The Needs of the Many

By Distracted

Rating: PG-13

Genres: drama virtual season

Keywords: torture

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This story is number 5 in the series Virtual Season Five

A Cry in the Dark: The Needs of the Many

By Distracted

Rating: PG- 13 for a little language and violence, one death (He’s the bad guy), and sexual suggestiveness.

Disclaimer: Paramount owns TnT and the rest of the Enterprise crew, and I’m still depressed about that… As far as the Romulans go, if the names sound familiar it’s because I got them from several different web sites, mostly based on Diane Duane’s excellent Rhiannsu series. (Don’t sue me, Diane!) I made up everything but the names and some basic cultural stuff. I couldn’t find anywhere what exactly the Tal Shiar was supposed to do, so I used them sort of the way Enterprise uses MACOs… hope I didn’t tread on any toes in Rhiannsu fandom with this story.

Genre: Action/Adventure, Romance, Angst

Summary: This is a sequel to A Cry in the Dark and my response to two readers’ requests for a “Romulan story”. I don’t much like war stories, so this may not be what you’re expecting.

Subcommander Maec stood expressionlessly at his station on the bridge of the Romulan stealth ship Shiarrael, his slim muscular body at attention, his face showing no evidence of his disapproval. Just a few minutes before, the Commander had informed him of his intention to attack the planet below with a mere twenty Tal Shiar commandos armed with hand disruptors. The Tal Shiar officers would no doubt be pleased, as they’d had nothing to do for the past two years but clean their weapons, maintain ship’s discipline, and practice hand-to-hand combat techniques on each other, but Maec had not decided yet whether Commander Terrh was simply power hungry, or whether he had completely lost his mind.

The pursuit of power was an honorable activity. The difficulty arose when its pursuit conflicted with the direct orders of a superior. In this case, the Proconsul himself had charged the Shiarrael and her nine sister ships with providing covert surveillance data in preparation for the conflict that would inevitably occur when the Romulan Star Empire expanded its borders as its destiny required. The Commander of the Shiarrael was specifically prohibited from revealing its existence to any living being within their assigned surveillance area. If the plan he’d just outlined to his second-in-command were brought to fruition, he would be disobeying this order, and would be guilty of treason to the Romulan Empire. Subcommander Maec watched and waited. He could be patient. He had waited a long time for such an excellent opportunity for advancement.

Stepping on to the bridge from the war room, Commander Terrh approached the comm station, arrogantly eyeing the attractive young female centurion who manned it. He was heavy-set for a Romulan, with a brutal face and prominent forehead ridges.

“Give me ship-wide communications, Nuhir,” he ordered abruptly. She nodded and complied with alacrity, avoiding his gaze.

Centurion Nuhir had already been the focus of the Commander’s attentions once during this mission, and she had the scars to prove it. She had no desire for a repeat performance. As the Commander turned away to begin his announcement, she glanced at Subcommander Maec’s impassive face. He’d never shown any interest in her as anything other than a subordinate officer. Indeed, shipboard rumors indicated that he’d never shown a sexual interest in anyone aboard during their entire two year mission. Although the satisfaction of the physical desires of superior officers was, by custom, considered part of her duties, she found Maec’s restraint intriguing. The fact that he, as second-in-command, held power over her that he chose not to exercise, made her wonder what it would be like to entice him to do so. As her eyes roamed his lean, dark face, he caught her eye warningly and nodded in the direction of the Commander. Terrh would not be pleased if her attention appeared to be wandering.

“Today I speak to you not as my crew…,” began Commander Terrh over the ship-wide comm, “…but as fellow citizens of the Romulan Star Empire.” Terrh paused for effect with an insincere smile on his thick-featured face.

“We have received new orders from the Praetor himself!” he continued. Maec knew this statement to be a blatant lie. “It has now become our duty to conquer this backward planet that we have thus far been merely observing. In just a few hours, Betazed will become the newest member of the glorious Romulan Empire!”

Captain Jonathan Archer stood on the grounds of the Sixth House of Betazed. The setting was so beautiful, that had it not been for the grim solemnity of the occasion, he might have actually been enjoying himself. The state funeral for Ambassador Arianna and her consort was an elaborate affair held in the formal gardens of the ancestral home of the noble Sixth House. The formal gardens extended for a half-kilometer in all directions from the main house, which stood at the center of the estate grounds. The one-hundred room mansion was the cultural centerpiece of Betazed, and the home of one of the wealthiest families on the planet. The entire Ruling Council of Betazed was present with their families, friends and business associates. In addition to Jonathan Archer, the entire command staff of the Enterprise was also present, leaving Enterprise in orbit with a skeleton crew of junior officers.

Lieutenant Malcolm Reed stood in formal dress blues next to his captain, feeling significantly out of place amongst the royals of Betazed. He’d protested when the captain had proposed bringing the entire complement of senior officers down to the planet. Leaving Enterprise inadequately staffed, even in a profoundly tranquil setting such as this, made him very nervous. Archer had overruled his objections. They had all been invited to the ceremony. Archer wouldn’t risk a diplomatic incident by failing to have them all attend. He was determined that this first contact, unlike previous misadventures, would continue to go smoothly.

Ensign Hoshi Sato glanced sidelong at the handsome security officer. It was quite obvious that he was not comfortable in his current surroundings. She placed a hand on his arm. He looked at her in surprise, and she smiled reassuringly at him. Malcolm smiled back, feeling more comfortable by the minute. Perhaps the captain was correct. It wouldn’t do to refuse a personal invitation from the Matriarch of the Ruling Council of all Betazed. He took a deep breath and returned his attention to the ceremony.

In eerie silence, two elaborately carved wooden coffins containing the bodies of the Matriarch’s daughter and her consort were carried on the muscular shoulders of the members of the household guard of the Sixth House. Six young men, each so alike in appearance to the others that they might have all been brothers, carried each coffin down the garden’s central path toward the huge stone sepulchre that was the centerpiece of the garden. Mourners, lining both sides of the path, fell to their knees as they passed. The Matriarch followed the coffins on foot, walking hand-in-hand with her four year old granddaughter, who was solemn and quiet despite her tender years. Lianna and her grandmother both wore full-length gilt robes which sparkled in the sunlight. The Matriarch looked to the right and left as she walked, making eye contact with faces in the crowd and occasionally nodding in recognition of their telepathic offers of condolence.

To Commanders T’Pol and Tucker, the ceremony was anything but silent. Lianna, still linked to both of them any time she chose to be, was the channel through which they were able to experience the outpouring of grief and celebration of life that the ceremony had become. Each mourner contributed his or her own memories of the deceased, until T’Pol and Trip felt as if they’d known Lianna’s parents all their lives. It should have been emotionally overwhelming, but somehow sharing the memories and the sorrow with so many others made the pain easier to bear. Trip’s eyes filled with tears when he saw the expression on Lianna’s face. The tiny girl caught his eye.

Don’t cry, Trip-T’hy’la, she sent. Trip’s eyes closed and a tear ran down his cheek.

I’m all right, baby girl, he responded.

He reached to touch T’Pol’s hand with two fingers. She extended two fingers as well, her eyes also locked on Lianna’s face. T’Pol’s face was serenely impassive to the casual observer, but the situation reminded her entirely too much of the events of six months before, when she and Trip had been the ones grieving. She focused on controlling her remembered grief, and sent calm reassurance to both Trip and Lianna. Trip sighed in relief and removed his hand, conscious of the presence of the Enterprise crew among the mourners. Every telepath present was aware of their relationship. Most were also aware of the need to keep it confidential. Thus far, Lianna was the only Betazoid they’d met who’d let a hint of their relationship slip out. Fortunately, it now appeared that no one had noticed her little lapse. Their secret was still safe. Trip and T’Pol had decided that after the ceremony it would be wiser for them to disappear for the duration of their shore leave and minimize contact with their fellow crew members while they were on Betazed. It would only require one careless comment to reveal their secret on a planet where keeping a secret was virtually impossible.

The procession arrived at the sepulcher. There was no eulogy. The group sharing of grief and memories memorialized the deceased couple more sincerely than any spoken words could ever do. Once the Matriarch’s daughter and her consort had been laid into their places within the ancient stone, a second procession of women and men in black uniforms with gold trim began to travel slowly down the path. There were six coffins in this procession, simpler in design, but carried on the shoulders of the men and women in uniform as if they were the most valuable of all objects. Mourners knelt again as the procession filed by in silence. As it reached the Matriarch, she knelt as well. T’Pol could sense grief amongst the mourners, but also pride and profound gratitude. Although not of the Sixth House, all six members of the crew of the Imzadi were also interred within the royal sepulcher, given the opportunity in death to be the guardians of the woman they had so faithfully served in life. The Matriarch rose, and sent a telepathic call into the crowd. Five young men, a few with small children in hand, came forward. They were each embraced and ceremoniously kissed on both cheeks by the Matriarch. A sixth older man received an embrace from the Matriarch as well. She held him in her arms tenderly for several minutes. He cried openly as she tried to comfort him.

Archer turned to T’Pol. “Do you understand what’s going on?” he whispered.

“The young men were the consorts and spouses of the crew of the Imzadi,” she murmured. “They are commoners, not affiliated with any house. In commemoration of their sacrifice, they and their descendants have been adopted into the Sixth House.”

Archer nodded, favorably impressed by the Matriarch’s generosity.

Malcolm, standing to Archer’s left, asked softly. “Who’s the older man with the Matriarch?”

“He was the spouse of the captain of the Imzadi,” responded T’Pol under her breath. “I am not entirely certain of the relationship, but I believe he may have at one time also been the consort of the Matriarch. The marital relationships on this planet are rather complex. I believe that Ensign Sato has been spending a considerable amount of time studying the Betazoid culture. Perhaps she might be able to clarify the situation.”

Malcolm turned to Hoshi, who leaned toward him and whispered in his ear.

“It’s a matriarchal society, Malcolm. The women are in charge.” Her warm breath tickled his ear, sending a small shiver down his spine. He turned to her and smiled slightly.

“You seem to like that idea,” he murmured, his eyes fixed on hers as he spoke.

“It is a very interesting culture,” Hoshi answered softly, meeting his eyes. “Young women are encouraged to take lovers as consorts. Marriage is rare before middle age,” she continued. “It’s thought that experience in love grants life experience, and prepares a woman for her eventual role in society.”

