Walking along the dimly lit corridor, Nurse James peeked into each room, her experienced gaze assessing at a glance the condition of her patients. Satisfied that all was well, she returned to the nurse's station, noting that the steady, droning hum of the monitors had lulled her co-worker into an unwilling doze.
"Sasha, wake up!" she admonished, tapping the other nurse lightly on the shoulder. Sasha Liszt, a petite Human female, started into semi-alertness and frowned at the complex readouts before her.
"That fixed it, Chris," she murmured. "The sensor webbing on that bed must be on the fritz again. Two hundred forty-eight is not an appropriate pulse for a Human, a Vulcan maybe--"
"I just wiggled the wire that led to the telemetry hookup," James interrupted, leaning forward to reset the monitor alarm. "His apical rate was seventy-two, much more believable than two hundred forty-eight. Damn machines are more trouble than they're worth sometimes." Taking her seat, she heaved a tired sigh, staring before her at nothing in particular, a slight frown crossing her face.
"Great time savers," Liszt agreed sarcastically, fighting to stay awake. She favored the graveyard shift; it was quiet, peaceful, and the work was easy. Since Chris James started working there, Liszt had actually looked forward to coming in to work. Tonight, however, Liszt sensed that something was bothering her companion.
James was a tall, slender women in her late thirties. She was not beautiful, but certainly attractive. As a nurse, she was extremely competent. So competent that she sometimes exhibited medical knowledge exceeding that of those who passed for physicians out here. Liszt had always found her to be lighthearted and pleasant, not the type to swear over faulty sensor webbing. Maybe she's just having a bad night, Liszt thought. Or maybe she got some bad news from home. Funny, I don't even know where she's from.
Liszt smiled; there was nothing unusual about being reluctant to discuss one's past on Colony Ten. In fact, a murky past was almost a prerequisite for citizenship here. Almost everyone had something they'd rather not confide, and no one traveled this far toward the Neutral Zone if they had other options.
"God, I'm tired," Liszt sighed, leaning back in her chair and kicking one foot up on the console. "This has been the most boring night we've ever put in together. If I didn't know better, I'd swear that Heinrich slipped everyone a neural paralyzer."
"He's been threatening to for weeks," James replied with a wry smile. "Especially that Tellarite trader. I'll be glad when he's discharged. What a--"
"Speak of the devil," Liszt interrupted as the call light chimed pleasantly. "My turn," she added, waving James back into her seat.
She returned five minutes later, making a face. "Wants something for sleep," she explained as she sank back into her seat. "I told him it was almost morning and that he's been sawing logs since twenty-two hundred. He glared and snorted at me, but I think he got the message."
"All Tellarites are rude, but he..."
"...Abuses the privilege," Liszt finished, her lips curving into a smile. "I'd love to special order a big plate of bacon up for his breakfast. I'd bet you could hear the porcine squeal for miles."
James shook her head, but she was smiling. "You wouldn't dare."
"I wouldn't," she agreed with a giggle. "But it's tempting. I've been thinking of moving on anyway. This place has its benefits, but there are other places I'd rather be."
"It wouldn't be the same without you," James said with genuine regret. "Where are you thinking of going?"
"Maybe home. Funny, that's the one place I can't go back to, and it's the only place that really appeals to me."
"Why can't you go back?"
Liszt grinned. "Let's just say that the planetary police on Vega Nine would love to offer me the hospitality of their extended hotel plan. I goofed up, one of those things you do as a teenager. Not bad enough for them to go looking for me off-world, but if I got stopped and I.D. checked on Vega, I'd be in big trouble."
"Do you have family there?"
"A brother and my dad. I haven't kept in touch, but I think they're still there. Maybe someday I'll go back, take the chance, just for old times' sake." She leveled an appraising stare at her companion. "So, where's home for you?"
James' expression changed from one of surprise to discomfort. She did not answer immediately, appearing to consider the question carefully. Finally she blew her breath out in a loud sigh.
"I don't have a clue."
"I don't know where I'm from."
Liszt frowned. "I don't get you, Chris."
"I know this sounds weird, but it's the truth. I can't remember anything about my past. It's like a huge blank until I came here. I get images, faint, and hazy like a dream. Faces, places, they seem familiar, but when I try to focus, I get a terrible headache, and I lose my grasp on it."
"God!" Liszt whispered in awe. "Were you in rehab?"
"That's what it sounds like, doesn't it?" James agreed. "But I really don't know. I can't recall enough to figure it out. I have my nursing skills, my knowledge of medicine, so not everything has been erased. I try to remember, but I just can't."
"Sure sounds like memory wiping. I had a friend that was wiped. He was never the same. It's supposed to be outlawed, but a lot of the smaller rehab colonies still use it. It may be inhumane, but nobody can deny it does the trick."
"If that's what this is, I agree."
"I never would have figured you to be that type," Liszt said thoughtfully. "Rehab material, I mean."
"Me either, for what it's worth," James confided. "It's so damn frustrating to have a past and not be able to remember it."
"Have you tried to run a computer check on your background? You've obviously had some schooling, and your kind of knowledge isn't something one picks up hit or miss in a back world hospital like this. There must be records..."
"I tried to trace my name, at least the name on my travel permit," James replied, her voice dropping to a whisper. "It's like I didn't even exist before I stepped onto that shuttle."
"Maybe it's not your real name. You don't recall anything?"
"Just bits and pieces," James answered, rubbing her temples. "Hey, don't spread this around, all right? I'd really rather nobody else found out."
"I can keep a secret," Liszt assured, her face lighting up in a mischievous grin. "In case you haven't noticed, you're not the only one with a questionable past here. Besides, if I squeal, you can always turn me in to the Vegan shore patrol."
"I'll remember that," James replied, matching her companion's grin in spite of herself.
James logged out at the end of her shift, waved goodbye to Liszt and braced herself against the cold, moist air of N Hydrae III. A fine ground mist clung to the recesses of the building, swirling about her feet. As she stepped away from the hospital, a gust of wind struck her, and she hurried along, huddled into her cloak.
About her everywhere was an enveloping gray. Daylight never seemed to penetrate the cloud cover over the planet, and although James knew that Hydrae III had two suns, quantity did not necessarily guarantee quality. She had not even seen the two F-type stars since the shuttle had landed her here three months ago. The planet was monochromatic: gray sky, gray buildings, gray soil, gray weather.
It was nearly two kilometers to her apartment, and, on her way there, she passed a weary looking shopkeeper opening a small market. The only other sign of life was a hovercar that passed, its erratic whirring sound audible long before she could make it out in the mist, and echoing against the damp pavement after it had drifted out of sight.
She continued along, moving at a brisk pace and shivering as she walked. She had two days off, and after a hot shower and nap, she would do her grocery shopping, and then clean the apartment. She smiled; her efficiency apartment didn't take much effort to keep clean, but she had always been tidy by nature. Her cabin aboard...
James stopped dead in the deserted street as the aborted thought faded from her grasp, a twinge of pain piercing from behind her eyes as she sought to hold onto it.
"Where?" she whispered almost plaintively. "Where?" The only answer to her question was the steady drip of water off the awning of a nearby apartment house. The thought was gone, evasive as the Hydran fawns that haunted the brush at the edge of the colony. Gone also were the familiar faces that spoke to her in her dreams. They called her by name, "Chris, Christine." That she could remember, but there was another name, another title, memories of another life that eluded her in waking hours.
Was she just another border-world refugee from justice? She wasn't even sure that she had been a nurse; her medical knowledge was really too advanced for that. It had astonished her co-workers until she learned to feign ignorance. She could almost visualize the place where she had worked, the instruments, the equipment, advanced technology that made the facilities here seem archaic in comparison.
James reached the door to her apartment and pushed the access card into the slot in the panel. She entered the sparsely furnished room, pausing to hang her heavy cloak on a hook near the door. She moved across the bare wooden floor and headed for the bathroom, unfastening the tabs on her uniform tunic.
The telescreen's beep caused her to jump, a startling sound in the silence. She turned and moved to the chair before it, sinking down with a sigh. It must be someone from the hospital.
Hitting the `receive' button, she saw a man appear before her on the screen. He looked to be in his late forties, and had a pleasantly craggy face. She noticed that he was wearing a pale blue, long-sleeved tunic with an insignia on it. He smiled a lazy smile that was somehow familiar, and when he spoke, she detected a trace of a Southern accent.
"Well, the lost is found," he drawled. "I had a hell of a time trackin' you down, and you've missed two check-ins. Everythin' all right?"
She stared at him, panic welling up inside her as she recognized the uniform, the insignia. My God! This man is from Starfleet!
"Chris, what is it?" he asked in concern. She did not even hear him; warning klaxons pounded in her ears, and the pain behind her eyes became blinding in intensity.
"What do you want?" she queried, her mouth dry.
His eyes searched her expression, and his voice dropped to a whisper. "It's okay; this is a secure channel. What's wrong?"
"Who are you?" she demanded. She was afraid, not just of him, but of what he represented, the authority of the Federation. He obviously knew her, knew more about her than she knew herself. It was frightening, and suddenly she didn't want to know.
"Chris, are you all right?" he asked. "Is there somethin' wrong?"
"You obviously have the wrong number," she whispered, fighting down the panic that filled her. The man turned in obvious frustration and called a name just before her trembling fingers severed the connection. His image faded before the sound, and she clearly heard the name, but it meant nothing to her. It didn't even sound like a Human name, "Spock."
While she sat in silence, waiting for her heart rate to return to normal, the screen beeped again, but she ignored it. Rising slowly, she finished unfastening her tunic and pulled it over her head. By the time she reached the bathroom, her composure snapped, and she burst into hysterical tears.
"Damn it, Spock! I'm telling you she didn't recognize me!" Leonard McCoy repeated. He was pacing his office in Sickbay like a caged lion. The Vulcan was leaning against the good doctor's desk, arms crossed over his chest.
"Perhaps she was not alone," Spock suggested mildly.
"At seven-fifteen in the mornin'?" McCoy snapped. "Remember who we're talkin' about, Spock!"
The first officer shook his dark head. "I meant no disrespect, and I certainly did not mean to suggest--"
"She's in trouble," McCoy insisted. "Damn! I never should have let her go. She's a doctor, not a secret agent. She belongs here on the Enterprise, not on some filthy, cold, colony world riskin' her life."
"That is an opinion, Doctor," Spock said blandly. "And apparently it is one Doctor Chapel does not share, since she volunteered for the assignment. The choice was hers to make. Have you considered that she might have reason to suspect that her communications are being monitored? She has expended much time and effort in developing a cover identity. It would be illogical to risk it now merely to reassure an anxious colleague. Given a similar situation, I might have reacted the same way."
"I believe that, but this isn't you--it's Chris. And you're forgettin' how well I know her. Somethin's gone seriously wrong. There wasn't a flicker of recognition on her face, not the slightest--"
"She's a good actress," Captain Kirk interrupted, entering the small office. "Uhura played the tape back for me just before I came down. We thought the channel was secure, but maybe she knows something we don't. I'm convinced she was acting."
"In a pig's eye!" McCoy retorted. "I've known Chris for nearly eight years now, spent more time with her than I have with my own daughter, and I'm tellin' you she wasn't fakin' it! Come on, Jim, think about how she tries to pretend she doesn't care about Spock, but it's written all over her face. She never could fake me out, or any of us for that matter."
Spock was staring intently at his boots. It was a rare occasion when anyone mentioned Chapel's attraction to Spock, mostly because the whole situation was embarrassing. McCoy would never have brought it up if he had not been upset. Kirk looked between his two friends, waiting.
"Doctor Chapel is a fine officer, and, admittedly, she is in a precarious situation right now," Spock began. "However, I am confident that she has sufficient expertise to handle herself on this mission. She was thoroughly briefed--"
"Listen, you cold-blooded, pointy-eared, computerized excuse for an officer," McCoy interrupted. "This is Chris we're talkin' about, not some trained spy. I know every look that woman has, and I've never seen the blank stare she fixed me with today. Never!"
"Bones," Kirk said, amazed at the state his chief medical officer was working himself into. "What do you want me to do? None of us can go in there. The Romulans have files a mile long on all of us. They'd spot us in an instant. Besides, I can't order the Enterprise that close to N Hydrae without arousing suspicion. If we try to interfere, we'll blow her cover, maybe get her killed. Do you want that?"
All the color drained from McCoy's face. "No," he whispered. "God, Jim, you know that's the last thing I want."
"What exactly do you surmise has occurred?" Spock questioned, his curiosity undaunted.
McCoy sighed and sank into the chair beside his desk. "God, I hope I'm wrong about this, but the mental preparation she went through at Starbase Thirteen--it could have backfired."
Spock raised one eyebrow. "You are referring to the method of temporarily blocking certain memories. It is called thought preparation and is standard procedure for Federation agents. The technique has been practiced with great success for decades. There is no reason to suspect--"
"I did a little research into this procedure, Spock," McCoy interrupted. "And it was developed originally for psychiatric purposes, used mostly on some of the more mismanaged rehab planets."
"Memory wiping?" Kirk questioned, recalling the events on the Tantalus Colony.
"Precisely," McCoy agreed. "Now, there's a--"
"Penicillin is derived from mold, Doctor. However, eating moldy bread would not cure an infection," Spock interrupted in the sarcastic sing-song he reserved especially for arguments with McCoy.
"You think the mental preparation somehow erased all her memories?" Kirk asked, ignoring the bickering between the two. "Is that possible?"
"I think it is," McCoy said. "I had forgotten about this until just a few minutes ago, but she acted funny when I saw her off at Starbase Thirteen. I was late, because Scotty talked me into a drink at the starbase lounge. She was standin' off by herself, waitin' for the boardin' announcement when I arrived. I came up beside her, sayin' somethin' like 'good luck' and 'come home safely.' I didn't have my uniform on because I was off-duty, and she didn't seem to know me even then. In retrospect, she treated me like someone would treat a stranger who's mistaken you for someone they know. I probably smelled of brandy. Maybe she thought I was an eccentric drunk."
"A logical assumption," Spock said blandly.
"Jim, I'm going to kill him one of these days," McCoy threatened, sending the Vulcan an icy glare.
"Doctor," Kirk said in a tone vaguely reminiscent of Ambassador Sarek. "Please restrain yourself." The captain paused thoughtfully, turning to Spock. "If she really doesn't remember anything about what she's doing on Hydrae Three, she's probably as confused as hell."
