(This is an alternate to the Shadow Captain series.
It begins at the story "Danse Macabre").
Return to Valjiir Stories
Return to Valjiir Continum
Return to Valjiir Continum
Captain Spock sat alone in his office, fingers steepled thoughtfully. He reached out, depressing a button on the computer terminal before him, keying in the ship's log recorder. He spoke, as always, calmly, and clearly.
"Captain's log; The Enterprise has encountered a strange space phenomenon: a very large area of space obscured by what appears to be a naturally occurring variation on the verilium-obsitrate combination, one that is surprisingly close to the Valjiir cloak." He stopped the entry long enough to refer to previous files and entries concerning the cloak, then went on. "Investigation of this phenomenon is desirable, and with the Enterprise on the edge of Klingon space, imperative. As the crew of this ship includes both Lieutenant Commander Valley, and Lieutenant Majiir, they will be assigned the task of carrying out the necessary research. I await only confirmation from Starfleet Command to order the launching of the research shuttlecraft."
He switched off the recorder, and went over his planning, in detail, for the third time. It was logical. It was justifiable. The potential gain outweighed any other factors. If, of course, Starfleet approved.
As he was deliberating, a call came from the Bridge — an answer to his message to Section Command. He took it in his office.
As he thought, Starfleet approved.
The shuttle bay was humming with activity of a final check-through necessary before any launching. Ruth Valley held a statboard, checking off as secured the items Jilla Majiir inspected. They spoke formally, and even with the noise around them, they seemed to be in a cocoon of uneasy silence.
"Navigation input," Ruth said.
"Response normal," Jilla replied.
Jilla tested the key circuits. "Response normal."
"Keyed for exploratory probes, functions responding..."
"Normally," Ruth finished for her. The Indiian glanced at her, then through her, and Ruth lowered her eyes uncomfortably.
Lieutenant Commander DelMonde climbed out of the shuttle where he had been stowing equipment. He watched the two women for a second. Majiir still bein' a bitch, he thought. An' now they spend a couple o’ days together in a shuttle. Which mean, he angrily told himself, a whole night t' calm Ruth down when she get back. An’ I t’ink o’ whole lotta better ways to spend what time we got together.
Knowing that it wouldn't make things any better for Ruth, but not wanting to waste any chance he had to touch her, he strolled over to where she and Jilla stood, and slid his arm around her waist.
"You hurry home, babe," he said quietly. She turned in delighted surprise, smiling up at him. Her eyes lost the smile as she shot an anxious glance at Jilla.
Del was certain that if he'd had a thermometer, it would've registered several degrees colder than a moment ago. Jilla’s body was stiff, almost as if every muscle was being tightly clenched, and her eyes reflected silver ice.
"Excuse me, Mr. DelMonde, Lady Xtmprosqzntwlfd," she said, her voice glacially polite. Then she strode, directly between him and Ruth, across the shuttle bay.
"Damn," he growled.
"Agreed," Ruth replied.
He felt the effort to control her temper drain out of her with the too-Vulcan response. Her eyes followed Jilla's stiff figure across the bay. "Damnation means quite a bit to Jilla," she said softly, and he had the familiar feeling that she wasn't talking to him.
The lights on Sulu's board blinked that the shuttle was ready to depart. He informed the Captain, received the orders to open the bay doors and carried them out. He waited for Uhura's, "Galileo reports away, sir," before turning his mind from First Officer back to helmsman. The First Officer didn't have time to worry about personal conflicts. The helmsman, however…
Ruth and Jilla in a shuttle. For possibly days. Alone. Together. They were, indeed, the logical choice, and as neither of them requested a deferring of the captain's assignment... First Officer again. I could have made a logical case, damn it! Personality clash. Clash, hell. War. Riot. Annihilation. Which Spock wouldn't've listened to. He never does. Not even logic works when it concerns Ruth. He glanced back at Spock and saw just what he expected: Captain, no more, no less. Did he even know that Jilla was no longer speaking to Ruth? Would he care? He has to know about Ruth and DelMonde, doesn't he? Or doesn't he care about that, either? You're driving her away, and you refuse to see it. Either that, or it's on purpose. And in that case, do me a favor and break the contract so Jilla will acknowledge Ruth's existence again.
Sulu sighed. Jilla can't help what she is, he thought helplessly, but damn it, neither can Ruth! And here we go again. Ruth and Jilla were closer to each other than any two people he'd ever known. And Captain Spock was tearing them apart. He ignored his wife, on and off duty, in bed as well as out. Ruth was Antari, but she was Human too, and she needed love, affection, contact, and sex, just like any other married woman. And her husband wasn't there. Ever. Who could blame her for turning to someone else?
