Original story by C Petterson and S Sizemore
Rewritten by Cheryl Petterson

(Standard Year 2250)

Return to Valjiir Stories

Return to Valjiir Continum

To hear the title song, click here

Commander Sulu was certain he must be crazy.

There was no way he could be hearing what he was hearing. Lieutenant Commander Ruth Maxwell Valley and Lieutenant Commander Noel DelMonde reported AWOL, a search on Betara turning up Fleet uniforms stuffed in a port locker, eyewitness accounts of an Antari in the Klingon-dominated sector of Eastport.

He shook his head, cleared the board, asked again for the pertinent information concerning the standing AWOL status. The same reports appeared. Unquestionably accurate. And with that information, he had a duty to report to the Captain. Only how did you report an apparent defection of a woman and her lover to her husband? Not that Spock had been much of one. Not that Ruth had much of a wife, either.

No, I'm not crazy. The universe is.

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Spock listened to Sulu's report impassively, responding only to his First Officer's question, "Shall I initiate an investigation, Captain?"

"That is proper procedure. Dismissed, Commander."

Muttering, Sulu went from the Captain's officer to Security, where Security Chief Ryan listened to his orders, then stated quite calmly, "I'll do it, but I don't believe it."

Sulu threw himself into a chair and stared dejectedly at the deck. "Neither do I, Tara."

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Daffy Gollub sprang angrily out of her chair and glared fiercely down at the three people she'd been sharing lunch and gossip with.

"Don't any of you tell me that Ruth Valley's defected! Especially not to the Klingons. AWOL I can believe, no problem, but defected? Never!!"

"Dafshka," Pavel Chekov soothed, "all I said was that there was a possibility. Evidence points to — defection."

"A few people believe that about Captain Kirk, too," Jan Bergmann interjected.

"Impossible!" Chekov exploded.

"Well, I've heard rumors," Bergmann defended himself. "And if Valley and DelMonde are afraid -- " Bergmann blushed and cleared his throat in embarrassment.

"Afraid?" Daffy demanded. "Of what?"

"Daphne, we all know,” Chekov growled in exasperation. “It's not as if they were hypocrites and tried to keep it a secret."

"And Captain Bastard apparently doesn't care anyway," Ramon Ordona added.

"Which has nothing to do with the Klingons,” Daffy rejoined, her dark eyes blazing. “You explain to me, Pavel Andrevitch Chekov, how Ruth or Cajun could defect to the Klingons!"

"Everyone has a price," Chekov said stubbornly.

"And a breaking point," Ramon added ruefully.

Daffy sat down abruptly, suddenly subdued. "Yeah, I guess so," she whispered hoarsely.

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Jade Han turned her attention from the other mess room table back to Jilla, and caught the Indiian's anguished glance before control again took over. "Jilla," she said concernedly, "you can't believe Ruth is a traitor,” she said.

"Neither, no doubt, does Ruth." Jilla replied coldly.


"She has quite a knack for denying the truth when it is unpleasant."

"It's her life."

"And his. Excuse me, Doctor." Jilla rose and left the room. Jade looked sorrowfully after her. There was only one reason for Ruth and DelMonde to defect and she was sure Jilla had thought of it; it was a final solution to their dilemma, and it was the one that would hurt Spock most. Or it was one final attempt to see if Spock could be hurt at all.

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"I wish I hadn't brought my guitar with me," Ruth complained, trying to ease the tension.

"Too heavy?" Del said dully.

"Just afraid of what could happen to it. I've been in brawls with Klingons before."

"You be afraid o’ what happen to us. We outnumbered."

Ruth glanced uneasily around the crowded terrace. She and Del had been playing, not too obtrusively yet not in secret, either, and had attracted the attention they were here to attract. They hadn't been approached yet; Spock hadn't even been sure they would be... The thought soured as Lieutenant Commander Valley slipped into Ruth farrei Spock. It was hard, so hard being here with Del. She knew the reasons -- but also knew that Del didn't, and she didn’t like that, either. All Del knew was what Spock had said nearly thirty-six hours before.

She and Spock had approached Del when the engineer was alone. His dark eyes had looked up in anger and guilt and empty pain.

"Mr. DelMonde," Spock said, "I have an assignment for you and Miss Valley. I have received orders from Starfleet Command to delay the departure of the Klingon vessel that is currently using the shore leave facilities of Eastport. Since this is a neutral world and orders are to delay, not prevent the ship from returning to its sector, I am required to use devious means."