"And in great danger," Spock added. "If she regains her memory suddenly, she may betray herself and her mission unwittingly. If Doctor McCoy's hunch is correct, then we must find a way to get her out of Colony Ten quickly."
Kirk frowned, considering. "It looks like our geological survey of Gamma Bootis Two is going to have to wait, gentlemen." He moved to the intercom. "Kirk to Bridge. Set course for Starbase Thirteen, maximum speed. Mister Sulu, report to Sickbay."
Voices and faces invaded her dreams. The man on the telescreen was there, so was the other face that seemed so familiar, yet so strange. She chased the specters, fearing the answers to her questions, afraid to know the truth of her past. A single voice and face coalesced into a memory.
"We're not talkin' about a vacation leave, Chris. This is dangerous stuff. It might take months for you to do the job, and you'll have virtually no back-up. I'd rather do it myself, so would Spock, and he could certainly handle the medical knowledge that would be required, but we're too well known, especially to the Romulans. I really don't want you to do this, but I have to admit you're perfect for this assignment. 'Chiro said it would be strictly voluntary, and he can damn well find someone else if you turn it down." Blue eyes were pleading with her to refuse.
"I'll do it, Leonard," she said, her own voice echoing about her as she tossed and turned, tangling herself in her sheets.
Another voice, silky and deep-toned, attracted her attention. The face was sharply satanic, the dark eyes hypnotic, alien, yet somehow heartbreakingly familiar.
"Starfleet suspects that the Romulans have gained access to medical research labs on Colony Ten and are engaging in biological experimentation. The last Federation agent assigned to Colony Ten has been missing for three weeks. His latest report confirmed that Romulans are indeed using the hospital. This information, combined with numerous disappearances of ships manned by Vulcans in this sector, must be investigated further. We are fearing the worst."
The face, usually so composed, now revealed thinly disguised concern. "You have your orders, Doctor. Since Hydrae Three is an associate member of the Federation, there is little we can do to protect you once you are there. Our treaty with the planet is a tenuous one, so it is imperative that you maintain your cover. Until we obtain concrete proof that the Romulan forces on Hydrae are in violation of treaty, the Federation Council will not permit us to interfere. In fact, if your true identity becomes known, it is entirely possible that Special Services will deny that you are acting as a Federation agent. Do not underestimate the danger. Trust no one; your life may depend on it."
When she awoke hours later, the last line the alien spoke echoed in her mind. Trust no one; your life may depend on it. It was all that she could recall of her dream, and her head was pounding. She stumbled to the bathroom and swallowed two capsules, washing them down with a glass of tepid water. She moved to the telescreen and punched in a code.
Liszt answered, sleep-tousled hair and half-opened eyes, revealing that she had been sleeping, too.
"Chris! You okay?"
"Sasha, I need a place to stay for a few days. Do you know any--"
Liszt cut her off with a wave of her hand. "Something's gone wrong, hasn't it?"
"Sort of," James said, wondering if she was overreacting. "I'd feel better explaining it in person. Could we meet someplace?"
"Sure, the Paradise. Do you know it?"
James nodded; it was the largest bar on Hydrae.
"Meet you there in half an hour," Liszt said and smiled her mischievous smile. "Wow! Cloak and dagger stuff, I love it!"
James made no reply, cutting the connection. Quickly, she removed all traces of her habitation, bundling her things into her travel case.
Twenty minutes later, draped in her gray cloak, she stepped out into the mist- fogged street. She slipped an envelope into the manager's mail slot and proceeded on her way.
Hikaru Sulu waited patiently in line at the spaceport on Colony Ten. Because of his background in security, it had taken him less than twenty-four hours to be processed through Special Services at Starbase 13. It took him two days to travel to N Hydrae III by slow-moving spaceliner, making it four days since Chapel had hung up on Doctor McCoy. He was impatient to get going, but the clerk who was manning the customs line was obviously new at this. Sulu sighed. Just getting through the line was taking the better part of the day.
"What do you mean I can't take my ch'ihan with me?" a young woman was saying. "I have papers for it, good grief! It's not a slime devil, just a little, sweet...I was told that there would be no problem..."
Sulu shifted his cape from one arm to another and leaned against the partition that separated them from the waiting area. His gaze fell on a woman standing at the ticket counter. His eyes grew wide, and he strained to hear the conversation.
"The Astral Queen has been booked for a week," the clerk said.
"I know, but maybe if you look again. I really need a seat. I have to get to Starbase Thirteen as soon as possible."
"Look, sister. I don't care if you're the President of the Federation on your way to Terra, the seats are sold out. Everybody has to get to Starbase Thirteen. It's the road to civilization."
The woman glared at the clerk, turning on heel and stalking to the exit. Sulu noticed that his turn had come. He gave all the correct responses, gazing in a preoccupied way after the woman. Receiving his luggage, he muttered his thanks to the clerk and darted through the archway where the woman had gone. He looked about and saw the edge of a gray cloak as it flew around a corner. Running, he managed to get within trailing distance, keeping her in sight. She took a tortuous path through the narrow streets, zig-zagging back and forth.
He lost sight of her, traveling around a crowd of people outside a bar. When he emerged on the other side, his quarry was nowhere to be seen. He backtracked and looped around the other side of the street, scouting for a sight of the slender figure in gray without appearing to do so.
Finally, he sighed and made his way to a hotel that looked as if it would suit his needs. The sign out front advertised weekly rates that were reasonable, and it looked clean. He would check in, catch a nap and then continue his search unhampered by his luggage and the spacelag that was overtaking him. She was here, she was alive, that much he had ascertained. So far, so good.
"Sold out," James said in response to Liszt's questioning gaze. She dropped her suitcase to the floor and paced to the window. She had the strange sensation that she was being watched.
"I told you. Not only do you have to come up with the fare, but a hefty bribe for the clerk. That's the way things are here."
"I had to borrow from you just to scrape enough together for the fare!" James exclaimed, lifting the blind to reveal the street below. "And that was twice what it ought to be. Where am I going to get the money to bribe a clerk?"
Liszt shrugged. "I wish I knew. I'm broke until next payday. I gave you my last credit this morning."
"I know. You've been terrific. Sorry if I sounded ungrateful. It's so frustrating! I can't risk going back to the hospital, not if they're looking for me, and that's the only place I can earn enough money to get away from here!"
"You're between a rock and a hard spot, and I don't blame you for being scared. Having Starfleet on my tail would be enough to petrify me. Whatever you got mixed up in, you've paid for it. Having your memory wiped should cancel out even a heavy debt to society. You're a good person; wiping doesn't alter something like that. I think you must have been framed."
"If I can't get off Hydrae Three," James added, "they're going to do more than frame me. Something tells me that another trip through rehab, and there won't be much of me left." She gazed out at a man carrying a suitcase who was entering the hotel across the street. Everything looked normal enough; maybe she was just jumpy. She let the blind sag back against the glass, turning to her friend. "I'll do anything to keep that from happening, Sasha. Anything!"
Liszt gave her friend a long, considering look and sighed. "If you really mean that, I may know a way for you to get that money."
James stared at her. "What are you talking about?"
"There's some hush-hush research being done at night in one of the abandoned labs in the old wing of the hospital. Rumor has it that they're synthesizing patented Federation drugs for sale across the Neutral Zone. Seems our Rommie friends have a booming black market for Federation medical supplies, and the usual channels are tightening up. I've met the guy in charge; he's the typical scientist type, not firing on all thrusters, if you take my meaning, but he has an eye for the ladies. I bet he'd love someone with your skills for an assistant. The best part is that they're just as paranoid about Starfleet as you are, so it'll be a safe place for you to make some credits. Are you interested?"
James glanced toward the window. "Sure. It's got to beat all hell out of being memory wiped."
"That's the spirit!" Liszt grinned.
Sulu walked into the Paradise and took a seat at a table near the door. He had slept nearly five hours and felt like a new man. He gave the scantily clad waitress an appreciative glance and placed his order. As she sauntered away, he looked about the crowded, smoke-filled room.
His gaze fell on a couple not too far from where he sat. The woman, mostly enveloped in a gray cloak, was talking quietly to a tall Vulcan. As he watched, the Vulcan rose, nodding his head formally, and exited the bar. The woman reached out to finish her drink, and by the time she had lifted it to her lips, Sulu was at her side.
"Would you like another?" he asked.
She looked up at him, seeming startled that he had spoken to her.
"No, thank you," she replied, rising to her feet. "I was just leaving."
Sulu studied her features closely. Either she doesn't recognize me, or she's one hell of an actress, he thought.
"May I escort you somewhere?" he asked, smiling a charming smile. "A lady really has no business roaming about at night alone in this neighborhood. I'd hate to see anything--"
"I'm fine," she interrupted shortly, starting to move past him as she drew the hood to her cape back over her blonde hair.
"I'm sorry," he replied, reaching out to touch her arm. "Maybe another time?" His dark eyes locked with hers, and she froze. He smiled again, this time attempting to alleviate her fears. "My name's Walter Tsu, and yours?"
"James," she breathed, still staring at him. "Chris James...Look, I've really got to go."
He released her, and she made her way through the crowd. He followed at a respectable distance, this time determined not to lose track of her in the mist.
Twenty minutes later, James was met at the door to the research lab by the tall man that Sulu had seen talking to her at the bar. He led her into a spacious, well-lit laboratory. At the far end of the room, visible through two large glass windows, was a smaller diagnostic area complete with two diagnostic beds and monitoring equipment.
"We are fortunate to obtain your services, Miss James," he said in accented Standard. "It is difficult to find highly trained individuals here on Colony Ten."
"I assume that the illegal nature of your research makes it doubly difficult, T'Rask," James said, eyeing the state-of-the-art equipment, far superior to the antiquated system in use in the hospital proper. It seemed a bit excessive for the type of operation that Liszt had described and James brushed aside the sense of unease that had been growing inside her since she spoke with T'Rask at the Paradise. It's just a combination of seeing Starfleet officers in every shadow, and that man trying to pick you up in the bar, she rationalized. Don't start getting paranoid.
"That makes it necessary that we take certain precautions," T'Rask said with a nod as he ushered her into his office, a small cubicle off the main lab, furnished with a desk and computer. The room was saved from claustrophobic closeness by a large window overlooking the grounds.
"Actually, what we are doing is not that terrible, all things considered. However, I am certain you can appreciate why we do not wish to attract any undue attention. Nurse Liszt tells me that you share my hatred of the Federation."
"They've done me no favors," she allowed.
"There are few for whom they have," he agreed with a charming smile, waving her into the only chair in the room. Once she was sitting in the chair, he leaned over her shoulder to key an access code on the computer. "Here we have gathered together those who wish to usurp their oppressive influence. Our research is unique and vital."
James looked up at him. Before she could utter a question, the smile took on a quality which made the hair at the back of her neck stand on end. His eyes pierced her like phaser blasts and she suppressed a shiver.
"I pride myself on being an excellent judge of character." T'Rask murmured, reaching out to stroke one finger across her cheek. His touch burned like fire on her skin, still cool from the night air. She fought the urge to pull away from him, a slight widening of her blue eyes the only indication of the mounting fear within her. "Although I have just met you, I feel that I can trust you."
James swallowed, sensing the danger in his tone. She somehow managed a smile that must have looked more convincing than it felt. "Of course," she agreed, trying to keep her voice steady.
"I am pleased," he replied, holding her gaze for an instant before releasing it. He turned, picking up an electronic clipboard. "Those who have taken advantage of my trust in the past have not found it...profitable."
"How unfortunate," she breathed. He's doing a hell of a lot more than circumventing Federation patents, she thought wildly. And if I don't play along with him...
"I would like to start by accessing you into our computer system," T'Rask continued in a calm voice that belied the implied threat he had just uttered. "Our files are in a terrible mess, and our laboratory notes need updating. Are you familiar enough with bioresearch to translate this?" he handed her an electronic clipboard.
James took it in trembling fingers and turned it on, forcing herself to ignore the adrenalin rush in her veins which screamed at her to bolt from this room and make a mad dash for the door to the lab. Easy, she told herself, purposely keeping her breathing at a steady rate and willing her pulse to drop to an acceptable level. Don't panic; you've got to play it cool. She scanned the notes, sickened and revolted by what she saw there. She took a deep breath before she chanced a look into T'Rask's eyes, praying that he would not read the fear and disgust mirrored in the blue depths. "I think I can manage," she said, her voice sounding astonishingly cool and confident.
"Splendid!" T'Rask replied. "Once these are stored, report to me, and I shall orient you to the lab."
"Fine," James agreed, holding her breath until he left the room. She rose from the terminal and went to the window, hoping that it would be the type that she could open from within. She swore, realizing that it was intended only for illumination, not ventilation. Her only avenues of escape were through the lab or shattered glass, and neither way was practical considering the acuity of Romulan senses. With a sigh of frustration she returned to the computer. She would just have to hide her revulsion until the end of her shift. There was no alternative.
She organized and filed the lab journal information. In spite of the nature of the experiments, she found herself becoming lost in the task, as if it were something she did on a daily basis. Perhaps at one time in her life she had; she couldn't remember. After she had transferred everything from the clipboard, she toyed with the research files, morbidly curious to know more. What she found made her almost physically ill. She flicked through the information at a more rapid rate, seeing a pattern and malicious intent developing. She jumped as the door to T'Rask's office swished open.
"Finished already?" T'Rask questioned with a smile, looking over her shoulder.
James nodded, rising from the terminal. "Everything is filed, but you're right about things being in a jumble. If you like, I could straighten it out for you. It shouldn't take that long."
"I would like that very much," T'Rask said in approval. "You are not only lovely but efficient as well. However, we are coming to a critical point with one of our specimens, and I thought that you would like to witness the results."
James nodded, unable to trust her voice. T'Rask, obviously excited by the prospect of the experiment, did not seem to notice her reluctance and led the way to the main lab.
"You have read the laboratory notes," T'Rask said as he approached the glass enclosure to the small diagnostic room. "This subject received our formula several hours ago. The biocomp is registering close to therapeutic levels now..."
James would have laughed out loud at his use of the term, "therapeutic," for what amounted to poison, if it had all not been so horrible. She could not tear her gaze from the subject, unconscious on the other side of the transparency. It was a male, young and healthy looking. His upswept brows and pointed ears were framed by a black fringe of hair, his tranquil expression suggested a dreamless sleep. A lump formed in her throat.