Jilla, of course, came the immediate, despairing answer. Adultery, the one sin, the only sin Ruth could ever commit that Jilla can never forgive. Bastard or no bastard, need or no need, love or no love, Jilla could not accept Ruth's affair with Noel DelMonde. Ruth was married. Marriage is forever. That was all Jilla saw. All she could see. But I see more, Sulu thought helplessly. I understand. How could I not? And Ruth sure as hell has better reason than I did. She loves Del. He loves her. And she needs. Spock won't have her.
And here the First Officer sits, stuck with an unsolvable problem that Captain Bastard won't even acknowledge. It's logical to send Valjiir, and therefore it is of no concern that Valjiir will tear each other apart, only psychologically, if we're lucky.
Sulu glanced again at the con. And it won't be you who lets Ruth cry herself to sleep in loving arms for the next week, either, will it, bastard? He closed his eyes briefly. Or you who will do the same for Jilla.
Fifteen hours of being in the shuttle with Jilla, not sharing each other's company, but efficiently working together as a team was grating on Ruth's already raw nerves. The only conversation was business, and minimal. What wasn't said sang viciously in the small space between them and punctuated even the most ordinary exchange.
Ruth could wish away the tautness in her muscles, the tiredness caused by long hours of work. She couldn't do the same with the strain Jilla's non-presence caused. She had tried before now to get Jilla to talk to her; explanations, anger, begging, mockery. Nothing touched the ice wall, and so Ruth settled for trying to play it Jilla's way as long as she could. Pride could keep her as silent as Jilla's revulsion kept her. Stop thinking about it, you idiot!
She tried to relax in the seat, and looking down, she noticed that she'd done it again. Her hands were resting palms up, open, evidence to any Indiian that no one had said anything to her about eternity. The desperation to cleanse herself of the guilt welled up in her throat and she screamed.
"Son of a bitch!"
Jilla jumped, startled, turning to Ruth, her face concerned. Ruth stared at her. It was obvious that when Jilla saw there was no duty-related reason behind the shout, her expression quickly changed, conveying that such tactics weren’t going to change a thing.
Ruth wanted to shout at her, to shake her, or at least get a real air-cleaning argument started. Instead she shrugged, and went back to work. Jilla began to calmly rattle off the latest set of figures from the probe they'd sent out; then her tone changed, becoming wary and anxious.
"Sensors are picking up a ship, dead ahead, its configuration..." She paused, and glanced, for the first time in weeks, directly at Ruth's eyes. "It is Klingon."
The second of silence was followed by .a soft, intense, "Oh, shit!" and Ruth turned to the Communications console. "Galileo to Enterprise, come in Enterprise. "
"You need not bother," Jilla said. "There's no one back there."
"What!" Ruth exclaimed frantically.
"The Enterprise is not there," Jilla stated succinctly. "As the Captain is always logical, we can assume that the Klingon cruiser we are picking up is only one of many, and that Captain Spock has tactfully retreated to wait for assistance." Jilla's voice was precise and a dry imitation of Spock. Whether on purpose or not, Ruth didn't know.
She absorbed the information and nodded, adding ruefully, "And left us here."
"Perhaps he thought the phenomenon would provide us with cover." This time there was no mistaking the bitter cynicism, and Ruth felt some of it creeping into her thoughts as well.
"We don't have enough data to just plunge blindly into that thing," she said, fighting the hopelessness.
"Perhaps he had not considered that," Jilla snapped pleasantly.
Ruth caught her gaze and said pointedly, "He considers everything."
Jilla immediately looked away. "It makes little difference," she said, just as pointedly.
Ruth sighed. "Right." There was a short pause, then she said, "Maybe they haven't spotted us..."
"We cannot outrun them..." Jilla said almost on top of her words.
"One chance?" Ruth's question, too, overlapped Jilla's statement.
"We cannot be certain, but..."
"Right." Ironically, Ruth realized that the quasi-telepathic communication that was part of Valjiir still worked, at least for business purposes. "Hard astern, give me all the power we've got."
Ruth fed the new course into the navigational computers, felt the shuttle responding with full thrust. They were only a few minutes from the phenomenon; with luck they'd make it. With further luck they'd stay alive. Jilla was already under the helm-con, crossing wiring and circuitry to give them more acceleration. She bent down to see if she needed help, and was abruptly thrown against the console. Jilla, too, skidded forward, and the engines of the small craft began to whine in protest. She didn't have to check the sensors to know what had happened. A tractor beam. She swore as she crawled to the con, releasing the engines. No need to tear the craft apart.
"They've got us," she said to Jilla.