"Can't say you not have th' practice," Del muttered under his breath.

"You will be required to rid yourselves of all evidence of Starfleet," Spock went on, "and to assume the attitude of casual observers once planetside. I expect that you will attract enough notice to keep the Klingons curious, but not enough to interest their security, for a minimum of four standard days; at which time you will return to the port transporter for beam up. Is this clear?"

Del stared at Ruth. She avoided his eyes. "Clear, sir," she said to Spock. Del nodded numbly.

Early the next morning, before first watch, they accompanied Spock to the transporter room. Spock had worked the transporter himself. She had 'heard’ Del's wish/fear to be beamed out at widest dispersal, and it hurt. Del, I'm so sorry... so sorry...

"Ruth?" Del questioned gently. She shook her head.

"Nothing," she said, then took a deep breath. "We're done here. Let's find someplace to get some dinner."

"What wrong wit’ here?"

Ruth grimaced. "The atmosphere makes me sick."

Del got up, slinging his guitar over his shoulder. "No place better, but if you insist..." he said, then abruptly sat back down. "Shit," he rasped, almost inaudibly.

Ruth knew before she looked up, before a Klingon voice full of thick menace said, "You will come with us, Federation."

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Jilla set her lyrette aside as the doorchime sounded. She got up and went to the door, opening it manually, a precaution she'd taken to preserve her privacy since Ruth had... She pushed the thought away. "Yes," she said.

Tara Ryan stood with a statboard and a cassette. Her eyes were focused on the floor. "Jilla, Sulu's not in his office," she began, "and I've got the results of the investigation of the Valley-DelMonde — " She stopped, and cleared her throat. "It's important that he see..."

"I'll see he gets it," Jilla interrupted coldly. Tara looked up, and Jilla felt the disbelief and the bitter anger in the Security Chief’s tia.

"Thank you," Tara said. "By the way, you've been right all along." The door closed and Jilla stared at the statboard, then turned and set the information on Sulu's desk.

She didn't know how long it had been until the door opened again. Sulu's voice sounded weary as he crossed to her, kissing her cheek with a soft, "Hi, hon," then he stopped and hesitantly lifted her chin. She tried to blink the tears away and didn't succeed. "Jilla?" he asked. Words stuck in her throat and she turned from him. He watched her, confused, then glanced at the desk.

"Tara Ryan's report," Jilla murmured. She tried not to watch as he read it, then slammed the tape into the viewer.

The picture confirmed the written report, and Sulu stared at it for a long time. Jilla struggled with her emotions and the flood that came from him; anger, resentment, disbelief, fury, grief, sorrow, hatred.

"God damn that bitch!" Sulu hissed with sudden vehemence. "Goddamn traitorous bastard! Jilla look at this, just look at it!"

With a deep breath, Jilla said, calmly, "I have." The picture was seared into her; Ruth and DelMonde sitting at a table, guitars in hand, surrounded by Klingons. It was not a pose of capture. There could be no doubt of defection now.

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Why doesn't matter anymore. I don't care why. I just want them, alive or dead, I don't care. I've made excuses for her, tried to understand, but not this. Traitor, to Fleet, the Federation, Antares, herself, me... Spike, my best friend and confidant -- and you've sold yourself to the Klingons. After Canti, after they nearly killed you with that sauvrn thing... If DelMonde gets killed resisting arrest I wouldn't be at all surprised. Bastard. Whore. How, damn it, how could you!? Just to get back at him, just to hurt him, us as much as we've hurt you? God, Ruth, I can't stand what I'm thinking. He's a bastard, a soulless monster, but Jilla can't help the furious agony and I — damn it Spike, I've tried to understand, took your side, hurt for you and this is how you repay the only one who ever felt any sympathy for you? Fucking traitor!

Sulu stopped his furious pacing, closing his eyes, trying to control the rage. Jilla gently touched his face. "I am sorry," she whispered.

"I didn't want to believe it, not of Ruth," he groaned.

"I know," Jilla replied softly. "I did not wish it either. Yet we cannot deny..."

"You knew, didn't you?"

Jilla kept back the anguish and met Sulu's eyes. "She took her guitar, Sulu. She did not mean to return."

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"I've ordered a full security sweep of the planet, sir," Sulu reported, trying to keep the vehemence from his voice.