"...once we achieve the precise disturbance of certain brain functions," T'Rask continued, completely unaware of his companion's discomfort, "the research phase of our task will be completed. Then it will be in the hands of the Imperial Secret Service to administer the formula to key individuals, diplomats, elders, those who are the power and might of the target race. Once the formula is perfected, there will be no deterrent."
"Exactly what are you attempting to accomplish?" James questioned, understanding the biological aspect of T'Rask's work, but not the political ones.
"A breakthrough in the alteration of thought processes. It amounts to thought control, or more appropriately, disruption of thought control. It is an exciting project and although it is unnecessary for you to know the whole plan, let me assure you that it will change the course of history if we are successful. The Federation will not be--"
An alarm sounded and the male subject began convulsing, only the heavy restraints keeping him from falling to the floor. A technician stood at his side, taking notes on a clipboard. James moved closer to the transparency, looking at the biocomp read out. She paled at the ridiculously high brain wave patterns, the rapid pulse and nonexistent respirations.
"Oh, God!" she gasped in spite of herself.
"Impressive, is it not?" T'rask asked, mistaking her horror for fascination. "However, the formula is still crude. Note the chaotic brain patterns? This is much too strong, but the general disruption is what we are trying to achieve. Our main difficulty has been reducing dosage without ruining the effect."
James' eyes didn't leave the writhing subject. As she watched in horrified disbelief, one of the heavy restraining straps snapped as the slender body bucked up against it, and a tortured cry was wrenched from parted lips. Released from restraint, one arm flailed out blindly, hand clawing at thin air as if grasping for its lost control or release from torment. Suddenly, the cardiac monitors fell ominously silent, and the subject's arm fell lifelessly back into place.
"He's dead!" James gasped.
"Yes," T'Rask agreed as the technician released the restraints and continued writing. "An autopsy should prove interesting. Would you care to assist me?"
"Do not be concerned," T'Rask said. "There are other subjects and more are being obtained."
"But you're killing...killing..."
"Killing Vulcans," he finished for her. "Vulcans have been responsible for the death of thousands of Romulans."
"But Vulcans are peaceful," she whispered, staring at the lifeless form, knowing how dangerous it was to challenge what she had seen, but unable to control herself.
"Yes," he spat. "Peaceful, but not without power or malice. They rule the Federation with their brilliant logic, leading the Humans against us. They have prevented our encroachment into the Federation, sentencing our masses to die on inhospitable colony worlds."
"But you can't hold the Vulcans responsible for..."
"They are responsible!" T'Rask snapped. "And when we find a way to break their defenses, evoke the emotions they despise in us, their precious logic will crumble. They will know the taste of war once again, and the Federation will be ours to conquer!"
James tore her eyes away from the dead Vulcan, staring at the psychotic gleam in T'Rask's eyes. He's not just dangerous, she thought, swallowing hard. He's mad! Completely insane!
"Forgive me," the Romulan smiled. "I tend to become quite emotional when I discuss such matters. I am a passionate individual."
"Yes," James said, her voice a frightened whisper. "You are indeed."
Sulu wrapped his woolen cloak about him tightly, amazed at how the mist seemed to penetrate its folds. He was chilled to the bone, and it would soon be dawn. He paced back and forth in the arched doorway across from the hospital, staying in the shadows although the streets were deserted at this hour. The only sounds of life came from a couple of all-night bars several blocks away.
He began to wonder if she had left by another exit. He had been waiting here all night for her to reappear, and it was starting to look like she wouldn't. He thought longingly of a hot cup of coffee and warm shower. Suddenly, the nap he had taken yesterday afternoon did not seem long enough, and he smothered a tired yawn. So much for returning to the excitement of special services work, he thought with a rueful smile. It's not like you didn't know what you were getting into, so don't complain.
He leaned against the archway, shivering and mentally replaying his exchange with Chapel. He was convinced that she had not been acting. Doctor McCoy was right; there had not been a flicker of recognition in her eyes when she looked at him. She seemed frightened, almost frantic to get away, but that wasn't really surprising if she had lost her memory. Smart women didn't allow themselves to be picked up in bars, especially not here on N Hydrae III. It was a rough place, pretty much run by the merchants and slum lords. They were more concerned about guarding their investments than protecting the safety of the citizens.
Somehow he had to get her to trust him, convince her to come with him back to Starbase 13. Maybe it would not be so difficult; she apparently already wanted to go. But first he had to find her again, and that was proving more difficult than he had imagined. Damn!
Mister Spock rematerialized in a vacant side corridor of Starbase 13. He pocketed his communicator and took a step toward the starbase lounge where the captain and Doctor McCoy were waiting for him. He heard a furtive sound from behind him and turned as a heavy stun beam hit him. His eyes widened with astonishment just before he lost consciousness.
His assailant flipped open a communicator and grinned. "Flavin, I've got what we came looking for. T'Rask will pay a fine price for this one."
"He s-should," came the nervous reply through the speaker on the communicator. "We're taking a hell of a r-risk!"
"The quicker you beam us up, the less risky it'll be," came the calm response. "We'll have him on his way to Colony Ten before his crewmates even realize he's missing."
"Locked onto you now; s-standby for transport," the nervous voice replied. A moment later, the two figures sparkled and then disappeared.
James slipped into the gray pre-dawn mist, inhaling deeply the wood smoke scent in the cold, moist air, a welcome change from the antiseptic-smelling research lab.
"Research lab, my ass," she muttered, casting a nervous glance behind her. "More like a torture chamber!"
Eight hours in the presence of the Romulan researchers had stressed her acting abilities to the limit, and she could feel the tension in the muscles of her back and neck. She had decided that T'Rask was Elba II material, and the rest of his colleagues were either crazy or sociopathic or both. She shivered. She had thought that she was desperate, but she had been mistaken. Not even the threat of memory wiping could convince her to spend another shift as a party to what they were doing.
She walked away from the hospital, cutting through a dark alley to shorten her trip back to Liszt's. When she had made it halfway to the other side, she heard footsteps behind her and picked up her pace, resisting the impulse to turn around and see who was following her.
The footsteps, echoing on stone walls, became louder and the rhythm faster. James fancied that she heard muffled voices and suddenly the alley seemed entirely too long and dark. She cursed herself for taking the shortcut and broke into a near run, her heart pounding.
She could hear their breathing now as they gained on her. Fighting down her fear, she sprinted toward the comparative safety of the well-lit street, gasping for air. She was nearly there when a rough hand caught her shoulder, shoving her against the stone wall and pinning her against it.
"Aye, it's a pretty one this time," a heavily-accented voice grunted in her ear.
"Smells nice," another voice breathed.
James twisted and tried to run, but strong hands held her in place. "Let me go!" she cried, wriggling against the restraint. One of her assailants slapped her so hard across the face that she would have fallen if the other had not been holding her by the shoulders.
"Ye can be on yer way in just a few moments, little lady," her attacker assured her with a laugh. She could smell the alcohol on his breath and felt the unshaven bristle against her cheek. "We just want ye to be nice."
"We're a long way from home," the other slurred. "We miss the hospitality of our womenfolk."
James struggled as big hands groped beneath her cloak. "Please!" she gasped as the hands on her shoulders tightened. "No!" she screamed as cold fingers slipped beneath her tunic, tearing at the fabric.
She was forced down on the pavement, one attacker's mouth sliding over her lips with bruising force to stifle her screams while his companion tore at her clothes. She felt the fabric of her slacks give, the icy air against her bare flesh making her shiver. She writhed frantically to evade the rough hands that were rubbing over her exposed skin, but she could not break free. She managed to bite the lip of the one kissing her, and he retaliated with another hard slap.
"Hurry up," he muttered, one hand closing over her mouth. "Have yer turn on her, and let me."
"If she'd quit wigglin'," the other panted, fumbling with his trousers. "Damn near gelded me."
James screamed as her attacker pried her thighs apart, but the cupped hand muffled her cry, pressing harder until she couldn't inhale.
"Let her go," a calm voice ordered.
James looked up and saw a compact form outlined against the light from the street. The voice sounded familiar, but she could not place it.
"Wait yer turn," the one on top of her suggested.
The stranger acted so quickly that James did not even realize her had moved until the man over her was splattered against the opposite wall of the alley. The one holding her down swore, released her and dove for the newcomer. They rolled around and around on the pavement. James scrambled to her feet, gasping for air and ready to sprint to safety when she noticed the weapon that had fallen out of the stranger's pocket. She dove for it, clasping it in trembling fingers as the first attacker stumbled to his feet. He picked up a piece of pipe and staggered to where the two were struggling.
"Look out!" she shrieked in warning as he swung the pipe at her would-be rescuer. The man looked up just as the pipe connected with the side of his head. He collapsed on top of the attacker, unconscious.
"Stay back!" she cried, brandishing the weapon with one finger poised to fire, as the two heaved her rescuer aside and moved toward her. She was shivering now, her teeth chattering.
"Give me the phaser," one ordered. "Come on!"
A phaser! she thought, putting the name with the object, backing against the wall. She looked at the setting--heavy stun. Now how did she know that?
"Give it," her attacker repeated. "And we'll let ye go."
James braced herself, firing on the approaching twosome, gratified when they dropped to the pavement.
Expelling a sigh of relief, she skirted around them to kneel beside the man who had tried to stop them. He was trying to get up, bleeding from a gash over his right eye. James recognized him as the man in the bar.
"I stunned them," she explained, trying to control her shivering. "We'd better get out of here. Can you get up?"
"I think so," he said, wincing. "I've got one hell of a headache!"
"You're bleeding," she observed. "Look, I'm a nurse. You need some attention; that's a nasty cut."
"My room is just a few blocks from here," he suggested as she pulled him to his feet. "We can go there."
James nodded. She really didn't want to take him back to Sasha's, and she couldn't just leave him here in the street, bleeding as he was. Not after what he had done for her. "Fine, just tell me how to get there."
James put one arm around him to steady him as they moved toward the light.
"Nogura is really being good about this, letting the Potemkin take our survey assignment," Kirk said, swirling the snifter of Saurian brandy and gazing into the amber fluid.
"He ought to, damn him," McCoy retorted, looking around the starbase lounge and stretching against the cushions of their booth. "It's his fault Chris went in there to begin with. When's he gonna stop recruitin' for Special Services from starships? I thought it was supposed to be a separate department."
"It is, but it's hard to find people who are qualified. We take pride in being the best in the fleet, and sometimes that makes us indispensable."
McCoy grunted and looked toward the door. "What's keepin' Spock? I thought he was gonna join us."
"Probably got tied up in Engineering," Kirk said, pulling out his communicator. "Kirk to Enterprise."
"Enterprise, Lieutenant Commander Uhura here," the voice replied.
"Would you tell Mister Spock that Doctor McCoy and I are waiting for him?"
"But Mister Spock beamed down nearly a half hour ago. He called me from the transporter room to tell me he was leaving."
Kirk exchanged a glance with McCoy, frowning. "We'll find him, Uhura. He must be around here somewhere."
"Aye, sir," she replied. "Enterprise out."
"That's not like Spock," McCoy mused as Kirk waved for the check.
"No. That's not like him at all."
James helped Sulu onto the narrow bed in his room and went to the bathroom. She returned with a wet cloth, shrugging her cape to the floor.
"Hold still. This is going to hurt."
Sulu nodded, recalling how many times she had ministered to him aboard the Enterprise, nursing him through everything from Rigellian fever to Altairean Spru.
"This needs protoplaser suturing," she muttered, wincing as she examined the ragged edges of flesh. "I think you need to go to the hospital."
"No," he said quickly--too quickly.
James smiled. "So you've got a past, too. Welcome to the club."
"Just don't want to answer a lot of questions."
"It's okay. I'm hiding out, too. Look, I have a pretty good medical kit where I'm staying. I'll go and get it."
"Don't leave," he pleaded, concerned that if she left she would not return.
"It'll only take a moment."
Sulu frowned as she stooped to pick up her cloak, trying to think of a way to keep her from leaving. "I feel nauseous," he announced, holding his head in his hands. "Like I need to throw up."
"That isn't a good sign," she whispered, moving back to his side. She lifted his head and looked into his eyes, examining his pupils.
"Don't leave me," he repeated. Actually, he wasn't faking much. His head was swimming, and he did feel a little sick to his stomach. He heard her sigh.
"I'll call my roommate and have her bring my medical kit. Will that be all right?"
"Fine," he whispered in genuine gratitude, now not faking at all. "I think I'm going to be sick."
James grabbed a trash can and held his head while he heaved into it. He had not eaten for hours so there was little to come up. When he was through, she eased him down on his side and moved to the telescreen, punching in a code.
"He's not on the starbase, Jim," McCoy said as he met the captain in the corridor outside Commodore Turner's office. Kirk saw the concern in the doctor's eyes, recognizing how much Spock meant to McCoy in spite of their child-like bickering.
"And he's not on the ship. Uhura just completed a Priority One search," Kirk replied with a sigh. "I'm having Turner authorize a search of all trade ships still in orbit, but two have left since he was last seen."
"Great! Just add another Vulcan to the list of missin'? First Chris forgets who she is, and now Spock gets shanghaied."
"I'm going to find him, Bones," Kirk said, hazel eyes flashing. "Turner said something about reporting Spock AWOL."
"He knows better than that," McCoy snapped. "He's just afraid to admit that his security isn't what it ought to be. What are the names of the two ships that have already left the base?"
Kirk squinted at the computer print out. "The Flying Whore, that's Marnita Martini's ship..."
"You know Marnita," McCoy interrupted with a slow grin. "She might have an eye for Vulcans, but kidnappin' is definitely not her style."
"You're right, Bones," Kirk agreed, smiling in spite of himself. "I've never known Marnita to be without willing male companionship."
"What's the other ship?" McCoy prompted, his smile fading.
"The Vagabond," Kirk read, holding the paper out so he could focus on the tiny print. "I don't know the captain or any of the crew; destination is filed as...N Hydrae Three!"
"Bingo!" McCoy whispered.
Kirk pulled out his communicator, his expression thunderous.
"What'cha gonna do, Jim?"
"Call Nogura," Kirk replied, flipping open the grid. "This is no coincidence, and I've had enough of sitting around!"