"Obviously," Jilla replied.
"Self-destruct?" Ruth suggested lamely.
Jilla turned a look of scornful surprise on her. "That would be the correct procedure for a proper Vulcan wife, but I hardly thought that concerned you."
"Or you!" Ruth retorted furiously. She regretted it immediately. Jilla hissed something in Vulcan, striking her face with cold rage. Ruth only understood one word, and it was the only one she needed to: m'lek'ta-fee.
Tears burned suddenly behind Ruth's eyes; disbelief, pain and anger. You are a Vulcan's wife, control it! She had to clear her throat twice before she could answer. "If we have time, we'll discuss it later." She started to say, 'Lieutenant', and heard herself say, instead, "Beggar."
Her hand immediately came over her mouth, her eyes shining with the horror of what she'd said. An apology formed on her lips, then died as Jilla looked up at her. The Indiian's face was full of raw agony, her eyes seemed dull, yet too bright at the same time; but she was smiling, soft, sad, wistful.
"At least," she whispered, "I will have company." Her voice became stronger, and all trace of the pain disappeared in the emotionless control. "However, we are being pulled into a Klingon ship. We had best prepare ourselves for questioning."
"Oh dear," Ruth said suddenly. "I'd forgotten. They don't usually take prisoners, do they?"
Jilla took a deep breath. "I doubt if they will keep us long."
The fear made Ruth shiver, but she combated it with an off-handed, "It's been nice knowing you."
Jilla didn't look at her when she answered, "Has it?"
Sorrow filled Ruth's eyes, and she pushed it away. Alright, Majiir, so I have to play the game alone. It's still the only one I know. She made her voice as flippant as she could, and replied, "Until recently."
"We are locked onto the lifeforms inside the shuttlecraft, Commander."
Kel nodded to his transporter chief. "Get them aboard, Lieutenant," he said. As the figures materialized, Kel motioned to a security complement, who immediately surrounded the beam platform. When the beaming was completed, Kel blinked in surprise. Their captives, one in blue, the other in red, were women, and non-Terra women at that. Indiian and... Antari. He smiled slowly. Fleet-Commander would certainly be glad to hear that. The women had their hands raised in the Terran gesture of submission, and he stepped forward.
"I am Kel, Commander of the Kalian. You are my prisoners under Imperial law. You will cooperate and answer all questions.” He spoke tersely in Anglo-Terran. "You will tell me your names, your mission, and the location of the ship your craft was sent from."
The Antari spoke up brashly. "Valley, Majiir, research," she said, then shrugged in answer to the last part of his question.
Kel had no time for such insubordination, and to convey this he strode to the platform and slapped the Antari harshly across the face. The undeniably beautiful violet eyes blazed, and the Indiian's voice said calmly, "Lieutenant Commander Ruth Maxwell Valley, Lieutenant Jilla Majiir. We were sent to explore and investigate the space phenomenon into which our craft was heading when you illegally locked your tractor beam onto us. We lost communication with our ship and therefore are unaware of her location. Does that satisfy you, Commander?"
Kel turned his attention to her. "The name of your ship, Lieutenant."
"Galileo," the Antari interrupted, and Kel gave her a warning glance.
"The Enterprise," the Indiian replied.
Kel smiled coldly.
"I am not interested in Federation legality, so your claim that you were detained in defiance of such laws has no meaning for me. I am, however, very interested in the names Valley and Majiir." The Antari's eyes closed, but the Indiian's face remained impassively uncomprehending. "Your work is well-known, even to us."
"Our work?" the Indiian questioned blandly.
"Perhaps, I should've said, the work of Valjiir." Kel smiled again. "Valley and Majiir are Valjiir."
Though the statement was not said as a question, Kel waited for one or the other to confirm it. When neither said a word, he gestured brusquely for the guards to take them. "To my office," he said. "Fleet-Commander will wish to speak with them."
Ruth stood in a small, barren office, waiting for the Klingon to complete his call to his superior. She glanced at Jilla, and wondered if she were as sick, and as scared. Damn Vulcan control! Damn Vulcan everything. Valjiir. God, I hadn't thought of that. I should've let the tractor tear the shuttle apart. We can't let them have any information, and when we don't... Her mind immediately said mind-sifter. Jilla would be rendered useless, and she -- would have to go back and tell Sulu — no! If you can save yourself, you can save Jilla. Just blink out? Well, not 'just,’ but...
The viewscreen was large. It covered nearly the whole of one wall, and it filled suddenly with the face of a sardonically expressioned Klingon. The eyes took in the small office, and its occupants. The smile he gave them was incredibly delighted.
