"The Lerteiran Chronicles"
Sehlra made a brisk swing through the cabin she shared with Jenrali and smacked his leg. “Get up, old man. I need to apply some first aid for bruises and damaged muscles, so get up and cover the con while I work on the crew. You injured them, so you get to help.”
She turned and headed back out into the passageway before Jenrali had time to do more than sit up and look confused, slowing her pace once ship's business was taken care of. No point in going to all this trouble getting the girl a chance at being alone with Daniel only to interrupt them right away. She smiled fondly and wistfully. Too late for her, perhaps, but at least the youngsters could have a chance at happiness. They’re so much alike. Sehlra slid the door to Lerteiran's tiny sickbay open and stepped inside. Both of them are so earnest and dutiful, so innocently determined to do the right thing. She chuckled. As cute as a pair of newborn lutum pups.
The medication locker was crammed full. She squatted and started shuffling supplies around. “Antacids... analgesics… antibiotics... anti-inflammatories. Good. Now, let me see...” She muttered to herself as she pulled out an armload of pills, potions, creams, and ampoules and shoved them into a canvas bag. “Daniel is going to be on light duty for at least two days. I should make that old fool scrub my injectors himself. That would teach him...” She shook her head in exasperation.
Finally finished with her medication run, Sehlra stood up with a satchel full and headed back toward Daniel's cabin. She paused at the ladder and noted with satisfaction that Jenrali was obediently on watch in the control room, then continued on her way. She approached Daniel's quarters in stealth mode and stopped at the door to listen. Hearing nothing, she tapped gently with her fingertips and opened the door quietly.
T'Riss still knelt beside Daniel's bunk, but her hands were still. Daniel was face down and breathing steadily without moving. At Sehlra's questioning glance T'Riss whispered, “I believe that he may be asleep.”
“Almost,” Daniel murmured. He turned his head over to look at T'Riss, smiling sleepily. “Thanks for the back rub. Nothing’s felt that good in a long time.” Sehlra could see that he looked far more relaxed, and the swollen area on his back had already gone down slightly. She smiled conspiratorially at T'Riss, who looked puzzled. Sehlra sighed.
“Here,” Sehlra handed her a tube. “Spread some of this over the swelling and the surrounding area. Use a thick coat and rub it gently until it soaks into his skin. No need to wear gloves,” she assured the Vulcan girl, “I checked. It’s non-toxic to Vulcans.”
T'Riss obediently took the ointment and began to apply it. Daniel hissed faintly when it touched his skin and she stopped abruptly. “Am I hurting you?” she asked. The concern in the girl’s voice made Sehlra bite her lip. “Useful acquaintances” my wrinkled blue ass, she thought, amused.
“Nah.” He smiled. “It’s just cold and it shocked me a little. Sorry if I worried you.” Sehlra turned away to hide a smirk.
“Perhaps if you rubbed it between your palms first, before you applied it?” she suggested. T'Riss nodded and took the advice. Sehlra watched Daniel settle down and close his eyes when the young Vulcan started spreading the medicine over his skin. The older woman sighed. If the girl had any sense she could have the boy on a leash within a half-cycle. As it is, I’m going to need to explain everything to her step by step.
Aloud, Sehlra asked, “How is that feeling, Daniel? Better?” She walked over to his desk and started sorting through the sack of remaining medicines.
“Mmm,” he breathed. “Oh, yeah...” T'Riss suddenly stopped. Daniel's eyes popped open. “I mean…” Daniel swallowed and looked warily at T'Riss. “I mean, the pain is better. It’s helping my back a lot. But like I said, I don't want you to feel uncomfortable.”
Sehlra turned to look curiously at the girl. T'Riss was watching Daniel with a look of wary uncertainty, holding her hands in the air above his skin as if she couldn’t decide what to do with them. “I…,” The Vulcan said shakily. “I am not uncomfortable,” she told them, obviously lying. Moving very deliberately, T'Riss slowly lowered her hands to Daniel's back and resumed stroking and spreading the ointment. “It is quite thick, isn't it?” she noted to Sehlra in a strained voiced. “It seems to be soaking in rather slowly.”
Of course it was, since Sehlra had deliberately chosen the thickest, oiliest cream that she had available. “Just maintain a constant motion,” she instructed, “His skin will absorb it eventually. In fact it wouldn't hurt to spread it out over his entire back, to soothe the discomfort and expedite circulation.”
T'Riss set her jaw stubbornly and lengthened her strokes, smearing the cream in broad swathes across Daniel's back from his neck all the way down to the top of his buttocks. Sehlra heard the boy's breathing quicken and fought to keep a straight face. This was too easy. After all this time without a regular partner, poor Daniel would probably have been willing to marry a Tellarite if she agreed to shave. All they had to do was overcome his shyness.
Sehlra looked at T'Riss and her brows drew together. Why was the girl looking so tense? A chance to run her hands over a well built young male shouldn't cause a healthy girl such distress. Ah, Sehlra reflected. Maybe her own reactions are making her uncomfortable. Well, she could help that problem, at least a little. She walked over to the bed and told the pair of them, “That's enough for now. Let the rest of it soak in on its own. Now let me see those bruises you mentioned, girl. Undo the top of your coverall.”
T'Riss obediently started undoing the fastening at her collar without bothering to move from the side of the bunk. Daniel's eyes snapped shut and his head pivoted toward the wall as if he were trying to protect his eyes from a warp core breach. Sehlra felt like smacking him. Humans and their idiotic, tight minded taboos. Any boy his age, especially one from a race as perpetually horny as Humans, should relish the chance to see a lovely girl in her underclothing. Instead, Daniel hid his eyes as if he thought some supreme being would strike him for peeking. She sighed. She was going to have to force the issue.
T'Riss slid her arms free from the sleeves of her coveralls and Sehlra gasped in surprise at the dark green mottled bruises covering a large percentage of the girl’s exposed skin. She squatted down at the side of the bed, grunting in anger. “Why didn't you say something earlier, girl?! Let me look at that collarbone.” She gently applied pressure to various points around the Vulcan's shoulders and ribs, then sat back on her heels. “You don't seem to have any broken bones, but it was a near thing. I’m going to go up to the control room and give Jenrali the back of my hand. Meanwhile, sit still...” Sehlra stood up and marched back to the desk and her stockpile of potions.
T'Riss looked discomfited and tentatively began to re-don her garment. “It is not serious enough to warrant conflict,” she began.
“Better not argue the point,” Daniel advised her quietly. He started to turn his head around and caught himself half way. “When she’s in this kind of mood, don't provoke her,” he continued in a pained voice.
“That's real good advice,” Sehlra said, stalking back with a jar in her hand, “Don't provoke me. Get that coverall back off, girl. We aren't nearly done here,” she snapped. “You, Daniel, can you move now?”
“Uh,” he hesitated and tried to sit up. “I can move a little bit, thanks to T'Riss.” He offered a bashful smile.
“Good, then you’re going to return the favor while I deal with that old fool,” Sehlra informed him in a no-nonsense tone. “Here, take this.” She handed him the jar. “Spread some of this on those bruises, every single one of them. Don't miss a single one or you will answer to me, do you hear me?” She glared and he wilted.
“Yes, ma'am,” he told her in a subdued voice. He took the jar reluctantly and cast an apologetic look at T'Riss, who looked intimidated but wisely remained silent.
“I don't give an iceworm's casting about your stupid taboos, Daniel,” Sehlra growled. “She's hurt, and she helped you. Now it's your turn to help her. Hear me?”
“Yes, ma'am.” Meekly.
“And, you,” she told T'Riss. “Hold still and let him apply it. Daniel's a good lad. He won't go anywhere that you don't invite him to go.” She used her back to block Daniel's view of the significant look that she shot T'Riss when she said this. The Vulcan girl blinked and looked puzzled again. Sehlra closed her eyes in disbelief. I need to have a long talk with that girl. “Get started. Use the entire jar,” she told them. “If it strains Daniel's back to sit up that much,” she added, “you might need to add another coat of the ointment afterward. When you’re both done, both of you eat something and get some rest. You’re both on light duty tomorrow.”
Sehlra stood and watched Daniel tentatively dip his finger into the jar and start gingerly dabbing a spot on T'Riss's neck. “She's not going to bite you, Daniel,” Sehlra snorted. “Are you, T'Riss? Do you plan to bite Daniel?” The boy's face turned crimson and the girl's ear tips darkened to emerald.
“Sehlra!” Daniel protested, giving her a dirty look.
“I have no intention of offering harm of any kind,” T'Riss murmured.
“I suppose that depends on whether you consider a bite to be harmful,” Sehlra grinned. “It would probably work better if she stretched out on the bunk,” Sehlra pointed out helpfully. “That way you can rest beside her, Daniel, and make it easier on your back. And there’s no hurry. For once, we have time. I will see you both in the morning.”
Sehlra closed the door behind her and allowed a triumphant grin to spread over her face. If they lasted all night in a situation like this with nothing happening, she would need to give both of them a complete physical and double check their nutritional intake.
As she walked down the corridor, the thought of nutritional intake set her stomach to growling, and she realized that she hadn’t eaten in—well, she didn’t remember. Entirely too long from the sounds her gut was making. For some reason, she’d had no appetite lately.
You’re a self-deluding idiot, old woman, she told herself. You know very well what’s affecting your appetite. It was the same thing that was keeping her from sleeping well, distracting her when she was trying to focus on work, and making her snippy with Jenrali and the crew. Admitting it to herself didn’t help much, but she was too embarrassed by the whole situation to talk about it with anyone else. She walked into the galley and opened the cabinet, searching for something even remotely appetizing.
I knew him for less than a week, and now he’s dead. He was beautiful, I’ll grant him that, but I’ll be cursed if I’ll let grief over losing some two-credit whore affect me like this.
Sehlra knew as her anger surged that she was being profoundly unfair to Damin’s memory, but her choices were either to be furious with him or to cry her eyes out over him, and she didn’t do tears. As she made this resolution, she caught sight of a misshapen lump wrapped in multicolored silk tucked in the back of the cabinet and her vision blurred. She felt the waterworks begin, running freely down her face.
You’re an Andorian guardsman, for the Mother’s sake! Pull yourself together!
She swiped both cheeks peremptorily with one sleeve and then reached for the chocolate.
“Grapples are holding, sir. I’ve powered down everything except the cloak and life support.” The young Romulan sub-centurion had thus far cooperated freely—enthusiastically, in fact—with Damin’s instructions. Of course, the fact that Damin could regain complete control of his mind at any moment was likely influencing his decision.
“Excellent, Dhael. Go eat and sleep now. I will wake you in eight hours.” The young man smiled briefly and rose to follow Damin’s direction without argument, seeming perfectly content to let him run the show. All Damin had had to do was to strand him hundreds of light years from every other member of his race and then take charge. Simple. No mind control was needed, at least not anymore. The sub-centurion even seemed grateful that he’d been the one chosen to accompany Damin in his bid for freedom. At least he was alive.
Damin checked the small shuttle’s limited short-range sensors again, searching for signs that the Sehlat’s crew had discovered his subterfuge. His tiny shuttle was hidden within the ring of her hull, perpendicular to the warp nacelle. He’d taken a chance approaching the Vulcan vessel closely enough to attach to her hull, but had risked the possibility of discovery to reach his hiding place because his little ship lacked warp capability. He had no intention of being left behind when the victorious trio of vessels left the remote system to return to more populated space. Fortunately, the Humans’ ingenious cloak detection program was relatively simple to foil once he’d programmed the shuttle’s onboard computer to avoid the use of repetitive hologram images. His creative tinkering had decreased the versatility of his tiny ship’s cloak, but he didn’t need versatility. His ship just needed to look like a section of the D’Kyr cruiser’s hull, a feat which fortunately required neither versatility nor extensive computing power. Now that his safe refuge was established, it was time to move on to a more challenging problem—his mother.