Liszt knocked on the door and gasped at the sight of her friend when she answered it. James had a large blue bruise under one eye, and her clothing was in shreds.
"Come in," James ordered, pulling Liszt into the dimly lit room and slamming the door behind her.
"What happened?" Liszt gasped.
"Nearly got raped. Walter here saved me, then I saved him. It's a long story." She started rifling through the contents of her medical kit. "Great, you got the protoplaser!"
"I'm on break, and if I don't have it back in twenty minutes, I'll be on the unemployment line."
"It'll only take a minute," James nodded, calibrating the unit expertly and setting the anesthetic hypo.
Liszt stared at her. "How do you know how to use that, Chris? I don't know any nursing school that teaches stuff like that, not even on Earth!"
"I had a good teacher," James grinned. "Leonard used to let me..." She stopped, the color draining from her face.
Sulu sat up, straining to catch her expression.
"What?" Liszt prompted. "Leonard used to let you what?"
James' face crumpled, and she closed her eyes. "Damn!"
"You almost remembered, didn't you?" Liszt said. "Who's Leonard?"
James opened her eyes, the crystal blue clouded with tears. "I can't remember, Sasha! God, it was right there, and then it was gone."
"It's okay," Liszt assured her. "It's okay, Chris." She hugged the other woman tightly. Sulu watched the exchange with interest. After a moment, James drew a shuddering breath and stepped back from Liszt.
"Let me close this up and get you back to work, Lightfingers."
"That's what the Vegan shore patrol call me," Liszt teased. She winked at Sulu. "You're in good hands, Walter."
"I know," he replied, relaxing as James performed the precise surgical reconnection with practiced ease.
Spock awoke in darkness, sensing the throbbing of a ship's engines beneath him. He sat up and uttered a sigh of gratitude that there was no light. His head was pounding, and it was much easier to control the pain in the merciful darkness. He engaged a light healing trance, and a few moments later the discomfort subsided, leaving him to concentrate on where he was.
His Vulcan sense of inertia told him that the ship was in warp, and he estimated the speed at six or seven. He made a circuit of the small room, using his excellent night vision to make out a few objects in the near total darkness. The cell had not originally been constructed as a brig, but whoever had adjusted it for that purpose knew what they were doing. Without a weapon of some sort, he could not escape, and the furnishings had been carefully selected to thwart such an attempt. There was not even a telescreen to tap into. He paced the room again, and satisfied that he could not find an avenue of escape, sank onto the bunk. He slipped into a light meditative state to achieve mastery of the unavoidable and wait for an opportunity to change his situation.
Somewhere deep inside him, his Human half wondered if Kirk knew he was missing. He drew himself up, posture erect and attempted to erase his concern. The captain would do what he must, just as he had always done. He would do the same. His breathing slowed and steadied, his pulse dropping to a rate that was slow even for a Human. He maintained and controlled, but the flicker of concern remained, the spark of worry that separated him from full-blooded Vulcans. He wondered where the Enterprise was and hoped all was well with her.
"I'm telling you that he was kidnapped!" Kirk said with forced patience, gritting his teeth to keep from shouting. "You know as well as I do that Spock would not just disappear like this. He's never..."
"I agree," Nogura said, his expression as emotionless as any Vulcan. "And I believe that you might be right about there being a connection to the Romulans, but I cannot sanction another agent to investigate. We have sent in three already; Hernandez is missing, presumed dead, now Chapel is missing after seeming to suffer some type of amnesia, and Sulu has not checked in for the last twelve hours. I know you think I have ice water for blood, but I must answer to the Federation Council, and they are going to pitch a fit about this."
"Let me take the Enterprise--"
"No," Nogura interrupted. "You cannot go barging in there with a starship. I know you are worried about your people, all of them. I understand what you are going through, but try to be reasonable. At this point, we have no proof that there is anything going on N Hydrae Three to violate our treaty with them. The Romulans would love to see us break that treaty; they have wanted Colony Ten for years, and if the treaty is broken by us, they could conceivably move right in. We cannot risk a show of force until we have proof, solid proof."
"I can't just sit around and do nothing!"
"That is precisely what we are both going to do. I am hoping that Sulu will check in soon. Until then, all we can do is wait."
"Twenty-four hours," Kirk said, sighing in resignation. "And then commission or not, I'm going to take action. You can only court-martial me once."
"It had better not come to that," Nogura insisted. "No one else wants your ship, that is why you still have her. Ever since that V'ger thing, you have been pretty much doing as you damn well please. Do not forget who is in charge."
"I can't," Kirk grinned. "You won't let me. Seriously though, if we don't hear from Sulu in twenty-four hours..."
"In twenty-four hours, we will re-evaluate the situation," Nogura said with a sign. "Until then you are to remain at Starbase."
"Aye, sir," Kirk muttered in disappointment.
"They are good officers," Nogura assured. "I am sure they will be fine."
"Yeah," Kirk replied, sounding unconvinced. He snapped the comlink off.
James walked Liszt to the door and the other nurse smiled.
"You look like hell, Chris."
"Thanks," James replied grinning. "But I'm really fine. I'll be home to change sometime."
"You're staying with him?" Liszt questioned in surprise.
"He's got a concussion," James reminded, keeping her voice low, so as not to disturb her sleeping patient. "Besides, I owe him. He practically saved my life."
"But you've got to work for T'Rask tonight. If you stay up all day..."
"I'm not going back there," James interrupted, closing her eyes briefly as if to shut out the images. "What T'Rask is doing, Sasha...it's not what you thought. It's...it's worse than murder."
Liszt paled. "What are you talking about?"
"Live experiments. God, it was the most horrible thing I've ever seen. T'Rask is killing people, Vulcans...I have no idea how many, but I saw one die last night, and he died so violently..." Her voice trailed off and it took a moment for her to regain her composure. "He's not just inhumane, he's stark raving mad. He threatened me, made some comment about people betraying him living to regret it."
"I had no idea," Liszt whispered, her expression a reflection of her friend's. "No wonder they're so secretive! I'm sorry! If I had known--"
"If you had known, you never would have suggested it," James murmured, biting her lip. "I managed to put in my shift last night without arousing any suspicion, but I have no intention of going back. Ripping off Federation pharmaceutical patents is one thing; biochemical experimentation on sentient life is quite another."
"Absolutely," Liszt agreed, her color returning to normal. "Listen, I've got to get back to the hospital, but if T'Rask is doing what you say, neither of us is going to be safe once he finds out that you're not working for him tonight."
"I know. It looks like I've not only made things worse for me, but for you as well."
"No! Listen, I told you that I've been thinking of moving on anyway. You've finally given me the perfect reason. I don't know how yet, but somehow we're going to get off this dreary rock, both of us."
"But how? We're broke; we have no place to go."
"There are ways," Liszt said with a mischievous grin. "And I'm not talking about Romulan mad scientists now, either. I have other skills besides nursing, and I haven't earned the nickname `Lightfingers' for nothing, you know. It's not like I haven't done it before. If we're lucky, I can get us shuttle fare and a hefty bribe in a few nights. If we can get Walter to let us hide out here--"
"You can't! James interrupted. "Sasha, I can't let you do that."
"Hey, it's okay. I don't like to brag, but I'm a pretty good pickpocket. Besides, I never steal from anyone who's sober. That's the key. Two good nights at the Paradise, and we can kiss Hydrae Three goodbye."
"Don't get uptight on me now, Chris," Liszt insisted. "It's no big deal, and it's our only chance to get free. Listen, I'll go back now and finish out my shift. Heinrich owes me some credits, and I'll make him pay them back with interest if I have to aim a laser scalpel between his legs to do it."
James smiled in spite of herself.
"Then I'll head back to my place and toss some things into a bag and meet you here. T'Rask will start looking for us at my place, and if your new friend here returns the favor you just did him, we're in business."
"You're really something," James whispered.
"I'm a realist," Liszt amended, giving her a hug. "That's why I've survived this long. You take care of Walter, and I'll be back before you know it."
Liszt was out the door and down the narrow corridor so quickly that she didn't hear James' whispered "Be careful." She closed the door behind her friend and locked it, turning back to her patient. He was sleeping now, his respiration easy. She sat beside the bed on a low stool, touching his shoulder.
"Walter," she whispered, shaking him. "Walter, can you hear me?"
"Chris? Don't leave me!"
"I'm not going anywhere, but I'm going to be waking you every little bit to make sure that I can. Do you understand?"
"Yeah," he muttered, reaching out to take her hand. "I'm so glad I found you. Doctor McCoy was worried, I've got to call him and tell him..."
"Walter," she said with a frown, wondering if he was becoming disoriented. "Walter, wake up!"
"Walter? Who's Walter?"
"Walter, you have a concussion and you need to try to stay awake!" she insisted. "Come on, wake up!"
"Are we back on the ship?" he asked, opening his eyes and looking about the room in confusion. "This isn't Sickbay!"
"We're on Colony Ten," she prompted, checking his pupils again. "Remember? I got attacked in the alley, and you tried to save me?"
"Should have just stunned them," he murmured. "Took a hell of a chance."
"We're safe now," she assured. "But you've got to stay awake."
"Chris, don't leave," he pleaded, his grip on her hand growing tighter. "Stay with me. I've got to get us on the shuttle to Starbase Thirteen. Terrible mess...you can't remember."
She stared at him, wondering what he was talking about.
"Damn Romulans," he whispered, staring at her with bright eyes. "They're behind all this. If they find out who you are..."
"Who I am?" she questioned, her stomach muscles tightening as if against a physical blow. She recalled the look on his face in the bar when she had first met him. Almost one of recognition. Why would he be talking about Romulans and her not remembering? How could he know those things? Moreover, was it really just a coincidence that he'd happened to be in that alley tonight?
"Who am I?" she repeated. "Do you know me?"
His eyes focused on her face and he smiled, putting one hand out to brush the bruise on her cheek. "Of course I do," he said softly. "You're Chris Chapel."
"Chapel?" she echoed, but the name evoked no recollection. "How do you know me?" she questioned.
"Sickbay," he said, his eyes fluttering closed. "We must be in Sickbay now. I was so cold waiting for you out there, so cold and wet. We must be in Sickbay. It's warm in Sickbay..."
"Walter!" she called urgently. "Walter, wake up!"
"Hikaru," he corrected in drowsy tones. "Why do you keep calling me Walter? You know my name is Hikaru."
James tried to rouse him again but he had fallen into a deep, unconscious state. She sighed, brushing a stray lock of hair back from his temple. She remained beside him, holding his limp hand, staring at his sharp profile and trying to remember something. Anything at all.
Just as Spock had known that the ship had been in warp when he awoke, he knew when it dropped to impulse. He had waited until his body told him the ship was locked in an orbit and then roused from his trance. He rose from his bunk just moments before the door slid open. He stared at the two figures silhouetted against the doorway and cleared his throat.
"I demanded an explanation."
"Lights," one of the individuals said, and the room gradually became lighter. "Dead men don't need explanations, Vulcan," the other said, leveling a phaser at his chest. Spock could not tell if it was set to kill from this angle, but he froze. The other man pulled a hypo out of his pocket and advanced on the first officer.
"Don't try anything," he ordered. "This is just s-something to put you to s-sleep."
Spock held still until his kidnaper was level with him, partially blocking him from the sight of the one with the phaser. Just as he raised the hypo to administer the injection, Spock twisted, hurling his assailant at the one with the phaser. The hypo clattered to the floor, and the phaser went off with a high pitched whine and flash of light.
In spite of his quick action, Spock was hit by over half of the beam, which was set to heavy stun. Spock dove low, hoping to knock the phaser out of the kidnaper's hand, but his numb legs stumbled clumsily over the prone form of the man who had attempted to inject him. The phaser whined again and this time Spock felt the stun beam hit him full force. He crumpled, falling beside his unconscious captor with a dull thud.
Sulu woke at dusk, looking about in confusion. He realized where he was and sat up, his head spinning dizzily. His hand went to his head, feeling the bandage, and he held still for a moment, closing his eyes as he fought an urge to be sick.
When he opened his eyes again he saw Doctor Chapel sleeping on a low stool beside him, her cheek cushioned on the bed. He recalled what had happened as if through a fog and touched her shoulder.
"Oh," she said, sitting up and noting his lucid expression. "You're awake!"
"How long have I been out?"
She yawned and looked at her chrono. "Hours. It's nearly six. How do you feel?"
"Not great," he admitted, wincing as he swung his legs over the edge of the bed. His eyes fell on her tattered clothing and bruised face. "How about you?"
"Sore," she said with a smile. "But it could have been a lot worse. Thanks."
"Just lucky I happened along."
"Very fortunate. Exactly what were you doing out at that hour?"
"Taking an early morning walk. It's a habit of mine."
"Do you also make a habit of picking women up in bars?"
"Only pretty ones."
"You can do better than that, Hikaru."
His eyes widened and he stared at her. "You can remember?"
She shook her head. "No, but you know me--don't you?"
He nodded, "How did you know my name?"
"You were babbling just before you lost consciousness, and when I kept calling you Walter..."
"I supplied my real name," he groaned. "Thank God it was you and not someone else! Did I give my rank and serial number too?"
She pulled away from him, panic filling her. "Rank? Oh God!" she whispered. "That's why you're here. You're from Starfleet!"
"Hey, it's okay!" he said gently, wondering how Starfleet could frighten her so. He rose from the bed, holding his hands out to her. "Let me explain."
"You're not taking me back!" she cried, backing away from him, her eyes wild. "I'm not going back to rehab! I'll die first!"
"Rehab?" he echoed in confusion. "Who said anything about rehab?"
"That's why they sent you here," she breathed, her voice almost a sob. "To find me and bring me back. You said so yourself!"
"Right," he agreed. "But how did you get rehab out of all this? I just want to take you back to the Enterprise. Doctor McCoy is..."
"Is he the one who did this to me?" she questioned, tears filling her eyes. "God, and I thought you were okay. I felt safe with you!"
"Chris, you've got this all mixed up. Sure they sent me here to find you, but not to..."
Chapel darted for the door, cursing herself for locking it when Sasha left. She fumbled blindly with the lock, tears filling her eyes. Strong hands caught her shoulders and pulled her away from the door.
"Chris," Sulu whispered urgently. "I'm your friend, I would never do anything to hurt you. Trust me."
"Please!" she struggled against him, frantic to get away. "Please!" Just let me go!"