They both gasped loudly, both took a step backward, and Ruth frantically grabbed Jilla's arm, unsure whether it was to keep the Indiian from fainting, or to prevent it in herself. She had difficulty swallowing, or breathing, and her heart was beating furiously against her chest. She had, for once, no trouble telling that Jilla was as terrified as she: the arm she clutched so desperately was trembling with remembered horror.
The face was Kor's.
Memories of three years before swirled in pain and fear and anger in Ruth’s mind. Three years since Canti, and the examples Kor had staged for the populace – and the private ones for himself: Bloody, skinless backs, deep, jaggedly sliced stomach, rape and terror and pain and more pain... He was responsible for all of it. Monique, Jilla, Sulu, Spock — Kevin...god, I'm sorry, Kevin... Jim. Jim! The tears flooded her mind. Kor hadn't been able to break Bwana, no one had, not ever, not Jim... And he had never been punished for it, not for any of it! And now he was a Fleet commander, almost unlimited power in his own sector.... "Bastard," she barely managed to whisper. "Goddamned Klingon bastard."
Kor studied them for a few seconds. He had the look of a man who was an avid collector and had just found a pair of rare prizes to add to his collection. "Pretty Ruth, little Jilla," he murmured silkily. "I'm so glad to see you again."
Jilla's face went chalk white. The only sound that escaped her was a terrified whimper, then her arm was sliding from Ruth's grasp as she noiselessly slumped to the floor in a dead faint. Ruth was her knees beside her as Kel said, "You know them, Fleet Commander?"
"Ah, poor Jilla," Kor said sympathetically, ignoring Kel' s question. Kel turned to look at his prisoners as Kor went on. "That's right, take care of her, Priestess." Kor chuckled, then addressed himself again to Kel. "We have met on another occasion," he said. "If I had known then that they were not mere Starfleet lieutenants, things would have gone very differently."
Kel looked from the image of the commander to the two women, one unconscious, the other frightened to near panic. "Ah,” he said, smugly, understanding their reactions. Kor's reputation for mixing business and pleasure was both well-known and well admired. "Orders, Commander?" Kel asked.
Kor thought for a moment before asking, "Any trace of the Federation ship?”
Kor chuckled again. "She should show up soon. Remain in the area. Keep my girls healthy and able to answer my questions. Besides that..." he paused. "But you'd better do something about dear Ruth." He was silent for a moment, then his face brightened. "The sauvrn, Commander. It will keep her immobilized until I arrive.” He gazed past Kel to Ruth. "My dear, I can hardly wait,"
The screen went blank with Ruth's scream.
Spock sat in the con, fingers steepled, waiting. It had been over fifteen hours since the Galileo had been launched. He had not left the Bridge, of course, in that time, and he merely dismissed the knowledge that the Third Watch Bridge crew would be uncomfortable with him on duty. He must be ready when it happened. Not even DelMonde's presence was enough to cause him to leave. The engineer was keeping close watch on the sensor blip that was the shuttle, and Spock dismissed that knowledge, too.
He understood the increased chatter of the main computer banks before Ensign Cabot turned from the Helm.
"We're picking up a Klingon force, sir, at five-six point nine-nine mark three heading toward the space phenomenon at warp five.”
"Lieutenant Holden, sound yellow alert, Miss DuBois, activate the Valjiir cloak," Spock ordered briskly. "Mr. Cabot, how many in the force?"
Spock nodded. "Miss DuBois, set a new course, full astern, to take us out of range of anything the Klingons might care to fire. Mr. Holden, a message to Starbase 16 and a general mayday for any ships in this sector.”
"Yes, sir," the Communications officer replied.
"Captain," came the voice from Engineering. DelMonde.
"Yes, Mr. DelMonde?"
"Orders concernin’ th' shuttle?"
"The safety of this ship and her crew are of the highest priority, Lieutenant Commander."
"Th' people ‘board that craft are members o’ this crew, sir."
"The decision is mine, Lieutenant Commander, and it has been made." Spock turned from the Engineering Station as Sulu came onto the Bridge. "Commander, you will coordinate any necessary action between this ship and any aid that will arrive."
Sulu looked confused, but he slid easily into the chair that Ensign Cabot vacated. "The nature of the emergency, Captain?" he asked.
"A Klingon patrol force..."
"Headin’ for th' Galileo," DelMonde interrupted.
Sulu seemed to ignore DelMonde's statement, but after a quick check of his instruments, and the course on the navigation console, he turned to Spock. "Sir, we're headed in the opposite direction."
"That is correct, Mr. Sulu," Spock replied.
"I beg your pardon, sir, but shouldn't we be attempting to recover the Galileo?"