Why no scream of rage at the end, Mother? You had time to understand your fate. Instead, I felt your triumph.
Damin had been sorely tempted to give himself up once the battle was done as the easiest way to avoid being stranded, but he’d refrained—because of that triumph—and had gotten creative instead. Revealing himself would make him a target, not only of the Humans, Vulcans and Andorians, who were admittedly at this point unlikely to destroy him if his identity were known to them, but also of anyone else who happened to be in the system. The triumph he’d felt made no sense given what he knew of his mother’s personality, but after pondering multiple probabilities he’d decided on one thing that did make sense. His mother was still alive.
She was hiding somewhere in this system, probably also in a small cloaked shuttle equipped only with an impulse engine, and She was hunting him, armed with a single small disruptor cannon, useful only at very close range, just as his was. Alone, in his best estimation, he would have had less than a thirty percent chance of destroying Her before She destroyed him, given her superior marksmanship and piloting skills, but he would have ended up dead either way without sufficient power or supplies to make it to an inhabited system on impulse power alone. Now that he was attached to his unwitting ally, though, the tables were turned. He smiled, settling comfortably in his chair.
Just try it, Mother. I dare you.
It was becoming a mantra. Trip reached out and made a minor adjustment to one control. The graphic display showing the coolant flow to the port manifold smoothed back out. He returned to passively sweeping his eyes over the board, never stopping to examine any particular readout, never resting, simply moving from point to point by conditioned reflex, always sensitive to any variation in the proper order of things under his command.
Under my command...
From here, on the platform at the top of the reactor, the entire ship was truly under his command. He could spread his fingers and command the power of life and death over everyone and everything aboard the ship and nearby space. The captain might sit in his fancy chair on the bridge and give the orders, but the captain couldn’t actually do anything, not anything at all, without Trip's permission.
But Trip – he needed no one's permission. With a whim, with a flick of his finger, he could drive the ship to maximum warp or bring it to a dead stop. He could brighten the ship to become a beacon in the eternal darkness of space, or kill every light and turn Enterprise into a stygian tomb. He could freeze ice out of the air and turn the decks into skating rinks, or sear the officer's quarters and turn the captain's cabin into a barbeque pit. Or if he decided to be sadistic, he could cause the captain's toilet to back up and bury him neck deep in sewage. He could fire every weapon the ship had, or disable the cannons and torpedoes to leave her a sitting duck. It was all his to command. It was the only place where he had complete control and complete respect…
Don't think. The humming throb of the reactor vibrated up through the soles of his boots. Don't think. He’d been standing right here when she’d told him that she didn't have time for him anymore because she was too busy finding herself.
Don't thinkdon'tthink. He reached for the matter/anti-matter intermix monitor and keyed in the command for a diagnostic. The sensors activated and began feeding data back to the screen in front of him. Trip squinted hard, gripping the edge of the console until his fingertips numbed. Don't think. She was coming. He could tell through the bond. Don't think.
“Good evening, Commander,” Anderson's voice drifted up.
“Good evening, Crewman,” T'Pol answered. Her footsteps came closer. She was climbing the ladder. Don't think. She stopped beside him. Don'tlook.Don'tthink.Don'tspeak. Trip kept his eyes on the control board. The diagnostic completed itself. Everything read nominal, just as he had known it would.
“Trip.” She almost never called him that in public. Even in private it was almost always 'Charles' or 'husband' or 't'hyla'. She’d called him that when she thought he was leaving to go back to Columbia. He remembered her calling him that when Elizabeth… DON'T THINK.
The reactor hummed and it soothed him. He felt it soaking up from the bottoms of his feet, rising through his legs and back. It felt good and right. It didn't hurt. His engines never turned on him. He always knew what to expect from his engines. He could trust his engines. They might not care about him, but they never lied to him either. They never used him, or mocked him, or threw him away, or made him feel irrelevant.
She touched his arm. That was all right, his sleeve protected him. She had been careful to teach him about shields, and insisted that he practice. They worked too. He had pretty good shields for a Human; she said so herself. If T'Pol was willing to admit that he was good at something he must be damn good at it. He could keep her out. She was trying to probe through his shields, without actually forcing her way through. But it wasn't working. She would have to touch his skin to do it. She wasn't going to do that.
“I grieve that I have caused you pain.”
He blanked his mind. Nothing existed but the hum of the engine and the feel of the vibration. Trip closed his eyes. The smell of lubricant was strong enough to overpower her scent. With his mind opened only to humming darkness, he could settle himself deep inside and filter out everything else. Don't speak or think. Listen. Smell the the grease and the metal. Feel the sound of the engines. She was speaking again, but he refused to hear the words. In his mind her voice sank into the hum of the engines and was swallowed. After a while she stopped. The pressure on his arm stopped. For a second he relaxed, thinking he’d succeeded in freeing himself from her presence, and then he felt warm fingers resting on the back of his neck. Abruptly, the soothing engine vibrations vanished, replaced by silence. He clenched his teeth and opened his eyes. She stood there outlined by the harsh glare of the white space, regarding him with a distressed look on her face, an expression she’d never permit herself to wear in the presence of anyone but him.
“T’Pol,” he asked her tiredly. “In all the years we have known each other, have I ever walked up and smacked you when you were trying to meditate?”
T’Pol looked uncertain. “You have routinely contacted me while I was meditating. I do not understand.”
Trip nodded. “But when you block me out, which happens a lot, do I take it upon myself to march into your quarters and physically force you into paying attention? Or do I grant you the courtesy and respect of waiting until you are ready for me?”
She winced. She paused and looked away briefly before returning her gaze to his. Trip shook his head. Then he mentally turned his focus outward and broke their connection. He opened his eyes to the real world and looked at T'Pol, who stood beside him on the platform looking worried.
“I apologize for interrupting you.” He blinked at that. She never apologized that quickly. “You have every right to be upset,” T’Pol continued, “I should not have interrupted you, but you would not acknowledge my presence, and you left so abruptly, and you were so angry...”
He felt it through the bond. She was scared again. It wasn't as bad as before, but the fear was back. Trip sagged and sighed. “I'm not mad at you, T'Pol,” he told her in an exhausted voice. “Hurt, yeah. Disappointed. But I'm not mad. I know you’re trying.”
T’Pol looked down, still uncomfortable but he felt a trickle of faint relief coming through. She took a deep breath, looked thoughtful for a moment, and met his eyes again. “You are attempting to calm yourself… to reach a meditative state by immersing yourself in the sounds and smells of your engine,” she said, as if she’d just realized it. He nodded. She was definitely trying. “Making a career changing decision such as the one you are contemplating requires clarity of thought.”
His resignation. She was talking about his resignation. His lips twisted in a bitter imitation of a smile. “I haven’t gotten to that yet. I’m just trying to get a little peace first.”
She nodded. “I realize that you must decide what is best for you, but you need to know that I intend to come with you if you decide to leave. We are married now, and still have much to work out between us. It would be illogical for me to remain in Starfleet without you.”
Trip shook his head. “You don’t have to flush your career for me, T’Pol.”
“I would not be doing it for you,” she replied, as if that were the end of it. “In any case, the sooner you are able to reach the proper state of mind, the more sound your decision will be.” She hesitated. “Before we leave, if we leave, I have something very important to discuss with you regarding ship's operations. But you are in no condition to deal with it logically at this time.”
“What about ship’s operations?” Trip snapped. “Engineering is in good shape. We can get underway whenever Jon wants to. The rest of the repairs are not critical…nothing that can't be done in transit. Hess could take over my job tomorrow.”
“That is not the issue. Since your confrontation with the captain I have been thinking about…” she paused, as if searching for words, “…the captain’s fitness for command. I cannot in good conscience leave without settling this matter first.”
“What about it? Just because he's a lousy friend doesn't mean he's not fit for command.”
T'Pol seemed uncertain. “We can discuss this after you have cleared your mind. I am concerned that lingering vestiges of Surak's katra may be interfering with the captain's ability to interface with his Human crewmates.”
Trip considered it. Could that explain Jon's recent behavior? Was an old Vulcan ghost driving him crazy? Then he firmly squelched the budding hope. No excuses.
“All right,” Trip told her. “I'll meet you in your quarters in about an hour.”
As T'Pol turned and started climbing down the access ladder, Trip closed his eyes with a sigh and rubbed his eyelids. The woman had a real gift for giving him a headache.
“Prep this patient for emergency surgery,” Phlox ordered. The Vulcan technician jumped to obey and the Denobulan turned to the next person in line. Since Enterprise was carrying the rescued hostages but had only one physician, while Sehlat had a full medical staff and a well equipped sickbay but nowhere to put a huge influx of patients, Dr. Phlox and Healer Tyvek had quickly convinced their respective captains to pool their resources. Cargo bays one and two were being put to work as makeshift field hospitals. Most of the victims had radiation burns, along with some injuries from flying debris which had been sustained by the last ones transported out.
Phlox, being the healer with the most broad-based experience in multi-species medicine, was placed in charge of triage while the Vulcan Healers and Healers-in-Training worked desperately to save as many people as they could. Everyone else available on both crews who had any training at all, even in basic first aid, had been drafted to assist Phlox with the minor injuries and to do scut work. So far they had lost three people, including one infant. Phlox was too tired to waste breath cursing, even if it had suited his nature, and of course the Vulcans would never consider such a thing, but he privately admitted to himself that the language being used by his Human shipmates actually did help relieve a little of the stress, however briefly.
“Doctor,” a Vulcan man called out. “Your presence is required immediately.” Phlox took in a deep lungful and headed over. The Vulcan in question was kneeling beside a Tellarite woman who appeared to be in late term pregnancy. As Phlox arrived the Vulcan looked up and the doctor stopped in surprise. He had never seen a Vulcan with battle scars all over his face before.
“I believe that she is going into labor,” the Vulcan explained. Phlox shook off his distraction and knelt to examine his patient. He put his hands lightly on her abdomen, and was rewarded with a shriek as it tightened beneath his fingers.
“I am afraid that you are correct, Mr…?”
“My name is Llahir,” the man told him with a slight smile, causing Phlox to blink in surprise.
“Well, Mr. Llahir, if you would be so good as to assist me in carrying this woman's stretcher over to the privacy area, we will see about bringing this little one into the light.”
T’Riss’s skin was feverishly warm under Daniel’s palms as he spread the thick healing balm over her ribs. He moved slowly and carefully, keeping his hands where she could see them when they weren’t in contact with her skin. He was quite frankly surprised that she was sitting still for his ministrations. He’d thought for sure that as soon as Sehlra left the room the Vulcan girl would have come up with a plausible reason for him to keep his hands to himself. He bit his lip as he worked, trying to keep his attention focused on what he was doing and not on how his body was responding. Spending time half-dressed and alone with an incredibly beautiful girl who was quite possibly unstable enough, and certainly strong enough, to seriously maim him without even breaking a sweat was not what he’d expected to be doing this evening. But Sehlra was a sadist. There was no other explanation for it.
“You okay?” he inquired again, a bit breathlessly.
“It is not necessary for you to continue to ask me that question. I will let you know if I wish you to stop,” T’Riss replied. She seemed utterly calm, with no hint of the turmoil he would have expected.