“What about pregnancy or other… consequences?” Malcolm asked reluctantly, his face reddening. I can’t believe I’m having this conversation! he thought.

“These people are telepathic… there’s no way to hide anything in a relationship,” Hoshi answered, smiling at his shyness. “If a couple doesn’t want children… they take precautions. If a lover is unfaithful… there’s no concealing it. The relationship ends if it’s meant to end.”

Malcolm’s eyes narrowed. “It looks like men are second-class citizens here. How can they justify that in a completely honest society?”

“The role of men here is different than we’re used to, but not inferior,” countered Hoshi softly. “Women rule because it’s traditional that they do so, but men can choose to abandon the traditional roles of caretakers and fathers and take positions in business or politics. That they rarely do so doesn’t mean that it’s not possible. Society simply expects other things of them, and in a society of telepaths, peer pressure can be a powerful thing.” She looked back at the ceremony as the uniformed officers, followed by the Matriarch and her young heir, began to process back toward the house under an arch of ceremonial sabers held by the House’s honor guard.

Malcolm eyed Hoshi surreptitiously, noticing the way her eyes lit up as she admired the rows of muscular young men with swords.

I hope she’s not gotten too many ideas from this place, he thought. On the other hand, there’s something to be said for the appeal of a strong woman.

His lips curved upward in an almost imperceptible smile.

Following the ceremony, Lianna sought out Trip and T’Pol. “Gramma says I can show you the house,” she said with a grin, taking them each by the hand, her sorrow temporarily forgotten in the resilient manner of the very young.

Bypassing the huge entry hall milling with people, she led them both through an ancient ivy-covered side gate into a small courtyard on the east end of the house. Vines covered the walls of the courtyard. Blooms of a vivid blue-purple hue hung from the vines in a cascade of color, their intoxicating scent perfuming the entire space. To T’Pol, the odor was overwhelming and not at all pleasant. Trip inhaled deeply and smiled.

“This place smells like my grandma’s rose garden when I was a kid,” he told them. Then he became aware of T’Pol’s discomfort in the bond.

He looked around one last time, and then gave T’Pol a gentle smile.

“Why don’t we go in now, Lianna?” he suggested. Lianna and T’Pol exchanged a knowing look.

Lianna released Trip’s hand and began to lead T’Pol toward the house. T’Pol stopped and laid a hand on his arm.

Stay, t’hy’la… You know that you enjoy it here, she told him silently.

I’m gonna show T’Pol my room…, piped up the little girl telepathically. Call us when you’re done… we’ve got girl stuff to do, she added with a giggle. Trip shook his head and smiled. It was hard enough having one woman in his head!

He nodded his agreement, and waved cheerfully at them as they entered the house. Then he lay down on his back on one of the ancient stone benches in the courtyard and closed his eyes, enjoying the quiet and the wonderful smell of the flowers.

Trip was awakened suddenly by what sounded like weapons’ fire. He sat up on the bench where he’d been napping. The sounds occurred again, accompanied by screaming. They appeared to be coming from the entrance hall of the huge house. He closed his eyes.

T’Pol?... he called.

We’re in the house… Are you well? I heard hand weapons’ fire, she answered.

I’m okay… but I want both of you to stay where you are… all right? he replied. I think there’s something going on in the entrance hall. It’s up to you to protect Lianna… I’m gonna go find Jon and Malcolm.

Agreed, said T’Pol. Be careful, Commander. That’s an order.

Trip chuckled as he left the courtyard at a dead run, circling behind the house toward the west end where he’d last seen the rest of the Enterprise crew.

Yes, ma’am!... Wouldn’t dream of disobeying you! he sent back.

Subcommander Maec stood behind his commanding officer on the bridge of the Shiarrael. On the view screen, through the helmet camera of the Tal Shiar in command, he watched the fully armored commando group herd the frightened, unarmed telepaths into the house using blasts of disruptor fire. The commandos wore helmets and full body armor, concealing their appearance from their captives. Using translators programmed with the Betazoid language, they demanded the whereabouts of the Matriarch and the members of the Ruling Council. They received no cooperation until the soldier who appeared to be in charge began vaporizing random priceless pieces of furniture and statuary to demonstrate the destructive power of disruptor fire. The items in question were not simply destroyed… They were so thoroughly incinerated that they vanished as if they’d never existed. In a very short period of time, the invaders had gathered every member of the Ruling Council into the entrance hall, where they were bound and gagged.

The Tal Shiar troops had been deposited on the surface via matter transporter. This had required a brief deactivation of the Shiarrael’s cloak, risking detection by the Earth ship in orbit around the planet. Maec prepared himself for action. It was time to do something before Commander Terrh’s ill-advised plan betrayed the presence of the Romulan Empire in a sector of space where no one currently suspected its presence. He stepped forward and placed the muzzle of his disruptor on the back of his commanding officer’s head. Terrh froze as he felt the weapon’s touch.

Maec, keeping his gaze firmly on the back of Terrh’s head, announced loudly for the benefit of the entire bridge crew, “Commander Terrh… by mounting this attack, against specific orders to the contrary by the Proconsul himself, you have become a traitor to the Romulan Empire. I am relieving you of duty. If you choose to challenge my claim, I will have no option but to execute you as befits a traitor. Will you surrender command?”

Terrh lifted both hands in the air and turned to face Maec. Then he laughed in his face. “You’re a worm, Maec. How can you believe that this crew will obey you?” He looked around the bridge at the stunned faces of the bridge crew.

“Look at them! They fear me. That is how you ensure obedience!...Observe…,” he said with a feral grin.

“Vrih!” he snapped at the weapons officer over his shoulder, keeping his eyes fixed on Maec.

“Yes, Commander!” answered the centurion as he stood at rigid attention at his post.

“Kill Subcommander Maec!”

Centurion Vrih regarded the scene before him. He locked eyes with Maec, and saw a man who possessed both determination and honor.

“No sir, I will not,” he answered.

Terrh turned and looked at the centurion in disbelief. “You dare to disobey me?”

Momentarily forgetting all about Maec in his rage, Terrh pulled his disruptor from his belt and pointed it at the centurion. Maec fired. The outline of Commander Terrh’s body was briefly drawn in flame, his mouth gaping soundlessly in agony. The beam incinerated him completely, leaving nothing but a sprinkle of fine black ash sifting down onto the seat of the command chair.

Subcommander Maec put away his disruptor, took a deep breath, and straightened his uniform. He then walked forward and, after dusting the seat off lightly with one hand, took his place in the command chair.

“Centurion Nuhir,” he said quietly.

“Yes, Subcommander,” she answered respectfully.

“A ship-wide comm channel, please.”

“Yes, sir. Right away, sir.”

Captain Archer, Lieutenant Reed, Commander Tucker and Ensign Sato were crouched together behind a large hedge in the formal gardens on the west end of the house. Archer activated his communicator.

“Archer to Enterprise.”

“Mayweather here,” answered the Enterprise’s acting captain.

“Travis, scan our location and its’ immediate surroundings,” said Archer. “See if you can pick up any biosigns besides Betazoids and the command crew. I need to know their locations and how many of them we’re dealing with.”

“Aye, sir!”

Archer heard more weapons’ fire coming from the front of the house.

“Captain?” Travis’ voice sounded over Archer’s communicator.

“Yes, Ensign… What have you got?”

“I’m getting twenty biosigns, but they’re not very clear. I can see some of the soldiers on the visual scanner, Captain,” replied Mayweather. “They’re wearing some kind of fancy armored EV suits. The sensors can’t pick up species characteristics too well through the suits, but there’re definitely twenty of them, and they’re all within 100 meters of the house.”

“All right, Ensign… This is what I need you to do,” said Archer. “Lock on to this location and beam down five phase pistols…”

“And a plasma rifle!” added Malcolm over Archer’s shoulder. Archer looked at him quizzically.

Malcolm shrugged and grinned. “Can’t hurt!” he said.

“…and a plasma rifle,” added Archer with an amused expression. “Send three tricorders as well, and try to make it quick.”

Archer winced at the sound of more weapons’ fire. He hoped there would still be someone alive for them to save once he and his crew were finally able to help.

T’Pol and Lianna peered down into the entrance hall from behind the railing of the second floor balcony. T’Pol had her hands full trying to prevent Lianna from running down the stairs to “make the bad people stop hurting Gramma”. The Matriarch was holding up quite well. Despite her bound hands and the gag in her mouth, she broadcasted a steady stream of telepathic reassurance. At the moment, this reassurance was the only thing preventing Lianna from revealing their hiding place.

Downstairs, someone began screaming. Although no one had been killed yet, the soldiers had not been gentle with the members of the household guard that had tried to fight them with nothing but ceremonial sabers. A young woman had found her lover unconscious from a blow to the head, and was sobbing noisily. One of the alien soldiers ordered her to stop the noise, pointing his disruptor at her as he did so. The Matriarch stood and placed her body between the soldier and the distraught girl. Lianna, seeing her grandmother threatened, decided to take matters into her own hands. She stood suddenly, slipping away from T’Pol, and ran to the top of the stairs.

“Leave my gramma alone!” she shouted at the top of her lungs. The soldiers started at her high-pitched voice, but none of them fired a weapon, not considering the tiny girl to be a threat. They would live to regret that decision as the non-verbal portion of the child’s warning affected the telepathic centers of their brains, sending everyone with even rudimentary telepathic talent within a one kilometer radius of Lianna’s mental blast into a grand mal seizure, followed by unconsciousness.

Following his ship-wide announcement notifying the crew of the change of command, Subcommander Maec contacted Senior Centurion Sienae of the Tal Shiar, currently in command of the ground forces, who was standing reluctantly in the entrance hall of the Sixth House, babysitting nearly two hundred civilians and politicians.

Shiarrael to ground force commander.”

“Sienae here,” she answered in a brisk, businesslike fashion, hoping to finally receive orders about what to do with all of these people.

“This is Subcommander Maec. There has been a change of plan. We are withdrawing from the surface. Commander Terrh is no longer in command. He falsified his orders, and in doing so, became guilty of treason. You and your fellow officers on the surface are engaging in an illegal military action. If you withdraw immediately, and prepare for immediate transport back to the Shiarrael, this incident will be forgotten. If you or any of your soldiers attempt to disobey my order, I will not hesitate to lock on to your coordinates and beam you into space. Do I make myself clear?”

Sienae sighed. Why does transfer of command always involve death threats? she thought ruefully.

