"The Lerteiran Chronicles"
"Does everyone in the quadrant know about the Romulans being ex-Vulcans except us?” demanded Daniel as he sat at tactical on the bridge of the Lertieran. “The Orions have to know it. They do business with the Romulans. And the Klingons are right next door to them. If the Klingons don't know they’re blind. Only Vulcan's closest allies aren't allowed to know things like this, I guess.”
At the co-pilot’s station, T'Riss turned her head away, at a loss to explain Daniel’s sudden anger. After their conversation the previous evening, she’d thought that they were beginning to establish a rapport. Now she was wary of even looking at him, he seemed so volatile. It was understandable that he would feel threatened by not having complete information about a potential enemy, she supposed, but he was acting as if the revelation of the Romulans’ kinship to Vulcan were a personal betrayal.
Thoughtful silence reigned in the control room for a while. Then Daniel shook his head and keyed several commands. “Sehlat has gone to warp.” He paused. “Now, Enterprise.”
"All hands and passengers brace for warp,” Jenrali announced over the com. After his last unannounced set of maneuvers three of the eight remaining paying passengers had demanded a transfer to the Sehlat, a refund of their fares, and reimbursement for their medical bills, leaving Lertieran with only five of fourteen available passenger berths occupied. Bringing finances into the picture had made the captain slightly more conscientious of the welfare of others.
Nevertheless, by sheer conditioned reflex Daniel and Sehlra grabbed for the nearest solid anchors and held on with death grips at his announcement. It wasn't really necessary anymore. Daniel had recently informed T’Riss that, after all the retrofitting and engine tuning lately, Lerteiran no longer fell into warp “like a watermelon dropped onto a sidewalk”. Now, she slid into warp “with the smooth grace of a walrus wallowing its way into the surf”. He, at least, was of the opinion that this was a tremendous improvement.
"Lad,” Jenrali ordered, “hail the Vulcan ship and get a check on Damin. Make sure he's all right. We still have his money, you know. That makes him our passenger, and our responsibility.”
"Yep,” Daniel responded crisply. He didn't look in Sehlra's direction while he got busy. “I have contact with Sehlat,” he announced. Daniel spoke rapidly for a moment in fluent Vulcan, then waited. Then he made a few more brief remarks, followed by more waiting. His brow furrowed. “T'Riss? Would you talk to these people? They won't let me speak to Damin. They claim I’m 'not authorized to speak to him'. But they won't say why not.” T’Riss nodded and made the connection to her own mic without looking at him. He still appeared distracted, his tone abrupt. He was without a doubt still angry. She ignored him and began negotiations with the Sehlat, noting with unease how both of the Andorians’ antennae lay back in preparation for battle.
"That doesn't sound good, lad,” Jenrali rumbled. “Why would they be holding him?”
"Leverage to use on the Humans,” Sehlra snarled. “Why else?”
"This is annoying. Politics is not my thing,” grumbled Daniel while T'Riss listened intently to her headset . “I don't mind a stand up fight, where you know who you're facing and it's him against you, but damn this shadow boxing with words and blackmail.”
"You speak for us all, boy,” Sehlra seethed. “Those greenbloods are going to regret this.”
"It seems,” T'Riss told them, pulling away from the mic, “that Damin is in sickbay being checked for injuries following the battle aboard the shuttle. No one is being permitted access to him except medical personnel and command officers.”
"Oh.” Daniel looked embarrassed. “I never thought of that. Sorry.”
"How badly is he hurt?” Sehlra asked, not even trying to hide her concern.
"I was unable to obtain a complete report,” T'Riss told her. “But I was told that he is expected to make a complete recovery.” Sehlra nodded acknowledgment, looking relieved. Daniel reached up and put a hand on hers where it was resting on his shoulder as she stood behind his chair, provoking a grateful smile from the old Andorian woman. T’Riss, observing the interaction, found it intimately familial rather than merely cordial, and suddenly understood the motivation behind Sehlra’s matchmaking obsession. Evidently her previous concern regarding Daniel's treatment by the Andorians was unnecessarily pessimistic. Getting in Sehlra’s good graces suddenly became an even higher priority than before. After all, one must always attempt to please the mother of one’s future spouse - in the interest of family harmony if for no other reason. “Presumably he will be allowed visitors once his condition improves,”she said.
"Sounds good,” Daniel said with a sigh, rotating away from his station and addressing the control room at large. “I’m going for coffee. Anybody want…” He turned to stand. Abruptly, his features twisted in pain. “Oh shit! Not again!” By grabbing his console with one hand and the back of his chair with the other, he managed to keep from hitting the floor this time, but just barely. T’Riss immediately rose from her station to assist Sehlra. Between the two of them, they managed to maneuver him back into the chair, whereupon he rested his forehead atop his forearms on his console, trying his best to curl into a tight ball.
Sehlra snorted. “Look here, old man. Examine your handiwork. You’ve crippled the boy.”
"Please, Sehlra,” Daniel begged with his face in his arms. “Stop saying that. With all the trouble I’ve caused lately, you’re gonna convince him that I’m more trouble than I’m worth.” Her face softened and she shook her head.
"Nah, lad,” Jenrali agreed. “It's not like you went looking for it. The only times you messed up were when you were drunk on that Orion whore's fumes, and nobody can help their biochemistry.” He smiled. “Remember that time the insulation caught fire and both of us passed out? If Humans didn't have a better air filtering system in their heads we would all be dead. But you stayed up long enough to get the extinguisher going. It all evens out.”
"Now, let's get you back to bed,” said Sehlra in a businesslike tone. Daniel only whimpered once as T’Riss hoisted him over her shoulders with Sehlra’s assistance and carried him off.
T'Riss felt him stiffen as she descended the ladder. She quietly advised, “It might be less painful if you could relax.”
He grunted and responded, “It might be less humiliating if I weren't being carried by a woman half my size.” T'Riss concluded that there was no logical response to this, and therefore offered none. They proceeded the rest of the way to Daniel's cabin in silence. She opened the hatch and carried him to his bunk, where she deposited him as carefully as if she were putting down an infant in the crèche. Even so, he grimaced in pain.
"I will apply additional medication,” she said. “Please remove your shirt and turn over.” He had reported to the control room wearing only a pair of loose shorts and a t-shirt. Daniel nodded and T'Riss turned toward his table for the cream, but when she turned back Daniel was still wearing his shirt. His hands were on the hem, but the garment was only halfway up his torso and he was wearing a disconcerted expression.
"I can't get it off,” he admitted shamefacedly. “I can't raise my arms.” T'Riss studied him. He was now completely non-functional. Objectively, she supposed that her primary concern should now be for the Lertieran’s operational efficiency. The ship was not designed to function with only two crew members capable of fully manning its stations. She, herself, although qualified aboard a Vulcan vessel, was not familiar with Andorian technology and was not capable of performing all of Daniel's duties.
Instead, concern for Daniel’s personal wellbeing was paramount in her mind, almost as if he were a member of her own family. Being a bonded mate must feel like this, she thought, unsure of whether that was a good thing or not. Her memories of the abuse-triggered bond with Grigor-Tel weren’t good measures of normalcy, but it seemed premature for her to be experiencing such an attachment.
"You may well require medical intervention beyond Sehlra’s training, but for now we can at least ease your discomfort,” she told him. “I will remove your shirt.” She leaned over the bunk and started tugging the garment upward along his torso. Since he was still lying on it, T'Riss found it necessary to stretch across Daniel's chest in order to work both sides of the shirt upward. This left her in the position of pressing herself firmly against him while looking directly into his eyes. T'Riss began pulling at his shirt and twisting herself back and forth to gradually work it up the length of his chest. She noted that perspiration was forming on Daniel's face and his breathing rhythm changed when she did this. “Am I causing you pain?” she asked him.
"No,” he croaked. “Not... pain...,” he gasped. “I-, I'm fine.”
T’Riss sat back on the edge of the bed beside him and searched for the source of his distress. His face was flushed. When he pulled the edge of the bedding hurriedly into his lap and gave her a sheepish smile she felt her face go warm and one brow go up. Sehlra said sexual stimulation would bind him to me, she reminded herself. Apparently, even incidental physical contact was efficacious. Fascinating. Fortunately, he was in no condition to do anything about it but lie there like an infant.
T’Riss cleared her throat and drew on her experiences in the crèche. "Now we must turn you over,” she told him soothingly, as if speaking to a small child. He gave her a look of exasperation and started to roll. As soon as Daniel began to move he emitted a sharp sound and rolled back with his teeth bared in an intimidating snarl. T'Riss flinched in spite of her best intentions. Those teeth really did appear quite sharp. She recalled reading that Human front teeth were serrated, like a kitchen knife, and were capable of inflicting dangerous wounds.
In a moment Daniel's face smoothed and his breathing steadied. “Can you please help me?” he whispered. T'Riss moved closer and slid her hands under him. Again she pressed herself against him, noting with an inward thrill how a shiver ran across his skin. Together they got him to his side, then T'Riss reached around and finished rolling him to his belly. “Thanks,” Daniel told her weakly.
"I am here to serve,” she told him softly. “It is my duty and my desire to care for you.” Placing her nose in close proximity to him was singularly stimulating. Although Daniel's odor was not strong enough to be objectionable, he had not showered for several hours. The musky scent of a Human male was evident and not displeasing. Humans were evidently one of the tiny minority of races who produced pheromones capable of influencing Vulcan physiology. This was yet another unlooked for but most welcome reason for considering Daniel as a potential mate.
She smeared some of the medicated cream between her hands to warm it, then began spreading it over his back as she’d done before. He gasped, then went limp. T'Riss climbed onto the bunk and settled herself astride the backs of Daniel's thighs, where she could get the leverage to press firmly along the full length of his spine.
"Oh, my lord,” Daniel's voice was almost inaudible. “That feels incredible. Thank you. Thankyouthankyou.”
T'Riss started automatically to tell him that thanks were not necessary. Then she reconsidered. “You are welcome. As I told you, I am here to serve.” She paused at his lower lumbar area and concentrated on spreading the cream in circles at the top of his buttocks for a moment. Daniel whimpered and she allowed herself an inward smile.
After a few more moments of silence punctuated by the occasional wordless sigh, Daniel told her, “I'm sorry about what I said earlier.”
T'Riss continued rubbing while she considered this. “Are you referring to your remark about being carried?”
"Huh? No,” Daniel started to turn his head, then apparently reconsidered the idea. “I meant when I, you know, started ranting in the control room. About the Romulan thing.”
She scooped up another handful of cream. “Your frustration is understandable. I hope you believed me when I said that I only learned of this recently. At that time I was ordered to maintain silence, since the information was classified.”
Daniel vented an inarticulate growl that reminded her of the pet sehlat her family had when she was very small. Actually, she reflected, when taking into account his teeth and the density of his body hair, the similarities to her childhood pet were beginning to accumulate.
"Everything on Vulcan is classified,” Daniel griped. “Everything about Vulcan, everything known to Vulcans, everything made by Vulcans, everything ever done or seen by Vulcans is classified to Humans. Apparently the rest of the galaxy is welcome to any and all of it.” He subsided, leaving T'Riss to wonder at the definite note of hurt in his tone.
"Your statement is factually inaccurate," she told him reproachfully and drew her hands back. "I am surprised that you could have lived on Vulcan for several years and still hold such opinions of us."
Daniel froze for a moment, then he flattened out with a sigh. "You're right. I'm sorry. Again." T'Riss waited, but he did not elaborate.
"Your apology is accepted," she finally said. "But I confess to being confused. This issue seems to offend you. May I ask why? I acknowledge that I concealed this information from you in compliance with direct orders from my superiors, but if and when we became mates I would be forced to reassess my priorities in such matters. I was most strictly taught by my parents that secrets between bonded mates inevitably breed friction."
Daniel started and half turned his head. "Are you serious? Couldn't they court-martial you for that? Or whatever the equivalent is?"
T'Riss sighed. "Irrelevant. Family loyalty is paramount to a Vulcan. Surely you know that much about our people." Daniel nodded slowly. "In any case, if there is any matter in which I cannot trust my bonded mate, then we have no business forming a bond."
The Human male beneath her began to struggle with turning over. "It may be unwise for you to move," she warned him. He ignored her, grunting with pain and effort until he had managed to make it to his side where he could meet her eyes.
"You're absolutely right, you know," Daniel said. "I hadn't bothered to analyze it that far. But it's the reason I got so upset."
"I don't understand," T'Riss told him.