Maybe she’s just a good actress, he thought, a bit offended by her total lack of response. He swallowed once, preparing himself, and then rose to his knees on the bed behind her, moving forward so that she sat between his thighs, facing away from him. Her bare back was millimeters from the skin of his chest, but she maintained her posture stiffly, allowing only incidental contact. He ran a balm coated hand around to her abdomen, which was warm, velvety soft, smooth as silk — and entirely covered with green-brown bruising. Her toned muscles twitched in reflex as he spread medication up to the seam of her undergarment’s halter top and rubbed it in.
Daniel hesitated before lifting his hands to smear the ointment over the front of her shoulders and collarbone. When his fingers dropped onto the upper surface of her breasts she tensed and he stopped immediately. Then he loaded his fingers with the thick ointment again and cautiously headed toward her navel. He tried to ignore the aromatic odor of the balm, mixed with something subtly but identifiably female, but it filled his nostrils. He felt like it was imprinting itself in his brain, putting his libido into overdrive. Daniel gritted his teeth and grimaced at his own overactive imagination. Down, boy. She’s not Orion. There’s no excuse.
His fingers traveled lower, spreading the pungent-smelling stuff gently from hipbone to hipbone above the lower half of her undergarment in one swipe. He paused. There it was; a hitch in her breathing, and then a shaky inhalation. He bit his tongue and began to rub the balm in with gentle circular motions. T’Riss exhaled, almost a sigh, and relaxed limply against him, wrenching a swiftly suppressed groan from him as her bare back settled against his chest and the curve of her shapely rear fitted itself snugly between his legs. She froze at the contact. He stopped breathing, stopped rubbing. It was impossible for him to hide the state he’d gotten into with her pressed up against him like that.
I’m dead now. Somebody just shoot me, was Daniel’s despairing thought. The room was silent save for the sound of breathing, and he was certain now that hers was just as labored as his had become. He closed his eyes, willing his body to listen to reason for a change. Not surprisingly, his back was hardly hurting at all now, or at least he didn’t care whether it was hurting or not.
“You are physically aroused to a painful degree by this situation, and yet you restrain yourself,” she said finally, softly and with her gaze fixed on the wall in front of her. “Why? I have not asked you to stop.” Her voice shook slightly. He wasn’t certain whether it was from desire or fear. From his vantage point he couldn’t even see her face. All he could see was the back of her sleek head, her pulse pounding furiously in the curve of her slender neck. With his arms around her he felt her chest heaving as if she were running a marathon. He wasn’t much better off.
“You haven’t asked me to start, either,” he murmured into her ear, breathlessly. “But I thought we were just doing first aid. Is that an invitation?” His hands left her abdomen to trace lightly along her arms. T’Riss flinched, but she didn’t pull away.
“Before tonight, I was certain that I would never again be able to bear being touched by a man,” she admitted harshly. Her fingers gripped the bedclothes on either side of his knees as if she were grabbing on to her sanity with the sheets.
“You’re not turned on. You’re scared to death,” he realized, appalled.
“Not to the extent that I expected,” she told him with clinical detachment. “Your manner is…reassuring.” She shivered spasmodically, and wrapped her arms around her bare torso. He’d never seen goose bumps on a Vulcan before.
“Here. Let’s get you warm,” he said, pulling away from her for a second to collect the blanket folded on the foot of his bed. He wrapped it snugly around her and then stretched out on the bed beside her with a groan. She turned to look down at him, her dark eyes wide. She looked so young and fragile.
Daniel moved over, offering her the space next to him. “You’ll be warmer here until that liniment soaks in,” he said with a diffident smile. She tilted her head questioningly, with a suspicious expression. “C’mon. Lie down. I’ll behave myself, and you can practice tolerating being so close to a smelly Human,” he joked. She raised a brow, and then complied. He wrapped his arms comfortably around her. His annoying basal urges were much less insistent now that his protective instincts had kicked in. Sometimes she reminded him of his friend Stern’s baby sister — but only sometimes.
“I do not find your odor at all objectionable, you know,” she said finally, in a sleepy voice.
Daniel chuckled and pulled her a bit closer against his chest, just to make sure that she was warm enough. “I’m gratified to hear it. Most Vulcans that I've met think Humans reek.” He closed his eyes. With the top of her head tucked under his chin he could smell the subtly herbal scent of her shampoo competing with the pungent odor of the liniment. Compliments were no doubt wasted on a Vulcan, but he decided to give it a shot anyway.
“Your hair smells nice.”
She didn’t answer. Knowing Vulcans, Daniel didn't expect her to. He exhaled, finally relaxing. They fit together like two matching spoons, as if they’d been designed to do so. Despite this, though, and in spite of his exhaustion, his curiosity prevented him from just shutting up and going to sleep.
“Are you going to tell me what just happened?” He kept his voice as soft and unthreatening as possible.
“We applied medication to each other,” she told him in a matter-of-fact tone.
He chuckled softly. “That wasn't what I was asking and you know it. Don't try to hide behind Vulcan literalism. I spent enough time working on your homeworld to see through that particular dodge. It won't work on me.”
T'Riss went silent again. He could almost hear the wheels turning as she considered his words, and she didn’t seem comfortable any more. Maybe she’s threatened by the fact that I know more about Vulcans than she knows about Humans, he thought. Or more likely she was still afraid of him. That had to stop. He released her and sat up.
“Look at me, T’Riss,” he insisted. She turned over toward him, still wrapped in her blanket, with an uncertain expression. “I swear to you, by all I hold sacred, that I never have and never will take an unwilling woman,” Daniel told her. Her eyes widened at his emphatic tone, searching his face. He tried to project reassurance and sincerity. “Humans are not Orion, or Klingon, no matter what your High Command says about us. Rape is a capital crime to us. On most Human colony worlds, the punishment for rape is death. Among my people, the Boomers, the penalty is for the rapist to be stripped naked and flushed out an airlock.” Daniel winced at the expression of incredulous disgust on her face and then smiled apologetically. “Anyway, my point is that you’re safe with me. I will never willingly hurt you.”
“I do not fear you,” she said, swallowing hard and lifting her chin.
“Good.” Daniel smiled. “That's what I was shooting for.” He cocked his head at T’Riss and stared her down. Her bravado held; she didn’t look away. “So tell me, then. Why did your mouth say yes…or at least not say no…a few minutes ago while your body not only said no, but ‘Hell, no’?”
“I did not…” She stopped, an uncomfortable pause. Then she exhaled heavily, as if she were giving in reluctantly. “I will not lie to you. I originally intended to permit you to sate your lust on my body.”
“Uh...” Daniel had no idea what to say to that. He was tempted to chuckle at her choice of wording, but got the distinct impression that it wouldn’t go over well. “Thanks?” He watched her look away in obvious discomfort, and tried to explain with a placating smile. “That's not what my people would call a romantic overture, no offense intended,” he said. She still wouldn’t look at him. He reclined on one elbow as his fatigue began to get the better of him, and stifled a yawn behind one hand. This was beginning to look like it was going to be a long evening—interesting, but long. After he’d gotten settled, he asked the obvious question.
“Okay…so why would you want to let me do that?”
“I owe you a debt of honor.” T'Riss looked at him again. “I have caused you injury and pain. I have disturbed your life's path in ways that can never be truly mended.”
There’s definitely something wrong with her, he decided, watching the raw emotion play fleetingly across her face. Fear, regret, shame—they were all there for anyone to see, and anyone who knew anything about normal Vulcans would know that they didn’t belong there.
“Are you telling me that you were willing to have sex with me out of guilt? After what happened to you? That’s... that’s just... illogical!”
“It is unlikely that you would wish to do anything that has not already been done to me. Furthermore, I have come to trust your intentions. I also have the strength to defend myself, and I am not under duress this time,” replied T’Riss, in a calm and reasonable tone, as if she were discussing something utterly commonplace instead of something so unbelievably un-Vulcan.
Daniel gazed at her, completely confused. “That makes no sense. It defies reason and contradicts everything I thought I ever knew about Vulcans. There has to be something else going on here. Either you’re insane and you need to go back to your ship for treatment, or you’re not telling me something.”
She stiffened next to him. “I did not lie to you.”
“Maybe not,” Daniel said, “but you didn't tell me all of the truth either. Vulcans don't do this,” he insisted vehemently, “Vulcans simply do not sleep around. You might be able to pull that story on someone who didn't spend years living on Vulcan, but I’m not gonna buy it. No sane Vulcan would volunteer to mate with someone just to pay an honor debt. Die for them, yes. Mate with them? No.”
T'Riss closed her eyes and exhaled. “Sehlra advised me that you might be resistant to the idea of accepting me as a mate. She suggested that persuading you to desire me sexually was the most appropriate way to initiate matters.”
Daniel rolled over onto his back and covered his eyes with his forearm. “So that's what the old man was going on about in the gym.”
“I don't understand.”
“Jenrali was feeling me out,” Daniel explained. He raised his arm and saw T'Riss looking utterly bewildered. He sighed. “It means he was conducting a stealth interrogation.” Comprehension lit up her face. “He kept asking me about girls I used to know, and what kind of woman I wanted, and if I would consider someone who wasn't Human, and if I thought you looked good. Now I see what he was doing.” Daniel dropped his arm and stared at the ceiling with a resigned expression. “If Sehlra is in on it, there will be no peace on board anywhere.”
“If the prospect is abhorrent to you…,” T'Riss began.
“I didn't say that.” Daniel interrupted her. “But I don't understand why you would be interested in me. Why a Human? Why me, of all Humans? What gives? I just…” He interrupted himself in mid-word with a jaw cracking yawn, “don’ unnerstan…” He rubbed his eyes with both forefingers, trying his best to stay alert, and half-smiled at her in apology. Then the import of her statement hit him. Vulcans didn’t take casual mates. She was talking about marriage.
The idea was initially shocking. He’d never seriously considered the possibility of marriage to a non-Human before his recent conversation with Jenrali. The possibility of marriage to anyone had barely hit his radar—and to a knock-out like T’Riss? The idea was unbelievable, titillating, and more than a little scary.
T'Riss’s expression softened. If she had been Human he would have taken her expression for sympathy. “Is it so difficult for you to accept that I might choose you over the other options available to me?”
Daniel’s sleep-fogged brain processed her statement slowly, but he finally got it. To a Vulcan she was damaged goods. No Vulcan man would perceive her the way he did—flawed, yet resilient, intelligent, and utterly beautiful—someone to be admired for her strengths rather than shunned for her weaknesses. Her options among Vulcans were limited.
“You should sleep if you are to be of any use tomorrow,” said T’Riss in an unusually gentle voice. “I have multiple reasons for desiring you as a mate, Daniel. I will explain them in the morning. It is my hope that I will be able to provide you with equally valid reasons to accept me. I believe that you will find my logic compelling…but we can address these matters later,” she told him, placing her fingertips on his shoulder, “You are exhausted. Roll over and allow me to rub your back again.” Daniel blinked blurrily at her, and then turned over, seeing no reason to tell her no. He smiled sleepily once his cheek hit the pillow and her warm hands got to work.
“I could get used to this,” he admitted, already half asleep.
Senek stepped into the cabin he shared with Raijiin for the first time in nearly a week. The scent of the perfume she habitually wore was oddly reassuring, a taste of the familiar even after such a short time away. He ignored the feeling. Growing too accustomed to her presence would be counterproductive.
Raijiin sat at the desk in the common room dressed in a ship’s coverall without insignia, her attention fully captured by something that she was reading from the padd in her lap. Her facial bruises were healed, her face was bare of makeup, and her blonde hair was tied back in a no-nonsense knot on the back of her head. She looked up as he entered and gave him what appeared to be a genuinely warm smile of welcome. Even with her appearance transformed as it was by her new circumstances, he had to consciously refrain from smiling back. Her ability to charm never ceased to intrigue him, but then, her gifts in that regard were why the Security Directorate had ordered him to recruit her in the first place.