“Yes, Subcommander. Understood,” she said.

Sienae looked around her at the groups of frightened Betazoids huddled together for reassurance. Maec was correct. This invasion was without honor for either side. These people were sheep. They didn’t belong in the Romulan Empire. She had just turned to report the new orders to her second-in-command when a childish voice rang out over the entrance hall. Within seconds, she was seizing, her brain driven into overload by a powerful telepathic sending.

Lianna walked downstairs, looking around her in bewilderment. For the second time in her life, she had no one within reach with whom she could telepathically bond. She ran to her grandmother and tried to wake her. The old woman moaned and opened her eyes. Lianna couldn’t reach her mind, but for now, just being in her arms was enough.

Subcommander Maec watched from the bridge of the Shiarrael as the camera image from Senior Centurion Sienae’s helmet angled suddenly toward the ground. The camera view shifted to an angle originating from the floor. Fortunately, the centurion had fallen face-up. The picture jerked for several seconds, and then became steady. Every person within the camera’s field of vision was motionless on the ground.

“They’ve got some kind of weapon!” he told Centurion Vrih. “Did the sensors pick up anything?”

The solemn male at the weapons’ station inspected his console. “No, Subcommander,” he replied. “No weapons’ fire was detected.” He looked up in surprise from his inspection of the sensor readings. “Sir!... Everyone is alive! They’ve merely been rendered unconscious.”

Maec nodded grimly. “Have Engineering begin beaming our people aboard. Lock on to everyone on the surface with Romulan biosigns. Use both matter transmitters to minimize our decloaked time. Stand by on weapons. If we are discovered, we may need to defend ourselves.”

“Yes, Subcommander,” replied Vrih.

Ensign Travis Mayweather, acting captain of the Enterprise, was beside himself with worry. In his last communication with Captain Archer, the captain had acknowledged receipt of the weapons and tricorders, and was planning to lead an assault on the forces which held the Ruling Council of Betazed hostage. There had been no word from the away team for over thirty minutes. Sensors indicated that the alien soldiers were still on the planet, but all of them were stationary. So was nearly every other humanoid life form in the vicinity of the Sixth House.

Crewman MacNamara, manning both the science station and communications, gave a startled cry.

“Ensign Mayweather! A ship just appeared out of nowhere!”

“Put it on screen,” replied Travis.

He recognized the sleek silhouette as a ship identical to the one the Enterprise had encountered in a minefield in the second year of their mission. He’d studied the images in detail, wondering what it would be like to fly one of the beautiful bird-like vessels. Hoshi had identified their origin as Romulan, but no one had seen what the aliens looked like.

“What’s it doing, Crewman?” Travis asked MacNamara, who was studying the sensor readings intently.

“Looks like it’s transporting its people off-planet. No signs of hostility yet.”

Travis nodded. “Get me the captain,” he said.

“The Earth ship has detected us, Subcommander,” reported Nuhir in a concerned voice. She continued to focus her attention on the ship to surface transmissions coming from the Enterprise.

“Any signs of hostility?” asked Maec, as the image of the Enterprise appeared on the viewscreen, replacing the images from the surface of the planet.

“None, sir.” The centurion listened for a moment. “The ship’s captain is on the surface, sir. The acting captain sounds young and very inexperienced.”

Subcommander Maec sighed. Firing on an obviously inferior opponent lacked honor, but the Shiarrael had been discovered. Although the Earth ship could not identify them as Romulan, having presumably never encountered a Romulan vessel before, action was necessary to prevent it from pursuing them.

“Target their engines,” he told Vrih. The weapons officer nodded his understanding.

“Fire disruptors.”

MacNamara looked up, his freckled face showing his distress.

“They’re powering up weapons, Mr. Mayweather!”

“Tactical alert!” responded Travis, as a tremor of weapons’ fire shook the ship.

He turned to the young crewman at the weapons station, who looked back at him in panic, and then frantically searched the console in front of him. Travis ran to the weapons station and palmed the tactical alert control, triggering the shriek of the siren and powering up the weapons. He aimed the phase cannons at the attacking ship and fired. The sensors registered a direct hit to the Romulan ship’s starboard warp nacelle before the ship vanished into thin air.

Travis stared at the view screen, now showing a deceptively peaceful view of Betazed from orbit. He exhaled heavily, running a hand across the back of his neck. He activated the comm.

“Mayweather to Engineering.”

“Hess here,” replied the acting chief engineer.

“That last shot didn’t sound too good, Lieutenant. Can you give me a damage report, please?” asked Travis politely. He felt strange being in command with a superior officer on board, but Janice Hess had refused to leave Engineering.

“We’re dead in the water, Mr. Mayweather,” she replied. “Impulse engines only… and we’ve got some damage to them, too.”

Ensign Mayweather sighed and sat back in the chair at the weapons station. Commander Tucker was going to kill him! “Anything I can do to help?” he asked hopefully.

“Can you see if Commander Tucker is done with his shore leave?” asked Lieutenant Hess half-jokingly. “We could sure use his help down here.”

Travis chuckled ruefully. “I’ll see what I can do, Lieutenant,” he replied. “I could sure use some help up here too… Looks like everyone’s shore leave is cancelled.”

Trip woke up, and immediately wished he were still asleep. His head throbbed with the mother of all headaches. He opened one eye to find Jonathan Archer by his bedside.

“Hey, Trip… How’s the head?” Archer asked softly.

“Feels about ten times worse than the mornin’ after you an’ A.J. decided ta take me out drinkin’ for the first time,” Trip joked in a painful whisper. He held his head in both hands and grimaced as he sat up, then looked at Jon curiously.

“How’d ya know I had a headache?”

Archer smiled ruefully, looking at Trip as if he had more than just a headache on his mind.

“The Betazoid doctors told me you’d probably wake up with one,” he answered. “Everyone else who was affected by Lianna’s little temper tantrum has already regained consciousness. The only side-effects the Betazoids are experiencing so far are a little headache and the complete inability to communicate telepathically… probably for the next several days. They said it might hit you a little harder because you’re not a telepath… You just got the overflow from Lianna… and T’Pol,” he added reluctantly. “Your brain got a little overloaded, and you had no defenses to block the effects.”

Trip nodded in understanding, and then winced at the head motion. He closed his eyes and tried to contact T’Pol to make sure she was all right. Despite his best efforts, he sensed nothing. It was then that he noticed the complete absence of T’Pol’s presence in his mind. He opened his eyes in sudden panic, and then realized that his inability to sense his wife’s presence was probably a side effect of Lianna’s mental blast.

I guess I’ll just have to find out if she’s okay the old-fashioned way, he thought ruefully.

“Jon… Where’s T’Pol?” He tried to sound casual about it, but Archer could hear the concern in his voice. Archer sighed. He’d hoped to delay this conversation until his friend was feeling better.

“She’s not here, Trip,” said Archer reluctantly. “For some reason, the attackers took her when they transported back to their ship.”

Trip’s eyes widened in distress.

“Malcolm’s working on trying to find the vessel as we speak, Trip,” Archer hastily added. “Don’t worry… we’ll find her.”

Trip swung his legs over the side of the bed and stood up unsteadily. “I’ve gotta get back to the ship so I can help Malcolm!” he said through clenched teeth. Archer grabbed him by the arm to steady him.

“As soon as the Betazoid doctors clear you, we’ll head straight up, Trip,” replied Archer reassuringly, “…but I need you to stay here until you’re ready to work…I’m really going to need your help with repairs on the Enterprise.” Trip looked at him with a puzzled expression.

Archer gave him a rueful smile. “The Romulan ship nearly destroyed her engines before it disappeared.”

In a less critical situation, the look of absolute horror on Trip’s face might have been amusing.

The Shiarrael traveled, cloaked, in geosynchronous orbit on the opposite side of the planet. With only one warp nacelle functioning, she was almost as immobile as Enterprise. Unlike Enterprise, the Romulan ship didn’t have the resources of Betazed’s orbital station to rely on. Senior Centurion Jarok, chief engineer of the Shiarrael, was discussing repairs with Subcommander Maec.

“Is it possible to repair the engine with the resources we have available, Centurion?” asked Maec.

The subcommander had actually gone down to Engineering to meet with Jarok in person. Commander Terrh would have never deigned to set foot in such a menial department. Jarok was certain that the subcommander’s mere presence in Engineering would gain him the use of the Shiarrael’s engines in half the usual time… simply because the crew wished to please him now that he had paid them the honor of a personal visit.

“It will take some time, Subcommander, but I believe that our metal fabricators will be able to produce the necessary parts,” replied Jarok. “I suggest that we move into the asteroid belt surrounding the fifth planet in the system so that we’ll have to the raw materials necessary for our repairs.” He stood stiffly at attention, awaiting Maec’s response. His previous commanding officer had not taken kindly to suggestions from anyone.

Maec nodded. “I agree,” he told Jarok mildly. “We’ll break orbit within the hour.” Jarok straightened even more, and raised his right fist to his left shoulder in salute. “You’ll have warp drive within five days, sir!” he vowed.

Subcommander Maec returned his salute solemnly, gave him a grateful nod, and then turned to leave. He walked down the corridor toward the ship’s small Sickbay, seeking the ship’s medic. He wanted to discuss the condition of the Tal Shiar troops with her. The ship’s entire complement of ground troops was currently confined to their quarters, nursing the disabling headaches that had resulted from an apparent attack on the planet’s surface by an extremely effective, non-lethal defensive weapon. Thus far, neither the weapons officer nor the ship’s medic had been able to determine its nature. Fortunately, the effects appeared to be temporary. When Maec arrived in Sickbay, he found it empty. He activated the comm.

“Maec to Sela.”

“Sela here, Subcommander… I am in the holding cell, treating the prisoner,” answered the ship’s medic. Her voice seemed full of… anticipation?

Maec was taken aback. “What prisoner, Centurion?... I was not aware that we had any prisoners on board!”

“Nevertheless, Subcommander… She is here, and she requires medical assistance,” replied Sela dryly. She hesitated for a moment, then asked suggestively, ”Will you require my assistance with her interrogation?”

Somehow, Maec got the impression that Sela was accustomed to…and perhaps even looking forward to… her previous commanding officer’s more personal “interrogation” techniques.

“Just treat her injuries, Sela,” he responded curtly. “I’m on my way.”

