Convicted

By Transwarp

Rating: PG-13

Genres: adventure drama general romance

Keywords: Andorians bond Romulan War Romulans

This story has been read by 4861 people.
This story has been read 14710 times.

This story is number 4 in the series Tucker Chronicles: 2155 - 2160


Chapter 11

Disclaimer:  Paramount owns Star Trek names, and related intellectual property.

Summary:  The Romulan War enters its fourth year.  T'Pol is tried in an Andorian court and sentenced to prison while Trip assumes command of Chosin.  Fourth in a series (order of stories: 'Commissioning', 'Liaison', 'Command', then 'Convicted').

Note:  The Velveteen Rabbit is a children's novel written by Margery Williams and illustrated by William Nicholson.  It was originally published in 1922.

Note:  As in prior chapters in this story, Bond Speech is denoted by the use of asterisks for quotes (e.g. *Trip*


 

Imperial Sixth District Prison for Women, 9 April 2159

T'Pol picked up a head-sized boulder from the large pile of rocks that lined one side of the cavern, carried it thirty meters to the cavern's opposite side, and dropped it on a smaller but growing pile.  She retraced her steps, selected another boulder, and repeated the process.  And repeated it again.  Along with the other prisoners, she had been engaged in the process of moving rocks all morning.  The source pile was slowly dwindling but that mattered little; T'Pol knew once the pile was completely moved they would simply switch directions and move it back.

Thera, the former Imperial Guard officer turned convict, plodded alongside T'Pol and plied her with questions about the state of the war and current events.  T'Pol answered as best she could, given her spotty knowledge of the Andorian political scene, but her answers were interspersed with questions of her own.

The questions T'Pol directed at Thera concerned the rules and routines of the prison, and what she learned was unappealing, if not unexpected.  The bulk of each day in the Sixth District Prison would be spent in the cavernous work chambers, engaged in the endless task of moving rocks and boulders under the indifferent gaze of the overseers.  Despite T'Pol's excellent physical condition, the cumulative effect of such exercise was… wearing.  That very morning, her breakfast had been 'redistributed' by a glowering Losha into the hands of a grinning Anasha.  This made two meals in a row that T'Pol had missed, and while her physical reserves would see her through the rest of the day, she would need to eat that night to avoid the risk of physical collapse.

T'Pol glanced to her right, searching down the ragged line of prisoners.  Losha was not hard to find, standing head and shoulders above the other prisoners.  She carried two large boulders with apparent ease, one in each hand.  Despite Trip's confidence in T'Pol's fighting skills, T'Pol was more pragmatic in her assessment of the odds.  While she had no way to gauge Losha's competence, she was clearly no match for Losha's raw, physical strength.  Yet what choice did she have?  The longer she waited, the weaker she'd grow.

She would have to fight Losha.  That very night.


 

The day wore on.  One rock pile grew while the other shrank, and Thera's once constant stream of questions faded to silence.  T'Pol ignored the demands of an empty stomach and carefully conserved her energy, moving as slowly as she could without drawing the attention of the overseers.

They were allowed a short break every couple of hours, which the other prisoners spent clustered in cliques, conversing in loud, profanity-laced voices while slurping water from plastic bulbs.  The prisoners seemed inured to the hard labor, with the notable exception of the youngster Ghalev.  She sat off by herself, breathing heavily and flinching at the amused barbs flung her way from the older inmates.  T'Pol considered joining her in a show of support, but on reflection decided against it.  The companionship of a Vulcan would not be well-received in this environment, and would only add to Ghalev's misery.

"Vulcan."

T'Pol looked up at the approach of an overseer and quirked an eyebrow but did not speak.

"Get up.  Head Overseer wants to see you."

T'Pol stood to the hoots of the other prisoners.  They speculated loudly on the calamities that awaited her, and their jeers followed her from the chamber.  She was escorted by the overseer through caverns and connecting tunnels into the prison's administrative offices.  After the stygian gloom of the work chambers, the offices were almost painfully bright, and T'Pol found herself squinting in the glare.

She was led past a row of clerks, through a locked door, and down a short corridor that ended at a single office.  A sign above the door read 'Head Overseer'.

Her escort abandoned her in the corridor just outside the office and exited through the same door they'd entered.  His last words to her were a curt "Wait here."  She heard the snick of the locking mechanism after the door closed behind him.

The door to the Head Overseer's office was open, allowing T'Pol a clear view inside.  It was large and well-appointed, with expensive fixtures and comfortable furnishings.  Head Overseer Faran sat at a round table across from another overseer.  They both stared fixedly at an ornate wooden vashre board resting on the table between them.

Vashre, a traditional Andorian strategy game, was often called ‘Andorian chess’ by Humans, presumably because it was played with pieces on a flat board overlaid with a square grid.  Beyond that, T'Pol saw little resemblance to Human chess, although that did not deter Humans from using the analogy.  After all, Humans also called the logic game kal-toh 'Vulcan chess'; which was even more of a stretch given that kal-toh was not played on a board at all.

The two Andorians were completely absorbed in the game.  At one point, Faran glanced up at her before returning his attention to the board.  Whatever he wanted was clearly not urgent, and T'Pol resigned herself to a lengthy wait.


 

USS Tiger, Rho Virginis, 9 April 2159

Hoshi stood as Malcolm came through the door of his quarters on Tiger and she launched herself into his arms.  He returned her fervent hug, pressing her against his chest and nuzzling the top of her head.  "Are you alright?" he asked.

"I am now," she said, her voice muffled by the tightness of his embrace.  She let the hug linger for several long, wonderful moments, then pulled back to gazed up at him.  "I hate that you're on a different ship.  When we were together on Enterprise, I knew we'd both die together if worse came to worst.  Now I find myself worrying twice as much!"

Malcolm grinned, "I hate that you're on a different ship too, but for a much different reason."  He leaned down and kissed her, long and hard, leaving no doubt of his reason for wanting them both together.

Hoshi couldn't have agreed more.  This was their first moment together since the rommie fleet had been driven from Rho Virginis two weeks ago—two long, hectic weeks.  Her body responded to his nearness, and to her need.

She'd replaced Malcolm as First Officer on Enterprise when he took command of Tiger, just before the attack on Rho Virg.  It was probably not the most propitious time to take on a job with such a steep learning curve.  Still, onerous as her workload was, it paled by comparison to Malcolm's.

They had managed to snatch an occasional talk over the ship-to-ship links, but in the controlled chaos that followed the battle, those calls were few and far between, and far too short.  In fact, the atmosphere on the Coalition flagship had been so frantic, it sometime seemed to Hoshi that no one had given any thought to what should happen in the aftermath of Operation Drumhead.  Or maybe that was the normal fog of war?  She really wasn't sure.  Regardless, while Hoshi had treasured every moment of those infrequent calls, they'd left her wanting more.  She'd wanted to hold him, to touch him.  She'd wanted him.

Malcolm's kiss lingered, and her fingers wandered across his chest to tug on the zipper of his uniform.  It started moving in a downward slide, but Malcolm stopped it with a hand over hers.  "I can't," he said.  "Not just now.  We received five new crewmen today and I have to meet them.  Can you... uh, will you wait?"

Hoshi sighed and plopped onto Malcolm's bunk.  "How long?"

"Shouldn't take more than twenty minutes.  Chief Waters has already shown them around.  Meeting the captain is the last thing on their checklists.  It's just... they're the first new replacements Tiger's received since I've been Captain and ..."

"I understand," Hoshi said.  "Go and meet your new crew.  I'll be here when you get back."

Malcolm left and the door closed behind him, leaving Hoshi alone with her thoughts.  Again.

God, I hate this war.


 

Imperial Sixth District Prison for Women, 9 April 2159

The game of vashre ended and Faran's opponent left the office, scowling as he brushed past T'Pol in the corridor outside.

Faran, flush with victory, finally turned his attention to her.  "Prisoner 5484," he said, grinning.  "Come in.  What do you think of my office?"

"It appears adequate."

"Yes, adequate," he agreed.  "High praise, coming from a Vulcan.  And the work chambers?  After your first day, what do you think of them?"

"I think the work is completely pointless," T'Pol replied, "which I presume is the point."

Faran chuckled.  "Yes, that is the point.  It always surprises me how many of the prisoners fail to grasp that concept."

He moved from the table to where she stood.  "The work also makes you dusty," he said, softly brushing her arm with his hand.

T'Pol took a backward step, much to Faran's amusement.  "So defensive!  Do you imagine I brought you here for my carnal pleasure?"

"I do not know."

"Well, you can relax.  I won't force myself on you, although I could.  Very easily."  He looked her up and down, and continued in a softer voice, "No, I will not take my pleasure with you until you ask me to.  Beg me to.  That's a much better way, don't you think?"  He reached up and let a strand of her hair slide between his fingers.