"We have neither the time nor the fire power, Commander. My orders stand."
"Sir," Sulu persisted. "We could accomplish the recovery and still be out of range well before the Klingons could detect..."
"My orders stand, Mr. Sulu. If you will not carry them out, kindly return your post to Mr. Cabot and confine yourself to your quarters."
"Yes, sir," Sulu growled, "but may I respectfully point out that the crew of the Galileo is Valjiir, and as such is considered indispensable to..."
"I am aware of the shuttle's crew, Mr. Sulu. We cannot take on three battle cruisers with any reasonable chance for success. The only logical alternative is to retreat and await assistance. And as the crew of the Galileo is Valjiir, I am sure they are resourceful enough to avoid too much unpleasantness until we return. Does that satisfy you, Commander?”
"I was not questioning your orders, sir. I have a duty to ascertain that all factors have been taken into consideration, I see that they have. Your orders stand." Sulu turned back to the screen, and muttered, "And I can hardly wait till I'm promoted the hell out from under you, sir.”
"Neither can I, Mr. Sulu," was Spock's bland reply.
Fifteen minutes later, Sulu reported to the Captain, who had returned to his office.
"We've received answers from Starbase 16, the Hood, the Kali, and the Siva, Captain. Both destroyers can be here in two hours, the Hood in three, and Commodore Foran has put the entire sector on alert. He suggests we try and keep track of the Galileo, if at all possible, without endangering ourselves. I've ordered sensor sweeps..."
Spock did not look up. "There is no need for that, Mr. Sulu. I know exactly where the Galileo is."
Sulu stared for a moment with the sinking feeling he shouldn't ask, and the question came out merely as an, "Oh?"
"By this time, the shuttlecraft is undoubtedly being held in a Klingon tractor beam, and Lieutenant Commander Valley and Lieutenant Majiir are on board the cruiser itself."
"What?" It was a strangled whisper.
"I have called for a briefing, Mr. Sulu. Your questions will be answered when the senior officers of this ship are present."
Sulu sat down, ostensibly to wait patiently for Scotty, McCoy, Uhura, Tara Ryan, Chekov, and, with Ruth gone, Jan Bergmann; but he did so with very little confidence in his legs continuing to support him. He knows exactly where the Galileo is. Oh my god. He 'knows exactly'! Cold blooded... are Vulcans reptilian? My wife is on board a Klingon ship, and he can blithely inform me of it as if it were nothing more than how she's decided to spend a rec day...
Wait a minute. He knows. He knows something, and he's up to something. Again. With difficulty, Sulu kept himself from openly glaring at the Captain. What's it this time? Do I get my wife back alive out of this one? How many fucking medals will they pin on you for it? He fought the surge of bitter anger. It did no good to rave at a stone wall.
The officers arrived, punctual, efficient, but silent. McCoy and Scotty came in together, but even they weren't speaking. By the time everyone was present the silence was uncomfortable, at best. The only person who didn't notice it was the Assistant Science Officer, Jan Bergmann. He had transferred from the Potemkin only weeks before Spock became captain. He had no experience with Jim Kirk's casual, almost friendly briefing sessions... Sulu abruptly pushed the thought away, riveting his attention to Spock.
"Captain," Tara Ryan began, "are we going to launch a full scale attack on the Klingons?"
"In a manner of speaking, Miss Ryan," Spock replied. "But there is a situation that must be explained. Our reason for being here, our reason for sending a shuttle to examine the space phenomenon."
"I thought that was clear, sir," Bergmann said.
"The Captain had other reasons besides purely scientific ones, Lieutenant," Sulu said. "That is correct, isn't it, sir?"
"Yes, Mr. Sulu. Starfleet has, for months, considered it imperative that a Klingon battle cruiser be captured. With their advances in technology, evidenced by their inefficient but nearly omnipotent energy draining field, it is vital to the security of the Federation that we ascertain if any other such improvements have been made in their weaponry or their mobility. At the discovery of a verilium-obsitrate phenomenon, so close to Klingon space, I reasoned that they, too, would be sending research parties. I assumed, as is their custom, that they would send a cruiser, which they, in fact, did. However, I also reasoned that the presence of a heavy cruiser might discourage them, whereas the presence of a shuttlecraft would only serve to draw them..."
"Bait?! Again?!" Sulu interrupted, his voice incredulous and accusing.
"A colloquial term, Mr. Sulu, yet, in essence, accurate."
"Lieutenants Valley and Majiir agreed to..." Uhura began, trying to keep the surprise out of her voice.