Subcommander Maec stood silently, observing the prisoner through the one way view port of the holding cell, and wondering what he was going to do with her. The woman was slim and quite petite compared to most of the Romulan females of his acquaintance. She sat calmly on the floor in the center of the cell with her eyes closed. Her smooth forehead and finely chiseled features, combined with her delicately pointed ears, identified her as Vulcan. Despite her serene demeanor, something had obviously happened since she had been brought on board. The cell was a shambles. The bedding had been stripped from the bed, shredded, and strewn about the room. The metal bed frame, normally permanently attached to the posterior wall of the cell, was bent and partially pulled away from the wall. There were deep dents in the door of the holding cell. The prisoner’s close-fitting grey uniform was green-spattered, and her hands were wrapped in green-stained bandages.

“How was she injured?” Maec asked softly.

Sela wordlessly pulled up the security camera recording.

The woman’s small figure materialized from the transporter beam directly onto the bed in the holding cell, obviously diverted there by the ship’s transporter matrix security protocols once she was identified as not being a member of the ship’s crew. For several seconds she simply lay there. Maec watched as she regained consciousness and rapidly scanned her surroundings. Then she paused, her eyes widening almost imperceptibly. She closed her eyes again and remained still for several moments, sitting motionless on the bed. When her eyes opened again, they were momentarily filled with tears, and then abruptly shone with cold fury.

She got up from the bed and tore it partially from the wall with a single shove of one small foot. Then she proceeded to systematically destroy every fixture in the room with her bare hands, her face feral in its rage. Maec swallowed and inhaled deeply. He felt a warmth in his belly which traveled rapidly southward… a stirring of sexual interest unlike any he had experienced in a very long time.

She is magnificent! he thought.

He watched in fascination as she pounded both fists into a bloody pulp against the door of the holding cell, screaming incoherently as she did so, her lithe body coiling and uncoiling repeatedly with each two-handed strike. A fine mist began to issue from ports in the walls of the cell. The Vulcan slumped to the floor, rendered unconscious by the inhaled sedative.

“It was at this point that the subcenturion on duty deigned to call me for orders,” stated Sela dryly. “Although his call was too late to save the holding cell from significant structural damage, I did manage to sedate the prisoner before she could cause permanent damage to herself, and treat her fractures with a bone annealer,” she continued. “The soft tissue damage will require further healing time, but she should retain full use of her hands.”

Maec nodded, his gaze returning to the prisoner as she sat motionlessly in the center of the cell. “Bring a pallet in there for her, and a vegetarian meal,” he ordered softly. “Offer her a change of clothing, and water for drinking and washing as well.”

Sela nodded, then looked at Maec curiously. “Why is she here, Subcommander?”

“I’m not entirely sure…,” admitted Maec, “…but I intend to find out very shortly.” He straightened his shoulders, his eyes still focused on the prisoner. He seemed reluctant to leave. He tore his gaze away and regarded Sela with a determined look. “Keep me informed of her condition,” he told her. “If it worsens, I will hold you personally responsible.”

Sela’s brow lifted in surprise. Despite his obvious interest, her new commanding officer did not apparently intend to do what she’d assumed he would do with such a female. She hid her disdain for his weakness, and her disappointment. She’d been looking forward to the entertainment. “Yes, sir.” she replied. “I will keep you informed.”

T’Pol woke with a headache severe enough to require several moments of deep breathing before she regained enough control to open her eyes without wincing in pain. The metallic scent of her surroundings told her that she was no longer on the grounds of the Sixth House of Betazed. Her last memory before her loss of consciousness had been of Lianna running away from her, trying to protect her grandmother. She’d heard the child shout something, but before she could run to her and rush her to safety she’d been incapacitated by an excruciating pain in her head, and apparently rendered unconscious. She now appeared to be in a holding cell on a ship or space station. There were instructions for use of the fixtures in the room on the wall, written in a script which T’Pol didn’t recognize, but which was definitely not the Betazoid language.

Not the Betazoid space station, then, she thought. Curiously, the script actually had some similarity to archaic Vulcan writing… but that was likely to be a coincidence, of course.

T’Pol closed her eyes and attempted to contact Lianna, but was unable to do so. She was initially unconcerned, believing that the child was distracted by other things and had allowed their link to be broken. Then she noticed that Trip’s presence was absent from her mind. She suppressed the pang of concern triggered by his absence. Surely there was a logical explanation. Perhaps the distance between them was too great for her to sense his presence. In the past, prior to their marriage bond, when their mating bond was still new-born, she’d been able to connect with him in the white space even when they were light years apart, serving on separate vessels. She tried valiantly to re-create their connection in the same way. After several moments of effort, she was forced to conclude that the most logical explanation for her inability to contact both Trip and Lianna was that they were both dead. After all, both of them had been trapped in a hostage situation by aliens with deadly weapons when she’d last seen them. Her mind processed the information, detailing in step-by-step fashion the reasons why her conclusion was the most likely one, given the current circumstances. Intellectually, she understood. Emotionally, however, her heart screamed its denial. She opened her eyes, and her control snapped. At first, the grief was overwhelming… disabling. She wanted to die. Then her fury came to the fore.

I will destroy the ones who killed them, was her predominant thought.

Her anger drove her to self-destruction. She thought of nothing but taking her fury out on herself and on her surroundings. Screaming incoherently, she destroyed everything in her path, beating her hands fruitlessly against the cold metal of the holding cell door, punishing herself for failing to protect them… hating herself for still being alive while they were dead. The aerosolized sedative forced her to her knees. She lost consciousness, her useless hands held against her blood-spattered chest, her soul crying out for her t’hy’la, and getting only silence for an answer.

Trip Tucker was working on his thirty-sixth hour without sleep. The repairs to Enterprise were going well, thanks to the orbital station’s spacedock facility and the unstinting cooperation of the Betazoid government. Enterprise would be warp-capable again in a matter of days. The search for Commander T’Pol, however, was not going as well.

“Any sign of a departing warp signature, Lieutenant Reed?” asked Archer as he walked into the situation room.

Malcolm Reed was painstakingly reviewing the sensor logs recorded at the time of the appearance, attack, and sudden disappearance of the Romulan ship. He looked ruefully at the captain.

“The only warp-capable vessels that have left the system since our encounter with the Romulans have been freighters with a maximum speed of warp two and valid identification codes. I’m trying now to see whether I can pick up something from the sensor logs… but so far I’ve had no luck,” he replied.

Archer thought for a moment, wracking his brains for anything that could possibly be helpful.

“Then maybe we should look in-system,” he told Malcolm with a thoughtful expression. “Maybe Travis’ quick thinking damaged them too badly to go to warp.”

Malcolm looked at him with dawning comprehension. “If they’re instituting repairs, they’ll need raw materials for the matter converters in order to construct spare parts,” he said.

Archer nodded in a satisfied manner. “Check the asteroid belt for sources of titanium and beryllium,” he told Malcolm.

Malcolm nodded in agreement. “It’s a good place to start, Captain… I’ll get right on it.” He turned to the console to re-direct the sensor arrays.

“Hess to Captain Archer.” Lieutenant Janice Hess’ voice sounded quietly over the comm.

“Archer here… is there a problem, Lieutenant?” he responded.

“Sorry to disturb you, Captain…” she said softly. “…but Doctor Phlox said you’d probably want to be informed that Commander Tucker has been on duty now for almost two days without a break. I’ve just come back on shift for the second time since repairs began, and he’s never left Engineering. I’ve tried to suggest to him that its time for him to eat and sleep, but he won’t listen to me or to the doctor… He keeps saying something about how he has to keep working until “both his girls are okay”. I’m really not sure what he means by that, sir… but we’re all really worried about him.”

Archer sighed. “Thank you for calling this to my attention, Lieutenant. I’ll take care of it.” He exchanged a knowing glance with Lieutenant Reed, and then punched the comm again.

“Archer to Engineering.” There was silence for several moments.

“Tucker here,” came Trip’s delayed response. His hoarse, exhausted whisper could barely be heard.

“Meet me in Sickbay, Commander. There’s something we need to discuss.” Archer’s firm tone indicated that he would tolerate no arguments. He heard Trip’s frustrated sigh over the comm.

“I’ll be there in five minutes, Cap’n,” he replied.

Senior Centurion Jarok looked up from the warp coils to find Subcommander Maec in Engineering for the second time in a single shift. Wiping his filthy hands on the front of his uniform, he stood up and assumed a posture of rigid attention, wondering what he’d done wrong. The subcommander did not appear pleased.

“The repairs are progressing well, sir,” Jarok reassured him hastily. “If you’ll just give me a little more time…”

Maec ignored his protests.

“I understand that you were responsible for operating the matter transmitters which retrieved our soldiers from the surface, Centurion,” he said sternly.

Jarok blinked, surprised at the subcommander’s tone. His matter transmitters had worked perfectly. All twenty soldiers had been recovered. They had even managed to bring aboard a quite tasty-looking morsel for the subcommander to enjoy himself with, if his memory of the brief look he’d gotten at the prisoner served him correctly. What could the problem possibly be?

“Yes, sir… I was,” Jarok admitted.

“Can you explain to me then, why, although twenty people transported down to the surface of Betazed, twenty-one were transported back?”

Jarok met Maec’s eyes briefly in alarm, then fixed his gaze rigidly forward once again.

“You wanted to minimize our time uncloaked, sir. Manually locking on to each member of the attack force would have required too much time. I therefore programmed a range of biometric parameters into the transporter matrix and transported everyone on the grounds of the Sixth House whose biosigns fell within those parameters simultaneously.” He swallowed. “I was not aware that there were any Vulcans on the grounds, sir… My parameters were too broad. There was not a sufficient difference between the prisoner’s biosigns and those of our crewmembers to exclude her.” Jarok clenched his jaw and waited.

Subcommander Maec simply nodded.

“Reprogramming the transporter matrix was an excellent idea, Centurion. By limiting our time uncloaked, you very likely saved the ship from destruction, considering the amount of damage the Earth ship managed to do with a single shot.” He sighed and continued. “In the future, however, I would appreciate it if you would exercise more care in whom you choose to bring aboard.” He turned to leave, seemingly unaware of Jarok’s sigh of relief at being spared punishment for his mistake.

“She’s completely destroyed the holding cell… and I have nowhere else to put her,” Maec said absently. His attention returned to Jarok. “Send a couple of men to make repairs to the holding cell once the warp drive is back on line,” he said.

“Yes, Subcommander,” replied Jarok. He watched his commanding officer leave Engineering with a puzzled look on his face.