T'Pol resisted the impulse to turn away, meeting his gaze.  "Yes," she answered, "since it ensures it will never occur."

"Such confidence!  You're still very composed, but then it's only your first day.  Things will be different—much different—after you've been here for a while."

T'Pol was silent, and Faran returned to the round table and began placing vashre pieces back on the game board.  "Are you familiar with vashre?" he asked without looking up.

"I know of it, but have never played."

"A merely good vashre player will think and plan strategically.  He will see the situation on the board at a glance, and recognize his opponent's attacks.  On the other hand, an excellent player will visualize many turns ahead.  He will anticipate and nullify his opponent with moves that are decisive yet subtle.  As it happens, I am an excellent vashre player."

When T'Pol did not respond, Faran looked up from the board.  "I'm told most Vulcans believe Andorians are an emotional and illogical race.  Yet I am confident you could not defeat me at a game of vashre, despite your vaunted Vulcan logic."

"Since I have no understanding of the game or its rules, you are certainly correct."

Faran gave a sharp bark of laughter, "See there?  You qualified your statement.  You believe you could beat me if you only had time to learn the game.  That's true, isn't it.  Admit it!"

T'Pol considered his words.  "Yes.  I do believe I could defeat you, given time to learn the game."

"Challenge accepted!  You will learn the rules, then we will play.  Tomorrow."  Faran's demeanor exuded anticipation.  "It's times like these that I truly appreciate Vulcan arrogance."

T'Pol clasped her hands behind her back.  "A day is not much time to learn a game such as vashre."

"On the contrary.  The rules of vashre are very simple.  An intellectually superior Vulcan like yourself should have no trouble learning them.  We will play tomorrow."

"I will agree to that," T'Pol said, sensing an opportunity, "but only in exchange for certain considerations should I win."

Faran laughed again, this time longer and louder.  "Considerations?  You forget your place here, prisoner."

"Not at all," T'Pol replied.  "You are asking that I make an effort to learn the game of vashre.  It is illogical to expend that effort without any potential benefit."

Faran's expression turned thoughtful.  "Now I'm curious.  If you did manage to win, what considerations would you desire?"

T'Pol paused a moment before speaking.  "Two things:  Vegetarian meals, and... and a visit to the surface once a week."

"That's it?  I'm surprised.  But if you get something for winning, I should as well.  It's only fair.  What are my considerations?"

"You will have the satisfaction of defeating a Vulcan at a game of logic."

"Not good enough," Faran said. "I want more.  If I win, you will agree to spend the night pleasuring me."  He had finished placing pieces on the board and moved to stand next to her.

He was close—uncomfortably close—but T'Pol stood her ground and met his suggestive leer with a calm expression.  "Agreed."

Faran chortled with delight.  "Then we play tomorrow!  I'll have a copy of the rules sent down with tonight's meal."   He turned and walked to a small terminal before speaking again, "Now that we've got that settled, would you like to know the actual reason I summoned you?"

"Yes."

"Your visitors from the Human embassy are here. Since the warden refuses to enforce prison rules, I must let you see them, but I don't have to let you see them right away.  I've sent for an overseer to escort you to the visitor's room.  You'll wait in the corridor until she arrives."

T'Pol realized she was in for another lengthy wait, but didn't mind as there was something else she needed to do first.  She reached across her bond: *Trip?*

*Yeah, darlin'?*

*I require your assistance.*

*Sure thing.  Whatcha need?*

*I have just made a wager with the Head Overseer on the outcome of a game of vashre.  We will play tomorrow.*

*Vashre..?*

*You probably know it as 'Andorian chess'.*

*Oh, that.  Right.  I've heard of it but don't know much about it.  What was the wager?"*

T'Pol hesitated, and Trip sensed her reluctance.  *T'Pol?*

*If I win, I will receive vegetarian meals.  And I will get weekly visits to the surface, to see the sky...*

*And if you lose?* Trip prodded.

T'Pol hesitated again, longer than before.  *I will spend the night with Faran in his sleeping quarters.*

*WHAT?!!*

T'Pol flinched at the shock emanating over their bond.  *Trip, it will not come to that,* she sent, seeking to reassure him.

*So you know you can beat him, right?  You're an expert at this vasser game?*

*Vashre,* she corrected.  *And no, I have never played before.*

*WHAT?!!*

*I have never played before,* she repeated, *but I can still win.*

*How, T'Pol?*

*I will cheat.*


 

"How can you sleep in these chairs?"

Sergeant Bonnie Doyle didn't bother opening her eyes as she pondered the question.  It came from the only other occupant in the prison's visitation room.  His name was Steve Collins and he was a mid-level functionary in the office of the legal attaché.  She flip-flopped between completely ignoring his question or providing a flippant answer.

The flippant answer won.  "If you thought I was asleep, why did you ask me a question?"

"I guess I really didn't think you were asleep," he admitted.  "In fact, I don't think anyone could sleep in these chairs.  I can't get comfortable, no matter how much I shift around in them.  My butt's sore."

"These chairs were designed for Andorians," Bonnie observed, "but they're better than the floor."

"Maybe.  Right now I'm not so sure."

"Trust me," Bonnie said.  "I've spent more than a few nights on the cold, hard ground."

 "If I'd wanted to learn how to sleep on the ground, I wouldn't have gone to law school."  Steve shifted in his chair again and heaved an exasperated sigh.

Giving up on her catnap, Bonnie sat upright in her chair—which she had to admit was uncomfortable—and turned to regard her roommate.  "It might help if you got up and walked around," she suggested.

He did, groaning as he stood.  "We've been waiting here over two hours.  What's the holdup?"

"The Andies don't like these daily meetings.  They can't prevent them, but they can make it miserable for us.  Might as well get used to it."

"Easier said than done," he said, gingerly rubbing his posterior.  "So, when Captain T'Pol gets here, what's on your agenda?"

Steve's question took her by surprise.  He'd been tagged to participate in the daily meetings with T'Pol because of his fluency in spoken Andorian and his familiarity with Andorian law.  As for herself, Bonnie wasn't sure just why she'd been included.  "You think I have the agenda?"  She made no attempt to hide her astonishment.

"McFadden did say you were T'Pol's shen-something-or-other."

"shen kareth," Bonnie corrected.

"Yeah, that.  It sounded important.  Are you saying you don't have an agenda?"

"I'm a MACO.  My job is to kick ass and blow shit up, not run high-level meetings."

Steve grinned at her obvious discomfort. "Relax, I have the official agenda.  I was just checking if you wanted to add something."

Bonnie showed her relief with a tight smile.  "No, I'm good."

Not long after, Captain T'Pol was escorted into the room by a surly Andorian guard.  Bonnie and Steve both stood, and the guard said something in Andorian that Bonnie couldn't follow.  Steve responded smoothly and the guard left without a backward glance.  "We have about an hour," Steve translated, solely for Bonnie's benefit since it was clear that T'Pol had also understood.

He introduced himself.  "Good afternoon, Captain.  I'm Steve Collins.  I work in Dan McFadden's office as a legal analyst.  I'll be acting as your principle liaison with the Embassy."

"Good afternoon, Mr. Collins."

"Please, call me Steve.  I, uh, I realize it's unusual for someone as junior as me to be assigned a role like this but, um, none of the senior staff could spare the time to fly out here every day..."

"I understand," T'Pol said.  "I realize my position as military attaché is merely a subterfuge for these daily meetings."

"Um, well, actually we're not supposed to say that."  Steve's eyes flicked nervously around the room.  "I have an actual agenda—mostly briefings and updates—so the Andies can't say you're not really fulfilling your duties."

While Steve spoke, Bonnie looked closely at T'Pol, searching for signs of mistreatment or abuse.  The bruise on her cheek from yesterday was still visible, but fading.  There were no other bruises or marks, at least none she could see.

While Steve looked for the agenda on the PADD in his hand, Bonnie seized the opportunity to speak.  "Good afternoon, Captain."

"Good afternoon, Sergeant Doyle."

"I'm not exactly sure why I'm here," Bonnie admitted, "but since I am, I have to ask... are you okay?  Are you being mistreated?"

"I appreciate your concern, but I am fine."

Bonnie was not convinced.  Would you tell me if you weren't? she thought.  No, probably not.  "You're in an Andorian prison," Bonnie pointed out.  "That's a pretty far way from being fine.  So, how are you really?"

"It is... difficult," T'Pol admitted, much to Bonnie's surprise.  "I am tired and hungry.  I am also very cold."

Cold, tired, and hungry, Bonnie thought, recalling her weeks of MACO training spent in the field.  That's a tough combination.  She found herself uncertain how to respond, since she had not expected an honest reply.  "I'm sorry," she said.  "I brought you some fruit bars, but they were confiscated by the guards."  The words had no sooner left her mouth than she regretted them.  Idiot!  You don't tell a hungry person about the food they ALMOST had.

