through the airlock with concern. The boy looked terrible. The Vulcan healer had said he would be fine physically, but she suspected that the emotional impact of recent events would take longer to heal. She sighed.
He was young at least. The resilience of youth impressed her more and more with each passing year. She felt responsible for him, though, as if he were one of her own children. Long grown and so independent she hadn’t seen them in years, her two sons and two daughters were as far from her as they could manage, all in decidedly non-military professions and convinced that her deficient parenting skills had scarred them for life, just as her late husband had been. Daniel, who was easily young enough to be her grandson, still retained a childlike ability to forgive and forget that her own offspring had seemingly lacked from birth. He was, in truth, the only person in existence who still respected her in a parental role, and she couldn’t help but feel that she’d lately been lax in her responsibilities. Daniel probably wouldn’t appreciate it as much as he should, but she intended to be more watchful of his well-being from now on, no matter how much Jenrali groused at her about “giving the boy some freedom”.
Thoughts of boys and freedom reminded her then, with some discomfort, that she had yet to determine whether Damin was safe on Enterprise. Although her interest in him was far from parental, his apparent vulnerability stirred her protective instincts. She knew that he was playing on her weaknesses. He had to be more capable of taking care of himself than he appeared to be or he never would have survived being a slave in Orion Syndicate space, so his helplessness had to at least partially be an act for her benefit. It didn’t seem to matter. When he’d been so frightened during the Nausican attack on Lerteiran she’d had to continually fight the urge to take him into her arms and comfort him. If he were ever threatened by anyone in her presence, she was certain that she would instinctively fight to protect him, even to the point of putting herself in mortal danger. The confusing blend of protectiveness and physical desire that he evoked in her was unlike anything she’d ever experienced. It made her feel uncomfortably like a pedophile. Damin couldn’t possibly be much older than Daniel.
Sehlra tried to talk herself into going back to Lerteiran and just calling Commander Tucker on the comm to get the information she needed, but her need to make certain that Damin was safe in person was too strong to resist, especially with such an excellent excuse. It was much easier to discuss a piece of equipment with both the equipment and the inventor of said equipment directly in front of her, after all.
Once convinced of the practical need for a trip to Enterprise, Sehlra suddenly realized that she was too exhausted to brave the trip the conventional way. She contemplated her options morosely for several seconds before deciding that risking a few scrambled molecules was preferable to the wait. She turned to the Vulcan guards on duty at the airlock. “Can I use your transporter for a quick visit to Enterprise ?” she asked with a self-deprecating grimace. “I want to confirm some specifications on those Human built injectors that we’re using, and I just don't feel up to a long shuttle ride.” After a twitch of one brow, presumably in reaction to the unprecedented event of an Andorian admitting weakness to a Vulcan, one of the guards pointed down the corridor.
“Go this way fifteen meters to the lift, go to Deck Seven, turn left twenty meters and you will reach the transporter room,” he said evenly. Then he keyed the intercom.
“Airlock Five to transporter room.”
”Transporter Room here.” The voice sounded familiar.
“Prepare for one to beam to Enterprise.”
”Acknowledged.” Sehlra smiled. It was one of her boys in the transporter room. She thought it was Samel. Sehlra nodded her thanks to the guard and strode down the corridor with renewed energy. She encountered no one before arriving at the surprisingly empty transporter room. Samel’s familiar face topped the console as he stood up. He didn’t smile when he saw her, of course, but he seemed pleasantly surprised.
“Welcome aboard, Master Sergeant,” he told her. Sehlra rolled her eyes. She’d suspected she’d regret telling the boys tales of her time in the guard while they worked. She was sure of it now.
“I’ve told you to just call me Sehlra, Centurion. I haven’t been in the guard for years,” she retorted.
“If I must call you by your first name, you should logically call me by mine,” he replied ingenuously. She smiled at him good-naturedly.
“All right… Samel,” she said. She craned her neck around the console where he’d been working when she came in. “Is it safe? Are you repairing something?”