“You’re back!” She looked him over from head to foot. “They don’t seem to have done any damage, or did they use starvation and neural shock sticks instead of fists this time?” she asked knowingly. Senek had to remind himself that his agent trainee had experienced the more punitive side of Human hospitality during her last stay aboard Enterprise, deservedly so, after the crimes she’d committed.
“Nothing worse than boredom, actually. I don’t believe the First Officer dislikes me quite as much as she dislikes you,” he replied with dry humor. He glanced at the padd she was reading. It appeared to be Agent Llahir’s debriefing report.
“Did he finish before we lost him?” he asked, indicating the report with a jerk of his chin. Her eyes widened, and then moistened. He sensed grief.
“I believe so. I haven’t quite finished reviewing it yet. He had an amazing memory,” Raijiin replied with a sad half-smile.
“Had?” Senek repeated, puzzled, and then realized what she’d assumed by his statement. Ah. She’s developed some sort of emotional attachment to the man already. It shouldn’t have surprised him. “He’s not dead,” he clarified. “The Humans have him.” He paused. “Or at least, he’s on their ship. They have no idea who he is yet, I don’t think. Otherwise we’d be hearing from their captain, I’m sure. He’d want to gloat.”
“We should demand his return,” asserted Raijiin. “He is Vulcan. They have no right to him.”
“We’ll get him back eventually, unless someone tells them who he really is,” countered Senek. “If they believe him to be a refugee, they will feel no need to interrogate him. And we have the upper hand, because the telepath will soon be in our custody as well.”
“Damin? Wasn’t he aboard the Romulan vessel when it was destroyed?”
“The Humans believe so, but they have no telepaths aboard with any significant abilities.” Raijiin just looked at him with a puzzled expression. “Close your eyes,” ordered Senek. Raijiin did so immediately, in response to the conditioning still firmly in place within her mind. Senek extended a hand, and the meld was complete.
Search the ship. What do you feel? He followed her questing mind, allowing her to take the lead. Telepathic searches such as these required tremendous concentration and training to hone the necessary skills. She almost missed the indications of a shielded telepathic mind in the near vicinity, but before he could call her attention to the oversight, she’d honed in on it.
There. He’s just outside the hull. Only one telepath I’ve ever met has the power to so completely shield his mind. I can’t make a positive identification, but I don’t see how it could be anyone else. I can’t determine his intentions.
Senek removed his hand, severing the meld. Raijiin regarded him seriously. “Should we try to contact him?” she asked.
Senek had been asking himself the same question ever since he’d become aware of the Betazoid’s location. “Contacting him by conventional means risks exposing him to whoever he is hiding from, and I believe that he may have an excellent reason to remain hidden,” he mused aloud, “but there may be another way.”
Sienae woke from a cat nap in the shuttle’s pilot’s chair to an insistent beep from the console in front of her. Instantly alert, she pulled up the sensor readings. The three ships were headed out of the system together at impulse, and based on the input the computer was receiving from the locator beacon implanted in the shuttle Damin had stolen—my own more comfortable, personal shuttle, she thought in annoyance—Damin was leaving with them. His speed matched theirs exactly, and his extreme proximity to the Vulcan cruiser implied that he’d somehow attached himself to it.
Clever boy, but irritating.
She brought up a computer summary of sensor data. Damin had no doubt realized already what her sensor readings of the previous several hours were telling her now. This system received virtually no traffic. Sitting here in an impulse-only shuttle waiting for a warp capable vessel to come along was an exercise in futility. She powered up the engines and set a course to overtake the only warp capable vessels she would likely see in weeks before they went to warp and left her behind. That accomplished, she set her mind to coming up with a plan to get to a more populated system. It was difficult to focus on the problem at hand with images of what she planned to do to Damin in payment for his betrayal flashing through her head. Just his imagined screams brought a smile to her face. After the embarrassment he’d caused her by fleeing the Tal Shiar, his complete lack of appreciation for everything she’d done for him, and his unmitigated gall in voluntarily participating in her ship’s destruction, the filthy little ungrateful worm deserved to be flayed alive—slowly.
It might be premature to kill the boy immediately when I find him, though, she mused. He has obviously allied himself with these Vulcans, and so will be useful. He could convince them with his skills that I am an ally… Her imagination took flight, and she allowed it to take control, ignoring both logic and consequences. Damin would never dare to defy me. He’ll easily gain control over these weak minded Vulcans, and then I’ll take the place of this ship’s commander… I can easily pass as a Vulcan with a bit of minor cosmetic surgery… And once she’d taken her proper place in the command chair she’d have the freedom to give Damin what he deserved before establishing a foothold on some remote planet in need of an authority figure.
Setting the autopilot, she rose and went to the medical kit set into the wall. It was sparse. The proper response to an incapacitating injury was honorable self-destruction, but there were a few bandages in it, an antiseptic, and a monomolecular scalpel. Intended for the debridement of necrotic tissue from non-fatal wounds, it would suit her purpose admirably.
T’Pol opened her eyes at the sound of the door chime. She sat on a meditation cushion in the center of the room, dressed in nothing but her silken robe, with a pale pink pillar candle burning in front of her. She had waited over three hours for her husband to arrive. It was a disconcertingly long wait and only exacerbated her concern over his mental state. He’d been in a great deal of emotional distress when she’d last seen him. Unfortunately, his reaction to her overture had done nothing to improve her own emotional equilibrium. Positive reassurance was definitely in order, for both of them.
Trip had his shields down enough to make it obvious that he was the one at the door. After a brief pause to consider her options, T’Pol decided to deal with the issue of reassurance before discussing the captain’s shortcomings. She shrugged the robe from her shoulders so that it pooled in her lap and around her hips before announcing, “Enter”. The expression on her husband’s face was almost comical when he stepped into the room. He hurriedly closed the door behind him and then turned back toward her with his arms crossed over his chest. As T’Pol had expected, the annoyance on his face was closely followed by an expression of reluctant admiration.
“Ummm…are you sure it’s safe to be leavin’ the door unlocked if you’re gonna sit there like that?” he asked, obviously amused in spite of himself.
“I was not sitting here ‘like that’,” she replied. “I was waiting for you.” Then she stood up, leaving the robe where it lay on the floor. His mouth broadened into a disbelieving smile, and he shook his head, chuckling as she walked toward him.
“Why am I thinkin’ that story about the captain was just a tall tale to get me in here? What’s gotten into you, woman?”
She reached for the collar of his coverall and began unfastening it. “My concerns about the captain are quite genuine, I assure you, but they are longstanding and not of immediate concern. We can discuss them later.” She stretched up and kissed him. “Trip, please hear me. You are my husband and my bonded mate. No one and nothing can ever be more important to me than you are.” Her distress flickered over her face for an instant. “In truth, I was distraught when you left the captain's quarters and I felt impelled to find you – to confirm for myself that you were recovering. I know that I was wrong to disturb you and I swear that I will not do it again.”
“Shh” He laid a finger over her lips. “I'm sorry for bein' mean as a snake and takin' it out on you. I had no call to go off on you like that in the captain's cabin. I was throwing a temper tantrum and I deserve an ass whuppin' for some of the things I said.”
“No.” She stroked her hand along his cheek. “You spoke the truth as you see it. I could tell that much. We must always have truth between us if we are to make this work. You were correct, Trip. There can be no more secrets. Truth, even painful truth, is our only chance to build our lives together. We both have much to learn.”
Trip hugged her and buried his face against her neck. T’Pol could sense that grieving anger had left his bones aching, and fatigue was dragging him downward. T'Pol ran her fingers through his hair and gently guided him backward to stand near the edge of the bunk.
“Your impression that I lack respect and appreciation for you is a more pressing matter,” she said, pulling his coverall from either shoulder. She pulled it down to his waist, and then knelt to pull it farther. He stood there looking down at her with a puzzled expression.
“What does gettin’ us both naked have to do with any of that?”
“You’ve been on duty for over eighteen hours continuously in the past twenty four. If I am to demonstrate to you how much I respect and appreciate you, I thought it would be best to begin in the shower,” T’Pol replied from her position kneeling before him. She tapped one of his feet and he lifted it so that she could remove his boot. For once, he didn’t argue with her, but when her hands made contact with the skin of his bare ankle, instead of the anticipation she expected she sensed disappointment.
T’Pol sat back on her heels and looked up at him, less confident now of the proper course of action. What had she done wrong? He looked down at her with a wry smile on his stubbled face, dressed in nothing but sweat-stained stretch blue cotton, then shook his head and chuckled again. Stepping out of the coverall pooled around his ankles, he retrieved her robe from the floor and silently helped her to put it back on. All the while, T’Pol’s mind raced through every possible explanation for why he was refusing her and found none that were reassuring. Trip sat on her bed and patted the mattress beside him. T’Pol joined him with trepidation.
“Look, T’Pol,” he began sincerely. “Far be it from me to discourage you from doin’…,” he paused, scratching his head and smiling in a bemused fashion, “…whatever it is you’re doin’ here… at some point in the future when I’m not so frazzled I can’t think straight, but can’t you see that your behavior tonight is just another example of what I’ve been talking about?”
T’Pol considered his statement for a moment in puzzlement, and then did her best to clarify her actions. “I was attempting to show you how much I…”
“You were treating me like a horny teenager who’ll drop everything to have sex… on a night when I need to make one of the most important decisions of my career,” Trip clarified.. “Did you think you could distract me so that I’d forget about resigning my commission?”
He believes that I am manipulating him, T’Pol realized. She reached out with one hand and laid it on his bare forearm, opening her shields wide. He winced at the flood of emotion, but kept his eyes locked with hers.
“It was not my intention to distract you from anything of importance, nor am I trying to influence your decision, but I was worried about your state of mind,” she explained in a level voice. “It is clear that you are grieving the loss of your friendship with Jonathan Archer. In the past you have dealt with grief by overworking yourself to the point of utter exhaustion. Although I do have things I need to discuss with you, I also admit to an ulterior motive in luring you from Engineering. I have no desire to see you work yourself sick again.” Memories of the walking death-like state he’d managed to get himself into twice previously, first in the Expanse and then again after their daughter’s death, intruded themselves. Trip winced again. T’Pol sent a silent apology, gripping his arm. “I am truly sorry if you feel that because I am trying to spare you this that I lack respect for you.”
Trip sighed and closed his eyes. He covered her hand where it rested on his forearm with his own hand. She could sense both his apology and his resignation. She waited for him to speak. He opened his eyes and gave her a wry smile.
“Okay, T’Pol. You win. I won’t go back to Engineering tonight. Now, tell me what’s going on with the captain.”
T'Pol told him, “My concerns cannot be stated simply. I need your opinion as a command level officer. You have far more experience in Human personal interaction than I do.”
“Concerns?” he echoed. He stared back at her in consternation. “What the hell are you talking about? Just because I'm pissed at him doesn't make him a bad captain.”
“I am concerned that Captain Archer may not be entirely sane. His personality has changed radically since his encounter with the katra of Surak, and his behavior is growing more and more erratic. If he were Vulcan I would be concerned for his mental stability,” replied T’Pol.
Trip stared at her. “I guess ol' Surak might be causing Jon to act a little more tight-assed than usual,” he finally admitted. “But he’s been leanin’ this way for a long time. He started gettin’ this way as soon as Daniels told him he was gonna be some kind of junior godling to future generations, and he’s been gettin' worse ever since. The Expanse put the polish on him and made him impossible to live with.”
“The captain suffered severe stress during our time in the Delphic Expanse,” T'Pol reminded him reproachfully.
