Captain's Log, Supplemental
The Enterprise is continuing its search for
the colony ship, Halifax, the second vessel to be lost in this area within two
weeks time. Federation automatic outposts have reported four ships at the extreme range of
their sensors. From configuration analysis, the ships may be Romulan Birds-of-Prey. As
this entire sector has been in dispute since the Neutral Zone was established, we must
ascertain if the Romulans are planning an offensive against the two Earth colonies here.
We have found no trace of either missing ship, indicating they were either lost or
"Captain," Spock warned, "Sensors are picking up an inexplicable rise in energy output in the star system within the dark nebula directly ahead of us. Energy totally inconsistent with normal stellar or nebular activity."
"Mister Sulu, tie in the helm with those co-ordinates and lay in a course for that area. Mister Spock, speculation on that energy source: a Romulan weapon?"
"We have not ascertained that the Romulans have invaded this sector. The energy field matches the configurations of a force screen, though of planetary size. That large an area makes it detectable by our sensors at this distance."
"A planetary shield? And it just popped into existence?"
Spock showed his disapproval at such an oversimplification. "Inaccurate. The shield took approximately one minute to maximum build-up ; it was not instantaneous."
"But still faster than any planetary shield we can set up. Why would anyone--"
The screen showed a sudden flare of light, which lit up and ionized the surrounding nebula. Then it vanished.
"Energy measurements off the scale," Spock reported from his sensors. "The area encompassed by that explosion was one point five-six astronomical units. I have no further readings on the planetary shield."
"A ship's antimatter engines exploding?"
"Such an explosion would be within known limits. This was not."
"Mister Sulu, ahead Warp Five. Go to Yellow Alert."
The Enterprise circled the planet in an orbit higher than normal. Surrounding it, and rushing outward, were half-formed rings of exploded matter in unstable orbit.
"Enough matter to account for two moons, each perhaps the size of Tethys," Spock reported.
"And no other aftereffects of that energy burst? No radiation? Nothing? What kind of power can destroy moons and leave no other physical traces?"
"It's as if the energy just...vwinked out," Chekov murmured.
Kirk brought his head around. Winked? They had had two experiences with unknown powers that winked on and off, and both Losira and Lazarus were deadly. "Spock? Any lifeforms? Weapons sources?"
"So far, only plant and animal forms, Captain. I can find no cities or installations which would account for the shield or the energy."
"Something down there had enough power to destroy those moons, and I want to know what it was. Keep scanning."
As they swept around to the sunlit side of the planet, Spock announced, "My sensors are now picking up vast areas of blasted rock and debris, some of it still giving off heat and radiation. A single crater two point six kilometers in diameter." Then he turned his head to Kirk. "Lifeform readings, Captain, very faint. The residual radiation from the area is preventing identification. For a brief moment, they registered as Vulcan."
"Not Vulcan, not here," Kirk snapped. "Romulan. Go to Red Alert. Give the coordinates to the transporter." Kirk was already halfway to the lift. "Have Doctor McCoy and a full security team meet me there."
"No, Spock. If this is a Romulan trick, I want you here."
"Ye'll nae be beamin' down with all that ionized garbage around the crater, Cap'n," Scott warned from his station. "Ye'll have to take the shuttle."
Scott had said that with the pride of a new father for his son, and Kirk could understand why. The new shuttles were air streamlined, with retractable glide wings, and maneuverable at the slightest touch of pressure on the guide controls. The old shuttles were like ungainly hippos in comparison.
Pieces of shattered moonlets glanced off its shields on the way down. The landing party stepped out onto an equally devastated planet. In addition to the gigantic crater, there were dozens of smaller pits and gouged lines scattered around the area.
"It looks like a ship's phaser went through here. Berrick?"
"Faint lifeform readings in that direction, Captain."
"Phasers on maximum stun. Fan out."
The security team made its way over piles of fallen rock, wary of ambush. When they found the Romulan camp, Kirk had to grab McCoy's arm to keep him from lunging forward.
"Jim, let me go! They've been attacked!"
"It might be a trick. Berrick!"
"No other life in the area, sir. Only two here. The rest are dead."
Kirk released the doctor.
Seventeen bodies of male and female Romulans lay sprawled in the area the unknown beam had swept. Some were outright burned to ashes, others were half-buried by fallen rock.
"Jim!" McCoy called, and Kirk ran to his side where he knelt by an unconscious woman. "She's still alive. Help me get these rocks off her." Two of the security men dug rapidly as the doctor ran his tricorder over her. "Shattered ribs, concussion. I'll have to get her to Sickbay fast--she's bleeding internally."
"Captain, over here!" A security man stood on top of a rock, waving. "Another survivor."
Kirk sprinted across the rocks, skirting the fallen debris. Then he stopped short. "What the--!"
The unconscious man appeared to be Human. At his hand lay outflung a metal device that was now half slag and still hot.
"Get a stasis shield on that thing, and we'll take it back to Scotty. Get McCoy here fast." Warily, Kirk approached, with three men, phasers ready, but the man was unconscious, and from the state he was in, likely to stay that way for a long time. Kirk reached him first, bent over to ascertain the man was still breathing, but did not touch him, not knowing where he was injured. McCoy was there seconds later. He froze for a second in surprise at the man's human-ness, then began running a tricorder over him.
Kirk stood and opened his communicator. "Spock, maintain Yellow Alert status. I want a scientific detail down here on the double. Inform security we're bringing back two prisoners for the medical section."
Kirk and Spock later stood aside from the detail taking readings of the destruction. "Spock, what happened here?"
"Insufficient data, Captain. What we do know is in itself puzzling. The destruction of the moons and the source of the energy beams which swept the rocks here came from above. The massive crater was made by a solid object bursting out of the ground from below."
"From... How big?"
"I would estimate a kilometer across. Traces indicate it may have exploded in orbit, causing the energy burst we saw. However, from the discovery of the energy-scarred rocks under the crater's debris, the overhead attack took place before the unknown object erupted from the ground."
"Could the Romulan ship have fired on its own people?"
"We do not know if there was a Romulan ship; sensors indicated none leaving this area. Nor does the physical evidence point to conventional Romulan weapons. The small Impact craters, perhaps, but not the unusual sear marks. They appear as if snakes of energy writhed across the ground."
"Are you saying there were two unknown weapons at work here?"
"Perhaps three. We have found no source for the planet-wide shield. Nor is there a trace of a foreign object within this star system or up to three lightyears beyond."
Kirk returned to the ship as baffled as Spock.
"Human?" he asked McCoy two hours later in the briefing room.
"Humanoid, Jim, emphatically not Human. He has two hearts, an assortment of organs that I can't even guess at their function, ganglia that seem to operate as auxiliary brains. Put that man in battle, and he'd be extremely hard to kill. What fascinates me is the connective tissue between some of those extra organs and the brain, complex enough to qualify as secondary spinal cords. But what purpose all that extra nervous system series is beyond me. His cortex is incredibly convoluted to handle all that sensory input. That's a body built for intelligence and survival, Jim."
"Built for survival? Like the Kh'myr Klingon warriors?" Kirk stiffened at the danger; if that were true, and the Romulans were breeding Human-looking genetic supermen... "His condition?"
"Critical...now." McCoy shifted. "He's healing from inside at a tremendous rate." Spock's head turned, and McCoy nodded. "Some of his readings roughly correspond to yours in a healing trance. Something is repairing those damaged cells, and it isn't any of my doing. We haven't been able to finish tests to learn what his alien metabolism will react to."
"Call me the instant he regains consciousness. I want to know why he was with the Romulans--as ally or prisoner. The Romulan woman?"
"No change. Internal damage was extensive. She's stabilizing but still critical. You'll get no answers from her for a long while."