He’s worried about the condition of the holding cell when we’ve got structural damage in the crew quarters to repair?

This new commander was definitely a peculiar fellow.

Trip entered Sickbay, as ordered, with a PADD filled with engine diagnostics in each hand, and covered from head to foot in the industrial lubricants that served as the body fluids of his second most favorite “girl”. He found Doctor Phlox and Captain Archer there waiting for him with their arms crossed on their chests, and identically stern expressions on their faces. Looking at both of them in consternation, he shook his head ruefully and lifted both hands in the air in surrender.

“I know what you’re gonna say… so ya might as well not even bother,” he said with a tired laugh, then walked up and handed the PADDs to the captain. “Can ya make sure Hess gets these?”

Archer smiled, chuckling softly. “She’ll get them, Trip… now let the Doc take care of you.” He took the PADDs, laid a hand gently on Trip’s shoulder, and then headed for the door.

Trip turned to Phlox with a resigned expression as Archer left the room.

“I’ve already tried to sleep, Doc,” he said hopelessly. “It doesn’t work!”

Phlox led him to a biobed and made him lie down.

“I can give you a sedative, if you think one is necessary,” replied Phlox sympathetically as he passed the hand-held scanner over Trip’s body.

“I’m not even sure that’ll work, Doc,” Trip replied. “I know it sounds corny, but I feel like there’s a piece a’ my soul missin’!” His eyes filled with tears. “I know it’s just a side effect of what happened on the planet, but I got used to her bein’ inside my head, and now that she’s gone… it hurts!” His voice lowered to a whisper as he stared across the room with unfocused eyes. “I just can’t help thinkin’… what if we never find her again?... What if somethin’s happened to her?” He looked at the doctor with haunted eyes. “Then I really can’t sleep!”

Phlox gave Trip a small, sad smile. “I’m afraid I don’t have a solution for you, Commander. All I can offer you is my confidence that Captain Archer will do everything in his power to locate Commander T’Pol. I am also confident that you will be of much more assistance to him if you eat, drink and get some rest.” He studied the results of the scan. “You are mildly dehydrated, physically exhausted, and your blood sugar is low…,” he admonished, “…but you will be relieved to hear that the neurochemical changes triggered by our favorite young Betazoid telepathic powerhouse are beginning to normalize. You should be capable of telepathic contact within the next few days.”

Trip smiled weakly in relief. “Maybe after I can hear T’Pol again, I’ll be able to help Malcolm figure out where they took her,” he said hopefully.

“I certainly hope so, Commander,” replied Phlox. He pressed a hypospray into the side of Trip’s neck.

“You know the routine, Mr. Tucker… Go directly to your quarters for at least six hours, then eat a meal and drink at least one liter of fluids before returning to duty,” ordered Phlox.

Trip nodded wearily, and left Sickbay, barely making it to the bed in his quarters before the medication, combined with a two-day lack of sleep, deprived him of all conscious thought.

Subcommander Maec stood at the observation window once again, intently studying the prisoner. She’d refused both food and water, and had remained motionless in the center of the room for several hours now, showing no sign of awareness of her surroundings except when Sela had entered the room bearing food, water, and a bedroll. Maec had watched their interaction in the security recordings. The prisoner’s face had been impassive as she’d watched the medic cautiously leave the items she’d been ordered to provide, then back slowly out of the room, holding a hand disruptor pointed at the Vulcan the entire time. Once Sela had reached the safety of the observation area, she’d used her portable translator to speak to the prisoner in Vulcan over the intercom.

“I am Centurion Sela, the ship’s medic,” she said. “If you require anything, or have any information which may be useful to us, ask for me… I may be able to improve your chances of leaving here unharmed.”

Maec’s brow lifted at Sela’s choice of words. It sounded as if she were offering to help, but in reality her words were nothing but a veiled threat. He glanced at her as she observed the prisoner with poorly disguised impatience, but said nothing.

The Vulcan female was answering Sela as the security recording continued. Her soft voice, husky from the abuse she’d put it through during her fit of rage, sent a tremor of desire through him.

“I wish to see the commander of this vessel,” she said flatly, her voice completely without expression. “We have much to discuss.”

Maec stopped the recording and turned to Sela. “How long ago did she ask for me?” he demanded.

“Nearly an hour ago, sir,” Sela admitted. She shifted her gaze away from him. “Since you were scheduled to return here, I elected not to disturb you.” For a woman with such a reputation for deviousness, she didn’t lie well.

“I assume that you attempted to interrogate her yourself?” Maec asked. Obviously, she had… and had not gotten any useful information. Why else would she be so impatient?

Sela looked at him rather guiltily. “I attempted it, Subcommander, but she simply ignored me… “ She met Maec’s eyes with a hopeful look. “I believe physical force may be required, but in view of your previous orders, I thought it wise to wait for you before proceeding,” she added.

Maec eyed her with thinly veiled disgust. “You made the correct decision, Centurion… now leave us.” Sela’s eyes widened. She actually looked disappointed. One look at Maec’s face, however, made her realize that a strategic retreat was in order. “I will be in Sickbay if you require my services, Subcommander.”

Maec nodded brusquely as he pulled his disruptor from his belt and handed it to the guard for safekeeping. Sela looked at him in surprise.

“Are you certain that it’s wise to go in unarmed?” she asked him. “She may become violent again.”

Maec met her eyes coldly. “I’d rather not bring in a lethal weapon and risk being disarmed,” he replied. “Besides, despite her violent tendencies, I believe that I am at least a match for an unarmed woman half my size… even if she is a Vulcan.”

Sela nodded and turned away with a smirk. This new commanding officer was so confident that he bordered on being foolish. It was going to be easy to control him in ways she could never have managed with Terrh, and she might not even have to put up with his sexual advances to do it. Perhaps she could convince the prisoner to work with her. It was definitely something to consider… Perhaps a slow-acting poison in her food? she mused. Then I could bribe her with the antidote… The possibilities were endless.

Subcommander Maec cautiously entered the holding cell and approached the prisoner. He carried a hand-held translator programmed for the Vulcan language. He folded his long legs beneath him, and sat on the floor facing the Vulcan female.

“You asked to see me?” he inquired mildly.

Her eyes snapped open, and, for a moment, she glared at him in elemental fury. A second later, he thought perhaps he’d imagined it. Her face was impassive and absolutely calm, with no indication of any emotion whatsoever.

“Are you responsible for the attack on the Sixth House of Betazed?” she asked without preamble.

Maec hesitated, wondering whether telling this prisoner about recent events constituted a treasonous breach of security. He decided that revealing the information might make her more cooperative with his interrogation. She must certainly have information about the weapon that had disabled his troops on the planet’s surface. He deliberately suppressed his involuntary thoughts of what else he wished her “cooperation” might include.

“I was second-in-command of this vessel when the attack was initiated,” he told her. “My commanding officer acted without orders, in pursuit of his own personal power. I took command and retrieved my personnel. While we were decloaked, your vessel detected our presence. Our subsequent exchange of weapons fire has disabled both ships.” He made direct eye contact with the Vulcan, concealing nothing.

The woman’s eyes narrowed slightly.

“Why should I believe you?” she coolly demanded of him. “It would not be logical for you, as the holder of the upper hand in this situation, to volunteer information which reveals your vulnerability.”

“I merely wished to reassure you that I have no reason at the moment to destroy your vessel, as long as you continue to cooperate,” Maec replied.

“I will not reveal any information of strategic significance,” countered the woman.

“I believe that we should discuss that topic again at another time,” Maec temporized. He hesitated, and then decided to reveal further information in order to foster her trust.

“I am Subcommander Maec of the stealth ship Shiarrael,” he told her. “The only information I require of you at present is your name and rank.” He held his breath as she considered his statement.

“I suppose there is no logical reason why I should refuse your request, Subcommander,” replied the woman with an ironic raise of one delicate brow. Her deep brown eyes met him in cool assessment. Her expression was unreadable.

“I am T’Pol. My rank is commander. I am the first officer of the starship Enterprise,” she told him. “You should be aware, Subcommander, that humans are quite illogically persistent about the recovery of lost crew members. My captain and fellow crew members will continue to search for me until they locate me or until they are given proof of my demise.” Her expression reflected resignation, as if she’d given up trying to understand the reasons behind human behavior. “Risking the entire ship for the recovery of one crew member is not logical, but it is the course of action which I am certain my captain will choose to take,” she finished matter-of–factly.

Maec considered her words for a moment.

“Unfortunately, Commander…,” he responded reluctantly. “…our orders are quite specific regarding contact with anyone who could confirm a Romulan presence in this sector. The only reason I have not destroyed the Enterprise is that it will not be able to definitively identify us as Romulan after only one sighting. You, on the other hand, are an entirely different matter. You have seen us… and the interior of our ship. Despite the fact that you arrived on our ship due to a transporter error, and not because of any desire on my part to initiate hostilities with your people, I cannot allow your release.”

T’Pol exhaled, lifting her chin slightly. “What do you intend to do with me, then?” she asked him softly, her gaze focused over his shoulder at the wall as she contemplated her probable fate.

“You will remain here until I am satisfied that I can trust you to remain unconfined,” he told her. His voice was soft… almost gentle. “You will return with me to Romulus… and in the meantime we will discuss the ways in which your … cooperation… could result in many benefits of which you may not currently be aware.”

T’Pol’s brow went up in surprise as her eyes focused on his face. He was near enough to allow the scent of pheromones to reach her sensitive nose. Apparently, her life was not in danger from this man. He had other plans for her.

Trip wandered the white space, searching for T’Pol. Strangely, he was aware that he was dreaming. He saw a figure in the distance and ran toward it, but no matter how quickly he ran, he could never seem to get close enough to see the figure’s face. It didn’t matter. He knew it was her.

T’Pol!he shouted. “Wait!... I’m comin’ for ya, darlin’!

He increased his pace, and finally got close enough to see her face. She stared past him as if he didn’t exist, and then turned and walked away.

Trip woke with a gasp in his quarters, drenched in sweat, his filthy uniform stuck to his skin. He checked the chronometer… only four hours of drugged sleep, and now he was awake again. He felt groggy, as if he’d gotten no sleep at all, but had no desire to go back to sleep and risk a repeat performance of the nightmare. He wearily got out of bed and began peeling off his uniform. A shower first… then I’ll go ask Malcolm if I can help him look for her, he thought. He wasn’t certain how he knew it, but he was sure that time was running out. If he didn’t find T’Pol soon, she’d be lost to him for good. He had no intention of letting that happen.