“No frickin' shit! So did everyone else,” Trip snapped. “Do you see the rest of us walking around treating people the way Jon does? No, you don't.” He subsided, breathing hard.
“I am still not well equipped to understand the nuances of Human relations,” T'Pol admitted. “But since our return from Vulcan, even Mr. Reed seems unhappy with the captain's lack of personal connection to the crew.”
“Say what?” Trip stared with hanging jaw. “Malcolm? He's... but...”
“Since Mr. Reed has always shown a firm dedication to the principles of discipline and good order, I was surprised when he recently approached me with his concerns.” T'Pol firmed her chin and went on. “After that conversation I made a point of observing the captain over the course of several days. I am concerned that his behavior patterns are increasingly tending to imitate those of a Vulcan commander rather than a Human one. For example, how long has it been since you’ve heard the captain make a joke?”
Trip brow wrinkled in thought. “You’ve got a point. I don't remember. Of course, I've been avoiding him lately. But he walks around with a stone face all the time nowadays. Never laughs, hardly ever even smiles.”
“He no longer invites anyone to dine with him,” T'Pol said. “Never. In fact, most of his meals are served in his quarters or his ready room. His schedule has become increasingly precise. He reports for duty at 05:27 precisely. He goes off duty, barring emergencies, at 20:05 precisely. He reports to the gym at 20:11 precisely. He follows his standard exercise regimen and returns to his quarters at 20:29 plus or minus two minutes.”
Trip shook his head. “Jon was always on time for work, but off duty he never bothered much with schedules.” He stared at her. “You sure of this?”
“Quite sure,” she told him. “I have also noticed that his ancient High Vulcan has been improving, but there is no one aboard with whom he could have been practicing. I have not been helping him, nor has Hoshi.”
Trip's shoulders hunched and he shivered. “That's startin' to sound spooky. Yer makin' me nervous here.”
“Then you concur that the situation merits concern?” she asked him. “I confess to feeling relief. I was uncertain whether my worries were appropriate.”
“They're appropriate all right,” he told her grimly. “Only one thing to do. Phlox is gonna have to run him through the mill, including a full brain scan. And we might even need to get one of those Vulcan healers over here for a meld. You know, one of the melders we escorted out here from Vulcan.”
“You are no doubt correct,” T'Pol said worriedly. “But what if the captain refuses?”
“Then you just gotta play hardball,” Trip told her. “File a 2.5.9 on him. Like you said, the whole ship and crew is at stake here.” He looked at the expression on her face. “Don't worry. I'll stand with you when you do it.”
A rush of relief that she would have died before admitting aloud washed through T'Pol. She seized her husband in an embrace and gave him a deep Human kiss of gratitude.
Daniel’s quiet, regular respirations were the only sounds in the room. T’Riss eased her body from beneath his arm and rolled silently out of bed, leaving him embracing the blanket like a lover. Shivering, she collected her coverall from the floor and slipped it on. She considered leaving him to his slumber and returning to her cabin, but, recalling his nearly immobile state earlier in the evening, she decided to remain just in case he should awaken and require anything. She took a seat in the center of the floor and tried to enter a meditative state, sleep being impossible under the circumstances, but found her thoughts racing incoherently instead.
T’Riss took several deep, cleansing breaths, attempting to calm herself and consider the situation rationally. She should be capable of providing sexual satisfaction to Daniel. It was, after all, nothing she had not experienced before with men who lacked all of Daniel’s positive qualities as a potential mate. He was, as Sehlra had pointed out, an excellent candidate for a mated partnership in her current situation, so why did her body insist on reacting so adversely to his touch? Indeed, her frustrating inability to suppress the fear she was experiencing was so obvious that he, completely devoid of any telepathic ability, had deduced her state of mind with ease.
A low moan came from the direction of the bed, drawing her attention to the man who lay upon it. His brow was wrinkled, whether from emotional distress or pain was difficult to tell, and he’d rolled to his back, away from the tangle of blanket and sheets he’d been embracing. He was bare from the waist up, the russet hair on his head pressed into his pillow, the alien tangle of red-brown hair on his chest exposed. A sheet draped his hips, clad only in the tight undergarment he had worn beneath his coverall. He moaned again, his hand gripping the sheet covering his leg, and she saw with a sudden heat to her skin that he was aroused again. She closed her eyes, heart pounding, trying to think of something else, but all she could think of was that a Vulcan male in such a state would be at this point willing to do practically anything to resolve the issue. Certainly there were also members of many other races who would respond the same way. She’d had firsthand experience of that. Some very unpleasant memories surfaced with the thought, and she returned her attention to her own problematic emotional responses.
It was not that she’d found the physical contact unpleasant. As a matter of fact, taken objectively and without regard to further potential consequences, having liniment applied to her bruises by a pair of gentle, cool hands had been intensely pleasurable, even arousing. And that, she realized, was the crux of the matter. The artificial pon farr-inducing organism she’d been infected with during her Orion captivity had forced her to enjoy her debasement, to crave it. Healer Tyvek had tried to explain the damage that had been done to normally dormant areas of her brain by the recurrent and persistent activation of limbic pathways only seldom activated in normal Vulcans. These pathways would never regain their usual dormancy. Constant vigilance, he’d told her, would be required to keep the emotions they aroused in her at bay, the very emotions which Daniel’s touch elicited.
I fear my own responses, she thought in surprise. The realization was a reassuring one. Her own responses were things she might at some point regain control over, given sufficient time and desensitization, and it certainly was much more reasonable to be concerned about her own behavior than about any risk of her coming to harm through Daniel’s actions.
Sounds of stirring from the bed made her open her eyes again. He was still sleeping, but restlessly, muttering something incomprehensible under his breath and thrashing his arms and legs as if he were running in his sleep. She stood and approached the bed, concerned that he might injure himself, and without thinking reached out a hand to stroke his brow and calm him, as one would calm a restless child. At her touch his tense body relaxed and his face took on the slack-jawed appearance of an infant asleep after a feeding. His innocence reminded her painfully of her months of duty in the crèche, just after her graduation from the academy and before her posting on The Plains of Gol. She’d thought at the time that she was preparing herself for eventual motherhood as well as doing her civic duty for the working mothers in her cohort. Instead, that time of wiping small faces and soothing small hurts would very likely be the only opportunity she would ever have to indulge her maternal instincts unless she could somehow overcome her experiences enough to take a mate.
As T’Riss continued to stroke his curls, Daniel reached out in his sleep, grasped an armful of blanket with one muscular arm, curled into a fetal ball, and sighed before falling deeper into slumber.
He is not esthetically displeasing, she considered. Indeed, compared to Grigor-Tel he is positively outstanding. The errant thought activated a series of memories, each less pleasant than the last. T'Riss took firm hold of her emotional stability and regarded them dispassionately. All of that was in the past. Those memories were dead and gone, they had no power to harm her. She let her breath out slowly and looked back down at the Human on the bed.
She remembered his comment about her people's aversion to Human scent. T'Riss judged that any such aversion was merely the result of unfamiliarity with non-Vulcans. Compared to Klingons, Orions, and Tellarites, not to mention some of the more exotic reptilian and semi-aquatic races, Humans smelled almost Vulcan. She could not repress a tiny shudder.
A very faint tap sounded on the door, barely detectable even to her hearing. T'Riss walked over and slid the portal open. Sehlra stood in the corridor. The Andorian engineer was a bit unsteady on her feet and looked as if she might fall asleep at any moment, but she was smiling an oddly carefree smile. There was a mug in her hand. Her smile reverted to a frown when she caught sight of the chamber behind T’Riss. She seemed disappointed to find T'Riss vertical and Daniel asleep. The Andorian woman gestured T'Riss out into the passageway and closed the door with exaggerated care behind them.
“How’d it go, girl?” she inquired with unconcealed eagerness. The mug in her hand steamed. The beverage in it looked vaguely like Daniel’s coffee, but was more viscous and had a richer, sweeter odor.
T'Riss brushed her hair back from her face and confessed, “The outcome was not optimal. I was unable to suppress my trepidation and Daniel detected it. I invited him to proceed anyway, but he declined, implying that he would consider it dishonorable.”
Sehlra opened her mouth and closed it again, blinking. “Tha’ never occurred to me. Are you gon’ be able to do this, girl?” Her speech was slightly impaired, T’Riss noted, a cause for concern. She was relatively elderly for an Andorian. Was she that fatigued? Or perhaps she wasn’t well. T’Riss tilted her head, studying the older woman intently.
“I knew you were prob’ly still hurtin’ from what happened, but I didn’ know you were hurt tha’ bad,” continued Sehlra, seeming oblivious to T’Riss’s scrutiny. “If you can't han’le it, say so. We c’n find Daniel ‘nother wife.” She raised the mug to her lips and took a large swallow. It occurred to T’Riss that the substance in her mug might be responsible for the state she was in. Sehlra gazed expectantly at T’Riss, waiting for an answer. Whatever was in the drink she was consuming, it evidently hadn’t completely incapacitated her yet.
“I do not wish you to find Daniel another wife,” T'Riss told her with as much dignity as she could muster. “I have considered the matter carefully and at length. I agree that Daniel is the best option that I am likely to be able to find in the foreseeable future. I will overcome my difficulties.”
“How’d he react to the idea gen’rally?” Sehlra wanted to know.
“Surprised and uncertain,” T'Riss told her. “But he seemed amenable to discussion of the matter after we have rested.”
“Y’know …Human males mate five or six times a day if they can get it,” Sehlra told her seriously.
“I have heard this rumor,” T'Riss replied. “But the Vulcan database states in fact that a healthy Human male seldom mates more than three times per day. It is the duty of a Vulcan wife to provide for the physical needs of her husband. If necessary, supplemental lubricants are available.”
Sehlra smirked, looking uncommonly amused by T’Riss’s completely factual statement. “Good ‘nuff, then. Get yourself some rest and start working on him when he wakes up.” Sehlra patted T'Riss clumsily on the side of the head, leaving her deeply uncomfortable but unable to formulate an objection. She watched the Orion woman walk unsteadily down the passageway, then turned back toward Daniel's door. There was no reason not to take advantage of his invitation. Not only did Daniel make quite a comfortable pillow, but hopefully sustained contact during sleep would help her to overcome her difficulty.
Sienae hurriedly wrapped a pressure bandage around her head. Once she’d become convinced of the need, shaving the ridges from her forehead had been remarkably easy, but the vigorous hemorrhaging had surprised her. It had been so long since she’d indulged her bloodier proclivities that she’d forgotten how colorful scalp wounds could be. She inspected the result in the shiny reflective panel she’d used to do the job. The image was a bit grisly, what with the green dripping from her chin and the rapidly spreading stain on the bandages covering her forehead, but it wasn’t anything time, soap and water couldn’t remedy, and perhaps it would lend credence to her claims if her new allies believed she’d been injured escaping from the evil Romulans—at least long enough to gain their trust.
The entire procedure had taken less than a cycle, long enough to be within detailed sensor range of both the Human ship and the D’Kyr cruiser. She sat back down in the pilot’s chair and studied the data. Damin had chosen a frustratingly excellent hiding place. In order to get to him she’d have to maneuver her shuttle within the Sehlat’s ring nacelle. It would have been a challenge even if she could rely on her cloak, but she had firsthand evidence of the Vulcans’ ability to penetrate it. She wasn’t within firing range of the Sehlat’s weapons yet, but once there she’d have to move quickly to avoid being destroyed, and she’d have to pass within firing range of the Human ship to do it. Her shuttle had only one advantage, a single short range disruptor cannon, too small to do significant damage to the huge ships, but upon further reflection, certainly large enough to provide a distraction.