"Family loyalty," Daniel said cryptically. "That's why I got so upset. See, I don't have any real family. The Nausicans killed my family when I was very small. Our ship was hit by raiders and my parents just barely had time to get me into a lifepod and get it launched. No one else on the ship survived. I drifted for several days before I was found."
T'Riss struggled to internalize her reaction to this, focusing inward on the Disciplines and counting the rhythms of her breathing. This explained many things about her potential mate, not the least being his enthusiastic reaction to every opportunity to engage in combat against Nausicans.
Daniel continued. "Usually when something like that happens, another Boomer family adopts the kid. But I was sent to an orphanage on Earth for a while. Then I got a berth on a trader, but I just didn't fit in. Culture shock I suppose." He looked at her. "They were a lot like a Vulcan family, to tell the truth. Tight knit, strong emphasis on obedience and duty to the clan, things like that. I was too independently minded for them, I guess. It didn't help that the captain's daughter and I got sort of attracted to each other and he didn't think I was good enough." Daniel chuckled painfully. "After the bruises healed I applied for a student exchange program on Vulcan. A family there offered to host me. They ended up becoming my foster family for five years." He stopped and looked thoughtful. "Until I bought into Lerteiran, they were the closest thing to a real family I had. It hurt to think they might be hiding this."
“You lived on Vulcan for five years?” asked T’Riss in disbelief.
Daniel sighed and closed his eyes. “Not really. They were just my home base between trips on freighters here and there. I’d ship out for six months or so under an apprentice contract. Then something would happen or the captain wouldn’t need the help anymore, and I’d end up back in port in the custody of the local authorities since I was still a minor. My friend Stern’s father was the director of the Shi’Kahr Port Authority, so I suppose it fell to him to corral me when I was between assignments. He sent me to school with his kids…bought me clothes and fed me. Stuff like that.”
"A Vulcan family accepted responsibility for your care? They must have considered you worthy of their trust,” said T’Riss. She gestured that he should roll back face-down. He complied with a groan and she started on his back again.
"Yeah. I guess. Or at least I used to think so.” T’Riss gave no reply. There was nothing else to say. Either they’d trusted him or they hadn’t, and at this point there was no way for him to find out short of accusing all of them of lying to him for years.
"It is unlikely that they are aware of the Romulans’ link to Vulcan," T'Riss assured him. "Unless one of them was a member of the High Command?" Daniel shook his head. "In that case, no. This knowledge is not available to the general populace on Vulcan." He nodded.
T'Riss resumed her massage. After a time she moved her hands to his ribs, gently digging in and working her way upward. "There is a Vulcan technique," she told him, changing the subject, "called neuropressure. It involves applying pressure in proper sequence to the appropriate neural nodes. Perhaps it might be of benefit for your discomfort."
"Neural nodes?" Daniel asked. "What the heck are neural nodes? Do you mean nerve clusters?"
"That would be a functionally equivalent description," T'Riss agreed. "By applying pressure at the correct points, we can induce the body to expedite healing."
"We do the same kind of thing,” said Daniel. “Called accu-pressure. There’s supposed to be a diagram of the Human body showing all the major pressure points and what each one does, but I don't know where you’d find one."
T'Riss paused in surprise. "Your people have an equivalent technique?” Her lips twitched upward a bit before she caught herself and suppressed the impending smile. The news was most agreeable. “Perhaps the doctor on Enterprise could provide me with information about it," she told him. A sense of pleasurable warmth rose within her as she resumed running her hands over him. The cream was almost gone. She debated whether to obtain more. The texture of his skin under her palms was appealing, and Daniel was not indicating displeasure at the activity—to the contrary, in fact. T'Riss realized that her previous trepidation at physical contact with a male had not surfaced during this episode. She felt no fear or discomfort at all. In fact, the contact was inducing pleasant responses, both physical and emotional. She quickly brought herself up short. Tyvek had warned her. She must be wary at all times. Her own responses were her enemy now. Without constant vigilance, she might easily fall into the trap of losing control if given the slightest excuse. She clamped her teeth and dismounted from Daniel's legs, standing beside his bed.
"The medication had soaked in for now. I will leave you to you rest," she told him shortly. She turned and made for the door, ignoring his outstretched hand. As she passed she heard Daniel asking, "T'Riss. What's wro-?" His voice was cut off by the closing hatch. She paused and fell against the bulkhead, breathing hard.
T'Lar finished dictating the statement for delivery to the Human ship and affixed her thumbprint, seething internally. She laid it on her desk with more force than was strictly necessary and leaned back in her chair, trying with little success to relax the muscles in her jaw. She was beginning to develop an extraordinarily negative attitude toward Humans generally, and toward one Human captain in particular.
It is illogical to blame an entire species for the behavior of a single individual, T'Lar reminded herself. It is quite possible that there are some Humans in the galaxy who are not pathologically annoying. Merely because you have not encountered them is no proof that they do not exist.
The comm chimed, and T'Lar reached over to acknowledge it.
"Commander. Fleet Command has responded. Admiral Stosen is on the line."
"Acknowledged." T'Lar straightened in her chair and double checked her uniform. Then she activated the screen. "Admiral," she greeted the elderly face on the screen. Admiral Stosen was one of the few old guard officers to survive T'Pau's purge of the High Command. He was as hard as granite, brutally logical, scrupulously equitable, and utterly lacking in mercy.
"Commander T'Lar. Your report is unsatisfactory in the extreme. Explain how it is that the Humans have discovered the truth of Romulan origins."
T'Lar resolutely refused to flinch. "By report from Commander T'Pol, the Humans learned of this due to residual memories carried by Captain Archer following his time of bearing Surak’s katra." She had the secret satisfaction of watching the old man actually blink. Whatever excuse he had been expecting, that wasn't it. After a few seconds he spoke again.
"Do you believe this assertion, Commander? It seems more probable that Commander T'Pol revealed the information and is fabricating this report as a means of protecting herself from charges of treason."
T'Lar considered this. "Admiral," she said slowly. "I was not present during the recovery of the Kirshara. I did not witness Captain Archer's behavior, and I cannot state of my own knowledge whether or not he did in fact show evidence of bearing the katra. Commander T'Pol was present, as was High Minister T'Pau. I have read statements from both of them which assert that the katra exists and that Archer carried it. Given my lack of first hand data, I am not qualified to refute the assertion."
Stosen's temples tightened, probably for the first time in eighty years.
"Are you capable of extrapolating the probable results of this revelation, Commander?"
"Yes, Admiral," she told him, "I believe I can. I request direction regarding my best course of action in this matter."
Stosen brooded for a moment.
"Logically, there was nothing else you could have done if Archer was already in possession of the information. Your attempt to retrieve the Romulan prisoner was in compliance with your standing orders, although it was carried out in a most clumsy fashion. Given your youth this is only predictable. It is to your credit that you made the effort at least."
T'Lar kept her mouth shut, but with difficulty.
"For future reference, when dealing with Humans a more subtle approach generally has a greater likelihood of success. For now, the best outcome we can hope to obtain would be to share in the intelligence that the Humans will extract from their prisoner and the captured ships. You will negotiate this."
T'Lar swallowed hard. "Understood, Admiral." Suicide is not an option. Murder is not an option. Changing careers is not an option. "I will contact Captain Archer to begin negotiations. Be advised that he is unlikely to share anything without demanding reciprocal concessions."
"Understood. You are authorized to share any of our current or historical data on the Romulans. If he demands additional concessions, contact Fleet Command for further orders. Stosen out."
Jonathan Archer stepped into sickbay with his teeth clenched and his chin held high. He felt the need to meditate so acutely it made his bones ache, but there was no time. Observation of the non-verbal interactions between members of his senior staff, in conjunction with remarks recently made by his First Officer, led to the logical conclusion that he was about to have his command judgment questioned. In fact, there was even the possibility of a formal complaint. It would of course be unreasonable to resort to the extreme of filing a Notice of Grievance under Section 2, Subsection 5, paragraph 9, but T'Pol's logic had been less than fully rigorous of late. It was not impossible that she might permit recent events to push her into such an overreaction.
The logical course of action was to have Dr. Phlox perform an evaluation. Once the ship's medical officer had certified him fit for command, the concerns of his first officer would be laid to rest and they could all get back to concentrating on the mission. It was a waste of time and energy, but Jonathan did not really begrudge it. The recent confrontation with Trip had unsettled him deeply and forced some intense soul searching. He had come to realize that Trip's accusations carried some justification. He really had allowed himself to become isolated from the emotional needs of his crew. This had to change. If taking the time for a brief examination would quiet their concerns and bring them peace of mind, it was a small price to pay. He felt confident that Surak would have understood and approved as well.
Archer had reviewed his decisions during the recent tactical encounter. There had been no other reasonable course of action available to him. Locking weapons on a confirmed ally wasn’t an ideal response, but it had been ultimately necessary and justified. Hadn’t the Sehlat beamed a boarding party to Enterprise for the purpose of kidnapping? No matter what standing orders T'Lar might have been given, nothing justified an unprovoked raid on an allied vessel. Jonathan had certainly not intended to fire on the Vulcan vessel; his ship was by no means equipped to handle a D'Kyr. But it was necessary to illustrate Human resolve. Vulcans instinctively disrespected weakness. T'Pol should realize that, of all people.
Of course, no matter what the value of the intelligence eventually to be gleaned from the captive Romulan and her shuttle, Starfleet Command wouldn’t hesitate to court-martial him if his methods for obtaining that intelligence resulted in armed conflict with the Vulcans. And that was assuming that he?and the men and women under his care?would still be alive after a head-to-head battle with a D’Kyr cruiser, an outcome which was far from certain. No, he had certainly hoped that T'Lar would not call his bluff. And it had worked; she hadn't.
Once, his people would have had enough faith in him to trust his judgment. Once, they would have known that he wasn't going to commit suicide and take them with him. But that was before he had lost connection with his crew. It was imperative that he renew it.
Phlox turned from a console displaying images of the occupant of the isolation chamber, a deceptively harmless appearing middle-aged woman who was bandaged, unconscious and in restraints. Around him, critically injured refugees too unstable for the makeshift stretchers in the cargo bay filled every available biobed. Discordant beeping from lifesign monitors filled the room. The patients occupying the biobeds were being turned and fed by people Archer had never seen before, most sporting bandages and minor injuries themselves. The doctor’s manner was grim, and he looked exhausted.
"What have you got for me, Doctor?”
Phlox reached to another console and brought up whole body scan images and what looked to Archer like DNA comparison charts.
"There are no significant anatomic or genomic differences I can detect between our captive and the average Vulcan, Captain,” he began in a subdued voice. “If this is a Romulan, the original population which separated itself from Vulcan must have been composed of thousands of individuals. Otherwise, the inbreeding necessary to maintain a viable population would have resulted in identifiable genetic drift.”
"Thousands? How many thousands?” inquired Archer, studying the images, which meant very little to him, and wondering about the impact the loss of so many people would have had on Vulcan society. How could they have kept such a thing secret for so many centuries?
"I’m not certain. At least fifty thousand given the time elapsed, assuming the ‘Time of Sundering’ referenced in the Vulcan database refers to this event and not only to the nuclear war which was occurring at the same time, perhaps many more,” replied Phlox.
The war…it was the war, Archer thought. The war had destroyed their communications and their governmental structure. Society was in chaos. Once the dust had cleared, who in the general population could have been certain which of their neighbors had died in the war and which had chosen to leave? And then the remnant rebuilt Vulcan to Surak’s specifications.
"So the differences are entirely cultural and environmental, then,” Archer told him.
"Evidently?or else you‘re mistaken regarding the origin of the prisoner,” retorted Phlox. The doctor’s expression lacked his usual pleasant friendliness. If anything, Phlox seemed to be studying him in the same way he’d study an interesting clinical challenge?only with more than a trace of suspicion. The implications were disturbing.
"T'Pol confirmed it, and so did our new guest,” Archer told him. “Besides, according to Surak's memories, a group of renegade Vulcans who called themselves the Declared Ones left Vulcan during the war. They were led by an apostate follower of Surak named S'Task. Surak thought of them as 'those who march under the raptor's wings'. Did you see the bird design that was etched on the bottom of that Romulan ship? Or the bird design that was everywhere on the pictures that Trip and Malcolm brought back from the probe?”
“I didn't get a chance to look at any of that,” Phlox admitted. He seemed thoughtful, as if he were remembering something.
“When will she be conscious?” Archer asked.