To avoid an awkward silence, Bonnie changed the subject.  "I've been asked to deliver a message to you from an Andorian named Thaleen.  He was with the Imperial Investigative Office before we hired him at the Embassy as a security consultant.  He said, um..."  Bonnie paused, making sure she recited the message verbatim since it made little sense to her, "he said to tell you that Akani has finally stopped threatening to throw him in the brig."

T'Pol nodded her understanding.  "Thaleen was a Special Agent at the Investigative Office, and also my arresting officer.  He was discharged from his position as a direct consequence for helping me before my trial.  I am glad to hear he is now employed by the Embassy.  Please give him my regards."

"I will," Bonnie promised.

Steve had the agenda up on his PADD and was waiting to start the official meeting.  He caught Bonnie's eye and she yielded the floor to him.


 

The work day was nearly over when T'Pol rejoined the other prisoners.  Nothing had changed in the time she was gone except the relative sizes of the two rock piles.  She picked up a rock and merged with the ragged lines of convicts that shuffled from one side of the cavern to the other.  As she worked, feelings of weariness and fatigue grew, gnawing at the edges of her awareness.  She could ignore them for now, but the warning was clear:  Food and rest, or collapse.  The only good that came from her physical exertion was the way it warmed her in the chamber's damp, chilly air.  Of the many things T'Pol disliked about life in the Sixth District Prison, the ever-present cold was at the top of the list.  She had already spent one night huddled under her poncho on a hard stone ledge; she did not relish the prospect of another.

The cavern's overhead lights flashed, signaling the end of the work day.  The prisoners deposited their final loads of rock and, without prompting, formed a three-abreast line at the cavern's exit.  Once the last of them had joined the line, the overseers opened the door and the prisoners shuffled forward.

They made their way accordion-fashion through connecting tunnels and into another cavern where water pooled on the ground and a musty-damp smell—mustier and damper than the norm—permeated the air.  The prisoners discarded their dusty ponchos and slippers in large bins positioned by the entrance and proceeded to the center of the cavern where they stood in naked rows, waiting.

Several overseers with hoses were positioned along the walls. Their indifferent expressions suggested that this was just one more of the prison's never-changing routines.  T'Pol suspected she was about to experience first-hand the process of prison hygiene, and sputtering noises from an overhead network of interconnecting pipes and sprinkler heads confirmed this.  The sprinklers erupted, covering the prisoners from head to toe in thick, soapy foam.

After the sprinklers shut off, the overseers exhorted the foam-covered prisoners to 'scrub thoroughly.'  T'Pol emulated the others, who were briskly rubbing at the soapy coating on their bodies.  Anyone deemed by an overseer to be scrubbing with insufficient vigor was immediately targeted with a solid stream of foam from that overseer's hose.  T'Pol, despite her best efforts, was sprayed three times.  Each time, in a display of casual malice, the overseer aimed the soapy stream directly at her face, clogging her nostrils and stinging her eyes.  And each time, she spat the foul-tasting substance from her mouth and scrubbed with renewed energy.

Once the overseers deemed the prisoners had scrubbed sufficiently, they activated the sprinklers again.  This time, instead of foam, the sprinklers sprayed water.  Cold water.

Icy cold water.

T'Pol gasped in shock as the frigid torrent washed over her.  She bent down and hugged herself in a futile attempt to conserve body heat.  After a seeming eternity, the freezing shower subsided, but T'Pol remained hunched over while residual water dripped from her hair and ran off her back.  It took a conscious effort on her part to resume breathing.

She started to shiver.

One of the overseers spoke a command, and the naked, dripping prisoners began moving again.  They filed from the cavern into another tunnel, collecting a clean, folded poncho and slippers from an overseer as they passed.  T'Pol donned the poncho and slippers as soon as she was handed them, but the thin material provided scant warmth and did nothing to abate her violent shivering.

The other prisoners seemed refreshed rather than chilled by the ordeal.  When they noticed her shivering, she was barraged with crude jibes and contemptuous remarks on Vulcan weakness.  By the time the prisoners returned to the sleeping chamber, they were mostly dry.  A slight dampness of the hair and the acrid smell of soap were the only lingering signs of their recent shower.  T'Pol's shivering had reduced to an occasional shudder, but the bone-chilling cold had sapped much of her dwindling reserves of strength.  She felt weary and lethargic, dangerously close to physical collapse.

"So it is true what they say about Vulcans and cold."  Thera sat beside T'Pol, who was huddled within her poncho in as tight a ball as she could manage.

"Vulcans are n-not built for the c-cold," T'Pol conceded through chattering teeth.

"Better get used to it, then.  It's not getting any warmer."

T'Pol had no reply for such an obvious comment.

"They will bring our meals in shortly," Thera continued.  "Will you fight for yours, or go hungry again?"

"This t-time I will fight."

Thera smiled, please by T'Pol's statement.  "Good.  I'll watch your food so no one takes it while you're occupied.  Also, be careful.  Losha is not trained in any fighting styles, but she is very strong and much faster than she looks.  She tends to rush in and grapple her opponents.  Once she has them in her grasp, they are usually finished."

"Thank you," T'Pol said.  "Are you n-not concerned what the others might do if you assist me, a vv-  a Vulcan?"

"Let them try."  Thera's smile turned cold and hard.  "They know they could defeat me if enough of them made an attempt.  They also know that many of them would suffer injury in the attempt.  Serious injury.  No, I am not concerned."

Thera glanced casually about the cavern, before continuing.  "You will have to do the same.  You will have to make them fear you—fear the consequences of attacking you—if you want them to leave you alone.  You need to hurt Losha when she attacks you.  Hurt her bad.  Make an example of her.  It's the only way.  If you don't... you will always be a target for Anasha and her ilk.  Of course, that assumes you are even capable of beating Losha in a fight..."

Again, T'Pol had no reply.  It is the same advice that Trip gave me, she thought.  Logically I know they are right, yet I am reluctant to hurt Losha.

The lights flashed, signaling it was time to form a line for the evening meal.   T'Pol took a place behind Thera and waited.  Half an hour later, the overseers wheeled in a meal cart and the line began to move, each prisoner getting a box of food as they filed by.

When T'Pol's turn came, she was handed a folded sheet of paper along with her food.  She took them both to a spot on the ledge where Thera sat.  T'Pol unfolded the sheet to find a copy of the rules of vashre, printed in neat Andorian script.  Reading them over, she had to agree with Faran:  the rules were as simple and straightforward as he'd claimed.  But just knowing the rules provided few clues for effective strategies in the game.

"What is that?" Thera asked, looking at the sheet in T'Pol's hand.

Before T'Pol could answer, Anasha and Losha arrived to claim another meal.  Anasha led the way, with the massive Losha striding behind.  They halted in front T'Pol.  "Losha will take that meal, Vulcan," Anasha said, prodding T'Pol's foot with her toe.

T'Pol ignored the provocative gesture.  "I am hungry now," T'Pol replied.  "I need this food."

Anasha sneered her contempt.  "Do you think any of us care what you need, Vulcan?  Give Losha the meal, or Losha will take it from you.  Either way you lose it, but the first way is much less painfulthan the second.  Isn't that logical?"

T'Pol looked from Anasha to Losha, whose dull countenance held a malignant look.  "You do not have to do this, Losha," T'Pol said.  "You do not have to take orders from Anasha."

Anasha threw her head back and laughed.  "And they say Vulcans have no sense of humor!  You want to reason with her?  With Losha?  You might as well reason with a snow bank.  Losha is at least that stupid, if not more."

T'Pol did not take her eyes from Losha, who seemed unfazed by Anasha's insults.  "Losha, I do not wish to fight you.  I do not wish to hurt you.  Can you understand that?"

Anasha laughed again, a derisive snort, "Losha understands nothing.  Without me to tell her what to do, she would not survive.  Isn't that right, Losha?"

Losha did not answer, and Anasha smacked her on the arm.  "Losha!  Answer me.  Where would you be without me?"

Losha flinched at Anasha's question.  "The dark..." she mumbled.

"Yes," Anasha agreed.  "Lost in the uncharted tunnels, where it's always black and cold.  Where the ice bores wait to eat you.  Is that what you want?"

"No!"  Losha's expression now held a hint of alarm.

"Right.  But you'll be safe, if you do what I tell you.  You won't get lost in the dark tunnels.  You won't be eaten by ice bores.  Isn't that right, Losha?"

"Yes."

"Then do what I say.  Take her meal!" Anasha snarled, pointing at T'Pol.

T'Pol handed the contested meal to Thera and stood, never taking her eyes from Losha.  Losha's attention was again focused on T'Pol, and the belligerent scowl had returned to her thick-featured face.