"Then the man is the key. Anything on the device we found, Spock?"
Spock picked up the object and turned it in his hands. "Alien metallurgy, not Romulan. Its function is impossible to determine in its fused state. The energy beam which leveled the area was not responsible; this melted from within. We have tried duplicating the temperature necessary to liquify the metal, and found the output of this instrument had to be the equivalent to that of a small sun. Since we have found no other machinery to account for the planetary shield, this device may have been its source."
"That?" Kirk said, astonished. "Even whole, it couldn't have been bigger than a hand's width on a side."
Spock felt the melted surface. "I, too, would like to speak with the alien when he regains consciousness."
"You think that's his and not the Romulans'?"
"It was found near his hand. Also, if the Romulans possessed power like this, they would have tried using it against the Federation, not on an obscure, uninhabited world where its energy could risk being detected."
"Unless they were testing it first and planned to use it immediately afterward. Then where is the Romulan ship? They wouldn't put off a party in Federation space with no means of escape, not in possession of a thing like that. You think they may have tried a weapon, with this device as a shield, and it backfired, destroying both base and ship?"
"Impossible to determine without more specific data."
Kirk glanced down at the small metal object he had been playing with since the beginning of the briefing. It was taken from the collar of the Romulan woman's uniform, a duplicate of those of the dead warriors. The computer failed to identify the symbol. The landing party was a marked unit...but for what purpose?
"One curious thing, Captain." Spock activated the viewer and called for a tape of the Romulan camp, panning the destruction. "Notice the position of the bodies. Adjusting for impact and manner of fall, every one of the Romulans was ringing the alien, facing outward, as if they were defending themselves against a ground-based enemy. Or--"
"Or defending him." Kirk stared at Spock.
Doctor Christine Chapel checked the monitors over the Romulan's head. They were calibrated for Vulcan, but the readings were enough alike to stand for Romulan, too. No change. When she went out, a silent guard resumed his place behind her.
The readings over the male alien were baffling. Half didn't register at all, the double hearts making the monitor fluctuate. What did register corresponded to a Vulcan healing trance. And he was healing himself. Even without the instruments, she could see that physical changes were taking place. The deep burns across his ribs and chest were slowly fading, the swelling retreating. In spite of the Human appearance, his facial structure looked Romulan, broad at the cheekbones.
He turned fitfully. Chapel put the blanket back into place after each turning, worried. He was in such obvious pain, yet there was little they could do to ease that. They didn't know what effects any medicine would have on his totally alien metabolism. The labs were running tests, but meanwhile, he was still in pain.
She brushed back the black hair that had fallen into his eyes, astonished at its softness, almost like rabbit fur. "I...I wish we could help you..."
His eyes opened in a blazing fire of gold. She drew in a sharp breath, stepping back, the front of her tunic lit. He blinked, and the light vanished, and she was looking into irises that were golden discs, circled in copper. For a brief second, she stared, wordless after that astonishing flare of light. They were the most beautiful eyes she had ever seen.
He tried weakly to push the cover aside, and instantly she snapped out of the stunned trance, a doctor once more. "Please, it's all right." She put the blanket in place.
The man stilled, watched her, then closed his eyes.
Chapel pressed the comm near his bed. "Doctor McCoy, the male patient is conscious."
A security guard stood inside the door as McCoy ran his probe over the alien. "Jim's on his way down. What the...I can't get a thing out of this." He slammed the instrument on a table. The sound brought the alien's eyes open. Christine Chapel gave an intake of breath, but the blazing fire of gold did not reoccur.
McCoy stared up at the readings on the overhead scanner to find them also suddenly inoperative. He frowned angrily at the man. "If you're doing that to those readings, stop it right now. We've got enough problems trying to heal you as it is."
"I don't think he can understand you, Doctor," said Chapel.
"That translator above the bed is working, even if my instruments aren't." McCoy began to examine the patient with his hands and eyes alone. The alien stiffened at the touch, turned his head away sharply as the doctor lifted a lid to peer into his eyes. "If you insist on fouling up my instruments, you're going to have to put up with this kind of examination!"
The alien's hand lashed up and seized McCoy's wrist. The doctor hissed in pain. The security guard rushed in immediately, phaser drawn.
"No!" Chapel lunged across, trying to pull the alien's grip free with both hands. Her body struck his ribs, and the man let loose suddenly in pain. As swiftly as the attack on McCoy, his left hand snaked out and around Chapel's neck. She froze with a noise of fear.
"Let her loose, or I'll fire!" the guard snapped.
"No!" McCoy stopped him.
Chapel knew that if the alien were knocked unconscious, he might react with a Human's instinctive hand spasm. For a moment, no one moved. She was held immobile, sprawled awkwardly across the alien's body. He was breathing harshly, his other hand clutching his ribs.
"No one...no one is going to hurt you. Please..."
Golden eyes darted up to hers, pain-filled and angry. Then both hands fell away. Chapel staggered back, and the guard came sharply forward, but the sudden exertion had exhausted the alien again, and he sank back into unconsciousness.
"Bones!" Kirk burst in, seeing the doctor gripping his wrist, and Chapel hovering over him with a medical scanner. "What happened?"
"Our guest woke up for a few minutes and took exception to me examining him. Are you all right, Chris?"
"Yes.I...He didn't hurt me."
"I think he broke my wrist. Damn! Who'd have thought he'd have that much strength, the shape he's in?"
"I want restraints put on him," Kirk ordered the guard. "See to that wrist, Bones, and then I want a full report on this."
"Well?" Kirk demanded a few minutes later in the outer room.
A terse McCoy told him what happened. "He recovered faster than we expected and caught me off guard."
"But why did he object to you? Doctor Chapel said she performed a quick preliminary exam before you got there."
"Jim, anybody who can turn off all those readings without moving a finger can certainly tell when somebody's angry with him. It was my fault. He didn't hurt Chris. If he had wanted, he could've snapped her neck in two. I think if it had been the guard or me, he would have."
"Then it's safer to let her tend him alone, if you agree, Doctor Chapel?"
"Jim!" snapped McCoy.
"He...he didn't hurt me, Leonard. I don't think he knew who was next to him. When he did, he let go," said Chapel.
"Because he felt concern, not anger, from you?" Kirk asked. "A touch telepath?"
"Not necessarily. The translator would pass on some emotional states, but he can alter those readings. Once conscious, he didn't want us finding out any more about him," said McCoy.
Kirk frowned. Concealment threw suspicion on to him. Is he a Romulan genetic experiment? If so, he could be more dangerous than the Klingon Kh'myr...
He looked up at Chapel.
"When he first opened his eyes, there was...light in them."
"It lit up the front of my uniform."
"No, he's alive," McCoy answered. "There are cases of self-luminous life forms, but I've never heard of a humanoid species with eyes that glow before."
Except one. And that afterthought had gone unspoken.
Kirk froze, remembering. Neither McCoy nor Chapel had been on the Enterprise during the Gary Mitchell incident all those years ago. But they had been aboard when Mitchell had returned from the dead only two years ago, and they remembered the tragedy of that incident all too clearly. Mitchell's eyes had been glittering, luminous, silver discs, and he, too, could turn off the machines. If...
"Captain Kirk to the bridge, please."
He pressed the comm button. "Kirk here."
Sulu's face appeared on the screen. "Captain, we've intercepted a Priority One message from Automatic Buoy L-One-Nineteen. An unknown object approaching on collision course. Message is broken off abruptly."
Kirk stiffened. Buoy L-119 was the outer warning sensor for mining colony Leta V and the Ling Chu star system beyond. It could be a random meteor strike, but still... "Alter course for the Leta Five Colony, Warp Eight." If the colonies were under attack... We have to find out what the Romulans were doing on that planet! "Send Mister Spock to Sickbay."