“Oh, yes. It’s perfectly safe, Mas… Sehlra,” he managed. “I’m simply doing regular maintenance. I’ll beam you to Enterprise immediately.”
Sehlra shook her head disapprovingly. “Your commanding officer certainly didn’t waste any time getting you back to work. We just finished the repairs on Lerteiran, and just left those prisoners with the security officers in sickbay less than an hour ago.”
“My shift ends in a quarter hour. Then I am assigned to tutor the commander’s brother in warp theory for one hour. After that I am off duty for ten hours before returning to work. My commander is very generous. I have ample time for rest and meditation,” Samel returned seriously. Sehlra smiled at his sincerity. Loyalty was a valuable thing in a subordinate. She envied the boy’s commander.
“I’m glad to hear it,” she told him, mounting the transporter pad. She made eye contact as he stepped to the console. “You take care of yourself if I don’t see you on my way back, son,” she said warmly. He nodded, with just a hint of upswept lips.
“I will, Master Sergeant,” he told her. “Live long and prosper.” Before she could respond she’d materialized on Enterprise.
Damin woke with a start. Sehlra was aboard Enterprise, and she was worried. Since they weren’t under attack and he could tell by the lack of stress in the engineering department that repairs were done, he didn’t consider it arrogance to conclude that she was worried about his safety. He smiled. Then he realized that all he had was a chunk of unsweetened chocolate wrapped in paper to express his admiration, a presentation that left a lot to be desired.
As his sense of Sehlra’s presence grew stronger, Damin pulled the multicolored silk sash from about his waist, placed the paper-wrapped parcel in the center of the large rectangle of smooth material and proceeded to fold and tie. When he was done, he had a neatly wrapped package, complete with bow, sitting on the bed beside him. Sehlra was in the engine room, probably consulting with Commander Tucker, so Damin decided to take advantage of the moment to become more presentable. He made use of the small head, washed his hands, ran moistened fingers through his shoulder length curls to comb them, washed his face, and rinsed his mouth. There was nothing he could do about the day old growth of beard on his face, but he took comfort in the fact that the stubble would only make him appear older—a good thing in his current situation. He gazed at himself in the mirror, and was dissatisfied by what he saw.
Andorians value martial skill and independence, and I look like a pampered pet. I can’t even reveal my true capabilities to woo her without breaking cover, he thought in disgust. Although he’d long accepted that his nature lent itself more to being protected and to serving others than the reverse, his usual modus operandi with powerful women was a farce—the submissive part of his true personality greatly exaggerated for effect. He wanted Sehlra to respect him, not pity him. He wanted her to know him—the real Damin, not the prissy face he was forced by circumstance to present to the universe. The desire was impractical and very dangerous.
He could sense her approach. To his disappointment, Commander Tucker was with her. The doors opened to the central foyer.
“I’ll wait out here,” Commander Tucker was saying. He was radiating smug amusement. Damin sighed. He imagined that Tucker had been teasing Sehlra about her worries. That was the last thing Sehlra needed to be dealing with right now. The outer doors closed. Sehlra stood awkwardly in the central chamber. He could feel her embarrassment and self-doubt along with her worry, and as he walked to the clear door of the cell he began to pick up surface thoughts along with the emotions.
She despises the fact that she is attracted to me, he realized with dismay. She’s decided it’s perverted because of our age difference.
“I…ah… came by to see if you need anything,” Sehlra told him gruffly. “I’m told it should be safe for you to leave here once we’re back to the station, and the Vulcans have agreed to sell us a portable sensor baffle once one is available, but for the time being it looks as if you’re stuck in here.”
Damin smiled at her, all the while wracking his brain for a way to set the record straight. “I wouldn’t mind a change of clothes and few other personal items,” he told her pleasantly. He opened the unlocked door and motioned for her to enter the cell. “If you’ll come in and have a seat, I can make you a list.” Her eyes darted over his face and body, and her fleeting admiration of his beauty was followed by guilt so powerful it made him queasy. He gave her a concerned look as she entered the room hesitantly and sat gingerly on the only piece of furniture in the room—his neatly made bed.