 "I do not wish to hurt you, Losha," T'Pol said, dropping into a defensive posture, hands open but at the ready.

Losha hesitated, but only for a moment.  With a loud bellow, she charged.  T'Pol danced to the side, barely avoiding Losha's outstretched arms.  Thera is correct, T'Pol realized.  She is fast.  I will not be able to elude her for long.

The other prisoners, at the first sign that T'Pol would not back down, had formed a rough circle around the two combatants, and they noisily cheered Losha's onslaught.  Losha whirled and charged again, and again T'Pol side-stepped, blocking Losha's grasp with a knife-hand strike to her forearm which elicited a cry of pain from the huge Andorian.  T'Pol could have ended the fight with a single, crippling blow to Losha's unprotected throat as she flashed by, but could not bring herself to inflict such severe injury on her opponent.

Losha paused, eyeing T'Pol and rubbing at her forearm.  The ring of prisoners jeered and hooted, enjoying the spectacle.  T'Pol stood lightly on her feet and awaited Losha's next move.

"Get the Vulcan, you idiot!"

Anasha's scream prodded Losha into action and she advanced, this time more slowly.  T'Pol retreated, keeping to a safe distance from Losha's powerful hands.  She led the advancing Andorian on several circuits around the make-shift arena, and Losha's frustration mounted with each circuit.  Losha finally abandoned her momentary caution and charged directly at T'Pol.  This time T'Pol did not side-step, but met Losha's attack head-on with a flurry of strikes at her arms and a follow-through blow to her stomach, before sliding to Losha's rear.

Losha turned and roared, and T'Pol suppressed a feeling of apprehension.  She had struck Losha with her full strength squarely in the abdomen, putting the entire weight of her body behind the blow.  Rather than collapsing as T'Pol had expected, Losha shook off the effects of the devastating blow and charged again.

T'Pol dropped to the ground and whipped her legs through a blurred arc that swept Losha's feet out from under her.  Losha fell, hitting the ground with an explosive 'whoof' while T'Pol continued the motion and rolled back onto her feet.  Losha also regained her feet, not quite as quickly or gracefully as T'Pol, and attacked again, howling with pain and rage.  T'Pol delivered a roundhouse kick to her ribs that would have felled most sentient creatures but just momentarily stunned the enraged Andorian, then followed through with a side kick to the chest that sent Losha toppling backwards.

Once again T'Pol refrained from a disabling strike while Losha lay sprawled on the ground, but the exertion of combat was taking its toll.  T'Pol's energy was draining at an alarming rate, while Losha showed no obvious signs of fatigue.  T'Pol began to suspect she might have to use some of the more devastating techniques in her arsenal if she was going to end the fight before her strength expired.  The thought dismayed her.  She had no desire to inflict broken bones or ruptured organs on her adversary, yet neither did she desire to be beaten or maimed.

Losha sat up and shook her head, then climbed to her feet.  I must end this now, T'Pol thought, bracing herself for Losha's next onslaught, and steeling herself for what she must do to survive it.  

Before Losha could attack again, the cavern lights flashed several times.  Losha froze, and the crowd went quiet.

"What's this, a fight?"  Head Overseer Faran spoke conversationally in the sudden silence.  He entered the chamber, flanked by Vaneth and another overseer, and made his way toward the two combatants.  The ring of convicts parted silently at his approach.

"Fighting is an infraction of the rules," he said as he approached.  "I'm sure the warden told you that."

He stopped in front of T'Pol, completely ignoring Losha.  The other two overseers stood behind him, surveying the surrounding prisoners—and Losha—with wary looks.  They kept one hand on their stun pistols, and T'Pol had to wonder if even a stun pistol would stop the giant Andorian.

"Do you know the penalty for fighting?" he asked T'Pol.  His pleasant tone would have been appropriate for asking a dear friend to a dinner party.

"No."

"Three hours of the n'gool-voop.  Do you know what that is?"

N'gool-voop.  Literally, the dance of stones.  She knew the definition of the words, but had no idea what they implied in practice.  "I do not," she admitted.

Faran favored her with a magnanimous smile.  "I'm sure you can imagine it's not pleasant," he said.  "Fortunately for you, our game of vashre is tomorrow.  I would not want to jeopardize your preparations by sending you to the disciplinary rooms the night before.  Since you obviously didn't start this fight, I will let you off with a warning this time."

Faran's gaze shifted to Losha, who stared back in confusion.  "As the instigator of this fight, I am assigning you three hours of the n'gool-voop, to commence immediately."  His next comment was directed at the two overseers:  "Take her away."

At his words, Losha's confusion dissolved into abject terror.  "No!  No!" she wailed, "Please, no dark!  Not dark!"

Vaneth and the other overseer drew their stun pistols and approached—very cautiously—the panicked Andorian.  "No!" Losha wailed again.  "Anasha?  What do I do?  What..."  Her voice choked off into a frightened sob.

 It was too much for T'Pol.  "Stop," she said.  Just one word, spoken without emphasis, but it contained an expectation of obedience that commanded everyone's attention.  All eyes turned towards her.

 "Losha did not start this fight," T'Pol said.  "I threw the first punch."  This statement, while misleading, was also strictly true, since Losha had thrown no punches at all.

Faran frowned at her words.  "Do you take me for a fool?  If you think this will keep you from having to play vashre with me, you're mistaken.  We will play that game.  We will play it tomorrow at the scheduled time, whether or not you are ready.  Whether or not you dance the n'gool-voop tonight.  You might want to reconsider your statement."

"There is nothing to reconsider.  Losha is innocent.  She did not start the fight," T'Pol said.  This was also correct, strictly speaking, as Anasha was the true culprit in T'Pol's mind.  "Regardless, I will be ready to play vashre with you tomorrow."

"Ready or not, we will play, and I will hold you to your wager.   Now then, prisoner 5484, since you insist that you are the cause of this disturbance, you must also suffer the consequences.  I am assigning both of you to three hours of the n'gool-voop, to commence immediately."  He made a waving motion at the two overseers.  "Take them."

T'Pol immediately protested the inclusion of Losha in the punishment, but her words were drowned out by Losha's renewed wailing.  And then Faran was gone, rendering the point moot.

Vaneth took T'Pol by the arm.  "Come along."


 

Vaneth stepped back to avoid the massive door to the disciplinary room as it swung open.  "In there," she said, motioning T'Pol and Losha through the door.  Vaneth and the other overseer followed them in.

T'Pol paused just inside and surveyed her surroundings.  Like everywhere else in the underground prison, the 'room' was actually a cavern.  It was smaller than the sleeping chamber, and its floor was completely covered with gravel.  At the cavern's center was a chest-high turnstile with four rigid bars extending out parallel to the ground, and at right angles to each other.  The bars were roughly three meters in length.

"Leave your slippers here," the second overseer directed.  T'Pol and Losha removed their slippers and dropped them on the gravel floor. 

The second overseer took Losha by the arm.  "You're first, come with me," she said, and started walking Losha across the room toward a turnstile arm.  Losha whimpered softly, and her antennae writhed wildly, but she did not resist.

T'Pol stood by Vaneth and watched as Losha's wrists were shackled to the turnstile arms.  "May I ask a question?" she said to Vaneth.

"Go ahead," Vaneth replied.

"What is Losha's crime?"

Vaneth glanced at T'Pol.  "She is do-zheva," she explained.

Do-zheva.  Clanless.  "I do not understand," T'Pol said, and she truly did not.  As far as she knew, every Andorian was born into the clan of their parents.  Also, as far as she knew, it was not a crime to be clanless.  "Losha is imprisoned for being without a clan?"

"It is more complicated than that," Vaneth explained.  "Losha was born here in prison.  Her mother was sent after being convicted of multiple crimes, and was disowned for the shame and dishonor she brought to her clan.  She was pregnant when she arrived, and gave birth soon after."

"Where is her mother now?"

"Dead.  She died in a fight with another inmate.  A fight she started.  She was about as cruel and nasty a person as you can imagine."

T'Pol considered that.  "What of Losha's father?"

"What of him?  Nobody knows who he was, least of all Losha's mother."

"Losha is not guilty of any crime.  She should not be in prison."

"And who would have her?" Vaneth demanded.  "Look at her.  She's as mindless as an ice bore and more vicious than a glikar'ma.  Just look!  What can she offer any clan but heartache and dishonor?  Should we release her anyway?  Send her into the world on her own, with no one to care for her?"

T'Pol had no answer for that, at least no answer the Andorian would understand.

The other overseer had returned from shackling Losha to the turnstile.  "Come on, Vaneth," she complained, "hook her up and let's go.  I don't want to miss the evening meal."  T'Pol felt a sharp pang of hunger at the mention of evening meal and the reminder that she had been unable to eat any of the food she'd fought so hard to keep.