"The Romulan woman," Spock chose. "Not knowing the extent of the alien's mental strength could prove dangerous in a mind fusion. Romulans are weak telepaths compared to Vulcans."
But still strong enough to prove dangerous.
"I'll have McCoy standing by," said Kirk.
Kirk watched the Vulcan bend over the Romulan in the darkened room, ill at ease, as he always was when Spock was attempting this. He knew it was dangerous, no matter who the opposite party was. He barely heard the familiar opening sentences, watching Spock's face.
"Pain!" The Vulcan curled back, his face in agony, yet he did not release his fingers from their hold. "Turmoil. More than just physical pain. Failure. Dishonor! Failure! Must protect..."
"Protect what? Spock, what's happening?"
"Fire! It's alive, it's alive! Protect--Lord! We've failed you! We've failed you! Must protect--" Then he cried out in a howl of soul-torn anguish that made Kirk's face drain white. "Mendolin!"
The Vulcan fell, and Kirk caught him before he crumpled to the floor, force-marched him to a chair and held him, while the Vulcan gasped harshly for breath. "Spock!"
"Jim...Something...unimaginable came out of that crater. There was...a battle. Fire from above. It tore apart the rocks, and the Romulans died fighting it. Then, a thing, a combination of machine and living entity erupted out of the ground and energy snakes writhed around it, causing those sear marks."
"But what was, 'Lord, we've failed you'?"
"Captain Kirk to Sickbay, Captain Kirk to Sickbay--the alien is conscious, sir," came Chapel's voice over the Security Medical Ward's intercom.
Kirk and Spock exited the cell and reactivated the force screen. "Kirk here. On my way. Send McCoy in here on the double. Out," said Kirk in to the wallcom. "Spock?"
"In a few minutes..." The Vulcan's body slumped as Kirk left.
Chapel was logging medical reports into the computer when a crash in the next room cut her off in mid-word. She ran to the doorway and had one incredulous glimpse of the alien halfway across the room, on his knees, gripping an instrument table. He had knocked the instruments from it when he collapsed against it. His eyes were tightly shut, his face grey with strain.
"You can't get out of bed in your condition!" she cried, instantly going to him, followed by the guard. "Quickly, help me get him back in... No, get the porta-stretcher first." Between the two of them, they lifted the man onto the carrier and from there to the bed.
The gold eyes were opened, flaring light with pain. The guard gave a sharp exclamation of astonishment.
"Ayden, where...?" the alien gasped, weakly trying to fight the hands which held him down.
"You want restraints on him, Doctor?"
"They didn't hold before." She bit her lip. "Can you understand me?" she asked the alien quietly.
His eyes instantly went to her face. After a long space of time, he ceased fighting them. "Yes. Ayden?"
Chapel shook her head at the repeated word, not understanding at first, but then she made a sudden guess. "The Romulan woman?"
"She's...critical," she answered truthfully after a hesitation. "A rockslide caught her and caused extensive internal damage. We're doing all we can. Doctor McCoy has already operated."
"I see." The man closed his eyes wearily, and said nothing more.
She made an examination to see if his attempt to walk did any more damage. Hindered by the lack of readings, she was uneasy. He had asked only about the woman on board. Does he already know that the rest of the Romulans are dead?
She went to summon the captain.
This time, two guards stood inside the door, phasers drawn. Kirk was aware of the strength the alien possessed, and stayed well back from the bed. His eyes do look like Gary's, he thought tensely, but glittering gold.
"You are aboard the Federation starship Enterprise. I am Captain James T. Kirk." Did the gold disks flash in recognition of that name? Kirk wasn't sure, but the level gaze was coldly hostile. "At the moment, you are neither prisoner nor guest until we can determine why you were in the company of Romulans on that planet. Since I know you can understand me, I want answers. Who are you, and what star system are you from?"
The alien was silent for so long that Kirk thought he was refusing to talk, but then the man said, "Mendolin."
That word, cried out by Spock from the Romulan woman's mind, rocked Kirk back in shock. "Name or planet?" he snapped.
Then the Romulans knew him! "From what planet?"
"Not in your Federation. I do not--" He stopped short as the door opened and Spock entered. The alien's eyes went over the uniform and then narrowed sharply.
He thought Spock had been a Romulan, Kirk deduced, and he doesn't like it that he isn't. "This is Mister Spock, my first officer."
"Yes. You're more used to Romulans, aren't you? Why were you together?" The alien's eyes snapped back to his, but Mendolin kept silent. "I want to know the reason for the Romulan presence on that planet, and what happened there. And I'll find that out with any means at my disposal."
Mendolin's eyes glittered. "I have heard that Federation Humans are savages."
Kirk's head went back as if he'd been slapped. "Did you hear that from the Romulans? Propaganda works both ways. I want to know why the first word out of a Romulan's mouth is your name."
"Have you asked her?"
"I'm asking you, Mister Mendolin!"
"May I see her?"
"Then we are prisoners."
"You were with enemy aliens in Federation territory. That alone--"
"This space is not yours, Captain." A glitter of gold churned in his eyes.
"This is Federation space, though the Romulans have disputed that fact."
"I will not argue. You are the invaders here."
"We saved your lives, a fact which you seem to overlook. We don't intend to overlook the weapon that caused the destruction on that planet."
"The weapon was not Romulan, nor...ours."
"And you won't say where you're from. Where's your ship?"
"Mine?" the alien asked wearily. "It was destroyed."
"I need more than that, sir. By whom?"
That rocked Kirk back. "Why?"
"As this space is not in your jurisdiction, it does not concern you."
Kirk's frustration led to anger. That was all he could get out of him. Nor did the alien admit to owning the melted device they found. "Very well. Both you and the Romulan woman will be taken to the nearest starbase, where you can tell us what happened there, or keep your mouths shut until you rot."
The skin over Mendolin's high cheekbones went taut, as his jaw clenched. "What of the dead?"
"We made identification tapes of each and then burned the bodies. Our information states that Romulans cremate their dead."
Mendolin's expression was puzzled and wary. "From rumors, I would not have credited you with that much humanity."
The alien's usage of the word startled Kirk, until he realized the translator had framed the alien's own phrase into one he could understand. Yet the fact that the man had a name for the concept 'humanity', forced him to abruptly alter his ideas. Perhaps, as with the Gorn, they were the invaders here. "Perhaps, like most rumors, the amount of truth in them is questionable."
Kirk ordered the rapidly recovering alien put into a medical security room with a forcefield door. He was taking no chances with strength that could snip restraining straps.
Once they were outside, Spock said, "You did not speak of the buoy, Captain, or the missing ships."
"No. If they're responsible, I don't want him to know they've succeeded. Both the buoy and the colonies beyond it are on a direct line from the planet we found them on. But if the alien told the truth, and that weapon isn't Romulan, it still doesn't explain their presence there. He's allied somehow with them because the Romulan woman spoke his name."
"Indeed. I also find it a disturbing coincidence that he woke up at the same time I was mind-probing the woman."
"A bonded pair?"
"I do not think so. But I would rather not attempt to probe her again, now that he is conscious."
To be on the safe side, Kirk ordered that the guards placed by the security cell be only of those species with measurable mind shields.
The destruction of Leta V sickened Kirk. Even at Warp 8, they hadn't reached there in time. The colony looked as if it had been torn apart by antimatter gone wild. No building stood above ground, and something had raged through the mining tunnels and collapsed the entire network. There were no survivors.