Llahir followed Phlox out from behind the curtain with a feeling of exhausted satisfaction. Despite some minor complications with the Tellarite woman's labor, both mother and infant were doing well. The Vulcan agent had been surprisingly gratified at being able to assist with the procedure.
He emerged to find Phlox smiling in cautious friendliness at the figure who stood waiting for them. “Good evening, Lieutenant Reed. The refugees have all been perfectly cooperative. We’ve stabilized everyone we can and they’ll all be ready for transfer to the Kau T’Surak when we arrive at the station. There are no security issues here.” The security officer didn’t seem reassured.
Llahir had been at the doctor’s side when the Vulcan hospital ship’s confirmation transmission had come through. The Kau T’Surak stood ready to receive multiple casualties. Llahir was planning to join the Vulcan medical personnel during the transfer. He’d deactivated his homing beacon as soon as he’d been transported aboard. Now all he had to do was to avoid calling attention to himself and he’d be back on the Sehlat in just a few hours. Unfortunately, judging by the look the security officer was giving him it was too late for that.
Phlox gave the man he’d addressed as “Lieutenant Reed” a quizzical look when the Human didn’t say anything. “Is there a problem, Lieutenant?” Phlox asked.
“That will depend entirely on how cooperative your companion decides to be,” the security officer told him, and put one hand on the phase pistol holstered at his waist. Phlox ignored the weapon completely, studying the man’s grimly serious expression with an expression of disbelief. Then he looked back at Llahir, who was in the process of raising both hands in the air. Suddenly the Denobulan exploded.
“Why? Why is it that every time someone, especially a Vulcan, sets foot anywhere near my medical section they immediately get arrested? Do you have some personal grudge against me, Mr. Reed?” Phlox advanced on the lieutenant, seething. Reed backpedaled hurriedly, an alarmed expression on his face. Llahir bit his tongue. The sight of the portly and mild-mannered doctor terrorizing an armed security officer was the most entertaining thing he’d seen all day.
“No! By no means. I’m acting on the captain's direct orders. This wasn't my idea,” Lieutenant Reed explained desperately. Phlox suddenly deflated. His anger seemed to pass as suddenly as it had come.
“Understood,” Phlox said, waving a hand. “Do whatever you are required to do.” He shot Llahir an apologetic glance.
“It is quite all right, doctor,” Llahir assured him. “I am confident that there is no cause for alarm.”
“Certainly not,” the Human officer responded firmly. “The captain simply wants to talk to you. That's all.”
“Of course,” Llahir told him genially. “I would be pleased to meet with your captain. Lead on, Lieutenant Reed.”
“First,” Reed handed him a sensor baffle, “please put this on. The captain hates interruptions.”
“A familiar piece of equipment lately,” Llahir said wryly. He buckled on the baffle without protest and followed the Human out the door and down the corridor to the turbolift, up the turbolift to a new deck, and thence through several passages to a small meeting room where a middle aged Human sat at the head of a rectangular table. Llahir recognized him as the officer who’d greeted him in High Vulcan during his brief stay aboard Enterprise at the time of his retrieval. A young Human woman sat at the foot of the table and watched him with the bright-eyed fascination of innocent youth.
The older Human stood and offered the ta'al. “Peace and long life to you, Agent Llahir. I am Captain Jonathan Archer. This is my Communication Officer, Ensign Sato. You have, of course, met Lieutenant Reed. Please have a seat. The rest of my command staff will arrive soon.”
“Live long and prosper, Captain Jonathan Archer,” Llahir returned the ta'al. “I am honored to meet the bearer of the katra of Surak,” He bowed and sat down at Archer's right hand, and Reed took the seat flanking him. Llahir examined Archer curiously. During his debriefing on the Sehlat he’d been brought up to date concerning this Captain Archer. The mystery of the man’s initial greeting in High Vulcan had been explained in a somewhat offhanded manner by Raijiin as “just leftover memories”. She had seemed to regard this Human with a great deal of trepidation but very little respect. The validity of her opinions was something he was unable to objectively evaluate, never having dealt with Humans to any significant degree before. Fortunately, his perfect recall made his old training readily available to him. According to the indoctrination provided by the High Command, Humans were unpredictable and prone to violent outbursts when frustrated. Patience and caution were called for.
Archer smiled at Llahir. “I became the bearer of Surak's katra by default, not through any particular merit on my part, Agent Llahir. When the original bearer, Syrann, was injured and dying I was the closest available host as well as being the only male present. Surak later informed me that cross-gender katra transfers are problematic. He therefore directed Syrann to place his katra into my mind.”
“Fascinating,” Llahir leaned back. “I had wondered why Surak would have chosen someone who was not Vulcan.”
“Many others also wondered,” Archer told him, with a trace of irritation in his voice. “But the fact is, he didn't. He chose the only option available, one who just happened to be Human.”
“Understood,” Llahir nodded. “Would it be permissible for me to ask some questions?”
“Certainly,” Archer's smile widened. “Provided you are willing to answer an equal number of questions in return.” Llahir felt a touch of ironic appreciation. Before he could reply, the door behind him slid open and two more individuals entered. One of them was a Vulcan female, so Llahir stood and offered a formal nod and gesture of greeting, which was returned.
“Commanders,” Archer said, “may I present Agent Llahir of the High Command. This is my First Officer and Science Officer, Commander T'Pol, and my Chief Engineer, Commander Tucker. Have a seat everyone, we’re on the verge of making some progress, I think.”
Llahir noted instantly that the newcomers were acting in concert. For decades his survival had depended on his ability to read the unspoken language of the body, and he saw clearly that the two commanders operated as a team without conscious thought. They moved together automatically. They seated themselves together smoothly and without bumping, both of them knowing without needing to look where the other one's body would be. When they did look at each other, it was only for tiny flicks, but each micro-glance contained an entire conversation. Improbable as it seemed, Llahir began to entertain the possibility that this pair might be bonded.
While everyone was getting settled, the captain asked Tucker a question regarding the ship's engines. As the Human was responding with a verbal report, Llahir considered the significance of his observations. Certainly there were Romulans who had taken alien mates, so there was no biological reason that a Vulcan could not. It was merely that he had never encountered such a thing before.
“Agent Llahir,” Archer interrupted his musing.
“Yes, Captain?” Llahir put on his best look of dutiful attentiveness, the one that had served him so well in the Empire.
“Before I attempt to persuade you to share data about those who march under the raptor's wings,” Llahir stiffened. Archer smirked. “I would like to get a report about what happened after your capture, as well as what occurred on the Tellarite freighter before it blew up. All we have so far are fragmented stories from the survivors.”
“Of course, Captain Archer. The Romulans aboard the Aehallh were well aware of Damin's abilities, so we took advantage of that fact. As soon as we were incarcerated, Damin pretended to…”
“Tactical Alert! All hands to battle stations! Command crew to the bridge! All hands to battle stations!”
The wailing siren sliced into Llahir's eardrums like a hot needle, which he supposed was the entire point. No one, not even a deaf Lorbomite, could possibly ignore such an alarm. Around him the Humans leaped into action with astonishing speed. Apparently his instructors in the High Command had significantly underestimated this species. The Romulans that he had commanded in the Empire could not have reacted faster. Archer snapped, “Llahir! Remain here and await further orders!”
“Acknowledged,” was all he could manage before the last of them disappeared out the door. Seconds later the siren ceased and the room became silent. After sitting at the table looking at the walls for several seconds, Llahir reached out and picked up the padd the young Human female had left behind. He would be here a while, it seemed. Or alternatively, judging from past events, he might be snatched away at any moment by his fellow Vulcans, sensor baffle notwithstanding. He might as well make himself useful.
Llahir activated the dictation function of the device and began to speak.
Jonathan Archer reached his command chair and shot a glance at Malcolm Reed, raising a brow. Malcolm took the place of the scared-looking lieutenant at tactical, then reached out and silenced the alert siren. He began reviewing sensor data automatically while suppressing his annoyance at the captain’s peremptory manner. Captain Archer had been giving fewer and fewer verbal orders in recent weeks, expecting an immediate response to meaningful looks and a raised brow. It was much more efficient in a combat situation, Malcolm supposed, provided that the crew could read his expressions, but it was beginning to make the armory officer uneasy.
“Tactical, status report,” said the captain.
“There’s an eighty-five percent likelihood of a cloak in use bearing 25.6 x 112.1 x 43.0 delta v neg c-0.13,” Malcolm replied in an equally terse manner. “Estimated time to firing range at current trajectory and speed…one minute and forty-five seconds.”
He exchanged a look with Commander T’Pol from across the bridge. Their recent conversation regarding the captain came to mind. She’d assured him that she would address the issue privately with Dr. Phlox. It had been several days now and Malcolm saw no evidence that she’d done so, but in all fairness to the commander, Phlox had been rather busy lately.
“Stand by on phase cannon. Fire when in range,” returned Archer.
Malcolm paused with his hand on the firing control. There was a hush on the bridge. He could sense the mental countdown. One minute and fifteen seconds into it the locus of high probability changed direction, as if it were deliberately staying just out of range.
“The locus has changed direction. It’s going for the Sehlat,” Malcolm said.
“Helm, pursue. Close the gap. Tactical, prepare to fire. Put the locus on screen,” ordered Archer.
No names, Malcolm noticed, as if we’re not individuals to him anymore. The Sehlat appeared on the front viewscreen, apparently without escort save for the Lertieran at least ten kilometers distant. A linear flash extended outward from inside the Sehlat’s ring nacelle and impacted on—nothing.
“Disruptor fire from the Sehlat, Captain,” Malcolm reported. He paused. Something was odd. The energy signature of the disruptor blast was perhaps a tenth of the intensity usually produced by a D’Kyr cruiser’s standard disruptors, and the beam had originated from a location which risked the integrity of the ship’s warp drive, where no weapons emplacement should ever be. He focused his attention on the origin of the blast and thought he saw something flicker, but the probability of cloak use in the area remained less than five percent, and the high probability locus was now so close to the Vulcan vessel that firing on it risked serious collateral damage. He held his fire. Abruptly an explosion registered on the Sehlat’s hull almost on top of the origin of the disruptor blast.
“There’s damage to the Sehlat, sir. I can’t tell whether it’s from impact or weapon’s fire. The locus is too close to their nacelle to risk firing on it, but it’s immobile now,” announced Malcolm.
“Tactical, hold your fire. Comm, contact the Sehlat and offer our assistance.” Archer’s voice was icily calm. Hoshi glanced worriedly at the captain’s impassive face before initiating the call.
T'Lar said calmly, “Report.” She pressed a control on the arm of her command chair and watched the readout intently.
From over her shoulder Verlen recited, “Extensive damage to engineering decks three and four. Hull breaches in sections one, two and five. Casualty reports are still coming in. So far we have two confirmed dead, seventeen wounded.”
“Acknowledged,” T'Lar said. “Helm, report status of the Romulan shuttle.”
“Commander,” the sub-centurion permitted a trace of excitement to infuse his voice. T'Lar made a mental note to assign him additional off-duty time for meditation. “It appears that there are now two ships on sensors. Both of them correspond to the profile of Romulan shuttlecraft. Apparently we were not hit by debris after all. It seems that the impact was made by a second cloaked shuttlecraft.”
“Energize tractor beam,” T'Lar ordered. “Stabilize the two craft and bring them to a stop relative to our position. Subcommander Verlen, scan both craft for life signs and lock on. Transport all crew from both ships to the brig.”
“Unable to comply, Commander,” Velen said regretfully. “The interaction between the two cloaking fields is interfering with our scans. I can say that we are picking up what appears to be three life forms, but I cannot get a clear reading on any of them. Transport is not possible.”