"Valley and Majiir were assigned to research the phenomenon," Spock said. "They could not be informed as to the true nature of the mission due to the Klingon techniques of questioning prisoners..."
"Mind-sifters!" McCoy broke in angrily.
"You sent them to go through it again?" Scotty blazed simultaneously.
"There was that possibility," Spock replied calmly.
"Sir," Tara broke in, trembling. "Security could have arranged something..."
"There was no time, Miss Ryan. I followed the only logical, opportune course.
"Damn your logic, Spock!" McCoy shouted. "Do you know what you've done!"
"Doctor, your opinion was not called for."
McCoy was on his feet, staring down at Spock. "Then you just tell me what the hell I'm here for, Captain!"
"Dr. McCoy, you are overwrought. I suggest you calm yourself before speaking again."
"You are here, Doctor, because regulations state that any briefing of this nature must include all senior officers," Sulu said it as calmly as Spock would have; then he added, in a friendlier tone, "Now sit down, Doc, and help us work out a way to get them back." He couldn't help thinking that McCoy was here for the same reason they all were; so the Captain wouldn't look like he was talking to himself,
"This mission is to capture a Klingon vessel," Spock reminded sternly.
"With no loss of Starfleet personnel, if possible," Sulu rejoined.
"With no loss of any life, if possible, Mr. Sulu."
"He'll save a Klingon before he'll save his own wife," McCoy muttered to Scotty. Sulu glanced at Spock, to see if he'd heard. There was no change in the Vulcan's expression, but he was gazing directly at McCoy.
"Aye, Doctor," Scotty replied, both angry and sorrowful. "I don't agree with the whole idea, but at least if it had been Captain Kirk, he'd be the one in that shuttle, not Ruth and Jilla."
"Captain Kirk often acted illogically, Mr. Scott," Spock said coldly.
"Aye, sir," Scotty growled, "but he acted like a man!"
"I agree with you, Scotty," Sulu broke in quickly, "but the Captain of this ship is Vulcan, and what's done is done. We don't get our personal feelings mixed up in duty and we all know that." He turned to Spock. "The tactical maneuver that would work best in this situation, sir, is a sneak, surprise attack. We hit their weapons, their engines, and their Bridge, in that order, in rapid succession, and she's ours."
Spock regarded him impassively. "Exactly, Mr. Sulu." He turned. "Mr. Scott, I will expect our tractor to be ready to lock onto the Galileo the moment she is released from the Klingon ship. Dr. McCoy, Lieutenant Ryan, you will prepare a boarding party. Lieutenant Commander Uhura, you will monitor any and all communications they send or receive. Mr. Bergmann, maintain a full sensor scan on the vessel at all times. That will be all. We go to red alert in two hours."
Sulu got onto the turbolift and was surprised to find Noel DelMonde waiting for him.
"What do now?" DelMonde asked anxiously.
Sulu frowned. "Aren't you supposed to be at your station on the Bridge?" he asked.
"You gonna report me?" the engineer returned defiantly.
The First Officer shook his head with a weary sigh.
"He use our gals as bait t' set a trap fo' the Klingons, non?" Del said, his voice dark.
The phrase 'our gals' burned in Sulu's mind.
"Ruth not know anyt’ing ‘bout that," the Cajun continued, not waiting for Sulu's confirmation. "An' I bet all th' sapphire on Haven Jilla not know either."
The tone of concern in DelMonde's words surprised Sulu. Del had been anything but fond of the Indiian the past few months. "No, he couldn't tell them," he managed. "They'd blow the trap."
"Yeah," Sulu retorted grimly. "Damn him to all the fucking hells of every fucking universe there is. He's a heartless bastard, a cold, calculating son of a bitch, an unfeeling, uncaring motherfucker. So what?"
"So it not jus’ Ruth he try to kill."
All Sulu's helpless anger seethed to the fore and he snapped, "No, and there's not a damn thing either one of us can do about it, is there!"
Del leaned forward, his voice low as if he were afraid he'd be overheard. "Maybe they is," he murmured. "What if we could arrange fo' th' damned Vulcan to be out o' commission fo' a few hours? If you in command, mon ami, you could figure out somet'ing to do to save them, non?"
Sulu's breath caught. He could almost feel Del's thoughts and plans weaving themselves into his brain. The instinctive dislike and distrust of telepathic intrusion rose within him and he determinedly pushed it back down. In all the years they'd known one another, Del had never tried to influence him. This was just the way their minds reacted to one another.
He shook off the momentary unease, focusing instead on what the engineer had actually said. "That's mutiny, mister," he growled, though he knew it was half-hearted.