"Relax, Satha, there'll still be food when we get there," Vaneth said.  Then, to T'Pol, "Let's go," she said, prodding T'Pol into motion.  The thick, uneven layers of gravel crunched at each step, and T'Pol winced as the rocky points and edges pressed into her bare feet.  She was beginning to understand the nature of the n'gool-voop, the rock dance, and had to agree with Faran that it was not at all pleasant.

As they walked, Vaneth asked T'Pol a question:  "What did Faran mean when he mentioned a wager?"

"He was referring to a wager I made with him on the outcome of a vashre game we will play tomorrow," T'Pol explained.  She was deliberately vague, not wanting to get into the specifics of their bet.

Vaneth chortled.  "I hope you didn't wager much.  Faran is very good at vashre.  VERY good.  He plays the invitational circuit against the highest-level opponents.  Now, place your hands on the bar."

T'Pol complied, and Vaneth snapped a pair of shackles in place, securing T'Pol's wrist to the turnstile arm.  Losha, still whimpering, was similarly shackled on the opposite side of the turnstile.

"So now you just walk," Vaneth explained to T'Pol, "round and round.  You have to make at least three revolutions every minute for an hour, or that hour doesn't count and you'll have to do it again.  Someone will come for you when your time is up."

Satha stood by the door, chafing with impatience.  "Vaneth, can we go now?" she called.

 Vaneth raised a hand, acknowledging she had heard Satha, but kept her attention on T'Pol.  "I've already warned you about Faran," she said, "but you don't seem to be listening.  Faran wants to see you broken.  You aren't helping yourself when you confront him as you did tonight."  She started to walk away, but stopped halfway to the door, "One more thing; the lights go out when the door closes.  That makes it hard to judge how fast you're walking, so I suggest you go faster than you think you should.  Walk too slow and you'll be here longer than three hours."

She rejoined Satha by the door, and the two overseers left.  The door closed behind them and the entire cavern was plunged into total darkness.

Losha wailed in terror, "Dark! Daaaaark!"

"Losha," T'Pol said, but Losha's cries continued, increasing in volume.

T'Pol tried again, more forcefully.  "Losha!"

This time Losha responded.  "Wh-  what?"

"We must walk.  Can you walk?"

"Yes..."

T'Pol started to walk, pushing on the bar she was chained to.  There was some initial resistance, then the crunch of gravel told her that Losha was also moving, although she could see nothing in the absolute darkness of the cavern.

"Very good, Losha.  Keep walking.  We need to go a little faster.  Can you do that?"

"Faster?"

"Yes," T'Pol confirmed, "just a little faster."

The turnstile arm surged forward and T'Pol was nearly dragged from her feet.  "Losha!  Not so fast!"

The turnstile stopped. 

"Losha, I will set the pace.  Just keep up with me.  Do you understand?"

"No...  It's dark!"

T'Pol pushed on the bar with increasing force until Losha started moving again.  Through careful pushing and pulling on the bar, she was able to get Losha moving at the proper pace, which T'Pol was able to calculate, even without a visual frame of reference.  She knew the length of her stride, and her Vulcan time sense allowed her to closely estimate their speed.  "Very good, Losha." she encouraged.

"Will- will you kill me, now?"

What?  "Why do you say that, Losha?  I do not wish to hurt you."

"You're Vulcan, and... and Vulcans kill Andorians... and... and eat them."

"Where did you hear this?"

"I don't...  I don't know."  Losha had been silent, now she started sobbing again.

"It is not true," T'Pol stated firmly.  "Also, I am shackled to this turnstile just like you.  I couldn't hurt you even if I wanted to.  You are safe from me."

"Do- do you have light?" she gasped between sobs, "A light?"

"I have no light." T'Pol said.  She trudged in darkness across the coarse, uneven gravel, each step bringing multiple twinges to different points on the soles of her feet.  Individually, the pain from stepping on a jagged edge of gravel was slight.  Over time, the cumulative effect was much worse.  Her feet were increasingly bruised and abraded by contact with the rough surface.  Occasionally, a larger stone would rise up in her path and strike her toes as she walked.

"I'm scared," Losha sobbed.  "Scared!  It's dark!"

"You don't need to be scared," T'Pol said, trying to sound reassuring, "I am here with you."  Half-remembering a lullaby her parents had sung to her as a child, she started singing softly, hoping it would help alleviate Losha's fear.

Losha's sobs softened, which encouraged T'Pol to sing louder.  She knew the tune, but not the words, so she just substituted nonsense syllables.  It seemed to work, and Losha's sobs subsided completely.

"My mother sang that to me when I was a child," T'Pol said.  "Did you like it?"

"Yes.  Sing more?"

"Later.  First, can you tell me your name?"

"Losha."

"Yes," T'Pol agreed, "That's what people call you, but it's not your real name.  The name you were given at birth.  Do you remember that?"

"Oh, my little name.  When I was little.  Now I'm big."

"Yes, your little name.  What is it?"

"Bronth."

"Bronth," T'Pol repeated.  "That is a good name.  May I call you Bronth?"

"That's my little name..." Losha said, sounding confused.

"It is your real name.  The other's may call you Losha, but I will call you Bronth.  My name is T'Pol."

"Tip-Ahl," Bronth repeated.

T'Pol corrected her.  "T'Pol."

"Tip-Ahl."

Close enough.  "Bronth, do you remember your mother?"

"No," Bronth replied.  "Mother was bad.  Me, too.  That's why I'm in prison."

"Do you like being... bad?"

"No... yes.  Anasha says be bad or they will hurt me."

"Anasha told you the others would hurt you if you were not bad?"

"Yes."

T'Pol considered that as she trudged in circles.  Her feet ached, her body trembled from exhaustion, and she had never been so cold or hungry in her life.  Yet deep inside her, a tiny ember of anger and outrage started to burn.  Bronth had been abandoned and forgotten, discarded as an inconvenience and left to fend for herself in a harsh and hostile environment.  She deserved better than that.  Any sentient being deserved better than that.

"Bronth, I can show you how to be good.  Would you like that?"

"Be good?  Me?"

"Yes, you.  I can teach you, if you will let me."

"I'm not smart..." Bronth said.

"You do not have to be smart to be good.  But you have to want it.  Do you want it?"

There was a long pause, broken only by the crunch of gravel, before Bronth answered.  "I want to be good."

T'Pol nodded to herself in the darkness.  Now, where do I begin?  "Bronth, you are strong," she said, "Stronger than everyone else.  Strong people should not take from those who are weaker than them.  Strong people should protect the weak."

"Anasha says—"

"You must not listen to Anasha anymore," T'Pol interrupted, in a voice both firm and gentle, "not if you wish to be good."

"I will listen to Tip-Ahl!" Bronth said.

"Bronth, I will help you, but to be truly good you must learn to listen to yourself."

"Myself?"  T'Pol could hear the self-doubt in her voice.  "I'm not smart.  Not smart!"

"Remember what I said, Bronth.  You don't have to be smart to be good.  You will find it is easier than you think it will be."

Bronth was silent for a long while, then, "My feet hurt."

"So do mine," T'Pol admitted.

"Stop now?" she asked plaintively.

"No, Bronth, we must keep walking."

"Feet hurt!" Bronth repeated, stifling a sob.

I need to distract her, T'Pol thought, something to keep her thoughts off her feet.  "Bronth, would you like to hear a story?"

"A... a story?  Yes!"

"Very well.  Now hush and listen:  Once upon a time there was a young girl named Dorothy, who lived in a place called Kansas..."


 

An overseer came to get them exactly three hours later, mildly surprising T'Pol.  Despite her strict compliance with the mandatory number of circuits per minute, she had suspected that their punishment would drag on far beyond the allotted time.

The cavern lights came on, and T'Pol squinted at the sudden brilliance.  "Bronth, we may stop now," she said, in a voice made husky by non-stop story telling.

The turnstile creaked to a halt, and T'Pol slumped against the bar while the overseer approached.  She unshackled T'Pol's wrists and handed her a bulb of water.  "Drink this, it will help."  T'Pol took the bulb in a shaking hand and gulped it down.

"Let's go," the overseer commanded.  T'Pol took a step toward the door and collapsed.  Once she released the turnstile arm, her legs would no longer support her weight.

The overseer looked down at her with disgust.  "Vulcan weakling!" she said.  "Do you expect me to carry you out of here?"

T'Pol struggled into a sitting position.  "I think I can walk unaided," she said, "I just need a moment..."  The soles of her feet were bruised and bleeding from numerous cuts and abrasions but, curiously, it was her shoulders that ached the most from the strain of being shackled for hours in the same position.

"I don't have a moment.  Get up!"

T'Pol struggled to stand, and collapsed again.  "I am...  unable to stand right now," she stated.

