Back to Betazed

By Distracted

Rating: R

Genres: adventure angst drama romance virtual season

Keywords:

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This story is number 18 in the series Virtual Season Five


Back to Betazed: Ace in the Hole

 

By Distracted

Genre: Romance, Action/Adventure, Angst

Rating: R this time ... for a single scene…  tastefully done, I promise.

Summary: This is a sequel to Two Weddings and a Funeral, and the start of the last story arc in Season Five. Archer and his new wife have a major disagreement, the newly revamped Enterprise heads out on her first mission since the refit... complete with a new engine, a considerable amount of new weaponry and some bathroom remodeling... and we’re introduced to a new cast of characters on Betazed. Oh... and Soval comes over to Kov and Janie’s for dinner.

A/N: Warning. This is a soap opera. I make no apologies, macho guys. You’re just gonna have to wade through the suds to get to the battle scene. (There’s one in there somewhere, I promise!)


 

Elena Sanchez-Archer sat at her desk, ruefully contemplating the future of her career as a lawyer. The last of her messages that morning was from yet another client, informing her that he was seeking the services of one of her competitors after seeing the recent news story about her defense of suspected Terra Primer and self-admitted hired killer Jack Gardner. The fact that the hired killer in question had not succeeded in his mission, had pled guilty to attempted manslaughter, and had accepted his sentencing without argument didn’t seem to make a difference.

She’d thought that the plea bargain she’d arranged for Jack Gardner had been a just solution to a difficult problem. He’d insisted on pleading guilty to something, and so she’d had a long talk with the counsel for the prosecution... who just happened to be one of her closest friends. They’d decided that pleading guilty to attempted manslaughter, rather than the attempted first degree murder charge that he’d initially been saddled with, was the best way to avoid a messy trial. No one wanted to set Jack Gardner up as the scapegoat for Terra Prime, and he was especially eager, given his extreme remorse over what he’d done, not to allow the media to make him into a hero either. To the rapidly growing anti-Vulcan segment of the population, a segment which was only growing larger since Vulcan had announced its neutrality in the war with the Romulans, Jack Gardner had the potential to become a figurehead... a poster child for all things anti-Vulcan. Although he’d been blackmailed into his actions, his conscience would not allow him to fight the charges in a public trial. He’d been willing to plead guilty to attempted first degree murder to avoid it, although he was definitely not guilty of that crime. As it was, he’d received a twelve month imprisonment, two years of probation combined with diversity re-education, and was expected to testify at William Buchanan’s trial, which would be held in only a few weeks. Until that time, he would be held in solitary confinement for his own protection. All parties had been pleased with the outcome, even his quite formidable mother. Elena had not counted on the impact of public opinion on her own career, however.

Apparently, her staunch supporters within the anti-Terra Prime community felt that she’d sold out by defending the man in the first place. The few pro-Vulcan partisans still brave enough to voice their opinions were angry because the man’s intended harm to his Vulcan target was never even addressed in the charges, and the anti-Vulcan faction was disappointed that the case had not come to trial. It seemed that the only persons pleased by the outcome had been the defendant himself, his mother, and, curiously enough, the victim... from whom she’d received a grateful text message the day following Gardner’s sentencing.

Elena pulled up her appointment schedule, and realized that if something wasn’t done to repair her reputation soon, her already sparse schedule might very shortly be empty. She’d thus far resisted becoming involved in Bill Buchanan’s trial. Her previous personal relationship with him would endanger the prosecution’s efforts if it came out during the trial that one of the prosecuting attorneys might bear a personal grudge against the accused. Volunteering her services to the prosecution free of charge was beginning to look like a good idea at this point, however. It wouldn’t help pay the bills, but it might repair her reputation enough to allow her to support her child when he or she arrived.

Her arms went around her abdomen. Her chest tightened again in grief, but she refused to succumb to it. There was nothing to be done. Jon had lied to her... by omission. There could be absolutely no excuse for not telling her about a previous wife... or, as he had put it... “consort”. As far as she was concerned, it made no difference. As soon as the words had left his lips last night during the call he’d placed from Jupiter Station, she’d hung up on him. He’d left twenty messages on her console afterwards before he’d given up. She’d deleted them without reading them... all except a legal document he’d sent to her.

Her curiosity had gotten the better of her, and she’d actually read the English translation of the Betazoid document... a “Contract of Consortium” legally binding Jonathan Archer of Earth to Amelia, Daughter of the Sixth House and Matriarch of the Ruling Council of Betazed. The contract specified the responsibilities of both parties, in excruciating detail. Apparently, his portion was to provide “exclusive physical and emotional solace and support, and paternal responsibilities as agreed upon by both parties”. In return, the “responsible party”... the document made it sound almost as if this term were a synonym for “owner”... was required to provide financial support and upkeep until such time as the contract was terminated, and was expected to “arrange for the further care and well-being of the consort” once his services were no longer required. His signature, along with the signatures of the Matriarch and two witnesses, was unmistakably affixed to the bottom of the original document.

How a proud and independent man like Jonathan Archer had been convinced to sign a document which basically amounted to a bill of sale for his sexual services was beyond her comprehension. She could just imagine Jon’s true motivation, though. She’d seen the Betazoid ambassador on the news. They were an extremely attractive people. No doubt this Amelia had assets which made the language of the contract more palatable to a man starved for female companionship.

I don’t blame him for that, Elena told herself firmly. It was before we’d even met. I’m not jealous... I’m just mad at him for not telling me about it. She set her jaw, and then abruptly realized that she was only lying to herself.

Elena sighed. Who was she trying to fool? She was jealous... so jealous that she was ready to fight this “Matriarch” tooth and nail to keep her man... and so mad at her husband that once she’d fought for him she intended to make him grovel before taking him back. Ricardo had been right. Three months had not been sufficient time for her to “get to know” Jonathan Archer. She wondered what other secrets he had conveniently forgotten to tell her during their whirlwind courtship. She hadn’t decided yet exactly what she planned to do about the situation, but it was clear that if she and Jonathan had any hope of remaining married, they were going to need to settle this business with Betazed first... and in order to do that, she would have to work up the courage to communicate with him, despite the pain and humiliation she felt over his actions. She’d have to be strong to resist his attempts at placating her, but it should be possible to do it long distance. It was his touch that always melted her and robbed her of coherent thought. A vid phone call was a different matter.

I can do this, she told herself firmly. I’ll just treat him as a client who needs to get out of an unfavorable contract.

She sat up straight in her chair, steeled herself, and entered the code for Jon’s quarters on Enterprise. After several moments, the face of Lieutenant Sato, known to Elena because she’d been one of the seven bridesmaids at her wedding three weeks earlier, appeared on the screen.

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Archer, but the captain isn’t on board,” said Hoshi politely. “He left the ship rather suddenly in the middle of beta shift last night... something about a diplomatic emergency. May I take a message?”

Elena looked up as she heard a familiar voice in the corridor, and then Jonathan Archer burst through the door of her office. He wore a wrinkled uniform, and looked as if he hadn’t slept in several days. He smiled at her hesitantly.

“Hello, sweetheart,” he said. “We need to talk.”

Elena’s protective and motherly grey-haired secretary followed him into the office.

“I’m sorry, Elena... I told him you were occupied, but he insisted on coming in,” she said in a flustered voice.

Elena deliberately avoided making eye contact with her husband. He stood there in the center of the room, saying nothing... looking absolutely pitiful and remorseful. She turned to Hoshi on the vid screen. “No thank you, Lieutenant. I’ve located your captain. Thank you for your assistance.”

Hoshi’s eyes grew wide at Elena’s impersonal tone. Elena cut the connection before she could say anything else. She turned to her secretary.

“It’s all right, Miranda. Captain Archer is correct. We need to talk,” she said brusquely. “Please leave us.” Miranda’s brows went up and she suppressed a smile. She gave Archer a pitying glance as she backed out of the room and shut the door.

Elena eyed Archer sternly. Her gaze took in his rumpled appearance and the circles under his eyes, and she stifled the impulse to ask him how much he’d eaten and slept in the past twenty-four hours.

“You got here quickly,” she told him coldly. “Good. If we’re going to get you released from this contract, we’ve got a lot of work to do before you ship out.” Her manner was all business. She pulled up the contract on her console, and then looked up again. Finding him still standing in the center of the room with a puzzled look on his face, she jerked her chin toward one of the chairs in front of her desk. “Sit down. You look tired,” she said briskly, her tone belying the concern implied by her words.

Archer took several steps forward, and then sank into one of the thickly upholstered leather chairs in front of Elena’s desk. His eyes hadn’t left her face since he’d entered the room.

“Elena, love... I know you’re mad at me, but this isn’t what it looks like,” he pleaded softly.

“And exactly what does it look like to you, Jon?” replied Elena curtly. “I’ve got the contract here right in front of me. What it looks like to me is a legally binding contract for your exclusive sexual services, executed a bit more than a year ago on a planet which is an ally of Earth in this war we’re fighting. What it looks like to me is a shit-load of trouble for both you and Earth because you didn’t bother to read a contract before you signed it. Was it too much to ask for you to think with your brain instead of parts further south when dealing with a foreign head of state?” she asked in exasperation.

Archer stared at his wife in shock, and then bit his lip to keep from laughing. His reaction just made Elena angrier.

“I can’t believe you find this funny, Jon. Earth may lose an ally over this... just because you couldn’t keep your pants zipped,” she told him furiously.

Archer’s face sobered, and he made a sincere attempt to explain himself. “Did you even look at the messages I sent you, Elena? I told you the contract was just a way to give me enough authority to negotiate a treaty between Earth and Betazed,” he protested. “If you don’t believe me, do a search on the Matriarch of Betazed. Download a picture of her. She’s a sweet old lady, but she’s not exactly my type,” he told her with a wry grin.

Elena’s brows rose in surprise. Her gaze returned to her console, and, following a brief search, an image of the current titular head of the Ruling Council of Betazed appeared on the screen. Her lips tightened grimly as she inspected the photograph.

The woman in the picture appeared perhaps fifty years of age... a bit older than Archer but certainly not old. Her raven-black hair, gathered into an elegant knot at the nape of her neck, had turned slightly grey at the temples, giving her an air of seasoned wisdom, but she was still quite beautiful. The caption read, “The Matriarch-Elect of the Ruling Council of Betazed.”

Sweet old lady, my ass! Elena thought ruefully. Her gaze returned to her husband, who sat behind the console screen looking at her with an expectant smile, as if he anticipated that all would be forgiven because of the picture she’d been studying so intently. His expression was so earnest and sincere, that for a moment she forgot that she was furious with him.

“All right, Jon... I’m listening,” she told him in resignation. “Explain this impossible situation to me... and this time, don’t leave out any details.”

 

Lieutenant Commander Malcolm Reed was in a quandary. On the one hand, his duty required that he find a way to complete the installation of the weapons systems... and their power supplies... within the next three days. On the other hand, the only way that he’d been able to find to achieve that goal risked putting an end to any intimate time that he might wish to spend in his own cabin with the only woman he’d found in the past decade who was willing to put up with him. Finally, in desperation, he approached Commander Tucker, searching for an ally in finding an acceptable solution to what he hoped would be a mutual problem. The commander sat at his desk in his office in Engineering, poring over several data PADDs simultaneously. Malcolm entered his office and cleared his throat politely to catch his friend’s attention. Trip Tucker looked up and smiled.