Del's mouth twisted into a crooked, disarming smile. "Oh no," he replied. "No, no. Not mutiny. Not 'xactly." He took a breath. "Jus' a li'l bitty bit o' treachery."
Spock was again in the con. He focused his mind on the trap that was about to be sprung. All he had done was justified, he knew, and he was gratified at Sulu's support in the briefing - though he recognized it as as grudging and more than a little back-handed. Stray worries and fears kept trying to intrude on his mental processes; were Ruth and Jilla truly as resilient as he had opined? Could they withstand a Klingon interrogation for the time it would take his plan to come to fruition? He determinedly ignored the nagging thoughts about the safety of his wife, of his little one, barricading them behind the wall of Vulcan control.
“Sir,” the deep voice of his first officer abruptly de-railed his concentration.
He frowned at the interruption. “Mr. Sulu?”
The expression on the first officer’s face was unexpectedly mild, almost apologetic. “Sir, Dr. McCoy has asked me to remind you that regulations require that a CO may not remain on duty for more than twenty hours without being certified by the CMO as being in good enough physical and mental condition to do so.”
All the built-up tension Spock was suppressing came close to igniting in a blaze of indignation at this insubordinate interference in his plans. “I do not recall Dr. McCoy ever attempting to enforce this particular stipulation before,” he replied icily.
“It is in the regulations, sir,” Sulu reminded him with perfect, unruffled deference. “And, as you recall, during a crisis, he always visited the Bridge and spoke with Captain Kir…”
“Then he should do so now,” Spock snapped, turning his attention back to the main viewer to hide any trace of how difficult it was for him to hear the name of his lost friend.
“Sir…” The former helmsman’s voice was patient and respectful. “The doctor insists that because of your Vulcan physique, his portable equipment…”
Spock turned and froze him with an icy stare. “If you are ever to command, Mr. Sulu, you must learn to differentiate between the valid concerns of subordinates and petty, emotional ploys intended to manipulate.”
His first officer’s eyes dropped at this reproof. “Yes, sir.”
“If you allow your own poorly controlled emotionality to be engaged by such transparent maneuvering on the part of crewmembers,” the Vulcan continued, allowing the frustrations of the past few hours of waiting to vent into his tone, “you will be nothing more than a puppet, ruled by whatever illogical impulse happens to sway them in a moment of uncertainty. You will only be a leader in that you will inevitably lead them and yourself to certain destruction.”
Sulu took in a deep breath and swallowed any objection to this upbraiding. “Yes, sir.”
Spock frowned, realizing that he might be closer to teetering on the edge of an emotional display than his first officer was. Reining in his unseemly pique, he paused and waited for his first officer to mount his counterargument. However Sulu was as silent and composed as a member of a firing squad awaiting an execution order. Raising an eyebrow at this uncharacteristic stoicism, the Vulcan released a long, displeased breath and concluded, “The doctor refuses to come to the Bridge?”
“Yes, sir,” Sulu confirmed without comment or attempted justification.
“And insists that I must visit sickbay or be relieved of command?”
The Vulcan narrowed his eyes at his subordinate. “A good first officer must know how to manage personnel so that a captain never need be distracted at a moment such as this…” Unable to stop himself, he finished with cruel emphasis. “… When lives hang in the balance.”
Sulu met his eyes. Only a slight tightening of the former helmsman’s lips acknowledged that he was fully aware of the two very dear lives that were at that moment in almost unendurable peril. “Yes, sir,” he replied aloud, resolutely calm. “The doctor has assured me that Sickbay is prepared and that your absence from the Bridge will not be unnecessarily prolonged.”
Spock closed his eyes and wondered what sort of mental aberration could have possibly prompted McCoy to choose this particular, possibly critical moment to insist on forcing him off the Bridge to doubtlessly hear a lecture on issues and decisions of which the surgeon was completely uninformed.
“You are in command, Mr. Sulu,” the Vulcan relented grudgingly as he rose. “Call me immediately should we receive word from Starfleet.”
“Yes, sir.” The first officer stood aside respectfully to allow him to exit unimpeded.
Had Spock been fully human, it was very possible that he would have taken a step back in surprise when the lift doors opened to reveal Lieutenant Commander Noel DelMonde working on an open panel in the car’s interior. Spock looked at the station where the engineer should have been sitting and then back at the lift.
“Jus' a li'l problem wit' the security cams in here, sir,” DelMonde assured him, almost jovially. “Not'ing wrong wit' the drive, though.”
Spock blinked. Since his arrival on the Enterprise, the lieutenant had exuded an unending stream of seething hatred in his direction.
“S’alright, Cap’n.” The Cajun used his free hand to gesture him inwards. “Not'ing to worry yourself 'bout. I gonna be done in a jiff, sir.”