McCoy was on the bridge and put a hand over the captain's shoulder. He had seen the fist clench on the chair arm and knew that Kirk blamed himself, as always. "Not your fault, Jim," he said quietly. "Ships can only go so fast."
That fist fell on the intercom button. "Medical brig security."
"Yiss, C'tain?" the Beruntian guard answered.
"Status on prisoner?"
"Able to stand. He iss continually touching force sscreen of door."
"Touching it? Is the screen holding?"
"Yiss. No effort has been made to break through. He merely touchess consstantly. The ssound annoyss me."
"Order him away from the door. Report any further actions." He swung the chair to face the doctor. "Have you enough data on the alien to formulate something that would knock him out and keep him out?"
"Not nearly enough. Even in a known species, that's dangerous."
"That man may be dangerous. If he's like Gary Mitchell, we don't know what he's capable of."
"I know he's capable of repairing himself faster than anything I've ever seen. Even if I gave him a sedative, I wouldn't guarantee it would even hold."
"Captain, I'm getting a vessel reading on the sensors, at extreme range," DiFalco reported. "That large an arc would indicate an entire fleet."
"No, sir. They're--" She computed their motion, then swung around in alarm. "Bearing directly out of Romulan space!"
"They're coming in at a sharp angle to the Ling Chu system. Too distant to be responsible for the destruction of the mining colony."
"The weapon from the planet. They may be rendezvousing with it." And the Ling Chu colony was directly between it and the invading fleet.
Kirk had no choice. He sent a Priority One message to the head of the colony to evacuate immediately, then a second to Star Fleet Command ordering a defensive attack force. The Enterprise would serve as a rear shield for the fleeing colonists. As powerful as this ship was, it could not withstand an entire fleet. War--after all these years of silence. Why decide to invade now? The new weapon? The Enterprise swept in, at emergency warp, trying to overtake the unknown device before it reached the colony.
Christine Chapel turned at a sound, then was instantly imprisoned by an arm, her cry stifled by a hand.
"I will not harm you," Mendolin said, his fingers clamped over her mouth. "But I cannot allow you to interfere." He pulled her back toward the door, and with one hand, tore open the metal plate that housed the access mechanism. He knew which couplings to wrench free, and he and Chapel arched back and away as the door controls fused shut, preventing entrance. The sounds she had heard, as she now saw, were those of the guard falling to the floor.
"What can you gain by this?" she cried, when he freed her. "You're trapped in here."
He said nothing, pulling her to a diagnostic table and fastening her with the restraints.
"I have prevented them from coming in, and circumvented the computer controls which would send a paralyzing gas into this chamber." He bent to pick up the guard's phaser, lifted it, and fired at the corner of the ceiling which housed a monitor eye. Then he destroyed the comm unit.
"Why? They've already seen you here..."
He laid the phaser on a table and coiled his hand around it, going strangely still.
"Why?" she cried again.
"Ayden," he said, and the translator above her head reformed that strange language. "I will not leave her helpless among enemies." The alien moved purposefully toward the Romulan.
"No!" Chapel screamed. "Don't kill her!"
His hands were already on the woman, when he went red at that cry and turned to her. Chapel bit her lip sharply at the expression in his eyes and knew she had guessed wrong. "Such was not my intention," he said stiffly and turned back to the Romulan. His hands touched her, one on the side of her face, the other spread across her stomach. The faintest of glows became visible between his fingers.
"How in hell did he get out of the brig?" A furious Kirk was on the lower deck minutes after the alarm sounded. McCoy was on the floor, working over the Beruntian guard who had been stunned unconscious and thrown to the other side of the corridor.
"My guess is he somehow drew energy directly from the force screen," a technician answered as he bent to examine the door further. "Its power flows are drained and shorted out. He must have rechanneled it as an energy weapon against the guard."
"We've run scans three times, Captain," Chekov replied in response to Kirk's call to the bridge. "No luck, sir."
Kirk glanced at the incapacitated Beruntian and growled. An enemy agent with that much power could cripple his ship. "Find him!"
"Captain, Security here," the comm broke in. "We have the alien on visual in security Sickbay. No, we... Sir, he just shot out the screen."
Kirk and a security team were already at a run.
Christine Chapel's head jerked sideways as the first thump sounded against the door. Mendolin did not move. What was he doing?
They stopped trying to force the door, probably ordering cutting tools. Eventually, they would break in and recapture him--what did he hope to gain? Her head went back to him as she heard the Romulan moan.
His hands changed position, putting his face toward her now, a sheen of sweat beginning to appear above brows that were tight with pain. Empath? Chapel made an astonished noise, but he did not hear it. All of his attention focused on the injured Romulan.
A thud against the door tore her eyes away from them. A pinpoint of metal was glowing white. It would take them ten minutes or more to cut through that reinforced door. In that time--
"No..." The labored gasp came from the Romulan. "No, lord...you waste..."
"Why didn't you say this before?" Chapel cried. "We would have let you help her. There was no need--" When he didn't answer, she begged, "Please!"
"A need--" he rasped, with an effort that made him sway. "With Humans, a need..."
"Mendolin, let us help! You can't escape here. You'll kill yourself doing this when you're injured!"
For a second, eyes that were two streaks of light looked up at her, and in that glance she read uncertainty. Then he closed his eyes again, continuing.
"How can we escape?" The Romulan reacted to her words. "You will only drain-- Please, lord!"
"Ships coming..." He forced each word out with visible effort. "They will beam us... Rest before...they break in..."
"Mendolin, let us help you," Chapel pleaded.
He did not answer.
"Damn it, Christine's in there!"
"I'm well aware of that, Bones," Kirk answered. "We can't cut through any faster."
"Then explode the door. We have to get her out!"
Kirk took the doctor's arm and pulled him away from the door. "An explosion in that small a room could kill them with the concussion. Get a hold of yourself, Bones. He didn't hurt her before, and he could have, remember that. I don't think he'll harm her now."
"You can't be sure, Jim! You don't know what his moral codes are like. Or why he's locked himself in there in the first place."
"We're going as fast as we can. Scotty?"
"We have a second cutting torch going now, Captain. It's risky, but we should get through sooner."
Inside, Mendolin had sunk to his knees, covered with sweat from the effort it cost him--and still his hands stayed on the Romulan. He did not see the first burst of light as the torch cut through the door. The Romulan did, and she cried out.
As if the warning had to penetrate a great distance, the alien lifted his head slowly, his eyes glowing streaks of gold.
"They come, lord!"
"And much too soon...I can't..."
"Go, lord!" she cried in anguish, pushing away his hands. "They must not take you! Go!"
"The Vulcan will mind-rape..." he rasped. Hands that would not function correctly tried to pull her with him.
"You cannot take us both!"
He staggered to his feet, swaying.
"Mendolin!" Chapel cried. "Don't fight them. They won't--"
The torches met and flared through.
"Go!" screamed the Romulan.
Mendolin lurched into the next room as the door went down. The Romulan dove across the floor for the phaser he had used. The foremost man stunned her before she reached it. More security guards surged in, loped toward the second door, and flattened to both sides of it.
McCoy ran to Chapel's side and fumbled to release the restraints. "Are you all right?"
"Yes! Don't let them hurt him, Len!"
One security man burst into the second room, stood stock still, then glanced wildly around. "Captain! He's gone!"
"Gone?" Kirk pushed forward through them. "How? Ship-wide search immediately. I want him found."
"Jim, over here."
He came to find Mccoy bent over the Romulan, running a tricorder. "She shouldn't have been able to walk, let alone get this far. The internal injuries are healed, too...Jim, she's almost completely healed!"
"He's an empath." Both men looked up sharply at Chapel. "He said he wouldn't leave her helpless among enemies. Captain, they're afraid of us. He couldn't believe we'd allow him to heal her if he asked, and, instead, risked this."