“You’re really having a difficult time with this, aren’t you? How old do you think I am?” he asked curiously. She was trying so hard not to think of his age that he was unable to pick it up.
Sehlra grimaced. He could tell she didn’t want to discuss it. “Maybe twenty-five?” she replied hopefully. Damin chuckled, shaking his head. He sat down on the bed and took her hand. She tried to pull away, but he wouldn’t allow it. Her eyes widened when she discovered how much stronger he was than she’d expected. He toyed gently with her calloused fingers, examining them one at a time as he began to speak.
“When I was last on Betazed over twenty years ago…” Her surprise over his statement shot through him. “…my paternal grandmother was still in firm control of the family business at the age of ninety-seven.” He looked up. Her expression was startled. “My people are long-lived and age very slowly,” Damin explained gently, “…and I have always looked very young for my age, anyway.” He paused for emphasis, assuring himself of her attention. “I will be forty-one years old on my next birthday.” He smiled reassuringly at her disbelieving expression. “Not only that, but in the same year that my father was born, my grandfather celebrated his twentieth birthday and my grandmother celebrated her forty-fifth…so you see, the age difference between us is perfectly normal on my home world. You have nothing to feel guilty about.” Then he brought her hand to his lips and brushed her knuckles gently over his mouth. Her fingers tightened spasmodically over his hand and she looked away, distressed.
“We are not on your home world, Damin,” she told him awkwardly. “Among my people, a woman with grown children doesn’t develop…feelings…for a boy who looks young enough to be her grandson.”
“But I’m not young enough…” Damin began.
“Son, then, all right? You’re young enough to be my son,” interrupted Sehlra emphatically.
“And whose business is that but ours?” Damin challenged her.
Sehlra just sat staring at him. Her self-loathing stung him. The last thing he wanted to do was to cause her pain. His eyes fell on the package behind her on the bed. He reached past her for it, and she flinched away from him. He sat up again, sighing, and smiled sadly, extending the chocolate to her.
“I was going to use this to try to seduce you,“ Damin admitted honestly, “But it’s obvious that you’re not interested.” He shrugged. “You might as well take it anyway. Daniel said you’d like it, and he’s right. After all the work you’ve done for all of us you deserve to relax a little.” He continued to hold out the silk wrapped package until Sehlra took it, avoiding his eyes. Her fingers brushed his, and the flash of desire and grief he got with direct contact brought sudden tears. He turned away to recover his equilibrium, clearing his throat and reaching in his pants pocket for the ancient padd he’d brought from Lerteiran, hastily composing a list while she unwrapped her gift.
“Thank you,” Sehlra whispered thickly, holding the chunk of chocolate in her palm and staring at it as if it were a mystery of the universe.
“It’s my pleasure,” Damin replied softly, then just sat beside her, waiting. She made no move to get up, so after a few minutes he took the brown lump from her, rewrapped it securely, put it back in her hand and placed the padd in her other hand. She looked across the bed at him, obviously conflicted.
“My list is on the padd,” he prompted helpfully. Sehlra blinked, and seemed to regain some semblance of normal function. She stood with effort, looking tired, and began to move toward the door.
“I’ll ask someone on the Sehlat to beam your supplies in an hour or so,” she said. Her regret burned from across the room. She turned to go, and Damin couldn’t stand it. He rose and took the three steps to her side with an aggressiveness that startled both of them, placed one hand on Sehlra’s shoulder and stared into her ice blue eyes, precisely level with his, wide and searching. Sensing no resistance, he reached out and pulled the top of her head toward him. She bent it forward eagerly, ready for the contact. Damin rested his lips on the top of her head, allowing her antennae to brush his cheeks in the best imitation of an Andorian tlasp a being without antennae could manage. Abruptly, every sensation and emotion he felt from Sehlra doubled in intensity and her thoughts became crystal clear. In that moment, he could sense her need for physical affection overcoming her reluctance. Her desire for him and his for her blended into an indistinguishable whole that threatened to consume them both.