Any Human man could have reasonably refused to set foot into a lift car with a man everyone knew was sleeping with his young, beautiful wife without having to explain himself. Any psi-sensitive could have declined to travel in close quarters with an undisciplined tel-empath with “leaky” shielding without fearing censure. A Vulcan commander of a starship, however, could indulge no such luxuries of personal privilege.
Spock took a deep breath to steel himself against the emotional spillage that always was a part of the engineer’s presence as he stepped into the lift car.
Despite the engineer’s atypical outward cheer, the familiar sensation of burning black resentment began to seep into the edges of Spock’s awareness as the car began its descent to lower decks. Perhaps because of their unusual proximity, the leaking emanations of pure loathing were particularly intense. Although the two officers kept their backs to one another, the engineer’s simmering antipathy began to howl around the corners of the Vulcan mind as if it were a living thing.
If he were fully Human, Spock would have been sorely tempted to employ the method he’d seen his wife demonstrate on more than one occasion – turn and snarl, “Shield, Del!” As things were, he had no choice but to shore up his own mental defenses and calculate how much longer he’d be forced to bear the onslaught.
He was unexpectedly interrupted in this pursuit when the lift doors suddenly opened to reveal Dr. McCoy.
“Sickbay,” the surgeon ordered the controls, entering the lift car without acknowledging his presence.
“I thought you were unwilling to leave your office, doctor,” Spock said, raising an eyebrow.
“I can and do leave Sickbay as the completion of my duties require, sir.” The title dripped with contempt. “I simply choose not to set foot on that torture chamber you turned the Bridge into unless circumstances make it unavoidable.”
“Torture chamber is a melodramatic exaggeration, Doctor,” the Vulcan reproved. “As is your insistence that I be certified fit to command after having been on duty far short of the amount of time that you know very well is within my capacity to tolerate without decrease of efficiency.”
“No melodrama, Spock,” McCoy insisted acidly. “Just the strictest possible interpretation of the regulations without regard for whom it may inconvenience, incapacitate, wound, or harm. That’s the model you have set for us, isn’t it, Captain, sir?”
A cold rejoinder was on Spock’s lips as the turbolift suddenly lurched to an abrupt halt The nearly forgotten DelMonde reeled into him, apparently thrown badly off balance. The Cajun clumsily clutched at his captain’s wrists in an attempt to right himself that instead toppled them both.
As Spock fell, struggling to free himself from the unwanted grasp of his wife’s lover, time seemed to slow. The accidental skin-to-skin contact with the Human telempath intensified his already unpleasant awareness of the Cajun’s excruciating emotionality exponentially. A jagged riptide of black hate and electric blue bitterness washed into his being. He fought against drowning in the wild tide of emotion rushing though him, pushing into every corner of his existence, flooding his mind with the painful intensity of the engineer’s loathing.
“No…” he struggled to protest as their bodies crashed to the deck. But the neon sapphire sea of abhorrence kept pouring into his consciousness unstoppably, smothering him in anarchy. The engineer maintained his drowning man’s grip on the Vulcan’s wrists, unaware of the havoc he was wreaking… or was he? Delmonde was so consumed with his own rage… The engineer hissed like a viper… A hissing snake pulling him into a watery blue-black abyss…A hiss like a snake… His consciousness struggled not to fade… struggling to warn… the hiss… real… not a snake… more like a…
McCoy calmly returned his hypo to his medical bag and ran a probe over Spock’s unconscious form. “All right. That ought to hold him for the next six to eight hours.”
Lieutenant Commander Noel DelMonde rolled off of his hated rival and shook himself like a dog.
The doctor raised a concerned eyebrow in his direction. “You alright?”
“Never better, mon ami,” the engineer replied despite the dizziness lingering in his brain. He pulled himself to his feet and hit the intercom button. “Sulu,” he called. “Th' captain has done fainted flat away in the lift.”
“Is he all right?” Sulu’s voice crackled over the comm. line.
“McCoy, here.” The surgeon stepped forward. “Probably exhaustion.”
“Well, you did try to warn us, doctor,” Sulu replied. “Any idea how long he’ll be out?”
“Hours,” the doctor concluded without hesitation. “I certify him unfit for command and will have a crewman help me get him to his quarters. It's your ship, Mr. Sulu.”
“See that he’s cared for, doctor,” Sulu ordered. “DelMonde, I’ll need you back on the Bridge right away.”
“Yes, sir, Commander.” Deactivating the link with a triumphant tap of his fist, the Cajun turned and grinned at his co-conspirator. “An' now the fun begin…”
Go to Part Two
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