‘Hey, Mal. C’mon in. What can I do for ya today?” he asked cheerily. Malcolm returned his smile rather hesitantly. Even after several years serving under Trip Tucker, he still hadn’t quite gotten used to the man’s informal manner while on duty.

“I have a structural engineering problem, Commander,” he replied, handing Trip the PADD he’d brought with him. The blonde engineer studied the screen, and then looked up at Malcolm in surprise.

“I didn’t know the power couplings and redundant power systems for the starboard and port plasma cannons would take up so much room!” he told him. He studied the screen again. “So you’ll need to take out two of the private bathrooms from the officer’s cabins to make room,” he said musingly, still looking at the screen. “Looks like it’ll work. Hess and Mayweather won’t be too thrilled about it, though. Looks like they’ll have to share with their neighbors. I can get the structural engineering guys working on this right away.” He looked up at Malcolm. “Whose cabins are next door? We’ll need to tell ‘em about the need for a shared head, too.”

Malcolm sighed, and met Trip’s eyes. “I have the cabin next to Lieutenant Mayweather, and Commander T’Pol is next to Lieutenant Commander Hess,” he said quietly. Trip’s eyes widened and he looked down at the plans again with a distressed look on his face.

“This is a serious problem,” he said ruefully. “Have you looked at other options?” he asked Malcolm hopefully as he studied the screen carefully.

Reed nodded. “This is the only way to get the cannons installed before the deadline in three days,” he said in resignation.

Trip met his eyes. “Looks like we both have some privacy issues to deal with,” he said frankly. “I know you know about me and T’Pol, and your relationship with Hoshi is the worst kept secret on the ship. Sharing bathrooms with Hess and Mayweather isn’t gonna work. Eventually, someone who won’t keep their mouth shut is gonna find out. There’s gotta be another way to do this.”

Malcolm exhaled. “I’ve considered our options. I think the best way to handle this is for the two of us to volunteer to occupy the adjoining rooms to port, while Lieutenant Sato and Commander T’Pol occupy them to starboard. Hess and Mayweather should be pleased to switch quarters to avoid sharing a head. Unfortunately, my plan would require both you and Hoshi to move from your current quarters, but if this is not too much of an inconvenience for you, then, in my view, simply letting each other know about the times when we each desired privacy would solve our mutual problem quite nicely,” he said in a hopeful tone of voice.

Trip stared at Malcolm for a moment with a wondering grin on his face. “Malcolm...” he said approvingly, “...You’re a genius!”


 

Ambassador Soval exited the taxi in front of the newly rebuilt Rudder Tower on the campus of Texas Agricultural and Mechanical College at College Station. He entered the Visitor’s Center, situated on the first floor. He had located his quarry’s name in the faculty listings via internet search from San Francisco. Unfortunately, it appeared that Kov was such a recently hired faculty member that his vid phone code had not yet been posted. In view of Minister Kuvak’s urgency regarding the whereabouts of his son, Soval had considered it prudent to deal with the matter in person. The Visitor’s Center seemed the logical place to begin. He approached the counter and the brightly smiling young Human female behind it. She was chattering away in a friendly fashion with an elderly couple who’d just signed up for a tour of the campus. He waited patiently until she’d finished her conversation and noticed his presence. Her smile faded a fraction as she took in his appearance. Her eyes traveled the length of his Vulcan robes as she spoke with forced politeness.

“Is there something I can help ya with, sir?”

“Will you direct me to the faculty offices for the department of engineering?” Soval asked blandly. “I am searching for Assistant Professor Kov.”

The young woman nodded brusquely, and then reached beneath the counter. She placed a map of the campus on the countertop and began circling things rapidly with a yellow highlighter.

“Here we are... and here’s the Dwight Look College of Engineering. The faculty offices are in the Engineering office tower right here on Spence Street.” She handed him the map, and smiled with artificial brightness. “Have a nice day, now... Y’hear?” she said in dismissal, and then turned to busy herself with other matters, despite the fact that there were now no other persons in the room. Soval raised a brow at her, and then turned to exit the building, studying the map. Apparently, his reputation had preceded him. At least she’d been polite about her disapproval.

He oriented the map in the proper direction, and began walking briskly across campus, blandly ignoring the stares his Vulcan robes were drawing. Some of the stares were merely curious, but he noted the occasional overtly hostile expression. As he walked, he decided that upon his return to the hotel that evening, perhaps a change of wardrobe... and a hat... would be prudent.

The day was warm for September, and the commons area through which he was required to walk to reach his destination sported several enormous spreading oak trees and a large expanse of neatly trimmed green lawn. It was quite aesthetically pleasing. There were groups of students dressed in shorts and t-shirts gathered beneath the trees behind the library, engaged in animated discussions on various topics of interest to them. Soval thought it likely that the young Humans found the weather entirely too pleasant to remain indoors. He felt a quite illogical impulse to join them, but knew, of course, that he would not be welcome. Not only was he Vulcan, but he was quite substantially older than thirty years of age, and therefore not to be trusted.

He crossed the commons area and stood waiting at the crosswalk. Near the crosswalk, he noted a small group of young men and women with closely cropped hair cuts, wearing what appeared to be military uniforms. They stood whispering together for a moment, and then the one who was wearing officer’s pips approached Soval. Soval faced him, ignoring the green “Walk” sign. The young man obviously had something he wished to say.

“Excuse me sir, but are you Ambassador Soval?” asked the serious young Human. His expression was a curious mixture of respect and disappointment.

Soval faced him solemnly. “I am,” he said.

The Human teenager stood stiffly at attention. “I’m Ensign Phillips, sir... Starfleet ROTC. I want to say, sir, that the chance to meet your people and work with them was the reason I originally joined.” His eyes met Soval’s. His distress was obvious. “Can you explain to me, sir, exactly why Vulcan has decided not to help us fight the Romulans?”

Soval exhaled. He looked at the earnest young Human with a sympathetic expression.

“I am gratified to make your acquaintance, Ensign Phillips. I am... pleased... that you remain hopeful of continued favorable relations between Humans and Vulcans.” He paused. His face took on an expression that, for a Vulcan, seemed apologetic. He continued rather regretfully. “Unfortunately, I was not privy to the Vulcan High Council’s reasons for abstaining from active involvement in this war with the Romulans. I am aware of the excuses that were given, and I, too, find them rather implausible and illogical,” he told the boy with disarming honesty. The young man’s eyes widened as he realized what Soval was revealing to him. The Vulcans’ own ambassador didn’t agree with their neutral stance in the war!

Soval extended his hand to the boy. “It is my sincere hope that my government’s actions will not irreparably damage relations between our peoples, Ensign. I wish you a successful and productive career in Starfleet, and I would appreciate it if you would keep in mind that not all Vulcans agree with official Vulcan High Council policies.”

Ensign Phillips extended his hand in disbelief, and numbly grasped Soval’s hand in a brief handshake. Soval released him, nodded over his shoulder to the remainder of the group, and then turned to the crosswalk as the light turned green again to join the motley group of students as they crossed the street. Young Phillips stood staring at the ambassador’s back with his mouth open as his friends gathered around him, demanding to know what he’d said to the Vulcan ambassador.


 

Archer didn’t quite know what to make of his wife’s reaction to the news of his consort contract with the Matriarch of Betazed. On the one hand, it was gratifying to know that she could be so jealous of his affections. On the other hand, she did seem to be taking the jealousy thing to extremes, considering the fact that her rival was over one hundred years old and currently on her deathbed.

“So the contract was never consummated...” Elena clarified in a businesslike tone.

Archer looked back at her in amazement. “Of course not!” he replied.

“...and the Matriarch never provided you with any financial support or monetary compensation,” she continued, completely ignoring his tone of voice.

“No... she didn’t,” he told her in an aggravated tone. This is getting ridiculous! he thought.

Elena nodded briskly. She looked up from her close scrutiny of the contract. “I believe we may have a case for mutual breach of contract before your wedding ceremony took place. If we can prove that claim, then your marriage did not violate Betazoid law because no valid contract existed in the first place. I will recommend that strategy to the lawyer who will be representing you on Betazed,” she concluded. “I’ll have a report prepared for your counsel by the time Enterprise is scheduled to depart. In the mean time, I suggest you return to Enterprise and get some rest. In my opinion, it would be dangerous for you to captain a starship in your current condition.” She rose from her chair and stood before him, carefully maintaining a professional distance... and a large expanse of wooden desk... between them. “I can call a taxi for you, if you’d like,” she offered blandly.

Archer sighed in frustration and rolled his eyes. “Elena, love... this is silly!” He stood and came around the desk with his hands extended toward her. Her eyes widened in alarm, and she backed away slightly, regarding him as if he were a poisonous serpent about to strike. He stopped in his tracks when he saw her face, and gave her a look of hurt surprise.

“You really believe I deliberately kept this from you, don’t you?” he asked her in disbelief. Elena’s wary expression answered his question without the need for words.

His eyes begged her to understand. “I promise you, Elena... it was a political thing. I didn’t tell you because I didn’t think it was important. The only reason it’s a problem now is because Amelia’s no longer in charge. If she weren’t so sick, she’d have sent us a subspace message congratulating us on our marriage, and that would have been the end of it. Unfortunately, her successor is in charge now, and she’s insisting that we both present ourselves to the Ruling Council for judgment.”

Archer exhaled heavily and gave his wife a rueful smile. “I know you don’t trust me very much right now... but in the best interests of our planet, and as your contribution to the war effort, would you consider joining me on a three month honeymoon to Betazed?”

Elena’s jaw dropped, and she looked back at him as if he were completely out of his mind. “Betazed?” she asked incredulously. “Why the hell would I want to go to Betazed?”

Elena’s office intercom activated. Miranda’s voice came over the speaker. She sounded somewhat flustered.

“Um... Elena? I was fielding your calls during your conference with Captain Archer, but you just received one that I think you should take personally,” the older woman said with quiet urgency.

“Really? Who’s it from, Miranda?” asked Elena absently, with her eyes still focused on her husband’s face. His expression reminded her of Porthos when the little dog was begging for those cheese cubes he loved so much.

“It’s President Akershus, Elena... the President Akershus. She says she’s calling to congratulate you on your appointment to the Earthgov Diplomatic Corps... as the legal advisor to Earthgov’s first ambassador to Betazed.”


 

Soval of Vulcan exited the elevator on the third floor of the engineering office tower. He walked slowly down the corridor, searching for room 315. It was in the far eastern corner of the building, as far away from the elevator as was physically possible. It was located in close proximity to... and seemed to be roughly the same size as... the closet in which the custodial supplies were stored... but on the frosted glass window in the center of the door, someone had stenciled in gold-toned block letters, “Assistant Professor Kov, Department of Aerospace Engineering”. He tried the doorknob. The door was unlocked.

“Come in!” came a cheerful female voice from within the room. Soval opened the door to find a slender young Human female, perched rather precariously on the seat of a chair as she hung a set of familiarly patterned red-brown curtains on either side of the single window in the tiny office. The young woman’s long, straight, fiery red hair hung down to her waist. Standing on the chair, she was able to reach the eight-foot tall ceiling with ease. The office seemed to be filled completely, but contained nothing else but a small desk, an empty bookshelf, and several boxes of technical manuals.