“Tractor beam is locked on, Commander,” the helm officer reported. “Both ships are under power and grappled together now. Maintaining the lock will be challenging.”
“Verlen,” T'Lar ordered, “Arm disruptors at low power and attempt to disable the engines of both craft.”
“Commander,” the Communications officer spoke up. “Enterprise reports that one of the shuttles is broadcasting a weak signal from a homing beacon. They also report that Agent Llahir is confirmed to be aboard their ship.”
“The Betazoid.” T'Lar nodded. “Acknowledge the information from Enterprise and request that they stand by unless we call upon them.” She swiveled. “Subcommander, can you disable their engines?”
“Unfortunately not, Commander,” Verlen reported. “The shuttles are so small, and their construction is so frail, that a direct hit by our disruptors on any part, even at the lowest setting, would result in complete destruction. Perhaps the Humans’ phase cannon might be capable of a weaker output.”
“It seems illogical to wish for a less effective weapon,” T'Lar muttered. Then she resumed at full volume. “Contact Enterprise and confer with them on the matter. Meanwhile, maintain maximum power to the tractor beam and do everything possible to obtain a transport lock.” Acknowledgements came from all around the bridge.
“She is almost through.” Sweat dripped from the face of Damin's Romulan servant. He stared with wide eyes from his crouched position on the far side of the access hatch. Terror radiated from him like a dark beacon, chilling Damin's spirit.
Understandable, Damin reflected. You served with her for years. You know what she is capable of as well as I do. And by helping me, even under my control, you have condemned yourself. Mother has never been known for her rational approach to justice.
The red hot glow next to the hatch lock widened and brightened. Damin felt his belly clench into a cold knot and his genitals tighten up against his loins. Old, ugly memories from childhood rose up from the darkness, memories of waiting in the darkness for Her to come and punish him again. He very deliberately bit his tongue until he tasted blood. He was a man, not a child. He would not be reduced to whimpering. Damin breathed in and out. He deliberately loosened his grip on the disruptor in his hand. Forcing himself to permit his muscles to relax, he loosened his knees and visualized his feet sinking into the surface of the deck and taking root.
Balance and control, Son, His father's voice whispered in his ear. You can do this. I know you can. I am proud of you....
FOOL! The back of Her hand knocked him staggering sideways. He was crying from the pain. Can you do nothing correctly?
Damin bared his teeth and dropped his chin. No more, Mother. It ends here. The years of lying. The pain. The treachery. The blood debt you owe me for my father's life. It ends here. I will run no more. He put all of his energy into a focused telepathic shout, burning with a lifetime of rage and pain. Do you hear me, Mother? One of us dies today. I WILL RUN NO MORE.
The answering blast of hatred struck him the way her fist used to beat him when she came home in a bad mood. The force almost knocked him off his feet—almost, but not quite. Something—someone--was inside his head, mitigating the stomach-churning effect of it.
Calm yourself. We are here.
The presence in his brain was partially familiar. It felt as if the portion of it he recognized was a warmly emotional, somewhat unsure and fearful overlay over a distinctly structured and rigidly controlled anchor. The two were intimately connected somehow, an unlikely pairing.
Deactivate your cloak and we will beam you aboard.
Who are you?
Mistrust prevented him from obeying without question. For now the odds were decent, two to one in his favor. Dropping his cloak would pit him against three ships whose captains might or might not have decided by now to cut their losses by just destroying the two linked shuttles along with everyone aboard.
Melting slag began to ooze from the center of the hot spot beside the airlock’s inner hatch. A centimeter-wide hole appeared in the metal, growing slowly from the edges outward. Acrid fumes filled his nostrils. He raised the disruptor, pointing it at the center of the opening.
We are agents of the Security Directorate. DROP YOUR CLOAK.
Damin gritted his teeth. His mental visitors didn’t know him as well as they thought they did. A harsh, authoritarian command was hardly likely to convince him to cooperate. He sensed their realization of this fact, and then their tactics changed. Damin winced as the combined power of the two joined entities penetrated his shields. Images filled his mind…familiar scenes of opulent silks, leather bindings, bare skin, painful pleasures and pleasurable pain. He had many memories of a similar nature himself, but in these images he was soft, weak, and female.
You can trust me, Damin. We’re the same. Drop your cloak…please.
The hole in the metal was at least a half-meter wide. Sienae had missed the unlocking mechanism, or perhaps fused it, but that wasn’t even slowing her down. Apparently, now she’d decided to melt a door in the hull big enough to enter. Smoke filled the shuttle. This close, he could sense a vague and incoherent plan she’d formulated in response to being trapped in a tiny impulse-driven vessel in enemy territory without any prospect of rescue. The hopeless situation had obviously unhinged her to an even greater extent than usual. She intended to force him to join her in taking over the Sehlat--if he lived through her recruitment efforts.
You’re insane, Mother. The Sehlat was a D’Kyr cruiser, with a crew complement of up to 147 persons. Even untrained, the crew would overcome her eventually simply because she couldn’t kill them all.
Coughing, with the tail of his shirt pressed over his face, Damin fired a disruptor shot into the airlock through the defect without result. She was almost in the shuttle. Once she entered, he’d have no time to deactivate the cloak, and he had no guarantee of killing her with only one hand disruptor at his disposal. After a necessarily brief consideration of his options, he beckoned to Dhael, who was by that time looking frantic to do something and frustrated by his unarmed state. Fixing the younger man with a focused, serious gaze, he extended his weapon butt first. Dhael straightened proudly, pressed his right fist firmly to his left shoulder, and grasped the weapon. There was no need for coercion. The young man’s sense of honor and his sure knowledge that intense suffering would necessarily follow if Sienae managed to make it through the hull were enough to galvanize him into action. He rushed the defect in the hull just as Sienae’s arm appeared through it holding a disruptor and firing in a fan pattern on continuous beam. Damin dove for the console, inputting the cloak’s deactivation code just as his mother and Dhael caught each other in the crossfire.
Sienae’s beam intersected the center of Dhael’s chest, incinerating him where he stood, but Damin had heard his mother’s muffled curse. Dhael’s beam had grazed her forearm, igniting her uniform and causing her weapon to fall from her nerveless fingers onto the deck outside the makeshift and still red-hot portal. Damin dove for it, scooping it up. He could see his mother frantically beating at the sleeve of her uniform through the hole she’d burned in the hull. He pointed the weapon at her. She looked up at him, her bloody bandaged head making her seem more vulnerable than he’d ever known her to be. He was the one with the weapon now, the one who held the power, but there was still nothing but disdain on her face and in her mind. Damin gritted his teeth, steeling himself, but before he could deliver the justice she so richly deserved the room dissolved around him with a high-pitched whine.
“What's happening?” Daniel demanded as he pulled himself up through the hatch. T'Riss and Sehlra spun their heads around, the Vulcan in her typical position at the co-pilot's station and the Andorian standing hunched over Jenrali's shoulder. Jenrali kept his attention on his console, where it belonged.
“What do you think you are doing up, boy?” Sehlra growled. “I ordered you to rest.”
“You ordered both of us to rest,” Daniel pointed out reasonably, as he half dragged himself to the operations console. “But T'Riss is here. Did you expect me to sleep through all the commotion? I don't have Vulcan hearing or Andorian antenna, but I’m not deaf. What's going on?” He brought up the tactical sensor display. “Uh... oboy.”
“You see it, don't you, lad?” Jenrali asked tensely. “Weapon discharges alongside the Vulcan cruiser. The Humans just broadcast an offer to help, and the greenskins told them to stand ready.”
“Powering phase cannon,” Daniel said automatically. “Loading torpedo one. Hull plating active.”
“Rest easy, lad,” Jenrali soothed him, “we're not in this one. Not yet anyway. The other two have that shuttle pinned between them. All we could do would be to get in the way.”
“Shuttle?” Daniel jerked upright, ignoring the flare in his back. “Romulan shuttle?”
“Yes,” T'Riss told him. “Long range scans indicate a Romulan shuttle in close proximity to Sehlat. They are attempting a tractor lock.” Daniel jumped for the communications controls. Suddenly a disembodied voice filled the control room.
“Sehlat to Enterprise. Our disruptors are too powerful. Request assistance disabling the shuttle engines.”
“Acknowledged, Sehlat. Will attempt to comply. Closing range to 0.5 klicks.”
There was a brief pause. Then...
“Enterprise to Sehlat. Preparing to fire. Confirm three life signs on conjoined shuttles. One Betazoid, two Vulcan or Vulcanoid. Be advised that disabling shuttle engines will also disable life support functions aboard both craft.”
“Betazoid!” Sehlra's hands clenched hard on the back of Jenrali's seat, bending the metal frame and tearing into the uphosltery. Daniel's breath caught.
He's still alive, Daniel realized in relief. I didn't fail her completely.
“Strap down,” Jenrali said calmly. “Prepare for combat maneuvering.” He turned to look at Sehlra. “We need you in engineering,” he chided gently.
She hesitated. “Take it easy this time, old man. They’re both already hurting from your last episode of playing test pilot.”
A smile crinkled the corner of his eyes. “Get below, woman. Don't tell me how to fly my own ship.” She huffed and headed for the ladder.
The comm crackled again.
“Sehlat to Enterprise. Hold fire. We are attempting alternate communication method. Maintain status.”
“Alternate communication?” Daniel wondered. “What are they talking about?” He bent over his board intently.
Sehlra turned from the ladder to stand beside him. “See anything?” She couldn't keep the note of anxious worry out of her voice.
Daniel shook his head. “Both shuttles are cloaked. I’m reading some energy discharges inside, looks like a lot of heat buildup inside one of them. Maybe a fire? I can see the lifesigns though. They’re right. Two Vulcans and a Betazoid.” Palpable relief swept through the cabin. Even T'Riss seemed to feel it.
“There's something... wait.” Daniel jumped for his controls and started doing things. “Readings are changing... Hah! The shuttle with Damin in it has just dropped its cloak! Energy discharge inside the cabin and...” He stopped and grinned up at Sehlra. “Sehlat has him. Registered a transporter signal from the Vulcan ship and the Betazoid lifesign disappeared.”
She sagged against the ops console and looked like she was about to faint. “What about the other one?” Jenrali wanted to know.
“It's…” Daniel turned back to his sensors and stopped with his mouth open.
“Daniel?” Sehlra questioned. She looked at the others in confusion. T'Riss got busy on the navigational sensors and reported.
“Enterprise has closed to within 300 meters of the conjoined shuttles, and is maneuvering to place herself between the shuttles and Sehlat,” she reported. “There is now only one life sign remaining in the shuttles. I am detecting phase cannon fire from Enterprise,” she added.
“Ahh...” Jenrali nodded. “They want that last man before the Vulcans can snatch him away.”
T'Riss looked dubious. “I am certain that the High Council will not approve of this.”
“Let them disapprove, lass,” Jenrali told her. “Call it self-defense, or laws of salvage, or whatever you want. Once they have him, what can the Vulcans do about it?”
“Stand ready,” Trip warned. “She's coming through.”
Malcolm nodded toward the three man MACO team, who merely nodded without shifting their attention away from the transporter pad. The control system started whining in its typical fashion, which was the cue for Malcolm's team to raise their weapons to ready. The pad lit up and a second later a crouched humanoid figure appeared, solidifying into a snarling Vulcan woman with a badly burned arm, a messily bloody dressing around her head, and eyes filled with madness. She screamed and leaped for the throat of the nearest MACO. Stun fire from three different weapons cut her down in mid-leap, and Malcolm was fastening a sensor baffle around her waist almost before she hit the floor.
“Let's get this one to the brig, gentlemen,” he said urgently. “Double time, please.”