"So you can question her,” said Phlox without a question in his voice. Archer nodded once, saying nothing, awaiting the information. A verbal response was unnecessary. Phlox’s eyes narrowed. He was silent for several seconds, and then said, “I’m not certain. She’s lost a lot of blood and she’s in shock, likely from a combination of the stun blasts used to subdue her, her head wound, and the third degree disruptor burns on her right arm. She’s stable for now, but all I can do is administer fluids and vasopressors until we rendezvous with the hospital ship. Under the circumstances I doubt the commander of the Sehlat will be willing to share supplies.” There was definite disapproval in his voice.
"And if I order you to wake her?” Archer pressed in a calm voice.
"The attempt would kill her,” replied Phlox flatly. Archer sighed, and nodded his understanding. He turned back to study the images the doctor had provided, but he could feel the Denobulan’s eyes on him. He felt like a science experiment. Someone, probably T’Pol, had no doubt already asked the doctor to formulate an opinion regarding his behavior. Perhaps Jonathan Archer didn’t know as much as he should have known about the man who was his chief medical officer. Doctor Phlox was a singularly private man for one so garrulous. But Archer was certain of one thing. Once a puzzle was presented to Phlox, he would never willingly lay it aside until he’d solved it.
“Doctor, may I ask you a question?”
Phlox raised a brow and said nothing, waiting. It was so unlike his usual voluble response that Archer began to suspect the doctor of mocking him.
"Has anyone on board this ship approached you with concerns about my recent behavior?” asked Archer. Phlox’s brows went up in surprise. He gave Archer a considering look.
"If someone had, what would be your response?” he countered. Archer sighed, and felt his lips curve in the trace of a self-deprecating smile.
"I would have to say I understand their concerns,” was his response. Phlox’s look of suspicion turned to one of dawning relief.
"In the interest of reassuring everyone, would you be willing to give me a complete physical and psych evaluation?"
Damin was sitting on the edge of an exam table waiting to be discharged when Senek entered Sehlat’s crowded sickbay. The boy had numerous superficial cuts and abrasions but appeared relatively uninjured for someone who’d survived Romulan captivity, at least in Senek’s experience.
"No, put him in bed six,” Tyvek called to the two burly security guards carrying the stretcher holding the last of the refugees transported from Enterprise before the recent confrontation. More were likely not forthcoming, leaving over seventy-five percent of the injured in the care of the Humans. Senek wondered if the Human captain had even considered the safety of the refugees when he’d made his provocative statements to Commander T’Lar. Or perhaps he’d been fully aware of the deterrent value of innocent civilians, and had counted on their presence aboard his vessel to temper her response.
Tyvek approached Senek. “I understand that you’re to provide security escort for the Betazoid,” he told the agent brusquely. His eyes cut to Damin, who was sitting across the room with an open and innocent air about him, looking around like a curious child. Tyvek continued under his breath, “You should be aware that he is not what he appears to be. He is not fully Betazoid, nor is he as young as he looks, and I’ve never seen such activity within the telepathic centers of the brain in any individual…except perhaps Raijiin…” Senek raised an ironic brow. At least the healer now had a healthy respect for what telepaths could do. Tyvek’s voice trailed off as he glanced warily at Damin. “He could be extremely dangerous.”
Senek nodded once. “I am aware of the danger, Healer Tyvek, but your information will no doubt be of interest to my superiors. You may transmit the results of your evaluation directly to my quarters.” Tyvek tipped his head in acquiescence, showing no outward evidence of discomfort at this deviation from usual ship’s security protocols.
"As you wish, Agent Senek.”
"And his injuries? Does he require further treatment?” Senek inquired.
"He shows evidence of some rather primitive methods of physical torture… superficial lacerations, burns, small areas of skin cut away, that sort of thing. No life threatening injuries. And he’s had a neural shock stick used on him repeatedly in the recent past. Nothing that requires surgical treatment,” replied Tyvek, somewhat callously, in Senek’s opinion.
"And his mental state?” ventured Senek, eyeing the young man, who was at that moment smiling charmingly at the young female Tellarite lying in spinal traction in the bed next to his exam table. She smiled back and blushed prettily?for a Tellarite.
"He appears remarkably resilient. All of the usual standardized questionnaires score low risk for psychiatric sequelae,” returned Tyvek.
Resilient, or is he just giving you the answers you want so you’ll let him out of here? wondered Senek. “Excellent work, Healer,” he said, and stepped past Tyvek as the man straightened with poorly concealed pride. Senek’s lips quirked slightly as he walked across the chamber. To his continual amusement, Senek had discovered over the years that despite Surak’s teachings even Vulcans often responded favorably to a well-placed boost of the ego. A pompous fool was a pompous fool, no matter what his planet of origin.
Senek met Damin’s eyes as he approached the exam table where the young man was seated with his feet dangling. Damin slipped from the table gracefully and offered the ta’al.
"Peace and long life…and my profound gratitude for the rescue,” he said in Vulcan, seriously and with all sincerity. Senek, taken aback, returned the gesture.
"Live long and prosper… and our healer tells me that your recent captivity should not hamper you in that regard,” he replied. Damin offered a brief bitter smile, more revealing than any of his behavior thus far.
"I’ve certainly experienced worse,” he replied. His eyes cut to the occupants of the beds in sickbay. “And how can I complain about success?”
Of course. Had it not been for this man’s willingness to place himself in harm’s way, none of the refugees would still be alive. The fifty percent recovery rate they’d achieved, amounting to 27 living persons once the deaths due to injury had been accounted for, was certainly by any measure a success compared to the alternative.
"Indeed,” agreed Senek. “Come. I’ll show you to your quarters, and then I’d like to discuss an employment opportunity with you,” he said.
Damin smiled. “Since my current contract is effectively complete, I am willing to listen. But please understand that I am committed to meeting family on Risa.”
“Certainly,” Senek gestured toward the door and then fell in beside the younger man. “In fact, that will correlate perfectly with our needs. Once you hear my proposal I believe you will agree that a mutually satisfactory arrangement can be achieved.”
“You are quite insane.” Damin spoke flatly, as if stating a proven fact. “I have long suspected that you were unstable, but this proves it.” He crossed his arms over his chest and stared Raijiin down as she faced him across the table in the sitting room of the double quarters she shared with Senek. Dressed in a regulation ship’s jumpsuit without insignia, with his newly acquired bruises and scrapes and an uncompromising expression on his face, the Betazoid looked less of a pretty boy and more of a man to Raijiin. His shoulder length black curls, shining and well-groomed as always, spoiled the tough guy image a bit, but he was just the person to get that bloodthirsty Andorian engineer to cooperate.
“Now wait, Damin,” Raijiin protested. “Hear us out. It isn't as extreme as it sounds. I’ll be surgically altered to appear Vulcan, and I’ll never emerge from the cargo hold unless it’s absolutely required.” To her frustration, Senek had not joined them at the table. He was preparing tea, of all things. She could feel his presence in the back of her mind, and though no thoughts were exchanged she understood his reticence. This mission would be her first as a Vulcan agent. As the junior ranking member of the team it would be her responsibility to deal with Damin, a civilian contractor. Senek was attempting to make the situation clear to Damin by stepping aside to allow the two of them to interact. There was silence for several seconds while their guest and prospective ally pondered the information she’d just given him.
“Surgically altered or not, you could not possibly alter your scent enough to disguise yourself from T'Riss,” Damin pointed out. “She would recognize you the first time she encountered you. One word from her to Sehlra or either of the males and you would be dead meat – and the rest of us as well for bringing you aboard. If you think anyone aboard Lerteiran would hesitate for a breath to kill you, think again. Jenrali hates Vulcans with a cold passion, and Sehlra loves Daniel like a son. Both of them have killed before, many times. What's four more? And the only things that kept Daniel from your throat last time were his unwillingness to defy Jenrali's command and that remarkably flexible Human moral code.”
Raijiin shivered. Senek stepped forward with the tea service, set it on the table between them, and said in a calm voice, “Crewman T'Riss is in service to the Vulcan fleet. The fact that she is on detached service at the moment does not negate her oath of obedience. She will obey orders. None of the other three are equipped to penetrate the disguise that Agent Raijiin will be wearing.” He placed three delicately translucent teacups on the table and matter-of-factly began to pour. “All we require, Mr. Damin, is your assistance in persuading the crew of Lerteiran to accept us as passengers to Risa. Then, once we arrive on Risa, I have been authorized to negotiate with the designated representative of your father's House in this sector regarding transportation onward to Vulcan. We intend neither harm nor distress to anyone.”
Damin looked doubtful. “I understand that you want to get Llahir back to Vulcan as fast as possible for debriefing. I can even see why you don't want to wait for the medical transports to complete their task, and there is no way to predict when the D'Kyrs will be ready to return. But why can't you just ask Enterprise for a lift? The Humans shouldn't mind a small detour. Risa isn't that far out of their way.”
Raijiin coughed and turned away to avoid looking at Senek's expression. The agent struggled to formulate a reply while Damin looked increasingly curious. Raijiin felt him probing her shields and tightened down firmly. No doubt Senek was doing the same. Finally the old Vulcan said, “There have been some minor points of friction with the Humans recently. It is believed that avoiding contact as much as possible is the best course of action for the present.” He avoided Damin’s gaze, took a seat at the table, and reached for a steaming cup, raising it to his lips.
“What did you do?” Damin wanted to know.
“Why do you think we did anything?” Raijiin demanded indignantly.
“Because,” Damin pointed out reasonably, “You wouldn't be avoiding the Humans unless the Humans were irritated. And the Humans wouldn't be irritated unless the Vulcans had done something.” She sighed her way into a chuckle and shook her head. Then she reached for a cup, took a sip, made a face, and reached for the sweetener.
“The Humans have captured your mother,” she told him while stirring. His eyes widened and a broad grin broke over his face. Choking laughter fought its way out of his chest as he leaned back in his chair. Then he reached for the teacup in front of him, raised it as if in salute to Human ingenuity, and took a healthy swallow. His grimace echoed Raijiin’s and he began to cough. She watched him in concern but didn’t touch him. Something warned her to be cautious. The deep midnight black of his pupils seemed to swallow her. The sensation was completely different from her connection with Senek. She felt as if she were falling.
I am all right, he said without speaking, surprising her. Telepathic communication had always been wordless for her before she’d met Senek, a fleeting exchange of emotions and ideas. Touch made the images clearer, but never this clear. And she hadn’t touched him. Within the words she sensed a background of intense ironic amusement and a tinge of angry satisfaction. Damin was not very fond of his mother.
After a few moments Damin tapered off into occasional spasms of hilarity. “That is... that is the most beautiful thing I have ever heard in my life...” he gasped, still grinning. “Thank you, dear. You have made me a happy man.”
“It is agreeable that we are able to brighten your day,” Senek said dryly. “Unfortunately, it is a violation of standing orders to permit the Humans to retain possession of a Romulan prisoner or Romulan hardware. Commander T'Lar's efforts at retrieval were unsuccessful and came perilously close to resulting in open battle between Sehlat and Enterprise. We are currently going to extreme lengths to avoid escalating the situation further.”
Damin grunted. “I could have told you that there were limits to Human patience, and I’ve only been around them for a brief time. How is it that you weren’t aware of this yourselves? After a full century, you should have a clear idea of how far they can be pushed.”
“The Commander is quite young,” Senek explained. “When the fleet was purged following the removal of the V'Las administration, our supply of experienced officers was depleted. I was not consulted prior to the attempt, and it is not my place to offer unsolicited advice concerning a fleet matter.”
Damin shot him a wry glance with a twisted mouth. “I'm certain it's not.” Senek’s expression was skeptical. “Really. I believe you,” Damin said. “So you can't beg a ride from the Humans, and you can't afford to wait for your own ships to haul you back home…and you want me to lie for you.”
“Essentially, yes,” Raijiin smiled sweetly. “Would you mind terribly?”
“It's going to cost you,” Damin said. “Massively.”
“That is only to be expected,” Senek told him.
Jenrali's voice on the comm cut through the fog of sleep.
“Time to wake up, lad. Your shift starts in fifteen. Sehlra has you on light duty in the engine room today, so she can keep an eye on you. Start jumping!”
“I'm up! I'm up.” Daniel jerked awake and hissed in pain when he felt his back complain. “OK, I'm almost up. I'll be there, Boss.”
“See that you are. Out.”