Soval raised a brow. “The designs on your curtains bear a striking resemblance to the illuminations which illustrate the first chapter of the Kir’shara,” he said in a puzzled tone of voice, without introducing himself. “I was not aware that textiles bearing patterns such as these were available on Earth... or even, for that matter, on Vulcan.”

The young woman finished her task, and stepped down from the chair, smiling broadly.

“That’s ‘cause I painted ‘em myself,” she told him disarmingly. Then she looked him up and down with an inquiring expression. “Do I know you? Are you a friend of Kov’s?” she asked in a friendly fashion.

“I am an acquaintance of his father,” Soval told her blandly. “My name is Soval.”

The young woman’s face sobered. She straightened, and offered Soval a V-shaped formal gesture of greeting. With a polite nod, she said, “I’m very happy ta meet you, Soval of Vulcan. My name is Ida Jane Rafter, but I’d rather be called Janie.” Soval returned her gesture and her nod with an intrigued expression on his face. This Human child-woman was not at all what he’d expected.

“My husband is givin’ a lecture right now, but when he returns, I’d very much appreciate it if you’d accept an invitation to dinner tonight,” continued Janie sincerely. “Ever since Kov and I got married, I’ve been tryin’ ta convince him that he should contact his father. Maybe, between the two of us, we’ll be able ta convince him that he’s behavin’ in an illogical manner.”

Soval gazed at her for a moment, taken aback by her unexpected offer of alliance. Then he raised a brow at her again, for the second time in five minutes.

“I accept your invitation, Janie Rafter...” he told her approvingly, “... and your offer of assistance as well. I suspect that your husband will have no choice but to concede the illogic of his behavior with both of us to challenge him.”

Janie Rafter grinned at him conspiratorially. Then she turned to inspect her handiwork in the window.

“So... Soval... What do ya think of the curtains?” she asked hopefully. “Do ya think Kov’ll like ‘em?”

The crusty old Vulcan’s brow wrinkled slightly as he inspected her work. He considered the handmade curtains carefully, and then gazed at her expectant face a moment before speaking. She obviously anticipated a favorable comment.

“The curtains appear to be quite functional,” he said finally. Janie continued to look at him with one brow raised and an amused smile on her face. She’d apparently had quite a bit of experience with extracting compliments from Vulcans. Soval searched for a more flattering observation.

“The patterns are aesthetically pleasing,” he finished. Janie grinned at him broadly.

“Why thank you, sir,” she said in her most southern-belle accent. “That’s just about the nicest thing anyone’s said to me in a very long time.” She batted her eyes at him and smiled, and then her gaze returned to the room.

“Now how’s about you help me unpack all these boxes before we head back to the apartment? I need a strong man to lift all these heavy books,” she told him as she knelt on the floor by the stack of crates and began competently lifting the technical manuals from the first box two at a time and placing them on the bookshelf.

Soval stared down at her for a moment with a bemused look on his face, and then got down on his knees without argument and began unpacking boxes.


 

Commander T’Pol of Vulcan lay face down on the bed in her quarters on Enterprise with the lower half of her unclothed body covered by a sheet. The thermostat in the cabin was set at a temperature that made her Human bondmate slightly flushed in the face, but he made no move to lower it. He sat on the bed beside her, dressed in nothing but the corner of her bed sheet and his blue boxers, and pressed both thumbs firmly into her paraspinal muscles, in the space between her third and fourth thoracic vertebrae.

“Lieutenant Sato spoke with me today,” said T’Pol through clenched teeth. “She seems enthusiastic about having a... ‘roommate’ is the term I believe she used.”

Trip pressed with a bit more force. “Malcolm’s not as thrilled with the idea, but he says he can live with it as long as he doesn’t have ta spend all of his time with Hoshi on the floor of one of the weapons lockers,” he replied. “The structural modifications should be complete in about forty-eight hours. Then Hoshi and I’ll be able to move into our new quarters next to you and Malcolm.”

T’Pol took a deep, shaky breath. “It would seem more logical for you to share a bathroom with me, and Lieutenant Sato to share with Lieutenant Commander Reed,” she said.

Trip chuckled. “Maybe on a Vulcan ship, where no hanky-panky goes on between Ponfarrs... but I think the bigwigs at Starfleet Command might get a clue that somebody’s not exactly followin’ the no-fraternization rule if we do that on Enterprise.”

He leaned into her back with all of his strength. “I wish you hadn’t been so stubborn about this, T’Pol,” he said with a grimace. “We coulda been doin’ this for a week now... and you wouldn’t be in such a knot!”

“I was attempting to acclimate myself to sleeping alone,” replied T’Pol in a pained voice. “I never anticipated that it would take this much time.” She exhaled heavily, letting out a soft moan as her husband’s ministrations finally released all of her excess tension, relaxing her completely.

Trip let up on thoracic pressure, and then moved his hands to her lumbar area. He placed them in the proper position, and leaned in again.

“Why’d ya put up a barrier, though? I didn’t have any idea that you weren’t sleepin’ until you slipped up today and let me in,” he protested softly.

T’Pol gasped faintly in pleasure at his touch, and then murmured drowsily, ”You were occupied with the refit and sleeping quite well. I didn’t want to disturb you.” Trip could sense her embarrassment. She couldn’t understand why sleeping apart now seemed to bother her so much more than it bothered him.

Trip let up on lumbar pressure, and then lifted the sheet so that she could turn face-up.

“I was sleepin’ ‘cause I was exhausted, darlin’. The engine refit’s been hard work. It didn’t mean I wasn’t missin’ ya,” he told her with a gentle smile.

He covered his wife modestly, up to the upper curves of both breasts, and shifted positions so that he was at the head of the bed. Then he rose to his knees and reached over her shoulders to apply pressure to her iliac crests through the bed sheet. T’Pol opened her eyes, her attention fixed on the muscular planes of his bare abdomen and chest as they hovered enticingly over her. Trip could sense her drowsiness receding. He looked down at her face from his inverted position and chuckled softly.

“I don’t think this posture is workin’ too well,” he told her in amusement. “I’m supposed to be puttin’ you ta sleep, not wakin’ ya up.”

T’Pol lifted a brow and met his eyes. Trip sensed her desire, and it fueled his own. “Considering the fact that I am already awake, may I suggest something besides neuropressure as a means of relaxation this evening?” she asked in a sultry voice. She extended both hands to rub her palms enticingly over his abdomen, reaching above her head to skim the waistband of his abbreviated clothing with her fingertips.

Trip grinned broadly at her, and levered himself backwards to sit up once again at the head of the bed. He stood and shed his boxers, and then returned to the seated position. Lifting the sheet from T’Pol’s body, he pushed it aside, and sat looking down at her for a moment, enjoying the view tremendously. She arched her head backwards and gave him a questioning look. He smiled down at her, and leaned down to give her a slow, lascivious, upside-down kiss. His hands grazed the skin on the sides of her breasts and abdomen, barely touching her as he relinquished her lips and rose to his knees, reaching farther forward to pay homage to her with his mouth. He paid careful attention to her breasts, and then to the skin around her navel as she rewarded him with soft moans of pleasure. She reached above her head with both hands, then... and it was his turn to let out a groan as she began to eagerly caress, with both hands and mouth, the portions of his anatomy which were within her reach. He lifted his mouth from her abdomen and arched his head back, his eyes closing in ecstasy. Then he returned his attention to his task. He eyed all points south of her navel, and adjusted his posture again.

“So...” he said breathlessly as he finally reached the position he’d been in before he’d gotten undressed, and placed warm hands on her bare iliac crests, “... where was I?”


 

Kov climbed the stairs to the second floor apartment that he shared with Janie. He wore a nondescript grey sweat suit, a white terry cloth sweatband, and tennis shoes. He carried a duffle in one hand, and the shoulder strap of a PADD in its carry case was slung over one shoulder. He was still breathing heavily from his after-work run on the treadmill in the sports complex... a habit he’d recently instituted in the attempt to compensate for his wife’s irresistible cooking. He entered the apartment, placed his PADD carefully on the table near the door, and walked into the living room on the way to a well-deserved shower. He stopped in his tracks when he discovered Ambassador Soval of Vulcan sitting on the couch in his living room sipping tea with his wife.

“Hey, honey... look who’s come to dinner,” said Janie brightly. “The food’ll be ready in just a few minutes. Why don’t ya go shower and change, and then we’ll all sit down and eat?”

Kov blithely ignored her perky cheerfulness. He faced Soval with a solemn expression. Soval stood to greet him. Kov raised a hand in the V salute.

“Peace, and long life, Ambassador Soval,” he said calmly.

Soval returned the gesture. “Live long, and prosper, Assistant Professor Kov. Your father sends his greetings, and his wish for a successful and fruitful marriage,” he replied.

Kov raised a brow. “You and I are both aware that my father has no such wish, Ambassador. Why would you be so cruel as to deceive my wife in such a manner?”

Soval raised both brows at Kov’s rather blunt statement. “I intended no deception,” he told the younger Vulcan. “Your father has only your best interests in mind.” Soval turned to Janie, who had risen from the couch to join them, and was staring from one of them to the other with a look of concern.

Go on, Kov, she urged her husband silently. Go shower and change. We’ve all got a lot ta talk about tonight. She smiled at him beseechingly. Please, honey, she begged. He’s come all the way from San Francisco. The least we can do is listen to what he has ta say!

Kov exhaled heavily, glanced once again at Soval, and then exited the room toward the bathroom down the hall. He entered the bathroom and closed the door much more firmly than was strictly necessary. Janie winced. The sound of running water followed.

Janie turned her attention to Soval, who had been observing the young couple’s obvious mental conversation with great interest.

Ambassador Soval?” she said with impressed emphasis. “I thought I recognized the name.” She eyed him curiously. “Are you really a friend of Kov’s father?” she asked.

“My role is closer to that of a subordinate following the request of an employer than that of a friend,” admitted Soval.

Janie’s eyes grew wide. “A subordinate? I know Kov’s father is a “Minister” on the High Council. I found that out from our marriage meld. I’m just not real clear on Vulcan’s political structure. Exactly how important is Kov’s father, anyway?”

Soval extended a hand, indicating that the young woman should take a seat once again. He took his place next to her on the couch.

“The High Council as a group serves a function very similar to your Earthgov President. The Chief Minister, a title currently held by T’Pau, functions as a “tie breaker” of sorts, in the event of a split decision by the council. Kov’s father Kuvak is her chief advisor, and would be expected to assume her position should she become unable to serve for any reason.”

“So... sort of like the Vice-President of Vulcan?” asked Janie hesitantly.

Soval raised an amused brow. “That is a somewhat simplified, but essentially accurate description,” he told her. Janie smiled at him, encouraged by his willingness to discuss things.

“So... I know Kov’s version of things. He thinks...” she paused with a grimace,”...no offense, Ambassador...” Soval nodded encouragingly. Janie gathered her courage to continue.

“He thinks his father is too narrow-minded to accept his marriage to a Human,” she continued in a rather embarrassed tone of voice. “Kov told me that communicating with his father would only cause us both pain.” She smiled ruefully at Soval. “Believe me... I thought my dad wrote the book on bein’ closed-minded, and he’s comin’ around. I tried to tell Kov that, but he says that Vulcans are too rigid in their thinkin’ to change the way Humans can.”