T’Pol’s eyes snapped open. After two days without sleep, she’d finally given in and made use of the bedroll that the medic had given her. Despite two days of intense meditation without food or water, during which time she had brutally suppressed all vestiges of emotion until her control was absolute, she still found her control slipping as she slept. Her heart was still racing after her nightmare of Trip trying to find her in the white space.

It is not logical to continue to dream of him,she told herself. She clamped down once again on all emotion and reminded herself of the simple truths that she had forced herself to accept.

He is dead… Our bond is dead… she thought. She realized another truth, then. She was still breathing, but the part of her that allowed her to truly live had been ripped from her along with her t’hy’la. She finished her litany… I am dead.

T’Pol began to consider that line of reasoning more carefully.

The Romulan commander will destroy Enterprise as soon as he discovers that certain members of her crew have identified his ship as Romulan, she reasoned.

She was certain that Lieutenant Mayweather’s sharp eyes would not have missed identifying the ship if it bore any resemblance at all to the Romulan ship they’d previously encountered. T’Pol considered the situation dispassionately. There was only one incentive she could think of that might possibly dissuade the Romulan commander from following his orders to the letter. She felt certain that he would destroy the Enterprise without hesitation if he knew about their previous contact with a Romulan vessel. She recalled his reaction to her presence, and the smell of pheromones in the air at their last encounter. She realized then what action was required. The idea was distasteful, but it was the only option with a reasonable likelihood of success. What happened to her physical body at this point was inconsequential now that her t’hy’la was dead. Protecting Enterprise was her primary goal.

“The needs of the many…” she whispered.

She spoke aloud to the room, knowing that her message would be recorded by security cameras and delivered to its intended recipient.

“I would like to speak with Subcommander Maec,” she said.

Lieutenant Reed and Commander Tucker leaned side-by-side over the console in the situation room. Trip’s tousled blonde head and Malcolm’s neatly groomed dark curls were nearly touching as they intently studied sensor records of the asteroid belt in the Betazed system.

Trip ran a hand through his hair in frustration. “I’m not seein’ anything!” he told Malcolm.

Ensign Hoshi Sato approached them both as her shift ended.

“Care to take a break and have something to eat, gentlemen?” she suggested. “You’ve been at this for over eight hours now.” She smiled at both of them, and placed a hand on each of their shoulders. Malcolm shook his head and smiled ruefully at her.

“I don’t think the Commander will go for that idea, Hoshi,” he replied.

Trip smiled at her as well. “Thanks for thinkin’ about us, Hoshi, but I’d rather you help us come up with a brilliant plan to find T’Pol.” His tone was light… almost joking. Hoshi regarded him with a serious, sympathetic look on her face, as if she could see the worry that gnawed at his soul with greater intensity every moment that T’Pol was lost to him. He looked at her questioningly, and she dropped her gaze.

“Actually…” she told them hesitantly. “I had an idea a few minutes ago that I think might work.”

Both Trip and Malcolm looked at her in surprised expectation. When she failed to continue, Malcolm exclaimed in frustration, “Well?... Do you plan to enlighten us?”

“How about we all discuss it over dinner?” she said with a sly smile.

Jonathan Archer sat at the desk in his quarters, reviewing the progress reports he’d received that evening from Lieutenant Hess in Engineering. Her estimate was that Enterprise was less than twenty-four hours from being once again warp-capable. Considering the extent of the damage inflicted by the Romulan vessel, Archer was very impressed by the speed at which the repairs were being made. Hess could give Trip a run for his money, thought Archer. The door chime rang, interrupting his train of thought.

“Come in!” he called, as he pushed back from the desk to greet his visitors. Ensign Sato, Lieutenant Reed, and Commander Tucker all piled into his cabin with looks of excitement on their faces.

“Hoshi’s come up with a way to find T’Pol, Cap’n,” said Trip in a breathless rush. “Malcolm an’ I really think it’ll work!”

Archer smiled at their eager faces, and sat down on the bed to free up the chairs in the room. “All right…,“ he said to the three of them. “Have a seat and tell me about this plan of yours.”

T’Pol opened her eyes as the door to the holding cell opened, admitting Subcommander Maec. She was as calm and prepared as meditation could make her. She still felt apprehension, but betrayed no sign of it to her captor.

“You asked to see me?” he inquired. His face showed only polite interest, but T’Pol could smell the scent of pheromones rising from his body already.

She stood for the first time in his presence, smoothly rising to her feet in a single, sinuous motion. She approached him slowly, her eyes never leaving his face. He licked his lips and swallowed. She stopped when she stood close enough to touch him.

“I wish to negotiate for the safe passage of the Enterprise,” she said softly, her impassive expression contrasting with the liquid sensuality of her voice. Maec inhaled deeply, and then exhaled.

“I have already told you that I intend to allow Enterprise to leave this system unharmed as long as you remain cooperative,” he replied. His eyes focused on her lips as she spoke.

“What sort of cooperation did you have in mind, Subcommander?” T’Pol asked quietly. She regarded him with an innocent, wide-eyed expression.

Maec’s eyes widened. “What sort are you willing to offer?” he countered in disbelief.

T’Pol coolly assessed him from head to foot, and then made her offer.

“If you will agree to allow Enterprise to leave this system unharmed, I will willingly return to Romulus with you and become your mate,” she told him flatly. For a moment, T’Pol felt a surge of pheromones from the Romulan commander’s direction at her words. He stepped forward as if to touch her, but then he hesitated, eyeing her suspiciously.

“Why would you offer to do this when I have already agreed to allow them safe passage?” he asked in a puzzled voice.

“That is not your concern, Subcommander,” replied T’Pol.

T’Pol held her breath. She could see the confusion in his eyes. Could she convince him that she actually wanted to be his mate?

“I will require an act of good faith…,” he began hesitantly, “…something to indicate to me that you intend to follow up on your promise…”

T’Pol straightened and looked him straight in the eye. Then she extended two fingers in his direction, mentally steeling herself against the contact. Because she was now an unbonded female, she knew that physical contact with a sexually aroused male would trigger an involuntary arousal response. She was determined to control its extent. She had to remain in control of herself in order to remain in control of Maec.

Their fingers touched. Although the contact was not unpleasant, T’Pol surprisingly felt no surge of desire. Maec’s fingers traveled over her bandaged hand and slowly up her arm to the bare skin at the base of her neck. The odor of pheromones in the room was overwhelming. T’Pol closed her eyes and inhaled deeply. Instead of arousal, a sense of disgust at Maec’s touch threatened to overwhelm her control. She fought to remain passive and allow the contact, but her sense of puzzlement grew. Her reaction to physical contact should have been instinctual. Why was her body not responding? Her plan would be impossible to follow unless she managed to achieve at least the appearance of physical desire for this man.

The comm sounded, interrupting Maec’s gentle exploration of her cheek and left ear. “Bridge to Subcommander Maec.” Nuhir’s voice sounded urgent.

T’Pol felt a sharp sense of relief as Maec dropped his hand and crossed the room to answer the comm.

“Maec here,” he responded, his attention still fixed on T’Pol, who stood across the room with her eyes focused on his. She could see the fascination on his face.

“Subcommander, the Earth ship has begun patrolling the asteroid belt at impulse speed… They are hailing us in Romulan, sir. I believe they know that we are here.”

Maec, looking at T’Pol accusingly, replied, “I’m on my way.”

Shutting off the comm abruptly, he turned and walked rapidly back to T’Pol, seizing her by the arm.

“You knew!” he said angrily.

T’Pol made a last-ditch attempt to salvage the situation. “I assure you, Subcommander…” she replied as she placed a gentle hand on his arm and held his gaze with her own. “…had I known that Enterprise would be capable of locating us this quickly, I would have told you… I have no desire to be the cause of further hostilities between your ship and mine.” Maec shrugged her hand off roughly.

“I have made you no promises, woman…,” he told her harshly, “…and I don’t believe you!” He left the holding cell, leaving her alone with the consequences of her failure.

T’Pol returned to the center of the room and seated herself on the floor. She closed her eyes and considered the options left to her. Sela had attempted to interrogate her earlier. Perhaps she would be open to negotiation. T’Pol stood and once again faced the security camera.

“I wish to see the medic Sela immediately,” she told her invisible jailer. “I have confidential information which she might find of interest.”

After delivering her request, T’Pol took a seat again and put her mind to a very difficult task. She had to think like a Romulan.

As Enterprise slowly cruised the asteroid belt at half-impulse, Hoshi Sato played a looped recording of the message she’d translated into Romulan… or at least as close as she could come to Romulan given the fact that the only vocabulary she’d had to work with was the limited one contained within the records that Enterprise had made of their encounter with the Romulan ship in the mine field two years before. If her translation skills were adequate, the message she sent said:

“This is the starship Enterprise hailing the unknown Romulan ship. We know where you are hiding, and we know that you hold a member of our crew. Surrender our crew member now, and we will not destroy you.”

Captain Archer’s lips quirked upward every time he heard the message. The only true statement in the entire thing was the name of the ship… but if it forced the Romulans’ hand far enough to return T’Pol to them, he’d consider it a little white lie, and recommend Hoshi for a promotion.

“Archer to Tucker,” he called. “Are you ready?”

“Malcolm and I are on the platform now, Cap’n,” replied Trip.

“Just hang tight, Trip,” responded Archer. “We won’t get much warning if this works.”

“We’re ready whenever you are, Cap’n,” Trip reassured him.

“Speak for yourself, Commander,” Malcolm told him dryly after he’d gotten off the comm with the captain.

Both men stood in EV suits on the transporter platform. They were armed with phase pistols and stun grenades. Lieutenant Hess manned the transporter controls.

“I appreciate your goin’ along with this, Mal,” Trip said with a grin. “I know how much you always hate gettin’ your molecules scrambled!”

“I can’t believe I agreed to it either,” said Malcolm with a rueful shake of his head.

Trip gave him an evil grin. “Hoshi can sure be persuasive when she wants ta be, can’t she Mal?” Malcolm just looked at him sheepishly.

“It’s a go!” came Archer’s message from the bridge as the Romulan ship dropped its’ cloak to attack the Enterprise. “Energize!”