Daniel locked his teeth and rolled out of his bunk, heading for the shower at a stiff legged shuffle. Five minutes of hot water helped remarkably, and he gave devout thanks once again for Andorian recycling technology. “Bless their little blue hearts,” he muttered as he fumbled for a towel and headed toward the closet.
He made it, with 32 seconds to spare. Personal worst, but Sehlra just told him to grab a meter and start checking voltage levels in the carbon dioxide filters. Daniel gratefully got busy at one of the few jobs not requiring any bending or lifting. “How are you feeling this morning, boy?” she asked him after a few moments.
“A lot better,” he told her, half-truthfully. He did feel better. Not a lot, but better. “T'Riss put some more of that gunk on my back and it really helped.”
“Did she now?” Sehlra sounded amused. “Getting used to being pampered? Starting to like having a woman rub you down?”
“I’ve always liked having a woman rub me,” Daniel grinned. “I just need to make sure the one rubbing me isn't going to fly off the handle and break my neck.”
“A Vulcan?” Sehlra scoffed. “How much safer could you get?”
“Sehlra,” Daniel said seriously. She turned to look at him. “T'Riss is a great girl. She's beautiful. She's smart. She has honor. She’s built like every Human man's dream woman. But she's been hurt bad, and I’m not going to put myself into the line of fire until I’m sure that she won't blow up in my face. Even Human women can go completely nuts if they’ve been abused. A Vulcan woman might turn into something that I just flat out don't want to be anywhere near.”
“Hmm,” Sehlra turned back to the control board. “How much stronger is she than you, anyway?”
“Quite a bit, now,” Daniel admitted. “Considering she’s in top shape and she's been living under full gravity, while I've been getting soft as a pillow here with the low grav field we kept to save energy. Vulcans are stronger than Humans anyway, but that just makes it a lot worse.”
She twisted her antennae in agreement. “It should gradually improve, now that we can afford to run the field at full strength. But you're right; it isn't good to stay at low grav long term. Causes muscle and bone loss, and other bad effects. We all need to put in some more time in the gym. I'm considering upgrading the weight machine and installing a new treadmill.”
“A new treadmill would be good,” Daniel grunted and pulled himself up the access ladder to the second level catwalk. “The CO levels up here are all right, but I'm getting some ozone leakage. Just a trace, but we shouldn't have any at all.”
“There's a voltage leak somewhere. Has to be,” Sehlra muttered. “Why in the name of the Mother they didn't just install catalyst processors and be done with it I'll never understand.” She moved over to a board next to the access ladder that Daniel had just climbed and started checking readouts. “Here it is. Unit 3A, Section Blue.”
“On it,” Daniel told her. He moved along the catwalk until he reached the offending unit and killed the power. A quick series of twists and toggle flips later, and Daniel was sliding a long rectangular box out of its slot. “There it is, carbon buildup caused it to overheat and start arcing. I think I can salvage this unit without replacement. Give me a few minutes.”
“Good enough,” Sehlra told him, and went back to monitoring coolant flow. The two of them worked in silence for a while.
Eventually Daniel asked, “Sehlra?”
“What is it, boy?”
“You really like that Betazoid?”
She slapped the top of the control board. “Mind your own business, child! You have a job in front of you. Get it done and quit mucking around!”
He chuckled. “The job's done,” he told her as he stood up and slid the unit back into place. “And you have no room to tell anyone about minding their own business. Not considering the way you and Jenrali have been double-teaming to push me and T'Riss together. I think I have a right to ask if he might be coming aboard permanently, don't I?” Daniel turned and leaned on the railing, looking down at her impishly.
Sehlra tightened her mouth and drew her antenna together. “Not likely, boy. He isn't much older than you are. I'm not a child molester.”
“Oh bullshit!” Daniel exploded. “He's at least twice my age. And what's the big deal about age anyway? He's a different species. Andorians live to 150 or better. It's not like you’re going to kick the bucket tomorrow. You don't seem to think anything about pushing T'Riss at me, and she's older than I am.”
Sehlra had been about to interrupt, but suddenly she stopped. “She is?”
“Sure she is,” Daniel told her. “Didn't you realize? Vulcans live twice as long as Humans, and they mature about half as fast. I’m just guessing, but I figure she’s probably about ten years older than I am, plus or minus. She’ll probably live a couple of centuries, where I’ll be lucky to make it past 120. You can expect 150 years, but from what I've heard, Betazoids don't usually make it any longer than Humans.”
Sehlra leaned back against the console, looking thoughtful.
Commander T’Pol entered Sickbay with a padd in hand, prepared to defend her concerns and to insist that Doctor Phlox act upon them. The hypocrisy inherent in challenging her commanding officer’s fitness for duty after her own behavior at Azati Prime was not lost on her, however, and she approached the harassed-looking doctor with some trepidation. If he had been willing to allow her to retain command of the Enterprise while under the influence of trellium-D, would he even think that Jonathan Archer’s recent behavior was unacceptable? Surely even the Denobulan would draw the line at command decisions which risked all-out war.
T’Pol stepped up behind the doctor, but stopped when she saw that he was facing a comm console and was in a serious discussion with a Vulcan in healer’s robes. She recognized the Healer in question. He was Sorsen, the Chief Melder of the medical transport vessel Kau T’Surak, and one of only four Vulcans who had been present at her marriage ceremony. Had it only been two weeks since she’d exchanged vows with Trip? Logic told her so, but she could no longer remember what it was like not to be formally bonded to Trip Tucker—nor did she wish to. She turned to allow the doctor some privacy, but couldn’t help but overhear the conversation.
“I understand the need for confidentiality, Doctor, but you and I both know that the scans you sent me could only belong to one person aboard your vessel,” said Sorsen. “What difficulty is Commander Tucker experiencing?”
T’Pol turned at that and focused all of her attention on the caller.
“What makes you think the brain scan images were of Commander Tucker?” asked Phlox, looking genuinely puzzled. Sorsen raised a brow.
“The images are of a Human brain, but the neurotransmitter pattern is distinctly Vulcan,” he returned with forced patience. “Since Commander Tucker is the only Human bon…”
“This is not a secure channel,” interrupted Phlox hastily, “and in any case, your assumption is incorrect. The images are of Captain Archer.” Both of Sorsen’s brows went up at that. Phlox looked grim. “So I take it there is cause for concern?” he asked the melder.
“The Human brain is not designed to function in this fashion,” replied Sorsen in a concerned tone. “The overproduction of neurotransmitters in ordinarily unused portions of the Human brain, as is demonstrated in these images, could certainly cause erratic behavior…and, given sufficient time, result in what some might call insanity. Ordinarily, if the situation cannot be permanently remedied, regular melds with someone possessing a brain structure more suited to the hyperfunction demonstrated here would be what I would recommend to control the condition. It is not uncommonly seen in bonded Vulcan couples where one member of the bonded pair possesses a tremendously greater telepathic or intellectual capacity than the other.” Sorsen paused, seeming to ponder the situation. “I have never seen such a thing without a bond, though…and of course, never in a Human. That in itself is not surprising, considering the fact that I have met very few Humans, but…” He shook his head. “This cannot possibly be a safe condition for your captain to be in.”
“You mentioned a ‘remedy’?” prompted Phlox. T’Pol listened intently.
“During the time when melding was forbidden, the conventional treatment was to sever the bond,” Sorsen said. “I began my career as a healer clandestinely teaching melding techniques to couples whose only other choices would have been either to end their bond or to have one of the pair watch as the other slowly went irrevocably mad. Fortunately, the discovery of the Kir’shara has made such subterfuge unnecessary. In this case…” Sorsen shrugged helplessly. “I have no idea. I suppose I’d have to meld with the patient and discover the root cause of the condition first.”
“That may be a problem, considering the current state of Human/Vulcan relations… at least locally. Your Commander T’Lar must be ready to…as the Humans say…’shoot first and ask questions later’,” Phlox told him wryly.
“Not at all, Doctor. I take orders directly from the High Council, the members of which take a larger view of the current situation than ‘our Commander T’Lar’. If you can convince your captain that my services are needed, I will come aboard as soon as we rendezvous to transfer the injured,” replied Sorsen. Phlox smiled in obvious gratitude.
“You have my thanks, Healer,” he replied. “And I’m certain Captain Archer’s as well…as soon as I explain the situation to him. We’ll rendezvous as planned in eight hours.” Sorsen tipped his head once in acknowledgement, and then the screen went dark. Phlox turned away from it to face T’Pol. He didn’t seem surprised by her presence.
“May I help you, Commander?” he asked with every appearance of innocence.
“I was told that I could find the captain here. Can you tell me where he is?” asked T’Pol.
Phlox gave her an affable smile. “He’s just gone off duty. I sent him to his cabin for some well deserved rest. I’d advise you to let him sleep, barring a major emergency. He’s got an important appointment in the morning. I was just going to call you to inform you that you are in command.” T’Pol hesitated for a moment, and then decided that her errand had become superfluous. She tipped her head, exhaling a sigh of relief.
“Thank you, Doctor.“
Llahir was a patient man, but being ignored in the Human's briefing room since the incident with the Sehlat was taxing even his forbearance. It was unlikely that they’d forgotten about him. More probably the Chief Security Officer and his staff were just overwhelmed by the sheer volume of newly acquired sources of classified information. But they certainly had forgotten about the thoroughness of Vulcan training if they thought that by leaving him in this room alone they were preventing him from discovering how relations had deteriorated between the Enterprise and the Sehlat. The computer console in the ready room differed very little from the ones he’d used thirty years ago. After so many years, it was expected, he supposed, that the Humans would gain access to enough Vulcan technology to make their hardware virtually indistinguishable from obsolete Vulcan models. It was child's play, literally, for him to access the ship's communication system and monitor the progress of the battle and its rather disturbing sequel.
Llahir shook his head at the impulsive behavior of the young commander. Granted, she was under orders to conceal as much as possible about Romulan origins, but still, sending an armed boarding party to an allied ship? What was the child thinking? In the Romulan fleet a mistake like that would rate summary execution without trial—not for sending the boarding party, but for sending it when there was no possible chance of success. But then, any Romulan ally that dared to lock weapons on a battle cruiser would be blown out of space instantly, so he supposed the situation balanced, in a perverse sort of way.
The battle scarred agent carefully placed the padd on the briefing table. Regretfully, he decided that he would be forced to give up his hope of a personal conversation with the man who had actually carried the katra of Surak. Given the circumstances, it would be more prudent for him to return to the Sehlat for debriefing as soon as possible. There were aspects to the situation that neither Commander T'Lar nor the Vulcan High Command were aware of. Romulan plans for expansion were proceeding with distressing speed. So much speed, that he had felt impelled to take extraordinary risks in order to make contact for retrieval. The information he carried was critically important for his people. One piece of information that he believed to be particularly important was that the Vulcan alliance with Earth was a significant factor in forcing the Romulans to proceed with caution.
For at least two generations, Romulan agents had been infiltrating Vulcan society with the goal of establishing themselves in controlling positions at high government and military levels. They had succeeded remarkably well, and despite the recent purges following the fall of V'Las, there were still substantial numbers of Romulans in place on the home world. The primary short term goal of the Romulan empire was to isolate Vulcan from her allies. Once she was alone, Vulcan would be easy prey, or so the Praetor planned.
The single most significant obstacle to this objective was the fledgling Coalition of Planets, and Earth was the driving force behind the Coalition. If the alliance between Vulcan and Earth could be sabotaged, or failing that, if Earth could be crippled, then the ultimate goal of reunification under the raptor's wings could at last be achieved.
Llahir had spent decades alone, surviving in a hostile environment by his wits and his reaction time. Only his dedication to the survival of his people had given him the will to stay alive. He was not going to stand by and permit political foolishness or mistaken adherence to outmoded policies to destroy that which he had sold his life to preserve. He glanced down at the table. The innocuous looking padd contained a concise description of the Romulan empire, its origin, size, extent, number of settled planets, approximate population distribution, form of government, military organization, general fleet size and distribution according to his best information, as much information as he had time to record concerning Romulan technical and weapons expertise, and a lengthy explanation of Romulan strategy for the alpha quadrant including their desire to re-conquer their ancestral planet.
He sighed and let his shoulders slump. He had done what he could. Surak had taught his people to cast out fear and follow the path of truth in all things. All Llahir could do now was to wait and hope.