He swayed, still unsteady on his feet, and she broke away from him, making for the door again. He grabbed her just as she managed to open the door, pulling her back into the room and slamming it closed. She fell against the bed and sank to the floor, sobbing.
Leaning against the door, Sulu heaved a deep breath and fought a wave of nausea. He hit the lock and staggered to Chapel's side, gathering her up into his arms and pulling her up onto the bed.
"Please!" she whispered. "I can't go through it again. Don't you see? I can't remember anything now. If they wipe me again there won't be anything left!"
"It's okay," he murmured, realization dawning. "No one is going to wipe you, and you weren't in rehab. Losing your memory was just an accident. I've come to take you home."
"I can't even remember where home is," she cried in frustration, burying her head in his shoulder. "He told me to trust no one; he warned me!"
"Who?" Sulu questioned, grabbing her shoulders and pulling back so he could see her face. "Who told you that? Mister Spock?"
"Spock?" she echoed and her face lit up. "Mister Spock!" she repeated in excitement before she creased her forehead into a frown. "I can't remember what he looks like, but I can hear his voice."
"Yes!" Sulu prompted. "He briefed you for this mission! Can you remember anything else?"
She closed her eyes in concentration. "The...the ship," she whispered in faltering tones. "I can see Sickbay, recognize the equipment. That's where I worked, wasn't it?"
"You're assistant chief medical officer aboard the starship Enterprise, Chris! You're a Starfleet officer!"
Her eyes flew open and she stared at him in disbelief. "Then why..."
"You were sent here on a special undercover assignment." he explained. "Somehow the thought preparation backfired, and you ended up forgetting who you were and why you were here. Do you remember Doctor McCoy calling you?"
"Leonard! Leonard McCoy!" she gasped. "That man, no wonder he looked so familiar! He was calling from Sickbay, from the ship!"
"Right! Is it starting to come back now?"
"Just bits and pieces," she murmured, staring at him. She looked at his dark hair and finely chiseled features, something so familiar. She recalled an ache of longing, a deep emotion.
"Are we..." She blushed, and tried again, looking into his face, its open, honest expression. "I mean, you and I...have we ever been lovers?"
Sulu chuckled, a joyful, distinctive sound that washed away her fear and embarrassment and warmed her like no memory could.
"Never," he replied, mirth lighting up his eyes. He took one of her hands and drew it up to his mouth, his lips brushing against it softly. "My loss, m'lady."
She smiled and then frowned, scrutinizing his face. "That's strange," she murmured. "I was so sure..."
"Well, if you've been harboring a crush on me, I'd like to know," he teased. "That way I can respond accordingly."
"I'll let you know as soon as I remember," she teased in return. "Tell me, what was I supposed to be doing?"
"Investigating rumors that Romulans are conducting illegal bioresearch here, but don't worry about that. We're catching the next shuttle out of here, and Admiral Nogura can send..."
"Romulans!" she cried, clutching his shoulder. She told him about T'Rask's laboratory in an excited rush. He listened, his eyes narrowing as she related the suffering of the Vulcan subject.
"Then the disappearances are tied in with this," he said, rising to go to the telescreen. "I want you to tell Captain Kirk what you just told me. That way he and Mister Spock can brief another agent to come in and get the proof we need."
"What about me?" Chapel asked. "I can testify."
"You can't even remember your full mane." Sulu said gently. "Besides, the Council requires more than a witness. They'll want some kind of objective information..."
"Like a copy of the lab records on the computer?" she interrupted.
"Yeah," he agreed. "Physical evidence."
"I can get that," Chapel offered, her eyes bright. "T'Rask is expecting me to work for him tonight. I'm supposed to organize his laboratory files. It would be easy to get the proof the Council needs, and we could still catch the morning shuttle."
Sulu shook his head. "No, it's too risky."
"You know perfectly well that it might take weeks, months for another agent to develop a cover. It would take even longer to get inside the lab. It's a perfect opportunity! It's what I came here to do," she added when he showed no signs of relenting.
"That was before you lost your memory," he reminded. "Not only have you forgotten your special services training, your briefing, and a good chunk of your past, but our thought preparation has failed. If the Romulans catch you--"
"If I can't remember anything, then I can't give away any secrets. Besides, I'm not going to get caught."
"You don't know that," Sulu countered. "My orders were to bring you back."
"And you will," she assured. "On the morning shuttle. It's not going to delay our departure, and it's going to save lives."
"I'll let Captain Kirk decide," Sulu said, keying in a subspace code. "We'll brief him and then he can..."
Chapel cleared the screen with a jab of her forefinger. "No!"
"You don't want me to contact him, because you know he'll forbid you to go in there," Sulu accused.
"I don't remember him," she responded with a wistful smile. "Is he a worry wart like you?"
"Worse," Sulu confirmed.
"Come on, Hikaru," she pleaded. "You can wait outside just in case. At the first sign of trouble, I'll just leave."
"It's not that simple."
"Yes, it is," she insisted. "You didn't see that poor Vulcan suffering! If you had, you wouldn't be arguing with me about this. I have no idea how many T'Rask has killed already, but I'm not going to stand by and do nothing when I have a chance to stop him. You say I'm a Starfleet officer--don't they take some kind of oath to protect citizens of the Federation?"
Sulu nodded uncomfortably.
"I thought so," she said, her voice softening. "But I took another oath too, one I can remember, and it's on I can't ignore. I'm a physician, a healer. I've pledged my life to make people well. If I don't do everything in my power to stop T'Rask, I'll be abandoning that oath, condemning innocent people to a horrible death to protect my own safety. I can't do that, Hikaru. You wouldn't do that, and neither would Chris Chapel."
Sulu stared at her for a long moment, wondering why he had never before noticed how beautiful she was. He looked past her shredded clothing and the dirt and bruises on her face, seeing not just physical beauty, but the beauty of her spirit.
"Please!" she begged.
Sulu's hand fell from the telescreen and he heaved a sigh of resignation. "All right, but I'm going to wire you for sound, and at the first sign of trouble..."
Chapel threw her arms around him and hugged him. "Great!" she cried. "You won't regret it!"
"I'm regretting it already," he whispered.
Spock fought the effects of the drug they had injected him with, his mind fighting to clear itself of the gray mist that threatened oblivion. He heard voices and hurried his consciousness toward them, focusing in on the words, drawing strength from his inner reserves.
"You are getting greedy, My'Yang," one voice said.
"I have expenses," came the reply, a voice Spock recognized as one of his kidnapers. "Besides, I've been supplying you well."
"I need more," the first voice said. "Can you get them?"
"For a price."
"I cannot afford your prices."
"Then get your own subjects. Let me tell you, it's not easy; I take big risks. My partner is sleeping off a phaser stun he took when this one tried to get free."
"I will take him, but I am only giving you five hundred credits."
"Seven hundred." same the quick response. "Believe me, it would be worth that much to slit his Vulcan throat myself."
"Six," the first voice hedged, "And if you bring me two more, I will pay you six-fifty for each of them."
"Better go easy on them, T'Rask," Spock's kidnaper advised. "The supply is getting scarce. We've practically cleaned out this sector. If I have to go to the nearest Vulcan colony, it's going to cost you double."
"What about the starbases?" T'Rask questioned anxiously.
"That's where we got him!" came the arrogant reply. "Six-fifty, or I take him back to my ship."
"All right, all right. But I'm warning you..."
"You don't threaten me!" the kidnaper grunted. "Or I cut you off. Just try to get what you need from another supplier. Just try!"
While one part of Spock's mind followed the heated conversation, another assessed his environment. He was strapped to a firm, horizontal surface which was padded like one of Sickbay's diagnostic tables. He bunched his muscles against the restraint, finding it to be quite strong. The air in here had an antiseptic scent and it was very well lit; he could sense that, even through his closed eyelids. The argument was winding down, and the voices moved away from him. He listened intently, hearing only the sound of his own respirations. Cautiously he opened his eyes. He was in a small laboratory, surrounded by medical equipment. There was another bed beside him, but it was empty. Instead of his uniform, he wore a diagnostic coverall. He heard footsteps approaching.
"...sorry to hear of your accident last night." The voice was of the man who had purchased him. "I should have escorted you home myself. Colony Ten is not safe after dark, especially for an attractive woman like yourself."
"Thank you, T'Rask," came a gentle reply in an unmistakably familiar voice. "No real harm was done." Spock realized where he must be.
"Before you start work on the files, I have another task for you. We have just received a new subject, and I need a complete work-up. I am going to be busy preparing the revised formula for administration. Do you think that you and Sh'nar can manage without me?"
"Yes," she responded. Spock caught a flicker of emotion in her tone which he identified as anger. Had she recognized him?
"Excellent. I knew that I could count on you. The computer will give you the tests required, and when you have compiled your report, let me know. Sh'nar can answer any questions you might have."
Spock heard T'Rask leave and then concentrated on the conversation between Doctor Chapel and the technician who was assisting her.
"Shall we start with a complete chemistry profile?" Chapel questioned.
"Yes," came the response.
"Then I'll obtain a sample while you calibrate the biocomp."
Spock felt Chapel's fingers brushing against his arm as she drew a blood sample, tightening his mental shields against the contact as he recalled McCoy's theory that she might be suffering from amnesia.
Her gaze flickered over the handsome features of the man strapped to the diagnostic bed and wondered how many others T'Rask had killed. The brutality of it enraged her. She drew her palm against the side of the Vulcan's face, experiencing a strange sense of...déjà vu? She paused for a moment, frowning as she tried to recall what had sparked the sensation, but it was gone...She sighed. The quicker she could get that information and get out of here, the better.
Sulu stood outside the hospital in the thick gray mist, listening to what was transpiring in the lab. He frowned as he heard T'Rask's orders to Chapel. She needed to get at the computer files in his office. He had hoped that she would be spared any direct contact with the subjects. He didn't know how well she could cover her revulsion for what they were doing in the research lab, and he was concerned that she might arouse suspicion by refusing to perform some task she considered inhuman.
Bouncing impatiently on his toes, he heaved a frustrated sigh. This waiting was wearing at him. He would much rather be in the lab now, with Chapel out here listening. In spite of her assurances, he was not entirely certain that she was up to this.
She stared at the nearly completed profile. It contained irregularities, values abnormal for a Vulcan. Some seemed almost Human. She frowned, studying the graphic readout. The sensation of deja/ vu engulfed her again. As strange as these readings were, they seemed right, familiar! She turned and looked about the diagnostic lab. There was no one there but the subject. Sh'nar had stepped out into the main lab for a moment to run a tissue sample through the electron microscope. Lowering her gaze to the Vulcan, she was somehow not surprised to see he had regained consciousness. Dark eyes followed her movement to his side and watched silently as she retrieved a hypo filled with a heavy tranquilizer.
She paused, unable to tear her gaze from his, wondering why she could not bring herself to give the injection. Unlike T'Rask's formula, it would do him no harm, merely put him to sleep.
"You're awake," she whispered.
She stared at him in astonishment. Something about that velvet voice evoked a hazy memory.
"How do you know my name?" she demanded, her heart pounding. Before he could offer a response, Sh'nar returned. The Vulcan closed his eyes, and Chris replaced the unused hypo on the table, her fingers trembling.
"Have you taken the electroencephalogram yet?" Sh'nar questioned as she stored the results of the microscopic examination on the electronic clipboard.
"I'm just about to do it," she responded, amazed that her voice sounded so normal.
"That should finish the profile," Sh'nar acknowledged, flicking through the results screen by screen. "T'Rask has asked that I assist him with the final analysis of the new formula. Unless you require further assistance..."
"No. I'll finish this up. Go ahead and assist T'Rask, and tell him I'll have the completed profile for him shortly."
The Romulan female nodded, leaving the room. As soon as the door closed behind her, the Vulcan's eyes opened again.
"Christine," he repeated, his eyes mesmerizing her. "Do you know me?"
She scanned the satanic features, frowning in concentration until a sharp pain began to throb in her head. Although Sulu had told her that her name was Chris Chapel, Christine had to be her full name and coming from this man it seemed not only accurate but somehow familiar. She leaned against the table as another wave of pain sliced through her, tears welling up in her eyes as she struggled to remember.
"No," she breathed, her tone almost a frustrated sob. "There's something, but I can't seem to..." Her voice caught as her headache became unbearable. She bent further over him, her expression contorted with pain.
Spock pulled against the restraints, straining to cover her trembling hand with his own. She tensed as a psionic message flowed into her mind, attempting to pull back from him.
"Let go!" she whispered fiercely.
Do not fear me, he assured her through the mental link. He projected soothing images, reassuring her that he would do nothing to hurt her. You know me.
"I can't remember," she sobbed, now no longer fighting his iron grip.
I can help you remember, he offered. Will you allow it?
She was torn between a desire to reclaim her life and a fear of allowing this stranger access to her mind. But he's no stranger, a voice reminded her. He called you by name.
"You know me?" she prompted. "We're friends?"
She heard what might have been a chuckle through the connecting link, and as it faded she thought she also heard a sigh. Yes, Christine, he assured in a bemused tone. We are indeed.
She felt the link tighten. Foggy images, gray, colorless scenes played across her thoughts. She saw herself standing beside this Vulcan, talking with him. Then she saw another man join them, the one she had managed to recall at least by name if not by personality. She heard familiar tones answered with a snappish, "Damn it, Spock!"
"Spock!" she breathed in half recognition. "You're Mister Spock!"
Yes, he confirmed in approval. There is little time, Christine. Allow me to assist you in regaining all of your memories.
She offered no verbal response, twisting her hand in his to return his grasp, squeezing it to signal her permission.
Spock pierced through the swirling mist that surrounded her past, plunging through the man-made barricades to reach her memories. While he freed her recollections of the past, he absorbed the details of her present experiences, compiling an account of her situation and noting with satisfaction that Sulu was standing by to assist her in escaping. Sensing her reaction to his ministrations, he emerged from the depths of her consciousness, returning to mind-meld himself but maintaining the link, a slender tether of communication. Chapel, overwhelmed by the sudden release of memories, sagged over him, her grip on his hand tightening.
"Spock!" she mouthed soundlessly, her psionic tone now one of full recognition. Spock projected warmth and reassurance through the link, murmuring reassurances in a curious mixture of Vulcan and English.