Soval sat back and considered her words carefully. “It is true that Humans are often more mentally adaptable than Vulcans. That is one of your strengths as a species,” he told her thoughtfully. “Our more ordered thought processes are less easily altered by external influences. That is not to say, however, that Vulcans are not capable of change. Vulcan parents concern themselves deeply with the welfare of their children. I believe that once I make my report to Minister Kuvak concerning the nature of his son’s relationship with you, he will realize that your influence is beneficial, not detrimental to his son’s well-being. This realization will undoubtedly produce a change in his attitude toward his son’s marriage. Although I cannot speak for him, I can tell you that my report will be favorable. In my opinion, the two of you are an excellent match.”


 

Captain Erika Hernandez entered Jupiter Station’s officer’s lounge with only two things on her mind... a stiff drink, and then bed. Columbia’s refit was scheduled to begin the next morning, and they’d just arrived on station early that afternoon. She would have preferred a few days of R & R before tackling such a huge undertaking, but wartime had put everyone on double duty.

As she walked into the dimly lit room, she noticed someone she would never have expected to find sitting at the bar... Jonathan Archer. He was nursing what appeared to be bourbon... a double, straight up was his usual poison, if her memory served her right... and he looked so miserable that she couldn’t prevent herself from approaching him. She took the barstool next to him. He was so oblivious to his surroundings that he didn’t even notice her at first.

“Hi, Jon,” she said softly, with a wry smile. The bartender approached her. “I’ll have what he’s having,” she told the young man, and then turned back to Archer, who was returning her smile wistfully.

“I heard that Columbia made it back today,” he told her quietly. “I’m happy to see that you’re all right.”

Erika smiled at him gratefully, and placed her hand over his where it rested on the countertop. “I expected to see you in the welcoming party when we boarded the station, Jon, but someone said you’d been keeping to yourself and hadn’t been seen on station for several days,” she replied in a concerned tone of voice. Her eyes searched his face, taking note of the circles beneath his eyes and the deepening creases in his forehead. “Have you been ill?” she asked him.

Archer chuckled dryly and shook his head. “I wish it were that simple,” he told her ruefully. “Then I’d just go see Phlox and take care of it.” He sighed and stared down again at his glass, which was still a quarter full. He took a sip. Then he met her eyes. “Did they brief you on the situation with Betazed?” he asked in a rather embarrassed tone.

Erika’s eyes widened in realization. “Ah! So that’s it,” she said with a soft laugh. She cocked her head and studied his face for a moment. “And you didn’t tell your new wife about it until recently, am I right?”

Archer grinned rather pitifully at her, and nodded.

Erika shook her head, and then looked up to take her drink from the bartender. She took a sip. Still looking down at her drink, she said, ”By the way... I never told you congratulations. She must really be something for you to agree to make it official so quickly.” Her voice was hesitant. “I mean... we’ve never even discussed marriage, and we’ve know each other for what? ... Twenty years now?”

“Ever since officer candidate school,” agreed Archer, also avoiding her gaze. He took another sip, and then glanced at her sideways. “I always thought we’d never discussed it because neither of us was ready to settle down yet,” he told her softly. “I guess I’m ready now... and Elena was there.” He paused, and then continued in a wistful voice. “I really love her, Erika... and she loves me.”

Erika met his eyes. “I’m glad, Jon,” she told him quietly.

He sighed and shook his head with a bitter laugh. “I’m not sure she likes me very much right now, though.”

Erika stifled a chuckle. “I’d be pretty furious with you too, Jon, if you didn’t tell me something like that before you married me.” She took another sip of her drink and eyed him with a grin.

“How furious?” he asked with forced humor. “Would it be ‘slap me across the face and not make up for days afterwards’ furious... or ‘I don’t think we should share a cabin until we get to know each other a little better’ furious?”

Erika laughed aloud at that. She took a substantial swig of her drink, and then paused to give his question serious consideration. “Both,” she said finally. “Definitely both.”

Archer sighed and knocked back the rest of his drink. “I was afraid you’d say that,” he said dryly. He eyed her with a grin. “I guess I’m lucky I haven’t gotten slapped yet... but it’s gonna be a very long trip to Betazed with my wife on board in a separate cabin.”

Erika tossed back the rest of her drink as well, grimacing as it burned on the way down, and slammed her empty glass on the counter in front of her. She clapped him on the shoulder as she got up to leave.

“Sorry, my friend... can’t help you there. You’ll just have to turn on the old Archer charm,” she teased. She cocked a brow at him. “You still remember how, don’t you... being an old married man and all?”

He chuckled and shook his head as he stood to give her a friendly hug.

“Thanks, Erika. Talking with you tonight was just what I needed,” he whispered. Erika returned his hug warmly.

“Anytime, Jon... You take care of yourself, okay?” she murmured into his shirt. They released each other and exchanged wistful smiles. Erika turned to leave before he could notice the tears welling up in her eyes.

Dammit, woman!, she told herself firmly. You had your chance! Now suck it up and take your lumps. You’re not ready to settle down anyway. She walked out of the lounge without looking back and headed back to her quarters to hit the sack, determined not to dwell on what might have been. On her way out, blinded by her tears, she brushed by a slender figure standing near the doorway behind a potted palm. Erika never even noticed the dark-haired woman who had been scrutinizing her interactions with Jonathan Archer. Elena Sanchez-Archer turned and left before she could be recognized, blinded by tears of her own.


 

Lieutenant Hoshi Sato exhaled heavily as she examined her new quarters. They were identical in both size and layout to her old quarters... but the stars would be going the wrong way once they got underway. When she’d first been posted to the Enterprise, the fact that the stars seemed to travel across her viewport from aft to fore instead of fore to aft had been enough to cause her many a sleepless night. She’d finally gotten up the nerve to ask the captain for a change of quarters. Unfortunately, this time she had no choice... unless she broke her promise. She’d promised Malcolm that she would occupy these quarters... to provide Commander T’Pol with the chance for occasional privacy. It was only fair. After all, Commander Tucker had been willing to relocate. She didn’t envy him having to share a bathroom with Malcolm. As much as she adored her very own stuffy Brit, he was extremely particular about his items of personal hygiene.

I’d love to be a fly on the wall the first time Malcolm lectures Commander Tucker on the necessity of securely closing the toothpaste after use, she thought with amusement.

She turned to the door of the bathroom, and found a new device installed on the door. A variant of the ancient “Occupied/Vacant” signs she’d read about on the bathroom doors of the atmospheric jetliners of previous centuries, this one was simply a light which turned from red to green and back again with the flip of a switch, apparently on the inside of the door, since she saw nothing external. It shone a bright green at that moment, and so she entered the bathroom. The structural engineers had done an excellent job. The head looked as if it had originally been designed to function as a two-person bathroom. There was a door to each cabin... each with its own lock and light signal... and two sinks. The commode was enclosed within a cubicle to provide privacy just in case both occupants needed to be in the room at the same time. The huge shower stall... standard, for some obscure reason, despite the obscene waste of space it represented, in all of the officer’s cabins on the ship... had been scaled down to a more moderate size, but was fortunately still quite large enough for two average sized persons to shower together with plenty of elbow room. Hoshi smiled approvingly. She hoped that the shower in Malcolm’s quarters was at least of comparable size. Malcolm did so love to conserve water. As she inspected the results of the remodeling, the door leading to the adjacent cabin opened, and Commander T’Pol entered. She paused when she saw Hoshi standing in front of the shower stall.

“Pardon me, Lieutenant. I was not aware that the bathroom was occupied,” she said in a long-suffering tone. She paused and gazed meaningfully at the green light shining brightly on the outside of the door to her quarters, and then back at Hoshi, as if to remind her of its existence. Then she began to back out of the room with her hand still on the doorknob.

“That’s okay, Commander... I was just checking out the renovations,” said Hoshi with a smile. “The bathroom’s all yours.” As she turned to leave the room, the comm in the commander’s quarters, located just outside the bathroom door, called for attention. T’Pol stepped back into her cabin, leaving the bathroom door open. Hoshi heard the voice of Ensign MacNamara, the beta shift comm officer.

“Commander, I’ve just been informed that Mrs. Archer has arrived several hours earlier than expected. She’s in the airlock right now, and the captain’s not on board. Can you meet her and escort her to her assigned quarters? I contacted the captain, and he asked me to ask you.”

“I am available to do so, Ensign. I assume she will be staying in the captain’s cabin?” T’Pol’s voice responded.

“Um... No, ma’am,” replied McNamara. “The captain said to put her in the guest quarters on E-deck.”

Hoshi’s interest was piqued. Were the Archers fighting already? Can’t say I really blame the woman, she thought with a wry smile. I can’t believe he didn’t tell her about Betazed before they got married! She walked across the bathroom to get an earful, as curiosity got the better of her.

“Very well, Ensign. Lieutenant Sato and I will take care of it,” replied T’Pol.

Hoshi started in surprise as T’Pol’s head came around the corner, catching her red-handed at her eavesdropping. The commander simply raised a brow at her.

“Coming, Lieutenant?” she asked.

Hoshi grinned and shrugged, and then followed the commander into her cabin and out the door toward the airlock.


 

Elena Sanchez-Archer stood within her darkened cabin. She’d arrived unannounced at 1930 ship’s time, at a time when the alpha shift crew was off-duty. When she’d decided to take an earlier flight to Jupiter Station, she’d thought it would give her some time to talk with her husband before their departure the following morning. She’d even called the ship when she arrived on station, and had decided to surprise Jon at the lounge where the young comm officer had said he’d gone for a drink on his last night off-duty before shipping out. Despite her hurt feelings, she’d been ready to compromise... until she’d seen her husband sharing a drink with Erika Hernandez.

Elena walked across the room and opened her suitcase where it lay on the bunk. She began unpacking, placing her neatly folded clothing into the drawers of the dresser in her closet. The room was impersonal... completely unadorned and empty. The intense loneliness she felt as she put her garments away was unexpected.

After agreeing to go to Betazed... it would hardly have been polite to refuse a request from the president of Earthgov herself... she’d demanded separate quarters on Enterprise, but she’d been certain that Jon would object and insist on sharing a cabin with her. Instead, he’d meekly agreed to the arrangement. At first, she’d chalked it up to an attempt on his part to get back into her good graces. Now, after seeing the wistful expression on his face as he’d said goodbye to his old flame, she wasn’t so sure.

Captain Hernandez and I look enough alike to be sisters, she mused. But she understands him better that I could ever hope to. She sighed as she closed her empty suitcase and stowed it under the bunk. I should have made more of an attempt to understand his point of view before shutting him out, she thought ruefully. I’ve driven him back to the woman he’s really wanted all along, and now he’s probably wondering why he even married me in the first place.

She sat heavily on the bunk, unsure of what to do... of where to begin to mend her relationship with the man she’d thought was the one she’d grow old with... when her eyes lit on a thin, leather-bound book which had been left on the side table by the bed. She reached out and picked it up, intending to discover its proper owner. A piece of paper fluttered to the deck, falling from between the pages of the small volume. On it was a note in Jon’s handwriting.

“Elena,

This book belonged to my mother before I was born. My father gave it to me when I was ten. It’s yours now. I know it by heart. Choose your favorite. I want to recite it for you at breakfast. Meet me in the captain’s mess at 0730 tomorrow morning if you’d like to see me make a fool of myself. I’m going to be doing it regularly until you forgive me, so you’d better get used to it. I know you don’t like me much right now, but I intend to change your mind.

Jon.”

Elena’s lips quirked upward in a small smile. Perhaps she hadn’t lost her chance quite yet. She opened the book and read the inscription on the yellowed end paper.