First, he removed the impressively reverse-engineered sensor baffle that the Human security officer had given him from around his waist and deactivated it. Then he activated the comm system, opened a channel, sent the Sehlat a five digit code, and waited. Llahir was de-materializing by the time the security officer on the bridge of the Enterprise had the time to detect the transmission, determine its source, rise from his chair and take three steps toward the turbo-lift.
“I don't care if you like it or not,” Damin told her bluntly. “It's this way or nothing. You’re welcome to sit on the station and wait for the medical ships to head back as far as I care. Your mission is nothing to me.”
Raijiin wanted to slap him. “A few minutes ago you were going on about how dangerous it would be for me to set foot on Lerteiran. Now you want me to openly announce it? You’re the one that has lost his mind.”
“Perhaps Mr. Damin is following a chain of logic that we are not fully aware of,” Senek suggested. “I recommend that we permit him to finish explaining his suggestion before offering objections.”
Damin refilled his cup. “It’s not a matter of logic. Or not entirely. I just refuse to lie to them. My father's House may sometimes engage in operations that are technically illegal, but we maintain a very strict code of honor. The crew of Lerteiran has helped me more than once, even to the point of risking their own lives. And they did it without ever asking anything in return. I refuse to betray their trust.” He raised the cup and looked at them over the rim, his dark eyes glittering. “I may carry Romulan treachery in my blood, but I am not Romulan.”
“How then do you propose that we convince Captain Jenrali to knowingly allow us aboard, given his previous history with Raijiin?” countered Senek.
“By offering him something so valuable he’d be crazy to refuse it,” said Damin, “Preferred trading status at every Vulcan port in known space.”
Senek raised a brow. Raijiin’s heart skipped a beat. He was actually considering the insane Betazoid’s plan. The prospect was alarming.
“Even assuming we have the authority to make that offer,” said Senek, “I seriously doubt that it would be enough to get them to agree unless they could be convinced that Raijiin had been rendered harmless.” Damin shrugged, then emptied his teacup in one gulp.
“So convince them,” he said.
Senek’s eyes cut to Raijiin. The expression in them was one she had seen before, and she gave an inward sigh of resignation. Giving over control was humiliating, especially in front of a witness capable of sensing her predicament, but she’d learned that resistance was pointless. In this one skill at least, Senek was her master.
Raijiin closed her eyes and waited. Senek’s mental presence flooded her consciousness, and she felt her self-will retreating behind a shell that she and Senek had constructed for this purpose. Her eyes opened, but he saw through them. She felt and thought, but had no voluntary control of her body. She felt herself rise from the table, collect the teacups, and place them in the recycler. Then her body returned to the table and stood silently behind Senek’s chair in perfect imitation of a Vulcan domestic servant. Raijiin saw Damin’s eyes widen in surprise as he sensed the change in her.
“Can she break your control?” he asked Senek.
“When we first began her training, she tried…sometimes a hundred or more times a day,” Senek replied calmly. “She now submits willingly, for she has learned that the alternative is not to her liking.” Damin swallowed, grimacing slightly as he inspected Senek’s handiwork. Raijiin could feel him probing the shield that encased her conscious mind. “You can now truthfully say that no one on Lertieran is in any danger from Raijiin,” said Senek. “I will discuss the matter of payment with my superiors. If the Andorian captain agrees to transport us, will you agree to vouch for us and confirm that Raijiin is under my complete control?”
Damin’s mouth twisted as if he were tasting something spoiled. He hesitated.
“If I am able to acquire favored trading status for Lertieran, I see no reason why I wouldn’t be able to convince my superiors to grant the same privilege to your father’s House,” offered Senek. “It’s my understanding that you plan to rejoin representatives of your father’s House on Risa. Bringing such a concession with you would be convincing proof of your loyalty.”
Behind her shell, Raijiin marveled at Senek’s deviousness. There were times when her keeper seemed more Romulan than Vulcan.
Damin pursed his lips. “Agreed,” he conceded with a nod.
“Lerteiran, you are cleared to dock at station eleven,” the disembodied voice announced.
“Acknowledged,” Jenrali replied. “Approach vector 12.3X by 45.98Y by 66.2Z, delta -.001 standard.”
“Adjust thrusters to station keeping,” the voice instructed. “Stand by for tractor beam.”
“Thrusters at station keeping, aye.”
The ship lurched faintly as the beam took hold. An almost imperceptible humming vibrated through the hull and into the soles of everyone’s feet as the tractor beam started pulling Lerteiran toward the docking berth. There was a slight bump and a series of lights appeared on the control console.
“Docking clamps engaged,” Daniel announced. “Clamp one, secure. Clamp two, secure. Clamp three, secure. Clamp four, secure. Clamp five, secure. Clamp six, secure.”
“Clamp one, check,” Jenrali acknowledged. “Clamp two, check. Clamp three, check. Clamp four, check. Clamp five, check. Clamp six, check. Extend airlock hatch seal.”
“Extending airlock hatch seal,” Daniel reported. “Contact. Secure. Feedback affirmative. Diagnostic underway. Standby.” They waited quietly for a moment. “Diagnostic affirmative. Seal is secure. Everything is airtight, Captain.”
“Airlock secure, check,” Jenrali acknowledged. He turned in his seat. “Good work, lad,” he told Daniel, as he had always done after docking procedure since the first time he had come aboard. “Anything you’d like to pick up from that Human ship since we’re here again?”
“Well,” Daniel said thoughtfully. “Since you mentioned it, there are a couple of things that I wouldn’t mind checking with their quartermaster about. Nothing drastic, but like you said, since we’re here...”
“Go ahead then,” Jenrali told him. “Nothing’s going to be happening here until we get the passenger manifest finalized.” He made a face. “Some of them are leaving, and we need to find out how Damin is doing.”
“Do you suppose T’Riss might be able to wheedle some information out of the Vulcans?” Daniel suggested.
“A good thought,” Jenrali brightened. “Take her with you onto the station. She can check with the Vulcans while you raid the Human quartermaster. Both of you be back here by change of watch, hear?”
“Understood, Captain.” Daniel rose up slowly and maneuvered himself toward the ladder.
“How are you doing now?” Jenrali carefully kept his voice neutral.
“I’ll be fine,” Daniel told him cheerfully. “Just a little sore now. Few days, it’ll be forgotten.”
“Maybe you might duck in and have that Phlox take a glance at it,” Jenrali told him casually. “Since you’ll be there anyway.”
Daniel paused on the second step. “Well... since I’ll be there anyway, if I get the time I might.” Jenrali nodded and turned back to the console. Daniel resumed working his way down the ladder. As soon as he was out of Jenrali’s field of vision, he let his face contort in pain. Locking his teeth in a snarl, Daniel managed to make it to the foot of the ladder without actually whimpering, but it was a very near thing. Once his feet were back on the deck, he leaned against the ladder and hung on, gasping for breath with his mouth wide open for several minutes.
“Daniel.” He turned his head in shock to find T’Riss observing him and looking worried. “Are you functional?” He immediately straightened and forced a smile.
“Certainly,” he told her, with only a slight catch in his voice. “I was just going to come looking for you. I’m going over to Enterprise, and Jenrali suggested that maybe you could visit Sehlat and find out what the status is with Damin?”
“I can certainly make the attempt,” T’Riss told him. “But I believe your visit to Enterprise should take first priority. It is evident that your injury requires immediate medical attention.” She slipped an arm around his waist and took part of his weight. Pride fought pragmatism, and pragmatism won. Daniel let her help him.
“All right, if you insist,” he said. “I’ll visit the doc over there. Maybe he can patch me up. This is getting inconvenient anyway.”
“Back injuries are not merely inconvenient, Daniel,” T’Riss told him seriously. “They’re often handicapping, and are definitely a matter of concern.” They reached the airlock and she input her access code. “I also agree with Engineer Selra that this ship needs improved inertial dampeners.”
“Not really,” Daniel huffed as he stepped over the raised lip of the airlock. “What it needs is a crew in better physical condition. We ran at low grav for too long trying to save money, but every one of us lost muscle tone and bone mass doing it. In retrospect, it wasn’t a good idea, but we were broke.”
T’Riss keyed the pad and the inner door closed. “Could you not have obtained a loan for operating expenses?” She turned to place her hand on the identification plate for the station’s inner door.
“No way,” Daniel shook his head emphatically. “The only people that would loan money to a small outfit like us would have been the Orions. Believe me. You do not want to be in debt to the Orions. Not for any reason.”
“Say no more,” T’Riss told him. “I understand completely.” The door opened and they stepped through onto the long access corridor leading around the perimeter of the station.
“I believe Enterprise is at docking bay three,” T’Riss said. “Shall we?” Daniel smiled weakly and they started walking, slowly. By the time docking bay three came into view, she was more than half carrying him and Daniel’s breath was coming loudly enough that even he had to admit it sounded harsh.
There was one nice thing, Daniel reflected, about being a member of a species that was scarce in a particular part of space. Everyone tended to be aware of and recognize everyone else. The security guards at the Enterprise airlock knew who he was instantly and didn’t ask questions. One of them signaled sickbay while the other one took Daniel’s free arm and started assisting T’Riss.
Phlox had a biobed ready when they got there. “Ah, Mr. Johansen. How nice to see you again, although I must admit I had hoped our next meeting would be under different circumstances. What seems to be the trouble?”
Daniel started to explain while climbing onto the bed, but kept interrupting himself to groan. So T’Riss stepped up and gave a concise summary of Daniel’s condition, the circumstances that led to it, and the treatment that Sehlra had recommended thus far. Phlox nodded and listened while he examined Daniel’s back and ran a scanner over the area.
“Well, Mr. Johansen. I see that we have some ligament damage, a torn muscle, and most distressingly, a minor compression fracture of the body of the fourth lumbar vertebra.” He shook his head and clucked his tongue. “Someone’s spent too long in micro-gravity.” Phlox turned away and headed for his medicine cabinet while T’Riss walked over to the bed and looked down at Daniel in deep concern.
“Don’t look so worried, T’Riss,” Daniel told her with a smile. “The doc will fix me right up.”
“Of course, of course,” Phlox called out enthusiastically, head buried inside his cabinet. “A minor bit of routine surgery, a couple of days of bed rest and an infusion of zoledronic acid to build bone mass, and he will be good as new.”
“Surgery?” Daniel felt his face go blank. T’Riss looked thoughtful, and nodded to herself. “I can’t afford to take time for surgery, Doc. I have work to do!”
“You won’t be doing much work if you can’t move, will you now?” Phlox came ambling back over with a hypo and a broad smile. He applied the hypo briskly to Daniel’s neck. “There now, that should help the pain quite a bit. When you wake up we can discuss your options in more depth.”
“Wake up? Wait a minute, Doc. I ca-”
“The drug acted with remarkable speed, Doctor,” T’Riss said after a moment.
“Yes, it’s quite effective on Humans,” Phlox told her smugly. “An extract from a fungus that we discovered during our second year of exploration. I’ve gotten quite a bit of use out of that little growth.”
“You are quite certain that surgery is required?” T’Riss asked.
“He’s got an osteoporotic fracture,” Phlox told her. “If this stubborn young man continues to move about without stabilizing his spine he will only continue to make matters worse. He could quite possibly inflict permanent neurologic damage on himself should any of his nerves become compressed.”
“In that case, there is, of course, no choice in the matter. I am certain that his shipmates will agree,” T’Riss told him.
“I will need formal authorization from one of them,” Phlox informed her. “When Mr. Johansen was in my care last time he filed permission listing his business partners as next of kin. Either of them have authority to approve surgery such as this, since he is himself incapacitated.” T’Riss raised an eyebrow and walked over to the comm. Five minutes later Phlox had carte blanche to do whatever he felt necessary to repair Daniel, up to and including using a club to subdue him.
“Remarkable people, Andorians,” Phlox said, switching off the comm unit and rubbing his hands. “Forthright and stubborn. Some consider them ruthless, but they are absolutely loyal to their own.”
“I am beginning to understand some things about Andorians, and about Humans, that I never suspected,” T’Riss replied. “May I ask you something, Doctor?”
“Certainly, er, Crewman,” he told her. “Ask away.”
“Are you familiar with the Vulcan practice of neuropressure?” Phlox paused for several seconds with an unusual expression on his face.
“Yes. I have heard of it. Why do you ask?” he responded, not looking directly at her.
“Daniel mentioned to me that Humans use a similar method to provide relaxation and relief from tension. He called it accu-pressure,” T’Riss said. “According to Daniel, there are diagrams available which specify the correct points for administration of this procedure. I was wondering if you could provide me with this information.”