Chapel sensed the comfort and intent of the words, if not the literal translation, recalling another time when their minds had merged. She straightened up, her eyes flying open as she regained her composure. He released her hand and she felt a momentary surge of loss. There was something euphoric in that alien contact, a compelling force that she would always categorize as tantalizing, perhaps even sensual. She met his gaze once again, fighting vainly to keep from blushing.
"You must obtain the information, Doctor," he instructed, his tone and expression somehow incongruent with the warm emanations that had filled her mind just a moment ago. She smiled. That was Spock's way, hiding behind a wall of pretense. She had forgotten how vulnerable he was. Her smile faded. She had forgotten many things.
"I can't leave you," she said. "T'Rask will kill you!"
Spock looked up into the depths of her blue eyes. He saw complete recognition there as well as a spark of what Humans would label concern. On another level, he sensed a deeper emotion which she always projected toward him in spite of her attempt to shield it.
"You have your orders, Commander," he said, the formal address reminding her of her position in the chain of command. He noted the naked worry in her eyes and suppressed an illogical desire to take her hand again to reassure her.
She shook her head. "There has to be a way to get the information and free you as well. I couldn't live with myself if I just..."
"The risk factor in such a plan is unacceptable," he interrupted in his most commanding tone. "Obtain the information and escape while you can!"
He saw the stubborn tilt to her chin, recognizing the flash in her eyes as defiance, but before she could respond to his command the door from the outer lab opened and T'Rask entered.
"Is the testing complete?"
"Nearly," Chapel responded, grateful that she had her back turned to the door. She glanced down at Spock who was again pretending to be unconscious. She composed her expression and reached for the leads to attach to Spock's head. "All that's left is the electroencephalogram."
"I will do that," T'Rask offered. "Would you access the lab data on the last specimen and do a printout? It will be easier to compare responses with the facts in hand."
"Of course," Chapel agreed, handing T'Rask the leads and moving toward the door.
"And when you are done we can commence with this subject," the Romulan added. "Were all the values within normal limits?"
Chapel paused, frowning. "Perhaps you'd better check them over, T'Rask. Some of them seemed unusual. He seems to be of mixed ancestry."
"But primarily Vulcan?" T'Rask prompted, looking up.
"Oh, yes. Whatever the other race is, the Vulcan characteristics are definitely dominant."
"This is not a crucial test," T'Rask murmured, turning his attention back to Spock. "For our purposes, I am certain he will do."
In other words, you're not picky about who you murder, Chapel thought savagely as she left the room.
Sulu had been listening with growing unease since Spock's first words came over the receiver. The one-sided conversation during the mind touch had nearly driven him into a frenzy. When T'Rask burst into the room, Sulu started for the entrance to the research building, determined to phaser his way through the locked door. He paused at the doorway when it became apparent that Chapel was pulling off her performance.
"Good girl," he murmured, straining to hear any conversation after she left the diagnostic lab. He heard the swish of T'Rask's office door closing and Chapel's heavy sigh.
"Hikaru, I hope you're listening, because I'm about to disobey orders, and I'm going to need your help."
"It's been over twenty-four hours since Sulu's last check-in," Kirk reminded, making a valiant attempt to sound reasonable.
"Yes, I am aware of that," Nogura responded, his Asian accent nearly disappearing as he lapsed into the precise, clipped Standard that was Kirk's only indication that the Commanding Admiral was worried.
"Request permission to--"
"Jim," Nogura interrupted with a sharp wave of one hand. "Since you are going to do something with or without my approval, I have a plan."
"Jameson and Caldwell have just returned from Tellar, and they are already en route to Colony Ten via Med-Evac shuttle. It is the fastest warp drive vessel we could spare."
"It'll be almost two days before they reach Hydrae!" Kirk exploded.
"Hear me out," Nogura insisted. "I am cutting orders for the Enterprise to patrol in Quadrant Nine, Sector Five. You are to leave at once."
"Sector Five?" Kirk echoed, frowning.
"That is correct, and you are to keep patrolling that sector until further notice."
Kirk broke into a broad grin. "Aye, sir."
"Do not start with the 'aye, sirs' until you hear me out. You are not to orbit Hydrae Three, or send anyone down, and that is an order. If you disobey me on this, Jim, I will have you back at a desk in the Admiralty Building so fast that warp speed will pale in comparison. Do you understand?"
Kirk's grin faded, and he nodded, a curt bobbing of his head. "Aye, sir," he repeated, this time his frustration apparent.
"You are there as a back-up," Nogura added, shaking his head apologetically. "That is the very best I can do under the circumstances. Please make every attempt to appear inconspicuous. I have no desire to answer to the Council for what might be construed as an unnecessary show of force."
"Understood, Admiral," Kirk replied through gritted teeth.
Nogura eyed his most experienced, valuable starship commander and sighed. Kirk was good, damn good, and Commander-Starfleet knew it. Moreover, Kirk's crew was good, too. The Enterprise was Starfleet's pride and Nogura's biggest headache. The fierce loyalty that kept that ship functioning at top efficiency could not be matched by any other ship in the fleet, and Kirk deserved his crew's loyalty. More than that, he reciprocated it. Kirk's greatest asset as a commander was also his greatest weakness. If he didn't have such concern for his people, he could never command them so well, but that concern often blinded him to other obligations. That is why Commanding Admirals were invented, Nogura thought wryly. And that is why they call me the "stone man", or "the old bastard". He could tell by Kirk's expression that he was probably inventing a new nickname for him, one even more uncomplimentary.
"Trust me," Nogura said softly. "It is for the greatest good--"
"I apologize, sir," Kirk interrupted, uttering the title of respect in a tone that bordered on insubordination. "My first officer is the one best able to judge such matters unemotionally, and, as you are aware, I am functioning without him."
"I hope we find him," Nogura replied. "But remember what I said."
Chapel passed through the research lab, noting that Sh'nar and the other assistant were deeply immersed in their work. She reached into the pocket of her lab jacket, fingering the disk which held every block of incriminating evidence she could wedge into it, and braced herself. Spock was not going to be pleased with her, but right now that was the least of her worries.
Entering the small diagnostic lab, Chapel handed T'Rask the requested printout and cast a furtive glance at Spock.
"I have already administered the formula," T'Rask explained, looking at the readout.
"What?" she questioned sharply, her pulse pounding as she remembered the symptoms of the other subject. She stared at Spock's supine form, unable to hide her apprehension.
"Oh, do not worry," T'Rask assured. "It will be some time before there are any symptoms worth noting. The absorption is slow and..."
Chapel blocked out the rest of what the Romulan was saying. Taking a calming breath, she scanned the table beside Spock's head. The hypo was still there, and one glance told her it remained full. T'Rask turned to check the profile values on the clipboard, and Chapel grabbed the hypo, approaching the Romulan scientist from behind. Without warning, she injected the full vial of tranquilizer into his neck. He stiffened and then crumpled to the floor.
Outside in the main lab, Sh'nar looked up from her work, frowning. Chapel expelled a curse. "Now, Hikaru! Hurry!" She moved back to Spock and released the restraints as the two Romulans rose from their seats.
"Spock," she said urgently. "Are you all right?"
His eyes opened and he stared lucidly back at her. "Consider yourself on report, Doctor. You had orders--"
Spock's words were interrupted by the sound of phaser fire in the general vicinity of T'Rask's office.
"Sulu," she explained, pulling the Vulcan down to the floor with her.
Two more phaser blasts sounded and then there was a pause. Chapel rose just enough to look out through the transparency and grinned. "Stunned them," she said with satisfaction.
"And quite possibly alerted others to our presence," Spock admonished. "I gave you a direct order--"
"Damn it, Spock!" she interrupted, crouching down beside him. "How do you feel?"
Spock frowned. "I am experiencing some difficulty in maintaining certain thought controls, but it is manageable at this point."
"It's going to get worse. I included the exact chemical composition of the formula on this disk I made, and the sooner we can get you into Sickbay the better chance I'll have of reversing the effects. I'm sorry I had to leave you alone with him."
"Unnecessary," he assured. "Your first duty was to obtain the information."
"I did. But I didn't reckon on T'Rask giving you his formula. It's going to complicate things."
"We've got to hurry," Sulu said as he bounded into the room. "I'd rather not have to explain this to hospital security, and it's a cinch they're on their way. Sasha's waiting at the ground port for us. We've got a shuttle to catch."
"The shuttle's out," Chapel responded curtly. "We've got to get some other means of transportation, something faster. T'Rask gave Spock his formula and he's going to need medical attention, preferably in Sickbay aboard the Enterprise."
"Doctor," Spock said calmly. "I think that perhaps you are overly concerned. I feel quite--"
"I saw what that formula can do," she interrupted, standing up. "And I'll be damned if I'm going to try to manage you medically on a crowded shuttle. If you want to live to court-martial me for disobeying orders, you'll do this my way."
"This isn't any place to argue," Sulu reminded. "Let's go back to my room, and go from there."
"A wise suggestion," Spock agreed, swaying as he rose to his feet. Chapel tightened her grip on his arm, her blue eyes flicking over him in concern.
"See," she said. "It's starting to affect you already, and don't give me any crap about your Vulcan physiology. It's your Human half that's keeping you on your feet this time!"
"You have been spending entirely too much time in the company of Doctor McCoy," Spock said in disapproving tones. "You are even starting to sound like him."
Chapel refrained from responding to the reassuring barb as she and Sulu propelled the first officer through the lab and out into the deserted corridor.
"S-six hundred and fifty credits!" the Orion bounty hunter stuttered in outrage as he paced the deck of the Vagabond. "I can't believe you let that Vulcan go for only s-six hundred and fifty credits! Hell, the wear and t-tear on our dilithium crystals cost more than that!"
"You're exaggerating, Flavin," his partner charged. "But I agree; it's not enough. I left word at the Paradise that we're willing to take passengers back toward the Federation for a hefty price. If we can take on three or four, it will give us a nice profit margin, and then--"
"Then, no more procuring for T'Rask," Flavin interrupted. "It's getting t-too damn dangerous, and he's not offering enough. I hate to s-say it, but maybe we s-should just go back to blockade running between Rigel and the Barrier Alliance. If the Feds catch us for that, the worst we could get is a light s-sentence at a rehab colony."
"You're a coward," My'Yang charged as the communications panel beeped. "If we don't take chances, we don't get rich. It's that simple."
"Better to have half a pocket of credits and freedom to s-spend them than a full pocket and wind up on a d-detention planet," his colleague insisted.
"You'd still be trading borite if it weren't for me," My'Yang said with a glare as he crossed to hit the button to open the incoming frequency.
"Better t-trading it than mining it," his companion replied darkly.
"I've got us passage on a trade ship," Sulu announced when Liszt unlocked the door and let him into his room. "We can beam aboard as soon as they call. How's Mister Spock?"
"Stable for now," Chapel replied in low tones from Spock's side. She looked up at Liszt and smiled. "Lightfingers here managed to get me a vial of tranquilizer, and it seems to be helping. His healing trance wasn't doing the job."
"You're a gem, Sasha," Sulu grinned. "Sure you don't want to come with us?"
"I wish you would," Chapel urged, "I don't like leaving you here. What about T'Rask?"
"I'm not hanging around long enough for T'Rask to catch up with me," Liszt reminded. "I'm history as soon as that shuttle arrives, thanks to Walter...I mean Hikaru. The bribe he gave me for the clerk will do the trick, and there's enough extra to keep me going for a while."
"But if you come with us to Starbase--"
"I don't belong on a starbase any more than you belong on a colony world, Chris," Liszt interrupted. "Besides, I still have a record, remember? I'm wanted on Vega, and Vega's a member of the Federation."
"I'm certain we could get the charges against you dropped," Sulu insisted. "Considering what you've done to help us."
"You're a good person," Chapel said. "One mistake long ago doesn't change that."
"Then trust my judgment and let me do this my way, Chris," Liszt said, meeting the physician's gaze.
"It's going to be mighty boring with you gone, you know," Chapel whispered, rising to hug her friend. "What am I going to do for excitement?"
"I'm sure you can turn something up." Liszt teased, favoring Sulu and Spock with a speculative glance. "Hmmm, do all starships have such nice scenery?"
"Shall I tell her what a lousy hand you are at strip poker?" Chapel asked the helmsman with a wink. "That might just change her mind."
Sulu grinned. "Well, if I had any lingering concern about your memory..."
"Our communications officer can get him down to his skivvies in nothing flat," Chapel continued.
Liszt burst into laughter and Sulu chuckled.
"For the record," he amended. "It only happens when I play strip poker. For some reason whenever Uhura plays, I have a tendency to over-bet my hand."
"And she always calls him on it," Chapel added. "The best part is that she usually gets away without even taking off her boots."
"I know," Sulu agreed morosely. "Boy, do I know."
Liszt shook her head and smiled. "You make it sound tempting, but I'm not changing my mind."
Sulu smiled. "Thanks for all your help."
"It was nothing."
The telescreen beeped and Sulu turned to answer it.
"Chapel, eh?" Liszt said with a smile. "It suits you."
"They're ready to beam us up," Sulu announced, turning back to look at Liszt. "There's still time to change you--"
"My mind's made up," she interrupted, tears sparkling in her eyes. "And you've got a long trip ahead of you. The sooner you go, the sooner you'll get your friend here out of danger."
Sulu nodded, turning back to give the captain of the ship their coordinates.
"Keep in touch," Chapel pleaded. "And if you ever need anything, anything at all..."
"I'll call," Sasha grinned. "What's the name of your ship again?"
"The Enterprise. If we're out of subspace direct, send me a subspace squirt, reverse the charges. I owe you, remember?"
"Hey, and on the salary you must make you can afford to pay it back with interest!" Sasha teased, her smile fading as she surveyed Chapel's wistful expression. "Cheer up, Chris! You just got your life back!"
"They're ready to energize."
"Warp speed, my friend," Liszt said, slipping out the door with a smile.
"Mister Chekov, increase to Warp Ten," Kirk ordered, settling into the center seat. He could feel the gentle rumble beneath him in the deck plates as Chekov increased the Enterprise's speed.
"Where we headed, Jim?" McCoy questioned, emerging from the lift.
"Then we're gonna be goin' nowhere mighty fast," Scott observed in sotto tones, frowning at his engineering board.
"Warp Ten," Chekov announced as they achieved maximum speed.