Damin wasn’t certain whether the gasp that sounded in the otherwise silent room came from him or from her, but he suddenly discovered that his hands had left Sehlra’s head and were roaming her body, pulling her compact, work-hardened frame, strong and yet somehow also soft against him in just the right places, solidly against him. He distantly felt her reaction to the body contact, and her hands, filled with padd and chocolate, first resting against his chest and then futilely attempting to push him away as her desire reverted to panic. He immediately released her, panting and staring. She stared back at him, breathing just as hard, then turned and fled. Damin began cursing himself just as soon as the door shut behind her.
T'Riss exited her quarters, more settled in mind following a short period of meditation, and made her way toward the galley for a meal before retiring. She was only a step short of her destination when the voices of Captain Jenrali and Engineer Sehlra echoed around the curve of the hull to reach her ears. From the sound, they were standing just outside Daniel's quarters, having evidently just finished tucking him in.
She winced and started to reached for the door handle, intending to quietly slip inside the galley, when the sound of her own name froze her in place. Eavesdropping might be morally reprehensible, but recent events had begun to persuade T'Riss that pragmatic adjustments to principle were occasionally the most logical option.
"T'Riss did well today," Jenrali sounded tired, not surprisingly.
"Yes," Sehlra answered in a subdued voice. She was silent for a moment. "I’ve been thinking about what you said. You’re right. He's never going to find a Human girl out here, and it's high time he married and started a family. At least she isn't likely to rob him or stick a knife in him while he sleeps.” T’Riss dropped her hand from the door handle and began to strain her ears in earnest when she realized what the two of them were talking about. “Getting the two of them to agree to it will be the challenge,” continued Sehlra briskly. “I’ve seen Daniel sneaking looks at T'Riss already, but he’s too shy to approach her….and there is no way a Vulcan girl is going to make the first move, even if she gets interested. We’re going to have to do something."
Jenrali chuckled. "What would you suggest we do? Lock them in a room together until they breed?"
"Let me talk to her," Sehlra told him. "She and I have started to come to an understanding. She’s far from stupid, Jenrali, and there’s still something wrong with her, I can see that much. She’s going to have problems finding a husband on Vulcan.”
The sound of a grunt came clearly to T'Riss. “What do you mean, something wrong with her?” Her already sensitive hearing was tuned to maximum. Illogical though it might be, Jenrali actually sounded concerned.
“When we found Natolya in the cargo bay, T’Riss almost went blood mad. You’ve seen Vulcans break under interrogation? She was like that. Feral. I almost had to pry her fingers off the green bitch's throat.”
“Hmm.” Jenrali went silent for a moment. “I suppose you’re right about the girl being better off with a Human. The Denobulan is sure that Vulcans and Humans are compatible? Tyvek said he knows his stuff.”
"You heard those rumors about the Human xenophobes that cloned a hybrid baby for a propaganda war?” returned Sehlra. “Turns out they were true. He told me he saw the baby himself. Half Vulcan, half Human. According to the Denobulan the only reason the baby died is because Humans haven't kept up with the latest genetic science. You know they outlawed genetic research after their last war, when some of their people tried to create a super breed to conquer the planet."
"I had heard that," Jenrali replied. "Why did that make the baby die?" T'Riss felt a distressing pang at the thought of such a child, used in such a fashion.
Sehlra growled. "Phlox said the Human technicians knew enough to clone her, but not enough to do the job properly. According to him there's no reason a Human and a Vulcan couldn't have children, but they would need a qualified geneticist to do it, not some Human hack."
“He should know.” The sound of a sigh came clearly. “Denobulans are the best gene splicers there are.”
"All right then, you go on to bed," Sehlra ordered. "I’ll take early watch. When T'Riss comes on to relieve me I’ll talk to her." A pause. "Go on, old man. Get some rest. Let the women handle this, as the Mother intended."
Jenrali sounded amused. "Just as you say, Milady. Good night."
T'Riss moved quickly, opening the galley door and slipping inside before the source of the shuffling footsteps could appear around the curve of the corridor. This was going to require some deep meditation.
End of Episode Six
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