Not like Gary, Kirk thought. Under the Ph'ecdalyn influence, Gary had no compassion. He bent to pick up the fallen phaser, checked it with an automatic glance, then frowned. "This phaser is empty. What did he use it for?"
"Only on the screen and the comm."
"Chekov, did you issue full phasers to security?"
"Yes, sir," the security chief called. "I checked them myself."
"Are you sure he didn't use this for anything?" Kirk asked Chapel.
"No, Captain," she said, puzzled. "All he did was fire at those two things, then stand with his hand around it for a few seconds."
The door--he drained the phaser like the force screen on the door. "But how did he get out of that room? Did he expect to hold us off and use you as a bargaining hostage?"
"He said ships were coming to rescue them."
"Ships?" The alien knows of the invasion! "Find him!" he ordered security. "Look where there's any kind of drain on ship's power, but find him!"
But they didn't. The alien appeared to have vanished off the ship, or altered their sensors like the medical machines.
On the bridge, Kirk watched the schematic of the incoming fleet with anxious eyes. Incoming relays charted the progress of the panicked evacuation of the Ling Chu colony.
"Security--have you located the alien?"
"People don't just vanish! Double the guards around the vital areas of the ship. Spock, scan the interior continually. He's weak, and he can't screen forever. Spock?" He turned and questioned when the Vulcan did not acknowledge. "Something?" He went to stand behind him.
"Not in the way you mean. I have been feeding data into the computer to attempt discovery of the alien's point of origin--"
"You ran that before."
"And came up with innumerable possibilities. But now I have been running checks on any references to physical characteristics of all known and rumored races, coupled with the few, but startling clues he has inadvertently revealed. The results were...disconcerting. All data have been correlated, save for one important missing piece. To make certain the evidence was not manipulated like Doctor McCoy's equipment, I went over the tapes the security team took on the planet."
He activated the console screen, showing the unconscious Mendolin sprawled between the rocks, the melted device by his hand.
"Originally, I had believed it to be a shadow, but the darkness does not fall where it normally should if it were an effect of the light. Computer, enlarge lower right quadrant." The arm and hand on the image expanded. "Close viewing area to include hand only, and enlarge again." When the left hand filled the screen, its image was faintly blurred, until the computer enhanced it. The dark area on the palm was now definitely revealed to be a mark on the skin itself.
"A design of some sort," observed Kirk.
"Which was conspicuously absent when the alien was examined in Sickbay. Doctor McCoy reported no traces of dye or paint on the hands, which would have explained its disappearance as being rubbed off."
"Then how did it vanish, and why? What symbol is that?"
"Computer, readout on previous scan on the incomplete mark appearing on the screen with known language and symbols."
"Working. Symbol can be completed by comparing with Cytaciaiil symbol for 'sea', Mar'cc'yen word for 'neck armor', or Lyrian recognition mark of a High Lord."
Kirk froze. "Spock! You don't think...!"
"Computer, all information on Lyrian racial characteristics, emphasis on Lyrian High Lords."
"Working. Data unconfirmed. Humanoid. Racial characteristics--olive-tinted skin over bronze, black hair, cornea of eyes distinguished by gold coloring. Unsubstantiated reports of light generation in eyes under emotion. Psi rating unknown, unconfirmed reports of as high as eight."
"A Vulcan is a three," Kirk said, astonished, while Spock merely raised his brows. Like the ancient Richter scale of earthquake intensity, each rating number increased logarithmically by ten.
"Insufficient data on Lyrian High Lords. Distinguished by design in left palm." The screen flashed the complete hand design. "Purpose of High Lord position unknown. Political structure of Lyrian government unknown. Planet is located in a star system on other side of Romulan Empire--"
"End data." Spock turned to the captain.
"A High Lord? Those are old star legends, like the planet Eden! They were supposed to have powers like gods."
"I suggest we do not get him angry."
"Angry!" Kirk exploded a short, incredulous laugh. "Spock, at this moment, he's unlocatable on this ship, possibly dying from injury and energy drain. If that is a High Lord, we've got a diplomatic tiger by the tail."
"Indeed. He was with the Romulans on that planet. 'Lord, we've failed you...'"
"And 'must protect.' Honor guard?"
"A distinct possibility--"
"I don't like the idea of a legend with god-like powers any more than another Gary Mitchell on my ship. This man is reckless, Spock. Look at what he's done--drained himself again and again. Something's driving him. More than fear of us. We have to find out what happened on that planet!"
The Romulan glared at them with hatred.
"We know Mendolin is a Lyrian High Lord," he accused, on a chance, and found that instantly rewarded. My God, we really... "Your face betrays you. Where is he?"
She answered, smugly proud. "You may as well try to catch the wind, Captain. You will not enslave his power for your use."
"He was gravely drained of energy to heal you," Spock said. "He could die."
"Better death than capture at Human hands!"
"Why?" Kirk asked. "What has a Lyrian to fear from us?"
"You lie and steal, without honor. This ship! This captain! A Human's word means nothing to a Romulan."
A purely political move so many years ago... The stealing of the cloaking device, using the enemy's own tactics, always sickened him. It was dishonorable. An act of war, yes, but it was the Enterprise that crossed the Neutral Zone. "Why were you with a High Lord?" he asked quietly.
"We were chosen as honor guard. It is a great honor to serve."
"That symbol." Kirk touched his collar, in realization. "It was Lyrian." Silence answered him, but he knew he had guessed right. No wonder the computers couldn't translate it.
"In legend, Lyrians are reputed to be a gentle, neutral race," Spock said. "This High Lord behaves like a warrior."
"He is a warrior, a High Lord," she stated, fiercely proud. "They protect themselves."
"Shogun." Another Mitchell was dangerous, a war-trained Mitchell... "He risked capture and exposure to heal you. He won't likely let you stay in our hands."
"Captain, I suggest we alter the Romulan's position. All he would have to do is tap energy from any of the ship's power sources. Once he regains his strength, if we have not located him, he will know exactly where she is."
"Perhaps we should tell him now."
"Why should a Lyrian be a party to Romulan invasion plans? Something else is happening. If the weapon isn't theirs... We have to talk!"
"He will not listen to you," the Romulan lashed.
"He has to, or this whole section of the galaxy will erupt in a war that may have no reason to be fought! Spock, give me shipwide on the comm."
When he did so, Kirk bent toward it. "Lord Mendolin, this is Captain Kirk. If you can hear me, listen. We must talk. I will be in Recreation Room Three. Only Spock, Ayden, and myself will be there. Kirk to all personnel--the recreation deck is off limits until further notice." He repeated the message, then switched to the bridge. "I want directions to Rec Room Three displayed on every viewer on this ship. Mister Sulu, status on the Romulan fleet."
"On an intercept course with the Ling Chu system and the unknown object."
"Damn! We have so little time to convince him."
"Captain, you risk much. With a High Lord's supposed power, he could simply take her away from us."
"I'm gambling he won't, if we can just get him to listen."
"A long gamble."
"Maybe. But war is a certain loss. Let's go, Spock."
They went quickly down the corridors, the Romulan held between them, translators on their belts.
"Cowards," she spat. "You hide behind me!"
"You're my bargaining point."
"If you harm me, the High Lord will take your ship and crush it in his bare hands!"
"Captain," Spock said levelly. "If the rumors are true, he is quite capable of doing just that."
"If he's well. But he's not. And he used up tremendous power to heal the Romulan. We may have a chance to reason with--"
"Reason, Captain?" a voice said from behind them.
Kirk whirled, to see the High Lord standing at the bend of the corridor. "How--?"