"Then stay here and rot," the overseer spat.  She went around the turnstile to unshackle Bronth, who, except for a slight limp, appeared none the worse for her ordeal.

"I'm not bad," Bronth told the overseer, "I'm good now."

The overseer ignored the—to her—nonsensical statement.  "Leave her and let's go," she commanded.

"No!  Tip-Ahl comes too," Bronth insisted.  She walked over to where T'Pol lay in a limp heap on the gravel.

"I will come," T'Pol said to Bronth, her voice shaky with exhaustion, "but I cannot walk by myself.  Can you help me up?"

Bronth reached down and lifted T'Pol by one arm.  T'Pol grimaced as her weight bore down on her feet, and she leaned into Bronth's torso to avoid toppling over again.  "Thank you," T'Pol murmured, "you are helping someone weaker then you.  This is good.  You are good."  Bronth beamed with pride as she helped T'Pol out the door.

The going became easier once they left the gravel, and they made it back to the sleeping chamber without incident.  The overseer let them through the door, then left.  It was dark in the chamber, but not the pitch black of the disciplinary rooms.  T'Pol could just make out the forms of slumbering prisoners in the dim glow of the safety lights.

 Bronth helped T'Pol to an open stretch of shelf on the lowest tier.  T'Pol sat down heavily and leaned forward, elbows propped on knees while she fought the weakness and exhaustion that threatened to engulf her.  Bronth sat next to her, waiting for guidance.

"So you're back."  Thera had made her way down from the upper tier and sat next to T'Pol on the side opposite of Bronth.

T'Pol was too tired to lift her head, but acknowledged Thera's presence with a simple "Yes."

"I'm good now," Bronth added.

Thera cast a perplexed look at Bronth, then back at T'Pol.  "Here, I saved this for you."

T'Pol made the effort to turn her head, and saw Thera holding out an unopened box of food.  She accepted it with murmured thanks, and immediately began eating.

"I've danced the n'gool-voop twice," Thera said.  "That's two times too many.  Still, I came out in better shape than you."

"I will be fine," T'Pol said, between mouthfuls of cold food.

"How did you get Losha to help you?" Thera asked.  "Anasha had her convinced that all Vulcans are demons."

"Her name is Bronth," T'Pol said.

 "Tip-Ahl told me stories," Bronth announced.  "I'm Bronth.  I'm good now."

"Good now?" Thera mused.  "Maybe.  But what about tomorrow?  Anasha will certainly have something to say to her in the morning, and she's very good at manipulating her cronies.  I would be careful, T'Pol."

"I will."  T'Pol said, then finished off her last bite of food.  She could have eaten more, but was grateful for the amount she'd been given.  It would provide her a sorely-needed boost of energy.  "Thank you for the food, but I am very tired now."

"You look like crap," Thera observed, rising to her feet, "get some sleep."  She paused by Bronth as she left and whispered something in her ear.

"Yes," Bronth responded aloud, "I'll watch.  I'm good now."

T'Pol was asleep moments later.


 

Chosin, with Task Force 2.1 in pursuit of retreating Romulan fleet, 10 April 2159

"Come in," Trip called in response to the door chime.  He set aside the PADD he was reading and looked up as Chief Verley entered his quarters.

"Good evening, Captain," Verley said.

"Evenin'," Trip replied.  He motioned toward a chair and waited for Verley to sit.

"Am I interrupting something?" Verley asked, glancing at the PADD on Trip's desk.

"Nah, I'm just... just reading some kid's books.  Working on Alice in Wonderland, now."

"Oh," Verley said, not quite sure what to make of that.

Trip gave him a wry smile.  "T'Pol needs to expand her repertoire of children's stories.  I'm helping her with that."

"Oh," Verley repeated, Trip's explanation leaving him as perplexed as before.  "Is she... here?"

"No, she's sleeping," Trip said.  "So, what's up?"

Verley didn't answer right away, and Trip suspected something was bothering him.  When he finally spoke, Trip's suspicions were confirmed.  "Sir, I know Captain T'Pol is in trouble, and I want to know what it is."

Trip sagged back in his chair.  "Yes, she's in trouble," he admitted.  "How... how did you know?"

Verley snorted.  "How could I not know?  You've been acting... strange.  Preoccupied.  Withdrawn.  Touchy as hell.  Only one thing I know could do that to you:  T'Pol must be in trouble."

"Yeah, okay, she's in trouble and it's making me crazy.  Because... because I'm so damned helpless!  At the ops meeting this morning, while I'm trying to run a task force, T'Pol was fighting one of the inmates.  Someone twice her size and strong as an ox.  And I... I... there was nothing I could do.  Nothing!"  Verley noticed that Trip's hands had closed into fists while he spoke.

Trip followed Verley's eyes downward and smiled tiredly.  He opened his hands and placed them flat on the desk in front of him.  "I guess it's funny, in a way.  T'Pol was doing her best to hide her troubles from me, and I was hiding mine from the rest of you.  And it seems neither of us hid them very well."

"No," Verley agreed.  "Not well at all.  In fact, you stink at it.  Now, tell me what's going on with T'Pol.  I want to know everything."

Trip told him.  The hunger, the gangs, the rock piles, the bitter cold, the n'gool-voop, and her three-hour marathon of storytelling.  The only thing he left out was the upcoming high-stakes vashre game with Faran.  Which, to be honest, was the thing bothering Trip the most.

"So, now you know," Trip said, after he'd finished.  "That's why I've been acting the way I have.  I'm frustrated.  Angry.  Helpless.  I want to hit someone, but there's no one to hit..."  Trip made a noise of pure exasperation.

Verley absorbed it all quietly.

"I'm sorry," Trip said, "I shouldn't have told you.  There's no need for both of us to be frustrated."

"I'm glad you told me," Verley said.  "And while I share your frustration and anger, that's not all I'm feeling.  There's more..."

Something in Verley's tone got Trip's full attention.  "More?"

"Yes," Verley said.  "Take a step back and look at the bigger picture:  Captain T'Pol has saved this ship, on numerous occasions.  She just saved the Coalition, she saved United Earth, and now she's saving Bronth.  You tell me what else I'm feeling."

Trip was silent for a long time.  He studied his hands, still flat on the desk, then looked up at Verley.  "You're proud of her."

"Damn right I am.  So proud of her I could burst."

"I am... I am, too." Trip said in a small voice.  "It's easy to forget in the midst of so much misery."

Verley nodded and stood to leave.  "Make sure you tell her, sir.  Make sure she knows."

"I will.  Thanks, Chief."

Verley paused at the door.  "The Velveteen Rabbit," he said.

"Chief?"

"The name of an old kid's story.  The Velveteen Rabbit.  If T'Pol needs more stories, it's a good one."


 

Imperial Sixth District Prison for Women, 10 April 2159

"No!  No!"

T'Pol was roused from a deep slumber by Bronth's voice, raised in loud protest.  She forced her eyes open and struggled to a sitting position as she tried to clear her sleep-addled brain.

"No!"  Bronth stood, not far from T'Pol, and confronted Anasha and two of her cronies.  Anasha wore a cajoling expression on her face, but there was more than a hint of exasperation just beneath it.

"Listen to me," Anasha said to Bronth.  "You are big and you need more food.  There it is, just take it!"  Anasha pointed at Ghalev, who clutched a meal box tightly to her chest, looking both scared and hungry.

T'Pol realized she must have slept through the arrival and distribution of the morning meal.  This did not surprise her, given how utterly exhausted she'd been.  Now it seemed Anasha was engaging in her practice of gaining extra food through threats of violence, and Bronth was refusing to play her usual role.

Bronth turned to T'Pol for guidance.  "Tip-Ahl?" she pleaded.

Anasha laughed.  "Don't expect the Vulcan to help; she's an enemy.  An enemy of you and all Andorians.  She would kill you if she could!"

Bronth looked around the room, with eyes both wild and confused.  T'Pol could see her wavering, and knew that she was fighting years of blind, habitual obedience to Anasha.  T'Pol also knew that Bronth would eventually succumb to Anasha unless she intervened.

"Bronth," she said.  She waited until Bronth was looking at her before continuing, "Remember, the strong protect the weak.  Is Ghalev—"

"Do not listen to the Vulcan!" Anasha snarled.  "Take the meal.  Now!"

"Bronth," T'Pol repeated, "Is Ghalev strong?"

"No," Bronth answered.

"Do you want to take Ghalev's meal?"

"No..."

"That is because you are good, Bronth.  You are good.  You do not need Anasha to tell you what to do."

Now Anasha was shouting at Bronth, "She lies!  You aren't good, you're too stupid to be good!  You need me to protect you, Losha!"

Bronth shouted back.  "Bronth!  My name is Bronth!  I'm good now!  GOOD!"  She started toward Anasha, fury in her eyes.