"Very well, Mr. Sulu," Spock replied. He hadn't looked up from his steepled fingers, and even through his bitterness Sulu wondered if the man was made of stone. His wife, an obvious traitor, and he reacted as if Sulu had reported routine activity.

"Request permission to lead the arrest team once they're located," Sulu stated coldly. Spock finally glanced at him.

"After this information has been processed, Commander, permission granted; but I require you to wait for Fleet confirmation of this matter."

"Captain, the evidence is clear..."

"Yes, Mr. Sulu. You have my orders." Sulu stared, holding the temper back, then nodded stiffly and left the office.

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Spock did not watch him. It was happening too fast. He had to delay the Klothos at least another twenty-four hours. Twenty-four hours more and the Pythagoras will have supplied the colony on Tommeral with enough grain, livestock and equipment to cement the Federation's claim to the system. Spock shook his head. The small, unsupplied Klingon outpost would be more than upset, but the Organians would see to them.

He had estimated that Sulu would react in this way. However he had not foreseen that his Human First Officer would be this vehement. Or that Ruth would be taken so quickly. A fierce twinge of helpless remorse started within him, and he clamped down on the emotion. She can take care of herself. My wife is a strong and capable woman. And she is not alone. Even now, DelMonde will surely let no harm come to her. Competent officers, both of them. They know their duty. As I know mine; to Fleet and to my Captain.

Spock rose abruptly and returned to the private research that Sulu had interrupted. When the door chime sounded again, he sighed heavily and called, "Come."

"Sir, this was just beamed up from Eastport," Kyle said.

Spock turned. The Transporter Chief held a metal box thirty centimeters on a side.

"It was addressed to you, Captain."

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Ruth wanted to stay as close to Del as the Klingon guard would allow, but was afraid to, more for him than for herself. She wanted to cause him no more pain. She had discussed – with Spock - the possibility that the Klingons would detain them. It was considered a long shot. After all, the Klingons wouldn’t necessarily know they were Starfleet personnel. But there had been a contingency made for it.

They were escorted into a small office. There was a Klingon at a desk and they halted in front of him. He looked up and smiled grimly.

"Our miscreant Starfleet officers, Kas?" he asked.

The guard nodded. "Yes, Sub-commander."

The officer appraised them carefully, then stood. "What have you to offer us?" he demanded. Ruth took a deep breath.

"Offer you?" she heard DelMonde ask dubiously. The man stared harder.

"Haven't you heard? Or is it usual for AWOL Fleet officers to be considered defectors?" Ruth carefully avoided Del’s puzzled glance, and Kas chuckled. "Apparently they thought better of their shipmates."

"What you talkin' 'bout?" the engineer managed. "You consider all prisoners defectors?"

"Prisoners?" the officer said. "My dear Lieutenant Commander, you aren't our prisoners. Or at least you weren't. We took your shipmates' claims of your AWOL status, along with your none-too-subtle baiting of us, to mean defection. As, I might add, your Fleet did."

So much for long shots. Ruth hid her grimace and silently apologized to Del, then played to what the sub-commander had said so far. "What could Klingons offer us?" she wondered.

Del glanced at her. What? sounded incredulously in her mind and she shot back a fierce fake it! ignoring the pain it sent into her brain. She could see the cold fear in his eyes slowly becoming tinged with hopeful speculation that was difficult to endure. His thoughts were as leaky as ever, and while he clearly understood what was happening, he was ascribing a reason to it that burned in her thoughts: You not really… has th' past three months been a ruse to make him trust you so he give this assignment to me an’ you… so we can get away from… She shuddered. Del, I’m so sorry! Then she resolutely faced the Klingon officer with assured grimness.

"Asylum, if the rumors are to be believed," the sub-commander was saying. "But the question is, what have you to offer us?"

"If you know who we are then you already know the answer to that," Ruth informed the Klingon with angry sarcasm.

"All I know, Lieutenant Commander Valley, is what Terran rumor and speculation has told me."

"Which is?" DelMonde prompted.

"That an unfaithful wife and her lover are fleeing the wrath of a Vulcan Captain and, perhaps, official charges, and consider a Klingon cruiser the safest port. As well as the one best-suited for vengeance."