“Nice work, Mal,” Trip grinned. “I'll tell the cap'n…” Another transporter whine began, but with a lower tone and different harmonics.
Malcolm snapped, “Defensive positions.” The three MACOs dropped into position around Trip and the unconscious prisoner like well oiled machines, leaving Malcolm free to hit the comm button.
“Intruder alert! Prepare to repel boarders!” he announced. The siren started blaring simultaneously with the appearance of two armed Vulcan security officers. They never even got a chance to take aim before being hit by stun blasts from multiple directions. A moment later the Humans gathered to gaze speculatively down at the unconscious Vulcans.
“Oh, crap,” Trip muttered.
Archer’s voice was icily calm. “Transporter room, instruct the MACOs to convey all three prisoners to the brig. Commander Tucker will supervise, with authority to requisition more assistance as needed. Lieutenant Reed, report to the bridge immediately.” He turned his flat gaze on T'Pol. “Commander. You will handle tactical until he arrives.”
She stared for a frozen moment. Then, “Yes, Captain,” she said. T'Pol moved smoothly over to Malcolm's customary position and glanced over the board.
“Helm. Status,” Archer barked. Travis grimaced.
“That last shot by Lieutenant Reed before he left the bridge took out the engines, all right,” Mayweather reported. “But it left a gaping hole in the sides of both ships. Good thing they were docked together so tightly or there wouldn't be much left of either one. Right now I have a grapple lock on the bow of the least damaged shuttle, but that's not saying much. Trying to ease it in, Captain. If we could adjust our azimuth, I might be able to get a second grapple on it.”
“Negative, that would expose the objective to Vulcan tractor beams,” Archer said absently. “Communications, open a channel to Sehlat. Helm, maintain position perpendicular to the Vulcan. Tactical, lock dorsal phase cannon on the Vulcan nacelle.”
Dead silence followed his last order. Archer looked up in irritation. “You all have your orders. Proceed.”
“Position unchanged, Captain,” Travis whispered, staring. Hoshi swallowed and got busy. T'Pol pressed the relevant controls and then straightened.
“Captain.” She waited while Archer ignored her. “Captain Jonathan Archer, I request and require a response as First Officer of this vessel.”
Archer did not look at her. But he did raise at hand in Hoshi's direction, causing her to pause in her effort to establish a connection with Sehlat. “We are in the midst of a tactical situation, Commander.”
“Agreed, Captain. As First Officer, I must inquire if it is your intention to escalate this situation by opening fire on an ally.”
“And if it is?” Archer finally turned to look at her. “Have you finally made a determination as to your ultimate loyalty?”
T'Pol's voice did not vary in the slightest. “You, more than any other save one, know where my loyalty lies. But as First Officer I am duty bound to offer my opinion if I observe my captain about to undertake an action that I believe would be detrimental to the best interests of the ship, the crew, or Starfleet.”
Archer nodded slowly. “Your objection is noted. Will you obey despite it?”
T'Pol closed her eyes for a moment. When she opened them, there was no trace of emotion to be detected. “Yes.”
“Acceptable. Resume your station, then.” He turned to face the main screen. “Ensign Sato, get me Commander T'Lar.”
“ Commander, Enterprise has locked phase cannon on our engines,” Verlen reported.
T'Lar stiffened in her seat. “Shields. Open a channel to the Human ship. Communications, what is the status of the away team?”
“No response, Commander,” the worried looking youngster told her. “We have had no contact from either member of the team since transport.”
T'Lar looked over her shoulder at Verlen. “Can you obtain a transporter lock on our people and extract them, Subcommander?”
He informed her regretfully, “I am unable to obtain a clear reading on their lifesigns, Commander. The Human hull polarization does not block transport, but it does cause a noticeable degree of interference with scans. Also note that the Human brig is fully shielded.”
“Can you tell me anything about the status of the shuttle?”
Verlen glanced back at his visor. “The Humans have launched a grappling device and are in the process of dragging the wreckage into their ship.”
“This is intolerable,” T'Lar ground out between her teeth. “Summon Agent Senek to the bridge immediately. I refuse to open hostilities against an ally without direct orders from the High Council or the Security Directorate, but standing orders prohibit allowing the Humans to retain a Romulan prisoner or ship.”
The Communications officer announced, “I have Enterprise, Commander.”
“Main screen,” T'Lar snapped. She filled her lungs and then let a breath out slowly while the face of Captain Archer formed. He was not smiling. In fact, his face wore a respectable facade of disciplined control. T'Lar started to relax just the tiniest bit. Perhaps it might be possible for reason to prevail. Archer was standing behind what appeared to be the helm console, where a young Human male was busy manipulating controls and ignoring the conversation.
“Commander,” Archer did not waste time on amenities, which suited her admirably. “Explain why two of your security officers took it upon themselves to transport aboard my ship, armed, unannounced, and without prior permission. This behavior is illogical and unacceptable.”
T'Lar tightened her controls. The bridge door opened and Senek entered as she began speaking. “Our scans indicated that you had transported the remaining occupant of the two shuttles to your ship. Since our readings indicated that this person was Vulcan, our security personnel transported to offer assistance.”
Archer raised one eyebrow. “A creditable fabrication, given the time constraints under which you are operating, but you are well aware that our ship carries a full complement of trained and experienced security officers – all of whom are well armed – in addition to a contingent of Military Assault Command personnel. The probability of a single Vulcan overwhelming us is non-existent. Moreover, you are also well aware that the captive we obtained was not Vulcan, but Romulan. I submit that your men were acting under your orders and intended to kidnap our prisoner.”
Archer sat down in his command chair and turned his head. “Lieutenant Reed. Report.”
The Enterprise Security chief stepped down beside the command chair and faced his captain. He recited, “The Vulcan officers have been placed in the brig under heavy MACO guard, sir. The Romulan commander is being treated in sickbay, secured in the isolation chamber, with a sensor baffle in place. Agent Llahir has been assigned temporary quarters under guard, also with his sensor baffle still in place.”
“Good,” Archer told him. “You will relieve Commander T'Pol at tactical. Commander, resume your duties at the science station.”
T'Lar's tightened on the arms of her chair, but she made no other response. Senek flicked a glance at her before returning his attention to the screen. On the Human ship, they watched as T'Pol straightened and walked across the Human bridge, wearing a Human uniform, to resume her usual station on the bridge of a Human warship. Senek's eyes started to glitter.
“I am willing to overlook the provocative nature of your words, Captain,” T'Lar told him, “given the stress of the current situation. If the assistance of our security personnel is not required, then the most logical course of action would be to return them to us. Placing them in the brig is uncalled for. Further, I assure you that you are mistaken regarding the identity of the individual that you retrieved. Our scans positively identified the survivor as Vulcan.”
Archer's eyebrow twitched slightly, but he made no other visible response. “It is to your credit, Commander T'Lar, that you are so blatantly inept at deception. Anyone with minimal experience can readily perceive that you find lying supremely distasteful. In fact, you can barely force yourself to make the effort. I beg you to desist. Watching you struggle with it is painful.”
T'Lar pressed her lips together and felt her ears grow hot. Senek stepped forward and made the disgusting gagging sound in his throat that Humans used to announce their intention of speaking. “If I may,Captain? Perhaps you might be willing to negotiate some type of compromise?”
“Ah, Agent Senek,” Archer nodded with a tiny twitch of his lips. “Much better. I am confident that you are well polished in the fine art of corrupting the truth. You should be capable of presenting the High Council's position without any disabling attacks of conscience. Please, by all means, present your suggestion.”
Senek offered an abbreviated smile. “Rather than debate motivation, Captain Archer, would it not be more productive for you to inform us of your requirements for returning our personnel?”
“Logical and efficient,” Archer said approvingly. “Your security guards will be returned as soon as they, and Commander T'Lar, have each separately and independently completed a sworn statement. These statements will be submitted simultaneously to both Starfleet Command and the Vulcan High Council. They will contain a clear and explicit explanation of precisely why those two security officers ended up on my ship, why they came unannounced and without permission, and why they came with weapons in their hands. As soon as I receive all three statements they will be transported back to Sehlat.”
“I see,” Senek spoke rapidly while T'Lar concentrated on not ripping the arms off her command chair. “And what of Agent Llahir, or the other Vulcan aboard the shuttle?”
“Agent Llahir,” Archer told them calmly, “has offered an acceptable bargain. In return for the right to question me regarding my time hosting the katra of Surak, he has agreed to answer questions concerning his time among the Romulans. This seems to me to be an equitable exchange, would you not agree? As soon as our conversation is complete, Llahir will no doubt be returning to Sehlat.”
T'Lar growled, “I wish to speak to Llahir. Now!”
Archer looked reproving. “Commander, I speak with no intent to offend, but your tone of voice is fraught with emotion. Perhaps some additional meditation this evening would be of benefit. I will of course deliver your message to Agent Llahir at my next convenient opportunity.”
T'Lar closed her eyes and began reciting the Disciplines to herself. It was imperative that she maintain control above other considerations. She felt pressure on her forearm and looked down to see Senek's forefinger pressing against her sleeve. Ordinarily such an intrusion would be just cause for umbrage, but a glance at the solemn expression on his face convinced her to let it pass. She settled back and locked her teeth together, determined to let the Security Directorate handle this one.
“What of the unidentified Vulcan from the shuttle, Captain Archer?” Senek persisted. “I am afraid that we must insist on having her returned. We cannot permit a Vulcan citizen to be held against her will.”
Archer leaned back in his chair and looked satisfied. “Thank you, Agent Senek. This conversation is being recorded, of course. The mistake you just made will prove that we were correct and justified.”
“What could you possibly mean, Captain?” Senek asked. “Vulcan law is quite clear on the subject.”
“But I never mentioned the gender of the person that we retrieved from the shuttle,” Archer replied. “You just referred to the individual in question as 'her', proving that you already knew the identity of the Romulan prisoner before we ever began talking.”
Senek froze. “In any case,” Archer continued, “it is irrelevant since we have no intention of surrendering the Romulan Commander to you or anyone else. Nor will we permit you to take the remains of the shuttle away from us. Not without a fight. It would be pointless for you to try in any case. Starfleet is already aware that Romulans are descended from Vulcan renegades.”
T'Riss sat hunched over in her seat and refused to look up. Three sets of eyes pinned her in appalled disbelief. Through the still open comm, the conversation that Daniel was monitoring continued.
“An interesting assertion, to be sure, Captain. Do you have any proof?”
“Why, yes, Agent Senek. We do have proof. One source of proof is sitting in our brig. Another source of proof is sitting in our guest quarters. Yet another is sitting in our shuttle bay. Then there is the unmistakable similarity between the Romulan language and ancient Vulcan.”
“A hundred years.” Daniel whispered it. “A hundred freakin' years your people have been hiding this from us. We were supposed to be ALLIES!” T'Riss flinched.
“Lad.” Jenrali snapped. “Stop it. She didn't do it.” Daniel shook his head and looked away.
“I...” her voice was very soft. “I did not know this myself until only a very short time ago. Truly I did not. Almost none of my people know this.”
Archer’s voice resumed.
"Starfleet Intelligence found the information particularly interesting. I am under orders from the highest levels of my government to forward any and all data we are able to collect regarding this matter directly to Earth immediately."
"The Guard is going to find it interesting too," Sehlra muttered.To Be Continued in Episode Nine.
Like it? Hate it? Just want to point out a typo? Join the discussion now.
Disclaimer: Star Trek in all its various forms and its characters are the property of CBS/Paramount. No copyright infringement is intended by the authors of this site, which is solely for the purpose of entertainment and is not for profit. This site is owned by CX and was opened to the public in February 2008.