"Perhaps teleportation through matter, Jim," Spock said in a low voice. "The only way he could have escaped from the room in Sickbay."
The Romulan took their momentary surprise to try to break free. The Vulcan's hand did not lose its grip, and she was swung around and back by her own action.
A crack of light hurled both Kirk and Spock into the far wall. Kirk looked up from the floor, into the blazing eyes of an enraged Lyrian.
"Mendolin!" A woman ran from the side corridor directly for him.
She thrust herself between them, seized Mendolin's hands in both of hers to shield the others. The High Lord, startled, held back a second energy blast.
"Don't hurt them! A healer doesn't hurt!"
He could have easily removed her but didn't. Both his hands were held by Chapel against her collarbone, and he left them imprisoned there, useless. He obviously did not want a senseless battle any more than they did.
Kirk saw that and moved forward slowly. "Lord Mendolin, we don't have to fight each other. Can we talk?"
"Talk?" the Romulan woman cried in pain. "When Humans talk--and Vulcans--" Her glare raked Spock. "--only lies are said."
Without lifting his eyes from his hands, the High Lord said, "Romulans have had little reason to trust Humans, Captain."
"Then we have to start. A war is going to erupt here if we don't talk now. Is that a Romulan weapon?"
The alien's eyes lifted to Kirk's. "No... An unknown--"
"Whatever the thing is, you couldn't fight it on your own, even with a High Lord's power. But you don't have even that right now, do you? Look at you, you can barely stand. You're wasting energy fighting us as well."
Chapel slowly released the man's hands, as a phrase sank in. "H-high Lord? But those were only stories..."
"Apparently true. It seems our guest has been less than truthful about his position. He is a Lyrian High Lord--aren't you?"
Mendolin spread his palm briefly, and the mark was there once more. "It would be late to deny it now." He closed his fingers.
"Then why conceal that fact at the beginning?"
"While I was helpless, it was wiser not to let Federation Humans know the extent of the prize in their hands."
Kirk's face stung. For a second, anger flared through him at the instant suspicion and mistrust. Then he slowly realized the Romulans had no reason to trust them at all.
The woman saw that and echoed it.
"The Humans trick you, Lord."
"No trick," Kirk said with all the conviction he could put into that statement. "The unknown device has already destroyed a mining colony, and is on a direct course to a second Earth base. If you know what it is, help us fight it! Together!" He stepped in front of Mendolin.
The High Lord stood, with the angry, unbelieving Romulan behind him, without answering. Then he reached up a sudden hand to lay it flat against the side of Kirk's head.
Kirk swept down into a blinding pinwheel of gold, falling. This wasn't like Spock's meld, into his cool, logically disciplined mind. This was a plunge into fire and steel--a warrior's mind. They met and merged and became one in the split second it took for Spock to hurl forward and knock that hand aside.
For a second it looked as if the High Lord would attack, then he stepped back, dropping his hand.
"Jim! Are you all right?"
"Yes...I..." His hand was on his forehead and he staggered. Chapel supported him on one side and Spock on the other. Kirk looked up.
"I see," Mendolin said.
"All races have to grow up, Lord Mendolin, and make mistakes they wish they hadn't made." He tried to make both aliens understand and wondered what Mendolin had seen in his mind. "We've finally learned the Human way is not the only way."
"Would you allow me to do this again?" He lifted his hand, poised.
"Yes. If it helps, yes."
"If you agree, then it's not necessary. The thing is a machine of unimaginable destructive capabilities. It first appeared from the direction of the galactic barrier, perhaps from outside the galaxy itself. When it went through a star system, it annihilated it. The Romulans failed to stop it. From studies taken at great loss of life, it was learned that the machine was only half of a whole. The Romulans searched feverishly for the other half, which must be in its line of flight, to destroy it before it joined with its mate. The site was the planet where you found us.
"We could not destroy the second part before the invader found us and eliminated the warships in orbit. I tore out the shield unit of my own ship to protect us on the planet. But the second part burst out of the ground, inside that shield. It killed almost all of us before I could free the shield and let it escape. But the two parts could not meet at any cost. I sent my ship out on overload, throwing the shield planet-wide. The explosion vaporized the second probe and damaged the first. Now you say it is making another straight line." His eyes met Kirk's. "I do not know why. It may be heading for its original target area, or--" He stopped.
"Or there may be a third piece, planted in case one of the others was destroyed," suggested Spock.
"A doomsday machine," whispered Kirk.
"You speculate there is more than one?" Spock queried.
"Even crippled, the potential of that thing--" began the starship commander.
"As a weapon, yes." Mendolin smiled slightly. "That is why we kept silent until now. The Romulans will do anything in their power to keep it out of Human hands. As you will do the reverse. They will attack it before it can reach another Romulan planet."
"We have to stop it before it reaches the Earth colony in its path. Can you build another shield unit?"
"It would be useless. The screen is mentally activated and maintained. The weapon drained all the strength I would need to withstand such an attack again."
"You manage to pack quite a mental punch even drained," Kirk smiled dryly. The luminous eyes, the power of a High Lord, the position of their star system... Kirk wondered briefly if the Lyrians had penetrated the galactic barrier and somehow had managed to control the thundering power of the Ph'ecdalyns. "The Romulans, will they listen to you?"
"If you can get them to listen..." He sagged as if he were losing what strength he had to sustain him this far.
"You must come back to Sickbay," Chapel ordered.
"No, I need only rest, and an energy source to tap."
"You can tap it in Sickbay," she said firmly.
The High Lord gave in, smiling slightly. "Ayden, go with the Humans. Tell them what we know of this machine." He turned and touched her shoulder at her hesitation. "Go. I trust them."
Kirk helped Chapel get her patient into the lift. "I haven't thanked you yet for your timely intervention," he said to her.
"I thought medical help might be needed, Captain."
"It certainly was. Can you manage alone?" At her affirmative, he ordered the lift to the bridge.
"Within visual range of the unknown object, Captain." Sulu altered the screen to highest magnification, and Kirk had his first look at the war machine. Taken as a whole, it would have been hexagonally shaped. This piece of it was concave, with a deep slot on its inner side, likely to fit into the piece the Lyrian destroyed. One of the facets was shattered, its edges melted in, also from the explosion. Thin filaments hung limply from that section. If the Romulan woman's facts were accurate, those other sections also contained filaments, retracted now, and capable of whipping out lethal energy along them.
"Alter course. Bring us in on its blind side. Full shields. Uhura, prepare an information buoy with Mister Spock's information and send it toward the incoming Federation fleet."
He did not know the distance in which the thing could strike, but he soon found out. Sensing the ship, the weapon rolled over awkwardly, but the energy whips which lashed out were undamaged. It crackled out and down, following the Enterprise, as Kirk ordered the ship swung to port. The impact outlined the shields in incandescent fury.
All phaser banks speared into the object and deflected off a shield as great as their own. A second filament lashed out and into them. The Enterprise shields flickered on impact.
"Pull back out of range and circle it."
As he expected, the weapon rolled, keeping its damaged side away from them. It was vulnerable there, as they discovered when he abruptly ordered the ship to keel over and reverse direction, a maneuver which drained their engines dangerously but gave them one quick shot into the blackened section before the whip defense struck them broadside. They pulled back again, and Kirk shut off the shield damage reports coming over the comm.
"Damage negligible. Full phasers did not seriously affect it."
"Damn!" Kirk stared at the thing rolling in front of them. They had delayed the thing with their attack but couldn't destroy it. It was still heading for the Ling Chu colony now visible on the screens, even though at sublight now. For a second, he was awed at the power the Lyrian ship must have possessed to annihilate one and damage this one. But it was still not enough. "If the High Lord is recovered enough, have him come to the bridge--"
Not only did the High Lord come, but when the bridge doors slid back, the Romulan woman was also beside him.