Centurion Sela sent the guard back to Sickbay to retrieve something she’d “forgotten”, disconnected the security camera, entered the holding cell and confronted the prisoner. She held the muzzle of her disruptor steadily at T’Pol’s head, and regarded her with ill-disguised eagerness.

“I understand you’re ready to talk, now,” said Sela. She looked T’Pol over thoroughly. “You don’t look like you’ve been ridden too hard…,” she said crudely. T’Pol raised a brow. Obviously the centurion did not know her commanding officer very well if she assumed that he had already availed himself of her sexual favors. Perhaps she could use Sela’s assumption to her advantage.

“I have not been physically injured… except by my own actions,” she told Sela evenly. “I would, however, like to negotiate with you regarding obtaining your assistance in return for certain information.”

Sela licked her lips. “What kind of information?”

“What sort of information do you require?” T’Pol countered.

Sela smiled. “I want to know what weapon was used on our ground troops… and I want you to tell me where I can find one.”

T’Pol had absolutely no idea what she was talking about, but she played along.

“In return for information regarding this weapon, I will require your assistance with obtaining sufficient quantities of any drug which would be guaranteed to painlessly end my life when I choose to end it.”

Sela looked at her in surprised disdain. “You want to kill yourself?” she said unbelievingly.

T’Pol returned her gaze without expression. “Your commander wishes me to accompany him to Romulus to be his mate. I’d sooner mate with a Klingon than be bound to that weakling for life. Death is preferable.”

Sela suppressed a delighted laugh. She had more in common with this Vulcan than she’d realized. She approached T’Pol more closely, a conspiratorial smile on her face. “What if I told you that I could get rid of him for you?” The muzzle of her disruptor dropped a fraction.

“I would say that perhaps it would be in both of our interests to form an alliance,” T’Pol replied. She stepped one step closer to Sela and murmured softly, “We seem to have compatible goals.”

Sela leaned closer to hear her more clearly, and T’Pol reached out with her right hand to firmly pinch the base of her neck, grasping the disruptor with her left and removing it from her limp fingers. Sela dropped bonelessly to the floor.

T’Pol stood over her for a moment. She found it difficult to suppress her contempt for the woman. How easy it had been to turn her against her commanding officer! She could almost pity Maec. A man of honor in a ship of deceitful backstabbers would never find life easy. Had they met in any other circumstances, she might have actually grown to like him.

She proceeded to remove Sela’s uniform. It was a bit large, but much less conspicuous than her own blood-stained clothing. She pulled a bandage from Sela’s medical kit and wrapped it around her head to disguise her forehead. Satisfied that she was as Romulan-appearing as she could manage under the circumstances, she consulted Sela’s translator for the appropriate vocabulary, and then began to pound on the door and shout for help in Romulan. When faced with a disruptor pointed at his head, her guard very sensibly dropped his weapon and raised his hands. A nerve pinch got him conveniently out of the way. She pulled him into the holding cell with Sela, who lay on the floor in nothing but her underwear, and locked them both in. They would have some explaining to do when they both woke up.

Avoiding eye contact with everyone she came across, T’Pol made her way aft, in the direction of the weapons systems… she hoped.

Malcolm and Trip materialized inside the Shiarrael’s engine room with stun grenades in each hand. They tossed all four of them in unison and rolled to avoid the disruptor fire aimed at their heads from several directions. Their ears rang after the grenades blasted everyone in the room into unconsciousness, but their EV suit helmets protected them from the worst of the blast. Standing cautiously, phase pistols on stun and ready to fire, they discovered that the engineering crew of the Romulan ship had been effectively disabled. Not sparing a glance for the alien crew scattered about unconscious on the floor, each of them immediately set about their agreed upon tasks. Malcolm headed for the weapons systems. Trip was on his way out the door to locate T’Pol when he rounded the corner and came face to face with another member of the Shiarrael’s crew. He fired reflexively, and then recognized the face beneath the bandage as she crumpled to the floor.

“T’Pol!” he whispered as he fell to his knees, cradling her head in his arms. He checked beneath the bandage swathing her head and was relieved to find her uninjured. Her hands, however, also covered in bandages, were a bloody mess.

“What have they done to ya, darlin’?” he murmured to himself.

Lifting her unconscious form over one shoulder, he re-entered Engineering and called to Lieutenant Reed.

“Mal!” he shouted. “I’ve found her!”

“I’ve disabled the disruptors…,” replied Malcolm, “… but I’d really like to get a look at that cloaking device!” He emerged from beneath the disruptors’ power console with an eager look on his face.

“There’s no time!... C’mon!” urged Trip as he flipped open his communicator.

“Enterprise!... Three to transport!”

As Malcolm reached Trip’s side, the three of them dematerialized.

Subcommander Maec glanced questioningly at Centurion Vrih, who manned the weapons console.

“I have a fix on their weapons array, Subcommander,” said Vrih.

“Drop the cloak and fire, Centurion,” replied Maec.

Disruptor fire splashed over the polarized hull plating protecting Enterprise’s plasma cannons, causing only minimal damage. The Enterprise returned fire, rocking the Shiarrael’s bridge.

“We’ve taken damage to the disruptors. Subcommander,” said Vrih.

“Subcommander!” cried Nuhir at communications. “Internal sensors have detected two intruders and weapons’ fire in Engineering!”

“Send a squad of Tal Shiar to deal with the intruders,” replied Maec. He turned to Vrih. “Are the disruptors still functioning?”

“Yes, sir…, “ Vrih replied, consulting the weapons sensor data, “… the damage is minimal.” He paused for a moment with a startled look on his face. “Subcommander… someone has deactivated the disruptors from inside the ship!” He looked up from his console in alarm. “The Earth ship has phase cannons locked on our engines!”

“Reactivate the cloak!” ordered Maec. “Evasive maneuvers!”

The Shiarrael vanished behind its cloak and swerved hard to port, narrowly missing further damage to its warp nacelles. It beat a strategic retreat at impulse speed.

Maec sat back in the command chair with a thoughtful look on his face.

“Check internal sensors, Nuhir,” he said softly. “Where are the intruders?”

“The intruders are no longer aboard, sir,” Nuhir replied. She checked the internal sensor logs. “Sensor logs indicate that they used a matter transporter to return to their ship before our troops were able to apprehend them.” She looked more closely at the biosigns in the sensor logs and compared them to the biosigns currently present on the ship. There appeared to be two occupants of the holding cell now instead of one, and the sensors recognized both of them as members of Shiarrael’s crew. Nuhir was unable to suppress a very small, pleased smile.

“They took the Vulcan prisoner with them, sir,” she said. She straightened in her seat and eyed the Subcommander boldly. Perhaps now that she is gone, I will be able to catch his attention, she thought.

Maec returned her gaze with a slightly puzzled look. I wonder what she’s so pleased about? he thought. He shook his head slightly and sighed. He couldn’t decide if he was disappointed or relieved. The Vulcan would have no doubt been an exciting mate, but her presence on the ship had been a distraction which had nearly gotten them destroyed. Even if they had survived, limping home in a mortally damaged ship would have meant the end of his career. He’d spent too much time and effort to finally attain this command to allow that to happen. He regarded the Enterprise on the view screen as, unable to locate its opponent, it turned and headed back toward Betazed.

“Should we pursue, Subcommander?” asked Vrih.

Maec gazed after the retreating ship reluctantly. “No, Centurion,” he replied. “We have our orders. We must complete repairs and report our surveillance findings to the Proconsul. If we engage the Earth ship again in our present condition, it is highly likely that we would be destroyed, and invaluable tactical information would be lost.” His struggle with their retreat was plain on his face.

In a rather disappointed tone of voice he said, “I’m afraid we will need to leave the destruction of the Enterprise for another day.”

Commander Tucker, with an unconscious Commander T’Pol dressed in an unfamiliar uniform draped over one shoulder, materialized on the transporter platform beside a very disappointed looking Lieutenant Reed. Ensign Sato and Lieutenant Hess were there to greet them. Trip immediately stepped down, nodded his thanks to Hess for her timely retrieval, and headed toward Sickbay with T’Pol.

“Tell Doc I’m on my way,” he told Hess as he passed. She got on the comm.

Malcolm stepped down from the platform to face Hoshi. She had a teasing smile on her face.

“Let me guess… no time to get cozy with the cloaking device?” she asked.

Malcolm rolled his eyes and laughed ruefully. “You know me too well!” He stood looking at her without saying anything for an awkward moment, and then glanced sidelong at Hess, who was busy shutting down the transporter and entering the security codes which prevented its unauthorized use.

His gaze returned to Hoshi’s face, and he bent down, daring to whisper a teasing comment of his own in her ear. “I thought you promised me a thorough inspection after this… just to be certain that all of my molecules are in their proper places.” His warm breath caressed the side of her face. He had an uncharacteristically pleased expression on his face.

Hoshi smiled back flirtatiously. “The sweet spot… 2100 hours… lock the hatch on your way in…” she whispered back in challenge.

He inhaled sharply, meeting her eyes with an abruptly intense expression. Reaching suddenly around the back of her head with the palm of one hand, he pulled her mouth to his and gave her a brief, searing, open-mouthed kiss. Then he turned without a backward glance toward Sickbay to check on T’Pol. As he turned, he had a startled look on his face, as if he couldn’t quite believe what he’d just done. Hoshi watched his retreating form appreciatively, with an anticipatory smile on her face.

I knew he’d come around eventually, she thought.

Dr. Phlox studied Commander T’Pol’s scan results as Commander Tucker hovered impatiently over his shoulder. T’Pol, who was still unconscious, lay inside the whole body scanner as the computer produced images of her body systems for the doctor’s review. Trip could no longer hold in his questions.

“What’s wrong with her, Doc?” he demanded. “What did those bastards do to her?”

Phlox glanced over his shoulder at Trip’s angry face and said, “She is mildly dehydrated, somewhat malnourished, and has sustained some recent musculoskeletal injuries, but the primary problem at the moment seems to be the after-effects of a phase pistol stun blast at close range… Do you have any idea how that happened, Commander?” he asked Trip ironically.

Trip had the grace to look somewhat shamefaced as he replied. “Well, I know about that part, Doc… I thought she was a Romulan!” he said defensively. “I meant her hands…,” he clarified.

Phlox brought up close-up views of both of T’Pol’s hands. He studied them for a moment, and then said, “She has fractures of every metacarpal bone in both hands, as well as extensive soft tissue injury and lacerations overlying the dorsal aspect of all of her metacarpophalangeal joints.”