Phlox turned to look carefully at her. T’Riss stood and met his eyes, firmly resisting the impulse to twitch. There is no reason for discomfort. It is only logical that he would be curious. You must expect this. If you intend to choose a Human mate, you will face this reaction routinely. If you cannot deal with this, you have no right to consider Daniel as a potential partner. This Denobulan’s reaction is nothing compared to what you will face from your own people. When Mother finds out...
“Am I correct in concluding from your request that you have some interest in considering Mr. Johansen as a potential mate?” Phlox asked her carefully.
T’Riss straightened even further. “Yes, Doctor. You are correct.”
“Is Mr. Johansen aware of this?” Phlox shot back. T’Riss flinched.
“Of course,” she answered in surprise. “We have discussed the matter at some length. Currently, we are engaged in... preliminary assessments of our compatibility.”
Phlox whispered quietly to himself in a voice that T’Riss was confident he did not intend her to hear, “Discussing the matter openly beforehand. Like two adults. What a remarkable concept.”
Aloud he told her, “There is indeed a Human touch therapy called accu-pressure. In terms of effectiveness, though, I consider it inferior to Vulcan neuropressure. If you wish to induce relaxation, Human massage therapy is significantly easier to master and just as effective. I will be happy to provide you with information on massage therapy if you wish.”
“Thank you, Doctor. I accept your offer,” T’Riss told him. “However, I was hoping to obtain information on accu-pressure in order to supplement my training in neuropressure.”
Phlox looked up from the data console sharply. “Your training in neuropressure is incomplete?”
“Unfortunately, yes,” T’Riss admitted uncomfortably. “If you are familiar with neuropressure, you also know that we do not generally complete our training until just before marriage.”
“No,” Phlox said regretfully, “I was not aware of this.”
T’Riss told him, “It is usually the case. We are traditionally taught by our mothers or another elder female relative. If none are available, by a priestess. In my case, I was scheduled to complete my training during my first year... of residency on...”
She stopped and locked down all of her controls. It all came crashing back at once. The memory of her betrothed. He had been so young. They had been friends since childhood. He had died defending her, just as honor demanded. All for nothing. Bitterness and rage rose up and would not be denied.
“Crewman T’Riss?” Doctor Phlox was looking at her oddly. “Would medication assist you in maintaining control?”
T’Riss realized to her horror that her emotional state must be blatantly obvious for the doctor to make such an offer. She instantly began working her way through the Disciplines, focusing on breathing and relaxation. “No doctor, thank you. I am already under treatment with medication provided by Healer Tyvek,” she told him. She hoped desperately that he would let it drop, and he did. Instead, he picked up their previous thread of conversation.
“Neuropressure, or accu-pressure for that matter, when improperly performed, has the potential to cause damage to the spinal nerves. It should never be applied by someone who is not fully trained. I recommend in the strongest possible terms that you obtain further instruction before you attempt it.” Phlox turned back to his terminal and completed downloading something onto a Human padd.
“Here.” He handed the padd to her. “This is a series of instructional texts on the art of massage therapy. It is geared primarily toward relaxation by manipulating muscle groups. Humans often find it quite helpful for conditions such as Mr. Johansen’s, as well as being pleasurable in its own right.” T’Riss took it from him and immediately began studying it while he turned to his unconscious patient. Daniel would have need of her services after his surgery, and she intended to be ready for the task.
Trip Tucker entered Sickbay with mixed emotions. On the one hand, the last thing he needed right now was to deal directly with Jonathan Archer. Since their confrontation he’d made a point to associate with his captain on a strictly professional level only. On the other hand, while T’Pol was in command Trip was her First Officer, and she had asked—insisted, rather—that he, as the highest ranking Human aboard, witness and approve the results of the captain’s treatment before she yielded command to him. Trip honestly doubted his ability to make an unbiased judgment in this instance, but he felt confident in Dr. Phlox’s ability to tell whether the captain was fit for duty, so he hadn’t argued the point. At the very least, T’Pol needed a firsthand report on the medical condition of the Romulan prisoner. Since the Vulcan agent’s expert hacking of their systems yesterday evening, Malcolm had decided that the internal ship’s comm wasn’t sufficiently secure, and as acting captain, T’Pol couldn’t leave the bridge for hours yet.
Jonathan Archer was not in sight. Phlox was gloved, gowned, and masked within the shimmer of a sterile surgical force field, injecting something into someone’s lower back with a huge antiquated looking needle and syringe. The patient’s back was covered in drapes and he was lying on a biobed face down, but Trip could see enough of him to tell he was Human. Just outside the field stood the young Vulcan woman who’d been assigned as crew on Lerteiran as an act of administrative discipline by the Vulcans a few weeks ago, an impressive demonstration of interspecies cooperation in Trip’s opinion. She seemed none the worse for wear after duty on an Andorian vessel, but had an expression of concern on her face that reminded him strongly of T’Pol. The draped patient had to be Daniel Johansen.
“Why are you using that device instead of a hypospray, Doctor?” she asked in a tone that would have sounded to an uninitiated ear as if she were merely curious. Trip, however, knew worry in a Vulcan voice when he heard it.
“I’m performing the procedure, not giving an injection, Crewman,” replied Phlox as he worked. “This is an hydroxyapatite cement which will restore the vertebra to its proper dimensions and stabilize it. Once it hardens in a few minutes, his fourth lumbar vertebra will be even stronger than the others. Then he’ll need to stay in full gravity and engage in regular weight bearing exercise for at least six months after his zoledronic acid infusion to reverse the osteopenia.”
“I will make certain that he does so, Doctor,” said T’Riss in a firmly confident voice. Trip suppressed a smile at that.
Sounds like she’s planning to hang around a while. Makes me wonder what Daniel’s been up to, he thought, amused. Phlox put the syringe on the treatment table beside him and deactivated the surgical field generator at the head of the biobed. It flickered once before going out. Trip made a mental note to add medical equipment maintenance to his department’s list of things to do. Sickbay was virtually empty now that the refugees had been transferred to the hospital ship, but for a while there they’d been putting a real strain on Sickbay resources and equipment. Phlox pulled his mask down and, finally appearing to notice Trip’s presence, smiled broadly in welcome.
“May I help you, Commander?” he asked.
“T’Pol sent me,” Trip replied. “She wants me to check on the prisoner and to see about the captain.” Phlox’s smile shrank a fraction and his eyes cut to T’Riss. Then he stepped forward to meet Trip and lowered his voice. The Vulcan girl took Daniel’s limp hand in hers. She seemed oblivious to their conversation.
“The prisoner is still unconscious. The multiple simultaneous stun blasts she suffered while being apprehended appear to have caused some cerebral edema,” said Phlox softly. Trip just raised a sardonic brow at him and waited. “Her brain is swollen,” clarified Phlox. “The condition is treatable but I’m not certain when she’ll wake up. I’ll inform the bridge when she does.” Trip blew out heavily and nodded.
“Okayyy. So what about the captain?”
“His appointment was postponed until 0730. Healer Sorsen was unavoidably delayed by a complicated patient.” Trip glanced at the clock on the wall. It read 0729. As the minute turned, the doors to Sickbay opened and Jonathan Archer walked into the room, precisely on time to the second. He was dressed in a spotless duty uniform. If he was surprised by Trip’s presence there was no evidence of it. Phlox gave the Vulcan girl a reassuring smile.
“I’ll be back. Just stay with him until he wakes up.” At her nod, Phlox moved to intercept the captain and escorted him to a curtained off cubicle near the pharmacy. Trip made no move to follow. The captain looked back before he entered the designated area. Their eyes met. For a moment Trip thought he saw a vestige of his old friend in Jonathan Archer’s expression, and then it was as if a shutter fell over the man’s face, and he was a stranger again before he shut the curtain.
Maybe T’Pol’s right, thought Trip, concerned despite the anger that remained. Maybe all this isn’t just Jon being an asshole. Maybe there really is something wrong with him.
As the thought occurred to him, an emerald-robed Vulcan healer entered Sickbay flanked by two security officers, phase pistols drawn. Phlox exited the cubicle where he’d left the captain and greeted the security guards with an angry, “Out! This man is my guest! No weapons in my Sickbay!” The young men rolled their eyes at him, holstered their weapons, and left to take positions flanking the door in the hallway while Phlox apologized profusely to the healer. Trip recognized him. He was Sorsen, one of the Vulcans who’d officiated at his wedding ceremony less than a month before.
“Apologies are not needed, Doctor. I understand the need for security in our current situation,” said Sorsen. His manner was calm and reassuring. The air of gravitas he exuded was in conflict with his appearance. If he’d been Human Trip would have pegged him for no older than twenty-five. Being Vulcan, he was probably closer to sixty, but young for a Chief Melder and Master Healer nonetheless, according to T’Pol. He turned to Trip and offered the ta’al.
“It is agreeable to see you, Commander. I trust things are going well?” Trip’s expression was more of a grimace than a smile as he returned the ta’al.
“Everything’s fine, Healer. Thanks for askin’. Ah… I sure hope you can help the cap’n,” he returned desperately, trying to change the subject.
Phlox smiled uncertainly as his gaze shifted from one to the other.
“I wasn’t aware that the two of you had met….” he began.
“Commander Tucker boarded the Kau T’Surak with Commander T’Pol a few weeks ago at my request. There were some…interspecies diplomacy issues involved that I felt required their presence,” offered Sorsen, a little too honestly for Trip’s comfort. Phlox looked even more puzzled.
“Ah….so I take it the issues were resolved, then?” he asked.
“Quite satisfactorily,” answered Sorsen without elaborating. Phlox smiled, waiting for more, but Sorsen just gave him an expectant look. “Our patient?” he prompted. Trip breathed a sigh of relief. He followed the two medical men to the curtained off cubicle. They entered without him, which was fine by him. His job was to witness the results. He had no need to actually watch the man mess with Jon’s mind. Phlox came out seconds later.
“You might as well leave and make your report, Commander. Healer Sorsen informs me that diagnosing the captain’s problem may take several hours,” said the doctor. Trip ran one hand through his hair, nodding.
“Okay. I’ll let T’Pol know,” he said, but he didn’t turn to leave yet. A question was burning in his chest, but so was his anger. Jon had forfeited the right to be worried over when he’d treated Trip like crap, but Trip couldn’t help it. “Will the cap’n be all right?” he forced out reluctantly. Phlox smiled a crooked smile.
“I certainly hope so, Commander… I really do,” he said.
Jonathan Archer could hear muffled conversation just beyond the curtain, but he didn’t allow it to disturb him. The expression on Trip’s face right before he’d shut the curtain had initially unsettled him. Trip had always worn his hurt feelings on his sleeve. Jonathan Archer had no siblings, but Trip was his brother in spirit—or rather, had been. He’d never wanted to hurt him, but quite obviously he had. The guilt was like an acid, eroding away Jon’s hard-won equilibrium. There was nothing he could do but meditate.
Emotions are illusion. Allow them to pass through you, leaving your essence untouched. Your mind contains only stillness.
Jon took a deep breath and opened his eyes. The face before him was Vulcan. The man looked young. Appearances were deceiving, of course. He’s older than I am, that’s certain. I hope he knows what he’s doing.
“I am Sorsen. I am a healer,” said the man. “With your permission, I will perform a diagnostic meld.” He held up his right hand, fingers splayed. “You must place your right hand on my temple, so.” His fingertips felt warm on the side of Jon’s head.
Taken aback, Jon took a couple of seconds to echo the gesture. He’d expected a few questions at least, but on further reflection realized that questions were a waste of time when you were about to read someone’s mind. As that thought occurred to him, Sorsen began to speak in Vulcan. Jon understood it perfectly, a skill he’d come to take for granted but for which he still had no adequate explanation.
“My mind to your mind. My thoughts to your thoughts.”
Jon felt a presence nudge his mind. It felt similar to the presence of Surak’s katra, but somehow less. He sometimes still dreamed about the feeling. He hadn’t yet decided whether the dreams were nightmares or not.
“Our minds are merging.”
The healer’s living mind invaded Jon’s in a way that he’d never experienced before. If carrying Surak’s katra had been like being a horse carrying a rider, this was more like a horse becoming his rider, as if the two of them were a single individual. He panicked for a second until Sorsen took complete control.
“Our minds are one”.
Through a shell of enforced serenity, Jon watched as the Vulcan healer systematically searched his memories, both remote and recent. A child’s longing for something he’d never had blended into bittersweet jealousy…quickly hidden…watching his best pal Trip at dinner with his mother. A memory of his father, angry after being thwarted yet again, ranting against the “damned Vulcans and their damned rules” blended into flying a prototype engine model with his father…finally triumphant, still defiant.