McCoy bolted out of the lift, followed by security guards. "I tried to keep her in Sickbay, Jim, but how in blazes can--"
"Yes, I've learned how difficult it is to stop a High Lord. The Romulan must leave the bridge." He lifted a hand to the guard.
"I am the High Lord's last honor guard," she said fiercely. "I will not leave his side, among Humans. You have no secrets from Romulans that you can hide from my sight. We know what your control rooms look like."
"Quite true, Captain," Mendolin agreed. "Let her stay."
"Object picking up speed, Captain," Spock broke in before he could answer that. "Trying to pass on our starboard side."
"Compensate." The Enterprise swung over and the weapon rolled back, its undamaged sections toward them. The dead section was the key, but even phasers on full couldn't make headway into it. Its exterior was almost invulnerable. Exterior? He suddenly whirled to the High Lord. "How far can you teleport?"
Mendolin saw instantly. "From here into it? No, not in my present condition."
"If you were close to it? Touching it?"
"Yes. But how do you propose getting this ship that close?"
"Not this ship. A shuttle."
"Captain," Spock turned and said, "Those filaments are fast. They would destroy anything lacking the Enterprise's strength of shield."
"Too fast for this ship, yes," Kirk argued. "But not a swiftly maneuverable shuttle. If it came around the blind area, touched the hull--"
"I could pass through the walls with a destruct device," Mendolin finished.
"Can your ship keep the weapon occupied while he does this, without being destroyed itself?" Ayden asked sharply.
"I have utmost confidence in Spock."
"In Spock?" McCoy caught on swiftly. "Jim, you can't--"
"I intend to pilot that shuttle."
"Are you crazy?" McCoy bellowed. "You can't risk--"
"Bones, a fleet is on its way here to attack the Romulans! We're going to have an all-out war if we can't stop this now." He hit a comm button, "Scotty, I need an antimatter bomb, the most powerful one you have."
"Space," Ayden said suddenly. "It must be small. There may be no space to implant it."
"Scotty, you hear that?"
"Aye, Captain. What about a series of miniature devices?"
"Good. Have them ready as soon as possible and deliver them to the shuttle bay. Spock, I want you to keep a continuous fire on a single spot on that thing. You'll keep its main attention focused on you, and keep us from getting hit by our own phasers."
"I am coming with you," Ayden said.
"No." Kirk grasped the arms of the Romulan without thinking what cultural taboos he was breaking. He did when she stiffened in his hands, yet he tightened his hold to make her see. "I need you here. If we fail, we must have someone who can talk to the Romulans, someone they'll have to believe."
Kirk spun around to the science station. "Spock! You have to keep the Federation fleet back, unless the Romulans attack first. As soon as they're in range, explain the full situation to them."
"I shall endeavor to do so."
In spite of the situation, Kirk smiled. "Uhura, have the shuttle ready to go."
"Aye, sir. Bridge to shuttle bay..."
"Lord Mendolin?" Both of them went to the lift. As the doors closed, Kirk saw both Romulan and Vulcan watching them go. "Take care of my ship, Spock."
He fastened himself in, as the bay doors opened, then reached over to bring the comm to life. "Shuttle to Enterprise. We are ready to launch."
"Acknowledged. Good luck, Captain."
"Thanks, Spock. We're going to need it."
"The shuttle may survive an indirect hit to its shields. I do not think it will withstand a direct one."
"Spock, you certainly know how to give a person confidence. Launch."
The new, altered shuttle lifted without the awkwardness of the old, and Kirk felt a surge of joy at its response as he switched to full manual control.
Mendolin said nothing during all the time. The craft moved down and under the belly of the Enterprise in a wide arc which would take it out of the firing line of their own phasers and in behind the device. Then he said softly, "Interesting."
The word had such a strange inflection, even through the translator, that Kirk turned, stopped at the expression in the High Lord's eyes--narrowed, intent.
"That you would believe so completely that we would aid you in this."
For a frozen second, Kirk couldn't breathe in betrayed shock. Then he made a lightning dart for the comm. It was not fast enough. The Lyrian's hand clamped over his arm, and Kirk felt the strength that had broken McCoy's wrist.
That and the glittering gold eyes pinned him motionless.
"That is not an attitude I would have expected, gathering what I know of you from Romulan reports. You surprise me, Human; you surprised both of us." He released Kirk's arm. "And you misunderstand my words. There is no question that I would not help you attack the weapon."
Kirk relaxed, then stiffened. "You, but not--"
The High Lord laughed. "The Romulan also."
"Romulan honor, to avenge the deaths?"
"Yes." The Lyrian stared at him intently. "Strange. Both of you know so much about the other, and yet so little."
"Enterprise to shuttle," Spock's voice cut in.
"We have calculated that the damage is most extensive on the lower left of the weapon, so we are concentrating our fire on the upper right."
"Acknowledged. Here we go..."
He angled in for the object, the shields on full. One of the filaments hurtled up at them, and he spun the ship around, missing it by a shuttle-length, then flung the engines on full as it pursued. A narrow phaser beam struck it, and the filament lashed back, aiming for the Enterprise. "Don't do that too often, Spock..." he murmured, twisting the ship around.
This time they came in fast and low and swept under the arm and were struck a glancing blow by a second. Kirk turned the ship in the last split-second as the space-shattering charge struck their aft shield. It buckled from impact, and the shuttle lights flickered.
Kirk brought the ship around in cold fury, barrel-rolled it around the lashing filaments in a series of maneuvers that only entertainment atmospheric jets had ever performed. He could never have done them without the new shuttle. He flowed into it, until he and the shuttle were fused into one, his hands darting across the board.
The screech and shudder rocked his teeth, and for a second, he was stunned. Then he realized. "We made it in!"
Swiftly, he turned on the tractor beams that would keep them tight against the side of the device. "It isn't shielded here." He glanced at the forward screen, at the wall of black extending forward.
"We are also vulnerable here. Those filaments can reach us."
"Now that we're out of the line of fire, Spock can keep those filaments busy." He swiftly called the ship and confirmed that, then looked at the High Lord, now gathering the devices in his hands, worried at a thought that only now occurred to him. "What if it's solid in there? What if there's no place for you to teleport into?"
"It is unlikely there will be. Therefore, I will have to pass through the walls and stay in non-solid state. That takes a vast amount of energy. I may not be able to return."
"What?" he roared. "You damn well better!" exploded out of him. "Other than not wanting you killed, how in blazes could I explain to the Romulans that I left you here?"
Mendolin smiled. "Yes, Ayden would be difficult. I will make the utmost effort to return, Captain. If you would set the time on these?"
Kirk did so, then lifted his eyes to the High Lord. "Can you draw energy from the rear shield? If so, take it. The shield's damaged and wouldn't take another impact anyway."
"Very well." He stood and turned, and simply passed through the hull of the ship as if it were water.
Even Gary never got that far, Kirk thought wildly. He saw the indicator of the rear shield suddenly drop to zero. Then he reported to the Enterprise.
"We are maintaining fire to prevent the filaments from swinging around and dislodging you. Is it damaging to the shuttle?"
"Getting shook up, but the ship can handle it."
"You have twenty-eight minutes from the setting of the timers. Most of that will be used in eluding the filaments on the escape trip."
"I know, Spock."
"I simply state that you have a four-minute, straight-line flight needed to reach a safe distance from the object."
"I know, Spock."
Kirk waited. There was nothing else he could do. Did the device have inner defenses? He wished the Lyrian had a communicator, but how could he maintain contact with a ghost?
A quarter of an hour later, Mendolin still had not returned. Spock's call broke Kirk's worried pacing, and he snapped an answer to the comm.