Del's agreeing laughter was too genuine and Ruth winced. Spock had mentioned it - again, to her, not to Del - as the most successful strategy, one to be put into place in case the long shot actually played, but she had never expected the whole ship would believe it – much less Del himself. But their orders played too well to it. What else could the crew think when the Captain obviously could not tell them of his orders from Fleet? What else could Del think? She gazed at him and again heard his thoughts as he realized that there would be no rescue party, even if their capture had been noted. His face was still an arrogant mask, but he was pale and his eyes held resigned fear: We gonna have to make it on our own, cher.

Her mind raced swiftly; they had to bluff through this, had to be allowed time to consider, time to get back to the ship. She took a deep breath. "Computer expert, Klingon," she said insolently, “the best in the Fleet. And one of the top engineers. And we know that Vulcan you referred to, his strategies and tactics. He'd be quite a prize."

"Precisely, dear," a silky voice said behind her. "I must thank you for being so cooperative. You weren't the last time, as I recall."

Ruth stopped the scream before it reached her throat. Show fear now, panic and the Klingons will know this is a bluff! she shouted at herself. Still, she involuntarily grabbed Del's arm, looking to him for reassurance. She saw the dark hope flare in him as their eyes met, and knew she shouldn't have done it. His gaze turned questioning as she took a deep breath and slowly turned.

"Commander Kor," she managed coolly. He laughed and she fought to keep conscious.

"My subordinates do not know your husband as I do," he said. "You were to be the bait in his trap, but you'll do as well for the bait in mine."

The words echoed painfully in Ruth's mind. Bait, for Spock?! No, goddess, no! Not now, please, not now! There were tears in her eyes and Del's arm came around her as involuntarily as her reaching to him had been. Kor spoke again.

"So, dear Ruth, we call your bluff. I'll take good care of you and Mr. DelMonde.” He paused. "For now, anyway. I'd like to see Captain Spock's next move, but I think an invitation to the festivities is called for."

Before Ruth could react, the guard had grabbed Del, pulling him away from her side, and Kor moved toward her. She tensed for an attack, but Kor simply grasped her hair and in one swift blur drew his knife and slashed it through the thick torrent of gold. Ruth was too shocked to even scream. She fell to her knees, her hands coming up to the back of her neck as she trembled with sobs that couldn't be stopped. She heard Del swear and then call her name, but she couldn't answer.

She felt him pulling harshly away from the Klingon and kneel beside her, enfolding her in his arms. Through her shock, she watched as Kor neatly arranged the more than three feet of hair in a coil, then placed it into a. metal box.

"And now," Kor said, "we wait."

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Spock waited for Kyle to leave before opening the box. The catch sprang easily. He was filled with a cold dread. Whatever he would find inside, he was to blame. He had to force himself to look, force himself to breathe and swallow. A groan of pure agony escaped his lips and the box clattered to the deck as he fell to his knees. Shaking hands clutched at the coils of hair and his sobs were deep and pain-wracked. Ruth, my dei’larr’ei, who would do this to you? My fathers, what is this, what does it mean? He trembled, bringing the sweet silk to his face, feeling its softness against his skin. Then his eyes focused on a symbol of metal that lay on the deck next to the box. His numbed mind struggled to identify it. Alien. Enemy. Klingon. Organia, an officer behind a desk. Canti and a vicious torturer. Jim's voice and an impatient, angry face... and on the chest-strap of the uniform....


He has my wife for I sent her as decoy! He bent his head and slowly, laboriously forced control back to his mind and body. He swept the golden tendrils back into the box and rose, placing it on his desk. His eyes closed and he set his face in grim determination. Kor had Ruth. And now, Spock thought with calm fury, I will have Kor.

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"Take whatever steps are necessary, Mr. Sulu," Commodore Mendez replied heavily. Sulu nodded at the viewscreen.

"I deeply regret this, sir," he said, and it was Mendez’ turn to nod.

"As does all of Fleet. Carry on." The screen went blank and Sulu turned to Tara Ryan.

"Have we got Betaran clearance yet?" he asked.

"We're still waiting on it, sir." Sulu stood from his desk and started pacing. "Are Valley and DelMonde still in the same location?"

"As far as our sensors detect, sir." Tara paused. "I still can't believe it, Sulu."

Sulu grinned tightly. "Believe it. And if you've got to blame someone, start with Captain Bastard."

"I hate this ship," Tara murmured.

"Doesn't everyone?"

The communicator on the desk signaled and Sulu leaped to answer it. "The governor of Betara, Mr. Sulu," Uhura reported.