Years in college, stuffing his anger while his warp field technology professors waxed poetic about Vulcans and their altruism. Receiving his officer’s commission, swearing an oath to serve Earth and to obey his superiors…and then dealing with the reality that his superiors were regularly kissing Vulcan asses in order to push their own agendas.
Taking command of Enterprise, finally able to be free of Vulcan influence, only to be saddled with a Vulcan babysitter. Stifling anger and frustration, using it to fuel his determination.
Becoming aware of the despised Vulcan as a woman, only to have his attempts to break out of long-held prejudices thrown in his face.
Pulled out of time, not once but dozens of times, told that he was vital to the future of the Earth…to all humankind. How could he live up to such a destiny?
Boarding the Xindi weapon…no one else must die… expecting death, yet somehow escaping it undeserved.
And then, despite everything, despite his buried hatred of Vulcans and his crippling self-doubt, he’d been chosen to carry Surak Himself.
The experience had destroyed him….remade him…forced him to see the truth. He’d become harder, more ruthless as he realized his true superiority over others. His thoughts had become clearer, his intellect incisive. Surak’s memories had not only made him more intelligent, they had made him a superman! How could anyone dare to question his decisions? He was infallible! A god-like being!!
At that realization, Sorsen pulled back the barrier shielding Jonathan from his emotions, and the true horror of his delusions overwhelmed him. He was a monster. There was no doubt in his mind that he didn’t deserve to live. Every bit of the progress he’d thought he’d made through meditation, all of his newly won pseudo-Vulcan calm, was stripped from him in seconds.
Sorsen ended the meld. Jon was crying, curled up in a ball on the biobed when the Vulcan left him.
The first thing Daniel noticed when he woke was that the pain in his back was gone. The second thing he noticed was a small warm hand gripping his fingers. He opened his eyes and T’Riss, startled, pulled her hand immediately from his and turned her head to call the doctor. The initial concern on her face might just have been his imagination.
“He is awake, Doctor,” she said. Phlox approached the bed with a broad grin on his face.
“So… how are you feeling?” he asked.
Daniel twisted experimentally. His muscles were sore, but the worst of the pain had vanished. He smiled. “I feel great, Doc. What did you do?”
“Don’t get overexcited, now, Mr. Johansen. All I did was cement your fracture and give you some medicine to strengthen your bones,” warned Phlox. “Some of the improvement you’re feeling is the residual local anesthetic. You’re not cleared for full duty yet. And I’ll want you to begin treadmill walking under full Earth standard gravity as soon as possible, a minimum of five miles daily, so you don’t want to overdo now and reinjure yourself or you’ll delay your recovery.”
“Understood , Doctor,” replied T’Riss. Daniel eyed her dubiously, and then swallowed and smiled half-heartedly at the doctor.
“Ummm, sure, Doc. Thanks,” he said. Then he noticed a Vulcan in healer’s robes standing behind the doctor. For a minute he thought it was his foster brother Stern, and then realized the impossibility of that assumption, since Stern was on Vulcan. The man was also somewhat older than Stern. They’d met before, briefly, at Daniel’s last encounter with Phlox and his syringes. Daniel nodded a greeting at the Vulcan and offered a ta’al. The healer returned his gesture, making eye contact with both Daniel and T’Riss to include both of them, in the way commonly done when greeting mated couples on Vulcan. Daniel grinned wryly and eyed T’Riss, who flushed olive, and then returned the gesture without any attempt to correct the healer’s initial impression. Phlox noted the exchange, although Daniel doubted that he understood its significance, and took it upon himself to make an introduction.
“Crewman T’Riss, Mr. Johansen… May I introduce Healer Sorsen?” The Vulcan tipped his head.
“Healer Tyvek has recommended that I seek you out, Crewman. Now that you have returned, I would be pleased to see both of you at your convenience,” he said. Then he turned to Phlox, abruptly dismissing Daniel and T’Riss in a way only possible for a busy Vulcan. “I have discovered the problem. Now our patient must rest,” he said softly. “I recommend a sedative and at least six hours of sleep before I attempt a healing meld. Take precautions. In his current state he will end his life if given the means to do so.”
“Of course,” said Phlox in a subdued tone. Daniel thought he could hear faint, hoarse sobbing from behind a closed curtain across the room. Phlox turned to T’Riss. “I’ll be keeping Mr. Johansen for another hour or two, Crewman. As it is noon, I suggest you have a meal and return at 1300 hours. You’re welcome to make use of our mess hall.” Then he turned back to Sorsen. The two of them were deep in conversation as they walked back toward the curtained cubicle.
“Would you like for me to bring you something to eat?” asked T’Riss. Daniel grimaced.
“I’m still sort of woozy from that knock-out stuff the doctor gave me. Maybe some plomeek broth?” he asked. T’Riss raised a brow.
“You want plomeek broth,” she said flatly. Daniel shrugged.
“It’s what V’Lan… Stern’s mother… used to give me when I was sick. I got used to it. It makes me feel better,” he replied.
“Ah.” Her brow was still up. “Very well. I will bring you plomeek broth.”
T’Riss entered the mess hall intending to collect a portion of plomeek broth for Daniel before returning directly to sickbay. Daniel was not a trustworthy patient. In her absence it was entirely possible that he would decide to do something foolish, thereby reversing all of the Denobulan’s good work. As his prospective mate, she reasoned, it was her job to protect him from himself.
She watched other crew members as they retrieved their desired food, and then did as they did. With two portions of hot plomeek broth on her tray—it did smell quite appealing—she turned to leave, only to see Commander Tucker and Commander T’Pol sitting together at a table across the room. She’d heard the rumors of their supposed relationship, all adamantly denied by official Vulcan channels. She’d dismissed them as nothing but rumor after meeting the rigidly professional Vulcan officer and the confusingly casual Human engineer separately. They could never possibly be a couple, she’d decided. They were too different in their behavior patterns, in their approach to living. No two such diametrically opposite individuals could ever coexist as a mated couple. But then she saw them together off duty, and her assumptions were proven false by one touch of their fingers across the padd on the table before them, a casual touch to a Human, perhaps, but never to a Vulcan. The idea occurred to her then that perhaps Commander T’Pol might have the knowledge she sought.
Tucker rose from the table and began walking directly toward her. With a smile on his face he replied to her sober nod of greeting--not with a greeting of his own but with an obscure statement.
“Go on, now. Don’t chicken out. You know you need to talk to her.” T’Riss felt her face grow warm as she stared at the Human. Did the man read minds?
“You’d better hop to it. She’s only got fifteen minutes left of her lunch break. I’ve got her all ready for ya,” he said cheerily, and shouldered past her where she stood obstructing traffic at the end of the lunch line. She heard him chuckling as he walked out of the mess hall. Her eyes cut to Commander T’Pol, and realized to her dismay that the acting captain of the Enterprise was looking directly at her across the crowded room as if she expected T’Riss to join her. What had the Human said? Something about getting Commander T’Pol “ready”? T’Riss’s feet began moving before she’d made the conscious decision that to leave the mess hall now with someone awaiting her would be impolite.Upon arriving at the table, T’Riss, accustomed to remaining standing in the presence of superior officers until asked to be seated but unsure of protocol on a Human ship, remained standing in silence, holding her tray while the commander eyed her.
“Commander Tucker informs me that you wish to speak with me, Crewman.” T’Riss nodded formally. T’Pol raised a brow. “Please be seated,” she said.
T’Riss did so, and noting that Commander T’Pol had no food before her, said, “Would you care for some plomeek broth, Commander?” Just as Vulcan custom dictated the offer be made, so custom required that it be accepted. T’Pol’s other brow went up as she took a bowl from the tray.
“You have been talking with Commander Tucker, haven’t you?” commented T’Pol.
As T’Pol had just seen the Human engineer stop and speak to her before exiting the mess hall, T’Riss didn’t consider a response necessary, so for want of a better thing to do, she took up a spoon and tasted the plomeek broth. It was surprisingly good.
“This broth has an unusual flavor…”
“Cayenne pepper,” replied T’Pol, lifting her own spoon. “It complements the traditional spices very well…a suggestion I presented to the chef after doing some research of my own regarding the blending of Vulcan and Human elements…in cooking.”
“I see,” said T’Riss carefully. She took another bite, as did T’Pol. “And did your research result in any other fortuitous combinations?”
“It is ongoing. I have discovered that Humans and Vulcans complement each other in many very unexpected ways,” said T’Pol in an eminently satisfied tone of voice.
“I, too, have noticed this phenomenon while serving on Lerteiran,” replied T’Riss.
“Yes. I understand that you have a Human serving with you, a Mister Johansen…David is it?” T’Pol inquired politely.
“Daniel. His name is Daniel.” Even T’Riss herself noticed how possessively she’d said the man’s name. T’Pol just took another bite of plomeek broth.
“And so, during your research, have you discovered any way to…expedite the process of blending, to…facilitate a more stable combination of elements?” T’Riss asked delicately. T’Pol raised a brow and considered the question for several seconds before answering.
“I have discovered that it is best to allow the elements to remain physically separate until they are ready to be permanently blended in order to retain their full flavors. Attempting to combine them too soon can cause difficulties…”
“How can I be certain that a combination will be successful unless I try it?” interjected T’Riss.
“You cannot,” replied T’Pol regretfully. “That is the main source of difficulty. Theoretically, one could research the nature of each element, learn as much as possible about it, and formulate a theory regarding the probable success of such a blending.”
“And when it is time for the elements to blend?” asked T’Riss.
“One must be certain that a permanent blend is desired, for once blended, the elements cannot be separated without destroying them.”
Commander T’Pol’s words struck fear into T’Riss. She took her last bite of plomeek broth, and then sat staring into the empty bowl for several seconds, attempting to regain control.
“T’Riss?” The commander’s voice was unexpectedly gentle. T’Riss looked up.
“It is time to speak plainly.” T’Pol said. “Your fear is understandable, but I am not the one you must confide in. Go to him. Talk to him. Be completely honest with him. And if he is the one you want, let nothing keep you from him.” She pushed back from the table and stood. “Our time is up, but you may contact me if you ever need my help. Live long and prosper.” The last was delivered in almost Human fashion, without hand gesture or rigid formality, but with a near smile on her lips. T’Riss was still sitting at the table with two empty bowls in front of her when T’Pol left the mess hall.
I must be honest with him…but I must not mate with him until I am certain that we are compatible. Will he stay with me under those restrictions? Will he not wish to be sexually satisfied while waiting? Will I frighten him away if I tell him that it may not be possible for us to separate if he changes his mind?
The sheer complexity of what she was attempting overwhelmed her, and she fought an impulse to rest her face in her hands in despair. She reviewed the Disciplines, casting out fear for several moments before rising to get a fresh bowl of plomeek broth for Daniel.
“You don’t have to keep doing this, you know,” sighed Daniel. “Go eat something. I’m fine now that the pain pill’s kicked in.” His body felt like a limp dishrag, and T’Riss’s hands were wringing him out. The sensation should have been painful, and it had been when she’d started, but now that the knots were gone it just felt unbelievably good.
“The pain medication provides only temporary improvement, and your surgery only repaired the bone. Doctor Phlox said that the muscles and tendons will require several weeks to heal, and that the spasms will return without careful attention,” replied T’Riss. “Sehlra agrees, and she is in command now that Jenrali is on his rest period. She has relieved me of my duties so that I may…”
"Sehlra says a lot of things,” interrupted Daniel blurrily. “I’d take ‘em with a grain of salt these days, if I were you. She’s gone all soft since she started mooning over that boy toy of hers. If you ask me, all this matchmaking of hers is just frustrated lust.”
"And so you believe that she will lose interest in pushing us together once she and Damin are reunited?” asked T’Riss. He bit back a groan when she leaned into his sacrum with all of her weight.
"Unh… prob’ly not, actually,” Daniel admitted. “There’s nothin’ like gettin’ laid to make a woman all mushy and sentimental. If she gives in and goes for it, things’ll prob’ly just get worse.” Worse? What am I saying? “Ummm…not that this is bad, mind ya. This is pretty darn far from bad, actually. I’m glad Sehlra told you to… I mean, I’m glad you decided to…”
"I am doing this of my own free will,” replied T’Riss sharply.