"Warp Ten? Keep that speed up for long and we'll make it to nowhere in record time. Come on, Jim, what did 'Chiro say?"
"Patrol duty," Kirk snapped. "We're just supposed to be standing by. No interference, no orbit, no landing party."
"So we're just gonna hang around?" McCoy translated, his expression echoing the frustration in Kirk's voice.
"I hope to God there's someone to back up."
"That makes two of us, Bones."
Chapel looked about the small cabin, wondering how fast they were headed to the starbase. Sulu was on the bridge, conferring with their hosts. Spock remained unconscious, but he was showing signs of coming around. She took his pulse and swore softly. Retrieving her hypospray, she administered another dose of tranquilizer. There were only two doses left in the vial. Worse, this last dose didn't seem to be as effective. Even now he was tossing on the bunk, his eyelids fluttering as he fought to control the uncontrollable.
She glanced at her chrono. How much time did he have? Was he already close to the convulsive climax which she had witnessed in the other subject, or would there be time to get him to Starbase Thirteen or Sickbay?
She watched as his lips moved in what seemed to be a silent plea, his head tossing fitfully from side to side. She observed the involuntary twitching of his extremities, unable to fathom what torture he might be enduring. She took his hand, clasping it gently between her own, projecting reassurance just as he had done for her, wondering if he could sense it. She continued concentrating, hoping to augment the effect of the hypo with what Spock would refer to as 'the Human touch.'
"It's going to be all right," she murmured, perhaps as much to reassure herself as her patient. Gradually, his restless shifting ceased and he sank into a more relaxed state. She sighed with relief.
Sulu came into the cabin and moved to join Chapel beside the sleeping Vulcan. "We'll be there in about eight hours."
"Eight hours? That's too long. This formula is tearing him apart. His Human half is buying us some time, but it isn't going to hold him much longer."
"What kind of symptoms can we expect?" Sulu questioned.
"For all I know he could start quoting Alice in Wonderland and do the bunny hop," she snapped.
"No mental control?" he queried, looking at the sleeping Vulcan.
"None. If he gets violent it's going to take more than just the two of us to keep him down. The worst part of it is, I don't know when it might happen."
"We'll just have to keep him drugged," Sulu suggested.
"I've only got one vial of tranquilizer," she reminded. "And it's almost gone."
"I'll see if I can get them to increase speed," Sulu murmured, watching her tender concern for the first officer. Somewhere in the pit of his stomach he felt a twinge of something akin to jealousy and he immediately brushed it aside. That absolutely would not do. He reached out and put one hand on her shoulder. "Don't give up yet."
When Sulu had left the room, Chapel drew Spock's hand to her lips, and then held it against her cheek, not caring that on some level he might be sensing it. She had long ago learned that he could never reciprocate her feelings for him, but she also knew that he accepted her as she was, just as she had learned to do with him. She had jettisoned her pride with him years ago, and with it the pretense of not caring. She did care, would always care to some extent and Spock knew that as well as anyone. "Oh, Spock," she whispered, smoothing her free hand across his cheek. "This time I'm the one who's failed. I'm sorry. I'm so damn sorry."
"I'll double the fare if you increase speed to Warp Six," Sulu offered, casting an experienced gaze over Flavin's shoulder at the helm controls.
"Warp Six?" My'Yang repeated incredulously. "You want us to burn out our circuits?"
"That won't happen if you keep a close watch on the temperature gauge."
"This isn't your ship," My'Yang reminded sharply. "And buying passage don't give you rights to give orders."
"My friend is sick. He's getting worse. We need to get him to Starbase Thirteen as quickly as possible."
"We would have a devil of a time getting him to Thirteen if we blow our warp engines," My'Yang responded.
"But there's no risk involved," Sulu insisted in frustration. "I've done it a hundred times."
"On a hundred d-different ships, I'll wager," Flavin interrupted with a snort.
"You planet-bound pilots are all the same," My'Yang continued. "Listen, a few flight lessons on a pleasure yacht don't prepare you for working helm on a trade ship. You have to take certain precautions in deep space. Out here, there's nobody around to tow you in if you screw up."
Sulu bit his lip, knowing his experience to be double what these two could muster together but he managed a serene expression.
"Increase to Warp Six and I'll pay double your fare," he said calmly, intuitively speaking the only language that needed no translation, Federation credits.
My'Yang stared at him suspiciously. "Where would you be getting those credits?"
Sulu smiled. "Where I got them isn't important." He leaned over and punched an account number into the communications screen. "Check it out if you doubt me."
He waited while My'Yang ran a credit check, interfacing with the Federation Credit Bureau. The bounty hunter turned from the screen a moment later, obviously impressed with what he had seen.
"Well, Mister Tsu, whatever your business, it's profitable."
"Warp Six?" Sulu prompted.
"Warp Six," My'Yang grinned.
He was eight years old again, walking home from the private school he attended, mentally rehearsing the thought control mantras that T'Nal had drilled him in that morning.
"It is not as easy for you, Spock-kam," she had said in her soft, matter-of-fact tones. "You are gifted in other areas."
"But I must learn, T'Nal," Spock insisted. He could think only of Sarek's forbidding expression if he failed yet again.
"For your age, your work is quite adequate, my child," she assured gently. "It is the nature of Nome that each individual excels in different ways, each according to his gifts."
"Understood, T'Nal. However, my father wishes me to excel at thought control. I wish to please him."
"Ahh," T'Nal said. "Sarek is a good man, Spock. But even good men can place unrealistic expectations upon their offspring."
"As you say, T'Nal," Spock agreed.
"Earther!" a shrill voice pierced Spock's recollection and he paused on the sidewalk, facing the two boys who blocked his path. Sonok and Sodot, both a year older than he and several inches taller.
"Spock of Earth, Spock of Earth," Sonok chanted in the whiny sing-song which he used only when no adult was within earshot.
"Look at the Earther," Sodot chimed in. "Goes to private school so he won't taint us with his alien ways."
"He's a bonded Earther," Sonok added with a sneer. "Bonded to a poor female who had no choice. Did they tell her what she's getting, Spock? Does she know her children might have round ears?"
Spock clenched his fists in frustration and tried to pass, exhibiting more control than his full-blooded Vulcan tormentors. Sonok gave him a push, blocking his way to Amanda's garden gate.
"See his expression?" Sodot cried. "No control, that's the Earther in him!"
"I am Vulcan!" Spock shouted.
"Earther, Earther, Earther!"
"I am Vulcan!" Spock cried, tossing in the bunk.
Chapel, startled by his sudden cry, tightened her grasp on his hand.
"Spock! Spock, it's fine. We're on our way to a starbase. Keep trying to control."
His eyes flew open. "Control," he breathed, looking at her without recognition. "I cannot control, cannot control. I have failed!" He wrenched out of her grasp and slipped off the bunk, moving to face the blank wall, fists clenched. Chapel retrieved the hypo and rose, moving cautiously toward him.
"I beg forgiveness, Father," he whispered, his tone conveying the deep humiliation that he must be experiencing. "I am not worthy, not a true Vulcan. I have done all that is in my power, and yet, again I have failed you."
"Spock!" Chapel said. "It's me, Christine."
He turned to face her, his expression twisted in anguish. "Christine?" he murmured, staring at her as if attempting to focus on a far away image.
"Christine," he said again, this time in relieved recognition. His expression crumpled. "I have failed you," he said, shaking his head. "Failed you yet again. I haven't the power, I have tried...deeply sorry, Christine..." His voice trailed off in a sob and he moved into her outstretched arms.
Chapel pressed the hypospray into his heaving shoulder.
Sulu entered the room, accompanied by Flavin. Both men paused at the doorway, astonished by the sight of Chapel supporting a weeping Vulcan.
"He's not himself," Sulu said in explanation. "He's delirious; it's the fever."
"Failed you, failed you," Spock continued mournfully. "I never wished to fail you, Christine."
"Is it time for his medicine, Doctor?" Sulu prompted Chapel, noting the Orion's apprehensive expression.
"I just gave it," she responded, her eyes wide. "He should be--"
Spock laughed, the sound sending a chill up Sulu's spine. The Vulcan's grip on Chapel tightened and he pulled back to meet her gaze, his eyes fever-bright.
"Not enough," Spock said, his animated expression even more chilling than the sound of his laughter. "It is not enough to make me sleep, Christine. I do not wish to sleep. I must stay awake."
"He's m-mad," Flavin said, swallowing nervously and backing into the corridor.
"It's not contagious," Sulu guaranteed.
"It's none of my b-business," Flavin announced, his eyes wide. "Just keep him quiet."
"We will," Sulu assured as Flavin left the room.
"The medicine will help you rest," Chapel told Spock, a faint tremor of emotion in her voice. She shot an anxious glance at Sulu, but her grip on the Vulcan remained firm. "Why don't you come lie down on the bunk?"
"No!" he whispered, staring after Flavin. "No, I cannot lie down! I must stay awake. If I sleep the men will come for me!"
"No one is going to harm you," she said, her voice taking on a reassuring tone more appropriate for addressing a small, frightened child than an adult Vulcan. "There are no men to harm you here, Spock. Sulu and I will keep you safe, but you must rest."
"You don't understand," he gasped, his eyes darting wildly around the room. His voice dropped to a harsh whisper. "They're here--the men. They'll take us back to T'Rask, back to the lab. They'll kill us all this time. Kill us!"
"We're on our way to Starbase Thirteen," Sulu said, moving closer to Spock and Chapel, concerned that the Vulcan would harm her. "We'll be there in a few hours."
"Too late!" Spock sobbed, pulling Chapel close and burying his head against her hair. "It is too late; I cannot control. All is lost, I have failed, failed again!"
Chapel maneuvered the hypo behind his back and gave him the final dose. He stiffened, his grip on her tightening. "No, no, no! Cannot sleep! You do not understand. I must protect you from them. They know, they know!"
Sulu caught Spock as he collapsed and Chapel helped carry him to the bunk.
"You okay?" Sulu questioned as Chapel sank beside the unconscious Vulcan, reaching to take his pulse.
"Fine, but he's not going to make it, Sulu," she added, lifting watery blue eyes to meet his gaze. "His pulse is twice what it should be, and he's hallucinating and emotional. You saw him!"
"If we can just keep him down until we reach the starbase," Sulu began.
"How?" she interrupted, her frustration apparent. "What will I use? I just gave him the last of the tranquilizer! He's stronger than both of us put together, so if he decides to get up, there'll be no stopping him. You know that! Worse, in his condition he could decide we're trying to hurt him. He could kill us both in this state!" She paused, looking down at the Vulcan's relaxed expression and sighed. "Sorry, Hikaru. It's just..."
"No need to apologize," he assured. "I understand. Is there anything I can do?"
"Nothing," she responded flatly. "There's nothing either of us can do but wait."
"I'm t-telling you it was the s-same one!" Flavin insisted.
"You're crazy," My'Yang argued. "How could he have escaped from T'Rask?"
"How s-should I know?" Flavin shouted in exasperation. "But I'm t-telling you it was him!"
"Then he recognized you?"
"No, he was out of his head, s-some kind of Vulcan fever. That's why they're in such a hurry to get to S-Starbase Thirteen."
"Whether it's him or not, this could be very advantageous."
"What's advantageous about doing t-time for kidnaping?" Flavin countered nervously. "Because that's what's g-going to happen if he clears his head enough to identify us."
"What's better than selling a Vulcan?" My'Yang questioned with a grin.
"Oh no, my friend," his partner whispered. "Selling him twice."
Flavin stared at My'Yang for a moment, wondering if the Vulcan's insanity was catching.
"Let's give T'Rask a call before we make another move. I have an idea this could run into more credits than we ever imagined."
"Picking up a ship on long-range scanners, Captain," Mister Chekov announced.
"Is it broadcasting an I.F.F.?" Kirk questioned, leaning forward to squint at the main viewer expectantly.
"Yes, sir," Uhura said. "It's coming in now."
"On screen, maximum magnification," Chekov said, as a small fleck appeared in the center of the brilliant starfield. From this distance it looked like a star itself.
"It's a scout class vessel," Uhura continued. "I.D. verified as the Vagabond."
"Vagabond!" Kirk exclaimed. "Well, well!" He hit the intercom with a practiced flick of one finger. "Doctor McCoy to the bridge."
"It's heading this way, sir," Chekov volunteered. "Trajectory consistent with a course to Starbase Thirteen."
"Shall I open hailing frequencies?" Uhura questioned.
"Not quite yet," Kirk said, rising from his chair and rubbing his chin, his eyes never leaving the speck of light. "Pavel, how long before they pick up our presence?"
"Approximately ten minutes at this speed."
McCoy emerged from the lift as Kirk turned to face Mister Scott at the engineering console. "Scotty, I want you to prepare a boarding party to do a thorough inspection. I want that ship gone over with a fine-tooth comb, every inch, computer records, log entries, cargo--"
"What's goin' on?" McCoy interrupted.
"Nothing but patrol duty," Kirk replied innocently. "Nogura assigned us patrol duty and that's just what we're doing. According to Babel Resolution Seven, if a code violation is suspected, a patrolling starship commander has every right to order a detailed inspection. I suspect a violation, and I'm ordering an inspection."
"On what?" McCoy questioned, squinting at the main viewer.
"Sir," Scott said with a frown. "What yer askin', it's seldom done. It's a tedious job, checkin' a ship out like that, more a job for a starbase."
"Are you telling me that your men can't do it?"
"No, sir!" Scott responded indignantly. "Of course me men can do it!"
"Then you have your orders, Mister Scott," Kirk said, his tone indicating that he would tolerate no further argument on the subject.
"What ship?" McCoy tried again. "I don't see a ship."
"The Vagabond, Bones."
"We just picked it up on our long-range scanners. Would you like to join the boarding party?
"You bet your commission I would!"
Scott looked between his captain and the doctor, wondering what had gotten into them.
"My partner is convinced it's the same one, T'Rask," My'Yang said, "And he's traveling with two Terrans, a man and a woman."
"The female, is she tall, with light hair?" T'Rask questioned, his picture and voice coming in clearly across the parsecs from Hydrae Three.
"Yes, and Tsu called her `D-doctor.'"
"I want all three of them," T'Rask said, his tone harsh. "Alive!"
"At what price?" My'Yang questioned.
"Full price. Bring them to me at once."
"We'll signal when we're within range," My'Yang agreed.