"Finally. Put him on."

Governor Lomond's face came on the screen. He looked tired and worried. Sulu understood why; an incident like this between the Federation and the Klingons put quite a strain on the neutral standing of worlds like Betara, which tried to keep friendly relations with both powers. When he spoke, the governor's voice was tense and solemn. "We have decided to grant permission for a full security search of Eastport. We do ask that you keep any violence to an absolute minimum."

"We'll do our best, Governor," Sulu replied. "The Federation thanks you for your cooperation in this matter."

"I only wish the Klingon Empire would do the same. Lomond out."

Sulu stood by the screen for several seconds. "Sir?" Tara asked; then, more softly, "Sulu?"

He looked up, grief and anger hardening his features. "Let's go get them, Tara."

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It had taken a while, but Ruth had regained her composure. She stood at Del's side, only her eyes moist and desolate. There was no way to convey the sense of loss and guilt that poured from the ragged ends of her ruined hair. Her mind repeated in bitter tones the facts of Antari life -- only a widow, a severed salish, ever cut her hair. Tears were forced into her eyes, and she angrily swept them away. Kor had returned from sending his package and was giving his men orders. He turned and Ruth felt Del tense beside her.

"You'll be well cared for," Kor told her. "At least, until your husband joins us. A detention area has been prepared, if you'll accompany my men."

Ruth couldn't look at him. She winced as Del took her arm and they followed in silence.

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When they walked out into the street, Del automatically searched for a way out of this. No rescue comin’, that fo' damn sure. That sombitch no doubt real happy to let us die. He ached to talk to Ruth, to ask her if she had intended to run away with him. It made a cruel kind of sense. If Spock had known of her intent, maybe it wasn’t trust in her that had sent them on this doomed mission. Mebbe we s’posed to walk up to it, quietly, wit’ no fuss.

He fought the helpless fury, then noticed that their escort was unarmed. No phasers. Of course, Betara was carefully neutral, no weaponry allowed. If they were going to get out of this, it better be here, where they had someplace to run to. He tightened his grip on Ruth's arm. She glanced at him; he let his eyes tell her to follow his lead. He took several deep breaths, then waited for an opening. Ten more steps, and a screeching child caught the guard's attention.

He bolted, pulling Ruth with him.

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Spock had called his First Officer, only to be informed by Yeoman Tamura that he and a security team were already on Betara. He silently damned Sulu's efficiency even while acknowledging it, and ordered Communications to raise him. It was vitally important that Sulu know the truth of the mission. More was at stake than the claim to Tommeral. Kor was in Eastport. If the Klingons were alerted now, he would flee and Spock would lose the chance to force him to reveal the details of Jim’s encounter with the Guardian, details that could provide a clue as to where in the past Jim had fled. And Kor had Ruth. There was no telling what more he would do to her. Spock found himself praying to his fathers that he was not too late, then realized the irony: praying that his own carefully orchestrated plans would prove inadequate.

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Del heard the sound of running feet catching up to him and his wild hope crashed around him. There wasn’t much of a chance they’d escape, he knew, but he kept on running, his hand holding firmly to Ruth’s arm. A few more meters and they would be across the open plaza that had been in front of the Klingon headquarters. Only a few more meters to the street that led to the Federation sector of Eastport. He felt the jerk of Ruth’s body and glanced behind him to see a Klingon grabbing her.

Del, let go, run…!

Not wit’out you, babe.

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"Commander, there!" Ensign Grant shouted. Sulu glanced where the man pointed, saw Klingon uniforms and heard the sound of running. He took off, the six-member security team behind him, phasers drawn. He ran down the street that led to Eastport's neutral plaza, and stopped short. Klingons, and Ruth and DelMonde, their backs to him, standing... and a horribly familiar face approaching. Kor. Not just Klingons, you bastard, but Kor! You defected to Kor! It took less than a second for Sulu to see that the Klingons weren't armed. A haze of scarlet fury blinded him and he leapt forward, reaching, grabbing DelMonde's arm. He spun him around and the hand that held his phaser came hard across, right to the engineer's jaw. He heard Ruth's exclamation as DelMonde went down and he reached for her, reversing the motion of his arm to backhand her sharply.