Uh-oh. “Sure. I know that,” he replied hastily. “And I’m grateful, believe me.”
"Your gratitude is not required. I am concerned about your ability to function, and I am doing what I can to keep you healthy,” she answered.
"Because it’s your job as my potential mate?” he hazarded, feeling reckless.
"Yes. Would not a Human betrothed do the same?” she replied. Her hot hands began kneading the meat of his buttocks through the thin cotton of his boxers with impersonal vigor. He cleared his throat.
"Ummm…well…yeah. I guess so,” he said in a strangled voice. “Except she’d probably say it was because she loved me.” Her strokes became gentler, extending down to the backs of his thighs as she pondered his statement, and the room suddenly felt about ten degrees warmer.
"This term ‘love’. What precisely does it mean? The Vulcan translations I have researched all seem inadequate,” said T’Riss. Daniel chuckled.
“That’s because it’s really hard to define, especially in English,” he told her.
"Considering the amount of Human literature devoted to the subject, one would think that a consensus could be reached,” T’Riss replied. Shifting her weight, she straddled his hips as he lay face down on the bed and returned her attention to his mid back. Daniel tried his level best to ignore the heat of her across the backs of his thighs, pressing against his hips, but it was no use. As long as she doesn’t expect me to turn over any time soon, I’m okay.
"Oh, there's a general definition,” Daniel told her, a touch breathlessly. “But it's...,” he paused to swallow and wet his lips. “inherently limited. English isn't a good language for describing emotions. It's a polyglot lingo that.... just... got cobbled together.... over the centuries.... It works pretty well for things like war and trade, and it can get the job done well enough in technical matters, but it's not so good with Human feelings.” He stopped to catch his breath. “For instance, I looked something up once. There's more than seventy different ways in English to say kill. There's 'terminate', which means 'to stop' all the way up to 'annihilate', which means 'to make into nothing'. In other words, to destroy something so completely that no trace remains.”
It didn't work. Daniel had hoped that a long winded digression into something as dull as linguistics would help him get a handle on things. Unfortunately, while his brain and mouth prattled on with such foolishness, everything below the neck refused to be distracted from more important matters.
"What you tell me is not surprising for a race with a history as violent as your own,” T'Riss told him calmly. She leaned back and began stroking him slowly in long sweeps from shoulder to buttocks and back again. Daniel felt his pulse start throbbing in his throat. He stifled a gasp.
"Yeah,” he swallowed hard. “but we only have one... word... love, to describe... the feeling be... between mates, and... between parents and... children... and between siblings... and between... battle comrades and... pets and... any other tight... tight emotional... connection. One... word has to work.... for all of them.” He went limp and panted, as helpless as a newborn kitten.
T'Riss digested this in silence for a while. Then she started rocking against him with each firm stroke on his back, pushing his hips into the mattress, and he completely lost track of the conversation.
"You are sweating and flushed. Are you well?” she asked, after several seconds during which he was literally incapable of speech. She moved off of him and crouched down by the side of the bed. For the first time since they’d come to the mutual acceptance of their attraction for one another Daniel met her eyes while he was fully aroused. The concern on her face was blatant, belying the emotionless tone of their previous conversation. The pain pills had stripped him of his inhibitions, and he just couldn’t help himself. He reached out with one hand around the back of her neck, pulled her lips to his, and kissed her. She offered no resistance.
Her lips remained closed and dry, innocent. He teased them open with the tip of his tongue and deepened the kiss, reaching blindly with his other arm around her waist to pull her atop him as he rolled to his back, ignoring his pain. He explored her mouth in a leisurely way for nearly a minute before coming up for air. In the final seconds, she began to respond to his kiss with hesitant caresses of her tongue on his lips. When he opened his eyes he found her staring down at him wide-eyed, breathing just as heavily as he was. He smiled at her.
"You’d never been kissed before, had you?” Daniel asked.
"It is not a Vulcan practice,” T’Riss whispered, her gaze fixed on his lips. She blinked, and then looked away. “And contact with the mouth is considered too intimate to indulge in with …”
Daniel pressed a finger to her lips to silence her, tipped her chin back toward him, and gave her another kissing lesson.
After a subjectively interminable time?but only seven minutes and forty-two seconds by T’Riss’s inner clock?Daniel stopped his determined effort to caress every millimeter of her skin from the neck up with his tongue and lay quietly beneath her with his arms wrapped around her waist. With her head resting on his chest, T’Riss could hear the frantic beating of his heart. Pulled fully against him, she could feel the rigid outline of the only portion of his anatomy over which he seemed to have no voluntary control. He was, she decided, in perfect control of his tongue.
“You okay?” He was breathless still.
Okay. The term was non-specific. Was feeling as if she were in the early stages of infection by the Ponfarr microbe “okay”? She didn’t think so.
“I am well,” she replied, a bit shakily.
“Good,” he sighed, and wrapped his arms more tightly around her.
Several seconds later, when she realized that his aroused state had not abated in the least, T’Riss, reasoning that he was waiting for her to reciprocate, rolled to one side, reached a hand between them and placed her fingers in the proper position to complete the task at hand, just as she had been taught at Natolya’s. She put the memories of her lessons aside and focused on technique. It was perhaps a less emotionally intimate activity than what they’d recently been engaging in, but it was the best alternative she could think of under the circumstances. Instead of relaxing and allowing her to proceed as she had expected, he froze as soon as she touched him.
“What’re you doing?” he asked in a wary voice.
“You will rest better if you attain release,” T’Riss replied, and proceeded to stroke vigorously for all of two seconds before he groaned, pulled her hand away from his body, and then rolled on top of her, pinning her to the mattress. Panic welled within her as his mouth covered hers hungrily and his pelvis thrust insistently against her, her newfound equilibrium destroyed by his abrupt aggressiveness, and she shoved without thinking. The thud his body produced when it hit the wall opposite the bunk was much louder than the whimpering sounds he made after sliding to the deck. T’Riss gazed at him in horror for a second, and then launched herself out of bed and to her knees beside him, trying to offer assistance. He pushed her away and stayed curled in a ball on the floor.
“What the hell was that!?” he gasped through clenched teeth. Tears of pain leaked from beneath his closed eyelids.
“I am sorry. You took me by surprise,” replied T’Riss, noting his obvious anger. It puzzled her. What had he expected? He’d given her no warning at all.
She placed a conciliatory hand on his arm and spoke softly in an attempt to calm him. “Please allow me to help you. You have injured yourself again.”
“No shit, Sherlock,” replied Daniel, a caustic but obscure reference she didn’t recognize. He groaned and pushed himself to a sitting position against the bulkhead.
“Can I bring you medication? Perhaps something warm to drink if you insist on staying on the floor?” she suggested. He shook his head, looking at her like he’d never met her before.
“Why?” he protested, “Why did you do that?”
T’Riss cocked her head at him, trying to comprehend his reaction. “I was not prepared. You knew this. It was you who made the decision that it was not yet time for us to mate when you declined my offer two nights ago. Why did you attempt it again without further discussion?” Daniel sat looking at her with his mouth open, his jaw working like a landed sea creature.
“But…you…” he stammered, “I thought…” T’Riss blinked at him, waiting for him to finish. He gave a frustrated exhalation and then managed to get out a full sentence. “You started it!”
T’Riss cocked her head in the opposite direction. “At no time this evening did I inform you of any intent to mate with you. Indeed, I was under the impression that you were in agreement with waiting until I had better control of my…difficulties.” She cleared her throat. Admitting the full extent of her terror to this man was not something she was capable of doing -at least not yet. Perhaps later it would be possible, once they’d gotten to know each other a little better.
“If grabbing me by the short hairs and pumping me like a well handle wasn’t ‘intent to mate with me’ then what the hell was it?” Daniel demanded.
“It was exactly what I said it was,” replied T’Riss. “You needed physical release. I was prepared to provide it.”
Daniel rolled his eyes. “I’ve got two good hands, T’Riss. If all I wanted was ‘physical release’, I wouldn’t need you,” he said. T’Riss felt her face get warm. She knew of such practices, of course. There were few sexual matters of which she did not have first-hand knowledge,. But among Vulcans self-abuse was considered a shameful lapse of logic and control, something which a right-thinking person would never perform unless forced to do so by the indignities of Ponfarr, when it was commonly used as a temporizing measure to delay the plak-tau. Humans were obviously much more cavalier about the practice. She cleared her throat again.
“I assumed that you would prefer it if I…”
“No. I wouldn’t,” he interrupted. “I don’t need ‘servicing’. I need a partner. If you’re not ready yet, don’t start something you can’t finish.” His tone was hostile, and T’Riss bristled. He obviously had no idea of the extent of the effort she was making to please him. It was perhaps illogical to expect gratitude, but she expected at least an attempt on his part to comprehend her difficulty. Humiliation filled her. Apparently she was an unacceptable partner even for a member of a species notoriously willing to mate with anything.
“Very well,” she replied, and stood. With effort she maintained an icily calm exterior. She took a step to the bedside table, retrieved a dose of pain medication from the bottle sitting on it, and poured Daniel a glass of water. Then she turned and handed them both to him. “Feel free to call out if you require assistance. I will be in my cabin,” she told him, and made as dignified an exit as possible under the circumstances.
Daniel stared after the maddening woman in disbelief. “What the hell was THAT?” he repeated vehemently and rhetorically to the closed door. Cursing under his breath, he then rolled over and managed to get his hands flat on the floor under himself. By carefully avoiding sudden movement, he inched his way back to the bunk.
“Damn all women,” Daniel muttered bitterly. “If they’re not getting me pounded, they’re pounding me themselves, or ripping my heart out and making me wish they would just pound me instead. Better off sticking with whores. Pay the money, get your rocks off, go on with your life.” He made it to the edge of the bunk and struggled to work both arms up onto the edge. “She grabbed me! Reached right out and grabbed me. What did she THINK I was going to do? Pretend we were discussing politics?” He shook his head and dragged himself up across the bunk, groaning with effort and pain.
“Crazy woman. First she tries to make friends,” he griped. “Then she kidnaps me. Then she feels all guilty and tries to make friends again. THEN she tries to mate with me. Not because she cares or anything, ya know. Just as a bribe to get me to marry her because she thinks nobody else will have her,” he continued, with anger growing in his voice as he continued ranting quietly to himself.
Daniel let the irritation flood out the pain in his back, helping him squirm into a reasonably settled position on the bunk. “I told her I wouldn’t push. So she makes a habit of literally jumping my bones every night and running her hands all over me. ALL OVER ME. I told her I wouldn’t do anything she didn’t want me to do. Then she does everything short of peeling naked and spreading herself on me like butter on toast.” He stopped to pant in painful indignation.
“THEN what does she do but grab me by the torpedo? Where in the galaxy is that not considered an open invitation?” He groaned and settled back on the pillow cursing silently to himself in frustration. To add injury to insult, he was still horny as a tomcat and too stubbornly angry to take care of it himself.
“She’s insane,” he concluded. “She’s not just damaged. She’s actually nuts. Only a suicidal fool would hook up with her. I’m actually lucky I realized it now, before we got too attached to each other,” he told himself firmly.
Daniel closed his eyes and sternly lectured himself. “You need to steer clear of T’Riss from now on for anything not duty related.” Her face appeared and he firmly shoved it aside. No. It didn’t matter how soft she was, or how good she tasted. Or how...
“Stop it,” he growled at himself. “She’s a certifiable lunatic. Do you really want to be on the receiving end when she snaps? You felt what happened tonight, and she wasn’t even mad. You saw what she did to Grigor-Tel when she got mad at him - and he was her bondmate! Voluntary or not, she was telepathically connected to him, but it didn’t stop her from killing him, did it?” he asked himself rhetorically. “No, it did not,” he answered himself. “Sure, she apologized for throwing you across the room just because you made the natural and logical conclusion based on her behavior. But that didn’t help the pain, did it, Danny boy?”
Her eyes were dark wells of emotion, barely contained. Daniel knew, better than almost any other Human, about the deep fires that lay within the Vulcan heart. They were blazing near the surface in T’Riss. They warmed her gaze and touched him in ways that ...
His shout filled the small cabin. Daniel gritted his teeth. No way. No. Not again.
“Not gonna happen this time, Danny boy. Not again. This time you’re gonna show some sense and back off before you get shafted.”
But she was so beautiful. And smart. And strong.
And dangerous as a pulse rifle on overload.
He moaned and rubbed his hands over his face. What the hell am I supposed to do?
Continued in Episode Ten
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