"Captain, you must break free of the weapon now."
"I can't. Mendolin's still out there--"
"Captain, you must leave now. The safety margin will leave you little enough time to get back to the ship."
He couldn't abandon him. Even if he cut the safety margin to zero. "Get the Enterprise clear."
"Captain, the ship will then be too far away to retrieve--"
"That's an order, Spock." Where is Mendolin?
He whirled at a movement beside him, saw a hand pass through the wall, then stop. It fell limp. Kirk tried to pull it through and failed; the wall was solid to him. Energy. The High Lord was too exhausted to pass through the wall completely...
He raced to the hull panel and tore it free. If he took power from the shield before, running current through the hull might help him now. It would also loose their hold. If Mendolin was partially inside the shuttle's hull, he would be all right. If his body was still out in space...
Kirk had the insulated glove on, his other hand freeing the wires. Then he bridged the contact ends with the bar, jerking his face away from the shower of sparks. The shuttle's interior lights blew out. The hand moved.
Kirk grabbed it in both of his and pulled. Like wrenching it out of thick taffy, the hand came forward, followed by an arm.
"Jim, you have to leave now," Spock called imperatively.
Kirk set his boot to the wall and heaved. The High Lord fell out on top of him.
Kirk ran to the controls and thundered out of there. He aimed the shuttle through the first opening in the lashing weapon arms and slammed the engines on full, without bothering about direction.
Even semi-contained by the weapon's hull, the antimatter explosion hurled high-speed particles through the shields of the shuttle and tore through the instruments. It went out of control, as if a hand had slapped it away.
Tractor beams from the Enterprise caught and held the shuttle, then drew it in.
McCoy pulled Kirk from under the panels where the spinning had thrown him before he could ascertain the cracked ribs.
"Alive? Is he alive?"
"Barely. We have to get you both to Sickbay, fast."
"No! Get me on the bridge--"
"Jim, you need--"
"I need to be on the bridge!"
McCoy knew that tone of voice and knew better than to argue, angry though he might be. He gave the captain a pain-killer and ordered a nurse to help him to the bridge.
The Romulans, waiting for the outcome, had seen the weapon explode, and now circled in for the kill on the Enterprise. They had crossed over the Neutral Zone--an act of war in itself--and now had nothing to lose. The flagship's first shot hit against their screens.
"Captain!" DiFalco cried.
"Hold your fire. Full power to the shields. Commander Sulu, prepare to execute an intricate maneuver. Spock, order our fleet to stay put."
The Enterprise veered to port, swung around and down, while the Romulans fired at them. They shook with the impact, but the screens held.
"Again, Mister Sulu."
On the third execution of the Lyrian symbol that had been on the woman's collar, indeed an 'intricate maneuver', the firing stopped, and the forward screen sprang to life with the coldly enraged face of the Romulan commander. "What trick is this, Kirk?"
"No trick. We have the High Lord Mendolin aboard this ship."
"I see no Lyrian on your bridge."
"He's in Sickbay. He was injured in the weapon's destruction. Another of his party, Ayden, is also aboard. The rest are dead,"
"Before or after you arrived, Human?"
"You know the answer to that," Kirk replied in a hard voice. "You came to destroy it."
The Romulan's mouth tightened, but he gave no other sign. "I will see this High Lord," he demanded.
"Tie in Sickbay with the main screen."
The forward screen split, and the Romulan turned. The first exploded words were incomprehensible. Kirk stared, himself. Ayden was seated on the High Lord's medical couch, leaning over him, both her hands on his temples, eyes closed.
"Return them both to us," the Romulan commander said softly.
Kirk's eyes darted to the right half of the screen, puzzled at the expression on the alien's face. Then his glance tore free, back to the joined couple. "What is she doing?" The hand position was not that of the mind-meld.
"She has linked with him," Spock said, watching the screen.
"I did not know Romulans possessed such a skill. She becomes his sole link that holds the injured away from death. It is dangerous--both could die."
"If you did not know what this was, then you could not have taken them from that planet in that condition. I believe you, Kirk. Give them to us," he demanded.
"And if I agree, then what? You have a fleet behind you, Commander."
"The weapon was destroyed. Our continued presence is unnecessary. One of your intrusive mining colonies was destroyed, this one fled. Humans are out of our space."
"Ours." The Romulan smiled. "You also have a fleet behind you, Captain. Shall we determine here and now which of us claims this area?"
"Space taken in war has a nasty habit of remaining in dispute, no matter who wins, Commander."
"Captain, Admiral Chan demands to know what is going on," Uhura reported.
The Romulan lifted his head to glance at her, then back to him. "Well, Captain? What is your answer to that?"
"If you can prove your claim before a neutral board of inquiry, we would have no choice but to accept that decision."
"A neutral board, in Federation space?" he mocked.
They couldn't go to war now, not when it was so senseless! "What if an arbiter were Lyrian?"
The Romulan's eyes veiled as he stared at Kirk for so long that he thought he had lost. "Agreed. Now may we have the High Lord?"
By that answer, they also gave Kirk another one--the High Lord was safe with them. He turned to Spock. "Will they be injured if they're moved?"
"Not if they remain touching. I trust you will have preparations at your end, Commander?"
The Romulan stiffly acknowledged, and Kirk ordered Sickbay to transfer the patients to the transporter room, fully aware he was now sending away his only guarantee the Romulans would not attack his ship. Admiral Chan would see that, too, and Kirk stalled him.
He stayed on the bridge during the transfer. McCoy's pain-killer was wearing off, and if he went to the transporter room, he wasn't certain he could walk back, or that McCoy would let him.
McCoy had problems of his own in the transport. "How are we going to keep them together?"
"I'll go." McCoy turned to face Chapel. "I can hold them together until they're beamed aboard."
"And you with them! On board a Romulan warship!"
"I'm a doctor," she said with quiet dignity."I believe they'll honor that. How should I hold them?"
"Damn it, Chris, you..." He shut up when he saw her face. "By the wrists, I imagine. I don't think it'd be safe to touch her hands."
She did so, keeping the Romulan's hands on the Lyrian's temples, as they moved on porta-carriers to the transporter room. Chapel knelt down beside them.
"Energize, wide beam," Scott ordered.
Christine Chapel looked up as they reappeared. The Romulan transporter room was different from theirs, a wide, coiled platform instead of their individual plates. The realization that she was the only Human on the ship unnerved her at first shock of Romulan faces, then she said, "Would someone take my place here?"
Either they had translators, or they knew what to do. A young Romulan male came and placed his hands higher on Ayden's arms, then slid them to her wrists as the doctor let go. She stood on the platform, uncertain, outwardly calm.
Ayden's head turned toward her, the eyes glassy and unseeing. When she spoke, the doctor had the eerie instinct that it was not the Romulan speaking. "I will not forget thee, Christine..."
The other Romulans took them away, and one lifted his hand in command. Doctor Chapel vanished in the transporter beam.
"The High Lord and Ayden are aboard," Uhura reported.
"Reverse course very, very slowly, Mister Sulu," Kirk ordered.
The Enterprise moved slowly away from the motionless Romulan fleet, toward the Federation ships. The back of Kirk's neck tensed as he braced for a salvo from the rear. None came.
The Romulan fleet abruptly swung around and proceeded on a course to recognized Romulan space. Kirk halted, to make certain they did not turn, but they continued, vanishing into the distance. Sensors still tracked them, but they were gone.
"Captain, Admiral Chan is on the comm again."
"Put him on, Uhura."
The admiral asked, not too patiently, "Now will you tell me what in blazes is going on?"
Kirk grimaced. It wasn't going to be easy.
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