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Ruth had almost shrieked in joy as the security team raced toward her. She saw the look in Sulu's eyes too late. With phasers leveled at them, the Klingons released her and Del; then, too fast to follow, Sulu swung a breaking blow to Del's jaw. She cried Del's name, starting toward him, and Sulu slapped her with bruising ferocity.

"Traitorous bitch!" Sulu shouted hoarsely. Ruth crumpled at his feet.

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Sulu’s communicator signaled. Irritably he pulled it out. "Sulu!" he snapped.

"Mr. Sulu, you will cease all activity immediately," Spock's voice said.

"What?!" Sulu burst out.

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Spock's voice did not reflect his astonishment at Sulu's shout. "I repeat, Mr. Sulu, cease all activity immediately."

An indignant, "What are you..." came over the channel before Sulu caught himself and continued tightly, "I have just placed Valley and DelMonde under arrest, sir."

Joy flooded him, and it was momentarily all he could think of.

"Very well, Mr. Sulu. Return to the ship."


"At once, Commander." Spock signaled to cut off communications, then hurried to the transporter room. Ruth would want to see him... and he needed to see her.

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Sulu stared at the now-silent communicator. "But....but...." involuntarily came from his throat; then he growled inarticulately and snapped the grid closed. The Klingons had moved abruptly back, covered by the security team's phasers. The team itself was clearly awaiting orders. Ruth was getting back to her feet, aiding DelMonde to his. Sulu closed his eyes, trying to think, but it was useless. Everything he thought he knew was jumbled and confused. He was about to say something -- anything, he muttered sarcastically to himself -- when Kor spoke.

"I trust we are free to go, Commander, as you have no excuse to hold us."

"How about kidnapping?" Ruth suggested angrily. Kor grinned sardonically.

"The official report is desertion, my dear."

"And I have my orders," Sulu growled. "Unfortunately, Klingon, I don't have the authority to hold you."

"Sulu?!" Ruth began. "You have to...'

"Shut up, Valley!" He turned to his team. "Cornell, Allison, take DelMonde. The Klingons go free. We beam up now." He opened his communicator again and ignored Ruth's murmured,

"Roy, you're in trouble," as the transporter took hold.

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Spock ordered DelMonde taken to Sickbay. He just as coolly ordered Ruth to his office for a debriefing. Sulu was past wondering and let the word slip by without comment. He went to his office to dictate his report and it was only after he had begun it that Ruth's hair -- the lack of it -- registered on his senses. What in god's name happened down there? He forced the confusion from his mind, concentrating on preparing his report and official charges. When the door opened, he glanced up -- at the Captain.

"Mr. Sulu," Spock said.

"I'm filing my report now, sir," Sulu interrupted. "I assume Valley is in the brig and DelMonde will be transferred there when medical treatment is complete..."

"No, Mr. Sulu," Spock interrupted. "Miss Valley is free and I have ordered DelMonde's release."

Sulu stared coldly. "What?"

"Their actions were ordered, by me in keeping with my orders from Starfleet. I was told to delay the Klothos, allowing our transport to supply a colony, giving our claim precedence. Miss Valley and Mr. DelMonde were the means of that delay."

Sulu struggled to find a voice. Orders, his, Fleet's, a delaying tactic. Why didn't he tell me, he let me nearly kill another officer, let me believe Ruth was a traitor, let the ship believe it, why didn't he tell me! "Captain, your first officer could be a great deal more effective if..." he began.

"My reasons for making my orders secret should be self-evident, Mr. Sulu," Spock replied tonelessly.

"Mind-sifter. I wouldn't've gotten near a Klingon...“ Sulu mused. “Ruth could have, and she might’ve been able to handle it, even after the sauvrn, but DelMonde…" He stopped. "He didn't know his orders were secret, did he," he murmured with sudden realization.

"Again, my reasons are clear."

You son of a bitch. How many times are you going to use us? How much cold, calculating logic do you think we can take? You had to delay the Klingons. Logical. You didn't tell the ship because we had to put on a convincing show for the Klingons to buy a defection. Flawless. But why Ruth and DelMonde? Easier for us to believe. Damn you, goddamn you! And here I am, acting like some Indiian on a jihad. You couldn't care less how big a fool I make of myself just because my Captain didn't have the decency to let me in on Fleet missions!

Sulu calmed the bitter rage inside his head and faced Spock. "Yes, sir," he said between clenched teeth. "I'll alter my report accordingly."