“To Sally, with all my love, from Henry... Christmas, 2110”

The title page read,

Sonnet #43, From the Portuguese and Other Sonnets by Elizabeth Barrett Browning.”

She smiled more broadly, turned the page, and began to read.

“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways...”

A bell-like tone interrupted her. She looked up from her reading. After a moment, it sounded again. She realized then that it was the door chime. She closed the book and laid it on the bed before rising to answer the door. She opened it to find Jonathan Archer standing in the hallway with his hands in his pockets. He smiled hesitantly.

“Hi... I didn’t expect you tonight,” he told her softly. “I’m sorry I wasn’t here to meet you. Do you need anything?” he inquired.

Elena searched his face with a serious look before briefly returning his smile. “No... I don’t think so. They fed me dinner on the plane. I was just getting ready for bed,” she answered, almost shyly.

Archer nodded and looked down, avoiding her gaze. “Well... as long as you don’t need anything, I suppose I should head in that direction, too,” he told her reluctantly. His eyes met hers again. “Will I see you at breakfast?” he asked hopefully.

Her smile returned. He had that “Porthos begging” look on his face again.

“At 0730 sharp,” she replied.

He nodded again, and backed away for a few steps. “Well…’Night, then, Elena,” he said, returning her smile, his eyes fixed on hers for a moment before he turned to walk down the corridor. He still had his hands stuffed firmly in his pockets, as if were having to exert tremendous effort to keep them there. She stood at her doorway in disbelief that he would just leave her there without so much as a hug goodnight, and watched as he boarded the turbolift.

The doors to the turbolift closed. “’Night, Jon,” she whispered softly, daring finally to gaze at where he’d been with a puzzled but tender smile. “Sleep tight.”


 

Kov was awakened abruptly that Monday morning by a small, strong hand vigorously shaking his shoulder. He opened his eyes just a crack, and squinted at the bedside chronometer. It was six-thirty am.

“Kov! Get up!” said Janie excitedly.

He rolled over reluctantly. His wife was fully dressed, and had a steaming cup of hot tea in one hand. She handed him the tea as he sat up, and stood waiting impatiently by the bedside with her arms crossed over her chest as he took a sip. He was dressed in button-down green plaid cotton pajamas, and his hair stuck out in all directions. He eyed her with a jaundiced look.

“My first lecture today is at nine am, Janie. Was it absolutely necessary for you to wake me so early?” he groused in a mild tone of voice as he ran the fingers of one hand through his hair to straighten it.

“I was checking my messages this morning before my 8 o’clock class, and you’ll never guess who sent me one!” she replied with a grin, in an animated voice that was entirely too perky for that time of the morning.

Kov raised a bland brow at her as she took him by the hand and led him down the hallway to the console in their tiny living room. She ushered him into the chair set before the screen, and brought up the message in question. It read:

“Ms. Ida Jane Rafter, Student
Dwight Look College of Engineering
Texas Agricultural and Mechanical College
College Station, Texas, USA, Earth

It has come to my attention that you are a student of the Kir’shara. One of my cultural attaches is in the process of translating the Kir’shara into the English language. It is my belief that the accuracy of his translation would benefit from your unique perspective. You may feel free to suggest corrections as you see fit. The first chapter is attached. I will forward subsequent installments as they become available. When the document is complete, I will send a published copy.

Live long, and prosper,

Kuvak
Minister, Vulcan High Council”

There was a subspace contact code appended to the message.

Janie eyed Kov with a delighted expression as he read, and then her smile faded as his anger at his father was transmitted through their bond. Her eyes searched his face. His gaze was fixed on the message as he said between clenched teeth, “It is typical of my father to do something like this. I refused to contact him, and so he seeks to control me by communicating with you.”

Janie looked back at him in amazement, shaking her head. “You really don’t get it, do you?” Kov exhaled, and regarded her tolerantly. She smiled at him gently.

“It’s a wedding present, Kov... Just look,” and she turned to pull up the attachment.

Kov raised a brow. “Vulcans do not give ‘wedding presents’,” he told her in a long-suffering voice... and then his voice faded as he saw the first page of the attachment.

The document was not, as he’d expected, a dry text translation. The frontispiece read, in English, “The Kir’shara of Surak: translated from the original by Skon. Illuminated by Kuvak.”

The illuminations present on the original document had been painstakingly recreated, quite obviously by hand. The calligraphy of the text was strongly reminiscent of the graceful curves and elaborate flourishes of the Ancient High Vulcan in which the original Kir’shara had been written, but the characters somehow were also clearly identifiable as English letters. The page was eerily beautiful. Kov paused to study it, at a loss for words.

“Don’t you see, Kov?” whispered Janie. She wrapped both arms around his neck, standing behind him as he sat in the chair, and rested her chin on his shoulder as she spoke softly into his ear. “He’s trying to see the beauty that can come from the union between Vulcan and Human. Don’t you think you should at least call him to tell him you’re all right?”

Kov sighed, and eyed his father’s call code ruefully. Now he’d have to call. She would never leave him in peace if he didn’t.


 

Elren of the Fifth House, the sole male member of the Ruling Council of Betazed, woke that morning with his arms full of a substantial amount of warm, soft, soundly sleeping Human female. He carefully extricated himself from her embrace, and lay on one elbow for a moment, gazing at her face as she slept with pupil-less black eyes. He had to admit that although she was certainly no beauty, and many years had passed since her figure had approached slimness, that what she lacked in visual appeal, she certainly made up for in enthusiasm. Earth’s ambassador was a weak telepath at best, but her empathic skills made intimacy with her nearly as exciting as with a Betazoid woman, without the dangers inherent in revealing too many secrets at the critical moment when all barriers dropped.

I should thank the Matriarch-Elect for forcing me to consider this option, he thought with lazy satisfaction. Perhaps, out of gratitude, I will kill Rianne quickly instead of allowing her to suffer when I come to power.

Anis Faa stirred, her empathic senses awakening her under his scrutiny. He smiled at her lovingly as she opened her eyes, tucking his lust for power and his contempt for all females firmly behind barriers that even a Betazoid woman had yet to penetrate and live to tell about. She smiled back, the expression in her chocolate-brown eyes warm and welcoming. He could sense her genuine affection, and her amazement that a man as attractive as he was would even bother to give her a second glance. Her desire to please him was almost pitiful. The woman had apparently spent most of her adult life marginalized and ridiculed. A researcher in Human telepathic and empathic ability from an Earth nation called Scotland, she was also one of the few surviving members of a minority called the “Romany” that had for centuries laid claim to telepathic abilities without being taken very seriously. No one in Earth’s scientific community had given her research much credence... until the moment when the existence of a telepathic humanoid species became known. A mere three months following the public announcement of Jonathan Archer’s surprising treaty with Elren’s people, the validity of Dr. Faa’s research... and the existence of her own telepathic abilities... had been objectively verified, and Professor Anis Faa had been appointed Earth’s first ambassador to Betazed.

“Mornin’, my lovely lad,” she whispered with a gentle smile. Elren stifled his annoyance at her unintentionally motherly tone. Despite the fact that they were of comparable ages... both in their fifties... the slower Betazed aging process gave Elren the appearance of a Human male barely thirty years of age, and Anis persisted in treating him like the much younger man he appeared to be. He knew that thinking him young and naïve made her trust him even more, and so, thus far, he hadn’t disabused her of the notion. He raised a hand and ran his fingers through her lustrous auburn curls. Despite the grey encroaching on her temples, he found her hair to be her most attractive physical feature.

“Good morning, Ambassador,” he replied with mock formality. “I trust you slept well?”

Her eyes twinkled at him in amusement as she reached for him with eager arms. He allowed her to pull their bodies together again beneath the sheets. Despite himself, he felt the stirring of awakening lust. Her feelings were bleeding through again, stimulating his response

The woman has absolutely no control or shame! he thought in disgust.

Anis’ face sobered, and Elren abruptly strengthened his shields. He held his breath. It wasn’t like him to be so careless with his thoughts. The woman in his arms was a pitiful excuse for a telepath, but she wasn’t completely non-functional. Had she heard him?

“Is something wrong, my darling?” he asked in a concerned voice. She stared at him for a moment with a puzzled expression, and then her smile returned.

“No, Elren... of course not,” she reassured him. “I’m just having trouble distinguishing my own thoughts from what I’m picking up telepathically again, that’s all.” She shrugged in self-deprecation. “You know how much trouble I have with that.”

Elren smiled at her in relief. “We’ll have another lesson today then, shall we?” he offered. She smiled and sighed reluctantly, shaking her head.

“I’m afraid I need to spend some time preparing for the arrival of the starship from Earth. The embassy is still only partially furnished and supplied, despite the fact that I’ve been here for over six months. I’ve only got three weeks to arrange for accommodations for my new legal advisor and her husband.”

Elren raised a finger. “That’s alleged husband, my dear,” he warned. “You should be very careful of how you describe him to the other members of the Ruling Council. They will not be as understanding of the situation as I am.”

The ambassador exhaled in frustration, and sat up in bed, wrapping the sheet about her chest for modesty. She sat observing Elren with great interest as he left the bed without a stitch on, and gathered his clothes together. He made a show of it, taking his time and bending his knees gracefully to pick up his clothing from the ground. She had a rather distracted smile on her face as he began to dress himself.

“Does the Matriarch-Elect still intend to claim Archer’s contract if the Matriarch dies before Enterprise arrives?” she asked in a preoccupied tone. Her eyes followed the rippling of sleek muscles beneath his skin. He flexed his back deliberately for her as he pulled his shirt on, and then turned toward her to button it, wearing nothing else.

“I would assume so. She has that right, since the Matriarch has no adult female heirs. Archer and his inheritance are part of the Matriarch’s estate, to be held in trust for Lianna until her twenty-fifth birthday,” replied Elren as he reached for the skin-tight breeches that were the customary male dress below the waist. He struggled with them. Her response to his reverse strip tease had triggered a response in him as well, and the breeches were somewhat tighter than usual.

The first thing I’ll do when I become Monarch is to outlaw these damned things! he thought in frustration.

Anis laughed, and Elren froze. Had he done it again? He looked up at the ambassador, who had covered her mouth like a giggling schoolgirl.

“You look so funny hopping around on one leg like that, Elren,” she chuckled. He relaxed, and smiled wryly back at her. He grabbed his boots and socks, and sat down in the bedside chair to pull them on.

“So, the Enterprise arrives in three weeks, then?” he asked nonchalantly.

The ambassador nodded and prattled on... with no thought to the fact that what she revealed was classified information. “I received notice that they left this morning from Jupiter Station. They’ll approach Betazed through the asteroid belt around Gammazed to avoid attracting any unwanted attention from our Romulan neighbors.”

Elren smiled and pulled on his boots.

“I’ll just leave you to get dressed, then, darling... See you at lunch with the Matriarch-Elect?” he asked breezily as he stood to leave the room. Anis blew him a flirtatious kiss.

“Until then, my love,” she told him, and moved to get out of bed with the sheet wrapped around her. He beat a hasty retreat. He had no particular desire to see her get dressed. It might spoil his positively marvelous mood.