Anasha squawked in alarm and backed away so fast she tripped over one of her scattering cronies.  Bronth loomed over her supine form and grabbed her by the hair, pulling her aloft.  Anasha shrieked and thrashed wildly as Bronth suspended her above the ground by a handful of hair.  "I'M GOOD!" Bronth thundered, her face just inches from the screaming Anasha's.

"Bronth!"  T'Pol said, her sharp tone cutting through Anasha's terrified screams.  "You are hurting her."

Bronth released Anasha's hair and she fell to the ground, then scampered away on all fours.  Bronth turned toward T'Pol, looking abashed.  "Was I bad, Tip-Ahl?" she asked.

"Perhaps a little," T'Pol answered, "but do not worry.  You will learn."

Every prisoner in the room had stopped to watch the drama unfold, and a quick glance around told T'Pol that the prevailing reactions to Anasha's humiliation ranged from amusement to outright hilarity.  Even Thera was chuckling as she joined T'Pol on the ledge.

"That was, without a doubt, the funniest thing I have seen since I've been in prison." Thera said.  "Here.  I want you to have this."  She handed T'Pol a box of food.

T'Pol accepted the box, but left it unopened.  "Is this yours?"

"Yes, but it won't hurt me to miss a meal.  I think you need it more."

T'Pol did need sustenance, so she opened the box and began to eat, much more sedately than the night before.  "Thank you."

"You did it, you know."  Thera said, while T'Pol ate.

"What did I do?"

"Made yourself safe," Thera said.  She paused, then revised her words, "Well, as safe as you can be in prison.  After watching you fight Losha—I mean Bronth—it's clear you could take out just about anyone here if you wanted.  They'll be leaving you alone."

Thera looked over at Bronth, who was engaged in eating her own meal.  "It also doesn't hurt that you've got an ally like Bronth, now.  Someday you'll have to tell me how you managed that."

Bronth, hearing her name, looked up from her food container.  "I'm good now," she announced.


 

Chosin, with Task Force 2.1 in pursuit of retreating Romulan fleet, 10 April 2159

It was the day of T'Pol's vashre game and, despite all of Trip's preparations, he still feared the worst.  A pang of anxiety shot through him at every thought of the pending match, and he thought of it often.  He also remembered Chief Verley's advice, and tried to present a positive demeanor to his crew.  He doubted he was fooling anyone. 

Nevertheless, he had a ship to run.  He met Lieutenant Commander Saracco on the mess deck for a working lunch—something he did periodically with all the department heads, but which he usually enjoyed more when it was Engineering Department—and tried to listen as she updated him on the status of the ship's major systems.

Meanwhile, T'Pol toiled in the work chambers, as she been doing for hours.  She was still very tired, and her feet were very tender, but the short night's rest and two consecutive meals had done much to restore her flagging reserves of strength.  As far as Trip could tell, she was calmly certain of victory in the coming match.  Trip wished he could share her certitude.

The dreaded moment finally came.  *Trip, Faran has sent for me.*

Trip froze, a forkful of steamed carrots poised above his plate. Saracco stopped talking as well, and a concerned look formed on her face.  "Is it Captain T'Pol?" she asked.

"Yes," he said, rising to his feet.  "I'll be in my office.  Have Lieutenant Walder meet me there."  He headed for the exit, his plate of food forgotten on the table.

Trip arrived at his office and immediately logged onto the terminal on his desk, then turned to the comm panel, intending to summon Lieutenant Walder.  She arrived, slightly out of breath, before he could press the talk button.

"Sir, is it time?" she asked.  She didn't wait for Trip to answer, but seated herself at his desk and activated a sequence of programs on the terminal.

"It's time," Trip said as she worked.  Lieutenant Walder was Chosin's communications officer, and as such, her division was responsible for the operation and maintenance of the ship's computer systems.

"Okay, the program's running," she said.  "I've got the first instance running on the primary core with level 2 priority and all non-essential memory allocated to it.  There's also a back-up instance running on the navigation sub-system, just in case."

She swiveled the monitor to Trip and relinquished her seat.  The terminal displayed a vashre board with the pieces arranged in their starting squares.  Trip seated himself at the desk, and Lieutenant Walder moved to the adjacent visitor's chair.  Trip could have done for himself what he'd tasked Walder to do, but he was not taking any chances.  Not with T'Pol's well-being at stake.

*Okay darling, we're ready on my end,* he sent.  At least now the waiting is over.


 

Imperial Sixth District Prison for Women, 10 April 2159

T'Pol was brought to the overseer break room on the prison's ground level.  Faran sat in front of a vashre board on one side of a small table, and there was a vacant chair on the table's opposite side.  Faran was not alone in the room; most of the off-duty overseers in the prison had turned out to witness his anticipated victory over Vulcan intellectual arrogance.  T'Pol was pleased to see such a large turn-out:  More witnesses meant less likelihood that Faran would attempt to renege on his wager.

Faran gestured grandly at the vacant chair across from him, "Prisoner 5484, you may be seated."

T’Pol sat, and spoke loudly enough for all to hear:  "Just to be clear, are we in agreement on the terms?  If I am the winner of this game, I will receive vegetarian meals and a weekly trip to the surface."

Faran displayed a momentary flash of annoyance, but recovered quickly.  "Yes.  But when I win—not if, but when—you will uphold your end of the agreement."

"Understood," T'Pol replied.  She noticed that Faran had avoided explicitly stating his demand for sexual favors, indicating he did not want it widely known.  It is undoubtedly an infraction of prison rules, T'Pol realized, and despite Faran's considerable autonomy as head overseer, there are limits to his power.

"I have the red pieces," Faran said, pointing at the board in front of him.  The pieces were already set, each player having nine ice miners, represented by the ushaan-tor (a curve-bladed mining tool that doubled as a traditional weapon), four ice schooners, and two cannon.  "The red player chooses the board's orientation and the blue player moves first.  You are the blue player, so it's your move."

The vashre board had two dark squares in the middle, representing chasms or pits, where movement was prohibited.  These chasms could be arranged horizontally or vertically, depending on the alignment of the board.  Faran had chosen the vertical orientation, and T’Pol reported this to Trip across the bond.

There was a slight pause as Trip entered the orientation in the computer.  *Okay, got it,* he responded.  *According to my research, the vertical orientation leads to a more open and aggressive style of play, since there's only one row with chasms separating the two sides.  Vertical makes attacking easier; horizontal makes defending easier.*

T'Pol was not surprised to learn that Faran favored an aggressive style of play. *Thank you, Trip,* she sent, *Now, I must make a move.*

*Right.  We have some choices here, but I recommend one of the defensive openings.  We'll move a couple of ice miners to make lanes for your ice schooner on row two.  Move the miner at row three-column four to row four-column four, and miner three-six to four-six.*

T'Pol moved the appropriate pieces.  *Done.*

Faran smiled appreciatively.  "Ah, Jalan's opening.  Very safe, but very boring.  The most common response is to mirror the move, but I prefer the broken-wing openings.  An unbalanced board can lead to different opportunities on each flank."  As he spoke, he moved two red ice miners.

*Trip, he moved miner seven-four to six-three and miner seven-five to six-six.*

*Got it.  Stand by...  Okay,  ice miners at three-three and three-seven go to four-three and four-seven.*

T'Pol made the indicated moves.  As she moved, she could feel Trip's nervousness clearly.  *You need not worry, my love,* T'Pol sent, trying to reassure him.  *Faran is a good player, but he cannot beat a computer running the latest vashre algorithms.  Not even the top Andorian vashre masters can do that.*

*I know, T'Pol, I know.  And the Andies at Fleet assured me this was the strongest vashre program available.  But... but Murphy's law remains in effect.  You know Murphy's law, right?  If anything can go wrong—*

*—it will go wrong.  Yes, I am familiar with the concept.*

"The miner's wall defense," Faran commented.  "I can see you're going to force me to come in and get you.  Perhaps you will make a game of this yet."

"That is likely," T'Pol replied, "since I intend to win."

Faran smirked and moved again, this time deploying an ice schooner; a very aggressive move at such an early point in the game.  T'Pol relayed the move to Trip, and made a show of studying the board while she waited for Trip to send back a response.  The game proceeded in that manner for several turns, with Faran commenting on each of her moves in breezy, confident tones.

As the game progressed, Faran's running dialogue became more terse, then vanished completely.  His easy confidence also vanished, replaced with a ferocious scowl and a furrowed brow, and he took longer and longer to decide on his moves.

T'Pol also took longer, even though her moves were available almost immediately after Faran made his.  She pretended to study the board, the very picture of Vulcan concentration, while Trip let the program run and examine trillions of board positions every second.  Minutes later, when T'Pol would finally move, it was a strong move.  A very strong move.