Trip gave him an exasperated look. “Can I have it in English, Doc?” he said sarcastically.

Instead of elaborating, Phlox asked thoughtfully, “Mr. Tucker… your wife has been separated from you for three days, during which time she has suffered the loss of her telepathic abilities. What do you think her reaction would be to the apparent cessation of your marriage bond?”

Trip’s eyes widened as he realized the implications of what the doctor was saying. “She’d think I was dead…,” he said in a horrified whisper.

Phlox sighed and nodded. “No one tortured her, Commander,” he said gently. “As a matter of fact, these fractures have been treated with a bone annealer… They’re almost healed. The lacerations have been cleaned, sealed, and dressed. T’Pol’s captors provided her with quite adequate medical care… Her injuries are self-inflicted.”

Trip turned to the scanner chamber. “Get her outta there, Doc,” he insisted. “I need to get her someplace private before she wakes up.” He walked to the scanner table as it was extruded from the wall, and looked tenderly at T’Pol’s still face. “If she’s gonna fall apart when she sees me alive, she shouldn’t hafta do it with anybody watching.” He brushed her hair back gently from her forehead.

She looks so fragile lying there, he thought.

Dr. Phlox nodded in understanding. “She needs to remain in Sickbay under observation, but the isolation chamber should provide the confidential environment you’re looking for. I’ll monitor vital signs and turn off the audio and video pickups.”

Trip smiled at him gratefully, placed T’Pol’s poor wounded hands on her abdomen, and then gathered her into his arms. “Go ahead and open up the chamber for us, Doc… I’ll let you know when we’re ready to come out.”

Trip woke when T’Pol began to stir. He lay with her on one of the bunks in the isolation chamber, her back against his chest, with his arms securely wrapped around her. She sighed, and with her eyes still closed, turned within the circle of his arms and buried her face in the crook of his neck, pressing her nose against his skin and inhaling deeply.

Trip chuckled and rubbed his cheek on the top of her head. “I like the way you smell, too, darlin’,” he whispered.

T’Pol stiffened and, suddenly fully awake, pushed him away from her with such force that his head struck the wall of the chamber with a loud thud. She scrambled out of the bed and retreated across the room, stopping in the corner with her back against the wall, her eyes wide in shock.

“The bond is gone,” she said in a small wavering voice. “You cannot be real.”

Trip gave her a reassuring smile and sat up in the bunk, rubbing the back of his head gingerly where it had struck the wall. “Don’t worry, darlin’… I’m real.” He winced as he found a tender spot. “At least it sure feels like it to me!”

She continued to stare at him wide-eyed.

“The bond is gone because Lianna’s little temper tantrum short-circuited every telepath within a kilometer of the Sixth House.” He tapped his temple with one finger. “I got blasted too… thanks to my connection with you.” He smiled at her again, trying to reassure her. “Doc says our bond’ll be back any day now… It’s gonna be okay!”

He got up from the bed and approached her cautiously, watching her face. Her eyes closed and she inhaled deeply, then exhaled. When her eyes re-opened, she had regained some measure of control, her face once again a model of cool Vulcan self-possession.

Trip smiled in relief, and then gently took her splinted hands in his. Only her fingertips peeked out from the edge of the bandages.

“What happened to your hands?” he asked her softly.

She looked away briefly, and then met his eyes. “When I awakened in the Romulan ship and was unable to sense you, I was certain that you had been killed.” She paused and swallowed. “I was less than pleased with my captors, and took my displeasure out on the interior of my holding cell.”

Trip gave her a bleak smile. “That must’ve been some redecoration job!” He raised a hand to her face and caressed her cheek in sympathy. She inhaled sharply, her eyes widening slightly in surprise.

Trip looked at her in concern. “What’s wrong?”

T’Pol placed the fingertips of one hand on his cheek as she gazed into his eyes with a puzzled expression.

“I was merely startled, t’hy’la,” she reassured him. “In the absence of all telepathic contact, I did not expect your touch to be quite so… stimulating,” she admitted.

Trip grinned in delight. “You liked that, did ya’?” he teased. He stroked her cheek again, and then transferred his attention to the shell of her delicate ear, tracing its outline with a single fingertip. “What about this?” he whispered.

“Apparently…,” replied T’Pol with a distracted expression, “…even in the absence of any contact with your emotions, I have a distinct preference for your touch.” She gazed over his shoulder at the wall, and said musingly, as if talking to herself, “That explains the difficulties I encountered during my negotiations with the commander of the Romulan ship.”

Trip’s eyes narrowed. “Negotiations?” he asked. “What negotiations?”

T’Pol sighed. “I am reluctant to discuss that with you prior to the resumption of our bond,” she told him. “I have no wish to hurt you or to make you angry.” She met his gaze directly. “Explaining my actions will be difficult. Doing it telepathically would simplify the process considerably.”

Trip stepped toward her and took her in his arms, holding her tightly against him.

“I’m not gonna get mad at you, T’Pol!” he promised. “I’m too happy to get you back to be angry.” He pulled back from her and laid a gentle kiss on her forehead. T’Pol fixed her eyes on his, grasped his head in her wounded hands and pulled his head down to hers in sudden inexplicable passion. She kissed him hungrily for several minutes, only stopping for breath when he pulled away and stepped back, breathing heavily.

“T’Pol!” he panted, looking at her in bafflement. “What’s goin’ on?”

She was breathing heavily as well, her eyes hooded with desire. “I merely wished to demonstrate my affection for you in concrete terms before we discuss my behavior on the Romulan ship,” she told him.

Trip crossed his arms on his chest and looked at her in exasperation.

“Okay, T’Pol… I’m not gonna play this game!” He sat on the bed and patted the mattress next to him. “Sit down and spill yer guts!”

“So this Maec guy had the hots for you, eh?” Trip shook his head ruefully and grinned. “Ya gotta admit… the fella has great taste in women!”

T’Pol ignored his weak attempt at humor. She continued to look at him without expression, waiting for him to once again treat the situation with appropriate seriousness.

He wiped the smile from his face. “Sorry…,“ he said with a sheepish look. “You were sayin’?...”

T’Pol took a deep breath and looked Trip directly in the eye. “Since the only male that I would choose to mate with was dead, I made the only logical choice left to me. With any mate just as acceptable to me as any other, and the preservation of the Enterprise at stake, I negotiated with Maec. I offered to become his mate voluntarily if he would spare Enterprise.”

Trip let out an explosive breath that he hadn’t realized he’d been holding, then got up from the bed and began pacing back and forth in the confines of the tiny room.

“Go on…,” he said in a strangled voice, avoiding eye contact with T’Pol. She eyed him doubtfully, waiting for the explosion. It never came. He simply continued to pace.

“He seemed pleased by my offer, and demonstrated his acceptance of it in a physical manner.” Trip stopped pacing and turned to her, eyeing her in disbelief.

“It was at that point that I determined that in all likelihood I would be unable to keep my side of the bargain. His touch, for no logical reason that I could determine at the time, was very unpleasant to me. I realize now that although there was no logical reason for my preference, there was, of course, an excellent emotional reason.”

T’Pol stood and approached Trip, reaching for his hand, her eyes begging for forgiveness. He gave her a reluctant half-smile, and grasped the tips of her fingers.

“Fortunately, the Enterprise had reached the Shiarrael by that time. Maec became angry with me for deceiving him, and withdrew his acceptance of my offer.” T’Pol stepped closer to Trip, and encircled his chest with both arms, leaning back to look him in the eyes. “I was very relieved.” she whispered. Trip’s eyes were moist with tears of gratitude. He returned her embrace tenderly.

“When I surprised you in the corridor outside of Engineering…” she continued softly. “… I was attempting to deactivate the disruptors in order to give Enterprise more time. I did not expect to be allowed to live after such an act of sabotage.” She reached out to gently wipe the tears from Trip’s face. “Thank you for coming to find me,” she said, her eyes becoming suspiciously moist as well. “Now that I know that you are alive, I would much prefer to remain alive as well.”

Trip pulled her to his chest, his heart breaking with the implication that were he not alive, she would also choose not to be.

“Promise me that when I die you won’t deliberately follow me,” he whispered fiercely into her hair. “I couldn’t live with myself if I thought you might do that, T’Pol!”

“It would be illogical to end my life deliberately as long as I can be of some practical use to those around me,” T’Pol replied reassuringly with her cheek pressed against his chest. “I cannot promise, however, that I will not prefer to be dead.”

“Then I guess I’ll hafta make sure you always consider yourself indispensable,” replied Trip with gentle humor. He squeezed her tightly, and began to softly rub her back, feeling knots of muscle all along her spine. “You’re so tense!” he whispered.

“I believe it may have something to do with my sleeping accommodations for the past three days,” she replied dryly.

“We could retire to a nice, comfortable bed…,” suggested Trip with a sly smile, “…but I hafta admit that after that kiss you gave me earlier, I was hopin’ we’d do more than sleep.”

T’Pol looked at him hesitantly. “Without telepathic contact, I’m afraid you might find such activity less pleasurable than usual,” she said.

Trip grinned at her. “On the contrary, m’dear!” he replied. “I’ve been wantin’ to explore how much of this desire you’re always showin’ me is mine, and how much is yours.” He waggled his brows at her suggestively. “You’re always tryin’ to say that it’s my desire that triggers yours. Well, you’re on your own with your emotions now, darlin’, and I’m willin’ to bet that you just don’t wanna admit that you want me so bad you can taste it!”

T’Pol raised a brow. “That would be a wager you’re unlikely to win,” she said with dry humor, unable to resist teasing him just a little. “I believe you may have an over-inflated opinion of yourself.”

Trip laughed aloud, and then looked at her with a sly smile, accepting her challenge. Stepping across the room, he proceeded to slowly remove his clothing, one article at a time. T’Pol’s eyes followed each garment as it hit the floor, and then immediately returned to his body as more and more bare skin was gradually revealed. She licked her lips. He finished undressing, and then slowly and languorously stretched, his muscles rippling beneath his naked skin like the muscles of a jungle cat. He crossed the room again, stood mere inches from T’Pol without touching her, and then made eye contact, smiling invitingly. Seconds later, he was flat on his back on the bunk with T’Pol on top of him. He gazed into her eyes, awed by the fierce desire he saw mirrored there.

“You win, darlin’,” he whispered with a gentle smile. “I surrender.”



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