Rianne will be so pleased that it will be another three weeks before Enterprise arrives. Surely the Matriarch will be dead by then, he thought with a satisfied smile. Even more deeply within his subconscious, buried behind nearly impermeable barriers, he rejoiced for another reason. Rianne would not need to concern herself with gaining control of Archer’s contract and his inherited assets for very much longer, for once Elren had given his new allies the latest news about the Enterprise, the destruction of the Earth ship... and, in exchange, Elren’s ascension to the throne as the first male Monarch of Betazed in one thousand years... were simply a matter of time.


 

“What’s the hold-up, transporter room? We’re all ready to get this show on the road!” said Captain Archer irritably into the comm.

Lieutenant Commander Malcolm Reed and Lieutenant Hoshi Sato exchanged knowing looks with each other across the bridge. Even Commander T’Pol’s brow went up at the captain’s tone.

After a short pause, Commander Tucker’s voice responded rather stiffly, “Beggin’ the captain’s pardon...we’re having a little technical difficulty with the first batch of drones, sir. We’ll be ready to go in just a few minutes. Tucker out.”

Malcolm’s lips twitched upward a bit. Nothing like a bit of aggravation to turn the usually overly casual Chief Engineer into a stickler for protocol. He eyed the captain. The man was so tightly wound he looked like he was about to explode. For the first week of their voyage to Betazed, he’d thought the captain’s stress level was elevated for the same reason that Malcolm himself had been rather tense. Leaving Jupiter Station before the new weapons systems could be properly targeted and calibrated had seemed to him to be an unnecessarily foolhardy decision in wartime, despite Starfleet Command’s rush to see a resolution to the situation on Betazed. Malcolm felt much better now that they were finally preparing to confirm the weapons’ calibration with a live-fire exercise. He’d been surprised this morning by the fact that the captain did not seem to be reassured by the near-readiness of the weapons systems. If anything, his irritability and agitation seemed to be increasing in an exponential fashion as the mission progressed. Malcolm had brought the subject up to Hoshi the night before, as they lay comfortably entwined in his bunk after taking advantage of the privacy afforded them by the commanders’ nightly meditation session in T’Pol’s quarters. Hoshi had come up with an alternative explanation for the captain’s condition.

So all he’s done for a week during his time off-duty is read poetry to her?” Malcolm asked in disbelief.

Recite poetry, actually... but, yes... that’s about it... and talk about everything known to man,” replied Hoshi with a grin. “...her childhood... his childhood... religion... politics... food... children... sports...” She chuckled. “The poor woman’s nearly been talked to death, and he hasn’t even tried to hold her hand. I think she’s almost as frustrated with him as I used to get with you.”

Malcolm rolled his eyes with a wry grin. “And exactly how did you learn all these tidbits of tantalizing information?” he asked her.

She gave him a knowing smile. “We haven’t been spending all of our time studying Betazoid language and culture,” she replied.

Hoshi had volunteered to be Elena Sanchez-Archer’s personal tutor in all things Betazoid, in preparation for the lawyer’s duties as the legal advisor to the ambassador... a title that, apparently, was not to be simply honorary. Earth’s ambassador to Betazed had already transmitted a document file containing several trade contracts for Elena’s inspection. In order to properly assess the trade contracts, and to prepare for challenging Jonathan Archer’s consort contract before the Ruling Council, Elena and Hoshi had had to search through the Betazoid database to come up with a crash course in Betazoid contract law. In the process, they’d become rather more closely acquainted than Hoshi had expected.

So she’s forgiven him... and he’s gone off his trolley trying to romance her... and both of them are too stubborn to admit that they’re in love with each other,” said Malcolm succinctly.

Hoshi laughed, and gave him a squeeze around the waist. “That’s about the size of it. Remind you of anyone you know?” she asked him archly.

He chuckled dryly, and gathered her more closely to him with a sigh. He bent his head and nibbled gently on the side of her neck, enjoying the way she shivered at the contact.

Sounds like you’re hinting that we should make up for all those years that I was so blind and stubborn,” he whispered, with a sly grin on his face. “Do you think we have time for another go?”

His eyes closed, and he groaned softly as she reached between them to caress him eagerly, and then found his mouth with hers, silently answering in the affirmative.

“Tucker to bridge. We’re ready to go at your command, Captain.”

Commander Tucker’s voice startled Malcolm from his very pleasant recollection at a rather critical moment. The tactical officer’s face turned a bright red as Hoshi’s eyes met his knowingly. For a non-telepath, the woman had entirely too much insight into his thought processes. He cleared his throat and made the offer that he’d decided would allow the captain to “blow off steam”... so that the crew could finally relax a bit while Archer was working things out with his wife. Since Malcolm was the last person who should be giving anyone advice about their love life, he’d decided on a more direct approach. After all, blowing things up always made him feel better.

“Captain, I think you should take tactical during this last exercise, sir,” he said formally, with his eyes focused straight ahead.

Archer turned in the command chair and gave him a look of puzzled annoyance.

“And exactly why should I do that, Lieutenant Commander?”

Malcolm straightened his posture a fraction. “In the event that I am incapacitated in battle, sir, someone among the bridge crew should be cross-trained with the new weapons console. Lieutenant Mayweather will be occupied at helm, Lieutenant Sato will be monitoring enemy communications, and Commander T’Pol will be doing sensor sweeps of enemy ships and personnel so that we know what we’re fighting. That leaves you, sir.”

Archer’s brow went up. He thought for a moment, trying to find a flaw in the Lieutenant Commander’s logic. Apparently failing to do so, he sighed, and then left the command chair, joining Malcolm at the weapons console.

“Show me,” said Archer curtly, eyeing the controls cautiously.

“They look more complicated than they actually are, sir,” said Malcolm quietly over Archer’s shoulder. “The targeting computer will find you a firing solution, but it doesn’t fire automatically. These control the forward phase cannons,” he said, indicating the proper controls with his right forefinger, “... and these control the torpedoes.” He indicated another set of controls.

“What about all these?” asked Archer, indicating a larger panel of lights to his lower right.

“Those control the weapons in other areas of the ship. Ordinarily, each weapons station will have its own weapons officer, so these controls would only be active in the event of an attack during a time when the ship was operating with a skeleton crew... such as in space dock. They would allow a single officer to defend the ship from the bridge. It’s not a situation I’d personally ever want to be in, sir. It’s impossible for one man to control six weapons stations simultaneously with any degree of success. For the purposes of this exercise, sir, you are the forward weapons officer. The other stations are manned by other officers, just as they would be in an actual battle.”

Archer nodded. He eyed Malcolm. “Take the command chair, Lieutenant Commander... this is your show,” he said dryly. Malcolm’s brow went up in surprise.

“Yes sir,” he replied emphatically. “Thank you, sir!” Archer settled into the chair at tactical while Lieutenant Commander Reed, now in command of the most powerful and well-armed ship in Starfleet, walked confidently to the command chair and slowly took his seat.

“Reed to Commander Tucker... the Captain’s put me in charge, sir. Begin the first drone launch on my mark...” He paused, silently counting to five. “Mark!”

At his signal, the engineering team in the transporter room began a carefully choreographed series of drone launches, beaming the drones into the lines of fire of each of the weapons stations randomly and at random intervals. The drones appeared suddenly on the scanners, in exactly the same manner as a decloaking Romulan ship. As the drones materialized, they began firing mock bursts of disruptor fire that the ship’s computer, in exercise mode, recognized as hits. The computer recorded the hits, and, in some cases, deactivated the systems involved. Commanders Tucker and T’Pol, who were responsible for the computer program that recognized the drone’s mock fire, had, of course, made certain that no vital ship’s systems were deactivated in the course of the exercise. A life-support failure during a live fire exercise would have been rather difficult to explain to Starfleet Command.

“Sensors register direct hits on three of the aft torpedo launchers, Lieutenant Commander, and the starboard phase cannon has been deactivated…,” reported Commander T’Pol calmly, “…but all drones have been destroyed thus far.”

As if to contradict the Science Officer’s positive report, a drone suddenly appeared in the forward view screen and immediately began firing upon the forward plasma cannons with mechanical accuracy. Malcolm grasped the arms of the command chair in reflex and bit his tongue as the captain’s first attempt at destroying the drone missed by a large margin.

“The forward plasma cannons are off-line,” reported T’Pol matter-of-factly.

Malcolm glanced at Archer out of the corner of his eye. The captain was muttering something through clenched teeth. Three more drones abruptly appeared in the forward view screen and added their fire power to the first.

“Let me count the ways…” growled Archer in aggravation. He punched the torpedo launch control. “One…,” he said viciously. The first drone disintegrated. “Two…” The second followed the first. Jonathan Archer’s face broke out into a grim smile. “Three…” There was only one drone left. Its programming allowed it to successfully evade the fourth torpedo. There was only one torpedo left. Malcolm suppressed a grin at the eager expression on the captain’s face. Archer looked like he was enjoying himself.

The captain paused until the computer presented him with a firing solution, and then pressed the fifth firing stud with relish. “Four!” he said with a satisfied smile. The drone exploded, and Archer exchanged a triumphant look with Malcolm.

Lieutenant Commander Malcolm Reed turned directly forward again to face the view screen, now clear of everything save a scattering of distant stars.

I don’t know about the captain, but I feel better now, he thought complacently.


 

At 8 am on a Wednesday morning, while his wife was safely out of the apartment in calculus class, Kov… late of Vulcan and currently of College Station, Texas… sat before the console in his living room trying to muster the courage to call home. It wasn’t that he expected his father to show anger… or even to raise his voice. Kuvak was a strict observer of the disciplines of Surak. Kov didn’t ever remember his father outwardly demonstrating emotions of any sort. Even when his mother had died, his father’s response had been to immediately seek Kolinahr, leaving a teenaged Kov alone in the house with the servants to deal with his grief. Kov had chosen to run away instead, and had eventually found a home and a sense of usefulness with Captain Tavin and the crew of the Vahklas… and an identity as V’tosh Ka’tur. Only the dangers of uncontrolled emotion and Kov’s love for his father… a love he would never be able to express to the man without disappointing him… had brought him home again. What Kov found most ironic about the situation was that, although he could sense his father’s disappointment in him from light years away… whenever he saw his father’s face on a vid screen… he knew that Kuvak would die rather than admit the emotion.

His father’s methods were much more subtle than the methods employed by parents capable of the overt expression of emotion. A raised brow and solemnly disapproving glances were all his father had required to crush his spirit as a young child. Societal disapproval of his unusual expressiveness had taken over by school age. By age seven,
Kov had been aware that he was “different”… different in a way that required him to constantly place a guard on his natural emotional responses... responses that no one else around him seemed to have. His mother had accepted him the way he was. Although she was capable of behaving appropriately when necessary, in her youth she had experienced similar difficulties. She’d simply become adept at controlling them. She’d spent many hours meditating with him when he was young, and until puberty, when his hormones took over and his emotions became nearly overwhelming, she’d been making progress with him. Then she died… and he was lost. Kuvak had been unable to control his own son… and, in his unadmitted but overwhelming grief, had retreated without even making the attempt.

Kov pulled up the message to Janie that his father had sent three days before, and stared at the attached document for many moments before entering his father’s contact code. It was not one that he knew. Within moments, to his surprise, instead of the face of a subspace operator, his father’s face appeared. The code was a high priority access code… a direct line to the Vulcan High Council complex. Kov composed himself and regarded his father evenly.

“Hello, Father,” he said calmly. Kuvak just looked at him, saying nothing for a moment. If Kov hadn’t known better, he might have thought his father overwhelmed by emotion. He knew, of course, that there was no possibility of that. Since his father still hadn’t spoken, Kov decided to make an effort to be pleasant. “It is agreeable to see you again,” he ventured.