"I will be waiting," T'Rask said, breaking the connection.
My'Yang turned from the console. "Set course for Hydrae Three," he ordered, reaching for his phaser. "I'll go see to the comfort of our...guests."
"He s-said he wanted them alive."
"Correct, partner," My'Yang agreed with a malicious grin. "However, our guests do not know that."
Sulu hovered anxiously over Chapel and Spock. "Is he coming around?"
"I'm afraid so," Chapel whispered, still gripping the Vulcan's hand as if she could will sanity into him, her expression clouded with concern.
"What are you going to do?"
"I'm going to do my best to keep him calm," she replied, looking up at the helmsman and forcing a smile. "Unfortunately, Spock has always proven immune to my charm."
"I won't let him hurt you," Sulu assured, pulling out his phaser and double-checking the setting.
"Don't use that unless we have no other choice," she warned. "I'm not certain what effect a stun beam will have on him, but it's a sure bet it won't do him any good."
"Last resort only," Sulu agreed, moving back so the first officer would not see him immediately upon awakening. "Just be sure..."
Sulu's voice trailed off as he felt an infinitesimal lag in the artificial gravity that often accompanied a course change in small ship like this one. He exchanged a puzzled glance with Chapel. "Something's wrong. They've altered course."
"This is hardly time for unscheduled scenic stopovers," Chapel muttered.
"I'll go see what's going on," Sulu offered. He reached the door to the cabin just as My'Yang appeared, phaser in hand.
"What the devil?" Sulu began.
"Relax, Mister Tsu," My'Yang said. "And please be so kind as to drop your weapon to the deck, then kick it into the corridor."
Chapel rose from Spock's side. "Are you crazy?" she queried incredulously. "We're Federation citizens. You can't just..."
"Oh, but I can, Doctor," My'Yang interrupted. "You see, this is my ship, and you are now my prisoners. We are on our way back to Colony Ten. You have someone there anxiously awaiting your return."
"T'Rask," Chapel breathed, as Sulu obediently dropped the phaser and kicked it into the corridor.
"Ah, so you are familiar with my Romulan friend," My'Yang said as he retrieved Sulu's phaser. He opened a hidden panel in the doorway and activated a force field. "You will remain here until we achieve orbit. Then you will be returned to T'Rask. He has offered a small fortune for the three of you."
"If it's credits you want," Sulu said quickly, "I can get them for you. Let me--"
"I'm familiar with T'Rask," My'Yang said with a shake of his head. "We are old acquaintances."
"He's insane!" Chapel blurted. "How can you do business with a madman?"
"His madness is immaterial," My'Yang countered. "He pays in Federation credits, no questions asked. Few others can make such a claim. T'Rask made his offer, and I have accepted!"
"Lawfully accepted," Spock muttered, becoming more restless. "Challenge was given and lawfully accepted!"
"If I were you, I'd worry about your Vulcan friend," My'Yang gestured with his phaser at Spock. "Now, he's mad!"
"They've altered course, Captain. Heading back the way they came."
"Any chance they spotted us?" Kirk questioned.
"None, sir," Chekov responded confidently. "No trade ship has scanners that sensitive."
"Intercept course, with speed to overtake them," Kirk ordered. "Uhura, open hailing frequencies. I want to talk with the captain of that ship, now!"
Stone pillars rose, silhouetted against a scarlet horizon, and Spock felt the burning passion in his heart. He inhaled the hot dry air, his nostrils flaring slightly. He sensed the drag of Vulcan's higher gravity on his body, raising up with effort from the scorching sand. The plak tow blinded him to all but he who had accepted challenge. His instinct bade him to continue the fight to end the combat. Kal-if-fee was to the death, and he must kill or be killed; that was the law, brought down from the time of the beginning.
Chapel took in Spock's blank expression as he thrust aside her hand and rose to his feet. He turned, eyeing Sulu, the tension in his slender form apparent, his hands spread and open for combat.
"Spock," Chapel cried as he lunged at the helmsman. "Don't!"
Sulu, as if fueled by her cry, dodged from Spock's path, narrowly avoiding a blow that would have pinned him to the bulkhead. Spock blinked in disorientation, wheeling on his opponent and advancing again. Sulu scrambled over the narrow bunk, putting as much distance between them as possible.
"Stop it," Chapel pleaded. "Spock!"
The Vulcan launched himself at the helmsman again, and this time Spock caught his sleeve. The cloth gave, tearing the seam before Sulu twisted from his grasp and moved further out of range.
"Spock, it's me, Sulu," he prompted, diving out of the Vulcan's way again, tucking and rolling gracefully to his feet.
Spock came at him once more, his murderous intent clear. Chapel put herself between them, only to be brushed aside like a bothersome insect. Sulu caught her, partially breaking her fall.
Spock took advantage of Sulu's diverted attention, grabbing him by the neck. The helmsman broke the hold with a practiced twist and kicked Spock back.
"Don't get in the way, Chris!" Sulu ordered. "No sense in both of us getting killed."
Spock lunged again at Sulu, this time getting a secure grip on him. The force of contact threw them both to the floor, and they rolled, Sulu attempting to break the hold which settled, vise-like, around his throat.
"Stop it," Chapel cried, looking about the bare room for something to slow Spock down, or even knock him out. "You're killing him!"
The two men were close to the doorway with Sulu pinned beneath the first officer. Chapel grabbed Spock from behind, making a vain attempt to pull him away. "No!"
Sulu struggled, becoming cyanotic as the Vulcan squeezed his windpipe.
"Help us!" Chapel screamed into the corridor. "Help us! He's killing him!"
"We are carrying no cargo, Captain," My'Yang said. "Only three passengers."
"Why did you change course?" Kirk demanded, wishing they would provide him with visual.
"I was not aware that a course change had to be cleared with Starfleet, Captain," My'Yang replied with a touch of sarcasm.
"Lower your shields," Kirk ordered. "We're boarding for inspection."
"This is highly irregular," My'Yang protested. "On what grounds do you demand access to my ship?"
"Babel Resolution Seven: suspicion of code violation," Kirk supplied. "Prepare to be boarded."
My'Yang closed hailing frequencies, and Flavin turned to him. "We c-can't let him board us!" he whispered. "If he and his c-crew--"
"Help!" came a feminine voice from the aft section. "Help us. He's killing him!"
"The Vulcan," Flavin guessed. "I t-told you he was mad."
"I'll go," My'Yang sighed. "You stall the Enterprise."
My'Yang approached the makeshift brig and saw immediately why the female had screamed. Just as Flavin predicted, it was the Vulcan. He was strangling the male Human. With a sigh of disgust, My'Yang released the protection field. Before he could fire his phaser, Spock sprang up, hitting his arm so the stun beam went wild, the weapon flying into the corridor. His whole body trembling with rage, the Vulcan picked the bounty hunter up and threw him across the cabin. My'Yang's head hit the bulkhead with a resounding crack.
"Challenge!" Spock cried. "This fight is to the death!" His feverish gaze swept the room, registering Sulu and My'Yang, both unconscious on the floor. He looked up at Chapel, who was staring back at him with wide eyes. She took a deep breath and shrank against the bulkhead as he started toward her.
"T'Pring, you chose the challenge," he said. "You rejected me for another!"
"Spock, no," she corrected in a weak whisper. "It's me, Christine!"
"I shall do what I must!" Spock cried. "But not with him!"
Before she could offer a response, he raced from the room, heading for the fore section of the ship.
Chapel moved, kneeling beside Sulu, relieved to note that his color was returning to normal.
"Hikaru!" she said, shaking him by the shoulder. "Wake up!"
The helmsman remained unconscious. Chapel pulled him into the corridor and reactivated the protection field, imprisoning My'Yang in the cabin. She retrieved the bounty hunter's phaser and checked the setting, which remained on stun. With a worried backward glance at Sulu, she made her way to the bridge.
"We're experienc-cing s-some d-diffic-culty with our c-computer, C-Captain. I c-can't get it to lower s-shields."
"That doesn't make any sense," Kirk argued. "You should be able to manually override any computer malfunction. My chief engineer is here right now, perhaps if you speak with him..."
Flavin closed hailing frequencies with a frustrated jab of his forefinger. An instant later he was thrown from his chair across the small bridge, landing on the deck with his back wedged against the auxiliary navicomputer. Flavin struggled to his feet and tried to work his way past the blank-eyed Vulcan, wishing fervently that he had told My'Yang where to shove his idea about taking passengers.
"C-Can we t-talk about this?" he whined, not holding out much hope. The Vulcan made no sign that he had even heard the Orion, his hands raised to kill.
Flavin darted out of reach as the Vulcan's arms came down, the powerful hands crushing the console and shorting out circuits amid a shower of sparks. Flavin was nearly at the door to the aft section when Spock collared him and threw him back against the communications station, inadvertently opening the incoming channel. Kirk's voice came over the intercom.
"...bond, our sensors show no difficulty with your systems. You are ordered to lower shields at once!"
Spock lunged at Flavin and once again the bounty hunter evaded his grasp. This time, the communications console suffered the effects of the Vulcan's cyclic wrath, a puff of smoke rising over crushed and shattered circuits. Amazingly, Kirk's voice came over a crumpled speaker.
"I repeat, we are awaiting your response."
Flavin was now cornered against the weapons station, unable to maneuver away as Spock advanced upon him. He scrambled up the chair as Spock reached him, the Vulcan grabbing him by the neck and pushing him back against the console. Flavin struggled, his back pressed against the weapons controls, firing a random salvo of phaser blasts.
"They're firing on us!" Chekov announced in disbelief.
"Are they completely mad?" McCoy questioned, watching as the Vagabond's fire was repelled by the Enterprise's shields. "They can't outrun us, and they sure as Hell can't outgun us!"
"Whatever their intent, it's clear they don't want us aboard," Kirk said. "And I want to know why. Chekov, program a phaser blast to breach their shields so we can beam aboard a security team. Uhura, re-open hailing frequencies. I've given them all the chances they're getting."
Chapel appeared on the bridge just as Flavin lost consciousness. She was peripherally aware of the smashed consoles and the acrid door of charred circuits, but she did not take her eyes, or aim, from the first officer. "Spock!" she called. "It is done, release him!"
Spock did not seem to hear her, shaking the body of the Orion bounty hunter as a cat would shake a mouse. "To the death, to the death..." he muttered.
Chapel squeezed her eyes shut for a moment in supplication and fired, felling both men to the deck.
"You have fired on a Federation starship!" Kirk's voice filled the silence of the bridge. "Surrender or we will be forced to return fire!"
"Enterprise!" Chapel gasped. "Thank God!" She dove for the communications station to acknowledge and immediately realized it was sheer luck that she could still receive Kirk's hail. There was no way that she could send a response. The board was destroyed.
"Damn!" she whispered, turning to the helm. It was the only station that remained unscathed. Quickly, she scanned the console. The ship still had impulse and warp, but there seemed to be extensive damage to the navicomputer. Whether or not she could maneuver manually was yet to be seen. Besides, what good would it do for her to try to escape? A scout ship couldn't outrun the Enterprise. She needed a way to signal them. Running lights? Maybe she could use Morse Code...
"You leave us no alternative," Kirk announced.
Chapel caught the console to keep from falling as the Vagabond rocked from the impact of the Enterprise's phasers hitting her shields. "Damn it, it's us!" she shouted, her expression one of outraged disbelief. "You're firing on your own crewmates!"
A warm hand clasped her by the shoulder, and she wheeled about in surprise to see Sulu standing at her side.
"Hikaru!" she cried. "It's the Enterprise. They're returning fire, and I don't have any way to tell them it's us!"
"Lower shields," he suggested, his eyes traveling over the damaged consoles. "Can you still do that?"
"Are you crazy? If we lower shields..."
As if to complete her sentence, the Enterprise fired again.
"Lower the shields," Sulu repeated, leaning over the console.
"If they hit us without shields, we're dead!" Chapel reminded him.
"If the shields give suddenly, and Pavel can't break off his fire quickly enough, we're dead anyway," Sulu responded as he located the switch which cut power to the shields and hit it. "I'm willing to bet Captain Kirk will break off the attack when he sees that our shields are down."
"You're always over-betting your hand," she breathed, her voice husky.
Sulu straightened up, slipping one arm around her waist to pull her close. "Don't remind me," he said softly. "This is one bet I need to win."
Chapel closed her eyes and returned Sulu's embrace.
"They've lowered shields!"
"Hold your fire," Kirk ordered. "Chief Rand, transport the security team to the Vagabond's bridge now!"
Sulu stood between Kirk and McCoy as Chapel administered her antidote to Spock. It had taken her and McCoy less than an hour to develop it with the help of the ship's computers. The monitor showed an immediate response and, even to Sulu's untrained eyes, it became apparent that the formula's ill effects were reversing.
"It's working!" McCoy exclaimed. "His K-1 level is stabilizing! Our formula did the trick!"
Kirk's expression mirrored McCoy's. "It's good to have you back, Chris. Good to have all three of you back. I just talked with Admiral Nogura, and we have the Council's permission to go to Colony Ten and arrest T'Rask and his colleagues. Spock will be his last victim, thanks to the information you provided."
"I had help," Chapel said, smiling at Sulu. "Hikaru and I make a pretty good team, and without Mister Spock, I'd still be trying to remember my past."
"However, amnesia is no excuse for disobeying the orders of a superior officer, Doctor," Spock said, opening his eyes and meeting her astonished gaze solemnly.
"Spock!" the foursome around him chorused.
"You had orders to leave me behind," the first officer reminded. "I would be most interested to hear an explanation of why you chose to disobey those orders."
Chapel looked at Kirk, her lips curving into a smile as she shook her head. "It's good to be home," she sighed.
"Doctor, I am waiting for your answer," Spock insisted.
"I believe you just got it, Spock," Kirk responded lightly.
"And just remember, Spock," Chapel added. "If you court-martial me, you'll have Leonard as your attending physician until he decides to dismiss you from Sickbay, if ever. The choice is yours."
Spock looked up at Kirk and Chapel, who were both grinning broadly. The Vulcan raised one brow in a characteristic display of annoyance. "Threats will get you nowhere, Doctor Chapel," he said, only a slight softening of his expression betraying how much he enjoyed playing straight man to a room full of Humans.
Laughter rang through Sickbay's intensive care unit as the Enterprise sped toward her destination at Warp Eight.
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