Faran's agitation grew as it became apparent that T'Pol's skill at vashre rivaled, and possibly exceeded, his own.  He had lost games before, many of them.  That was only to be expected when playing at the highest levels, as he did.  But it was one thing to lose to an acknowledged and respected vashre master; quite another to lose to a Vulcan prisoner who had never before played.  Worst of all was that insufferably serene expression on her face as she made those devastating moves...

There were two ways a vashre game could be won:  Eliminate all the opponent's pieces, or move an ice schooner onto the opponent's home row.  Faran's fate was sealed on turn twenty-nine, when T'Pol moved an ice schooner to a position where it threatened his home row.  He could take it with another piece, but doing so exposed his home row to her other ice schooner.

"I concede." he said.  His face was a frozen mask, his voice equally frosty.  He stood and abruptly exited the room to the soft murmur of surprise that rippled through the on-lookers.

T'Pol also stood and waited while the audience dispersed in animated groups.  *We did it, T'Pol!* Trip sent.  His exultation—and his great relief—were both evident to T'Pol.

*Yes, Trip.  I expected no less.*  She replied, but she relished the opportunity to bask in her mate's elation.  Such moments had been extremely rare, lately.

The overseer who'd brought T'Pol to the game approached her.  "Is this really the first time you've played vashre?" she asked.  There was a slight smile on her face that indicated she was not at all upset by Faran's defeat.

"Yes, it really is."

The overseer's smile broadened.  "Amazing.  I have to take you back to the work chamber now, but... that was fun to watch."


 

Faran left the vashre game and went straight to the work chambers.  He pulled Anasha aside to a place where they could talk discreetly.

"What is it?" Anasha asked.  She made no attempt to hide her apprehension.  It was never a good thing to be taken aside by the Head Overseer in front of all the other prisoners.  Especially when he was so clearly in a foul mood.

"I want the Vulcan attacked.  Tonight.  I want her hurt bad.  I want her in the infirmary."

Anasha licked her lips nervously.  "I- I can't."

Faran grabbed one of Anasha's antennae.  "What did you say?" he hissed, pulling firmly.

"I can't!"  Anasha squealed in pain.  "I want to, but I can't!"

Faran released his grip, but his expression remained menacing.  "Why not?"

"Losha... She won't do what I tell her anymore, she doesn't listen to me..."

"Then attack without Losha," Faran said, clearly annoyed.  "There are enough of you in your little gang.  I don't care how you do it, just do it!"

"We can't," Anasha whined.  Faran's face clouded with anger, and she hastened to explain before he grabbed her antenna again.  "The Vulcan fights too well.  She's too fast!  All of us together couldn't take her.  You haven't seen her fight!  If she'd wanted to, she could have easily beaten Losha.   And now Losha's on her side.  Losha would kill us if we hurt the Vulcan.  She'd kill us!"

This last was news to Faran.  "What?  Losha was your creature.  How did you let the Vulcan take her?"

Anasha licked her lips nervously, "She tells her stories.  Children's tales.  In the work chamber, while carrying rocks.  And not just to Losha; the others listen, too."  Anasha neglected to mention that she was among those others, among the hardened prisoners who stopped talking and drifted a little closer so they could also hear the Vulcan's tales, and be transported—if only for a while—from the drab prison to magical places.

Anasha also neglected to mention Thera, the former Imperial Guard officer who was telling everyone who would listen of the Vulcan's heroism and valor in the war against Romulus.  No, without Losha to back her up, there was no way Anasha would risk the retaliation sure to come if she injured the Vulcan.

Faran was incredulous.  "Stories?  Stories?  From a Vulcan?  You're lying."

"No, no!  It's the truth, ask anyone, ask the overseers in the work chamber.  They're listening, too!"

"I will ask," Faran promised, "and your story had better be true.  Now go."  Anasha scurried away, leaving Faran to brood over what he'd just learned.  It was impossible, of course.  Impossible for a Vulcan to survive in an Andorian prison.  Impossible for a Vulcan to befriend the baleful and brutish Losha.  Impossible for a Vulcan to win the support of hardened convicts.  Impossible to win the respect of indifferent overseers.  It's also impossible for a Vulcan to beat me at vashre, Faran thought, yet that's exactly what just happened.

Clearly this Vulcan was different, and it would take more than the usual methods to break her.  Whether he could do so without jeopardizing his own position remained to be seen.


 

Romulan Star Navy Headquarters, Romulus, 10 April 2159

Grand Marshal Vokalus walked into the planning room to see his senior admirals and their aides huddled around the tactical display at the room's center.  Admiral Parnius saw him enter and alerted the group, then hurried over to meet him.

"Well, Parnius, what have you found that warrants delaying my briefing with the Praetor?" Vokalus asked.

"Our assumptions of Coalition intent appear to be wrong, Grand Marshall."

"Show me," Vokalus said.  He followed Parnius to the display, and the admirals shifted to make room for him.

"We thought the Coalition planned to bracket our damaged vessels with their task force," Parnius explained, "however, the Coalition task force has just bypassed those vessels and is continuing on a heading toward our main fleet."

"Do you believe they will attack our fleet?"  Vokalus asked.  He had his own opinion, but wanted to verify it against his staff's.

"With fourteen ships?  Even if one of the ships is Chosin, we don't see how they could."

Vokalus had to agree.  "If the Coalition has found a way to defeat an entire fleet with just fourteen ships, then the war is lost regardless what we do.  So, we will assume they are not attacking our retreating fleet.  That still leaves the question unanswered:  What are they planning?  Could they be intending to use this task force to bracket our main fleet?"

"If that was their intent, they would have had to deploy additional forces sooner.  Any ships they send now will be unable to catch us in time," Parnius concluded.  "We still believe our damaged ships are the Coalition's main objective."

"Then what is the purpose of this Coalition task force?" Vokalus asked.

Parnius glanced at his staff before answering.  "Our best guess is that they are to act as a screening force to delay any reinforcements we might send from our main fleet once the damaged ships are attacked."

Vokalus gazed thoughtfully at the display.  "Yes...  You are right.  That is their intent.  And if the predicted timetable for the Coalition attack on our damaged ships holds, that will put their task force right about... here."  Vokalus indicated a point on the display along the main Romulan fleet's route.  "That is also where Chosin will finally be destroyed."

Parnius stared intently at the point on the display, trying to divine Vokalus' plan.  He was not successful.  "I see no way to accomplish that," Parnius said.  "If we commit a force strong enough to engage them, they will simply fall back.  If we commit a force fast enough to engage them, they will probably defeat it."

"Yes," Vokalus agreed, "if they knew we were committing it."  He smiled at the puzzled looks on the faces of his admirals.  "How many torpedoes remain in our fleet?"

"Four hundred and three," Parnius answered, "but no single ship has more than a dozen."

"Four hundred torpedoes?" Vokalus repeated.  "That might be enough..."

"Enough for what?" Parnius asked.

"Enough to destroy the Coalition task force.  We will transfer those torpedoes to twenty ships," Vokalus explained.  "Twenty fast ships.  Those ships will fake engine problems and lag behind the fleet.  The Coalition task force will pass them as it pursues our fleet.  Then we will strike."

Parnius considered the plan.  "The entire fleet will have to drop from warp to transfer those torpedoes to the selected ships.  It could take some time.  A day or more."

"With proper planning, we should be able to do the transfer in half a day.  I want a plan ready for my review in four hours."

Parnius looked doubtful, but did not object.  "Yes, Grand Marshall."

Vokalus looked around the room, making eye contact with each of his admirals.  "We won't be able to save our damaged ships," he said, "but the Coalition will pay a higher price than they are expecting.  Much higher."

The savage grins that met his pronouncement let him know he had the full support of his staff.


 

Continued in Chapter Twelve


Comments:

daryalkami5

Oh wow..... I really hope you continue/complete this story!!!!!!!

Dinah

Wonderful chapter! You've done an excellent job describing the prison. The vashre game is familiar enough to make one feel comfortable, yet alien enough to be a believable challenge for T'Pol. Ice miners and ice schooners -- great stuff!

I think you better find a way to bust T'Pol out of prison. It sounds as though Trip is going to need her. As always your story is thorougly enjoyable, even when things are far from ideal for Trip and T'Pol.

 

Cap'n Frances

Great chapter. I loved T'Pol telling Losha the story of The Wizard of Oz and Verley recommending The Velveteen Rabbit.

Cap'n Frances

Great chapter. I loved T'Pol telling Losha the story of The Wizard of Oz and Verley recommending The Velveteen Rabbit.

73Bruin

I like the way, you had T'Pol win over Losha and later the others.  I will say it feels like that a certain amount of the concept of storytelling was a result of Trip's indirect influence on T'Pol.  I also liked the cheating. 

As always I am looking forward to your next chapter (although not an end to the series).

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