Kuvak’s chin came up a fraction, and he finally spoke. “And you, my son,” he replied in a quiet voice quite unlike his usual serene, self-confident tones. His eyes met Kov’s squarely. “I was… concerned… when I lost contact with you. I am pleased that you are well.”

Kov’s eyes widened, and he raised a brow in wry amusement. “’Concerned’?... ‘Pleased’?... One would think that you were admitting to emotion, Father.”

“There is no need to be insulting, Kov,” responded Kuvak in mild indignation, with a nearly imperceptible upturn of the lips.

Kov responded to his father’s attempt at humor with a genuine smile despite himself, and then hurriedly stifled it. To his surprise, his father ignored his lapse completely. Kov’s expression altered… from slightly amused to vaguely puzzled. His eyes searched his father’s face…. and then he saw it. He couldn’t believe that he hadn’t noticed it before. In his father’s eyes was an expression that Kov had seen many times in his childhood… usually at a time when his father had been speaking to his mother. It was an expression of unabashed affection.

He swallowed, closing his eyes momentarily, and then returned his father’s forthright gaze. “Janie and I were both very pleased to hear from you, Father,” he said in a choked voice. “She wanted me to call and thank you for the wedding present.”


 

Elren of the Fifth House irritably brushed yet another enormous winged insect away from his body before contributing to its food supply, and pulled the bow and quiver he carried more securely on to his right shoulder. As he entered the clearing, he could see the rays of the rising sun as they glowed through the branches of the trees. There were still shadows in the clearing, but at least now there was sufficient light to see his surroundings.

I wish hunting was done at a more civilized time of day, he thought in resignation. He slapped at another insect, and then wiped the resultant gooey mess on to the leg of his breeches with a grimace.

Elren generally preferred to obtain his meat by the simple expedient of ordering a servant to wring the neck of an unsuspecting domesticated fowl. The taste was just as satisfying, and it was much less… messy. Unfortunately, as a civilized Betazoid male, he had been expected from childhood to find socially acceptable outlets for his aggression. The hunt was a Betazoid male tradition, and currently was providing him with a convenient excuse to disappear for several hours, unaccompanied, into an area of deserted woodland.

He heard a high frequency whine, a sound indicative of technology… out of place in the silent clearing… and then a massive figure in a deep red EV suit materialized in the center of the open area in the midst of the ancient trees. The figure held a weapon steadily at his head as it stepped forward.

“You have information, telepath?” It asked without preamble, in a voice made metallic by the speakers in its helmet.

Elren’s head came up defiantly. “You’re not Terak. I told him that I’d deal only with him,” he insisted.

The red-suited figure’s weapon didn’t waver in the least. “The subcommander is otherwise engaged. I have been given the authority to negotiate in his stead,” came the bland reply.

Elren crossed both arms over his chest. He was fully a half-meter shorter than the Romulan in his battle armor, and looked like a small child facing down a giant… but was no less determined to get his way. The effect would have been comical had there been anyone present capable of appreciating the humor of the situation.

“If I give you my information, how do I know that you and your subcommander will hold to your end of the bargain?” Elren demanded.

The Romulan soldier replied, “The subcommander wishes me to assure you that, following the destruction of the Enterprise, his ship and its resources will be at your disposal. Provided that you are able to neutralize your planet’s telepathic defenses as you claim, he anticipates being able to place you in power over this planet with minimal difficulty. He did ask me to remind you, however, of your agreement to require your subjects to use their powers for the defense of the Romulan Empire.”

Elren nodded impatiently and waved a hand dismissively. “Of course… of course,” he said breezily. “Tell Terak not to be concerned. My people will cooperate, given the proper incentive.” His gaze shifted to the Romulan’s disruptor, and then up to his face plate.

“Lower your weapon and I’ll give you the information,” said Elren with a challenge in his voice.

The huge figure cocked its head to one side, apparently mirroring the movements of the man within it. “How do I know that you will not choose that moment for a telepathic attack?” rasped the Romulan through his helmet speaker.

Elren smiled unpleasantly. “You don’t,” he replied with obvious relish. “You’re just going to have to trust me.”

The Romulan, encased in massive battle armor, and facing a much smaller opponent armed only with a bow, hesitated nonetheless, pausing for several seconds before lowering his disruptor. He stood facing the Betazoid male, suddenly frozen in his tracks, as the telepath abruptly took control of his voluntary motor function, causing an involuntary spasm of every muscle in his body. The Romulan’s disrupter discharged into the soil of the clearing, leaving a large char mark and a deep crater in the ground at his feet, but he was unable to move his limbs or to fire again. The Betazoid male effectively paralyzed him, and then forced the information on the location and capabilities of the starship Enterprise directly into the Romulan’s unprotected conscious mind. Only after providing the information that the Romulan had requested did Elren release control over him from the chest up, allowing him to breathe. He retained firm control over the soldier’s lower body. He could feel the man’s rage as he fought to regain his ability to attack.

“Tell your subcommander that I do not enjoy dealing with underlings, and that the next time we negotiate, I expect to do it with him… in person,” said Elren coldly. The Romulan gasped briefly for air, and then spoke two words that Elren failed to recognize. He dematerialized with a high-pitched whine.

Elren watched him go with a satisfied smile. He turned his head as the sound of the matter transporter flushed four large, fat woodfowl from the far side of the clearing. They didn’t fly far. He pulled his bow from his shoulder and an arrow from his quiver. He was in luck. It looked as if this time he wasn’t going to have to wait all damned morning to obtain proof that he’d been on nothing but an innocent hunt.


 

Even in wartime, no ship’s crew could remain sane running battle drills every waking moment of every day. The command staff of Enterprise was fully aware of this fact, and it was for this reason that Elena Sanchez-Archer found herself sitting in the dining hall one evening two weeks into the Enterprise’s three week voyage to Betazed, in the dark between her husband and Lieutenant Hoshi Sato, waiting for a movie to begin.

Jon had been in an odd mood ever since the live-fire exercise the previous week. He continued to spend his off-duty hours with her, and he did seem less irritable, but he was also even more distracted and unfocused. One moment he’d be telling her yet another story about his life before they’d met, or once again quizzing her about her childhood and young adulthood, and the next moment his gaze would fixate on her lips… or another portion of her anatomy, his eyes would glaze over, and he’d temporarily lose the power of speech. The first time he’d done it, she’d thought that perhaps he was beginning to get as thoroughly bored with conversation… and as frustrated with their newly platonic relationship… as she was. She’d expected him to finally break down and admit that he’d lied about his relationship with the Matriarch of Betazed, and beg her forgiveness. Then she’d had plans to ravish him mercilessly in revenge. Despite his evident desire for her, however, no apology had been forthcoming, and she refused to be the one to beg him for intimacies that he’d been willing to sell to the highest bidder less than a year before he’d met her. She glanced at his grim face out of the corner of her eye. His eyes were fixed on the screen as he deliberately ignored her, despite the fact that he’d invited her to the movie himself at lunchtime that day. His eyes had gone wide when he’d seen the dress she’d chosen to wear to the movie. She’d always enjoyed the response she got from men when she wore what she referred to as her “little black dress”. She’d worn it tonight because she’d decided to provide Jon with a bit more incentive to kiss and make up. Unfortunately, all her ace in the hole seemed to be doing so far was give her husband a good excuse not to look at her.

“I think you’ll enjoy the movie tonight,” whispered Hoshi softly into her ear. “I chose it myself with you in mind.”

Elena started, and then turned to give the communications officer a subdued smile. Hoshi had been a tremendous help to her during her first two weeks on Enterprise. Her assistance with Elena’s crash course in Betazoid language and culture had been invaluable… and Elena would have driven herself crazy by this time trying to second guess Jon’s unpredictable moods without a sympathetic friend to confide in.

“Thank you, Hoshi,” she whispered back. Her eyes cut to Jon again and she sighed. She turned back to Hoshi. “I could do with some cheering up,” she replied softly. Hoshi rolled her eyes and grinned, and the opening titles began to roll. Elena’s eyes shifted to the screen as she recognized the opening music. She laughed quietly and shook her head. It was an old John Wayne movie… one of her favorites. The Quiet Man.

Elena and Hoshi had talked about dozens of topics in the course of their days-long late night cultural education marathon, and Elena had confided to her a weakness for the “strong silent type”… personified in her mind by the rough and ready characters that the twentieth-century actor had portrayed in nearly every one of his dozens of films. This film in particular, with its strong female lead, played with magnificent spirit by Maureen O’Hara, had always been her favorite. She watched the movie with a delighted smile on her face, occasionally glancing at Jon to judge his reaction. She’d occasionally catch him looking at her in the same way. She tried to catch his eye, but he’d always look away at the last second. Finally, she just gave up and sat back to enjoy the movie. When it reached her favorite scene, the one where Wayne sweeps O’Hara into his arms despite her objections and kisses her senseless, the entire dining hall broke out into spontaneous applause.

Commander Tucker, sitting next to Lieutenant Commander Reed, who sat on Hoshi’s left hand, laughed and said to Reed, “Don’t think I’d try that with any of the women on Enterprise… might be dangerous to your health!”

Elena heard him and leaned forward over Hoshi to joke laughingly, “Oh, I don’t know about that… looks like it works better than poetry recitals to me!”

The entire command staff present at the movie, all of whom had at one point shared breakfast with the captain and his wife in the captain’s mess in the previous two weeks, and had therefore been subjected to poetry recitation ad nauseum, broke up laughing. Jonathan Archer didn’t find her comment amusing in the least. He grasped her firmly by the arm and leaned forward to speak grimly into her ear.

“Come with me, Elena,” he growled. “We need to talk.”

Elena gave Hoshi a hopeful look as her husband pulled her to her feet and marched her briskly out of the room. Hoshi grinned back and lifted her fingers… crossed.


 

Jon said nothing the entire way back to her quarters. She eyed his furious face and wisely held her tongue as well. He used an override code and opened the door without her assistance, and then locked the door behind them without ever loosening his grip on her right upper arm. Then he turned to face her, grabbed her other arm with his right hand in a punishing grip and backed her up against the bulkhead in her cabin. His eyes glittered ferally in the dimly lit room.

“How dare you ridicule me in the presence of my crew!” he said with quiet menace. “Having no respect for me in private is one thing… but when you undermine my authority with my crew, you’ve crossed the line!”

Elena’s eyes searched his face, and for the first time, she felt fear in his presence. Her first husband had gotten physically abusive the few times he had gotten this angry with her. She wondered then if she might have pushed Jon too far. Seeing the fear on her face, Archer continued in a more pleading tone.

“You must really distrust me Elena… or maybe you just don’t have enough respect for me to believe me when I’m telling you the truth. I tried that first… and I apologized to boot! That wasn’t good enough. You wanted us to get to know each other better.” His face twisted into a frustrated grimace. Her upper arms were beginning to go numb from the force of his grip.

“So I talked. I talked until I was goddam blue in the face… and frankly I wouldn’t be surprised at this point if other portions of my body weren’t blue, too!” He shook her once in frustration. “What do you want from me?” he demanded with a look of angry bewilderment. “Tell me… please! I give up trying to figure it out!”