Spock nodded and turned, leaving the office. Sulu slammed a fist on his desk, then took several steadying breaths. It was his duty to inform the crew, and he had a couple of apologies to make. But this time, he promised himself, I'm getting promoted or transferred or I resign, but I'm getting the hell out from under that Vulcan bastard.

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"Does it hurt much?" Jade asked. Del winced.

"A broken jaw s’posed to, non?" he mumbled.

Jade took a hypospray and placed it to his arm. "That should do it. It'll be tender for several days, but the break was clean. The bone knitted well."

"Sulu not a sloppy man," DelMonde grunted.

"He thought you were deserting, Mr. DelMonde."

"Such faith."

"You know the story. It wasn't his fault."

Del sighed. "No, I guess not."

"Dr. Han, can I come in?"

Both Jade and DelMonde turned at Sulu's voice. He stood in the doorway, decidedly uneasy. "I'd like to talk to you, if that's alright," he said to DelMonde.

"No need," Del replied. "I understand."

"Spock let us believe you were AWOL."

Del's face darkened. "I know that."

"It was my duty to bring you back..."

"Sulu, I know, we forget it.

"How can I?" Sulu muttered. "He let me act like a total ass, and he used this whole ship."

"Mais, it not th' first time," DelMonde growled.

Sulu nodded, "No. You can bring me up on charges," he added.

"Why bother?"

"Since I'm leaving."

"You too?"

"One way or another." Sulu paused. "Del, I am sorry."

"I know. So am I."

O=O=O=O=O=O=O=O= O=O=O=O=O=O=O=O

When he was released, Del went in search of Ruth. There were a few things he had to have clarified. It didn't take him long to find her; transfixed in front of a computer screen. She'd been there every spare moment since...

He pushed the thought hurriedly away. He didn't understand that, either, and it was too painful to dwell on. She'd given no reason except 'Spock is my husband' and that was no reason at all.

It took him a while to get her attention. He actually had to touch her shoulder. It made him acutely aware of her missing hair, and the horror she had felt rushed through him in a wave of cold.

"Babe..." he rasped out.

She jumped, turned. "Del," was all she said.

He stared down at her, desperate for communication. She deliberately turned away from him and he grasped her arms, pulling her up out of the chair. "Tell me!" he demanded.

"What?" she returned, her voice as soft as his had been harsh.

"You let him use us."

"He's the Captain. It was a mission. It's his prerogative to use whatever..."

"Not us!"

"Yes, us. It was the most effective way to..."

"Damn it, not us!" Del's head thundered and he gathered all the mental force he possessed to send out contact she would be unable to ignore. Not us/blending/loving/hurting/need/pain/why why WHY!?!

Ruth's mind burned around his for one terrible glorious moment, then she abruptly snapped her barriers closed.

"No, Del," she said huskily.

"Why?!" The word was quiet anguish.

"He's my..."

"Not that. Why use us, me? Th' bastard know we not touch in weeks."

Ruth flushed. "The crew doesn't."

"Damn it, babe... how you jus' accept..."

"He's the Captain, that's how!” she asserted pleadingly. “It's our duty, it's what we swore to when we joined Fleet! It wouldn't matter what happened between you and me or he and I! He's the Captain, he uses what he has to! Would you even question another commander?"

Del ran his hand through his hair. He felt confused, aching, almost physically sick. What she said made sense... but he didn't want it to. He wanted to be able to convince her Spock was a bastard, to come with him, to come to him. Yet he knew that he'd lost, had known since she'd left his bed weeks ago, and it was that knowledge that was pounding in his head and stomach. Still he was desperate to deny it.

"Ruth," he began hoarsely, "what he done goes beyond Fleet discipline. You not see that? It our personal lives he usin’, our private hell he expose to..."

"He did what would work!"

"And t’ hell wit’ the people it hurt? Logic, efficiency at all costs an’ ignore th' blood? What happen to compassion, Ruth, reverence fo’ life, non-violence? Or not what he doin’ to us violence?!"

"Stop it, Del, stop it!" she cried. "You don't understand, please..."

"What I not understand? Tell me!"

For the first time, Ruth looked at him. He held his breath, praying. Her eyes filled with tears and she swallowed several times. She seemed about to speak when the door to the small lab hissed open. The voice that spoke was the last one Del expected to hear, saying the last thing he expected to hear:

"My wife, I have found him."


"Chain Reaction" by Journey

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