Elena stared back at him with widened eyes. He had her pinned against the bulkhead, unable to move or escape… but curiously, now she felt no fear at all. This was Jonathan. He’d never hurt her. Her eyes welled with tears as the pain on his face registered. She’d gone too far this time. Words weren’t enough to tell him how sorry she was, so she reached out and stroked his face with her fingertips. She opened her lips to apologize, and abruptly found herself crushed against his chest with his tongue forcing its way into her mouth. She welcomed it willingly, and lifted her arms around his neck as he roughly took what he wanted from her. He grasped her around the waist and, lifting her up from the floor, carried her to the bed and deposited her on it, ripping her arms from around his neck and forcefully pushing her backward to the mattress. Then he lifted her brief skirt with both hands, and stripped hose, undergarments and shoes from her body in a single vehement motion, leaving her bare from the waist down.

Elena stared at her husband’s face as he rapidly unbuckled his belt and unfastened his trousers. He no longer appeared angry. His desire for her was obvious once he’d accomplished the minimal disrobing that he intended to do, and his eyes were focused intently on the junction of her thighs. His initial thrust filled her so completely that she gasped. He was rough with her, and there should have been pain, but all she felt was intense relief, and a sense of completion. She’d been ready for this for weeks now. She’d known when they began that this would not be a gentle mutual satisfaction of need, but a ritual of possession… and she was honest enough with herself to realize that she was ready to be possessed. Tears of relief streamed down her face. He still wanted her after all.

Jon fastened his mouth to hers again as he continued a rapid and powerful rhythm. She wrapped her legs around him and dug in her heels. There were no distractions. He touched her nowhere else, but simply drove on single-mindedly toward his goal. As he approached it, and his strokes became more urgent, he seemed to come to himself for a moment. He pulled his mouth from hers and stared solemnly and directly into her eyes. She saw in them, just for a second, a shadow of the gentle, caring lover that she’d married. She felt his rhythm slowing as he attempted to stave off the inevitable long enough to bring her pleasure. She smiled at him through her tears, and then planted both feet on the mattress on either side of his hips and began eagerly meeting his thrusts with her own. It was too much, too quickly, and despite his good intentions, his body betrayed him. He came with a series of spasmodic jerks, driving himself into her with an incoherent cry. He collapsed on top of her afterwards with his face nestled into the crook of her neck, breathing heavily.

Elena closed her eyes and stroked his hair tenderly. She felt his body relax… finally… his tension relieved suddenly like the release of a tightly coiled spring. She smiled.

“There, isn’t that better now?” she whispered gently.

Jon rolled slightly to the side to relieve her of a portion of his weight, and raised his head to look her in the eye with an expression of horrified remorse on his face. He raised a gentle hand to her cheek and traced the tracks of her tears with his fingertips.

“Elena…, “ he whispered in a choked voice, “… did I hurt you?” His eyes grew moist as he searched her face.

She smiled ruefully back at him. “Not any more than I hurt you, mi querido,” she replied softly. She lifted a hand and ran it through the soft brown hair at the nape of his neck. He opened his mouth to ask her another question, placing a hesitant hand on her lower abdomen where his son or daughter lay, still tiny and well-protected in the womb, when the tactical alert siren sounded, nearly deafening them both after the silence that had preceded it. Jon gave her a helpless look as he sprang from the bed, pulled his trousers and blues up from around his knees, and hurriedly fastened his belt.

“Go to sickbay,” he told her urgently, as the ship shook with what could only be weapons fire. “It’s the safest place on the ship.” He turned to leave, and then hesitated for a moment, looking intently into her eyes with a tortured expression. “Get Phlox to check you while you’re there… just to be safe.” He turned and left then, before she had the chance to reassure him again that she was uninjured.

“Be careful, Jon,” she whispered, gazing after him as the door closed. The ship shook again, forcing her to stop her sentimental woolgathering and deal with the emergency situation at hand. She gathered her scattered clothing and rapidly began to dress.


 

Jonathan Archer ran down the corridor and entered the turbolift. He knew that he should have been reviewing the battle strategies that he and his crew been drilling so persistently these past two weeks, in preparation for the situation in which he was sure to find himself the moment he stepped onto the bridge. Instead, all he could think about was the appalling act of violence that he’d just committed.

What kind of sick pervert rapes his own wife? he thought, disgusted with himself. A small voice in the back of his head contradicted him.

It’s not rape if she’s willing, Jon.

He ignored it. Her tears, and the look of fear on her face when he’d first pinned her against the bulkhead, haunted him. The turbolift doors opened, forcing him to set aside his remorse. He eyed the bridge crew. They were out of uniform, wearing the clothing that they’d worn to the movie that evening, but they were grim-faced and ready to do battle. T’Pol yielded the command chair.

“What’s the situation?” asked Archer brusquely as he took his seat and focused his attention on the forward view screen. Lieutenant Commander Reed and Lieutenant Mayweather were fully occupied. Reed had his attention focused on the squadron of Romulan Warbirds that were assailing the ship, and was doing his part to eliminate them one by one. Mayweather, for his part, was taking the ship through evasive maneuvers that should only have been possible in a much smaller ship. The new engine made his job easier. He’d already evaded a large number of their attackers by the simple expedient of outrunning them. Archer glanced at the auxiliary weapons display monitor that the bridge refit had allowed him to install within the new larger and more substantial armrests of his command chair. Mitchell, the assigned rear weapons officer, was having a field day. His weapons station’s range of fire exceeded the firing range of their Romulan attackers by a small margin… just enough to force them to maintain their distance once they’d been outrun… and if they didn’t maintain that distance, they didn’t have to worry about it for very long before they became intimately acquainted with one of the Enterprise’s torpedoes.

“Six of the original twelve attackers are still in range, Captain,” said Commander T’Pol calmly in response to the captain’s question. “The port and inferior phase cannons are offline, but shields are still at seventy-eight percent.” She studied her scanner for a moment, and then raised her head with a mildly surprised look on her face. “It appears that we have some assistance,” she added.

“We’re being hailed, Captain,” put in Lieutenant Sato.

“Audio only, leave the battle on screen,” replied Archer briskly with his eyes fixed on the deadly dance taking place surrounding his ship.

An authoritative female voice came over the comm. “This is Captain Irana of the Betazoid Defense Cruiser Saber of Betazed. We are here to provide assistance, Enterprise. We have considerable experience dealing with these fanatics. Please stand down and allow us to take care of it.”

T’Pol’s brow went up. She looked up at her commanding officer. “It’s the refitted Imzadi, Captain. It carries a crew of six, and is barely larger than one Romulan Warbird. I know of no method of attack that would enable it to do what its captain claims it is capable of.”

Archer continued to study the battle unfolding on the viewscreen. The ship shook again from a direct disruptor hit. “How are we doing?” he asked the Vulcan.

“The three remaining warbirds following us retreated as soon as they came within identification range of the Betazoid vessel,” replied T’Pol. Archer’s brow went up in surprise. Apparently, the Betazoids had something that the Romulans were afraid of. “Three vessels remain of the six that were engaging us when you entered the bridge. Only the forward and aft phase cannons remain operational, and we have nearly exhausted our supply of torpedoes. Shields are at fifty percent.” She reported the very rapidly worsening news in a voice that remained as unflustered as if she were reporting the results of a scan of the closest nebula for the ship’s star charts.

Archer exhaled heavily, and then gestured to Hoshi to open a channel for his response.

“This is Captain Jonathan Archer of the United Earth starship Enterprise. Thank you for your offer of assistance, Saber of Betazed, but we are holding our own. You may feel free to enter the battle if you choose, but we would prefer not to stand down.”

The ship shook again. One of the warbirds exploded, and Malcolm let out a triumphant, “Yes!” Both Archer and Lieutenant Sato grinned.

“As you prefer, Enterprise. Irana out.”

Immediately following the Betazoid captain’s acknowledging message, the small ship changed course, accelerating directly toward the Enterprise. Malcolm held his fire, unwilling to destroy an avowed ally without provocation. At what appeared to be the very last second, it veered away, traveling within meters of the bridge.

“What the hell?” exclaimed Malcolm as the tiny ship, using the much larger Earth ship as a shield to avoid the Romulan’s disruptor fire, passed within one hundred meters of each of the two remaining warbirds. Abruptly, both Romulan ships stopped firing. Both warbirds continued to accelerate in the direction that they’d been traveling, but they attempted no evasive maneuvers before the small Betazoid craft took each ship out with a precisely placed torpedo. The process couldn’t have taken longer than five minutes.

“Captain!” said Hoshi urgently. Archer turned to see Lieutenant Sato huddled over an unconscious Commander T’Pol, who lay motionless on the deck next to her duty station.

“Archer to sickbay! Medical emergency!” he shouted into the comm, and then rose from the command chair and rushed to the side of his second in command.

“What happened?” he asked Hoshi, as he checked the Vulcan’s pulse… thankfully quite strong… and searched her body for signs of injury.

Hoshi stood looking over his shoulder helplessly. “I don’t know! I heard a thud, and when I looked back she was down!”

Archer stepped back as the transport team from sickbay arrived. The bridge comm attention tone sounded.

“Phlox to the bridge.”

Archer stepped back to the command chair and answered the comm. “T’Pol’s unconscious up here, Doctor. Where the hell are you?” He asked peremptorily.

“I’m busy with Commander Tucker, Captain. A team just brought him down the hall from engineering. He collapsed at his station.”

Archer exhaled and swallowed. “Sorry, Phlox… we’re sending T’Pol to you. See if you can figure out what’s going on. Archer out.” He turned to Malcolm.

“Any casualties? Has anyone else been affected?” he asked the tactical officer.

Malcolm studied the internal sensor readings, and inspected the departmental reports as they came in. Finally, he looked up.

“There were some minor injuries from the turbulence, sir, but Commanders Tucker and T’Pol seem to be the only ones seriously injured,” he said stoutly, determinedly maintaining his military demeanor despite his concern for his two closest friends.

“The Saber of Betazed is hailing us again, sir,” reported Hoshi. Archer rolled his eyes in frustration.

“On screen,” he told her.

A dark-haired woman of indeterminate age, with pupil-less black eyes and a humorless expression, faced him on the view screen.

“You did not inform us that you had a Vulcan on board, Captain,” said the woman without introducing herself.

Archer stared back at her with an exasperated expression. “Captain Irana, I presume?” he asked ironically. The woman nodded regally, as if she was accustomed to being recognized on sight. He rolled his eyes. “And I assume from your question that you know something about why my First Officer and my Chief Engineer just dropped in their tracks?”

The woman’s brow wrinkled in puzzlement. “Our scans identified only one Vulcan on board your ship… on the bridge. Is your Chief Engineer also Vulcan, Captain?”

Archer laughed dryly. “Sometimes he thinks he is, but no… he’s Human like all the rest of us,” he replied.

The Betazoid captain shook her head. “I’m not sure what’s happened to your engineer, Captain, but if you’ll allow our medic to come aboard your vessel, I believe she may be able to assist your First Officer. After she boards, I suggest you accompany us. The Ruling Council of Betazed has assigned us to be your escort into Betazoid space.”

Archer smiled his best diplomat’s smile. “We are appreciative of the honor, Captain,” he said politely.

The tough-looking woman “humphed” in amusement. “It’s got nothing to do with honor, Captain Archer. The Matriarch-Elect wants you alive and functional. It’s my job to get you and your ship to Betazed in one piece. She’s got plans for you.”


 

The End (For now)


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